Nature on the verge of destruction is one of the most compelling premises in storytelling. After all, where would humanity go when the world is already dead?
People have recently become much more aware of Earth’s decay. Climate change, the extinction of flora and fauna, and various other natural crises affect almost everyone. A recent study even says that 85% of people on the planet are living with the effects of global warming.
Understandably, there’s a lot of fear and doubt spreading around. It’s what fuels the most gripping stories in environmental fiction.
Best Ecological Thrillers
Below is a list of works that concern the world at large and humanity’s place in it. Each one tackles a threat that, when ignored or denied, can create irreversible damage. It’s not just a few lives on the line, but an entire species, human or not.
1. Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy
Inti Flynn and her twin sister lead a team of biologists in reintroducing grey wolves into the Scottish Highlands. She hopes not only to rebalance nature, but also to heal from the tragedy that drove the sisters out of Alaska.
Some of the locals see the animals only as mindless killers, especially when a farmer is found dead. Inti knows the wolves aren’t to blame. To prove people wrong, she begins a wild journey into the dark heart of man. But the predator she’s hunting might be closer than she thinks.
2. The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-Eun
Yona works for Jungle, a leading travel agency that specializes in destinations devastated by disaster. But she’s about to lose her job after refusing her boss’s inappropriate advancements.
To save herself, she takes a paid “vacation” to the desert island of Mui. There, she needs to pose as a client and assess why it’s the company’s least profitable location. What she finds, though, is a plot to engineer a catastrophe. With her life on the line, she must choose whether to stop the conspiracy or help implement it.
3. Zodiac by Neal Stephenson
Sangamon Taylor is a chemist with a reputation for exposing water polluters. Tests reveal an alarming spike in PCB levels in the Boston Harbour, which can lead to public health issues. The toxic trail leads to Basco Industries and he decides to investigate.
All of a sudden, Taylor’s being followed, menaced, framed, and discredited. With his corporate foes circling in, he must acquire proof of the conspiracy before it’s too late.
4. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
A white whale ravages the seas and takes revenge against hunters of his kind. It destroys Captain Ahab’s ship and bites off one of his legs. Fueled by revenge, he takes on a new crew and chases after the whale.
But Moby Dick is just as cunning as his hunter. It’s only a matter of time before the monomaniacal captain clashes against the inhuman and, ultimately, uncaring force of nature.
5. Beneath the Mountain by Luca D’Andrea
Jeremiah Salinger moves to his partner’s isolated hometown nestled in the Italian Dolomites. He decides to make a film about a mountain rescue group that goes horribly wrong, leaving him the only survivor. He spirals into depression, blaming himself for the tragedy.
An overheard conversation about a triple murder years ago breathes new life into him. He grows obsessed, and the investigative itch pulls him deeper into the case. But in this small town—isolated and insular—poking around might unearth long-buried secrets that can fracture the community.
6. A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet
Twelve children are on a forced vacation with their families in a lakeside mansion. Their parents, more interested in partying, leave them largely to their own devices.
A massive storm arrives and creates a flood. Convinced by their parents’ inability to take care of them, the kids strike out independently. But their newly found tranquility can only last for so long.
7. Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
Winter is coming and a small Anishinaabe reserve loses power. Food supplies dwindle and panic sets in. A small band of members struggles to maintain order.
Unexpected visitors arrive from a ruined society to the south and take control. Tensions rise and so does the death toll. Frustrated, a group of friends turn to an unlikely leader in the hopes of seeing their community prosper again.
8. Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Mars has always beckoned to humanity. For any person with a spacefaring dream, conquering the desolate planet has always been the first step to the space age.
Now, a hundred people are sent in to terraform the planet. If successful, transnational corporations would gain access to martian resources. But not everyone agrees humanity has the right to colonize the planet, especially when done with such reckless haste.
9. The New Wilderness by Diane Cook
American cities have become overcrowded, resource-draining places. Bea’s five-year-old daughter, Agnes, is slowly dying from the perpetual smog and pollution. Her only chance is the Wilderness State, the last swath of untouched, protected land.
Along with eighteen other volunteers, they take part in an experiment to see if humanity can exist with nature without destroying it. They must hunt and forage without leaving a trace behind. The wilds will test everything they are, including the bonds they share.
10. The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey
Just home from the jungles of Southeast Asia, George Hayduke finds the pristine lands of the American West being violated. Industrial development is ruining nature, befouling the air, and contaminating the waters.
Along with three other misfits, George decides to fight back. The group takes on strip miners, dam builders, bridge makers, and anyone else that threatens the natural habitat.
What Is an Ecological Thriller?
Ecological thrillers are best defined as rousing stories with a widespread threat that is aggravated by ecological factors. Nature is central to the narrative but isn’t the main villain.
This way, authors are able to expound on the relationship between humanity and the world. It includes society’s responsibilities to nature and the consequences that come from failing them.
This rules out a ton of science fiction, horror, and other thrillers. Man-eating sharks (Jaws), genetically engineered dinosaurs (Jurassic Park), and carnivorous plants (The Ruins) are thrilling, but they’re not eco-thrillers. Though there’s an element of human meddling in the stories, the villain ultimately comes from nature.
Instead, think of industrialists deforesting an entire continent, society turning a blind eye to the ocean’s pollution, and people dying from winter because of insufficient housing. All of these have relevance in this age of rapid natural destruction.
Essentially, an ecological thriller is a reminder of real-life environmental issues that need to be addressed. And that nature is both beautiful and terrible, depending on how we take care of it.
Cole is a blog writer and aspiring novelist. He has a degree in Communications and is an advocate of media and information literacy and responsible media practices. Aside from his interest in technology, crafts, and food, he’s also your typical science fiction and fantasy junkie, spending most of his free time reading through an ever-growing to-be-read list. It’s either that or procrastinating over actually writing his book. Wish him luck!