Has the age of science-fiction inspiring science passed? Not if the Center for Science and the Imagination at ASU can help it. They’re trying to re-connect science-fiction with real-world science. We blogged on their Hieroglyph project earlier in the year, and my concern was that it seemed a bit rooted in Physics. Their next project comprehensively proves me wrong about that.
There’s a competition, the 2016 Climate Fiction Short Story Contest. The challenge is to write a story in fewer than 5000 words set in a possible future shaped by climate change. It taps into the growing genre cli-fi as seen in books by Margaret Atwood and Paolo Bacigalupi.
If you’re interested in writing a story, here’s the brief:
Stories are required to envision a future for Earth and humanity that is transformed in some way by climate change. They should also reflect current scientific knowledge about climate change and its consequences for human societies and the environment. The jury is particularly interested in stories that illuminate the political, ethical and technological challenges that individuals and communities must confront in the face of climate change.
With my SCIENCE hat on, there’s a cheer for the bit that stories reflect current scientific knowledge. However, with my I DON”T WANT TO READ A BORING STORY hat on, there’s also a cheer for the political, ethical and technological challenges that individuals and communities must confront.
Introducing the competition Manjana Milkorei said: “Taking the reader into a possible future, a story can turn modelling scenarios and temperature graphs into meaning and emotion. It can help us make sense of and respond to this incredibly complex problem.” It’s the combination of the scientific and the human experience that will make a good story, and that might not be the easiest thing to do.
For example, it’s all very well saying that stories should reflect current scientific knowledge, but where are you going to pick that up from? Here we can help. Every paper in AoB PLANTS is open access. That’s a lot of papers, but there’s an obvious place to start if you’re looking for inspiration. There’s a collection Scaling Effects Regulating Plant Response to Global Change that looks at what factors might interact with each other as temperatures change. In particular the introduction Across the horizon: scale effects in global change research has bite-size summaries of the findings of other papers in the collection, so you can skim to see what papers you might want to look in greater detail. There are other papers outside the collection that also tackle global warming that you can read for free.
Annals of Botany has plenty of papers too. The access is a bit more complicated here. If you’re at a university then you’ll probably have access to all the papers. If you’re not then papers are free to access if they’re a year old or more, so right now everything from October 2014 and earlier should be free access. A quick search on warming and climate shows a few papers that might spark an idea.
A few examples:
- The hydroclimatic and ecophysiological basis of cloud forest distributions under current and projected climates shows that some plants are sensitive to fog. What if some of these plants are also producing pharmaceuticals, making fog necessary? Is there a tale following the lives moisture farmers?
- The role of grasslands in food security and climate change points out that grasslands could work as carbon sinks. What does that mean for food farming and pasture? Could dedicated carbon-sink grasslands increase biodiversity and be the background for a positive story?
- Mountains interest me and there’s a paper Unravelling genetics at the top: mountain islands or isolated belts?. At its simplest, if temperatures rise plant ranges could migrate up a mountain, but they can only go so far till they reach the top. What happens then? Will there be nature reserves built artificially higher above highlands as local arks for plants? Will their pollinators be able to follow, or will atmospheric pressure give them different limits?
Kim Stanley Robinson will be judging entries with the grand-prize winner getting $1,000. Three additional finalists will receive book bundles signed by award-winning climate fiction author Paolo Bacigalupi. The best stories will also appear in an online anthology.
The limits are 5000 words and the story must be unpublished, including on the internet. The deadline is January 15, 2016, and you can enter from anywhere in the world. For full details and the entry form, visit the competition website. If you have any queries about the competition you should contact them, as it’s their project not ours. I’d just like to see some AoB Blog readers among the winners.
But if you are planning to enter, leave a comment below (without anything that would identify your entry, so you’re not accidentally disqualified), so we can cheer in the office if you win. I’ll be logging into my Novlr account to have a go. Maybe after I get the Thank you for entering but… I’ll post my effort here along with links to what science there is behind the story. In the words of Robert Heinlein:
I think that science fiction, even the corniest of it, even the most outlandish of it, no matter how badly it’s written, has a distinct therapeutic value because all of it has as its primary postulate that the world does change. I cannot overemphasize the importance of that idea.