© 2014 Sue Parritt

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Cli-fi/Eco fiction – categories of truth?


I like to challenge my readers, so I take contemporary issues that concern me, blend in imagination and researched facts and turn out Eco fiction. Take climate change - how many times have we been told that 2014 was the hottest year on record? Yet in Victoria our power stations continue to burn brown coal and people living in the La Trobe valley suffer from increased respiratory disease as a result of filthy emissions. See www.environmentvictoria.org.au for more information.

2015 is following the pattern of recent years, especially in South-east Queensland where day temperatures of 35C and 27C at night have been frequent this summer while in Victoria we are experiencing increased humidity yet very little rain. Even a non-scientist like me can predict the future for this wide brown land if nothing is done to curb climate change. Already with less than one degree of global warming we are seeing more extreme weather events every single year rather than ‘once in a century’ droughts or floods.

Fast forward to 2399 - the world of ‘Sannah and the Pilgrim’ where the consequences of climate change colour every aspect of the characters’ lives. Cyclones, flood, drought and bushfires occur frequently, water and insect-borne diseases are prevalent as are respiratory and skin diseases. An average day temperature of 50C has resulted in the implementation of the Nocturnal Life Project - the inhabitants must work at night and sleep during the day in the underground sections of their domes. Extracts from page 43 reveal Sannah’s thoughts on the NLP and the rational explanation she gives Kaire (the Pilgrim):

Her eyes flicked over his youthful countenance: green eyes sparkling with health, unblemished skin, glossy black hair – he had not suffered two decades of darkness….’

‘She withdrew her gaze, selecting her words carefully. ‘The Nocturnal Life Project was introduced here in the Brown Zone twenty years ago to improve productivity. It’s been fairly successful, especially in the agricultural sector. Cooler night temperatures ensure field workers remain focused. Less heat stress equals more work to put it bluntly.’

‘Makes sense I suppose.’

She turned away, lifting her face to bright morning light.

We all know the adverse effect shift work can have on the human body let alone the psyche – imagine a world where exposure to daylight is permanently curtailed.

Research on climate change in Australia led me to speculate that by 2399 only the north-eastern coastal strip of the Brown Zone (Queensland) will remain suitable for agriculture, due to insufficient rainfall in the rest of the country. But high humidity and temperatures will greatly impact on workers’ health and the amount and quality of the produce grown. In my novel, government addresses this problem through forced labour: i.e. the creation of Youth Working Parties:

p.151 ‘The Troopers have stolen my youth,’ Tona continued, his tone betraying deep sadness, ‘and the youth of all my generation. We’ll never know carefree adolescence. At fifteen years we’re taken from our villages, separated from family and friends, forbidden to communicate with our parents. We have to endure five years of callous treatment and an environment no one would willingly inhabit. That’s enough to crush both body and spirit. How can we…’ He stopped mid-sentence, clutched his shaking knees.’

It’s easy to dismiss this fictional world as implausible but scientific fact can’t be ignored and from what I read, hear and watch right now, there seems little doubt that future generations will inhabit an environment like Sannah’s.

p. 144 ‘Beyond the ridge, a different panorama revealed the symmetry of cultivation. Neat rows of crops and fruit trees, protected from harsh sunlight by open-ended cylindrical structures covered with shade-cloth; irrigation channels brimming with sparkling water and behind them, three white domes, one large, two small, squatting on baked red earth.’

Baked earth is a reality for many twenty-first century farmers in inland Australia, yet our cities continue to expand, new suburbs gobbling up fertile agricultural land for ever-larger McMansions occupied by small families or couples.

Do we really want future generations to live in a world without green spaces, forests, lakes and rivers?

So what categories of truth are contained in Climate Change fiction/Eco Fiction? Readers are free to make their own decisions, but if stories increase awareness of the issues facing our twenty-first century world and prompt many more to lobby governments for policy transformation, then writers will have contributed to much needed change.


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