Book Review: “Arctic Rising” by Tobias Buckell

My whole life, I’ve loved technothrillers. Since Michael Crichton first showed me what it would actually be like to have a pet dinosaur in Jurassic Park, I’ve had a spot in my heart for worst-case-scenario sci-fi thrillers.

Tobias Buckell was good enough to provide me with an ARC of his newest novel Arctic Rising, and I’m happy to say that its bleak, ice-free, near-future earth satisfies my hunger for a good technothriller just as well as Crichton, Koontz, or Brown always have.

The premise of Arctic Rising is engaging from the start: the polar ice caps have melted due to global warming and opened up the actual Northwest Passage (take that, middle school social studies teachers!), which in turn has created a whole new dynamic in terms of international trade, global politics, and climate activism.

The Good

Though the book is pretty different from Buckell’s other science fiction–there are no alien races or wormholes here–there is plenty that is distinctly his. Roo, a mercenary spy the main character Anika meets up with, is a Caribbean-born smart-ass who speaks in the stereotypical pidgin of an islander.

I can’t fault Buckell for Roo’s inclusion because he grew up in the Caribbean himself. As a Southerner, I’m sure that any novels I write that actually take place on Earth will have their fair share of people who say y’all.

Not only is Arctic Rising‘s protagonist a woman, but Anika is also a lesbian. However, nowhere in the narrative is it called-out as being anything out of the ordinary. There isn’t a single mention of the word gay, lesbian, or even homosexual. Nor is Anika treated any differently by any other characters. She just happens to be attracted to women, or more specifically, a drug-smuggler named Vy.

I love that her sexuality isn’t a simple plot-device or point of controversy. Anika is just attracted to women. It’s part of her as a character. Apparently in 40 years, the world will become much more tolerant. I hope Buckell is right on this one.

The Bad

The novel doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere, even though it is. Maybe I’m spoiled by reading too many trilogies and series that take themselves too seriously and try to be way too epic, but Arctic Rising was a short, fast, stand-alone read. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I’ve included it here because I felt that the novel could have done for a little tighter plotting.

If anything, the novel suffers from a lack of sub-plots, moving from Point A to Point Z with style and flair, but very little else. It’s fun and it’s quick, but I constantly felt like I was being led to something bigger that never came–even though the climax and resolution were quite explosive.

The Ugly

There isn’t any more. There isn’t a series. Nor is there plans for one (as far as I’m aware, anyway). It was a fast read that kept me enthralled, but I want to know more. I want to know about how the world reacted as the polar ice caps were melting. I want to know about Anika’s past. I want to know what happens to Thule and the Caribbean post-Roo. What happens to Gaia?

Because it’s a stand-alone, I can’t know that, and it bugs me. I’m a sucker for backstory, and I’m the kind of guy who always buys a sequel when I even remotely like a book.


Arctic Rising by Tobias Buckell is a good book. At roughly 300 pages, the book is worth the price of admission. It’s not short; it’s just fast. Even if I hadn’t been given a review copy, I would have happily paid for the Kindle edition and felt no regret.

On top of all that, it has airships. And who doesn’t like airships?

By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.

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