Paolo Bacigalupi is coming to Changing Hands in Phoenix on Thursday, June 4, to discuss his new novel, The Water Knife. I spoke with him recently for the Arizona Republic about the novel, a dystopian look at a water war between Phoenix and Las Vegas. You can read the interview here.
Additionally, we talked about the genre label “cli-fi”. Here’s his take on the controversial term:
It’s an odd sort of term really. I’m mean really, cli-fi is just science fiction. Or you could say it is reality-based fiction. I mean any novel that DOESN’T take into consideration that our climate is changing is a historical novel really. I feel that anything that doesn’t accept it is historical and denialist. It’s a portrayal of life as it was, not life as it is now, or life as it will be going forward.
As a term, I find it interesting that people feel the need to label stories. Cli-fi will last as long as people buy books under that label. If people are buying books labeled cli-fi then there will be more of them, if not the term will go away.
Genre labels change because they are marketing tools. That’s why we have a “young adult” genre now. Speaking of my books, its interesting to see them labeled as “cli-fi”, see them labeled as dystopian, see them labeled as post-apocalyptic, or just science fiction. To me, if those labels bring up in someone’s mind, “this sounds interesting,” then I think it’s a great label. If it doesn’t, then I want a new label! Because the labels can obscure what the story really is.
I see this a lot when I tell people I write science fiction. There are people who will say “I don’t read that!” But when I say I write stories about what happens in the future if big corporations control all the food supplies with genetically modified seeds, then they say “That sounds interesting.” Or when I say I’m writing about water rights between Phoenix and Las Vegas during a severe drought, then they say “Well we have a terrible drought here, I’d love to read that book.”
A label can get someone to pick up a book, but it can also get in the way of saying “this is a cool story with cool characters doing interesting things that may be relevant to your life.”
So I want labels if they attract readers, but I don’t want labels to push them away.
You can enjoy a clip from the audiobook of The Water Knife below. And check back for a review of this terrifying novel.