Climate Trauma: Foreseeing The Future In Dystopian Film And Fiction by E. Ann Kaplan (book review).

On the top of E. Ann Kaplan’s hit list in her introduction to her book, ‘Climate Trauma: Foreseeing The Future In Dystopian Film And Fiction’ is that Science Fiction should have a climate sub-genre ie ‘cli-fi’. Although I’m not sure if such a name will ever catch on, I’m not sure if she has a good enough selection to prove her point as so many of them are from films rather than fiction. In either case, as with my recent editorials, climate change is usually associated with post-apocalypse and that has its own sub-genre anyway and often doesn’t dwell on the weather. That’s hardly surprising as any genre tends to focus on people stories, especially in adversity. By the time the apocalypse has gone, its survival that comes to the fore, not trying to find a solution to climate change. At that stage, it’s a little late anyway.


A secondary problem is that SF writers in any medium aren’t actually seers. They might extrapolate a current problem to show where its leading but any solutions tend to stem from what scientific research has already revealed and much of that is already being implemented. You don’t have to read SF to know them, although many countries tend to ignore or still not do their part in reducing their carbon footprint. It would all be too easy to create some deux ex machina solution or have aliens come to Earth with said device and give the solution to others. You might as well have a deity come up with the solution and still know that it won’t work.

Having said that, let’s look at Kaplan’s book. Most of her film choices are pretty recent and although she used Google to ensure she didn’t miss any significant films, it does seem odd with her limited choices. There’s only a brief mention of the likes of ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ (2004) and ’28 Days Later…’ (2002) for instance.

That’s not to say that Kaplan didn’t include some different films, like the documentaries ‘Into Eternity: A Film For Tomorrow’ (2010) and the Chinese ‘Manufactured Landscapes’ (2006) but I couldn’t help feeling that she got in over her head with the subject matter. It anything, even with this two documentaries synopsises, there is the reveal that if you want to put information across, then they have to be people stories or at least give a subject people can care about. The real problem, even with the likes of global warming, is people are far too complacent about the changeable weather. They are shocked when it really badly floods or when an unprecedented hurricane sweeps through or even a tsunami tears an island apart. However, humans have this nasty habit of pulling themselves back together and carry on as before without attempting to change the causes. None of this is helped by politicians ignoring scientists warnings or not doing enough.

None of the examples Kaplan uses enforces her case. She might have been better off using the likes of ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) and showing what a smog-laden city with people wanting to escape off-world would be like to get her point over. She could even have used the likes of the ‘Mad Max’ films showing what happens when after an apocalypse where Man becomes more savage and supplies are running out and emphasise the warning of do you really want this? Science Fiction might not be able to have a separate genre devoted to climate change but it’s certainly used a lot in films and fiction. I was rather surprised that ‘fiction’ was kept in the title because Kaplan missed many opportunities to pick out novels that showed how easy it is for environmental changes to change the world. It isn’t as though they don’t exist.

The one good thing that might come out of this book is the realisation that modern day SF authors need to stress the causes of what caused the apocalypse in their novels and directors/scriptwriters in their films to remind readers and viewers just how much of a critical time we are right now. If we fail to look after our environment, then our environment will probably not look after us.

GF Willmetts

July 2016

(pub: Rutgers University Press. 195 page illustrated indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £25.95 (UK), $ (US). ISBN: 978-0-8135-6399-2)

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