Hello, SciFiNow! Thanks for inviting me to write something to celebrate The Forever Sea’s release!
I was so excited to see my book being labeled ‘hopepunk’ in early reviews, because hope is something I feel very strongly about when it comes to climate stories. I believe there’s a place for stories of warning and doom and apocalypse, but there is also a place for the narratives of good people succeeding, of resilient relationships withstanding stress and conflict, of a natural world waiting for us to simply move with it instead of against it.
And so I’m pleased to share five of my favorite hopeful books for this climate emergency. Not all of them are explicitly about climate change, of course, but I find in each text listed below stories of hope waiting to be found…
I Hope You Get This Message – Farah Naz Rishi
While not a book about climate change per se, this debut novel from Farah Naz Rishi imagines a world on the brink of destruction. When they receive news that powerful aliens have begun deliberations over whether to destroy or preserve the earth, people around the world have to decide how they will live out their potentially final few days.
Three teenagers, Adeem, Cate, and Jesse, spend these days facing past wrongs and working to make their lives right. It’s a beautiful novel, and one that resonates today in lots of ways: a sense of impending doom from a seemingly distant or intangible cause, hunger for meaning and reconnection and wrong-righting, and hope that somehow, someway, things might work out.
Braiding Sweetgrass – Robin Wall Kimmerer
This book, a braid of indigenous ways of knowing, scientific knowledge, and Kimmerer’s own story, is a beautiful, hopeful, brilliant guide for today. If you’re wondering what a healthy relationship with our natural world might look like, this is the book for you. Kimmerer finds pathways through our thorny maze of ideological and environmental anxieties today, guided by deep knowledge of and appreciation for the land. Kimmerer is one of my favorite writers, and when I need hope or wisdom, I often turn to her and to this book.
The Calculating Stars/The Fated Sky – Mary Robinette Kowal
Confession: I have not yet read The Relentless Moon, so don’t spoil it for me! And I know I’m cheating by picking two books, but I can’t think of these two titles separately. These books, which detail humanity’s attempts to settle on the moon and Mars following the devastating, apocalypse-inducing strike of a meteorite, may not seem initially hopeful. The books start with a huge swath of the eastern seaboard being destroyed, and from there, at least environmentally, things only get worse.
The characters of these books deal with many of the same problems we can expect from climate change (and are already beginning to see): climate refugees, runaway warming, politicians unable or unwilling to consider how serious and complex climate issues can be, etc. But these books are full of hope! And it comes not just from the dream of technological advances but the relationships between characters (many of them women and people of colour who those politicians would be happy to ignore or underfund) and their own perseverance. Oh, and these books also happen to have a happy, healthy marriage between two characters — such a rarity in fiction and so wonderful to see!
Flight Behavior – Barbara Kingsolver
Speaking of happy, healthy marriages… Flight Behavior begins as an unhappy marriage is falling apart. Dellarobia, the main character, is on her way to begin an extramarital tryst when she stumbles onto a grove of trees playing host to millions of roosting monarch butterflies. The scene is enough to shock her out of the rut she feels her life has fallen into, and Dellarobia spends the rest of the novel getting more involved in the complex and increasingly tragic story of declining monarch populations. So much of the discussion around the environment today has to do with ‘value’ or ‘use’ of the land and resources, but we need ways to think of the world outside of capitalism’s obsessions with commodity and use-value, and Flight Behavior is a wonderful foray into what different ways of appreciating or valuing nature might look like.
The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi
Paolo Bacigalupi’s 2009 novel may seem an odd choice in a list of apparently hopeful books. In a world run by big agricultural companies and corrupt government officials (a world not so unlike our own), the characters of this novel spend much of their time fighting for scraps and suffering through the sweltering heat in a crowded Bangkok.
The multi-POV story sees several characters end in bad situations or worse, often because everyone is so focused on individual gain that the collective good is an impossibility. But I find real hope in this book, which offers a thoughtful take on seed sovereignty and the human costs of climate change. The characters who make it through find themselves changed — an important lesson that we cannot simply rely on changing technology to make it through this crisis. We, too, need to adapt and progress.
The Forever Sea by Joshua Johnson is out now from Titan Books.