Author: Darrek Mislivets

Final Blog Audit

Personally, I had never taken a literature class before in which our own opinions of the books had mattered so much. Typically, all that matters to the professor is literary analysis and close-reading skills. In the case of the classics, this is totally fine, and the right way to teach a literature class. However, for a literature class about a burgeoning genre such as cli-fi, writing subjective reviews of the weekly novels was the perfect way to test the effectiveness of the genre as a whole. The weekly reviews really allowed me to examine if I found the novels to be effective works of cli-fi or not, which I think is perfect since one of this course’s aims was to examine the effectiveness of the genre as a whole.

Ultimately, the blog did not change my style up too much. I took the reviews quite seriously and treated them as though they would be graded like any other essay I write. Naturally, the style was much more personal and casual. Personally, I got the most enjoyment out of writing the longer expert reviews, as it challenged me to take the two novels I selected very seriously, while also injecting my own (highly positive) opinions into the reviews. Of course, it helps that the two novels I selected for expert review coincidentally happened to be my two favorite novels of the semester (Stewart and Atwood).

Unfortunately, since I had an extremely busy semester, I was not always able to read all of my peers’ reviews. However, when I did read them, I noticed a wide variety of writing styles. Some writers gravitated towards a more academic, serious writing style while others were much more formal. Everyone’s writings were equally interesting to read and there was an interesting blend of styles, in my opinion. My only regret is not having enough time this semester to comment on more people’s blog posts.

Finally, one thing that I really liked about the blog was that whenever I found an interesting article that was pertinent to the class, I was able to share it on the blog. This also forced me to be more engaged in the relevant news pertaining to climate change. So, I for one, found the required 8 blog posts to be a useful addition to make the course as relevant and informative as possibly. Ultimately, I found all aspects of the blog to fit perfectly well for this course, and I do not really have any suggestions for improvement.

Climate Change “Humor”

At one point in my Year of the Flood review, which Ted shared in class, I mentioned the bizarre results which came up as climate change “humor.” I thought I would share some of the strangest results I saved here. global-warmingGlobal-Climate-Changejesus climateGLOBAL WARMING HOAX, OBAMA CARTOONSglobalglobal-warming-trust-obamaal-gore-global-warming-hoax1climate_change_is_a_hoax_blk_t_shirts-r699e97e92c584d54b311e282143ade4e_804gs_512polar-bears

Okay, so these are all pretty awful, though some may be a little sarcastic (gotta love the Jesus tears shirt). I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry overall. On the other hand, here’s my favorite result to prove that not all of the results were bad, just most:

global-warming-hoax

Climate Change in Pop Music

Over the course of the semester, we have examined the roles of film and (most extensively) literature in response to anthropogenic climate change, one artistic medium which we have no discussed is popular music. So, here is a list of 10 songs which promote “climate justice.” The author calls these ecologically-focused songs, “protest songs” which I found to be an interesting label. It made me ponder which, if any, of the novels from our syllabus were actually protesting anything. Admittedly, most of these songs are rather obscure which leads me to question the success of “climate justice protest songs” as a genre. While I had only heard two songs on this list before today, I shall listen to some of the others in celebration of Earth Day! (I’m doing my part for the Big Green movement! Woo!!)

Darkly Ironic Summer Reading

I read Hurricane Fever while sitting outside on a beautiful 85 degree Saturday in Philadelphia in the middle of April. The conditions felt perfect, as Tobias Buckell’s novel initially seemed to be a light, breezy (lame pun-intended) bit of summer reading. Yet, as I watched the ice cubes in my iced coffee quickly melt away, something began to feel amiss. April 18th is not summer, and Hurricane Fever sure as hell isn’t the sort of summer reading it initially appears to be.

One of my main criteria for gauging the success of a piece of “cli-fi” literature is its accessibility. In other words, does the novel have the potential to reach and inform a wide audience? Some stabs at the genre such as Squarzoni’s Climate Changed or Oreskes’ The Collapse of Western Civilization are far too intellectual and esoteric to reach a mainstream audience, while others such as Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain will only be appreciated by those who can withstand a 500 page work of hard science fiction. Hurricane Fever, on the other hand is just about perfect in this regard. Buckell’s thrilling piece of cli-fi has all of the fast-paced action and intensity of a mainstream thriller novel of the ilk of James Patterson or Dan Brown, while also bringing issues of anthropogenic climate change to the forefront of the novel. Thus, while I concede that this novel certainly has the ability to become a New York Times bestseller, I think it is appropriate to judge Hurricane Fever through two distinct lenses: cli-f novel and action novel.

As a cli-fi novel, I believe that Hurricane Fever truly succeeds. Buckell does an extraordinary job of subtly building a not-so-distantly futuristic world without burdening the reader with too many superfluous details. While the characters may intersperse details about now-sunken islands and post-gasoline transportation into their dialogue, these details never slow down the plot. In fact, I found this details helped to tie up some of the novel’s points which were initially confusing such as the excessive amount of boats or the minor characters’ jaded reactions to cataclysmic weather events. Additionally, Buckell created a pretty interesting way of directly connecting the main villain Beauchamp’s evil scheme to climate change. I thought that his plot to use the “natural” disaster to spread the lethal disease he had harnessed was a brilliant authorial choice by Buckell. It allowed Buckell to explore the issues of class and race and climate-change. Much like the film Snowpiercer in which the rich will live in luxury in the drastically altered world while the poor are killed off, the rich party attendees in Buckell’s novel would be able to survive and prosper as the storm which is laden with a melanin targeted disease wipes out all of the poor dark-skinned people in the Caribbean. I found that Buckell’s treatment of class-related issues in a climate-changed world were handled with enough subtlety and expertise to still be interesting and incorporate well into the plot (and also allowed him to implement such a cool title for the novel).

While I believe Hurricane Fever to be a great accessible piece of cli-fi literature, it suffers from a problem in that I just don’t think it is well-written. Of course this is my own opinion, but what a look for in a blockbuster film is not quite what I look for in a novel. All of the scenes of Roo walking around parties wearing tuxedos with a grenade tucked under his suit coat or of him passing out and awaking in a haze only to be awakened by Kit just felt like hackneyed Ian Fleming rip-offs. My main critique of the novel was that a lot of the dialogue just felt quite stiff and bland. While I am glad that Buckell, a Grenadian himself, did not go overboard with the stereotypical Caribbean accents one might expect from a novel set in this region, I just wish that some of the characters had a lot bit more character and individuality in their voices. At points, it could even be indecipherable to tell who was talking. Furthermore, Buckell’s use of stock characters who must die in order to fuel the plot was a little tiresome. I understand the importance of Zee’s death, but creating Delroy just so he could inevitably die and advance the revenge arc of the story felt so predictable to me. This is another case of a book that could make a really great movie in the right hands! However, in book form it is just a typical action novel coated with a really nice layer of cli-fi. Ultimately, I am glad to see cli-fi literature expand into new genres such as crime fiction or thriller, but Hurricane Fever just had a few too many flaws to create the perfect bridge between the often-esoteric genre of cli-fi and the mainstream thriller genre. However, Buckell is a young promising writer and I do have some faith that he will one day put out a fantastic best-selling cli-fi novel.

Laughing into the Waterless Flood

In a recent interview with Slate, Margaret Atwood states of fiction, “You have to show people in the midst of change and people coping with change.” In The Year of the Flood, the second book in Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, she postulates how mankind will react in preparation for an impending Waterless Flood. The majority of the story revolves around the ecology-based religion of the God’s Gardeners who seem to have accepted mankind’s inevitable fate and are preparing for the Waterless Flood to wash over Earth. In her creation of the God’s Gardeners and her injection of humor into their beliefs and values, Margaret Atwood is able to examine the role of religion in a pre-apocalyptic changing world and simultaneously raise questions about the role of humor in literature.

Initially one might be a bit befuddled by the idea of a religion recognizing man’s devastating impact on the planet. In novels such as Flight Behavior and in real life, many religious people believe that mankind could only be brought to its end by the hand of God, so the idea of anthropogenic climate change wiping out the species seems incredulous. However, Adam One, the leader of the God’s Gardeners in The Year of the Flood addresses this supposed contradiction. He quotes the Word of God from Genesis 8:21 which reads, “I will not again curse the ground anymore for man’s sake.” When God entrusted Noah with “the task of saving the chosen Species,” He made a covenant and relinquished his desire to ever bring humanity to its end (Atwood, 90). The Gardeners, who consider themselves to be a “plural of Noah,” recognize that “any further cursing of the ground would be done, not by God, but by Man himself” (Atwood, 90-91). While it would be facile to view this description of Gardener philosophy simply as a way to account for the aforementioned contradiction, it additionally harkens back to the concept of living “in the midst of change.” As the physical world changes, there is no room for traditional religions such as Christianity. Humanity has been forced to accept its impact on the environment and “can no longer fall into the error of pride by considering ourselves as exceptional” (Atwood, 53). Subsequently, in response to this paradigm shift of accepting mankind’s fate, religion, one of the most obdurate forces in history, is required to adapt its philosophy to fit into the changing world. While they may believe in the same God, the God’s Gardeners’s views are a far cry way from those of the Appalachian Christians in Flight Behavior.

Another way in which religion changes within the world of Year of the Flood is through its views on sainthood. Traditionally in the Catholic Church, those who become saints are men and women who live their entire lives practicing and spreading the Word of God. However, in Atwood’s speculative world, saints are those who lived their entire lives fighting for ecological progress. For instance, the God’s Gardeners deem Silent Spring author Rachel Carson to be a saint for she “dedicated her life to the Feathered Ones” (Atwood, 370). This debasement of the idea of sainthood reflect a larger societal shift in values. Now, pious and zealous religious figures are no longer those valued in society. Instead, the brave souls such as Rachel Carson or Euell Gibbons who fought adamantly for the birds and the trees are the true heroes.

In her initial review in the Telegraph of Year of the Flood, Caroline Moore describes Atwood’s depictions of the Gardeners and their saints as a “serio-comic balance.” Much like the aforementioned Slate interview in which interviewer Ed Finn lauds Atwood’s “deadpan wit and irreverent playfulness,” Moore is recognizing the importance of humor in the deathly serious genre of cli-fi. Atwood is able to look unflinchingly into the eye of the impending Waterless Flood and chuckle. Perhaps what allows Margaret Atwood to laugh even when confronted with the grizzly serious issue of anthropogenic climate change is her self-proclaimed unwavering hope. In the Slate interview, although Atwood admits that she cannot ascertain whether or not humanity will still be around in one hundred years, she states “I think hope is among a number of things that are part of the human toolkit. It’s built in…” Unlike authors such as Phillipe Squarzoni or Naomi Oresekes who scarcely make any room for laughs in their own works of cli-fi (using that term liberally in the case of Climate Changed and The Collapse of Western Civilization), Atwood’s innate hope in humanity allows for The Year of the Flood to be filled with dark humor.

The role of humor in the genre of cli-fi or in relation to climate change in general is a notion which seems to be rarely discussed. In fact, a Google search of the phrase “climate change humor,” results primarily in poorly put together right-wing memes which mock the entire belief in man’s impact on the global climate. So the grand question here is: does the humor work? Can a cli-fi novel take a seriously effective look at mankind’s negative environmental impact and still be incredibly humorous? While some may argue that in order for a novel about an issue as monstrously threatening as climate change to be effective it must be unflinchingly serious, in the case of Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, the dark humor is not only effective in captivating and intriguing the reader, it may very well be the most effective aspect of the entire novel! For instance, one of the most simplistically poignant lines of the entire novel comes in the form of Zeb’s vulgar song, “nobody gives a snot, nobody gives a snot, that is why we’re on the fucking spot, ‘cause nobody gives a snot!” (Atwood, 242). The entire theme of mankind’s ignorance leading to our downfall, which authors such as Barbara Kingsolver or Kim Stanley Robinson have spent hundreds of pages trying to convey in the most eloquent way possible, is reduced to four lines of hilariously blatant “poetry” and it becomes one of the most memorable lines of the entire novel.

Part of the reason why Zeb’s simple song is so effective is because it serves as a stark contrast to the Feast Day songs of the Gardeners from the God’s Gardeners Oral Hymnbook which preface each of Ren or Toby’s narratives. Caroline Moore refers to these Gardener songs as “sonorously bathetic hymns.” These songs themselves are not without humor for they, like Saint Euell or Saint Rachel, are greatly different from what we would expect of a 21st century church. For instance, the image of a choir of Gardener children singing out, “We dangle by a flimsy thread/ Our little lives are grains of sand;/ The Cosmos is a tiny sphere/ Held in the hollow of God’s hand ” is drastically and humorously different from Catholic children singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” in a church today (Atwood, 427). Atwood’s ability to depict a cult-like religion with the framework of Catholicism which actually stresses importance on mankind’s weaknesses and wrongdoings showcases both her cunning wit and her sheer brilliance as an author.

Back to the contrast between Zeb’s songs and the Gardeners’ hymns, Atwood’s hilariously genius comes through in her ability to depict how Zeb is able to create bigger and more radical thoughts in just a few words while the Gardeners struggle to convey anything concrete or palpable in many of their hymns. Furthermore, this contrast between the singing of Zeb and the Gardeners creates a parallel and sets up the larger contrast between their two disparate philosophies. One of the reader’s very first glimpses of Zeb’s character comes though his earliest song, “nobody gives a hoot, and that is why we’re down the chute” (Atwood, 64). At this point, the reader had already been exposed to at least three Gardener hymns and has likely already begun to understand the dryly superfluous and anticlimactic nature of these hymns. Thus, Atwood deploys her cunning humor to establish Zeb’s personality as being dissonant from the collective mindset of the Gardeners. This dissonance later comes to an apex as Zeb breaks away from the crumbling faction of the God’s Gardeners and forms his own sort of sect, MaddAddam. So, Margaret Atwood has used Zeb’s vulgar songs which could easily be glanced over as throw-away lines to nearly single-handedly establish the basis of the entire personality of Zeb’s character and create a major contrast between him and the God’s Gardeners. Ultimately, Atwood’s humor is not only effective for handling the ideas climate change in literature, but also just as masterful story telling technique in general.

As a serious work of climate change fiction, The Year of the Flood is nearly impeccable. While many books in this genre struggle to reach a widespread literary audience, Atwood’s use of dark humor and inventive narrative techniques ensures that her works will not be relegated to the often overlooked “science-fiction” trade paperback racks at Barnes and Noble upon which many works of cli-fi will sit untouched. Margaret Atwood appears to be well aware of the enormity of her audience and the impact that her works could have on not only literature but on society at large. In The Year of the Flood, Atwood exerts her influence as an author and tackles the challenge of anthropogenic climate change with all the force with which it deserves to be tackled. While Atwood’s work of so-called speculative fiction may not be a novel from which a reader can walk away with a myriad of answers of instructions on how to behave, it is a fantastic speculative tale rife with humor which examines how mankind’s imminent realization of the erroneous nature of its ways could reshape the world.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2015/02/margaret_atwood_interview_the_author_speaks_on_hope_science_and_the_future.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/books-life/6167348/The-Year-of-the-Flood-by-Margaret-Atwood-review.html

Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. New York: Anchor Books, 2009. Print.

True Men Melt Glaciers

I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at this 1960’s advertisement, honestly…”Humble” (another joke apparently) Oil & Refinery Co. is bragging about how they supply enough energy to melt 7 million tons of glacier each day! While I understand we did not know much about climate change 50 years ago, I find it funny that Humble recognized the (albeit very exaggerated) impact that their products could have on nature. Yet, instead of lamenting this issue, Humble saw it as a reason to brag! The 60’s were a strange era, indeed.

The Role of Authors in Climate Change

Recently, The New Yorker posted this piece by acclaimed author Jonathan Franzen. Here, Franzen displays some general foolishness and seems to be entirely ignorant of some general facts of the climate change “movement.” Franzen seems to believe that the environmentalist movement and the climate change movement (for lack of a better phrase) are two disparate entities and supporters of one cannot support the other. To me, Franzen’s defeatist attitude appears dangerous… If Franzen, one of the most acclaimed authors of the century, cannot get behind the push to help stop man-made climate change, how many others will buy into his nonsense? While Mr. Franzen’s defeatist attitude on the subject may be shared by many, I for one believe that we can save the birds AND the planet if we try hard enough.

“Traditional” Cli-fi from Kim Stanley Robinson

When I first heard the word “cli-fi,” this is exactly the sort of novel I envisioned. Kim Stanley Robinson’s 40 Signs of Rain is rife with scientist characters, discussions of global warming, dubious politics, and a sardonic caricature of President George W. Bush. These are all of the ingredients necessary for a perfect work of climate change fiction (Dan Bloom’s terminology of choice). Yet, I am quite ambivalent towards Robinson’s novel, and perhaps towards this genre as a whole. My primary gripes with 40 Signs of Rain are quite similar to some of the problems I addressed with Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior: the lack of significant action and the flat characters.

I really am willing to forgive the slow pacing within cli-fi novels. Realistically, climate change-related disasters are not something we can foresee very ahead, so it only makes sense that novelists within this sub-genre choose to depict disasters as unpredicted surprises rather than easily predictable events for which everyone is already bracing themselves. However, when I read a novel, I really do want some meaningful events to occur. It took over 300 pages before anything truly exciting happened in this novel. Now, I don’t necessarily want all of the books I read to be novelistic forms of Hollywood disaster films, but I want them to have some meaningful action. In Robinson’s first novel in his “Science in the Capital” trilogy, I felt like he was just describing to readers the predictably ordinary lives of predictably ordinary scientists. While the writing quality I quite good, there is just nothing about the first three quarters of this novel that I found to be truly captivating. The only interesting scenes for me were when the politics of science is discussed, and I would have liked to read some more sections about this highly relevant issue of the struggle between bureaucracy and scientific progress.

Another issue I had with 40 Signs of Rain was its characters. I found nearly every character in this book to be utterly stagnant and boring. The only character who really undergoes any sort of drastic change is Frank, and I felt that the romantic scene which serves as the catalyst for Frank’s change of heart was just predictably hackneyed and maudlin. Additionally, both of the Quibler parents seemed to remain the same throughout the novel. I feel like Robinson’s goal was to depict the lives of the ordinary people who are battling against the bureaucracy and struggling to make great strides in the fields of science. This truly is a noble and interesting idea, especially in 200 when this novel was first published. However, I just wish that Robinson had written more likeable and interesting characters to serve as his, for lack of a better phrase, everyday heroes.

As I believe about many contemporary novels, I believe that 40 Signs of Rain could have benefited from a great deal of trimming. Robinson could have cut out all of the fat (i.e.: the elevator romance, the poison ivy, Frank’s love of rock climbing, etc.) and built up upon the struggle between politicians and scientists. If he had done so, I believe 40 Signs of Rain could have been a greatly important and well-written novel about the struggle of science vs. politics vs. climate change. As it stands, Robinson’s novel is quite messy and long-winded, but there are some very interesting themes and ideas at play underneath it all. 40 Signs of Rain’s characters did not captivate me enough to wish to continue reading his “Science in the Capital” series. However, Robinson seems to have some really interesting ideas and a talent as an author. I would certainly consider reading another one of his works in the future.

Audit

For a class with such a heavy reading load, blogging like this seems to be the most effective method of making everyone read and analyze all of the texts without bashing us all over the head with a brutal all-inclusive final exam. Personally, I find these more lax and critical short reviews to be an appropriate medium for this class. Since cli-fi is a burgeoning genre that is picking up traction, it is good to get our reviews out there (specifically on Amazon as well) to let the public know about this genre and its works. This is particularly useful for works such as Squarzoni’s which are not very well-known works of literature yet.

Right now, I have 9 posts on the blog and have posted a few comments on others’ posts as well. Personally, I find this to be a satisfactory amount, and it is above the minimum. In the second half of the semester, my goal is to read on comment on some other students’ short reviews to try to build up more discussion of the literature outside of class.

My one gripe about the blog is the same that some others have stated: there is very little interaction from people outside of our class. In fact, the only people outside our class who have posted on the blog are these strange spam bots who post some hilariously nonsense in almost-English. While it may be too late now, moving the blog to a traditional WordPress site that is not through Temple may allow for our blog to receive much more outside traction. For instance, in my one history class, we have a blog that isn’t through Temple that receives thousands of hits every month from people all around the world, and students from France, England, and even some Asian countries are always posting on it. Maybe Temple could open up our blog, or maybe there is some way to move it to a traditional WordPress site. This class has really gotten me interested in this subgenre and I really would like to see how casual people who are not studying this subject would react to our blog posts.

The Fault is Not in the Butterflies…

If Barbara Kingsolver does one thing right in Flight Behavior, it’s the thing that matters: her handling of the issue of climate change. Kingsolver opts to depict global warming as a slow simmering disaster instead of going over the top and ending the world like a typical disaster movie. This treatment of such a serious issue grants the novel with a certain level of believability and seriousness that could shake even the most uncertain skeptic. The inevitable demise of monarch butterflies may not sound as scary as a giant flood ravaging the continent’s coast, but Kingsolver manages to bring so much emotion into the story of the butterflies that the urgency is felt in such a startling way.

Additionally, Kingsolver brought the interesting issue of faith vs. climate change to the table. This is an issue to which I have not given much thought prior to reading Flight Behavior; however, since I picked up this novel it has been plaguing my thoughts. Since I must be some sort of masochist when it comes to searching things on the internet pertaining to global issues, I decided to plunge deeper into this connection between Christianity and climate change. The results were terrifying. Theologians and preachers, such as Matthew Hagee, tell their followers not to believe in the “phony” climate change as it is “all a part of God’s plan.” This. Is. Scary. When we encourage idleness and inaction, how can we possibly expect results? Now, this tangent may seem entirely irrelevant to Kingsolver; however, these preachers have given me a great deal more respect for Flight Behavior. When I first read some of the dialogue between Cub and Dellarobia, I found it incredulous to think that one’s religion could restrict them for doing some good for the environment, and Cub’s character just felt really fake to me (I suppose I’m just too optimistic sometimes). While Kingsolver never explicitly takes a stance in terms of her views on faith, I have a good feeling she would be just as sickened by Matthew Hagee’s preaching as I am.

Given everything I’ve said so far, it seems like I should be a big fan of this novel, but that’s not the case. My issue isn’t the same as others complaining about a lack of plot or slow pacing. Actually, I take issue with some things that everyone else seems to enjoy. Particularly, the characters. I’m pretty sure it’s fair to say that Kingsolver intended to make Dellarobia, Ovid Byron, and perhaps even Hester to be likeable characters. However, I could not find a single character in this novel in whom I could believe or sympathize. Take Dellarobia for instance- Kingsolver introduces her as a woman on the edge who is having an affair. This Jimmy guy then pretty much disappears, and Dellarobia moves onto the next piece of eye candy in the form of Ovid Byron (naming characters is also not one of Kingsolver’s strong suits…). So I’m supposed to feel for this character who lies to her husband and barely gives a damn about her children? Then there’s Ovid who is supposed to be some sort of benevolent man, yet every word that came out of his mouth felt really pretentious and arrogant. Yet, no one could be as obnoxious as Dovey. She may go down in history as one of the worst supporting characters I have ever read in literature. All she did was make awfully corny jokes and say “remember when..?” to Dellarobia every other sentence. Ugh. Maybe it’s just me, but this novel reads like a cli-fi soap opera.

I want to like Flight Behavior, I really do. I don’t think any other novel dealing with climate change has reached such a wide audience as this novel. And Kingsolver does a fantastic job of presenting climate change in a believable and terrifying way without being heavy-handed. However, I just don’t think she is an author whose works I would voluntarily read in the near future.

Climate Change: The Musical?!

Everything about this article sounds like it was ripped straight from The Onion. But sometimes, reality is stranger than fiction. The NSF used taxpayer money to fund a musical on the concept of climate change. Personally, I think it’s a brilliant idea! Whether the musical was any good or not, I certainly cannot be the judge. However, the poor box office revenue could indicate a few things. Maybe the musical just plain sucked; I mean, that’s a fair reason for it to fail. On the other hand, maybe America still isn’t ready for cli-fi to hit Broadway or the mainstream at all yet. The comments on the article, including some genius comparing those who actually believe in climate change to a RELIGION, don’t exactly give me much faith in humanity. And could anyone really be surprised that the “Texas Republican” called this a waste of money?? Personally, if $2 of my taxes are used to fund some way of bringing climate change into the spotlight in an entertaining way, I have no problem with it! I’d certainly rather see my money support this instead of say The War in Iraq. While this musical may have utterly been a failure, I am very interested to see cli-fi brought into theater or the music industry. Here’s hoping that some weird prog metal band comes out with a cli-fi concept album!

Helpful Guide to Literary Terminology

I saw this article on Book Riot today and while it does not mention cli-fi specifically, it mentions terms like “post-apocalyptic” as opposed to “speculative” or “ecotopian” which all fit into our reading list in one way. The author even mentions this week’s book Parable of the Sower which she describes as a “dystopian world based on a utopian ideal.” While this article is not exactly lengthy nor fantastically clear, I thought it may help some people who are confused or interested about the different sub-genres of science fiction.

Not With a Bang….

The idea of a boring apocalypse story sounds like an oxymoron. We as humans always like to envision our ultimate demise as a series of extraordinarily rapidly occurring cataclysmic event. The Statue of Liberty’s head will wash up on the Long Island shores while the remnants of the Golden Gate Bridge lay in ruins in the San Francisco Bay. However, in The Collapse of Western Civilization, there is no such apocalypse. Instead, Oreskes and Conway spare their readers the dramatics and simply present the facts.

However, while this rather dry delivery of the tale of man’s demise is not entirely enthralling, it is no less terrifying than any Hollywood disaster film. While the narrator is writing from nearly 400 years in the future, the majority of this book seems to take place before the year 2100. Reading scientists foresee a major disease outbreak which could rival the Black Death tormenting the world within fifty years was certainly the most horrifying aspect of the book. I thought another effective tactic used by the authors were the sea level maps which prefaced each chapter of the book. Seeing Miami or Manhattan submerged almost entirely in the Atlantic is certainly enough to strike fear in any reader.

Personally, I felt that book did not necessarily give the reader any answers or even suggestions of how to prevent climate change. Even though Conway expressed in the subsequent interview that he viewed this text as positive for the human race, the primary feeling I felt from reading this was fear. Ultimately, I think western society should use this book and say, “let’s defy the odds and prove these scientists wrong.” Oreskes and Conway have outlined a horrifying series of events which they believe will happen in the next century. Instead of simply accepting these predictions as inevitabilities, I feel like the authors’ goal was to inspire us to try and work as a society to make sure that these cataclysmic events do not occur.

Ultimately, I am completely torn on how I feel about The Collapse of Western Civilization. The Westerner in me wants to see this as more of a narrative with heroes and dramatics. But that’s just not how the world works. While the facts of the matter may not be what we want to hear, we need to hear them and heed their advice. With the stark lack of individuals and personal tales in this work, it can be difficult to leave a lasting impression on the reader. However, this novel (if I can call it that) is an important piece of fiction. At least, we must hope and strive to ensure that this work‘s prophecies are proven false. Hopefully in the year 2400, humans could laugh at these predictions like we laugh at the movie 2012 today.

Earth, We Do Mind Dying

Death is one of the concepts that the human mind can hardly begin to fathom. We spend the majority of our lives pondering how to confront our own death. If we cannot accept the inevitability of our own death, how could we even begin to accept the likewise inevitability of the demise of humankind? In Earth Abides, a seminal work by George Stewart, Stewart concocts a virus which wipes out nearly all of mankind and reduces civilization to disparate groups of stragglers. Essentially, Stewart is forcing readers to confront the enormous question: what would the world be like without us.

From the beginning of the novel, Stewart utilizes bleak vignettes separated from the main story of Isherwood Williams to show the progression of the world. In a sense, the planet Earth could be viewed as a character. Early on in the novel, the omniscient narrator personifies the planetary bodies and says how “we must say that they saw no change” in reference to the Earth (Stewart, 17). This shows how everything still looks the same on the planet even after man has almost entirely disappeared from it. This vignettes go onto to tell the fate of all the life forms and structures in the post-mankind world. The only lifeforms which truly suffer are the ones whose lifestyles were initially impacted negatively by humans in the first place. For instance, the sheep do not fare well because “they accepted the protection of the shepherd and lost their agility and sense of independence” (Stewart, 55). On the contrary, it is stated that, “of half a million species of insects, only a few dozen were appreciably affected by the demise of man” (Stewart, 59). Ultimately, Stewart seems to believe that the world without man would not be very different from the world in which we live now.

In his article, “Natural Affinities,” author Kenneth Brower states that, “In annihilating 99 percent of humanity in Earth Abides, the professor (Stewart) was just giving us a dose of our own medicine.” From this quote, a connection to climate change could be drawn, in a sense. Brower, whose article was written in the context of reading George Stewart novels while in Antarctica, makes the connection between mankind’s hunting other species for pleasure and our emission of greenhouse gasses. Brower acknowledges that Stewart recognized that man’s impact on the Earth was becoming increasingly negative. Man’s ego was increasing at an alarming rate, and mankind seems to think itself invincible. Therefore, Stewart struck back with a vicious blow and showed easy it would be for civilization to simple devastated in a matter of only days. Even in 1949, when we had far less knowledge about humans’ negative impact on the world that we have now, Stewart recognized that a world without civilization would probably be a better world. Coming at the inception of the Cold War, this novel must have been a devastating strike to man’s ego and sensitivity, especially those of voracious Americans’.

Upon reading this novel, I was reminded of one of my favorite poems of all time, “Dinosauria, We” by Charles Bukowski. In this poem, Bukowski likens mankind to the dinosaurs. We think ourselves to be the center of the universe; however, it would truly not to make much to knock the species off of its high horse and eradicate man entirely, just as what happened to the dinosaurs millions of years ago. However, Bukowski ends the poem on a positive note, stating “the sun still hidden there awaiting the next chapter.” Essentially, man’s decline from power is inevitable. This theme is shown in Earth Abides as other species all rush to fill the power void left by man. Stewart states “the ants had come first and then there were the rats” (Stewart, 118). Also, those aforementioned final lines of Bukowski’s “Dinosauria, We” are very reminiscent of the final line of Earth Abides, “men go and come but Earth abides” (Stewart, 345). Stewart, like many cynical “misanthropists” including the aforementioned Charles Bukowski, knows that the demise of man will certainly not be the demise of the entire planet. Conversely, it seems that the only thing that can truly destroy Earth is mankind itself.

In the third and final section of Earth Abides, which is titled “The Last American,” the main character Isherwood Williams seems entirely skeptical about the idea of civilization. He ponders, “They (mankind) did not think much about the world outside of them because man seemed to be greatly stronger than all the outside world” (Stewart, 335). Essentially, it would take the complete decimation of the species in order for man to realize the error of his ways. These finals scenes in which Ish is doubting whether civilization should ever exist in its erstwhile form are where Stewart’s message is able to come across most clearly. Clearly, Stewart believes, we need to rethink the way in which we mistreat our species and the planet in generally. He wants to deflate our egos so that we may realize that we are merely only one out of many species on Earth and we cannot continue to think of ourselves as superior.

Author Elizabeth Wells, however, does not see this ending as entirely pessimistic. She states, in her article “Earth Abides: A Return to Origins,” there is something reassuringly grounding in the return to a fundamental relationship with the natural world.” While the end of Ish’s journey in the post-apocalyptic world may seem to be bleak one, this new society has reverted back to the old tribal days in which man is at one with nature and is fighting a fair fight for his survival just like all of the other animals on the planet. Ish’s utopian dreams of recreating the society from whence his journey into the new, broken world began are shattered, but now he is able to truly able to realize man’s place in society. As he passes on his hammer (a key symbol of power in the new, mystic world) to one of his young ancestors, Jack, Ish’s mind is clearly made up. He realizes it is time to vanquish his title as “The Last American” and allow this generation which is aboriginal to the post-plague world to usurp his power completely. Ish becomes cognizant of the fact that this new, simplistic way of life is preferable to his outdated, American way of living.

In some ways, Earth Abides is like a post-apocalyptic version of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. It tells the tale of one man and his family’s journey through a ravaged world while also being interspersed with brief vignettes which really bring the world itself to life. This effect is especially effective in Stewart’s novel because seeing the planet live and thrive as a character really exemplifies the novel’s final line as well as the title. It may be hard for any living person on Earth to hear, but, yes, life goes on without us. While Stewart certainly does not inform his readers as to how to approach personal death or mass death, (can there even be a feasible way to respond to this issue?) he does give readers an idea of how to make life on Earth a little bit better for everyone.

 

 

Works Cited

Stewart, George. Earth Abides. New York: Ballantine, 2006. Print.

http://able2know.org/topic/91839-1

http://alumni.berkeley.edu/california-magazine/summer-2010-shelf-life/natural-affinities

Wells, Elizabeth. “Earth Abides: A Return to Origins.” Extrapolation (2007): n. pag. Print.

Margaret Atwood on cli-fi

After two weeks of depressing literature, it was refreshing to read this new interview in which Atwood seems to show some hope for the world. My favorite aspect was how Atwood would like “climate change” to be renamed “everything change” because it affects much more on Earth than simply weather patterns.  I will certainly be looking forward to reading Year of the Flood and seeing how her version of this genre of cli-fi differs from Squarzoni and Stewart.

A Tale of Two Climate Changes: Global + Personal

Climate change is one of those problems that is so enormous, most people cannot even begin to wrap their minds around. Due to the issue’s sheer magnitude and its complex nature, climate change is a very difficult topic for common people to approach and study. Due to this, many people opt to simply ignore the problems at hand. With this in mind, Phillipe Squarzoni penned his graphic “novel” Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science with the intent of making climate change an accessible and comprehensible subject. He does this by intertwining scientific dialogues with graphic images, personal anecdotes, and interesting analogies.

On one level, Climate Changed provides its readers with an overload of scientific information. Squarzoni quotes myriad scientists and researchers to present the reader with all of the research he has come across which he believes is essential for the readers to know. At times, these sections of the book dragged on and felt repetitive. However, I realize that this component of the book is entirely crucial for attaining a clear sense of what climate change truly is and how much it can affect our lives. With that being said, it felt to me that these sections of the book were not necessarily incorporated well with the “graphic novel” concept. Seeing 10 panels in a row of a scientist giving his or her statement about various aspects of climate change looked boring and bland in graphic form. I would not like to see this aspect of the book cut out entirely, though I would like to see the repetitive parts (the parts about nuclear energy and social inequality in a climate-changed world felt excruciatingly long to me) trimmed down a bit, and I would have liked to see a more graphically creative way of blending these sections into the book.

On the other hand, there is the “personal journey” aspect of Climate Changed. In these sections of the book, Squarzoni tells his own story of how he approached the idea of writing about climate change. In addition, he talks about the changes that he personally makes in order to help the planet (e.g. limiting himself to one flight per year) and the difficulties that arise from this self-restraint. To me, these sections of the book felt much more visceral for numerous reasons. The graphics and images of his trips to America or his comparisons to movies and novels were much more captivating than merely images of French scientists sitting at a desk and spewing out facts. Additionally, in these sections Squarzoni was able to take difficult topics and break them down to a level which anyone could easily comprehend. He used analogies to a dish being pushed over the edge of a table or a man skydiving sans parachute to really illustrate the direness of this situation. Finally, hearing one man tell of how to make a personal change just seems much more convincing than hearing a scientist present us only with statistics and facts. In the personal journey sections, Squarzoni was truly able to bring this climate change narrative to life and leave an impact on the readers.

In the end, there is no definitive answer to the climate change problem. However, this book provides readers with the necessary facts in order to make informed environmentally conscious decisions in life. While I cannot say that Squarzoni or any of the scientists he quotes have convinced me to ditch my car and go live simplistically out in the woods like Henry David Thoreau, I certainly feel inspired to try to make a series of small yet positive changes in life. While Climate Changed may not have been an entirely engrossing read, I would consider it severely important for anyone who wishes to be more aware about the global climate change issue.

The Time Machine: Bleak Yet Beautiful

In her introduction to The Time Machine, Ursula K. Le Guin ponders whether H.G. Wells was an optimist or a pessimist in his view of the future. Upon a first glance at Wells’ cleverly veiled critique of Victorian capitalism and industrialism, it would be facile to dismiss Wells as a socialistic pessimist who saw absolutely no good in mankind’s industrial progress. When the Time Traveler first finds himself in the world of the Eloi, he imposes upon this world the ideals of perfection that he himself (and perhaps Wells as well) desires to exist within a utopia: equality for all, absence of factories, communistic style of living, and a total conquest over nature. Presently unknown to him is the fact that the problems of this futuristic world are literally buried underground with the Morlocks. So, 800,000 years have passed and man’s intelligence and industrialization has already passed its pinnacle, yet, all of these conquests have culminated in naught as civilization retreats into a primitive form. From this perspective, Wells’ view of man’s future is abysmally bleak, and invoked a sort of hopeless despair within me as a read it.

However, it is impossible to overlook those symbolic withered flowers of hope laying on the table. Hundreds of thousands of years of building up an empire have wiped many species into extinction and presumably altered the entire landscape of the world. Even still, this was not enough to rid the world of compassion. Weena, the only character in the story who is named and not merely known by a moniker, is a testament to the indestructibility of love in a crumbling world. In this aspect, Wells had an optimistic view of the durability of the human condition which served as an interesting and well-crafted contrast to the aforementioned social issues he raised in his dystopia.

So, it appears to me that, while he was certainly critical of society, Wells was far more than just a harbinger of doom. I believe that Wells sees progress not as a skyline full of enormous buildings, but as the growing ability to love wholly and unconditionally. I am certain that it was no small feat for Wells to highlight beauty at the twilight of mankind, but he does this masterfully. Ultimately, it is nearly impossible for me to label Wells as an optimist or a pessimist, as extremely convincing arguments could be made for both sides. Frankly, I do not think this classification matters very much in the end. Wells’ view of the end of time may be utterly confusing and complex, but it is absolutely extraordinary. I would recommend this book to any reader of modern apocalyptic literature to see where many of the genre’s tropes and themes truly began.

3 Minutes to Midnight

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/doomsday-clock-moves-two-minutes-closer-to-midnight

Perhaps it really takes an arbitrary metaphorical clock to awaken people to the harsh reality of climate change. Although climate change is not the only issue which the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists cited among their reasons for pushing their hands forward a full 2 minutes to 11:57, it is certainly one of the most prominent issues. Many speculate that Earth’s dependency on fossil fuels and the depletion of these resources could cause global tensions and perhaps even desperation enough to invoke mass warfare. Although there were apparently be a large summit in Paris in 2020 to discuss these issues, many think that this is too far away to slow or resolve our voracious appetite for fuel. In some ways, this article sounds like a unique basis for a cli-fi novel. Not only are there obviously environmental impacts stemming from climate change, but the risk of impending disaster could heighten political and social tensions globally.