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. . . .
“Well,” the doctor said,” I really can’t tell you what the problem is.”
“Why not?” Garenika asked, her voice tinged with its increasingly frequent sense of panic. “Why can’t you find an answer for us? Look at him –he’s losing weight, his skin keeps getting blotchier, and he’s exhausted all the time.”
“I’m sorry. As you probably know, we’re pretty sure that we’re seeing all these new diseases because the climate change has wiped out a lot of the beneficial bacteria that we used to have in our bodies. Commensals, they’re called. But we’ve never really figured out how they work, so it’s hard to compensate for their disappearance.”
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.”
“How do you figure that?” said Dan.
Josh was obviously waiting for that question. “Mountain America has 24 million people, the UFA has 25 or 26 million, and Pacifica has 12 or 13.
“Well, that’s a little over 60 million by my math. Canada has 150 million.”
“Yeah, but five million of them are in New England, and another 20 are in Alaska. Those used to be part of the United States. If you subtract 25 million people from Canada and add them to us, the difference gets a lot smaller.”
“But why would all those people want to leave a richer, stronger country with a decent climate to join three smaller, overheated ones?”
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.”
“So it would seem,” said Dan, “but it never works. It’s a matter of social organization, not engineering. You’ve got to keep a power plant going all the time. As soon as it breaks down, or the fuel supply is interrupted, or one of your enemies blows it up, you die. Then there are the biter bugs. You’ve got to give everyone a stun gun or life is just intolerable. Even with the guns, it’s pretty damn unpleasant.
Ch. 7, pp. 80-81
“Since American history isn’t taught in our high schools any more, I get students in my classes who think that all the people in the coastal cities died when huge tidal waves suddenly came crashing over them.”
“Well, the teachers probably don’t want to deal with the fact that so many of them were killed by other Americans.”
“I used to think that too, but I wonder about it now. After all, it was the UFA that did most of the killing, not Mountain America. In addition to those huge machine gun batteries they had along the Appalachians, they put gunboats in the Ohio and Potomac Rivers and on Mississippi Bay, so very few of the refugees could even reach us. The ones that came into Mountain America were mainly from Houston, and we let them in because we were under-populated.”
“You know Stuart, I never had American history in high school either.” Dan said, as they began walking back to the car. “And I spent most of my time in college studying science. It’s a little hard to imagine that many people being killed by machine guns. I mean, there must have been over a hundred million of them.”
“Actually, you’re right. What happened is that most of the people realized they wouldn’t be able to get into the UFA and just returned to their homes in the coastal cities. With a few feet of water on the ground, services broke down, food and drinking water wasn’t supplied, and the people gradually died from thirst, hunger or disease.”
Ch. 9, p. 98-99
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. . . .
Although Dan’s knowledge of the Confederacies was spotty, he was able to guess where he was and what was happening. They were driving along the land bordering the Gulf of Mexico and had just driven around the northern end of Mobile inlet. Because of the tidal surges from the Gulf, to say nothing of the brutal heat in summer, this land was uninhabitable and no longer controlled by any of the Confederacies. Clearly, they had turned off the commercial freeway and taken this circuitous path to get around Montgomery, which, as Dan recalled, had a particularly aggressive government aligned with only a few small states like Mid-Tennessee and the Orlando Islands.
Ch. 9, p. 101
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: