Here at What’s New In Book Reviews, besides reviews, I like to sometimes let my readers know about the thought processes of authors, through interviews with them. This allows us to have an insight into the books we all read and enjoy. Today, I’m honored to be interviewing the author of the current bestselling SF thriller, Arctic Rising, Tobias S. Buckell. In it, he paints a picture of the ice caps melting due to global warming, Canada becoming an economic powerhouse, and what happens when a super weapon falls into the wrong hands. Without further prelude, let’s get on to the questions!
Douglas R. Cobb: Tobias, what are some of your favorite books and who are some of your favorite authors? Who influenced you the most to pursue a career in writing?
Tobias S. Buckell: When I was six years old I read Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. I’d read a few novels before that, I remember the first ‘book’ I read being a Clive Cussler novel. But Childhood’s End was the book that just blew my head open with ideas. I became very interested in science fiction as a result of it, and never looked back.
This may seem like an odd question, but what does the “S” that is your middle initial stand for? I am asking because I was wondering if it stood for “Smollet,” because Tobias Smollet is one of my favorite 18th. century novelists (yeah, I have more than one).
Hah! It’s Samuel. My full name is Tobias Samuel Buckell.
Before I get on to a few questions about Arctic Rising, Tobias, I’d like to ask you a couple of questions about another bestselling SF novel you’ve written, Halo: The Cole Protocol. For people who may be familiar with the Halo game, but not Halo: The Cole Protocol, could you please tell my readers a little bit about what it’s about?
Halo: The Cole Protocol is a novel based on the hit video game series Halo. I play it a lot (among other games, the closest thing I have to a hobby is my Xbox, I’m currently loving Skyrim) and when I was offered a chance to write a Halo novel jumped for it. It’s a military science fiction game, but with a very cool back story that reminds me of some of the bigger idea SF out there.
In Halo: The Cole Protocol, did you try to stay true to already established characters and a plotline, or did you create new characters and were you given creative license to take the story in new directions?
I was given a great deal of artistic license by everyone, even though I did have to stay within the guidelines of the worlds they had created I could invent new characters to take the story in a new direction. I spent a lot of time trying to explore the motivations of the civilian rebels, the Insurrectionists.
Arctic Rising is a great title for your latest book, Tobias. What gave you the idea to call it that?
I wish I could say. I wanted to use the word Arctic in there, as that’s the setting. The use of ‘Rising’ is somewhat common in thrillers, so I mashed them together and quite liked the result.
In Arctic Rising, you depict what might happen if the polar ice cap melts and there is an international race to gain access to the newly accessible resources that lie beneath it.
How much of what you write about do you extrapolate from the declassified U.S. Military think tank research that you had the opportunity to read?
I stumbled across a few documents that were declassified about the military’s own global warming research and their efforts to use alternative energy and was quite struck by the fact that the US military is one of the largest consumers of oil and one of the most aware of how dependent that makes them. They’re one of the leaders in testing biofuels for use in planes, and they’re very interested about what happens about the Arctic Ocean, because that has budget implications for the US Navy and Coast Guard. And their take on what’s happening is very different that the politicians. They’re very worried about destabilizing influences from the impact of global warming across the world.
Your main female protagonist is Anika Duncan. What is her job with the UNPG (United Nations Polar Guard), and what does she and her fellow employee, Tom Hutton, detect about the Russian ship Kosatka that causes them to be alarmed?
Their job is to look for radiation signals from ships passing through the Northwest Passage, which is exactly what they find, and gets them shot down!
One very grave and real concern you write about in Arctic Rising is the dumping of nuclear waste by ships off the coastlines of countries like those of Africa.
To what extent (that you know of) is such dumping going on today?
Most of that is stuff I ripped from the headlines. There’s a website that is actually dedicated to tracking the number of ships with toxic waste on them that ‘accidentally’ founder and sink in our oceans. Strangely enough they tend to do this right over deep spots in the ocean. When the tsunami hit East Africa, there were many verified complaints of toxic drums washing up from the ocean’s depths there. It seems to be more common than we realize.
Do you believe that Canada would likely become an economic giant if the Northwest Passage was opened and more land and resources were uncovered due to the melting of the polar ice cap?
Canada’s already angling to get the benefits of that. They’re planning the opening of a Northwest deep water harbor, increasing budgets, and so on. With more arable land and a very generous immigration policy, Canada has the ability to grow fast, take advantage of the resources that open up, and benefit from being a place that shipping then passes through. There are a lot of upsides for Canada. Downsides, however, will be displaced First Nations peoples as ice melts, changing their territories, and the influx of outsiders that will threaten to displace them as a natural resource rush occurs.
I really liked how you incorporate an environmental theme into your novel without getting too preachy about it (though the melting of the polar ice caps should concern us all), and still have managed to write an action-packed story.
What does the Gaia Corporation want to do to help reverse the melting of the ice cap? How does Anika learn about their plans and how does the Gaia Corporation’s scheme go so terribly wrong?
Thank you. That was what I was aiming for. Well, one of my observations is that some people tend to lay claim to the idea that simple geo-engineering will solve the problem. That’s a very sexy idea, and alluring, because it lets you acknowledge the problem that 90% or higher of scientists say is bearing down on us, but then not have to worry about it. The problem is, most geo-engineering can be seen as a double-edged sword, as it has a side effect of often being able to be used as a weapon. If you can control the weather, what can you do with it besides just turning back warming?
Excellent answers so far! I just have a couple more questions for you, Tobias! Unlike some people who focus on only the bad things that global warming can bring, you also write about some potentially beneficial aspects of it. Do you think that the good and bad aspects really might end up balancing each other out?
I tried to show it as a complicated set of reactions. I don’t know if they would cancel each other out, I think that unchecked warming will lead to some seriously dangerous weather, from what scientists point out. It’s not just that we’ve had warm weather in the Earth’s history, it’s that we’re destabilizing the normal rhythms and potentially causing a runaway effect. It’d really suck to turn our world into Venus, which suffered from a runaway hot house effect. It’s a good idea to not create run away affects. As a species, I do think we can survive cataclysm fairly well, but the end result of not ever stopping dumping heat into an atmosphere is, really far down the road to be sure, potentially pretty tough if we want to have all the billions of people we have around still around. Even in the short term, super hurricanes and coastal flooding sound like a bit of a bummer. Part of the reason I wanted to write this book, though, is it looks like we’ve already warmed the Earth up enough we’re going to reap some of this, and that it’s not even possible to turn it all the way back, but just to stabilize it. So we’re already at a point where we have to make peace with the fact that weather is going to be weirder from now on, and that we’ll lose the Arctic. What does that mean? I wanted to try and answer that. I do think in the book I’ve pointed out that due to rising costs in fuel people are already adapting to the circumstances, using wind power where they can, and so forth.
Tobias, as Ben Bova mentions in a blurb he wrote about your book, Arctic Rising, it is a very cinematic one. Have you been approached by anyone yet to buy the rights to make it into a movie? It would make an excellent flick! Also, are you working on another project now, or are you too busy promoting your current one at the moment?
So far no movie rights have been sold. I’m currently working on a couple of new books, while trying to juggle promoting Arctic Rising. Hopefully I can find the right balance!
Thanks, Tobias, for agreeing to do this interview with me! Your answers were fantastic, and I hope anyone who reads this interview will enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed being able to ask you these questions! I wish you much luck, happiness, and further success with your writing, and I’m looking forward to reading more from you in the coming years.