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A few weeks missed, for which apologies. I've been working my way through Julie Bertagna's recently-completed trilogy of young adult novels about a drowned world (Exodus, Zenith, Aurora; I'm not aware of an overarching name for the series); having finished them I'm trying to wrestle my thoughts about them into something essay-shaped for Vector, which is proving more challenging than I'd hoped, since I can't decide what the most important thing to say is. Do I want to talk about the protagonist, Mara, as a leader? Or discuss the Stephen Baxter-ish sense that life will always find a way, in the range of new communities that Mara encounters as she travels across the globe? Or describe the pleasingly ambiguous relationship between nature and technology that is elaborated? Or consider the commentary on story as a necessary tool for understanding and changing the world? Maybe I could just explain in detail how hilariously inapt the post-Twilight new covers are, for attempting to frame the series as primarily a love story. Anyway: a tin-ear for neologisms aside ("cyberwizz", honestly) these are good, smart, rewarding books.

Since I was thinking about climate change and fiction anyway as a result of the Bertagna books, I've also been working my way through the recent Verso anthology I'm With the Bears (which, oddly, doesn't mention the editor's name on the cover; it's one Mark Martin, apparently). The most satisfying thing about the book, unfortunately, is the table of contents: it's quite exciting to see Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell in the same book as Paolo Bacigalupi and Kim Stanley Robinson for once. It's a slightly rum bunch of stories, though. The Atwood is a three-page fable, the Mitchell a not bad but awfully generic post-apocalypse story with environmental window-dressing, the Bacigalupi the equally not bad but not exactly potent "The Tamarisk Hunter". The Robinson is an extract from Sixty Days and Counting -- not one of the big set-piece events, or one of the discussions of climate politics, but a fine piece of nature writing about hiking in the Sierra Nevada mountains. There's also the enthusiastic but daft "Newromancer" by Toby Litt, in which a future government decrees that everyone must re-enact 1940 to save energy, and rebels start up secret eighties nights, and an extract from Lydia Millet's How the Dead Dream that doesn't work terribly well in isolation but reminds me I should read the novel, and a few other pieces. One new (or at least new in English) story did excite me: "Arzestula" by Wu Ming 1, which is narrated by a middle-aged Italian woman after the Crisis, travelling across the country to her childhood home. She used to be a novelist; now she doesn't write but tells of the "future perfect", the deep time to come that we should work to preserve. There's a lot of rumination on loss, the loss of people and the loss of language, and how a landscape is never the same described through different eyes in different words; and glimpses of a worn, troubled world in which life nevertheless goes on.

The introduction of I'm With the Bears by Bill McKibben has, in turn, led me to The Global Warming Reader he recently edited for OR Books, which collects significant texts under three headings -- "Science", "Politics" and "Meaning" -- to give a sense of how our understanding of climate change, and the debate about it, has evolved. Which, in turn, enables me to go back to a post I made here earlier this year about a timeline for anthropogenic earth-set climate change sf, and establish some firmer parameters. According to McKibben, the paper that "could be considered the opening volley in the climate wars" was published in 1957; The Drowning World and Hothouse were published in 1962, although neither (so far as I can recall) acknowledges a human contribution to their warming. The best candidate I can come up with for the first actual climate change novel is Heat by Arthur Herzog, first published in 1977, even if it sounds like an obnoxious hero-engineer story; though I wouldn't be surprised if some ecofeminist sf has him beat. And then you get a great popularisation of climate change in the late eighties, spurred by James Hansen and by McKibben himself, and a rush of sf around that time that deals with it to a greater or lesser extent: Turner's The Sea and Summer, Niven and Pournelle's Fallen Angels, Rosenblum's The Drylands, Sterling's Heavy Weather, for example. And since the IPCC second report in 1995 there's been a steady stream, although I'm not sure climate change has yet had its moment of sfnal trendiness.

I've been considering making note of books I'm looking forward to, as well as books I've read, and this seems like as good a time to start as any, since in flagging up Kim Stanley Robinson's 2312 (due out next May) I have an excuse to link to this excellent Coode Street podcast about the book, in which it is described as Robinson's "dos Passos meets Asimov book" (with authorial approval). Which sounds rather marvellous to me.



Niall Harrison is a reader and fan.
3 comments on “Sunday Reading”
Nick H.

Oh, ick. Those new Bertagna covers really are awful. If I had my way, I'd ban these BLACK is the colour, and the colour shall be BLACK! cover designs for YA books, not least because it's really hard to make the display shelves attractive when you've only variations of black to work with.
I was going to say that the new covers aren't going to help the books appeal to boys either, but looking back at them, the old covers were fairly feminine too.
Speaking of climate change and fiction, and especially YA fiction, that reminds me I should probably get round to reading some of Saci Lloyd's books. I don't know if you're aware of them, "Carbon Diaries" and "Momentum". They looked promising enough for me to buy them when I saw them, at least.
Regarding climate change's moment of sfnal trendiness, I might be so bold as to say that it peaked with The Day After Tomorrow. It seems to have largely skipped the stage where fiction explores the issue before it finally breaks out into the 'real' world, possibly thanks to An Inconvenient Truth. Also a factor, perhaps, is that 'climate change novels' can easily be folded into the greater category of 'post-apocalyptic novels'.

Within the obvious constraint that the covers have to be BLACK, I actually quite like them visually -- the contrasting colours are strong, evoking the shape of a planet is clever, and the details around the edges of the circles are nicely done. It's really the taglines that I object to, because if anyone picks them up hoping for "Can love mend a broken world?" as the story, they're in for a surprise.
I'm aware of the Carbon Diaries, hadn't come across Momentum; thanks.
"It seems to have largely skipped the stage where fiction explores the issue before it finally breaks out into the 'real' world"
Is that a stage? I'm not sure that, say, nuclear war (to pick an obvious comparison) followed that trajectory.

Niall,
Thanks so much for this. Climate change is still a matter to which (as far as I can tell) many people (in the US anyway) are indifferent. I am curious as to what extent this indifference is echoed in the SFnal community. It does seem that there are more and more stories and novels on this theme every year.
I can't wait for the new KSR!

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