The tradition of fiction about climate change goes way back–you could say all the way back to narratives of old that were spoken or written. The canon began before we knew more about our modern human-caused climate variations, even before sci-fi writers imagined such climate disasters. The Science Fiction Encyclopedia shows climate themes from the 1930s. And before the recognized father of climate themed science fiction, JG Ballard, we had John Christopher (The World in Winter), Fritz Leiber (A Pail of Air), Fred Hoyle (The Black Cloud), Gerald (HF) Heard (The President of the United States, Detective)–the latter from 1947–among many others.
There’s a long lineage of works in this canon, from early myths of weather gods and goddesses such as Thor, the thunder god, or Susanowo, the Japanese Shinto god of storms and sea. There’s Noah in the Bible and Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In 1759 was Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas, which dealt with regulation of the weather. Other weather control novels are listed here. When I think about the number of classics that are close to the land, weather-saturated, prone to the elements, and so on, I begin to wonder if I will truly ever come close to even cataloging a small percentage of works that fall into this area.
This site has mostly focused on more modern novels, but I’ve been searching for some of the earliest novels that deal with modern climate change as we now understand it. I had erroneously gone along with the media for the longest time, reporting climate change genres as emerging and new. I know what the media intends: genres relating to climate change are more popular now than ever, but they are not new.
We cannot ignore the earliest works in this genre. And by “this genre” I mean the speculative fiction involving modernly understood (AGW) long-term climate changes rather than the older canon and long lineage of works that were about wacky weather.
I added Arthur Herzog’s Heat to the site in the spring of 2014, and at the end of May I heard from his widow, Leslie Mandel-Herzog, about his other works listed at the Official Website of Arthur Herzog (note that this site has since expired). Before I heard from her, I was intrigued that the first edition of this novel was published in 1977. There have been several reprints since, but the text remains the same. The novel is described on Goodreads:
One of the earliest climate change novels. With uncanny skill, Arthur Herzog, best-selling author of The Swarm and Earthsound, has blended fiction and fact into a terrifying and highly plausible story of the near future: a time when tensions mount as ecological doom beckons.
Lawrence Pick, engineer, gathers startling evidence that the world’s weather may be rapidly changing, as a prelude to a fundamental alteration in global climate. In a secret underground laboratory, he and a team of equally skilled scientists learn that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, largely due to the overuse of energy, will ascend to the point where no living thing can survive.
I began reading the novel last week, and I think it might be one of the earliest novels that comes close to scientific realization about what we now know about climate change; it goes into ocean acidification, carbon emissions, and so forth. Gregers Andersen also noted Herzog’s Heat as the first such novel in AGW climate change fiction. But a little back story first. As early as the late 1800s, scientists such as Fourier and Tyndall studied gases in the atmosphere. As early as the 1930s, a global warming trend was reported, but it was not understood. Similar studies continued from the 1930s up to the current times, but in the 1970s, the idea of climate change began to get a little more popular. The year that Herzog’s Heat was published was the same year that scientific opinion converged on global warming. These ideas were gaining hold in the public as well until the Reagan administration when “political conservatism was linked to skepticism about global warming.” Source: AIP. Though more sci-fi novels followed in Herzog’s footsteps, whose paths had been scouted by JG Ballard and other such earlier novelists, it wasn’t until relatively recently in history that climate change once again converged as scientifically accurate–not only by scientists but also now by the public–and this is when the genre began to flourish in full and “emerge”.
Arthur Herzog’s widow Leslie and I continued our conversation when I let her know that the site was now cataloging other nature books, not just climate ones. She gave me some backstory on a few novels that seemed to fit into our site’s focus, and I told her I’d add this rich information to the site. So, thanks to Leslie for all this insightful knowledge.
Leslie: Arthur wrote Heat in 1977. So again, 4 years before I met him, but I think about the book when I note the drought in the West that has prices of meat up 17%, when I check http://flood.firetree.net/?ll=
If I had the time I would check back on the people Arthur interviewed for the book, all people he kept up with year after year, to find out their opinion on global warming now: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Dr. J. Murray Mitchell, Ed Weigel; NOAA Geophysical Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton, New Jersey Harold Frazer; NOAA Environmental Research Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado, Carl A. Posey; Sam O. Honess; Institute for Environmental Studies, University of Wisconsin John Ross; Drs. Alden McClellan, E. W. Wahl. National Academy of Sciences; Drs. Charles E. Fritz, John Perry; Center for the Study of Short-Lived Phenomena Smithsonian Institution’s Charles Citron, Shirley Maina, David Squire, James C. Cornel. (I might note that the Center, with reports on natural events, partially inspired CRISES.) Also: National Center for Atmospheric Research Dr. Stephen Schneider; Dr. Jerry Grey; Brad Byers; Mae Megaha; Charles Crum; Dr.Gregory Herzog; Naomi Rubenstein; William E. Bernard, Jr.; Judy Peiffer; Dr. Michael Bad; and Diana Grant. Special thanks to Drs. Mitchell and Grey and to Ross Wetzsteon and Don McKinney for reading the manuscript. And especially to Dr. Perry.
And I know people trying to stop global warming with what Arthur wrote in the ending of his book.
Leslie: The 1977 film Orca is based on Arthur’s book Orca. The film and the book have different endings. I recall Arthur stating he had the idea first before Jaws, as it takes some times years for him to start and then finish a book. Jaws came out in 1975. As I did not meet Arthur until 1981, I only have memories of his talking about going to actually see the filming. Arthur loved animals and got a kick out of my birds, one of which would sit on his head cleaning each hair, while Arthur made the sound of a kiss–and the bird made the kiss sound back.
Leslie: Arthur found a tiny bit–maybe a few lines–of a news story he cut out and that I still have about the African Bee being in the USA. It was the reason he wrote The Swarm. When the movie was in production, Arthur sent a telegram to the producer: “ONE BEE AT A TIME” as Arthur felt it would build suspense better than the entire swarm at once. But no one listens to the writer after the rights are sold for a movie. Arthur always had advisers when he wrote a book. One was an expert on bees, Bob Brooks, who currently is using bee venom to help MS patients and ALS, and is in clinical trials. Dr. Brooks figured out that by having the bees sting through latex, it saves the bee’s life as they normally die after stinging.
Leslie: This book was published in 1975, six years before I met Arthur. But every time we felt a quake, from the fault line on 86th street or 14th Street, it reminded me and Arthur of his book, about an earthquake on the East Coast. When I first met Arthur, I read every book he wrote to that date, and he would say “another Arthur Herzog,” and smile. Another time, originally in my NYC Apartment, with wall to wall books, Arthur said, “I bet you have not read all of these and pulled one from the shelf.” It was Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, and I said “The Morning of June 26th was a clear and sunny day. The people began to gather in the square.” The look on Arthur’s face was PRICELESS. He did not know that I had memorized the story for a state speech contest I won in Minnesota in high school. But it is a fact that I am on a book diet, which means not buying any new books, until I finish all I have. I had someone alphabetize and categorize all 4,000 plus books we own, all on my computer, so that Arthur could ask, “Where is that book on hypothermia?” and I could type in “hypo” and see it was in the upstairs bedroom on the North Wall and easily get it to him.
Leslie: Every time Arthur’s books were in galleys, he would write a short story and then throw it in a box, which I found in the attic. I made him go through them, and he pulled out all the ones that had a “body part” as the subject. Hence the book of short stories, “Body Parts.” I always loved the one called “Loose Tongue”. Then he put together the ones for “Beyond Sci-Fi”, and I have not had the time to publish “Near the Edge”. The “Voice from Body Parts” was made into a movie, but the producer died, and although I have a copy, I have not done anything with it yet. Arthur wrote every day of the year, from 8 am to noon when he broke for soup and a sandwich, then from 1 pm to 6 pm. He would drag his electric typewriter around world-wide, so he could work every day.
Leslie: For years Arthur studied the Earth’s core, which is solid iron but that is surrounded by non-solid material that moves; as the movement happens, first there are “eddies” in different parts of the earth, then the magnet poles change position, and as that happens the magnetic pull of our atmosphere gets thinner, which allows more damaging sunlight to penetrate, causing more skin cancer. Arthur’s brother Greg Herzog is a Professor of Chemistry at Rutgers University and works on meteorites, moon rocks and Mars dust, and advises NASA on projects. His nephew Christopher Herzog is a Professor of String Theory at Stony Brook, and thus discussions among the three were always fascinating, scientific, and material for Arthur’s books.
Arthur Herzog’s contributions to the evolving genre of climate fiction, science fiction, and other eco-fiction have proved substantial, if even in pop culture. I am glad that Leslie wrote to me because his work should not be forgotten, and I feel he should get more credit as being one of the first, if not the first, authors to have created a story centered around human-caused climate change as we currently understand it.
Arthur Herzog died at age 83. His obituary is at the New York Times. A prolific writer, he penned sixteen novels, two short story collections, and nine books of non-fiction. His novels The Swarm and Orca were made into movies as well.
Update: We are sad to report that Leslie Mandel, wife of Arthur, passed away on June 23, 2015, a year after this interview.