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Why Climate Fiction Matters: An Interview with Malcolm Sen


Chicago Review of Books

burning worldsBurning Worlds is Amy Brady’s monthly column dedicated to examining trends in climate change fiction, or “cli-fi.”

According to NASA, 2016 was the hottest year on record since scientists began recording global temperatures in 1880. And scientists agree, despite the small number of squawking climate-change deniers who argue otherwise, that global warming is due to human activity—and that our future looks bleak if we don’t find a way to reduce our collective carbon footprint.

Global warming isn’t new, of course. Scientists have been tracking it for decades, and since at least the mid-twentieth century, fiction writers have responded to our global climate crisis in literary form. This monthly column, “Burning Worlds,” was created to discuss “climate change fiction” and explore its social and artistic relevance. Our readers’ response has been swift and wholly positive, but there’s one question I’m continually asked: Why should literature matter when it comes…

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I’ve been reading science fiction since the mid 1960s.  Some of the books and short stories I’ve enjoyed have dealt with the the intersection of sci-fi and the Earth’s climate. This genre has been labeled climate fiction or “cli-fi”.

One very quaint early example comes to mind, Jules Verne’s The Purchase of the North Pole. The sovereign rights to a portion of the Arctic region are purchased by mathematician J.T. Maston and members of the Baltimore Gun Club who traveled around the Moon inside of a large cannon shell.  The company planned to use the recoil of a gigantic cannon to adjust the tilt of Earth’s axis to enable the spin to be perpendicular to Earth’s orbit, similar to that of Jupiter.

The company had a dubious goal. There would be no more seasons, so each region would have a steady climate.  The conspirators envisioned easier, lucrative mining of coal deposits…

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