The Climate Fiction Controversy

Written by M.J. Moores | September 4, 2014

One of the first challenges an author faces is understanding the genre he or she is writing. From elevator pitches to query letters and beyond, professionals in the industry and the public use the idea of genre to help classify, organize, and clarify the contents of books.

Cli-Fi or climate fiction is a relatively new term being bandied about in literary circles and the media. What you might not be aware of is the controversy surrounding this new genre. In a conversation with Nina Munteanu, ecologist, science fiction novelist and university writing instructor, I discovered that the importance and impact of climate fiction rises above the simple concept of a coined phrase like cli-fi.

Climate fiction is a sub-genre of science fiction. But this is where the controversy strikes. Dan Bloom, literary theorist and climate activist, originally developed the term cli-fi to be a completely separate genre from science fiction. In his mind cli-fi “focuses solely on climate change and global warming issues,” as he stated in an interview on the blog Former People: Bangs, Whimpers, Arts, Culture and Commentary in April 2014. These writings can look into the past but most often revolved around the present or near future. While many are dystopian in their outlook a positive or hopeful view is equally viable. Bloom associates science fiction with bizarre occurrences, aliens and outer space.

The holes in his reasoning are brought to light by writers of the genre, such as Munteanu. “Science fiction is subversive literature that illuminates our history and our very humanity. It does this by examining our interaction with ‘the other’—the unfamiliar and unknown. A scientific discovery. An environmental disaster. A calamity related to climate change.” Munteanu also highlights the inclusion of the natural sciences and any variant thereof, like eco-action and eco-punk, to be indisputably vital and long-standing sub-genres of science fiction.

So what does this mean for authors trying to accurately classify their genre? Simply to know that the term cli-fi exists and is an accepted categorization (be it a genre of its own or a sub-genre of science fiction) in the literary field. Munteanu deftly points out, “What legitimizes a genre of literature is how it is embraced by a culture.” She highlights the importance of being aware of “catchy terms used by the media [to] perpetuate a mis-concept” but stresses that “it’s not as important to define a term like cli-fi as it is to embrace the writings the term encompasses.”

Surprisingly, Bloom echoes Munteanu’s sentiments stating that no one owns or controls the cli-fi genre and that the idea of climate fiction should be allowed to “go in many different directions, depending on where writers […] and readers want to take it.”

Ultimately, the term cli-fi is a signifier to industry professionals of a particular type of writing you do. Don’t fall into the trap of needing to be absolutely correct on the matter of whether or not it’s a genre or sub-genre; be proud, bold and state clearly that you write cli-fi.

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M.J. Moores began her career as a high school English teacher with a passion for creative writing. Recently, she left the teaching profession to work as a freelance writer and editor. Unimpressed with the lack of straightforward, simple (and free) resources available to new and emerging writers, she started her own online editing company and writers’ blog (Infinite Pathways) to help her fellow compatriots. M.J. is the author of Publicizing Yourself: A Beginner’s Guide to Author Marketing available through Smashwords. Her first science fiction/fantasy novel The Chronicles of Xannia: Time’s Tempest will be released Oct. 1st, 2014 with GWL Publishing.

Every good book deserves a chance to be read. http://infinite-pathways.org