I once thought I wrote science fiction, but my editor on Carbon Run convinced me that it’s a dystopian thriller, more in line with Hunger Games than Star Trek. In truth, only booksellers care about genre, apart from the readers they’ve trained. Genres are simply conveniences that writers have to live with. Put another way, genres are the old solution to the discoverability problem: How do writers find readers and vice versa? You want sci-fi, you look on the sci-fi shelf, or enter “sci-fi” in the Amazon search box. Continue reading
I find the genre wars incredibly entertaining, mostly because they’re pointless, and the participants waste an amazing amount of time making their points when they could be writing good stories. The kerfuffle everyone in the scifi universe talks about these days concerns the definition of “science fiction.” Traditionalists, who call themselves the Sad Puppies, have a stereotyped, populist view of science fiction, defined as technology-driven dramas and masculine adventure stories. On the other side are the “inclusives,” as I like to call them, which have an expansive, sociological view of speculative storytelling. This scifi is more about societies than gizmos and evil aliens. Both sides, particularly the Puppy partisans, behave like a two-year-old having a meltdown in the supermarket’s cereal aisle.
Any close examination of genre shows its meaninglessness. I’ve completed another draft of my novel Carbon Run, and although I’ve pitched it as science fiction, my editor suggested I call it a dystopian thriller. I’m in the midst of reading Kindred by Octavia Butler, widely regarded as a master science fiction writer. Though I’m in the early going, Kindred is closer to fantasy or possibly magical realism than scifi. Amazon, however, classifies it as African-American women’s fiction. I’ve just finished The Subprimes, by Karl Taro Greenfield, described in its blurb as a “dystopian parody.” Amazon classifies it as dark humor. Continue reading
Hollywood embraced global warming as a theme only recently. Young Ones, released on October 9, posits a future with little fresh water, and Into the Storm, which opened August 8, shows a small town devastated by a series of climate-driven super-tornadoes. Science fiction writers, however, have imagined a climate-ravaged world since the early 1960s. One of the most prescient early books is George Turner’s The Sea and Summer, published in 1987. His vision of an Australia flooded by rising seas is echoed by Paolo Bacigalupi’s Bangkok in his 2010 novel The Windup Girl. The Thai capital is kept alive by dikes and gates reminiscent of the Thames Barrier in London. Continue reading
Mark Nykanen, author of Primitive, Carry the Flame, and other environmentally themed novels, and Mary Sands Woodbury, editor at Moon Willow Press and the website Clifibooks.com, offered their thoughts on climate fiction and its future in publishing. (Material is edited.)
What is “climate fiction,” and is it a new genre of fiction?
Nykanen: I like “climate fiction” as a separate category of fiction entirely. I don’t think it works as a sub-genre of sci-fi. Cli-fi can have roots in sci-fi, of course, but also in thrillers and literary fiction. Right now there’s a fuzziness about cli-fi, though the term is clearly gaining traction. But I also think sales will dictate whether cli-fi gains a sharper profile.
Woodbury: Climate fiction is fiction related to climate change, usually anthropogenic. It’s a genre by itself but can overlap with speculative, literary, and science fiction. And even though it’s new, some critics call the very term “climate change” a tired trope, and some climate change authors might not even totally identify with the genre (yet), seeing it more as a motif than a genre. Continue reading