Book Review: The Northerner
The Northerner, by Piri Shepherd, is a thought-provoking near-future speculative ecological science fiction, climate fiction novel addressing the most important challenges of our species—climate change, and survival.
The author puts her geoscience degree and creativity to good use, weaving an intriguing tale that addresses the very real geological changes that will occur if the current warming trends are allowed to continue spiraling out of control. From sea level rise and coastal flooding to geopolitical upheaval leading to land disputes and all-out war, The Northerner handles the topic of global warming, and potential societal chaos masterfully.
Shepherd’s descriptive narrative draws the reader in, painting meaningful, often poignant images beautifully in our minds. Her characters also easily draw the reader into the story, providing depth to our understanding of the societal and geopolitical ramifications of the loss of land and resources due to coastal flooding. Heads up: the characters are prone to swearing, but if we were caught up in the stressful lifestyle these characters endure, I suspect we’d be swearing quite a bit as well. Come to think of it, if we can put up with Ron Weasley (Harry Potter) frequently exclaiming, “Bloody Hell!” I think we can forgive some stressed out character obscenities.
Using the narrative element of timeline events, news reports, etc., interspersed throughout the narrative, often going backward 20 years or so, adds backstory for the reader, facilitating a clearer understanding of the how and why regarding the world’s current crisis. This creative use of “research time travel” presents the warning signs that should have triggered serious human intervention—warning signs that are current and applicable to our own timeline.
Virtual reality, a large part of the speculative fiction nature of The Northerner, is a normal part of life in Piri’s tale, providing another aspect of societal change. It is also an effective way, not only for the reader to follow the characters in the story but also for the characters to interact with each other. Adding this element to the storyline allows Shepherd’s characters to engage with like-minded characters from other countries (activists, for example) as well as to spy on greedy corporations who prey on others and continue to add to the carbon footprint. The virtual reality element also made me think, “Big Brother,” and I don’t mean the nice kind.
In conclusion, Shepherd’s geoscience degree and creative mind combine to create a cast of characters we can truly care about, in a world of chaos that we should hope to avoid. The Northerner is an expertly crafted eco-fiction glimpse into what could be that touches the heart, facilitating a desire to learn more, and to get more involved in influencing political agendas and societal lifestyle choices regarding climate change. It helps us remember that these kinds of changes can all add up to the difference between maintaining and healing our world for future generations or continuing down the slippery slope of global disaster. What choices will you make? I hope you will start with the choice to read this book and other stories in the eco-fiction genre!