Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Drowning Towers

Me oh my oh, the Australians know how to show the slow slide into apocalypse. Mad Max shows a world not too different from our own, but terrible in its changes. In that movie, the changes are never really discussed, but they are the subtext of the film. Australian author George Turner's Arthur C Clarke Award winning Drowning Towers (known as the Sea and Summer in the UK) tells a similarly bleak tale of life after the decline of civilization.

The book is framed by a story of the Autumn people (so called because they await the coming of the new Ice Age or Long Winter) who live some centuries from now in Australia. Much of the coastal cities are now submerged under the risen seas. The Autumn people are disdainful of the Greenhouse people who failed to stop the sea from rising. An artist among them using diaries to try to reconstruct how the Greenhouse people live.

The Greenhouse people story centers on a "Sweet" family that has fallen among the "Swill." The Sweet are the tiny upper-class, generally state workers, who have health care, jobs and live cleanly. The Swill are the underclass who live in squalor in towers that are routinely flooded by the seas. Much of the story is a political drama involving this family.

The political story drags a bit, but Turner's point is that people focus on these short term, often political, issues while ignoring the larger problems around them. The State is entirely focused on dealing with economic issues when the environment is about to make all of them irrelevant.

The slow Armageddon of the book (written in 1987) will disturb modern readers. The global capitalist economy falls to pieces (thanks to failures of the emerging economies) and the rising sea slowly eats the world.

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