Studies: 20th & 21st C Lit

ENG 434 — Spring 2020 (WI) — Studies in Climate Fiction (Cli-Fi)

TR 13:30 to 14:45

Professor R. Hsu (

Description: Cli-Fi is any fictional work about the effects of climate change. Cli-Fi encompasses a very large corpus of writing in many genres: memoir, fantasy, speculative fiction, science fiction, among others. Enthusiasts put out and frequently update lists of their favorite books and authors on climate change, including non-fiction books. The writing of several authors reliably show up on many lists, however, the Cli-Fi canon arguably remains dynamic and fluid. In order to encourage our thinking about Cli-Fi to be more speculative, critical, and exciting, fiction in this class is broadly defined to include films, art installations, the essay form, and musical compositions, although the main focus will be on prose narratives. Prose narratives exist as part of a larger canvas of homo sapien’s expressive reactions about and rebellion against extreme changes in our planet.

The premise of this course is that climate change is happening, but I stress that anyone is welcome — who is open to reading compelling, courageously and vividly imagined  writing — whatever your personal stance on climate change. The reading list will ask us to consider the following questions: 1) how did ‘we’ get to this point and what are the prospects for life on this planet: 2) there are many reasons to remain optimistic about the future of life on Earth, if ‘we’ can garner insights into 1); 3) the differential impact on various human communities of climate change and how to alleviate the impact; 4) what do non-western worldviews know about ‘we’? 

The coining of the term, climate fiction, is usually credited to journalist, Dan Bloom, in the late 2000’s; as early as 1896, Swedish chemist Svante Arrheniussome “came to the conclusion that man-made innovations and technology were contributing to the warming of the planet.” Then, in 1975, oceanographer Wallace Smith Broecker coined the term “global warming.” Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize winning scientist, proposed in 2000 the term “Anthropocene” to refer to a time period of geological scale (an era) in which human actions have and continue to significantly alter the biosphere, the oceans, the climate and all life on the planet. It seems as if every day new scientific reports, books, and essays are being published about the extreme degradation of planetary processes. 

Procedures: The class is not a lecture class; it will be organized into small-group and class discussions. Films are to be viewed outside of regularly scheduled class periods.  

Readings include

FilmsBeasts of the Southern Wild (2012);  An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (2017); The Book of Eli (2012)

Short fiction, chapbook, excerpts:  Paolo Bacigalupi, “The Tamarisk Hunter”; Winona Laduke, The Winona Laduke Chronicles: Stories from the Frontlines of the Battle for Environmental Justice (excerpt); Bill McKibben, Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? (excerpt); James Nestor, Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves (memoir; excerpt); Ashley Shelby, Muri (chapbook; re-imagining Melville’s Benito Cereno)

Novels: Rita Indiana, Tentacle (trans. by Achy Obejas); Han Kang, The Vegetarian (2016 Man Booker International Prize; trans. by Deborah Smith); Annie Proulx, Barkskins.

Student Learning Outcomes:

  • To gain an extensive understanding of climate fiction appropriate for an upper-division, studies-in course
  • To independently conceive and design a research-based paper on climate fiction and related topics appropriate for an upper-division, studies-in course
  • To enhance the ability to write cogent, well thought-out, evidence-based prose on climate fiction and related topics appropriate for an upper-division, studies-in course

Assignments:  One research-based paper in a genre approved by instructor (min. 12-pages, double-spaced); one class presentation (between 5 to 10 mins) with one min. 2-page, double-spaced paper; three forum posts, min. 500 words, each. Amount of writing must be a minimum of 4000 words or 16-pages

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.

Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now.

You are not obligated to complete the work,

but neither are you free to abandon it –The Talmud