Saturday, February 7, 2015

James Bradley's Clade

The main character in this new book from noted Australian novelist James Bradley is planet Earth. 

The human characters, none of whom we ever really connect with and most of whom arrive on the scene for a chapter or two then disappear, are inconsequential to the main drama of climate change which is reeking havoc all around.

The story is set in a 21st century future over the course of a few generations and Bradley is relentless in listing every possible disaster that climate scientists have long foretold and that is now happening.

'..last year their worst fears were realised. The rains that usually arrived in July or August failed to appear, leaving the subcontinent to bake in record heat. Crops failed, leading to food shortages and starvation. Then in November torrential rain and massive floods killed more than a million and left another hundred million homeless. And finally, in the aftermath, the economy collapsed, leading to widespread unemployment that is behind the riots in Mumbai and Calcutta in recent weeks...this year will be worse.'

'..mega-blizzards in North America, tornados in China, the first widespread methane ruptures in Siberia.'

In the Australian bush 'most of the birds are gone now...there have been huge die-offs, great waves of birds falling from the skies..'

And, gasp, '..since the crop failures three years ago, coffee has become increasingly expensive and difficult to get.'

A bleak, apocalyptic scenario unfolds and civilisations from East to West unravel. Genetically engineered crops are unleashing deadly viruses killing millions; 'illegal' immigrants fleeing starvation and disease are everywhere and being savagely rounded up. 

As I was reading this novel I became less and less engaged. It veered on disaster porn. Bradley himself was refusing to engage. There was no critique, no distance, no comment.

Until, that is, about 90% of the way though. The final pages introduce an element of hope and optimism, and the author's reflections are beautifully articulated. We get a meditation on transience as if the camera is now panning out, seeing every little drama in a larger, more cosmic, context.

  '..[he] was reminded of the way the land is never still, existing instead in a process of constant change: the movement of the weather, the march of the seasons, the long oscillation of climate systems, their cycles repeated over and over.

Outside, the desert moves by. The first time he came here the sheer emptiness of the landscape frightened him, but as the years have passed he has learned to appreciate the echoes of other ages contained within it, to love the frozen archeology of the broken rock, the lifted plains, the dust. Now when he looks out at the desert he sees what he sees in the sky, the great depth of time, and silence.

Yet what of the future? What will be here eons from now? The ice is almost gone, but while it may take millions of years, there is little doubt that one day it will return, creeping back to cover the land, and the world will change once more, the turmoil and destruction of the past century being little more than a spasm, an interregnum in the great cycles of the planet's existence.' 

This character's name is Noah, grandson of Adam, the originator of the clade (ancestry). The biblical names are significant.

So in the end, on refection overnight, I decided I loved this book after all. I didn't think I would.

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