BOOK REVIEW: Hurricane Fever by Tobias S. Buckell

REVIEW SUMMARY: Buckell continues to explore the near future world of Arctic Rising with a distinctly excellent focus on the Caribbean.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Interestingly drawn and well-depicted main character; amazingly immersive setting.
CONS: A point or two of motivations and setting need a bit fleshing out; a couple of off-the-shelf elements of the genre jar against inventiveness; lightness of genre may turn off some genre readers.
BOTTOM LINE: A science fiction thriller set in a startlingly plausible and intriguing future.

Prudence “Roo” Jones thought he was out of the game. He is so very wrong.

Years after the conspiracy at the North Pole involving illegal dumping of radioactive waste, Roo has retired back to his Caribbean homeland. He lives on the water, raises his nephew as his son, and has a good life…even with those darned hurricanes, which get bigger and more dangerous by the year. But then he gets a message from an old friend: “You will get this if I am dead.” The message leads to yet another conspiracy, one with roots and consequences not for the Arctic Ocean, but rather his own aquatic backyard. The drum beat of hurricanes and heavy weather surround Roo, and if he fails, the results could again be cataclysmic.

Hurricane Fever is the newest novel from Tobias S. Buckell set in the near future he first unveiled in Arctic Rising. Here, time has passed, Roo has gotten older, but the precarious changes caused by climate change have only gotten more troublesome. This is the backdrop for a crackerjack thriller plot with a framework and style that readers of Arctic Rising will recognize. Buckell has gotten very, very good with the thriller as a template on which to hang his story, and he uses this to introduce speculative fiction elements, build Roo and the characters around him, and introduce some really new (and some very old) gadgets, science and technology.

I’m in love with the Caribbean setting depicted here; it gives readers a water-line view of the eastern Caribbean from the deck of Roo’s boat. The book does not have a map, nor does it need one; an online atlas suited me perfectly to follow his wanderings and adventures. The tight plot means the book does not linger too long in one setting and allows for a smorgasbord of Caribbean locations. Thankfully, rather than a series of interchangeable locales connected by boat journeys, the islands are distinctly depicted. They’ve changed in the wake of climate change; they’ve been affected by the increased storms and the rising sea level.

The other highlight to this novel is its protagonist, Prudence “Roo” Jones. Roo nearly stole the “favorite character” hat from the main protagonist Annika in Arctic Rising, and it was a pleasure to see him take center stage here. We get to see the full range of his story and the full suite of what he is and isn’t capable of. The spy who is drawn back into the game is an old trope, but Buckell executes it well by keeping the focus on the present day (and on the action) as much as possible. Sure, Roo does have moments of regret and reflection, but once Roo gets it into his head to see things through, his determination is never in doubt. He’s not a perfect man, by any means, yet he is a character readily identified with. The entire novel is written from his tight point of view and readers really get a full sense of who Roo is.

The sometimes straightforwardness of the numerous thriller tropes Buckell uses do feel a bit out-of-place within the science fiction stiory that he is trying to tell. Reconciling those two very different strands took some mental gymnastics, as it seemed the book wanted to be one or the other and pushed and pulled toward both. The novel wants to be science fiction and a James Bond story — complete with a ‘supervillain’ and his complicated plot, and with set pieces that would easily fit into a Bond movie. There is one point in the back story of the antagonist’s motivation that the author does not spell out — a points that should have been tweaked slightly. (To say more would go into heavy spoiler territory.)

With all that said, however, Hurricane Fever can be read completely independently of Arctic Rising. The events in the novel are barely alluded to and do not impinge on the plot in any way. Both novels stand as strong examples of what one can do with a near-future SF environment to make an interesting story, especially since climatic challenges facing the world are a sobering topic.

I haven’t even said the most important bit: Hurricane Fever entertains. This is the perfect novel to devour on that otherwise boring plane flight, or to chew up the hours at the beach house. Or to keep your eyes open long past your bedtime because Roo is in another jam and you need to find out how he gets out of this latest mess. If the author has more stories to tell of Roo, or any stories just set in this world, I’m more than eager to read them.