Salvage by Robert Edric

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Salvage by Robert Edric

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Lesley Mason
Reviewed by Lesley Mason
Summary: What we’ve got to look forward to if the climate continues to change as predicted... a tense exploration of the social and political potential for disaster in the realm of ordinary lives.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Doubleday
ISBN: 978-0385617628

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Some time about a hundred years hence and the predictions have come to pass. The sea levels have risen; the Gulf Stream has shifted its path. Climate change has hit Britain with a vengeance. Global Warming is the misnomer; of course the temperatures are, on balance, warmer. Snow is something most people only hear or read about. The real change, however, is the wet.

Of course, the echoes of Neville Shute are hard to ignore, but the premise is based on current real-world hypotheses. Flooding affects large parts of the south of the country and the low-lying east on a regular and massive scale. The tidal barriers have failed. And it rains.

When it rains… it really rains.

A few acres under water and several thousand families are displaced. Permanently.

Scale that up.

Britain has changed beyond imagination… But not quite beyond recognition. The midlands town that Edric describes fits with our concepts of real places. The planning departments might have taken over the police and the Ministry of Agriculture, which is now another misnomer anyway, but they still function much like you might expect a Planning Department to do.

Quinn is an auditor. His job is to head out to the place deemed suitable for Development with a capital D: the next place deemed worthy of having cash poured into it so that it can accept that next (tidal) wave of internal migrants from the flooded areas. Once there, he is to check the records, carry out a nominal environmental audit, and generally ensure that there isn't anything embarrassing to be found later that might speak against the central government plans to buy up the land, seal off the dumps, build the housing, and just generally sell the brave new world and bright new future to a population who have had too much to bear over the course of the last generation.

On this occasion, he gets lost only a couple of miles from his destination, beds down for the night in the clapped-out car he's been allowed to use, and is woken in the morning by the drainage diggers from the hill. This is his first encounter with the un-named town that provides his latest assignment. The people are suspicious. In both senses of the word.

Anna Laing is a vet working for the Ministry of Agriculture. There aren't any farm animals any more. Not live ones anyway. Her job is to make the burial sites safe. When the last outbreak of foot and mouth was followed by anthrax, virtually all livestock was slaughtered and buried. Anthrax can survive in the soil. It wasn't the best of plans, but the best that could be managed 20 or 50 or so years back. Now her team have to go in, exhume the bodies and the earth around them and burn what's left. They try not to think about the smoke and what gets blown away on the wind. Anna has seen what anthrax does. She worries. But when the burn is done, they'll shut the site down, cap it off, cover it in concrete and declare is safe for building.

Meanwhile the town stalwarts – Greer runs Administration, Stearn controls security – do their best to line their pockets and provide the necessary to the local Padre who has dreams of raising a new cathedral, and the town realists warn about the major floods of half a century ago and how they could return, or lament the death and compulsory purchase of the family farm, or simply do their best working at the garage and trying to hold the family together.

It is a bleak future that Edric paints, but populated by people who react exactly as people do, it is a believable one.

Anna's exhumation site turns out to be even more sinister than it is, but even worse things might lurk in the crypt of the old church.

Quinn struggles to find out what is really going on in town, befriending Anna, and the locals, whilst simultaneously dealing with the politics of his own department. Secrets and lies. Corruption. And in amongst it people trying to do good, or salvage a little dignity or compassion or something in a world that shouldn't be this way.

Stylistically, Edric has it cracked. He writes with an immediate tension, that doesn't let up from the very first page. How we got to where we are simply emerges from the action. You have to pay attention and work it out for yourself. There isn't a word wasted on unnecessary explanation. He understands the newspeak that is already prevalent in the corridors of power and allows his characters to mock it as they describe themselves as facilitators and wonder about deliverology strategies, Gold Alert procedures and eventualities, unconfirmables and consequentials.

It all sounds very, frighteningly real. Even more so, when a character sums up everything that has happened towards the end: it rained, that's all.

A superb exploration of what could happen. Gripping from beginning to end, but weakened by an ending that – perhaps not inappropriately – is something of a damp squib. The final chapters resolve some of the personal stories, but somehow don't add up to a satisfying conclusion, which is a shame – but not one that should stop you reading this scarily possible prediction.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy The Pesthouse by Jim Crace.

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Buy Salvage by Robert Edric at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Salvage by Robert Edric at


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