Why am I so turned off by cli-fi?

November 13, 2015 § Leave a comment

I used to love the Maximum Rider book series. It had everything: a strong female lead, genetic engineering, romance based on companionship, and humans with wings. On the long car rides from Florida to Mobile in the summer, my dad would play the audio books over the stereo system, and I would sit up earnestly and dutifully remind him to turn on the backseat speakers. 90% of the time, they were already on–I just wanted to be really sure. Once my request had been satisfied, I would sit back and close my eyes and fly with Max and Fang, a bubbling sense of glee stirring inside of me as, led by James Patterson, I learned how to soar.

I loved those books.

I loved them so much that after my family stopped listening to the audiobooks, I plunged ahead into the print copies of the book, placing them at the top of my birthday list. I loved them so much that when The Final Warning, the fourth installment of the series, came out, I begged my parents to drive me to the bookstore so I wouldn’t have to wait until Christmas to read it. I loved them so much that when I did read the The Final Warning, I was crushed.

Because I had been betrayed.

And it is betrayal by the things you love that hurts you the most.

Even looking up the summary of the book in order to refresh my memory in preparation for writing this blog post hurt (I didn’t remember the details of the book, only the hollow sensation it had left me with):

Max and the other members of the Flock–six kids who share her remarkable ability–have been asked to aid a group of environmental scientists studying the causes of global warming. Their ability to fly could help the scientists conquer this epic problem. The expedition seems like a perfect combination of adventure, activism–and escaping government forces who watch the Flock like a hawk.” (jamespatterson.com)

James Patterson had, without any type of warning, final or otherwise, had shifted the subject matter of his books from flying escapades to none other than climate change. He pulled the rug out from under me and threw a soapbox in its stead, then stood on said soapbox and pelted me with melting ice caps for 304 pages. “Adventure and activism?” I couldn’t decide which a-word described this phrase: assonance or asinine.

Let’s take a step back.

I understand that, for many, this blogpost has been a wild roller coaster of emotion. I sound like I’m talking about an ex-boyfriend, not a book series. And in all honesty, I don’t know why I had such a visceral reaction to The Final Warning. James Patterson wasn’t mean to me. He’s a nice guy, really. We just weren’t meant for each other. Things didn’t work out between us. It’s not you, it’s me.

So why am I so turned off by cli-fi?

I believe that global warming is real. I use energy efficient light bulbs. One of the reasons I don’t eat meat is because of the notable contribution methane emissions from cows makes to the greenhouse effect. I roll my eyes just as much as the next college-age progressive when Mike Huckabee says that “climate science is not settled.”

So why did The Final Warning become The Final James Patterson Book I Will Ever Read? Why did I wince when I saw “ecology” on our syllabus? Why did I audibly groan when Jake Sully said “they returned to their destroyed planet” at the end of Avatar?

I am not Mike Huckabee.

But maybe, in retrospect, it’s because of Mike Huckabee–and public figures like him–that I hate cli-fi. The politicization of climate change has assigned an artificial charge to all statements on the matter. It’s turned what should be a non controversial issue into a controversial one–and for individuals that like avoiding controversy and heightened emotions, it’s alienated us from its presence in popular media. To have an opinion on a cli-fi work is to make a stance is to disagree with someone is to invite arguments is to change a comfortable, rug-laden living room into a cold, bare floor scattered with soapboxes.

For years, my qualm with The Final Warning has been that it was too preachy. But at their cores, most science fiction works are preachy–they take modern day concerns about technological developments and amplify them into a conflict causing scenario that the lead character may or may not be able to resolve. Just like cli-fi explores what will happen if global warming continues unchecked, sci-fi pokes around with thought experiments and investigates a plethora of different issues. If anything, cli-fi is based on more legitimate science than most sci-fi. The sequestration of cli-fi into a subgenre proves the degree to which the issue has been politicized–just like climate change is cordoned off from regular science by politicians as something to be regarded with suspicion other types of science don’t have to endure, cli-fi is unjustly separated from sci-fi.

This segregation of the genre could even justify perceived “preachiness”: if cli-fi is “preachy,” is it because no one will listen? Is screaming the truth because people have their fingers stuck in their ears preaching, or just trying to communicate something urgent?

Despite all of this rationalization, cli-fi and I still have trust issues. I acknowledge that this is a “me” problem. I acknowledge that I need to work on myself before I can even consider asking cli-fi to take me back. And I acknowledge that these trust issues are unreasonable. But mainly–
–I blame Mike Huckabee.

Celeste Graves


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