Writing Matters: In conversation with Dan Bloom
Dan Bloom is a journalist with an optimistic outlook and dreams of hope and happiness for the great green planet we live on. With his need to do something for the welfare of an endangered Earth, he came up with the term ‘cli-fi’, a new genre of fiction.
In an earlier interview last year, he said after reading the 2006 report released by The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and an interview with British scientist, environmentalist, futurist James Lovelock in The Independent, he was moved to act. James Lovelock wrote of population decimation due to global warming. Dan Bloom claimed: “That bit sent shivers down my spine. It was a ‘eureka’ moment, a wake-up call.”
In 2011, he came up with the term ‘cli-fi’ while doing a marketing campaign for a near future novel he commissioned from a sci-fi writer in Oklahoma, James Laughter, that was titled Polar City Red. Well-known novelist Margaret Atwood tweeted about the novel, calling it a “cli-fi thriller”. Two years later in 2013, NPR (National Public Radio, USA) did a 5-minute radio segment about the new genre that was headlined ” So Hot Right Now: Has Climate Change Created A New Literary Genre?”
Dan Bloom, received his MA in speech and communications from Oregon University and worked as a newspaper editor in Alaska, Japan and Taiwan. He is now retired and devoting himself fulltime to promoting cli-fi worldwide. In this exclusive to Team Kitaab, Dan Bloom discusses the present and future of cli-fi and climate change.
Team Kitaab: What is cli-fi?
Dan Bloom: Cli-Fi is a standalone, independent literary genre that came to life in the early part of the 21st century, a popular term used by journalists, newspaper editors, headline writers, literary critics, book reviewers, academics and novelists in the Anglophone world. It became a buzzword and a nickname for novels that explored various issues of climate change, either directly or indirectly in theme or story. There is no cli-fi canon and there is no cli-fi agenda. Novelists go where their imaginations and storytelling skills take them. It’s a catchy linguistic portmanteau for “climate change fiction”.
Team Kitaab: Why do you call yourself a climate fiction activist?
Dan Bloom: I’m not a novelist or a short story writer, but my life-long literary background is in public relations and marketing so I was looking for a term that could mirror the climate change anxieties that scientists, writers, readers and publishers were beginning to experience ten years ago. I came up with the cli-fi term based on the assonance of the sci-fi term, same rhyming sounds and closely related to science fiction as well. I see myself not so much as a climate activist than as a literary activist.
Team Kitaab: Why do you see the need for identifying cli-fi as a separate genre from sci-fi or dystopian or speculative fiction? Cli-fi has stretched back to Jules Verne to root itself in literature, the first novel termed cli-fi being, Paris in the Twentieth Century, written in 1883. So, the genre already existed but was not classified as such. What was the need for the nomenclature?
Dan Bloom: I came up with the nickname just to give the media and literary critics something to hang on to when writing about these kinds of novels, from whatever period of literary history came from. Sometimes new words give us a new way of seeing things. That is what motivated me.
Team Kitaab: Much of the fiction you talk of has dark tones. Why does the genre put its focus only on doom and not towards a brighter outlook? Why would we not think of the ozone hole repaired and go into situations envisioned by movies like Waterworld, The Day after Tomorrow, The Core or even 2012?
Dan Bloom: I never envisioned cli-fi being a dark or dystopian genre. For me, the term was open to all kinds of interpretations and iterations, and both optimistic, utopian novels and pessimistic, gloomy novels were always part of my concept of cli-fi. The media turned the genre into a doomsday thing, but that was never my intent. In this case, the media was wrong to paint cli-fi as only dark and dystopian. It’s a very open-ended genre, as people are now discovering.
Team Kitaab: Are Hollywood productions showing climatic disasters close to what cli-fi actually portrays?
Dan Bloom: Unfortunately, Hollywood is only interested in making money and creating popular blockbusters about climate issues, and as a result most cli-fi films to date have missed the mark. But I have seen low-budget cli-fi movies from directors in the Philippines, Vietnam and India that were very well done and produced. Hollywood isn’t the only player in town now.
Team Kitaab: Cli-fi as a genre has zoomed into view with writers like Michael Chrichton, Margaret Atwood and Barbara Kingslover taking the lead. You have even identified some of Amitav Ghosh’s books as cli-fi. Has the nomenclature/classification impacted the literary or media or the real world in any way? Can you tell us about it?
Dan Bloom: Amitav Ghosh wrote a cli-fi novel titled The Hungry Tide earlier in his career, and he has a new cli-fi novel coming out in June titled Gun Island. I think it’s going to be another big novel for him. Due to the popularity of the cli-fi term now in the English-speaking world, it has impacted book reviews and literary essays in such publications at The Economist, The Guardian, the BBC, the New York Times, The New Statesman and literary journals such as The Chicago Review of Books and Guernica. Six years after that NPR radio segment in 2013, cli-fi has caught on. The next 100 years will be exciting to watch. Joined at the hip, cli-fi and sci-fi are marching into the future.
Team Kitaab: Much of climate disaster movies and books have abandoned cities, sometimes even an abandoned Earth… do you or cli-fi really see that as our future?
Dan Bloom: I see the future with rose-colored glasses. I’m a born optimist and I’m not worried about runaway climate change or global warming impact events. I have faith in humans to overcome any problems that fate throws at us. That’s me. But other writers, with imaginations much more vivid and probing than mine, who knows how they will transform cli-fi in the next 30 years?
Team Kitaab: Who are your favourite cli-fi writers?
Dan Bloom: Babara Kingsolver, Amitav Ghosh, Nathaniel Rich, Margaret Atwood.
Team Kitaab: You have moved around the world quite a bit. From USA to Taiwan via a number of other countries. Has your journey through the world impacted your activism and beliefs?
Dan Bloom: Yes, I’ve lived in 14 countries, with long periods in France and Italy and Japan, and my experiences overseas have turned me into a global citizen. I no longer think in terms of national borders, or skins colors, or race or religions. My motto at age 70 is “one people, one race, one Earth, one life”.
Team Kitaab: You have mentioned Amitav Ghosh as a contributor to cli-fi in an earlier essay. Do you see any other Asian writers as contributing to the new genre?
Dan Bloom: Yes, a very good novelist in India, who I have met online, named Rajat Chaudhuri wrote The Butterfly Effect, and I want to review it on my blog as a cli-fi novel. And another excellent, visionary writer in India named Shubhangi Swarup whose cli-fi short story Confessions of a Menopausal Manis a work of genius! Her novel titled Latitudes of Longing deserves a global readership. She is someone to watch.
Team Kitaab:What do you see as the future of cli- fi? Who would be the readers and how popular do you think it will become?
Dan Bloom: I see cli-fi continuing to make inroads in literary and publishing circles worldwide over the next 100 years. That’s how optimistic and positive I am. Since newspaper headlines worldwide are talking about climate issues almost every day, I see a ready market for cli-fi novels written for a new generation born in the 21st century. I think cli-fi will become a popular as sci-fi by 2050.
Team Kitaab: You say one of your pet peeves among English-language newspapers and magazines such as the New York Times and the New Yorker magazine and TIME magazine is that the editors refuse to capitalise the word Earth when reporting climate-related news and book reviews about cli-fi novels. Why does this bother you?
Dan Bloom: I feel that at this time in human history we need to start looking at our home planet as a proper noun deserving a capital E in every reference. But when major newspapers and magazines refuse to capitalize Earth and downgrade it to merely “earth,” I get angry. So, I’ve started a Twitter hashtag campaign #CapitalizeEarth to try to wake those lazy editors up in New York and London. I hope to see results in the next ten years. Our Earth deserves more respect in the media.
Team Kitaab: You’ve written some op-eds online saying that we humans have 30 more generations before things get really bad in terms of climate change impacting events and that there is still time for us to prepare future generations for what might be coming in 500 years or so. That is a long time frame and some people have criticized you for being hopeless optimistic. What do you say?
Dan Bloom: I am hopelessly optimistic. I don’t see the world ending in 12 years or 30 years or 50 years and 100 years or even in 300 years. There’s time to fight back, to prepare, to teach our descendants 30 generations from what to do. It’s sounds like sci-fi, but it’s not. It’s my vision, and I’ve thought a lot about this.
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