When I wrote Drink to Every Beast, an environmental legal thriller, I was asked if my book was an “eco-thriller.” I associated eco-thrillers with such great thrillers as James Patterson’s Zoo and Preston and Child’s excellent Relic. I wondered how my book could be lumped into the same category as a book about all of the mammals becoming a threat to humans (Zoo) or a monster brought to New York City from the Amazon (Relic). My book was more like John Grisham’s The Pelican Brief. I also thought of Abbey’s excellent, The Monkey-Wrench Gang. I could not see how all of these books could be designated the same. When I started looking at other fictional accounts about the environment, it occurred to me that environmental fiction could be broken down into four categories (and there may be a more!). See my blog post Environmental Thrillers, Cli-Fi, and Environmental Legal Thrillers: Not your Father’s Eco-Thriller for a more detailed discussion.
This is a completely personal list and is not comprehensive. I have made decisions on where to group books based on a somewhat subjective basis. Arguably a book might fall into two or more different categories. I made the decision into which category to group a book based on my evaluation of the merits of each book. I’m open to making changes, so contact me if you’d like to nominate a book. In all of the books, the environment plays a special role. In that regard, the setting is almost a character. I have attempted to distinguish the groups as follows:
- “Eco-thrillers”— features the environment and elements of horror or science fiction. The traditional environmental fiction thriller novel.
- “Environmental thrillers” — features the environment in realistic settings or possibly speculative settings (i.e. “what if”). Bad guys doing bad things, but not invoking science fiction or horror. More realistic thriller stories.
- “Environmental legal thrillers”—features the environment and realistic legal cases or investigations. Readers will get a feel for what an environmental case is like.
- “Cli-Fi”— features the environment as impacted by climate change (often with elements of science fiction. Cli-fi/sci-fi, get it? I did not make up that designation). There will be many more of these going forward.
I’ve read most of these books and the rest have been recommended to me. If you have others you’d like to nominate to this ever-growing list, please email me through my web-site: www.JoelBurcat.com .
- The Monkey-Wrench Gang (Edward Abbey, 1975)
- Tourist Season (Carl Hiaasen, 1986)
- Drift (Jon McGoran, 2013)
- The Fracking War (Michael J. Fitzgerald 2013)
- Dead Out (Jon McGoran, 2014)
- Oil and Water (P.J. Lazos, 2016)
- Dust Up (Jon McGoran, 2016)
- The Dirty Network (A.M. Halvorssen, 2018)
- Cat’s Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut, 1963)
- Jaws (Peter Benchley, 1974)
- Jurassic Park (Michael Crichton, 1990)
- , 1995)
- Reliquary (Preston and Child, 1997)
- Zoo (James Patterson, 2012)
Environmental Legal Thrillers
- Pelican Brief (John Grisham 1992)
- A Civil Action (Jonathan Harr, 1995, NF)
- Erin Brockovich (2000, Film, fiction-y NF)
- The Appeal (John Grisham, 2008)
- Gray Mountain (John Grisham, 2014)
- Drink to Every Beast (Joel Burcat 2019)
- Dark Waters (2019, Film)
- Amid Rage (Joel Burcat, 2020)
- State of Fear (Michael Crichton, 2004)
- Flight Behavior (Barbara Kingsolver, 2012)
- 2312 (Kim Stanley Robinson, 2012)
- Aurora (Kim Stanley Robinson, 2015)
- Barkskins (Annie Proulx, 2016)
Other Environmental Fiction
- The Overstory (Richard Powers, 2018)