Book Review: The Warming by Lorin R. Robinson
I have mixed feelings about The Warming: Speculative Fiction about the Human Impact of the Climate Crisis. If I were rating this book based on the fascinating ideas it explores related to the climate crisis, I would give it five stars. However, if I were rating it based on the plot and characters of the main story arc, I would give it at best three stars. On the whole, as a reader who is specifically interested in thought-provoking cli-fi (climate fiction), I suppose I’ll split the difference and give it four out of five stars.
Let me start by describing what I like.
The Warming is an ambitious effort to explore many aspects of the climate crisis and its impact on the future of humanity. Rather than picking a single timeframe, location, or even storyline, the author explores the impacts of “The Warming” (anthropogenic global warming) over the course of several decades, on several continents, and in the lives of several distinct sets of characters. The scope of these narratives ranges from small personal tales to epic stories involving the ultimate fates of entire cities and nations. The possibilities explored range from dystopian destruction of existing infrastructure to utopian visions for how to survive and thrive in the aftermath of The Warming.
Some of these ideas were nothing new. Others were entirely new and unexpected. Some were so interesting that I intend to do some research about whether they were pure fiction or if they have some basis in reality. Either way, this book is worth reading if only as a collection of interesting ideas related to the climate crisis.
That’s the good news. Now, on to the bad news, or at least the “definitely not five stars” news.
I don’t know what to call this book. Is it a novel? The author calls it a novel, but the organizational structure is more reminiscent of a short story anthology. The author explains this unusual structure in an “important note for the reader” at the beginning of the book. The fact that this was an intentional choice — a choice explained by the author at the very beginning — made it more palatable. It weaves together three separate components: a primary twelve-chapter narrative about a marine biologist; a secondary narrative about an environmental news reporter; and several distinct short stories that provide some background about what’s going on in the world outside of the main plotlines.
The originality and unusualness of this organizational structure initially intrigued me. I found it to be an interesting experiment both as a fellow author and as a reader. However, the more I read, the more this three-in-one structure just seemed overly busy. I would have preferred to read three shorter books: the marine biologist novel, the news reporter screenplay, and the short story anthology. They could have even been bundled in different sections of the same book since they take place in the same broad setting. However, having them split up and inserted in between each other just seemed to break the flow of the narratives. If the author is insistent that this structure is the right one for this book, then maybe this structural difficulty can be smoothed out a bit by more blatant transitions between the three elements — for example, calling them “CHAPTER X”, “EPISODE Y”, and “STORY Z”.
The book could also benefit from another round of basic editing. The average reader may not mind the occasional typos and style quirks, but fellow authors and industry professionals will find them distracting.
I also wasn’t terribly impressed with the main narrative about the marine biologist. The ideas it explored were very interesting, but the characters and plot were lukewarm. The short stories were generally more impressive because they took a single interesting climate-related scenario and explored it succinctly from beginning to end. The main narrative (and to a lesser extent, the news reporter narrative) explored some very interesting ideas, but the characters themselves fell flat. The main character seems to be having a fairly standard-issue midlife crisis that unsurprisingly takes an adventurous and exciting turn. The supporting characters seem like little more than foils to the main character’s plot arc and character development. It’s not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with a novel centered around a man’s midlife crisis and how it relates to the climate crisis. But I feel like it will have a strong appeal to a certain male demographic, and not as much appeal to other audiences. It’s interesting to a degree, but it lacks the universal appeal that I would expect from a story centered on a universal topic like the climate crisis.
In the end, the saving grace of this novel was the strength of the ideas it explores. I found myself more than willing to stick with the lukewarm elements of the novel because it centered around some interesting problems and solutions associated with the climate crisis.