Final Blog Audit

Personally, I had never taken a literature class before in which our own opinions of the books had mattered so much. Typically, all that matters to the professor is literary analysis and close-reading skills. In the case of the classics, this is totally fine, and the right way to teach a literature class. However, for a literature class about a burgeoning genre such as cli-fi, writing subjective reviews of the weekly novels was the perfect way to test the effectiveness of the genre as a whole. The weekly reviews really allowed me to examine if I found the novels to be effective works of cli-fi or not, which I think is perfect since one of this course’s aims was to examine the effectiveness of the genre as a whole.

Ultimately, the blog did not change my style up too much. I took the reviews quite seriously and treated them as though they would be graded like any other essay I write. Naturally, the style was much more personal and casual. Personally, I got the most enjoyment out of writing the longer expert reviews, as it challenged me to take the two novels I selected very seriously, while also injecting my own (highly positive) opinions into the reviews. Of course, it helps that the two novels I selected for expert review coincidentally happened to be my two favorite novels of the semester (Stewart and Atwood).

Unfortunately, since I had an extremely busy semester, I was not always able to read all of my peers’ reviews. However, when I did read them, I noticed a wide variety of writing styles. Some writers gravitated towards a more academic, serious writing style while others were much more formal. Everyone’s writings were equally interesting to read and there was an interesting blend of styles, in my opinion. My only regret is not having enough time this semester to comment on more people’s blog posts.

Finally, one thing that I really liked about the blog was that whenever I found an interesting article that was pertinent to the class, I was able to share it on the blog. This also forced me to be more engaged in the relevant news pertaining to climate change. So, I for one, found the required 8 blog posts to be a useful addition to make the course as relevant and informative as possibly. Ultimately, I found all aspects of the blog to fit perfectly well for this course, and I do not really have any suggestions for improvement.

Climate Change “Humor”

At one point in my Year of the Flood review, which Ted shared in class, I mentioned the bizarre results which came up as climate change “humor.” I thought I would share some of the strangest results I saved here. global-warmingGlobal-Climate-Changejesus climateGLOBAL WARMING HOAX, OBAMA CARTOONSglobalglobal-warming-trust-obamaal-gore-global-warming-hoax1climate_change_is_a_hoax_blk_t_shirts-r699e97e92c584d54b311e282143ade4e_804gs_512polar-bears

Okay, so these are all pretty awful, though some may be a little sarcastic (gotta love the Jesus tears shirt). I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry overall. On the other hand, here’s my favorite result to prove that not all of the results were bad, just most:

global-warming-hoax

Climate Change in Pop Music

Over the course of the semester, we have examined the roles of film and (most extensively) literature in response to anthropogenic climate change, one artistic medium which we have no discussed is popular music. So, here is a list of 10 songs which promote “climate justice.” The author calls these ecologically-focused songs, “protest songs” which I found to be an interesting label. It made me ponder which, if any, of the novels from our syllabus were actually protesting anything. Admittedly, most of these songs are rather obscure which leads me to question the success of “climate justice protest songs” as a genre. While I had only heard two songs on this list before today, I shall listen to some of the others in celebration of Earth Day! (I’m doing my part for the Big Green movement! Woo!!)

Darkly Ironic Summer Reading

I read Hurricane Fever while sitting outside on a beautiful 85 degree Saturday in Philadelphia in the middle of April. The conditions felt perfect, as Tobias Buckell’s novel initially seemed to be a light, breezy (lame pun-intended) bit of summer reading. Yet, as I watched the ice cubes in my iced coffee quickly melt away, something began to feel amiss. April 18th is not summer, and Hurricane Fever sure as hell isn’t the sort of summer reading it initially appears to be.

One of my main criteria for gauging the success of a piece of “cli-fi” literature is its accessibility. In other words, does the novel have the potential to reach and inform a wide audience? Some stabs at the genre such as Squarzoni’s Climate Changed or Oreskes’ The Collapse of Western Civilization are far too intellectual and esoteric to reach a mainstream audience, while others such as Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain will only be appreciated by those who can withstand a 500 page work of hard science fiction. Hurricane Fever, on the other hand is just about perfect in this regard. Buckell’s thrilling piece of cli-fi has all of the fast-paced action and intensity of a mainstream thriller novel of the ilk of James Patterson or Dan Brown, while also bringing issues of anthropogenic climate change to the forefront of the novel. Thus, while I concede that this novel certainly has the ability to become a New York Times bestseller, I think it is appropriate to judge Hurricane Fever through two distinct lenses: cli-f novel and action novel.

As a cli-fi novel, I believe that Hurricane Fever truly succeeds. Buckell does an extraordinary job of subtly building a not-so-distantly futuristic world without burdening the reader with too many superfluous details. While the characters may intersperse details about now-sunken islands and post-gasoline transportation into their dialogue, these details never slow down the plot. In fact, I found this details helped to tie up some of the novel’s points which were initially confusing such as the excessive amount of boats or the minor characters’ jaded reactions to cataclysmic weather events. Additionally, Buckell created a pretty interesting way of directly connecting the main villain Beauchamp’s evil scheme to climate change. I thought that his plot to use the “natural” disaster to spread the lethal disease he had harnessed was a brilliant authorial choice by Buckell. It allowed Buckell to explore the issues of class and race and climate-change. Much like the film Snowpiercer in which the rich will live in luxury in the drastically altered world while the poor are killed off, the rich party attendees in Buckell’s novel would be able to survive and prosper as the storm which is laden with a melanin targeted disease wipes out all of the poor dark-skinned people in the Caribbean. I found that Buckell’s treatment of class-related issues in a climate-changed world were handled with enough subtlety and expertise to still be interesting and incorporate well into the plot (and also allowed him to implement such a cool title for the novel).

While I believe Hurricane Fever to be a great accessible piece of cli-fi literature, it suffers from a problem in that I just don’t think it is well-written. Of course this is my own opinion, but what a look for in a blockbuster film is not quite what I look for in a novel. All of the scenes of Roo walking around parties wearing tuxedos with a grenade tucked under his suit coat or of him passing out and awaking in a haze only to be awakened by Kit just felt like hackneyed Ian Fleming rip-offs. My main critique of the novel was that a lot of the dialogue just felt quite stiff and bland. While I am glad that Buckell, a Grenadian himself, did not go overboard with the stereotypical Caribbean accents one might expect from a novel set in this region, I just wish that some of the characters had a lot bit more character and individuality in their voices. At points, it could even be indecipherable to tell who was talking. Furthermore, Buckell’s use of stock characters who must die in order to fuel the plot was a little tiresome. I understand the importance of Zee’s death, but creating Delroy just so he could inevitably die and advance the revenge arc of the story felt so predictable to me. This is another case of a book that could make a really great movie in the right hands! However, in book form it is just a typical action novel coated with a really nice layer of cli-fi. Ultimately, I am glad to see cli-fi literature expand into new genres such as crime fiction or thriller, but Hurricane Fever just had a few too many flaws to create the perfect bridge between the often-esoteric genre of cli-fi and the mainstream thriller genre. However, Buckell is a young promising writer and I do have some faith that he will one day put out a fantastic best-selling cli-fi novel.

Laughing into the Waterless Flood

In a recent interview with Slate, Margaret Atwood states of fiction, “You have to show people in the midst of change and people coping with change.” In The Year of the Flood, the second book in Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy, she postulates how mankind will react in preparation for an impending Waterless Flood. The majority of the story revolves around the ecology-based religion of the God’s Gardeners who seem to have accepted mankind’s inevitable fate and are preparing for the Waterless Flood to wash over Earth. In her creation of the God’s Gardeners and her injection of humor into their beliefs and values, Margaret Atwood is able to examine the role of religion in a pre-apocalyptic changing world and simultaneously raise questions about the role of humor in literature.

Initially one might be a bit befuddled by the idea of a religion recognizing man’s devastating impact on the planet. In novels such as Flight Behavior and in real life, many religious people believe that mankind could only be brought to its end by the hand of God, so the idea of anthropogenic climate change wiping out the species seems incredulous. However, Adam One, the leader of the God’s Gardeners in The Year of the Flood addresses this supposed contradiction. He quotes the Word of God from Genesis 8:21 which reads, “I will not again curse the ground anymore for man’s sake.” When God entrusted Noah with “the task of saving the chosen Species,” He made a covenant and relinquished his desire to ever bring humanity to its end (Atwood, 90). The Gardeners, who consider themselves to be a “plural of Noah,” recognize that “any further cursing of the ground would be done, not by God, but by Man himself” (Atwood, 90-91). While it would be facile to view this description of Gardener philosophy simply as a way to account for the aforementioned contradiction, it additionally harkens back to the concept of living “in the midst of change.” As the physical world changes, there is no room for traditional religions such as Christianity. Humanity has been forced to accept its impact on the environment and “can no longer fall into the error of pride by considering ourselves as exceptional” (Atwood, 53). Subsequently, in response to this paradigm shift of accepting mankind’s fate, religion, one of the most obdurate forces in history, is required to adapt its philosophy to fit into the changing world. While they may believe in the same God, the God’s Gardeners’s views are a far cry way from those of the Appalachian Christians in Flight Behavior.

Another way in which religion changes within the world of Year of the Flood is through its views on sainthood. Traditionally in the Catholic Church, those who become saints are men and women who live their entire lives practicing and spreading the Word of God. However, in Atwood’s speculative world, saints are those who lived their entire lives fighting for ecological progress. For instance, the God’s Gardeners deem Silent Spring author Rachel Carson to be a saint for she “dedicated her life to the Feathered Ones” (Atwood, 370). This debasement of the idea of sainthood reflect a larger societal shift in values. Now, pious and zealous religious figures are no longer those valued in society. Instead, the brave souls such as Rachel Carson or Euell Gibbons who fought adamantly for the birds and the trees are the true heroes.

In her initial review in the Telegraph of Year of the Flood, Caroline Moore describes Atwood’s depictions of the Gardeners and their saints as a “serio-comic balance.” Much like the aforementioned Slate interview in which interviewer Ed Finn lauds Atwood’s “deadpan wit and irreverent playfulness,” Moore is recognizing the importance of humor in the deathly serious genre of cli-fi. Atwood is able to look unflinchingly into the eye of the impending Waterless Flood and chuckle. Perhaps what allows Margaret Atwood to laugh even when confronted with the grizzly serious issue of anthropogenic climate change is her self-proclaimed unwavering hope. In the Slate interview, although Atwood admits that she cannot ascertain whether or not humanity will still be around in one hundred years, she states “I think hope is among a number of things that are part of the human toolkit. It’s built in…” Unlike authors such as Phillipe Squarzoni or Naomi Oresekes who scarcely make any room for laughs in their own works of cli-fi (using that term liberally in the case of Climate Changed and The Collapse of Western Civilization), Atwood’s innate hope in humanity allows for The Year of the Flood to be filled with dark humor.

The role of humor in the genre of cli-fi or in relation to climate change in general is a notion which seems to be rarely discussed. In fact, a Google search of the phrase “climate change humor,” results primarily in poorly put together right-wing memes which mock the entire belief in man’s impact on the global climate. So the grand question here is: does the humor work? Can a cli-fi novel take a seriously effective look at mankind’s negative environmental impact and still be incredibly humorous? While some may argue that in order for a novel about an issue as monstrously threatening as climate change to be effective it must be unflinchingly serious, in the case of Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, the dark humor is not only effective in captivating and intriguing the reader, it may very well be the most effective aspect of the entire novel! For instance, one of the most simplistically poignant lines of the entire novel comes in the form of Zeb’s vulgar song, “nobody gives a snot, nobody gives a snot, that is why we’re on the fucking spot, ‘cause nobody gives a snot!” (Atwood, 242). The entire theme of mankind’s ignorance leading to our downfall, which authors such as Barbara Kingsolver or Kim Stanley Robinson have spent hundreds of pages trying to convey in the most eloquent way possible, is reduced to four lines of hilariously blatant “poetry” and it becomes one of the most memorable lines of the entire novel.

Part of the reason why Zeb’s simple song is so effective is because it serves as a stark contrast to the Feast Day songs of the Gardeners from the God’s Gardeners Oral Hymnbook which preface each of Ren or Toby’s narratives. Caroline Moore refers to these Gardener songs as “sonorously bathetic hymns.” These songs themselves are not without humor for they, like Saint Euell or Saint Rachel, are greatly different from what we would expect of a 21st century church. For instance, the image of a choir of Gardener children singing out, “We dangle by a flimsy thread/ Our little lives are grains of sand;/ The Cosmos is a tiny sphere/ Held in the hollow of God’s hand ” is drastically and humorously different from Catholic children singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” in a church today (Atwood, 427). Atwood’s ability to depict a cult-like religion with the framework of Catholicism which actually stresses importance on mankind’s weaknesses and wrongdoings showcases both her cunning wit and her sheer brilliance as an author.

Back to the contrast between Zeb’s songs and the Gardeners’ hymns, Atwood’s hilariously genius comes through in her ability to depict how Zeb is able to create bigger and more radical thoughts in just a few words while the Gardeners struggle to convey anything concrete or palpable in many of their hymns. Furthermore, this contrast between the singing of Zeb and the Gardeners creates a parallel and sets up the larger contrast between their two disparate philosophies. One of the reader’s very first glimpses of Zeb’s character comes though his earliest song, “nobody gives a hoot, and that is why we’re down the chute” (Atwood, 64). At this point, the reader had already been exposed to at least three Gardener hymns and has likely already begun to understand the dryly superfluous and anticlimactic nature of these hymns. Thus, Atwood deploys her cunning humor to establish Zeb’s personality as being dissonant from the collective mindset of the Gardeners. This dissonance later comes to an apex as Zeb breaks away from the crumbling faction of the God’s Gardeners and forms his own sort of sect, MaddAddam. So, Margaret Atwood has used Zeb’s vulgar songs which could easily be glanced over as throw-away lines to nearly single-handedly establish the basis of the entire personality of Zeb’s character and create a major contrast between him and the God’s Gardeners. Ultimately, Atwood’s humor is not only effective for handling the ideas climate change in literature, but also just as masterful story telling technique in general.

As a serious work of climate change fiction, The Year of the Flood is nearly impeccable. While many books in this genre struggle to reach a widespread literary audience, Atwood’s use of dark humor and inventive narrative techniques ensures that her works will not be relegated to the often overlooked “science-fiction” trade paperback racks at Barnes and Noble upon which many works of cli-fi will sit untouched. Margaret Atwood appears to be well aware of the enormity of her audience and the impact that her works could have on not only literature but on society at large. In The Year of the Flood, Atwood exerts her influence as an author and tackles the challenge of anthropogenic climate change with all the force with which it deserves to be tackled. While Atwood’s work of so-called speculative fiction may not be a novel from which a reader can walk away with a myriad of answers of instructions on how to behave, it is a fantastic speculative tale rife with humor which examines how mankind’s imminent realization of the erroneous nature of its ways could reshape the world.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2015/02/margaret_atwood_interview_the_author_speaks_on_hope_science_and_the_future.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/books-life/6167348/The-Year-of-the-Flood-by-Margaret-Atwood-review.html

Atwood, Margaret. The Year of the Flood. New York: Anchor Books, 2009. Print.

True Men Melt Glaciers

I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at this 1960’s advertisement, honestly…”Humble” (another joke apparently) Oil & Refinery Co. is bragging about how they supply enough energy to melt 7 million tons of glacier each day! While I understand we did not know much about climate change 50 years ago, I find it funny that Humble recognized the (albeit very exaggerated) impact that their products could have on nature. Yet, instead of lamenting this issue, Humble saw it as a reason to brag! The 60’s were a strange era, indeed.

The Role of Authors in Climate Change

Recently, The New Yorker posted this piece by acclaimed author Jonathan Franzen. Here, Franzen displays some general foolishness and seems to be entirely ignorant of some general facts of the climate change “movement.” Franzen seems to believe that the environmentalist movement and the climate change movement (for lack of a better phrase) are two disparate entities and supporters of one cannot support the other. To me, Franzen’s defeatist attitude appears dangerous… If Franzen, one of the most acclaimed authors of the century, cannot get behind the push to help stop man-made climate change, how many others will buy into his nonsense? While Mr. Franzen’s defeatist attitude on the subject may be shared by many, I for one believe that we can save the birds AND the planet if we try hard enough.

“Traditional” Cli-fi from Kim Stanley Robinson

When I first heard the word “cli-fi,” this is exactly the sort of novel I envisioned. Kim Stanley Robinson’s 40 Signs of Rain is rife with scientist characters, discussions of global warming, dubious politics, and a sardonic caricature of President George W. Bush. These are all of the ingredients necessary for a perfect work of climate change fiction (Dan Bloom’s terminology of choice). Yet, I am quite ambivalent towards Robinson’s novel, and perhaps towards this genre as a whole. My primary gripes with 40 Signs of Rain are quite similar to some of the problems I addressed with Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior: the lack of significant action and the flat characters.

I really am willing to forgive the slow pacing within cli-fi novels. Realistically, climate change-related disasters are not something we can foresee very ahead, so it only makes sense that novelists within this sub-genre choose to depict disasters as unpredicted surprises rather than easily predictable events for which everyone is already bracing themselves. However, when I read a novel, I really do want some meaningful events to occur. It took over 300 pages before anything truly exciting happened in this novel. Now, I don’t necessarily want all of the books I read to be novelistic forms of Hollywood disaster films, but I want them to have some meaningful action. In Robinson’s first novel in his “Science in the Capital” trilogy, I felt like he was just describing to readers the predictably ordinary lives of predictably ordinary scientists. While the writing quality I quite good, there is just nothing about the first three quarters of this novel that I found to be truly captivating. The only interesting scenes for me were when the politics of science is discussed, and I would have liked to read some more sections about this highly relevant issue of the struggle between bureaucracy and scientific progress.

Another issue I had with 40 Signs of Rain was its characters. I found nearly every character in this book to be utterly stagnant and boring. The only character who really undergoes any sort of drastic change is Frank, and I felt that the romantic scene which serves as the catalyst for Frank’s change of heart was just predictably hackneyed and maudlin. Additionally, both of the Quibler parents seemed to remain the same throughout the novel. I feel like Robinson’s goal was to depict the lives of the ordinary people who are battling against the bureaucracy and struggling to make great strides in the fields of science. This truly is a noble and interesting idea, especially in 200 when this novel was first published. However, I just wish that Robinson had written more likeable and interesting characters to serve as his, for lack of a better phrase, everyday heroes.

As I believe about many contemporary novels, I believe that 40 Signs of Rain could have benefited from a great deal of trimming. Robinson could have cut out all of the fat (i.e.: the elevator romance, the poison ivy, Frank’s love of rock climbing, etc.) and built up upon the struggle between politicians and scientists. If he had done so, I believe 40 Signs of Rain could have been a greatly important and well-written novel about the struggle of science vs. politics vs. climate change. As it stands, Robinson’s novel is quite messy and long-winded, but there are some very interesting themes and ideas at play underneath it all. 40 Signs of Rain’s characters did not captivate me enough to wish to continue reading his “Science in the Capital” series. However, Robinson seems to have some really interesting ideas and a talent as an author. I would certainly consider reading another one of his works in the future.

Audit

For a class with such a heavy reading load, blogging like this seems to be the most effective method of making everyone read and analyze all of the texts without bashing us all over the head with a brutal all-inclusive final exam. Personally, I find these more lax and critical short reviews to be an appropriate medium for this class. Since cli-fi is a burgeoning genre that is picking up traction, it is good to get our reviews out there (specifically on Amazon as well) to let the public know about this genre and its works. This is particularly useful for works such as Squarzoni’s which are not very well-known works of literature yet.

Right now, I have 9 posts on the blog and have posted a few comments on others’ posts as well. Personally, I find this to be a satisfactory amount, and it is above the minimum. In the second half of the semester, my goal is to read on comment on some other students’ short reviews to try to build up more discussion of the literature outside of class.

My one gripe about the blog is the same that some others have stated: there is very little interaction from people outside of our class. In fact, the only people outside our class who have posted on the blog are these strange spam bots who post some hilariously nonsense in almost-English. While it may be too late now, moving the blog to a traditional WordPress site that is not through Temple may allow for our blog to receive much more outside traction. For instance, in my one history class, we have a blog that isn’t through Temple that receives thousands of hits every month from people all around the world, and students from France, England, and even some Asian countries are always posting on it. Maybe Temple could open up our blog, or maybe there is some way to move it to a traditional WordPress site. This class has really gotten me interested in this subgenre and I really would like to see how casual people who are not studying this subject would react to our blog posts.

The Fault is Not in the Butterflies…

If Barbara Kingsolver does one thing right in Flight Behavior, it’s the thing that matters: her handling of the issue of climate change. Kingsolver opts to depict global warming as a slow simmering disaster instead of going over the top and ending the world like a typical disaster movie. This treatment of such a serious issue grants the novel with a certain level of believability and seriousness that could shake even the most uncertain skeptic. The inevitable demise of monarch butterflies may not sound as scary as a giant flood ravaging the continent’s coast, but Kingsolver manages to bring so much emotion into the story of the butterflies that the urgency is felt in such a startling way.

Additionally, Kingsolver brought the interesting issue of faith vs. climate change to the table. This is an issue to which I have not given much thought prior to reading Flight Behavior; however, since I picked up this novel it has been plaguing my thoughts. Since I must be some sort of masochist when it comes to searching things on the internet pertaining to global issues, I decided to plunge deeper into this connection between Christianity and climate change. The results were terrifying. Theologians and preachers, such as Matthew Hagee, tell their followers not to believe in the “phony” climate change as it is “all a part of God’s plan.” This. Is. Scary. When we encourage idleness and inaction, how can we possibly expect results? Now, this tangent may seem entirely irrelevant to Kingsolver; however, these preachers have given me a great deal more respect for Flight Behavior. When I first read some of the dialogue between Cub and Dellarobia, I found it incredulous to think that one’s religion could restrict them for doing some good for the environment, and Cub’s character just felt really fake to me (I suppose I’m just too optimistic sometimes). While Kingsolver never explicitly takes a stance in terms of her views on faith, I have a good feeling she would be just as sickened by Matthew Hagee’s preaching as I am.

Given everything I’ve said so far, it seems like I should be a big fan of this novel, but that’s not the case. My issue isn’t the same as others complaining about a lack of plot or slow pacing. Actually, I take issue with some things that everyone else seems to enjoy. Particularly, the characters. I’m pretty sure it’s fair to say that Kingsolver intended to make Dellarobia, Ovid Byron, and perhaps even Hester to be likeable characters. However, I could not find a single character in this novel in whom I could believe or sympathize. Take Dellarobia for instance- Kingsolver introduces her as a woman on the edge who is having an affair. This Jimmy guy then pretty much disappears, and Dellarobia moves onto the next piece of eye candy in the form of Ovid Byron (naming characters is also not one of Kingsolver’s strong suits…). So I’m supposed to feel for this character who lies to her husband and barely gives a damn about her children? Then there’s Ovid who is supposed to be some sort of benevolent man, yet every word that came out of his mouth felt really pretentious and arrogant. Yet, no one could be as obnoxious as Dovey. She may go down in history as one of the worst supporting characters I have ever read in literature. All she did was make awfully corny jokes and say “remember when..?” to Dellarobia every other sentence. Ugh. Maybe it’s just me, but this novel reads like a cli-fi soap opera.

I want to like Flight Behavior, I really do. I don’t think any other novel dealing with climate change has reached such a wide audience as this novel. And Kingsolver does a fantastic job of presenting climate change in a believable and terrifying way without being heavy-handed. However, I just don’t think she is an author whose works I would voluntarily read in the near future.