Skip to content

Clade now available through Audible

Clade AudibleI’m very excited to say the audio book edition of my Victorian Premier’s, Christina Stead and Aurealis Award-shortlisted novel Clade is now available through Audible in Australiathe UK and internationally. It’s read by Ian Bliss, and features a rather lovely new cover, so if you’ve been holding off reading it perhaps now’s the time to grab a copy.

And if audio books are your thing you might also want to check out the audio editions of The Resurrectionist, read by Stan Pretty (UK only), and Wrack, read by Humphrey Bower (AustraliaUK and US).

Midyear Music

Because it’s getting toward halfway through 2016 I thought I might share a few of the albums I’ve enjoyed so far this year.

Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool
Underneath the ferociously political lyrics A Moon Shaped Pool is the poppiest Radiohead album in years and perhaps not coincidentally the first one that’s resonated with me for almost a decade. Although the video for ‘Burn the Witch’ is so brilliant it could probably carry the album on its own.

 

PJ Harvey, The Hope Six Demolition Project
Hope Six
isn’t as good as Let England Shake (although what is?), at least partly because Harvey is clearly hitting up against the limits of the popular song’s ability to communicate complex arguments, but it’s still genuinely thrilling a lot of the time, and Harvey’s passion and fury remain as exciting (and salutary) as ever.

 

Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial
Will Toledo has been recording albums alone for years, a process that led to the release of his excellent Teens of Style a couple of years ago, but his new album Teens of Denial is his first record with the backing of a proper band, and it’s incredible. They wear their influences on their sleeves, but every one of these mini-epics of suburban desire and despair is like a tiny novel, with all the variousness and passion that implies. I need a few more weeks to get to grips with it properly but it might just be my album of the year so far.

 

The Jayhawks, Paging Mr Proust
It’s been a while since I listened to Hollywood Town Hall and Rainy Day Music, and the first of the Jayhawks’ reunion records passed me by a couple of years ago, but their new one, Paging Mr Proust, is a bit of a gem. Lovely, literate folk rock that owes a little to the Byrds and a little to REM (no doubt at least partly because it was produced by Peter Buck) but never feels rooted in the past.

 

Parquet Courts, Human Performance
Parquet Courts have always been one of those bands I felt like I should love but never quite did. But their new album, Human Performance, is terrific, and filled with tight, driving songs.

 

Beverly, The Blue Swell
Because there can never be enough dreamy, blissed-out noise pop in the world.

 

Cate Le Bon, Crab Day
Imagine a fractured 2016 version of Nico and you’ve got the general idea. Easily as good as her last couple of albums. The film that accompanies it is also splendidly weird.

 

The Last Shadow Puppets, Everything You’ve Come to Expect
I think Alex Turner is one of the great contemporary songwriters, and although there’s something a little too considered and contrived about his work with Miles Kane (and some fairly icky lyrics) there’s still a lot to like about the baroque, Scott Walkerish Everything You’ve Come to Expect.

 

David Bowie, Blackstar
I wrote about Blackstar shortly after Bowie’s death. I haven’t changed my view: it’s a thrilling, mercurial album, his best since Scary Monsters, and a reminder of what his death robbed us of.

 

There are also a number of things coming out in the next little while I’m excited about (new Kills! new Band of Horses!) and more than a few things I need to listen to more carefully (the new Lucinda Williams for one) but for now they seem like enough.

Clade shortlisted for the Christina Stead Award

Cf9peObUEAQ3Psa.jpg
I’m delighted to be able to say that Clade has been shortlisted for the Christina Stead Award for Fiction at the 2016 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards: it’s a huge honour and I’m absolutely thrilled. The other nominees for the fiction award are Tony Birch’s Ghost River, Merlinda Bobis’ Locust Girl, Lisa Gorton’s The Life of HousesGail Jones’ A Guide to Berlin and Mireille Juchau’s The World Without Us, several of which I’ve read and loved, but I do recommend taking a few minutes to check out the shortlists for the other awards as well. The winner will be announced in Sydney on 16 May; in the meantime I note without comment that voting is now open for the People’s Choice Award, and that Clade is one of the eligible titles.

Aurealis Awards

aurealis-awards-finalist-high-resThis week saw the announcements of the shortlists for the 2015 Aurealis Awards, and I’m thrilled to be able to say Clade is one of the nominees for Best Science Fiction Novel, alongside Evelyn Blackwell’s Crossed, Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae, Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner’s Their Fractured Light, Joel Shepherd’s Renegade and the conclusion to Sean William’s fantastic Twinmaker series, Fall. The winner will be announced at Easter at NatCon in Brisbane, but it’s a great honour and it’s fantastic to be in such terrific company. If you have a moment you might want to check out the shortlists for the other categories, which feature work by many, many excellent people.

Locus Recommended Reading List

LocusJust a quick post to say how delighted I am to discover Clade is one of the titles selected for Locus Magazine’s Recommended Reading List for 2015. You can check out the full list over at Locus, but needless to say I’m completely thrilled to be on a list that features books by Ann Leckie, Kim Stanley Robinson, Adam Roberts and Dave Hutchinson, and by the incredibly generous comments about the book in the issue itself. My sincere thanks to all concerned.

And just a reminder that if you’re in Australia Clade is available from any good bookstore, your favourite online retailer or as a ebook, and worldwide through Book Depository.

 

 

David Bowie: Loving the Alien

Aladdin SaneAt first I thought it must be some kind of mistake. Not just because he’d just released an album two days before, not just because the description of a courageous battle with cancer seemed to contradict the images of him at the opening of his musical, Lazarus, only a few weeks before, but because it didn’t seem possible. Although he himself had been an elusive presence for more than a decade, refusing interviews, living if not in seclusion (he was in New York, after all) then certainly out of the public eye, his music and the characters and imagery it gave shape to often seemed more present than they had ever been.

In the end it took a tweet from his son, the director Duncan Jones, to convince me. “Very sorry and sad to say it’s true. I’ll be offline for a while. Love to all,” he wrote, above a photo of him on his famous father’s shoulders as a baby. And as I read it I knew it wasn’t a hoax. The great transformer had managed one last metamorphosis, one last surprise.

I was in shock, I realise now, unable to process the news. Later I would give way to tears more than once, surprising myself. Nor was I alone. As the news spread social media and the internet lit up, people moving online to express their sense of loss and disbelief. At first I thought it was just people I knew, people of an age to have grown up with his music, but as the hours passed it became clear it was more than that. Late in the evening I opened Facebook on my computer and scrolled downwards for what seemed like minutes through screen after screen of people from all walks of life sharing articles, videos, personal reflections and snippets of songs, united in their grief.

In a way this sort of reaction is understandable. Music is one of the ways we remember ourselves, its rhythms and melodies connecting us to the people we once were, all those other versions of our selves that we bear within. This capacity to conjure forth not just memory but something both more profound and more fragile is the one of the secrets of its power, and part of the reason losing the person who gave shape to that music is to lose something of that connection to the people we once were, almost as if some part of us has passed out of the world.

That was part of it for me, but it was more than that as well. I discovered Bowie in 1980. It was a bad time for me. I was in my first year of high school, my parents’ marriage was coming apart and I was desperately overweight and so lonely it hurts me to think about it even now. And then, one Sunday, I turned on Countdown and there was the video for ‘Ashes to Ashes’.

 

It’s difficult to overstate the effect that encounter had on my 13 year-old self. The video and the song were like a glimpse of a world I’d only ever imagined, somewhere strange and beautiful and filled with adult feelings of regret and self-loathing I only barely understood. Yet they spoke to me in an intense and powerful way. Only a few days after seeing it I bought the album, blowing several weeks of my pocket money in a single hit.

In recent years critics have tended to regard the Berlin Trilogy of Low, Heroes and Lodger as the most significant phase Bowie’s career. Much as I love the three of them, and Low in particular, I’m not sure it’s a judgement with which I concur. Yet either way, this tendency has meant Scary Monsters is often treated as a sort of afterthought, a moment of stasis before Bowie made another decisive break with his past.

To my mind this is a mistake, and not just because Scary Monsters features two of Bowie’s best and most recognisable singles in ‘Ashes to Ashes’ and ‘Fashion’, as well the glorious ‘Teenage Wildlife’ and the swerving ‘Because You’re Young’. Instead it’s a mistake because it’s the album on which the vision Bowie had been articulating in his Berlin years was distilled and then turned inside out, the elegant ennui and Steve Reich minimalism of Low’s electronic instrumentals cast away in the wailing wall of Robert Fripp’s guitar and the looping tapes of tracks such as ‘It’s No Game’, producing a record as ferocious and driven and passionate as anything Bowie ever recorded.

Either way, my 13 year-old self loved it, seduced by its drama and its steely elegance. And wanting more I moved on, first to Changesone: Bowie, a compilation that began with ‘Space Oddity’ and ended with ‘Golden Years’, transporting the listener from his first hit to to Station to Station (an album that I have come to regard as one of his most brilliant, not least because its expansiveness and precision are so at odds with his psychological disorder when it was recorded), and then its sequel, Changestwo, which supplemented these with more tracks from his early years and cuts from the Berlin albums and Scary Monsters.

In this age of instantaneous information I think it’s easy to forget how remote the wider world often seemed in the 1980s. You learned about music by listening to the radio and watching Countdown, hanging around record shops, or flicking through magazines in newsagents. The music you could hear was confined to what you could afford to buy, or the tapes we passed from hand to hand.

That meant that, at least at the beginning, my experience of Bowie was largely about an engagement with the songs, an engagement that only deepened as I moved out from my Changes compilations and began to buy the albums; first Ziggy Stardust, then Diamond Dogs and Heroes, or as with Aladdin Sane and the then-disappointing, now-delightfully loose Lodger, to tape the copies I glimpsed in the record collections of my friends’ older brothers and sisters. Each new one came as a surprise, as the songs I knew from it opened out into new worlds, glimpses of worlds of strangeness and urgency I hadn’t realised how much I wanted.

But as I grew older and began to watch late night music shows I began to encounter him in other ways as well, glimpsing videos of him in concert, of him performing songs such as ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Heroes’ and ‘Starman’, or in Nicholas Roeg’s (entirely baffling to my 15 year-old self) The Man Who Fell To Earth.

Looking at them now what strikes me about him is his delicacy and otherworldliness, the way he seemed to challenge our ideas of sexuality not just through his clothes and hair, but through his embrace of a particular kind of vulnerability and otherness. His beauty transcended gender, made him both male and female, human and alien.

This rejection – or transcension – of categories was a central part of his appeal in the 1970s and 1980s (as well as part of what made his sojourn in the relentlessly corporate and drearily macho Tin Machine so uniquely depressing). For by demonstrating it was possible to be both and neither, he made it possible to imagine other ways of being, ways that involved different kinds of sexuality, other kinds of beauty. Just as Morrissey would for another generation a decade or two later, Bowie offered people – and teenage boys in particular – a different model for masculinity, and more importantly suggested that being an outsider wasn’t something to be afraid of, it was something to be embraced and celebrated.

All these things mattered to me as a teenager, often profoundly. But Bowie did more than suggest other ways of being, he also opened the door to a wider world, one filled with glamour and danger and most importantly sexual and personal possibility. Nor was this possibility always imaginative, for as my awareness of his work expanded it brought me into contact with other musicians and artists, not just The Velvet Underground, but Lou Reed and Iggy Pop, and in a roundabout way artists like Patti Smith and Talking Heads. Without Bowie my teenage self might never have encountered Reed’s Transformer, or understood that its evocation of the lives of New York’s demi-monde wasn’t the leering innuendo the macho DJs who played ‘Walk on the Wild Side’ on commercial radio took it to be but something delicate and beautiful and true, or experienced the wild exaltation of Patti Smith’s Horses.

After Scary Monsters Bowie retreated for a time. There were singles – the magnificent deconstructed gospel of his duet with Freddie Mercury and Queen, ‘Under Pressure’, his collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, ‘Cat People (Putting Out Fire)’ – but for three years he was largely invisible to my teenage self.

Then, in 1983, he reappeared with Let’s Dance, the album that together with the tour that followed, turned him into a superstar. These days it looks like his first fatal misstep, the moment when he elected to transform himself into a conventional rock star, but in 1983 it was perfect, capturing the world’s desire to shuck off the confusion and darkness of the 1970s and the early 1980s, to embrace something colourful and glamorous yet uncomplicated (and after all what could be less complicated than his emptied out version of Iggy Pop’s ‘China Girl’, or the frankly dire ‘Ricochet’?). And I have to confess that even if there was a part of me that longed for the other Bowie I already loved, the one whose shifting identities and danger suffused records like Scary Monsters and Heroes, I was dazzled by this new version of him, so much so that at 16 I wanted nothing more than to be him.

The second half of the 1980s and the 1990s were a dark time for Bowie. In the aftermath of the success of Let’s Dance he was initially becalmed, and then, like a drowning man, began to flounder. The almost uncanny feel for the zeitgeist that had sustained him through the 1970s and 1980s seemed to have deserted him, his endless reinventions (dance music! drum and bass! rock opera!) suddenly seeming desperate rather than inspired, his conceptual language, its tortured painters and fascination with religion, hackneyed and faintly embarrassing. There were moments of brilliance like ‘Absolute Beginners’, but as the years passed they were fewer and fewer, so much so that when in 2004 he disappeared from view after a heart attack on stage in Germany it almost seemed like a relief.

In fact in the years before his retirement he had been staging a comeback of sorts, perhaps as a result of reuniting with producer Tony Visconti, recording not one but two albums in Heathen and Reality which, while not bearing comparison with his best work, nonetheless showed some of the clarity and purpose that had been lacking in the previous two decades, something that is clearly audible in songs like the wonderfully menacing ‘New Killer Star’. Yet in the years after his heart attack he chose not to return to recording or touring, choosing instead to retreat into what most people took to be retirement.

Perhaps because he had vacated the stage, the years after 2004 saw a growing interest in his work, and more particularly the significance of his achievements in the 1970s. There were of course the reissuing and remastering of old records that is the bread and butter of the legacy star, but alongside it there was an uptick in academic and critical interest, producing books of the calibre of Hugo Wilcken’s thrilling study of Low and leading, almost as if by design, to the V&A’s magnificent retrospective, David Bowie Is.

Yet there was little question that what was being curated by these writers and historians was not a living body of work but a legacy. Bowie the man had essentially disappeared, variously believed to be on the point of death, disfigured by strokes, or simply enjoying domestic life and fatherhood. Until, that is, 8 January 2013, when, without warning, he released a new single and a new video, recorded and filmed in secret, and simultaneously announced plans for a new album.

Unlike his work in the decades leading up to his retirement, which had often evinced a curiously uneasy relationship with his work in the 1970s, this new single deliberately invoked his best work, a connection that was made explicit by the cover of the album, The Next Day, which took the iconic image of Bowie that adorned the cover of Heroes and pasted the title of the new album over it.

 

This was clearly a new Bowie, one not beholden to the past but not afraid of it either, seeing it as something to be deployed and mined. For some I think this was disappointing, suggesting the sort of standing still Scary Monsters is sometimes accused of, the stasis that was always anathema to his best work. Yet I found it thrilling, not just for the way it engaged with his past without ever allowing it to overshadow the new, but for its lyrical focus and political fury, the ominous balance of regret and possibility that inheres in the title, its simultaneous suggestion of renewal and admonition. These are qualities that are given stark and terrifying power in the opening track, in which he chants “The body left to rot in a hollow tree/It’s branches throwing shadows/On the gallows for me/And the next day/And the next/And another day”, words that turn the promise of resurrection or reincarnation one glimpses in the image of the body in the tree into something horrifying and endless. But they are also audible in the circling motion of the brooding ‘Love is Lost’, its unsettling evocation of the transience of identity and the way violence shadows the rootlessness of modernity: “Your country’s new/Your friends are new/Your house and even your eyes are new/Your maid is new and your accent too/But your fear is as old as the world”.

The Next Day was also notable for the manner of its release. Not just the degree to which it came as a surprise to all, but by Bowie’s refusal to go through the usual rituals that accompany the release of a new album by an artist of his age and stature. There were no interviews, no exclusive features, no media performances. Indeed his only real engagement with the media was a list of ideas he sent to the novelist Rick Moody, who used them to sustain an extended riff on the album and Bowie’s oeuvre published a few weeks after the album’s release.

Whether this was a deliberate strategy, a way of forcing the media to focus not on him but the album (something it did very effectively) or a way of protecting he and his family’s privacy (or indeed both) it forced critics and the public to focus not on him but his work, and made clear he was no longer interested in the business of celebrity.

Fascinatingly it also signalled the beginning of a creative resurgence. He began work on the stage show, Lazarus, a sequel of sorts to The Man Who Fell to Earth, began recording another new album, and while he still avoided the media, insisting on his privacy, there was even talk by some of a possible tour.

That new album Blackstar, was released the Friday before last, its release timed to coincide with Bowie’s 69th birthday. Although I had been looking forward to it for weeks I held off listening to it until the Sunday afternoon, partly because my unexamined desire to own it in physical form had held me back from streaming it,  partly because I wanted to be able to give it my full attention.

Despite my excitement I wasn’t sure what I was going to think of it. The pre-release publicity had emphasised his decision to record with a group of New York jazz musicians instead of his more usual collaborators, a concept I found unsettling, not least because I’m not usually enamoured of jazz, especially in its more experimental incarnations. And while I’d admired them I’d also found the singles that had preceded somewhat baffling, the videos that accompanied them cryptic and confusing, their imagery poised  somewhere between nightmare and the overwrought parody of Floria Sigismondi’s video for ‘The Next Day’.

But by the time it was halfway through I was ecstatic. Here was something as strange and mercurially beautiful as anything he’d created in years. Gone were the grinding guitars and heritage rock of The Next Day; in their place was a free-floating, liquid ominousness, broken here and there by sudden flashes of soaring, melodic beauty like those that break through in the last third of the ten minute title track, or the gorgeous closing ballad, ‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’.

It was also, like The Next Day, an album that begged to be analysed, its meanings teased out. What were we to make of the image of the astronaut lying dead at the opening of the video for ‘Blackstar’, or the the English evergreens the narrator is running toward in ‘Dollar Days’? Why after so many years had he elected to produce an album without his image on the cover, opting instead for a simple graphic? Was this an album about beginnings or endings? About ISIS? About the end of the world or power of love? Or was it something more inscrutable than that, a piece of deliberately confounding late-Bowie gameplay?

In the end we only had to wait two days for the key to its mysteries, the realisation this was not just another album, but a swan song, a work created not just in the full knowledge of his impending death, but in the belief he would not live long enough to see it released, that it would be a message from beyond the grave.

We are taught to be wary of reading autobiography into art, if only to avoid the tendency to literalise it induces, thereby eliding the complex ways in which experience is transfigured by the artistic process, its constituent elements subsumed into something new, but with Blackstar that admonition feels pointless, for it really is a kind of summa, a work designed to be listened in full awareness of its creator’s looming mortality. Even the stark black and white of its cover suggests an act of self-erasure, as if the man behind it is eliminating himself, perhaps in completion of the process foreshadowed in the covering of his face on the sleeve of The Next Day. Likewise the image of the astronaut lying dead on some alien planet that opens the video for ‘Blackstar’ becomes almost impossible not to read as the final resting place of the trajectory his cosmic Major began in 1969 in ‘Space Oddity’, the dead planet and black star overhead suggesting a universe in the last stages of senescence. Even the album’s title took on new meaning once somebody made the connection to the song of the same name by Elvis Presley, the first verse of which – “Every man has a black star/A black star over his shoulder/And when a man sees his black star/He knows his time, his time has come” – underlines Bowie’s certainty about where he is heading.

There is something astonishing about this choice, the idea one’s own death might be a kind of performance. Like so much else that Bowie did, it is entirely calculating, a way of diverting the world’s attention to protect the privacy of his family. But it also turns these songs and more particularly the videos that accompany them into something simultaneously brilliant and self-effacing, a death haunted kabuki, a beautiful dance of disappearance.

And in so doing it reminds us with great eloquence of why Bowie mattered, and why he continues to matter. Not just because he had things left he wanted to say – one only has to look at the video for ‘Lazarus’, the way his shadow emerges from the wardrobe for a final burst of creativity while the real man, his face swathed in bandages, writhes in agony on the bed to see that. But because by turning his death into a work of art he reminds us one last time of the degree to which all our identities are, in some sense, works of art, performances in which death is really only the final transformation.

Yet in a way Bowie’s real genius lay less in his understanding of the liberating power of fantasy but in the music itself, the way it touches us. For while much is often made of his fascination with alienation and decline these qualities are counter-balanced by a deeply human yearning for connection, for the power of it to free us from who we are and make us anew. And it is this we respond to when we listen to songs such as ‘Heroes’ and ‘Starman’ and ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll With Me’, this that makes him speak to so many of us so deeply, this that means his passing leaves us with these mingled feelings of loss and gratitude. For as he promised us in ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide’, he can help us with the pain, all it takes is to “turn on with me and you’re not alone.”

 

 

The End of Nature and Post-Naturalism: Fiction and the Anthropocene

One of the most interesting things about watching a novel go into the world is discovering what other people think it’s about. Sometimes that can be illuminating, sometimes it’s frustrating, but it’s always fascinating, not least because the book people seem to read is never quite the book you thought you were writing.

In Clade’s case this process was complicated by the fact a lot of people didn’t seem to know quite how to categorise it. For my part I tended to say it was science fiction, simply because that’s easy and relatively uncontroversial. A number of reviewers, especially in literary outlets, called it dystopian, which it isn’t, or not quite, while a couple of reviewers with an interest in science fiction described it a slow apocalypse or breakdown novel, which I suspect it is, at least in one sense. Others have called it cli fi, or climate fiction, a term that has some utility as a marketing category but seems to occlude more than it reveals when deployed as a critical tool; elsewhere some people have called it Anthropocene fiction.

Interestingly though, several reviewers registered the inadequacies of the terminology, and went on to ask about how exactly we should be describing the growing number of books engaged directly or indirectly with climate change and environmental transformation.

The most substantial of these discussions was in Niall Harrison’s characteristically thoughtful and perceptive review at Strange Horizons, a review that ended with what he described as “a coda about categories”. Noting first that Clade was only one of a number of recent novels “that to varying degrees explore the personal and social effects of environmental crisis”, he went on to note that while many such novels are “kinds of science fiction … there is a sound political logic for discussing them as a group unto themselves”.

Like others, Harrison thinks it’s possible to distinguish such novels from other kinds of science fiction because “climate change is already happening, which means it is in a different class of speculation and social relevance to, say, a pandemic: writing about it is a question of degree and perspective, not whether or not it will happen at all, and the degrees and perspectives that writers choose can be usefully compared” (a point Dan Bloom has also made). But he also – rightly – points out that acknowledging this distinction then demands we recognise the existence of novels such as Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour, which are engaged with these questions but are not science fiction in any meaningful sense.

Like me Harrison is unconvinced of the utility of the notion of “cli fi” in this context (as I have also done he notes its troubling tendency to elide the long history of environmental science fiction), and similarly sceptical of trying to group such books together as dystopias or post-apocalyptic stories, even though many books in this area deploy tropes and strategies associated with these traditions, before acknowledging that while he doesn’t have a solution to the question he believes it deserves further attention, if only because “this is a vital literary area, and … we need to get better at describing and discussing it”.

For what it’s worth I agree with Harrison that this is an area in which our conventional terminology fails us, and that none of the options on offer seem to be able to make sense of the work that is being produced, its relationship to traditional genre categories like science fiction (and indeed non-fictional and essayistic forms such as nature writing), or the various strategies it deploys to open up the realist novel in ways that let it embrace and engage with environmental questions.

That’s partly because of the sheer diversity of such books, and their tendency to elide traditional genre boundaries: certainly there’s almost no meaningful family resemblance between a book like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora and Sarah Hall’s The Wolf Border, but as I’ve argued elsewhere, the affinities between the two means they can (and should) be usefully discussed together.

At one level this diversity reflects the many and complex ways in which writers and artists are engaging with these questions, and more deeply their ongoing attempts to map out an imaginative language with which to make sense of what’s happening to our world (and indeed ourselves) in the 21st century, a point I’ve made elsewhere in the context of what might be best described as the new nature writing. Certainly it’s not accidental so many writers fall back on stories about lost parents and missing children when they seek to articulate their feelings about climate change, devices that capture something of the rupture and grief which suffuses the contemporary condition (something that has prompted the writer M. John Harrison to talk about “loss lit”, and which is also present in articles like this, or this). Nor is it a coincidence that so many of these books employ fractured structures, and borrow devices from science fiction and elsewhere to talk about time and deep time (I suspect all the lost parents and children are another way of getting at these questions as well), or that questions of landscape, and our solastalgic sense of loss about its erasure intrude over and over again (in an excellent piece earlier this year Robert MacFarlane made a similar point about the rise of the eerie in contemporary British culture).

More importantly though, this diversity suggests why thinking of these books in terms of genres or categories is to miss the wood for the trees. Because these books aren’t a genre, they’re expressions of the deeper and more pervasive transformation of the world and ourselves we have taken to calling the Anthropocene in exactly the same way novels like Mrs Dalloway and Ulysses reflected and embodied the transformative effects of modernity upon our culture and our selves. As Mckenzie Wark quipped on Facebook earlier this year, all fiction is anthropocene fiction, some of it just doesn’t realise it yet.

To my mind the benefits of thinking about the question in this way are considerable. Not only does it allow us to step away from fruitless arguments about generic definition, but it allows us to see climate change as simply one (if still a very considerable) part of a larger process of transformation, one that embraces, amongst other things, genetic engineering, virtuality, over-population, species loss, habitat destruction and the broader disruption of natural and social systems by environmental change and capitalism.

And, perhaps more deeply, it recognises that we inhabit a world in which we ourselves are being altered, not just by technology and social transformation, but by the shifting terms of our engagement with what we would once have called the natural world. If one wanted to define when this change became apparent perhaps you might point to the floods and fires that tore through Australia over the summer of 2010/11, or the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, or the droughts in the Middle East in 2008, or any one of the flooding events or hurricanes or droughts or heatwaves that have struck countries around the world in recent years, but perhaps the really significant moment was earlier this year, when average CO2 levels in the Earth’s atmosphere passed 400ppm for the first time since the Pliocene. As Virginia Woolf might have put it, on or about March 2015, human character changed.

What we call the literary expressions of this condition is an open question. The obvious choice is Anthropocene fiction, although I’m resistant to that term, both because like cli fi it suggests a set of generic boundaries, instead of emphasising the degree to which this transformation leaches into everything, and because it emphasises human agency when, to my mind at least, what many of the books and stories we wish to discuss are attempting to find ways to talk about the non-human in fictional terms (I also think it’s worth making the point that while the idea of the Anthropocene is usually assumed to embrace the effect upon the natural world by human activity, but it also – and importantly – embraces a different and more interstitial kind of ecological awareness, one that recognises the presence of wildness and the natural world within the fabric of the human world).

Yet still, given that this idea of the transformation of the natural world, and of the end of a particular idea of nature is central, I wonder whether it mightn’t be simplest to begin to speak of the post-natural, or post-naturalism, and to begin to think of it not as a fad or a fashion or a genre, but as a tangible condition, something shaped and defined by the transformation of the natural world by human agency that is going on around us, and which helps determine the nature of the way we see the world, the questions we ask, and perhaps most importantly, the stories we tell.