April 20, 2013

"Has Climate Change Created A New Literary Genre?"

Asks NPR.

If you think the answer to that question is the genre is already there, it's called science fiction, then you are missing the key word literary.

The linked article talks about a new novel — "Odds Against Tomorrow" — and what "literary" means is conveyed by statements like this by the author Nathaniel Rich:
"I think we need a new type of novel to address a new type of reality.... which is that we're headed toward something terrifying and large and transformative. And it's the novelist's job to try to understand, what is that doing to us?"
And:
"I don't think that the novelist necessarily has the responsibility to write about global warming or geopolitics or economic despair.... But I do feel that novelists should write about what these things do to the human heart — write about the modern condition, essentially."
Rich says "the novelist," but he means the literary novelist. This superior individual is the one who understands that it is his job to understand deeply what is happening deep inside. Those sci-fi genre writers might describe what happens to the exterior world, but the literary writer describes what that world does to us... to the heart... the human heart. What's the point of saying "human heart," by the way? Was it possible to to think we were talking about other beast's heart? Perhaps extra words seem literary.

"Odds Against Tomorrow" was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, which I just mentioned 3 days ago in a discussion about self-publishing that made a distinction between sci-fi and "high-end literary fiction." Sci-fi might do well self-published as an ebook...
But high-end literary fiction? Think you can attract the readers of that kind of material without a brand like Farrar Straus & Giroux attached? It's "high-end" and "literary" because high-end literary experts have done the filtering. Without that, all you have is pretension from an earnest soul who is self-publishing. How do you get that absurdly clunky vehicle going?
Speaking of extra words seeming literary, "high-end literary fiction" was not my phrase. It came from a literary agent. A high-end literary agent. 

IN THE COMMENTS: betamax3000 has some great "Climate Change Fitzgerald" material, riffing on the old "Gatsby" project sentences. For example: "Her face, above a spotted dress of dark blue crêpe-de-chine, contained no facet or gleam of beauty, but there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering due to Climate Change."

This is a game we can all play. Here's mine, based on my favorite of all the old "Gatsby" sentences: "He went out of the room calling 'Ewing!' and returned in a few minutes accompanied by an embarrassed, extremely sweaty young man, with shell-rimmed glasses and scant hair scorched blond by the overbearing sun of Climate Change."

69 comments:

Harold said...

Heard the story this morning, I wasn't particularly impressed by their thesis. But it's High end literary fiction so I'm sure the 8 people who read the books mentioned will be thrilled by them.

Jay said...

Is this part of that Literary Genre?

Mr. Cuomo directly addressed the high-profile situation in the Bay State by employing a phrase he previously used to describe climate change in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy: “the new normal.”

“It’s a terrible situation in Boston. And, unfortunately, … one gets the sense that this is more reflective of the ‘new normal,’ if you will,” he explained. “So much of society is changing so rapidly. We talk about a ‘new normal’ when it comes to climate change and adjusting to a change in the weather patterns. ‘New normal’ when it comes to public security in a post-9/11 world. Where these random acts of violence, which at one time were implausible, now seem all-too-frequent.”

Jay said...

I like this one:

(Reuters) - Scientists are struggling to explain a slowdown in climate change that has exposed gaps in their understanding and defies a rise in global greenhouse gas emissions.

JAL said...

Sigh. The snobs are always with us.

Try "dystopia" guys.

That's a big word too.

kentuckyliz said...

Literature? Who reads any more? We have multimedia.

Algore knew multimedia was more powerful.

JAL said...

Wouldn't you think, if the "climate change aka AGW" crowd saw it wasn't warming any more or as rapidly that they would be doing the happy dance?

What? They're not?

More evidence that this crowd is perpetually, genetically, a bunch of sky-is-falling whining very not cute Eeyores.

Ignore them and celebrate. And get ready for the next ice age, kiddos.

Paco Wové said...

As the threat of Global Thermonuclear Holocaust™ fades, something has to fill the void.

Lem said...

A fiction sub.

sydney said...

Heh. I just asked Amazon to "Surprise Me!" with a sample of Odds Against Tomorrow. If that's typical of the high-end literary genre, the end is already here. "Nybuster's eyes narrowed to coin slots, sharp and metallic."
The dialogue's not so great, either. Try it!

Mogget said...

The genre already exists and has for several thousand years: apocalyptic. But, yes we better give it a new and more literary name, else it won't be proper for us to read it...

Michael K said...

"we're headed toward something terrifying and large and transformative"

Yes, and a basic understanding of economics would help. That requires math which is not a strong point of "high end literary novelists.

JAL said...

The initial question is stupid. In spite of the truism that no question is stupid.

But then, it's NPR. And it's rhetorical.

So there you go, NPR rhetorical = stupid.

chuck said...

The book bored me, and I didn't even need to read it to discover that. The author's motivation and intent pretty much guarantees it. These high minded descriptions of ends often conceal a sorry lack of means. I'd be surprised if the guy could write worth spit.

mccullough said...

Cormac McCarthy's The Road was very good post-apocalyptic novel. It doesn't even mention the causes that turned the world into the condition it is.

betamax3000 said...

Climate Change Fitzgerald says:

"When we pulled out into the winter night and the real snow, our snow, began to stretch out beside us and twinkle against the windows, and the dim lights of small Wisconsin stations moved by, a sharp wild brace of Climate Change came suddenly into the air."

betamax3000 said...

Climate Change Fitzgerald says:

"On buffet tables, garnished with glistening hors d’œuvre, spiced baked hams crowded against salads of harlequin designs and pastry pigs and turkeys bewitched to a dark gold by Climate Change."

betamax3000 said...

Climate Change Fitzgerald says:

"A tray of cocktails floated at us through a twilight unnaturally warm due to Climate Change, and we sat down at a table with the two girls in yellow and three men, each one introduced to us as Mr. Mumble."

chuck said...

And the cover sucks. No self respecting self published writer would handicap themselves that way when they contract a Russian illustrator to provide a decent cover for $100.

Doc Holliday's Hat said...

I love how "literary" fits whatever is popular among the elites. It's about understanding the heart. Except when it's not because the work is experimental and fascinating, except when it's not, because the work looks at an issue from a whole new viewpoint...Like how Harold Bloom loves Dante's Inferno, but not for the history behind it, not for the scope of imagination, not for the Catholicism, which he argues is wholly unimportant to its literary significance, but purely for its style.

As to this "new genre" I say fie. It's the same exact basis as post nuclear war fiction. The world is dangerous and partially or mostly uninhabitable thanks to what mankind has wrought. A slight tweak in the formula doesn't change that. So, you want to read about the human spirit in a hostile world? Try The Road. Try Infinite Jest. Try A Canticle for Leibowitz. Try The Night of the Long Knives. Try a million others which are actually literary, but aren't regarded as such because the subject matter falls into sci-fi. And then read Gene Wolfe and tell me that sci-fi isn't literary. He's the best living American author on depth and breadth of thought, on narrative, on style (whoa is he fun there), on layering meanings into his novels (beyond incredible), and though he isn't the best at understanding the human heart, he's pretty great at it, especially when it comes as understanding the human heart in relation to God. But hey, he writes sci-fi/horror/fantasy so he's ignored by those of an academic bent.

betamax3000 said...

Climate Change Fitzgerald says:

"There was dancing now on the canvas in the garden; old men pushing young girls backward in eternal graceless circles, superior couples holding each other tortuously, fashionably, and keeping in the corners — and a great number of single girls dancing individualistically or relieving the orchestra for a moment of the burden of the banjo or the trap that is Climate Change."

betamax3000 said...

Climate Change Fitzgerald says:

"Her face, above a spotted dress of dark blue crêpe-de-chine, contained no facet or gleam of beauty, but there was an immediately perceptible vitality about her as if the nerves of her body were continually smouldering due to Climate Change."

betamax3000 said...

Climate Change Fitzgerald says:

"A breeze, unnaturally warm due to Climate Change, stirred the gray haze of Daisy’s fur collar."

betamax3000 said...

Climate Change Fitzgerald says:

"Her expression was curiously familiar — it was an expression I had often seen on women’s faces, but on Myrtle Wilson’s face it seemed purposeless and inexplicable until I realized that her eyes, wide with jealous terror, were fixed not on Tom, but on Jordan Baker, whom she took to be responsible for excessive greenhouse gases."

rhhardin said...

If there was a catastrophe looming, it used to be that the world's leading scientists would gather in London.

madAsHell said...

I visit my mother, and she watches the evening news. Every night, they must declare the weather to be out of control.

I will admit, they have changed their message from global warming to climate change.

JAL said...

Aristogues live at NPR

Link here.

ricpic said...

Will the transformative Obama save us from the transformative global warming? Stay tuned. And above all, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

JAL said...

beta you are on a roll today.

I take it you were following the Gatsby bread crumbs.

edutcher said...

And Jesus said, "The stupids you will always have with you,"

AllenS said...

New Literary Genre = Making Shit Up

Joe said...

As I was told repeatedly in film school: "If you want to preach, become a preacher."

This is like pretending Downtown Abby isn't just a bad soap opera with nice costumes and British accents. (Or that Sesame Street isn't am even worse child exploitative TV show than He-man.)

Isn't it about time we let NPR sink or rise on its own?

betamax3000 said...

In the hidden chamber of Diamond Manor the pensive Neil Diamond waits silently by the Diamond Phone. Climate Change hangs in the air, and He is Ready: why, yes, he can explain in detail the Significance of his 1972 live double-album "Hot August Night."

Neil Diamond nods his head gently in the direction of the Diamond Phone. Climate Change: it is Touching You, Touching Me...

ed said...

High end literary fiction?

Sounds completely boring to me.

gerry said...

Does high-end cause high waist?

DocInKY said...

Is it like new genre's in cinema? Say like Kevin Costner and Waterworld?

PaulV said...

John Ringo has a great novel about climate change-The Last Centurion. It is about the danger of Global Cooling.

bwebster said...

"SF's no good!"
they shout until we're deaf.
"But this is good."
"Then it's not SF!"

-- Frederik Pohl (I think), science fiction author and editor, about 50 years ago.

Mitch H. said...

There's a name - a marketing name - for writers who are too sensitive and pompous to tolerate having "science fiction" labels on their precious speculative mind-children. It's "slipstream", and lord, it's unreadable for the most part. Before that it was "humanist", and before that it was "New Wave". I won't be impressed until they come up with a sharp, peppy marketing term for the same old slab of tuna.

LakeLevel said...

PaulV:"The Last Centurion. It is about the danger of Global Cooling."
The funniest part of that book is when President Hillary orders all the Midwestern farms to be taken over by new-agers and then they all freeze to death.

chuckR said...

Let's defund NPR and fund betamax3000 instead.

Seriously, why are we funding NPR? All their children are not above average or even average.

deepelemblues said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
deepelemblues said...

When I came home to West Egg that night I was afraid for a moment that my house was on fire from the Climate Change.

* * *

He put his hands in his coat pockets and turned back eagerly to his scrutiny of the house, as though my presence marred the sacredness of the vigil. So I walked away and left him standing there in the desert-like sauna of the moonlight — watching over nothing, as Manhattan, so close and so far, was now under fifteen feet of the remorseless sea.

* * *

The morning of the funeral I went up to New York to see Meyer Wolfsheim; I couldn’t seem to reach him any other way. The door that I pushed open, on the advice of an elevator boy, was marked “The Swastika Holding Company,” and at first there didn’t seem to be any one inside, as the sign had nearly melted to the ground from the climate change. But when I’d shouted “hello” several times in vain, an argument broke out on the second floor, and presently a lovely Jewess appeared at a window and scrutinized me with black hostile eyes reflecting off the watery avenue which used to be 59th Street.

Rusty said...

"high-end literary fiction"

It's called the New York Times.

Archie Waugh said...

But Downton Abbey is a GOOD soap opera with nice costumes and British accents. Mr. Selfridge...now THAT'S a BAD soap opera with nice costumes and British accents.

Dejan Lazarev said...

I quit working at shoprite and now I make $65-85h. I'm working online! My work didn't exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new… After 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn't be happier. Here's what I do, Wow55.com

Astro said...

"Rich says "the novelist," but he means the literary novelist. This superior individual is the one who understands that it is his job to understand deeply what is happening deep inside. Those sci-fi genre writers might describe what happens to the exterior world, but the literary writer describes what that world does to us..."

Well, professor, you just dumped $hit on a number of very fine writers and their works. I see no reason to exclude 'science fiction writers' such as Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, Robert Heinlein, Daniel Keyes, or Walter M. Miller, Jr, just to name a few off the top of my head, from any list of 'literary' writers.
And I'll just go ahead and add H G Wells, Jules Verne, George Orwell and Aldous Huxley.

Astro said...

That one pointless comment keeps showing up.

It's like Dejan vous all over again.

ken in sc said...

There were novels written to promote the theory of eugenics. I have read one of them. It focused on the horrors of the slums of big cities, and promoted the idea that inferior people should not be permitted to breed.

Eugenics was embraced by many academics and important people around the turn of the 19th to 20th century in America and around the world.

I think man made climate change is the new eugenics, and will continue to have respect until some crazy dictator takes it to it's logical limit like Hitler did with eugenics.

Synova said...

"If you think the answer to that question is the genre is already there, it's called science fiction, then you are missing the key word literary."

Oh, burn.

Synova said...

Well, I was going to write a novel about climate change but I found an interactive map showing what happens when sea level rises and I cranked it up to max AND NOTHING INTERESTING WAS UNDER WATER.

That, of course, put me in the depressive mood necessary to write high end literary fiction instead of science fiction, but what would be the point?

Zach said...

A 3 1/2 star average for a novel with such a limited appeal is a major warning sign.

It's curious (but predictable) that NPR doesn't mention the 40 Signs of Rain / 50 Degrees Below / Sixty Days and Counting trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. (Climate change also features heavily in KSR's wildly successful Mars trilogy, some of the best science fiction of the last few decades). Robinson is a major figure in the field, has a big audience, and is one of the more "literary" authors in the genre, but somehow he doesn't count.

To many people, commercially successful = not literary, by definition.

Zach said...

To follow up on my last post, I don't particularly like Robinson's climate change trilogy, and stopped reading after the first or second book. It's very easy for disaster porn to turn into revenge porn, and it's very tedious to read about the political opponents of the author being punished and shamed in an imaginary universe where the author is magically right about everything.

Paco Wové said...

Earnest fiction is invariably bad fiction.

Sam L. said...

Because science fiction is , well, just SO low-brow, middle-class, genre..I mean, like, realllllly, it's just so gross!

Sam L. said...

SF been doin' this. See "Fallen Angels", for one.

Jeff Teal said...

literary fiction=narcissistic poseurs supported by the aristocraps.

robert ferrigno said...

Then there's another new novel from the opposite perspective: The Girl Who Cried Wolf, about three knucklehead environmental terrorists who kidnap a demanding heiress and realize they are in way over their head. It's a comic thriller, an ebook, written by a NY Times' best-seller, me.

John said...

Isn't "literary" just another word for unreadable?

I am a big Anthony Trollope fan. I even like Dickens on occasion.

Both of them, in their time, were what we could call "popular" novelists.

I think now they are considered literary. I guess that is just because they have managed to hang around so long.

John Henry

robert ferrigno said...

I tried three times to read Life of Pi and never got past the first forty pages. I kept wanting the kid to get on the lifeboat with the damned tiger but all I got was backstory.

Scott M said...

Those sci-fi genre writers might describe what happens to the exterior world, but the literary writer describes what that world does to us... to the heart... the human heart. What's the point of saying "human heart," by the way? Was it possible to to think we were talking about other beast's heart?

There are, in fact, sci-fi writers that are considered literary authors. Most of it's crap, but it's out there.

John Lynch said...

Margaret Atwood writes science fiction... except she's too cool to call it that.

gregq said...

Sorry, but "climate change" stories long ago stopped being science fiction, and just became pure fantasy.

John Nowak said...

Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room! (1966) is considered science fiction and also involved a then-inevitable science-is-settled impending catastrophe, in this case overpopulation leading to water rationing in New York in 1999.

Synova said...


"The Girl Who Cried Wolf, about three knucklehead environmental terrorists who kidnap a demanding heiress and realize they are in way over their head. It's a comic thriller, an ebook, written by a NY Times' best-seller, me. "

Oh! I was thinking I should buy that one and check it out. I read the summary and decided that she (and her father) were probably werewolves (or something similar) and then decided that was really silly and most certainly not true... and then decided that someone should write *that* story too.

robert ferrigno said...

Wow, your version actually makes sense... not in this case, however. I'm a thriller/crime writer, not supernatural. However, I would definitely read your version.

Graham Powell said...

No crime fiction fans here? The author copped the title from a book by William P. McGivern, which was made into a pretty nifty movie with Robert Ryan and Harry Bellafonte.

Peter said...

""If you think the answer to that question is the genre is already there, it's called science fiction, then you are missing the key word literary."

NPR is just trying to say they're too good, too "cultured," to read science fiction.

Which is just as well for the rest of us- let science fiction stay in the gutter, where writers know the key to success is writing something that people actually enjoy reading.

Which leaves this "literary fiction" as something you'll read only when assigned to do so in school. And after that, never again.

DANIELBLOOM said...

Ann, here I am a year later and I just found your blog and let's chat one day. I am the person who coined the cli fi term that the NPR show was about and of course Angela Evancie the rookie NPR reporter who did the story never contacted me or called me although my email and tel number is on the internet in public. She later told me, sorry, Dan, I didn't mention your in creating this term because I felt was not germane to my story and Scott Simon backed me up on this but yes I saw your blog and I knew you were the person who coined the genre term so sorry for not including the backstory in my piece. Paraphrasing. Anyways, Ann, a year later, this cli fi genre has gone everywhere -- Guardian oped, Atwood oped, FT in UK, New Yorker magazine, Dissent magazine summer 2013 issue, and last week the New York Times and this month of May, TIME mag will report the cli fi rise of a new genre news. Wouldn't this be interesting for u and another expert to discuss on bloggingtv or something. Email me at danbloom at gmail dot com or tweet me at @clificentral or just look at wiki page now for cli fi with over 40 news articles and quotes archived there. Cli fi is here to stay. Ask Margaret Atwood, she wrote three opens on cli fi so far. Danny Bloom, Tufts 1971, climate activist, literary provocateur, based in Asia since 1991. Do contact me. I've been looking for you for a year. And Meade too, great NYT story about the two of you meeting!

DANIELBLOOM said...

did it post?