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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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Steven Amsterdam’s Things We Didn’t See Coming (2009) – Riskscape Cli-Fi (Antonia Mehnert)

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Antonia Mehnert

Steven Amsterdam’s Things We Didn’t See Coming (2009)

Steven Amsterdam’s first novel, Things We Didn’t See Coming, first published in 2009, offers glimpses into the life of a nameless protagonist and his struggle for survival in a world that is characterized by weather extremes fluctuating between heavy precipitation and severe periods of drought, battles over scarce resources and an increasing un-inhabitability of places. These changing climatic conditions, indicated to be anthropogenic in nature, force the protagonist as well as the other characters in the novel to continuously re-evaluate their living situations. Through nine individual stories, the reader travels in time, starting at the turn of the millennium when the homodiegetic narrator is still a young boy, as the chapter title indicates at ‘What We Know Now’, and ending with the closing of his eyes and thus presumably his death about forty years later.1 Along the way, the protagonist faces not only extreme weather conditions, but also an increasingly disintegrating social order marked by violence, illness and the need for self-reliance.

An overarching theme in Amsterdam’s novel is the transformation of places into ‘riskscapes’ by global climate change.2 Already the title alludes to the idea of risk-determined landscapes, and this is reflected in the book’s ← 61 | 62 → narrative structure and content alike. Amsterdam’s landscapes are characterized by the anticipation and experience of a ubiquitous crisis, in which territorial distinctions decline in importance and socio-cultural practices are disembedded from place. The...

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