James Bradley’s literary dystopian novel CLADE tells the story of three generations of a family living in a world dealing with climate change caused by global warming. A clade is a group of life forms consisting of an original form and its descendants. Similarly, we get the story of Adam Leith, a climate scientist living in the near future, and his offspring. Their stories are filled with typical human joys and pain while the world slowly changes and becomes increasingly hostile to life and civilization.
As a cautionary tale, CLADE works very well, making climate change and its effects the backdrop of each of the book’s interconnected stories. Fish die-offs, bird die-offs, rising sea levels, mass extinctions, super storms and resulting flooding, killer heat waves, disease, and social unrest plague the planet as things keep getting worse. By focusing on a single family, Bradley makes it all personal, and by showing three generations, he’s able to flash forward so we see the impact of climate change occurring rapidly. The author’s literary style is engaging.
The book’s advantages, however, may also challenge some readers. By switching point of view and jumping forward in time in a short book, it’s hard to get invested in any one character and care about them. For me, the biggest problem is aside from Adam and his daughter Summer escaping massive flooding in a depressed England, they don’t really suffer from the effects of climate change. There are millions of climate refugees, economies are staggering, and the food chain is collapsing, but they all seem to live out their lives in relative comfort, able to focus on the mundane and relatively trivial goings on in their lives. While the world is getting worse, there is no real sense it is getting worse for them, which keeps the reader a safe distance from the impending misery the author is trying to communicate. In contrast, THE FOUNTAIN AT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD takes a similar approach by telling the human story of globalization, but in a much more coherent, personal, visceral way; you feel as well as see its effects, and you become deeply invested in the characters.
When I think about climate change, I seriously worry for my children, my species, and myself. As in this book, because we lack the political will to buck the elites and do something about climate change, we and our descendants will suffer for it, and I doubt we’ll make out as well as the people in this novel.