Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Review - Flood, by Stephen Baxter

Flood, Stephen Baxter, 03/12/2011, * * * * *

According to the blurb on the front cover, The Washington Post called "Flood," "Horrifyingly Believable."  I was unable to find the actual quote, but if they did in fact say that, then I must wholeheartedly agree.  Stephen Baxter has taken his premise of a worldwide flood and thought out each of the ramifications of the disaster to their logical conclusions, and quite frankly, some of those conclusions are somewhat terrifying.

The primary viewpoint character is Lily, who is one of four hostages who have been held in captivity for nearly five years by various religious and political extremist groups in Spain.  Living in abandoned warehouses and sub-basements, blindfolded whenever they are moved or taken outside, the group has no knowledge of the outside world until they are finally rescued by Nathan Lammockson, a billionaire and owner of the multinational AxysCorp.  Nathan vows to always care for the hostages as they return to the world, and the four  - who've grown close during their years together - also vow to always stay in touch and be there for each when and as needed.

The world they return to is not the world they left.  Technology, climate change, and politics have marched on during their captivity and at first the group seems to be adrift on an ocean of change.  The media blames the incessant rain and flooding in London and around the world on global warming, but only a few days after their release and return to civilization, an earthquake below the ocean floor sends a massive tsunami speeding towards the English coastline, completely overwhelming the already strained flood defenses.  Lily and her friends are caught up in the flood in London, only to be once again saved by Nathan's seemingly endless army of workers, and as the flood waters recede and the city begins to clean up from the disaster, they each become involved in various aspects of Nathan's plans.  Nathan doesn't believe the rising sea levels are only due to global warming; the scientists on his payroll believe all the extra water is coming from somewhere deep within the Earth's mantle, and they predict that the water will continue to rise.

 The story spans nearly 36 years, following Lily and her fractured family and friends as they try to survive the rising waters.  I was amazed at the foresight and forward thinking displayed by the character of Nathan, who could imagine the worst that could happen and how to survive it, but I was simultaneously appalled at his own shortsightedness of how his actions and attitudes affected those around him.  Lily continually and desperately tries to save her sister, niece, and nephew, who never quite seem to grasp the seriousness of the situations they find themselves in.

Hordes of displaced people and species of animals head for higher ground, and entire cities on the move fight over the rapidly dwindling supply of land, food and technology scavenged from the drowning cities.  The rich and powerful create "green zones" on high ground, surrounded by shanty towns of the poor and displaced, but eventually, as these mountain refuges begin to disappear, the surviving populations must transfer to giant floating rafts.

The way that author Stephen Baxter imagines the changes to the planet, the way they affect different areas of the world, and different cultures, were amazing.  From the fractured US government military camps in the Rocky Mountains to the cannibalistic slave farms in the Himalayas, Baxter follows the ramifications and consequences of the choices that humanity makes to survive as civilization dissolves, as religion evolves, and as new generations are born who have never known cities, animals, or land.  By the time I got to the final scene in the novel, where a large number of raft cities have gathered to watch a prominent landmark disappear below the waves, I have to admit I got a little emotional - it was both scary and sad to think that life as we know it could change so drastically and completely within one person's lifetime.  Since I finished reading the novel the day after the Sendai Japan earthquake, and had spent most of the day watching videos of the tsunami and flooding in the coastal cities of Japan, several of the scenes in the book gained an additional impact, such as the flooding of London and New York and the destruction caused in those cities.

I'm giving "Flood" 5 stars.  It's horrific and amazing and scary and wonderful. I don't know that I would ever want to read it again - which is what I usually reserve 5 stars for - but it really is that good.  I am eagerly looking forward to reading the sequel "Ark," which will be available in paperback in May.


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