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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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Max Frisch’s Man in the Holocene (1980) – Geological Cli-Fi (Thomas H. Ford)

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Thomas H. Ford

Max Frisch’s Man in the Holocene (1980)

First published in German in 1979 and appearing in English translation the following year, Man in the Holocene was written before climate change became a prominent subject of public concern. While the novel imagines climatic transformations, these cannot be related in any direct way to anthropogenic global warming. Nonetheless, Frisch’s novel has attracted critical attention for its anticipations of climate change fiction, and has been read as ‘a reflection on the Anthropocene avant la lettre’.1 What has primarily motivated these readings is the novel’s interweaving of the timescales of lived experience with those of earth history. That formal structure has been seen to offer a premonitory ‘cryptogram of the complex and paradoxical human condition’ in a time of climate change.2

Man in the Holocene tells the story of Geiser, an elderly widower who lives alone in a Swiss alpine village which has been cut off from the outside world, although the cause of this isolation is unclear. Perhaps it is a landslide caused by the incessant, unseasonal rains; perhaps a retaining wall has collapsed: the news in the village is contradictory. The village also loses power and lines of communication. Nonetheless, the villagers seem relatively untroubled. The post office remains open, selling stamps and receiving packages, although the mail truck is no longer running: ‘Nobody in the village thinks that the day, or perhaps the night, will come when the whole...

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