Drowned Worlds: Tales from the Anthropocene and Beyond

drowned-worlds-coverDrowned Worlds: Tales from the Anthropocene and Beyond
Jonathan Strahan (editor)
Solaris, 381 pages
Review: Duncan Lunan

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Drowned Worlds takes its inspiration from a recent new edition of J.G. Ballard’s The Drowned World and Paul McAuley’s novella The Choice, set respectively in a flooded London and Norfolk. In Jonathan Strahan’s place, to that short list I would have added Richard Cowper’s Corlay series, aka The White Bird series, set in and around a flooded Somerset. Drowned Worlds casts the net more widely (as fishers of the future may be able to do), portraying the effect of rising sea levels on Antarctica, Boston, Venice, Florida, Alaska, the USA after the La Palma tsunami, Oklahoma (drought-ridden due to global climate changes and devastated by fracking), New Orleans, Venus under terraforming, the Carribean, the Arctic, New Jersey, Mexico, and places so separated from their present-day origins that they can’t be identified with certainty, as in Catherynne M. Valente’s ‘The Future is Blue’.

Almost all of them assume the collapse of high-technology civilisation, though its comeuppance is delayed in Christopher Rowe’s ‘Brownsville Station’ until after the construction of a linear city circling the Gulf of Mexico. It’s not clear, to me at least, why it meets its comeuppance – there’s talk of the sea rising unexpectedly, ignored by human hubris, until it meets an ending akin to THX-1138 or The Machine Stops. In Nina Allen’s ‘The Common Tongue, The Present Tense, The Known’, the cataclysmic La Palma tsunami of 2094 is followed by an equally apocalyptic failure of weather control called the Rainmaker Programme, leaving a fragmented, flooded world once again. Kathleen Ann Goonan’s ‘Who Do You Love?’ portrays biological adaptation to the new environment, but not in a way that seems likely to succeed.

Among the crazier situations, ‘The New Venusians’ by Sean Williams has a lone rebel terraforming Venus with a speed which puts Poul Anderson’s The Long Rain in the shade, like the transformation of Mars in seconds at the end of the Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall; but it’s done as a warning not to mess with Nature, which seems paradoxical. In Nalo Hopkinson’s ‘Inselberg’, genetic engineering is totally running amok, with humorous results; but best of all is James Morrow’s ‘Only Ten More Shopping Days Left till Ragnarok’. As you might expect from Morrow, he has captured the really important question about global warming, especially in the Arctic: what happens when The Blob thaws out?