The term climate fiction, or cli-fi for short, refers to any books, films, and TV series related to human-caused climate change.
Cli-fi used to be a small enough genre that it didn’t take much time or effort to read and watch all of the major cli-fi titles. Nowadays, though, there are so many released each year that it’s hard to keep up with them all.
In honor of this growing trend, I’ve decided to post a list of what I consider to be the best cli-fi titles of 2016 and 2017. Since this is my first year posting such a list, I couldn’t resist sneaking in two titles from 2015 that are two of my all-time favorites.
Start your new year off right by checking out these thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking works of clli-fi. Let me know in the comments if I missed any good ones!
Anthologies are a great way to explore any given theme, especially when multiple authors are involved. It’s an opportunity to read a variety of different takes on the theme in a single volume. Even if you’re a picky reader, a good anthology will have at least a few stories that you enjoy enough to make it worth your time.
For me, Everything Change was one of those rare anthologies where everything clicked. There were definitely some stories that I liked more than others, but I felt like they were all worth reading. This is a great introduction to the genre — which is impressive because all of the stories were chosen through a cli-fi contest for new and undiscovered writers!
I have a hard time picking favorites, but Loosed Upon The World is my favorite climate fiction anthology to date. It features big-name authors like Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi, and Kim Stanley Robinson, alongside up-and-coming authors whose cli-fi stories are usually just as compelling, if not more so. One of my all-time favorite cli-fi short stories, The Precedent by Sean McMullen, was written by an author who I hadn’t even heard of before reading this anthology!
This is definitely another good read if you want a good overview of the genre. It tends toward a dystopian outlook, though, so be prepared for plenty of dramatic tension and struggle in the face of catastrophe.
Kim Stanley Robinson is an award-winning author with plenty of successful novels under his belt. Therefore, my expectations for New York 2140 were high — and I wasn’t disappointed.
New York 2140 is one of the only cli-fi stories I’ve read that portrays catastrophic climate change unfolding in a way that doesn’t lead to the collapse of society as we know it. On the one hand, it’s somewhat dystopian because large portions of New York (and other coastal cities) are permanently underwater, and there are still wealthy and powerful people trying to profit off of the catastrophe. But on the other hand, I found it almost utopian in its optimism about human civilization’s ability to adapt, survive, and even prosper in the presence of great catastrophe. The city is still inhabited, including in the new “intertidal zone” which is above water during low tide and below water during high tide.
One of the most interesting parts of this novel is that as the title foreshadows, New York 2140 is ultimately a love letter to the city of New York. The colorful cast of characters, numerous historical references, innovative climate adaptation solutions, and overall embrace of New York City as a setting make this book more than just a tale about the climate. It’s a tale about one of the world’s most remarkable cities, the colorful characters who live there, and the many diverse ways that they respond individually and collectively to a dramatically changing climate.
Climate fiction usually works best when it finds a compelling human interest angle to make the reader really feel a sense of personal investment in an otherwise abstract global problem. The humanizing premise of Ruby and the Blue Sky is simple in its conception and elegant in its execution. What would it be like if a big-name rock star suddenly declared her support for dramatic climate action and found herself in the midst of a struggle between climate campaigners and climate deniers? How will she find a balance between her musical career, her newfound activism, and the reactionary forces that attack her for her efforts?
Part of what I like about Ruby and the Blue Sky is that there are a lot of aspects of it that I find appealing. It’s a story about climate action; it’s a story about a rock star on tour; it’s a story with a strong female main character; and so on. It also poses some serious questions about how specifically we should go about reducing the greenhouse gas emissions of entire societies. While I’m not entirely convinced that the main character’s approach is the best one in real life, it certainly makes for a compelling story! I couldn’t put this one down, both because of the story itself and because of the questions it raises.
The End We Start From is a quick, easy read that packs a powerful punch. It reads almost like poetry rather than prose, with short paragraphs and sections that are carefully crafted to convey as much information and underlying meaning as possible in a minimal amount of text.
Some readers may find it a bit strange for that reason. It’s really unlike any other novel I can think of. But that’s part of what I found engaging and endearing about it. It’s as though we’re catching glimpses of the main character’s innermost thoughts and experiences of the world with as little embellishment or distraction as possible. We’re right there with her through the roller coaster of heartwarming and heartbreaking events she endures. Her descriptions have a way of conveying deep emotion and meaning even when the author never says directly what the character is feeling.
I also really enjoyed the fact that the entire story revolves around the main character’s experiences as a climate refugee. So many cli-fi stories address the theme tangentially — which can be a good approach when done right, but there’s something particularly compelling for me about reading fiction where the main action of the plot is related in some direct way to climate change. And since I’ve also written a novel about a climate refugee (Goodbye Miami), I’m particularly interested in other people’s take on the premise.
Paolo Bacigalupi has a knack for creating compelling visions of apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic settings that are realistic enough to be believable yet dystopian enough to be thought-provoking and terrifying. These settings, when combined with rich characters and suspenseful plot that he also provides, are always enough to keep me on the edge of my seat. They’re hard to put down and easy to pick back up again!
The Water Knife is a perfect example. It’s set in an all-too-believable dystopian future where global warming and overconsumption of water have lead to widespread water shortages in the American Southwest. Everyday people struggle for survival while the rich and powerful struggle for control of the legal rights to control what little water remains.
Some of Bacigalupi’s fiction takes place in the distant future, but the Water Knife is set close enough to the present that it feels like it may be just around the corner. I suspect that it’s meant as a cautionary tale rather than a prediction of what lies in our near future — but of course, if we fail to heed the warnings of cli-fi prophets like Bacigalupi, we may very well end up in a dystopian world like the one depicted in The Water Knife.
The subtitle says it all. 1/2986 is set in a distant future where the vast majority of humanity has died due to a climate-related outbreak of disease and resultant social upheaval. The main character is a young woman growing up in this world and slowly learning more about the past catastrophes and present political realities than she was ever taught as a child.
1/2986 works really well as a post-apocalyptic thriller. It starts out dark and never shies away from going back to dark places along the way. But it’s not just random violence and tragedy for the sake of creating a bleak atmosphere. It follows the main character’s journey of discovery as she ventures out into the world beyond the sheltered enclave of survivors she grew up in.
The only real down side I found in this book is that it is first and foremost a dark political thriller rather than a parable about climate per se. Like many cli-fi novels, the catastrophic climate changes are a thing of the past, and the present plot revolves around struggles that are taking place in the aftermath rather than any effort to do anything specifically about climate change. That said, if you like political thrillers, and want one that features prominent references to climate change, 1/2986 is definitely worth a look.
This is a children’s book co-written by Dr. Michael E. Mann, famous climate scientist and science communicator. Obviously, if you’re not a child, parent, or educator, you may not have much interest in a children’s book about climate change. However, you may be interested in getting this book as a gift for someone in your life who would benefit from it, whether that may be a child, parent, educator, or your local library.
The Tantrum That Saved The World is a fun children’s story, plus some very accessible educational content at the end about climate change, plus an Action Plan Poster that helps kids decide what action they will take in response to climate change. The print version won’t be available for a few more months, but I was able to read the digital version before Christmas because I backed the Kickstarter! You can pre-order your copy of the print version on the Kickstarter page.