Although the Hebrew holy books, from the Five Books of Moses to the Torah, are not “science fiction” tracts, they do contain some out-of-this-world stories that always entertained me as a Jewish kid growing up in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of them are absolutely mind-blowing.
A few Jews have played important roles in the development of modern ‘sci-fi’ novels and TV shows. Forrest Ackeman is credited with coining the “sci-fi” term in the 1920s. And sci-fi novelists like David Brin, Robert Silverberg and Isaac Asimov have played a vital role in the ongoing evolution of the sci-fi genre.
I have a short Isaac Asimov story to tell, and then I will get to the gist of this piece.
You see, about 40 years ago, I was doing some PR for a book and one of the reporters I was in contact with on my media rounds was a San Francisco Chronicle journalist named Nanette Asimov.
This was in the days before the Internet, so we communicated by snail mail and telephone calls, she in California and me in Alaska.
One day, it crossed my mind that maybe just maybe Nanette might be related in some way to the late great Isaac Asimov, so I asked her.
“Yes, he’s my uncle,” she said. She also told me that her brother Eric Asimov is a reporter at the New York Times. Who knew?
I’ve always loved sci-fi novels and movies, and David Brin has been one of my teachers in the past few years as I have learned more and more about the foundations of science fiction as a literary genre and Hollywood world-building meme.
So while I am not involved with sci-fi personally, I am a fan. And one of the writers I follow is Colorado native Paolo Bacigalupi, who writes environmentally-themed sci fi novels and whose latest novel, [easyazon-link asin=”0385352875″ locale=”us”]The Water Knife[/easyazon-link] is due for wide release in May.
Already, people are talking about the book, since the author’s fans are legion and anticipation is high for what this new novel will augur.
Now in his 40s, Bacigalupi is a 5th generation Italian-American on his father’s side. He writes like few people can write today, prose that sings, ideas that flow, musings that ponder who we are and what we are doing on — and to — this planet Earth.
Bacigalupi is famous for saying that one of the classic questions of science fiction that resonates with him as an American author is: “If this goes on, what will the world look like?”
We could ask that same question in any discussion of climate change and global warming, which is where my own personal interests lie these days.
Now the ”The Water Knife” is set in America’s near future, and it’s about “water wars” between two major western cities: Las Vegas and Phoenix. The title comes from the starring role that so-called “water knives” — a term the author coined for his story — play in the climate-themed story.
As Bacigalupi frames it in the drama that unfolds, “water knives” are eco-terrorists, hired thugs who become major players in this imagined water war for, yes, safe drinking water.
At a recent appearance at the annual American Library Association convention in Chicago, Bacigalupi introduced his new novel this way:
“You want a drought? I’ll give you a drought!”
And that’s what ”The Water Knife” is all about: a major future drought that impacts the West. Sound familiar? This book has legs, and it is sure to make a major impact of its own upon publication in May.
In a recent interview with Sarah Grant at Booklist magazine, Bacigalupi was asked the usual “what’s your new novel about” questions, and in the middle of it all, she popped a question that
interested me personally: “Have you heard the term Cli-Fi?”
Paolo didn’t miss a beat and answered quickly, according to the transcript online.
“I’ve heard the phrase, yes,” he replied.
Then Grant popped the big question: “Is it helpful or silly to pigeonhole literature that deals with climate change in this way?”
“It’s a weird thing,” Paolo replied. “Does the term Cli-fi make this more meaningful and accessible for somebody to pick up? Or does that mean it’s actually, ‘Oh, I don’t believe in climate fiction,
therefore, I’m not going to pick up this text?'”
And to top things off, he added: “Honestly, I think there’s something a little silly about saying that there’s genre of literature called cli-fi.”
So there you have it. With news stories about the rise of cli-fi on major media platforms worldwide — from the New York Times to the Guardian in Britain, and from the Washington Post to San Diego Jewish World, too — Paolo Bacigalupi still doesn’t know if it’s worth talking about cli-fi as a genre, or a motif, or a meme.
And that’s okay. He’s a novelist, not a PR guy.
As a writer, Paolo doesn’t have to “like” cli-fi, and he doesn’t have to use it as a genre term for his novels, either. He writes powerful sci-fi novels and more power to him.
An earlier novel, ”Windup Girl,” was a major genre hit, and I am sure ”The Water Knife” is going to go mainstream with an even bigger impact worldwide.
He’s that big, and that important.
I think it’s obvious that Paolo believes in climate change and regards his books as addressing environmental issues, as he suggests all books should address our changing world, else they be historical fiction.
It’s the term itself which he seems to be most curious about. How does it work? How is it used in either publishing or media?
I think those are good questions, too, and only the future will tell.
Meanwhile, there’s one heckuva drought coming our way soon in ”The Water Knife” and I’ve already pre-ordered my copy.