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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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Ian McEwan’s Solar (2010) – British Comic Cli-Fi (Richard Kerridge)

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Richard Kerridge

Ian McEwan’s Solar (2010)

Why has there been so little realistic fiction about climate change? This is a specialized version of the larger question why societies and individuals have so far been unable to act upon their knowledge. Why can we not behave as if we knew what we know? The answers offered have often pointed to the scale of climate change and other large environmental problems, and the extreme mis-match between their scale and that of the perspectives and narratives that define the individual human life-story, and to which our evolved responses are adapted. These are questions of spatial and temporal scale. Environmental problems reach across the globe and connect the already-distant past with the probable future.

Consumerism in the rich world has environmental consequences in places that the consumers do not see, smell, touch or hear. Val Plumwood invented a term for these far-off places.1 She called them ‘the shadow places of the consumer self’, and asked how – by what strange disruptive expansion or collage – we could come to perceive with our senses their distress and damage. Timothy Clark asks the same question when he writes of the derangements of scale that climate change brings, especially the way in which actions conventionally too small and routine to be worth any narrative attention acquire on a different scale – the scale of climate change – a cataclysmic importance.2 Can we imagine a novel in which the plot turns not upon...

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