Author Greg Mosse on science fiction, climate change and his new book

BY Greg Mosse

18th Apr 2024 Books

4 min read

Author Greg Mosse on science fiction, climate change and his new book
Author Greg Mosse reflects on writing climate fiction and the role that writers can play in helping to find climate change solutions
When you set your novel in the near future—I wrote The Coming Darkness in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the action takes place in 2037—you surf a wave of fast-evolving news. Before the novel even published, one of my predictions—a terrorist attack on undersea energy and communications infrastructure—had already happened.
"The future is neither a closed book nor a blank canvas"
The future is neither a closed book nor a blank canvas. Convincing speculative fiction is grounded in now. But our eyes are always on the horizon, looking for what’s coming, judging competing eventualities against what we know and what we can imagine.

The relationship between fiction and reality

I researched The Coming Darkness and its sequel, The Coming Storm, by reading endless articles in the popular press and learned journals. Newspapers and magazines were often categoric; academic sources more nuanced. I studied strategic planning documents from National Health Trusts and annual reports from international corporations. They didn't provide my plot, but they did sketch the panoramic background for a world tumbling downhill, picking up speed into crisis.
This story-telling territory isn’t mine alone. Novelists from Margaret Atwood to Amitav Ghosh write "climate fiction" (or "cli-fi"), speculative works that imagine predictable and unpredictable consequences from our degradation of the Earth’s biosphere.
Books in a pile
Contemporary writers have a harder job than Leonardo da Vinci imagining the helicopter in his late renaissance workshop, or Jules Verne predicting widespread gasoline-powered vehicles, weapons of mass destruction, changing gender norms and global warming back in the 1860s. The pace of technological advance—and environmental destruction—has accelerated so much that cli-fi finds it hard to keep up.
In the real world in 2024, we’re in the middle of an AI "arms race", with profit-driven corporations unleashing an untried technology, chasing short-term financial gain without adequate safeguards on future security. The hero of The Coming Storm, Alex Lamarque, knows the dangers of authoritarian governments and international corporate monopolies, but he also recognises that global resources can be managed more efficiently by synthetic intelligence than uncertain multilateral human co-operation.
"The pace of technological advance has accelerated so much that climate fiction finds it hard to keep up"
When, in 1942, Isaac Asimov conceived the Three Laws of Robotics, he was imagining safeguards to protect humans from decisions based in pure heartless logic. He put it in an imagined future, 2058 AD, that seems already to have arrived. Meanwhile, in the UK, healthcare is rationed on the basis of availability, not need.
Alex appreciates that his world is dystopian, but that doesn't mean that all "good intentions" have evaporated, nor that power will always exercised in bad faith. He and the people close to him are—above all—victims of human treachery, not AI over-reach.
Is it possible for a convincing portrayal of future climate catastrophe to inspire scientists, politicians and ordinary citizens to take action before it’s too late? Seeing what’s coming down the track—perhaps "darkness" and a "storm", perhaps even a "bright new dawn"—can provide a competitive advantage in business, wealth creation and employment. It can provide the welfare state with strategies that respect a government’s duty of care to each individual citizen.

Is science fiction too pessimistic?

But, from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to H G Wells’ The Sleeper Awakes to Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, writers have tended to pessimism. Why is that, when they have also predicted some of humanity’s most beneficial innovations? How does that negativity reconcile with the fact that, despite widespread inequality and poverty, more people today live longer, healthier lives than ever before in human history?
We are surrounded by terrifying "extinctions"—of plants and animals and ecospheres. It is impossible, in good faith, to ignore the destruction, to close our eyes to the dismal recognition that—whether or not you or I sort our trash into recyclables and avoidable waste—our efforts represent no more than a tiny drop in the vast flood of human beings’ insatiable, resource-hungry, self-destructive consumption.
As extreme weather ravages the globe, governments and corporations employ "futurologists" and "imagineers". In a sense, my hero, Alex Lamarque—a member of the French government’s security services—is one of them, someone capable of seeing unforeseen patterns and, therefore, predicting, like Atwood or Asimov, likely pathways of folly or redemption.
"From Canada to Australia, our world is aflame"
Alongside writing cli-fi novels, I work in augmented reality story-telling. I’m not a luddite. Back in the day, I owned a first-gen IBM PC when most computers occupied entire basements of hi-tech industry. Today, I remain optimistic that goodwill and co-operation can triumph over short-termism, disregard for future generations and contempt for the natural world.
For centuries, science fiction writers have been predicting practical and fanciful innovations in our changing world, but the techno-sphere we inhabit today has never evolved so fast. I envy the honest optimism of Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle, who in 1666, as the Fire of London raged, imagined a utopia in The Blazing-World.
From Canada to Australia, our world is aflame. Can cli-fi writers make a contribution to finding pathways of imagination, co-operation and respect to douse The Coming Fire? I hope so.
The Coming Storm JPEG
The Coming Storm by Greg Mosse is published by Moonflower Books on 25th April, £9.99
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