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Stephen Baxter’s NORTHLAND TRILOGY – made up of STONE SPRING, BRONZE SUMMER and IRON WINTER – tells an alternate history where Doggerland wasn’t swallowed up by the North Sea by 5500BC, because the people of Doggerland built a great Wall to keep the sea out.
Doggerland is a fascinating thing, because its lowlands surely would have changed the course of history if they’d gone unsubmerged. Ana, another of Baxter’s long line of sour autism-spectrum protagonists, leads the construction of a Wall that will eventually become a city in and of itself.
If Ana saw Zesi coming, she showed no signs of it. ‘This is the future,’ she said gravely. She held her own shovel over her head like a hunter’s spear. ‘The future.’
The first book is an amusing piece of world-building (quite literally), It’s a bit airport-novel in more than one place, but it does have moments in it like the above, which I love. The second book is a Ripping Yarn of the old school, with no real pretense of alternate-history beyond some dressing.
The third book postulates that the lack of agriculture in the Doggerland way of life, in this alternate world, allows a new glacial age to arrive. Baxter also cites the Younger Dryas glacial period as being triggered by icy floods chilling the North Atlantic and killing the Gulf Stream. Which is interesting, as a wall big enough to dam the North Sea would stunt the Gulf Stream all on its own, turning much of Britain and Scandinavia into tundra. All the way through the third book, I was waiting for someone to reveal the secret of the sudden “longwinter” as “you dammed the fucking sea, what did you think was going to happen?” But no, apparently some dodgy point about early anthropocene climate alteration was to be made. Which, regardless of its potential veracity, just seems a lot less interesting than “we built this fucking great wall to save our civilisation and now it’s killing the world.” Now that’s a ripping yarn. It’s also, of course, my projection on to the author’s work and intents, and deeply unfair. I remain disappointed with the last two books. But STONE SPRING is often thought-provoking, full of potential, and a book to contemplate.
- Booklist 1sep12: McLuhan’s Massage (warrenellis.com)