I first learned about climate fiction in the summer of 2017, before my current project was even an idea. Climate fiction, often referred to as cli-fi, has been defined as “a genre of literature that imagines the past, present and future effects of climate change.”
The genre has gained popularity in the years since the Great Recession, but it’s works aren’t limited to our years of uncertainty.
Margaret Atwood is a cli-fi writer, as are Barbara Kingsolver and Ian McEwan. Michael Crichton is no stranger to cli-fi. Genre newcomers include Lesley Nnekah Arimah, Kim Stanley Robinson, Claire Vaye Watkins, and Nathanial Rich.
I haven’t read many of the cli-fi titles available, but one I considered recently was Michelle Tea’s Black Wave. The story takes place in 1999, as the protagonist waits for the announced end of the world to arrive in a year. Like in many cli-fi books, the climate elements are subtle compared to some of the rest of the themes of the book; in this case, explorations of love and family, ideas about personal security, and a fantasy element involving characters experiencing dreams together. In the character’s evolution throughout the story, climate events are there to ground the reader in the book’s dystopian backdrop.
But my favorite of all the cli-fi stories (so far!) is “What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky,” the title selection of a short story collection by Lesley Nnekah Arimah.
The girl lowered her eyes to her lap, fighting tears. As though to mock her, she was flanked by a map on the wall, the entire globe splayed out as it had been seventy years ago and as it was now. Most of what had been North America was covered in water and a sea had replaced Europe. Russia was a soaked grave. The only continents unclaimed in whole or in part by the sea were Australia and what was now the United Countries but had once been Africa. The Elimination began after a moment of relative peace, after the French had won the trust of their hosts. The Senegalese newspapers that issued warnings were dismissed as conspiracy rags, rabble-rousers inventing trouble. But then the camps, the raids, and the mysterious illness that wiped out millions. Then the cabinet members murdered in their beds. And the girl had survived it.
If you want to try climate fiction on for size among your reading selections, try listening to “What it Means…” read by Levar Burton (July 11, 2017 episode). It’s a treat.