Friday 8 January 2010

FLOOD by Stephen Baxter

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? For the tip of Everest to disappear beneath the waters would require the seas to triple their volume. That amount of water is still much less than 1 percent of the earth's volume. And somehow it is being released. The world is drowning. The biblical flood has returned. And the rate of increase is building all the time. Mankind is on the run, heading for high ground. Nuclear submarines prowl through clouds of corpses rising from drowned cities, populations are decimated and finally the dreadful truth is known. Before 50 years have passed there will be nowhere left to run...

I have to admit that this is the first Stephen Baxter book I've read, but I can certainly say that it won't be the last. If I had to sum up this book in one word, I would have to say: epic. Okay, maybe I would use two words: epic and wow. Seriously, this is a thick book packed with a story that spans many, many years. And you know what? Every page mattered, and not once did I get tired of reading, or lose focus.

I was pretty much hooked from the very beginning. Who wouldn't be? As soon as I read the blurb, I knew it was a book I'd be interested in. And I wasn't wrong.

It's 2016. Lily, Gary, Helen, and Piers are four hostages who have been kept in captivity in Spain for five years. Passed around from one group to another and treated worse than animals, they've endured an imprisonment most wouldn't survive. The day they're finally released -- by the owner of AxysCorp, Nathan Lammockson -- and return to England, also happens to be when the flood starts. Out of nowhere, sea levels rise at alarming rates and begin to submerge the coastline of most continents almost instantly. Driving people farther inland, searching for higher ground. Of course, that means that a lot of the world's population suddenly becomes refugees and border patrols are set up everywhere to keep people in, or out.

As the water continues to rise and humans try to find a way to explain or beat the flood, chaos takes over every corner of the world. And countries start to disappear. I was horrified when I read about what happens to Sydney. :(

The story is told in the POV of several characters, to help us keep up with the hostages as they travel all over the world. But I also liked a character called, Thandie Jones. She's the only one who found a tangible reason for this event. Also the only one able to provide some sort of answer that didn't revolve around global warming. But the central character is always Lily. A woman who tries to connect to her younger sister and kids, but somehow always manages to feel closer to her fellow hostage survivors and never loses her ties to Nathan Lammockson. A ruthless man who is very determined to be the saviour of the world and embarks on several ideas he believes will save mankind. Like the Ark 3, which he models after the Queen Mary.

When the hostages were released, they made a promise to keep in touch and look after each other, especially Helen's daughter, who was born during their dark days of captivity. Something that Lily follows to the end, and I think will carry on into the next book.

I totally lost myself in this book. In the catastrophic events that unfold, the nightmarish situations that worsened with every chapter. It was scary, horrific, and depressing... but at the same time, resilient. A very strong story that captured the spirit of humanity in a race for survival, peppered with shaky and complicated relationships. When the ocean rises as fast as it does in this post-apocalyptic world, what can you really do to beat it? I found myself wondering about that often enough, and was horrified to see where it led the survivors.

The global maps at the beginning of each part were also a very cool addition. I liked being able to keep up with the horror of what these subterranean oceans breaking through onto the earth were doing to the planet.

Flood is a truly amazing experience. The descriptions so vivid that I could see everything playing out inside my head. Stephen Baxter does a fine job at blending in lots of scientific facts with the human condition. The science balanced out the human struggle, and vice versa.

This is a truly sad and touching story of a bleak future for a planet that we so often take for granted, and not treat as well as we should. It's a story that'll stay with me for years to come. I can't wait to read the next one, Ark.

Flood, September 2009, ISBN 978-057-508482-7, Gollancz Paperback

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