by Tobias Buckell
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Tobias S. Buckell enters the discussion about global warming with Arctic Rising, a near future novel in which an increase in global temperatures has caused a thaw in the Arctic, causing global lowland coastal flooding, a newly navigable northwest passage, and the rise of new communities in the far North as previously unobtainable resources become available. Buckell points out the benefits of an ice free Arctic as well as the drawbacks with characters who espouse a variety of points of view even as they work, more or less, together.
Anika Duncan is a Nigerian pilot working for the United Nations Polar Guard, flying airships above the previously iced-in passages of Canada searching for signs of illegal waste dumping in the pristine Arctic Ocean. When her airship is attacked after finding a ship with a radioactive signature and attempts are made to hush up Anika and her partner, Tom Hutton, Anika finds a network of friends willing to help her remain underground as she tries to discover what was worth an attack on a UN airship, leading her on a journey across the Arctic no-longer wastes and into the strange world of Thule, a conglomerate of different communities brought together into a confederacy near the North Pole.
Buckell's resurgent Arctic is populated by a range of outcasts, from Anika, who learned to pilot flying mercenaries in Nigeria, to Violet, an Arctic drug-smuggler from somewhere in the Southern states of the US to Prudence Jones, a spy without a country since his Caribbean island was inundated with flood waters following the rise of global temperatures. Some of these friends offer explanations for their arrival in the formerly frozen North, while others keep an aura of mystery about them. The Arctic is a frontier where individuals are free to expose as much of themselves as they wish. But the Arctic is not the frontier of the Old West and instead of dealing with outlaws or cattle barons, Anika and her companions find themselves in a war between nations, corporations, and activists who either want to exploit the newly available wealth of the Arctic or try to return to world back to its prior state.
Arctic Rising could easily have become a strident environmentalist tract, but Buckell remembers that his novel is about entertainment. The only time it does take on an environmentalist tone is, quite properly, in the words of Ivan Cohen, one of the founders of Gaia, an activist group which had succeeded financially beyond their wildest dreams, and which could now influence the Arctic, politically and physically, more than they imagined when they were first starting out. Ivan's militarism for his cause is tempered not only by his partner, Paige Greer, but also by the fact that his viewpoint is not stated as vociferously by any of the other characters.
For a thriller, the action in Arctic Rising is slowly paced, with lengthy stretches where the characters are traveling and talking rather than fighting or racing the clock. When action is called for, however, Buckell shifts his narrative into overdrive, almost providing his readers with whiplash as they must keep up with his change of pace. This change occurs at the right time and Buckell successfully provides the reader with a book which not only offers action, but also explores the positives and negatives of global warming without too evidently landing on one side of the argument or the other.
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