Book Review of Flood by Stephen Baxter
I’ve read a lot of “substantial” books lately and for light relief, I planned to read two disaster books this summer – heck, we all deserve entertainment from time to time. What’s the point of being a reader if you can’t occasionally experience the page-turning momentum of a real thriller? The only problem is that very often the much-hyped “thriller” turns out to be too incredible to be believed, or else lacks the basic edge-of-the-seat quality promised on its cover.
When I read a review of Flood by Stephen Baxter, I thought that perhaps this one wouldn’t be too bad and so I decided that I would give it a try. I started the book on Friday evening and had read all 500 pages by breakfast this morning, which probably says something about Baxter’s ability to tell a good story and to keep his readers turning the pages.
The first sentence or two of the publisher’s blurb says it all –
Next year. Sea levels begin to rise. The change is far more rapid than any climate change predictions; metres a year. Within two years London, only 15 metres above the sea, is drowned. New York follows, the Pope gives his last address from the Vatican, Mecca disappears beneath the waves. Where is all the water coming from?
It seems that the water comes from previously locked up lodes of water, previously contained within the Earth’s mantle. In his Afterword, Stephen Baxter actually quotes from articles in Nature, Science and New Scientist as a starting point for this novel, which takes as its premise that the rock-casing of these vast subterranean oceans could be fractured by seismic shocks and cause sea levels to rise far more rapidly than the predictions of global-warming theory.
OK, so the science is perhaps not the point. Almost straight away we find ourselves in the year 2016 in the middle of a horrendous storm which is causing the North Sea to surge up the Thames estuary and overwhelm the 30 year old Thames Barrier.
As with all good disaster novels, Baxter creates a group of main characters who are linked professionally and personally and keep popping up throughout the book and enable him to show the human impact of these cataclysmic events.
There’s not a lot of point in describing the story in detail, but all I can say is that Baxter has put a lot of thought into what might happen should the sea levels rise with inexorable progress. The earth is in for quite a wetting over the next 50 or so years covered by the book, leaving the main characters as elderly survivors of a very damp place indeed.
On the way we find communities migrating to higher ground, with the inevitable battles as those already there resist the influx of refugees. We read of novel ways in which scientists and the military try to adapt to the changed conditions (with Baxter demonstrating his credentials as a highly-regarded writer of science-fiction). But most of all we read of the effect all these vast changes have on the core group of scientists and their families as they struggle to survive in various locations and communities.
You have to take a book like this on its own terms. Its no good expecting deep psychological insights and reflections on the nature of life. But for sheer imagination, the creation of bizarre scenarios and a plot that develops with a relentless descent into earthly destruction, this one is hard to beat.
The strange thing that when I’d finished it, I had strange feeling of impending doom over me for the rest of the day, which I hope is nothing to do with a new tendency towards premonition!
By the way, I said at the start that I planned to read two disaster novels this summer. The other one is The Passage, by Justin Cronin, references to which keep popping up all over the place. But having read Flood, I think I’ll also read Stephen Baxter’s follow-up – Ark. My usual themes of “literary fiction, biography, history and current affairs” may have to take a rest from time to time over the next couple of months.
Author: Stephen Baxter
Publication: Orion Publishing (9 July 2009), Paperback 574 pages
The editor of The Readers Loft, and pursuer of relatively interesting information, Simon has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and Journalism from the University of Wales, and is a photo-journalist and writer whose written and photographic work has been represented by the AFP news agency and appeared in newspapers across Europe and Asia.