The Elite Media Discovers Cli-Fi

David Trammel's picture

I had to chuckle when I read the title:

"Can Science Fiction Wake Us Up to Our Climate Reality?"

Wouldn't it be great if there was like a fictional niche that the stories were set in a climate future?

Lots of stuff about the writer, not as much about the writing that we here already know.

Ken's picture

Thank you for this article. I'm not a big fan of Robinson's writing; I usually like the topics but his style doesn't work for me very well. It seems poorly edited to be frank. Most of his books could be reduced by 400% and be good, tight stories instead of endless rambling. I begin to think he's being paid by the pound...

The article idolizes him to such an extent that I found it off-putting. I'm probably just jealous of the obsequious treatment... It was nice to consider that this attention might open more decision makers at publishing houses to taking a risk on post-industrial hard science fiction. When I look at the library shelves, it seems that glossy-dust-jacket-fantasy series novels are the cash cow for publishers right now. There's a whole damn shelf of S.M. Stirling... must have a staff of underpaid undergrads cranking them out like sausage from a grinder. Please ignore my sour grapes; I just wish there were writers like Frank Herbert still around...

I read that article.
The clear answer to the title is’ No.’
This is my analysis of the text of the article

Word Count: 8240
Total No. of Sentences: 528
No of sentences about Robinson, the interviewee & his friends: 81
No. of sentences about the article’s author and his views on the world: 54
No. of Sentences giving a book report on Robinson’s fictions: 131
No. of sentences giving a first-person travelogue about the hike and the hikers: 220
No. of sentences deploring the current state of the climate/world: 9
No. of sentences about global finance: 18
No. of sentences proposing realistic solutions to climate issues: 0
No. of sentences devoted to explaining just how fiction is purported to wake us up to climate reality: ...crickets….

Quotations from the article with gkb commentary:
“A typical Robinson novel ends with an academic conference at which researchers propose ideas for improving civilization. He believes that scholarly and diplomatic meetings are among our species’s highest achievements.”

[gkb note] And how wonderfully over the 40+ yrs of Robinson’s fiction these meetings of scholars and diplomats have progressed towards solving Climate Issues! Is it not fabulous?

  

“As the car headed east, the sky seemed to be getting darker. Everything was bathed in an orange Kodachrome light. “We’ve definitely dropped into the smoke,” Robinson said, looking out the window. The fields were blanketed in dun-colored fog. “Not good,” Biagioli said, removing his sunglasses and turning on the recirculation.”

“At ten thousand feet, the air was clear.”

[gkb note] And as long as we, the scholars, authors and literally upper classes are well above the flaming forests below, there is obviously no climate issue to worry about! Unpleasant details about the effects of the burnt forests and bad air on Lower Class people and other animals are decently skipped over. The contribution made by jet airplane exhausts to the causes of the forest fires likewise goes unmentioned out of courtesy: a discreet, urbane, innate sense of what constitutes Good Taste for a New Yorker article.

  

“Only one corner of one glacier remained—a canted block of ice the size of two Olympic swimming pools. ‘It was the smallest living glacier that you could possibly imagine,’ Robinson told me. He broke off a tiny chunk and carried it back to camp for the hikers to use in their Scotch.”

[gkb note]
Some Writers climbed to a High Notch.
The climate, they said, is a Botch.
Since nothing we Do
Can improve this Fine View
We’ll simply sip Up on our Scotch.

[gkb note] Throughout the piece, no mention, direct or indirect, is made of systems theory or the complexities of ecological events. Nowhere does the article state where the hikers went to shit and piss and what steps they took to make sure that their fecal E coli did not infest the wild water sources they were drinking from. Nor what steps they took to purify the water, if they did so. Some hikers have a policy of carrying out everything you take in, including your own biological waste products, in little baggies. If this was done, the author does not say.

  

Robinson said that when he was invited to cop26, the climate-change conference, he thought, “Well, I gotta do it like Greta Thunberg.” (The summer before, Thunberg had sailed across the Atlantic instead of flying.) He’d been surprised to learn that there was no way of signing up in New York to sail, as a passenger, to the U.K. “My books have convinced me that it’s so obvious—I thought, it’s surely gonna come. It’s low carbon, and you’re still doing world travel!” ...what Greta did—she sailed in a super-fancy, sixty-foot carbon-fibre monster….It can do thirty-five knots. She needed to go fast, otherwise it would’ve taken a month.” “But why aren’t there lots of those boats?”...they’re incredibly uncomfortable,” ….They bounce. I mean, people wear helmets inside the boat.” “But what if ….they were like clipper ships?” ….that would be fantastic,” Biagioli said. He shared some cubes of Parmesan from a small container. “And they would be stable, and you could have sailing ships that blow by diesel ships.” “Club Med—they’ve been putting sails on their cruise ships,” Robinson noted. “And the whole technology of sails, per se, is rapidly shifting, because of computer modelling.” .... “Hmm,” Robinson said. He smiled, enjoying the conversation….“The people who have a lock on the technology are the French.” Robinson laughed. “What are our billionaires doing?” he said. We talked a bit more about the idea, and about the prospects for dirigibles, which might replace short-hop jet flights, then went to sleep.

[gkb note] I just bet they did. Were they ever awake?

  

“Climate work will be the main business of this century. Its basic outlines are already clear. Build wind farms, solar farms, and other sources of clean energy. Start an Operation Warp Speed for clean power: improve energy storage, and make small, cheap power systems for rural places. Tax carbon, reform agriculture, and eat less meat. Rethink construction, transportation, and manufacturing. Study the glaciers, the permafrost, the atmosphere, the oceans. Pilot some geoengineering schemes, in case we need them. Rewild large parts of the Earth. And so on, and so on, and so on.”

[gkb note] You may notice the entire absence of words such as dirt, dung, and other synonyms for fertilizer. This is probably because the entire passage is a special kind of fertilizer.

I deeply appreciate you reading and summarizing that slop so I don't have to!
I have no doubt you're dead-on.

All those folks want other people to change and use less, but do something themselves?


You’re welcome! It took some serious work to do it. The piece is written in a most peculiar disorganized fashion. Two sentences about one of the categories, then five of another, 25 or so of another, and once in a great while a long run of 80 sentences. If I were to grade it at a college level I would give it a D- at best.

But the weird thing is, I truly believe the disorganized writing is done on purpose. It is a kind of ‘enter-info-tainment’ instead of a text constructed according to rational aims, building towards a conclusion or trying to make a persuasive case for a position. Is there a name for a rhetorical technique that deliberately emulates the jerky, annoying, high Distractability Quotient (DQ) of FB and broadcast TV with its constantly interrupting commercials? Can I call it Commercial Styling and be rightly understood?

Is the constant switch-backing from one topic to another supposed to convey a wordless synaptic flash, an unarticulated associative implication created by swift and brilliant insights of the author’s mind? Like Freudian analysis made public?

If so, then it fails to convince me. The rhythm of the piece is like a little kid swinging back and forth, wobbling and spinning while chattering away aimlessly about anything that pops into mind. The effect is of centering the reader’s attention on the author, not on the subjects/objects being written about. Is it merely an egoistic style?

It is nothing like the Tom Robbins kind of New Journalism that puts the observer in the midst of a whirl of events and tries to create a ‘You Are There” effect.

To me, this technique only makes a kind of Word-Pix Selfie: “I was there, and You wasn’t! Nyah-ah-ah-ah-ah~!” The author has been with the magazine for 12 whole years, so presumably he is pleasing his bosses and audience with this kind of dreamy self-display.

My guess is the writer can't actually write that well and the editors don't do their job.

I don't know how some people in journalism hold their jobs other than they're really good at office politics, know where all the bodies are buried, are extremely well-connected, and toe the party line, whatever it is and however it changes.

Perhaps all of the above is how that journalist keeps his job!
It isn't clear, informative writing.

I have just encountered another instance of what I am now calling ‘magazine chatter’ – that breezy, let-me-entertain-you tone and lazy style of writing. I was seeking more information about the role of sulfur/sulphur in the human body. Between the Wiki mode of too much specificity and the fluff mode of “Here, boy! Come get a Science Nugget! Do what I tell you, and buy my product!” there seems to be no middle ground.

It is not the internet at fault; I blame the World Wide Web. Once the Business Community muscled in on the word-heavy GeekSpace, splashing flashy graphics and color-blinking text everywhere, the noise/information ratio ballooned beyond belief and the actual content of the ‘Net tanked. So-called ‘optimization’ killed off what little was left of the value of the Internet as a resource for general reference.

Seeking knowledge among the tropically temped wilds of Hot Business Air somewhat resembles the process of keeping mold off your canvas tent and defending the ‘sugar’ of your attention from a plethora of aggressive insects.

Delivering information is no longer a matter of exact and targeted effort. It is more like deer hunting from the basket of a hot air balloon.

The randomly aimed, buckshot mode of information delivery: fling out a lot of loosely clumped notions, just as they happen to occur to you, and never mind about putting them in some kind of rational order. One or two or four of the facts are bound to stick in the soft, spongy minds of the ignorant John Q. Public, and that is the best one can hope for.

Whereas, if the writers would take the trouble to marshal their facts and present them in ranked and sensible order, they would have the mental impact of a derecho front of straight-line winds moving with hurricane force. From one site, I culled a compact list of 14 biological roles and health effects of sulfur from a tangled mass of 47 sentences strewn about the article like designer throw pillows tossed upon a suite of sofas. The number of repetitions I spare you, because I did not bother to count them. They were legion.

Scientists and doctors, for the most part, can’t write for toffee. It is not their fault, poor dears; they haven’t got logical minds. Their heads are so stuffed with facts that they have no room left for the principles of orderly exposition. The clear, intelligible precision of Mark L’s writing is extremely rare in my experience.