5 Near-Future Climate Fiction Must-Reads

Good near-future climate fiction isn’t preachy. It isn’t pandering.

It’s anxious and desperate and begs you to pay attention, lest it becomes prophecy. Dystopian post-apocalyptic fiction has always reflected the concerns of its time. A sort of distorted mirror and a dusty window offering a glimpse into the future if we continue on our current trajectory.

While my own novel, The Hush, shows a world where the population can’t speak out against the things that really matter, it’s set in a vague-timeline future. Here’s a short list of my five favorite near-future climate fiction books, books that have stayed with me for months after I read them and got me antsy about doing something. What’s more, these are stories that feel like a glimpse five minutes into the future. Hopefully, they will inspire you and terrify you in equal measure.

Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler)

Written in 1993, it’s shocking how closely certain elements resemble current affairs. California forest fires are a constant threat, racial tensions are heightened, and a populist president panders to corporations and base instincts. Lauren Olamina, a young woman with hyper-empathy, leads her group through a post-apocalyptic landscape, avoiding fires and attacks from roving gangs. She preaches her gospel of adaptation to change and of hope in a hopeless world. This is probably the book that set the tone for a lot of modern climate fiction and a beautiful read.

American War (Omar El Akkad)

One thing that is often forgotten in the discussion about climate change is that it’s not really about the planet. The planet will be fine, one way or another. It’s about humanity’s (in)ability to survive a climate disaster of its own making. In Omar El Akkad’s novel, the US is split between blue and red states warring over fossil fuels. Sarat is targeted for radicalization in a refugee camp because of the tragedies she has suffered. There are far too many points ripped from today’s headlines for comfort, but good climate fiction has never been about making readers comfortable.

Migrations (Charlotte McConaghy)

The world is slowly becoming quieter. Animals are disappearing one after the other because of humanity’s impact. Franny Stone talks her way onto one of the last fishing boats and follows a flock of Arctic terns in what could be their final migration to Antarctica. There is a feeling that something dark is driving her. Through her interactions with the crew of the fishing boat, we get her emotional story and the crime that’s haunting her. Past mistakes are catching up to her and Franny is a tragic character in a very classical sense; her choices and flaws propel her to a bad ending. That the worsening state of the world reflects her mental state is a poignant juxtaposition.

Greenwood (Michael Christie)

Part generational drama, part cautionary tale, this is a series of four narratives, four generations of the Greenwood family, laid out like tree-rings. What happened in the past curses the future. Good intentions by Greenwoods, who became wealthy thanks to tree-logging and deceit, lead to tragedy. Despite their attempts to course-correct and atone for the crimes of their patriarch, they can’t seem to shake off the curse that burdens them. And, in the future, the last of the Greenwoods works as a guide in one of the world’s last remaining forests when she’s given an opportunity to use her family’s murky legacy for something positive.

This is a hefty book at 500 pages and every single one of them drips with lyricism. There is something very nostalgically old-fashioned in how the narrative switches from the 30’s to the 70’s to the early 2000’s to the 2030’s. Despite the sweeping scope of the book, however, one always gets the impression that it’s topical and that it wears its anxiety about the future on its sleeve.

The End of the Ocean (Maja Lunde)

I debated with myself about which of Maja Lunde’s “Climate Quartet” title to add to the list. The History of Bees is a bona-fide modern classic in my mind, but I found it to be a better parent-child book than a climate fiction story. The characters in The End of the Ocean, on the other hand, are driven by a sense of urgency. Their world is on the edge of changing forever and there is a very real sense that this is just the beginning. 70-year old Signe watches as her Norwegian hometown’s beloved glacier is being hacked away to be turned into luxury bottled water. The man responsible is Magnus, someone she once loved. Deciding to make a statement, she steals a chunk of glacier ice and sails to find Magnus. Years later, David and his little daughter Lou come across Signe’s sailboat close to their refugee camp, far inland in a drought-stricken France.

There is a very real sense of futility and of the bravery (or stubbornness) needed to fight through change. This is not a story about stopping climate change, but about surviving it.

Wrapping Up

These five near-future climate fiction novels offer more than just engaging stories; they serve as urgent wake-up calls. Through their vivid narratives and relatable characters, they force readers to confront the potential realities of our future, shaped by the choices we make today. The anxieties and desperation woven into these tales are not just literary devices but reflections of the very real fears about our planet’s trajectory.

But we can also let these works be a reminder that while the future may seem daunting, it’s not yet written, and we still have the power to influence its course. The time to act is now, and the stories we create today will shape the world of tomorrow.

EA Mylonas

Evangelos is a photographer, writer and author of the speculative fiction novel “The Hush”. An environmental scientist by training, he is an advocate for the climate cause, sustainable living and anti-corporatism, which inspire his unique brand of literary sci-fi set in the near future.

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