22 Jul 2019

Climate fiction in New Zealand

From Afternoons, 1:31 pm on 22 July 2019

We’ve heard of sci-fi and YA fiction genres but what about cli-fi? Climate fiction, or cli-fi, is a new category of speculative fiction, born out of climate change concern. 

Where We Land is a new cli-fi novella that envisions a world dealing with climate refugees and rising sea levels.

Tim Jones is the author and he explained to Jesse Mulligan the novella is set in the future – how far in the future depends on how pessimistic you are.

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Photo: Cuba Press / Tim Jones

He says cli-fi has always been around in some form.

“There's been some quite well known authors who've written what wasn't called climate change fiction or cli-fi in their day. It probably would be now, people like Margaret Atwood, J.G. Ballard, the American science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, and there's New Zealand writers who have been writing climate change fiction. I reviewed James McNaughton's novel Star Sailors a few years ago, for example.”

He says climate change is an existential problem writers can no longer ignore – it’s been informing his work since 2001, he says.

“My first short story collection, which was published in 2001, was actually called Extreme Weather Events. So, as you can see, I've had an interest in this area for a while, but things have gone far enough now that we're in a climate change emergency.

"Are we going to act or are we not going to act? And if we act, what form is that action going to take? Now, this novella is, I guess, based on the gloomy possibility that as there get to be more and more climate change refugees, or climate induced migrants is another term, nations are going to put up more and more barriers.”

His first influence was Australia’s response to boat arrivals.

“It was very much influenced by what was going on with Australia and their response to people trying to reach Australia by boat. The basic premise of this story is that New Zealand is doing the same thing a few years in the future.

“The Navy is sinking ships that are arriving. There's a shore patrol whose job it is to stop people who make it past the Navy. So that's the fundamental story I think if you read the book, you'll see where my sympathies lie in that situation.”

His book centres on two protagonists with opposite motivations, he says.

“Two characters who've got opposing goals and it's quite simple in a way. One of them has come all the way from Bangladesh on a ship that's falling apart. The ship doesn't make it to shore, he wants to make it to shore and he wants to make it into Auckland.

“The other's a junior member of the shore patrol who more than anything else, she wants work and she wants pay. Her patrol’s job is to catch the people who made it off that ship and past the Navy.”