Climate and Eco Fiction for Earth Day

What has often been a joyful celebration of the Earth is now an urgent call-to-action as the climate crisis looms large. Unsurprisingly, these concerns have been reflected in our fiction, as we reckon with capitalism and environmentalism in our own lives.

But if you think it’s too depressing, don’t worry! It’s not always doom and gloom. There are also quite a few books on this list that have messages of hope and resilience. No matter what kind of story you’re interested in, there’s an Earth Day read just for you.

North Woods is a beautiful tale about a single plot of land through the centuries. The story begins with a couple escaping their Puritanical colony and starting a new life in the woods. There, we meet an apple tree farmer, a closeted painter, a psychic medium, a mountain lion, a beetle and so many characters—both human and not. There is beauty and destruction with everyone who interacts with this plot of land. North Woods makes you reflect on the history of the land where you reside, and perhaps inspire research into the history of your house.

Sequoia Nagamatsu’s debut novel How High We Go in the Dark follows an archaeologist who mistakenly unleashes a plague on the world after doing research in the Arctic. The Arctic Plague begins to affect the world in innumerous ways, told through smaller interlocking stories looking at the humanity of living in a time of emergency. Though it may be difficult to pick up so close to experiencing a global pandemic of our own, readers will find hope and bright spots in the stories told here.

Parable of the Sower is a classic in in the genres of science fiction and dystopian literature. Set in 2024 but written in 1993, a teenager named Lauren and her family live in a crumbling California, the world falling apart due to lack of water and drug addiction. Lauren leads a group of travelers into the north to escape and hopefully start a new life by living off the land. Parable of the Sower and its sequel, Parable of the Talents, are both great entries into author Octavia Butler’s work for those who have not read her novels yet.

Set in the near future, Landscapes opens with Penelope, a librarian who has been living and working at Mornington Hall for the past two decades. Mornington Hall is crumbling and the owner, Aidan (who is also Penelope’s partner), is going to demolish the building. But when Aidan’s brother returns to the house, Penelope must grapple with past trauma inflicted on her so many years ago. This smart debut takes the romantic trope of an English countryside on the brink of industrialization and sets it in the future, in an imagined world on the brink of ecological collapse. However, the messages about beauty in nature, art and expression balance out the darker themes. This one is heavy, but Christine Lai’s prose is beautiful. 

While not the most hopeful book on this list, The Great Transition is not entirely pessimistic. Debut author Nick Fuller Googins blends a crumbling dystopia with political thriller elements. Earth is brought back from almost total collapse by political activists called climate heroes, and now the children of these activists are experiencing The Great Transition, a time of political and social turmoil and change. Emi, the teenage daughter of two climate heroes, finds herself in the middle of the action when her mother goes missing during a global celebration. The book has a dual narrative: one line follows Emi and the search for her mom, and the other follows her parents during their activist days. By imagining a future of zero global emissions and grassroots change, The Great Transition is a refreshing take on climate fiction that you don’t often see.

How are you celebrating Earth Day?