Interviews

The Cli-Fi Contest That Asks Writers to Re-imagine the Future

An interview with Joey Eschrich, editor at ASU's Center for Science and Imagination.

Art credit: Venkatesh Lakshmi Narayanan

Today the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University launches a climate-fiction contest to be judged by novelist Claire Vaye Watkins (Gold Fame Citrus). This is the third contest of its kind hosted by the Center. Like the first two, this one will lead to the publishing of the winning stories in an anthology called Everything Change.

I spoke with Joey Eschrich, an editor at the Center, about the kinds of stories he’s hoping to see submitted this year and his thoughts on climate fiction more generally.

Amy Brady

This will be your third Everything Change contest. What are you hoping to see in the stories submitted to this year’s contest?

Joey Eschrich

For this third contest, I’d like to continue to see more stylistic diversity in the short fiction submissions we receive. Many people locate the origin of climate fiction within science fiction, or speculative fiction more broadly—but in the last several years, we’ve seen climate fiction expand in a huge variety of directions, from realistic fiction like Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior to thrillers like the TV series Occupied and high fantasy like Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias S. Buckell’s The Tangled Lands.

We’re also hoping to see stories that imagine futures in which we’ve made significant changes at the level of communities and societies, and as a global human civilization, to seriously grapple with the climate crisis. Our last anthology had a number of stories there were elegiac, and that function of dealing with grief is incredibly important. But I also hope we also see stories that imagine what it might look like if we actually started confronting this beast, harnessing ingenuity and collective action in new and unforeseen ways, and forming new kinds of communities, institutions, and collectives in the face of a rapidly changing world.

Amy Brady

Who do you hope submits stories this year?

Joey Eschrich

Everything Change has always been a global contest—for our first two outings in 2016 and 2018, we received stories by writers from 66 different countries. I hope we see a huge response from outside the United States, like we did the first two times around. One thing I love about climate fiction is that it invites authors and readers to delve into the specificity of different geographies, ecosystems, communities, and cultures, because the climate crisis manifests so differently depending on where you are and who you are. The more diversity of voices, perspectives, and locales we have in our stories, the more powerful it is to juxtapose them and demonstrate how all of that dizzying complexity, all that singular uniqueness of experience, branches out from one monolithic, globe-spanning crisis that we all need to acknowledge and face together.

Amy Brady

Tell us about your decision to ask Claire Vaye Watkins to be a judge.

Joey Eschrich

Our team are all huge fans of Claire’s 2015 novel Gold Fame Citrus, which is just fantastic, with quite compelling characters and such a vivid sense of place in Southern California and the Mojave Desert. In addition to this novel, Claire is an incredible short fiction writer; that’s really what she’s known for, and what she’s won her awards for. After two rounds with Kim Stanley Robinson as our lead judge, we wanted to have someone who isn’t so rooted in the science fiction community, who comes from a different literary background and writes in a different style. We’re so lucky that Claire was willing to join us.

Amy Brady

I’d like to hear more about the Center for Science and the Imagination. Any other projects or initiatives you’d like my readers to know about?

Joey Eschrich

I should start by saying that the Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative, which hosts the contest, is a partnership of our Center for Science and the Imagination and the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, which is a great group of people who we’re honored to work with on this.

The goal of the Center for Science and the Imagination is to reinvent our relationship with the future, through research, outreach, and collaborations. In many of our projects, we bring together writers, artists, and other creative thinkers with scientists, engineers, and experts from a variety of other fields to co-create visions of the future. Our projects often start with workshops and then lead to books of fiction, nonfiction, and art—but we also host projects that deal with science, technology, and education, like the Frankenstein Bicentennial, which celebrated the 200th anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with performances, exhibits, publications, interactive online experiences, and educational projects in the classroom and in other spaces for learning like science centers, museums, and after-school programs.

Last year, we published The Weight of Light, a collection of fiction, nonfiction, and art about the transition to clean energy, with a particular focus on how transforming our energy system will also change politics and culture. This year, we’re working on a second volume of The Weight of Light, with collaborators from the U.S. National Renewable Energy Laboratory, focusing on urban electrification and how the energy transition will reshape our cities. We’re hoping to have out by the end of 2020, and like Everything Change it’ll be free to read and download in digital formats.

We also recently launched Imaginary Papers, a quarterly newsletter on science fiction worldbuilding, futures thinking, and the human imagination. Each issue will feature bite-sized pieces of analysis and interpretation by writers from all over the map. Our first issue featured Slate magazine’s Torie Bosch writing about The Handmaid’s Tale, science fiction historian Alvaro Zinos-Amaro writing about the 1990s novel Only Forward, and a short piece I wrote about the First People’s Climate Report, which was published last month.

Amy Brady

Will there be another Everything Change anthology? If so, when might we expect it to be available?

Joey Eschrich

Yes! We’ll publish an Everything Change, Volume III anthology featuring the first prize winner and nine finalists from this contest, so ten stories in total. I’ll be editing it with my colleague Malik Toms, who’s an amazing writer and educator and just started working at the Piper Center for Creative Writing. We’re planning publish the book in early 2021. Like the first two volumes of Everything Change, it’ll be available for free online, in several formats. And we’re also exploring ways to make it available in print, somehow or another, alongside the free digital version.


Joey Eschrich is the editor and program manager at the Center for Science and the Imagination at Arizona State University, and assistant director for Future Tense, a partnership of ASU, Slate magazine, and New America on emerging technologies, culture, and society. He has edited several books of science fiction and nonfiction, including Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities, which was funded by a grant from NASA.

About Amy Brady

Amy Brady is the Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Review of Books and Deputy Publisher of Guernica Magazine. Her writing has appeared in Oprah, The Village Voice, Pacific Standard, The New Republic, McSweeney's, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.

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