Ark by Stephen Baxter (2010) is the sequel to his 2009 thriller, Flood, and the book leads us to believe that a trilogy is in the making. This book starts off exactly where the first book left off. In fact, the words are identical so you feel like you are experiencing a little de ja vu as you begin. From the first scene we are quickly transported to a parallel storyline. While Flood looked at the world from one point of view (Lily Brooke’s almost exclusively), Ark looks at the world from Holle Groundwater’s point of view. We meet Holle when she is six and her father is meeting with other rich people to try to figure out how to survive the inevitable as the sea rises to meet them. We see Nathan Lammockson briefly and learn how he started his Ark Three project, but now we focus on Ark One throughout a large part of this book.
As one might imagine, there are three ways of dealing with a flooding planet: learn to live on the water, learn to live under the water, or get the heck off the planet. Ark Three was a ship that floated on the water while Ark One was the project that went off the planet. For about fifteen years, the children of wealthy families trained to be able to function in outer space as they looked for a new home. Chaos continually ensues as the mission becomes national news and more people are displaced by the flood. Eventually Ark One takes off with a team of highly trained individuals, called Candidates, a group of last minute additions to the Ark, called gatecrashers, and a few surprise travelers who muscled their way on board as the spaceship was taking off (illegals).
Thanks to the political maneuverings of the President, the gatecrashers kept some Candidates from being able to take the journey. This is especially hard on those who were counting on their partners for their expertise as well as their companionship. The first few years were tough as the crew had to deal with their losses and the inadequate training of the gatecrashers and the illegals. As in Flood, Baxter skips large chunks of time so that he can get to his next storyline. It becomes more tedious in this book than it was in the first book.
Ark had a lot of potential to be a great book but I think it was only a good book. So much was set up for us in Flood, especially as storylines overlapped, and when characters were developed in this book, we find ourselves rooting for the good guys. A story doesn’t have to be predictable to be good, but when the good guys don’t seem to catch a break, the story gets old. Humanity is full of hard decisions but the great thing about reading a story is that we can lose ourselves in the possibility of “what-if”. What if it gets to go RIGHT this time? The time-jumping that happens in this book is immense and it becomes almost unbelievable at the end that the crew was able to accomplish their mission.
Of course, one of the intriguing facets of this book was called the Split. It is in this facet of the book that we find an inkling of the third book in our trilogy. One part of the crew decides to live on the first planet they find “Earth II”. Another part of the crew decides to go back home to Earth and the third segment of the crew goes on to find “Earth III”. Back on Earth we discover that there is an Ark Two but the storyline abruptly ends. Once the final crew of Ark One makes it way to Earth III, they are not all able to get to the planet’s surface, thus opening the door for additional exploration.
One thing I hope for the third book is this: if there is to be any jumping around, please let it be between stories in the same timeline on different planets, rather than losing big chunks of people’s lives. It gets old after two books.