Tobias S. Buckell’s Arctic Rising (2012) is a swift, smart, and thought-provoking future thriller that wrestles with the consequences of global warming on the arctic north. Anika Duncan is an airship pilot for the United Nations Polar Guard, her job to monitor shipping traffic in the newly opened, ice-free waterways of the Northwest Passage. When sensors detect radiation on a vessel passing through their area, Anika hails the crew, only to come under fire. The incident draws her inexorably into a dangerous mystery, leading her across the dramatically transformed northern landscape in pursuit of terrorists hellbent on realizing a world-shaping hidden agenda.
It’s a speedy, thoroughly engaging read from start to finish, propulsively paced and filled with well realized characters and timely, interesting speculation on what the opening of the Arctic might mean in the greater scheme of world affairs. Anika, a tough-nosed Nigerian expat with a checkered past, makes for a likeable and engaging hero, and the plot is compelling, but most captivating for me was the world-building. Buckell’s depiction of the new northern settlements – from towns in the northern Canadian islands to the polar glacier settlement Thule – are evocative, filled with memorable imagery and driven by interesting sociopolitical speculation. At times the narrative stumbles a little under the weight of exposition, but I generally found the odd infodump forgiveable in light of the fascinating subject matter and streamlined action structure. It’s an exciting ride, both entertaining and enlightening, that grapples interestingly with imminent global concerns.