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Notable Asian Climate Fiction to Read on Earth Day

by on April 16, 2024

Earth Day, celebrated on April 22, began in 1970 as a way of honoring the Earth and the need to protect it. Earth Day celebrations bring renewed urgency to the topic of climate change, especially in recent years, which have been marked by extreme weather events. Authors have increasingly grappled with climate change in their fiction, often in the genre known as climate fiction, or “cli-fi.” A notable region impacted by climate change is Asia. According to a 2022 report published by the World Meteorological Organization, Asia has been “warming faster than the global average,” with “more than 50 million people … directly affected” by climate-related disasters such as floods and storms that year. Many novelists from the region have tackled climate change in their fiction: these works by Yun Ko-Eun, Akira Toriyama, Cixin Liu, and Soyoung Park will heat up the conversation about Earth’s changing climate, each in a different and provoking way.

The Disaster Tourist (Korean, 2013; English translation, 2020) By Yun Ko-Eun, Translated by Lizzie Buehler

Shakespeare famously wrote that “all the world’s a stage,” and in The Disaster Tourist by Korean novelist Yun Ko-Eun, the island of Mui takes center stage. In this novel that discusses the written record of climate change, Yona is a programming coordinator for Jungle, a travel company specializing in trips to places affected by disaster. Yona’s boss sends her on an all-expenses paid vacation to evaluate an unpopular Jungle travel destination, where Yona’s report will determine if her boss will eliminate the unsuccessful travel package. Yona decides to go to Mui, and her trip becomes uneventful, as Yona realizes Mui is not currently affected by disaster, which makes it an unappealing destination for her company. Yona gets lost on the return route to Korea, and a series of events leads her back to Mui, with Yona getting a proposition to take part in creating a disaster that would alter Mui’s future. Will Yona sink or swim in this nefarious climate? Where does the responsibility for natural disaster lie? All will be revealed once you read The Disaster Tourist by Yun Ko-Eun.

Sand Land (Japanese, 2000; English translation, 2003) By Akira Toriyama

Akira Toriyama’s manga Sand Land was released in Japan in 2000, and its English translation was published by Shonen Jump in 2003. Sand Land takes place in a desert that is the last remaining habitable place in the world. The desert is controlled by the nation’s king, who restricts access to the desert’s water supply and price gouges the supply of water for his own enrichment. A human, Sheriff Rao, is on the hunt to find Phantom Lake, a secret lake that would give water access to the desert’s citizens. But he will need the help of a powerful demon to make the dangerous trip. The human and demon develop a thirst for teamwork to save their climate, and, joined by another demon, confront questions about accountability for damage to the environment, as well as the possibility of correcting wrongs.

Note: The manga Sand Land has a few adaptations. Sand Land: The Series was recently released in March on Hulu and Disney Plus. The video game adaptation of Sand Land will be released in April on PC, PlayStation 4 and 5, and Xbox Series X/S.

The Wandering Earth (Chinese, 2000; English translation, 2017) By Cixin Liu, Translated by Ken Liu, Elizabeth Hanlon, Zac Haluza, Adam Lanphier, and Holger Nahm

The Wandering Earth is a collection of ten science fiction short stories that tackle various topics. A standout is the title story, which is one of Chinese author Cixin Liu’s most famous stories and which was adapted into the 2019 movie The Wandering Earth (a prequel movie, The Wandering Earth 2, released in 2023). “The Wandering Earth” is the story of an unnamed narrator who was born when the Earth stopped moving. Astrophysicists had discovered the Sun would undergo a helium flash and vaporize the Earth, which led the Coalition (the Earth’s government) to create Earth Engines that would halt the Earth’s rotation and make the Earth revolve around a star named Proxima Centauri instead of the Sun. This plan radically affects the Earth. It takes the unnamed narrator years to see their first sunrise, and conflict emerges between the Takers who support The Coalition’s plan and the Leavers who favor abandoning the Earth. The narrator’s life also drastically shifts once someone close to him develops a different view on the conflict. When push comes to shove, in debates about the future of the planet, who will prevail?

Snowglobe (Korean, 2020; English translation, 2024) By Soyoung Park, Translated by Joungmin Lee Comfort

Soyoung Park’s Orwellian young adult novel Snowglobe tackles a flurry of topics, including reality television and climate change. Park sets her dystopia in a world where the average temperature is -50 degrees Fahrenheit. The only place with moderate temperature is Snowglobe, a glass dome that houses many celebrities. Jeon Chobahm, a teenage girl who works at the power plant outside of Snowglobe, exercises on human-sized hamster wheels with other workers to power Snowglobe. The workers’ currency for their labor is entertainment, and they’re able to watch Snowglobe’s 24/7 reality shows starring its actors. Chobahm is an aspiring director who dreams of directing a Snowglobe show and one day abruptly receives a powerful proposal from the director of Goh Around, her favorite television show. The director proposes that Chobahm replace the show’s sensational teen star Haeri who committed suicide. Chobahm decides to step into Haeri’s shoes, yet this is no Cinderella story. She doesn’t get the warmest reception inside Snowglobe, and the novel explores whether she will be able to weather the storm of superstardom and a toxic on-set climate. Step inside Snowglobe to see how entertainment can be used to divert the focus from the issues of climate change.




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