The Girl in the Road: Literary fiction with a sci-fi overlay

The Girl in the Road cover image

Monica Byrne’s The Girl in the Road is literary fiction with a sci-fi sensibility.

As a writer who likes to look at speculative fiction through the lens of climate change, I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to read Monica Byrne‘s debut novel, The Girl in the Road, published in 2014. Though its portrait of two women connected across time and space is classified as science fiction by some, the novel has few of the trappings of sci-fi, apart from some gadgets and a sea-spanning platform that generates energy. This is literary fiction with a sci-fi overlay. However, the most pleasantly shocking aspect of this amazing story is how it subverts the received view of technology and economic colonialism as strictly a north-south phenomenon. In The Girl in the Road, these phenomenon are shifted 90 degrees to show it as a universal experience.

The novel interweaves two stories of women making harrowing journeys, both set in a future a few decades from now. Mariama is a West African slave girl who escapes and hitches a ride on a truck bound for Ethiopia with a cargo that’s not what it seems. In this world, the ancient kingdom, the only one never conquered by a European power, is dominated by India (China hovers nearby), which is practicing a colonialism not far different from the British Raj, though with money, rather than guns. The other journey is made by Meena from the far side of the Indian Ocean. Her destination is also the Horn of Africa, and over an accidental road made by a sea-crossing machine that generates energy from wave action. Continue reading

Review: Memory of Water

Memory of Water cover

The cover of Memory of Water

The stereotypical dystopian film and novel, such as A Clockwork Orange or 1984, presents a dark, violent, dysfunctional world with humans under the thumb of an oppressive regime. Memory of Water, the debut novel from Finnish author Emmi Itäranta, adds an extra dimension to her dystopia, a drying Earth where fresh water is protected by secrets and violating the government’s right to control water resources can get you executed. The Earth’s changing climate is as tyrannical as the military government in Itäranta’s story, and as deadly.

The story is simple and straightforward: Noria Kaitio, the 17-year-old daughter of a master in an ancient line of tea ceremony practitioners, is about to graduate into the family business. Her gruff, but loving father shows her the family secret, a freshwater spring hidden from the local village and the military, which controls all water resources. Her father dies and her emotionally distant mother departs the village, and Noria must decide whether to protect her secret and her own future, or reveal it to relieve a crisis in the village.

I’ve always loved films and books from Scandinavian countries for their moody atmospherics, and Itäranta does not disappoint. Her style is light, almost contemplative, even as the inevitable consequences of Noria’s choice bear down on her. The primary color of Memory of Water is blue: the blue of a Scandinavian sky, the blue of sky reflected on water, and the blue of the circle painted on the doors of water law breakers. But blue does not describe Noria’s mood. She is remarkably serene as her world falls apart. Continue reading

Thoughts on climate fiction from a writer and a publisher

Climate fiction books

A table of climate fiction books at Foyles’ bookstore in London. Photo courtesy Dan Bloom.

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