Habitat Man by D.A. Baden is an engaging cli-fi rom-com set in Southampton. This page-turner of a book, features themes including hope, love, loss, change and acceptance. It’s grounded in laugh-out-loud comedy moments which are a very pleasant rarity within the cli-fi genre. I’m grateful to Denise for the opportunity to review the book. Please note the following review contains spoilers.
What is Habitat Man about?
“’It’s not enough to do our best, ’I boomed, ‘we must do what is necessary.’”
Tim Redfern works in London in a well-paid job. It’s the same job he’s had for 25 years, which he got through the help of his brother. Due to an incident over which he had no control, he has a criminal record that has prevented him from getting the job he desired. He is a single man, deeply unhappy with his personal and professional situation.
In his spare time he’s been working with his best friend Jo, to develop Costing For Nature (CFN) software, which he hopes his company will implement. Tim’s idea behind the software is that it will help businesses make decisions which take into account their impact on the environment (and will save them money in the long term). When his firm outright reject the software, Tim has a moment of realisation that this job isn’t for him.
Enter Charlotte, Jo’s niece who’s embarked on a life coaching course. She helps Tim realise that his undergraduate degree and his passion for ecology, would make him an ideal candidate for helping people improve the biodiversity of their gardens. Ergo, the habitat man is born.
One of his first clients is Lori, a single mother, with a troublesome son, Ethan. Tim is besotted with Lori, and over time it becomes apparent that she has feelings towards him as well. But things take a turn for the worse when Tim visits the garden of Daisy and her grandfather. Tim suggests a small pond for the garden, to which the grandfather says no. Some time later when the grandfather is in hospital, Daisy tells Tim she wants the pond built. So they set about digging, and that’s when Tim discovers human bones from a family burial… An unregistered burial has legal ramifications, and Tim’s life is turned upside down as a trial looms.
However, the press is not all bad. For this brings Tim into contact with a whole new client base, as well as people who admire both him and the person he unearthed – a local guerilla knitter from Southampton.
Habitat Man as a cli-fi novel
“I’m using my PVs to power my EVs.”
Habitat Man is a standout rom-com novel, with fantastic cli-fi and eco-fiction themes. People learn early on that, “This is the sixth mass extinction”, which is being driven by humanity. The CFN software is an attempt to get people to think about our impact on the world and change how businesses operate. As the novel explains, “Standard financial modelling indicated that designing products to fail with parts that couldn’t be replaced was the most profitable business model.” But this only encourages overconsumption, resource depletion and extreme environmental degradation, leading to climate breakdown.
In light of this, Habitat Man provides a whole host of solutions. It introduces the reader to Extinction Rebellion and their protest movement, and why it matters. We discover Transition Southampton, who are “a repair café, a clean air group that campaigned against cruise ships that disgorged pollutants into the air, tree planting project and a campaign to prevent expansion of the local airport.” We learn about the idea of a carbon budget for companies, “A limit, an actual ration they have to work within that is consistent with them achieving net zero”. We also see Tim go vegan, trying bug burgers, ordering a seasonal organic vegetable box, and the invention of the random recipe generator with Jo, which makes the reader think of innovative ways to use leftover food in their own homes to reduce food waste.
Another topic mentioned in the book is pesticide pollution, which is something I’ve written about before in my debut children’s picture book, Hedgey-A and the Honey Bees. The message in Habitat Man is very clear and should be heeded around the world, “Habitat Man says tell your council to stop using pesticides.”
The novel teaches us about which plants are good hosts and encourage wildlife and biodiversity in our gardens. Innovative ideas, such as compost toilets and green burials also form an important part of the story and encourage us to take a holistic stocktake of our lives and think about the many changes we can make.
“But who thought beyond the next quarter these days or even the next election cycle?!”
This excellent cli-fi novel is brilliantly told. It hooks the reader from the beginning and doesn’t let go. The only other cli-fi book I’ve found this engrossing was The Last Bear by Hannah Gold. Baden wrote for The Conversation about the importance of the type of characters that are featured in stories, and in that regard she has excelled. The protagonist, Tim, will be a relatable character for many people – someone stuck in a job which doesn’t give them much satisfaction and makes little difference in the world, all while their personal life also remains lacking. If not for his friend Jo, he would be alone in the world and struggling even more.
But it’s not just the main characters who bring this book to life. The Wizard of Woolston is someone whose title alone grabs your interest. However, there is a hilarious moment when Tim advises the wizard to install a pond and tells him to prepare the ground. As it turns out, the wizard had a very different interpretation of what ‘preparing the ground’ involved. Another laugh-out-loud moment involves a knitter called Needles, who is entering the courtroom when a policeman says, “Madam, would you please hand over the needles? Step away from the knitting!”
I believe the comedy moments help make Habitat Man the gem that it is. Humour isn’t easy to write, but Baden has absolutely nailed it in this novel. Not only that, but reading a cli-fi book that makes you laugh-out-loud is a novelty and a pleasure at that. I certainly haven’t read any cli-fi books that made me laugh so much. As a book that’s grounded in the present, featuring messages of hope and which steers away from dystopian narratives, it’s exactly the type of book I was calling for and referring to in my Mongabay cli-fi article. I can’t claim to be an expert on rom-coms, but I believe Habitat Man deserves a well-earned place on the bestseller charts.
I found it interesting to learn that, “This book was inspired by the real life Green Garden Consultancy that started in Southampton in November 2019 and is managed by Transition.” I can definitely see the appeal in wanting to become a habitat man yourself after reading this book! There are also some pertinent ideas for reading group questions at the end of the book, which I believe will help reinforce the environmental solutions mentioned in the story.
Habitat Man is a much-needed addition to the cli-fi cannon, and cements Baden as a leading cli-fi author alongside her short stories in No More Fairy Tales, which ranked as some of my favourites in the entire anthology. I can only hope that Habitat Man gets the widespread readership that it deserves, because this book could elevate the cli-fi genre to a new level.
My new cli-fi children’s picture book, Nanook and the Melting Arctic is available from Amazon’s global stores including Amazon UK and Amazon US. My eco-fiction children’s picture book, Hedgey-A and the Honey Bees about how pesticides affect bees, is available on Amazon’s global stores including Amazon UK and Amazon US.