11 Sci-Fi & Fantasy Novels With A Strong Message About Climate Change
Glancing at the news these days can feel a bit like an endless, relentless series of pitches for the next big teen dystopia novel. Unfortunately for all of us, though, climate change is real and not just the stuff of science fiction. You and I and everyone else is living through a harrowing global crisis right now. Time is of the essence, and some political leaders are too busy dismantling democracy to do very much about it. It's a frightening time to be alive, and it's tempting to hide one's head in the proverbial sand, or to deny that this is happening at all (coral reefs are tacky anyway, amirite?). But if you're feeling overwhelmed and burnt out, don't just give up. Take a moment, read one of these excellent sci-fi and fantasy novels with a strong message about climate change, and re-energize yourself to keep fighting.
I mean, yes, I know that reading sci-fi isn't going end global warming. Wide-spread protest and massive policy changes are needed to achieve that. Reading fantasy and sci-fi can, however, inspire you to keep going when reality starts to weigh you down. It can help foster tough conversations with the people in your life who don't want to think about environmental devastation on a global scale. And it can provide us with some small glimmer of hope for the future, no matter how dim:
'Gold Fame Citrus' by Claire Vaye Watkins
Luz was once the poster child for the country's grand conservation movement. Ray was once an army deserter. Now the two of them are camping out in an abandoned mansion in the parched California desert, barely subsisting on rationed cola and loot. But when the couple comes across a mysterious child in this arid land, they dare to start dreaming about a better future somewhere out beyond the wastelands...
'Blackfish City' by Sam J. Miller
The climate wars have come and gone, and a floating city has been constructed in the Arctic Circle, running on perfectly sustainable energy. But these day the city is starting to fall apart as the rich become richer and the poor become poor. Violent crime is ramping up and a plague is sweeping through town, a strange women on an orca has just arrived to change the course of history.
'Oryx and Crake' by Margaret Atwood
Snowman is (seemingly) the last man on Earth. He finds himself in a lush wilderness that was once a city, in a world that has been utterly remade by global warming and genetic engineering, taking care of the odd "Children of Crake" who have survived the apocalypse. It's a surreal existence, but Atwood spins a dystopic tale as only she can, creating a grim yet moving vision of humanity's future.
'The Island Will Sink' by Briohny Doyle
Pitcairn Island is sinking into the ocean, and the whole world is watching. This is a post-climate crisis future, where EcoLaw is strictly enforced by cartoon pandas and an army of viral-marketing children, where the ocean periodically swallows whole land masses as a form of entertainment, and where one man is struggling to live a life he has no memory of.
'Parable of the Sower' by Octavia Butler
Parable of the Sower is bizarrely, impossibly right-on-the-money for 2018. America is divided along race and class lines, the ultra rich have moved into carefully guarded compounds, California is ravaged by wildfires, there is widespread ecological and economic disaster, and a conservative demagogue has been elected president. Through all of this, though, young Lauren Olamina dares to try and carve out a gentler, kinder society for herself and the strays she pick up along the way.
'A Game of Thrones' by George R.R. Martin
Yeah, so the White Walkers are an allegory for global warming. Just so we're clear. All of the petty infighting over who gets to sit in the big pointy chair is a massive distraction: winter is coming, and the rulers should be focused on how to protect their people from the coming cold, not on sexy dragon alliances and familial bickering.
'New York 2140' by Kim Stanley Robinson
It's 2140, and New York has been submerged in water. But... it's also kind of fine? New York 2140 is the rare novel that focuses less on destruction, and more on human ingenuity in the face of catastrophe. It's somehow both disturbing and sweet as it imagines the inhabitants of NYC adapting to devastating climate change, and still finding ways to live and love in a radically altered world.
'American War' by Omar El Akkad
The Second American Civil War broke out back in 2074. Young Sarat Chestnut was forced to move to a camp for "displaced persons" with the rest of her family, in an America where oil is outlawed, Louisiana is underwater, and drones rule the skies. Now she is growing up on the fringes of a fractured society, being shaped by people who are not always what they seem. It's a future that is not terribly different or terribly implausible, but that makes it all the more terrifying.
'The Fifth Season' by N.K. Jemisin
A great rift has opened up across the continent known as the Stillness, spewing dark ash into the air. This is the beginning of the end. The world has entered a season of destruction, with earthquakes tearing civilization to shreds. But Essun is not going to stand for it, at least not until she can find her kidnapped daughter somewhere in this ravaged land—she's going to save her family, environmental apocalypse be damned.
'Orleans' by Sherri L. Smith
The Gulf Coast has been quarantined, following a string of devastating hurricanes and an outbreak of Delta Fever. Anyone left in the Delta was abandoned by the Outer States years ago, and walled in to die. But Fen de la Guerre is still alive. She's also stuck with a newborn, and desperate to find a way through the ruins of society and over the wall before the baby's blood becomes tainted, too.
'The Stone Gods' by Jeanette Winterson
They've found a new blue planet out there among the stars: it's pristine and livable, and far less of a mess than Earth. Meanwhile, in the 18th Century, the inhabitants of Easter Island continue to chop down trees. And in post-World War Three Tech City, Billie and Spike are falling in love, even if it breaks all the rules.