Size / / /

I'm not sure that Daniel Kramb's blogpost in The Guardian this week adds very much to the discussion about climate change fiction, but I like to note these things:

There's apocalyptic fiction, of course, and you could, I suppose, connect a novel such as Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood to climate change. But is this type of literature really concerned with the issue, or does a vaguely related scenario merely serve as a purpose for other themes and situations? (Also, as environmentalists are increasingly keen to point out, climate change isn't really about the end of the world at all; it's about living conditions becoming harder and harder as we go along.)

Despite the above paragraph, much of the comments thread on Kramb's article immediately devolves into, "but what about science fiction?"; and Kim Stanley Robinson, Paolo Bacigalupi and Ian McDonald duly get cited. But I think that response misses few points. First, I think Kramb is quite right that climate change has started to serve the generic-apocalypse function that, say, nuclear war served in earlier eras -- perhaps particularly in YA, although YA is also one place where you find examples of novels that actually engage with the subject, such as The Carbon Diaries or the Exodus trilogy. Second, Kramb was quite reasonably, if with rather too broad a brush, seeking to hive sf off into a separate discussion, and asking for contemporary-set fiction that engages with climate change. (And on that front, the comments provided a couple of leads -- I wasn't aware of Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behaviour, and now it's on my wishlist.) And third, in all honesty, the pool of sf that foregrounds environmental challenges is perhaps not as broad or as deep as we might hope, and where it does exist, it does not always receive the attention we might hope. Nobody at The Guardian mentions a writer like Tepper, or new books like Tobias Buckell's Artic Rising or E.J. Swift's Osiris; and that latter gives me an excuse to remind you all to read Martin Lewis' comments on Resource SF from his review of Osiris, if you haven't already:

There is a problem beyond this, though, a problem with contemporary SF as a whole. Osiris, like The Windup Girl by Bacigalupi (widely heralded as the most important science fiction debut of the last decade), addresses itself to the central problem of post-Twentieth Century life but makes no attempt to escape the trap of the trappings of modern genre fiction. What one might call Resource SF could make a vital contribution to literature but the commitment only ever seems to be political rather than artistic. The only novel I can think of that attempts both is Adam Roberts's By Light Alone (2011). The concerns are similar to Swift's—the remorseless march of the Gini coefficient bears its inevitable fruit—but it seeks to be not just a science fiction novel but a novel in its own right. No one else seems to be trying.

You can find other discussion about the politics and aesthetics of writing climate change in the feature issuewe ran earlier this year. Also, in response to the Guardian post, Chris Beckett has posted his story "Rat Island" online.



Niall Harrison is a reader and fan.
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11 Jan 2021

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