Saturday, March 11, 2023

Stephen Markley’s The Deluge

 From the Guardian:

Around the midpoint of The Deluge, a character laments how quickly “you wake up and you’re in a bad movie from the future”. It’s an offhand but accurate description of the economic, ecological and technological turmoil in Stephen Markley’s bleak vision of the coming decades. In his alternative 2030s, surveillance capitalism has ended privacy and AI has eroded human agency; financial markets collapse and the political sphere becomes yet more rabid. Above it all looms our inescapable, spiralling climate catastrophe.

Beginning in 2013 and rolling inexorably forward into a darkening century, The Deluge depicts an apocalypse in slow motion. There is no schism separating before and after, no single epochal event that marks a terminus for civilisation. It’s a story of incremental chaos, political lethargy and scientific minutiae, and it is utterly mesmerising. There have been many more flamboyant end-of-the-world scenarios in fiction, but few as frighteningly plausible.

Markley spent a decade on the book, which is constructed as a collage of texts: first- and third-person narratives intermingled with magazine articles, scientific papers, White House briefings and podcast transcripts. His ability to inject these ostensibly dry sources with pathos, verisimilitude and agility of voice sets the novel apart from other apocalyptic melodramas. Point-of-view characters span the sociopolitical spectrum and the wealth ladder. A marketing exec turned hedge fund manager, an ecoterrorist, a neurodiverse data analyst, an alienated addict: each offers a peephole into events, but together they form a comprehensive tapestry of a civilisation coming undone. Markley begins with the character of climate scientist Tony Pietrus in a chapter titled “The Phase Transitions of Methane Hydrates”. It feels like an open challenge to the reader, forewarning that this book will neither hold your hand nor care about your feelings.

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