English 159 - Spring, 2019

Topics in the Novel

    Topic: CliFi

Class Information

Instructor: Menely, Tobias
CRN: 92109
Time: MWF 1:10-2:00
Location: 80 SS/ Hum.


    Climate Change Fiction

    In this seminar, we’ll read four novels in which climate change — flood and drought, strange weather and changing ecosystems — shapes the action, requiring characters to reimagine themselves, their communities, and their futures. We’ll think about why climate change is difficult to represent, about the affordances of different genres (realism, science fiction, fantasy), and about what happens when setting and plot, environment and human action, become indistinguishable. We’ll ask how narrative form organizes time: memory and anticipation, slow violence and cataclysmic rupture, the conjunction of geological and historical timescales. We’ll reflect on the emotional dimensions of climate change: denial, dread, and hope. Above all, we’ll ask how climate change fiction helps us to imagine our shared planetary future, the era taking shape—with increasing rapidity—in our lifetimes.

    One unusual feature of this seminar is that, in addition to our novels and critical readings, we will be following climate change events, and discussions, in real-time. I’ll ask each student to follow a number of journalists, activists, and academics on “climate Twitter.” I plan to schedule less in the way of pre-assigned reading than I might otherwise, leaving us with extra time to read reports, articles, and stories as they appear. This will allow us to think about the unique work of the novel in relation to other media, such as the tweet and the journalistic article.


    Two Five-Page Essays 50%
    Online Discussion Forum 30%
    Final Exam 20%


    New York 2140, Robinson
    American War, Akkad
    The Uninhabitable Earth, Wallace-Wells
    Parable of the Sower, Butler
    The Fifth Season, Jemisin