THE HEATSTROKE LINE, a cli-fi novel, is set at an indeterminate time in the future, although given the events the author describes as occurring, it could not be less than 100 years. He thought of it as about 175-200 years in the future and didn't think it would be plausible for more time to have elapsed, since daily conversation and speech remains essentially contemporary.The assumption in the novel is that the ''climate change deniers'' won out and nothing was done to prevent global warming.
The basic effects described are as follows:
- 1. The US coastal cities were flooded so regularly that they became uninhabitable, and people had to move inland. At first, the US demanded that Canada take the ''climate refugees'' population; when it refused, the US dropped nuclear bombs on Toronto and Montreal. Shortly after this, political stress from the climate refugees and other disruptions caused the outbreak of a civil war. Canada took advantage of this situation to invade the Lower 48 and Alaska. Either before or after the Canadian invasion (the author doesn't specify) the US broke apart into three separate countries (the Northwest, the Mountain States and the Midwest, which is called the UFA). Canada seized Alaska and New England and transported the topsoil out of the Plains states (the land between the Mississippi and 100 degrees West Longitude) so that it could engage in temperate zone agriculture on the land surrounding Hudson's Bay.
- 2. The three successor nations in the US have a fully tropical climate and grow bananas, coffee and citrus fruit. Temperatures are described as going as high as 130 F in the summer. The assumption is that they drop into the 80s in the winter, but the author does not specify, since none of the action in the book takes place in these nations during the winter months .
- 3. ''The Heatstroke Line'' of the title runs along the Potomac and Ohio Rivers and then at 37 degrees North Latitude. Below this line, temperatures are consistently about 130-40 for half the year, dropping no lower than the 90s in the remaining half. A small number of people live below the Heatstroke Line east of 100 degrees West Latitude, in small principalities called the Confederacies. They depend upon year-round air-conditioning for their survival. West of that, there is no water and the land is uninhabited. ]
- 4. The last scene in the book occurs when the main character has to walk a little more than a mile in Birmingham, Alabama (i.e., below the Heatstroke Line) in April. The temperature is about 140 degrees F. He in fact suffers heatstroke, and almost dies. But the 12 year old girl who goes with him is not described as suffering heatstroke. This is the scene depicted in the cover illustration by artist Emma Podietz!
- 5. Below the Heatstroke Line, flesh-eating insects, called ''biter bugs,'' have become endemic. As of the time the action in the book occurs (a period of 8 months) they have not spread north of the Heatstroke Line. The bugs are used as a literary device to motivate the action; symbolically, they represent the various collateral consequences that climate change might involve. The bugs are (very) unpleasant, but the decline of the U.S., and the dominance of Canada, is attributed to the heat, not the bugs.
[Here are the passages from the book that describe the effects of climate change, but page numbers may change as the book goes to press in the editorial and publishing process so the page numbers cited here are approximate. However, you can easily find the passages in your copy of the book.]
Ch. 1, pp. 1-2
On a blazing, early September afternoon, with the outdoor temperature spiking at 130 degrees Fahrenheit, he was sitting with Garenika in the waiting room at Denver Diagnostic Clinic while Michael was being examined by still one more doctor. . . .
Ch. 1, p. 7
We were the most powerful nation on Earth before the Second Civil War. And we could be powerful again if the three Successor States united. Just think, we’d have almost as many people as Canada.”
Ch, 1, p. 8
Why exactly is that?” Garenika asked. “You can live below the Heatstroke Line if you have air conditioning. I mean, I’m a nutritionist, not an h-vac engineer, but the Halcyon units are really good. Ours can handle 150 degree weather easily.”
Ch. 7, pp. 80-81
Further down the road [in Mississippi] was a forest of dead pine trees, their needles uniformly brown, their trunks covered with discolored patches. Probably an infestation by one of the newly aggressive varieties of bark beetle, Dan surmised; he had spent several years combatting an attack by a related species on Mountain America's coffee crop. . . . After a while, the van turned left onto an even narrower road, not much more than a single lane, and headed east again. To his right, the land stretched out in a dead-flat, treeless expanse of marsh grasses and weeds, with pools of dark water scattered across it. . . .
He went out into the rain, which had let up only slightly, and faced out toward the Gulf. The scene in front of him was desolate –nothing but water-logged grass, brackish ponds, a grey sky and rain. Then he noticed some sort of ruined building in the distance, a concrete structure that had partially collapsed. He realized that there had been cities, towns and farms here, that the people who lived in them had probably died, as Stuart had described. This sodden marsh was covering thousands of bodies, buried in the mud and rotting into nothingness. Dan had a sudden image that their lifeless faces lay just below the surface of the muddy water, staring blankly upward.
''THE HEATSTROKE LINE'' is part of a new literary genre called "cli-fi" (for
climate-change fiction). It takes place in the near future. For background purposes, assume that it's
about 150 years from now.
A brief news item about Emma Podietz who did the cover illustration for the novel: