I love reading about forests, landscapes, plants and trees. So eco-fiction is right up my alley. Even as a child, I enjoyed reading about magical forests and trees. (Well, I still enjoy reading about magical forests!) So nowadays, I read eco-fiction to educate myself while still appreciating the joy of literature. But what exactly is eco-fiction? According to Wikipedia:
Ecofiction (also “eco-fiction” or “eco fiction”) is the branch of literature that encompasses nature-oriented (non-human) or environment-oriented (human impacts on nature) works of fiction. While this super genre’s roots are seen in classic, pastoral, magical realism, animal metamorphoses, science fiction, and other genres, the term eco-fiction did not become popular until the 1970s when various movements created the platform for an explosion of environmental and nature literature, which also inspired ecocriticism.
Ecocriticism is the study of literature and the environment from an interdisciplinary point of view, where literature scholars analyze texts that illustrate environmental concerns and examine the various ways literature treats the subject of nature. Environmentalists have claimed that the human relationship with the ecosystem often went unremarked in earlier literature.
“The terms ‘environmental fiction,’ ‘green fiction,’ and ‘nature-oriented fiction,’ might better be considered as categories of eco-fiction….[Ecofiction] deals with environmental issues or the relation between humanity and the physical environment, that contrasts traditional and industrial cosmologies, or in which nature or the land has a prominent role…
[It is] made up of many styles, primarily modernism, postmodernism, realism, and magical realism, and can be found in many genres, primarily mainstream, westerns, mystery, romance, and speculative fiction. Speculative fiction includes science fiction and fantasy, sometimes mixed with realism, as in the work of Ursula K. Le Guin.”Jim Dwyer
Another perspective is that eco-fiction is not divided between true and false, but into three categories: “Works that portray the environmental movement and/or environmental activism, works that depict a conflict over an environmental issue and express the author’s beliefs, and works that feature environmental apocalypse.”Patricia D. Netzley
I tried to keep this eco-fiction book list as diverse as possible. I hope you can find a book to your liking, learn from and enjoy it immensely. We only have one planet.
15 Best Eco-fiction Novels
The Overstory – Richard Powers
‘The best novel ever written about trees, and really, just one of the best novels, period’
Eco-fiction at its best. An artist inherits a hundred years of photographic portraits, all of the same doomed American chestnut. A hard-partying undergraduate in the late 1980s electrocutes herself, dies, and is sent back into life by creatures of air and light. A hearing- and speech-impaired scientist discovers that trees are communicating with one another. An Air Force crewmember in the Vietnam War is shot out of the sky, then saved by falling into a banyan.
This is the story of these and five other strangers, each summoned in different ways by the natural world, who are brought together in a last stand to save it from catastrophe. One of the finest examples of eco-fiction.
Barbara Kingsolver, New York Times
Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver
Flight Behavior takes on one of the most contentious subjects of our time: climate change. With a deft and versatile empathy Kingsolver dissects the motives that drive denial and belief in a precarious world. A fine example of eco-fiction.
Flight Behavior transfixes from its opening scene, when a young woman’s narrow experience of life is thrown wide with the force of a raging fire. In the lyrical language of her native Appalachia, Barbara Kingsolver bares the rich, tarnished humanity of her novel’s inhabitants and unearths the modern complexities of rural existence. Characters and reader alike are quickly carried beyond familiar territory here, into the unsettled ground of science, faith, and everyday truces between reason and conviction.
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.
She can only understand it as a cautionary miracle, but it sparks a raft of other explanations from scientists, religious leaders, and the media. The bewildering emergency draws rural farmers into unexpected acquaintance with urbane journalists, opportunists, sightseers, and a striking biologist with his own stake in the outcome. As the community lines up to judge the woman and her miracle, Dellarobia confronts her family, her church, her town, and a larger world, in a flight toward truth that could undo all she has ever believed.
Flight Behavior takes on one of the most contentious subjects of our time: climate change. With a deft and versatile empathy Kingsolver dissects the motives that drive denial and belief in a precarious world. One of the most popular eco-fiction books out there.
Greenwood – Michael Christie
It’s 2034 and Jake Greenwood is a storyteller and a liar, an overqualified tour guide babysitting ultra-rich vacationers in one of the world’s last remaining forests. It’s 2008 and Liam Greenwood is a carpenter, fallen from a ladder and sprawled on his broken back, calling out from the concrete floor of an empty mansion.
It’s 1974 and Willow Greenwood is out of jail, free after being locked up for one of her endless series of environmental protests: attempts at atonement for the sins of her father’s once vast and violent timber empire. It’s 1934 and Everett Greenwood is alone, as usual, in his maple syrup camp squat when he hears the cries of an abandoned infant and gets tangled up in the web of a crime that will cling to his family for decades.
And throughout, there are trees: thrumming a steady, silent pulse beneath Christie’s effortless sentences and working as a guiding metaphor for withering, weathering, and survival. A shining, intricate clockwork of a novel, Greenwood is a rain-soaked and sun-dappled story of the bonds and breaking points of money and love, wood and blood—and the hopeful, impossible task of growing toward the light. A recent eco-fiction book.
The Bear – Andrew Krivak
From National Book Award in Fiction finalist Andrew Krivak comes a gorgeous fable of Earth’s last two human inhabitants, and a girl’s journey home. For all the eco-fiction lovers.
In an Edenic future, a girl and her father live close to the land in the shadow of a lone mountain. They possess a few remnants of civilization: some books, a pane of glass, a set of flint and steel, a comb. The father teaches the girl how to fish and hunt, the secrets of the seasons and the stars.
He is preparing her for an adulthood in harmony with nature, for they are the last of humankind. But when the girl finds herself alone in an unknown landscape, it is a bear that will lead her back home through a vast wilderness that offers the greatest lessons of all, if she can only learn to listen.
A cautionary tale of human fragility, of love and loss, The Bear is a stunning tribute to the beauty of nature’s dominion and a good example of eco-fiction.
Barn 8 – Deb Olin Unferth
For the ones looking for a political eco-fiction. Two auditors for the U.S. egg industry go rogue and conceive a plot to steal a million chickens in the middle of the night—an entire egg farm’s worth of animals. Janey and Cleveland—a spirited former runaway and the officious head of audits—assemble a precarious, quarrelsome team and descend on the farm on a dark spring evening. A series of catastrophes ensues.
Deb Olin Unferth’s wildly inventive novel is a heist story of a very unusual sort. Swirling with a rich array of voices, Barn 8 takes readers into the minds of these renegades: a farmer’s daughter, a former director of undercover investigations, hundreds of activists, a forest ranger who suddenly comes upon forty thousand hens, and a security guard who is left on an empty farm for years.
There are glimpses twenty thousand years into the future to see what chickens might evolve into on our contaminated planet. We hear what hens think happens when they die. In the end the cracked hearts of these indelible characters, their earnest efforts to heal themselves, and their radical actions will lead them to ruin or revelation.
Funny, whimsical, philosophical, and heartbreaking, Barn 8 ultimately asks: What constitutes meaningful action in a world so in need of change? Unferth comes at this question with striking ingenuity, razor-sharp wit, and ferocious passion. Barn 8 is a rare comic-political drama, a tour de force for our time. An excellent eco-fiction.
Ishmael – Daniel Quinn
One of the most popular eco-fiction books. The narrator of this extraordinary tale is a man in search for truth. He answers an ad in a local newspaper from a teacher looking for serious pupils, only to find himself alone in an abandoned office with a full-grown gorilla who is nibbling delicately on a slender branch. “You are the teacher?” he asks incredulously. “I am the teacher,” the gorilla replies. Ishmael is a creature of immense wisdom and he has a story to tell, one that no other human being has ever heard.
It is a story that extends backward and forward over the lifespan of the earth from the birth of time to a future there is still time to save. Like all great teachers, Ishmael refuses to make the lesson easy; he demands the final illumination to come from within ourselves. Is it man’s destiny to rule the world? Or is it a higher destiny possible for him—one more wonderful than he has ever imagined? A must-read eco-fiction.
The Monkey Wrench Gang – Edward Abbey
Ed Abbey called The Monkey Wrench Gang, his 1975 novel, a “comic extravaganza.” Some readers have remarked that the book is more a comic book than a real novel, and it’s true that reading this incendiary call to protect the American wilderness requires more than a little of the old willing suspension of disbelief. A comic example of eco-fiction.
The story centers on Vietnam veteran George Washington Hayduke III, who returns to the desert to find his beloved canyons and rivers threatened by industrial development. On a rafting trip down the Colorado River, Hayduke joins forces with feminist saboteur Bonnie Abbzug, wilderness guide Seldom Seen Smith, and billboard torcher Doc Sarvis, M.D., and together they wander off to wage war on the big yellow machines, on dam builders and road builders and strip miners.
As they do, his characters voice Abbey’s concerns about wilderness preservation (“Hell of a place to lose a cow,” Smith thinks to himself while roaming through the canyonlands of southern Utah. “Hell of a place to lose your heart. Hell of a place… to lose. Period”).
Moving from one improbable situation to the next, packing more adventure into the space of a few weeks than most real people do in a lifetime, the motley gang puts fear into the hearts of their enemies, laughing all the while. It’s comic, yes, and required reading for anyone who has come to love the desert. One of the best-known examples of eco-fiction.
The Lamentations of Zeno – Ilja Trojanow
Zeno Hintermeier is a scientist working as a travel guide on an Antarctic cruise ship, encouraging the wealthy to marvel at the least explored continent and to open their eyes to its rapid degradation. It is a troubling turn in the life of an idealistic glaciologist. Now in his early sixties, Zeno bewails the loss of his beloved glaciers, the disintegration of his marriage, and the foundering of his increasingly irrelevant career. Troubled in conscience and goaded by the smug complacency of the passengers in his charge, he starts to plan a desperate gesture that will send a wake-up call to an overheating world.
The Lamentations of Zeno is an extraordinary evocation of the fragile and majestic wonders to be found at a far corner of the globe, written by a novelist who is a renowned travel writer. Poignant and playful, the eco-fiction novel recalls the experimentation of high-modernist eco-fiction without compromising a limpid sense of place or the pace of its narrative. It is a portrait of a man in extremis, a haunting and at times irreverent tale that approaches the greatest challenge of our age – perhaps of our entire history as a species – from an impassioned human angle.
The Drowned World – J.G. Ballard
When London is lost beneath the rising tides, unconscious desires rush to the surface in this apocalyptic tale from the author of ‘Crash’ and ‘Empire of the Sun’, reissued here with a new introduction from Martin Amis. Eco-fiction for London lovers.
Fluctuations in solar radiation have melted the ice caps, sending the planet into a new Triassic Age of unendurable heat. London is a swamp; lush tropical vegetation grows up the walls of the Ritz and primeval reptiles are sighted, swimming through the newly-formed lagoons.
Some flee the capital; others remain to pursue reckless schemes, either in the name of science or profit. While the submerged streets of London are drained in search of treasure, Dr Robert Kerans – part of a group of intrepid scientists – comes to accept this submarine city and finds himself strangely resistant to the idea of saving it.
First published in 1962, Ballard’s mesmerising and ferociously imaginative novel gained him widespread critical acclaim and established his reputation as one of Britain’s finest writers of science fiction. And also a nice example of eco-fiction.
The Swarm – Frank Schätzing
Frank Schätzing’s amazing novel is a publishing phenomenon with translation rights sold around the world, drawing rave reviews for both pulsating suspense and great scientific knowledge. An exciting choice among eco-fiction novels.
The world begins to suffer an escalating and sensational series of natural disasters, and two marine biologists begin to develop a theory that the cause lies in the oceans, where an entity know as the Yrr has developed a massive network of single-cell organisms. It is wreaking havoc in order to prevent humankind from destroying the earth’s ecological balance forever.
The Americans, under the ruthless General Judith Lee, take a more pragmatic approach than the scientists, seeking to wipe out the being of the deep.
The scene is set for a massive confrontation…
Dune – Frank Herbert
An eco-fiction book for all science-fiction lovers. Melange, or ‘spice’, is the most valuable – and rarest – element in the universe; a drug that does everything from increasing a person’s life-span to making intersteller travel possible. And it can only be found on a single planet: the inhospitable desert world Arrakis.
Whoever controls Arrakis controls the spice. And whoever controls the spice controls the universe.
When the Emperor transfers stewardship of Arrakis from the noble House Harkonnen to House Atreides, the Harkonnens fight back, murdering Duke Leto Atreides. Paul, his son, and Lady Jessica, his concubine, flee into the desert. On the point of death, they are rescued by a band for Fremen, the native people of Arrakis, who control Arrakis’ second great resource: the giant worms that burrow beneath the burning desert sands.
In order to avenge his father and retake Arrakis from the Harkonnens, Paul must earn the trust of the Fremen and lead a tiny army against the innumerable forces aligned against them.
And his journey will change the universe.
Clade – James Bradley
On a beach in Antarctica, scientist Adam Leith marks the passage of the summer solstice. Back in Sydney his partner Ellie waits for the results of her latest round of IVF treatment.
That result, when it comes, will change both their lives and propel them into a future neither could have predicted. In a collapsing England, Adam will battle to survive an apocalyptic storm. Against a backdrop of growing civil unrest at home, Ellie will discover a strange affinity with beekeeping. In the aftermath of a pandemic, a young man finds solace in building virtual recreations of the dead. And new connections will be formed from the most unlikely beginnings. an exciting choice among eco-fiction novels.
Fauna – Christiane Vadnais
An award-winning eco-fiction from Canda. In a near-future world ravaged by climate change, who will win in the struggle between humanity and nature?
A thick fog rolls in over Shivering Heights. The river overflows, the sky is streaked with toxic green, parasites proliferate in torrential rains and once safely classified species – humans included – are evolving and behaving in unprecedented ways. Against this poetically hostile backdrop, a biologist, Laura, fights to understand the nature and scope of the changes transforming her own body and the world around her.
Ten lush and bracing linked climate fictions depict a world gorgeous and terrifying in its likeness to our own.
Fauna, Christiane Vadnais’s first work of fiction, won the Horizons Imaginaires speculative eco-fiction award, the City of Quebec book award, and was named one of 2018’s best books by Radio-Canada.
Hummingbird Salamander – Jeff VanderMeer
An eco-fiction for thriller lovers. A speculative thriller about the end of all things, set in the Pacific Northwest. A harrowing descent into a secret world.
Security consultant and former wrestler ‘Jane Smith’ receives an envelope with a key to a storage unit that holds a taxidermied hummingbird and clues leading her to a taxidermied salamander. Silvina, the dead woman who left the note, is a reputed ecoterrorist and the daughter of an Argentine industrialist. By taking the hummingbird from the storage unit, Jane sets in motion a series of events that quickly spin beyond her control.
Soon, Jane and her family are in danger, with few allies to help her make sense of the true scope of the peril. Is the only way to safety to follow in Silvina’s footsteps? Is it too late to stop? As she desperately seeks answers about why Silvina contacted her, time is running out―for her and possibly for the world.
Hummingbird Salamander is Jeff VanderMeer at his brilliant, cinematic best, wrapping profound questions about climate change, identity, and the world we live in into a tightly plotted thriller full of unexpected twists and elaborate conspiracy. An exciting eco-fiction.
Moon of the Crusted Snow – Waubgeshig Rice
With winter looming, a small northern Anishinaabe community goes dark. Cut off, people become passive and confused. Panic builds as the food supply dwindles. While the band council and a pocket of community members struggle to maintain order, an unexpected visitor arrives, escaping the crumbling society to the south. Soon after, others follow. The community leadership loses its grip on power as the visitors manipulate the tired and hungry to take control of the reserve.
Tensions rise and, as the months pass, so does the death toll due to sickness and despair. Frustrated by the building chaos, a group of young friends and their families turn to the land and Anishinaabe tradition in hopes of helping their community thrive again. Guided through the chaos by an unlikely leader named Evan Whitesky, they endeavor to restore order while grappling with a grave decision. Blending action and allegory, MOON OF THE CRUSTED SNOW upends our expectations. Out of catastrophe comes resilience. And as one society collapses, another is reborn.
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Are there any eco-fiction books that you’d like to add to this list? Please share in the comments section. Happy reading everyone!