The Climate Around Eco-Fiction

A review of Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change Edited by Bruce Meyer (Exile Editions, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Powerful and wealthy people are invested in the idea of constructing climate change as a fiction, projecting the idea that scientists are folk story tellers, inventing tales that don’t stem from observation. Constructing climate change as a fiction allows us to pretend that we don’t need to change anything about our behaviour, to believe that we can allow things to go on as they are without repercussions. Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change uses the power of stories to shift the dialogue, to give us possible glimpses into futures that we are creating through our own inaction. Cli Fi like most speculative fiction, is ultimately about the present rather than the future climate issues it presents. This collection reveals the way that we centre human experiences while ignoring the rest of our world, the way that we ignore our problems in order to push them onto the future. As much as being a set of stories, Cli Fi is a call to change, a call to transform ourselves the way our fiction transforms our way of thinking about the world. 

The anthology begins with tales from the perspective of aged protagonists, something that is rare in a society that doesn’t value aged bodies, and yet, the collection prefaces these bodies, positioning them as ones that have witnessed long term changes, long term development. Youth frequently don’t see changes as shockingly because everything is new and because they don’t have years of observation to back their ideas upon. When they see a news report that says that we are experiencing record temperature highs or record temperature lows, they are comforted when the news refers to these temperatures being reached at another time this century. But, they may miss the fact that the last few years have been ones where more records are being established, and where these records are being met or exceeded more often and in closer proximity. Whereas aged people can make observations about the longue duree, making observations over a longer period of time.

I shouldn’t suggest that by having ageing bodies at the outset, that this anthology is all about ageing. In fact, there are a wide variety of ages portrayed to add the perspective of the way that climate changes affect us as we age. Cli Fi provides stories that look at how the environment interweaves with our bodily experiences and existence, the way that we both shape and are shaped by our ecology, altered by and altering our world. These stories remind us that we are participants in creating the world that we want. 

This is not a utopian collection. The stories in these pages invite us to ask some hard questions, and it is hard to read the collection in one sitting, but that time to pause is necessary. It invites us to ponder for long periods between stories, looking deeper into the tales and what they mean for us as people. The authors remind us of our connection to the world around us, pointing out that water makes up most of our bodies, just as it makes up most of our surface world, and water runs through these narratives as much as the ink runs onto paper. It binds us to our environments, a flowing story that speaks of history and change, but also of the danger of contamination and the vulnerability of our world to our pollution. 

This is not just an anthology ABOUT climate change, it is one that invites us into the process of changing our climate. Cli Fi invites us to ask critical questions about the world around us and our relationship to that world, to interrogate the messages we receive from our environment and open critical dialogue about it. Cli Fi is an invitation to do no less than change our world. Although primarily speculative fiction, this collection opens up real world possibilities. 

To explore reviews of individual short stories in this collection, check out:
Rati Mehrotra’s “Children of the Sea”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/02/ageing-into-climate-change/
Sean Virgo’s “My Atlantis”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/04/a-shattered-touchstone/
Kate Story’s “Animate” 

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/08/a-magnetic-environment/
Nina Munteanu’s “The Way of Water”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/11/water-is-magic/
Wendy Bone’s “Abdul”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/13/orangutan-voices/
Phil Dwyer’s “Invasion” 

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/17/vulnerable/
Holly Schofield’s “Weight of the World”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/19/a-call-for-research/
Lynn Hutchinson Lee’s “Night Divers”

https://speculatingcanada.ca/2017/05/20/made-of-water-and-stars/
To discover more about Cli Fi, visit Exile Editions’ website at http://www.exileeditions.com

A Magnetic Environment

A review of Kate Story’s “Animate” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

People and our landscapes are in a complicated relationship with each other, altering one another through our interactions. Our landscapes shape us as much as we shape them. In “Animate”, Kate Story explores a toxic landscape, yet one that is also full of mystery. Story sets her tale in Newfoundland’s Tableland, a strange red-orange scar in an otherwise green and verdant landscape where the rocks are magnetic and their toxicity prevents plant growth. Yet it exerts a pull on the bodies of her characters, literally pulling on their facial features

Story examines the strangeness of Newfoundland – its ability to represent so many unique geological features in one island and the potential of the landscape to imprint itself on our memories and our bodies. She explores the possibility of a psycho-geographic effect, a strange link between people and the landscapes that they occupy, each reflecting each other. Story examines the complexity of ideas of home by exploring a space other than the house, but rather the way that a larger environment imprints on us. We often think about our landscapes in terms of human change, but rarely examine the way that we are, in turn, shaped by our spaces of home, the landscapes that we occupy. 

To discover more about the work of Kate Story, visit http://www.katestory.com
To discover more about Exile Editions, visit http://exileeditions.com

A Shattered Touchstone

A review of Sean Virgo’s “My Atlantis” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile, 2017).By Derek Newman-Stille

Sean Virgo’s “My Atlantis” is a tale about the return to a changed land. Like Rati Mehrotra’s tale in Cli Fi, this tale features an older person, but unlike Mehrotra’s tale, where the protagonist is stationary in a changing land, this aged character is returning to a place that has become his touchstone over the years, associated with memory, and able to remind him who he is. The problem is that his touchstone has changed, deteriorated by the impact of environmental destruction. Although wildlife is returning to this landscape as human beings move into the cities, that wildlife is struggling to stay healthy and survive in the damaged environment that remains. 

The protagonist works in mental health and frequently works with people who are experiencing memory loss, and that notion of memory is a significant one in this narrative as it shifts through different periods of time while memories arise one after the next inspired by glimpses of familiar scenes altered by time and the human desire to change our environment. 

Age is a significant factor in this tale as the protagonist is able to draw on a lifetime of memories of a place to reflect on its changes and highlight the way that the world has shifted. North American society is relatively short sighted about our impact on the environment, so it is significant that Virgo chooses a long duree approach to the environment, observing it over the course of a lifetime to see the impact of change. 

To discover more about Cli Fi, visit Exile’s website at http://www.exileeditions.com

Ageing into Climate Change

A review of Rati Mehrotra’s “Children of the Sea” in Cli Fi: Canadian Tales of Climate Change (Exile, 2017)

By Derek Newman-Stille

In “Children of the Sea”, Rati Mehrotra links the changes that come with ageing to the changes that come from environmental damage. In Mehrotra’s tale, age becomes a subject of stability in a changing world and an older woman lives through massive climate change while constantly revisiting memories of a time before global environmental catastrophe. 

Auntie Benita is the stable figure as her world changes, watching it shift from her African home. The tides encroach on her home like the memory of all of the destruction and damage that has come from other places through the impact of colonialism and industry. Even the “solutions” to the ecological issues disempower her, located elsewhere and often exploitatively taking advantage of her. Benita watches as an ark ship leaves her planet to seek out another one, trying to bring humanity to another planet and colonize and terraform it since human impact on our own planet has terraformed it into something no longer inhabitable. She has observed failed attempts at reversing global warming as the water from melting icebergs gradually encroached on her home, and finally even saw the bodies of her family members altered and changed to adapt to aquatic life that would become a reality on our world. 

Landscape and memory intersect in this tale, entwined through Benita’s experience, but also through loss as Benita’s memories retreat from her and the tides gobble up the land. Yet, Benita is also able to be a gage for change, observing how her world shifted throughout the years of her life and serving as a witness for readers to remind us to notice how our landscapes change and make alterations to our lifestyle to prevent the kind of crises she experiences.

To discover more about Rati Mehrotra, visit her website at https://ratiwrites.com
To discover more about Cli Fi, visit Exile’s website at http://exileeditions.com

Quote – People and Land Belonging to Each Other

“The innumerable spirits of creation – from the leaf-headed standing people and the lichen-spotted stone people, to the furred four-leggeds and the feathered ones who danced on wind and breeze – were woven together in this world, and they belonged to the land as much as the land belonged to them.”

-Daniel Heath Justice – Kynship: The Way of Thorn and Thunder (Kegedonce Press, 2005)

Speculating Canada on Trent Radio Episode 31: An Interview with Marie Bilodeau About Nigh

In this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio, I interview the wonderful Marie Bilodeau about her new series Nigh, a series about the Fairiepocalpse. In our conversation, Marie and I discuss the power of myths and legends about fairies, the relationship between the natural world and human occupation, the power of unsettling norms and expectations, and the nature of apocalyptic narratives. Marie recognises the magic of the apocalyptic and the idea of The End as a place of speculation.

You can listen to this episode of Speculating Canada on Trent Radio at the link below

Explore Trent Radio at www.trentradio.ca

Explore Trent Radio at http://www.trentradio.ca

This audio file was originally broadcast on Trent Radio, and I would like to thank Trent Radio for their continued support. I would also like to thank Dwayne Collins for his consistent tech support and help with the intricacies of creating audio files.

Make sure to allow a few minutes for the file to buffer since it may take a moment before it begins to play.

Only More Death on the Horizon

A review of Tony Burgess’ The n-Body Problem (ChiZine Publications, 2013)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Cover photo of The n-Body Problem courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Cover photo of The n-Body Problem courtesy of ChiZine Publications

Tony Burgess’ The n-Body Problem is a pharmacological journey through the zombie apocalypse, and a discourse on the collective social habit of avoiding one’s problems. The n-Body Problem explores a world where people keep moving after death, not threateningly or aggressively, but moving nonetheless evoking the question of whether they are alive, what constitutes death, and the bigger problem of what to do with so many moving bodies. WasteCorp, a waste disposal company proposes the idea of launching the living dead into orbit, suspending them in the atmosphere until they burn off as layers of fire, and they are able to do good enough PR work to convince people that this is an almost romantic way to go. The only problem is that the sky is greyed by the network of dead bodies around the Earth and it is creating health issues for the people alive on the planet – both from lack of exposure to the sunlight and from the depression that comes from seeing a network of the dead around their planet every time they raise their eyes. It is a zombie apocalypse filled with threat, but not from the zombies… at least not directly, but rather from the “solution” to the living dead and the horror that ensues.

In order to cope, the population is advised to avoid looking up and to regularly take SSRIs to deal with the perpetual depression and anxiety evoked by this permanently altered world. However, the SSRIs are not benevolent either, causing a Syndrome from the quantities they need to be used in, fundamentally changing the people who use them.

The characters have their moral compass set to grey from the beginning of The n-Body Problem but a dark, dirty grey that gets more ashy over time as layers of dust from bodies burned in orbit rains down on them… a zombie grey that exists in the perpetual twilight of a world that no longer has hope of change.

Playing with ideas of speech and silence, the notion that some people are best left in a devoiced state because when they speak it may only be a diatribe of horrors, Burgess explores the power of voice for propaganda, and the way the silenced are used for religious, corporate, and political causes. Whether corporate propaganda tells the people about the beauty of their dead loved ones floating in silence in orbit close to the stars, or religious leaders use the dead and the dismembered to bring on religious fervour born of fear and a need for some form of change, silence is made to speak loudly.

Burgess experiments with the idea of a social shift from the military-industrial complex and its profit from death through war to a new system of profit based around the pharmaceutical-waste-disposal-religious complex, intertwined in a system of making capital through the disposal of bodies and inciting people to suicide.

To say this is a bleak book is to downplay the significance of the melancholy it evokes – within this novel, the only thing on the horizon is more dead bodies… literally. It is a stream of consciousness narrative that reads like a hallucinatory voyage between pathologies and syndromes, a work that makes the body and the world around it a perpetual uncertainty, a slippery, threatened and threatening thing.

To find out more about The n-Body Problem, visit ChiZine Publications’ site at http://chizinepub.com/books/n-body-problem