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Fiction that deals with the fact of climate change

By Andrew F. Sullivan • May 05, 2023Big Ideas in Books

Andrew F. Sullivan is the author of Waste, All We Want is Everything, and The Marigold. Here, he shares some of the best novels that grapple with climate change and environmental instability.

My novel The Marigold is a story about a city eating itself, a near-future Toronto struggling to adapt to the challenges of climate change and unfettered development. The natural world itself rebels against our attempts to change it. What was once solely the domain of science fiction has become our daily reality, yet the stories that reckon best with the obvious facts of our ongoing environmental instability still embrace the speculative, the strange, and the subversive.

Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

A lot of climate fiction attempts to spin the changing world into one of total apocalypse, fully embracing the dystopian future as an all-encompassing and unavoidable promise. Apocalypses, however, have previously arrived in many forms and what is often depicted as dystopic already exists as reality for many people. The imagination can be surpassed by reality. Waub Rice’s Moon of the Crusted Snow is a novel about people pulling together in the face of calamity, the Anishinaabe community at its core embracing an ancestral way of life instead of surrender.

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Ice by Anna Kavan

A short, enthralling read that refuses to explain itself beyond brutal suggestion, lingering more like a dream than a story when you arrive at its abrupt conclusion. An unreliable narrator barely able to cope with reality leads us on the hunt for a mysterious girl through a world that is spent, the landscape choked by walls of ice closing in from all sides. Vibrating with hallucinogenic happenstance, Kavan’s Ice conjures a barren planet undone by the desires of men, a world set on silencing itself with the finality of cold.

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Appleseed by Matt Bell

Matt Bell’s fiction never stays still. From book to book, he flexes his ample imagination and dynamic prose to take on new narrative challenges. Charting three separate timelines, Bell’s Appleseed is an epic that sprawls through our forgotten past and into a distant future, poking and prodding at what it means to exist in a world that may not need us. But this is not a bleak apocalypse; Bell’s characters are offered some real agency in the natural world, subtle echoes reverberating through each timeline reminding us that our choices can and do matter.

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The Drowned World by J. G. Ballard

Although Ballard’s High-Rise is the spiritual forebearer to my novel The Marigold, The Drowned World is closer to his vision of the planet’s future. Rather than documenting the downfall of a single building, this novel offers an Earth afflicted with a worldwide tropical climate and follows the travails of a team of scientists exploring a flooded, ghostly London. Endlessly imitated, parodied, and mined for its relevance, Ballard’s prophetic work provides a chance to see how the state of our environment informs how we create meaning, construct relationships, and comprehend our own insignificance.

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The Seep by Chana Porter

The future does not need to be dystopic at all, instead, it can be something stranger. Chana Porter’s The Seep is complex, compact vision of a future that has thrived through a benign alien invasion, offering a world free from the machinations of humanity’s appetites—the gentle dissolution of hierarchies once imagined as immovable, cities coated in green. Like a modern Le Guin, Porter isn’t here to just build a world but explore the very human aches that linger long after the material reality has changed. Love and loss still remain entangled even in utopia.◼︎

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ANDREW F. SULLIVAN is the author of the novel Waste and the short story collection All We Want is Everything. His newest novel is The Marigold.

The Marigold by Andrew F. Sullivan

In a near-future Toronto buffeted by environmental chaos and unfettered development, an unsettling new lifeform begins to grow beneath the surface, feeding off the past.

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