8+ Fiction Books about Nature and the Environment
by Jen Moyers (@jen.loves.books)
In my quest to read more environmental and nature literature for school—and to complete the Unabridged Podcast Reading Challenge!—I've been reading some fabulous books centered on these topics. A while back, I posted "5 Nonfiction Books about Nature and the Environment"; here's a list of fiction to consider reading in the same vein!
Julia Glass's Vigil Harbor (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
I’d read only one of Julia Glass’s prior novels—her debut Three Junes, winner of the National Book Award—when I requested an advance copy of Vigil Harbor. I was drawn in by the synopsis, focused on an isolated community in the midst of the consequences of climate change. Honestly, I didn’t give thought to much else, to plot or writing or even characters, but all of those facets of this novel exceeded my expectations.
Vigil Harbor moves through a large cast of characters, shifting from one perspective to the next, as they consider the elements of their past that have led them to their current identities as individuals and as a community.
Each character is precisely drawn as a unique individual inextricably woven into the lives of the others. Brecht, who dropped out of college after witnessing a horrific explosion in New York, lives with his best friend Noam in the home of Brecht’s mother and stepfather, Austin. Austin, an architect, works both to comfort his family and to wrestle with a tragic loss from his past. Mike is reeling from the end of his marriage. The list of characters spools out from there, all woven together by their mutual past and by a desire to escape something outside of Vigil Harbor.
Tragedy pervades their stories, but so does hope, and there’s a whimsy, a touch of myth and story, that pushes this book out of the realm of the typical. This near-future book is rooted in the way that climate change plagues society through disasters both natural and man-made, and watching the way those disasters alternately push people apart and together again is a captivating process. I absolutely could not stop reading this book, which blends beautiful writing, compelling characters, and a propulsive plot. It’s a masterful work of fiction.
N. K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
It's been a while since I devoured N. K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy, and I started The Fifth Season on audio on a bit of a whim. Wow. Easy five-star read all over again.
This one is read by Robin Miles, who is rapidly becoming one of my favorite narrators.
The novel follows three stories, all set in a dying world. Essun is a mother whose youngest child has just been murdered by her husband; she's traveling to find him and the daughter he took with him when he fled. Damaya is saved from the abuse of her family because of her orogeny (the ability to control the earth); she's promised training that will allow her to harness her power. And Syenite is an adult orogene who has been assigned to one even more powerful for breeding purposes—if she can have a baby who's likely an orogene, she can help to keep her kind alive.
The book is so complex that it's impossible to summarize succinctly. So I'll just say that the world building is incredibly intricate and yet anchored in humanity: this is speculative fiction that is anchored in a reality that will feel familiar and yet incredibly distant.
Jemisin is an absolutely brilliant writer. I'll be starting my re-read of book two as soon as I can.
Rebecca Roanhorse's Trail of Lightning (Bookshop.org) and Storm of Locusts (Bookshop.org)
Rebecca Roanhorse's The Sixth World series is a brilliant, monster-hunting tale centered on a tough, grumpy female protagonist. Maggie Hoskie, also known as the Monsterkiller, came out of a horrible trauma with clan powers—she's really good at killing—and a problematic mentor/god, Neizgháni, who has since abandoned her for reasons unknown to her. She had given up monster hunting after he left but is pulled back in by promises that she'll be paid well.
The story, based in Navajo stories, takes place in a postapocalyptic realm, after the Big Water flooded most of the United States and left the land (Dinétah) occupied by the Diné or Navajo people walled off from the rest of what remains.
Maggie is alone, mostly, but as her quest continues, Roanhorse introduces other vibrant characters, some of whom are allies and others are . . . complicated.
The twists and turns of the plot here are great, but for me, it's the characters who shine.
Marcel Theroux's Far North (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
"The best way to tell how long a thing will last is ask how long it's been around for. The newest things end soonest. And things that have been around for a good long while will last awhile to come" (47).
Marcel Theroux's Far North is a bleak novel. Set in postapocalyptic Siberia, it focuses on Makepeace whose family moved there as part of a group of settlers desiring to get away from certain elements of society that pervaded more populated parts of the world.
Makepeace is the sheriff of a town with no residents—everyone has either died or moved on—until a stranger shows up and interrupts the solitude.
Anything substantive I could write about the plot from now on would be rife with spoilers. But there's a sense of generosity and hope in this novel, despite its bleakness, that reminds me of my favorite postapocalyptic novels, like Cormac McCarthy's The Road or Peter Heller's The Dog Stars. Makepeace is searching for something enduring in humanity, even though humans have been so disappointing, over and over again.
Four More Recommendations...
Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
This was a re-read for me, and I was struck all over again by the complexity of Atwood's vision. This first book in the MaddAddam trilogy focuses on Snowman, who knows that he may be the last, non-genetically engineered human. He looks back on his life and choices as he considers how he has outlived all those he loved and hated.
Paolo Bacigalupi's The Water Knife (Bookshop.org)
This is another cli fi/dystopian novel set in a Las Vegas ravaged by environmental catastrophe (sound familiar?). Trigger warnings abound in this powerful consideration of human nature's response.
Nathaniel Rich's Odds Against Tomorrow (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
This book deals, literally, with the catastrophes of climate change. It focuses on the life of Mitchell Zukor, a mathematician who works for a company that calculates the possibility of disasters . . . and then, when he experiences one, he has to move past the hypothetical toward survival in the real.
Sherri L. Smith's Orleans (Bookshop.org | Libro.fm)
This YA novel has elements of cli fi and dystopia; it takes place in a New Orleans ravaged by environmental catastrophe and runaway pandemic. Oh yes, it resonates.
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