Well, I made it back from England alive, which means I get to continue blogging. Huzzah! As I’m sure many of you are aware, vacations often make for great reading opportunities, and I was finally able to finish Arctic Rising by Tobias S. Buckell, a book that I’d been plowing through for awhile.
I ended up giving this book 3 stars, but I think that’s sort of an average. Depending what you value in a read, I think some of you out there might appreciate this more or less than that. If you are more captivated by ideas, world building, or story, then this book will probably be just the sort of thing you enjoy. If you’re more concerned with writing and craft, then there are some cringe worthy moments. But onto the details!
World Building and Ideas (5 Stars):
I think these aspects of the book are by far the best parts. Set in the not so distant future on Earth, global warming has melted the ice caps and raised sea levels. Due to this, a prosperous shipping industry through the North Pole has developed. Oil that was once hidden beneath glaciers has been uncovered. And many have even moved into the far north to take on new jobs and make a home for themselves. The United States and Russia have moved to take hold in these northern regions and countries like Denmark and Canada have become more powerful due to their proximity to the northern shipping lanes. A new nation called Thule has even developed on the Pole.
Buckell creates a wonderfully believable future based on this change in global temperature. It’s great fun to see all of the different locales that the main characters visit and how they all fit into this setting. The people and the places are also things that feel organic, like they could really happen in a few years if global warming runs its course.
As far as ideas, this story obviously tackles climate change and its impact, but it also touches on a lot of other hot button topics like environmentalism, terrorism, the dangers of government espionage, sexuality, and a variety of other things. I think all of these things are important topics, things that certainly need to be discussed. I find it admirable that Buckell goes to such lengths to include a variety of different topics, and I think he does try to provide a balanced view on them. However, it’s his presentation that I find somewhat lacking.
Writing and Craft (2 Stars):
Craft is something that’s actually very important to me in a read, and sadly I wasn’t impressed with what I found in this book. There are a lot of lazy descriptions and poor adverb usages to fill out scenes (he said disgustedly). There are a fair amount of “telling” moments rather than “showing” moments, especially as the novel wears on.
On top of that, there were a lot of didactic moments in the dialogue as well. More than once characters simply seem to represent a specific idea or point of view, wandering on screen to showcase some idea Buckell is trying to touch on. In other instances the main characters monologue about their beliefs or ideals, which I found really took me out of the story.
Personally I believe very much that a writer should have something to say when he or she sits down to write a story. There are a lot of stories I’ve read where you can tell the author really didn’t have an idea or message to convey and was just trying to tell a “neat” story, and I actually think that’s a huge problems with a lot of novels and films that come out these days…but honestly that’s an entirely different rant for an entirely different post. What I will say is that while I appreciate Buckell’s attempt to really say something, I feel he doesn’t do it in a way that is graceful, and for me that really hurts the story.
Story (3.5 Stars):
The opening of this novel is great, and it really hooks you in. It is also fairly well plotted as it runs deeper. My main issue with the story line is the characters that it follows. The protagonist, Anika Duncan, is an airship pilot who sees something she isn’t supposed to as she and her partner are flying patrol over the northern shipping lanes. She makes a great protagonist through the early and even middle parts of the story as she is embroiled in a conflict that is over her head.
However, as the plot goes on, I think the story hits a point where I start to wonder why she and her friends have continued to be involved in the conflict. This is especially true of the “final battle” sequence in the story, where she’s involved in an out-and-out insertion and firefight alongside a group of SEALs. While she is trained for combat, I just find it strange that anyone would choose to involve her directly in the fight. It makes for a more exciting ending, but it also took me a bit out of the story, since I didn’t think any Navy SEAL team would want to escort around someone who wasn’t absolutely vital to a mission (which I didn’t feel she was at that point).
I guess this is somewhat of a minor thing, but it’s something that got to me a little.
Conclusion (3 Stars):
Obviously, as I mentioned at the start, I gave this book 3 Stars overall. I did enjoy reading it due to its incredible world building and the fast-paced fun nature of the narrative. However, I still have to say that I didn’t think it was particularly well written.
If you’re looking for a fun and quick read (and it is relatively quick despite the book being around 600 pages) that has more depth and presents more interesting ideas than something like a YA novel (which I also know a lot of people read for escapism), then I would certainly recommend this book. If you want to see a great and interesting portrayal of what our near future might look like, then I’d recommend this as well. But, again, if you’re looking for a high level of craft and writing ability, then I would really advise looking elsewhere.