Reading About Sustainability: Stelliform Press and Climate Fiction!

Reading About Sustainability @trishtalksbooks
November 2023
Stelliform Press and Climate Fiction edition!

An interview with Stelliform Press publisher Selena Middleton, and introducing two of Stelliform's climate fiction titles:

Reading about climate change and the environment for my Reading About Sustainability project has led me down some fascinating paths and taken me places I hadn’t pondered much before. Take fashion: I always knew instinctively that buying thrift was going to be a decent choice for sustainability, but I had no idea the extent of the harms of fast fashion around the world, not just for the ecosystem, but for human welfare too. Aja Barber’s Consumed showed me that social cost.

Non-fiction has been necessary to school me in the basics, but I’ve discovered the world of climate fiction, and I’m blown away. Fiction transports us to realms that we can only imagine. It allows writers who have contemplated other realities deeply to lead us into creatively imagined futures that ponder the possibilities of a changed world. Sometimes these worlds hold our collective fear for the future, perhaps spurring our own deep accounting as they evoke our horror and fear; and sometimes they offer a kinder yet different way of seeing our lives as the earth warms, fostering a tentative hope.

I’m sharing climate fiction today with a couple of excellent entries that have made an impression on me: the novella Sordidez by E.G. Conde; and the short story collection You Are My Sunshine and Other Stories by Octavia Cade. Both are published by small Canadian independent publisher Stelliform Press, which focuses on science-fiction, fantasy and horror.

A visit to Stelliform Press’s website is a great introduction to their mission:

“Stelliform Press is a small independent literary press which publishes novellas, novels, short story collections, and works of creative non-fiction which address our world’s most pressing problems: climate change, ecological destruction, and the effect of these issues on how we relate to each other and to the other beings that live with us in the world. We see these problems as systemic and pervasive, exacerbating long-standing social issues. Our stories challenge us to confront the roots of injustice which prevent us from achieving a better world for all.”

Before I get started with the books, I’m excited to chat with Selena Middleton, Stelliform Press’s publisher and editor-in-chief. She's a writer (under the name Eileen Gunnell Lee), editor, educator and now publisher and founder of Stelliform Press. 

Trish: Hi Selena! I’m thrilled to have this conversation with you for my Reading About Sustainability project. I’ve been following Stelliform Press for a while now, and your vision is so forward-thinking. I don’t think I’ve seen another press quite like yours. Can you give me a brief overview of your origin story? Where did this fabulous idea originate?

Selena: Hi Trish! I'm excited to chat with you! I started Stelliform Press in 2020 after I finished a PhD in English which focused on feminist eco-fictions. Before I found my project's focus I read a lot of what everyone was already calling "cli-fi" and didn't like much of what I read there. I found many of those stories too focused on white, cis, hetero, male, and affluent (compared to many worldwide) experiences. I often found that the cultural impacts of climate were underexplored and, frankly, characterization was often lacking.

When I shifted focus to feminist science fiction I found that the feminist sf writers of the 70s and 80s–like Ursula K. Le Guin and James Tiptree Jr.–were addressing ecology in a more holistic way. From them my project blossomed to look at the speculative ecological perspectives of contemporary Indigenous writers (like Lee Maracle for example) and I knew that works like these, that were rarely categorised under the umbrella of "cli-fi," were crucial to understanding the pervasiveness of climate change's impacts. These writers helped me see the problem's ecological impacts in a web wherein ecology consisted of not just human bodies but human feeling and thought as well, along with the usual non-human life we think of as ecological.

At the time I was also getting started publishing my own fiction and having that experience of seeing how publishing works from a writer's perspective inspired me to start a press to create space for more of the kinds of stories that are so important.

Trish: It’s interesting that you found the feminist science fiction of the last century to be very relevant to the eco-fiction conversation today, and that you’ve been able to bring that idea into your vision for Stelliform press. It feels like sometime in the last year or so in my bookish journey the term “cli-fi” burrowed its way into my consciousness. It’s good shorthand for any fiction that includes a climate change element, but I hope it doesn’t become too limiting. At some point maybe all our future stories will have to include a changing earth. Right now, do you see a decent demand for cli-fi? Is it a limiting term or do you embrace it?

Selena: I think the connection between the early feminist eco-fiction and the kind of climate fiction I like to read is that those early authors, because of their feminist perspective, were interrogating power structures and seeing how everything is connected. The innate social commentary tied to a future-oriented scientific and philosophical vision, especially in the feminist dystopias and utopias of Octavia Butler and Joanna Russ, gave speculative fiction writers a language with which to articulate truths about our current trajectory and how it relates to ecology. I don't hate the term "cli-fi" and I use it as shorthand especially on social media where characters are limited, but I am a bit wary because "cli-fi" is so often associated with a particular kind of climate story. And writers in the genre, like Premee Mohamed and Rae Mariz who we published in 2022, have rightly commented that "cli-fi" will probably eventually effectively disappear as all stories become climate stories. As someone running a press that takes up this fairly narrow focus, I am interested in the ways in which it can and should be expanded. I want readers to see wider and wider connections and recognize the breadth and depth of the ways unmitigated climate change will shape our lives. But I also want them to see the breadth and depth of our possible responses and the worlds that are possible if our responses are not just rooted in new technology but also relationship and justice.

Trish: I understand what you say about climate change being not only about human and non-human bodies, but also present in our psychological lives as well. I love that you focus on SFFH. As far as I’m concerned, these genres perfectly pair with climate fiction. I could write a treatise on horror and how it helps us process our most dreadful traumas and fears, but suffice it to say that by reading about the uncanny, macabre and frightening in a horror novel I think we can do some pretty good working through. What is it about the marriage of climate fiction and SFFH that works for you?

Selena: Speculative thinking has always been a key component of Stelliform's storytelling because it enables us to think into the unknown. I knew from the start that science fiction would be a focus because of the way I wanted Stelliform stories to respond to cli-fi as a genre. But I've been really pleasantly surprised at how fantasy and horror have become an important part of the press's voice. The first and second books I acquired--Sim Kern's Depart, Depart! and Michael J. DeLuca's Night Roll--had horror and fantasy elements that do a wonderful job of linking present climate issues with the past. Depart, Depart! does this through a ghost which enables the main character to interrogate the legacy of his ancestors. Night Roll is a fairy tale retelling that occupies a liminal deep-time landscape that seeps into current day Detroit and its environmental and social justice issues. While I'm conscious of the need for Stelliform stories to temper the very dark feelings like climate despair and the immobility that comes with that, horror as a genre is absolutely an appropriate place from which to tell stories about our environment. How many times and in how many different ways have climate scientists been told that they are overreacting? Horror is a space with which to engage with the terror of the real science behind climate change and to come face to face with what will happen if we do nothing. It is terrifying--but staring into the blank faces of people who tell us that it's "no big deal" or "the world has warmed before" is also very scary. I love that SFFH gives environmental storytellers the tools to think in so many different ways across so many different issues.

Trish: I appreciate your comment about the terror of seeing the “blank faces'' of climate change denial. I’d not thought of it that way, but it strikes a chord.

Stelliform has been proactive in marrying genre fiction with social justice and Indigenous knowledge and storytelling. I’m finding so much richness in Indigenous fantasy and horror recently and it’s exciting to read. It is just me, or is this something you’re seeing too?

Selena: It's not just you! Stelliform has published three books by Indigenous authors to date--Weird Fishes by Rae Mariz, Sordidez by E.G. Condé, and Green Fuse Burning by Tiffany Morris [Trish: see my review here]--and while we've been working on and releasing these books, so many other amazing books have come out, especially in speculative genres. It's been wonderful to see. The three Stelliform books are from a range of Indigenous communities representing experiences with land and climate from coast to coast of Turtle Island and beyond. And this happened totally by accident, but the three books are fantasy, science fiction, and horror, demonstrating the way that each of these genres is a perfect home for explorations of Indigenous knowledge and experience. Publishing, of course, wants to neatly categorise everything, but these books defy complete categorization and I love that about them.

Trish: On your website, I see an “Environmentally-Conscious Publishing Plan,” which I love. You walk the walk! What have some of the successes and challenges been with Stelliform in the sustainability realm?

Selena: We try to walk the walk and it is extremely challenging. The biggest challenge is that a lot of the more sustainable publishing practices (like using 100% recycled paper, waterless printing, carbon-neutral distribution) are really out of reach when your print runs are small and distribution is a patchwork of Print on Demand and direct to store or consumer sales. We currently print a small print run on recycled paper and these copies are available from our website and direct from us, but even this is a financial risk. It's not until we are printing thousands of copies do the other sustainable practices become something we can consider. The pandemic and other kinds of global insecurity have closed off so many possibilities for networking and events and impacted our ability to grow into more sustainable practices. This is the challenge many people who are concerned about their impact on the planet are facing--sustainable practices are often accessible only to the wealthy. But we do our best, and having a forward facing plan for sustainability allows us to keep an eye on our progress and make changes where we can. It's also important to consider other kinds of sustainability when you're running a small press or any kind of artistic endeavour. Human energy and momentum and creativity are renewable resources, but in order for renewal to happen we also need to be in community.

Trish: I’d guess that carving out a space in the publishing industry is not for the faint of heart. What’s the Canadian small press world been like for you? How can readers and reviewers be a part of championing indie presses?

Selena: Coming from academia without any publishing experience except as a writer, the learning curve was very steep. But I've made some wonderful connections with other publishers and booksellers that have helped me learn the ropes. And I like to think we're making an impact; last month one of our 2022 books, Arboreality by Rebecca Campbell, won the Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction, and many of our other books have won or been nominated for important awards in speculative fiction. But one of my biggest challenges–especially because we focus on genre fiction and the American genre market really dominates the much smaller Canadian one–has been finding Canadians writers to publish and building a Canadian network of booksellers interested in our titles. I'm so grateful to the local booksellers who take copies of every one of our titles sight unseen. I also have a lot of gratitude for readers who take the time to review indie titles, to tell their friends about them, and to request them from their local libraries. This kind of support for indie presses is invaluable.

Trish: That’s an excellent reminder that we can all request that our libraries order the books! Finally, I cannot let you go without asking: What books are on your bedside table waiting to be read? All horror and climate change, or do you look for something completely different?

Selena: I do read a lot of horror and climate related books. The horror because I love it, and the climate books because I want to stay aware of what is new and fresh in the genre. I buy a lot of books from other indie presses, and anthologies to get to know emerging writers. I have four books at the top of my TBR. These are An Ordinary Violence by Adriana Chartrand; The Glassy, Burning Floor of Hell by Brian Evenson; Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories from Inhabit Media; and Queer Little Nightmares: An Anthology of Monstrous Fiction and Poetry from Arsenal Pulp Press. I'm really looking forward to getting into these!

Trish: Some intriguing suggestions, thanks! And thanks so much for being a part of my Reading About Sustainability series. You have such a great insight into the world of climate fiction and literature, and I’m so appreciative that there are people like you who make brave choices to start something so forward thinking. You’re truly at the forefront of the intersection of literature, climate change and social justice, and that’s an exciting place for you, and for all of us who get to read these wonderful authors.

Selena: Thanks for these wonderful questions, Trish! Every single Stelliform book has been a privilege to work on and they've all impacted my life in profound and unexpected ways. I hope readers will seek them out and experience that for themselves.


And without further ado, here are two picks from Stelliform Press that have struck a wonderful chord with me this year.

Sordidez by E.G. Condé

See my original, full-length review here. I’m also excited that it made NPR’s Books We Love 2023 list!

“The ones who broke the world should not be entrusted with its repair.”

This is an original take on an intricate mix of climate change fiction and geopolitics, colonialism and Indigeneity in a science fiction novella set in Puerto Rico and the Yucatan. It serves up an intricate and challenging narrative.

Vero is a trans man in near-future Puerto Rico, who leaves his community in the aftermath of environmental disaster to seek out the truths behind the political and ecological disasters ravaging the region. In the wake of the environmental disaster’s vacuum of power there will always be world (read: colonial) powers that step in to either “liberate” or dominate.

Condé weaves a pattern that made my brain hurt just a bit for the complexity, though I liked the book more for it. It was smart, and after I was done I was left craving more information about the issues, history and mythology of that region. The complexity is seated in the injustices of colonialism, and extremism from many angles. In the future of Sordidez, the Chinese and the United Nations become occupiers at different times. Condé discusses the issues of manufactured dependency, perhaps a more underhanded attempt at seizing power.

Sordidez presents a telling of things, rather than diving below the surface too much, likely because of the shorter, novella format. I am also guessing…pure speculation here…that there may be a sequel or companion work to this book.

The beautiful cover art is by Mexican artist Paulina Nino.

E.G. Condé is an emerging “queer, diasporic, Boracua writer of speculative fiction and fantasy.” Since this is his first novella, I’m sure he has many more fascinating places to take us and important things to say about the future of the climate and of the Caribbean region. I look forward to the journey.

You Are My Sunshine and Other Stories by Octavia Cade

See my original full review here.

In the beginning, there is eco-horror. A nightmarish future where animals burn or starve and humans are sacrificed to atone for at least a little of the planetary devastation. It’s a near future that feels believable, and the beginning of a revolution, or perhaps anarchy born of climate change.

Then there is guilt and an attempt at atonement for dying ecosystems. In the titular story "You Are My Sunshine," Cyrus is a marine biologist who has a deep connection with sea stars. When they begin massively dying he is helpless to stop it. When dismembered human arms begin showing up on his property, he finds a curious solace and connection with a larger Grief shared by others. He finds his own version of peace in bodily transformation.

In "Gone To Earth," Alan is a Mars astronaut but comes back to Earth with a malady called Earthsickness. He finds solace in deep connection with the physical Earth. Cade plays with notions of blood sacrifice, atonement and connection. There is a visceral longing to be one with the natural elements and need for symbiosis:

“He rubbed the moist dirt into his cuts, reveling in the symbiosis between them; rolled in it and felt the rolling again as a relief. He could taste his kinship in the blood-soaked earth whenever it touched his tongue; Iron and earth, they were relatives.”

Cade’s stories wander through new territory. There is future fascism and scientific rebellion. At the same time, new ecosystems form, nurtured by people who have internalised the ideas of interconnection with everything on earth as a necessity for survival.

In the end there is joy, making the collection deeply satisfying. I had to descend into the grief, hardship and disconnection with nature before I could emerge into Cade’s audaciously hopeful future. Her writing is strong and assured, so I could take this journey with her and feel every part of it. It was beautiful.


In my personal exploration of climate fiction, I value it for showing me the possibilities of what a changed future will look like, and it's a good thing that these stories help me with that. In my day to day life, I don’t think much about how the air temperature will feel against my skin, how the humidity will make me sweat, how the rain-laden storms and flooding will shrink my world and make me rethink the mobility and ubiquity of things that I take for granted. Stories about climate change give me a safer way to hold these truths and work with them in my imagination, so that maybe I can address the anxiety and climate grief that I’m coming to realise are an inevitable part of my psyche. Perhaps you feel this way too?

Thanks for taking this literary journey with me.


Popular Posts