Sunday is Earth Day, that day of the year when we're reminded to take care of our planet. It's the only one we've got, after all... for now, at least.
But in the world of speculative fiction, reminders aren't really needed. Sci-fi authors have long thought up future scenarios impacted by every sort of ecological disaster imaginable, whether caused by our own careless pollution or technology gone awry, some strange alien virus, or just a pissed off Mother Nature who's had enough of our shit. It even has its own cute genre name: cli-fi, for climate fiction (see what they did there?).
Though the name is a recent invention, writers have pondered the perils of climate change as far back as Jules Vernes' 1889 adventure novel, The Purchase of the North Pole, while J.G. Ballard's dystopian novels The Drowned World (1962) and The Drought (1964) are considered early cli-fi classics. Today, with terms like "global warming" and "carbon footprint" now part of our everyday lexicon, climate change and environmental disaster are in everyone's thoughts — and climate fiction has grown right along with our awareness.
Even if climate change has never once crossed your mind (you could be a monk, I guess?), these 10 books are sure to get you thinking about the environment and our impact on it...
Imaginative future sci-fi of a floating refugee city in a post-climate change world:
Blackfish City (2018)
by Sam J. Miller
After the climate wars, a floating city is constructed in the Arctic Circle, a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering, complete with geothermal heating and sustainable energy. The city’s denizens have become accustomed to a roughshod new way of living, however, the city is starting to fray along the edges—crime and corruption have set in, the contradictions of incredible wealth alongside direst poverty are spawning unrest, and a new disease called “the breaks” is ravaging the population.
When a strange new visitor arrives—a woman riding an orca, with a polar bear at her side—the city is entranced. The “orcamancer,” as she’s known, very subtly brings together four people—each living on the periphery—to stage unprecedented acts of resistance. By banding together to save their city before it crumbles under the weight of its own decay, they will learn shocking truths about themselves.
Blackfish City is a remarkably urgent—and ultimately very hopeful—novel about political corruption, organized crime, technology run amok, the consequences of climate change, gender identity, and the unifying power of human connection.
Moby Dick retelling of inter-planetary exploration to help a resource-depleted earth:
The Beast of Cretacea (2015)
by Todd Strasser
Master storyteller Todd Strasser reimagines the classic tale of Moby Dick as set in the future—and takes readers on an epic sci-fi adventure.
When seventeen-year-old Ishmael wakes up from stasis aboard the Pequod, he is amazed by how different this planet is from the dirty, dying, Shroud-covered Earth he left behind. But Ishmael isn’t on Cretacea to marvel at the fresh air, sunshine, and endless blue ocean. He’s here to work, risking his life to hunt down great ocean-dwelling beasts to harvest and send back to the resource-depleted Earth. Even though easy prey abounds, time and again the chase boat crews are ordered to ignore it in order to pursue the elusive Great Terrafin. It’s rumored that the ship’s captain, Ahab, lost his leg to the beast years ago, and that he’s now consumed by revenge. But there may be more to Captain Ahab’s obsession. Dark secrets and dangerous exploits swirl around the pursuit of the beast, and Ishmael must do his best to survive—if he can.
Lyrical present-day tale of the apocalyptic effects of climate change:
by James Bradley
On a beach in Antarctica, scientist Adam Leith marks the passage of the summer solstice. Back in Sydney his partner Ellie waits for the results of her latest round of IVF treatment.
That result, when it comes, will change both their lives and propel them into a future neither could have predicted. In a collapsing England Adam will battle to survive an apocalyptic storm. Against a backdrop of growing civil unrest at home, Ellie will discover a strange affinity with beekeeping. In the aftermath of a pandemic, a young man finds solace in building virtual recreations of the dead. And new connections will be formed from the most unlikely beginnings.
Clade is the story of one family in a radically changing world, a place of loss and wonder where the extraordinary mingles with the everyday. Haunting, lyrical and unexpectedly hopeful, it is the work of a writer in command of the major themes of our time.
Near-future tale of the apocalyptic effects of climate change:
Drowning Towers (1984)
by George Turner
Francis Conway is Swill - one of the millions in the year 2041 who must subsist on the inadequate charities of the state. Life, already difficult, is rapidly becoming impossible for Francis and others like him, as government corruption, official blindness and nature have conspired to turn Swill homes into watery tombs. And now the young boy must find a way to escape the approaching tide of disaster.
The Sea and Summer, published in the US as The Drowning Towers is George Turner's masterful exploration of the effects of climate change in the not-too-distant future. Comparable to J.G. Ballard's The Drowned World, it was shortlisted for the Nebula and won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best novel in 1988.
Fantasy tale in an apocalyptic world of catastrophic climate change:
The Fifth Season (2015)
Broken Earth trilogy
by N. K. Jemisin
WINNER OF THE HUGO AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL 2016
This is the way the world ends...for the last time.
A season of endings has begun.
It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.
It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.
It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.
Hard sci-fi in a post-climate change world where skyscrapers are island homes:
New York 2140 (2017)
by Kim Stanley Robinson
NOMINATED FOR THE HUGO AWARD FOR BEST NOVEL 2018
New York Times bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson returns with a bold and brilliant vision of New York City in the next century.
As the sea levels rose, every street became a canal. Every skyscraper an island. For the residents of one apartment building in Madison Square, however, New York in the year 2140 is far from a drowned city.
There is the market trader, who finds opportunities where others find trouble. There is the detective, whose work will never disappear - along with the lawyers, of course.
There is the internet star, beloved by millions for her airship adventures, and the building's manager, quietly respected for his attention to detail. Then there are two boys who don't live there, but have no other home - and who are more important to its future than anyone might imagine.
Lastly there are the coders, temporary residents on the roof, whose disappearance triggers a sequence of events that threatens the existence of all - and even the long-hidden foundations on which the city rests.
New York 2140 is an extraordinary and unforgettable novel, from a writer uniquely qualified to tell the story of its future.
Spec-fic tale of genetic engineering gone awry, causing ecological devastation:
Oryx and Crake (2003)
by Margaret Atwood
Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.
Poignant, literary tale of inter-planetary exploration to help a devastated earth:
The Stone Gods (2007)
by Jeanette Winterson
On the airwaves, all the talk is of the new blue planet – pristine and habitable, like our own was 65 million years ago, before we took it to the edge of destruction. Off the air, Billie Crusoe and the renegade robo-sapian Spike are falling in love. Along with Captain Handsome and Pink, they’re assigned to colonize the new blue planet. But when a technical maneuver intended to make it inhabitable backfires, Billie and Spike’s flight to the future becomes a surprising return to the distant past –- "Everything is imprinted forever with what it once was." What will happen when their story combines with the world’s story? Will they –- and we –- ever find a safe landing place?
Playful, passionate, polemical, and frequently very funny, The Stone Gods will change forever the stories we tell about the earth, about love, and about stories themselves.
The ocean fights back against mankind's pollution in this sci-fi thriller:
The Swarm (2004)
by Frank Schatzing
Whales begin sinking ships. Toxic, eyeless crabs poison Long Island's water supply. The North Sea shelf collapses, killing thousands in Europe. Around the world, countries are beginning to feel the effects of the ocean's revenge as the seas and their inhabitants begin a violent revolution against mankind. At stake is the survival of the Earth's fragile ecology—and ultimately, the survival of the human race itself.
The apocalyptic catastrophes of The Day After Tomorrow meet the watery menace of The Abyss in this gripping, scientifically realistic, and utterly imaginative thriller.
Biopunk tale of a genetically engineered future in a post-climate change world:
The Windup Girl (2009)
by Paolo Bacigalupi
Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok's street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history's lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko...
Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.
What Happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism's genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution? Award-winning author Paolo Bacigalupi delivers one of the most highly acclaimed science fiction novels of the twenty-first century.