Discover more from Story Voyager
I'm writing a climate fiction series
And my first book on Substack
In 2006 I read Oryx and Crake, a novel by one of my all-time favorite writers. If I were to write a screenplay based on the book, this would be the logline:
In a post-apocalyptic world, humanity was wiped out by a synthetic virus and replaced with a bio-engineered species of herbivorous humanoids called Crakers.
I remember only a few novels as often and obsessively as Oryx and Crake.
Although I had to refresh my memory regarding the plot (thank you, Wikipedia), numerous story details have stayed with me for the past sixteen years. In the meantime, the world has changed quite a bit, and it’s incredible how many of these changes Oryx and Crake got right back in 2003 when it was published.
Sixteen years ago I wondered…
Who would be interested in watching someone streaming their daily life online? Today, I watch people streaming their lives on YouTube channels daily.
How would the only decent job for a writer be at the bottom of the corporate hierarchy writing propaganda ad copy? Fifteen years ago, my first translator job was localizing ad copy for a sports betting company. The customers were modern gladiators.
How could corporates dominate the world? In 2017, IMF reported that the annual revenues of Apple, Volkswagen and Walmart were higher than the GDP of Portugal, Chile and Belgium, respectively.
Why would corporates build privileged walled compounds for their employees and families to protect them from the degenerate outside world? Today, Silicon Valley parents raise their children tech-free in exclusive private schools.
It is hard to believe I considered such a world science fiction. Don’t get me wrong. There were a lot of science-fiction elements in the book. But, at the same time, something was unnerving about the worldbuilding, and I could never figure out what. That is, until recently.
I’m writing a collection of cli-fi stories
On 14 September 2022, I quit watching Netflix. Instead, I decided to use my free time to pursue my dream of becoming a fiction writer. Two weeks later, I started to write Story Voyager, a weekly Substack newsletter, to find motivation for my writing by connecting with a community of fiction readers and writers.
I’ve spent the first two months writing and sending out a weekly newsletter for a total of nine newsletters and the last two months not writing a weekly newsletter for a total of zero newsletters. I could tell you how last year, in late autumn, I was approaching a critical deadline at the tech start-up where I work as a product owner. Or how I spent the past couple of months reading books and researching for my short stories. Or how I agonized over writing this article for the past four weeks. It would all be true. And it would all be a story. Because there is always an excuse not to write.
Despite all this, spending the past two months navel-gazing did lead to an exciting development for my writing project. I realized that I needed to change the genre of my collection of fiction stories.
The wandering journey of changing literary genres
Five of the nine newsletters I have written deal with worldbuilding for my writing project. The project is called There Is Hope and is a collection of short stories about a world devastated by climate change and the things that give people hope.
When I started this newsletter, I had been building my secondary world for about three years. I thought I had all the material I needed to finalize my project and that it was only a matter of taking the time to write everything down. That was not the case at all.
In the first newsletter, A dystopian world as a prequel to a utopian world, I summarised two years’ worth of worldbuilding ideas in about 2,000 words. For the following two newsletters, Kelp forests give hope to climate refugees and The Dust Pirates of Central Europe, I had to research to fill in the gaps. Though the most surprising thing was the realization that I had zero material for writing a newsletter on the worldbuilding of the story that started the idea of writing these short stories in the first place.
In 2019 while studying for a MA in Writing for Script & Screen, I wrote a screenplay for a short film titled The Seed Grower. This was the logline:
In the near future, where a totalitarian regime strictly controls food production, a woman quietly defies the law by running an illegal greenhouse in a slum.
The idea for The Seed Grower came up as I explored the secondary world of a utopian story I was working on called The Deep Dive, which placed some thousands of years in the future. On a timeline, the collection There Is Hope is the dystopian prequel of that utopian storyline. However, despite the screenplay title, I knew very little about seeds. I decided to remedy that by reading Seeds of Resistance: The Fight to Save our Food Supply by Mark Schapiro. To say that reading this book was a game-changer is an understatement. After finishing it, I wrote Corn, science fiction and the future of food. In this newsletter, I explored the topic of food in science fiction and imagined the future of food. I also decided to do a little experiment. I wrote a second newsletter on the topic of seeds, The Seed Keepers, from the perspective of a secondary character from The Seed Grower.
After reading Seeds of Resistance, I added more elements to my story world. And a work colleague who read the newsletter said the described future, while scary, seemed realistic and plausible. Suddenly, it didn’t feel right anymore to categorize my stories as science fiction, but I also didn’t know what else to call them. Then two words popped into my head: climate fiction.
What is climate fiction?
I came across climate fiction for the first time last year in November. I initially thought climate change as a topic was too severe for use as a literary trope. But when I started questioning the genre of my writing project, climate change seemed like an excellent place to begin my research. And so, I did what everyone does and googled ‘climate fiction.’ This is how I found Climate in Arts and History: Promoting Climate Literacy Across Disciplines, a website managed by the Smith College that defines climate fiction as follows:
Cli-fi, short for climate fiction, is a form of fiction literature that features a changed or changing climate. It is rooted in science fiction but also draws on realism and the supernatural.
The term cli-fi is attributed to the news reporter and climate activist Dan Bloom who used it for the first time in 2007 or 2008. However, climate fiction was attested in the 2010s, and many works have been retroactively associated with the genre. When browsing the selected examples of cli-fi literature on the Climate in Arts and History website, I was astonished to see that the first book listed was Oryx and Crake. One of the main characteristics of cli-fi as a literary genre is that its plot centers around the emotional journey of its main characters.
Climate change is a deep-rooted systemic problem that cannot be solved by a single protagonist in a story, so the drama must revolve around emotions.
I could relate this to Oryx and Crake. While Snowman, aka Jimmy, ends up killing his friend Crake, who unleashes the synthetic virus on the population, he cannot save humanity from extinction. More, Snowman’s emotional journey has had a lasting impact on me for the past sixteen years. Climate fiction is already part of the syllabus of university courses in literature and environmental issues. And it could play a role in creating more awareness about the consequences of climate change. The Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh wrote a whole book on the importance of climate fiction with the title The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, which I read during the winter break.
Amitav Ghosh argues that ‘the climate crisis is also a crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination.’ He believes that future generations will look back at us and wonder why contemporary literature didn’t tackle the most urgent topic of our time: climate change. At the same time, he observes that cli-fi is not considered serious literature because of its association with literary genres such as science fiction and fantasy.
Indeed, it could even be said that fiction that deals with climate change is almost by definition not of the kind that is taken seriously by serious literary journals: the mere mention of the subject is often enough to relegate a novel or short story to the genre of science fiction. It is as though in the literary imagination climate change were somehow akin to extraterrestrials or interplanetary travel.
So far, I have scratched the surface of cli-fi as a literary genre, and I plan to read and write more about it in future newsletters.
An overview of my cli-fi writing project
There Is Hope is a collection of cli-fi stories about a world devastated by climate change and the little things that give people hope. The stories take place in the year 2550 CE around the European subcontinent. There are five short stories about five different communities living with the consequences of climate change and previous generations’ mismanagement of natural resources.
Humans Island is the first story, which deals with climate migration due to ocean rise and the mismanagement of ocean flora and fauna. I don’t like to call them ocean resources because they are living plants and beings, not just our resources to sell and use as we want. Similarly, the ocean is also not our public toilet and dumpster.
The second story, The Seed Grower, is the story of a closed-gated community in charge of maintaining seed banks. This story deals with food issues caused by the mismanagement of seeds and soil degradation due to extensive corporate mismanagement and climate change.
The Cooperatives is story number three. It deals with the ideological aspect of the new social order created in the aftermath of the overexploitation of natural resources and climate disasters.
The fourth story is called Dust Pirates and it is about the hardships of those who were not fortunate enough to find a place in the new social order and live in scarcity beyond any imagination in a no man’s land.
There Is Hope is the fifth and final story that brings hope into the future and sets the stage for my main story.
After writing The Seed Keepers, I also decided to include five letters from the future written from the perspective of a secondary character from each of the five short stories. The letters from the future accompany the main stories and give a more emotional character to the whole collection.
Five letters from the future:
The day I learned I would die - A letter from the future by Shia Santos
My writing journey in 2023
Through the Story Voyager newsletter, I invite you to join me on my quest to become a fiction writer. It’s the first time I will publish fiction in my life. Until now, I only wrote and published poetry.
I already have many book ideas, partly outlined, partly researched, and partially planned. I want to find a writing schedule next to my job that will allow me to dive into all these projects. But one step at a time. My vision for Story Voyager in 2023 is to publish a weekly newsletter and connect with a community of readers, fiction writers and climate writers. If all goes well, I would also like to finalize my collection of cli-fi stories and publish it here on Substack until the end of the year.
Additionally, in 2023 I want to study climate fiction and currently I am reading The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. For those of you interested in learning more about cli-fi, I will soon publish my climate fiction and non-fiction reading lists.
The Seed Grower, the second story from my cli-fi collection There Is Hope, will be out in July.