Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Climate-Change Fiction

A recent rerun of On the Media focused on science fiction about climate change. I appreciated that it included interviews with three writers/thinkers I have not heard of before, plus one I already know and love (Kim Stanley Robinson). Here are two quotes from the show.

Claire Vaye Watkins had this to say when host Brooke Gladstone asked, "How do you think a novel enables us to think about drought or climate change in general, about geologic time?"

The big experiment [of my novel] was, could I write about climate in a deeply affecting, provocative way? While I was writing the book I did an event with the novelist Ruth Ozeki, who I love, and she said at the bar afterwards, "You know, maybe our brains… maybe it’s just a limitation of our species is that this is something we truly can’t actually get our heads around. It’s too big for us. We’re just these dumb reptiles who just barely got upright," basically… And I was like, "But, if we could do it, it would be with novels, it would be with art, it would be with storytelling. That’s what makes us understand the understandable." ... You know, it’s not hard to convince people of the danger of home invasion, and that’s probably not going to happen. But climate change is definitely going to happen. That time that we’ve all been worrying about — it’s here. We don’t have the luxury of the future tense anymore.
That part about home invasion is so true. I have no trouble feeling that particular fear quite viscerally, and I know fear of all sorts of crime motivates a heck-of-a-lot of my fellow citizens. Manipulation of that fear is part of what has brought us to our present moment.

Stan Robinson was asked to respond to a New Yorker article by Jill LePore about the “radical pessimism of contemporary dystopian fiction.” Speculative fiction, LePore writes, used to be a fiction of resistance, but now it’s one of submission. Robinson is not part of that problem:
I am a utopian science fiction writer… [Dystopian stories] are too easy and they do end up being a kind of pornography of despair, where you can always think to yourself, Well, at least my life right now isn’t that bad. So there’s complacency to dystopias and a giving-up quality. Whereas, when you try a utopian future, what you realize is, there’s never going to be a perfect utopia. All you really need is a positive course for history. And writing those down gives us ideas and plans. 
I thought it was notable that the episode didn't include Paolo Bacigalupi, whom I think of as a key voice in the climate-change-fiction-writers club. Maybe his latest book isn't recent enough to be on Gladstone's radar.

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