The best green science fiction books

The Books I Picked & Why


By Frank Herbert

Book cover of Dune

Why this book?

I first read Dunin 1969. Rated by some as the best sci-fi novel of all time—and the start in a long line of sequels. Oddly, perhaps, it was a set book in a sociology of religion course I took. The author, Frank Herbert, had based the religious worldview in the book on that of Africa’s Dinka people. At a time when I was experimenting with psychedelic drugs, this felt like another drug – although it took me 40 pages to fully inhabit the new reality. I was so taken that I contacted Frank, who lived on the Olympic Peninsula, north of Seattle. I was based in London but tried to link up a couple of times when I was in Seattle. We finally did meet, several years later. This time, I was flying back to London (from Seattle, as it happened) and he and his then-wife Bev were in London, getting ready to fly back to Seattle. It turned out that my family and I had unknowingly visited the beach in Oregon, near a place called Dune City, that in 1944 had first inspired the idea of a desert planet. Our conversation was published in 1981. Am very much looking forward to what looks likely to be the first film to capture the book’s spirit, made by Denis Villeneuve, due out later in 2021.

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By David Brin

Book cover of Earth

Why this book?

Earth, published in 1990, had me dog-earing many, many pages. A sense of our responsibility to the planet is shot through the book. For me this novel was very much in the spirit of a near – but warped – future that I had so enjoyed early on in books like John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar. When I wrote to Brunner to say that his dystopian view of the future struck me as likely, he replied that he was disappointed, having written it as a warning, to minimize the risk of the future being driven off the rails by over-population. 

Earth, overall, is more optimistic. Another novel on related themes by Brin was The Postman, made into a film starring Kevin Costner. Again, I interviewed David early in 2021 for our new Green Swans Observatory—and a key theme was his inspiration by the Judaic concept of Tikkun Olam. David noted that we need to expand our understanding of the scope of the implied responsibility, from simply encouraging people to be good to persuading them to repair the world.

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American War

By Omar El Akkad

Book cover of American War

Why this book?

As someone with strong American family roots, though I’m technically British, I was fascinated at school by the American Civil War. In part this interest was spurred by Margaret Mitchell’s extraordinary book Gone With The Wind, which I read in the school sanitorium while enduring a cataclysmic dose of chickenpox – but which serendipitously helped me get dazzling results in my History O-levels a few weeks later. Later, I read extensively around the subject, fascinated by Shelby Foote’s Civil War trilogy and by Ken Burns’ 1990 PBS series, Civil War. Which is a long way of building up to the reason I found American War so compelling. The central thesis is that, instead of falling out over slavery, this time the American states go to war over oil – amid attempts to rein in fossil fuels to tackle climate change. I think we are very much closer to such a war than most people realize.

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The Wandering Earth

By Liu Cixin

Book cover of The Wandering Earth

Why this book?

Countries tend to produce great science fiction when they are developing fast  like Britain and France did in Victorian times — think HG Wells and Jules Verne—and the US did in the post-WWII era (from Asimov to Zubrin). Given how fast China has been developing, it should come as no surprise that sci-fi has been booming there. And given how central a role China will play in the rest of the 21st century, we should be reading more of it. Like many people, I came across Liu Cixin through his novel, The Three-Body Problem. The Wandering Earth, by contrast, started out as a novella and was turned into a smash-hit film of the same name.

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The Ministry for the Future

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Book cover of The Ministry for the Future

Why this book?

I came to Kim Stanley Robinson late, but in the past year I have devoured: New York 2140, a story set in a world where a massive sea-level rise has inundated many of the world’s greatest cities; The Ministry for the Future, which tracks efforts to rein in climate change into the 2050s; and Red Moon, a wide horizon detective novel moving between a China-dominated Moon and Earth. I find dystopias more plausible than utopian visions, but our Green Swans Laboratory scans the world – and the future – for ideas and solutions that could help us towards a truly Regenerative Economy.

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