Climate fiction, or cli-fi, is not always the most optimistic of genres. It’s difficult to talk about the effects of global warming, frequent natural disasters, and the mass migration of millions of people without some doom and gloom.
But right now, we could use a little hope for the future. That hope, of course, is tempered by the realization of the enormous disaster we face. But we need hope, nonetheless, that life on this planet can adapt and can change. The following books aren’t light reads, but they are tinged with hope that the end of the world doesn’t have to mean the actual end.
Clade by James Bradley
It is overwhelming to think about the impending climate collapse, the effects of which we already are feeling on a global scale. What tempers that sweeping scope in Bradley’s book are small, intimate portraits of the people surviving disaster and experiencing all the little triumphs and tragedies of human life.
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Robinson is a science fiction Nostradamus, forever peering into our great and terrifying future. He has referred to this book, which imagines a future submerged New York City, as a “comedy of coping.” In this New York, the waters rose and residents adapted. The tides, it turns out, can interrupt but not stop the rhythm of the city.
Orleans by Sherri L. Smith
Part of why we read dystopian fiction is to see characters beat back the dark powers. They give us hope we can do the same. In Orleans, the dystopia is a funhouse mirror of our present. A series of hurricanes and an outbreak of disease cut off the Gulf Coast from the rest of the country. Now 15-year-old Fen must fight her way to the Outer States to save her friend’s baby.
Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller
Before I talk about the plot of this book, know that it is a story of survival and human connection, with an ultimately optimistic outlook. Refugees from the climate wars now live in an impressively engineered but societally dire floating city above the Arctic Circle. Then, the warrior woman arrives with her orca and her polar bear…
Strange As This Weather Has Been by Ann Pancake
This present-day story is one of human destruction but also of redemption. The setting is West Virginia, desecrated by strip mining and mountaintop removal. While the reality is grim, hope comes in the form of a mother/daughter duo. Budding environmentalist Lace and daughter Bant show our ability to change and to grow.
Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh
Of course, this is a novel about climate change. But it is also a personal odyssey of self-discovery and a detailed look at folklore and the stories we tell ourselves. Starring Deen, a rare book dealer, Gun Island hopscotches the globe, from Venice to the vanishing Sundarbans, with a narrative that examines our relationship to home and heritage.
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
I hope it’s evident by now that “hopeful” climate fiction does not mean “happy.” This YA novel takes us to a future dystopian Canada, where dreamlessness is a plague among white people. The government plans to find a cure in the DNA of Indigenous people. A bleak reflection of our own past and present, but one that highlights the resilience of Indigenous peoples.
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Let’s end with a book that displays our capacity as humans to learn, even when it takes direct personal experience to do so. Dellarobia Turnbow is a dissatisfied Appalachian farm wife until, when hiking to a wooded rendezvous, she encounters a miraculous sight. A colony of butterflies deviated from their normal flight path turns her world and community upside down.
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