Friday, October 25, 2019

''Waterline'' by Chris Else is a mix of cli-fi, black comedy and domestic drama. With a lot of rain.

Book review: Waterline by Chris Else

Waterline is a mix of cli-fi, black comedy and domestic drama. With a lot of rain.
Waterline is a mix of cli-fi, black comedy and domestic drama. With a lot of rain.
Imagine a world 50 or even 100 years from now where all the dire predictions about sea-level rise and coastal erosion have come true and where personal devices run our lives.
Such is the tension-filled environment of Chris Else's imaginative new novel – the ninth work of fiction from this respected New Zealand author.
But Waterline is not your average cli-fi thriller. It's a compelling mix of suspense, black comedy, domestic drama and unorthodox romance, set some time in the future to provide an unsettling yet convincing backdrop to some very familiar themes. While tending towards a literary genre, especially in his often sparse, staccato, conjunction-skipping prose, Chris Else knows how to tell a good story – as he ought, having penned a treatise or two bemoaning the tendency of New Zealand authors to steer away from the art of telling stories.
He has also introduced relatable characters, telling the story from several points of view, but focusing largely on what happens to Brian and Stella when the computerised bureaucracy decides to allow Stella to stay in the bleak, damp city of Byte and deregisters Brian for a trumped-up crime that holds him in a prison cell for a few days. From there, he is expelled to Strawfield, which has an even lower ranking than Byte. Brian tries to make a go of it there, moving in with the accommodating Wendy and using his IT skills to claw his way back up, trying to earn back the high status he and Stella once had in their home city – a city they had to leave when high waves from a massive storm delivered their house into the ocean. The very real threat of the effects of climate change, the constant rain, the menace hanging in the air that there was some other trauma that caused Stella and Brian to flee in such a hurry, creates a constant background tension. It grows exponentially as Stella – left to her own devices with Brian detained in Byte – tries to cope with a semi-derelict rental home, the absence of the trailer filled with their possessions (which Brian was towing), and the immediate need for something to eat for herself and her two teenage children, Mandy and Luke.
Along to the rescue comes Geordie, a man with his own sense of menace, who solves their immediate problems but creates others. Geordie turns out to be the leader of an alternative self-sufficient commune – low-tech, environmentally friendly, riven with rivalries, many caused by their sexual freedom. Their way of life is opposed to the religiously fanatical, technologically dependent people of Byte, and the two communities are at frequent loggerheads.
Brian repudiates Stella to regain his status (destroyed when hers drops overnight after she moves in with Geordie) and Stella's sudden arrival as Geordie's partner divides the commune in half.
And so the scene is set for a dramatic denouement, where future technology adds to the excitement but the events that occur could be relevant to any time or place, past, present or future, where there's a lot of rain.
Waterline is a mix of cli-fi, black comedy and domestic drama. With a lot of rain.

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