''The work our center pursues is to get people thinking more creatively and ambitiously about the future. For that purpose, science fiction is a valuable tool: a way to immerse people in a plausible future where they become emotionally and intellectually invested in playing out the scenario. Climate fiction can and should serve the same role, to help us think through the futures we should avoid and the ones to strive for. You need better dreams to build better futures.'' — ED FINN
[Ed Finn is director of ASU's Center for Science and the Imagination and co-editor
of Project Hieroglyph.]
In a recent email conversation from my office in Arizona with climate activist Dan Bloom in Taiwan, who initiated the exchange, we chatted question about Arizona State University's
Hieroglyph Project and how sci fi and cli fi novels might be part of a new "reframing" of our public discussions about climate change issues now and in the future. Our conversation went like this:
DAN BLOOM: How are leading science fiction authors shaping our future, and in
what ways, and for example, can you name three sci fi novelists
doing this? David Brin? Kim Stanley Robinson? Paolo Bacigalupi? Or who?
ED FINN: I think science fiction casts a long shadow in the popular imagination and particularly in how we envision the future. Neal Stephenson has inspired generations of geeks who go on to build things from the Kindle (first code-named Fiona after one of his characters) to the Metaverse (recently name-checked by the Oculus Rift CEO discussing their new plans with Facebook). The New Yorker called Kim Stanley Robinson the most important political writer today. Margaret Atwood and Paolo Bacigalupi are both fuelling crucial debates about global warming.
DAN BLOOM: Have you heard of the new genre term called cli fi before we met here online and if so, where or how did you hear of it, or is this the first time? What is your view of the rise in the media recently of the cli fi idea? Waht is your opionion of this new genre? Does it work for you? [It was discussed earlier this year in THE CONVERSATION in Australia, see link to David Holmes interview with Dan Bloom]
ED FINN: I am familiar with climate fiction, though I only began thinking of it as a genre in the past few months because my center is participating in a new climate fiction event series in collaboration with the Global Institute of Sustainability and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing here at ASU. I see cli fi as a logical and critically valuable reaction to the growing realities of climate change. We understand the world through stories, and we need better stories to come to grips with the magnitude of the changes we are bringing to the world around us.
DAN BLOOM: ASU's Project Hieroglyph teams up top science fiction writers with scientists, engineers and other researchers to collaborate on creative, ambitious visions of the future. Could it be possible that the project will later team up with cli fi too, such as Margaret Atwood or Barbara Kingsolver or Nathaniel RiIch to collaborate on visions of dealing with very series issues of climate change and global warming impacts in the distant future?
ED FINN: We are very excited to engage the Project Hieroglyph community in precisely this area. Indeed several of the stories in the first anthology (forthcoming from HarperCollins this September) take on climate change. This is an important subject for us not only because we already have such deep expertise on the topic at ASU but because our home state of Arizona faces a number of crucial resource challenges that we all need to grapple with.
DAN BLOOM: Dr Finn, you are director of the center and assistant professor in the School of Arts. Are your students at ASU aware of the cli fi genre, and what are they saying to you about it? Does it resonate with them? Have they read many cli fi novels?
ED FINN: That's hard to say — I teach primarily in the Digital Culture program in the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, so we're not reading or discussing many novels. Because ASU is so focused on sustainability, however, many of them are aware of the larger issues.
DAN BLOOM: Cli fi is not anti-sci fi, and I am a big fan of sci fi. so cli fi and sci fi are joined at the hip as Isee it, or maybe at the brainstem. But cli fi novels focus only on climate issues, pro or con, pro AGW or anti AGW, and can be either set in the past or the present or the future, near or far futures, while sci fi novels can and sometimes do focus on climate issues like Robinson's novels and others, So sci fi also tackles climate issues. How do youi see the relationship between cli fi and sci fi now and in the future, as both genres grow and evolve? And will ASU and your pioneering project ever include cli fi novels in the reading material for students?
ED FINN: I think of clifi as a sub-genre of science fiction focused on a particular set of technological, social and political issues. All good science fiction engages the intersection of science and society, technology and culture, and I think good climate fiction does exactly the same thing. When I teach literature I often turn to novels like Margaret Atwood's ''Oryx and Crake'', and am excited to get students reading more clifi and science fiction.
DAN BLOOM: I am not a cli fi novelist or any kind of novelist. just a climate activist and maybe a kind of self-styled literary theorist. My goal is to promote cli fi novels and movies so that one day a Nevil Shute of climate novels arises and writes a book as powerful as "On the Beach" from Australalia in 1957. What's your view of this?
ED FINN : I get it and I think you're doing good work. The work our center pursues is to get people thinking more creatively and ambitiously about the future. For that purpose, science fiction is a valuable tool: a way to immerse people in a plausible future where they become emotionally and intellectually invested in playing out the scenario. Climate fiction can and should serve the same role, to help us think through the futures we should avoid and the ones to strive for. You need better dreams to build better futures.
DAN BLOOM: Does the cli fi genre interest you for future research and in what ways?
ED FINN: I'm quite interested in the cli fi genre both for its own sake and because the evolution of genre in contemporary fiction is a major research area for me.
DAN BLOOM: Some literary critics and acdemics around the world argue that there are still very few novels about
climate change and global warming, even among SF authors, too. Do you agree?
ED FINN: I don't buy that. There must be hundreds of science fiction novels projecting different visions of the Anthropocene and human interaction with "nature", from climate-controlled bubbles to entire genetically engineered worlds. Climate and atmosphere are everywhere that life exists and there are many novels that can be claimed for cli fi.
DAN BLOOM: Earlier this year the New York Times wrote about a professor of at the University of Oregon, Stephanie LeMenager, who is using cli fi in her classroom in a graduate seminar. The article was headlined ''College Classes Use 'Cli fi' to Brace for Climate Chaos'' and here is a link to it:
Will ASU offer such cli fi courses in the future, and do you want to be invovled or are you already involved in planning this?
ED FINN: Regarding Dr. LeMenager in Oregon, it was good to see her quoted in the Times and also in a May 19 TIME magazine article about summer movies in Hollywood. I am peripherally involved in a Mellon Foundation-funded project on the environmental humanities, so Dr. LeMenager comes out here to Arizona regularly for meetings.
DAN BLOOM: Thank you very much, Dr Finn. This has been a very good conversation for THE CONVERSATION.
ED FINN: Thank you, Dan.
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