British science fiction author Christopher Priest has a long and varied career in speculative fiction including the award winning book about duelling magicians The Prestige. In his latest book, Expect Me Tomorrow he turns his attention to climate change but does so through the lens of nineteenth century science a real case of wrongful imprisonment in England in the 1890s.
Expect me Tomorrow has two strands. The first is the story of the Beck twins in the late nineteenth century. Adler Beck is a climate scientist who specialises in the movement of glaciers, sure that the world is heading for a new and catastrophic ice age. Adler’s brother Adolf is more of a wastrel, traveling the world singing opera and being caught up in various scams. The second is the story of two other twins, Greg and Chad Ramsey living in the hothouse world of 2050. Chad is a profiler who works for with the British Police and his brother Greg is a reporter for the British News Network. Both are fascinated by the story of a distant relative known as Uncle Adolf who possibly went to prison around the turn of the Twentieth Century.
What brings the two stories together is a bit of Priestian deus ex machina. As part of his work Chad is fitted with a new device that allows people to communicate with their minds. He is also given a new machine by a colleague called a “visualiser” which somehow, when linked to the other piece of technology and some preserved DNA of his distant ancestor, allows Chad to drop into the minds of Adler and Adolf at various times in their lives although the method does not allow him to communicate with them in any meaningful way. While it is sold as science in the book, this is really just magic and does not bear thinking about for too long.
It is hard to escape the feeling that Priest has put together this scenario just to explore some interesting issues. The case of Adolf Beck aka John Smith, wrongly accused and convicted of crimes in 1894 based on the similarities between him and another John Smith convicted in 1877 is a real one and led to the creation of the British Court of Appeal. The other strand of this book is the climate science. Priest creates a realistically scary 2050 scenario of dust storms, rising sea levels, disease and global displacement. But he also creates a hopeful solution to the crisis through the link of the work of Adler and Chad.
The structure gives Priest the platform for plenty of exposition and he takes it. The narrative device which drives the plot and the vague connection between the characters is a strange one which is never really explained and in the end has little or no impact on anything. All of which served to make Expect Me Tomorrow occasionally interesting without ever being terribly engaging.