A Lesson in Lepidopterology

or Why Climate Fiction is a Useless Sub-Genre.

Queue Mid-March, where our beloved Chelsea was plumbing the noble depths of r/books and noticed an oddity which of course necessitated the involving of the other two-thirds of the group…

C: Did you guys know a sub-genre of SFF [Science Fiction Fantasy, for the uninitiated] is Cli-Fi

L: No, I did not… Cli-fi is…?

C: Climate Fiction. Based off of climate change events happening to earth

Now. Ignoring the slightly odd, some may say scandalous, abbreviation of the newly realized category, Chelsea’s withholding of the full name of the term (anyone well versed in the art of writing term papers knows you always state the full term prior to using the abbreviation, but we’ll allow it as the poor thing was a science major) and Lauren’s generous attempt at dignity when faced with both an abbreviation and such a term before reiterating a general ignorance for what this particular parlance referred to, in confronting this issue of climate fiction, all I could think about were butterflies.


In particular, I was thinking about Jon Mooallem’s discussion of butterflies in Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America. Now. I will admit. I have not finished this book. I don’t know if I will, and that’s not because this is a bad book. I really enjoyed what I read in the three months in early 2016 when I attempted the book. My problem is shinier fiction books come along that seduce me away from the pithy delights of non-fiction. I’ve always like dessert more than the meal, unless the meal is chicken-fried steak and in the South that might as well be a dessert. But. Mr. Mooallem spoke of a long standing issue in lepidopterology that has clung to me as one of the many Encyclopedia Britannica facts that will only become useful in random situations like this (which happen far to often in my life to really be qualified as random).

…the human instinct to make distinctions still needed an outlet. Taxonomists simply took all those different-seeming things that no longer qualified as species and called them subspecies instead… It got out of hand… Eventually, most fields reined in the problem. But lepidopterists tended to keep on naming and dividing at will.

…As a result, fights about the uniqueness of certain species and subspecies are common. As in many fields, lepidopterists divide into two camps: “lumpers,” who are comfortable gathering up large groups of different-looking butterflies under the same species or subspecies, and “splitters,” who prefer more painstaking divisions. (p.180)

Now, Mooallem makes an additionally insightful comment about these arguments being “feuds between the persnickety and the slightly less persnickety” (p. 180), and I likewise acknowledge that this is the case within the whole post, but allow me to present my argument as a “lumper” why the “splitters” are going a solid step to far today, barring the fact that naming anything “Climate Fiction” just sounds boring and shortening it to “Cli-Fi” is just misleading.

First and foremost, how is this significantly different than dystopian or post-apocalyptic fiction? Dearest, darlingist Chelsea attempted to explain when I broached the subject (meaning replied in a scathing and incredulous tone of text) that this is as opposed to other fictions where nuclear or governmental apocalypse wreak havoc on the Earth. Particuarly human-made climate change and global warming. Mhmm. I pose the question once more. How is this significantly different. Significantly. Does this fictional (or anticipatory) change in climate affect this fictional (or prophesied) society to any greater of an extent that could not be found in your standard post-apocalyptic or dystopian fiction? Does the resolution to this issue directly correlate to a change in actions that could only be found within the universe of a dramatic climate shift? No. It won’t. If the earth has become a wasteland thanks to the over-reliance of aluminum in oven-roasting bacon (400 degrees for fifteen to twenty minutes) to prevent having to hand wash a pan, I would still respond to threats in the same manner as I would if a new breed of fusion weapons destroyed the world. Because both leave the world decimated. Which is an apocalypse. That typically leads to a dystopian society.


Second and somethingst, by the overarching definition – oh no, the planet has been used and abused – a large proportion of science fiction in general would be climate fiction as the most common reason for populating other planets with colonies (as exemplified through Earthen history a million times over) if because resources are scare and dwindling and we need somewhere else to provide what our native soil cannot. Lost in Space (be it classic tv or awkward 90s remake, but what wasn’t awkward in the 90s?) would be a climate fiction by that count. They left the earth because recycling happened too late. Is that the stand out point to Lost in Space? No. The point is that they are lost in space. Which makes it just a science fiction. Annihilation could arguably be considered some fiction about climate change, but that has supernatural phenomenon rather than strictly conceived climactic oblivion. So if we’re getting really nit-picky about it, the climate is not naturally changing, it’s still an outside force.

Third and finalst, this category of climate specific catastrophe is such a thin line. Cut it broadly in the realm of science fiction or dystopian/post-apocalyptic and it is too big a piece of the genre to count as anything but science fiction or dystopian/post-apocalyptic or whatever the mother category lays itself out to be. Cut it so specifically, is there really enough of the category to elicit a need for another shelf in store? Another place to look for a novel, when it could just have easily been sidled along its cousins, distant or not so much? As an ex-academic, I get the need for the category; if you are trying to get a point across or investigate something specific, it’s nice to have a compartment to store everything in. Space Opera or Sword & Sorcery or High Fantasy or Epic Fantasy or Military Fantasy or Military Science Fiction. But as a reader, a lay-person, someone who is an ex-academic, why do we have to put labels on everything? Why can’t it just be? Because in the end, Tolkien is getting shelved next Okorafor and Pratchett. Okay, maybe not right next to because alphabetizing.

Queue late-March.

B: I’m also working on a post about the stupidity of climate fiction.

C: Ooooh, did you hear about the new genre deco punk?

And I die.


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