Thursday, July 28, 2016

As planet warms, Amazon’s publishing imprint runs with a cli-fi special collection of short stories

You read it right: 'Warmer' is a collection of climate-related short stories from seven noted authors, and it's set to make a big publishing splash when it's released at the end of October.


This is how Amazon puts it: "Fear, hope, and imagination collide in this collection of possible tomorrows. What happens when boiling temperatures stoke family resentments during a long, hot winter; when a girl's personal crisis trumps global catastrophe; or when the storm of the century creates the ideal hookup for two climate scientists to party like it's the end of the world? Like the best of sci-fi, these cli-fi stories offer up answers that are darkly funny, liberating, and frighteningly conceivable.''

The seven stories are by Jess Walter, Lauren Groff, Jesse Kellerman, Edan Lepucki, Skip Horack, Sonya Larson and Jane Smiley.

It's an interesting literary project that Amazon is releasing, with a launch date of October 30: a "cli-fi" short story collection (aka ''climate change fiction''), with stories by Lauren Groff (a two times National Book Award finalist), Jess Walters (of ''Beautiful Ruins''), Jane Smiley (Pulitzer winner) and Edan Lepucki (of the Hachette-Amazon dispute fans), among the others. The collection is part of Amazon's idea to create more benefits for Amazon Prime members.

And note this: the collection does not emphasize speculative sci-fi, but rather this time takes a more hard look at the human relations that are strained under a warming planet, in a way that literary fiction does best. After the recent IPCC report that cautions that humanity has just 12 years to get its act together in regard to stopping runaway global warming, this special Amazon project comes at the right time.

The innovative cli-fi project was pitched by the idea people behind the concept to Amazon as a way of giving fictional writers a collective voice around the greatest existential crisis of our era: climate change and runaway global warming.

The collection will go live at a custom Amazon page: on October 30, according to sources.

Here's the lineup:

''The Way the World Ends,'' by Jess Walter
Sleet in Mississippi? In March? A crazy ice storm lays waste to the South this invigorating, touching story of one slippery night, an open bar, and total abandon.
''Boca Raton,'' by Lauren Groff
A mother’s latent fears rise as relentlessly as the Florida seas in a startling story of a planet, and an imagination, under pressure.
''Controller,'' by Jesse Kellerman
What happens when temperatures flare between a mother and son? A few degrees make all the difference in this blazingly chilling story of psychological terror.
''There’s No Place Like Home,'' by Edan Lepucki
In a climate-ravaged future, it’s not easy to grow up. One girl is trying her best in a story about global catastrophe and personal chaos.
"Falls the Shadow," by Skip Horack
A North Carolina combat vet finds himself far from home on the front lines of an environmental battle to save the planet.
"At the Bottom of New Lake," by Sonya Larson
A girl growing up in Cape Cod explores the collectible debris of a once-perfect world she’s too young to remember. But as the past resurfaces, so do old questions about her place in society

Authors are part of the climate change problem.

WHY AMITIV GHOSH IS DEAD WRONG WHEN HE SAYS WRITERS IN THE WEST ARE NOT WRITING ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE, NEITHER NOVELISTS OR JOURNALISTS OR POETS. OKAY IN INDIA, HIS NATIVE LAND, YES, and even Ghosh himself has shown himself afraid to tackle climate change in a novel even though he criticizes -- incorrectly in turns out -- other novelists for not tackling climate issues in their novels. Indians don't care that's care, and evem Ghosh himself does not care. If he did, he could off his 60 year old tuches and write a climate-themed novel for 2018 or 2020. But he won't.  SEE BELOW, another silly article from the LAZY INDIAN PRESS:

In The Great Derangement, Amitav Ghosh has asked why one of the major issues of our time — climate change — has been neglected by the INDIAN literary community of which he is a part.  HE KNOWS THAT NOVELISTS IN THE WEST HAVE FACED CLIMATE CHANGE IN DOZENS, HUNDREDS OF NOVELS, BUT HE WON"T ADMIT IT IN INDIA BECAUSE THAT WOULD SHOW THAT THE WEST IS MORE ADVANCED THAN INDIA AND GHOSH CANNOT HAVE ANY OF THAT, OH NO NO NO.

In South Asia, the answer is easy to see. By catering to an urban, prosperous and global community, INDIAN authors and publishers produce books that allow us INDIANs to ignore the damage taking place in the lives of the marginalised.

The INDIAN literary community is not innocently unaware, but actively complicit in a process that allows us INDIANs to ignore the damage that climate change is doing to the lives of the poor.

Let us be clear as to what the problem is. Pollution is a classic example of market failure, where the true cost of a process is not caught in the price attached to it. The carbon dioxide generated by transport, deforestation to make way for roads, the costs of the plastic wrapping when it is disposed off, all of these are not part of the price in the cherries imported from Australia that you pick up at a grocery store.

These are what economists call externalities — costs or benefits paid by somebody who did not choose to be part of the transaction. And somebody does pay the cost of these externalities, whether it is a beautiful village in Sikkim threatened by a glacial lake or an influx of mosquitoes, or it is villagers in West Bengal suffering from arsenic poisoning.

Frankly, you do not even have to go so far. The heatwaves, which become more extreme every year, claim the lives of people living in the cities of South Asia all the time. See: Glacial lake threatens Sikkim’s heritage village, Climate change worsens arsenic poisoning, India’s killer heat wave linked to climate change

The striking similarity of all who pay the costs of these problems is that they are the poor, the people living in villages and the outer periphery. They are the marginal people of the countries – precisely the people that much of the INDIAN literary community is not only divorced from, but is actively running away from. This is true across Asia, with very few books even touching on the subject of water. EVEN INDIAN  MASTER GHOSH DARES NOT WRITE ABOUT CLIMATE ISSUES IN A NEW NOVEL.

See: Water speaks in Asian literature

The production of INDIAN literature is measured by three main things: numbers of books sold, awards, and recognition both locally and globally through speaking activities at book festivals and the like. All of these, in one form or the other, exclude the participation of the very people most affected by climate change.

Myth of an aspirational readership in INDIA

Working at one of India’s most widely read news magazines, I would often be frustrated when my editor shot down one story idea or other by saying, “This is not what our readers want.” In his mind, there was this mythical magazine reader that could afford to pay the INR 30 for the weekly shot of news we provided. This reader was not interested in what happened to the small town boys that became criminal dons in Bombay, nor was this interested in the lives of neglect most of India’s sportsmen lived in, no matter how many awards they had won – unless they were cricketers, of course.

These mythical readers were interested, though, in the new Rolls Royce just launched in India, priced at about INR 40 million, or just about USD 1 million at that time, in 2007.

These mythical readers are also who the literary publishers cater to – aspiration, middle class consumers who are far more interested in wasteful spending, even if only in their imagination, than in sustainable living. The grim challenges – or even small victories such as Chhewang Norphel’s artificial glaciers in Ladakh or a technological breakthrough to create a new arsenic filter – related to climate change are not the stuff of novels that publishers feel will sell. It may be that they are right, but if these stories are not commissioned in INDIA , if they are not published and promoted, how will we ever cultivate the INDIAN authors that can tease out  the complexities of life in this increasingly fragile environment? See: The iceman of Ladakh, Indian scientists develop low-cost arsenic filter

Problem with literary awards

Beyond publication are the awards, and the major problem with these are that they are hardly any important ones within small countries. The big names of Indian fiction (and many of these are Indian only in origin, not by citizenship) – whether they are Salman Rushdie, VS Naipaul, Arundhati Roy, Aravind Adiga, Jhumpa Lahiri or even Amitav Ghosh – have largely won awards out of the country.

 It is hard enough to translate the difference between the poor, or the rural to the rich and urban within India, to make the jump and be able to explain these issues to a global audience is nigh on to impossible.

It is little surprise that Naipaul is unable to explain, or even comprehend, the rural areas he describes in his Area of Darkness. Adiga’s Booker Prize winning The White Tiger does not even try, and calls the village from which the protagonist fled merely “the darkness”.

Roy’s and Ghosh’s books have local dynamics. In particular Ghosh’s earlier books such as the sci fi Calcutta Chromosome, The Shadow Lines, and cli-fi The Hungry Tide, may pave the way to highlight the value of local dynamics, but for most new INDIAN writers wishing to walk in the footsteps of the INDIAN literary greats is to walk away, to the urban and the global. Cossetted in air-conditioned spaces which keep the rising heat at bay, INDIANS write for an audience similarly cosseted, and both ignore the slow tragedy unfolding outside. Including Ghosh!

Voices in the margins

The success of one type of fiction to directly address this issue – the ironic graphic novel, All Quiet in Vikaspuri by Sarnath Banerjee, is the exception that proves the point.

A tongue-in-cheek telling of a Delhi scarred by water wars, as the capital of India dries out and various middle class and upper middle class housing colonies face off in combat works because of how ludicrous it seems. The residents of these colonies do not have to look for water. They can imagine a scenario of travelling kilometres for the precious liquid only as satire.

Another type of fiction, undertaken in local languages, too shows promise. The work of Mahashweta Devi, one of the great Bengali authors, has consistently looked at the issues involving tribal communities and the marginalised poor.

But even this type of literature – often called regional literature, is often urban in nature, hiding the true costs of climate change playing out, in the dry fields, and the floods that hit the rural areas the worst.

INDIAN Literary festivals and problematic INDIAN funders

There is the last refuge, of INDIAN book festivals and INDIAN book launches, where authors meet a wider public (often trying to sell or publicise their books). These are paradoxical spaces, as they are at the intersection of the privileged and (theoretically) all the people who want to attend. While it is possible that uncomfortable questions are raised at such venues, it is also clear that such events need funds.

When they turn to the very companies and enterprises responsible for polluting, and blatant destruction of habitat, it becomes hard to believe that the platform will criticise such practices. An ode to uninhibited consumption is unlikely to lead to stories of caution and restraint.

These structures incentivise the creation of a literature that discourages the exploration of the issues of climate change. They can change – just as feminist literature, once a marginal subject, became a part of mainstream literature. But they will change only when we recognise the problems, not just as the choice that individuals make, but also the incentive structures that help nudge literature in this direction.

It is only then that we INDIANs will be able to confront and change the terms of debate in INDIA and learn from the West. What a backword country we still are!

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