Five of the best climate-change fictions

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From the dystopias of Cormac McCarthy and Margaret Atwood to a biopunk thriller and a teen slapstick these are some of the best tales of ecological peril

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Theres a brief reference to nuclear attack a sudden shear of sun and then a series of low concussions but the slow process of climate change isnt mentioned in this frightening 2006 novel about a man and his young son struggling to survive after the fall of civilisation. Make no mistake, though, this is a book about environmental apocalypse: what would happen to humen, and our humanity, if the natural world was no longer a self-replenishing, bountiful support system for the highest apes who scratch at its surface but merely another dead rock in space.

In the first years after the catastrophe, the roads were mobbed with refugees, foraging remaining food stocks. Survivors descended into bloodcults, ferocity and cannibalism. Nine years on, if the man and boy fulfill other humans, they will almost certainly be raped and eaten. The father maintains a pistol by him, to kill his son and then himself when the time comes; the mother committed suicide years before. This is a hard volume to read but also, as Andrew OHagan set it, the first major masterpiece of the globally warmed generation.

McCarthy writes in an unrelenting, declamatory prose somewhere between the Bible and late Beckett, stripped for the most part of the adornment of apostrophes and speech marks and the breathing space provided by comma. He grapples not only with human suffering and savagery on a baroque, almost unimaginable scale; with religion, love and the blunt urge to survive; but with the existential horror of the possible end of the human race. The fragility of human endeavour and the terrifying consequences of our selections are the message to take from this devastating book. Justine Jordan

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

The Year of the Flood is the middle volume in Atwoods dystopian MaddAddam trilogy, published between 2003 and 2013. As with The Handmaids Tale and the rise of the misogynist right in the US, the pas of day has built her work seem ever more eerily prophetic. But then, as Atwood has always said, everything she writes about is possible and much of it has already happened. The environmental ravages caused by oil and the terrifying consequences of it running out; corporate empire-building, scarcening resources and increasing inequality; genetic experimentation and the badlands of the internet: all are followed to their( un) natural conclusions.

The flood in this novel is not a watery one, but a global pandemic triggered as part of the same hubristic rapaciousness that is causing sea levels to rise. Comparing it with its predecessor Oryx and Crake, Ursula Le Guin find less of Hogarth and more of Goya in a post-apocalyptic scenario that combines horrors with glimmers of hope. Her treatment of her main two characters, survivors Toby and Ren, and of Gods Gardeners, a sect dedicated to preserving the besieged natural world, is Atwood at her best: cool-headed, warm-hearted, funny, smart and undeceived.

Backed up by broad research, Atwoods speculative fictions are complex and layered enough to consider the global nexus of science, capitalism and politics, along with individual stories of brutality and resilience. The topics she poses are urgent and essential. What if we continue down the road were already on? How slippery is the slope? What are our saving grace? Whos got the will to stop us ? JJ

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

In all of his novels including Ghostwritten, Cloud Atlas and Number9Dream David Mitchell has been preoccupied with the differences between personal and planetary ethics: why does every humans self-interest conflict with the wider need for collective survival?

The Bone Clocks is tell in six portions, each focusing in on a different period in the life of Holly Sykes. The last part, set in 2043 when Holly is in her 70 s, find her huddled away on the Irish coast, ensure out the end as the world falls into the Endarkenment: climate change has so depleted the level of resources people must live off the land and government rationing. Ireland is moderately stable thanks to a deal with China until the Chinese abruptly pull their resources, leaving Ireland in a state of confusion and violence.

Mitchells depiction of the subsequent desperation and rapid descent into anarchy is bleak, if undeniably believable. Sian Cain

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

In his acknowledgments, Bacigalupi emphasized that his novel should not be construed as representative of present-day Thailand or the Thai people. His vision of Thailands future is less beaches and good curry, and more oil-starved, corruption-riddled nightmare.

At its heart, The Wind Up Girl is a biopunk thriller following a undercover corporate agent and a genetically modified girl but its detailed, bleak depiction of the effects of climate change sets it apart. Set during the contraction when the world runs out of fossil fuels Bacigalupis Bangkok is one of only a few south-east Asian cities left , now below sea level and urgently holding off the rising water with a series of spring-powered pumps.

Thailands environment ministry works like a guerrilla force-out to ensure the countrys survival, burning entire villages to the ground at the first sight of harvest besets. Ships transport goods, computers run on treadle-power and all the while, everyone resolutely acts as if nothing is wrong so there is a little realism in this science fiction. SC

The Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd

As climate calamities roll across the globe, and Britain is laid waste by the Great Storm, the UK government decides it is time to take the drastic step of imposing a 60% carbon taxation. Day one of her diary assures 16 -year-old wannabe bass player Laura holed up with their own families as the countdown to rationing begins: Weve got to choose hairdryer, toaster, microwave, smartphone, de-ioniser( Mum ), kettle, illuminates, PTA, e-pod, fridge or freezer and on and on

At first the new limits seem impossible: daddy loses his job as a travel and tourism investments lecturer and mum has to abandon her beloved vehicle for a life of getting lost on bus. Her sister, Kim, meanwhile, flings such a strop after being forced to abandon her gap-year plans for a working vacation in the US that she absconds to Spain, leaves the television operating and lands herself in Carbon Offenders counselling. But gradually the family starts to adapt to the new reality.

Its a disgrace that the fiction is dated by its title( a followup, The Carbon Diaries 2017, is out of publish ), because Saci Lloyds portrayal of an angsty teen squaring her infatuation with the son next door and aspirations to be a new punk angel with a country clampdown on everything that powers her lifestyle is smart, funny and all too believable. As a teen reviewer on the Guardian childrens site wrote: It gave me an insight[ into] how we may have to live our lives in a few years, and made me wonder how I would deal with the situation, were I in Lauras shoes. Claire Armitstead

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