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Climate Changed: Five Fictional Survival Guides

  • By Mary Woodbury
  • 17th November 2016
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Our climate and our world are changing rapidly around us, a fact that can sometimes feel overwhelming. Mary Woodbury, creator of eco-fiction.com, shares five books to help us harness human nature for the greater environmental good.

On the heels of an election in the United States, wherein the president-elect has claimed that climate change is a hoax, one might question whether we as a species can still save ourselves. Where do we turn to manage the uproarious outcome of the unimaginable? There are plenty of ways to stand up, but one way to cope is to take a breath now and then and read fiction.

The five novels I recommend here examine how humanity connects with nature, how we fit into our planet’s demise, how we explore extinction, how we are haunted by loss, and how we can become stronger and build hope. If you think that novels exploring global warming are sometimes weird, sometimes dystopian, sometimes heartfelt, sometimes full of lament, and sometimes a way to deal with death — you are right. These novels express the profundity of human nature, including the hope and the humor, showing, really, that literature can help us deal with ourselves at the end of the day — meanwhile appealing to our hearts to care for the Earth.

If you like these five recommendations, you can find about 400 more like them at eco-fiction.com. Check the book database or bookshelf to narrow your search.

In 2014, Mary wrote her first blog for Free Word that explored several other wonderful books that tackle climate change; click here to find out more.

1. Southern Reach Trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance) – Jeff VanderMeer

Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer

This trilogy examines ecology and global warming through the lens of weird fiction. Florida author Jeff VanderMeer has a unique way of dealing with ecological loss in fiction, in a genre-bending and surprising manner. He has earned quite a few awards, and The New Yorker called him “The Weird Thoreau.”

The novels are about a strange place called Area X, where an environmental catastrophe happened in the past; since then, several expeditions have been sent in to figure out why this area has turned, well, weird. This series is a haunting one, but is very effective at holding the reader’s complete attention and presenting an intense preternatural trip through nature’s demise and rebuilding. Annihilation is being made into a movie that comes out next year, directed by Alex Garland. You can read my interview with VanderMeer at eco-fiction.com.

Published by HarperCollins in the UK and available here, here and here.

2. The Mercy Journals – Claudia Casper

The Mercy Journals by Claudia Casper

This sometimes humorous, sometimes gritty novel is about Allen Quincy (or “Mercy”), who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and imagines himself dead; yet, through his journey, he realises that living means that he must survive in a climate-changed world. It’s a story about redemption; in fact, I told the author that Mercy was my new literary hero. Many other issues peek through in the novel. Casper said she has explored genocide in her novels, and this book is no exception.

She is also concerned about ethnic groups being blamed for things that they aren’t guilty of — the “other” syndrome.

With climate change being nearly forgotten in the most recent presidential election in the United States, and the elevation of hate speech and discrimination against “the other”, this book is very important right now. One scene in the novel depicts refugees at a border wall in Mexico and it was one of the most horrific, surreal passages that I’ve ever read. It’s a wake-up call that the unimaginable might come true. Envision a future Mexico where there’s not enough fresh water, and families are trying to come to the United States because of hunger, thirst, and desperation.

Published by Arsenal Pulp Press in Canada and available here.

3. At the Sharp End of Lightning (Oceanlight Book 1 )NR Bates

At the Sharp End of Lightning (Oceanlight Book 1) by NR Bates

I picked this novel up last year because I have always been fascinated by Celtic mythology and was planning a trip to Ireland; the novel includes myth and lore set in the area I was visiting. It is beautifully written and takes place on the edge of this world and the imaginary, transecting history and the future with a forest of doubt and feelings of loss as wilderness begins to slink away due to climate change. One of the main characters is a sea sprite trying to find her family. The other is a diseased human in a parallel universe of some kind. The plot connects them in an endearing tale.

The author is an oceanographer, and I was pleasantly surprised at his ability to fuse scientific facts about the ocean with the prose of the sea, culminating in a treasurable read where nature finds its way into the abstract of the human consciousness.

Published by NR Bates Publishing and available here.


4. The Lamentations of Zeno  llija Trojanow

The Lamentations of Zeno by llija Trojanow

Zeno Hintermeier, the main character, works on an Antarctic cruise ship as a tour guide to well-off people whose lifestyles of high consumption exemplify the causes of climate change. This is in juxtaposition to Zeno’s sadness at the death of glaciers he has studied his whole life and at his marriage falling apart.

As the polar ice-caps melt, one man’s existential lamentations mirror our own personal and global crises. And the style of the novel is brilliant, seeping into us like cold meltwater. While some have appreciated Trojanow’s great writing, a few walk away disappointed at the desperation in the novel. But I think it’s realistic. We are beginning to live in desperate times, and to gloss over the reality of it hints at a different sort of denial. What’s that old saying: when you hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Published by Verso Books in the UK, translated into English by Philip Boehm and available here.



5. The World Without Us – Mireille Juchau

The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau

Like the other authors in this recommendation list, Juchau has written an evocative story first, with the issue of environmental degradation being strong but non-didactic. Juchau’s novel takes place in the Australian rainforest. It uncovers the mystery and enigmatic relationships of a family that has a bee farm. Why are the bee colonies dying? Why is the mother drifting away by herself so often? Why does one of the daughters refuse to speak? The answers unfold softly, in tiers of sorrowful but deep imagery.

This novel so eloquently weaves, in slow pacing and prose, environmental issues with the everyday workings of bee colony farmers. The writing style is delicate and mature, full of meaning and character. I felt as though the rainforest farm was a home I knew with people I’ve met. The complexity of Juchau’s development among her characters’ relationships is equally as intricate as the natural ecosystem surrounding the family. This novel is yet more proof that our humanity is deeply tied to the wilderness surrounding us.

Published by Bloomsbury in the UK and available here.

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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