••• The International Writers Magazine - 22 Years on-line - Climate Fiction
Climate Fiction Rules
Flood, famine, storms, methane, species extinction, humanity at risk ...these are the tools of writers everywhere now. If you're not writing about the climate, you're not living in the real world.
Let’s face it, science fiction writers worry about our future. It is perhaps like crime fiction one of the few genres actually looking at what is shaping our lives rather than our navels. You can go all the way back to H G Wells, a socialist thinker who caught the public angst of his time such as endless war (The Shape of Things to Come-1933) - A decades-long second world war results in plague and anarchy, then a rational state rebuilds civilization and tries space travel. Filmed as ‘Things to Come’ in 1936. I suspect you wouldn’t want to try to go into space in the huge ‘gun’ they used to fire off the brave aeronauts, but endless war made a lot of sense given the slaughter of the First World War. He died at the outbreak of WW2.
Aldous Huxley wrote his dystopian ‘Brave New World’ in 1932 about a future society ruled by dispassionate science. Everybody is happy – just take your Soma pills. Monogamy, privacy, money, and history are all prohibited to produce a harmonious happy society. We are still on our way to that happy nirvana in 2021. Who would have guessed we would be happy to surrender all our privacy to Facebook and Google or invest all our savings in Bitcoin that could be worthless at a moment’s notice.
Post-war we got Brian Aldiss, Philip K Dick, Ray Bradbury, Robert A Heinlein, Arthur C Clarke, Kurt Vonnegut, J G Ballard (The Drowned World), Isaac Asimov with his laws:
1: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2: A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein were examining the pitfalls of space exploration and Clarke’s elevator to the sky is still in consideration. Philip K Dick's paranoid fiction so closely mirrors our own time it is often uncanny and his alternate history of the outcome of WW2 ‘The Man in the High Castle’ got the big budget treatment on TV just recently with all its horrible fascist logic played out. See how climate plays out in Bladerunner (based on his Do Androids Dreams of Electric Sheep).
The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth about a consumerism dystopia was extraordinarily prescient for 1953 when there was very little to actually buy. The most amazing thing of course is many these authors are still in print. Fear of nuclear war, robots that will take our jobs, or fight our wars for us, fear of AI (Aldiss influenced Spielberg’s 2001 film AI: Artificial Intelligence) for example have not diminished.
Now we are all afraid of the climate.
Bruce Sterling's Heavy Weather (1995) Johnathan Barnes Mother of Storms (1995) About the methane trapped under the Gulf of Mexico that threatens us all. Oddly enough the Sunday Times (4.26.21) featured the work of real weather scientist Prof Jemma Wadham who predicts methane will be the 'big' issue once the polar ice caps melt. Can't wait for that to play out.
Earth Abides (1949) by George R Stewart was a bleak look at Earth without people by a seemingly lone survivor of a pandemic who seems to lose all motivation to survive, as do his indifferent children that appear later. I read this after I had published Another Place to Die: Endtime Chronicles (2006/2015) and was struck by his nihilism in contrast to my own characters determination to survive and make plans for a future in a similarly devastated world after a pandemic. *I might mention I prefer inventing a lethal virus than actually living through a darn pandemic!
We have had sci-fi authors who have been warning us about the consequences of climate change for many years already. Now called Cli-Fi.
There’s Memory of Water (2012) by Emmi Itaranta – a Finnish author dealing with the most precious of commodities in 2030, water. This was also the theme of Paulo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife (2015) - this is a very realistic approach to explaining the consequences of who owns the water you drink or irrigate your crops with. It assumes that the law will still be applied, even though the whole US continent is lawless. Water rights are the ticket to ride, worth more than gold, and without them whole cities will die. You may well want to sell your home in the sunshine states after reading this…
The importance of trees to our planet’s survival was the topic of The Overstory by Richard Powers (Pulitzer Prize for fiction 2019). A slow and well researched emotional study.
|But what impressed me most was Carrie Mac’s ‘The Droughtlanders’ (2007) – One state controls the weather and has stolen the rain from the rest and impoverished millions. A YA trilogy that gets to grip with climate, revolutionary politics, regime change, circuses, cowardice and the terrible price of jealousy and revenge. Carrie Mac must have once had an awful time with a brother or sister to understand just how competitive and harsh brothers and sisters, especially twins can be to each other.
Here we have twin brothers Seth and Eli, one all gung-ho for violence, guided by an evil Trump like figure who rules the Keylanders with an iron fist, the other brother is painted as a coward who deplores violence, worships his scientist mother, who works on crops and making things grow. Little do either brother realise that their mother is in fact working for a Droughtlander terror organisation that wants to bring down this cruel regime. Outside the city walls a disfiguring disease runs rampant and anyone who has it is shunned.
Then we have Paulo Bacigalupi again who, in my opinion, is the most prescient cli-fi writer. From his first novel ‘The Windup Girl’ 2010 (Winner of the Hugo Ward) which is climate - biogenetic noir. Bacigalupi assumes the oil economy will crash and there will be a huge contraction of population and available power, meaning energy and calories will be rationed. Sensibly he doesn’t deal with the crash itself. He looks forward to the re-establishment of humanity (the expansion) after this cataclysm and his book is centred on Thailand where all the action takes place. The Windup Girl is a New Person. A genetically modified human, beautiful with incredible skin, designed for an air-conditioned Japan, not a steamy sweaty Thailand. She has been stranded by her owner who didn’t value her enough to take her back to Japan. Windups are treated with respect in Japan and are trained to do remarkable things, but in Thailand they are hated. This is a vision of a very possible and frightening future, beautifully crafted by someone who has thought long and hard about the consequences of the way we live now and where it will lead us. That he goes so far forward to think about a world ravaged by new made-man viruses that wipe out billions is illuminating and worrying.
||Bacigalupi doesn’t stop there. His ‘Ship Breaker’ trilogy (Drowned Worlds and Tool of War) 2011 – 2018 – are set in our post-oil future in an impoverished and mostly illiterate America. Great white sail hi-tech clippers reign on the high seas but they aren’t America but Indian or Chinese – wealth and power has shifted globally, and the post-industrial US is an economic backwater with little influence in the world. The rich are different now and human rights are not exactly a priority. If you don’t belong to the new clans running the world you are truly worthless and expendable. It so happens freighters with sails are in the design stage right now.
Of course there are countless other books dealing with the consequences of climate change. Most often it’s the trope of the survivors getting off the planet before it becomes impossible to live here. See ‘The Midnight Sky’ directed by George Clooney based on the novel ‘Good Morning, Midnight’. In the aftermath of a global catastrophe a lone scientist in the Arctic races to contact a crew of astronauts with a warning not to return to earth. Personally, I felt the film could have been better without the space stuff and just concentrate on Clooney’s character and the child left behind.
Interstellar (2014) directed by Christopher Nolan was a better movie to watch as it dealt with a dying planet suffering from drought and blight, but it also offered at least a pathway to a solution if a tad pie in the sky.
Jeff Vandemeer’s ‘Annihilation’ 2014 has recently been made into a movie with Natalie Portman. The story follows an expedition of four women who are known only by their professions: The Psychologist, the Surveyor, the Anthropologist, and the Biologist-- tasked with exploring a mysterious coastal territory called Area X. It owes a debt to H G Wells’s ‘The Island of Dr Moreau’, but perhaps without the tension.
Kim Stanley Robinson also delves deep into climate fiction with ‘Aurora’ a story told by a colony ships AI computer on a 150-year journey from Earth. It’s a bleak look at how incompatible we are with other worlds from the perspective of bacteria and biology. He also, like Ballard before him, explores drowned worlds in his ‘New York 2140’. Let's not forget 'The Day after tomorrow' either, which froze New York and most of the USA. The scenes of Americans fleeing to Mexico was nice touch of irony.
Let's add Snowpiercer, Waterworld, Soylent Green, Mad Max-Fury Road, The Fire Next Time (2 part TV series)
Which neatly brings me to my own effort cli-fi novel -
|Mission Longshot: How far would you go to save one life?
ASIN : B0957X5BFQ
Published by Hammer & Tong - print and kindle 2021
Curiously I began this in 2013 during a five-hour marathon inspired plotting session in a Montreal coffee shop opposite the Assassin's Creed factory. I had definitely had too many bucket sized coffees to fuel this activity, sure that I had the makings of a great novel (but keeping one eye on the only toilet to come free). Finally the door opened and I rushed over for a long needed pee. At that very moment someone stole my coat and notebook. I was bereft, not just because it was -20c outside. No one saw it go and they probably tossed the notebook the moment they tried to decipher my spider writing. I caught the train to Toronto the next day and didn't have the heart to try and recreate that five hour burst of energy.
Only years later during Covid lockdown could I face trying to retrieve the story from my addled memory.
We all know earth is dying, that realistically you aren’t going to stop China from building those coal-fired power stations and if everyone drives electric cars, we’re going to need three times as much electricity as we use now.
Everyone wants to go Green but would rather you did it first. I for one am not looking forward to a future without central heating or borrowing huge sums to fit solar panels and install batteries made by slave labour in China.
As the population reaches 9 Billion by 2030, tensions around clean water, food, energy security, and biosecurity will multiply. The trope is, build that spaceship, follow Elon Musk to that colony on Mars. Well of course not everything will go to plan, right?
Written for children (11 and up, adults too) I wanted a story with the background of climate disaster, but I have a little fun with light-speed spaceships, an ancient alien civilization and of course, three teens plucked out of time to help rescue one person at the far side of the Universe. It's story about hope, resilience, friendship and learning about climate and, of course, whether you can make waffles in space. I hope you'll be able to get on board real soon.
Meanwhile for those who missed it first time around. I finally got the rights back to The Repossession of Genie Magee and The Hunting of Genie Magee. I have revived both on kindle and if you know someone keen on sci-fi with a slightly gruesome edge let them know. You always wanted to be first to test teleportation - didn't you? What could possibly go wrong?
|The Repossession of Genie Magee
Hammer & Tong - Kindle App
Winner of The Wirral
'Paperback of the Year'
Combining the elements of science fiction, mystery and supernatural, it is definitely one of the best, and most fascinating, debut novels I've ever read.more
||The Hunting of Genie Magee
Book Two in the series
$10,000 Reward on their heads. Armed Roadblocks. Mosquito raids to shut down their brainwaves.
Genie and Renée are being hunted for the secrets that only their DNA can reveal
e-books all thanks to the excellent
© Sam Hawksmoor June 2021
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