Canadian, Hardisty is an engineer, university professor and climate change scientist as well as author of six novels. I’ve not read any of the previous five, but his sixth is an urgent clarion call to us all. If I had to do an elevator pitch for it I’d say…
JG Ballard’s The Drought meets Logan’s Run with a 21stC twist
I hope that intrigues you! Ballard wrote two back to back dystopian cli-fi novels in the early 1960s, The Drowned World and its opposite The Drought, this novel is closer to the latter. Logan’s Run was a 1960s novel too, famously made into a film starring a young Michael York in 1976. In its dystopia, youth reigns, everyone lives inside geodesic domes and when they reach the age of thirty, they are terminated in a big ceremony promising rebirth (not, of course). A small minority become ‘runners’ escaping to the outside. York is a young cop tasked with infiltrating the runners network, but ends up becoming one himself alongside Jessica (Jenny Agutter). These two works were what kept springing to my mind while reading The Forcing.
Hardisty’s novel, while owing a debt to some well-trodden tropes from yester-year, has its own tale to tell and a unique way of making us question who the villains are.
It’s an unspecified time in the future. Canada and the USA are now one. Climate change is wreaking havoc upon the earth which is hotting up, and people are migrating north, which is filling up. The government comes up with a radical solution. It’s the older generations that caused the problem, they should all be sent to the USA’s southern states, freeing up cooler space in the north. As the novel begins, David Ashworth, a high school teacher, is giving his last class – his letter to leave has come, as has one for his wife May – she shouldn’t have been old enough, but they’ve brought the dates forward – and she’s not happy.
But go they must, and after a very long bus ride, they find themselves in an abandoned southern town, they think its deep in the heart of Texas, sharing a house with six others, one couple per bedroom. Their enforced housemates are a real mixture: there’s the wealthy industrialist and his trophy wife, a lawyer, a hospital worker and two recent immigrants to the country – little did Francoise and Kwesi know what would befall them when they moved to North America. At first they have little to do in the heat, the food rations just about suffice, but where they have arguments is over water – when Argent the industrialist’s wife uses up their ration in the shower that first day, tempers are already running high. David and May will soon fall out, May turning to Argent, who has money still and can get her meds etc. Soon the rations are reduced and they are put to work. I’ll leave you to imagine the ongoing scenario which has chilling echoes to the past.
However, David and May’s son Lachie who is in the new government arranges an escape for the two of them, but by this time David and May are quite estranged and Argent jumps in on the arrangement, also bringing Francoise as collateral.
Suffice it to say, they will escape, and some will make it through to start a new life after a harrowing journey further south encountering murderous gangs and deadly pollution along the way, but I won’t say more about the plot. Threaded in between the main story chapters are diary entries from a family who live by the sea and are obviously survivors. Which, if any, of the escaping quartet they are is not made clear until nearer the end, although it’s fairly obvious the diaries’ narrator is David. While it was good to know that some folk managed to live into their old age properly, the frequency of these interjections, some of which were long, did slow down the main plot, which I was always itching to get back to. However, they prove their worth in the end as the identities are confirmed and we find out what has happened back north since their new life began.
This may be a cli-fi thriller, but the reader is also made to think. As I heard Hardisty say when interviewed on Ed Vaisey’s show on Times Radio recently, he wants to make us think about who the villains are. The old for creating this first-world problem and gradually destroying the world; the young for fighting back and effectively culling the old; the super rich who may, like Paypal cofounder Peter Thiel, have a paradise compound ready and waiting for them (Thiel’s, I discovered from Mark O’Connell’s excellent book of reportage, Notes From an Apocalypse, is a large chunk of New Zealand real estate); those who seek to exploit others; and also those who won’t learn, who won’t change their ways. Hardisty explores all of these types, although our loyalties really lie with David throughout, however much of a woolly liberal he is.
A timely and thought-provoking thriller indeed to add to the growing list of must-read cli-fi. The way in which society breaks down in this novel all feels horribly plausible which is the most worrying thing. Surely that should be a call to arms for everyone to do their bit plus a bit more, and more, and more…
Source: Review copy – thank you.
Orenda Books, paperback original, 372 pages.
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