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12 works of climate fiction everyone should read

  • By Mary Woodbury
  • 17th September 2014
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Climate change can be a tricky topic for writers, often drenched in apathy and apocalypse – but that doesn't mean it can't be done. We asked Mary Woodbury of eco-fiction.com to recommend her favourite novels that tackle climate change.

1. Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta

Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta

Emmi is a talented author who has been compared to Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood, and her book has received numerous accolades, since it was first published in Finland in 2012. Set in the future, it’s about a young woman training to become a tea master. Water is scarce due to climate change, and a dystopian society has resulted. This is one of my favorite books in the genre of eco-fiction. Emmi’s writing is powerful, and her book is an example of how you can preach to the choir (in my case, anyway) and still be very effective. Though “preaching” isn’t the right word: her book manages to not be didactic but still be effective in getting her message about the climate across.


 

2. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver is such a humorous, frank author, and reading her books always gives me joy. This book isn’t in-your-face about climate change: instead it’s the story of a family. A young mother living near the Appalachian valley discovers millions of Monarch butterflies have magically migrated there for the winter. Seen by some as a religious miracle, scientists who come to investigate reveal that the Monarchs are moving north for the winter because their normal habitat in Mexico suffering from climate change.


 

3. A Being Darkly Wise by John Atcheson

A Being Darkly Wise by John Atcheson

John is a contributing author at Climate Progress and Common Dreams, and he has a background in the EPA, so he knows about the red tape involved in getting real work done to protect our environment. The story is very well written: a modern suspense and adventure tale about a group of people traveling with a very interesting guide to an isolated mountainous area in British Columbia (I live in BC so loved this aspect). The book is about a journey back to one’s most essential self as one relates to nature rather than culture. I won’t lie; there were a few places in this book that I got teary-eyed. I could not put this book down.


 

 

 

4. Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich

Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathanial Rich

The main character in this novel, Mitchell, deals with disaster statistics, putting numerical value on human lives. He is rich, not very likeable, and humorless. And then a hurricane destroys his habitat in New York. I always love great character redemption, and Mitchell’s evolution is compelling in this day and age when people tend to gravitate toward two ends of the lifestyle spectrum: nature and the essentials vs. greed and material possession – and Rich’s development of this is fascinating.


 

 

 

5. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Published earlier this month, my interest in this novel was piqued when I read reviews which mentioned climate change and environmental fiction. It’s an epic young-adult novel the reader relates to from the very first sentence, and it’s exceptionally well-written: which is no surprise coming from David Mitchell. I haven’t yet finished it, but my recommendation comes from what I’ve read so far as well as its great reviews.


 

 

 

 

 

6. Nature’s Confession by J. L. Morin

Nature's Confession by J. L. Morin

This doesn’t come out until January 2015, but it’s such an evocative book I’d like to recommend it early. Another work of young adult/teen fiction, the inspiring story follows two misfit teenagers fighting to save the environment. It’s gotten some wonderful reviews already, and I’ll have an interview with J. L. Morin coming out before the book is published.


 

 

 

 

 

7. The Twig Stories series by Jo Marshall

Leaf and the Long Ice from the Twig Stories series by Jo Marshall

This beautifully illustrated series for children follows twig characters dealing with climate change and environmental destruction. I have had lots of communication with Jo, the author; she is an amazing woman who spends as much time in her real life caring for animals and the environment as she does writing stories for children to inspire them to do the same. I know from experience that childhood inspiration to care for our environment can lead down the path of continuing to do so as an adult. The books in the series are Leaf and the Rushing Waters, Leaf and the Sky of Fire, Leaf and the Long Ice, and Leaf and Echo Peak, the latter due to come out soon.


 

 

8. The Sea and The Summer by George Turner

The Sea and the Summer by George Turner

A masterpiece of climate fiction, this book was originally published in the late 1980s (as The Drowning Towers in the US) and republished just last year. Turner tackled global warming decades ago, winning an Arthur C. Clarke award. This just goes to show that the climate change genre is not really new; it is just larger now than it once was. We’ve discussed this book in our Google+ cli-fi/eco-fiction community group, and those who have read it see it as a prototype of climate change novels.

Another is Heat by Arthur Herzog. I have not finished reading this book but got a chance to communicate with Herzog’s widow for an insight into his work (published in 1977) with climate scientists back then.


 

9. Margaret Atwood’s trilogy: Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam

Oryx and Crake, The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

I’ve long been a fan of Margaret Atwood, and her newest trilogy is popular with both mainstream and climate fiction readers alike. She also identifies with the climate fiction genre, and speaks out about it occasionally.


 

 

10. Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, Science in the Capital trilogy and Antarctica

Red Mars from the Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson

Though there are so many good books within the climate/eco-fiction genres, I can’t leave out Kim Stanley Robinson. These three projects, especially the latter two, are climate-related and well-known. I have listened to him speak, and he’s really got some brilliant insight into literature as well as climate change and eco-fiction.


 

 

 

 

 

11. Shackleton’s Man Goes South by Tony White

Shackleton’s Man Goes South by Tony White

I did an interview with Tony White earlier in the year when he was a writer in residence in the London Museum of Science: his project was to write a novel about climate change. The book was interesting in that it fused fiction with non-fiction, and past with future, in an interesting tale that eclipses time (from prediction to aftermath).


 

 

 

 

12. Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through Science by Philippe Squarzoni

Climate Changed by Philippe Squarzoni

As you might have noticed, I’m trying to make this list of recommendations quite diverse, so the next one I’ll mention is a graphic novel. Though not necessarily fiction, graphic novels take science and illustrate it in a creative way, similar to climate novels. There are a couple of interesting graphic novels coming up, but this one by Philippe Squarzoni is out now and has gathered some really great reviews.


 

 

13. Back to the Garden by Clara Hume

Back to the Garden by Clara Hume

As a cheeky addition, I’ll mention my own novel. I wrote Back to the Garden under the pen name Clara Hume, and it gathered some good reviews and a fair bit of attention in the media. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale similar to many others being written now, but instead of being a fast-paced thriller it is a literary story with a slower pace.


 

 

eco-fiction.com is run by British Columbia’s Moon Willow Press, an independent publisher that helps to sustain forests while celebrating the written word. Eco-Fiction maintains a growing list of fictional novels, short stories, anthologies, and prose that are climate or environmental in nature, including science fiction, literary fiction, speculative fiction, and other genres. The site also catalogs a few non-fiction works (notable essays and graphic novels), has a section on media and other arts that deal with climate change, hosts several interviews with climate authors, has a YA/teen bookshelf, maintains a large searchable and sortable database of works at the site, and runs a friendly and public community discussion group at Google+ on eco-themes in literature and the arts.

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  • Read Flight Behavior, Oryx and Crake and the Kim Stanley trilogy. Now have Memory of Water on my list.

  • I just typed into my browser, ‘science fiction fans who care about the environment’, and this link came up! I’ve just had a young adult science fiction book released by John Hunt Publishing one week ago, Desert Dwellers Born by Fire, the first in a series. While it’s classic sci fi, the landscapes and plant life are realistic. I like to call the series, ‘geographical fiction’. Hope to check out some of the above titles, thanks!

  • Volha Sudliankova

    “Solar” by Ian McEwan and “Whirligig” by Magnus Macintyre should be undoubtedly added to the list.

  • Katherine Forrest

    “in Memory of Central Park: 1853-2002” by Queenelle Minet could be classified either as enviro-fi or cli-fi. It’s a thought-provoking novel about the gradual encapsulation of a major city in order to avoid what’s happening in the world outside.

  • I’ll send a free copy of I Call Myself Earth Girl to anyone who is interested. You can read reviews on Amazon.

  • “LUA’S WAY: Ten Tips on Health and Well-Being for Mainlanders” on Amazon

    During a week of filming a ludicrous second-chance romance reality show aboard an exquisite hand-built island-hopping Polynesian sailing catamaran in the South Pacific, a humble, laughter-loving, ukulele-playing boat chef from the islands named ‘Lua’ surprisingly imparts much good advice on maintaining good health and well-being on a warming, crowded, and ecologically stressed planet. In this salt-sprayed musical tale of mainland madness, island wisdom, and second chances, writer, musician, and first mate Rico reveals chef Lua’s mindful way of living and joyful spirit of giving and the wisdom of her fellow islanders, who—unlike most mainlanders—recognize and respect natural limits to growth, their embeddedness in Nature, and their direct connection to the natural world—and to its fate.

  • RuthER

    Prophecies about global catastrophe apocalypse are obviously more lucrative than reality: there is no evidence of man-made global warming, and there has been a DECREASE of severe weather for decades. Starvation is caused by wars and politics, not drought. The Sahara has been greening for decades. And so forth. Go to scientists for data, not the government and its media puppets. All of you alarmists are in it for the money, for YOURSELVES. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of workers lose their jobs, energy costs go up, products manufactured using energy cost more. Families in the Third World are denied cheap reliable energy so they suffer hard lives and watch their kids die of respiratory diseases from burning wood and dung for heat and cooking fuel. You people hate humanity and progress and want all the riches and power for yourselves. Meanwhile, Russia, India, China, Brazil, South Africa, and Japan, and Germany are growing richer through cheap energy and through powering up Africa. Stupid greedy Europe and the US are going down. Thanks a lot.

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