Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Guest Post: My better half reviews Flood by Stephen Baxter

Because I'm knee-deep in rewrites my reading time has been suffering. I'm halfway through two books, and yes I know if I'd stuck to one I'd have a review for you myself, but we all know reading doesn't work that way, don't we?

So for your amusement I bring you a guest review by my boyfriend. That's him on the right there. You can call him Zapp. Of course, it's just a disguise. I'd tell you his real name, but then I'd have to kill you. Actually, he'd kill me for telling you. He's got a deep suspicion of putting his identity on the interwebs and is the sort of guy who, upon hearing chopper in the sky, shrieks "They've found me!" and leaps theatrically behind the couch. Endless amusement.

Zapster's going to review Flood by Stephen Baxter, a book I got from the library for myself after reading Thea's enthusiastic review.

After five years of captivity four hostages are rescued from a group of religious extremists. During this time the climate has undergone a rapid change for the worse. These people, with the their skills and insight, see the impact on the climate these five years have had after their release from a basement. As they are reunited with friends and family, climate change starts exceeding even the worst climate models. The scientists of the group are whisked from one disaster to another in helicopters witnessing the worst of the effects and conducting all sorts of cool experiments, such as diving in a sub to take readings.

The protagonists are somewhat traumatised by their experience of being held hostage. They do their best in deteriorating conditions and were always firm believers in climate change. Some of the scientists are a little dogmatic and rabid but are predictably proved right.

The science of the story hinges on the hypothesis that a runaway rise in sea levels is caused by H2O trapped in the Earth's crust during planetary formation and sucked down by plate activity. It's not really explained how human activity could cause this release; indeed no one is even sure it has anything to do with humans, but its a good bet that it is. What follows from that hypothesis is solid science: earthquakes caused by the water pressure on the land, tsunamis, starvation refugees and woe. Towards the end the it becomes positively frightening with the Earth behaving more like other planets in the solar system.

I liked how it started as typical climate change scenario and then increased exponentially to become the stuff of nightmares. People's resilience and ability to adapt was also cool: communities binding together to build huge rafts for example. The scenario at the end was pretty out there too. Less appealing were some of the personal tragedies. They were a little obvious and I grew disinterested in them as, after all, everyone is in the same boat.

Compared to other books in the genre, Flood was wildly imaginative and incredibly ambitious. Its depictions of climate change were far worse than anything else I've read or seen; it's a little like Water World but without Dennis Hopper hamming it up.
Flood is a cracking read, shocking and relevant. It's a timely reminder that scientists can be wrong and that ironically by the time humans have a rudimentary understanding of the incredibly complex feedback loops that drive the earth, it can be far too late to do anything about it.

Thanks Zapp! Oh, by the way his real name is-- *cough splutter choke*


  1. Stephen Baxter is excellent. Will read. :)

  2. Excellent review, and I (duh) wholeheartedly agree with "Zapp"'s praise. And can I just say to you Rhiannon (or should I call you Leela? You should read this book too, by the way! You know, when you're not busy becoming a super successful new author) and Zapp - if you liked FLOOD, you will be absolutely floored by ARK. *grin*

    And one final question - does Zapp wear a short skirt tunic? ;) LOL. Just kidding.

  3. Oh he does, he does. Role-play in our house is taken *very* seriously ;)

  4. I generally find this sort of story intensely frustrating on two counts. Firstly because it would appear to pander to the current angst (in this case climate change) and secondly (and far more seriously) because the science underlying the story is all too frequently rubbish.

    Is the science in this book really "solid science"?

  5. RobH - Rest assured, the book itself isn't some moral tale, preaching the evils of global warming. Rather, the cause of the flooding is from subterranean oceans (which actually have been discovered in Southeast Asia). From Stephen Baxter's afterward and annotated bibliography, the science in the book is based on this theory of subterranean oceans, and it does have credence in the scientific community. (Of course, it's theoretical and taken to the extreme situation in this novel, where these waters "leak" to the surface obliterating ALL land)

    Also, Stephen Baxter himself is a graduate of Cambridge University with a degree in math, an engineer, and a teacher of physics & math. And, from my experience with his books, the science seems pretty sound. But I'm not a scientist so...*shrugs* I'd say give his work a try. FLOOD really is a fantastic book, and it's sister novel ARK is even better.

  6. A pom? An engineer? A teacher of maths and physics? Sounds like Stephen Baxter's books are MADE for you, RobH! Go read now! No, first finish Catching Fire and The Knife of Never Letting Go, and then read Flood :D