When it comes to thrillers, readers are often drawn toward fiction that mirrors their real-world concerns. During the Cold War, spy thrillers were popular. Now that environmental concerns have gained the ascendency, we’re seeing a surge of thrillers in that genre. All thrillers play on people’s fears, but environmental thrillers pit man against nature in the classic struggle with a twist: Man’s interference with the natural world is often the source of the problem. That deep irony at the story’s core is what makes eco-thrillers so compelling. Bad things are happening, nature is turning on the characters – but the characters have brought the situation about themselves.
My environmental thriller FREEZING POINT features a concerned environmentalist who thinks he can alleviate the world’s desperate need for pure, fresh water by melting Antarctic icebergs into drinking water. Instead, his lack of understanding of the polar environment, coupled with corporate greed, creates an even bigger problem that ultimately threatens the entire planet.
One of the perks of writing a novel like FREEZING POINT is that I get to consult with experts in various scientific fields and learn about the subjects that fascinate me. But a consequence of researching an environmental thriller is that the more you learn, the more you realize a situation of which you were previously aware only peripherally, is actually far worse than you imagined.
The world’s water crisis is truly scary. According to Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water, by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, the Ogallala Aquifer is being depleted fourteen times faster than nature can replenish it. Silicon Valley has more water-polluting EPA Superfund sites than anywhere in the U.S. Thirty percent of the groundwater under Phoenix is contaminated, and the Colorado River is so oversubscribed that by the time it passes though the seven states tapping into it, there’s almost nothing left to go out to sea. Uneven distribution, pollution, abuse of the aquifer – the list goes on and on. These and other environmental problems desperately need solving. The earth is our home. If the environment turns on us, there’s no safe place. It’s hard to think of a situation more genuinely frightening.
However, I didn’t write FREEZING POINT to shine a light on a problem – we have Al Gore and others for that. My novel isn’t a treatise on the world’s water crisis or global warming – it’s a story, meant to entertain. If readers come away with an increased awareness of the real-world situation, that’s great. But if they finish thinking they’ve just read a terrific book, that’s even better. Because in environmental thrillers, when nature bites, it’s the story that bites back.
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