Climate Change Short Stories: An Inconvenient Book Club

The illustration shows a futuristic scene of a woman walking through a green wood; she wears boots and has a long blonde braid down her back. Various creatures in the darkened wood are illuminated as if they were made up of stars from the sky, and there are background stars above as well.
Illustration by Rebekka Dunlap, from the short story “The Tree in the Back Yard” by Michelle Yoon

By Susan Thornton Hobby

Climate change is scary, and cli-fi short stories are here to help.

“Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming whether you like it or not.” – Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, age 18

Change is coming, both in the climate, and with luck, in human behavior. Reading about climate change is frightening, and sometimes shuts people down. But as many climate activists have explained, there is hope.

Environmental and animal activist Jane Goodall said it well: “I do have reasons for hope: our clever brains, the resilience of nature, the indomitable human spirit, and above all, the commitment of young people when they’re empowered to take action.”

But reading alarmist nonfiction doesn’t always reach the heart. Story, however, seems to sneak through our defenses and climb straight into our souls. Climate fiction, a genre of literature sometimes shortened to “cli-fi,” pioneered with J. G. Ballard’s novels of climate change (especially the 1962 classic The Drowned World) and Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune (see the review).

Since March 2019, HoCoPoLitSo recording secretary Susan Thornton Hobby and climate educator Julie Dunlap have led a climate fiction book club at Howard County Library System. Attendees are interested in literature that explores the facts and mysteries of Earth’s changing climate, and we have read and discussed eight incredible novels to date.

We’re mixing things up in January, and have chosen to read the award winners of a climate fiction short story contest sponsored by Grist Magazine’s Fix Solutions Lab. Organizers of the contest, Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors, urged writers to envision the next 180 years of equitable climate progress.

Sponsored by the National Resources Defense Council, the contest is “an uprising of imagination,” as Fix describes it. The winning stories, a dozen pieces of short fiction by authors including Black, Indigenous, disabled, and queer authors, conjure hope, anger, frustration, joy, and contemplation about the future of our planet in the impending climate crisis.

“Whether built on abundance or adaptation, reform or a new understanding of survival, these stories provide flickers of hope, even joy, and serve as a springboard for exploring how fiction can help create a better reality,” writes Tory Stephens, who works at Fix and spearheaded the contest. Join us in reading and discussing these stories on Thursday, Jan. 6, from 7 to 8 pm, at HCLS Miller Branch. Register here. The stories, and a terrific glossary of cli-fi terms, including afrofuturism (looking at you Octavia Butler), solar punk, and ecotopia, are available here.

Susan Thornton Hobby is the HoCoPoLitSo recording secretary as well as co-leader of the Inconvenient Book Club at HCLS Miller Branch.