said, and left unsaid. done, and left undone.
October 2, 2017 9:46 PM   Subscribe

In The Baffler, Siddartha Deb asks us Stranger than Fiction - Why won’t novelists reckon with climate change?
Fiction, in other words, suffers from its own kind of anthropocenization, one that owes as much to post-war prosperity in the West and to globalization, which succeeded in universalizing the obsession with individuals, character, and interiority that dominates writing programs and its reviewing culture. Even nature, resource extraction, and climate change, viewed through the filter of character, become a kind of exoticizing backdrop.
Was this always true? Ghosh, in spite of tracing the lapse all the way back to the nineteenth century, argues that a kind of major shift happened within the carbon economy in the switch from coal to petroleum during those post-war decades.
Amitav Gosh, author of The Great Derangement, reviewed at the LSE Review of Books, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Review of Books, the Rumpus:
Where Is The Fiction About Climate Change?
In a substantially altered world, when sea-level rise has swallowed the Sundarbans and made cities such as Kolkata, New York and Bangkok uninhabitable, when readers and museum-goers turn to the art and literature of our time, will they not look, first and most urgently, for traces and portents of the altered world of their inheritance? And when they fail to find them, what can they do other than to conclude that ours was a time when most forms of art and literature were drawn into the modes of concealment that prevented people from recognising the realities of their plight? Quite possibly, then, this era, which so congratulates itself on its self-awareness, will come to be known as the time of the Great Derangement.
Rob Nixon, author of Slow Violence, reviewed at Time Higher Education and Jacobin, interviewed at Social Text Online and at Nieman Storyboard:
Literary and postcolonial studies have ignored the environmentalism that often only the poor can see
The long dyings—the staggered and staggeringly discounted casualties, both human and ecological—are often not just incremental but exponential, operating as major threat multipliers. They can spur long-term, proliferating conflicts that arise from desperation as the conditions for sustaining life are degraded in ways that the corporate media seldom discuss. One hundred million unexploded land mines lie inches beneath our planet's skin, from wars officially concluded decades ago. Whether in Cambodia, Laos, Somalia, or Angola, those still-active mines have made vast tracts of precious agricultural land and pastures no-go zones, further stressing oversubscribed resources and compounding malnutrition.

To confront slow violence is to take up, in all its temporal complexity, the politics of the visible and the invisible.
Follow the Birth of a Genre. The Man Who Coined ‘Cli-Fi’ Has Some Reading Suggestions For You - that's Dan Bloom, "committed to promoting the idea that well-told stories are and will be critical to raise awareness about the implications of climate change."
More,
more, and more at Burning Worlds.
posted by the man of twists and turns (129 comments total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
 
We don't write novels about climate change for the same reason passengers close their eyes in the last instants before a plane crash.

But, here's your novel about climate change:

It's too late. We're fucked. Moaning about Capitalism or Nationalism or whatever won't help. Civilization is going to collapse, and everything you've ever cared for, whether it's literature or ice cream or democracy will go away. We will be like the lost cities of the Bronze Age Collapse, known only by weathered ruins and the occasional preserved desperate plea.

The end.
posted by happyroach at 10:04 PM on October 2 [27 favorites]


Presumably they mean "real" novelists. Science fiction authors have been dealing with this - screaming at us about it! - for decades.
posted by turbid dahlia at 10:08 PM on October 2 [189 favorites]


I guess it's similar to how House of Cards became dead after Trump's election. The reality will out-fictionalize our fictions.
posted by runcifex at 10:10 PM on October 2 [5 favorites]


2nd-ing turbid dahlia. "Real" novelists are afraid to look more than a very few years into the future, for fear of being categorized as SciFi.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:10 PM on October 2 [22 favorites]


Philip K Dick dealt with climate change and species extinction in Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?. Granted his was nuclear war based, its extended depictions aren't non-applicable.
posted by hippybear at 10:20 PM on October 2 [6 favorites]


That said, I can't think of any stories being told in any medium DURING a collapse. It's either at the beginning, where a Hero can save the day, or it's after a lengthy recovery, when a New Way can be established, or a New Hero can avert an early disaster in this new system.

What story could be told that is happening during a collapse that wouldn't be too bleak to consume?
posted by hippybear at 10:22 PM on October 2 [2 favorites]


Heh. Remember when Michael Crichton wrote a fairly well-reviewed technothriller about how climate change was just a big liberal hoax?

I remember.
For example, US Senator Jim Inhofe, who once pronounced global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people", made State of Fear "required reading" for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which he chaired from 2003 to 2007, and before which he called Crichton to testify in September 2005.
So, thanks Mr. Crichton. Thanks a lot.

Thanks for this FPP. I look forward to adding some of these "cli-fi" suggestions to my Kindle.
posted by xyzzy at 10:25 PM on October 2 [18 favorites]


What story could be told that is happening during a collapse that wouldn't be too bleak to consume?

Somehow the unfinished diptych Stars In My Pocket Like Grains Of Sand comes to mind. There's a collapse (a cultural fugue), intense intentionally confusing world-building that creates cultures beyond what you expect, and then suddenly... an end. And an end that contains a rant that is exactly what you as a reader want. But it ends. There will be no finishing, there will be no resolution.

In some ways I think it might be the most perfect novel.

Also, it's Delaney, and thus SF and thus not "real" fiction.

What would a "real fiction" novel about climate change look like, really?
posted by hippybear at 10:32 PM on October 2 [10 favorites]


Yeah, I was going to say, isn't that one of the major themes of Cloud Atlas?
posted by praemunire at 10:32 PM on October 2 [4 favorites]


Kim Stanley Robinson's work all explicitly involves earth-based climate change. The entry point to KSR that I recommend is the excellent excellent excellent (yes, it's that good) New York 2140, which deals with the economics, politics, and physical reality of a world in which basically all coastal real estate (including New York) are underwater at least during low tide, and the rich have mainly decamped to Denver or places like it, trying to get on with capitalism as usual until they are forced to reckon with reality.

The Red Mars series and related books also mention the deteriorating situation on Earth, though they are mainly based on Mars itself, which must deal with its own ethical geo-engineering politics, a clear proxy for Earth.
posted by LiteOpera at 10:34 PM on October 2 [50 favorites]


The only book I can recall dealing with climate change, sci-fi or not, (it's sci fi) is Mother of Storms by John Barnes, which I read ages ago. Climate change is averted by the singularity! Whew!

The whole idea that climate change is a 'liberal hoax' is one of the most frustrating PR coups of the last few years. As a society we really need to figure out a better way to deal with the radical transparency that email enables and what that means for public policy.
posted by ropeladder at 10:36 PM on October 2 [2 favorites]


See: Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl. But that's also sci-fi. Le sigh.
posted by limeonaire at 10:43 PM on October 2 [10 favorites]


It is a bit of an odd question, not because authors couldn't or in some cases haven't been writing stories about climate change, but because climate change is beyond the scope of individual agency for the most part, which is what most authors, outside more speculative fiction perhaps, tend to focus on. A story about climate change leaves the subjects of the book as more witnesses than agents that could effectively deal with the situation.

Either climate change happens and the author speculates on the resulting state of culture the individuals of his story may deal with, or, somehow, the worst of it has to be forestalled by some action or device that will almost necessarily be more fantasy than reality at this late point.

Either way, this kind of story simply may not be found suitable to most authors who would rather focus on the interiority and interactive complexity of and between individuals. That isn't to say novels shouldn't reflect our situation regarding climate change or that speculative novels aren't also important, just that I'm not sure what it is novelists are supposed to be doing about climate change that would make any more difference than what is already being said by scientists and lay people who know about the issue.

Given the subject, those books, even should they be written, aren't likely to appeal to the audience willfully denying the fact of climate change already. At best they'll be just nodding to the reader saying, "yes, I know, this is awful" or worse providing disaster porn for the reader to indulge in with the grim satisfaction of being equally helpless to change anything but at least was on the right side of the issue before watching the world burn.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:44 PM on October 2 [5 favorites]


I'll throw in a recommendation for He, She, and It for people looking for recommendations of speculative fiction books with global warming.
posted by Candleman at 10:45 PM on October 2 [1 favorite]


I page searched "Bacigalupi" on the first three in-post excerpted links and found no hint of compression-tension batteries. Thankfully, the man who coined the term Cli-Fi mentions the author's name.

Given that the theme of the first three pieces is "where is this fiction" I must conclude they possibly need assistance with their googlin'. At any rate, the fiction ain't missing.
posted by mwhybark at 10:49 PM on October 2 [9 favorites]


Maybe a better question: Why do writers and reviewers of books insist on maintaining this outmoded, false distinction between "novels of substance" and "novels of science"? It's interesting how dystopia has in some large part become the realm of science fiction only, rather than being something everyone across genres is concerned with in some way. I guess Jonathan Franzen is deeply concerned about the plight of migratory birds and their habitat, writing it into his work, but is anyone else doing that sort of thing?

This only increases my appreciation of William Gibson and hate for literary novelists.
posted by limeonaire at 10:49 PM on October 2 [29 favorites]


literary novelists

I'm a bit "outside baseball" about this particular term. Can you help me understand?
posted by hippybear at 10:50 PM on October 2


Of course, as soon as I said that, I thought of The Circle—but that particular techno dystopia scarcely mentions the environment, outside of providing a backdrop for social-media photography. That's the point, of course, but yeah.
posted by limeonaire at 10:51 PM on October 2


What would a "real fiction" novel about climate change look like, really?

Based on the "real fiction" I've read: it would involve a celebrated and wealthy male novelist who writes on climate change, in between arguing with his disgruntled wife and boinking a beautiful 20-something woman.
posted by happyroach at 10:51 PM on October 2 [63 favorites]


So, basically, "write what you know" only with more hurricanes?
posted by hippybear at 10:53 PM on October 2 [6 favorites]


Here, for example.
posted by mwhybark at 10:54 PM on October 2


I suppose what I mean is "literary fiction" vs. "genre fiction," though in and of itself such terms may not seem to mean all that much. Look that up and you get nonsense definitions like "Literary fiction is fiction that has value and merit in the social world" or "Literary fiction are fictional works that are deemed to be of literary merit, as distinct from most commercial, or 'genre' fiction." Those are definitions written by morons for morons. Defining this is probably outside the scope of this discussion; I'll leave it at something like "Literary fiction is writing that has been stripped of genre conventions, to the point that academics and reviewers actually will take it seriously as allegedly original and poetically composed literature that might also be somewhat reflective of the society in which it was written or set and possibly even worthy of study or public discussion for its forms or content."

So meh to that.
posted by limeonaire at 11:05 PM on October 2 [7 favorites]


The Book of Dave has a flooded future world. Solar is kind of about climate change.

Literary novelists tend not to address the grand sweep of history; that stuff is largely left to SF.
posted by Segundus at 11:06 PM on October 2


As many posters have pointed out upthread, Science fiction is apparently persona non grata, as usual. If you count Dune, featuring an entire culture whose goal is to change the climate of their planet, since the 60s (Herbert was inspired by the ecology of dunes in Oregon). Since they obviously mean negative (to humans)-outcome climate change on earth, it's been happening since the 80s. That's just the stuff I happen to know about, a small subset of the existing canon.

Science fiction has been dealing in the nature of human suffering for a fairly long time now. I guess art with a point to make doesn't count if it doesn't come from a "reputable" source? Did the message in the film Lord of War not count because it starred Nicholas Cage? Should we toss out the canon of Sci fi written by women or minorities too?

Sorry, this is sour grapes for me, I also complained when we had the post about how all the popular fiction was dystopian now because Hunger Games.

Read a book, jerks! Maybe by Octavia Butler!
posted by Strudel at 11:47 PM on October 2 [17 favorites]


Of course there have always been conscientious people who think that it is the duty of responsible novelists to ensure that their work addresses the severe problems which face society, and delivers messages which are politically helpful. To those thoughtful and well-meaning people, the answer must, as always, be 'fuck off'.
posted by Segundus at 11:52 PM on October 2 [3 favorites]


Why do writers and reviewers of books insist on maintaining this outmoded, false distinction between "novels of substance" and "novels of science"?

There are writers who deal with themes often used in sci-fi who are also regarded as literary novelists. Margaret Atwood does aiight.

It's entirely possible to write a literary novel that deals with climate change. The New York Times highlighted 7 this month, with remarks from scientists about how realistic their proposed futures were.

The reason science fiction has been dealing with these themes far longer than literary fiction is that what makes science fiction a distinct genre is that it is primarily concerned with the impact of technology on human culture. Science fiction only really comes into being as a thing post-Industrial Revolution, when people start to grapple with the idea that advances in technology will mean that the future world will be substantially different than the present. As such, having an interesting idea about what that future will look like and how society will be different because of it is the precondition for writing a sci-fi novel.

What literary fiction tends to be concerned with and good at is what people are like. Why they lie, who they love, what their parents have made of them, what they make of their children. That's why the settings of literary novels tend to be quotidian, and present. They tend to be concerned about how contemporary culture impacts people. You're going to get 100 literary novels which try to grapple with Trump and what his rise says about American society.

Is it possible to serve both these masters? To write a book that talks about future but is mostly about people? Sure. Like I said, the Times dug up 7 with no trouble.

But I think that sci fi is always going to be more drawn to these themes. Because having an interesting idea about the future is what makes for good sci fi, and if you do you can get away with writing totally unrealistic or flat characters within that book. I remember reading The Martian a while back, and being struck by how un-novel-like it seemed to me, in that the character basically had no interior life. There's scarcely a moment in that book where the character really stops and thinks about what it is like to be in that situation, about how it makes him feel, what he remembers of his life before or what he hopes for his life after. He is a blank, and reading about the world through his eyes is like playing a first person shooter --- he's a camera and a pair of floating hands working his way through a series of dangerous puzzles. They're very interesting puzzles and I enjoyed the book. But it ain't literary fiction because the character has no interior life.
posted by Diablevert at 12:23 AM on October 3 [13 favorites]


Mother of Storms by John Barnes may not feature the finest writing and is also a sci-fi genre piece, but it does capture some of the significance of the upsweep in the power and frequency of hurricanes in recent years.
posted by fairmettle at 12:27 AM on October 3 [2 favorites]


Nathaniel Rich's Odds Against Tomorrow wears its "I am a literary novel" on its sleeve and is about climate change.

Not the world's worst novel, either.
posted by chavenet at 1:49 AM on October 3 [1 favorite]


The Mandibles would probably also qualify as being about climate change.
posted by chavenet at 1:52 AM on October 3


Ultimatum, by Matthew Glass, deals with how climate change in the present day could easily lead to global conflict. I thought it was pretty good.
posted by dowcrag at 2:09 AM on October 3 [1 favorite]


"Gold Fame Citrus" by Claire Vaye Watkins describes a near future California after extreme drought, and I think it definitely qualifies as "literary fiction."
posted by faineg at 2:44 AM on October 3 [3 favorites]


I found the piece very difficult to read, but just out of the top of my head, wouldn't films count? They are fiction and also practically the modern equivalent of a novel.
The Day after Tomorrow (2004) had extreme weather events, Waterworld (1995) is explicitly based on melting ice caps, The Age of Stupid (2009) is about why we did not address climate change... There's plenty floating around.
posted by Laotic at 2:46 AM on October 3


It's a good question,but hey, what about this axe I have here to grind?
posted by thelonius at 3:06 AM on October 3 [7 favorites]


Beuce Sterling includes climate change in the settings for some of his books, and his Heavy Weather is specifically about it.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:13 AM on October 3 [5 favorites]


A Visit From The Goon Squad does, or do women authors of literary fiction also not count?
posted by Mchelly at 3:37 AM on October 3 [8 favorites]


Gardner Dozois' annual SF anthologies have been heavy on post-apocalyptic climate change fiction for years.

Ghosh slips between talking about "literary fiction," which is every bit a genre descriptor as "science fiction"--but with considerably more prestige--and the "literary imagination," which theoretically ought to include science fiction writing. You could make a case that science fiction usually focuses on the world after everything has gone kaflooey (to use a technical term), as opposed to privileging the realistic representation of the now that the post's authors want.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:52 AM on October 3 [2 favorites]


Although Ghosh does point out the problem of getting climate change to signify as "real" in realist fiction (it's so extreme! does it fit the genre conventions?).
posted by thomas j wise at 3:55 AM on October 3


Seconding Watkins's Gold Fame Citrus.
posted by allthinky at 4:05 AM on October 3


See: Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl. But that's also sci-fi. Le sigh.

It's also orientalist shit that completely ignores the existence of wind and solar energy.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:07 AM on October 3 [8 favorites]


So, the take-home here is, there is no literature about climate change as long as we ignore all the literature about climate change?

I am unimpressed.
posted by kyrademon at 4:32 AM on October 3 [14 favorites]


I am literally right now reading a new novel about a Civil War that breaks out after climate change has destabilized the United States.

Right, I'm het up enough that I"m going to comment with that note on some of these articles.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:32 AM on October 3 [6 favorites]


It's almost as though The Baffler isn't so much a venue for well-researched journalism as it is for self-congratulatory foregone conclusions.
posted by belarius at 4:44 AM on October 3 [12 favorites]


Empress, is that 'American War'?
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:51 AM on October 3


oops sorry, on phone and link wasn't obvious, I see that it is, just pretend I'm not even here!
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:53 AM on October 3


Okay, here is my answer: when serious novelists write about climate change as a major topic rather than as what's going on in the background (since that's not what is requested by the Baffler), their work becomes science fiction and is ignored. Which is why Margaret Atwood's climate change trilogy doesn't count, why Doris Lessing's Mara and Dann doesn't count, why Lessing's other man-made-climate-collapse fiction (the last 1/3 of the Four-Gated City, for example) doesn't count, etc.

Or the recent The Man With The Compound Eyes, which is a tsunami novel but has a lot of climate-change implications, and which is a perfectly serious literary novel incorporating magic-realism-like elements....but which I've only ever seen shelved as SF.

OTOH, I think we're going to get lots of "serious" climate fiction in the next decade, because the refugee crisis has kicked into high gear and there's a narrative about climate change attached to it, because there's enough displacement in the wake of this last round of storms, etc that I think it will appear in literary fiction.

But then, what does "climate change" fiction look like? It can't be set against the backdrop of climate change, because that's frivolous, sez the article, it has to be "about" climate change. What does that mean? CP Snow? Social realism in the style of the USSR? There are, apparently, lots of books with Hurricane Katrina as a theme, but even though that seems like it's basically climate change fiction it doesn't count, because it's not "about" climate change because it doesn't have lots of scientists talking about climate change or something?

I mean, I feel like what's being requested is fundamentally undeliverable, because if it's about individuals it's not going to be "about" climate change. It seems like the only non-SF novel you could have about climate change would be a collective-protagonist novel a la dos Passos about climate activists. Which would be neat! I would totally buy a copy! I am completely the market for novels about activists and scientists in general anyway. But I've got a lot of other reading time.
posted by Frowner at 5:07 AM on October 3 [19 favorites]


fiction that deals with climate change is almost by definition not of the kind that is taken seriously: the mere mention of the subject is often enough to relegate a novel or a short story to the genre of science fiction.
The genre policing, the ghetto maintenance is strong.
posted by doctornemo at 5:21 AM on October 3 [5 favorites]


The Fifth Season, which just won the Hugo, is very much about how horrible it would be to have your environment change out from under you, albeit from geological causes.
posted by Artw at 5:34 AM on October 3 [6 favorites]


I gotta say, the strongest impression I'm taking away from this conversation is that using the term "literary fiction" around science fiction fans is the equivalent of saying "happy holidays" to conservative Christians.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:45 AM on October 3 [21 favorites]


Maybe we can watch for something like The Grapes of Wrath, which I'm amazed wasn't mentioned in any of those articles, as far as I can tell.
posted by Caxton1476 at 5:55 AM on October 3 [18 favorites]


i guess what they are looking for is something not set in the future, which I guess is more doable as environmental collapse becomes less a far off thing that might happen and more a thing that is happening right now, rid of predictive or speculative elements. I suspect we'll see those first from outside of Europe and North America, where we will see the most devestating effects first.
posted by Artw at 5:56 AM on October 3 [1 favorite]


The Grapes of Wrath

Ohh. Fucking great example.
posted by Artw at 5:56 AM on October 3 [9 favorites]


Charlie Jane Anders' "All the Birds in the Sky" has some climate-change effects like big huge storms, so it's there in the background of it.
posted by rmd1023 at 5:59 AM on October 3 [1 favorite]


Okay, here is my answer: when serious novelists write about climate change as a major topic rather than as what's going on in the background (since that's not what is requested by the Baffler), their work becomes science fiction and is ignored.

This reminds me of one of the dodges Joanna Russ talks about in How to Suppress Women's Writing: "She wrote it, but she's not really a woman."
posted by Orlop at 6:06 AM on October 3 [7 favorites]


I am forever astonished in commentary asking (inanely) "why don't REAL novelists write about climate change" that no one mentions TC Boyle's fantastic 2000 novel A Friend of the Earth.
posted by twsf at 6:09 AM on October 3 [2 favorites]


(Perhaps a spoiler)

It's fantastical and pretty weird, but The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell has a sudden and unexpected chunk of climate realism after what you think is the end of the novel.

I found it very affecting. Most of the story has a conventional shape in which some wrongdoers are defeated by some morally OK protagonists. Then, just when you think some exceptional individuals have saved the day, there is an epilogue in which individual heroism and evil is thrown into perspective against the much bigger processes of climate change going on in the background.

This juxtaposition brought the seriousness of it all home to me, perhaps because when you read a story you identify a bit with the struggles of the characters (even though their story is remarkable and mine is quotidian). Having their apparent victory snatched away by vast impersonal forces which have no narrative was a sting in the tail.
posted by larkery at 6:14 AM on October 3 [11 favorites]


If all you read are books about middle-aged writers who teach at upscale liberal arts colleges in New England and sleep with their lithe, sexually adventurous students while they struggle to produce a second great novel, it's kind of hard to fit climate change in there.

I mean for all we know, maybe the climate is going batshit in everything John Irving or Jonathan Franzen writes. How would you tell?

That's true of a lot of things actually. Why don't novelists reckon with river blindness?
posted by Naberius at 6:14 AM on October 3 [14 favorites]


Yeah, to the extent that "literary fiction" as a genre basically consists of comedies of manners it probably isn't very well equipped for this subject matter.
posted by Artw at 6:27 AM on October 3 [7 favorites]


Dave Langford mentions the linked article in July's edition of Ansible:

AS OTHERS IGNORE US. Siddhartha Deb's article subtitled 'Why won't novelists reckon with climate change?' ponders this eternal mystery with two mentions of 'genre fiction' (but no examples) and none of sf. 'For _[Amitav]_ Ghosh, this is in great part the result of literary fiction's need to keep the fluky and the exceptional out of its bounds, conceding the terrain of improbability -- cyclones, tornadoes, tsunamis, and earthquakes -- to genre fiction.' (thebaffler.com, 5 June) As Robert Conquest famously did not write: _'"Lit-fic shuns climate change," they bellow till we're sick. / "But_ this _book tackles it." -- "Well then, it's not lit-fic."'

See Ansibles passim for discussion of cli-fi and the literary world's seeming fear of being branded SF.
posted by mushhushshu at 6:41 AM on October 3 [8 favorites]


The article in question does seem to be suffering from the Streetlight Effect. They don't know how to look outside what they know to find what they say they're looking for.
posted by Fraxas at 6:43 AM on October 3 [8 favorites]


Larkery, I was going to mention the Bone Clocks as well. But David Mitchell has always hewed fairly close to science fiction for a literary fiction writer so it would make sense for him to write about it.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:49 AM on October 3 [2 favorites]



So I thought about this more:

1. The Guardian article is better than the Baffler article - you get a lot more of what Gosh means, and he does name-check Atwood, etc. (The Baffler was so good in the nineties, you guys, you would not believe. I have all the old ones. Even now, it's about 1/2 good - they do some really admirable long-form journalism and it's often worth picking up in paper.)

I think that his point about how certain types of literary fiction distrust/exclude "extraordinary" events is a very good one, even though over-generalized. Like, much of the literary fiction that I tend to read has quite a lot of extraordinary events - Midnight's Children, or Wolf Hall or Beyond Black or Marge Piercy's activist novels or House of the Spirits or even WG Sebald's books. Now, not all of those are the Very Classiest literary fiction, but they get shelved right next to Robert Musil and so on.

And I do end up wondering, too - climate change is going to be banal for a lot of people a lot of the time. The everyday is just going to get harder and more uncomfortable, and the awful is going to get normalized.

2. I'm not clear about what climate change fiction is supposed to do other than "be a warning".

What is climate fiction supposed to do? "Educate"? Directly mobilize people? Raise "awareness"? If the goal is the reach the most people - and the most people who are likely to be unaware of climate justice - then thrillers and science fiction are your genres, and realistic prose is your mode. Kim Stanley Robinson is your boy.

He quotes Franco Moretti about the extraordinary in fiction - that before the novel form really solidified out of the picaresque, the idea was to string together a bunch of extraordinary events with "filler" of narrative stringing them together, and that the contemporary novel is just the same except that the filler is disguised better and the events are less extraordinary. The Guardian article makes it sound like this is a decisive blow against the contemporary novel.

I love Franco Moretti but when someone is all "but former novels were open about their artificiality, that's why they were better" I am all *shrug*. Former novels were open about their artificiality, full stop. That's fine, if you like it then more power to you, but it's not better. It's like saying that abstract expressionism is "better" than portraiture because abstract expressionism is open about how it's just paint on canvas.

It seems like what he's really saying is, "there is a world of people who like experimental/non-"realistic"/non-mimetic fiction, and people who write this kind of fiction have a moral duty to write this kind of fiction about climate change so as to mobilize the kind of people who like this kind of fiction", which is true so far as it goes, but he also seems to be saying, "this fiction is both morally and politically better and more effective than other fictions, which is why it doesn't really matter that there are other fictions about climate change", which is patently untrue.

3. I guess I also wonder why fiction is better for this than documentary. For the purposes of mobilizing people, why is fiction better? Fiction may reach a few more people, but by definition we're talking about reaching fans of lit fic who are uninterested in SF, thrillers, movies, documentaries or the news - so a fairly small number of people - and we're talking about reaching them through something that doesn't in fact propose concrete actions. I just wonder whether this is really one of those things that literary fiction does well, or needs to do.
posted by Frowner at 6:55 AM on October 3 [13 favorites]


Well if nothing else positive comes of this, I'm getting a whole thread of new reading recommendations with which to while away the hours until the world ends.
posted by penduluum at 6:57 AM on October 3 [8 favorites]


Hot take: it doesn't matter. The Venn diagram of people who read ~serious fiction~ and people who don't believe in anthropocentric climate change is two circles, and all of the back-and-forth hand-wringing is navel-gazey writering of the highest order.
posted by Itaxpica at 7:12 AM on October 3 [9 favorites]


2. I'm not clear about what climate change fiction is supposed to do other than "be a warning".

Well, if it could actually remove carbon from the atmosphere, that would be helpful. I'm not sure how it would accomplish that, but I'm sure we've got good men working on it.

Good. Men.
posted by Naberius at 7:14 AM on October 3 [3 favorites]


If you want literary fiction about climate change just read any of the growing number of novels about refugees and immigrants, English-language or translated. The refugee issue is and is going to be where most of the human drama resulting from climate change will be mined from (similar to the already mentioned The Grapes of Wrath).
posted by edeezy at 7:19 AM on October 3 [7 favorites]


We don't write novels about climate change for the same reason passengers close their eyes in the last instants before a plane crash ... It's too late. We're fucked.

Ughghghhh it is so exhausting to read commentary like this. It saps a person's will to live, or to do anything positive or worthwhile that might mitigate some of the suffering. Frowner answers pretty well why we "don't write" novels about climate change; the answer is that we do, and we will continue writing novels about climate change, because that will be the new backdrop of reality. Giant hurricanes, food insecurity, Floridian refugees, weird juxtapositions of technology and cholera: these are our new plot devices. We're already there. Depending on where you were lucky enough to be born, you might not be fucked. You might even make a profit. It will be interesting to read about!

I figure life is just going to be rougher, and we will adapt or die or live in the gray area. And after a few decades, "literary fiction" like Franzen will seem as quaint as Jane Austen does now, like a relic of a simpler time.
posted by witchen at 7:24 AM on October 3 [13 favorites]


people who write this kind of fiction have a moral duty to write this kind of fiction about climate change so as to mobilize the kind of people who like this kind of fiction", which is true so far as it goes

I don't conceed that, at all. Artists have a duty to make the best and truest work they can. If the work they want to make is about climate change, great. To declare all artists have a duty to further a moral or political cause in their work is to turn art into mere propaganda. I'm with Wilde and Nabokov.
posted by Diablevert at 7:29 AM on October 3 [5 favorites]


I gotta say, the strongest impression I'm taking away from this conversation is that using the term "literary fiction" around science fiction fans is the equivalent of saying "happy holidays" to conservative Christians.

I think it's more like saying "Why doesn't anybody celebrate the actual birth of Jesus instead of just mindlessly shopping in December?" - - not just saying 'you and others exist' but explicitly saying "WHY DON'T YOU EXIST?"
posted by the agents of KAOS at 7:38 AM on October 3 [4 favorites]


Hippybear:
That said, I can't think of any stories being told in any medium DURING a collapse. It's either at the beginning, where a Hero can save the day, or it's after a lengthy recovery, when a New Way can be established, or a New Hero can avert an early disaster in this new system.

What story could be told that is happening during a collapse that wouldn't be too bleak to consume?
The Apocalypse Triptych, edited by John Joseph Adams & Hugh Howey, consisting of The End is Nigh, The End is Now, and The End has Come, is a three volume anthology of short stories of the time just before, under, and after the apocalypse. Quite a few of the authors have a story in each volume following their particular end of the world.
posted by bouvin at 7:56 AM on October 3 [4 favorites]


Also, Japan Sinks by Sakyō Komatsu.
posted by hat_eater at 8:13 AM on October 3


Came here to draw the same comparison (mostly for the purposes of recommending it) to How to Suppress Women's Writing that Orlop did, so instead definitely 2nding the "read that work, and also read Kim Stanley Robinson" voices in the thread
posted by Chipmazing at 8:36 AM on October 3 [4 favorites]


What we really need: Harry Potter and the Rising Sea Levels.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:41 AM on October 3 [7 favorites]


Wow, I think climate-change-themed might be the only subgenre of Harry Potter fanfiction I haven't tried. I wonder what's out there.
posted by asperity at 8:45 AM on October 3 [4 favorites]


In the most literal sense, Tom Piazza's "City of Refuge," written about Katrina and its immediate aftermath certainly comes to mind.

From a much weirder, funnier sidewise standpoint, Donald Antrim's "Elect Mr Robinson For A Better World" has sort of a Florida during/post climate change feel (Also, I love this book. It's dark as hell, absolutely hilarious and highly recommended).
posted by thivaia at 8:46 AM on October 3 [1 favorite]


We don't write novels about climate change for the same reason passengers close their eyes in the last instants before a plane crash ... It's too late. We're fucked.

Ughghghhh it is so exhausting to read commentary like this.


Seconding this comment. It's not too late, we're in trouble but we still have a lot of things we can do to adapt, mitigate, and start to reverse things, every second we delay things get a little harder. But there's still work to be done.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:48 AM on October 3 [5 favorites]


As soon as I saw this headline I was like, how long until folks are like 'so we're not counting sci-fi as books, then?' and it was immediate and unceasing and this has been my favorite thread in ages.
posted by palindromic at 9:29 AM on October 3 [7 favorites]


literary novelists

I'm a bit "outside baseball" about this particular term. Can you help me understand?


this Charlie Rose - Martin Amis - Elmore Leonard three-way gets to the nut of it, with respect all around.
posted by philip-random at 9:51 AM on October 3


That said, I can't think of any stories being told in any medium DURING a collapse. It's either at the beginning, where a Hero can save the day, or it's after a lengthy recovery, when a New Way can be established, or a New Hero can avert an early disaster in this new system.

Soft Apocalypse, by Will McIntosh, is about events during a collapse. Essentially, an EMP device knocks out the power grid in large swaths of the US and hijinks ensue. There’s no day-saving by a hero, since from the perspective of the population, it took days/weeks to determine the cause and scope of the event, and only a hint of eventual recovery. It’s not about climate change per se, though.

Heck, Orson Scott Card’s Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus is significantly about climate change, and it was written over 20 years ago. I understand if anyone doesn’t want to dignify Card’s personal politics by reading the novel, but it is really very good.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:05 AM on October 3 [3 favorites]


That said, I can't think of any stories being told in any medium DURING a collapse. It's either at the beginning, where a Hero can save the day, or it's after a lengthy recovery, when a New Way can be established, or a New Hero can avert an early disaster in this new system.

What story could be told that is happening during a collapse that wouldn't be too bleak to consume?


*slides in* I belong to a book club that focuses on apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, and have a friend among the members who's a little sensitive to bleak material. Hiiiiiiiiiiii.

So. I think part of the issue is, what is your definition of "during a collapse" - and, for that matter, what is your definition of "apocalypse". There are two books we've read that arguably took place "during" the apocalyptic events, but neither one was an all-consuming world-ending kind of situation; they were more localized "our unique way of life in our specific location is breaking down" events.

The first was The Wake, which was set during the Norman takeover of Great Britain in 1086; it was told from the perspective of a Saxon native who formed a guerrila squad in the woods to fight back. It's a bit of a mind-fuck, and you realize there's an unreliable-narrator thing going on after a while, but it's definitely during the "end times event" - the takeover is presented as being far from a foregone conclusion during the book.

And there is also Ella Minnow Pea, an epistolary book set entirely on a small island off the cost of the US at a time when the superstitions of the leaders are causing strict adherance to speech codes and martial law. That's very definitely a "during the crisis" event, even though it's confined just to one location. And my sensitive friend happily told me that "it's the most cheerful dystopia I've ever read about".

I will grant that those aren't natural, ecological apocalypses. However, I direct you to Wikipedia's dynamic list of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction, which is ever-changing, always-growing, and - what's more - can be sorted by the nature of the apocalypse in question (as well as sorting by year, format, and title). It's pretty comprehensive, too (i'm seeing video games and TV episodes among the offerings here), and among the "it takes place during the event, but things may not be that bleak" offerings I see The Happening, The Birds, and the book Flood.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:17 AM on October 3 [5 favorites]


Oh, upon non-preview - Seconding Pastwatch, which I discovered before learning of Orson Scott Card's reputation. There's climate change, time travel, and Christopher Columbus.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:18 AM on October 3 [1 favorite]


The scene just before whatsherface pulls the switch. Man.
posted by Autumnheart at 10:23 AM on October 3 [1 favorite]


"I love you all."

...I'mma mention Pastwatch at my next book club, see if they think it'd work. We have a bit of a loose interpretation of what constitutes "post-apocalyptic fiction".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:37 AM on October 3


Yeah, to the extent that "literary fiction" as a genre basically consists of comedies of manners it probably isn't very well equipped for this subject matter.

A comedy of manners of people from various strata of society stuck on a ship fleeing a mega hurricane about to drown all of Florida.
posted by The Whelk at 10:52 AM on October 3 [3 favorites]


Card's ongoing thing of genocide apologetics continues to be a thing with Pastwatch, but I remember enjoying it 20 years ago.
posted by asperity at 10:59 AM on October 3 [1 favorite]


What literary fiction tends to be concerned with and good at is what people are like. Why they lie, who they love, what their parents have made of them, what they make of their children.
would rather focus on the interiority and interactive complexity of and between individuals
So, why is literary fiction not concerning itself with the complexity of ways that people are lying (to themselves and others) about climate change and the effects of that, or with how that's affecting their relationships with their children (who generally understand it more and of course see more of it)?

Fiction does not need to contain a hurricane or a collapse to have such themes. Or perhaps it's being done non-sfnally, but just in too subtle ways to register yet as fiction about climate change.
posted by joeyh at 11:02 AM on October 3 [4 favorites]


I can't think of any stories being told in any medium DURING a collapse

What about Children of Men? That's kind of the beginning of an extinction.
posted by ikahime at 11:08 AM on October 3 [4 favorites]


Beuce Sterling includes climate change in the settings for some of his books, and his Heavy Weather is specifically about it.

It's also a pretty major element of The Caryatids, and addressed more brutally there. Also, The Caryatids is a much better book.
posted by Coventry at 11:30 AM on October 3 [3 favorites]


Allow me to suggest HG Wells' The War of the Worlds, which is certainly a tale of a collapse in progress. The origin of the collapse is not natural, no, but it's resolution certainly is, and quite beyond the power of Man or Martian to affect it.
posted by SPrintF at 11:32 AM on October 3 [1 favorite]


I'll throw in a recommendation for He, She, and It

This book. Read this. Good stuff.
posted by Coventry at 11:33 AM on October 3


Solar is kind of about climate change.

OMG, this one is so good. Good "serious fiction" pedigree, too.
posted by Coventry at 11:35 AM on October 3


Yeah, to the extent that "literary fiction" as a genre basically consists of comedies of manners it probably isn't very well equipped for this subject matter.

what about the whole road to hell being paved with good intentions angle? I see a lot of that these days.
posted by philip-random at 11:36 AM on October 3


Ken MaCleod's The Night Sessions also has climate change as a major element.
posted by Coventry at 11:44 AM on October 3


Self-link (I'm the publisher): the anthology Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation (previously) might be of interest - it's hopeful cli-fi.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:46 AM on October 3 [3 favorites]


Isn't good old JG generally accepted as "literary fiction" by now? If I recall, he was doing this stuff in the 60s, with The Drowned World, The Burning World, and that terrible first novel?

Also just want to nth the recommendations of KSR's New York 2140 and Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy, all of which are just amazing!
posted by experiencing a significant gravitas shortfall at 11:57 AM on October 3 [2 favorites]


> "I can't think of any stories being told in any medium DURING a collapse."

Earth Abides.
posted by kyrademon at 12:07 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


JG is accepted as literary because of his later literary works like Crash, Cocaine Nights, etc. "They" still make a distinction between that and his "earlier sci fi".
posted by turbid dahlia at 12:27 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


Anything by JG Ballard: The Drowned World, for one?
posted by AillilUpATree at 12:38 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


David Brin: Earth
posted by domo at 12:43 PM on October 3


> "I can't think of any stories being told in any medium DURING a collapse."

The Last Policeman by Ben Winters is a good example of this. In this case, they know the world is ending due to an oncoming asteroid, and things are slowly unraveling as people react to that in various ways. The protagonist of the book is a police officer who finds himself trying to solve a murder, even though the world is ending, because he sort of doesn't know what else to do.

I didn't admire the sequels as much, but I loved the premise of this book and enjoyed reading it.
posted by Orlop at 12:46 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


That said, I can't think of any stories being told in any medium DURING a collapse

Cormac McCarthy's The Road is one example. I can't understand why Atwood would not qualify either. Arguably, Chabon's The Jewish Policemen's Union if you read between the lines just a bit.

So there's three "literary fiction" genre examples.
posted by bonehead at 1:00 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


> "I can't think of any stories being told in any medium DURING a collapse."

I'd tag Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson in this category. It felt very much in-the-collapse for me, in a way I haven't run into often.
posted by CrystalDave at 1:03 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


This short story in New Yorker a while back, "Diary of an Interesting Year" by Helen Simpson, still gives me the wiggles. It's very much in the midst of the collapse. And in England, year 2040 AD.
posted by witchen at 1:07 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]


Here are some more novels (sci-fi, if you're into labels and such):

Octavia Butler - Parable of the Sower, and Parable of the Talents / Xenogenesis Trilogy (Lilith's Brood)
Jeff VanderMeer - Borne
Margaret Atwood - Oryx and Crake
Ursula le Guin - The Dispossesed
posted by nikoniko at 1:29 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


Hell, there was an extremely popular series that dealt primarily with a global collapse, sold tens of millions of copies, spawned a few movies, and had several novels in the series spend a bunch of time on the NYT bestsellers list: Left Behind.

I’m definitely not putting Left Behind in the category of great literature, but as long as we’re pointing out how those articles overlook obvious and well-known novels published on the topic of ecological disaster, that’s a pretty big one.
posted by Autumnheart at 1:57 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


Stories taking place during a collapse? José Saramago has several incredible novels that fit in this category – check out Blindness or The Stone Raft. Especially if you love "literary fiction" and have never read Saramago before.
posted by oulipian at 1:59 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]


> "I can't think of any stories being told in any medium DURING a collapse."

What about the first 300 pages of The Stand by Stephen King?
posted by chavenet at 2:16 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


The Stand, while great, is not collapse novel. It doesn't really matter if it's a plague, meteor, rapture, exploding moon, aliens or whatever. If you protagonist manage to miss the end of the world by just being drunk, in prison or in a coma I'll say it's not a collapse novel.

People have mentioned The Bone Clocks and I'll say it's a good example. You follow a person from the 80's into the near future and everything gradually turns to shit.

In the latest Gibson novel things are pretty bad but the Jackpot hasn't happened yet. It's a great pre-apocalyptic novel maybe?

The Water Knife is a good collapse novel but also sadistic, bleak and rapey .
posted by uandt at 3:09 PM on October 3


"What story could be told that is happening during a collapse that wouldn't be too bleak to consume?"

"The first was The Wake, which was set during the Norman takeover of Great Britain in 1086; it was told from the perspective of a Saxon native who formed a guerrila squad in the woods to fight back."


I also came in to say The Wake, which is not only a during-the-collapse novel but very much "about" global warming (through the lens of societal collapse in 1066) AND is pretty paradigmatically lit-ficcy since it got longlisted for the Booker (and print published by Graywolf). We talked about it on Fanfare. It is fairly bleak to read but I strongly reccommend it!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:22 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]



Yeah, to the extent that "literary fiction" as a genre basically consists of comedies of manners it probably isn't very well equipped for this subject matter.

So, I read mostly literary fiction (and I read a lot of fiction, friends). Most of it is not Comedies of Manners. Maybe a few books(?) among the (and certainly not all) Literary Best Sellers (Ian McEwan, Chad Harbach, Adelle Waldman, Claire Messud, Zadie Smith--though in part-tribute to EM Forster--and I guess "The Goldfinch" kind of, sort of falls in this category if you draw a large enough perimeter, and Lethem/Franzen maybe but does anyone outside of the Guy in Your Creative Writing Class still give a shit about the Jonathans anymore?). For what it's worth: post-apocalyptic novels also sell pretty well (The Road, Station Eleven, various David Mitchell, various Margaret Atwood, that over-hyped Edan Lepucki book etc).

I think a lot of literary fiction deals with issues sort of sideways, whether historical ("Wolf Hall" is kind of about the problem of religion in politics especially when both are managed entirely by the patriarchy, right?) or sort of slantwise (What was 2666 about? Discuss). Amitav Ghosh himself (whose own Ibis Trilogy** is set during the years of the Opium Wars) uses a non-contemporary context to write about colonialism and ecological issues in a contemporary way. Consider the recent success of "Exit, West," Mohsin Hamid's recent novel about refugees* It's dreamy and not literal, but is a pretty effective at driving its point, emotionally, politically and otherwise . Or Ali Smith's "Autumn" which is also intensely topical (again on the subject of immigration), but not, by any stretch, a polemic. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, and I say this as an "all art is political" kind of girl.

As to TFA, Ghosh makes a solid argument, and I agree that we need more ambitious fiction that deals with climate change (there are, however, a fair amount of during-the-cataclysm novels written outside of the US canon, even if the cataclsym is not climate change proper) , but to suggest that Literary Fiction is solely about relationship drama, social strivers and drawing room conversations ignores most of the best stuff out there. Everything that I've mentioned so far is just the tip of the iceberg, the stuff you've maybe heard of because it's on a prize list. And look, I could turn this entire post into recommendations upon recommendations upon recommendations BECAUSE THERE ARE SO MANY EXTRAORDINARY NOVELS, MY FRIENDS, SO MANY but I tell you what: you want to be convinced that literary fiction is not just Comedies of Manners? Memail me and I would love to convince you otherwise.

*I had some quibbles with it, honestly, but generally found it to be a pretty good read.

**It's pretty great by the way. Start at the beginning with "Sea of Poppies." It might be your thing, especially if you're into (motley?) crews of oddballs sailing off to distant ports together. I thought it had moments of being sunlight-on-the-water dazzling, scenes I will never forget. YMMV
posted by thivaia at 5:02 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


And, by the by, Comedies of Manners themselves can be about way more than just manners when tackled by the right writer.
posted by thivaia at 5:05 PM on October 3


Seveneves also has a jaw-dropping emotional scene, with one of the scientists in the space station communicating with her fiancé on Earth just before his submarine dives. Goddamn. These article authors who exclude sci-fi from their consideration are really missing out on some powerful writing.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:20 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


Yeah, probably should have mentioned that "International"* fiction get crammed in there too.

And your post apocalypse examples are all of course absolutely Science Fiction in all but shelving. Genre is in general a marketing scam, "Literary Fiction" most of all.

* Eligible for the Booker prize AND have a plot!
posted by Artw at 5:21 PM on October 3 [3 favorites]


Heck, isn't the insanely popular Game of Thrones essentially about climate change?

I felt like the last couple of episodes of Season 7 in particular felt pretty resonant -- where the characters are struggling to get the political leaders to believe that this winter will be uniquely bad, worse than any other in history, and an existential threat to human life, and the leaders don't believe them, or do believe them but don't care -- to be pretty on-the-nose in terms of the current political -- forgive the pun -- climate.
posted by phoenixy at 5:34 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


Genre is in general a marketing scam, "Literary Fiction" most of all.

This is absolutely true.
posted by thivaia at 5:36 PM on October 3


has no one ever written a novel from the viewpoint of individuals in large-scale native american societies either just before 1492, after which plagues killed ninety percent of the population in a century (iirc, corrections and clarifications welcome) ?

or set in the era of the end of Maya dominance of Central America, when what appear to have been crop failures combined with a spiritual and economic system based on elite warfare and blood sacrifice effectively ended a long-running society?

I mean you can argue cultural continuity back and forth across Central America but there's no real way to see the social experience of these events as anything but the end of the world.

Possibly this is orthagonal.
posted by mwhybark at 5:38 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


Well, if one were to imagine a fiction novel (shelved on the regular fiction shelf) that used climate change as a primary plot device, how would it avoid being speculative and therefore not sci-fi? If we’re writing a story set in the current day, then some places are getting stronger hurricanes, and others are getting shorter growing seasons and increased desertification, which is not much of a plot device where people would think, “Oh, the protagonists are in that situation because of climate change”. If we go even a little into the future, even using commonly known predicted effects like rising sea levels, how does that not get sorted into speculative fiction? It seems like the whole concept of future-think is categorized into sci-fi, and indeed writers like Kim Stanley Robinson have addressed climate change in detail in their own work.

I have been reading a series of thrillers, the Sigma Force series by James Rollins, which are fairly standard “elite teams, comprised of military special forces, travel around the world handling global threats” kind of novels, although the gimmick for this particular series is that the elite teams are re-trained and re-purposed to be elite scientists too. They’re really very entertaining, and at least one novel in the series deals with ecological catastrophe that’s related to climate change. These aren’t sci-fi, but I suppose they still wouldn’t be on the regular fiction shelf.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:38 PM on October 3


has no one ever written a novel from the viewpoint of individuals in large-scale native american societies either just before 1492, after which plagues killed ninety percent of the population in a century (iirc, corrections and clarifications welcome) ?

Yes! The aforementioned Pastwatch has a major component in its plot where the POV is from the Native Americans who first encountered Columbus. Also, there is Death of the Fifth Sun by Robert Somerlott, which is written from the POV of an Aztec woman who encountered and became a primary consort of Cortez.

or set in the era of the end of Maya dominance of Central America, when what appear to have been crop failures combined with a spiritual and economic system based on elite warfare and blood sacrifice effectively ended a long-running society?

There’s also In The Courts of the Sun, by Brian D’amato, where a current-day ethnic Mayan becomes involved with a scientific group who [vast oversimplification] sends him back in time to the height of Mayan culture. Be warned that there are two novels in a trilogy that doesn’t seem like it will ever be completed. They’re excellent novels if you don’t mind being left hanging.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:46 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


And if one is interested in “disease killed 90% of the population, hijinks ensue” plots, Kim Stanley Robinson wrote The Years of Rice and Salt, which is an alternate history in which the bubonic plague wipes out 90% of Europe instead of 30%, so that the rise of modern Western culture never happens, white people basically don’t exist, and the primary drivers of culture and science are the Chinese and the Muslim world. Really excellent.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:52 PM on October 3 [5 favorites]


Metafilter, you never fail me. I downloaded previews to a number of books and vowed to give the Years of Rice and Salt another chance.

Also, Stations Eleven is truly literary science fiction. I loved it [ok, except the patriarchal misogynist cult trope.] Beautiful writing, amidst the apocalypse.
posted by Measured Out my Life in Coffeespoons at 6:00 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


I really liked The Years of Rice and Salt. It took me a little bit to get into the swing of the narrative style, but once I did, I thought the caliber of Robinson’s writing was much better than it was in his “Science in the Capital” trilogy. I enjoyed the latter quite a bit, but more because of the premise than the execution. He also makes a thinly veiled swipe at George W. Bush in one of them, which is funny. I admit that I haven’t read any of his other stuff.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:08 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


I'm glad other people mentioned The Bone Clocks because I started writing a long comment on it last night but my browser crashed and I was too annoyed to start over. But yeah, the final section of the novel was amazing and amazingly terrifying. Almost felt like a mini-horror story of its own. My memory of reading it was initially assuming it was nothing more than an epilogue and getting frustrated by how drawn out it was, just wanting to know what had happened to the main characters in the 20 year interval. And then a slow, dawning horror realizing where the world was at - basically reduced to small societies eking out their existence and trying to hold off waves of refugees from coming in on boats.

That section tipped the novel into becoming my favorite of Mitchell's work.
posted by mannequito at 6:22 PM on October 3 [2 favorites]


There's also Cixin Liu's trilogy starting with The Three Body Problem. That both has climate change in the background, and is three novels primarily concerned with an ongoing species-level existential crisis which could be read as an allegory for how colonialism has shaped the modern world. The last book is arguably sexist, though.
posted by Coventry at 6:31 PM on October 3 [1 favorite]


Why won’t novelists reckon with climate change?

G. K. Chesterton once observed, "Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:27 PM on October 3 [6 favorites]


"has no one ever written a novel from the viewpoint of individuals in large-scale native american societies either just before 1492, after which plagues killed ninety percent of the population in a century (iirc, corrections and clarifications welcome) ?"

"Aztec" by Gary Jennings is in the "glorious trash" realm (this review expresses many of my feelings) rather than the literary realm (and boy howdy are parts of the narrative problematic) but it does a nice job depicting Aztec culture before the Europeans arrive, and then during and after, and it was tremendously emotionally engaging. (I was so enraged about the Europeans arriving.) There are sequels that carry on the apocalypse and post-apocalypse but I didn't bother to read them. The original is from 1980 and the sequels started appearing in like 1998ish? so they may be less problematic, I have no idea.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:12 PM on October 3


Glad people have brought up both Bone Clocks and Diary of an Interesting Year. Both of those resonated so deeply with me because they are the first depictions I've read that just seem so plausible. The apocalyptic "all that you know will wash away before your eyes in one instant, collapse will be total, nothing will remain" tone that is prevalent in many places (but especially on Metafilter, seems like) is just...that's not how climates or people are. Climates change more quickly than we would want but more slowly than an instant. And humans change extremely slowly, if at all, ever.

Why would climate change result in anything BUT everything just getting incrementally shittier, while we try to hold the seams together, increasingly desperately? We *like* civilizations, or we wouldn't keep on building them. We're not going to just one day opt to toss civilization aside, even if we will let it gradually become a threadbare relic of itself.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 3:19 PM on October 4 [4 favorites]


> "I can't think of any stories being told in any medium DURING a collapse."

John Brunner's Club of Rome quartet: The Sheep Look Up, Stand on Zanzibar, The Jagged Orbit, and Shockwave Rider. And Sheep is specifically about an ecological catastrophe (well, multiple ecological catastrophes), although not specifically climate change.
posted by adrienneleigh at 9:09 PM on October 4 [3 favorites]


Nice! That called Aldiss' Greybeard to mind.
posted by mwhybark at 12:03 AM on October 5


Just here to third the wonderful Gold Fame Citrus.
posted by naoko at 6:16 AM on October 5


The Stand, while great, is not collapse novel. It doesn't really matter if it's a plague, meteor, rapture, exploding moon, aliens or whatever. If you protagonist manage to miss the end of the world by just being drunk, in prison or in a coma I'll say it's not a collapse novel.

Wait, what makes you say that?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:33 AM on October 5 [1 favorite]


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