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Visualizing the Tropes of ‘Climate Fiction’
May 14, 2014 11:20 AM   Subscribe

As fears about global warming become ever more culturally ingrained, “climate fiction” has gone from a once-fringe genre to a standard literary device. Cli-Fi, as it’s abbreviated, is set in a near or long-term future where the fallout from global warming, be it flooding or mass extinctions, is not only apparent, but an aspect of everyday life. Spanning genres from literary fiction to thrillers, Cli-Fi acts as a barometer of our own ecological anxieties. This project offers a compelling portrait of climate change fears beyond what scientists and pundits can provide. via
PDF of the full visualization of the novels
posted by infini (30 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I remember there were a few years in the 70s were everything was about the coming ice age. It is interesting how these things become genres.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:29 PM on May 14


Not exactly related: But there's a kind of poetry in the National Weather Service "forecast discussion," which provides the context for the much tidier forecasts you read on the front page (or hear from your TV weather person).

Here's a sample from my locale:
OTHER MAIN ISSUE/CHALLENGE WILL BE TEMPERATURES. FOR TODAY...EXPECT A VERY HOT DAY WITH MOST COASTAL/VALLEY AREAS IN THE MID 90S TO LOW 100S. ON THURSDAY...THE OFFSHORE WINDS WILL BE WEAKER WHICH MAY ALLOW FOR A LITTLE WARMING ACROSS INLAND AREAS WHILE A SLIGHTLY EARLIER AFTERNOON SEA BREEZE WILL COOL THE COASTAL PLAIN EVER SO SLIGHTLY. ON FRIDAY...MOST AREAS SHOULD BE SEVERAL DEGREES COOLER...BUT STILL WELL ABOVE SEASONAL NORMALS. THE AMOUNT OF COOLING ON FRIDAY WILL BE DETERMINED BY THE STRENGTH OF THE ONSHORE FLOW WHICH VARIES GREATLY BETWEEN MODELS. SO...CONFIDENCE IN THE EXACT AMOUNT OF COOLING ON FRIDAY IS ON THE LOW SIDE.
I check it daily (both for the weather and the Lit-Kicks).

Related: Data analysis and lit? Look what the kids have done to the concordance!

Also, while the paper is not interested in Cli-Fi's market share, so-to-speak (is the genre growing?), it would be interesting to know how big it is, what the trend is like, etc, as maybe another measure of Climate Fear's mindshare among readers and the rest of us.
posted by notyou at 12:31 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Huh, looking back over the books it looks like the big surge of straight Ice Age fiction was in the late 60's. The 70s had a bunch of post-war nuclear stuff (half nuclear winter, half global burning desolation), which is keeping in keeping in the zeitgeist genre I guess.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:42 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


That coded-cover model is pretty neat.

I'm reading the last book on the list, Odds Against Tomorrow, right now, and the run up to the disaster is all engaging paranoia, but once you're actually reading through the chaos and ruined buildings and panic and etc. it suddenly becomes boring. Like if porn just kept rolling after the climax.
posted by postcommunism at 12:49 PM on May 14


Science fiction has always had a strong Malthusian subgenre, often using a popular trope (eg nuclear winter) as the pathway.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:50 PM on May 14


Why no authors on the book listings?

Major gap in this list is the lack of Kim Stanley Robinson's "Climate in the Capital" series starting with Forty Signs of Rain, as well as maybe John Barnes' Mother of Storms, though it's far from Barnes' best book.
posted by aught at 1:02 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


There are also many books that take climate change (warming, sea rise at least) for granted but don't center it, it's just part of Shit Future People Have to Deal With. (I guess the movie AI would fall into this too, with its drowned New York).

Given all the headlines this week about the melting of a giant ice shelf/potential 10-foot rise in sea level, the word "fiction" doesn't seem adequate.
posted by emjaybee at 1:04 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Major gap in this list is the lack of Kim Stanley Robinson's "Climate in the Capital" series starting with Forty Signs of Rain, as well as maybe John Barnes' Mother of Storms, though it's far from Barnes' best book.

Yeah, but KSR's trilogy was mostly about NSF procedures and frisbee golf.
posted by malocchio at 1:05 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


Meant to add; obligatory photoshopped "world after 12 foot sea rise" photos.
posted by emjaybee at 1:09 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Thanks, emjaybee, I could look at those kinds of pictures all day!
posted by agregoli at 1:22 PM on May 14


KSR's trilogy was mostly about NSF procedures and frisbee golf

Perfect timing. I'm about two thirds of the way through Forty Signs of Rain and would happily read about a nice round of frisbee golf right around now.
posted by JaredSeth at 1:27 PM on May 14


Also, I don't have the will to reload that slow slow slow loading PDF (no reason why it needed to be many MB considering it was mostly text with a few key vector graphics), but wasn't The Dog Stars on their list? That was post-apocalyptic but I thought it was the aftermath of some super-flu, not of widespread climate change effects.
posted by aught at 1:40 PM on May 14


Good to see The Drowned World from J. G. Ballard's "world destroying" phase, though The Burning World would have been a good inclusion as well, since climate change will mean floods for some but droughts for others.

Incidentally, with half the continental US currently undergoing a drought, the western hemisphere is also looking at a potentially severe El Niño. Didn't someone define science fiction as "headlines from the future"?
posted by Doktor Zed at 1:47 PM on May 14


Was Forty Signs of Rain the one about the priests visiting from their rapidly submerging island nation?
posted by infini at 1:58 PM on May 14


Wot, no The Sheep Look Up, Stand On Zanzibar, Earth, Mother of Storms, Heavy Weather, etc?
posted by MartinWisse at 2:00 PM on May 14 [3 favorites]


I think it's interesting that we've gone from the fear of instant, unpredictable annihilation that characterised atomic age society to the fear of inevitable, by degrees (literally!), slow-moving destruction of climate change.
posted by Quilford at 3:11 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I second (and third and fourth...) Brunner, but I also quite enjoyed Stephen Baxter's relentlessly bleak "Flood".
posted by wintermind at 3:16 PM on May 14


Ah, Heavy Weather - the only disaster narrative in the history of fiction that bothers to destroy Oklahoma City.
posted by ormondsacker at 3:42 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Streiber and Kunetka's Nature's End comes to mind, published in 1986. I read it because I'd read Warday. But I remember it because of its vivid depiction of the effects of global warming, particularly the frequent and uncontrolled wildfires in the forests of the American west.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 3:43 PM on May 14 [4 favorites]


That's the one, infini.
posted by JaredSeth at 4:36 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Wot, no The Sheep Look Up, Stand On Zanzibar, Earth, Mother of Storms, Heavy Weather, etc?

It's not a very good list, is it?
posted by Justinian at 4:52 PM on May 14


I think it's interesting that we've gone from the fear of instant, unpredictable annihilation that characterised atomic age society to the fear of inevitable, by degrees (literally!), slow-moving destruction of climate change.

It's like we are going from the New Testament back to the Old, with the flood and other disaster stories.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:30 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


Octavia Butler deserves a mention on this list for Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 5:43 PM on May 14 [2 favorites]


I think it's interesting that we've gone from the fear of instant, unpredictable annihilation that characterised atomic age society to the fear of inevitable, by degrees (literally!), slow-moving destruction of climate change.

It's like we are going from the New Testament back to the Old, with the flood and other disaster stories.
posted by Dip Flash


That is such a deep insight, Dip Flash (and Quilford!); and therefore we shouldn't be all that surprised at the emergence of a bunch of Old Testament style prophets like James Hansen, Paul Erlich, James Lovelock, Chris Hedges and others telling us to change our evil God-offending ways before it's too late, whereas previously, it was Repent because the End is nigh.
posted by jamjam at 6:05 PM on May 14


Was Forty Signs of Rain the one about the priests visiting from their rapidly submerging island nation?

The trilogy does feature monks from a rapidly submerging nation, yes. I think they're in all three books, don't remember what role they play specifically in the first one.
posted by chrominance at 6:43 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]


> It's like we are going from the New Testament back to the Old, with the flood and other disaster stories.

For those looking to calbrate their magic 8 balls for 2014 et seq., we observe that the sinners didn't pay much attention to either OT or NT-style warnings.
posted by jfuller at 7:16 PM on May 14


Odd that The Hunger Games aren't listed, or did I just miss it? Probably the most high-profile post-climate-dystopia book/series (there are a lot of references to the fact that the dystopia came about due to droughts, floods, and rising sea levels wiping out the coasts).
posted by lunasol at 8:25 PM on May 14


Oddly enough, I finally got around to finishing Windup Girl the day before hearing about the Thwaite Glacier.

Kinda poor timing, on my part.
posted by aramaic at 8:55 PM on May 14


Also, I don't have the will to reload that slow slow slow loading PDF (no reason why it needed to be many MB considering it was mostly text with a few key vector graphics), but wasn't The Dog Stars on their list?

Yeah, visualisation is horrible and the data itself dodgy. The first thing I saw on the PDF was Far North where the actor is described as Male Sheriff. She's a women but why list the gender at all?
posted by ninebelow at 3:09 AM on May 15


I loved "The Dog Stars" (after finishing it, I looked on amazon to see what else he'd written, and it turns out I spent time with the author aboard a ship years ago). I think it'd make a great film. I also really liked the German "cli-fi" film "Hell" (in German it means "Bright").

I'll have to check some of these other books out--and look up Baxter's "Flood".
posted by whatgorilla at 2:04 PM on May 15


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