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America City

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America, one century on: a warmer climate is causing vast movements of people. Droughts, floods and hurricanes force entire populations to simply abandon their homes. Tensions are mounting between north and south, and some northern states are threatening to close their borders against homeless fellow-Americans from the south.

Against this backdrop, an ambitious young British-born publicist, Holly Peacock, meets a new client, the charismatic Senator Slaymaker, a politician whose sole mission is to keep America together, reconfiguring the entire country in order to meet the challenge of the new climate realities as a single, united nation. When he runs for President, Holly becomes his right hand woman, doing battle on the whisperstream, where stories are everything and truth counts for little.

But can they bring America together - or have they set the country on a new, but equally devastating, path?

368 pages, Hardcover

First published November 2, 2017

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About the author

Chris Beckett

91 books301 followers
Chris Beckett is a British social worker, university lecturer, and science fiction author.

Beckett was educated at the Dragon School in Oxford and Bryanston School in Dorset, England. He holds a BSc (Honours) in Psychology from the University of Bristol (1977), a CQSW from the University of Wales (1981), a Diploma in Advanced Social Work from Goldsmiths College, University of London (1977), and an MA in English Studies from Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge (2005).

He has been a senior lecturer in social work at APU since 2000. He was a social worker for eight years and the manager of a children and families social work team for ten years. Beckett has authored or co-authored several textbooks and scholarly articles on social work.

Beckett began writing SF short stories in 2005. His first SF novel, The Holy Machine, was published in 2007. He published his second novel in 2009, Marcher, based on a short story of the same name.

Paul Di Filippo reviewed The Holy Machine for Asimov's, calling it "One of the most accomplished novel debuts to attract my attention in some time..." Michael Levy of Strange Horizons called it "a beautifully written and deeply thoughtful tale about a would-be scientific utopia that has been bent sadly out of shape by both external and internal pressures." Tony Ballantyne wrote in Interzone: "Let’s waste no time: this book is incredible."

His latest novel, Dark Eden, was hailed by Stuart Kelly of The Guardian as "a superior piece of the theologically nuanced science fiction".

Dark Eden was shortlisted for the 2012 BSFA Award for Best Novel.

On 27 March 2013 it was announced that Julian Pavia at Broadway Books, part of the Crown Publishing Group, had acquired the US rights to Dark Eden and Gela's Ring from Michael Carlisle at Inkwell Management and Vanessa Kerr, Rights Director at Grove Atlantic in London, for a high five-figure sum (in US dollars).

Beckett comments on his official website: "Although I always wanted to be a writer, I did not deliberately set out to be a science fiction writer in particular. My stories are usually about my own life, things I see happening around me and things I struggle to make sense of. But, for some reason, they always end up being science fiction. I like the freedom it gives me to invent things and play with ideas. (If you going to make up the characters, why not make up the world as well?) It’s what works for me."

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 84 reviews
Profile Image for Tez.
831 reviews217 followers
February 18, 2018
Set in the future, but feels very contemporary. Deals with climate change, immigration, national politics, international relations, colonialism, war, and propaganda.

I read it at an especially appropriate time. While I was reading came the announcement of indictments of Russian nationals. The A.I. "feeders" Holly deploys sound a lot like what's known as "Russian bots" on Twitter. (Though sometimes it's hard to tell if someone is a Russian bots, or just an American jerk.)

A very timely read.
Profile Image for Anna.
1,631 reviews600 followers
November 15, 2020
I am delighted that sci-fi authors are starting to examine the consequences of climate change in meaningful ways, rather than treating it as set dressing. Consequently, I spent most of ‘America City’ thinking that I should have been appreciating it more than I was. A comparison with Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, one of my favourite novels of 2017, will help to explain why. Both novels are set in the 22nd century, centre on the impact of climate change in America, and engage with politics in some detail. They differ in two important respects: underlying philosophy and writing style. To address the latter first, while New York 2140 was involving and vibrant, ‘America City’ felt curiously flat. I am being over-sensitive, or is this sort of thing oddly lacking in affect?

As Richard had feared, Holly was away a lot, in a place that Richard had no feeling for and didn’t want her to be. But they still worked hard at staying together. One weekend in February, when Holly had been working even longer hours than usual, the two of them drove north across the border to spend an evening with their friends Ruby and Ossia.

Consequently, I also found the characterisation unengaging on an emotional level. I enjoyed the plot on an intellectual level, while having no real interest in the characters and what happened to them. Balancing the geopolitical and individual is an inevitable challenge of climate change novels, and one that several have dealt with well: Clade, American War, and All the Birds in the Sky, as well as New York 2140. Here, I found the main character Holly to be little more than a cipher, albeit one playing an intriguing role in geopolitical events.

The philosophical contrast was still more marked. Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 is resolutely hopeful and has faith in the ability of people to form communities and work together. While climate change has damaged Robinson's New York, social bonds and institutions have adapted rather than breaking. Chris Beckett’s book, however, is entirely lacking in hope and faith in humanity. ‘America City’ is a novel steeped in the shock of Trump’s presidency, referred to a hundred years later as The Tyranny. Its themes are the ease of manipulating voters by using social media to spread lies, the incredible hypocrisy of the American dream, the deep xenophobia of nearly all Americans, and their refusal to accept any responsibility for climate change. In the world of ‘America City’, political power is still owned by billionaires who complain that the poor have it too easy. Meanwhile, ordinary people only care about themselves, won't give up any comforts to help others, and are deeply susceptible to xenophobic demagoguery. To be fair, politics has somehow got saner, as the president is less of a maniac than Trump and the Christian right has declined. Nonetheless, this is a fundamentally fatalistic novel. I assume this explains the abrupt ending: there’s no catharsis to be found.

Throughout the narrative, discussions recur regarding the dichotomy between merely complaining about the world from a position of privilege and actually doing something - which inevitably makes things worse. Which is a better response to the end of the world: protecting your tribe at the expense of others, or withdrawing to make pottery? It’s a false dichotomy and a very depressing one, so if you want to feel better about the world I’d recommend reading New York 2140 instead. Beckett has a valid and interesting perspective on the future, indeed a totally understandable one if you extrapolate directly from from the current position. ‘America City’ captures very neatly how America looks from Europe as 2018 gets underway. Putting aside how plausible the plot is, and it makes a certain amount of intuitive sense, 'America City' is a tale of blind short-sighted nationalism that doesn’t quite bother to be cautionary. It heavily implies an inevitability of violence and stupidity which, frankly, is not what I think we need right now. I want stories that give me reason for hope, or at least a new perspective. This one felt horribly familiar from the morning's headlines.
Profile Image for Martin Turner.
301 reviews3 followers
October 24, 2017
Although this is described as science fiction (and strictly falls under that particular banner), this is more realistically a forecast of how the world, in particular the United Staes of America could turn out in a 100 years or so due to the effects of global warming, the growth of social media in one form or another, power hungry leaders and the almost primitive grabbing of any means of survival. Chris Beckett paints a frightening vision of the future which is not that different from today in the way that people run their lives. There is a greater dependence on robot technology in the workplace, but climate change has resulted in the southern half of USA becoming virtually uninhabitable whilst the wastelands of the frozen northern parts of the globe become much more suited to man's needs. There is thus a top-led rush to these northern parts and the ensuing problems that could arise are described beautifully in this forward thinking vision. There are various messages in here about doing more today in preparation for tomorrow, rather than brushing it under the carpet. How will our descendants look upon us historically? A really good story - was the fictional US President depicted herein influenced by one D. Trump one wonders - with an important message. Recommended for world leaders!
Profile Image for Adam Whitehead.
552 reviews128 followers
March 13, 2018
One hundred years from now, the world is in a terrible state. Super-hurricanes blight the Atlantic, smashing the coast of North America with repeated ferocity. The American south-west has turned into a dustbowl, entire towns and cities abandoned as water supplies dry up. The United States has an immigration problem, but not one crossing the minefield-laden, fortified wall with Mexico. This one is a flood of refugees from the southern and coastal states headed north, to more temperate climes. As the northern states threaten to close their borders, a charismatic politician named Slaymaker emerges with a platform to "reconfigure" America, to reshape the United States in a way it can survive the weather catastrophe. He employs a superbly talented PR executive, a woman repelled by Slaymaker's politics but inspired by his integrity and his genuine desire to confront the problems facing America head-on instead of standing idly by.

America City is the latest novel by British SF author Chris Beckett. Although still not a household name, Beckett has been establishing himself through a very fine collection of work over the last few years, most notably the accomplished Holy Machine and the Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning Dark Eden, which has also spawned two sequels. The Eden Trilogy was an SF parable set on a planet shrouded in darkness, whilst The Holy Machine was about religion, atheism and what falls between. America City is something else, a story about politics, climate change and what happens when Americans themselves become refugees by the hundreds of thousands and millions.

It's a sweeping novel, packing an entire continent's worth of stories into a breezy 350 pages. It's also a very current novel, taking place in a world where fake news has been weaponised by humanity, aided by AIs so clever they are capable of writing speeches, coming up with jokes and even posing as commentators without detection. It's a book that feels very cynical, as our protagonist Holly moves from being a die-hard delicado (a 22nd Century version of a liberal) to, frustrated by her tribe's predilection for making disapproving noises at the TV but not actually doing anything to make things better, throwing her lot in with the arch-reactionary Slaymaker. Slaymaker's views on everything from climate science (which he still doesn't believe in, even as the American Atlantic coast drowns and the south-west boils) to the death penalty repel Holly, but his insistence on tackling the problem head-on by "reconfiguring" the country (and, later and far more controversially, the continent) makes him stand out from the crowds of talking heads and hand-wringers.

The result is a process by which Holly is seduced, bit by bit, into supporting ever more draconian policies, convincing herself that each more extreme measure is justified if is to save America and its people. Holly's POV chapters alternate with those of her boyfriend Richard, who gets to see the changes in Holly - and the country - from the outside, and has to wonder if she has the right idea. Other POV chapters move between various climate refugees, people fleeing northwards from the floods in Georgia and the encroaching desert in Nevada only to find their fellow Americans turning them away (often at gunpoint), until they have nowhere left to go.

Beckett tackles a lot of topics in this novel, from climate change to politics. The old left-right paradigm mostly collapsed in the 21st Century, but the politics that have replaced it are still dealing with (or causing) familiar problems. There's glimpses of what's going on elsewhere in the world - Africa and Mexico collapsing, Britain turning itself into a fortified island outpost of paranoia and fear, and China annexing the Russian Far East for more living space - but the focus is firmly on the US and what can be done to save it.

It's not a happy or uplifting novel. The book's main message seems to be that human beings are selfish and predictable in their responses: Texans and Californians who once zealously guarded the Mexican border are now forced to cross borders themselves, only to find themselves driven off. But of course when it's them who need help, the situation is different. Politics is still a game won by those with the loudest and best propaganda, not those with genuinely the best ideas (a fascinating background SF idea - the development of carbon dioxide scrubbers large enough to start reversing the effects of climate change - is virtually ignored as it's hard to get voters excited about it).

There are moments of hope: humans are shown to be tenacious and capable of adapting: millions of people are moving north to establish new cities in the Arctic, where they hope the storms and the deserts cannot reach them. They may even be right, but the book ends (messily and inconclusively, like life) before we can find out for sure.

America City (****½) is not for the faint-hearted or those looking to escape the grimness they seen on the news every day. It's also wonderfully well-written, alternates between the grandiose and the subtle, and is unflinchingly honest. It's available now in the UK and USA.
341 reviews
May 12, 2018
This is properly called a novel of idea, surely Beckett's specialty. Or a novel of ideas rather: global warming and its effects on population, and immigration. But Beckett is too smart to leave it at a half-baked psychological exploration of individuals: he knows that environmental changes are intensely political, and that politics is a game of survival.
So the premise (populations are on the move following the devastation of their territory) leads to an exploration of political issues, that is, the (re)actions of people and how those reactions in turn influence the political leadership, which in turn has an effect on people...and round and round we go.
The most interesting idea here is immigration, and Beckett is careful to make no explicit link ('you know Jamie, in the 21st century people used to...') to the current policies in the US. Southern American states' inhabitants cannot live there anymore, and the most secure place to go is up: to the North. But fellow Americans in the North start seeing their compatriots as immigrants: as Mexicans, really. Thus immigration is both internal and external, although that last is brought in only as a means to focus on the first.
This forms the basis for very interesting reflections on our humanity, our chattering classes, and the very finite limits of our humanity and empathy. It also brings in the reality of politics: a nothing idea can grow into a policy which acquires a life of its own.
The main voice is of the novel is pretty off-putting for people like me at first (i.e. a leftie with humanistic pretentions) but that is the point I guess: confronting your own limitations is jarring, but is also the point of Literature. The interspersed secondary narrators seem a bit stereotypical at first, but all of them evolve by responding to their changing circumstances, and that helps bring home a few more truths.
The second half of the book (its main thrust really) links back to history (the English in South Africa, the Americans in Texas and more) and encourages us to look to tomorrow as well: what will we do when things et that bad? Where will we go?
As usual, good science fiction is a means to think about the now, and reflect on ourselves further back in the past: this book does all that.
So a very good book, from a very good author.
Profile Image for Øyvind Berekvam.
66 reviews9 followers
January 28, 2018
Glem den journalistisk tvilsomme "Fire and Fury". Skal du lese én bok som sier skummelt mye om dagens politiske situasjon, og om de hundre årene vi har foran oss, skal du lese Chris Becketts "America City".

Det er en bekmørk framtidsvisjon der den globale oppvarmingen i praksis har delt USA i to. Den sørlige delen herjes av tørke og superstormer, og befolkningen søker nordover til mer levelige forhold. Og når nordstatene ikke er begeistret for at folkegruppene som omtales som "dust trash" og "storm trash" kommer strømmende så trengs det visjonære politikere og smarte spinndoktorer til å finne en ytre fiende.

Holly Peacock er spinndoktoren som finner løsningene, og som setter i gang en rekke hendelser som forandrer hele det nordamerikanske kartet i løpet av få år. Det høres kanskje urealistisk ut, men de virkemidlene hun bruker, det gigantiske nettverket "whisperstream," er bare den naturlige fortsettelsen av det Facebook og Twitter allerede har gjort for å ødelegge flere av verdens demokratier. I framtiden er denne informasjonsjungelen enda mer ugjennomtrengelig, og fakta har for lengst resignert. Det eneste som teller er den gode historien. Sannhetsgehalten er ikke så viktig.

Så hvordan ser USA ut om rundt hundre år? Vi får noen tilbakeblikk, og det mest interessante glimtet er omtalen av en periode en to-tre tiår inn i vårt eget århundre kalt "The Tyranny". Det er kanskje ikke vanskelig å gjette hvem og hva forfatteren leker med akkurat der. Men dette er ikke bokens virkelige styrke. Det imponerende kunststykket er at Beckett tegner et skremmende realistisk framtidsbilde samtidig som han gir oss drypp av idéhistorie helt tilbake til de britiske øyer på 400- og 500-tallet.

Han vrir og vender også godt på alle våre liberale oppfatninger av hvordan verden henger sammen, og stikker stadig kniven i oss lykkelige rike nordboere som ser på oss selv som svært så fordomsfrie, åpne, inkluderende og grenseløse - i hvert fall så lenge det ikke står noen millioner sultne og hjemløse mennesker rett utenfor grensene våre for å kreve en del av velstanden.

I USA er som kjent "liberal" blitt et skjellsord. Beckett forteller oss at dette begrepet har blitt erstattet av "delicados":
"During the twentieth century, the rough equivalent og what we call delicados were called liberals, and for a time back then prosperous liberals did have a kind of contract with the poor - if you guys vote for us and our weird modern ideas, we'll look after you and fight your corner - but in the end liberals took that contract for granted, and it failed. Poor people turned to more congenial leaders, and we ended up with the Tyranny." Jeg håper noen kan lese det avsnittet høyt for Hillary Clinton. Eller litt kortere oppsummert: "Ordinary folk were sick of being told off for not being generous enough by people who were way better of than themselves".
60 reviews1 follower
February 8, 2018
A thought-provoking and scarily plausible take on a future North America. Climate change has rendered sizeable parts of the USA uninhabitable - storms on the coasts, dustbowl in the middle - leading to a large population of internally displaced refugees. Stephen Slaymaker, a right-wing populist senator with more than a few similarities to some contemporary politicians, proposes a radical solution, and it is the ramifications of this that trigger that sequence of events that form the book's narrative core.

The story is told primarily from the perspectives of Holly and Richard, a high-flying young professional couple of liberal politics and 'delicado' sensibilities. Beckett seems to have coined this term, and it nicely captures a certain kind of privileged progressive hypocrisy - tut-tutting at inequality but not willing to risk their own place in the pecking order. When Holly begins working for Slaymaker, tensions develop with Richard and her other 'delicado' friends and family – and indeed, with her own conscience and self-image.

This also provides a vehicle for Beckett to voice what I suspect is a measure of his own frustration - perhaps even guilt - with his own 'tribe'. Yes, Holly challenges them, you're saying all the right things, but what are you actually doing about any of this? Slaymaker might be uncouth and uneducated, but he's a do-er, a problem-solver, and he has the courage of his convictions. Those convictions, though, transpire to be a throwback to an earlier era of conquest, of taking what we need without the luxury of moral hand-wringing.

There’s not much in ‘America City’ that's hopeful or uplifting. Even Slaymaker's dramatic solution will, at best, buy a bit of time, before the demons unleashed by runaway climate change hunt us down again. It’s a fine piece of writing, well-crafted and thoughtful. But don't expect to put it down with a smile on your face and a song in our heart.

(Edit: I originally rated this at 4*. Given the extent to which I am still thinking and talking about a month later - even while reading other books - I've raised that to 5)
Profile Image for Blodeuedd Finland.
3,372 reviews290 followers
October 19, 2017
I can totally see this happening, totally. I hope a certain president do not get ideas from it...

The world has gone to hell. And some people still doubt climate change. Yup, I can see that too. The East coast is plagued by super storms. The west coast and inland is a dust bowl. Further south, oh there is nothing there but death and starvation. And the people up north do not want to take care of storm trash and dusters. Yes they might be fellow Amercians but to take them all in, hell no! Not that rapist trash! I can totally see that happening, people looking out for nr 1. It is one thing to help a few, but when the half the country is unlivable...then that is another thing.

And in steps Holly who gets a new job. She is a delicado or as she would have been called now, a snowflake. Yes it is a derogatory term. She will help Senator Slaymaker win the presidential race, and honestly, I wish Holly had never met him. Holly changes and at the end I do not like her. Or any American for that matter. I can not tell you what happens, but, still at the same time. Looking out for nr 1 is human nature. I get it.

It does make you sad. Because this future is way too real. If we do not stop global warming (eh what warming, fake news!) then this is out future and the world burns.

It's one of those books that make you think, and fear the future too.
Profile Image for Andrew.
Author 100 books44 followers
November 30, 2018
Beckett’s SF has always been about people and situations, with far-future trappings enabling him to illuminate human relationships and foibles in a setting oblique to the one in which we currently live, providing a fresh outlook to familiar problems. His background in social work is clearly evident in his fiction, from how societies develop in the Eden trilogy and in this novel – America City – where collusion is one step away from action and character arcs are intelligently complicated and not cliché. In many respects it’s a dense book, each avenue of possibility rigorously explored, and sometimes this leads to the writing being quite dry even though it feels authentic. That’s the nature of politics, I guess. But throughout the story is logically compelling, emphasising that there are no heroes or villains, simply people who become tied to circumstances through inexorable forces which despite their best intentions might not lead to the results that had expected. It’s a powerful, timely work.
Profile Image for Rodrigo Acuna.
319 reviews16 followers
February 24, 2018
Canada beware of the wolves at your door"

A near future thought experiment that reads like a very realistic premonition, all the weather predictions have become reality and most of the world is in total disarray, most of the American plains and the south are devastated by drought, superstorms and the migration of millions into the north. America is looking for a political solution and suddenly Canada becomes the answer, and when the many demand the few must defend or be overrun this is that story.

Full of good ideas that sound like they are being already implemented in today's world, perhaps this is one of those books that got overrun by reality much faster than the author expected, and for that reason alone it deserves to be read, in this future politics are not that different and the people have not changed, only the lies are different.

Chris Beckett understands people and societies needs and brilliantly describes how we justify everything that is convenient for us when we are seeking power.
Profile Image for Alicia Vigne.
37 reviews
May 23, 2021
I'm having a really hard time deciding how to play fair with that book. To be honest, my final rating feels to me more like an unsatisfactory compromise than anything else.

Although not being American or Canadian (or even British, for that matter), I still found plenty of ideas universal enough to appeal to my tastes. Which is definitely a good point.

If I had to judge this book from a purely intellectual perspective, I'd go for 4, or even 5 stars. It felt both so plausible and horrifying that you can't help but admire the author's skill at the delicate art of dystopia. For some people, it may act as an excellent wake-up call (or at least, I hope so).


To put it bluntly, I just can't say I enjoyed it.

That might sound petty, but when I pick a novel, even an engaged one, I expect a compelling reading that will keep me hooked and even, yes, entertain me.

America City, in my opinion, does neither of those things. It's not compelling, or fascinating, or whatever, it just makes you wish you weren't born at all.

Maybe it's just me clutching too hard at the stories I told myself so that I could live on without hating every single human being.

But its painfully accurate depiction of the worst sides of human nature made me feel like running away.

Had it been an essay rather than a novel, I might have liked it better. But as a novel, I feel like the world could have been better off without it.

I'm definitely NOT saying that every novel should be as bland and harmless as a Twilight book.

My point is, there's already a whopping dose of hatred, anxiety and cynicism out there, in our good "old" 21st century. Precisely the kind of feelings the characters are saddled with one century later in America City. And, without spoiling anything, let's just say that a lot of them don't exactly end up well.

Naive as I might sound, I think fear and guilt trips won't get us anywhere. If anything, I'd prefer to think that hope will do.
Profile Image for Adrian Hon.
Author 4 books61 followers
February 17, 2019
Blandly cynical, delighting in false dichotomies and strawman arguments. Too detailed to be a fable, and too manipulative to be enlightening.

It's all very well having an amoral protagonist, but it's quite another thing to create a cast of supporting "liberal" characters who are feckless and unwilling to make any personal sacrifices. This would be insulting if it weren't so plainly laughable.

I get it, this is fiction, it posits a chaotic climate-changed future America. But what it describes does not follow from where we are now, and does not seem to contain any actual humans whose reasoning and motivation that I would recognise.

It gets points because the plot is pacy and it's an interesting scenario, and under different circumstances I'd give it 3 stars, but I was so disappointed, I have to go lower.



Also, holy shit, the bit where Richard meets the Senator and suddenly realises that intellectual activity is masturbatory and that a real man wouldn't write books. W. T. F.?
658 reviews3 followers
December 7, 2017
Twenty-second Century USA. The sea-level has risen, superstorms regularly batter the eastern seaboard, drought ravages the southwest. Resentment from within northern states towards those fleeing the environmental disasters is building. In the wider world polar bears, giraffes, blue whales, rhinoceroses and dolphins are extinct. Right-wing Senator Stephen Slaymaker, a former haulage contractor who pulled himself up by his bootstraps, worries that the country will fall apart under the strain of internal migration. Meanwhile a wall keeps out Mexicans and other possible migrants from the south.

Nevertheless some seem still to be welcome. Holly Peacock is an immigrant from Britain who has left-wing beliefs. She works in affecting public opinion via the whisperstream – a kind of updated internet accessed via devices known as cristals which contain AI personalities called jeenees. Think of her job as nudge politics and fake news taken to altogether different levels. She is attracted by Slaymaker’s desire to accommodate the internal refugees in the north. They meet and Slaymaker convinces her to work with him on his plan to bring about accommodation between the states, some of whom have begun arguing for border controls within the US.

Beckett tells his story mainly via the viewpoints of Holly and her husband Richard but occasionally intersperses their views with those of some of the people displaced by the storms or the drought. The Britain Holly has left seems a particularly dark place but isn’t much fleshed out as Beckett’s focus is on the happenings in the USA. He only alludes to British conditions via references to her family back home.

Air travel in this future is by machines called drigs (I assume a shortening of dirigible) but they seem no slower than jet aircraft. The political parties in the US are supposed to be different from our day – an (unelaborated) event called the Tyranny lies between now and then – but Slaymaker’s Freedom Party might as well be the Republicans and the Unity Party the Democrats. At the start of the novel the incumbent President is a woman from the Unity Party. (Is a woman US President perhaps the most Science-Fictional thing about this?)

Beckett’s scenario speaks to our time as Slaymaker was a climate change denier - he even argued against Williams’s ameliorative efforts to construct machines to remove carbon dioxide from the air as being pointless - and the topic of influencing voters in non-transparent ways acquired even more resonance during the novel’s writing during 2016. However, the time-scale appears a mite elongated. The problems Beckett describes may be upon us in far sooner than one hundred years.

Holly is instrumental in Slaymaker’s successful campaign, it is her idea that swings voters behind him. The unexpected consequences of its ramifications are less to her liking but it still (unlikely in my view) does not prevent her from continuing to work for the new President. Slaymaker is supposed to be charismatic and persuasive but more detachment might have been in order.

I note that Beckett seems to have adopted Connie Willis’s habit of narrative deferment. Here it is not so irritating as with Willis but the gaps before fulfillment of the teases are still too long for my taste. In addition I found most of the characters not to be as rounded as in Beckett’s Eden trilogy. But this is a different sort of book with more of a narrative drive. It might serve as a good introduction to Beckett’s work though and find him new readers.
Profile Image for Marjorie.
667 reviews6 followers
October 15, 2017
Although billed as a science fiction novel, I am not entirely sure that it really is one. Okay, it is set approximately 100 years in the future and we do have some evolved technology:

Drig - Transport system that reads like a cross between a helicopter and the S.H.I.E.L.D. transporter from Avengers Assemble.

Cristal - PDA/smartphone/general communication device.

Jeenee - Personal digital assistant.

Whisperstream - The lovechild of Twitter and Facebook. Fortunately still appears to have cat videos.

Broadscreen - mass communication device, basically a television.

The best one though is driverless cars that actually work.

Maybe the best bit of the technological aspect of the book is that Chris Beckett does not explain any of it. Much like Philip K Dick he leaves you to draw your own conclusions about the intent of the technology and how is applies within the wider fictional world. Not quite sure why this led me to list it and describe it but this is why I read not write!

The premise of the novel is that due to massive global warming the planet is being besieged by extreme storms and weather events. This has led to deserts in the Southern part of the country and the Eastern Seaboard is known as the Storm Coast. Mass migration by the "storm trash" and the "dust trash" is a major issue and is set to implode the United States of America.

America City follows Holly and Richard, a pair of delicados, and the efforts of Stephen Slaymaker to become the next president of the USA. Holly works in PR and has been headhunted by Slaymaker for his campaign to encourage government funded migration to the Northern States - a particularly unpleasant prospect for the Americans already living there.

Herein lies the reason why I think this is not a true science fiction story and is more a novel about the all-pervading reach of Social Media and how it, and the people behind it seeding their agendas into fact, manipulates us all. We already know that hat we see on our feeds is representative only of our beliefs and not necessarily a true world view and Mr Beckett has expounded on this and shows just how easy we can be manipulated by being told things we "want" to hear. He also shows just how far political campaigns will go to earn that 1% uplift in their polls - not really a surprise if you have ever watched any election coverage.

This is a well crafted novel that feels more like a prediction of what is to come rather than a "mere" story. The characters are rounded, especially the cameos from the displaced sections of the stormies and the dusties. The mechanics of the political campaign itself are actually pretty harrowing as you realise just how far some people will go in the pursuit of power and it does lend itself to conspiracy theories for the current political climate. The global warming tale is secondary to the politics but is very much a bedrock of the tale.

If Science Fiction is not your genre then do not be put off, this is not your standard, formulaic Sci-Fi. If Science Fiction is your genre then you will enjoy this book, particularly because it bypasses the normal tropes.

Profile Image for Ian.
328 reviews2 followers
December 5, 2017
America City is a tale about Earth in the future, ravished by global warming and the subsequent catastrophic results. It's set in America and Canada but there are a few nods to what's going on elsewhere in the world. In the US, the southern States have become badly hit, to the point more and more people are having to up roots and move further north. An enormous wall has been built between Mexico and America to keep residents of the former country out, who have already been brought to ruin and are keen to escape to a better life. The northern states resent the mass migration from the south, and our tale concerns Holly, a 'delicado' (modern day liberal) who, to the chagrin of her friends, finds herself working for right wing president elect Slaymaker. Although disagreeing with many of his policies, she believes his plans to help the displaced are the best, and with him works out a plan to convince Canada to give up her vast acres of land to Americans. However, many Canadians aren't so keen on the idea.

America City, despite being set a couple hundred years in the future, is a very topical book. Not only in its warnings about the threat of global warming, but in how it parallels the concerns many have with mass migration and the way politicians and the media lie and connive to win people's minds. In an America where Trump has singled out immigrants and the UK has voted to leave the EU, with the media hyping up open borders as a clear and present threat, it's easy to see what influenced Beckett to write this book. A lot of the success Holly achieves is through putting untruths and exaggerations out where they're easily accessible, in the 'whisperstream', a form of internet/social media that the populace at large spend much of their time in, mirroring many of the more underhanded form of politics today.

It's a thought provoking and engaging book, not afraid to ask questions of either side, and extremely well paced, easy to pick up and difficult to put down. The characters felt very real to me, Beckett was able to flesh out their lives and relationships in a way which maintained my interest in them as much as the story at large. I particularly enjoyed reading about Holly's struggles to balance her work and social life, with most of her friends disagreeing with who she was working with and what she was doing, how she disliked many of the people she worked with but still felt frustrated with some of her friends who talked good intentions without backing them up. As tensions come to a boil towards the finale, there's a sense of inevitability but disappointment about how we got there...in truth Beckett's vision of the future is a depressing one, one in which we've learnt nothing and are doomed to repeat the same mistakes, hold the same prejudices...but arguably a sadly too true one. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Ken Richards.
690 reviews3 followers
December 19, 2018
Chris Beckett's vision of North America a century on is unrelentingly grim, and depressingly plausible. Whilst the years of the 'Tyranny' are over, climate change has wrought havoc on both the east coast and on the arid southwest. Hordes of the USA's very own brand of Mexicans (storm trash from the battered East-coast and dust trash from the drought ravaged southwest) are flooding north, now housed into those great American institutions, the ubiquitous Trailer Parks, now repurposed as refugee camps. Real Mexicans are held back by the famous 'wall'. Those USAians resident in the northern regions are none too pleased to host their unfortunate fellow citizens. Why, property prices might fall, and they'd likely have to pay higher taxes to assist their countrymen. And as fine upstanding citizens, they have a sneaking suspicion that the refugees are somehow to blame for their own misfortune.

Cometh the hour then, cometh the man. Senator Steve Slaymaker, a self made billionaire trucking magnate has a dream to build a new America, in the northern states. New cities, new jobs, new opportunities. He is to run for the presidency (for the current iteration of the GOP) on this grand new deal. How to sell a notion so antithetical to his traditional constituency? Enter Holly Peacock, West coast liberal, PR maven and purveyor of 'fake news'. Slaymaker offers her the job of selling 'Reconfigure America' to the great unwashed masses. Whilst conflicted, it is an offer that Holly just cannot refuse.

The campaign she develops has at its heart the tried and true distraction 'Look Over There!' Divert your supporters from the things they dislike about your policy with someone else to blame. And the cunning plan? Blame Canada!

And so we remember how 'Lebensraum' came about, how the Sudetenland was absorbed, how Israel came to be, how Tibet became Han and how Crimea became once more Russian. All the time, history tells us that the strong will take what they wish from the weak.

Well written, and with many difficult questions to ask of the reader. Nobody gets off lightly. No matter what your views, you will find something in here to be ashamed about.
42 reviews
April 2, 2018
In this future, global warming is making the world less habitable. A runaway climate has led to much of the world, and specifically the south of America, to become almost unlivable - much of it is a desert, and much of it is ravaged by storms.

The story follows several victims of this change, but focuses on Holly, a left-leaning middle class person who is offered an opportunity to change the world by working with people her friends dispise. Perhaps starting with good intentions, the story follows the decisions to help southern Americans through to its awful conclusion.

This is a cynical and unpleasant vision of humanity - a lack of empathy and the self-serving nature of how we define "us" and "them". But it's very recognisable in our world right now and that makes America City a harrowing but worthwhile experience.

The whole thing rests on some climate change scenarios that may be relatively extreme. Whilst the predicted warming is certain to change where in the world is habitable or at least easy to live in, its not clear that it would really be necessary to retreat to the Arctic. Things also change extremely rapidly, which may be plausible but is not guaranteed. Still, we're sure to see strong pressures on people and governments diluent to climate change so it's a reasonable backdrop to the sad human story being told.

I dropped a star because I think the cynicism goes too far. Its a worst case scenario for the climate and for humanity. I think that people are not all bad and I was sad not to see some resistance to this selfish future, even if that resistance was ultimately futile.
Profile Image for Donald.
1,108 reviews9 followers
February 12, 2019
Although this is scifi, it's more accurately 'future history' there are no aliens, no spaceships, well there's an ongoing rumble about building one which never gets off the drawing board. What there is, is a USA ravaged by climate change, super storms devastating the east coast, and a west coast, and southern border, turning to dust. Fleeing from the unliveable States are an increasing number of displaced migrants, butting up against an increasingly belligerent North, resentful of their tax dollars bailing out folk that knew what was coming. Stepping into this building crisis is a senator who goes against everything his Party stands for, on a platform to help the migrants, and indeed hasten the flow of people north from the dying southern States. He runs for President on this platform and when it starts to lose him numbers his team, cleverly creates a common enemy to unite against. Canada. The vast open space to the North, with tight Visa restrictions and low population. It sounds insane, but reading the media manipulation going on, with AIs agitating the whisperverse it's all too easily done. People are nudged, the bots scoop up the real voices and amplify them. It's all very Trumpian, the fake news becomes real, and soon Canada has capitulated, allowing 3 US satellite cities to be built for the migrants, but of course that's not enough, with climate change only going to get worse the US needs more than city states, it wants the entire territories east of Alaska, and there's war...
34 reviews1 follower
October 10, 2017
In America City Chris Beckett gives us a frighteningly convincing vision of the future in a 22nd century world suffering the devastating effects of man-made climate change.
Most of the action takes place in North America, much of the rest of the world having descended into chaos and anarchy. Within the US extreme weather is forcing large-scale migration north and east creating tensions and hostility in the receiving areas.
Politicians and pressure groups manoeuvre to enlist support for their proposed and probably only temporary solutions, often using morally compromising tactics which include sophisticated methods of generating fake news.
We also see events through the eyes of individuals trying to cope with the upheaval in their own lives. The characters are believable and mostly engaging and sympathetic so it is easy to identify with their dilemmas. We may also be challenged to examine the stories we tell ourselves to justify our own choices, since many of the themes explored are relevant today.
There are some great futuristic touches, imagining how language, music and technology will develop.
This is a thoroughly satisfying and thought-provoking read, with an engaging story skilfully told.

Profile Image for Scott.
390 reviews
October 28, 2017
I received a free copy from readers first in exchange for an honest review.

Billed as sci-fi set 100 years in the future, it seems a little too real and close to home, it could almost be happening today. The USA is suffering from the effects of global warming, super storms batter the coasts and farmlands are drying up. The refugees from these are collectively labeled storm-trash and dust trash, and they are fleeing their homes to find a better place to live, but they aren't wanted.

There are talks of building walls to keep them in their own states (sound familiar with a certain president today). Then an up and coming senator called Slaymaker (a Dickens villain if ever i heard one) makes a run for president, on the platform of colonising Canada - so much unused green space that could fit all the refugees, and they end up creating three new super cities.

Obviously this doesn't go down well with the Canadians either, they are essentially being invaded, and they start to fight back, attacking the new cities.

Chapters alternate between character viewpoints, from the senators right hand woman to some of the refugees throughout their travels and their thoughts on the senator/future president. It is also a scary look into how people can be manipulated through social media, again something all to relevant today.
Profile Image for Malcolm Evans.
52 reviews2 followers
April 14, 2019
This was an enjoyable book to read although I found the earlier chapters rather repetitive with the plot not moving on very quickly. The pace increased in later chapters towards its sudden shocking end (no spoiler here I hope).
However, the book is classed as science fiction which apart from being set about 100 years in the future with reference to self driving electric cars and smarter phones which have not to have progressed much in all that time, I would say it is clearly not science fiction. I would class the book as socio-political.
Beckett, whilst being an English social worker himself sets the story in an America overcome by the effects of global warming. Even the spellings in the book is Americanised. He extrapolates current affairs under the Trump administration with a wall to keep Mexicans out into a role reversal where it is now Americans who are not welcome in Canada. The main protagonists of the story are very believable and one develops an affinity or an aversion to them depending upon which side of the political divide you find yourself.
This is the first book I have read by Beckett (called a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke award). I might try some of his other books even though it is not a genre I am familiar with.
Profile Image for Angela L.
310 reviews4 followers
January 1, 2018
America is no longer a great place to live (and nor is most of the rest of the world it seems) thanks to mass global warming that has made Mexico and the Southern States essentially uninhabitable due to ferocious and continuous storms/lack of meaningful rainfall.
In comes Holly, a PR in a world of increasing technological gadgetry where you thoughts are no longer your own and a hint of suggestion on the web can start a catalogue of rumour and lies. Her job now is to turn Steven Slaymaker into the next political hard hitter (presidential ambitions are clear here) and his solution is to move vast quantities of the US population to Canada.
Global warming aside, this is a book that portrays a stark message about the power of persuasion and how the masses can be coerced into actions that they would normally have considered as unconscionable.
Even when the US essentially force new cities upon Canada is it really the solution or just opening a whole new can of worms?
This is one of those books that will really get the reader thinking (and worrying about the state of the world for future generations).
107 reviews2 followers
August 13, 2018
climate change has ruined the planet; north america is drowning under the weight of climate refugees moving ever north. our protagonist is a british spin doctor working for a conservative presidential candidate whose goal is to resettle american climate refugees; she disagrees with most of his politics, as she's liberal (delicado, as the slang of the book's 40% hispanic america names her), but claims to want to get something done. that something leads to, uh, blaming all america's problems on canada.

this book is not a good book about america - or canada, boy - but it is a good book about the idea of america, and i think that is very worthwhile. it is clear that the author is not north american but this is both a strength and a weakness: it allows the mythology to take centre-stage, and let the reality slip into the background. beckett's fascination with narrative - how we build it, why we build it, the consequences of the stories we tell ourselves - is very, very well-served. the alternate america is well-built and convincing as a future place, without being too hung up on realism, and holly is a great, uncompromising and unlikable protagonist.
Profile Image for Max.
370 reviews
November 22, 2018
This disturbing novel shows us what could possibly happen in the US - but elsewhere as well - when, after the Trump administration(?) (The Tiranny), global warming chases people away from their homes - drought in the south, super storms in the east - and sets them adrift across the continent. Add to that an internet that is run by marekting geniuses and AIs, where everyone lives in his own bubble (hello, Facebook an Twitter) and citizens in the North of the US and elsewhere refuse to accept these home-grown "immigrants". Read about the solution thought up by one of the main charcters: young Holly Peacock (interestingly, a British immmigrant into the US, with social democrat parents) suggests "to invade" Canada, where space is abundant. She teams up with a politician Stephen Slaymaker, whose political ideas she does not support, but she does decide to help him in his effort to save America from disintegration. Disturbing indeed. Beckett forces us to think about immigration, refugees, environmental disaster and how we deal with them now. If we don't act now, his novel might serve as a blue print for the 22nd century.
Profile Image for Jessica Bronder.
2,013 reviews21 followers
August 18, 2019
One hundred years into the future America is a different country. Climate change has hurricanes slamming into our coasts and turning the southwest into a giant dust bowl. People are desperate for a place to live and start moving to the northern states. But those states don’t want them and threaten to shut borders down. As tensions increase a politician called Slaymaker runs for president on the grounds of reconfiguring America.

Although set in our future this book has a taste of what we live with today. But I have to say that part that got me was the media and campaigning tools. It’s sad in today’s world to see how stories get spins put on them to appeal to one person’s beliefs. This is a sad example of where that could go.

I don’t always like to read books that are so heavy in regards to politics with today’s reactions. I went into this book with an open mind and found it an interesting take on world events. It has several points that make you think of different possibilities. It’s definitely an interesting read.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. I voluntarily chose to read and post an honest review.
Profile Image for Laurie.
60 reviews11 followers
October 21, 2017
This book, although classed as such, did not read like Science Fiction to me but more like Science Fact. The political climate portrayed in the book is so close to our own, it made for quite a scary read. I really questioned the characters true intentions throughout this book, and was engrossed in Becketts observations of our very human traits.
This book made me evaluate my own views on our planet, how things are currently progressing, and also what could I do, or has the human race already set itself on the path to where this book leads?
I could clearly see the events in this book happening in 100 years when it is set, as a lot of it is happening right now in our current time. It is human nature to perpetuate these values, and human nature to protect ourselves and our own when things get tough or you're brought against a common enemy.
An engrossing read, and a highly probable (and frightening!) prediction of our future.
Profile Image for Louise Hare.
Author 4 books188 followers
December 11, 2017
Set around one hundred years from today, the great strength of this book is in the parallels it draws to our current political and environmental climates.

Seen mostly through the eyes of Holly, an ambitious publicist, and Richard, her academic husband, this story is centred on a US presidential campaign where the stakes are higher than ever before. The US is divided into the more habitable north, and a south which is either drought ridden or storm battered. There is already a wall along the Mexican border and now the migrants are those who battled the weather until they had nothing left and have been forced to flee northwards. But what happens when the north is full and the weather keeps coming?

The premise put forward in this novel is scarily plausible, and I loved the nods to our current situation and how badly things could go wrong. I don't think you'd have to be a sci-fi fan to enjoy this novel.
Profile Image for Richard Mullahy.
119 reviews
January 31, 2018
A book about climate change that isn't really about climate change. Rather that's the vehicle that the author uses for a very smart and well thought through exploration of where technology and politics could be headed, addressing the current hot topics of social media, immigration and the polarised political system in the US. The ease with which large cohorts of the population can be manipulated for short-term political gain and the unintended long-term consequences of that manipulation actions are central to this novel. The structure is good, counterpointing the big decision-making with the thoughts of the people on the ground. The world Beckett posits is all-too possible, with the impacts of the climatic feedback loops for which this generation is responsible. The disappointment is that the concept could have been taken further with more deeply drawn characters, who come across merely as ciphers. That would give this book the attention that it deserves for its concept.
6 reviews
November 16, 2020
Although, I myself often resort to reading dystopian style books, I didn’t actually become as invested in the book as I thought I would be at first. This may be due to its focus on politics, which I do not have a deep interest in. However, I was shocked to realise that once reading for a few times I was completely and utterly intrigued.

I am very fond of the authors style of writer and how the story was told through the two protagonists.

Even-though the book is science fiction and set in the future, the possibility of this become a reality is striking. Especially due to the mentions of climate change and global warming. This realistic future that has been created terrified me and maybe many other readers.

Overall, I would say that the structure of the novel was very well done. I personally didn’t like the concept as i find it too similar to a future that may come our way.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
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