Climate change: The hottest thing in science fiction – ‘Bad decisions made badly by bad people. What happens next?’Posted by Jim at Wednesday, April 16, 2014
By Dave Burdick
8 Apr 2014
(Grist) – The world as we knew it is gone.
Even if nobody is talking explicitly about it, it’s clear that something terrible has happened and in its wake, humanity must once again reset its priorities. Can we, in this resource-scarce new world, fashion some kind of idyllic agrarian commune with shared goods, serene faces, and hemp robes? Or are we doomed to be selfish hoarders, creating even greater scarcity which we can then leverage for our own benefit? Also, is that … is that some kind of genetically modified man-wolfephant?
Post-apocalyptic science fiction isn’t new. But you may have noticed an uptick in books set in the wake of some kind of major climate disaster. Some call it “cli-fi” — sci-fi infused with the increasingly frightening impacts of climate change. The trope has deep roots, says science fiction scholar Istvan Csicery-Ronay, and plenty of room to grow.
In fact, of late, cli-fi has been creeping out of the fantasy and science fiction sections of bookstores and libraries and into the mainstream. Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy, for example, is everywhere. Its simple, cartoon-like, GMO-gone-wrong future isn’t hard to imagine. Once you get past the brand names and animal mashup portmanteaus (pigoons, rakunks, wolvogs), you realize you’re just looking at a version of us, not all that far in the future. It’s relatable, in a woozy way.
Cli-fi is “getting some interest from folks who are not necessarily interested in science fiction,” says Csicery-Ronay, an English professor at DePauw University in Indiana and co-editor of the journal, Science Fiction Studies. For some people, it may be even be a sort of gateway into science fiction, which has a long and proud history of tearing civilization down and making characters build it back, or deal with the consequences of living in someone else’s rebuilt world.
The Russians, according to Csicsery-Ronay, were pioneers of the genre. “They had a category, late 19th century, early 20th century, called the ‘If-This-Goes-On Fiction,’ kind of a warning,” he says, “a particular kind of dystopian fiction, that if a certain trend goes on, and we don’t stop, then this is what’s going to happen.”
An if-this-goes-on moment actually sparked the anticipated next novel from Paolo Bacigalupi, critically acclaimed writer of science fiction novels for young (Ship Breaker, Drowned Cities) and standard (The Windup Girl) adults.
“This is sort of my fetish,” Bacigalupi says. “Bad decisions made badly by bad people. What happens next?”
His latest inspiration? Erstwhile Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry. “I was down in Texas when their drought was getting going,” Bacigalupi says. “It was sort of biblical, apocalyptic heat. The cows were being put down because the land can’t support them. All this great systemic collapse stuff percolating around, and at the same time, Rick Perry … is organizing a prayer circle and praying for rain.
“That was the moment,” Bacigalupi says. [more]