I first heard of Tobias Buckell's Arctic Rising from a rave review on NPR earlier this spring. One of the most interesting features of the book (to me) is that its author was born in the same small country that I am from, the Caribbean island nation of Grenada. But even that curious fact would not be enough to get me to read the book if its subject was not interesting.
In this case, the subject is an interesting combination of near-future science fiction and "eco-thriller." The setting is an un-named time in the near future where
In this setting, Buckell places a thrilling story of intrigue involving his main character Anika Duncan, who is an airship pilot for the United Nations Polar Guard in the Arctic circle whose life unravels when she comes across a ship with a mysteriously radioactive cargo whose crew takes extreme measures to prevent her from finding out what it is. From that point on the story proceeds at breakneck pace, with people repeatedly trying to kill and/or capture Anika. Acquaintances, colleagues and friends who try to help Anika often face dire consequences.
Arctic Rising is exciting, sort of like a James Bond thriller except that the main protagonists are a multiracial, lesbian and her male Caribbean-born, dredlock-wearing independent spy named Prudence Jones.
One immediate draw back of the novel is that the action is provided in very short, bite-sized chapters, presumably the proper length that an action scene in the filmed adaptation would cover. Also, the writing and characterization is almost laughably weak, similar to what you would expect in a John Grisham, Brad Melzer or Dan Brown novel. Obviously, millions and millions of people buy and enjoy those kind of novels, and they have been adapted into television and films because they capture the audience's attention.
I appreciate Buckell's ambition of trying to occupy that "non-stop action thriller" space with a book that at least is set in a world impacted by climate change and who has deliberately injected issues of race, gender and sexual orientation through his characters. But an important artistic achievement, Arctic Rising is not.
However, it is a lot of fun and at least a diversion which can keep one occupied and content while it lasts. Which is not long.
Title: Arctic Rising.
Author: Tobias S. Buckell.
Length: 304 pages.
Publisher: Tor Books.
Published: February 28, 2012.
OVERALL GRADE: B+ (3.33/4.0).