Stephen Markley has crafted a well-written, thousand-page sprawling multi-person narrative about the havoc we’ll face over next two decades due to climate change.
We follow a range of characters including a larger-than-life climate activist, a small group devoted to resisting extractivism through violence, a curmudgeonly climate scientist, a poor Midwesterner with a history of addiction, a modeller with autism, a PR shill for carbon polluters, and perhaps a dozen more characters. As the book unfolds we witness increasing climate chaos and political mayhem, fascism, collective action, gradual inadequate political change.
I liked this book – and I think it’s important – but it’s difficult, weighty reading. The vision of what the next two decades will hold seems accurate, chilling, and is frankly emotionally battering. Markley clearly understands climate science and has devoted considerable effort to imagining the unravelling of politics as climate disasters occur more frequently and vested interests dig in.
A major weakness of the book is that it focuses entirely on the perspective of Americans. While many of the horrifying impacts of the climate catastrophe described in the book affect the Global South most, we never follow the perspective of those who live beyond the U.S.’ borders. This is perhaps understandable. Markley is writing from perspectives that he knows and understands, primarily for an American audience. Unfortunately in doing so he perpetuates the kind of American egocentrism and exceptionalist thinking that has driven much of the climate catastrophe that we face.
In writing this review I’ve realised that the book could perhaps be 200-300 pages shorter. Many characters’ perspectives are not critical to the overall plot, and entire strands remain unresolved. Some of this meandering writing asists world-building, and the lack of resolution enhances the overall realism (do any of our lives have neat endings?).
There is a significant through-line about whether the urgency of the climate emergency requires violent direct action, or if social movements are the only way the necessary change can be achieved. Markley clearly thinks the latter, and I suspect he’s right. He explores the moral and interpersonal costs of this kind of political violence, which are some of the more interesting aspects of the book.
The Deluge is a powerful work of foresight-infused fiction, and if you’re not convinced of the urgency of climate action by the end you haven’t been reading properly. A stark future lies ahead, and sooner than we think. For these reasons I recommend it to others, but I’m reluctant to return to it myself.