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World Bee Day 2018 – and literature

May 20, 2018

Apparently today, May 20, is World Bee Day! Who knew? Not me, until this morning. I understand it was designated last December by the United Nations, on the recommendation of Slovenia. Given the rise of cli-fi literature and the importance of bees to our planet, I’ve decided to give a little shout out to our fabulous bees today.

Actually, I’m not a huge fan of honey. I love the idea of it – of all those exciting flavours you see – but if I can choose between honey and maple syrup, it’s maple syrup I take, I’m afraid. Nonetheless, bees aren’t just about the honey, as I’m sure you know. They are critical to our planet for their busy little pollination activity. The World Bee Day website says that bees and other pollinators pollinate “nearly three quarters of the plants that produce 90% of the world’s food” and that “a third of the world’s food production depends on bees.” In addition, their pollination activity is critical for ecological balance and diversity, so much so that their presence, absence or quantity is a significant indicator of the health of our environment. In other words, we need bees … but they are  are in decline, due to a combination of factors including pesticides, climate change and disease. Hence World Bee Day.

Bill McKibben, Oil and HoneyBack in 2013 I read and reviewed American climate activist Bill McKibben’s book, Oil and honey: the education of an unlikely activist. It’s about the two important things in his life: bees, honey and good farming practice, and oil, or the fossil fuel industry, and its impact on the climate. Oil and honey, climate and farming. They’re all related.

However, that’s a work of non-fiction, but increasingly fiction is dealing with climate-change, resulting in the genre called cli-fi (ie climate change fiction.) I’ve reviewed some cli-fi here, but none focussing on bees, so this post is as much for my benefit as yours. (This is why I love blogging – I get to research something I’m interested in and then share it with anyone who is interested.)

So, here is a small selection, in alphabetical order by author.

James Bradley, Clade (2015)

James Bradley, CladeAustralian author James Bradley’s book Clade is more broadly about climate change than the other books in my selection here, but it does have bees on its cover. Sydney Morning Herald reviewer, Caroline Baum describes it as follows: “A global deadly virus, the collapse of bee colonies, extreme weather events causing social unrest, eco-refugees, infertility, autism and new advances in technology – these are just some of the themes of James Bradley’s new novel, Clade.” The bees, I understand, mainly feature in a sub-story about a refugee beekeeper who is concerned about Colony Collapse Disorder. However, this sub-story and the presence of bees on the cover suggest their importance to Bradley’s overall theme.

Moya Lunde, The history of bees (English ed. 2017)

Maja Lunde, The history of beesThe Saturday Paper’s reviewer, KN, describing Norwegian author Lunde’s The history of bees as presenting “an original angle” in the cli-fi realm, says that “the dystopian future she depicts hinges on the disappearance of bees from their hives. This is a real-world phenomenon, known as colony collapse disorder, diagnosed as a problem in 2006.” As The Atlantic’s reviewer writes, its premise is simple: what would happen if bees disappeared? The book apparently has three strands – one contemporary, one set in the 19th century, and one in 2098 after “The Collapse”.

I learnt a new term researching this – First Impact FictionLA Times reviewer Ellie Robins says it was coined by novelist Ashley Shelby to describe “fiction set in more or less the present day, which depicts ‘our shared world as the impacts of runaway climate change begin to make themselves known’.”

Bren MacDibble, How to bee (2017)

Bren MacDibble, How to beeBren MacDibble is an Australian-based New Zealand born writer. How to bee is a children’s book, which has been shortlisted for multiple literary awards, including the 2108 CBCA Book of the Year for Younger Readers, the 2018 Adelaide Festival Awards for Children’s Literature, the 2017 Aurealis Awards for Best Children’s Novel, and the 2017 Queensland Literary Awards, Griffith University Children’s Book Award. Decent cred, eh?

Publisher Allen & Unwin describes the plot:

Peony lives with her sister and grandfather on a fruit farm outside the city. In a world where real bees are extinct, the quickest, bravest kids climb the fruit trees and pollinate the flowers by hand.

Laline Paull, The bees (2014)

Laline Paula, BeesThe Guardian’s Gwyneth Jones describes British novelist Laline Paull’s The bees as “a debut dystopia set in a beehive, where one bee rebels against the totalitarian state.” It’s apparently a complex story, and Jones concludes her review by saying that “the crisis The Bees invokes is genuine, frightening and getting worse. Hive collapse disease remains a deadly real-life mystery …”

The Bees was Shortlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2015.

Now, the question is: can cli-fi help the cause of climate change? Well, coincidentally, a climate change research fellow, Sarah Perkins-Kilpatrick wrote about just that in The Conversation last year. She believes it can. “Through compelling storylines, dramatic visuals, and characters”, she says, cli-fi can make people “care about and individually connect to climate change” and thus “motivate them to seek out the scientific evidence for themselves.” She also argues – but of course this depends on the writer and the work – that cli-fi can deliver a message

of hope. That it is not, or will it be ever, too late to combat human-caused climate change.

Is all cli-fi hopeful?

Do you like cli-fi? And, do you agree that cli-fi can help the cause (assuming, of course, that you agree it is a cause)?

26 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2018 6:23 pm

    It’s lovely to see all these bee books. And what about Ant and Bee? for what it’s worth, I once wrote a novel (The White Garden) in which the murder was committed by bee sting.

    • May 20, 2018 6:44 pm

      Oh, I haven’t read The white garden Carmel. I must – though have you given away the end now??!

      I don’t know Ant and Bee, but have just looked them up. They look gorgeous!

  2. Meg permalink
    May 20, 2018 6:28 pm

    Hi Sue, I much prefer honey to maple syrup, but my grandsons prefer maple syrup. Their Canadian dad has to much influence! I like the book “How to Be A Bee”, I just hope it doesn’t have to wait till 2108 to win the CBCA Book of the Year for Younger Readers – ha ha. I think cli-fi books help the cause, though I am not a fan of them. I do think they have a place, and I think it is great young people are reading them. They are our future.

    • May 20, 2018 6:48 pm

      I don’t think Canada has an influence on my preference. I cook with honey – honey marinades in particular – and I like that but on its own, even as a child I didn’t like it. I was a Queenslander, and would love Golden Syrup!

      Thanks for answering the question about cli-fi. I’m inclined to think you’re right. I suspect they might preach a bit to the converted but I hope they catch a few others along the way.

  3. May 20, 2018 6:30 pm

    Don’t forget Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees! That was a terrific book:)

    • May 20, 2018 6:51 pm

      Thanks Lisa. I never did read that book but I remember it got good reviews. I did think of it, but I don’t think it fits the cli-fi theme I was wanting to focus on here?

      • May 20, 2018 6:52 pm

        Ah no, no it doesn’t. But still, any opportunity to mention a book I loved can’t be passed up, eh?

        • May 20, 2018 8:43 pm

          Absolutely, particularly older books people may have forgotten. I love reviving them.

  4. May 20, 2018 7:57 pm

    In April, 2009 – I was around mid-point through the 88-temple 1200 kms pilgrimage around the Japanese island of Shikoku. Up ahead as I walked one path I could see a chap doing doing something to the blossoms on a fruit tree. As I approached I asked him what he was doing. Pollinating the blossoms, he told me – using some kind of pole+cap to distribute the pollen. A lack of bees, apparently. I passed on thinking of our world – that such a thing was coming to pass – and here we are – nine years further on.

    • May 20, 2018 9:55 pm

      Fascinating Jim, particularly as two of these books involve hand pollination in their dystopian futures I believe.

      We visited a couple of the temples on Shikoku when we were there a few years ago, would never do the full pilgrimage. Good for you. My feet just can’t do that sort of walking.

  5. May 20, 2018 9:15 pm

    Good for you, Sue (good for Slovenia, too). Our poor bees need all the help they can get. Excellent post! 🐝

    • May 20, 2018 9:54 pm

      Thanks Paula. Yes, apparently Slovenia argued for this for three years. They are working really hard to protect bees.

  6. May 20, 2018 9:55 pm

    Happy World Bee Day. I personally know a couple of Bee keepers and must send wishes to them soon. I believe that Climate Change is the most serious issue that humankind faces. What is happening to the bees epitomizes so many of our issues.

    I have not read any cli-fi but I should. All of the books that you listed sound good.

    • May 20, 2018 10:01 pm

      Yes, Brian, we have a keen bee-keeper two houses away. They have so many hives in their backyard that they even have one or two at their front steps.

      I’ll be watching out for your first cli-fi book review!

  7. May 20, 2018 9:57 pm

    I also love Sherlock Holmes stories (like Laurie King’s Mary Russell series and the American tv show Elementary) that show him caring for the bees and telling them the news.

    • May 20, 2018 10:03 pm

      Thanks Jeanne – oh dear, I’m clearly not a Sherlock Holmes fan as I don’t recollect bees at all. I did see some of the Elementary show, but we didn’t watch them all. Too much to see at the time as I recollect.

      • May 21, 2018 6:24 am

        A number of Holmes fanfics have taken up where the 1926 story “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane” leaves off, with Sherlock Holmes retired and taking up beekeeping.

        • May 21, 2018 11:08 am

          Just like Austen fanfics eh? I had no idea Holmes had a big fanfic following too.

  8. May 20, 2018 10:32 pm

    This is wonderful, Sue, not least because I’m writing a lecture on Clade & it’s very helpful! Another one is Mirielle Juchau’s ‘The World Without Us’. A bit overdone to the point of messiness, but still it gives one much to think about, & had lovely writing in places.

    • May 20, 2018 10:52 pm

      Thanks Jess – and thanks for reminding me of Juchau’s book (which I haven’t read.) As soon as you mentioned it I remembered the hive-design cover. I would have included it, if I’d remembered it or if it had come up in my searches.

      Anyhow, I’m glad if this is helpful for your lecture.

  9. May 20, 2018 11:36 pm

    I think climate change is very real, Sue and quite frightening, actually. I can’t think of any cli-fi books that I’ve read, but they would hit a little too close to home for me anyway. As far as my pleasure reading is concerned, I want to bury my head in the sand on this issue.

    • May 20, 2018 11:52 pm

      Fair enough, Debbie – I’m the opposite. I love reading literature about the things that bother me. I think I must be masochistic.

  10. May 20, 2018 11:37 pm

    Lisa mentioned the Secret Life of Bees, which I have reviewed, as well as Mary Gaunt’s Kirkham’s Find and Kylie Tenant’s The Honey Flow, both – all three – about women getting a living and independence through bee keeping. The situation with bees could easily be the disaster which ends ‘civilisation’ well before rising sea levels and cli fi is an important way of spreading the message.

    • May 20, 2018 11:55 pm

      Thanks Bill – it seems that I could do a whole post on fiction featuring bees in general, rather than just climate change. I like the sound of the Gaunt and the Tenant.

  11. May 21, 2018 12:07 pm

    They wouldn’t fall under cli-fic but I have read two books on bees, one that I loved – The Bee Keeper’s Secret by Josephine Moon – and one that I didn’t love – The Honey Farm by Harriet Alida Lye. Both went into quite a lot of detail about the science of bees and the huge range of uses for honey. I don’t mind a bee book!

    • May 21, 2018 2:36 pm

      Thanks Theresa … interesting just how many novels there seems to be about bees and beekeepers (even before the climate change issue.)

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