I’ve Got A Fever, and the Only Prescription is More Hurricanes

Here we are, we made it, and this is it, the final book of the semester. All things considered, Hurricane Fever may have been saved best for last. I’ve had my ups and downs with many of the books that we’ve read this semester, so it was really nice and refreshing to read a fast paced thriller as our final book. The book follows Roo, an ex-spy living an average day to day life in the Caribbean taking care of his nephew, when he’s plunged into the mystery of the murder of one of his former colleagues.

The primary thing this book did well, is similarly the thing I thought worked so well about Snowpiercer. It is not using Climate Change as primary source of forward momentum for the novel. The book has its own story to tell completely independent of the looming threat of climate change constantly hanging over the entire book like a storm cloud. In this case literally a storm cloud. Cli Fi as a narrative device, in my opinion, works better as a factor working outside the plot as opposed to the force driving it. I think when used thusly it is able to more succinctly get the message of climate change out there, and it does it with subtlety rather than beating us over the head with the never ending threat of planetary destruction. It normalizes it as a concept, and as something that is happening, while also making it something that should be concerning. However, I’m off on a tangent, back to the book itself.

I found Hurricane Fever to be very engaging. I liked how quickly the plot zipped along, I found myself unable to put it down most of the time. Roo was a very interesting character to follow, even if he and the story do fall into some typical clichés common in stories like these (the retired spy being pulled back into the game and things of that ilk). However, I would not consider that a point against the book, it’s something that befalls most writers, and it’s a book that accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. It’s not trying to be the Great American Novel, and nor should it, it’s a fun action spy thriller and I can’t imagine anyone who enjoys the genre reading it and not finding something worth liking about it.

Hurricane Fever

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from Hurricane Fever when I picked it up and started reading. I was very confused when the second chapter switched over to Roo’s character and thought it was going to be switching back and forth between Roo and Zee (boy, was I in for a shock at the end of chapter two). I honestly didn’t think there was enough back-story explained before all of the action started, but perhaps it would’ve helped to read Arctic Rising prior to this work? I also thought it would’ve been extremely helpful if there was a map provided just because I’m a very visual person and have very little knowledge about any of the Caribbean islands. Besides those details, I didn’t find that much enjoyment from this novel.

I’ve read many other books where I felt the written depictions of action scenes are detailed and sufficient enough that I’m able to create a vivid scene in my mind, but this was certainly not the case for Hurricane Fever. The action scenes are very plainly written, in my opinion. I would’ve much rather preferred to view the depicted fight and chase scenes rather than read them, and that has all to do with the author’s writing style. I was bored with the cliché spy-like scenes and dialogue, especially with the corny ways most of these chapters ended. I almost thought that this work was a spoof of other spy and action novels (am I being too harsh yet?). The “twists and turns” of the novel were pretty predictable and overly dramatic. The whole arc of seeking revenge for a murdered family member only to find yourself in the middle of a much larger and more serious situation complete with the rich, powerful villain who truly believes he is helping the world, but is actually just crazed by the murder of his own family member, is so completely unnecessary and not enjoyable at all. The author tries so hard to keep the action scenes engaging and the plotline interesting, but his efforts are futile.

The only parts I slightly enjoyed were Kat’s/Kit’s and Jacinta’s remarks and comments which I found broke tension and were humorous, though I’m not even sure they were intended to be funny. For example, when Kat comments on Roo’s gold bars in his ship: “You have bars of gold in your ship […] who does that?” (167). However, Kat’s character was revealed to be just as cliché as the rest of the novel when her true identity is uncovered, disappointing me yet again. This novel really did just try way too hard to be interesting, and it ended up being corny and poorly written (unless you’re totally into the predictable spy novel type, in which case you should ignore this whole review and all of my biases).

Fast, Furious, and Lazy

The problem with Tobias Buckell’s Hurricane Fever is that at every little twist and turn, I found myself cynically muttering: “Of course.” Of course the mysterious Kit is never who she says she is. Of course there’s a character named Katrina in a novel about hurricanes. Of course Roo’s nephew, Delroy, dies. (His barely fleshed out character could never have been more than an awkward third-wheel). Of course Roo is an ex-spy with a lust for revenge and nothing left to lose. Of course Beauchamp cannot stop calling Roo “Mr. Jones.” Of course Beauchamp has a maniacal evil plan that would actually be pretty scary if it was not so ridiculously cartoonish. Of course his henchmen are all neo-nazi goons. (Oh wow, mild foreshadowing! They remind me of something like this.) Of course whenever Roo’s luck seems to have just run out, Kit magically appears to save the day. (Hey, at least there’s a feminist angle in there somewhere, right?). Of course every other chapter is a near cliff-hanger. (Spoiler alert: everything is, of course, always fine.)

Okay, okay… I know what you are probably thinking: “Why do you have to be such a hater, Alessandro?” Fair enough. Maybe (definitely) Hurricane Fever is not my cup of tea. Thrills for the sake of thrills do not excite me. I prefer novels that are slower and more pensive, and even when Hurricane Fever’s 100mph narrative winds do manage to suck me in, I still cannot look past the shallowness of it all. I am not asking for realism, and Buckell sure as hell is not providing any, but is it so much to ask more interesting characters?

As far as reading the novel for its cli-fi setting goes, there is not that much new material worth looking at. Yeah, climate change is there. Constant hurricanes are the new normal. Some islands have sunk. True, there is nothing wrong with the anti-drama of it. Buckell may even be on to something by planting these scenarios into the backgrounds of our consciousness, making us more aware without realizing it. With so many guns, and explosions, and cheesy plot twists, however, will anyone really have the attention span to care about the climate change?

Hurricane Fever: Action, Sci-fi, or Just Plain Pulp

After reading a lot of really difficult works in this class, it was refreshing to sort of take a breather with Hurricane Fever. I feel like this is one of those books that you would see people reading at the beach or on their porches when they’re just trying to enjoy a lazy kind of day and escape from the real world. That being said, there is more to this book than just a quick adventure in the Caribbean. Tobias Buckell has infused themes of race, climate change, and corporate deceit into a book that could have ultimately winded up being all too easy.

Nisi Shawl’s article brings up two classic spy characters in her write up, Ian Fleming’s James Bond and Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne. One of the major similarities between these two is their being white. In Hurricane Fever and Buckell’s previous work, the main protagonists are black. This makes me wish that these would be made into movies because it would be really cool to see a spy series featuring black characters, which this day in age shouldn’t even be an issue. Buckell also uses preconceived notions about race well in his book, like when the hotel patron hands her towel to Roo thinking that he works for the hotel. Instead of losing his cool, however, Roo uses it to his advantage which shows that he isn’t just level headed and calm, but also takes advantage of every situation.

What’s also surprising about this book that I can’t really say about a lot of the other stuff we’ve read this semester is just how subtle it is. Maybe I’m just a little bit more than clueless, but I had no problem believing that the sunken islands in the story were actually sunk in real life. The best kind of fiction is fiction that makes us believe in what we’re reading, otherwise we’re reading an outlandish story that probably may not even be worth the paper that it’s printed on. I loved The Year of the Flood for creating a future world that shouldn’t exist, but may actually one day. Hurricane Fever did the same thing. It created a world that isn’t exactly like ours, but may mirror the world we will live in within the next decade or so. All of this is done without Buckell lecturing or providing us with tedious facts that really only seem to exist to make the book longer. I’m looking at you Climate Changed

I want to step away from what the book is about for a moment and focus on the style that it’s written in. This is the only flaw I can see with this book, but it’s a flaw that was big enough to keep me distracted through some of the reading. First of all, there were times where I didn’t believe in the character of Roo. After Delroy is killed, he sort of shifts into overdrive with his mission for revenge and only brings up his pain a few times during the book. I would’ve like to see Roo in pain more over Delroy to make me really want to see him get his revenge. As it stands, it just wasn’t used enough to really grab my attention, and I just didn’t really care about Delroy all that much to begin with. Also, the writing could be a little choppy at times. This definitely helped move the book along, but I would have liked to see some nice descriptions or just more elaborate. That’s just a matter of taste, however, and not an objective flaw.

Hurricane Fever is more than just an action/spy novel. It explores important themes of climate change and race that gave the novel some backbone. While being smart with its themes, however, it never bogged me down in too much preaching or lecturing. It kept up a quick pace and I’m very thankful for that. I just wish there was a little bit more to the book in terms of description and emotion. Still, it’s definitely worth a quick read and provides an ample amount of information for discussion. It’s certainly one of the more entertaining books we’ve read.

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.