If Roland Emmerich pulled a Kubrick and hired Arthur C. Clarke to write the screenplay for one of his disaster movies . . .
by Stephen Baxter, Gollancz
Stephen Baxter’s 2008 sci-fi novel about the world’s sea levels rising is what the end result would be if Roland Emmerich pulled a Kubrick and hired Arthur C. Clarke to write the screenplay for one of his disaster movies.
(Emmerich would also wind up directing an intelligent, well-thought out and realistic movie – a sure sign of the impending apocalypse if we ever heard of one!)
Baxter has often been called the natural “heir” to Arthur C. Clarke and it shows in Flood, which is ostensibly a disaster story (the sea levels keep on rising to drown the world), but it is a well-researched piece of hard SF and future history that would appeal to fans of Clarke as well as fans of post-apocalyptic literature.
The story kicks off in 2016 with the release of a group of hostages who have been held by a Spanish terrorist group for the past five years. Upon their release they discover a world that has changed much during their captivity: freaky weather marked by endless storm surges and high tides. Even more worrying is that the sea levels are rising and slowly swamping cities such as London that are close to the sea. And it keeps on rising . . .
The cause? No, not global warming and the melting of the ice caps (which is on a much slower time table of several centuries), but water leaking out of vast subterranean oceans. Think of an egg of which the shell has been punctured and the yolk leaks out to cover the egg’s entire surface. Subterranean oceans? Don’t snigger. In his afterword author Stephen Baxter cites a handful of studies from respectable science journals that postulates the existence of such vast underground oceans.
As can be expected, the science in Flood is plausible and well-researched, which comes as no surprise as Baxter is a trained engineer with degrees from Cambridge (mathematics) and Southampton Universities (doctorate in aero engineering research). He is however Clarke’s heir in more unfortunate ways: like many examples of the genre the novel skimps on in-depth characterization. At times one doesn’t even have an idea of what particular characters even look like!
Another flaw is that because of the novel’s epic scale – the story is spread over 40 or so years and has a handful of characters – Baxter often passes over certain dramatic key events in the lives of the characters. More pessimistic scholars of human nature will also argue that humanity will sooner revert to lawlessness and crime than is depicted here.
This aside Flood is excellent, er, beach reading. A compulsive page-turner that will keep you up until late in the evenings that is evocative of, yes, Arthur C. Clarke’s best work.
Be warned though: Flood‘s ending is a perfect setup for Ark, the sequel in which the story is continued and which will no doubt warrant another visit to your local bookstore!