JAMES Miller's latest book, Sunshine State, is a very scary thing to read. If you are one of those people who are concerned about global warming, environmental degradation or holes in the ozone layers, then this book will scare you too.
Books like The Things That Keep Us Here by Carla Buckley, Down to A Sunless Sea by David Graham and Flood by Stephen Baxter are part of a growing eco-thriller genre that is making inroads into the science fiction world.
Like the books mentioned, Sunshine State is not a non-fiction tome written by a crusty scientist or a crazy environmentalist, it's a novel that combines a couple of issues that are of central concern in this day and age.
One: The terrible impact of the dirty wars occurring repeatedly around the world; and Two: The apparent increase in terrible weather systems that are devastating certain parts of the United States' coast.
Miller's book is a kind of 'mash-up' of these two themes. Mark Burrows is a member of the British secret service. He's trying to get out; his wife is pregnant, his best mate is dead and he feels like he's dying a little every time he goes on another mission.
Mark came to manhood in the heat of various deserts, a part of the UK's dirty wars. He followed orders, and followed them well, but now he is beginning to question whether or not his entire life was wrong.
Out of the screaming blue sky of a London engulfed in a major, long-lasting heatwave, Mark is given his last mission – to head for the "Storm Zone" in the US and track down his best mate; the man who is supposed to be dead.
The reason why Sunshine State is so scary is because it is completely believable. The references to Hurricane Katrina – which has already occurred – are factual spices to the future-present recipe of Miller's book.
The Storm Zone is a swathe of destroyed country that's taken out most of Louisiana, southern California and other southern American states. The cities are gone, the people are mad, scared or locked tight behind giant walls and the army uses the whole area as a "training zone".
When reading about the Storm Zone – with its micro-communities of hippies and clubbers; Apocalyptics waiting for the world to end, drug runners and the Queer Liberation Army escaping from zealous born-again Christianity – you can see the ideas have all come from things that are happening now in America and around the world.
Interspersed with Mark's trip into the insanity that is the Storm Zone, are excerpts from interviews he had with a psychologist after his last disastrous mission with his former best friend, Charlie Ashe. These fragments give the reader an insight into what Mark is really all about; how he became the “invisible man” of British intelligence.
There's a defined strand of militant religiosity also running through Sunshine State. First, the Muslim terrorists that Mark and Charlie kill by the thousands in the desert and then the creepy, Pastor as the President of the United States and his white, gun-totting "Witch Hunters".
Miller carefully paints no one religion as being any worse than the other; but they both appear to be mad in his rendering. It is the militancy that stands out; true believers of both faiths are painted more gently.
Sunshine State is a great read; it's intelligently written, it's set not far into the future so non-science fiction lovers will enjoy the action and the themes give you a disconcerting feeling that what it's talking about could really happen.
While Sunshine State might not scare everyone, it will certainly make you think a little more seriously about recycling your rubbish... just in case.
Sunshine State by James Miller is published by Little, Brown and is available from good book stores and online.