Updated: Jun 14
A curated list of climate fiction (cli-fi) books: topic, dystopic, and everything in between.
I was twelve when I first came across a book about climate change. This was not an academic compendium about the technicalities of the challenge at hand. Nor was it a self-help narrative about what I, as an individual, must do to reduce my impact. No, the first book I saw about climate was in fact a young adult novel written by the English author Saci Lloyd. It was about a world with an ongoing energy crisis where the UK had enacted rigid carbon pricing.
Over the years, I learned that novels featuring climate change as a dominant theme or driving plot were slated into a cross-cutting genre called ‘climate fiction’, or cli-fi. I am now twenty-four, and climate fiction is officially coming of age, with major writers entering the genre. My reading lists are now dominated by books that feature climate.
Why, you may ask–why would I choose to read about climate? Isn’t the real world horrifying enough?
The beauty of climate fiction is that it’s not limited to doomsday narratives at all. Cli-Fi allows us to think of the challenge we face from different perspectives, opening new ideas for us to ponder upon. It asks questions that we seek answers to every day; it allows us to imagine better futures that, in turn, inspire us to work toward them. And just as climate pervades all aspects of our life, so does climate fiction. So, without further ado, here is a list of 7 of my favourite climate fiction novels.
IF YOU LIKE: Political Thrillers
READ: Veil by Eliot Peper
On the surface, Veil is a globetrotting story of solar geoengineering and how technology can be wielded selfishly by those with power. On a deeper level, it is about a grieving family dealing with the consequences of a disastrous heatwave and a group of friends coming together to forge a better future. It changed my life, and I can’t recommend it enough.
IF YOU LIKE: Rom-Coms
READ: Fool Me Once by Ashley Winstead
As the two protagonists of Fool Me Once–who are college exes–work together to get a clean energy bill passed in a conservative American state, their banter and their debates about idealism and morals make for an entertaining novel. The book also features cartoonishly evil fossil fuel bosses and strong feminist characters. I am a sucker for a good rom-com, and Fool Me Once is one of the best ones. I finished it in a single sitting!
IF YOU LIKE: Fables
READ: The Living Mountain by Amitav Ghosh
I am a fan of Amitav Ghosh’s non-fiction on climate, so it’s no surprise I’m recommending The Living Mountain. Prepare to be haunted by this short illustrated novelette framed as a dream story from the perspective of an indigenous person whose habitat is transformed over the years by foreigners and extractivism. The allegory is so well-crafted that it will leave you thinking for days.
(Also read: Tribal Communities: The Final Frontier)
IF YOU LIKE: Futuristic Sci-Fi
READ: The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi
The Windup Girl is probably the most traditionally futuristic climate fiction novel on this list. It takes place in an isolationist Thailand where manual energy is dominant due to the scarcity of fossil fuels and biotechnology runs supreme. Despite its premise, the book left me with hope and optimism at the end. It deservedly won the Hugo Award, one of science fiction/fantasy’s most eminent awards, in 2010.
IF YOU LIKE: Corporate Dramas
READ: Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich
Have you ever wondered what happens to the Wall Streets of the world because of climate change? Odds Against Tomorrow answers this from the perspective of a risk analyst who makes billions by predicting the probability of catastrophes until he accurately predicts a hurricane approaching New York. This is a thought-provoking book that will make you wonder what kind of work will actually contribute to a better future.
IF YOU LIKE: Fantasy
READ: All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
All the Birds in the Sky won the Locus and Nebula Awards, both eminent science fiction/fantasy awards, in 2017. The reason behind this shows in the highly imaginative, dreamy tale it weaves. The novel deftly blends science fiction and fantasy, deliberating on the eternal question of technology versus nature while discussing what it means to save the world if you lose yourself as a result.
IF YOU LIKE: Family Sagas
READ: The Immortal King Rao by Vauhini Vara
The latest book on this list (released earlier this year), The Immortal King Rao follows a child of Dalit coconut farmers in the 1950s and in parallel, his daughter, who runs a megacorporation in a world run by corporations. I look forward to reading this novel soon, especially given its reviews pitch it as a crossover between Indian family sagas and dystopian technology stories.
This is by no means an exhaustive list: clearly, climate fiction covers the large (and growing) ground. There’s something for everyone to read, contemplate, and be inspired by. Now, where will you start?
(Also Read: Climate justice, Books and Power)