If you want to understand current anxieties about the future then all you need to do is turn to science-fiction, and historically this has been true. Sci-Fi isn’t a way to predict the future but it is a way to understand what we think about the current state of humanity. Unsurprisingly, there is so much stress about the climate crisis that enough writers have created a new subgenre called climate fiction. Cli-Fi captures the anxiety we’re collectively experiencing about the environment while also being a useful teaching tool.
Atwood has become a major figure across the cli-fi literary universe. She not only helped the term catch on when she tweeted it in 2012, but her 2013 novel MaddAddam has been a popular teaching tool which largely summarizes the need for the genre in the first place. The book tells the story of a group of environmentalists, known as the gardeners, who rebuild the world after a global pandemic. The novel shows how fragile our global systems are. “People need such stories, because however dark, a darkness with voices in it is better than a silent void,” Atwood writes. The book was part of the curriculum for a course on cli-fi at Brandeis University in 2015.
Another notable book in the genre is Omar El-Akkad’s The American War. The book was listed as required reading in a 2018 freshman-level course entitled “Narrating Climate Change” at New York University. The 2017 novel is set in America’s second civil war when southern states defy a law that outlaws the use of fossil fuels. The book is told through the lens of Sarat Chestnutt, who is from Louisiana and is displaced by the rising waters of the Mississippi River. El-Akkad shows the life of an American climate refugee.