As the world’s climate changes, animal species are expanding their range as they seek hospitable habitats so it only seems natural that humans will do the same thing as regions of our planet become unlivable. As a Canadian living near a southern neighbour that faces a future of water shortages and increasing temperatures, I imagine Americans will start migrating northward and the border that divides our countries will eventually become meaningless. In her debut novel, Camp Zero, author Michele Min Sterling gives us a glimpse of what that future could look like.
Set in the year 2049, the story focuses on the intertwined stories of a group of climate change survivors in a northern Canadian settlement, and is as much a novel about the societal effects of climate change as it is about class divisions in society.
The book follows three principal story lines that slowly paint a portrait of what this future world is like and reveal that human motivations of love and greed will never change. It opens with an introduction of Rose, an escort who has been to hired to work at the northern settlement of Camp Zero in exchange for a home for her Korean mother and herself in the Floating City, a utopian haven where the elite can escape and ignore the effects of climate change off the shores of Boston.
The second story line follows another character from Boston, but he is one of those elite, Grant Grimley, son of a rich family that has exploited the planet for generations. He’s come to Camp Zero thinking he is helping set up a new university, but his real motivation is that he wants to distance himself from his family and his past in a bid to become his own man.
The third principal story line follows the travails of the all-female crew of White Alice, a nearby Distant Early Warning station from the Cold War that has been turned into a climate research station. These chapters are written in the first person, unlike the other two story lines, which are in the third person so it’s a bit confusing at first, but not for long. Oddly, only one character from the crew is ever identified by name, Sal, the security specialist. The rest are merely referred to as the engineer, the botanist, the biologist and the meteorologist.
Camp Zero is full of little touches that build on each other to paint a perfectly imagined future. There are references to an oil ban where the world has begun transitioning away from fossil fuels and the man who is building the camp, Meyer, is also the inventor of ‘the Flick,’ a device that everyone has implanted behind their ear at birth to allow them to be perpetually online and connected. He’s an idealist who is somewhat disillusioned about his invention, but is perhaps seeking redemption as he builds this new community.
Rose is a ‘Bloom,’ one of several escorts who are here to entertain the management of Camp Zero, but she is singled out by Meyer to be his companion. Through their interactions we learn more about Meyer and Rose’s own past and motivations and her well-concealed disgust of the situation. We also learn more about Grant and his growing realization that Camp Zero is not what he was expecting. Over time, more characters are revealed and there are romantic entanglements and conflicts that bring the story lines together as the book comes to its conclusion.
While I enjoyed this book immensely and found it completely believable, my only complaint is how the story ended. I obviously won’t spoil it, but found that the ending was perhaps a bit too sudden and maybe even anti-climactic, but that doesn’t change my opinion that Camp Zero is a book worth seeking out and one worth reading.