Friday Faves: Climate Change Books

My novel The Ark is set twenty years from now, during a post-peak oil crisis. The polar ice caps have melted. Crops are failing. People are starving and freezing to death. After the book came out, I discovered it was part of a sub-genre known as cli-fi – or climate change fiction. For this month’s Friday Faves I invited my guests to share their favourites works of cli-fi:

Jessica White is the author of A Curious Intimacy (Penguin 2007) and Entitlement (2012):

My antennae for climate change fiction went up when I began writing my third novel, The Sea Creatures. It’s impossible for me to pick a favourite, but I think Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour is a great book for people starting to learn about climate change, as it’s narrated by a young, smart but uneducated American mother. As she learns how the climate is changing, so too do the readers. A more complex and layered (but utterly thought-provoking) climate change novel is Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book. It’s set three hundred years after the British colonisation of Australia, amid wars caused by climate change. Wright extrapolates the Aboriginal experience of dispossession and exile to a global context, showing her readers what pollution will do to one’s mind and home. James Bradley’s latest novel Clade, about three generations living through climate change, is an evocative novel that follows Kingsolver’s more realist lead. The breakdown of families in his work mirrors the breakdown of a familiar world, and as his characters negotiate conflict in their personal lives, so too do they learn to live with extreme weather and instability. Importantly, however, they never lose the kernels of hope clutched in their hands.

Jane Rawson‘s dystopian novel A wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists won the Small Press Network’s Most Underrated Book Award 2014. Her current project is a personal survival guide to climate change:

Steven Amsterdam’s Things We Didn’t See Coming utterly thrilled me when I first read it. I felt like I’d found a soulmate. How about this, from the first story in the collection, ‘What we know now’:

“You can promise to be as sweet as you want, but picture this: the future is a hospital, packed with sick people, packed with hurt people, people on stretchers in the halls, and suddenly the lights go out, the water shuts off, and you know in your heart that they’re never coming back on. That’s the future.”

Finally: someone as pathologically worried as I was.Things We Didn’t See Coming doesn’t ever really address what’s gone wrong. Instead, it follows its protagonist through a variety of never-ending unpredictable apocalypses, showing the grinding boredom, poverty and administrivia climate change will likely mire us all in eventually. Steven’s writing – where the little everyday human idiocies are more important than the glamorous disasters dystopias so often focus on – has been a huge inspiration to me.

Ryan O’Neill is the author of the internationally published short story collection Weight of a Human Heart:

Hothouse by Brian Aldiss: Earth, in the unimaginably distant future, has become a hothouse, completely covered by the roots of a single, enormous tree, and the remnants of humanity, now small and green skinned, are hunted by the terrifying predatorial plant life. Brian Aldiss’s vision of a world transformed was a climate change novel written before climate change was theorized. Though arguably more fantasy than science fiction (giant spider-like plants ply the solar winds between earth and the moon), Hothouse, in describing an incredibly fertile world, fittingly displays Aldiss’s incredibly fertile imagination. Though the science in the novel might leave something to be desired, it is hugely entertaining, and great fun.

Sean Wright is a poet, book reviewer, interviewer and podcast producer.

The Sea and Summer, by Miles Franklin winner George Turner, looms large as my favourite novel on climate change. Long out of print, it was recently released as one of the SF Masterworks series.  Published in 1987 it still asserts relevance.  The story is composed of two narratives, one nested inside the other. First we are introduced the survivors of a slow apocalypse examining the remains of the Greenhouse culture (our culture). These are the Autumn People living in an age where the earth is rapidly cooling toward another ice age. An Archaeologist has written a novel that constructs a narrative from her discoveries and thus the reader is drawn into the tale of a group of pivotal personalities that see out the beginning of the downfall of the Greenhouse culture.

A somewhat didactic novel written in the mode of science fiction realism, in literary terms, its tone is similar to English works like Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four; its bleak forecast and representation of the poor is reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange. The Sea and Summer is undeniably Australian though in character and place. Its bleak outlook (in the medium term) hits uncomfortably close to reality.

Your turn: What is your favourite climate change fiction? Have you read any of these?

12 thoughts on “Friday Faves: Climate Change Books”

  1. I enjoy these Friday Faves Annabel. I haven’t read any of these, though I have The swan book on my TBR, as I do Jane Rawson’s A wrong turn at the office of unmade lists. I’ve several Barbara Kingsolver’s books but not this one. I have though read a couple of climate change novels – including yours. Another is Ian McEwan’s Solar which has a wonderful satirical description of a climate change conference in the Arctic Circle (if I remember correctly).

    1. I definitely want to read The Swan Book. I find Kingsolver a bit hit and miss but Flight Behaviour was a really wonderful book – I devoured it in a couple of days. I haven’t read Solar – I must confess to having gone a little bit off McEwan. I hated Saturday and was pretty underwhelmed by The Children Act.

      1. I rather liked Saturday, but Solar was hit and miss really. I only mentioned it because of the topic and the satire. I loved On Chesil Beach and his earlier ones. But haven’t read the two since Solar and am not planning to rush to them at this stage.

  2. This is a fascinating subject. Actually I have Barbara K’s book on my bedside table, only a small way through and was yet to realise what it was all about! I’ll have to stick with it. Amazing to think you wrote a book and didn’t know it was part of a new genre.

    1. Kingsolver is subtle in her climate change message and I think that’s one of the best things about her book – you don’t feel like you’re being beaten over the head with an issue – the story is always front and centre.

      In a way, I’m not that surprised that I missed the whole cli-fi thing – I don;t think too much about genre or theme – a story just starts to unfold in my head and I see where it goes, without trying to label it too much.

  3. What about THE AGE OF MIRACLES by Karen Thompson Walker – the slow disintegration of the neighbourhood as the days grow longer and longer, the birds dying, the children trying to make sense of their lives as the earth spins ever more slowly … A brilliant book.

  4. Here’s another to add to your list: just released, it’s called Anchor Point by debut author Alice Robinson, and like the best of the novels you’ve included, it’s about people rather than a heavy-handed polemic about climate change.
    Most of the cli-fi books I’ve come across have been set in urban landscapes, but Anchor Point explores the impact on a farming family and the slow recognition that farming needs to be done differently. You can see my review here:

    1. I think it’s so important to balance the issues with the story – otherwise books on this subject can feel didactic. Thanks for sharing Lisa.

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