Four climate fiction books for our reading list | Global Ideas | DW | 17.02.2017
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Global Ideas

Four climate fiction books for our reading list

Climate fiction is becoming an increasingly popular genre in a time of climate change and growing global inequality. Here are some of the best books from the cli-fi world.

Science fiction and dystopian genres tend to reflect the deepest anxieties of our times. As global temperatures rise and drought and water scarcity plague certain parts of the planet, it's little wonder that literature has turned to imagining a future world ravaged by climate change. Climate fiction – or "cli-fi" – has become a hot genre. Here are just a few of the best novels describing our planet in the throes of ecological disaster. 

The MaddAddam Trilogy 

Canadian author Margaret Atwood likes to call her work speculative fiction. She asks what could happen if we continue on the path we're currently on. In her dystopian MaddAddam trilogy, the prolific writer and tweeter covers everything from climate change to far-out genetic engineering and love and loyalty in a time of civilization's collapse. Published between 2003 and 2013, the novels warns of the consequences of the planet's addiction to oil, resource scarcity, and growing inequality as well as dangers of misanthropy on both sides of the environmental debate. Atwood manages to mix humor, fear and hope in what is ultimately a bleak vision of the future. 

Iran Sandsturm (Fars)

Dust storms and soaring temperatures - a staple of 'cli-fi' imagined worlds

Parable of the Sower 

American science fiction author Octavia E. Butler published the Parable of the Sower - the first in a two-book series -  in 1993. But its tale of economic inequality, and political and environmental collapse feels prescient in light of current events. In the novel, 15-year-old Lauren Oya Olamina lives in a Californian gated community with what is left of the elite. Beyond the walls, the poor suffer the after effects of ecological collapse and are left to fight over the scraps. When her community is attacked, Lauren, who has a form of "hyper empathy" that causes her to feel any pain she witnesses, escapes and goes on to form a new faith system in an effort to overcome the crises humans face. Butler, although she died in 2006, is still a ground-breaking and fresh voice in science fiction. She is one of the few African American women writing in a genre usually dominated by men. "I'm black, I'm solitary, I've always been an outsider," she once said. 

The Sea and Summer 

George Turner's 1987 book The Sea and Summer is viewed as the blueprint for today's climate change novels. The book is set in mid 21st century Australia when mass unemployment, soaring temperatures and sea levels combine to bring about societal collapse. It follows the fortunes of the Conway family who have joined the desperate poverty of the jobless 90 percent. The Conways try to scramble their way back into upper echelons of society. But is that possible when everything is falling apart? In the book's afterword, the author writes: "Enormous changes will take place in the next two or three generations, all of them caused by ourselves, and…we will not be ready for them. How can we be?" It appears three decades later we are still not ready for them. 

The Water Knife 

Jemen Krise Versorgung der Zivilisten in Sanaa (Reuters/M. al-Sayaghi)

In countries like Yemen, severe water shortages are already a reality

American science fiction writer Paolo Bacigalupi takes on water wars in his 2015 novel The Water Knife. Set in a near future of severe dust storms and ferocious heat in the American Southwest, the U.S. federal government is a shadow of its former self and drought-plagued states have closed their borders. A lucky few control what water there is and they will do anything to protect it. Of course, in some parts of the world, water scarcity and conflicts are already happening. So while The Water Knife has science fiction elements, it touches on something that is already a reality for some.