Isaac Cordel’s Follow the Leaders — “the collapse of capitalism and the side effects of progress.”
Cli-Fi is the Real, as hyperreal sci-fi passes into memory. A capitalist anachronism, exhausted by a self-fulfilling mass extinction.
Mass extinction’s mother tongue, cli-fi speaks of narratives which nations have manufactured for millennia to re(de)fine nature. As they are constructed and discarded, on an astronomically lucky paradise melting beyond contemporary understanding, and reproducing turbulent new abnormals.
Since mainstreaming the term at Wired and more in 2010, I’ve since written of cli-fi’s power to reshape how humanity will respond, perhaps survive, the catastrophe it has created. I’ve picked the brains and probed the hearts of Margaret Atwood, William Gibson, Alan Moore, and (many) more futurists and scientists exploring the triumphs and failures of our master narratives, upstart subtexts, (un)settled science, the fringe and The Force.
And now I am writing the book on it.
The Technocratic Exhaustion
Anchored to the universal principle that everything is connected, cli-fi blossoms from the failure of science and its fiction, as both degrade through technocracy’s lethal translation.
The Heat Death of Sci-Fi
“I like exact labeling,” Margaret Atwood told me, as I probed proper terminology. “Sci-fi is that which we’re probably not going to see.”
The Patriarchal Annihilation
Privileging wars and warriors, from Dr. Strangelove and The Fog of War‘s mad scientist Robert McNamara and beyond, Big Science has rarely met an annihilation it didn’t absolutely love to death.
Global Warming is (the) Real
With the ascendance of climate science, humanity has at last, but perhaps too late, crunched the exponentially horrific data of our terrorized present and dystopian future. And there’s no back button.
Mother Tongue, Glacial Eye
Climate fiction aims across art and science to re-enchant and reorient destabilized Earth and its earthlings, anchoring an epochal evolution to the planet itself, as well as dreams of the stars.
Earth National Park!
From David Brower’s radical concept to E.O. Wilson’s Half-Earth, from decelerations like degrowth and deconsumption, to accelerations like reforestation and rewiliding, from masterpieces of Hayao Miyazaki to the future industries of Elon Musk. Then, what comes next.
The Technocratic Exhaustion
Anchored to the universal principle that everything is connected, cli-fi blossoms from the failure of science and its fiction, as both degrade through capitalism’s lethal translation.
Such as they are, and were. Redundant apocalypses, destabilizing a balance of internetworked systems and species; colonial technocracies, masquerading as invasion mythologies; ad nauseam. Both our scientific industry and sci-fi have achieved (so far) neither the ambition or execution necessary to communicate Earth’s astonishing singularity, only its exponential devolution and devaluation.
From long before the Bible to the foundational H.G. Wells, from past plague to future annihilation, science and sci-fi are empowered by exhaustion and extinction. Both have made it (painfully) clear that it is we humans who are the Aliens, the Invaders, the Dead, manufacturing and capitalizing estranged modes of existence for which we are tragicomically unprepared. Chained to an overheating planet by the very technologies and labor meant to free us, humanity has spent reality deploying science and sci-fi to, perhaps irrevocably, transform a paradise into prison.
Cli-fi rebalances that self-administered destabilization.
Envisioning our Earth at its most influential and productive, cli-fi reorients science and fiction by resituating the only life-giving planet we yet know of in the universe at the axis of our discourse. Reclaiming well-known and unknown scientists, spinning off life-saving technologies in a race against time, cli-fi seeks to save us from ourselves, before it is too late.
As we wind our way through sci-fi and cli-fi’s merge, we find in the Anthropocene’s final analysis of Big Science’s finest minds a failed system of masters and slaves, saviors and machines, spending too much time and money destroying and reconstructing worlds their failed patriarchy cannot stop exhausting and annihilating. From hanging heretics who dared understand the stars, to incentivizing STEM outliers toward sectors profiteering from pollution, technocracy’s grinding march has been ground down by obsolete models and unsustainable mythologies.
When cries arise in opposition to this heated argument, it takes little effort to simply point out the window, at pretty much anything. Everywhere we find signs of exponential global warming’s terrifying yet predictable dystopia, an all-too-human catastrophe.
Permadroughts, megastorms, and other expanding environmental nightmares; international elections compromised by extractivism and fascism. Bipolar meltdowns, unleashing long-buried assassins the likes of which we may not yet have witnessed in the trophic cascade of horrors both our science and its fiction have so expensively programmed for us.
And what technocratic miracle have we invented and manufactured to deliver us?
Humanity has yet to materially provide a deus ex machina — an off switch, a back button, anything — that could turn back the clock on our lethal terraformation of the only habitable planet within warp speed. Indeed, more often than not, those who do provide revolutionary, planetary solutions are swiftly shorted, oppressed, perhaps even eradicated by those who don’t.
It’s a redundant, vicious cycle, whose unforgivable institutional failure has been predatorily exported to Earth itself. Which, in turn, is quite busily preparing some major payback, because you can’t have the yin without the yang.
As a happy human who has analyzed science and sci-fi for over two decades, I am quite sorry that this is the bad news. My quite sad and very expensive tale of science and sci-fi’s spectacular failure may not be easy reading, but the good news — and enduring hope, beyond the promise that both possess to prevent us from destroying Earth as we have know it — is that the spectacular possibility of climate science and cli-fi can provide our happy ending.
From naturalist David Brower’s Earth National Park to E.O. Wilson’s Half-Earth, optimistic circulations are among us, within reach. And what matters is not what we call it, but that we call it at all. Cli-fi can help humanity more capably craft its existential cry for help, and even Earth, so that it may live long enough to close the book on the Anthropocene, and perhaps worse, perhaps for good.