50 Must-Read Eco Disasters In Fiction

Fiction at its best lets us play out our darkest fears about the future. You don’t get much darker than environmental collapse, and the way things are right now, it’s even odds on whether heat, pollinator extinction, superstorms, or sea level rise takes us out first. But hey, whatever happens, it’ll be dramatic!

Not all of these stories are about impending disaster. Some deal with past ecological collapse too. Others are so wild that they’re really just good fun. If this really isn’t enough mayhem for you, make sure and also check out more climate change aftermaths. If, on the other hand, you’re feeling a little shook by all of this reality-mirroring climate talk, remember that knowledge is power. Let’s dive right into fictional Earths where the weather just hates everybody and into Earths based in fact where the great wave of Nature’s fury is poised to obliterate us all.

These books about ecological disasters might be fiction, but they're not all too unimaginable in reality. book lists | climate fiction | cli fi | books about ecological disasters | eco-disaster books | books about nature | books about the environment

All Over Creation by Ruth Ozeki

“Yumi Fuller hasn’t set foot in her hometown of Liberty Falls, Idaho—heart of the potato-farming industry—since she ran away at age fifteen. Twenty-five years later, the prodigal daughter returns to confront her dying parents, her best friend, and her conflicted past, and finds herself caught up in an altogether new drama. The post-millennial farming community has been invaded by Agribusiness forces at war with a posse of activists, the Seeds of Resistance, who travel the country in a camping car, “The Spudnick,” biofueled by pilfered McDonald’s french-fry oil.”

Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko

“Silko’s ambitious, massive novel is an impassioned indictment of the white man’s rule in the Americas, a prophecy of a revolution by Native Americans, and a jeremiad warning of a corrupt world rushing to Armageddon.”

American War by Omar El AkkadAmerican War by Omar El Akkad

“Sarat Chestnut, born in Louisiana, is only six when the Second American Civil War breaks out in 2074. But even she knows that oil is outlawed, that Louisiana is half underwater, and that unmanned drones fill the sky. When her father is killed and her family is forced into Camp Patience for displaced persons, she begins to grow up shaped by her particular time and place. But not everyone at Camp Patience is who they claim to be.”

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

“Area X has been cut off from the rest of the world for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition.”

Beacons: Stories For Our Not-So-Distant Future, edited by Gregory Norminton

“A riveting and provocative collection of short stories, Beacons throws down the gauntlet to award-winning writers, challenging them to devise original responses to the climate crisis. From Joanne Harris’ cautionary tale of a world where ‘outside’ has become a thing of history to Nick Hayes’ graphic depiction of the primeval bond between man and nature, each story thrills the senses as it attempts to make sense of a world warping into something unfamiliar.”

Blackfish City by Sam J. MillerBlackfish City by Sam J. Miller

“After the climate wars, a floating city is constructed in the Arctic Circle, a remarkable feat of mechanical and social engineering, complete with geothermal heating and sustainable energy. The city’s denizens have become accustomed to a roughshod new way of living, however, the city is starting to fray along the edges—crime and corruption have set in, the contradictions of incredible wealth alongside direst poverty are spawning unrest, and a new disease called ‘the breaks’ is ravaging the population.”

A Breath of Fresh Air by Amulya Malladi

“On the night of December 3, 1984, Anjali waits for her army officer husband to pick her up at the train station in Bhopal, India. In an instant, her world changes forever. Her anger at his being late turns to horror when a catastrophic gas leak poisons the city air. Anjali miraculously survives. Her marriage does not.”

Breathe by Sarah Crossan

“The world has no air. If you want to survive, you pay to breathe. But what if you can’t? And what if you think everything could be different? Three teens will leave everything they know behind in Sarah Crossan’s gripping and original dystopian teen novel of danger, longing, and glimmering hope.”

The Butterfly Effect by Rajat Chaudhuri

“In the decaying capital city of a near-future Darkland, which covers large swathes of Asia, Captain Old – an off-duty policeman – receives news that might help to unravel the roots of a scourge that has ravaged the continent. As stories coalesce into stories – welding past, present and future together – will a macabre death in a small English town or the disappearance of Indian tourists in Korea, help to blow away the dusts of time?
From utopian communities of Asia to the prison camps of Pyongyang and from the gene labs of Europe to the violent streets of Darkland – riven by civil war, infested by genetically engineered fighters – this time-travelling novel crosses continents, weaving mystery, adventure and romance, gradually fixing its gaze on the sway of the unpredictable over our lives.”

California by Edan Lepucki

“The world Cal and Frida have always known is gone, and they’ve left the crumbling city of Los Angeles far behind them. They now live in a shack in the wilderness, working side-by-side to make their days tolerable in the face of hardship and isolation. Mourning a past they can’t reclaim, they seek solace in each other. But the tentative existence they’ve built for themselves is thrown into doubt when Frida finds out she’s pregnant.”

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

“In a nightmarish ruined world slowly awakening to the light after sleeping in darkness, the infant rediscoveries of science are secretly nourished by cloistered monks dedicated to the study and preservation of the relics and writings of the blessed Saint Isaac Leibowitz. From here the story spans centuries of ignorance, violence, and barbarism, viewing through a sharp, satirical eye the relentless progression of a human race damned by its inherent humanness to recelebrate its grand foibles and repeat its grievous mistakes.”

The Carbon Diaries by Saci LloydThe Carbon Diaries 2015 Saci Lloyd

“It’s January 1st, 2015, and the UK is the first nation to introduce carbon dioxide rationing in a drastic bid to combat climate change. As her family spirals out of control, Laura Brown chronicles the first year of rationing with scathing abandon.”

The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall

“The world has changed. War rages in South America and China, and Britain – now entirely dependent on the US for food and energy – is run by an omnipresent dictatorship known simply as The Authority. Assets and weapons have been seized, and women are compulsorily fitted with contraceptive devices. This is Sister’s story of her attempt to escape the repressive regime. From the confines of her Lancaster prison cell she tells of her search for The Carhullan Army, a quasi-mythical commune of ‘unofficial’ women rumoured to be living in a remote part of Cumbria.”

Death of Grass by John Christopher

“The Chung-Li virus has devastated Asia, wiping out the rice crop and leaving riots and mass starvation in its wake. The rest of the world looks on with concern, though safe in the expectation that a counter-virus will be developed any day. Then Chung-Li mutates and spreads. Wheat, barley, oats, rye: no grass crop is safe, and global famine threatens.”

Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delaney

“A mysterious disaster has stricken the midwestern American city of Bellona, and its aftereffects are disturbing: a city block burns down and is intact a week later; clouds cover the sky for weeks, then part to reveal two moons; a week passes for one person when only a day passes for another. The catastrophe is confined to Bellona, and most of the inhabitants have fled. But others are drawn to the devastated city, among them the Kid, a white/American Indian man who can’t remember his own name. The Kid is emblematic of those who live in the new Bellona, who are the young, the poor, the mad, the violent, the outcast—the marginalized.”

The End Of The World Running Club by Adrian J. WalkerThe End Of The World Running Club by Adrian J. Walker

“Perfect for fans of The Martian, this powerful post-apocalyptic thriller pits reluctant father Edgar Hill in a race against time to get back to his wife and children. When the sky begins to fall and he finds himself alone, his best hope is to run – or risk losing what he loves forever.”

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

“Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.”

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

“Dellarobia Turnbow is a restless farm wife who gave up her own plans when she accidentally became pregnant at seventeen. Now, after a decade of domestic disharmony on a failing farm, she has settled for permanent disappointment but seeks momentary escape through an obsessive flirtation with a younger man. As she hikes up a mountain road behind her house to a secret tryst, she encounters a shocking sight: a silent, forested valley filled with what looks like a lake of fire.”

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire VayeGold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

“In a parched southern California of the near future, Luz, once the poster child for the country’s conservation movement, and Ray, an army deserter turned surfer, are squatting in a starlet’s abandoned mansion. Most “Mojavs,” prevented by armed vigilantes from freely crossing borders to lusher regions, have allowed themselves to be evacuated to encampments in the east. Holdouts like Ray and Luz subsist on rationed cola and water, and whatever they can loot, scavenge, and improvise.”

Heat and Light by Jennifer Haigh

“To drill or not to drill? Prison guard Rich Devlin leases his mineral rights to finance his dream of farming. He doesn’t count on the truck traffic and nonstop noise, his brother’s skepticism or the paranoia of his wife, Shelby, who insists the water smells strange and is poisoning their frail daughter. Meanwhile his neighbors, organic dairy farmers Mack and Rena, hold out against the drilling—until a passionate environmental activist disrupts their lives.”

Hot Sky At Midnight by Robert Silverberg

“At Samurai Industries, Paul Carpenter studies his computer monitors to predict the movement of toxic clouds drifting across the Pacific Northwest. If he’s wrong, a sudden shift of wind can kill thousands. Nick Rhodes, a research scientist for the controversial Santachiara Technologies’ Survival/Modification Program, seeks better ways for humans to adapt to Earth’s hostile environment. His girlfriend, Isabelle Martine, is a kinetic therapist and political activist, violently opposed to the threatening new technology. They are among those who have opted to stay behind, scratching out a perilous existence on a poisoned planet where no one dares leave home without a face-lung and a daily injection of Screen.”

Hothouse by Brian W. Aldiss

“Millions of years beyond our time, our Earth has long since stopped spinning—and giant flora have taken over the sunlit half of the motionless world. Here humans are among the very few animal species that still exist, struggling to survive against enormous odds, but they have become small and weak, and their numbers have dwindled to almost nothing. When the aging leader of Gren’s tribe decrees it is time for the old ones to go “Up,” the younger are left to make their own way below. Although the journey will not be an easy one for young Gren, he sets off on an odyssey across a perilous world populated by carnivorous plants and other evolved vegetation. But any knowledge to be gained at the terminator—the forbidding boundary between the day world and the night—might well prove worthless for the boy and the companions he amasses along the way when the expanding sun goes nova and their Earth is no more.”

I Have Waited And You Have Come by Martine McDonaghI Have Waited, And You Have Come by Martine McDonagh

“The world has been ravaged by climate change and Rachel is left to fend for herself. Living amid a clutch of disparate communities whose inhabitants she chooses to avoid, she rarely ventures beyond the safety of the storm wall. But when Jez White disturbs her twilight existence, Rachel finds herself in a murky territory somewhere between stalking and being stalked.”

I Will Send Rain by Rae Meadows

“Annie Bell can’t escape the dust. It’s in her hair, covering the windowsills, coating the animals in the barn, in the corners of her children’s dry, cracked lips. It’s 1934 and the Bell farm in Mulehead, Oklahoma is struggling as the earliest storms of The Dust Bowl descend. All around them the wheat harvests are drying out and people are packing up their belongings as storms lay waste to the Great Plains. As the Bells wait for the rains to come, Annie and each member of her family are pulled in different directions. Annie’s fragile young son, Fred, suffers from dust pneumonia; her headstrong daughter, Birdie, flush with first love, is choosing a dangerous path out of Mulehead; and Samuel, her husband, is plagued by disturbing dreams of rain.”

The Ice People by Maggie Gee

“Far into the the 21st century, civilization has broken down in the face of the deepening cold. An old man, Saul, lives in a disused airport with a gang of wild boys, who spare his life only because of his skills as a storyteller. Saul tells of his youth, days of fierce heat and dwindling fertility. Men and women live separately, the women cluster around the rare children, and men turn to each other or to robot “pets.” But Saul is different—he falls in love with Sarah.”

In the Palm of Darkness by Mayra Montero, Edith Grossman (Translator)

“‘In the Palm of Darkness’ tells the story of American herpetologist Victor Griggs and Haitian guide Thierry Adrien, who are searching for an amphibian known as the blood frog (grenouille du sang) in the mountains of violence-torn Haiti. The rich and tragic tale of Thierry’s family, his life and loves and his curious destiny, forms a backdrop for the obsessive search of the two men from different cultures, and opens a window onto another way of understanding the world.”

Mara and Dann by Doris LessigMara and Dann by Doris Lessig

“Thousands of years in the future, all the northern hemisphere is buried under the ice and snow of a new Ice Age. At the southern end of a large landmass called Ifrik, two children of the Mahondi people, seven-year old Mara and her younger brother, Dann, are abducted from their home in the middle of the night. Raised as outsiders in a poor rural village, Mara and Dann learn to survive the hardships and dangers of a life threatened as much by an unforgiving climate and menacing animals as by a hostile community of Rock People. Eventually they join the great human migration North, away from the drought that is turning the southern land to dust, and in search of a place with enough water and food to support human life.”

Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith

“Twenty years ago Lucie Bowen left Marrow Island; along with her mother, she fled the aftermath of an earthquake that compromised the local refinery, killing her father and ravaging the island’s environment. Now, Lucie’s childhood friend Kate is living within a mysterious group called Marrow Colony—a community that claims to be ‘ministering to the Earth.’ Lucie’s experience as a journalist tells her there’s more to the Colony—and their charismatic leader– than they want her to know, and that the astonishing success of their environmental remediation has come at great cost to the Colonists themselves.”

Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta

“Global warming has changed the world’s geography and its politics. Wars are waged over water, and China rules Europe, including the Scandinavian Union, which is occupied by the power state of New Qian. In this far north place, seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio is learning to become a tea master like her father, a position that holds great responsibility and great secrets. Tea masters alone know the location of hidden water sources, including the natural spring that Noria’s father tends, which once provided water for her whole village.”

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

“The waters rose, submerging New York City. But the residents adapted and it remained the bustling, vibrant metropolis it had always been. Though changed forever. Every street became a canal. Every skyscraper an island. Through the eyes of the varied inhabitants of one building, Kim Stanley Robinson shows us how one of our great cities will change with the rising tides. And how we too will change.”

Not A Drop To Drink by Mindy McGinnis

“Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.”

Odds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel RichOdds Against Tomorrow by Nathaniel Rich

“As Mitchell immerses himself in the mathematics of catastrophe—ecological collapse, war games, natural disasters—he becomes obsessed by a culture’s fears. Yet he also loses touch with his last connection to reality: Elsa Bruner, a friend with her own apocalyptic secret, who has started a commune in Maine. Then, just as Mitchell’s predictions reach a nightmarish crescendo, an actual worst-case scenario overtakes Manhattan. Mitchell realizes he is uniquely prepared to profit. But at what cost?”

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

“Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride.”

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

“Lauren Olamina and her family live in one of the only safe neighborhoods remaining on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Behind the walls of their defended enclave, Lauren’s father, a preacher, and a handful of other citizens try to salvage what remains of a culture that has been destroyed by drugs, disease, war, and chronic water shortages. While her father tries to lead people on the righteous path, Lauren struggles with hyperempathy, a condition that makes her extraordinarily sensitive to the pain of others.”

The Rapture by Liz JensenThe Rapture by Liz Jensen

“It is a June unlike any other before, with temperatures soaring to asphyxiating heights. All across the world, freak weather patterns—and the life-shattering catastrophes they entail—have become the norm. The twenty-first century has entered a new phase. But Gabrielle Fox’s main concern is a personal one: to rebuild her life after a devastating car accident that has left her disconnected from the world, a prisoner of her own guilt and grief.”

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

“A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.”

The Sheep Look Up by John BrunnerThe Sheep Look Up by John Brunner

“In a near future, the air pollution is so bad that everyone wears gas masks. The infant mortality rate is soaring, and birth defects, new diseases, and physical ailments of all kinds abound. The water is undrinkable—unless you’re poor and have no choice. Large corporations fighting over profits from gas masks, drinking water, and clean food tower over an ineffectual, corrupt government.”

Solar by Ian McEwan

“Michael Beard is a Nobel Prize–winning physicist whose best work is behind him, and whose fifth marriage is crumbling. However, an invitation to travel to New Mexico offers him a chance for him to extricate himself from his marital problems, reinvigorate his career, and save the world from environmental disaster. Can a man who has made a mess of his life clean up the messes of humanity?”

Solarpunk: Ecological and Fantastical Stories in a Sustainable World, edited by Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro, Fábio Fernandes (Translator)

“Imagine a sustainable world, run on clean and renewable energies that are less aggressive to the environment. Now imagine humanity under the impact of these changes. This is the premise Brazilian editor Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro proposed, and these authors took the challenge to envision hopeful futures and alternate histories. The stories in this anthology explore terrorism against green corporations, large space ships propelled by the pressure of solar radiation, the advent of photosynthetic humans, and how different society might be if we had switched to renewable energies much earlier in history. Originally published in Brazil and translated for the first time from the Portuguese by Fábio Fernandes, this anthology of optimistic science fiction features nine authors from Brazil and Portugal including Carlos Orsi, Telmo Marçal, Romeu Martins, Antonio Luiz M. Costa, Gabriel Cantareira, Daniel I. Dutra, André S. Silva, Roberta Spindler, and Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro.”

The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson

“On the airwaves, all the talk is of the new blue planet – pristine and habitable, like our own 65 million years ago, before we took it to the edge of destruction. And off the air, Billie and Spike are falling in love. What will happen when their story combines with the world’s story.”

Strange As This Weather Has Been by Ann PancakeStrange As This Weather Has Been by Ann Pancake

“Set in present day West Virginia, Ann Pancake’s debut novel, Strange As This Weather Has Been, tells the story of a coal mining family—a couple and their four children—living through the latest mining boom and dealing with the mountaintop removal and strip mining that is ruining what is left of their mountain life. As the mine turns the mountains to slag and wastewater, workers struggle with layoffs and children find adventure in the blasted moonscape craters.”

The Subprimes by Karl Taro Greenfeld

“In a future America that feels increasingly familiar, you are your credit score. Extreme wealth inequality has created a class of have-nothings: Subprimes. Their bad credit ratings make them unemployable. Jobless and without assets, they’ve walked out on mortgages, been foreclosed upon, or can no longer afford a fixed address. Fugitives who must keep moving to avoid arrest, they wander the globally warmed American wasteland searching for day labor and a place to park their battered SUVs for the night.”

The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan

“It’s November of 2020, and the world is freezing over, each day colder than the last. There’s snow in Israel; the Thames is overflowing; and an iceberg separated from the Fjords in Norway is expected to drift just off the coast of Scotland. As ice water melts into the Atlantic, frenzied London residents evacuate by the thousands for warmer temperatures down south—but not Dylan. Grieving and ready to build life anew, he heads north to bury his mother’s and grandmother’s ashes on the Scottish islands where they once lived.”

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

“While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters.

Maggie Hoskie is a Dinétah monster hunter, a supernaturally gifted killer. When a small town needs help finding a missing girl, Maggie is their last—and best—hope. But what Maggie uncovers about the monster is much larger and more terrifying than anything she could imagine.”

Truth and Bright Water by Thomas King

“Truth and Bright Water tells of a summer in the life of Tecumseh and Lum, young Native-American cousins coming of age in the Montana town of Truth, and the Bright Water Reserve across the river in Alberta. It opens with a mysterious woman with a suitcase, throwing things into the river – then jumping in herself. Tecumseh and Lum go to help, but she and her truck have disappeared. Other mysteries puzzle Tecumseh: whether his mom will take his dad back; if his rolling-stone aunt is home to stay; why no one protects Lum from his father’s rages. Then Tecumseh gets a job helping an artist – Bright Water’s most famous son – with the project of a lifetime. As Truth and Bright Water prepare for the Indian Days festival, their secrets come together in a climax of tragedy, reconciliation, and love.”

The Water Knife by Paolo BacigalupiThe Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

“In the American Southwest, Nevada, Arizona, and California skirmish for dwindling shares of the Colorado River. Into the fray steps Angel Velasquez, leg-breaker, assassin, and spy. A Las Vegas water knife, Angel ‘cuts’ water for his boss, Catherine Case, ensuring that her luxurious developments can bloom in the desert, so the rich can stay wet while the poor get dust. When rumors of a game-changing water source surface in drought-ravaged Phoenix, it seems California is making a play to monopolize the life-giving flow of the river, and Angel is sent to investigate.”

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

“In a far future, post-nuclear-holocaust Africa, genocide plagues one region. The aggressors, the Nuru, have decided to follow the Great Book and exterminate the Okeke. But when the only surviving member of a slain Okeke village is brutally raped, she manages to escape, wandering farther into the desert. She gives birth to a baby girl with hair and skin the color of sand and instinctively knows that her daughter is different. She names her daughter Onyesonwu, which means “Who Fears Death?” in an ancient African tongue.”

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

“Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen’s Calorie Man in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, Anderson combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs thought to be extinct, hoping to reap the bounty of history’s lost calories. There, he encounters Emiko…”

Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong, Howard Goldblatt (Translator)

“An epic Chinese tale in the vein of The Last Emperor, Wolf Totem depicts the dying culture of the Mongols—the ancestors of the Mongol hordes who at one time terrorized the world—and the parallel extinction of the animal they believe to be sacred: the fierce and otherworldly Mongolian wolf.”

Wool by Hugh Howey

“Thousands of them have lived underground. They’ve lived there so long, there are only legends about people living anywhere else. Such a life requires rules. Strict rules. There are things that must not be discussed. Like going outside. Never mention you might like going outside.

Or you’ll get what you wish for.”

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