October 9, 2016
The purpose of the author spotlight series is to highlight major authors who write fiction that deals with global warming. This project has long been in the back of my mind–to spotlight popular authors on this site in order to help readers identify the most notable works in such a large sea/database. I decided to add this spotlight as a series sooner than later because of the recent news about Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement. This nonfiction book of powerful essays by the brilliant writer points out: “The author examines the failures of storytelling, history and politics that have led humanity to its current predicament in the form of today’s climate crisis.”  In the same interview in The Wire, he states, “I’m looking at the novel as a symptom of a broader imaginative failure.” Authors, however, are tackling climate change in both literary and genre fiction, and in a serious way.
This series will also occasionally mention genre–not that that’s what the focus should be on, but it often is in today’s quick media. Amitav Ghosh pointed out, in an interview with Scroll.in, when asked, “What is your reading list of climate fiction books? What would you recommend and why?”
I think why Barbara Kingsolver’s book [Flight Behavior] is so important is because you don’t read it because it is climate fiction. You read it for the same reasons you would read any other book or any other novel, because it is speaking of a predicament in which we find ourselves. It’s a very remarkable book because it is set in the here and now in a part of middle America and is dealing with a poor woman who is trying to cope with the change around here. I also really like Liz Jensen’s book, The Rapture, which is a powerful book. 
Ghosh seems to be arguing against the need for any specific genre in the global warming context–and I would agree with this one point. I would argue, however, that neither literary or genre fiction has the upper hand in having an impact on readers. From New Statesman:
Then Ghosh introduces an unsettling notion that will not be unfamiliar to readers of science fiction, but incredible, in the purest sense of the term, to minds trained in the very rationality of which realist fiction is a cultural manifestation: the idea of nature as sentient, possessed of the ability to intervene directly in human thinking, to play with us, even. “Uncanny” is often the word used to describe weather events or environmental catastrophes in our time, and Ghosh argues that “their uncanniness lies precisely in the fact that in these encounters we recognise something we had turned away from: that is to say, the presence and proximity of non-human interlocutors”. This idea is unsurprising to anyone who has read, say, Solaris, or the more recent Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, but Ghosh’s motives and destination are different. Just when you’re starting to think, “Hang on – science fiction has been dealing in one way or another with climate change, and with sentient non-human forces, for several decades now,” Ghosh beats you to it by addressing the problematic banishment of science fiction to “generic outhouses”. 
These author spotlights will be presented, on occasion, with the author’s thoughts on genres, especially when the labels get in the way of the novel itself, as Ghosh seems to state above. I agree with Ghosh’s statement that genre fiction isn’t necessary as a conduit to getting the point across about climate change and that the story by itself must be why we get turned on and tuned in. It is possible that Ghosh calling the novel “a symptom of broader imaginative failure” has a parcel of truth, but I want to be a little more positive. Perhaps fiction authors have not yet totally dented the conversation about climate change, but they are starting to. If there is a problem with books getting read, it is not an author or arts problem: it is a media problem, an audience problem, and a marketing problem. My hypothesis is that the novel is another consumer product, there are billions of them, and to read one shouldn’t be prompted by marketing distractions inherently fueled by the prospect of fame or fortune but by the simple fact: this book is damn brilliant!
Is Amitav Ghosh correct when he says there is a lack of imaginative response? There is not a lack in storytelling, in the novel, but he also seems to speak of it in terms of journalistic integrity. In Scroll.in he talks about immediate response vs. the larger issue of derangement. The subtitle of the piece, however, is: “Where are the novels, poetry and art about traumatic climate change, asks the acclaimed author.” Just for starters, see our book database, list of resources, and article titled “Climate Themes in Arts.”
This series will spotlight an author every few weeks, and is also linked on our Google+ page for discussion and at our Facebook group. There are already hundreds of such authors listed in the database I’ve built, but we should talk about them here. Let’s give these authors credit for telling stories about climate change–they have been for decades. All of them together have built this library of works and have brought climate change into the scope of fiction, through the lens of hope, warning, imagination, horror, and even, at times, humor.
The Wire. Interview: Amitav Ghosh on the Novels, Commerce and Sociology of Climate Change, by Shreya Ila Anasuya. July 22, 2016.
Scroll.in. Even as we are destroying ourselves, we think we are the only things that matter: Amitav Ghosh, by Nayantara Narayanan. July 30, 2016.
New Statesman. How global warming has frozen fiction, by Neel Mukherjee. October 4, 2016.
Ursula K. Le Guin featured image: By Gorthian – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0
Author: Mary Woodbury
Original publication date: October 9, 2016 – updated every few weeks to add new spotlighted authors