23 Best Climate Change Science Fiction Books

With the coronavirus changing the world, at least in the short term, it also seems that climate change will do the same in the long term. If we can’t get people to do something simple like wearing masks, how can we get corporations and governments to stop nudging the planet in Venus-like directions?

 

23
America City
by Chris Beckett – 2017

America, one century on: a warmer climate is causing vast movements of people. Droughts, floods and hurricanes force entire populations to simply abandon their homes. Tensions are mounting between north and south, and some northern states are threatening to close their borders against homeless fellow-Americans from the south.

Against this backdrop, an ambitious young British-born publicist, Holly Peacock, meets a new client, the charismatic Senator Slaymaker, a politician whose sole mission is to keep America together, reconfiguring the entire country in order to meet the challenge of the new climate realities as a single, united nation.

When he runs for President, Holly becomes his right hand woman, doing battle on the whisperstream, where stories are everything and truth counts for little. But can they bring America together—or have they set the country on a new, but equally devastating, path?

“An uneasy read that manages to feel both timely and urgent… Beckett offers an intelligent, visceral reminder that unless we change what today looks like, tomorrow will be turbulent indeed.”
—The Guardian

22
Some Possible Solutions
by Helen Phillips – 2016

In this odd short story collection, climate change appears in addition to these situations: What if your perfect hermaphrodite match existed on another planet? What if you could suddenly see through people’s skin to their organs? What if you knew the exact date of your death? What if your city was filled with doppelgängers―of you?

Forced to navigate these bizarre scenarios, Helen Phillips’s characters search for solutions to the problem of how to survive in an irrational, infinitely strange world. By turns surreal, witty, and perplexing, the stories here explore the everyday indignities and surprising pleasures of living in a time and place that can feel futuristic, fantastical, and familiar all at once.

“Some stories make you feel you’re in the planned world of a conscientious architect, and others are more like wandering through someone else’s dream. That Phillips can take us into her dreams without losing us in the fog is to her huge credit… Parenthood is a subject especially suited to Phillips’ strange and profound gifts.”
—The New York Times Book Review

21
State of Fear
by Michael Crichton – 2004

In the one climate change denier (or at least heavily skeptical) book on this list, author Michael Crichton creates a tautly-paced thriller, although his stance on impending environmental doom may infuriate some readers.

In Paris, a physicist dies after performing a laboratory experiment for a beautiful visitor.

In the jungles of Malaysia, a mysterious buyer purchases deadly cavitation technology, built to his specifications.

In Vancouver, a small research submarine is leased for use in the waters off New Guinea.

And in Tokyo, an intelligence agent tries to understand what it all means.

“Provocative and controversial. [Crichton] marries compelling subject matter with edge-of-your-seat storytelling.”
—USA Today

20
Odds Against Tomorrow
by Nathaniel Rich – 2013

New York City, the near future: Mitchell Zukor, a gifted young mathematician, is hired by a mysterious new financial consulting firm: FutureWorld. The business operates out of a cavernous office in the Empire State Building; Mitchell is employee number two. He is asked to calculate worst-case scenarios in the most intricate detail, and his schemes are sold to corporations to indemnify them against any future disasters.

This is the cutting edge of corporate irresponsibility, and business is booming. As Mitchell immerses himself in the mathematics of catastrophe—ecological collapse, global war, natural disasters—he becomes obsessed by a culture’s fears.

Yet he also loses touch with his last connection to reality: Elsa Bruner, a friend with her own apocalyptic secret, who has started a commune in Maine. Then, just as Mitchell’s predictions reach a nightmarish crescendo, an actual worst-case scenario overtakes Manhattan. Mitchell realizes he is uniquely prepared to profit. But at what cost?

“Any sentence from Rich is worth reading, any thought worth pondering in this ambitious novel of ideas.”
—The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)

19
Walkaway
by Cory Doctorow – 2017

Hubert Vernon Rudolph Clayton Irving Wilson Alva Anton Jeff Harley Timothy Curtis Cleveland Cecil Ollie Edmund Eli Wiley Marvin Ellis Espinoza―known to his friends as Hubert, Etc―was too old to be at that Communist party.

But after watching the breakdown of modern society, he really has nowhere left to be―except amongst the dregs of disaffected youth who party all night and heap scorn on the sheep they see on the morning commute. After falling in with Natalie, an ultra-rich heiress trying to escape the clutches of her repressive father, the two decide to give up fully on formal society―and walk away.

After all, now that anyone can design and print the basic necessities of life―food, clothing, shelter―from a computer, there seems to be little reason to toil within the system.

It’s still a dangerous world out there, the empty lands wrecked by climate change, dead cities hollowed out by industrial flight, shadows hiding predators animal and human alike. Still, when the initial pioneer walkaways flourish, more people join them. Then the walkaways discover the one thing the ultra-rich have never been able to buy: how to beat death. Now it’s war—a war that will turn the world upside down.

“Thrilling and unexpected….A truly visionary techno-thriller that not only depicts how we might live tomorrow, but asks why we don’t already.”
—Kirkus (starred review)

18
Orleans
by Sherri L. Smith – 2013

First came the storms.
Then came the Fever.
And then 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.

“In Smith’s compelling and disturbing novel, the Gulf Coast has been formally separated from the U.S. since 2025, after a deadly plague called Delta Fever emerges from the horrific conditions following years of increasingly destructive hurricanes… [The book has] powerful, relevant themes: global warming, racism, political corruption, and the complexity of human nature.”
—Booklist

17
Heavy Weather
by Bruce Sterling – 1994

The Storm Troupers are a group of weather hackers who roam the plains of Texas and Oklahoma, hopped up on adrenaline and technology. Utilizing virtual reality, flying robots, and all-terrain vehicles, they collect data on the extreme storms ravaging an America decimated by climate change. But even their visionary leader can’t predict the danger on the horizon when a volatile new member joins their ranks and faces a trial by fire: a massive tornado unlike any the world has seen before.

“Lucid and tremendously entertaining. Sterling shows once more his skills in storytelling and technospeak. A cyberpunk winner.”
—Kirkus Reviews

16
Tentacle
by Rita Indiana – 2015

Plucked from her life on the streets of post-apocalyptic Santo Domingo, young maid Acilde Figueroa finds herself at the heart of a voodoo prophecy: only she can travel back in time and save the ocean—and humanity—from disaster. But first she must become the man she always was, with the help of a sacred anemone. Tentacle plunges headfirst into questions of climate change, technology, Yoruba ritual, queer politics, poverty, sex, colonialism and contemporary art.

As of this writing, Amazon currently says this book is the #1 bestseller in the “Dominican Republic Travel Guides” category. So… congratulations?

“From beginning to end, Tentacle is a strange, unnerving, and at times beautiful book that critiques global inequality and the politicization of climate change.”
—Chicago Review of Books

15
Cage of Souls
by Adrian Tchaikovsky – 2019

The sun is bloated, diseased, dying perhaps. Beneath its baneful light, Shadrapar, last of all cities, harbors fewer than 100,000 human souls. Built on the ruins of countless civilizations, Shadrapar is a museum, a midden, an asylum, a prison on a world that is ever more alien to humanity.

Bearing witness to the desperate struggle for existence between life old and new is Stefan Advani: rebel, outlaw, prisoner, survivor. This is his testament, an account of the journey that took him into the blazing desolation of the western deserts; that transported him east down the river and imprisoned him in the verdant hell of the jungle’s darkest heart; that led him deep into the labyrinths and caverns of the underworld. He will meet with monsters, madman, mutants.

The question is, which one of them will inherit this Earth?

14
Memory of Water
by Emmi Itäranta – 2012

Global warming has changed the world’s geography and its politics. Wars are waged over water, and China rules Europe, including the Scandinavian Union, which is occupied by the power state of New Qian. In this far north place, seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio is learning to become a tea master like her father, a position that holds great responsibility and great secrets. Tea masters alone know the location of hidden water sources, including the natural spring that Noria’s father tends, which once provided water for her whole village.

But secrets do not stay hidden forever, and after her father’s death the army starts watching their town—and Noria. And as water becomes even scarcer, Noria must choose between safety and striking out, between knowledge and kinship.

“The writing is gorgeous and delicate in this dystopian award-winning debut, which is unique in both its setting and the small scale that Finnish author Itäranta employs.”
—Library Journal (starred review)

13
The Overstory
by Richard Powers – 2018

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

An Air Force loadmaster in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. These four, and five other strangers―each summoned in different ways by trees―are brought together in a last and violent stand to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest.

“A big, ambitious epic… Powers juggles the personal dramas of his far-flung cast with vigor and clarity. The human elements of the book―the arcs his characters follow over the decades from crusading passion to muddled regret and a sense of failure―are thoroughly compelling.”
—Boston Globe

12
Borne
by Jeff VanderMeer – 2017

In a ruined city littered with discarded experiments from a now-defunct biotech firm, a woman named Rachel finds a strangely charismatic green lump (plant? animal? something else?) and names it Borne. Borne learns to speak and is fun to be with, and in a world so broken, Borne’s innocence is a precious thing.

But as Borne grows, he begins to threaten the balance of power in the city and to put the security of Rachel’s sanctuary at risk. For it seems the biotech firm may not be truly dead, and new enemies are creeping in. What Borne will lay bare to Rachel as he changes is how precarious her existence has been, and how dependent on subterfuge and secrets. In the aftermath, nothing may ever be the same.

“VanderMeer’s talent for immersive world-building and stunning imagery is on display in this weird, challenging, but always heartfelt novel.”
—Booklist (starred review)

11
American War
by Omar El Akkad – 2017

Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drones fill the sky.

When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be. Eventually Sarat is befriended by a mysterious functionary, under whose influence she is turned into a deadly instrument of war. The decisions that she makes will have tremendous consequences not just for Sarat but for her family and her country, rippling through generations of strangers and kin alike.

“Whether read as a cautionary tale of partisanship run amok, an allegory of past conflicts or a study of the psychology of war, American War is a deeply unsettling novel. The only comfort the story offers is that it’s a work of fiction. For the time being, anyway.”
—The New York Times Book Review

10
Gold Fame Citrus
by Claire Vaye Watkins – 2015

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.

“A beautiful debut novel… Watkins’ vision is profoundly terrifying. It’s a novel that’s effective precisely because it’s so realistic—while Watkins’ image of the future is undeniably dire, there’s nothing about it that sounds implausible… She also writes with a keen understanding of human nature, both good and bad. It’s an urgent, frequently merciless book, as unrelenting as it is brilliant.”
—Los Angeles Times

9
Clade
by James Bradley – 2015

On a beach in Antarctica, scientist Adam Leith marks the passage of the summer solstice. Back in Sydney his partner Ellie waits for the results of her latest round of IVF treatment.

That result, when it comes, will change both their lives and propel them into a future neither could have predicted. In a collapsing England, Adam will battle to survive an apocalyptic storm. Against a backdrop of growing civil unrest at home, Ellie will discover a strange affinity with beekeeping. In the aftermath of a pandemic, a young man finds solace in building virtual recreations of the dead. And new connections will be formed from the most unlikely beginnings.

“Moving and nuanced characterizations distinguish this subtle look at an Earth suffering the consequences of climate collapse.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

8
The Bone Clocks
by David Mitchell – 2014

Following a terrible fight with her mother over her boyfriend, fifteen-year-old Holly Sykes slams the door on her family and her old life. But Holly is no typical teenage runaway: a sensitive child once contacted by voices she knew only as “the radio people,” Holly is a lightning rod for psychic phenomena. Now, as she wanders deeper into the English countryside, visions and coincidences reorder her reality until they assume the aura of a nightmare brought to life.

For Holly has caught the attention of a cabal of dangerous mystics—and their enemies. But her lost weekend is merely the prelude to a shocking disappearance that leaves her family irrevocably scarred. This unsolved mystery will echo through every decade of Holly’s life, affecting all the people Holly loves—even the ones who are not yet born.

A Cambridge scholarship boy grooming himself for wealth and influence, a conflicted father who feels alive only while reporting on the war in Iraq, a middle-aged writer mourning his exile from the bestseller list—all have a part to play in this surreal, invisible war on the margins of our world. From the medieval Swiss Alps to the nineteenth-century Australian bush, from a hotel in Shanghai to a Manhattan townhouse in the near future, their stories come together in moments of everyday grace and extraordinary wonder.

“Intensely compelling… fantastically witty… offers up a rich selection of domestic realism, gothic fantasy and apocalyptic speculation.”
—The Washington Post

7
The Drowned World
by J.G. Ballard – 1962

The sun’s become too hot (130°F on a good day), and the cities of the world are submerged. Humanity is now collected down in Antarctica or above the Arctic circle.

During a scientific expedition to a sunken London, Dr. Kerans contends with a Triassic-like environment with giant iguanas and mosquitoes the size of dragonflies. These surroundings trigger psychological changes in him and others, back to when humans were nothing but shrews scampering away from dinosaurs. It’s subtle, though—they don’t start digging holes or anything.

Then, of course, trouble comes.

The Drowned World starts out as hard science, but gets a little mental. At points it’s hard to know whether the main character is seeing things as they really are. But even at the book’s loopiest, author Ballard’s writing stays crisp and understandable.

“A bold, hypnotic novel, by an author with a genius for the perverse.”
—Guardian

6
New York 2140
by Kim Stanley Robinson – 2017

As the sea levels 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.

“As much a critique of contemporary capitalism, social mores and timeless human foibles, this energetic, multi-layered narrative is also a model of visionary worldbuilding.”
―RT Book Reviews (top pick)

5
The Fifth Season
by N.K. Jemisin – 2015

This is the way the world ends… for the last time.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

“[I]ntricate and extraordinary.”
—The New York Times

4
Parable of the Sower
by Octavia E. Butler – 1993

Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages.

While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.

When fire destroys their compound, Lauren’s family is killed and she is forced out into a world that is fraught with danger. With a handful of other refugees, Lauren must make her way north to safety, along the way conceiving a revolutionary idea that may mean salvation for all mankind.

“A real gut-wrencher… What makes Butler’s fiction compelling is that it is as crisply detailed as journalism… Often the smallest details are the most revelatory.”
―Washington Post

3
Oryx and Crake
by Margaret Atwood – 2003

Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey—with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake—through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.

“Towering and intrepid… Atwood does Orwell one better.”
—The New Yorker

2
Flight Behavior
by Barbara Kingsolver – 2012

Set in present day Appalachia, this tale of catastrophe concerns a young wife and mother on a failing farm in rural Tennessee, who experiences something she cannot explain. Her discovery energizes various competing factions—religious leaders, climate scientists, environmentalists, politicians—trapping her in the center of the conflict and ultimately opening up her world.

“With her powerful new novel, Kingsolver delivers literary fiction that conveys an urgent social message… a clarion call about climate change, too lucid and vivid for even skeptics to ignore.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

1
The Windup Girl
by Paolo Bacigalupi – 2009

Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories.

There, he encounters Emiko… Emiko is the Windup Girl, a strange and beautiful creature. One of the New People, Emiko is not human; instead, she is an engineered being, creche-grown and programmed to satisfy the decadent whims of a Kyoto businessman, but now abandoned to the streets of Bangkok. Regarded as soulless beings by some, devils by others, New People are slaves, soldiers, and toys of the rich in a chilling near future in which calorie companies rule the world, the oil age has passed, and the side effects of bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

What happens when calories become currency? What happens when bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profits, when said bio-terrorism’s genetic drift forces mankind to the cusp of post-human evolution?

“A captivating look at a dystopic future that seems all too possible. East meets West in a clash of cultures brilliantly portrayed in razor-sharp images, tension-building pacing, and sharply etched characters.”
—Library Journal (starred review)

One thought on “23 Best Climate Change Science Fiction Books

  1. Where is the Brian Aldiss classic, Hothouse? Intriguing as it is, I prefer the short version with the long title, The Long Afternoon of Earth. IMO Aldiss was right about the sentience of morels

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