The future for cli-fi: interview with Dan Bloom.


Posted on: 16 November 2018 by Bernadette McBride in Ecology and Environment


Liverpool PhD Student Bernadette McBride, interviews the journalist Dan Bloom, who coined the phrase 'Cli-Fi, for the Literature and Science Hub, University of Liverpool.

BM

This year, 2018, marks the tenth anniversary of you coining the now infamous literary term ‘cli-fi’ in 2008. Even early on, the term was endorsed by great authors such as Margaret Atwood and has since gathered momentum across the globe. A decade on, our climate situation is more perilous than ever and by no coincidence, the cli-fi genre output is greater than ever. Have you noticed a pattern in the production of cli-fi as awareness of the Anthropocene has developed since you first coined the term cli-fi?

DB

I've noticed a definite pattern in the production of cli-fi over the past ten years, and each time a new IPCC report came out, beginning in 2006 and including the recent report released in late 2018, awareness of the need for a new literary genre to address the issues of global climate change and runaway global warming has increased year by year. Newspaper headlines about the issues, in tandem with academic papers tackling both cli-fi movies and novels and amplified by websites and social media on the internet, mostly in Anglophone countries, fueled readers' hunger for cli-fi and pushed more and more writers to sit down and start writing cli-fi. I think the 2020s will see a full flowering of cli-fi productions and into the 2030s and 2040s as well. In fact, I think the 21st Century will be known as the Age of Cli-Fi.

BM

In the past, you’ve said that we need the cli-fi equivalent of the 1957 pulp classic On the Beach by Nevil Shute to shock people into awareness. Climate change is such a complex issue, governed by so many factors, some within and some out of our control, unfairly often affecting those who have least contributed towards the problem. There seems to be a multifaceted approach by writers doing cli-fi – from literary fiction such as The MaddAddam Trilogy: Oryx & Crake, The Year of the Flood, MaddAddam, by Margaret Atwood, to self-published indie authors, to a recent short story series by Amazon originals. Is this the way forward to drawing attention to a serious planetary problem that can also, only surely be tackled with a direct, yet multifaceted approach? 

DB

A multifaceted approach will work best and be most productive. It will take a global chorus of novelists, film directors, poets, playwrights and academics to focus attention on the existential risks of a continually warming planet.

I don't think one novel, or one blockbuster movie can do the trick anymore. Although I still personally dream of someday seeing the publication of the On The Beach of climate change. In the end, though, many voices will become one pronounced voice.

BM

You’ve read a sample of Bunkers, my own contribution to cli-fi, a creative product of my ongoing doctoral research. Bunkers as a title alludes to several things; people hiding in purpose-built bunkers (or metaphorical bunkers – e.g. on social media) instead of facing reality, and also the term ‘to do a bunk’, which means to run away from something, i.e. skip school, or jump ship. By my own admission, this work is by no means the On The Beach of cli-fi – through humour, the characters become relatable and sympathetic, the narrator also satirises those who live in denial, or in a bubble. Do you think humour in cli-fi has the potential to disarm the reader and pull them into to engage with climate issues?

DB

I am a big believer in using humour and satire and comic relief to reach readers. Think of the power of A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift. Or the satire inside of Nathaniel rich's 2013 novel Odds Against Tomorrow. I think your novel will disarm the reader in a positive way. Bunkers, and its various meanings, is a superb way to bring readers into your camp.

BM

Climate scientists are the ones with all the vital information, and yet for years, they have struggled to get their message across – the arts have been a strand of communication they have come to lean upon – people enjoy art, theatre and books – not data graphs. From Frankenstein, scientists have been traditionally depicted in literature as mad or bad – perhaps there is a call for more fiction which evokes the modern-day real-life scientist as a relatable, human, and sympathetic character. Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour, and Ian McEwan’s Solar, both achieve this. Do you think cli-fi could act as a go-between in communication between the lay reader and the climate scientist?

DB

I do think cli-fi can serve as a bridge between scientists and lay readers. That's always been my vision. There's even a subgenre now called lab-lit, coined by Jennifer Rohn in London, for novels about the trials and tribulations of scientists and lab technicians. I like the concept and I applaud Dr Rohn's creativity and gumption.

BM

If you walk into any major book chain store there is now an abundance of novels and non-fiction books with nature themes, and the rise of a genre called ‘new nature writing’. I’ve been following this trend and it seems the more news there is about the vulnerability of our climate, the more people feel the need to write about and publish work on nature as we know it now. It struck me that it’s almost a memorialisation for the world as we know it… Many feel psychologically displaced by our impending climate crisis, and they look to books to pin hope onto. To me the main mode of cli-fi is to engage people with a real climate change message, how can cli-fi authors do this whilst also offering hope?

DB

There are two useful terms for this memorialization of the world as we know it, solastalgia, distress over the loss of our homes due to droughts and floods and hurricanes and summer heat waves and wildfires ...and speciestalgia, the distress we feel over the loss of so many some species in the past and in the present. As for whether Cli-fi novels should unleash terrifying dystopian visions or offer promises of hope and optimism in the face of climate change issues, I think we need both kinds of visions and individual authors will create cli-fi based on their own considered feelings. We need both. Cli-fi is an open book and will remain so over the next 100 years.

You can follow Dan Bloom and all things cli-fi at @do_you_cli_fi_ and at http://cli-fi.net/


Keywords: cli-fi.