(2017) Chris Beckett, Corvus, £18.99, hrdbk, 359pp, ISBN 978-1-786-49152-7
From the author of the Clarke (SF) Award winning novel Dark Eden comes a new story set in a future America devastated by climate change and in which tensions rise as the northern states close their borders to their fellow US Americans from the south.
Christ Beckett is one of my favourite writers in long form and short form, and while he has tackled dimension hopping in novels like Marcher and world-building in his award-winning 'Dark Eden' trilogy, he offers us perhaps the first post-Trump science fiction novel. The election of 'The Donald' has produced inspiration for some literary heavyweights like Howard Jacobson with his novel Pussy and Salman Rushdie with his novel The Golden House, but these are contemporary fare. In America City we are in the future and America is a divided country, between the North and the South as climate change has messed up the weather and many parts of the world, displacing millions. The Southern States are wracked by floods which has ruined forests and great swaths of land, while droughts have turned fertile farmland into dust-bowls, leading to food shortages, then there are the hurricanes. This perfect storm of climate chaos has forced many to try and flee northwards, but the Northerners have had enough and want to close their borders to their fellow Americans, using force if need be.
Enter Senator Slaymaker, a self-made millionaire who came out of the army and built a trucking empire. He wants to unite the country and help make America great again, but he needs help if he is going to run for President and get the necessary funding approved to implement his proposed Reconfigure America programme. Help comes along in the form of British-born publicist, Holly Peacock .but this going to be a hard task and tough choices are going to have to be made in a world where there is “Whispernet” and “Pollcloud” where Polly finds that 63% of people do not expect the Government to help them, so why should they help others? In Beckett’s future, things have changed, perhaps for the better, with hydro-power taking over from fossils fuels, but the damage has already been done. The north of the country is rich and wants to stay that way, while the South has never really recovered from a series of wars that started back in the days of the Tyranny (now when was that, I wonder, and who was involved, or in charge?). 40% of Americans are Hispanic and the haves are called the “delicados”, while the have-nots trying to cross the border are labelled “dirt”, “dusties” and “storm trash”.
Beckett has taken some of the things on the horizon today and run with them. We have cars that can drive themselves, we have “drigs” (dirigibles) in the sky, and we have an internet system powered by a crystal that everyone has. Fake news is everywhere thanks to silver-tongued AIs which sound almost human, in fact, the AIs are almost more human than some of the main characters, Slaymaker is definitely a love or hate kind of guy, although probably more in the latter camp than the former. Times are tough and tough decisions have to be made for the general good of the country and its people, even if some of those decisions are pretty unpalatable to some, including Holly’s friends who are delcicados, and clearly in the 'not in my back yard' camp. It is all very well being liberal, and talking about how things must change, but when that change might actually happen... Well, that’s a different story entirely.
I wonder what the late, great historian, and social commentator, and satirist, Gore Vidal would have made of this. I remember seeing him being interviewed years ago, when he said that most of the people who lived in his apartment block didn’t speak English and had no idea what the Bill of Rights was. In Beckett’s book, ignorance is so rife, that many Americans have never heard of Abraham Lincoln. America City is beautifully written, inventive, with a strong cast of characters (not all of them likeable) and a plot that makes the reader think, and is another great book from one of the best writers around.
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