Climate change is everywhere in the news, and usually not because of positive developments. It’s hard to watch, and if you’re like me, you experience some guilt about feeling “over it” and wanting to take a break and do something entertaining. Well, I have good news: You can do both!
In 2012, there was a day when I felt that guilt and stumbled upon the outstanding book, Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. Little did I know it’s a classic example of the fiction genre now called “climate fiction” or “cli-fi” for short. Thought-provoking fiction? Climate change? Mystery? Sign me up. I was hooked. At the same time, I’d had an idea for a sci-fi novel knocking around in my head since I was 10 years old. You can see where this is going, right?
Climate change — and climate action — are undoubtedly the defining issues of this decade.
Fast-forward to late 2019, and I’d read multiple cli-fi novels and written over 100,000 words of my own. Then 2020 rolled around: Enter the COVID pandemic. The natural world seemed to thrive as the human world shut down. Smog cleared, wildlife roamed city streets, and transportation ground to a halt. Without my commute or trips around the city, I found myself with hours of extra time each week.
I dove headfirst into my to-be-read list and have finished over 50 books (so far!) since the start of the pandemic. I also picked up that manuscript I’d been working on for years and wove a lot of what I was seeing into it. Like so many climate fiction authors before me, I had to resist the urge to make it a purely dystopian story.
There are many reasons to be hopeful for our future, and I’m thankful we live in a world where there are many ways to engage with climate change. While it may not seem like activism, I firmly believe climate fiction has a unique place in our society and can become a driving force to shift our culture as we strive for balance with our changing world.
Cli-fi offers something for everyone. So in the spirit of trying new things in the new year, here are six of my recommended climate fiction favorites.
These stories are set in the future and accurately depict the current climate change predictions. They explore the societal, cultural, economic, and geopolitical realities that future generations may face as the world changes around them.
Parable of the Sower
Octavia E. Butler
This is the first climate fiction story I read and it holds a special place as one of the first (published in 1993) and best. There is a sequel as well.
Description from Publisher: An apocalypse science fiction novel that provides commentary on climate change and social inequality. The novel follows Lauren Olamina in her quest for freedom. Several characters from various walks of life join her on her journey north and learn of a religion she has crafted titled Earthseed.
New York 2140
New York 2140
Kim Stanley Robinson writes a lot of climate fiction and this is one of my favorites. It follows the lives of multiple people in a New York City that has changed a lot, but in some ways hasn’t changed at all.
Description from Publisher: As the sea levels rose, every street became a canal. Every skyscraper was 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.
We talk a lot about climate change prevention by lowering emissions, or mitigation by means of carbon capture, but what if we don’t do enough of either in time? There are a handful of very real, very cutting-edge scientists researching extreme geo-engineering that could reverse climate change. But might the cure be worse than the disease?
Relics of Dawn
Full disclosure — this is my book! Science fiction to its core, I explore what may happen with some of the biggest geo-engineering ideas, all wrapped in a time-twisting sci-fi mystery and adventure.
Description from Publisher: Their dying world hides an ancient secret that could rewrite the past to save our future. Kaia knows her civilization exists on the brink. In 2296, an unstoppable mass extinction leaves Council scientists no choice but to unveil the Dawn Project. Their audacious plan will terraform the planet back to life… beginning with an exodus to the heavens.
Neal Stephenson is a science fiction genius. He coined the term “metaverse” in his novel Snow Crash, so you can imagine how great it is to have such an amazing writer joining the climate fiction genre!
Description from Publisher: Ranging from the Texas heartland to the Dutch royal palace in The Hague, from the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas to the sunbaked Chihuahuan Desert, Termination Shock brings together a disparate group of characters from different cultures and continents who grapple with the real-life repercussions of global warming.
If you’re more into social commentary plots that include elements of fantasy, rather than science, you’ll really enjoy these. They’re the most thought-provoking of the bunch.
I never thought a book about trees and our shared fate with them could be so powerful. I don’t want to give away too much, but if you want a book that will change your perspective, this is it.
Description from Publisher: There is a world alongside ours — vast, slow, interconnected, resourceful, magnificently inventive, and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world and are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.
The Fifth Season
N. K. Jemisin
This book’s subtitle says it all — “Every Age Must Come to an End.” Humans have lived through many changes through the ages, and the ones ahead may deliver a different kind of justice. It’s darker than others on this list, but absolutely worth the time. Technically, this is the first book in a series but is amazing on its own.
Description from Publisher: At the end of the world, a woman must hide her secret power and find her kidnapped daughter in this “intricate and extraordinary” Hugo Award-winning novel of power, oppression, and revolution. This is the way the world ends… for the last time.
Climate change — and climate action — are undoubtedly the defining issues of this decade. Making any meaningful change will require radical collaboration across the public, private, and governmental sectors. But ultimately, we all have a responsibility to play our roles to solve it with our own creative initiatives on an individual level — whether that’s reading and writing about the devastating effects of climate change, planting trees in your community, or creating your own climate action plan.
For more on climate change: listen to episode six of the Force Multiplier podcast, which focuses on climate action, read about 5 Ways Nonprofits Can Help Solve the Climate Crisis, and learn about the newest climate-focused Salesforce.org Impact Lab.
About the Author
Drew Davidson (A.W. Davidson, author)
RVP Sales, Technology Industry