November 9, 2021

Review: Glimmer

Glimmer Glimmer by Marjorie B Kellogg
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As this book's subtitle states, this is "A Novel of Climate Change," but it's not quite in the way you might think. Yes, we have the drowning coasts, the collapsed governments, the climate refugees, the decaying society, the chronic shortages of food and everyday items (although I guess we have learned a little about that in this age of empty toilet paper aisles), the burning forests, the stifling daytime heat, and last but not least, the recurring Category 5 (and 6!) hurricanes that are so much a fact of life in this harrowing future....but that's not really what the story is about. This story is about the people that are growing up in this terrible age, and how they are taking this collapsing way of life and remaking it.

Marjorie B. Kellogg is a very underrated writer. I remember her from a long ago mass market paperback, Harmony, which has some similar themes to this book. This setting is the abandoned (at least by rich people, leaving it to those who can't afford to go anywhere else) island of Manhattan, the bottom part of which has been wholly or partially swallowed up by rising sea levels. This has caused a restructuring of society in the form of "dens," groups of people living on the higher floors of the surviving buildings, who "pick" the empty neighborhoods and bring back anything usable. Several of the dens grow rooftop food and have goats and chickens, and survive as best they can with no help from any state or federal government, as they have been left entirely on their own.

Our protagonist is Glimmer, a young woman rescued after one of the category 5 superstorms, Abel, tore through Manhattan a few months ago, leaving her with amnesia and PTSD. She was found by the inhabitants of one of the dens, Unca Joe's, and since she is essentially a blank slate, she provides a useful entry point to understanding this strange new society. There are other dens, including Macy's, made up almost entirely of young orphaned or abandoned children; the more uptown Empire State, with better technology than most; the Storm Worshippers, a "wacko sect pledged to a hurricane goddess"; and BlackAdder, the enemy den, who steals and kills and, as we see towards the book's climax, does some pretty damn terrible things.

Because this book is so character-focused and driven, it could be considered slow by some. I would say its pace is more deliberate, exploring the character interactions and how this new society is building itself from the ground (or water) up. (Although the book's climax, with Unca Joe's and other dens racing against time and surging seas to move their entire population to a new home in Yankee Stadium in advance of an oncoming Category 6 superstorm, is nail-biting.) At the beginning of the book, Glimmer wishes only to escape to the Mainland; as she slowly remembers her past and realizes that there will be no sanctuary on the Mainland, she throws in her lot with the ragtag refugees building a new life in what's left of the Bronx.

I suppose this could be called anthropological SF, as it is more concerned with the new society emerging from the drowned remnants of the old than the ramifications of its worldbuilding (which is just as well, I suppose, since what we do see is horrific enough). (And lest you think a Category 6 hurricane is implausible, well, this article published just a month ago will change your mind. It repeats nearly everything Kellogg extrapolates in this book, and those hurricanes will probably make their appearance even earlier than her timeline.) The main knock I have against this book is the ending; it's abrupt and feels incomplete, although it certainly carries home the book's main theme: even in the direst of circumstances, humans can and will work together to build a new world. This is intelligent, thoughtful science fiction, and worth seeking out for those who like chewy ideas and characters with depth.

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