Burning Worlds

Novels To Give Your Favorite Climate Change Skeptic This Holiday Season

These books say what you can't.

The holidays are here! ‘Tis the season for good food, lots of travel, and–if your family is anything like mine–difficult conversations with loved ones who still think climate change is a made-up liberal plot to, oh, I don’t know, make riding buses more popular maybe? Your guess is as good as mine.

I can’t just ignore the climate skeptics in my family, though. As much as I find their views baffling, I still love them–and enjoy exchanging gifts with them. But this year, I decided to give them the books that might help them to think differently–specifically, works of climate fiction, or “cli-fi,” novels and short stories that give narrative shape to the climate emergency. The best of these books help to illustrate what a climate-devastated future might actually look like, and how global warming will cause strife among humans and animals everywhere.

These books aren’t just great stories; they might also help to broach the subject of climate change in a non-threatening way. According to a recent study on the effects of climate fiction on readers, “almost half (48.4 percent) of respondents discussed the [cli-fi] book they had read with friends or family, which often occasioned conversations about climate change.” If books can lead to conversations, and conversations can lead to change, why not give try giving the gift of good literature? To help, here’s a list of some of my favorite cli-fi books that you might consider giving the climate change skeptic in your life this year.

The Wall
By John Lanchester

The Wall is set in a not-too-distant future on an ersatz England, which is surrounded by a wall to keep out the Others. It’s a novel that touches not only on climate change, but on the refugee crisis as well. But the writing is so good, and the story is so suspenseful, that even the most conservative of readers will get wrapped up in it. What’s more, it ends on a slightly hopeful note, so the conversation it generates won’t necessarily be all doom and gloom.

Read our interview with John Lanchester here.

After the Flood
By Kassandra Montag

This novel depicts an earth completely transformed by climate change and rising seas. It follows a mother who lives on a boat with her young daughter. Together, they’re searching for the mother’s other daughter kidnapped by her father years before. Like The Wall, this book pulses with suspense. It also shows just how bad ass a mother can be when forced into a life-or-death situation. Give this book to anyone who loves adventure stories, pirates, or books about the survival of the fittest.

Read our interview with Kassandra Montag here.

Gun Island
By Amitav Ghosh

Unlike most climate fiction, Gun Island is set in the present and draws links between climate change and the extreme weather events we’re already seeing around the globe. The main character is a kind of skeptic in his own right (although not about climate change), and the sections set in South Asia and Italy are some of the most vibrant in recent memory. Give this book to anyone who loves to travel or likes stories about skeptical thinkers who need to be shown evidence before changing their minds.

Read our interview with Amitav Ghosh here.

The Gulf
By Belle Boggs

The Gulf is set during the Obama administration in Florida during a massive hurricane. But rather than focusing specifically on the impacts of climate change, Boggs explores the conservative rhetoric that feeds climate change skepticism. This is a book for anyone who would benefit from seeing how their skepticism is shaped by conservative organizations and news outlets.

Read our interview with Belle Boggs here.

Tentacle
By Rita Indiana

Admittedly, this might be a difficult book to get a conservative family member to read: it stars a transgender protagonist who draws explicit links between the legacy of colonialism and climate change. But it’s also a spectacular story about time travel infused with elements of fantasy and science-fiction. It also features a magical sea anemone, which is cool as hell. Give this treasure of a book to anyone who’s at least on the fence about the reality of climate change. If nothing else, you’ll be introducing them to the work of Rita Indiana, an incredible writer and musician.

Read our interview with Rita Indiana here.

The Overstory
By Richard Powers

This book was one of the best things published in 2018, but don’t take my word for it. Listen to the Pulitzer Prize committee who awarded Powers the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year. The novel follows the stories of people whose lives are radically transformed by trees, and culminates with their stories interlocking. It’s a plot that’s shaped kind of like a tree, one that’s so affecting it will move even the hardest of hearts. Give this book to anyone who’s ever admired, lived near, or even looked at a tree.

Read our interview with Richard Powers here.

Autonomous
By Annalee Newit
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Set in a climate-ravaged future, Autonomous is wonderfully compelling as it is violent–it features war, guns, and violent, gun-toting robots. It’s also incredibly imaginative and depicts fascinating uses for technologies that humanity is just beginning to create and understand. Give this book to anyone who loves gadgets and/or science fiction.

Read our interview with Annalee Newitz here.

The Completionist
By Siobhan Adcoc
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In The Completionist climate change has led to world war and a global fertility crisis. It’s set in the near future and told from the perspective of a war veteran who’s trying to find out what happened to his sister, a nurse who helped the few women who could still get pregnant to bring their pregnancies to term. Adcock’s talent for creating highly detailed worlds is displayed throughout the book, and it’s refreshing to read a cli-fi novel from the point-of-view of someone who’s been on the front lines of war. Give to anyone who enjoys war stories or would appreciate a tale told from the perspective of a vet.

Read our interview with Siobhan Adcock here.

Blackfish City
By Sam J. Miller

This is another novel set in the near future, but this one takes place on a floating city in the Arctic. Technology is well advanced, but the city is still starting to fray. Crime is on the rise and new diseases are plaguing the city’s inhabitants. This is another book that broaches big issues beyond climate change: it discusses queerness and gender as well. There’s also a plot point that involves a woman warrior who communicates telepathically with animals. If you’re willing to broach a conversation that’s not only possibly difficult, but also wide-ranging, then this is the book to give.

Read our interview with Sam J. Miller here.

About Amy Brady

Amy Brady is the Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Review of Books and Deputy Publisher of Guernica Magazine. Her writing has appeared in Oprah, The Village Voice, Pacific Standard, The New Republic, McSweeney's, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @ingredient_x.

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