Australian science fiction author Greg Egan is known for exploring mind blowing concepts in his science fiction. In Perihelion Summer he comes closer to home with a climate change-style global disaster story set mainly off the western coast of Australia.
The world waits as a tiny black hole named Taraxippus enters the solar system. Out at sea, Matt and a few friends have built a floating, self sustaining fish farm. They believe that if Traxippus comes close to the Earth it will cause monster tides and that being out at sea is the safest option. While this global inundation never eventuates, Taraxippus causes something worse. It pushes the Earth out of its traditional orbit, tilting it closer to the sun and causing an instant, runaway global warming. The rest of the story is a disaster/survival tale as the world heats up and Matt, together with a rag tag group of survivors head south.
Perihelion Summer is just over novella length and feels more like the idea for a novel rather than a novel itself. The action is sporadic and quickly resolved. The plot meanders as Matt and his crew gear up and then do a side trip to rescue people from a burning Perth. And the conclusion is unresolved and unsatisfying, leaving nothing more than the feeling that all of the action has possibly been a bit unnecessary or at least pointless.
At first blush, Perihelion Summer feels like a book about the dangers of climate change. But any long term effects of man made climate change are overtaken by the immediate and catastrophic impacts of the black hole which are completely irreversible. An interesting analogy to current global issues though is Matt’s mother, who blames him for the disaster because of his initial fascination with Taraxippus and the fact that he was planning for a disaster that many thought would not happen. As if the person who gives the warning is to blame for the foreseeable disaster that follows. This emotional undercurrent, leads to the very true feeling but downbeat ending.
Perihelion Summer is trapped in the twilight between short story and novel. In someways it feels like a few short stories stapled together. It could have been a cautionary tale about the impacts of climate change, but by introducing a massive outside influence any messages that it might otherwise have fail to land. Egan does manage to build a fair amount of tension around Matt’s attempted rescue of his family and a pirate attack on the fleet. But while these keep the pages turning, the action is episodic and ultimately provides little payoff.