Climate change is here to stay. It’s a bit of a foregone conclusion at this point, given the rise of human industrialized society and the scientific evidence that is increasingly supporting the idea that we’ve influenced how we have changed our climate to the point where it’ll cause problems for life as we know it. As such, it’s a little surprising that there isn’t more of an impact in the science fiction realm. I think that’s about to change, as that reality sinks in a little more, and it seems that there are a growing number of books that are starting to come out about the topic, which I’m rather happy about. In 2009, Paolo Bacigalupi’s novel The Windup Girl was released to great acclaim, set in a post-oil world, and is something of a novel that demonstrated what type of story really works.
Welcome to the Greenhouse: New Science Fiction on Climate Change, edited by Gordon Van Gelder, feels very much like the type of anthology that is perfect for this time and place. Published by O/R books, which has published a number of more politically minded non-fiction and political works, this anthology pulls together original sixteen stories by a number of well known and respected authors, including Alan Dean Foster, Bruce Sterling, Paul Di Filippo and Brian Aldiss, all revolving around the topic of climate change.
The anthology is a bit of a mixed bag, which feels like a missed opportunity with a field that’s likely to grow, or a good first step in what’ll likely become a good sub-genre, much like Cyber or Steampunk (Biopunk maybe?). While there are some good stories here about the threats to humanity because of global warming, the stories that really stand out here are ones that aren’t actually about the changing climate, but the ways that people are adapting to a new lifestyle because of the impact of rising sea levels, warmer temperatures or any number of other issues. As a whole, the anthology gets its strength with the stories that are heavily grounded in some form of reality, and goes astray when things get a little strange.
Stories such as ‘The Middle of Nowhere’ by Judith Moffett, ‘Eagle’, by Gregory Benford, ‘Turtle Love’ by Joseph Green, ‘The Bridge’, by Gregory Guthridge, and ‘True North’ by M.J. Locke really demonstrate the story potential that exists for stories that involve climate change: the stories that people identify with the themes that involve the characters, and these stories do so marvelously: with the change in climate comes changes for the people and their ways of life, and that’s where the stories come out.
While the anthology succeeds here, there’s a chunk of stories that just didn’t do it for me: . Some of them just didn’t have the stories that I was all that interested in, but there were a couple, like ‘That Creeping Sensation’, by Alan Dean Foster, about giant bugs that come about as the result of higher oxygen levels, and FarmEarth, by Paul Di Fillippo, about people gaming to save the climate, directing nature (and feels far too referential to things like FarmVille), and ‘Men of Summer’ by David Prill, about a woman dating a number of guys during a particularly hot point in our future, that just fell flat, and either looked at climate change as a dominant point of the story, while sacrificing the overall picture / and morals that other stories had. The anthology, as a result, isn’t stuffy or pretentiously serious, but it doesn’t quite get the balance between serious and entertaining as much as I’d like.
That being said, I think that Welcome to the Greenhouse as a whole is a solid one: it gets the idea that climate change is a serious threat to the way of life that we’ve become accustomed to, but also that there is an incredible potential for stories here. Furthermore, it’s a field that’s ripe for speculative fiction, as Bacigalupi demonstrated with his three books, as well as a growing number of other stories that are starting to come out. It’s a book that stands out in a very small field. At the same time, the absence of one of Paolo’s stories (even a reprint), is striking, and any one of his stories in his collection would have fit in well here, along with Carrie Vaughn’s Amaryllis is another story that would have fit in well here. Doubtlessly, there are a number of other stories that would work for this type of anthology, but as it stands right now, it works well, and I hope that it’ll encourage further stories in the genre: it's an important theme to explore, along the same lines that the importance of the impact that nuclear destruction had during the golden age of science fiction, either implicitly or in passing.