Multi-award winning UK science fiction author Chris Beckett turns his eyes to the issue of climate change in his latest stand alone America City. The book casts forward one hundred years to an America affected by drought in the Southwest and superstorms along its eastern seaboard. This has created a movement of people – otherwise known as “barreduras” – an internal refugee problem within the United States that is threatening to tear the country apart.
Holly Peacock is an expat-British PR guru, comfortably living with her academic husband in Seattle when she is given the chance to work for conservative senator Stephen Slaymaker. Slaymaker has a plan to build America by resettling the internal refugees in the northern states, a plan that makes him unpopular not only with his base constituency but with his party. But he rides a wave to the presidency when, with the help of Holly, he manages to turn the eyes of the country further north, towards the largely unsettled Canadian provinces.
Much like Omar el Akkad’s recent American War, Beckett is interested in how America might behave when problems it has been ignoring in other parts of the world become internalised. In this case how America might deal with climate refugees when they are coming from inside the country itself. In doing so, Beckett focuses on politics and the manipulation of public opinion (the “underbelly” of social media). This makes America City a fairly ‘talky’ book as characters argue competing philosophies, but never a dull one.
While America City is set one hundred years in the future, Beckett is clearly speaking to our time. And by focusing on the political and communications battle in this future world Beckett creates an effective lens through which to look at the world as it is now. And that view is somewhat chilling.
This review first appeared in Aurealis #109, Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine, www.aurealis.com.au.