Now Reading
Climate Change Novels That You Must Not Miss
[vc_row thb_full_width=”true” thb_row_padding=”true” thb_column_padding=”true” css=”.vc_custom_1608290870297{background-color: #ffffff !important;}”][vc_column][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][thb_postcarousel style=”style3″ navigation=”true” infinite=”” source=”size:6|post_type:post”][vc_empty_space height=”20px”][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Climate Change Novels That You Must Not Miss

Salinity effect seen in soil, deep cracks seen in a field, as rise of sea-level causes deep cracks.


It’s a stultifying summer day. As the sun cracks the eastern horizon, it blazes like an ‘atom bomb. Frank May, an American aid worker is preparing for the heat after the blackout that swept through a district in Uttar Pradesh. Sweat drips into his eyes, stinging them: ‘Everything is tan and beige and a brilliant, unbearable white’. The air is filled with the sounds of dismay and sirens. The sound of distress can be heard echoing off the buildings. People are clustered on rooftops and doorways, ‘round-eyed with distress and fear, red-eyed from the heat and exhaust smoke, dust’. Heat causes brown faces to turn red. The sun scorches metal surfaces. Heatwaves bounce over them like ‘air over a barbecue.’ This is how American science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson opens his novel, The Ministry for the Future (2020)., which figured on the list of Barack Obama’s favourite books of the year.

When the mercury soared and a heatwave swept across India in April, Robinson’s novel, set in the near future, made one feel that the summertime suffering described in it was already upon us. The novel was deemed eerily accurate by US climate experts. Heatwaves continue to sweep north India with the mercury reaching 49 degrees Celsius on Sunday. Robinson uses fictional eyewitness accounts to imagine how climate change will impact us. The novel shows that the high demand for air conditions leads to prolonged power outages. Only generators can keep the temperature down, while the majority of the population is affected by the extreme weather. Frank May is eventually a witness to the millions of deaths caused by excessive heat and the trauma that comes with a nation trying its best to protect its citizens.

The Ministry for the Future is just one of many works that have been created in the climate fiction genre or cli-fi over the past two decades. The term cli-fi was invented by the US freelance writer Dan Bloom in 2011 to describe Jim Laughter’s novel, Polar City RedThe movie depicts the lives of climate refugees living in a future Alaska. Over a decade before this coinage for the sub-genre of speculative fiction, a group of geologists, led by Nobel Prize-winning Dutch meteorologist and atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, started arguing that the present period of earth’s history should be known as the Anthropocene; an era defined by human pressure on the planet, which has a great impact on earth’s geology, ecosystems and biodiversity.


Salinity effect seen in soil, deep cracks seen in a field, as rise of sea-level causes deep cracks.
Salinity effect in soil, deep cracks in a field as a result of rising sea-level, and deep cracks. Getty Images

Robinson’s novel, like others in the genre, presages the future, but it also depicts the present reality of our warming world and the climactic upheaval wrought by it. The 563-page novel of the most well-known sci-fi writer shows that carbon chaos is real and that we are only a few steps from extinction. It could have been written by an Indian writer. However, climate change is still a popular topic for fiction writers. It is unlikely that your search for clifi novels written by Indian authors will yield any results.

Some works in vernacular languages include brief mentions about the weather, hot or cold. There are descriptions and topographical sketches of floods. SR Harnot and Vidyasagar Jain are just a few of the mountain writers that come to mind.  There is not a single fiction that highlights the climate crisis with its telltale signs: deforestation and wildfires, rising temperatures, and droughts. AmitavGhosh, a writer who had written extensively about ecology in his novels of 2016, wrote this 2016 article. The Glass Palace2000 The Hungry Tide(2004) lamented the lack of fiction writing. He wrote The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the unthinkable in 2005, and highlighted the effects of global warming. He also argued that modern fiction must address the existential dangers it poses to humanity. Ghosh, in a way, seemed to echo British environmental writer Robert Macfarlane’s plaintive query in a piece published in The Guardian in 2005: “Where is the literature on climate change?”

Over the years, many writers from the USA and UK began to write with avengeance about nature and the environment. American writer Cormac McCarthy published The Road in 2006, a post-apocalyptic novel that has been regarded as a cult classic. “Our planet is getting mad as hell and it isn’t going to take it any longer. It’s an old theme but a rich one, and in the 1950s and 60s provided plots for dozens of science-fiction disaster novels. Cities were drowned, oceans eradicated and pastures killed off as authors such as JG Ballard, Charles Eric Maine and John Christopher subjected civilisation to a welter of different indignities – apocalyptic literature that mirrored the era’s cold war uncertainties. Today, in these more strained ecological times, this kind of storytelling has taken on a harder edge and eco-thrillers have become a more robust genre,” wrote Robin McKie, science editor for The Observer, in a review of four books —  Sarah Moss’s Cold Earth, Matthew Glass’s Ultimatum, Liz Jensen’s The Rapture and Stephen Baxter’s Flood — in The Guardian.


A man is seen splashing water on his face to escape from severe heat wave
To escape severe heat waves, a man splashes water on his face Getty Image

Crutzen and his fellow geologists started to campaign to name the ongoing phase as the Anthropocene, which began in 2000. It is human activity that has altered the history of the earth. It has increased atmospheric levels of methane and carbon dioxide by 30% and 100% respectively. As environmental degradation worsened around the world, both literary and middle-brow writers — T.C. Boyle, Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen, Maggie Gee, Will Self, Jeanette Winterson, Ursula LeGuin and many others — made it a preoccupation in many of their novels. Independent US scholar Adam Truxler points out that before greenhouse emissions attracted scientific attention, writers who archived climate change in fiction were concerned about it. Anthropocene Fictions – The Novel in a Times of Climate Change(2015). This is arguably the first systematic examination of climate fiction.

In science fiction, terraforming or the transformation of a planet’s climate in order to make it more hospitable to humans, had surfaced in Arthur C. Clarke’s The Sands of Mars (1951), which is widely seen as the prelude to his emergence as the world’s foremost writer of science fiction novels, and Frank Herbert’s Dune(1965), which is a reflection on the future technology and humanity. LeGuin’s 1971 novel, The Lathe of Heaven, in which the future of humanity hinges on a man’s dreams, was the first novel directly concerned with an anthropogenic greenhouse effect.   

The rise of climate fiction occurred in the first decade after the 2000s. However, the 1990s saw its steady expansion. Two speculative novels by major writers in this period include Octavia Butler’s groundbreaking Parable of the Sower Ben Bova’s Empire BuildersBoth were published in 1993. Besides being a searing commentary on climate change, Butler’s tenth novel, which opens in Los Angeles in 2024, is a meditation on social inequality. At the turn of the millennium, some major literary voices entered the terrain: Kim Stanley’s Robinson’s Antarctica (1999), T.C. Boyle’s A friend of the earth and Doris Lessing’s Mara and Dann: The two last onesThey were published in 2000.

Politicians have been guilty of disinformation and denialism while fiction writers have turned their attention to the planet’s state in stories about wildfires, melting Arctic ice, and cyclones. Two years after Ghosh’s The Great DerangementIn 2018, extreme climate events made headlines. These included flooding in India and California, and raging wildfires throughout California. There was also a spate of severe hurricanes that claimed many lives. Richard Powers also published his 12th novel in 2018, the climate-themed epic. The OverstoryThe 2019 Pulitzer for Fiction was awarded to, The novel was highly praised by environmentalists from all over the globe. Some cli-fi novels that stood out for me in the first decade of the 21st century include Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave (2013); Rachel Cusk’s Outline and Samanta Schweblin’s Fever Dream (both published in 2014); and Annie Proulx’s Barkskins (2016). American writer Alexandra Kleeman’s Something New Under the SunThe beautiful exploration of environmental catastrophe in the post-truth age is published in.  

Trexler states that the novel is an essential tool in the age of climate changes. Not only does it expand the reach of climate science beyond the laboratory, it also turns abstract predictions into ‘tangible experiences of place, identity, and culture’. While political and economic organizations are transformed by their struggle to sustain themselves, the novel is also forced to adapt to new boundaries between truth, fabrication, individual choice, and larger systems of natural phenomena. Robinson’s novel does this rather well: it flits between the real and the imagined to show that the future is upon us.


View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.