Darkly Ironic Summer Reading

I read Hurricane Fever while sitting outside on a beautiful 85 degree Saturday in Philadelphia in the middle of April. The conditions felt perfect, as Tobias Buckell’s novel initially seemed to be a light, breezy (lame pun-intended) bit of summer reading. Yet, as I watched the ice cubes in my iced coffee quickly melt away, something began to feel amiss. April 18th is not summer, and Hurricane Fever sure as hell isn’t the sort of summer reading it initially appears to be.

One of my main criteria for gauging the success of a piece of “cli-fi” literature is its accessibility. In other words, does the novel have the potential to reach and inform a wide audience? Some stabs at the genre such as Squarzoni’s Climate Changed or Oreskes’ The Collapse of Western Civilization are far too intellectual and esoteric to reach a mainstream audience, while others such as Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain will only be appreciated by those who can withstand a 500 page work of hard science fiction. Hurricane Fever, on the other hand is just about perfect in this regard. Buckell’s thrilling piece of cli-fi has all of the fast-paced action and intensity of a mainstream thriller novel of the ilk of James Patterson or Dan Brown, while also bringing issues of anthropogenic climate change to the forefront of the novel. Thus, while I concede that this novel certainly has the ability to become a New York Times bestseller, I think it is appropriate to judge Hurricane Fever through two distinct lenses: cli-f novel and action novel.

As a cli-fi novel, I believe that Hurricane Fever truly succeeds. Buckell does an extraordinary job of subtly building a not-so-distantly futuristic world without burdening the reader with too many superfluous details. While the characters may intersperse details about now-sunken islands and post-gasoline transportation into their dialogue, these details never slow down the plot. In fact, I found this details helped to tie up some of the novel’s points which were initially confusing such as the excessive amount of boats or the minor characters’ jaded reactions to cataclysmic weather events. Additionally, Buckell created a pretty interesting way of directly connecting the main villain Beauchamp’s evil scheme to climate change. I thought that his plot to use the “natural” disaster to spread the lethal disease he had harnessed was a brilliant authorial choice by Buckell. It allowed Buckell to explore the issues of class and race and climate-change. Much like the film Snowpiercer in which the rich will live in luxury in the drastically altered world while the poor are killed off, the rich party attendees in Buckell’s novel would be able to survive and prosper as the storm which is laden with a melanin targeted disease wipes out all of the poor dark-skinned people in the Caribbean. I found that Buckell’s treatment of class-related issues in a climate-changed world were handled with enough subtlety and expertise to still be interesting and incorporate well into the plot (and also allowed him to implement such a cool title for the novel).

While I believe Hurricane Fever to be a great accessible piece of cli-fi literature, it suffers from a problem in that I just don’t think it is well-written. Of course this is my own opinion, but what a look for in a blockbuster film is not quite what I look for in a novel. All of the scenes of Roo walking around parties wearing tuxedos with a grenade tucked under his suit coat or of him passing out and awaking in a haze only to be awakened by Kit just felt like hackneyed Ian Fleming rip-offs. My main critique of the novel was that a lot of the dialogue just felt quite stiff and bland. While I am glad that Buckell, a Grenadian himself, did not go overboard with the stereotypical Caribbean accents one might expect from a novel set in this region, I just wish that some of the characters had a lot bit more character and individuality in their voices. At points, it could even be indecipherable to tell who was talking. Furthermore, Buckell’s use of stock characters who must die in order to fuel the plot was a little tiresome. I understand the importance of Zee’s death, but creating Delroy just so he could inevitably die and advance the revenge arc of the story felt so predictable to me. This is another case of a book that could make a really great movie in the right hands! However, in book form it is just a typical action novel coated with a really nice layer of cli-fi. Ultimately, I am glad to see cli-fi literature expand into new genres such as crime fiction or thriller, but Hurricane Fever just had a few too many flaws to create the perfect bridge between the often-esoteric genre of cli-fi and the mainstream thriller genre. However, Buckell is a young promising writer and I do have some faith that he will one day put out a fantastic best-selling cli-fi novel.

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