C L I - F I ' s










Kulo Luna and Kuno, swimming in an anthropogenic cesspool of plastic pollution




Climate fiction (abreviated as cli-fi) is literature that deals with climate change. Generally speculative in nature but inspired by climate science, works may take place in the world as we know it, in the near future or in fictional worlds experiencing climate change. The genre frequently includes science fiction and dystopian or utopian themes, imagining the potential futures based on how humanity responds to the impacts of climate change. The genre typically focuses on anthropogenic climate change and other environmental issues as opposed to weather and disaster more generally. Technologies such as climate engineering or climate adaptation practices often feature prominently in works exploring their impacts on society.

The term "cli-fi" is generally credited to freelance news reporter and climate activist Dan Bloom in 2007 or 2008. "Climate fiction" has only been attested since the early 2010s, and the term has been retroactively applied to a number of works. Pioneering 20th century authors include J. G. Ballard and Octavia E. Butler, while dystopian fiction from Margaret Atwood is often cited as an immediate precursor to the genre's emergence. Since 2010, prominent cli-fi authors include Kim Stanley Robinson, Richard Powers, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Barbara Kingsolver. The publication of Robinson's The Ministry for the Future in 2020 helped cement the genre's emergence; the work generated presidential and United Nations mentions and an invitation for Robinson to meet planners at the Pentagon.

University courses on literature and environmental issues may include climate change fiction in their syllabi. This body of literature has been discussed by a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, and Dissent magazine, among other international media outlets. Academics and critics study the potential impact of fiction on the broader field of climate change communication.


Jules Verne's 1889 novel The Purchase of the North Pole imagines climate change due to tilting of Earth's axis. In his posthumous Paris in the Twentieth Century, written in 1883 and set during the 1960s, the eponymous city experiences a sudden drop in temperature, which lasts for three years.

Laurence Manning's 1933 serialized novel The Man Who Awoke has been described as an exemplary work of ecological science fiction from the golden age. It tells the story a man who awakes from suspended animation in various future eras and learns about the destruction to the Earth's climate, caused by overuse of fossil fuels, global warming, and deforestation. People of the future refer to 20th century humans as "the wasters". They have abandoned over-industrialization and consumerism to live in small self-sufficient villages based around genetically engineered trees that provide all their necessities. Isaac Asimov credited The Man Who Awoke for bringing the "energy crisis" to his attention 40 years before it became common knowledge in the 1970s.

Several well-known dystopian works by British author J. G. Ballard deal with climate-related natural disasters. In The Wind from Nowhere (1961), civilization is devastated by persistent hurricane-force winds, and The Drowned World (1962) describes a future of melted ice-caps and rising sea-levels caused by solar radiation. In The Burning World (1964, later retitled The Drought) his climate catastrophe is human-made, a drought due to disruption of the precipitation cycle by industrial pollution.

Frank Herbert's 1965 science fiction novel Dune, set on a fictional desert planet, has been proposed as a pioneer of climate fiction for its themes of ecology and environmentalism.

Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower (1993) imagines a near-future for the United States where climate change, wealth inequality, and corporate greed cause apocalyptic chaos. Here, and in sequel Parable of the Talents (1998), Butler dissects how instability and political demagoguery exacerbate society's underlying cruelty (especially with regards to racism and sexism) and also explores themes of survival and resilience. Butler wrote the novel "thinking about the future, thinking about the things that we're doing now and the kind of future we're buying for ourselves, if we're not careful."

As scientific knowledge of the effects of fossil fuel consumption and resulting increase in atmospheric CO2 concentrations entered the public and political arena as "global warming", human-caused climate change entered works of fiction. Susan M. Gaines's Carbon Dreams (2000) was an early example of a literary novel that "tells a story about the devastatingly serious issue of human-induced climate change", set in the 1980s and published before the term "cli-fi" was coined. Michael Crichton's State of Fear (2004), a techno-thriller, was a bestseller upon its release but was criticised by scientists for portraying climate change as "a vast pseudo-scientific hoax" and rejecting the scientific consensus on climate change. Sigbjørn Skåden's novel Fugl (2019) is a Sámi novel written in Norwegian that weaves together environmental collapse with an allegory of colonialism.

Margaret Atwood explored the subject in her dystopian trilogy Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013). In Oryx and Crake, Atwood presents a world where "social inequality, genetic technology and catastrophic climate change, has finally culminated in some apocalyptic event". The novel's protagonist, Jimmy, lives in a "world split between corporate compounds", gated communities that have grown into city-states and pleeblands, which are "unsafe, populous and polluted" urban areas where the working classes live.

In 2016, Indian writer Amitav Ghosh expressed concern that climate change had "a much smaller presence in contemporary literary fiction than it does even in public discussion". In The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Ghosh said "if certain literary forms are unable to negotiate these waters, then they will have failed – and their failures will have to be counted as an aspect of the broader imaginative and cultural failure that lies at the heart of the climate crisis."

By the 2010s, climate fiction had attracted greater prominence and media attention. Cultural critic Josephine Livingston at The New Republic wrote in 2020 that "the last decade has seen such a steep rise in sophisticated 'cli-fi' that some literary publications now devote whole verticals to it. With such various and fertile imaginations at work on the same topic, whether in fiction or nonfiction, the challenge facing the environmental writer now is standing out from the crowd (not to mention the headlines)." She highlighted Jeff Vandermeer's Annihilation to Nathaniel Rich's Odds Against Tomorrow as examples.

In African literature, climate informed novels and short stories have been recently receiving attention as field of contemporary African literature. Books such as Eclipse our sins, by Tlotlo Tsamaase; It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way, by Alistair Mackay and Noor, by Nnedi Okorafor, have been highlighted as remarkable publications in the genre.


The popular science-fiction novelist Kim Stanley Robinson has been writing on the theme for several decades, including his Science in the Capital trilogy, which is set in the near future and includes Forty Signs of Rain (2004), Fifty Degrees Below (2005), and Sixty Days and Counting (2007). Robert K. J. Killheffer in his review for Fantasy & Science Fiction said "Forty Signs of Rain is a fascinating depiction of the workings of science and politics, and an urgent call to readers to confront the threat of climate change." Robinson's climate-themed novel, titled New York 2140, was published in March 2017. It gives a complex portrait of a coastal city that is partly underwater and yet has successfully adapted to climate change in its culture and ecology. Robinson's novel The Ministry for the Future, is set in the near future, and follows a subsidiary body, whose mission is to advocate for the world's future generations of citizens as if their rights are as valid as the present generation's.

British author J. G. Ballard used the setting of apocalyptic climate change in his early science fiction novels. In The Wind from Nowhere (1961), civilisation is reduced by persistent hurricane-force winds. The Drowned World (1962) describes a future of melted ice-caps and rising sea-levels, caused by solar radiation, creating a landscape mirroring the collective unconscious desires of the main characters. In The Burning World (1964) a surrealistic psychological landscape is formed by drought due to industrial pollution disrupting the precipitation cycle.

Similarly, The Road (2006) by Cormac McCarthy is set after an unspecified apocalypse or environmental catastrophe. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007. Although it does not explicitly mention climate change, it has been listed by The Guardian as one of the best climate change novels, and environmentalist George Monbiot has described it as "the most important environmental book ever written" for depicting a world without a biosphere.

The novel State of Fear by Michael Crichton, published in December 2004, describes a conspiracy by scientists and others to create public panic about global warming. Crichton had publicly advocated "skepticism" of global warming. His novel describes a group of eco-terrorists attempting to create natural disasters to convince the public of the dangers of global warming. It is based upon the idea that there is a deliberately alarmist conspiracy behind climate change activism. The book is critical of the scientific consensus on climate change. A critique in the BBC News pointed out that "Crichton's trade is to bring pleasurable terror to millions by spinning tales of science gone amok" and "To make sure you get his point, Crichton adds a 32-page footnote documenting his own conviction that global warming is an unscientific scare."

Ian McEwan's Solar (2010) follows the story of a physicist who discovers a way to fight climate change after managing to derive power from artificial photosynthesis. The Stone Gods (2007) by Jeanette Winterson is set on the fictional planet Orbus, a world very like Earth, running out of resources and suffering from the severe effects of climate change. Inhabitants of Orbus hope to take advantage of possibilities offered by a newly discovered planet, Planet Blue, which appears perfect for human life.


- Fallen Angels (1991) by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Michael Flynn. Set in North America in the "near future", a radical technophobic green movement dramatically cuts greenhouse gas emissions, only to find that manmade global warming was staving off a new ice age.

- Mother of Storms (1994) by John Barnes describes a catastrophic, rapid climate and weather change brought on by a nuclear explosion releasing clathrate compounds from the ocean floor, based on the clathrate gun hypothesis.

- The Swarm (2004) by Frank Schätzing. The book follows an ensemble of protagonists who are investigating what at first appear to be freak events related to the world's oceans. Seemingly unrelated events like the destabilization of the continental shelf resulting in a megatsunami, whales attacking a commercial freighter, and an outbreak of an epidemic caused by contaminated lobsters are revealed to be caused by an unknown submarine species trying to defend the oceans against human influence.

- Far North (2009) by Marcel Theroux, in which the world is largely uninhabitable due to climate change. However, the novel implies that scientists got it wrong and that it was our actions combating global warming that irrevocably altered the climate.

- Arctic Drift (2008) by Clive Cussler and Dirk Cussler. A thriller involving attempts to reverse global warming, a possible war between the United States and Canada, and "a mysterious silvery mineral traced to a long-ago expedition in search of the fabled Northwest Passage."

- Devolution of a Species by M.E. Ellington focuses on the Gaia hypothesis, and describes the Earth as a single living organism fighting back against humankind.

- The Carbon Diaries: 2015 (2009) by Saci Lloyd is set in a future where power is scarce and the UK has just begun carbon rationing. The story is told in diary form by Laura Brown, a teenager living in London in the aftermath of the Great Storm.

- Barbara Kingsolver's novel, Flight Behavior (2012), employs environmental themes and highlights the potential effects of global warming on the monarch butterfly.

- Norwegian author Maja Lunde has released a "Climate Quartet" of novels, beginning with Bienes histore (The History of Bees) in 2015, which examines pollinator decline through a number of human storylines throughout history, followed by The End of the Ocean (2017), Przewalski's Horse (2019) and an upcoming fourth instalment.

- The Overstory (2018) by Richard Powers, which won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The novel revolves around nine disparate characters with close associations to individual trees, that come together to address deforestation.

- The New Wilderness (2020) by Diane Cook is set in North America where climate change has affected the natural environment. It was shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize.

- Bewilderment (2021) by Richard Powers was shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize. It was also longlisted for the 2021 National Book Award for Fiction. It was selected by Oprah Winfrey as part of Oprah's Book Club on 28 September 2021.

- Rajat Chaudhuri’s novel, The Butterfly Effect, is a dystopian cli-fi with thriller undercurrents that deals with genetic engineering, scientific experiments gone wrong and the effect of intertwined disasters. This book has been listed by Book Riot as one of "50 Must-Read Eco Disasters In Fiction"


"Climate apocalypse scenarios" are explored in multiple science fiction works. For example, in The Wind from Nowhere (1961), civilization is devastated by persistent hurricane-force winds, and The Drowned World (1962) describes a future of melted ice-caps and rising sea-levels caused by solar radiation. In The Burning World (1964, later retitled The Drought) his climate catastrophe is human-made, a drought due to disruption of the precipitation cycle by industrial pollution.

Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower (1993) imagines a near-future for the United States where climate change, wealth inequality, and corporate greed cause apocalyptic chaos. Here, and in sequel Parable of the Talents (1998), Butler dissects how instability and political demagoguery exacerbate society's underlying cruelty (especially with regards to racism and sexism) and also explores themes of survival and resilience. Butler wrote the novel "thinking about the future, thinking about the things that we're doing now and the kind of future we're buying for ourselves, if we're not careful."

Margaret Atwood explored the subject in her dystopian trilogy Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009) and MaddAddam (2013). In Oryx and Crake, Atwood presents a world where "social inequality, genetic technology and catastrophic climate change, has finally culminated in some apocalyptic event".


Many journalists, literary critics, and scholars have speculated about the potential influence of climate fiction on the beliefs of its readers. To date, three empirical studies have examined this question.

A controlled experiment found that reading climate fiction short stories "had small but significant positive effects on several important beliefs and attitudes about global warming – observed immediately after participants read the stories", though "these effects diminished to statistical nonsignificance after a one-month interval". However, the authors note that "the effects of a single exposure in an artificial setting may represent a lower bound of the real-world effects. Reading climate fiction in the real world often involves multiple exposures and longer narratives", such as novels, "which may result in larger and longer-lasting impacts".

A survey of readers found that readers of climate fiction "are younger, more liberal, and more concerned about climate change than nonreaders", and that climate fiction "reminds concerned readers of the severity of climate change while impelling them to imagine environmental futures and consider the impact of climate change on human and nonhuman life. However, the actions that resulted from readers' heightened consciousness reveal that awareness is only as valuable as the cultural messages about possible actions to take that are in circulation. Moreover, the responses of some readers suggest that works of climate fiction might lead some people to associate climate change with intensely negative emotions, which could prove counterproductive to efforts at environmental engagement or persuasion."

Finally, an empirical study focused on the popular novel The Water Knife found that cautionary climate fiction set in a dystopic future can be effective at educating readers about climate injustice and leading readers to empathize with the victims of climate change, including environmental migrants. However, its results suggest that dystopic climate narratives might lead to support for reactionary responses to climate change. Based on this result, it cautioned that "not all climate fiction is progressive", despite the hopes of many authors, critics, and readers.






Florida's fire department consider golf is far more important than climate change! It's the same at councils in England. They just keep on building executive housing, instead of zero carbon units that are both sustainable and affordable. The UK employs more civil servants and surveillance agencies, soon to outnumber the working voters, and charging them double or even treble taxes in an attempt to pay the mounting (unaffordable) pension bill of all those unproductive staff.






Now more than ever, novelists are facing up to the unthinkable: the climate crisis. Claire Armitstead talks to Margaret Atwood, Amitav Ghosh and more about the new cli-fi.

n September 2017, David Simon, creator of The Wire, tweeted a photograph of golfers calmly lining up their putts on an Oregon course as wildfires raged in the background. “In the pantheon of visual metaphors for America today, this is the money shot,” he wrote of the picture, which was taken by an amateur photographer who spotted the photo-op as she was about to skydive out of a plane. Everything about this story – the image, the circumstances – seems stranger than fiction.

A year before Simon’s tweet, in a landmark polemic, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh had questioned why so few writers – himself included – were tackling the world’s most pressing issue in their fiction. But now, as extreme weather swirls around the globe, melting glaciers, burning forests, flooding districts and annihilating species, the climate emergency has brought the unimaginable into our daily lives and literature. A survivor in Jessie Greengrass’s haunting new novel The High House sums it up: “The whole complicated system of modernity which had held us up, away from the earth, was crumbling … and we were becoming again what we had used to be: cold, and frightened of the weather, and frightened of the dark. Somehow while we had all been busy, while we had been doing those small things which added up to living, the future had slipped into the present.”

Greengrass is among a growing number of novelists who are confronting this unfolding catastrophe through the young genre of climate fiction – or “cli-fi”. Among the new arrivals are the Irish writer Niall Bourke, whose novel Line conjures the Boschian image of refugees queueing for generations in an arid land; and Bethany Clift, whose Last One at the Party is the diary of an unnamed thirtysomething who decides to revel her way to the end, as the sole survivor of a pandemic. In August, Alexandra Kleeman’s Something New Under the Sun will take us to a climate-ravaged near-future California. And in September, Anthony Doerr will follow his Pulitzer-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See with Cloud Cuckoo Land, set between 15th-century Constantinople, Idaho in 2020 and space some time in the future. Doerr has said of the book: “The world we’re handing our kids brims with challenges: climate instability, pandemics, disinformation. I wanted this novel to reflect those anxieties, but also offer meaningful hope.”

So what has changed since Ghosh published The Great Derangement? “I think that the world has changed us, and the inflection point was 2018,” he says now. “It was partly because there were so many extreme climate events that year – the California wildfires, flooding in India, a succession of brutal hurricanes – but partly also because of the publication of Richard Powers’s The Overstory.”

This is a big claim to make for a novel. His point, says Ghosh, is not just about the book itself, but the welcome it received (including being shortlisted for the Booker prize). “It wasn’t hived off into the usual silos of climate change or speculative fiction, but was treated as a mainstream novel. I do think that was a very major thing. Since then, there’s been an outpouring of work in this area. In my own personal inbox, I get two or three manuscripts a day.”

Powers’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel reduces human lives to slim growth rings in the bigger history of trees, with characters whose separate stories fleetingly intersect as they circle around a series of confrontations between individuals and institutions, conscience and greed, that will determine the future of humanity. The Canadian writer Michael Christie repeated this structure two years later in a lively eco-parable Greenwood, set between 1908 and 2038, when a virulent new fungus is killing off all trees in what is known as “the great withering”.

At the heart of both novels is a debate about what constitutes life itself. In The Overstory, a research scientist is cast into the wilderness for daring to suggest that trees have their own forms of consciousness and community, while an entrepreneurial computer geek realises that they hold the secret to everything. In Greenwood, Jake, a tourist guide at a futuristic nature theme park, reflects: “Even when a tree is at its most vital, only ten per cent of its tissue – the outermost rings, its sapwood – can be called alive. Every tree is held up by its own history, the very bones of its ancestors.”

This isn’t so fanciful, given the “rights of nature” movement, which Robert Macfarlane has described as “the new animism”. Two years ago, Macfarlane reported on a move by residents of the US city of Toledo to draw up an emergency “bill of rights” for Lake Erie, granting it legal personhood and according it rights in law to “exist, flourish, and naturally evolve”. But it wasn’t quite that simple. “Ecosystems are not human, and they certainly don’t bear human responsibilities,” argued the bill’s organisers. “Rather, nature requires its own unique rights that recognise its needs and characteristics.”

The bill revealed just how difficult it is for our existing legal and intellectual frameworks to accommodate the idea of a reality beyond the human. “The [climate] crisis demands a form of literary expression that lifts it out of the realm of intellectual knowing and lodges it deep in readers’ bodies,” wrote a perceptive reviewer, in response to an Amazon collection of standalone cli-fi stories, Warmer, published in 2018.

So what are the stories we need and how do we unlock them? “There are many different kinds of stories one might tell but there are no general answers when it comes to novel writing, only specific ones,” says Margaret Atwood, whose MaddAddam trilogy explores what might happen in the aftermath of environmental collapse. Cli-fi often rests on the familiar trope of a nightmarish new reality unleashed by a catastrophic event. In John Lanchester’s recent novel The Wall, “the change” has eroded beaches and made Britain into a fortress state, patrolled by young defenders under instruction to destroy any boat that approaches. Kate Sawyer’s debut novel, The Stranding, published on 24 June, opens with the striking image of two strangers who save themselves from a life-obliterating radiation event by sheltering in the mouth of a beached whale.

Both The High House and Rumaan Alam’s 2020 hit, Leave the World Behind, do something a bit different. Alam strands his characters in a Long Island holiday home, cut off from “civilisation” by a cataclysm that presents itself as a mysterious noise, a noise so extreme that it seems to transcend sound. “You didn’t hear such a noise: you experienced it, endured it, survived it, witnessed it. You could fairly say their lives could be divided into two: the period before they’d heard that noise and the period after,” he writes. In The High House, self-sufficiency is made possible by a barn thoughtfully stocked by the scientist mother of one of the characters with the tools of a past civilisation – trainers, and tinned foods.

Greengrass describes her novel as “a sort of prequel” to Russell Hoban’s great dystopian fantasy Riddley Walker, where – in the absence of writing materials – language has degraded and mutated. Her East Anglia, like Alam’s Long Island, is on the way to becoming a dystopia, without actually yet being one. The characters of both novels are trapped between the “before” and the “after”, in precisely the sort of limbo that makes the environmental breakdown so hard to write about.

Apocalyptic fiction has long thrummed with biblical imagery, from the hymn-singing “God’s gardeners” of Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood to the “burning bush” of orange butterflies in Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour. Both The High House and The Stranding invoke the story of Noah’s Ark, creating sealed-off family communities while implicitly asking what such survival could mean in a world without olive trees, or doves.

There is no inevitable The Future, just as there is no inevitable Right Side of History ... But there are consequences of actions.





Jessie Greengrass





In the novel Gun Island – his 2019 answer to his own provocation – Ghosh deploys myth and mysticism, and the historic movement of languages, animals and people around the globe. The novel climaxes in a mass migration of whales and dolphins, an implausible freak event that is also an observable physical phenomenon. At its heart is a reclamation of the “uncanny”, defined by Freud as an effect produced by effacing the distinction between imagination and reality.

Alam also uses the uncanny to slice through the hyper-real surface of Leave the World Behind, most strikingly with a flock of flamingos that land in the backyard swimming pool. “They’re comic and unsettling,” says the novelist. “They’re a colour that doesn’t feel like it should exist in nature, but of course it does. And they certainly shouldn’t be in the American northeast. It’s like coming across a zebra in the middle of London. It feels to me a little mythic, a little like the arrival of Zeus as a swan.”

It is also a strangely scary visitation. “I think that we have had all of these moments in the news that are frightening and strange, and we have to think of them as uncanny because they seem to contain something that we can’t comprehend right now,” says Alam. He cites shocking images of drowned children from refugee boats washed up on beaches. “Those were real people, and there is so much heartbreak and shame for us to bear in these moments. But there is also something very hard to figure out about them: an unexplained child washed up on the shore almost feels like something out of folktale.”

Like Gun Island, Leave the World Behind is a deliberately hybrid novel – part social comedy, part speculative chiller. Hybridity is emerging as one way of addressing the central contradiction between what we are (social beings with lives constructed from familiar rituals) and what confronts us (an elimination so total that, as Greengrass writes, “there won’t be memorials in church halls. No one is going to make up songs. There will be nothing left”).

In The Last Migration, the Australian writer Charlotte McConaghy slips between the magical, the speculative and the domestic in a compelling ocean-going yarn that tracks the world’s last migrating birds across the high seas, in the hope that they may reveal the whereabouts of the last fish. Its narrator, Franny, has a sentimental attachment to one of the three tagged arctic terns she is tracking. “I’ve taken to thinking of her as mine because she has burrowed inside and made a home in my ribcage,” she says, when the reality is that the bird is just a dot on a sonar panel, and finally an absence.

Jeff VanderMeer also embraces hybridity in Hummingbird Salamander, abandoning his usual speculative fiction to spin a pacy thriller plot around a missing eco-terrorist. “Using ‘us’ when thinking about the environment erases all the different versions of ‘us’,” writes the fugitive Silvina. “Many indigenous peoples don’t think this way. Counterculture doesn’t always think this way. Philosophy, knowledge, policy exist that could solve our problems already.”

Other writers have squared up to the narrative challenge by refusing to join the dots entirely, as Jenny Offill does so brilliantly in her scorching short novel Weather, composed of sometimes random paragraphs. Its narrator, Lizzie, is a librarian whose conscience is besieged by catastrophe aphorisms (“first they came for the coral, but I did not say anything because I was not a coral …”), while her “monkey brain” worries about what will happen to her teeth in a world without dentists, and her socialised one frets that she might have got lipstick on them.

It is not just overtly cli-fi novels that are investigating fragmentation as a way of expressing our state of dismay and disarray. In Sarah Moss’s Summerwater, holiday-makers struggle to enjoy themselves in unseasonably heavy rain, oblivious to a natural world that exists only in the parenthesis of standalone preludes to each chapter: bees dying, ants walling themselves in. In Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport, a lioness tries to keep her cubs safe, a narrative thread related outside the stream-of-consciousness of the central character, who spews out the minutiae of her life over 1,030 pages.

In their different ways, both Moss and Ellmann are addressing the solipsism or self-centredness of consciousness, which got us into this problem in the first place, and is both formed and enacted through the stories we tell about ourselves. Their characters are prisoners of what the Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk, in a visionary Nobel lecture, described as “the polyphonic first-person narrative”, which filters everything through the self of the storyteller.

Tokarczuk, who laid out her environmental agenda in her eco-whodunnit Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, called for a return to the perspective of parable, and for the development of what she called a “tender narrator”, a quantum version of the omniscient narrator, capable of seeing in many dimensions. Quite how this would work she didn’t know, because it had yet to be invented. In the meantime, we should abandon traditional distinctions between high and lowbrow fiction and trust to fragments. “In this way,” she said, literature can “set off the reader’s capacity to unite fragments into a single design, and to discover entire constellations in the small particles of events.”

But as long as we continue to think and to tell stories, we are not necessarily doomed. For decades Atwood’s novels have been sounding the alarm about things that may not yet be visible, though they are already coming to pass. “There is no inevitable The Future, just as there is no inevitable Right Side of History. There is no inevitable Road to Perdition, there is no inevitable Road to Oz,” she says. “But there are consequences of actions, not all of them foreseeable. Dark are the ways of wizards. And of novelists as well.”  By Claire Armitstead


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