Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Flood

I first heard of Stephen Baxter's science fiction novel Flood at Whatever, and put it on my wish list. Then I got some books for my birthday last week, including Flood. It was interestingly timed, considering what I was hearing about flooding in Boston and how rainy the weather has been in central Ohio. It's a quick read, and interestingly written--one of the continuity reminders in a story that takes place from 2016 all the way to 2052 is a snatch of a song first heard on p. 26 of this 480-page novel, originally a love song to the kind of technology that can make a device something like an ipod but without wires or earbuds: "I love you more than my phone/You're my Angel, you're my TV/I love you more than my phone/Put you in my pocket and you sing to me." By p. 469, when Mt. Everest is about to be submerged, children are singing "I laugh you more my fun, you're my enjee, you're my tee-fee, I laugh you more than my fun."

The flooding of London is told in greatest detail, resulting in lines for clean water: "save for the bright primary colors of the plastic buckets this was a medieval scene...grimy people in shabby clothes queuing at the well." The flood is not only a result of global warming, but of vast new seas bubbling up from beneath the earth's crust. And "'as the sea spreads at the expense of land and ice, the planet's albedo is reduced.' The flooded world was getting darker. So it reflected less light, absorbed more of the sun's heat energy, and got even hotter." This is a scenario recently described to me by another SF author concerned about the proliferation of solar energy panels on the earth's surface.

In the end, the remaining human population of earth is living on rafts, some of them made of bio-engineered seaweed, the ship-type ark having failed and the spaceship-type just a flash of light in the distance (there's a sequel entitled Ark). There's a memorable image of London's Tower Bridge underwater, "illuminated by bioluminescent creatures that clung to its stonework or swam through its broken windows. You could even see how the bridge's carriageway had been left raised when it was abandoned, like a salute. It was a strange, magical scene, Lily thought, as if the bridge had been draped with Christmas tree lights." But in the end, the new human generations are not interested in any remaining bit of rock sticking out of the world's ocean: "it wasn't a raft, it didn't go anywhere, you couldn't eat it, what use was it?"

Flood is, in some ways, a story about the failure of human imagination--the failure of land-dwellers to see that what they have fought and died for is disappearing fast, and the failure of raft-dwellers to see why anything besides swimming and fishing could have ever been important. It's another bleak SF future, in a world that is, even faster than our own, running out of time to make it into space.

6 comments:

kittiesx3 said...

Once I live someplace a lot drier and higher up, I'll read it :-)

Betty (Beth) said...

Wow, that actually sounds really cool. Putting it on my wishlist as well now. :-)

Jenny said...

Oh, mercy, the whole time I was reading this review I was saying out loud "Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope." :p Considering I wasn't impacted by Hurricane Katrina in any material sense, stories of floods upset me hugely now. Plus I adore London. Brrr, I know this book would make my flesh creep from start to finish.

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I like the style in the quotes you shared -- something about it is really vivid to me. Sounds like a good book!

Jeanne said...

It is really creepy and vivid. I thought it was a good book to read on a sunny day by the pool!

Lori L said...

Great review - Flood is going right on my wish list!