give me your tired, your poor, your huddled Swamp Things yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore
September 15, 2012 10:06 AM   Subscribe

Looking for your favorite works of environmentally conscious and ecologically focused science fiction and fantasy. Obscurities preferred!

I'm preparing a lightly annotated bibliography for a critical text on the subject, and while my list is already much too long I'd love to bring some neglected texts into the light if you have something you love that springs to mind. Thanks folks.
posted by gerryblog to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner
Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison
Slow River by Nicola Griffith
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld (and sequels Pretties and Specials)
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (and sequel The Year of the Flood)
Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson (and sequels Fifty Degrees Below and Sixty Days and Counting)
Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind by Hayao Miyazaki (graphic novel series)
Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm
posted by kyrademon at 10:20 AM on September 15, 2012

(My apologies that none of those are particularly obscure; I was just trying to brainstorm and I thought there was always a chance one or more had been overlooked.)
posted by kyrademon at 10:26 AM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: John Brunner, definitely - The Sheep Look Up should be on there, if it isn't.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:29 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Argh - my apologies to kyrademon for skimming + rushing to post.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:30 AM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: War of omission
Fuzzy Nation
Wind Up Girl
Feed - M T Anderson
posted by tilde at 10:30 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Right, kyrademon, the brainstorming is helpful too -- I'd actually managed to leave off The Lorax, having been focused so far primarily on books and films for adults. I probably would have gotten there eventually (as soon as I wrote up the entry for WALL-E, maybe, or if something got me singing the Captain Planet theme song, which is another new inclusion your list prompted). Thanks!
posted by gerryblog at 10:31 AM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: Skywater is one that has a special place in my heart, though maybe just because i read it as a kid.
posted by salvia at 10:33 AM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: "The Word for the World is Forest" by Ursula Le Guin
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:35 AM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: The Word for World is Forest - LeGuin
posted by Occula at 10:36 AM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: Ecotopia!
posted by gregr at 11:20 AM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: The Family Tree by Sheri S. Tepper. Actually I think Tepper has several eco-themed novels.
posted by The otter lady at 11:20 AM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy
The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk
posted by nanook at 11:26 AM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: Mother of Storms by John Barnes. If you're looking for a scary description of what global warming can do, this is you're book.
Heavy Weather by Bruce Sterling is interesting environmentally but the writing isn't great. Sterling, in trying to make his character speak in cutting edge 90's jargon, has made the book age very poorly. I like it for it's depiction insanely powerful tornadoes but the characters and dialog need help.
posted by doctor_negative at 11:27 AM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: The Octavia Butler series: Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents.
posted by nanook at 11:37 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Starfish by Peter Watts (the first of the "Rifters" triology) is about people turned into water-breathing cyborgs who live on the bottom of the sea working the geothermal vents to provide energy for the teeming masses of humans back on land where environmental degradation and devastation are the order of the day.

All the cyborgs are violent abusers and/or the victims thereof, because only people who have lived through that kind of Hellish nightmare (and survived) are bent enough (but not broken) to live on the bottom of the sea in these fucked up conditions (after being sleep-trained on how to be geothermal engineers). They're also all volunteers, because things are REALLY fucked up back on land.

According to Watts, his book was rejected by Russian publishing houses for being "too depressing". This is not about how the techs find that perfect clean energy and start wiping up the mess they've inherited, this is Things are completely fucked, there's no turning back, but people still need lights and video games. Things don't get better, we've pretty much fucked the planet, and we need MOAR ENERGY to keep the human society from totally collapsing. Captain Planet isn't coming to save us, the Lorax got mugged and was left bleeding in a field of stumps.

There is no happy ending. Now what?

The environmental sensibility of these books comes from a quote from Utah Phillips;
"The Earth isn't dying, she's being killed. And the people killing her have names and addresses."
I call Peter Watts the Poet Laureate of the Grim-Meathook Future.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 11:39 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I will enthusiastically ditto the Brunner recommendations above, and I'll add David Brin's Earth, and Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy.
posted by Zed at 12:08 PM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: Oh duh, When Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is one I love. Animals go extinct and suddenly people realize just how miraculous and valuable they are.

You might appreciate some of the answers I received when I asked this question, and also this one.
posted by salvia at 12:12 PM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: Mirabile by Janet Kagan. It's a sequel to Hellspark, which I enjoyed more but isn't as focused on ecology.

George R R Martin's Tuf Voyaging and sequels (yes the same GRRM) are about ecological engineering, kinda ("tinkering" or "meddling" may also apply). They're maybe not especially good books, but I think they're classics of the subN-genre.

Gerrold's The War Against the Chtorr are ecological SF in which humanity isn't the invasive species for once.

There's a boatload of SF that has ecology or ecological changes in the background but not really as the primary plot. If you include terraforming (historical, ongoing, botched, etc) there's a lot to look at, eg Kim Stanley Robinson's RGB Mars (kind of an optimistic counterpoint to his California novels you've already listed). Bujold's Barrayar. Rosemary Kirstein's excellent Steerswoman series.

SF that has ecological change, fragility, decline, or catastrophe in the background are a dime a dozen of course, especially in the 60s and 70s (and even many of the nuts-and-bolts engineering-über-alles books of that era dwelt a lot on the fragility of spaceships' lifesupport cycles and had a pretty clear subtext of ‘and really, Earth's biosphere is bigger but no less fragile’). Most of my recommendations are pretty old; I could swear there's a good recent Elizabeth Bear novel in which Earth's ecosystem collapse and the politice of denial surrounding it is a major background point but I can't find it.

For a more dreamlike take, you could try Swanwick's Stations of the Tide or Joan Vinge's Snow Queen and sequels.
posted by hattifattener at 12:13 PM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: I read H Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy and Scalzi's retelling Fuzzy Nation back-to-back and loved both.
posted by nicwolff at 12:25 PM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: A bit of an odd one is the backstory for Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri and the in-story game as well, though that might have to be played to be communicated.
posted by michaelh at 12:27 PM on September 15, 2012

Response by poster: michaelh, that's great, that's got me thinking in a whole new direction: SIM EARTH, etc...
posted by gerryblog at 12:48 PM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: In a very cool, very roundabout, very surprising way, Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow and The Children of God. It's a first-contact novel, so there's a lot of spin on the can-we-eat-it-can-we-breathe-here thing, but there's also a bit at the end where they find out


that the peaceful vegetarian aliens they've made contact with are, in fact, a sort of breeder-food race for the other, more sophisticated variety. So it's sort of about morality and ecology and what it means to come into contact with an alien culture all at once.
posted by WidgetAlley at 2:54 PM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: Margaret Atwood's 'Oryx and Crake' and 'Year of the Flood'.
posted by biffa at 2:59 PM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: 'The Road' of course.
posted by biffa at 3:02 PM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: Seed, by Rob Ziegler came out last year. I haven't read it but it looks really interesting.
posted by smoke at 4:00 PM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: And 'Zodiac' by Neal Stephenson
posted by Altomentis at 6:55 PM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: Ah, the Elizabeth Bear I was thinking of is Worldwired; the collapse is part of the two earlier books in that trilogy but IIRC it accelerates in the last. (I'd misremembered it as a standalone.)
posted by hattifattener at 7:42 PM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: Margaret Awood's The Handmaid's Tale is a bit more subtle on the environmental message than Oryx and Crake/Year of the Flood, but the fertility issues the novel focuses on are a result of various manmade environmental catastrophes.
posted by chronic sublime at 7:51 PM on September 15, 2012

Best answer: Paolo Bacigalupi has a series of novels in which global warming has elevated sea levels and caused catastrophic weather. Ship Breaker and Drowned Cities both take place in what was the continental US. His The Windup Girl has similar themes, but is not related.

Bloom, by Wil McCarthy, a NASA scientist, is about the destruction of the solar system following a grey-goo nanotech runaway. It was written as a response to Eric Drexler's Engines of Creation technoutopianism. It's as grim as any Watts.

Sherri Tepper has done a lot of these. Beauty is probably the most direct one. It's Make Room, Make Room but nastier.
posted by bonehead at 7:52 AM on September 16, 2012

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