While the debate about global warming rages on, science fiction has not missed the opportunity to use the effects of climate change to spin excellent stories. More specifically, science fiction often examines the environmental effects of drastic climate changes caused by a technological society and natural catastrophes. The phenomenon of worldwide flooding in particular has been nicely represented in science fiction.
Let's roll up our pant legs and take a look at some examples, shall we?
Read the last SF Signal on the best new SF/Fantasy books for August.
The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard
Ballard's The Drowned World is a classic science fiction novel that has just been republished to commemorate its 50th anniversary. Like several of Ballard's early novels, this one portrays a near-future disaster that focuses on characters whose lives are affected by ecological catastrophe, in this case, the flooding of London caused by increased solar radiation that melts the polar ice caps. Ballard layers in a treatise on the relationship between personal development and environmental surroundings as the cast of complex characters migrate to cooler climates, attempting to cope with the impact of environmental regression.
Perhaps most notable in the novel is that the main character does not fear the catastrophe, but welcomes it and even embraces the new world order and the advanced evolutionary acceleration thrust upon mankind. This was a new depiction for catastrophe novels at the time of its original printing, and one Ballard continued with in his subsequent novels The Burning World and The Crystal World. But it's the moody landscapes and the author's tendency toward psychoanalytical introspection that helped make The Drowned World the representative novel of Ballard's early work and established him as one of the field's most influential writers.
Flood by Stephen Baxter
Flood is part disaster novel and part apocalyptic fiction. It documents the rising level of Earth’s oceans, which is occurring at an alarming rate, more than can be attributed to global warming alone. What occurs over the course of the novel, which spans 36 years, is the gradual decline of civilization as the world tries to cope with the harsh reality of deteriorating resources. Because the time span involved, Flood reads more like more like a slow-burn apocalyptic novel than a disaster novel, so instead of offering action-heavy scenes of heroics and destruction, though there are those, it revolves around the characters and how they deal with the ever-changing world around them. The depiction of global disaster sets a morose tone for the book that lingers between readings.
The catastrophe is seen from the perspective of four main characters, forever linked by a traumatic experience they shared. Each have moved on from their ordeal in different ways, some coping better with the pending end of the world than others. There's also a rich entrepreneur who uses his resources to help civilians while increasing his influence and power to achieve his long-term plan for survival, one that is examined in the follow-up novel, Ark.
The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
Perhaps most popularly known for his breakthrough debut novel, The Windup Girl, which made Time magazines best books of the year, Bacigalupi wowed audiences again with 2010's thrilling dystopian novel, Ship Breaker, a story about a young scavenger faced with a daily fight for survival until he rescues a rich girl from a shipwreck. Bacigalupi returns to the world of Ship Breaker with his new novel, The Drowned Cities. While not a direct sequel, it still features a world where climate change has led to rising sea levels and cities faced with permanent flooding. Against this dark setting, two young refugees encounter a wounded, bioengineered half-man who's being hunted by soldiers, a situation that leads to them being confronted with tests of loyalty and survival when one is captured, and one must decide between recue and personal freedom.
Osiris by E.J. Swift
Osiris takes place 50 years after the Great Storm has covered the Earth in water. The great city of Osiris was built specifically to survive the storms, but only had room for a privileged few. That didn't stop crowds of people from seeking refuge when the storms came. Now, decades later, the city, with buildings emerging directly from the water, is home to the elite citizens and a group of refugees walled off from the rest of the city in the western district. The elite gets to enjoy the comforts of a normal society while the westerners must deal with issue of day-to-day survival, rampant crime and dwindling hope.
If there's one prevailing theme in Osiris, it's the relationship between the Haves and the Have-Nots. This is represented by the book's two main characters. Adelaide is the spoiled black sheep of a ruling family who wishes to find her missing twin brother. She forms an alliance with Vikram, a third-generation storm refugee who hopes Adelaide can save his people from certain death by cold and starvation. The first in a new series, Osiris proves to be and interesting story set against a world brought to life by rich world building, thought-provoking situations and the depiction of complex, realistic characters.
For Further Reading...
For further fictional reading on climate change scenarios, check out the short fiction anthology Welcome to the Greenhouse: New Science Fiction on Climate Change edited by Gordon Van Gelder. It includes fine fictional treatments by Brian W. Aldiss, Jeff Carlson, Judith Moffett, Matthew Hughes, Gregory Benford, Michael Alexander, Bruce Sterling, Joseph Green, Pat MacEwen, Alan Dean Foster, David Prill, George Guthridge, Paul Di Filippo, Chris Lawson, Ray Vukcevich and M. J. Locke.
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a Hugo-nominated group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. He also like bagels.