As news of the oceans warming and icebergs melting grows ever more urgent، the light drizzle of fiction about eco-disaster spawned by J.G. Ballard’s ahead-of-its-time sci-fi thriller The Drowned World (1962) has gone full-on flood، with apocalyptic visions from a diverse array of authors hitting the mainstream، Oprah magazine reported.
In Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior، pollution and other biospheric disruptions throw a colony of butterflies off their migration course to disastrous effect، while in Claire Vaye Watkins’s Gold Fame Citrus، a California besieged by sandstorms illuminates social inequities and the excesses of Hollywood. So robust is the growing genre that it’s earned its own name: cli-fi (short for climate fiction).
If this sounds like too grim a world to immerse oneself in، consider the comfort to be taken from envisioning the worst and then finding a way out، as many of cli-fi’s protagonists do. Yes، the plot lines hinge on how we’ve mistreated Mother Nature، but there’s nothing like the specter of mass annihilation to bring out our capacity for connection and kindness. Such dark times often breed black humor as well—a few of these books are quite funny.
Here، seven more captivating works of cli-fi that will prompt sober reflection، some horrified amusement، and a solemn vow to master the art of vermicomposting tout de suite.
Clade by James Bradley Birds and fish are dying، wildfires scorch the land، extreme weather wreaks havoc. In this vividly conjured، multigenerational saga، Bradley humanizes the impact of global warming by zeroing in on the daily lives of his characters، who still get pregnant، pay bills، and have marital spats while confronting uncertain fates.
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi Set a few decades from today، this punk noir—a latter-day Chinatown—imagines a parched Southwest riven by conflicts over H2O.
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwoood This thrilling and absurdly comical second book in Atwood’s epic MaddAddam trilogy is a post-cataclysm critique of materialism and the elites (whom Atwood delights in skewering)، in which the have-nots may be the only ones with the tools to survive.
American War by Omar El Akkad A second Civil War has erupted in the United States، a product of toxic political divisions، battles over fossil fuel، and a desperate immigrant crisis. El Akkad’s debut novel mixes elements of reportage and fabulism to create a gripping and incisive vision of what could happen if we don’t start being nicer to one another and to the land we inhabit.
Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller Playing out on a man-made floating island built as a permanent lifeboat for survivors of apocalypse، this unexpectedly life-affirming tale of community in the Arctic features a badass woman warrior. And yes، she arrives to take control of the situation astride her pet orca.
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson In skyscrapers half submerged by sea-level rise، wry Manhattanites crack jokes and conduct business as usual. Their insouciance is comical، but their inability to change their ways is the paradoxical punch line.
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward The author received the National Book Award for this heartbreaking and often terrifying novel that takes place in Mississippi during Hurricane Katrina (“the mother that swept into the Gulf and slaughtered”). In it، the family of 15-year-old Esch، who’s expecting a baby، tries—with little in the way of shelter or resources—to cope. After the storm، Esch reflects: “I wonder where the world where that day happened has gone، because we are not in it.”