Robert Wildwood’s novel straddles a line between dystopian science fiction and fantasy. Set on a future earth, humankind has adapted, societally and geographically, to deal with the worldwide consequences of out-of-control global warming. The book follows Duffy Shoreman, a somewhat reticent cafe owner from the now-temperate Thunder Bay area around Ontario, Canada. He gets dragged out of his comfort zone after a mysterious set up for a crime related to aiding climate refugees heading north from the nearly uninhabitable desert areas that make up much of the United States. Meanwhile, a parallel plot unfolds as Duffy begins having dreams involving a society of evolved frogs and turtles facing a similar issue with their planet Gaeiou, which is not as far gone as earth, but is quickly coming up on its own climate catastrophe.
Wildwood excels in world-building. He quite adeptly weaves in the small, futuristic, yet believable details that make for engrossing science fiction. The near-future earth portrayed is still recognizable, but marked by advances and technologies that are just beyond the current ken of our cultural moment. My personal favorites are the “robo-chefs,” which essentially handle all food service in the future, and the weapon scanners, which are included as part of the standard utilities on buildings. On Gaeiou, the highly evolved psychic cats communing with nature are particularly striking ancillary characters. Touches like these set the stage for the Philip K. Dick-style mystery that unfolds within the ever-growing conspiratorial circles that Duffy finds himself navigating, through places and concepts that are familiar yet disarmingly askew from what we, the readers, are used to in our experiences.
Where Generation Snow falls short is in the dialogue and plotting. Many of the characters, both on earth and Gaeiou talk in stilted patterns which are almost fatally weighed down with didactic clutter, to the point that oftentimes the characters come off more as embodied parables rather than living, breathing characters. The stiffness of the characterizations, especially of Duffy, leads to odd narrative moments, such as when he becomes the catalyst that sparks a worldwide revolution with not much more than a half-hearted speech. The sudden tumult Duffy starts comes after spending most of the book coming off as a curmudgeon longing to hang out in his cafe rather than as any kind of an inspirational figure of messianic importance. It seems the major plot movements happen in spite of rather than because of him.
The parallel plot of the young frogs and turtles working to draw their planet to a more sustainable path fares even worse as their more mystically oriented story often brings the momentum of Duffy’s adventure to a crashing halt, until the two threads finally—and confusingly—cross over during the book’s climax. Wildwood is halfway towards crafting stories in the politically aware, alternate/future history vein of writers like Huxley, Dick, and Vonnegut, but needs to work at hammering out characters as believable and interesting as his worlds. –Adrian Salas (Self published, 1225 E 11th St., Duluth, MN, 55805, [email protected])