Arctic Rising, by Tobias Buckell, is set in the near future. The polar ice cap has melted, changing the world’s landscape, resulting in shifts of economic power. Global industries and military are moving away from the use of fossil fuels. The Arctic Circle is the new Wild West, filled with expanding industry competing for newly exposed resources and oil sources, and a booming population.
Buckell tackles a subject that is currently getting a lot of press: global warming. If you pay attention to the present day buzz, there is denial, conspiracy theories, intrigue and exaggerated doomsday scenarios competing with the facts of climate change. Reading present day headlines can be just as fantastical as the near future presented to us in Arctic Rising. However, unlike the present day reality, Buckell’s near future science-fiction will take you on an exciting and wild ride, filled with thought-provoking scenarios balanced with pure, near unrealistic fun.
Four things kept me devouring Arctic Rising, reading it in one sitting until the wee hours of the morning: 1) A thought-provoking premise; 2) Action-packed, fast-paced writing; 3) A believable, strong female lead; and 4) Location.
Like all good science-fiction, Arctic Rising examines current social and economic events. Not only does it delve into issues of the environment and global warming, but it tackles economics, politics and the balance, or should I say ‘unbalance’, of power. Buckell explores old tropes about the distribution of wealth and power, and the idea that absolute power corrupts absolutely. In doing so, there is the inherent danger of writing something trite and cliché, or failing to challenge the reader’s preconceived ideas. In a way that surprised me, Buckell succeeded in challenging my ideas about the negative effects of global warming.
Buckell’s story had me asking, “Is global warming such a bad thing after all? In this fictional scenario, Canada comes out on top, as well as other countries bordering the Arctic Circle. The effects of global warming aren’t all that terrible. Sure, other countries get severely damaged, both in landscape and economics. But, hey. Some come out on top.” At the end of the day, despite the possibility that Canada will reign supreme, plus gain respect and fear from the U.S.A., I still think climate change is a serious problem that needs a solution, fast. I wouldn’t want Canada to dominate the globe at the expense of other countries. However, Buckell managed to challenge my preconceived ideas and caused me to seriously examine other possibilities. This is not an easy task. As a result, Arctic Rising gets big points there.
And then we have action. And suspense. And thrills. And conspiracy. And explosions. Lots and lots of explosions. Simply written, but not immaturely so, Arctic Rising starts off with a bang and keeps the reader’s mind and heart racing until the very end. No sooner does the pace of the story slow down, allowing the reader to catch some much needed breath, the action picks up. No sooner was I thinking, “There really needs to be an explosion, like right now, before I begin to get bored”, BOOM! Buckell delivers exactly what I want, and need, to keep me engaged through the heavier, social-political parts of the story.
Some readers may find parts of the story to be very James Bond-esque, complete with meta references. I’m not a fan of James Bond. I’m also not a fan of most things meta. I find meta references to be lazy. However, I can’t help but to think the references to be tongue-in-cheek. Instead of finding them annoying, the references to James Bond, coupled with Bond-like scenarios, added some much needed humour to the story. Yes, the story is filled with dark, and perhaps ridiculous, conspiracy. There is a lot of death and destruction. There is a doomsday weapon that is a little bit fantastical. However, it was very easy for me to suspend my belief, something that is normally quite difficult. Buckell manages to balance reality and fiction, and in the process, takes the reader on quite the adventure.
Then we have Anika Duncan, the main character in this story. When I read the synopsis late last year and saw the lead was a female, I was worried. I have a very difficult time relating to female characters. Even if I enjoy the story as a whole, there is always something that frustrates me about female characters and, as a result, at times it is difficult to finish the story. Nothing about Anika frustrated me. Anika is the first female character that I could place myself in. She is strong. She kicks ass. She is vulnerable, with the right balance of emotion and logic. She has an interesting past. She could very easily be a man, but there is no doubt that she is a female. Both genders can relate to her.
It could have been very easy to write Anika in the style of Laura Croft or Xena, strong but overtly sexualised. It could have also been very easy to write Anika as a physically strong female who feels she has something to prove, and is angry and forceful because of it. Instead, she just is who she is, and she is believable. I never doubted for a second that she can kick ass, think on her feet, has the respect of her peers, and is self-reliant. For some readers, it may be important to know that she is also black and a lesbian. Neither her skin colour nor her sexual orientation mattered to me. It had no bearing on how I perceived this character. For this reader, the important thing was that I didn’t feel like she was written specifically to appeal to one gender or the other; I cared for her; I wanted for her to succeed; and she didn’t frustrate me.
This brings us to the location of this story. A lot of the action takes place in Canada’s backyard. Being Canadian, I appreciated this on many levels. First, Buckell managed to weave in some subtleties about the Canadian people, some of the Eastern Canadian language, and First Nations history and culture. Canada is also powerful and not the butt of a joke.
Let’s face it, people love to poke fun at Canada, including Canadians. A part of Canadian identity is self-deprecating humour. When Canadians poke fun of Canada, we do so with with love and respect, whilst recognising that we are a goofy lot. When other countries poke fun of Canada, a lot of the time, they mistake the joke for fact. A lot of the time, unless the writer is Canadian, Canada is a footnote in the story or is portrayed as something to not be taken seriously. It was extremely refreshing to read a story, written by a non-Canadian, where Canada is not only to be respected, but perhaps even feared.
I highly recommend Arctic Rising. Well-written, it will take you on an exhilarating, edge-of-your-seat adventure filled with just the right balance of nearly unbelievable and believable scenarios, whilst giving you a few laughs. Buckell manges to create just the right balance between thought-provoking ideas and pure, unadulterated fun.
Released today, you can purchase Arctic Rising at Indigo Books & Music, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound and Powell’s. You can read the first two chapters at Tor. Plus, check out Tobias’ tour schedule here, visit his website here and follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell.
Tomorrow, I’ll be giving away two copies of Arctic Rising, courtesy of Tor. Remember, Tobias will be joining me, live, on the Geeky Pleasures Radio Show, Friday, March 9, 2012.
A copy of this book was provided by Tor for the purpose of this review.