Working on the basis that anyone Terry Pratchett decides to work with must be pretty damn good, I decided to give Stephen Baxter another try after “The Long Earth” (see review last month). “Flood” appeared to stand out from the other recommendations for reasons I haven’t decided upon. The name really tells you most of what you need to know about the premise of the book – the world floods in genuinely biblical proportions. The novel opens in the very near future with the release of a small group of hostages from their captives in Spain, a release facilitated by the Gates/Jobs/Branson like boss of one of the hostages. From this point the waters begin to rise, and never stop, and we follow the lives of the hostages as they try to adapt, along with the rest of the world.
You can probably pencil in most of the main events along the way – the gradual breakdown of society, the development of enclaves of the rich, the move to a floating society – didn’t Kevin Costner cover this in Waterworld? There is little to keep you reading beyond the inevitable and unending succession of watery disasters. I didn’t identify with any of the principal characters, and I got the impression Baxter didn’t either, so lightly did he ink them in and so casually did he kill them off. The episodic nature of the description of the flood is reinforced by regular time jumps – several years pass between chapters, and if this is an attempt to avoid any boredom with the inevitability of the progression of the flood then it doesn’t work.
As a highly regarded science fiction writer the very least I would have expected from Baxter is some coherent science, but that is probably the most disappointing part of the novel – the attempts to explain the causes of the flood are pretty risible. There are some successful things about this novel – the description of a generation growing up never having known land for example worked well for me – this is a small consolation to what is otherwise another hugely disappointing work. I am going to persist however and have ordered the sequel “Ark” as something stubborn within me wants to know where Baxter is going with this.