Smith’s dystopian debut conjures a scorched future in which salvation lies under a dome—or does it?
It’s 2025, and water is scarce. This is a natural state of affairs for Austin, Texas, but things have progressed past normal; a drought has sunk its claws into the city, even as other parts of the country drown under flooding rains. Dr. Frank Harvey, a botanist, has an idea that might get things back on track: a pipeline that would bring water from the flooded areas to the parched deserts of the state. The residents would then have their own lake, orchards and hydroponic farms. Frank’s boss and source of funding, Pierce Wagner, suggests enclosing the area in a glass dome so the crops will be safe from the elements. However, once implemented, the plan leads to a split between haves and have-nots, particularly when Wagner decides to lock the dome and cut off access to outsiders. Frank desperately tries to convince his ex-wife Etta to move into the dome with him and bring their 6-year-old son, Alex, but Etta can’t forgive herself for things that happened before their split and decides to stay outside. Ten years later, Alex is angry at his father for abandoning them, and although he steals food continuously, Etta is slowly starving to death outside the dome. When the computer network that dominates both communities is hacked, tensions come to a boil and revolution seems imminent. Smith deftly reveals Frank’s sense of disconnection, exacerbated by the privileged lives that people live in the dome. As the story intercuts between Frank’s and Alex’s personal turmoils, there’s plenty of timely social commentary, but it avoids ever feeling preachy. That said, the novel feels oddly glib at times; it’s a slim book, and Smith races through the plot so quickly that few events leave memorable impressions. Ultimately, though, the book ably fulfills the purpose of the environmental science-fiction genre: to warn present society about what could happen if it doesn’t take responsibility for its future.
A solemn look at the disasters that humans visit upon themselves.