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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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Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow (2013) – Risk and Rationality in Cli-Fi (Hannes Bergthaller)

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Hannes Bergthaller

Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow (2013)

When Hurricane Sandy struck New York in October 2012 (Figure 15), Nathaniel Rich had to revise the proofs of his novel Odds Against Tomorrow.1 Set in an alternative near future, the novel’s climactic event is the flooding of the city by a superstorm named Tammy. Much like the novel’s protagonist Mitchell Zukor, Rich got ‘scooped by reality’2 – and acquired something of a reputation for his prophetic powers. What makes Odds Against Tomorrow interesting as a work of climate fiction, however, is neither the remarkable accuracy with which it anticipated a particular catastrophe that was itself widely seen as anticipating the ‘new normal’ of a climate-changed world,3 nor the vividness with which it imagines the aftermath of this catastrophe. Rather, it has to do with how the novel frames this event as a crisis of rationality that puts into question the different ways in which people respond to risk. Odds Against Tomorrow is a satire of the financial industry, an essay on the apocalyptic imagination and a meditation about the dream of the simple life. On all of these thematic levels, it raises the question of how life is affected by the attempt to anticipate, pre-empt, or confront the dangers that threaten it. ← 117 | 118 →

Figure 15. Stranded ambulance in New York after Hurricane Sandy © Alex Perkins. Reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0.

The novel is divided into three parts. The first...

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