• Deborah Orieta

Sim Kern on Climate fiction, Representation, and Action


Sim Kern's writing career hasn’t been long, but it has been brazen. Since kicking it off in 2018, they have carved their way into the world of speculative fiction, joining a growing number of writers whose work is concerned with imagining what the future holds, especially in the face of climate change.


Kern’s work explores the intersections of climate change, queerness, and social justice. From their short stories like The Propagator to their quiet horror novella Depart, Depart!, Sim manages to weave together the complex realities of being human against the backdrop of a world deeply affected by the changing climate. Their characters are multifaceted, which makes them relatable, and also brave and resilient in the everyday task of surviving (and helping others survive) in a world very much hostile to their efforts.


Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sim about their work in the lead up to our Spring Webinar Series. They talked extensively about their work with students as a middle school teacher for ten years, and about the need to engage students as active stewards of their environment. But being faced with the increasingly apocalyptic threat of climate change can be daunting, especially for young people still trying to find their place in the world. Taking this into account, climate fiction can be, for many, a way to face those fears and process them in more constructive ways. When I asked Sim about this, about how being a climate fiction (cli-fi!) writer helps them cope with their own climate-related anxieties, this is what they said:


"First, I just find it heartening to encounter other writers who understand the science and are as distressed as I am—as we all should be. I grew up in the climate denialism of the 90’s and 00’s, when even most Democratic politicians wouldn’t say the words “global warming.” Captain Planet was a cartoon that promised 90’s kids that if we just recycled and picked up trash in the park, that would be sufficient to “save” the environment. As I became an adolescent, I looked around at the world and realized, “Shit, we’re really killing the whole damn planet.” But none of the adults in my life were acting like the sky was falling, and they generally laughed at me when I tried to convince them otherwise. So at the bare minimum, climate fiction reaches out to those of us panicking about climate change and validates these very real fears.


What I think people who’ve never read cli-fi may find surprising is how ultimately optimistic books in this genre tend to be. Yes, climate fiction writers are trying to startle you, even terrify you, into action. We research climate predictions and try to make those frightening futures come alive through the lives of characters. But in cli-fi books, I haven’t encountered much climate nihilism—this idea I see far too often of, “Welp, the Earth is screwed. Might as well give up.” Climate fiction reminds you that there’s no defined line between pre- and post-apocalypse. Yes, as climate change accelerates, conditions on earth will worsen, and some people may turn to barbarism in response. But there will also be people showing great courage, finding solutions, helping one another, and experiencing all the joys and suffering of life—births, deaths, loves, weddings and funerals. We are amid climate change, and we will continue to be. Human history isn’t over, although it’s in for a rough ride. And every day is a chance to organize, convince others, and work towards a sustainable future. As long as there’s a tree left standing or a scrap of wilderness or a person left on earth, there’s life worth fighting for. Now is certainly not the time to give up."


I for one, agree wholeheartedly. And my guess is, if you’re reading this, you probably do too. So join us later this month, on February 23rd, as we have a conversation with Sim Kern and continue this conversation about climate grief, the power of art, and moving from fear into action.


Watch our interview with them below: