We know human caused climate change is here, and we know it will change everything. As the climate shifts from Holocene to Anthropocene, we know we can expect destabilized weather patterns, collapsing ecosystems, changing coast lines, and displacement of millions or even billions of people as humanity jostles to find somewhere safe and secure to live, and hopefully to thrive.
Glimmer by Marjorie B. Kellogg offers a glimpse into the world of 2110, with its radically altered natural and built spaces, and climate systems that are still adjusting to the increased warming due to excess greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Set on the island of Manhattan, we find the human social order, once considered permanent and inviolable, in decline, and on the precipice of a final, heaving collapse. Amid this worldwide chaos and uncertainty, Glimmer, the main character, finds herself in her own personal storm of chaos and uncertainty. She remembers nothing prior to the most recent storm a few months before; all memories of her life, including her name, are unknown.
Just shy of 500 pages, there is a lot of story to get through. Thankfully, the author excels in three main areas: setting, character, and tension. Through skillful world building, realistic yet interesting character arcs, and tense action scenes, we are swept along the story’s many eddies.
The dry northern end of the island is reserved for the wealthy elite. They hoard dwindling resources and have done all they can to keep everyone else on the island out. Most of the lower, southern end of the island is underwater due to sea-level rise. In these flooded areas, a tenuous and fractious social order has emerged. Social groupings, called Dens, have coalesced, providing safety and pooled resources. Each Den has its own characteristics and defining ethos. An unspoken agreement between Dens keeps a fragile peace, as people try to rebuild.
Both sides of the island, dry and wet, are still regularly battered by visiting hurricanes which threaten the last tenuous holds of community and survival.
Setting science fiction in a real-world place can be challenging. Details of locations and what is in the realm of possible may limit an author’s options. Glimmer is set one hundred years into the future, allowing some space for creativity. This is especially true as we don’t know exactly how the climate will change in a given place, or how quickly the changes will progress. Through Glimmer’s travels around New York, we come to understand how fundamentally the physical world has been altered by the regular onslaught of storms. This in turn has altered the basic structure of society. We come to understand this new world order through her travels as well as her relationships with those around her.
For the first few chapters, I found I was distracted by the descriptions of streets and other physical locations in NYC. It would have been helpful to have a map of the island, with points of interest, available in the book, so I could get a better sense of the physical locations.
As the story progressed, I found myself captivated with wonderfully detailed characters; a cast representing a patchwork of humanity, from quiet, to prickly, from fashion conscious to dirty and unkempt. This made so much sense in a time and place where humans have been thrown together completely out of necessity and chance, giving the world a rich and dynamic humanity.
The real standout pages in the novel were action scenes, specifically the storms. Tension would build over pages and chapters like the coming of a storm, then break over the characters, in a wash of chaos. The experience of the destructive power of these megastorms is felt not only in the present, as they wash away the improvements these humans tried to make to make their worlds more predictable and safer, but through the trauma of living through these events, one after the other, and the ongoing heartbreak and sense of loss as these people just try to cope, just try to make a life.
As with most good science fiction, the story serves as a parable for our own times. Glimmer must piece together her identity with traces of her past floating up in the storms of her present. Even in this uncertainty, she is able to anchor herself, and find a life of meaning and purpose in her relationships and the community she has chosen. In this way, we might find glimmers of hope in the chaos of today. Even now, as the world feels it is falling apart, we know better than ever how important our ties to each other and the world around us are. What we do today and tomorrow can sow the seeds for the future, and give us some hope for a world that values humans and the natural world over power and profit.
It’s 2110, the Earth’s glaciers have melted, and there’s no climate fix in sight. As refugees stream inland from the inundated coasts, social structures and national economies are stressed to the point of fracture. Food production falters. Pandemics rage. Rising sea level and devastating superstorms have flooded much of Manhattan and wrecked its infrastructure. Its residents have mostly fled, but a few die-hards have bet their survival on the hope that digging in and staying local is a safer strategy.
As the weather worsens, can a damaged population of poor folk, artists, misfits, and loners work out their differences in time to create a sustainable long-term society? In a lawless city, where the well-armed rich have appropriated the high ground, can an ex-priest find a middle road between non-violence and all-out war? The lives of his downtown band of leftovers will depend on it.
Sheltering among them, a young girl named Glimmer struggles to regain a past lost to trauma. As her memory returns, she finds she must choose who and how to be, and who and what to believe in, even if it means giving up a love she has only recently found herself able to embrace.
Glimmer by Marjorie B. Kellogg
Publisher : DAW (October 19, 2021)
Hardcover : 496 pages
ISBN-10 : 0756417503
ISBN-13 : 978-0756417505
"Glimmer" captivates with characters and the action of storms
As with most good science fiction, the story serves as a parable for our own times. Glimmer must piece together her identity with traces of her past floating up in the storms of her present. Even in this uncertainty, she is able to anchor herself, and find a life of meaning and purpose in her relationships and the community she has chose
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