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?