When Sci-Fi Meets Climate Change

The new wave of this literary genre does not present escapist literature, but problems as real as global warming and ways to deal with it

By Carlos Roa

The times in which sci-fi literature were fantasy narratives about extraterrestrial invasions or monster attacks are long gone.

A new crop of young writers of the genre prefers to look the great real problems of humanity squarely in the eye, to use literature as a warning, a wake-up call and a resource to raise awareness.

Among the new issues on the agenda of real concerns that inspire authors, climate change occupies a prominent place.

This is how was born the so-called climate fiction, sometimes abbreviated as cli-fi: literature dealing with climate change.

Generally speculative in nature but scientifically based, the stories can take place in today’s world or in the near future.

The genre includes science fiction and dystopian or utopian themes, imagining potential futures depending on how humanity responds to the impacts of climate change.

The catalog of titles is growing, with books such as New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson; The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin or America City, by Chris Beckett.

A hub in universities

Ericka A. Hoagland, professor of Creative Writing at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas, deplores the genre’s “bad reputation as escapist young adult literature,” but believes that’s being overcome. Nor does she see it as an escape route, but as “an emerging and hopeful road map out of our current crises.”

It is now a bridge between writers and their concerns about the present and the future.

Also co-author of the book “Science Fiction, Imperialism, and the Third World,” she said that real concerns, such as rising sea levels, are current themes in science fiction literature.

Dystopia and utopia

Vandana Singh’s “Mother Ocean” takes place in a universe battered by climate change. Rising sea levels displace millions of people in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. The heroine is a member of a displaced tribe and befriends a blue whale, which got caught in a fiber optic net.

“She saves the whale’s life, but also learns to speak its language,” Hoagland explains.

Libia Brenda, a researcher on climate imagination at Arizona State University, is also exploring these new approaches. She mentions the story she is currently working on, a fictional volcanic eruption in Mexico caused by climate change.

It is a collaboration between five writers, who consult with scientists to develop the story. The objective is to imagine “How we are going to live after something like this”, assuming that it is a possible event.

Hope as a moral

Hoagland sees the “Mother Ocean” story as a metaphor that invites us to learn the language of nature and says these stories are becoming more visible.

“There’s a shift in what the public wants to read and what they want to support,” she says.

Brenda also clarifies that her writing group is trying to depict a world that is possible and based on hope. “We’re not imagining an impossible world. We are imagining a world that is a product of change.”

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