Kraken Wakes – climate calamity

The Kraken Wakes - john WyndhamThe first signs of disaster are noticed by only a few doomsayers.

Newspapers profess themselves ‘distressed by the calamities that have befallen certain islands,’ but counsel awaiting more evidence before taking hasty action.

Industry reacts with fury when government indulges in what it sees as a ‘panic inspired’ reaction.

The loss of the ice caps brings breathless media coverage. “I have seen icebergs formed before, but never on anything like the scale that is taking place there,” reports one observer.

In the great ice cliffs hundreds of feet high, cracks appear suddenly. An enormous section tilts out, falling and turning slowly. When it smashes into the water the spray rises up and up in great fountains, spreading far out all around…

Very often a berg had no time to float away before a new one had crashed down on top of it. The scale was so big that it was hard to realize.

Only by the apparent slowness of the falls and the way the splashes seemed to hang in the air – the majestic pace of it all – were we able to tell the vastness of what we were seeing.

But still there is little appetite for action. The scale of the threat may be accepted by a growing number of ’eminent but very worried men’, but the public remains sanguine. Sea level rises of two and half inches appear an anticlimax, ‘ just a very slightly higher mark on a post.’ And, after all, by the time things get really bad, won’t the ‘boffins’ have come up with a technological quick fix.

Then London’s flood defences are breached for the first time and thoughts turn to protecting those parts of Britain that can most easily be saved. The result? “Great bitterness between those who were chosen and those who looked like being thrown to the wolves.”

The second flood is worse and prompts a state of emergency (“the government had removed the velvet glove”). For a while, despite crumbling infrastructure, some kind of normality is maintained,  “seemingly through habit or momentum.” Gradually, however, lawless ‘seeps’ in.

“Failure of the emergency electricity supply one afternoon, followed by a night of darkness, gave a kind of coup de grace to order. The looting of shops, and particularly foodshops, began, and spread on a scale that defeated both the police and the military.”

From there, it is a short step to the era of mass migrations, as people make a “panicky rush to stake a claim on the high ground while there is still room there.” A fiercesome “guerrilla war between starving bands” begins.

Standard climate change-inspired, apocalyptic fiction? Sure, except for the fact that John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes was first published over half a century ago, in 1953. Continue reading