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Cli-Fi

A Companion

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Edited By Axel Goodbody and Adeline Johns-Putra

What is Cli-Fi?

Climate change fiction is a new literary phenomenon that emerged at the turn of the twenty-first century in response to what may be society’s greatest challenge. Climate change is already part responsible for extreme weather events, flooding, desertification and sea level rise, leading to famine, the spread of disease, and population displacement. Cli-fi novels and films are typically set in the future, telling of disaster and its effect on humans, or they depict the present, beset by dilemmas, conflicts or conspiracies, and pointing to grave consequences. At their heart are ethical and political questions: will humankind rise to the challenge of acting collectively, in the interest of the future? What sacrifices will be necessary, and is a green dictatorship our only hope for survival as a species?

Each chapter in this volume offers a way of reading a particular literary text or film, drawing attention to themes, formal features, reception, contribution to public debate, and issues for class discussion. Popular novels and films (Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capitol trilogy, Michael Crichton’s State of Fear, Ian McEwan’s Solar, and The Day after Tomorrow) are examined alongside lesser known writing (for instance J. G. Ballard’s «proto-climate change» novel The Drowned World and Antti Tuomainen’s Finnish thriller, The Healer), and films not generally thought of as being about climate change (Frozen and Take Shelter).

The book, which includes an introduction tracing the emergence and influence of cli-fi, is directed towards general readers and film enthusiasts as well as teachers and students. Written in an accessible style, it fills the gap between academic studies and online blogs, offering a comprehensive look at this timely new genre.

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J. G. Ballard’s The Drowned World (1962) – Psycho-Geographical Cli-Fi (Jim Clarke)

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Jim Clarke

J. G. Ballard’s The Drowned World (1962)

In 1962, James Ballard was attempting to forge a career as a writer. The editor of a chemistry journal, and a former medical student and air force pilot, he was desperate to parlay his limited success as a short story writer of sci-fi into a career which could support his young family. During a two-week holiday, he wrote The Wind From Nowhere, a potboiler in the style of catastrophe fiction then current in British sci-fi. Looking back on this period from a decade on, fellow sci-fi writer Brian Aldiss dismissed this sub-genre as ‘cosy catastrophe’. In these novels, an apocalyptic event triggers the end of civilization, which somehow proves a boon for the protagonist, who is now free from civilizational constraints to act as he chooses, leading to an unlikely comfortable existence. In this vein, Ballard’s protagonist, the doctor Donald Maitland, is released from his failing marriage by his wife’s death in a hurricane. Maitland embarks on an heroic attempt to preserve collapsing buildings in London. As the winds build inexplicably, humans gather in tunnels and bunkers, fearing the end. Equally inexplicably, the winds begin to die down just as Maitland’s own death seems assured.

Ballard dismissed the novel in later life as a ‘piece of hackwork’, and disowned it, anointing The Drowned World as his first ‘real’ novel. Though The Wind From Nowhere is shockingly standard fare compared to Ballard’s other...

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