ASLE: “We Need Utopian Cli-Fi, and We Need it Now”

Through December 15, you can submit an abstract for a panel I’m planning for the 2019 ASLE “Paradise on Fire” conference at UC-Davis: “We Need Utopian Cli-Fi, and We Need it Now.” Here’s the link to submit.

Organizer:  Ted Howell (howelle@rowan.edu), Rowan University

Planned Format:   Roundtable (5-6 Presenters)

The great promise of cli-fi rests in its capacity to guide readers imaginatively through a world different from their own, whether in their past, present, or even far distant future. Yet like mainstream discourse about climate change itself, cli-fi is overwhelmingly disaster-centric, with apocalyptic imagery and the language of crisis predominant. (Think of the pandemic of Atwood’s trilogy, the burning California of Butler’s Parable books, and the scorched setting of Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl and The Water Knife). With a few notable exceptions, such as the work of Kim Stanley Robinson, “cli-fi” often correlates to “dystopian fiction.” Yet, while dystopian works of cli-fi admirably sound the alarm about the future we’re well on our way to realizing, they are less helpful when it comes to imagining an alternative.

What we need badly, and immediately, this panel claims, is a distinctly utopian cli-fi, one that focuses not on the disasters that await us but instead on ways of living robust, sustainable, emotionally and intellectually rich, deeply human lives in a future radically altered by climate change. We want to write, read, teach, and critique works that fulfill the fundamental purpose of utopian writing: to think through what it might look like to live in a better world, to offer ideas and visions for what this world could look like, and to energize people who seek to bring those ideas and that world into existence. A utopian cli-fi could counter-balance dystopian disaster stories, offering readers, students, and scholars another compelling way to talk about our future world.

Following a Roundtable format, this panel seeks a range of papers. Participants could discuss individual works of cli-fi, whether utopian or dystopian, finding works from the past or present that speak to the theme; participants could make claims that emerge from a synthesis of multiple works of cli-fi; participants could describe a work of cli-fi they have written themselves, or would like to write (or even ones they would like someone else to write); participants could also create short, utopian works of cli-fi that could be read at the panel.

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