What shape will the reckoning take? There are many options: nano-virus, swine flu, global warming, zombie outbreak, alien invasion, Cthulu, and others. Stephen Baxter decides to postulate our potential end via an old-fashioned flood. And if Noah thought the flood that hit him back in Biblical times was a ‘big deal’, then he should get a load of the rising waters in Baxter’s Flood.
Flood hooks the reader with a strong opening sequence that introduces and ties all the major players in one action packed set piece. Our protagonists have been hostages at the hands of a militant religious fundamentlist group for five years. An entreprising, wealthy man stages a successful rescue that frees the hostages and brings them (and the reader) into a world in the beginning stages of death by water.
The book focuses on this core of characters as they struggle to deal with the disasters created by the flood. It quickly becomes apparent the water is not going to stop rising and humanity will be pressed close to the point of extinction. Baxter masterfully lets this sense of impending doom seep into the story. There are no last-minute heroics here. Just people dealing with the situation and dying as they’re pushed higher and higher while dry land grows more sparse.
The book is clinical in its detailing of the stages of the flood. These parts are fascinating and frightening. Unfortunately, Baxter keeps us at too far a distance from the effects of the disaster on humankind for the reader to feel true horror, as the plot stays near the hostage survivors who are always cordoned off safely with their wealthy savior. There are also massive time jumps that jerks you out of the current situation and places you ten, fifteen years later with introductions to new characters and settings that make you want to scan through the pages to meet back with the characters you care about. Unfortunately, Baxter has made a decision to skimp on the character development in service of the plot, and I feel it weakens the impact of the book.
Overall, this is a nice work of dark science fiction. I’d recommend it to science fiction readers in a heartbeat.