by Stephen Baxter
ROC 2010

Flood is a near-future science fiction/disaster novel... about a flood. A really big one, of Noah's ark proportions.

The novel starts in an unexpected place -- Barcelona, where factions of terrorists and guerrilla groups fight for control of Spain. One faction, a group of Muslim terrorists, have collected a group of American/UK scientists and military folk as potentially useful bargaining chips. But as the years pass, they find that the hostages are not as useful as they had hoped, and they eventually sell them on the cheap to the the private employer of one of the scientists. Saved from seemly endless imprisonment and abuse, the hostages return to a almost unrecognizable world.

An unidentified process is causing the sea level to rise much faster than global warming can account for. Coastal cities are starting to flood regularly, and then, within a matter of years, permanently. As the floods spread masses of refugees plague the land and governments struggle to both stop the encroaching water and repair increasingly damaged infrastructure. The hostages, now PR pets of the global corporation AxysCoprs, are pulled into projects trying to figure out what is happening and how to stop it. The novel follows them as they travel the world and see the rising waters slowly swallow the world.

This novel has comparatively little in the way of traditional science fiction. A massive portion of the text is given over to a plodding chronicle of successive disasters, mixed with a travelogue of snapshots of major world cities being slowly flooded. We are treated to an intermittent but never-ending litany of what is flooding, what is threatened, and what is gone. And this goes on for 50 years, and nearly 500 pages. Over those 50 years technology continues, but at a slow pace, and we don't see anything much more technologically advanced than bio-engineered seaweed.

There is a good amount of excitement and a number of interesting events spread throughout the book, becoming, in my opinion, ever more interesting as the story goes on. Although the story is slow-moving, it manages to cover a lot of ground and to have a good amount of scientific backing. While the main theme of the story is very much tragedy, both personal and for humanity in general, it is not entirely depressing and does not let the suffering overwhelm the characters.

All in all, I do not particularly recommend this book. There's just too much boring repetition of "now X is gone; oops, there goes Y", spread over too little action and too few surprises. However, if you expect to have a boring weekend and come across this book, it might do as a beach book (it's a bit too long for an airport book, however). If you do start reading it, the story picks up a bit after about 200 pages, and continues to pick up pace (or, at least, interesting new elements) after that.

Flood does have a sequel, Ark, which covers some of the same time period and follows up on some of the central events in Flood.

ISBN-10: 0451463285
ISBN-13: 978-0451463289