The Entangled Notion of Climate Fiction
April 22, 2023 12:40 PM   Subscribe

"Such narratives tend to eschew the issue of hope and despair, optimism or pessimism—this useless binary that terrorizes climate fiction and makes more complex definitions and points of view difficult to express. This matters because I often feel that talking about the issues expressed by my novels may make more material difference in the world than the novels themselves. [...] But, hooked on hope, perhaps reflecting a jaded attitude toward its own future, the book world, ever selling, requires an affirmation of the positive from climate fiction authors not required of, say, the writer of the darkest serial killer noir thriller. Again and again, I am asked to locate the hope in my novels and dissect it for the interviewer in a way I was not before I was pinned like a butterfly to the collection board of 'climate fiction.'" Jeff VanderMeer in Esquire, "Climate Fiction Won't Save Us."
posted by mittens (16 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I am among the people that can only think of sapphic porn when I hear "cli-fi". Until this article, I had not heard that there was a single monomaniacal campaign to get people to use it.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:50 PM on April 22 [4 favorites]

We are where we are. So the way I view it -- if you're writing fiction set in the now, you're writing Climate Fiction, also Apocalypse* Fiction.

* not to be confused with Post Apocalyptic fiction which is generally a weird mix of fantasy, despair and nostalgia; engaging as it may be while I'm reading, it generally ends with me shrugging and then turning my attention back to the banal apocalypse of the 2023 every day.
posted by philip-random at 1:20 PM on April 22 [6 favorites]

Everybody complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it. --Charles Dudley Warner
posted by chavenet at 2:37 PM on April 22 [1 favorite]

Climate fiction can save us we just need to print a lot of books and store the contents in massive underground salt mines, imagine all that carbon in the paper stored for centuries.
posted by interogative mood at 3:53 PM on April 22 [2 favorites]

Great article. Thanks for sharing it!
posted by joannemerriam at 4:14 PM on April 22

It seems a bit odd to me, and not to knock VanderMeer too harshly, that he almost casually dismisses KSR's Ministry of the Future, when I honestly think it's a good example of what the subgenre can do.

Maybe it's because the most interesting (for certain values of interesting) "solutions" in the novel are all offscreen and decidedly very "wet work" not by the militant activist organization, with more than a few on-screen assassinations, but by a character I can't remember the name of inside the Ministry doing very dirty deeds indeed.
posted by tclark at 5:17 PM on April 22 [3 favorites]

The Current Affairs review he links to sets out the case against MiniFut in (a lot) more detail. Worth reading. (I agree that in story terms the most interesting-sounding parts were the ones KSR was reluctant to go into too much detail about, presumably because he didn’t want to do an explainer chapter about exactly how much climate terrorism is acceptable/needed for the other stuff in the book to work…)
posted by No-sword at 6:10 PM on April 22 [2 favorites]

Won’t engineers eventually just start partially blocking the Sun for a season or two with some aerosol? That’s not a super exciting setting to read about.
posted by Sunflowers Beneath the Snow at 6:31 PM on April 22

I swear I’m not the author of the Current Affairs review, but it sez:
(It’s odd that Robinson so casually throws in these sorts of geoengineering projects without seriously addressing their many potential risks, such as the possibility of cutting rainfall by 30 percent in the tropics, decimating rainforests and releasing the carbon stored there (and therefore potentially worsening climate change), or increasing drought in Africa, or killing crops, or the many other known and as yet unknowable negative side effects.)
Sounds a little too exciting to me, if anything. The wild and wonderful human track record of, metaphorically speaking, addressing rabbit overpopulation by introducing ravenous grizzlies, confident that they will eat exactly enough rabbits and then politely die, should also offer plenty of inspiration to authors who want something wilder than “After blotting out the sun, we died of famine.”
posted by No-sword at 8:06 PM on April 22 [5 favorites]

Won’t engineers eventually just start partially blocking the Sun for a season or two with some aerosol? That’s not a super exciting setting to read about.

As No-sword notes, it would in actuality be very exciting in many terrible ways. This is why we need more people trained in ecology (i.e., the sub branch of biology that deals with the relationships between organism and organisms and their environment), and why we need to be teaching ecology in high school biology.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:25 AM on April 23 [4 favorites]

LOVE Jeff Vandermeer. Thank you for posting this.
posted by tiny frying pan at 6:37 AM on April 23

when I hear "cli-fi"

Same here. I abhor the term in general because is sounds awful to me, and also echoes "sci-fi," a term I can't stand.
posted by doctornemo at 9:46 AM on April 23

It's always good to read more Jeff Vandermeer, and I appreciate some of his critiques and stories here, but I don't think it's a good framing to ask if climate fiction will "save us," whatever that might mean.

From my reading, one purpose of climate fiction is to help readers imagine and think through the climate crisis in ways other media and presentations do not. Fiction - stories - engage us in different ways than data or scientific articles (although there is some Venn diagram overlap between the two). Stan Robinson's Ministry for the Future does offer a plausible, positive account of some ways we might successfully tackle the crisis (I'm still reading the linked critique, and also have my own). Claire North's Notes from the Burning Age posits a post-crisis civilization as some in it rethink the Anthropocene's end. I don't think either of these books will "save us," but they can help some of us think and imagine further.
posted by doctornemo at 9:53 AM on April 23 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed this article.. I should read some of VanderMeer novels.

> Won’t engineers eventually just start partially blocking the Sun for a season or two with some aerosol?

It's likely they try but dubious they succeed and likely they cause more problems in the process. We won't find engineering solution to our transgressions of other planetary boundaries though, which maybe provide more interesting material anyways.

"What's you pet theory for why the field of sociology has so little to say about the #ClimateCrisis?"
posted by jeffburdges at 7:25 AM on May 17

We didn’t do anything about guns despite our schools turning into war zones. People drank bleach and horse de-wormer, instead of getting vaccinated against Covid. What are we going to do about climate change? I don’t know but our recent history doesn’t fill me with confidence.
posted by interogative mood at 11:27 PM on May 17 [2 favorites]

Kim Stanley Robinson interviewed by Nate Hagens (previously) and Rachel Donald (previously).
posted by jeffburdges at 5:13 PM on May 20

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