Review: Saving the World One Word at a Time: Writing Cli-Fi

I received a promotional copy of this book from Ellen Szabo in exchange for my honest review: thanks, Ellen!

In the preface to this book, author Ellen Szabo writes “I wish someone had told me when I was young that separation of the `hard sciences’ and `creative arts’ was a false duality”. I can certainly relate! As a cli-fi author myself, I know the two disciplines can be powerful allies. I’m glad Szabo’s book will help make this emergent genre more approachable for aspiring writers. “Saving the World One Word at a Time: Writing Cli-Fi” is a useful workbook for writers who want to explore the cli-fi genre, but need a little nudge to get started.

Szabo discusses cli-fi as a form of social activism and highlights ways to bring environmental speculation to life. Some of the techniques she includes are ones I used myself in Blue Karma, such as using familiar, everyday things to tether the cli-fi world to readers’ own experiences, and considering how one’s chosen apocalypse affect society’s established power structures. Based on my own writing experience, I felt Szabo was astute in the topics she chose to include. Most of the book’s 55 pages are devoted to writing prompts and exercises, which will help newcomers to the genre find inspiration and begin crafting their stories.

I would have liked to see Szabo give examples from existing cli-fi novels to illustrate her points. This also would have added another dimension to the book, expanding it into a seminal study of a new genre. I’m a little disappointed this angle wasn’t included–I would’ve loved to hear Szabo’s perspectives on some popular cli-fi stories–but as an introductory manual to writing cli-fi, the book is admirably concise and covers all the main points. I hope this book will eventually make its way into creative writing courses and help dispel the antiquated notion that speculative fiction (so often snubbed in university English departments) cannot carry important literary and social themes.

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