Thursday, 3 July 2014

Cli-Fi Author Joshua David Bellin

Please give a warm welcome to Joshua David Bellin. Joshuas debut novel, Survival Colony 9, will be published in September 2014 from Margaret K. McElderry Books (Simon & Schuster). Forget the past.  Fight to stay alive.

Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). He taught college for twenty years, wrote a bunch of books for college students, then decided to return to writing fiction. Survival Colony 9 is his first novel, but the sequel’s already in the works! Josh is represented by the fabulous Liza Fleissig of Liza Royce Agency.

Welcome Joshua. Please tell us a bit about yourself and your book.
First, Kate, I wanted to thank you for inviting me to appear on your blog!  I’m a college teacher who’s been writing since I was about eight years old, with the dream of publishing a novel some day. It’s taken a while, but here I am!

My YA Cli-Fi debut, Survival Colony 9, tells the tale of Querry Genn, a fourteen-year-old member of one of the small groups who survived the wars and environmental catastrophes that devastated the planet. Querry’s dealing with a number of problems: the authoritarian commander of Survival Colony 9 happens to be his dad; the girl he loves, Korah, is someone else’s girlfriend; and the injury he suffered six months ago left him without long-term memory. Oh, and did I mention that his colony’s pursued by the Skaldi, monsters with the ability to consume and mimic human hosts that mysteriously appeared on the planet in the wake of the wars?

How has climate change played out in Survival Colony 9?

The world of my novel is a searing desert with little water, next to no plant or animal life, and temperatures exceeding 120 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s one possible effect of climate change, and in fact it’s already beginning to manifest itself in some parts of the world. As originally drafted, the climate angle was much more prominent; there was a whole chapter that gave a history of the planetary changes that made the world what it was. My editor and I decided that was too much, so I let it become more a backdrop than an overt statement. But the image of a world ravaged by climate change was in my mind from the moment I started writing this book.

Had you heard of the term Cli-Fi when you started writing Survival Colony 9? What first brought the term to your attention?

I hadn’t heard the term when I started writing, but I’m glad it exists! I first encountered it on Twitter from a gentleman named Danny Bloom, who’s been involved for years in the fight for political action on climate change. Once I discovered the term, I started to discover just how many Cli-Fi stories there are, written by authors from Ursula K. Le Guin to Paolo Bacigalupi to Sarah Holding to . . . well, Kate Kelly! And these stories are starting to garner more media attention, which I take to be a very good thing, since it shows that concern over climate change has passed from the realm of scientists and specialists into the wider culture.
What compelled you to write about climate change?

I saw the Al Gore movie An Inconvenient Truth when it came out in 2006. I’d heard about climate change before then—in fact I recently discovered that one of the books I loved as a child, a science fiction story about a boy and his alien friend, had a climate-change subplot—but I hadn’t paid much attention. But in 2006, I was a father of two young children, and what I saw in the Gore film terrified and galvanized me. I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I sat back and let the world my children were due to inherit go to hell. So I became active at the grassroots level in the fight to raise awareness and promote action on climate change. I don’t see my novel as a political manifesto in any way—it’s a story about survival under harsh conditions, about finding one’s identity, and about the healing power of love, with some very scary monsters in the mix!—but at the same time, I do see it as a logical extension of my career as a climate activist.

How do you feel about Cli-Fi as a means of getting the climate change message across?

I always hated preachy stories as a child, and I still do. If Cli-Fi is nothing more than a morality lesson wrapped in a narrative shell, I think most people will tune it out, and rightly so.

Fortunately, that’s not what Cli-Fi is. Like all science fiction, Cli-Fi extrapolates from what we know to what we imagine; it raises issues and awareness, but it doesn’t dictate belief. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which most people see as the first science fiction novel, raised troubling questions about the power of science, the nature of life, and the existence of God, but (at least in the original edition) it didn’t try to resolve those questions in any simple way. (In the second edition, alas, a much older and sadder Shelley turned her novel into a sermon.) So if Cli-Fi gets people thinking and talking about climate change, imagining possible scenarios, debating the issue in a productive way—not the reductive, “hoax or no hoax” way that dominates the airwaves—it will be part of what moves us as a people toward a solution.

Are we already starting to see the effects of climate change and what do you think the future holds for our planet?

I read recently about a cluster of tiny volcanic islands that have vanished due to rising sea levels, creating hundreds of climate refugees. That’s only one of many signs of climate change, but on a small scale, it shows what the future may hold for millions if not billions of people.

And sometimes I get pretty gloomy about our capacity as a species to deal with this issue. I live in southwestern Pennsylvania, and recently, on a drive across state, I saw a billboard with a picture of a clown saying “I believe in global warming, don’t you?” The idea, I guess, was that since we’ve had a cold winter this year, climate change must be a fabrication. When I see that kind of thinking, it troubles me to realize how many people are unable or unwilling to imagine the world beyond their backyard. There are no kangaroos in southwestern Pennsylvania, but I’m willing to believe there are kangaroos elsewhere in the world. So even if, for the sake of the argument, one concedes that southwestern Pennsylvania is not at present experiencing the worst impacts of climate change, does that mean those impacts don’t exist elsewhere in the world?

But that’s my gloomy side. My upbeat side sees that there are lots of people who can embrace the global scale, who do recognize what’s happening to our planet. Cli-Fi, I believe, has played and will continue to play a role in that elevation of global consciousness. At a climate rally in Washington, DC last year, I saw a sign that said: “We must rise faster than the seas.” When I see powerful and poetic signs like that, I believe it’s still possible for my children and everyone’s children to inherit a world very different from the one I imagined in my debut novel. And in this instance, I would love nothing more than to be proven wrong!

Thank you Joshua, and good luck with Survival Colony 9. It sounds like a great read and I’m looking forward to it.


  1. Excellent interview! It sounds like a great book and one that I'll add to my reading list and post on the Facebook Cli-fi Central group page!/groups/320538704765997/

  2. This was a great interview and it's great news to see a cli fi author get a contract from a major publishing house, complete with agent and editor and the entire distribution/marketing/PR platform that comes with being attached to a major house. This means the book will reach a large audience, library sales too, that many self-published novels can never reach, so congrats to Joshua David Bellin. It also means that with a major house behind the book, the media outreach will be strong and this is good for the fortunes of the cli fi genre as reviews and interviews with Joshua about his YA cli fi novel will likely appear in such places as the New York Times, CNN and the Washington Post, not to mention the AP wire service too. So this is big for Joshua, and bravo, and it's also a shot in the arm for all cli fi novelists out there, as his book will help boost awareness of this emerging, mushrooming genre of literature, YA as well. BRAVO

  3. Hi everyone - and I see it's made the list of the Nevils! Well deserved!

  4. Thanks, Kate, for asking me to appear on your blog and for your wonderful questions!


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