10 of the Best Books Set in Desolate Landscapes
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Every year I fear winter, but this year seems particularly dangerous. In the distance, I can hear the rumble of a vaccine, but I know I won’t get a stab in the arm until spring or summer. This is how my winter is spent indoors and at home in cold and snowy Wisconsin.
I don’t like snow and I don’t like the cold, but somehow I’ve been cursed for living in the Midwest, where the weather never seems appropriate to my internal body temperature. Staying inside is the best option to regulate the heat and keep coronavirus germs away from my unvaccinated body. Still, I worry about that bleak feeling that creeps in after the holidays when I realize that there is nothing to look forward to until the weather warms up and I have to endure months of cold, ice and snow.
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These ten books represent those feelings – but they’re good too, so read them!
The Terror by Dan Simmons
I saw The Thing for the first time last Halloween. If you haven’t seen it, it is a research team in Antarctica under attack by an alien. Their plight is made more difficult by snow, ice and freezing temperatures. It’s a great movie, and it features Kurt Russell in a legendary hat.
If you like The Thing, you’re going to like Dan Simmon’s creepy, arctic horror novella from the doomed Franklin Expedition of 1845. Although there is a supernatural element to this novel, the real horror in this book is nature.
Cold Earth by Sarah Moss
Sarah Moss has very devout readers. It seems like it’s impossible not to read the rest of the time after reading one of their books. Her first novel, Cold Earth, is set in Greenland during an archaeological dig while a plague rages across the rest of the world. The plot may seem extravagant, but Moss is extremely adept at writing complex stories in concise spaces. This is a dystopian novel, but it’s also a ghost story; Combine history and future with brilliant results. Sarah Moss deserves her fans.
The Sunlight Pilgrims by Jenni Fagan
I always imagine the world ending in icy darkness, which is why I am drawn to apocalyptic stories that include cold and snowy ecological disasters. This is the exact opposite of the ecological crisis we are currently facing. This could be another reason I am drawn to this type of world end vision.
In Sunlight Pilgrims, the world is ending and all that’s left is survival. Although most people are moving south to escape the impending frost, Dylan is determined to return to his home in Scotland to bury his mother and grandmother’s ashes. In the highlands he meets Estella and her mother Constance and they prepare to reach the end together.
Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George
Julie lives with a pack of wolves after running away from an arranged marriage. Before she can join the pack, she must learn their behavior so that they can accept them into their community.
I read this book as an adult and loved it.
Moon of the encrusted snow by Waubgeshig Rice
Third post-apocalyptic thriller on the list, and it won’t be the last! When winter arrives in a small community in northern Anishinaabe, their energy is lost and food has to be rationed. White visitors soon arrive from the south, and their arrival brings death to the small community. Evan Whitesky, a younger member of the ward, tries to find out why people die and why the white strangers keep invading his ward.
The Wanderer by Peter van den Ende
This is a wordless picture book similar to Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. It is about a small paper boat that sails through the night alone on the sea, disturbed and supported by sea monsters that drain and flow during the entire boat trip. The little boat seems to be in the middle of someone else’s story, but we’re just following the boat’s perspective. Full of sea monsters, storms and loneliness; The black and white illustrations by Peter Van Den Ende are impressive.
Ice cream by Anna Kavan
Anna Kavan legally changed her name after attempting suicide and spending time in hospital. As newly dubbed Anna Kavan, she dyed her hair ice blonde and wrote a collection of stories in 1940 called the Asylum Piece.
The novel Ice was published in 1967 and its protagonist is an ice-blonde heroine who is pursued by two men with questionable intentions. The book appears to be set in a post-apocalyptic world that was most likely destroyed by nuclear war and inundated by walls of ice. It’s surreal and hallucinatory, with an ever-evolving landscape.
The word for woman is wilderness by Abi Andrews
When Erin was 19 she looked at Bear Grylls and wondered why men always went out and had adventures in the wild. Erin decides to find out by traveling the Alaskan wilderness.
This is part adventure novel, part travelogue, part philosophical exploration of our connection with nature. It’s visual and visceral and completely unique.
Split tooth by Tanya Tagaq
This is a book about a young woman who grew up on the arctic tundra. The relationship of history to our reality is weak and instead tends towards surreal and poetic to describe the midnight sun, northern lights, animals and the spirit of connection with the natural world.
It’s a very pretty book that feels more like poetry than prose at times and lends itself to the bleak atmosphere made beautiful by the lyricism of Tanya Tagaq’s writing.
Snow Land by Yasunari Kawabata
This is a classic in Japan by the author Yasunari Kawabata, who won the Nobel Prize in 1968.
It’s about a Tokyo amateur and a land geisha who fall in love on a remote mountain surrounded by snow and hot springs. This is a slim novel at only 175 pages, but it doesn’t waste a word and it stays palatable until the end.