You will generally not see a book on environmental trauma in Waterstone’s Top 40. The theme is an important one, but not one that is given the space and publicity it deserves. The theme battles the growing concerns surrounding climate change and presents alternate realities regarding the consequences of such changes. Such alternate realities range from desolate landscapes to cyberpunk cities, and they have the power to raise awareness about global warming and the irrevocable damage it can cause to the Earth. Below is a tiny selection of books that deal with these issues in a captivating and haunting way.
1. Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood.
Atwood has recently been in the news for the televised series, The Handmaid’s Tale, based on her novel of the same name. Her novel, Oryx and Crake, however, takes a different track, as it paints a grey and bleak world after most of humankind has been wiped out by a deadly plague. The protagonist, Snowman, reflects on his childhood, saturated with internet pornography, genetic modification, and gated communities when he was called Jimmy. It is through his journey that Atwood’s message is clearly projected – to not blindly trust corporations or scientists.
2. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy.
Two figures on a burnt road, travelling through a ravaged America. A father and son, with only their wits and a pistol to defend themselves against scavengers and cannibals in this new-ordered world. McCarthy does not provide a background to how or when America (and, it is presumed, the world) has undergone an apocalypse, just an account of the nameless father and son who now have to survive this new landscape.
3. Scorch Atlas, by Blake Butler.
From the texture of the front cover to the shiver-inducing stories, this is a vile book. Butler writes of several different ways the world ends, each as unapologetically horrible as the last. A very short collection, but it packs a heavy punch about the consequences of climate change. Boils, fires, droughts are just some of the plagues rained down upon Butler’s world, and the families and individuals having to survive them are heart-wrenchingly broken, with little or no signs of hope.
4. Sharp North, by Patrick Cave.
Based in a futuristic Great Britain, the world suffers damage from the environment and is controlled by socially dangerous factions. Technology decides who rules, and in this case it is the Great Families who have formed a society where cloning is the norm. There is limited reproduction and those in power have a seemingly endless influence, as they keep ‘spares’ of themselves in case a replacement is ever needed. The protagonist, Mira, drives this fast-paced thriller as she tries to survive in such a strange world.
5. The Windup Girl, by Paulo Bacigalupi.
Set in 23rd century Thailand, the story follows the life of economic hitman Anderson Lake. The world is not as depressing as McCarthy’s or Butler’s, but climate change has raised sea levels and carbon fuel sources have run out. In the effort to fight against environmental catastrophe, biotechnology corporations run the country’s market, with genetic modifications at the forefront. The idea of what is ‘human’ and ‘natural’ is disputed, as biotech firms fiddle with food supplies and create new terms for bioterrorism. Bacigalupi may paint a world struggling with the consequences of global warming, but it is one that also provides us hope.