I’m a sucker for “end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it” books. So it’s no wonder I picked up Stephen Baxter’s Flood and started it as soon as I read the inside dust-jacket flap:
Four hostages are rescued from a group of religious extremists in Barcelona. After five years of being held captive together, they make a vow to always watch out for one another. But they never expected this…
The world they have returned to has been transformed—by water. And the water is rising…
…water continues to flow from the earth’s mantle. Entire countries disappear. High ground becomes a precious commodity. And finally the dreadful truth is known. Before fifty years have passed there will be nowhere left to run.
The year is 2016. Sea level has risen between one and five meters as global warming has continued to melt glaciers and arctic and Antarctic ice. Scientists predict that the seas will continue to rise and that disaster is possible decades down the line.
Lily Brooke, Gary Boyle, Piers Michaelmas and Helen Gray are chained to chairs in a basement in Barcelona. Kidnapped by terrorists they have been shuffled from place to place for five years, held for ransom or other political reasons, barely retaining their sanity. Also present is Helen’s infant, Grace, the result of a brutal rape by one of the group’s captors.
As the novel starts, the captives are freed by forces controlled by Nathan Lammockson, one of the richest men in the world. When they arrive in London, they discover that the world is changing much more rapidly than anyone suspected. And gradually they learn that sea level is going to rise much faster than scientific calculations estimate.
Lammockson, a visionary megalomaniac (but not really an evil man), has become something of a fairy godfather to the folks he plucked from Spain and does his best to keep them and their families and friends out of harm’s way. Unfortunately, there is a lot of harm to avoid.
The melting icecaps are just a fraction of the cause. It turns out that there are vast seas under the earth’s mantle that are beginning to leak into the oceans. The rise in sea level will be exponential. And there may be no stopping it.
Baxter follows the lives of each of the four hostages as he or she travels around the world just ahead of the flood. They depend on some amazing coincidences to keep running into one another in far-flung areas of the globe. The cast of minor characters also grows, almost exponentially, and, occasionally, it is just a bit daunting to keep track of which protagonist is involved with whom.
Not surprisingly, the British Baxter describes the flooding of London in greater detail than any of the other major cities and villages that succumb to the waters. But the entire world is the author’s stage.
There are some weaknesses in Flood, among them, the fact that the scenario he depicts would likely be much worse than he portrays and the aforementioned coincidences. But as an “end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it” book, this is a pretty good read.
I think Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s great comet thriller, Lucifer’s Hammer, is at the top of my list in this science fiction subgenre. Here are just a few of my other favorites: Blizzard by George Stone; The Sixth Winter by Douglas Orgill; The Hab Theory by Allan W. Eckert; Long Voyage Back by Luke Rhinehart; Aftermath by Charles Sheffield; and Gordon Dickson’s Wolf and Iron.