“Without taking her eyes off the emerald waters of the island’s central lagoon, she said: ‘This is unbearably lovely. What a tragedy that the people who contributed least to the causes of the warming are the ones who bear its greatest burdens.’”
Tales from The Warming is a collection of ten short stories that highlight the projected effects of climate change on our world. Each story takes place in the near future and is set in a particular location, starting with Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2022 and ending in Greenland in 2059. As Robinson writes in the forward,
“The stories in this collection are thought exercises in which I examine the human impact of the climate crisis. They are speculative fiction or, perhaps, they could be included in the recently named new genre – climate fiction.”
The stories are all vastly different, and cover subjects as diverse as human migration and climate refugees, to powerful cyclones, and self-sustaining engineering projects.
As someone whose insomnia is caused, in part, due to the melting ice caps, the amount of plastic in the ocean, and sea level rise, I loved the idea for this book. I feel that one of the best ways to get people to care about climate change is to give them real-life examples of the consequences of dragging our feet on this issue, and that’s exactly what Robinson has done.
Each story is so different that I thought I’d share a few brief thoughts on each one:
Kilimanjaro, February 2022 – Kent Whitaker is a journalist for the Environmental News Network and climbs Mt Kilimanjaro in order to do a segment on what’s left of the famous snows of Kilimanjaro. I enjoyed this one, heartbreaking though it was. The thing is, this is actually projected to happen. A part of the reason I loved it so much is that I’ve always been a fan of stories about mountain climbing.
Exodus, Polynesia 2027 – This tale of an island’s population making the decision to leave their ancestral home due to rising sea level was fascinating. Climate change refugees are inevitable, and this seemed like one of the most realistic stories in this collection.
The Perfect Storm, Bangladesh, 2029 – A poor family in Bangladesh ride out a massive cyclone in an old boat they found. The imagery is horrific; homes being washed away in the deadly flooding, bodies caught up on trees, entire communities gone.
Francesca and Paulo, Venice, 2032 – This was the only story in the book that I didn’t finish – I just sort of skimmed from the middle to the end of it. For some reason, I wasn’t able to relate to the characters, and although it’s a shame that Venice really is sinking, this story didn’t affect me in the same ways that the others did.
Smiley’s People, China, 2036 – Ahlim is a woman whose brother died from the pollution spewed out from their town’s coal-fired power plant, and she wants revenge. She joins an underground activist group and travels to that same plant to destroy it. While an enjoyable story, I wished it had been a little bit longer in order to give more space to Ahlim’s moral choices that she has to face in this sort of eco-activism/terrorism.
Deepest and Darkest, South Sudan, 2039 – This story is a tragedy. It takes place in South Sudan, a nation of hostilities and genocide. The main character, Dr. Bertrand, is part of Doctors Without Borders and travels to South Sudan in order to help run an understaffed clinic. Places like this are becoming rare, as the United Nations is running out of both resources and money as the effects of climate change force nations to look inward, and peacekeepers have started being killed. One night, the clinic is attacked and Dr. Bertrand flees with one of the other volunteers, along with three children who were being treated there.
“How many generations will be able to retain their traditional way of life in the face of the south-bound march of the Sahara and the desertification that will make obsolete the term ‘Sub-Saharan?’”
Tale of Two Cities, Miami and New Orleans, 2045 – Following a team of meteorologists as they track a dangerous category 5 hurricane heading towards Florida, this is a story that feels all too pertinent, especially right after Hurricane Florence dealt a great deal of damage to North Carolina. I actually started reading this story as my city was thankfully just missed by that particular storm. One of the characters in the story is a little awkward: Charlie Santore, a bald storm-chaser adored by viewers; it feels like Robinson was basing this character on The Weather Channel‘s Jim Cantore, a much more likable personality than the story’s Charlie Santore. Another quick note about this story is that it really doesn’t spend much time in New Orleans, which is great for the fictional people that live there and escape the brunt of the storm, but the end of this story was a little bit boring.
Escape from L.A., California, 2047 – I hated this story and found it to be really ridiculous. Aside from the narrator of the story being immensely unlikeable, here’s the main reason: Jeff Grant, a geologist, is driving his previous night’s one-night stand to the airport when an incredibly large earthquake strikes the area. In order to escape, the two of them somehow have time to make it to an airport, steal a plane, and fly to Las Vegas. What? Exactly. Also, the scene where Jeff and his lover meet felt like one of the most cliche things I’ve read in ages. The bad action movie scenes made this particular story difficult to read.
Cousteau City, Umm al-Quwain, 2051 – This is another story featuring journalist Kent Whitaker, this time doing his last assignment piece at an underwater marine research facility near Dubai. I really enjoyed this story, primarily because I adore the idea of self-sustaining and futuristic engineering projects.
Starting Over, Greenland, 2059 – The final story in this collection is about a family of mid-western American farmers who emigrate to a warmed Greenland, which has started offering free land to farmers. It’s interesting to think about human migration in the face of climate change, so I enjoyed reading this one.
Overall, I enjoyed the collection and appreciated that Robinson obviously spent a great deal of time doing research for each of the stories.
It would have been cool to see the stories be a little more intertwined, sort of like we did with Kent Whitaker. Since the stories take place in chronological order, I feel like it would have been easy to do so.
I decided to give this book of short stories four out of five stars, despite being tempted to rate it three stars due to the earthquake in California story. It is an important book in terms of promoting action against climate change, and for that alone, I would recommend it to anyone.
About the Author
Lorin R. Robinson is a journalist and educator with a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. His latest book, The 13: Ashi-niswi, is a historical fiction novel based on Native American roots.