Novels are great for speculating about current events and how they may impact in the future. They’re not lectures or presentations; they’re filled with intrigue, adventure, and characters to root for, and can have a serious impact on how we consider our actions. We know now that we’re already seeing an upheaval in our weather, with a combination of melting ice caps, natural disasters, and previously unseen heat averages starting to worry anyone who’s paying attention. What are the temporary and permanent effects on the natural world, and how can things go wrong? These three cautionary tales in this week’s book club warn us about tampering with the world we live on, because, as of this moment, it’s the only one we’ve got.
1. Ice by Anna Kavan ($16): Writers have been speculating about apocalyptic climate disasters for quite some time; this new edition of Ice is a reissue of Kavan’s 50-year-old novel about what happens when a wall of ice begins to move across the world and clandestine government agents attempt to seize power and cover things up. The novel portrays an unnamed man who is single-mindedly seeking to free a “glass-girl” from this ice and from her domineering warden. Influencing a number of authors in both science and literary fiction, it is almost uncategorizable itself, featuring elements of thrillers and Modernism, dystopian satire, dreamlike passages, and Kafkaesque machinations.
“I was lost, it was already dusk, I had been driving for hours and was practically out of petrol. The idea of being stranded on these lonely hills in the dark appalled me, so I was glad to see a signpost, and coast down to a garage. When I opened a window to speak to the attendant, the air outside was so cold that I turned up my collar. While he was filling the tank he commented on the weather. ‘Never known such cold in this month. Forecast says we’re in for a real bad freeze-up.’ Most of my life was spent abroad, soldiering, or exploring remote areas: but although I had just come from the tropics and freeze-ups meant little to me, I was struck by the ominous sound of his words. Anxious to get on, I asked the way to the village I was making for,” opens the narrator. He ignores the man’s shouted warning, “Look out for that ice!” He comes to regret it.
Kavan, a mysterious author who changed her name to match one of her novel’s protagonists, and who struggled with addiction throughout her life, gives us a feminist story filled with warnings about addiction, totalitarianism, and climate change. Is the narrator a hero, or is his obsession something that makes him as bad as the warden? Readers will recognize analogues to the ever-present fear of the Cold War and the bomb: fears which, unfortunately, don’t necessarily feel too far away now.
2. Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich ($29): In Erdrich’s disturbing satire of Atwoodian proportions, an ecological apocalypse causes evolution to begin to run backwards. This is great if you want six-foot-long, primitive dragonflies, but less great when the devolution affects human births as well. Soon, rumors begin to fly that Congress has begun to order all pregnant women to report to Birthing Centers. As the apocalypse spreads, with the Rapture potentially on the horizon, the government takes its own page from the Book of Revelation and quickly begins to become a theocracy, the Church of the New Constitution, arming itself with new restrictive laws and an overseer named “Mother.” This is a serious problem for 26-year-old Cedar Hawk Songmaker, because she is four months pregnant.
“When I tell you that my white name is Cedar Hawk Songmaker and that I am the adopted child of Minneapolis liberals, and that when I went looking for my Ojibwe parents and found that I was born Mary Potts I hid the knowledge, maybe you’ll understand. Or not. I’ll write this anyway, because ever since last week things have changed. Apparently — I mean, nobody knows — our world is running backward. Or forward. Or maybe sideways, in a way as yet ungrasped… What is happening involves the invisible, the quanta of which we are created.” A Catholic convert and deeply philosophical thinker, Cedar narrates the novel as a letter to her unborn child as she tries to comprehend this new, deeply disturbing reality.
As things fall apart, Cedar travels to the reservation to meet her birth parents. Later, her independence and perseverance are tested when she must find out what has happened to her now-missing adoptive parents, and why the government seems so interested in her unborn child in particular. “Perhaps all of creation from the codling moth to the elephant was just a grandly detailed thought that God was engrossed in elaborating upon, when suddenly God fell asleep,” Cedar thinks. “We are an idea, then. Maybe God has decided that we are an idea not worth thinking anymore.”
3. Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant ($26): “They weren’t supposed to find anything. Mermaids aren’t real.” Looking for some climate horror with killer mermaids? In Grant’s sequel to her 2015 novella, Rolling in the Deep (you don’t need to have read it to get up to speed), Victoria Stewart, a marine biologist whose “first smile had been directed not at her mother, but at the Pacific Ocean,” is still in mourning for her older sister Anne, a special interest reporter for “geek news.” Anne was a member of an expedition launched by Imagine Entertainment, known for its schlocky horror and sci-fi, to be filmed for a mockumentary called The Lovely Ladies of the Sea: The True Story of the Mariana Mermaids. Sent to the Marianas Trench with a full crew, the SS Atargis was found six weeks after all communication ceased, completely abandoned. No crew members were ever found.
Now Tory’s on a mission to find out what happened to her sister, and to determine whether the horrifying found footage of creatures devouring the crew was real. Gathering a motley crew ranging from marine biologists to big-game hunters to the deaf Wilson twins (the owner of a deep-water submersible and an organic chemist), she sets out to the Western Pacific. Once there, a sort of nautical nightmare Jurassic Park emerges, a warning about human interference in the environment.
“Global climate change had been impacting the world’s oceans since the early 1980s, although most people hadn’t noticed the transformation until the mid-2010s, when the reduced surface temperatures, increased ferocity of storms, and seemingly endless blooms of toxic algae had become severe enough to make headline news… It was a serious concern, and one Tory was glad she wasn’t a part of… She would be hundreds of miles away, sailing in deeper waters.” Unfortunately for Tory, however, the consequences of this concern are inescapable.
What books fill you with foreboding? Tag us in your next consequential read @BritandCo.
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