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Adapted climate change: a new genre
by J. Ekstam
My trilogy, Katja’s World Game, belongs to a new genre that I call ‘adapted climate change’. Why does climate change require a new genre? If we are to adjust to the ecological, social or economic systems related to climate change and its effects, we need to understand what is at stake. Why fiction? Because it enables us to understand both with the brain and the heart.
As Ursula Heise argues in Imagining Extinction:
Biodiversity, endangered species, and extinction are primarily cultural issues, questions of what we value and what stories we tell, and only secondarily issues of science.
In a time of crisis, it matters deeply what stories we tell. The story of climate change is the most important story right now.
Literary works are, I believe, imaginative biotopes that provide the symbolic space to explore the dimensions and energies of life. When we see them in this light, literary texts are a form of sustainable textuality because they are sources of ever-renewable creative energy (Rueckert, Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism, 1978).
I believe Ursula K. Le Guin was right when she said,
I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some grounds for hope.
(2014 National Book Awards Acceptance Speech)
In the spirit of Ursula K. Le Guin, my trilogy offers hope. It shows why – despite all our problems, there is hope, and that it is not too late. Yet.
Katja’s World Game: The Game Begins is the first novel in a trilogy about climate change. It is ‘adapted’ because it responds to actual as well as expected climate problems. To move the story on from the present, and to stimulate the imagination, there is an element of fantasy in the form of the fourth dimension. Fantasy is an excellent medium for offering hope because, as Marek Oziewicz claims, ‘it presents the magical, the supernatural, and the wondrous as a fact in the world of the narrative’ (Fantasy and Myth in the Anthropocene. Imagining Futures and Dreaming Hope in Literature and Media, 2022). All three elements – the magical, the supernatural and the wondrous, play an important part in my novels.
In my first novel, set in 2022, the future is very uncertain. In book two, The Understory, the dangers of climate change become increasingly clear. And in book three, The Overstory, a comfortable and sustainable life style is presented. As my six characters, from China, Iran, Northern Ireland, Norway, West Africa and the U.S.A. gradually realise that the programme they are studying at a university in Bath, South West England, is so much more than an academic programme – they begin a journey with enormous challenges, both academic and practical, but they also make exciting discoveries about what it means to be a young human-being in the Anthropocene. What is the future? Is it something we merely inherit and must accept – with all its dangers and challenges, or can we change it, or perhaps even create a new future?
The path the six students follow in their three years at university is a winding one, with successes and failures, joy and disappointment, and progress and regression. Will the dance show they put on in the first book, for example, make any difference? Will the audience understand the message that we must work together if we are to save the Earth? The video game on climate change that the students create in book two raises important questions: how do we want the world to look? How can we show that our actions matter? And what part will technology and Artificial Intelligence play in the future?
Katja knows, because of her connection with the fourth dimension, that there is hope. There is a future. A different way of living that will protect the Earth from further degradation if we accept and live in accordance with its principles. Book three offers hope because it presents a sustainable way of living that not only works but can also be adapted to different countries and climates.
The fourth dimension and the advice from the narrator’s deceased great-grandfather, Jo, make Katja and her friends’ success certain. It is only Jo who can help Katja fully understand her duties and responsibilities as a guardian of the Earth. In book one, she fights against it; in book two, she gradually becomes a respected leader who not only accepts but embraces her fate. In book three, she fulfils her duty to Jo and to the fourth dimension. She still has questions: Will our solution for a more sustainable way of living last? Will it evolve still further? How will advances in technology and Artificial Intelligence influence the future? After three years of challenges, Katja fully understands the rules of the game of survival and the part she must play.
The game of survival is not only Katja’s but our game too. Can we make the adjustments necessary for creating a more sustainable life style? Will we play the game? Can we follow the rules? Who will be the winners? Who will be the losers? Whatever our answers, the game has already begun.
Find out more about Katja’s World Game.
Jane Ekstam is a professor of English literature at Østfold University College, Norway. She has published books, chapters and articles on works of English literature, teacher education and academic writing.
In this issue’s extract from a book featuring a climate solution, D A Baden shares an extract from Habitat Man, a contemporary romance novel. Inspired by a real-life green garden consultancy, Tim – the unlikely hero – is fifty, single and trapped in a job he despises. In a desperate quest to find love and meaning, Tim endeavours to rescue the planet through a combination of wildlife gardening, composting toilets, bird psychology and green funerals. When he accidentally digs up the body of the fabled guerrilla knitter in a back garden, a natural burial is held, with a shallow burial in a willow coffin to avoid toxic embalming fluids:
The intermittent sound of fiddles gave way to a proper tune, and gradually the chatter subsided and everyone looked towards Andrew and Katie. They brought their fiddling to a graceful close and we stood before the curtain of flowers and willow. Brian’s voice still taking to Paul was discordant in the sudden quiet, and he bumbled to a halt.
The music of the garden took over from the fiddles. Undeterred by the crowd, a tiny brown wren, tail cocked in the air, trilled its liquid song from the new willow fence. Nearby, a chiff-chaff chanted the repetitive call of its name. A queen bumblebee burred, her legs loaded with balls of pollen for her hungry offspring. A brimstone butterfly fluttered by, investigating the flowers on the willow bower, its bright yellow wings a flash of sunshine.
A roar of a plane flying overhead reminded us that we weren’t in the deep countryside, but in a suburban small garden, underneath the flight path from the airport a few miles down the road. When the plane had passed, Fern nodded at Andrew and Daisy and together they carefully lifted the willow curtain down from the branches and walked it to the end of the garden.
I steeled myself to look. But it wasn’t the deep, dark, rectangular coffin-shaped hole I’d pictured in my head. The hole in the ground was just as I’d left it, pond-shaped and three feet deep, except now Grandad, as I thought of him, was laid out in his baggy trousers and a colourful knitted jumper in the willow coffin, surrounded by the bones of his wife. I exhaled with relief. This was absolutely right. The shallow pond-shaped hole was like nature’s opening arms welcoming them back to the earth.
For more information on natural burials, see the Natural Death Centre.