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Ed. Paul Mountfort & Rosslyn Prosser
REVIEWED BY FEBY IDRUS
Climate change is arguably the greatest crisis of our time. In Scorchers, a new anthology edited by Paul Mountfort and Rosslyn Prosser, this issue is tackled in 16 ‘cli-fi’ short stories.
The author of each was challenged to respond to this question: “How can writers - and by implication literature - respond within the short fiction format to the overwhelming reality of the climate crisis?”
Tulia Thompson’s story Serf draws on her background as a woman of Fijian descent, imagining a future where Pacific Island people become refugees, victimised by both the climate and social stratification.
Patricia Grace’s The Unremembered zooms out to the cosmic level, as she uses traditional Maori myth to respond to this very modern problem.
Five Articles Selected at Random from the Scarlet Exposition by fantasy writer Sean Williams also draws on myth, but on a made-up one, resulting in a fascinating fantasy allegory.
Witi Ihimaera’s Tawhaki brings Te Ao Maori into the future and into space; his narrator wakes up on an orbiting space station called Ranginui-14.
These diverse stories nevertheless have common threads. The most prevalent is nature or, rather, nature’s destruction, and its potential for destroying us.
Many of the stories by Australian authors make at least passing reference to uncontrollable bushfires, while almost all those future refer to overwhelming floods or heat. Gardens often make an appearance in this collection – as a futile attempt to control nature (Alison Wong’s The Garden) or as a futile attempt to preserve it (Carol Lefebvre’s Sisters in a Garden).
And many of the stories, understandably, have an overarching sense of imminent loss, even despair. Paul Mountfort’s story Trigger shows this most bleakly, but the equally dark imagery of dying fish in Owen Everitt’s Menindee is similarly despairing.
A few pieces, however, buck this trend. Matthew Hooton’s clever time-travel story subtly tells us that we can still go back and heal what has happened in the past.
Mike Johnson’s The Coming of the Grey Ghost features a couple who are both artists; while he has long since given up writing, she has continued creating visual art, despite the environment collapsing around them. Her enduring creativity is a sign of quiet resistance and resilience – of hope.
The Foreseeable by Emma Ashmere concludes with the artist-narrator talking to a stranger and realising that she is “talking to someone about art, about nature, about trying to offer one small glimpse of this beautiful struggling world, trying to bear witness to something too big, too overwhelming to contemplate.”
The stories in this anthology similarly strive to bear witness. Every reader will find something to like and be challenged by in this collection, and will find themselves similarly asking how they too can respond to the climate crisis engulfing our time.
Feby Idrus is a writer, musician, and arts administrator