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January 10, 2012

Arctic Rising - Tobias Buckell

With his new novel Arctic Rising, Tobias Buckell may well just have invented a new sub-genre : near-future optimistic global warming thriller. 

Set in the Arctic after the ice-caps have melted, Arctic Rising is fast moving and styled as a thriller, one incident leads to another and another, things escalate, we're swept along with the heroine as her world changes. The first half of the novel especially succeeds in this regard, with short sharp chapters and threat and an enigma. The second half of the novel changes somewhat, the focus panning out from the personal challenges in the story to encompass global aspects. The novel climaxes with a set of sequences that brought to my mind James Bond films, not ridiculous but expansive and explosive. On the surface this second half worked for me as a thriller, I can easily envisage a film adaptation, fast paced, panoramic, visually explosive, however I found myself wanting some more poetry within the prose, maybe a pause to revel in the majesty of the Arctic and what was happening. But that's a personal preference for how I like my novels, anyone who is distracted by descriptive discursions and wants instead a taut thriller will more than likely dismiss my criticism. 

The optimism comes from imagining how the Arctic would exist once the ice caps had melted, and for that region the world envisaged is a positive one: shipping lanes are open, trade thrives, natural resources are easier to get to, the economies of North Canada and Greenland boom. For that region there is no downside. The effect on the rest of the world is mentioned, somewhat in passing, with regard to another main character who used to live in the Caribbean but who's home island is submerged due to rising sea levels. Sad, yes, but because the focus is, enjoyably, on the booming Arctic when the plot depends on us understanding the downsides of the melting ice-caps and the emotions characters feel with regard to that, I was not convinced. The intensity and anger at global warming displayed by some of the characters felt unreasonable to me, given the upsides created in the Arctic region. Maybe that's just me revealing my adapt-to-survive tendencies? The native Caribbean character does however continue with Tobias Buckell's tradition of creating enjoyable dread-locked action heroes who you'd want on your side of a fight.  

So in the end, Arctic Rising is a modern Science Fiction thriller, aimed, intentionally or not, at a modern thriller reading market. I enjoyed it, but my disappointment was that I didn't get to linger longer within the creation of a thriving Arctic region, the intricacies and the wonders within it.