Flood by Stephen Baxter
Published by Gollancz, July 2008 (ARC Copy received)
Review by Mark Yon / Hobbit
You know, there’s something about summer holiday reading. Perhaps all those thoughts of sunny destinations, sunbathing and getting away from it all do something to your typical airport-novel wielding, lighter-luggage-handling holidaymaker?
My point is that the summer season (as it is soon to be here in the northern hemisphere) often seems to bring out the worst in the reading public. The airport novel sections are filled with apocalyptic novels of gloom, doom and disaster all waiting to collapse on the sun-worshipping tourist.
Recent doorstop examples (that I have read) include The Swarm by Frank Schatzing (aliens below the deep control sea and climate change), Sunstorm by (funnily enough) Arthur C Clarke and Stephen Baxter (where aliens cause major sunspot eruptions for sake of species extinction) and Michael Crichton’s State of Fear (where nasty politicians and scientists try to control the world through a fear of climate change, despite the fact that there is no global climate change.)
Stephen Baxter seems to have a particular forte for such Armageddon-style books. Having written about the extinction of species through Earth history (in his book Evolution), and then having attempted to kill off the human race by solar radiation, here he tries again by producing a near-future threatened, not by the sun, but by water. And pretty good reading it makes too.
Flood is set in the near future. Global warming has led to global changes, which in Flood means that Britain (if it were possible) has more rain and a general sogginess, not to mention a rise in sea levels. For over a decade Britain has coped. But in 2016 a sudden dramatic change, with water being added to the water cycle from below the ocean floor, leaves the global network unable to cope. And what is worse is that the events get more extreme, with the world’s landmasses rebalancing themselves to cope with these changes. As they do, the book then broadens out to look at international consequences over the next 35 years or so, and ultimately the need for a global evacuation (which will be continued in this books sequel, Ark, due June 2009.)
Tidal waves, mass migrations, continental submergence, and international battles over contested highland: it reminded me of the great 1950’s disaster novels of John Wyndham, with its theme of humans surviving under adversity, but, in a typically Baxterian move, re-imagined for the 21st century to include such contemporary issues as hostage taking, corporate globalisation and international refugees. Unlike Wyndham though, Baxter (though starting in the UK) looks at the global consequences as sea levels rise. Covering events from the UK to the US, from Australia to Tibet, this is a comprehensive disaster novel that has a very global feel.
There’s also those touches of Arthur C. Clarke that I’ve mentioned before in Stephen’s writing, with the local consequences of big scientific ideas logically taken to impressive ends.
At times these big ideas can leave little room for the main characters being little else than caricatures, but you do engage with them as the world backdrop changes and their lives are irreparably altered. Through the characters of ex-USAF pilot Lily Brooke, British co-hostage Piers Michaelmas and NASA geologist Gary Boyle and multi-billionaire entrepreneur Nathan Lammockson, we see the human consequences of such world changing events and this creates our anchor with reality. Perhaps mostly this book is an homage to human survivability – we endure should be our motto.
I’m really not sure how Stephen manages it. In the last year, not only has he co-written one book with the late Sir Arthur C Clarke (Firstborn, reviewed HERE) and completed the third book in an SF Alternate History series (with Weaver), but he’s also penned this book, which deserves to sit high on the blockbuster shelves.
Just watch those waves whilst sitting on the beach!
(And here in the UK it’s raining….)
Mark Yon / Hobbit, March 2008
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