Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Ark - Stephen Baxter


Ark
Stephen Baxter
Roc

Science Fiction

This follow-up to FLOOD details the creation of Ark One. If you haven’t read FLOOD, I highly recommend it, as that knowledge serves as a useful counterpoint to the concurrent events covered here. The first novel detailed the events of a world-covering flood and the use of Ark Three. There are a few returning character here, most significantly Grace Gray, who has seen plenty in her 26 years of life. As this novel begins in 2041, we see her arrive in Colorado at one of the few places left on Earth not covered with water and brought into a mysterious program. They want her because, since she’s pregnant, she’s a sort of two-for-one deal, and they’re dealing with nothing less than the survival of the human race.

A young woman called Holle Groundwater greets Grace, and from there, we flash back to Holle’s very early childhood to trace the development of the Ark One program. While the rising ocean waters slowly swallow the world, the very rich and very bright are working on ways to save humanity. Holle is fortunate enough to be the daughter of a very wealthy man and gets in on the ground floor of the Ark One project. There are several children, called Candidates, who spend their lives training for the mission. Ark One will transport life from Earth to some other habitable planet.

The challenges are myriad and not always scientific. The author does a wonderful job of making this story about the people and personalities involved, even more than the science. These children are raised and educated with the knowledge that they will eventually leave Earth behind forever, to colonize some distant star. They don’t realize, until fairly late, that a large segment of the remaining population believes they live lives of rare privilege on a dying world. The societal problems and pressures are many, as the program moves several times to get to higher ground ahead of the water.

A large part of the novel details the trip and the living conditions in Ark One. Even with social engineers trying to come up with optimal combinations, and working through all the foreseeable scenarios in a classroom on Earth, there are going to be situations that cannot be planned. The stresses of living together in a confined craft seem pretty realistic, as personalities evolve and, eventually clash. Again, the author manages to make it all about the people who happen to be in the situation, and uses the science and world-changing events as a backdrop. There’s another Ark story to be told, another group of survivors to follow, and I’ll be there.

Rating: 9
May 2010
ISBN# 978-0-451-46331-9 (hardcover)

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