Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Try Out a New Genre: Cli-Fi

In the last few decades, the issues surrounding climate change has gained increasing public awareness. By 2016, it is something that is deeply rooted in politics and that society must confront on an almost daily basis (whether through changing temperatures, increase in storms, food or water shortages, etc.). It only stands to reason that it would find it's way into our literature as well.

Climate fiction may not be an entirely new concept, but in recent years it has gone from being a sub-genre of science fiction to a genre all on it's own, known as "cli-fi." Usually taking on a distinct dystopian quality, cli-fi novels play with the idea of how our world will be affected by the negative impacts of climate change and global warming. This new genre is being touted as a way to connect activism to literature, and also promote an interest in climate sciences in youth. It's finding its way into other forms of media as well, with movies like The Day After Tomorrow and the more recent Interstellar

If you want to try your hand at this contemporary genre, check out some of these cli-fi titles from your library:

Margaret Atwood's MaddAddam series is my favourite example of cli-fi. It takes place on an Earth that has slipped under the control of a global corporation that has managed to gain power through the questionable use of genetic modification and engineering. In the first installment, Oryx and Crake, the story is told through Jimmy's eyes, and we get glimpses of the past and the present. In the present, he is a wild man and, as far he knows, the only remaining human being in the wake of a disastrous plague. The flashes to the past show us how things turned out that way, largely at the hands of Jimmy's best friend Crake. The sequel, The Year of the Flood, is written in the same manner (past and present), but gives us the perspective of a few characters. In the present, we meet a few other plague survivors in the pursuit of staying alive and finding other living humans. In the past, we get a grittier look at Atwood's world before the plague, centered largely around a religious cult-like group called God's Gardener's. The two novels end at the same point, and the finale, MaddAddam picks up right where they leave off. This series is extremely gripping, and Atwood has crafted a world that is at the same time all too recognizable and totally incomprehensible. I've read this series several times, and each time I pick up on some new nuance or clever connection that I didn't grasp before. Together, these books work as an excellent introduction into the genre of cli-fi.

In Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingslover, Delorobia Turnbrow has found herself in a loveless marriage brought on by a teenage pregnancy. To compensate, she enters into an affair, and while on her way to meet her lover, discovers that a forest behind her farm is completely covered with millions
of Monarch butterflies. It seems that their migratory route has been disrupted, and what is initially called a miracle, is soon discovered to be a scientific disaster: the butterflies have been driven from their natural habitat by pollution and are facing extinction in this new, northerly climate. Imbued with strong, likable characters and a heavy sense of activism, this novel does double duty in sending an important message regarding pollution and climate change, and telling a heartwarming story of a woman in turmoil. 

In Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl, "Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe." - publisher

Bacigalupi touches on the topic of climate change again, this time taking the water crisis in the American South West to the extreme in The Water Knife. "In the American Southwest, Nevada, Arizona, and California skirmish for dwindling shares of the Colorado River. Into the fray steps Angel Velasquez, detective, leg-breaker, assassin and spy. A Las Vegas water knife, Angel “cuts” water for his boss, Catherine Case, ensuring that her lush, luxurious arcology developments can bloom in the desert, so the rich can stay wet, while the poor get nothing but dust. When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in drought-ravaged Phoenix, Angel is sent to investigate. There, he encounters Lucy Monroe, a hardened journalist with no love for Vegas and every reason to hate Angel, and Maria Villarosa, a young Texas refugee who survives by her wits and street smarts in a city that despises everything that she represents.  With bodies piling up, bullets flying, and Phoenix teetering on collapse, it seems like California is making a power play to monopolize the life-giving flow of a river. For Angel, Lucy, and Maria time is running out and their only hope for survival rests in each other’s hands. But when water is more valuable than gold, alliances shift like sand, and the only thing for certain is that someone will have to bleed if anyone hopes to drink." - publisher

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