Excellent Pre-Apocalyptic Novel: A Being Darkly Wise

Climate Progress book reviewer John Atcheson has his own book out available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon, A Being Darkly Wise: A Novel Of Survival.

I don’t get much time to read fiction these days, but I do follow post-apocalyptic novels, like The Hunger Games and, the ebook sensation, Wool. Atcheson’s book, while every bit as compelling a page turner as those, is a somewhat different category, which might be called pre-apocalyptic fiction.

Here’s one of the many 5-star reviews on Amazon:

Ingredients: one part diary of a Washington insider, one part introductory science textbook, one part love story, one part wilderness guide, and one part scary-as-hell thriller. Mix well, serve on ice. Enjoy.

I have to admit, I was initially skeptical of this book; climate change, while terrifying, doesn’t readily lend itself to the adventure/thriller genre. However, Atcheson is so deft at weaving together the various threads of his story that I was almost halfway through the book before coming up for air. Even now, after a re-reading, I’m simply amazed at the range of emotional levers that Atcheson is able to pull: righteous anger at the do-nothing Washington establishment, sadness over love lost, excitement over new romantic interests, an intense desire to go fly-fishing, and plain-old fear.

Simply put, this is a must-read not only for those interested in climate change. This is a book for anyone who likes a nail-biting, keep-you-up-all-night, hold-your-breath-until-you-turn-blue type of thriller. Count me among those eagerly anticipating the sequel.

I have known Atcheson for 20 years now, since my first weeks at the US Department of Energy in mid-1993. I actually read one of the early drafts of this book back then and was very much impressed at how improved this book is now that he is edited out the uber-wonky parts and streamlined the action. Yes, the author has been working on this book for two decades!

I must say that as much as I enjoyed the post-apocalyptic novels, The Hunger Games and Wool, the former seems to think its young audience simply won’t be interested in more than a brief paragraph on how we got in this mess (and Wool seems to rather pointedly rule out global warming as the cause of the ruination).

Atcheson’s pre-apocalyptic novel does a very good job of smoothly integrating in the climate science with the page-turning narrative in a non-preachy fashion. In a decade or two at the most — and then perhaps for centuries to come — climate change will be a major element in fiction just as it will become a dominant force in all of our lives. Reading A Being Darkly Wise will put you at the bleeding edge — literally — of this emerging trend.

14 Responses to Excellent Pre-Apocalyptic Novel: A Being Darkly Wise

  1. Novels and movies are invaluable for raising public consciousness. Think 1984. Animal Farm. The Handmaid’s Tale. On the Beach.

    I’m now reading Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver. It takes a while to get to the climate stuff, but she weaves it in very effectively.

  2. petronelle says:

    Thanks for the review, Joe. I will read it. When you have time for doomer fiction, I would suggest the novels and short stories by Paolo Bacigalupi. For adults there are short stories like “Yellow Card Man” set in S.E. Asia in a future of ethnic conflict and hunger where big GM seed companies control the food supply, non-GM seeds are illegal, and the companies constantly must try to stay ahead of plant pests and diseases. The adult novel set in this world is “Windup Girl”, rich in plot and characters and withering humid heat. The two young adult novels are set in the same world but in the U.S. “Shipbreaker” is about a young teen boy in an indentured culture in the U.S. coast of the Gulf of Mexico. He is still small and lithe enough to crawl into oil cargo ships long since run aground on the beach, where he harvests copper, and if one is very lucky, actual oil, for the few rich people left in the world, living far away. The latest one is “Drowned Cities” set in a Washington D.C. and environs that are mostly underwater. Heroine this time. Warlords and a dog eat dog “society”. Very thought-provoking.

  3. climatehawk1 says:

    Thanks for the recommendation, have ordered a copy.

  4. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    I read “A Being Darkly Wise” a month or so ago. There are lots of twists and plot turns – the biggest one saved for the very end. An entertaining read, an opening for a sequel is left at the end. My only criticism would be that it took a bit of a leap of faith to accept the gathering together of the group of principles. None-the-less, five stars, two thumbs up.

  5. Jean says:

    It is only $3.99 on Kindle…I have been looking for a book like this..At Dollar Tree for $!.oo I found “Frozen Fire” Evans/Jameson…You learn a lot about methane.

  6. elisabeth says:

    For middle school/early high school readers, I recommend the Carbon Diaries 2015 by Saci Lloyd. (I haven’t yet read the sequel, Carbon Diaries 2017 )…Setting is London, with strict carbon rationing in place. Everyone has an allowance of carbon on a credit-like card. Great Britain implements the program unilaterally as the global climate deteriorates. For example,a massive storm seems to have swallowed up much of the US East Coast. The story unfolds through the eyes of a teenager who keeps a diary of these unsettling times.

  7. Jo says:

    Sounds interesting, thanks!! Definitely surprising climate change isn’t a more common plot elements in books & movies… I guess we’ll get there soon.
    If you’re interested, you could check out a similar sort of book (but more family drama) written by a friend of mine – it’s excellent!, few chapters up online at

  8. Merrelyn Emery says:

    I gather that she has another on climate change, ‘Momentum’, not in the diary series, ME

  9. Paul Klinkman says:

    This genre isn’t environmentally driven as much as it’s dog-eat-dog driven. When our people strive against each other like weeds as opposed to plants planted in rows, they all become ineffective and bear little fruit. Our megacorporations strive against each other, a few (often terribly unscrupulous but not always) people become rich and the rest of us weeds are crowded out of life.

    Within corporations, people are planted in rows, are given their own “turf”. Even there, utterly nasty office wars break out when there’s only one promotion opening up and two candidates for the job.

  10. KenL says:

    _Flight Behavior_ is generally excellent. Kingsolver is a top-notch writer, and she’s very good at analyzing the cultural rift–why rural redneck types generally do not give credence to climate change. Worth reading for that much alone.

    Slightly didactic in places, but the characters are very well-drawn, and there is quite a bit of droll humor. My favorite line, hilarious in context: “Fly less”!

  11. Superman1 says:

    “When our people strive against each other like weeds as opposed to plants planted in rows, they all become ineffective and bear little fruit.” Isn’t that what we’re seeing on these blogs? You and Baird and precious few others are constructive and try to solve problems. Most try to cut down rather than build up.

  12. Brooks Bridges says:

    I’m ordering the book.

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention “The Dog Stars” by Heller since I heard about it on this blog.

    It’s definitely post-apocalyptic and more beautifully written than “Wool” and “Hunger
    Games”. My wife and I both loved it, had our book club read it and all agreed one of the best books in a long time. Two people immediately re-read it. The climate change aspect is subtle but definite – water getting too warm for trout, etc.

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Mr. Pot, may I introduce Mr. Kettle’.