Monday, August 4, 2014

Cii-fi and (some) other Earth-Collapse Fiction and Information

Pixabay image 7214: Dandelion seeds, from Hans
Cli-fi is trending. A subset of the general category earth-collapse fiction within the realm of speculative fiction, cli-fi concerns itself with the collapse of earth-based systems due to climate change. While generally this change is man-made (anthropogenic climate disruption or ACD), especially in more recent fictions, it is not always. Climate change in fiction may be caused by random or unexplained catastrophe, intelligent extraterrestrial forces, or even by the natural evolution of the Earth or the universe. 

By and large, however, contemporary interpretations of the genre focus upon the man-made environmental changes resulting from global warming or war. Husna Haq writes in the Christian Science Monitor of "a dystopian present, as opposed to a dystopian future," and it is, in fact, the immediacy and urgency of the social, personal, governmental, and cultural predicaments found in cli-fi, compounded by the cautionary nature of the stories, that drive the genre's popularity. Survival at its most basic is on the line in cli-fi.

Luckily for educators, this fascinating genre is not solely in the domain of literary fiction. In fact, even little children are not unexposed to cli-fi and earth-collapse fiction, often sugar-coated by anthropomorphic metaphor. Consider, for example, the children's films FrozenIce Age, Once Upon a Forest and The Land Before Time. Even the picture books Two Bad Ants (Chris Van Allsburg) and Lost and Found (Shaun Tan), and the YA classics Watership Down and The Time Machine embed an environmental message in the text. By thinking a little differently about many of the texts already in the curriculum, you are able to engage students of any age in cli-fi discussions.

Additionally, there is quite large body of good fiction, print and media, accessible to today's students. Those of you who teach Earth-collapse-due-to-war dystopian fiction (such as How I Live Now or The Hunger Games) might consider branching out to cli-fi.  The conversations are no less relevant and may prove to be more appropriate for the classroom.

Teaching this material can be dicey, which is why it is probably a neglected genre. Religion, belief, politics, economics, social structure, global inequities... all of these surface in the upper middle school and high school readings. Teachers should open up discussions and analysis that address:
  • "factual" and scientific content
  • belief-based content
  • sensational elements
  • emotional appeals (which point to the author/creator's message)
  • logical appeals (ditto)
The Lists: Spoiler: No zombie, war, or plague fiction is included here, unless it also carries an environmental message.

Film for MS and HS - You will also find a list with short summary annotations on Wikipedia. For younger ages, I suggest The Land Before Time, also available in many print formats, and perhaps a discussion of how the life of the townspeople in Frozen was (and was not) changed by the freeze. Thinking forward, it would be a good idea to also ask students who see the film, What caused the freeze? What undid the freeze?
  • The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1962)
  • Waterworld (1995)
  • Twister (1996) - I am throwing this in because it appears that increasingly violent, large and frequent twisters are a result of climate change (stay tuned to late summer news) - don't bother with current remake
  • The Day After Tomorrow (2004) - full version available on YouTube
  • This is the End (2013)
  • Snowpiercer (review) (2014)
  • Interstellar (2014)
  • What's Possible: The U.N. Climate Summit Film (2014) - docu-fiction?
TV media - Search YouTube for "Climate Change Documentary" to find current made-for-TV videos. You will find a comprehensive list, including cartoons and spoofs, on Wikipedia, but here are two shorts that I want to highlight:
  • The Showtime global warming documentary film series Years of Living Dangerously can be viewed by following the link
  • Twilight Zone Episode #75 (Season 3, Episode 10), "The Midnight Sun" - discussion - is available at Amazon and on DVD. I think this is a powerful introduction to the genre for MS and HS. The story is available from in other formats as well: 
    • graphic novel from the classic TV episode
    • story form in New Stories from the Twilight Zone
    • radio drama
picture books & children's books - I always suggest some picture books as a great way to introduce a topical reading unit at levels above elementary. Discussion can be engendered with humor and without the emotional baggage that accompanies a compelling work of fiction. While picture books and early readers with direct climate change warnings exist, middle and upper school readers find metaphorical and allegorical reads more compelling. I suggest:

  • The Lorax  (Dr. Seuss)
  • The Wump World (Bill Peet)
  • Farewell to Shady Glade  (Bill Peet)
  • Varmints (Helen Ward)
  • Woolvs in the Sitee (Margaret Wild)

middle school - Not all of these are directly cli-fi. Most are concerned with survival in post-collapse Earth rather than with its causation, which is more appropriate for many middle schoolers. Some upper middle school titles appear in the next lists.
  • Ship Breaker (Paolo Bacigalupi) and its sequel The Drowned Cities
  • Green Boy (Susan Cooper)
  • Empty (Suzanne Weyn)
  • The Boy at the End of the World (Greg van Eekhout)
  • The City of Ember (Jeanne DuPrau) - 1st in series 
  • Pod (Stephen Wallenfels) - a quirky short novel about earth-collapse caused not by man directly, but by an alien life form that can not abide the actions of Man
  • Life as We Knew It (Susan Beth Pfeffer) - Earth-collapse caused by a relocation of the moon
  • An interesting take on the genre is found in Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, particularly the last two stories: "There Will Come Soft Rains" and "The Million-Year Picnic" - we learn of the collapse of Mars, of human-made Mars, and of Earth.  
high school & adult The Dying Earth subgenre is well covered by both Wikipedia and
  • The Drowned World (J.G. Ballard) - SF classic that may have started it all, although in this case the disaster is not man-made
  • The Massive (Brian Wood) - 5 volume graphic novel of post-water apocalypse world
  • Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler) - one of our great non-white SF writers delivers the genre with power and acumen
  • Stand on Zanzibar (John Brunner) - 1968 classic Earth-collapse fiction
  • The Windup Girl  (Paolo Bacigalupi)
  • Arctic Rising (Tobia Buckell)
  • Forty Signs of Rain (Kim Stanley Robinson) - 1st in the Science in the Capital trilogy
  • The Admiral (James Gilbert) - 1st in a series
  • The Carbon Diaries 2015 (Saci Lloyd) - suitable for upper middle school
  • The Other Side of the Island (Allegra Goodman)
  • Odds Against Tomorrow (Nathaniel Rich)
  • The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future (Naomi Oreskes, Eric Conway)
  • Out of the Depths (Noel Hodson) - The Future series - Kindle only
  • California (Edan Lepucki) - review 
  • Finitude (Hamish MacDonald)
  • Flight Behavior (Barbara Kingsolver)
  • Waiting for the Flood (Margaret Atwood) - prequel/simultaneous/sequel story to Oryx and Crake and part of the Maddaddam trilogy - although man-made plague is the key SF element, this middle book has a strong environmental message
  • Hot Mess: Speculative Fiction About Climate Change (Brody et all) - stories
  • Inferno (Dan Brown) - included here not because of its pandemic theme, but for its discussions of Why a pandemic is necessary, the answer to which makes the novel cli-fi
mythical/fantasy elements in YA/Adult fiction
  • Love in the Time of Global Warming (Francesca Lia Block) - not for MS
  • Solstice (P.J. Hoover) - suitable for upper middle school
  • Caretaker Trilogy (David Klass) - suitable for upper middle school
Non-fiction and background reading - Climate Change is a hot topic. Students in many cities are using it as a focus of project-based learning and research. The following list is a good one for teachers who wish some more background on the issue and its fiction. Some of the texts, and some yet to be written, are appropriate informational fiction for upper middle and high school.
Suggestions and additions always welcome.

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