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Scorchers edited by Paul Mountfort & Rosslyn Prosser

Opening Sentence: “The provocation we, as editors, issued to the impressive roll call of authors who have contributed to Scorchers was deceptively simple: How can writers - and by implication literature - respond within the short fiction format to the overwhelming reality of the climate crisis, given both the narrow window scientists warn we have left for mitigating the direst of consequences, and the ever-growing chorus of demands for urgent action”

There’s something comforting about short stories. Perhaps it is the joy of starting and finishing something in the space of mere minutes; perhaps it is the opportunity to take in a whole range of perspectives and (often dark) ideas in one setting. For me, it is the bringing together of many voices into a single unit. In Scorchers, the first pan-Australiasian anthology of cli-fi writing, sixteen well-known authors from Australia and New Zealand respond to a call for literature to change the climate-changed world.

Short stories are the middle child of the literary genre. Not quite the timelessness of the poem; not quite the depth of the novel. They do, however, have all the poetic language of poetry which is brought to the fore in this anthology. Each author has been given a task: to capture a future that suffers under the increasing weight of climate change. Each writer in this collection is based in either Australia or New Zealand and (fittingly) the fears that are presented in the narratives are largely a future of fire and water respectively. There is a poignancy of the geographical location. Certainly in this part of the world we have a much deeper sense of concern with wild fires burning bright and the vulnerability of the coastal settlements of Aotearoa. “Once-in-a-lifetime events” are becoming increasingly commonplace rather than adhering to their name.

Climate-Fiction (Cli-fi) has traditionally had the dystopian feel of pandemics, ruthless government control, weather extremes and Mayan calendars. This anthology prefers to look at everyday lives of those impacted by fairly cataclysmic events. And, in the vein of the narrative, there is much more of a domestic feel to the stories rather than the traditional doom and gloom of facts and figures from ex-US Presidential nominees and BBC wildlife treasures.

I loved the oxymoronic poetic frankness of the ensuing chaos present in all the stories. The language is confronting at times, comforting at others. Each master of the narrative weaves their characters around bush fires, rising tides and epidemics of varying proportions. Presented with the ideas one is forced to consider the impact our current generation can have on the future of the world.

Solutions are not offered to this burning international issue (pun intended). Rather, each of the sixteen writers beautifully construct a vision of poignant and at times disturbing realities. The poetic explorations within James George’s narrative in ‘Whenua to Whenua’ will stick with me for some time. His imagery and mastery over small town New Zealand is a triumph. Similarly Tulsa Thompson, drawing on Polynesian influences in her offering ‘Serf’, captures the personal elements of macro change. The Australian contributions are broad ranging, often confronting and deeply moving. The real threat of bushfires are ever present in the narratives of the Aussies. While the threat of air pollution and rising waters are near in the future for us in Aotearoa, they are already here for our cousins across the ditch. That brings a real resonance and palpability to the whole reading experience.

As a newbie to the genre this was enlightening and disconcerting. As well as truly highlighting the talent that we have in our corner of the world, this brings to the fore the very real threats of our generation.

Reviewer: Chris Reed

Publisher: Steam Press


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