Klara and the Sun

“The Sun was pouring his nourishment onto the street and into the buildings, and when I looked over to the spot where Beggar Man and the dog had died, I saw they weren’t dead at all—that a special kind of nourishment from the Sun had saved them.”

Klara and the Sun is as a science fiction novel told from the perspective of Klara, an Artificial Friend (AF) designed to be a companion for humans. At the beginning of the book, Klara is adopted by Josie, a 14-year-old girl dealing with an undisclosed illness, and her mother. As Klara spends more time with the family, she becomes deeply attached to Josie and strives to comprehend her human complexities and emotions. Guided by Klara’s acute (yet occasionally naïve) observations, the novel explores the interpersonal consequences of integrating artificial intelligence into human lives, emphasizing themes of love, mortality, and technology within a rapidly advancing society.

Although Klara and the Sun does not address the climate crisis directly, themes of environmental destruction and pollution are incorporated as a backdrop to the main narrative. As a solar-powered machine, Klara reveres the Sun (see animism). It is shown that Klara recognizes an inherent connection between humans and nature when she claims that the Sun will cure Josie of her illness. Her unique perspective also allows her to understand the environmental impact of the Cootings Machine, a giant construction device that pollutes the air. Just as Klara views the Sun as a god, Pollution is likened to a higher being as well, although this one is more akin to a devil figure. With the starting letters of ‘C-O-O,’ the Cootings machine calls attention to industrial processes that harm the atmosphere with carbon dioxide emissions. As Klara astutely remarks, “[The Sun] wasn’t yet able to see Josie separately from the other humans, some of whom had angered him very much on account of their Pollution and inconsideration…” (p. 167). The humans in the story were so blinded by the idea of new technology that they just ignored all damage that the machine caused. Klara’s manager said that the pollution is “unfortunate, but nothing to worry about” (p. 55). Even though the humans were visibly happier once the Cootings machine is gone, they made no effort to actually stop it; they only accept that pollution is a necessary evil needed to make progress in the world.

Klara eventually does manage to get rid of the Cootings Machine, but her victory is short-lived. Soon, a new, even bigger Cootings Machine takes its place. While this may seem very pessimistic, the situation offers an important insight into the complexities involved when dealing with environmental issues. For one, it implies that individual action is not enough. Rather than one person being able to save the environment completely on their own, everyone needs to collectively band together to make change. Additionally, another climate literacy interpretation is that technological fixes can’t fully solve the crisis either. The novel’s conclusion, with Klara ending up in a junkyard, hints at the inadequacy of technofixes and instead promotes the need for a more profound system change. To make a lasting impact, society as a whole needs to be restructured in order to prioritize the environment over wealth. The thematic emphasis on love seen throughout the narrative suggests a subtle message that solving the climate crisis will require a foundation of love and care.

©2024 ClimateLit (Alexandra Delacruz)

Publisher: Faber and Faber, 2021

Pages: 320

ISBN: 978-0-571-36487-9

Audience: Rebels (14-older)

Format: Novels

Topics: Animism, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Carbon Emissions, Collective Action, Earth Care, Environmental Destruction, Individual Action, Industry, Pollution, Solar Power, System Change