Great fiction dramatizes times, places and attitudes it was never meant to illuminate. Shakespeare’s plays are loved today, despite the sometimes impenetrable language and unacceptable sexism and racism, because they reveal the universal. For several years, I’ve been interested in how fiction authors deal with climate change, and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is one … More How writers can read The Grapes of Wrath as climate fiction
Science fiction has a long, glorious history on radio, beginning in the medium’s golden age with Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. Sci-fi dropped off radio’s radar as television took over, but the genre occasionally reappears in special projects. Chicago-based WBEZ-FM, one of the country’s leading public radio stations (This American Life; Serial), has produced a thoughtful … More Review: “After Water” Radio Stories Put Climate Change In a New Light
The western drought has forced everyone to know their rights. From San Diego to Seattle, talk shows, newspapers, and blogs overflow with debates over senior water rights versus junior water rights, who is abusing their rights to water by wasting it, and how much government is trampling on those rights. A year ago, water was … More Review: The Water Knife is bleak, but uncomfortably possible
Policy wonks, eco-alarmists, and right-wing denialists dominate the climate change conversation with boring reports, deafening polemics, and forgettable op-eds. The mound of non-fiction reaches to the moon, and we’re no closer to a collective response to a warming world. In contrast, the number of novels written with climate change themes might not reach the top … More Review: Why aren’t ‘serious’ writers writing about climate change?
The slow, rolling nature of the unfolding changes to the planet’s climate stump many storytellers, who fall back on the set-pieces–mega-storms, pandemics, floods–rather than focus on the subtler effects on the planet of rising CO2 levels. The long timescales are another problem; some transformations might be noticed in a human lifetime, others may take millennia … More Review: Clade shows love and hope are timeless in a changing climate
Nature’s Confession is an impressive sci-fi epic with a multi-versal scope. On the one hand, it’s a young adult romance featuring a mixed-race boy named “Boy” and his infatuation with Valentine, a red-haired beauty with a talent for particle physics. On the other, it’s a speculative story of a family falling on hard emotional times … More Review: Nature’s Confession is an impressive sci-fi epic
Interstellar is a glorious tangle, an ambitious film that accomplishes much, but fails to grab the audience by the throat. Director Christopher Nolan delivers a sci-fi epic true to the Hollywood form, spanning galaxies and taking the viewer to places impossible to visit in real life. It expands on a classic American (indeed, human) theme–striking … More Review: How “Interstellar” resembles “How the West Was Won”
The movie Interstellar opens on November 7 and climate change drives the story. Stills and leaked reports about its plot point to an agriculture irreparably damaged by global warming, forcing the protagonist to leave Earth in search of greener pastures. Commentators are lumping Interstellar into the current crop of post-apocalyptic thrillers, which include Hunger Games … More Is fiction about climate change for real?
Too dark. Too depressing. Too frightening. These are the comments some critics and authors apply to the crop of movies and novels drawing viewers and readers to the multiplexes and bookstores these days. From the Maze Runner to Divergent, dystopias dominate the best-seller and blockbuster categories, and culture watchers wonder if the public has lost … More Utopia vs dystopia smackdown: Guess who wins.
It’s too bad more science fiction writers don’t address changes to Earth’s environment. Most are interested in the environment of other planets, while our home world’s atmosphere and biosphere grow more alien every day. Thank God for writers such as Margaret Atwood, with her Maddaddam Trilogy, Emmi Itäranta, author of The Memory of Water, and … More The Windup Girl read as eco-fiction
You can read a book through different lenses. Most reviewers of The Truth, the second novel by ex-Monty Python comic Michael Palin, read it as mainstream literature. I read it through a narrower lens, as a writer interested in how fiction makers work with environmental themes. Seen in this way, Palin’s book is about hero-worship, … More Review: To get at The Truth, dig deeper
Cosmologists are embracing the idea of parallel universes or the multiverse, which writers of science fiction and fantasy have portrayed as mirrors or different versions of our own universe, with passageways between them. Other sciences have noticed that the laws of nature often lead to repeat, parallel performances, such as adaptations in unrelated creatures to … More Review: The Adjacent Is Confusing, Maybe Unfinished
The activist and public relations man Dan Bloom, who originated the term “cli-fi” in 2008, recently posed the question to me in an email: Is climate fiction a genre, a theme, or a motif? I laughed, because these are the kinds of questions that resemble the old saw about debating the number of angels who … More Is climate fiction a genre, a theme, a motif, or what?
Who wrote the first climate fiction novel? The small cadre of writers and editors interested in this new branch of science fiction cite J.G. Ballard’s 1962 novel The Drowned World as one of the first, if not the first, novels to explore how humanity copes with a warming world. But Ballard’s novel was published long … More Is this book the prototype for the climate fiction novel?
One of the great problems with discussions of climate change is the bleak future they tend to paint. In the worst cases, the ice caps melt, rising seas flood coastal cities, diseases mutate and run rampant, institutions value people by their carbon footprint, and mega-storms wreak havoc on what’s left. Add to this rising economic … More Review: Lydia Millet’s Pills and Starships
I’ve been a fan of master science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson ever since the Mars Trilogy, which dealt with terraforming the Red Planet. Now that humanity is engaged in an accidental terraforming experiment on its own world, it was the right time for me to read Antarctica, one of Robinson’s lesser-known novels. I was … More Review: Giving the Cold Shoulder to Antarctica
Environmentalists share a kinship with devotees of religion the former prefers to ignore and the latter enjoys lampooning. Extremists in both camps have a matching emotional commitment to their cause an anarchist or Taliban mullah would admire. Both have a mystical attachment to an idea, one an invisible spiritual value of nature, the other a … More Review: A Being Darkly Wise
The stereotypical dystopian film and novel, such as A Clockwork Orange or 1984, presents a dark, violent, dysfunctional world with humans under the thumb of an oppressive regime. Memory of Water, the debut novel from Finnish author Emmi Itäranta, adds an extra dimension to her dystopia, a drying Earth where fresh water is protected by … More Review: Memory of Water
I attended an arts event the other day that reminded me why I don’t go to arts events. The event was one of a series of readings sponsored by a Seattle-area literary non-profit which I won’t name, but I respect it for its work with aspiring writers and young people. The event’s theme of climate … More Why arts events are like torture
The environmental movement lacks a sense of humor. Too many greens resemble fire-and-brimstone preachers who threaten you with eternal damnation if you don’t clean up your act and come to Jesus. Activists have a point: Climate change, industrial pollution, and unfettered genetic modification technologies pose real threats to humanity. It’s hard to tell a joke … More Review: ‘Grumbles’ is a bit of fun at the greens’ expense