Cat Sparks, author of Lotus Blue explains the significance of a sub genre of science fiction called cli-fi, which focuses on climate change effects.
About ‘Lotus Blue’ by Cat Sparks
Powerful war machines of the far-future collide across a barren desert world in this post-apocalyptic debut novel from award-winning Australian author Cat Sparks.
Seventeen-year-old Star and her sister Nene are orphans, part of a 13-wagon caravan of nomadic traders living hard lives travelling the Sand Road. Their route cuts through a particularly dangerous and unforgiving section of the Dead Red Heart, a war-ravaged desert landscape plagued by rogue semi-sentient machinery and other monsters from a bygone age.
But when the caravan witnesses a relic-Angel satellite unexpectedly crash to Earth, a chain of events begins that sends Star on a journey far away from the life she once knew. Shanghaied upon the sandship Dogwatch, she is forced to cross the Obsidian Sea by Quarrel, an ancient Templar supersoldier. Eventually shipwrecked, Star will have no choice but to place her trust in both thieves and priestesses while coming to terms with the grim reality of her past — and the horror of her unfolding destiny — as the terrible secret her sister had been desperate to protect her from begins to unravel.
Meanwhile, something old and powerful has woken in the desert. A Lotus Blue, deadliest of all the ancient war machines. A warrior with plans of its own, far more significant than a fallen Angel. Plans that do not include the survival of humanity.
‘What is cli-fi and how it is relevant today’ by Cat Sparks
Climate change now occupies a front-and-center position not just on political and scientific agendas worldwide, but in the wider social and cultural imagination. Its effects are being felt around the globe, from melting poles, changing rainfall patterns, mega forest fires, increased droughts and heatwaves, global civil unrest and acidifying oceans, with the worst being yet to come as we enter the Earth’s sixth mass species extinction.
Cli-fi, short for climate fiction, explores the potential, drastic consequences of climate change. It began as a subset of science fiction, which has, as a genre, been dealing with ecological themes and concerns for decades.
The terms “climate change” and “global warming” barely appear in literature before 1975, despite questions about the issues being raised by 19th century scientists. Until around 1960, most scientists thought it implausible that humans could significantly affect average global temperatures. Most global warming since 1951 is today understood to have been caused by human activities.
Around the time of the formation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (1988) and the Rio Earth Summit (1992), fiction about anthropogenic (human caused) climate change began to emerge.
As cli-fi increases in popularity and gains literary credibility, its parameters are broadening to include thrillers, literary fiction, nature writing, modern elegiac writing, ecopoetry and theatre. Some authors and critics now consider cli-fi to have evolved into an independent genre. Others name it as a literary and publishing trend, which uses the tools of science fiction while escaping the taint of sci-fi’s pulp heritage. Still others believe cli-fi needs to break away from traditional modes of art and media, particularly sentimental ideas about the natural world in order to better visualize problems wrought by global capitalism.
Dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction has proven particularly popular in recent years, especially in the young adult genre. Many such stories can be considered as cli-fi because the portrayed breakdown of society is attributed to catastrophic and ongoing climate events.
However, relentless pessimism about our future is irresponsible, encouraging people to believe that there’s nothing we can do, that the battle has already been lost. But not all cli-fi stories are dystopic or apocalyptic — or even classifiable as science fiction, such as Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour, Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer, Kathryn Heyman’s Floodline, or Sarah Moss’s Cold Earth.
In portraying our world undergoing rapid change, cli-fi illustrates some of the problems we face globally and, occasionally, experiments with solutions, or envisions alternative pathways and adaptations we might be forced to take — such as building new energy economies or the wholesale transformation of capitalist society.
In a few years, it’s possible that all non-historical realistic fiction might be classifiable as forms of climate fiction as the world continues to warm.
Most cli-fi novels make use of accurate scientific data and many feature scientists as characters. Scientists in contemporary stories are more often portrayed as heroes rather than villains in the traditional Dr. Frankenstein mode.
There’s no shortage of accessible scientific information about climate change; we’re bombarded daily with news reports and data. But facts and figures are not enough to stir people to action. Never have we had more information at our fingertips, and yet cultures of practical denialism persist. Lack of immediate effect creates a false sense of security and the inability to visualize problems that will impact hard on future generations and locate their source in our own actions. We’re more afraid of losing what we want in the short term than facing dangerous obstacles in the distance. These are failings of culture, not science. Cli-fi, as a literature, can help.
Science becomes knowledge through storytelling. Fiction is a useful mechanism for making the scientific facts of climate change believable to the general public and help prepare us psychologically for resource constraints and ongoing environmental problems.
Some cli-fi attempts to illuminate cultural anxieties and show the political or psychological dimensions of how we might adapt to living with climate change in a rapidly changing world. But long‐term engagement, enduring changes in the way we live through a long series of thoughtful readjustments, reimagining ourselves and our interactions with the world.
Although happening very rapidly in geological terms, climate change is occurring too slowly to stir people into action. Western living standards are environmentally unsustainable. We all contribute to the problem as we go about our everyday lives, postponing inevitable adjustments and shifting the responsibility onto future generations who will ultimately be called to pay for today’s entitlements.
Both sci-fi and cli-fi can help by envisioning not only the global changes to be feared and navigated, but by imagining and illustrating possible solutions grounded in cutting-edge research and development. However, it is naïve to hold out for miraculous techno-fixes that will solve all the problems we create with the byproducts of industry. Industry itself needs to adapt and change; to stop borrowing from our children’s and grandchildren’s future.
We need people talking about alternative pathways. We need this in science, politics, government and most importantly, we need this in art, because people respond differently to art than they do to facts and figures. Art has the power of making the abstract personal and visceral. Art encourages people to think and feel.
Fictionalizing scenarios can help us take facts seriously, transform the relationship between imagination and actions, engage with controversial political problems and encourage responsibility for our shared future on Earth — the only life sustaining planet we’ve ever known.
Cat Sparks, author of the upcoming novel Lotus Blue, available from Talos Press, an imprint of Skyhorse, in March 2017.
About the author
Cat Sparks is a multi-award-winning Australian author, editor and artist whose former employment has included: media monitor, political and archaeological photographer, graphic designer, Fiction Editor of Cosmos Magazine and Manager of Agog! Press. A 2012 Australia Council grant sent her to Florida to participate in Margaret Atwood’s The Time Machine Doorway workshop. She’s currently finishing a PhD in climate change fiction.