Fiction Reviews


(2009) Stephen Baxter, Gollancz, £6.99, pbk, 537pp, ISBN 978-0-575-09413-0

This is the sequel – or paraquel if you will – to Flood.

Important note If you have not read Flood the rest of this paragraph is a Flood spoiler… Now, you may recall that in Flood the humanity faces ever-rising sea levels due (not to global warming but) to water migrating from deep the Earth's crust in huge up-wellings. At first the coastal defences are overwhelmed, then coastal cities, but the water continues to rise. After a few years all the low-lying land has flooded and so folk make for the hills. But still the water rises. Flood largely follows a multimillionaire's effort to survive through constructing a huge ocean liner. Conversely at a plot bifurcating point half-way through Flood, Ark follows the group that build a spacecraft – an ark to escape the flood – to get off world.

This design a space mission from scratch is all standard Baxter territory: Titan (1997), and Moonseed (1998) being typical examples. There are the problems of having to come up with faster-than-light drive and to build a large craft and these are gigantic enough. But in addition there is the sword of Damocles of the ever-rising seas forever present, and as the launch day arrives, and the pressures mount from humanities' former coastal dwellers migrating to higher ground.   We also revisit characters from Flood: indeed one of the main protagonists was one of the principal characters in the first half of that novel.

The launch day arrives and off our band go: though not without some trouble due to the tensions and the crumbling social cohesion of one of the last bastions of our high-tech world as the global catastrophe overwhelms civilisation.

It would be a spoiler to detail subsequent events. Suffice to say that Baxter's technological solutions have their roots in some of the more exotic aspects of theoretical physics not to mention current musings on exoplanets. Baxter is on form. There is a (far too short) technical afterward which is illuminating, not just for science background reading pointers for those who are interested, but because we can see what journals the author reads (and suspect what he does not). For my money, this duology of Flood and Ark is the best thing he has done since his anthology Resplendent: Destiny's Children Book Four (2006) which itself is a themed collection of shorts originally published between 2000 and 2004. Ark is a solid global catastrophe novel combined with that of space exploration. It pushes many of an SF reader's right buttons. Nice one.

Jonathan Cowie

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