On Climate Change Fiction with Mary Jennifer Payne

On Climate Change Fiction with Mary Jennifer Payne

Posted on February 15 by Mary Jennifer Payne in Teens
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“Well, no,” I say, a little taken aback. “I was on the subway during the bombing, so I totally don’t think it’s okay, but it also doesn’t seem right to just let innocent people die.”

Sandra nods. “I understand. But tough times call for tough decisions. We’ve done this to ourselves. Humans...the most destructive species ever. We’ve ruined the biosphere The Earth and overpopulated ourselves.”

— excerpt from Finding Jade

 

When I began writing the Daughters of Light series, I will admit (somewhat sheepishly) that I didn’t have a clue that climate change fiction was even a “thing,” despite the fact that ecologically-oriented fiction has been around since the early 1970s. So, when a colleague and friend who’d just finished reading Finding Jade, the first book in the series, pointed out to me that it was first and foremost a YA Cli-Fi novel, I was caught off-guard. I thought I’d simply written a supernatural novel with shades of science-fiction that was set mainly in our city’s near future. Upon investigating what I thought was a fairly new category of speculative fiction, I found out I was wrong — on both counts.

My first discovery was that environmentally-themed literature, and literature that analyzed humanity’s impact upon nature, wasn’t something new. In fact, its origins began in the early 1970s. This makes sense, as the entire modern environmental movement started after the devastating oil spill along the shores of Santa Barbara, California. This was the impetus for the first global Earth Day, and birthed a new awareness of the way human activity was damaging the Earth. Yet, when I thought more about it, I realized it could be argued that the true origins of Cli-Fi began with Mary Shelley and the other Romantics. Indeed, those writers were the first to sound the warning about the degradation of our natural world at the hands of human beings and in the name of “progress” which, at that time, was the advent of industrialization.

My other realization was that the Daughters of Light series falls firmly within the genre of Cli-Fi. Journalist Dan Bloom is the guru of the genre in many ways and is widely credited with coining the term Cli-Fi. During my investigation into the roots of the genre, I also looked at the work of Jim Dwyer. He established a set of criteria for Cli-Fi, succinctly describing it as “a critical perspective on the relationship between literature and the natural world, and the place of humanity within [it].” When I began writing Finding Jade, I originally set it even farther in the future, by about 30 years. However, knowing what I did about the science of climate change, as well as some of the events I saw transpiring at that time, including the genocide in Darfur and Stephen Harper’s “silencing” of Canada’s scientific community, I realized that 2030 was a better place to start the series. Thus, the Toronto of the early 2030s that Jasmine and Jade Guzman call home has been transformed by the effects of climate change, as has the rest of the world. As a result, conflicts and terrorism have escalated globally, causing those countries and city-states that have been the least impacted by the ravages of global warming to close their borders to the so-called “climate change refugees.” Authoritarian governments with a strong nationalist bent have taken hold in previously progressive cities such as Toronto, New York, and London, governing under the guise of protecting both resources, and the security of their citizens. Civil liberties are restricted, and a hypervigilance of “others,” particularly those from climate-change ravaged nations, is encouraged and rewarded. Clearly, demons and slightly superhero girl protagonists aside, my series meets Dwyer’s criteria quite nicely.

I am currently in the process of finishing the final installment in the series, and am drawing, as I did for Solomon’s Ring, quite subconsciously, but heavily, on the time I spend in Southern California, specifically, Santa Barbara county. I’ve lived the past two summers in the idyllic beachtown of Carpinteria, and I visit every few months during the rest of the year. The events of this past year, including the inauguration of the Trump administration, the Thomas Fire, and, just this past week, the deadly and devastating mudslides in Montecito, drive home the importance of the environmental movement and of Cli-Fi. It is my hope that Cli-Fi can inspire young people, and give them hope that a paradigm shift is possible — one that will allow our planet, and all the amazing biodiversity it holds, to be saved.

 

This post is dedicated to the community of Montecito, California.

Sources: http://eco.fiction.com What Is Eco-Fiction?