These climate change-themed science fiction novels are both great reads and dire warnings about our future

Sign in

  

Delete Comment

Are you sure you want to delete this comment?

These climate change-themed science fiction novels are both great reads and dire warnings about our future

Curl up in quarantine and let your imagination run free with these sometimes funny, sometimes grim sci-fi stories

One of the biggest truths about science fiction is that the creators extrapolate the modern world's problems into fantastical solutions that look towards the future. With climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, rampant political corruption and incompetent leadership, civil unrest, and reality show competitions about idiots marrying total strangers, we have plenty of things to be anxious about. It's only natural that some science fiction and fantasy authors have drawn on the troubles that the world faces to make stories of hope and struggle in the face of shared armageddon.

Here are some of our favorite new and classic science fiction.

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

As the sea level rose, every street became a canal, every skyscraper 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.

New York Times bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson delivers a bold and brilliant vision of New York in the next century.

The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard

First published in 1962, J.G.Ballard’s mesmerizing and ferociously imaginative novel not only gained him widespread critical acclaim but also established his reputation as one of the finest writers of a generation. The Drowned World imagines a terrifying world in which global warming has melted the ice caps and primordial jungle shave overrun a tropical London. Set during the year 2145, this novel follows biologist Dr. Robert Kearns and his team of scientists as they confront a city scape in which nature is on the rampage and giant lizards, dragonflies, and insects fiercely compete for domination. Both an unmatched biological mystery and a brilliant retelling of Heart of Darkness—complete with a mad white hunter and his hordes of native soldiers—this “powerful and beautifully clear” (Brian Aldiss) work becomes a thrilling adventure with “an oppressive power reminiscent of Conrad” (Kingsley Amis).

The Down Days: A Novel by Ilze Hugo

In the aftermath of a deadly outbreak—reminiscent of the 1962 event of mass hysteria that was the Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic—a city at the tip of Africa is losing its mind, with residents experiencing hallucinations and paranoia. Is it simply another episode of mass hysteria, or something more sinister? In a quarantined city in which the inexplicable has already occurred, rumors, superstitions, and conspiracy theories abound.

During these strange days, Faith works as a fulltime corpse collector and a freelance “truthologist,” putting together disparate pieces of information to solve problems. But after Faith agrees to help an orphaned girl find her abducted baby brother, she begins to wonder whether the boy is even real. Meanwhile, a young man named Sans who trades in illicit goods is so distracted by a glimpse of his dream woman that he lets a bag of money he owes his gang partners go missing-leaving him desperately searching for both and soon questioning his own sanity.

Over the course of a single week, the paths of Faith, Sans, and a cast of other hustlers—including a data dealer, a drug addict, a sin eater, and a hyena man—will cross and intertwine as they move about the city, looking for lost souls, uncertain absolution, and answers that may not exist.

After the Flood: A Novel by Kassandra Montag

A little more than a century from now, our world has been utterly transformed. After years of slowly overtaking the continent, rising floodwaters have obliterated America’s great coastal cities and then its heartland, leaving nothing but an archipelago of mountaintop colonies surrounded by a deep expanse of open water.

Stubbornly independent Myra and her precocious seven-year-old daughter, Pearl, fish from their small boat, the Bird, visiting dry land only to trade for supplies and information in the few remaining outposts of civilization. For seven years, Myra has grieved the loss of her oldest daughter, Row, who was stolen by her father after a monstrous deluge overtook their home in Nebraska. Then, in a violent confrontation with a stranger, Myra suddenly discovers that Row was last seen in a far-off encampment near the Arctic Circle. Throwing aside her usual caution, Myra and Pearl embark on a perilous voyage into the icy northern seas, hoping against hope that Row will still be there.

On their journey, Myra and Pearl join forces with a larger ship and Myra finds herself bonding with her fellow seekers who hope to build a safe haven together in this dangerous new world. But secrets, lust, and betrayals threaten their dream, and after their fortunes take a shocking—and bloody—turn, Myra can no longer ignore the question of whether saving Row is worth endangering Pearl and her fellow travelers.

A compulsively readable novel of dark despair and soaring hope, After the Flood is a magnificent, action packed, and sometimes frightening odyssey laced with wonder—an affecting and wholly original saga both redemptive and astonishing.

The End of the Ocean by Maja Lunde  

In 2019, seventy-year-old Signe sets sail alone on a hazardous voyage across the ocean in a sailboat. On board, a cargo that can change lives. Signe is haunted by memories of the love of her life, whom she’ll meet again soon.

In 2041, David and his young daughter, Lou, flee from a drought-stricken Southern Europe that has been ravaged by thirst and war. Separated from the rest of their family and desperate to find them, they discover an ancient sailboat in a dried-out garden, miles away from the nearest shore. Signe’s sailboat. As David and Lou discover Signe’s personal effects, her long ago journey becomes inexorably linked to their own.

An evocative tale of the search for love and connection, The End of the Ocean is a profoundly moving father daughter story of survival and a clarion call for climate action.

Qualityland by Marc-Uwe Kling

Welcome to QualityLand, the best country on Earth. Here, a universal ranking system determines the social advantages and career opportunities of every member of society. An automated matchmaking service knows the best partners for everyone and helps with the break up when your ideal match (frequently) changes. And the foolproof algorithms of the biggest, most successful company in the world, TheShop, know what you want before you do and conveniently deliver to your doorstep before you even order it.

In QualityCity, Peter Jobless is a machine scrapper who can't quite bring himself to destroy the imperfect machines sent his way, and has become the unwitting leader of a band of robotic misfits hidden in his home and workplace. One day, Peter receives a product from TheShop that he absolutely, positively knows he does not want, and which he decides, at great personal cost, to return. The only problem: doing so means proving the perfect algorithm of TheShop wrong, calling into question the very foundations of QualityLand itself.

Qualityland, Marc-Uwe Kling's first book to be translated into English, is a brilliantly clever, illuminating satire in the tradition of Kurt Vonnegut, Douglas Adams, and George Orwell that offers a visionary, frightening, and all-too funny glimpse at a near future we may be hurtling toward faster than it's at all comfortable to admit. So why delay any longer? TheShop already knows you're going to love this book. You may as well head to the cash register, crack the covers, and see why that is for yourself.

Dry by Neal Shusterman

When the California drought escalates to catastrophic proportions, one teen is forced to make life and death decisions for her family in this harrowing story of survival from New York Times bestselling author Neal Shusterman and Jarrod Shusterman.

The drought—or the Tap-Out, as everyone calls it—has been going on for a while now. Everyone’s lives have become an endless list of don’ts: don’t water the lawn, don’t fill up your pool, don’t take long showers.

Until the taps run dry.

Suddenly, Alyssa’s quiet suburban street spirals into a warzone of desperation; neighbors and families turned against each other on the hunt for water. And when her parents don’t return and her life—and the life of her brother—is threatened, Alyssa has to make impossible choices if she’s going to survive.

Forever On: A Novel of Silicon Valley by Rob Reid

Meet Phluttr—a diabolically addictive new social network and a villainess, heroine, enemy, and/or bestie to millions. Phluttr has ingested every fact and message ever sent to, from, or about her innumerable users. Her capabilities astound her makers—and they don’t even know the tenth of it.

But what’s the purpose of this stunning creation? Is it a front for something even darker and more powerful than the NSA? A bid to create a trillion-dollar market by becoming “The UberX of Sex”? Or a reckless experiment that could spawn the digital equivalent of a middle-school mean girl with enough charisma, dirt, and cunning to bend the entire planet to her will?

Phluttr has it in her to become the greatest gossip, flirt, or matchmaker in history. Or she could cure cancer, bring back Seinfeld, then start a nuclear war. Whatever she does, it’s not up to us. But a motley band of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and engineers might be able to influence her.

Forever On achieves the literary singularity—fusing speculative satire and astonishing reality into a sharp-witted, ferociously believable, IMAX-wide view of our digital age.

Gold Fame Citrus by Vaye Watkins

In 2012, Claire Vaye Watkins’s story collection, Battleborn, swept nearly every award for short fiction. Now this young writer, widely heralded as a once-in-a-generation talent, returns with a first novel that harnesses the sweeping vision and deep heart that made her debut so arresting to a love story set in a devastatingly imagined near future:

Unrelenting drought has transfigured Southern California into a surreal, phantasmagoric landscape. With the Central Valley barren, underground aquifer drained, and Sierra snowpack entirely depleted, most “Mojavs,” prevented by both armed vigilantes and an indifferent bureaucracy from freely crossing borders to lusher regions, have allowed themselves to be evacuated to internment camps. In Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon, two young Mojavs—Luz, once a poster child for the Bureau of Conservation and its enemies, and Ray, a veteran of the “forever war” turned surfer—squat in a starlet’s abandoned mansion. Holdouts, they subsist on rationed cola and whatever they can loot, scavenge, and improvise.

The couple’s fragile love somehow blooms in this arid place, and for the moment, it seems enough. But when they cross paths with a mysterious child, the thirst for a better future begins. They head east, a route strewn with danger: sinkholes and patrolling authorities, bandits and the brutal, omnipresent sun. Ghosting after them are rumors of a visionary dowser—a diviner for water—and his followers, who whispers say have formed a colony at the edge of a mysterious sea of dunes.

Immensely moving, profoundly disquieting, and mind-blowingly original, Watkins’s novel explores the myths we believe about others and tell about ourselves, the double-edged power of our most cherished relationships, and the shape of hope in a precarious future that may be our own.

Friend of the Earth by T.C. Boyle

It is the year 2025. Global warming is a reality. The biosphere has collapsed and most mammals—not to mention fish, birds, and frogs—are extinct. Tyrone Tierwater is eking out a bleak living in southern California, managing a pos star's private menagerie that "only a mother could love"—scruffy hyenas, jackals, warthogs, and three down-at-the-mouth lions.

It wasn't always like this for Ty. Once he was a passionate environmentalist, so committed to saving the earth that he became an eco-terrorist and, ultimately, a convicted felon. as a member of the radical group Earth Forever!, he unwittingly endangered both his daughter Sierra and his wife Andrea. Now, just when he's trying to survive in a world torn by obdurate storms and winnowing drought, Andrea comes back into his life. 

T. C. Boyle's eighth novel blends idealism and satire in a story that addresses the ultimate questions of human love and the survival of the species.

Orleans by Sherri L. Smith

First came the storms.

Then came the Fever.

And the Wall.  

After a string of devastating hurricanes and a severe outbreak of Delta Fever, the Gulf Coast has been quarantined. Years later, residents of the Outer States are under the assumption that life in the Delta is all but extinct…but in reality, a new primitive society has been born.  

Fen de la Guerre is living with the O-Positive blood tribe in the Delta when they are ambushed. Left with her tribe leader’s newborn, Fen is determined to get the baby to a better life over the wall before her blood becomes tainted. Fen meets Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States who has snuck into the Delta illegally. Brought together by chance, kept together by danger, Fen and Daniel navigate the wasteland of Orleans. 

In the end, they are each other’s last hope for survival.

Sherri L. Smith delivers an expertly crafted story about a fierce heroine whose powerful voice and firm determination will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds

Fix the past. Save the present. Stop the future. Master of science fiction Alastair Reynolds unfolds a time-traveling climate fiction adventure in Permafrost.

2080: at a remote site on the edge of the Arctic Circle, a group of scientists, engineers and physicians gather to gamble humanity’s future on one last-ditch experiment. Their goal: to make a tiny alteration to the past, averting a global catastrophe while at the same time leaving recorded history intact. To make the experiment work, they just need one last recruit: an ageing schoolteacher whose late mother was the foremost expert on the mathematics of paradox.

2028: a young woman goes into surgery for routine brain surgery. In the days following her operation, she begins to hear another voice in her head... an unwanted presence which seems to have a will, and a purpose, all of its own – one that will disrupt her life entirely. The only choice left to her is a simple one.

Does she resist ... or become a collaborator?

Like
Comment
Loading comments