When future historians review this period in the long evolution of human development on Planet Earth—if, in fact, the human race survives this era—they’re likely to see today’s world as dominated by two overarching themes: runaway climate, and extreme economic and social inequality. And in his new novella, the prolific British science fiction author Adrian Tchaikovsky extrapolates both themes to their logical (and tragic) conclusions. In Firewalkers, he paints a picture of a dismal, dystopian future. An unkind reviewer might call this “climate porn.”
An evocative picture of the future that some might call “climate porn”
In the not-too-distant future, the Earth’s climate has long since run amok, drowning coastal communities and rendering much of the planet uninhabitable for animals and plants as well as humankind. “Dry hell [is] all that was left down on Earth. . . All the trees were gone, mostly gone even back when Grandad came to build the Anchor.” A tiny minority of superrich families have collaborated in building three space elevators called cables that reach for the stars from Anchors at the Equator. High above the Earth, the uberwealthy elite have begun taking refuge in massive spaceships that offer them all the comforts they crave—and the means of escape from the dying planet.
Firewalkers by Adrian Tchaikovsky (2020) 104 pages ★★★★☆
Inequality, too, has become extreme
Meanwhile, clustered in the teeming city of Ankara Achouka around the Anchor of the African cable, the remnants of the world’s poor struggle for survival. The most successful among them are teenagers with the strength and courage to venture out into the sun-drenched expanses and repair the solar farms—the source of the energy for the cable and the Roach Hotel at its base, where the superrich await their turn to ride up to their new homes in the Grand Celeste. They’re “teenage kids who got to go risk their lives to make sure the AC kept running.”
Three courageous teenagers brave the bestial heat
When the lights begin to flicker in the Roach Hotel and remain without power for longer and longer times, one of the city’s managers calls upon Nguyen Sun Mao, one of the city’s most courageous teenage Firewalkers, to assemble a crew and seek out the reason for the power failure. Nineteen-year-old Mao swiftly recruits the best of his colleagues he knows, one an mechanic, the other a hacker, both young women. Together, the three suit up in protective gear and head out through the blistering heat to the distant solar farm that feeds the cable and the Roach Hotel. What they find will surprise them—and set off a chain of events that will alter humanity’s future. We can only hope that this picture of the future does indeed represent climate porn and proves to be in no way accurate.
For further reading
Previously I’ve reviewed three of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s other novels:
- Children of Time (Children of Time #1) – Accelerated evolution is the theme in a superior science fiction novel
- The Expert System’s Brother – An exceedingly clever science fiction story
- Walking to Aldebaran – A science fiction novel that reads like a fever dream
I’ve included Adrian Tchaikovsky on my list of Six new science fiction authors worth reading now.
For more good reading, check out:
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels;
- Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus dozens of runners-up); and
- The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here (plus dozens of others).
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.