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The impact of the climate emergency on 21st century fiction

Gillen, Gerard Hugh


Gerard Hugh Gillen


This research supports a new movement in contemporary literature: cli-fi. The term has been attributed to environmental dystopias as far back as the nineteen-sixties. In the 21st Century, many writers are imagining life during or after severe changes to Earth’s climate. While science fiction, speculative fiction and dystopia are the lending genres exploring effects of climate change, the climate emergency has started to pervade contemporary fiction.
The first half of this thesis explores Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. The trilogy is the focus in this thesis because it considers how humans will react to catastrophic climate change in the greatest depth. MaddAddam is a cornerstone of the cli-fi movement, a journey into a possible future in which human life reaches its penultimate chapter. Atwood’s trilogy proves that, when writing in the era of climate emergency, the threat of the changing climate can become a writer’s most evocative subject.
The second part of this thesis explores cli-fi in the UK, focusing on Ben Smith’s Doggerland and Sarah Hall’s The Carhullan Army. The finding in these British novels was that setting is thrust more into the spotlight, whereas in American Literature, tropes such as Malthusian biological terrorism and religious extremism are more prominent. British writers seem concerned with political structures and resistance, whereas North American writers challenge more the ideologies which hold up political structures: religion, capitalism and consumerism, the dependence on fossil fuels. While cli-fi on both sides of the Atlantic has an interesting relationship with history and reflection, the British novels seem more philosophical: both aspects of cli-fi provoke stern self-examination in the reader.
Finally, there is a section from the Wyke, the creative writing project undertaken alongside this research. The aim was to write a novel which could be considered popular by a mainstream readership.


Gillen, G. H. (2023). The impact of the climate emergency on 21st century fiction. (Thesis). University of Hull.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jul 3, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jul 3, 2023
Keywords English ; Creative writing
Public URL
Award Date Jan 1, 2023


Thesis (760 Kb)

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© 2022 Gerard Hugh Gillen. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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