Cli-fi: The Emerging Genre

Climate fiction may be the birth of a new genre but some propose it is only a sub-genre of science fiction. But, where did cli-fi begin and what does the future hold for this unofficial yet important genre?

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Cli-fi Origins

Cli-fi or rather climate fiction is an emerging genre that is progressing throughout literature. It is responding to the ever-growing number of novels focusing on environmental issues, such as climate change, natural disasters, pesticides, and pollution.

Though not official, the term ‘cli-fi’ was coined by journalist Dan Bloom in 2007. Climate fiction is fundamentally based on dystopian worlds and the effect climate has on human life.

It is closely linked to science fiction since in the past there have been many novels engaging with environmental themes. Kim Stanley Robinson’s (2004) Science in the Capital trilogy and Paolo Bacigalupi’s (2009) The Windup Girl are just two examples.

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Climate Controversy

Since the genre is seeping its way into the mainstream, many commentators have argued climate fiction should not be associated with science fiction. Climate fiction stories are set in the present day or near future and, therefore, do not explore the longer-term implications.

This heightened awareness of the potential consequences of humanity’s negative influence on the planet is engaging with issues we sometimes don’t want to face. And many of them are dystopian futures ravaged by climate change.

It is being questioned whether the genre is exploiting the issues of climate change. Could it just be a plot device to generate the story’s momentum? I don’t believe climate fiction is exploiting the issues it is striving to discuss because ultimately, the author is making a firm decision to discuss very complex issues through an imaginary context.

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Looking to the Future

There is one novel, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour that wonderfully engages with how society responds to an event caused by climate change. This event, the arrival of millions of monarch butterflies, causes divide and challenges the character’s beliefs and lifestyles.

They respond in their own ways and provides an opportunity to engage with the challenges society faces and develops consent on a response to a very real disorder.  And this all takes place in present-day rural Tennessee.

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It seems climate fiction is expanding and becoming more important to the climate discourse. More than ever before, we need to engage with these issues through storytelling to understand what our responses can and should be. Without stories, we couldn’t make sense of the world and our place within it. Stories resonate with us in a way scientific facts and information cannot. It is imagination and creativity that will motivate more people to respond to environmental issues. We determine our own fate and this can only be achieved with storytelling.

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Louise Thacker
Louise is SFFN's Pop Culture Editor. She is also a second-year Creative Writing student at Bath Spa University and creator of Vegan Wisdom. As well as this, Louise is an Animal Rights/Vegan Activist and Campaigner. She is a Doctor Who Nerd and loves Buffy/Angel, The Librarians, Legend of Korra, Tim Burton films, Harry Potter and Person of Interest (Not much, really).