Wednesday, March 12, 2014

YA Guy Writes... Cli-Fi!

Back in 1973, when YA Guy was … well, considerably younger, I read a book titled Dar Tellum: Stranger From a Distant Planet, by James R. Berry. It tells the story of a boy who communicates telepathically with an alien (Dar Tellum), and it’s got lots of appealing sci-fi elements for younger readers. From the perspective of today, however, what’s most striking about it is the central conflict:

“It seems that the planet Earth was right in the middle of a big crisis. Dozens of cities were in danger of becoming flooded. Already one city in some eastern country was almost covered with water. And the reason for this flooding was that the oceans were getting higher.

From what I understood, and I’m sure there are gaps here and there, the smoke from cars and factories goes into the air. A part of this smoke called carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere of Earth. It lets the sun’s heat in, but it won’t let much heat out. This carbon dioxide makes a kind of one-way lid on Earth. Heat in, but not much out.

And this extra heat was warming up the north and south poles. So the ice was melting and the oceans were getting higher.”

Yes, folks, there it is, in a children’s book from the early seventies: global warming.

Dar Tellum, in other words, is an early example of what’s come to be known as “cli-fi”: fiction having to do with climate change. Some (though not all) cli-fi is also sci-fi, and (as a science fiction writer myself) that’s the kind I prefer.

A gentleman by the name of Danny Bloom (@polarcityman on Twitter) introduced me to the genre of cli-fi. I hadn’t known it was a genre beforehand.

Which is odd, since my own debut novel is cli-fi.

Survival Colony 9 is set in a future where war and environmental catastrophe have turned the world into a desert. Though I didn’t set out to write a book about climate change--and though the book is certainly no polemic--it’s impossible for me to imagine the story without that desert setting, which possesses not only visual but thematic significance. In fact, the setting was the first thing that came to mind when I started the story way back when, and everything else grew from it.

There are lots of great YA sci-fi cli-fi novels out there. Here’s a sampling of new and forthcoming titles (listed alphabetically):

Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis (@MindyMcGinnis)

Orleans by Sherri L. Smith (@Sherri_L_Smith)

Rootless by Chris Howard (@chrisH0WARD)

SeaBEAN by Sarah Holding (@SeaHolding)

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (@paolobacigalupi)

Some Fine Day by Kat Ross (@katrossauthor)

Starvation Ridge by Risa Stephanie Bear (@risa_s_bear)

Wasteland by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan (@KimKlavan)

It's great to know there are so many others exploring climate change in their writing. It's great to be part of a movement.

And my hat's off to writers like James R. Berry, who planted the seed so many years ago.


  1. Kevin Costner is a fan of Cli-Fi too!

  2. that's right, ''water world" -- and also re ''the postman'' movie, on a personal side note, i am friends with david brin who wrote the book the movie was based on, and i went to college with steve tisch who bought the film rights frm david and made the movie as producer, and when i recently saw the postman on cable tv the other day i wrote to david and ask him if he thought the movie and book had a cli fi theme and he said you know danny with the passage of time and now that i see your cli fi meme getting a lot of attentio worldwide and it makes sense, yes ''the postman" is a cli fi book and a cli fi movie, if you want to see it that way, paraphrase unquite. but david is a sci fi writer himself and he does not call his own novels cli fi. but he sees cli fi now a a subgenre of sci fi and that's cool too.

  3. I should mention that I think of Starvation Ridge as kinda NC-17 for food choices à la "The Road." Was not thinking of YA as an audience -- though maybe I am out of date on what's appropriate. Certainly I think they may be seeing worse in their lifetimes.

    1. I've seen plenty of YA these days that would rate an NC-17 (including THG, which can get pretty graphic at times), so I do think the boundaries of the field have expanded somewhat in terms of what's allowable/appropriate.

  4. Everybody thinks SR is a Hunger Games thing, and I tell them, no, never read it, never saw it, but Brin's The Postman is one of my favorite books. I realized, as Karen comes down from the mountains, that she is on a parallel track to the postman, and I do hope Mr. Brin won't feel that I went off with any ideas I shouldn't have.

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  6. I have added your book to (some time ago). You might also check out the community discussion group for cli-fi and other nature genres at