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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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George Turner’s The Sea and Summer (1987) – Urban Dystopian Cli-Fi (Thomas H. Ford)

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Thomas H. Ford

George Turner’s The Sea and Summer (1987)

The core narrative of George Turner’s 1987 novel The Sea and Summer – published in the USA as Drowning Towers – first appeared in print two years earlier as a short story, ‘The Fittest’, included in a sci-fi anthology from a small Australian genre press. The story is about survival, as its title suggests, in what for Turner was the not-too-distant future of Melbourne in the 2020s and 2030s. It concerns a family, the Conways, who have been precipitated down a yawning social chasm, falling from ‘Sweet’, the elite who live lives roughly comparable to those enjoyed in the 1980s by Turner’s readers, down into the vast majority of ‘the Swill’, a workless lumpen multitude housed in crumbling tenement towers and supported by the state at subsistence levels approaching those of bare life, ‘nearer to beastliness than most animals ever get’.1

The watery metaphors of ‘Sweet’ and ‘Swill’ in which this absolute class division is framed derive from the rising tides that are progressively inundating the city with polar meltwaters as part of a generalized ecological and economic collapse. While the Swill retreat upwards into the towers or navigate the streets only on home-made rafts, the Sweets are safe, for the moment, on higher ground. Turner envisions the state responding to the pressures of over-population and climatic catastrophe that have led to this starkly divided society with an exterminatory program of biomedical selection,...

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