The best novels about the politics of climate change

Andrew Dana Hudson Author Of Our Shared Storm: A Novel of Five Climate Futures
By Andrew Dana Hudson

The Books I Picked & Why

The Ministry for the Future

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Book cover of The Ministry for the Future

Why this book?

Robinson’s work has long been a cornerstone of the cli-fi genre, and I love this magnum opus for its ambition and subtlety. Opening with what I think is the all-time most harrowing climate disaster story, Robinson then charts a kaleidoscopic path out of the crisis featuring geoengineering, glacier megaprojects, ecoterrorism, carbon currencies, refugee uprisings, rewilding, fixing Facebook, and airships. There was a lot to learn and digest, but in the end I came away feeling like this book was unique in how far it went to capture the truly planetary scope of climate change and all the smaller stories that implies. Come for the master class in climate politics, stay for the touching story of turning away from violence and toward unlikely friendship.


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Termination Shock

By Neal Stephenson

Book cover of Termination Shock

Why this book?

What if a gas station billionaire decided to save the planet from oil by using the world’s biggest gun to dim the sun? Oh, and he teamed up with the Queen of the Netherlands and the Captain Ahab of feral hog hunters to do it. I’m a fan of Stephenson’s colorful characters and addictive, page-turning plots. This one is particularly provocative, making a technological case for geoengineering and arguing that the fossil fuel industry is too entrenched to go away overnight. What I enjoyed most, however, was the exploration of the history and geography of real locales: Texas, Punjab, Papua, The Hague. The book was a great reminder of how strange and peculiar our world is, and how even though politics can feel stuck, it can also cascade in chaotic, scary, exciting ways.


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The Water Knife

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Book cover of The Water Knife

Why this book?

As a resident of Phoenix, Arizona, I love this intense climate thriller as an all-too-real exploration of how climate change—and the water crises that may ensue—might play out for my city and state. Bacigalupi is an expert at not pulling punches, while also getting you invested in exciting plots and brutal but complex characters. I recommend this book to people who want a plausible vision of how the stressors of climate change can lead to breakdown and violence without a single apocalyptic catastrophe. It’s sobering, but also a helluva read.


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Parable of the Sower

By Octavia E. Butler

Book cover of Parable of the Sower

Why this book?

I tend to shy away from “dystopian” fiction, which too often reduces political choices to tragic inevitabilities. But Parable is an exception. Butler’s vision of the near future is terrifying, but it is also one of the all-time most memorable novels of hope and survival. Her story is full of thoughtful analysis of how class, race, sexuality, and religion intertwine to create both frictions and strengths—all in the pressure-cooker of dangerous societal turns brought on by climate change. If you want to get in the headspace to handle the worst-case scenario, this book is a good way to do it.


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The Caryatids

By Bruce Sterling

Book cover of The Caryatids

Why this book?

Sometimes climate fiction can feel a little less technologically futuristic than its older cousin science fiction, and that’s often a good thing. But Sterling manages to put together a wild (and entertaining) tale of clones, augmented reality, ubiquitous computing, and other fantastica that also has a lot to say about the politics of environmental collapse. Years after reading it I still think a lot about the rival factions this novel invents, like the everything-is-entertainment Dispensation and the utopian hive mind Acquis. Plus, this book features one of my all-time favorite lines from speculative fiction: “I won’t hide from the bandits in a nuclear robot suit! That useless strategy is for cowards!” A great, weird romp. 


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