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Earth Day: Cli-Fi recommendations from Jamie Mollart

We're delighted to have Jamie Mollart, author of Kings of a Dead World, on the blog recommending some of his favourite Cli-Fi novels for Earth Day! If you'd like to buy the books described, the full list is available from Bookshop.org.


Fiction enables us to use our natural empathy to literally see the world through other people’s eyes. In doing so, readers can take on perspectives that help us to process ideas which might otherwise be incomprehensible because of either complexity or scale.

Climate change is both complex and enormous, a topic our petrochemical-obsessed society cannot allow itself to confront face on, because to do so would be to admit to ourselves that we fundamentally need to alter the way in which we engage with our world. This would be cataclysmic to our socio-economic constructs. So we can’t look directly at the truth of climate change, just as we can’t look at the sun which is slowly cooking us. We require a lens through which to understand the problem, and the growing genre of Cli-Fi could be exactly the lens we need.

I have to confess that before I wrote Kings of a Dead World and joined the Climate Fiction Writers League, I didn’t actually know Cli-Fi was a sub-genre so it came as a bit of a shock to me that not only had I written a Cli-Fi novel, but that I’d actually read and loved lots of them.

To ensure that you don’t make the same mistake and to enable you to look at the sun of climate change I’ve pulled together a list of the books I believe to be the best Cli-Fi novels out there (and one other to make up ten)…

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kinsolver

Stuck in a dead-end marriage and on the way to meet her lover, Dellarobia Turnbow comes across a hillside of orange monarch butterflies. It turns out that the butterflies are over-wintering in the wrong place, something which the local imagine is an act of God, but Dellarobia and others believe is a worrying side effect of climate change. This is a big, complex novel taking on big complex ideas, but as everything Kinsolver produces it’s compelling and full of writing as wonderful as this:

"The flames now appeared to lift from individual treetops in showers of orange sparks, exploding the way a pine log does in a campfire when it is poked. The sparks spiralled upward in swirls like funnel clouds. Twisters of brightness against grey sky."

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

This list wouldn’t be complete without the doyenne of post-apocalyptic fiction, Margaret Atwood. I’ve gone with Oryx and Crake because it’s the most overtly Cli-Fi of all of her novels.

The first in her MaddAddam trilogy, this wonderful book was shortlisted for the Booker – no mean feat for what is arguably genre fiction. The book is dryly funny, disturbing and should act as a warning to us all about greed and overreaching technology.

Snowman, who was once called Jimmy, is haunted by his lost love, Oryx, and in the post-apocalyptic world he has somehow become a God to a group of creatures called Crakers. If this sounds weird it’s because it is, but it’s also horribly prophetic and as you would expect from Atwood, beautifully realised.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

There’s probably not much I can say about this book that hasn’t already been said, but this Pulitzer Prize winning novel is one of the most haunting books I’ve ever read.

Its depiction of a world ravaged by an unnamed disaster is terrifying, made even more so by the struggle of the lead character’s attempts to protect his son as they battle their way across the landscape towards the sea.

The spareness of McCarthy’s prose matches the desolation perfectly and every ounce of praise heaped on this remarkable book is utterly deserved.

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

Set in a futuristic California, where climate change has turned the world to desert, Luz, an ex-model and Ray, an ex-soldier, navigate the counterculture which has been left in the state as most people have abandoned it in search of water.

This version of California is populated by gangs reminiscent of Mad Max, and a sense of danger pervades a novel populated with cults, prophets, kidnappers and cannibals. Like The Road, this is essentially a story of a journey as Luz and Rey set out to find civilisation again, but where The Road is razor sharp, Gold Fame Citrus is dreamy and disorientating, with a woozy tone and a feeling of psychedelic intensity which grips while never really giving up its secrets.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

This magisterial book is complicated in structure, characters and conception, so to explain it in a short paragraph is difficult. It follows a group of nine people who are all in some way linked through their involvement in trees, playing out the idea that trees were here before us, and will probably be here after us. Across its multiple narratives the books returns repeatedly to ask the question, ‘why are we so incapable of confronting climate change in any meaningful way?’

If nothing else it’s worth reading it for a wonderful section where one of the characters photographs the same tree, from the same spot, once a month for 76 years, with the resulting 913 pictures being turned into a 38 second film. It’s such a wonderful metaphor for the fleeting nature of human existence and one which has stayed with me.

The Drowned World by JG Ballard

JG Ballard is one of my literary heroes and a massive influence, both in style and subject matter, so it’s only fitting I include one of his novels here. He is the master of cerebral sci-fi, of taking massive ideas and distilling them down into something crystalline and streamlined, and The Drowned World is no exception. It was published in 1962 so was one of the first novels to address climate change.

Set in a world where climate change has ravaged the Earth, it follows the mental and physical decline of a group of scientists studying a now tropical London. Sharp, disturbing and compulsive, just as you should expect from Ballard.

Tentacle by Rita Indiana

This is a tiny book which packs a massive punch. Somehow Rita Indiana manages to tackle climate change across three time frames while riffing on race and gender, all in a page count where most authors would just be getting going.

It’s urgent and challenging and somehow balances a pulp narrative with a sardonic literary voice which dances with the Spanish language of the original Dominican Republic text.

I can’t even begin to unpick the narrative, but if I tell you it includes pirates, voodoo, a sex change tablet called Rainbow Brite, a sea-god called Olokun, art students, a fight to save coral reefs and lashing of sex and violence, you will probably get an idea of the scale of the feat that she has pulled off in little over 150 pages.

Cage of Souls by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Adrian Tchaikovsky is the most ridiculously prolific writer I can think of. He churns novels out at an unprecedented rate, and they’re all massive. He regularly skirts around climate change, but Cage of Souls is explicitly set in a world which has experienced its ravages. The remaining population is reduced to one city, Shadrapar, where they live in fear of the heat of the sun.

Written as the memoir of Stefan Advani, once an aristocrat, but now a political prisoner sent to the titular cage of souls, this reads part swashbuckling adventure, part post-apocalyptic horror, part speculative fiction. It’s completely bonkers, the world building is superlative and considering its subject matter, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

Annihilation by Jeff Vandemeer

The first and best of the Southern Reach Trilogy, Annihilation features Vandemeer’s signature weird nature style to the maximum effect.

Telling the story of an expedition into the mysterious Area X by a group of 4 people – a biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor – the book veers between horror, sci-fi, psychological drama and speculative fiction in a compelling fashion. It’s a story desperate not to be confined by boundaries and is a testament to Vandemeer’s prodigious imagination.

Area X and its steady encroachment onto the human world, combined with mutated animal/people within, and the shadowy Government organisation that studies it and is behind the expedition, functions perfectly as a startling metaphor for climate change, which is essentially nature fighting back against our excesses. Annihilation, and to a lesser extent its sequels, is weird, disturbing and, in a world of identikit entertainment, an absolute original.

Kings of a Dead World by Jamie MollartKings of a Dead World by Jamie Mollart

You knew I had to! Despite being presumptuous enough to put my own book on a list with all these amazing writers I can’t bring myself to try and sell it to you as well, so I’m going to use the blurb that Waterstones wrote for it instead and hope that that does the trick:

Imagining a society where Earth’s remaining supplies are being rationed by making humankind hibernate, Kings of a Dead World paints a haunting and profound vision of the near future where people are robbed of their most precious resource: time.

Jamie Mollart

Jamie Mollart