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Flood, by Stephen Baxter
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 2008
Review Posted: 2/22/2010
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 7 out of 10

Flood, by Stephen Baxter

Book Review by Lyn McConchie

Have you read this book?

This book, as I would expect it to be, is well written with interesting characters, and a solid plot-line. It starts in 2016 with another wet season. In London, there are storm surges and unusually high tides so that the Thames Barrier is breached. Large portions of the city are flooded, but the tides do recede and life continues.

But in other parts of the world the floods are returning. And so are four people - released after five years of being hostages in Spain, held there by an extremist group. They arrive back in England to find that in the years since they were taken there have been vast changes. The rumors are of biblical floods coming, floods that will drown whole countries as the sea levels are rising at unprecedented speed.

The remainder of the book concentrates on this. The sea level does continue to rise, whole populations become refugees, millions of people are on the move to higher ground. Their movements often based on the supposition that the rise will stop at a certain point. They find high ground and settle there - only to discover months or years down the track that the water is still rising. They are trapped and must drown where they are or find some new way of escape - and most drown.

Over and over this scenario is played out across the world as the narrative concentrates on a group, led by a billionaire, who is developing a Project where he hopes mankind can regroup. Some do so there, but the water is still rising and - years later - those remaining take to boats, planned as a final retreat with scientific advances that should enable them to survive as a completely water-borne population.

As I said, this work is very well-written, with an interesting plot and characters that, to some degree at least, can be empathized with by the reader. However, I disliked the book for two reasons. The first is that despite the after-word listing a number of speculative articles possibly supporting the scientific basis for the work, I found both plot and theory deeply unconvincing.

I could be wrong in that, it may well be that there is sufficient water locked in rock that, should the right imbalance occur, the water could be released and the world would flood completely. But, somehow, it never convinced me even briefly. And for a book of this theme the reader must be convinced. They must feel that there is an internal reality in which they believe and that the story as unfolded really could happen. I could never feel that it might and this colored the entire book for me, that I could not attain or hold, the necessary suspension of disbelief.

And secondly, the book is relentlessly downbeat. Yes, if such an event occurred there would be little about which to be optimistic. But if it happened in reality we wouldn't be spending much time sitting about reading anyhow.

I am a fan of the "post-holocaust/end of civilization" sub-genre. I have over 30 books on one bookshelf that range from EARTH ABIDES, to COLD SEA RISING, to TOMORROW, WHEN THE WAR BEGAN, to THE RED DUST. But they all have one theme, that in the end, some people will survive and, gradually, civilization will begin again.

FLOOD leads, in 2052, to a handful of people living on rafts with no trace of even the highest mountains remaining. Frankly, and under the circumstances, it feels to me as if in another generation numbers will have continued to dwindle and in two or three generations more at most the entire human race will be extinct.

There is an effort to provide some optimism in the book with a space ship escaping before the final floods. I found that also unconvincing. It felt like something that had been written in after the first draft, simply to provide some hope for readers like me who require it.

This is not at all a bad book, other readers may find the science perfectly convincing or be able to suspend their disbelief for the sake of the work, and they may not require this sub-genre to be optimistic either. In which case they will almost certainly enjoy the work. But other readers like me will finish reading the book with a feeling of depression and no desire to read it again in years to come. It's a good book in many ways, but to me it was irreparably flawed, I regret that - and the money that I spent buying it.

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