Statistician Michael Wright has just been assigned to the remote Station Seventeen to help confirm the latest weather-related research findings of scientist Paul Clarkson. Paul has determined that the country is facing far worse than the barren, environmentally ravaged wasteland that is Great Britain in 2035. He has found that within two years, temperatures will drop tremendously, bringing the country into the next ice age. In their short time together at Station Seventeen, Paul and Michael form a friendship and romance is starting to bloom. However, the aftermath of their revelations leads to a forced separation with little chance of every seeing one another again.
Two years later and Paul’s predictions have come true. Snow and ice cover the country as temperatures plummet and centralized government has diverted most of their resources to reinforcing domes and shelters and providing basic services. When his central office is dissolved, once again Michael is reassigned back to Station Seventeen. He is excited but nervous about seeing Paul again as they have no contact over the past two years. Michael is hurt that at first Paul seems to want nothing to do with him (Paul cut himself off emotionally rather than deal with the pain of never seeing Michael again). But as the men spend more time together, their relationship blooms once again. However, life is dangerous in that harsh environment, and when tragedy looms, Paul and Michael must figure out if two strong-willed men can make it work and if their love is enough to conquer all.
This is such an interesting story with a fascinating portrait of a dystopian future, ravaged by environmental damage, global warming, and a new ice age. When the story starts, the damage is already severe. The land is barren and burned by acid rain and most people live in domed settlements or underground stations to survive the harsh conditions. Most citizens survive on canned goods and preserved foods as produce and meat are virtually non-existant. But that is nothing compared to the endless winter and devastating storms that come to pass just two years later. Meade creates a world here that feels real and well-developed. There is a great balance between providing the reader enough information to understand what is happening without resorting to a giant info dump.
One of my favorite things about the book is the Michael and Paul are just normal guys facing an incredibly difficult situation. They are a statistician and a research scientists, guys with brains not brawn, who are practically saving their world by their ability to predict the weather and thus help folks be prepared for what is to come. How often do we get a story where people risk their lives, survive challenging odds, and protect innocent civilians and not have at least one of them be an ex-Navy Seal or brawny federal agent or other stereotypical alpha male? So I really liked that Michael and Paul are real people facing challenging situations. My only complaint here is that we don’t get to know much about either man beyond what we witness in the story. The climate disaster is understandably a key focus of the book, but I had a hard time totally connecting with the men because we know almost nothing about their backgrounds or their lives before the story. Michael is a bit easier to understand because he is our POV character, but both men remained a bit fuzzy to me.
In general I found this to be a quiet story, unusual for a “disaster” book. Both guys, but especially Michael, are quiet men, at peace with one another without the need for much talking. The build of the relationship and even of the weather crisis almost feels soft around the edges. They describe their lovemaking as andante, andate – slowly and with passion. And that really fits both the men and their relationship and even the book itself.
One positive side effect of the weather disasters is the awesome food porn! With the destruction of the environment, most people rely almost entirely on canned, preserved, and pickled foods. When Michael arrives at Station Seventeen he is thrilled to see they have a developing garden complete with fresh fruits and vegetables and even chickens for eggs. Meade does such a wonderful job of describing the joy of finding these fresh foods, I could feel my mouth watering as I imagine what a welcome relief it must be to have a salad after eating nothing fresh for months on end. I could practically smell and taste that first bite of tomato fresh off the vine.
We wandered along a broad aisle, past beds filled with onions, leeks and, beneath sunlight array, a forest of tomatoes. The vines bent under the weight of the ripening fruit. Clarkson paused to admire a bush heavy with small, ripe tomatoes. They gleamed like rubies in the soft light.
“Here, try one.” He pressed a small fruit into my hand and took one for himself. I watched him pop it into his mouth. One cheek bulged while he slowly savoured it. I bit into mine and felt warm juice trickle down my throat. The tomato was sweet and tasted of summers I’d only read about. I was torn between gulping it down or trying to make it last.
This is a small detail, but one that really makes the world they live in seem real.
I will admit that I got lost a bit toward the end as the men face an internal conflict. I completely understand why both guys are upset in the heat of the moment. Fears for the one you love can often result in less than rational behavior. But I just didn’t really get why it takes so long for cooler heads to prevail, or even why most of the blame falls so heavily to one of them. To me, both men seemed both right and wrong and I had trouble understanding why these rational, committed, and in love guys had such trouble getting past their fight.
But overall I enjoyed this story quite a lot. Meade does a wonderful job creating a future that seems both horrifying but incredibly real at the same time. Likeable characters, an interesting story, and enough excitement to keep things moving. Very enjoyable book.