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A Rising Tide

Arctic Rising

By Tobias S. Buckell 

26 Nov, 2015

Miscellaneous Reviews


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Tobias Buckell’s 2012 novel Arctic Rising takes us to a global-warming future in which the arctic is increasingly clear of unsightly ice … as well as the animals that used to live there. Open seas mean access to all the resources of the north; ports are springing up all around the Arctic Ocean. Prosperity abounds in Canada and other, less important, nations!

But someone always has to be a spoilsport. Possibly because Canada’s benefit is the bane of most of the rest of the world, which must cope with rising sea levels and increasingly savage storms. 

Airship pilot Anika Duncan works for the cash-strapped, overworked United Nations Polar Guard, spending long weeks over the Arctic Ocean looking for illegal waste dumpers and other ne’er-do-wells. When her airship detects radiation aboard the good ship Kosatka, Anika and her co-pilot Tom investigate. Their diligence is rewarded with a missile strike that downs their airship. 

Both Tom and Anika are retrieved from the ocean, but that moment of hope is dimmed by later, ominous developments. Tom dies in hospital, his heart supposedly strained by exposure. The official records (allegedly recovered from the downed airship) show no radiation at all on the Kosatka. This is very very odd, because Anika has a personal copy of the airship’s records and her copy makes it clear that something radioactive was on the ship. 

Anika tells her superior that she has a copy of the original files. Shortly afterwards, someone runs Anika off the road before trying to murder her. Things only get worse from there on out. Anika’s diligence and curiosity have made her a target in a quiet arctic war, a war that will determine whose vision for tomorrow’s climate will win out. 


Like most right-thinking Canadians, I recognize no limits to Canadian rights in the arctic. We can imagine no circumstances in which it would be right to let the UN fly patrols over our Arctic Ocean. No Johnny-come-lately UN could hold a candle to the RCMP in guaranteeing Peace, Order, and Good Government! And if we did want some super-governmental organization to come in and flail helplessly, it would be the Arctic Council.

Granted, the Canadian ability to exercise our rightful sovereignty is somewhat undermined by many decades of funding our military from the coins found under couch cushions in the Ministry of Defence. 

I will also grant that not everyone’s boat will with lifted by the rising tide of climate change. Sorry, regions that are barely above high tide now. That means you, Florida. Yet, on the gripping hand, that should mean the end of Florida Man.

Although Buckell now lives in the US, he was born in the Caribbean. This has burdened him with an awareness of the world outside the US — although not, apparently, Canada’s legitimate territorial claims — which is reflected in authorial choices like an African-born protagonist, Anika. Buckell’s reward for this un-American cosmopolitanism is a constant toxic drip of hate-mail.

This is one of the few books I have read that contains a literal ticking time bomb scenario that is complicated by the fact that the intelligence operatives trying to find the bomb are torturing the wrong person. Buckell seems to be trying to make some kind of political point here. Hmmm. 

Some readers may wonder why, given the nature of the weapon the big bad deploys, the good guys less bad guys didn’t just wait until sundown to attack. Thanks to the curse of axial tilt, days can be very long in the high north. Still, that’s advantage the bad guys won’t enjoy elsewhere. The important lesson here: solar power is bad.

Although I found the machinations to stop the Big Bad needlessly convoluted, the book does make an interesting point, which is that geoengineering is unfortunately affordable. We probably don’t have to worry about the 1% building space stations to serve as arks for the elite, while artificial plagues decimate the ground-dwelling plebs; even the 1% don’t quite have that kind of cash. Also, you pretty much need to be a government to afford global thermonuclear war (as opposed to a mere terrorist bomb here and there). However, the merely wealthy can launch ill-considered geoengineering schemes. And have. And unlike the characters in this book, we probably won’t have the luxury of dealing with such schemes one at a time.

This is an engaging little ecological thriller that should appeal to anyone who isn’t Canadian or who is only minimally Canadian. Arctic Rising is available from Tor.