Sunday, June 30, 2024


EMERGENCY WEATHER by Tim Jones (The Cuba Press, 2023)

Reviewed by Alyson Baker

Zeke has to stay with his aunt and uncle in Lower Hutt after a landslide takes his East Coast home off its foundations. Allie puts her drought-ridden Otago dairy farm out of her mind and catches a plane to the capital city. Stephanie wonders why she’s sitting around a table at the Ministry for Resilience – again.

In 'Emergency Weather', three people find themselves in Wellington as the climate crisis crashes into their lives. A giant storm is on its way – what will be left of the city when it’s over?, 

An Aotearoa we are all familiar with – extreme weather events, houses washed away, roads impassable, calls for resilience and re-building. But in Emergency Weather these events have become more extreme: “Glacial slowness had become an oxymoron.” The landscape is scarred: in Wellington there are wind turbines with their blades ripped off, many roofs replaced by plastic sheeting.

We trace the stories of three people through what has become a treacherous unpredictable land. Allie is an Otago dairy farmer whose husband has not been able to overcome the despair of endless droughts. Zeke is a teenager whose house has been swept away by flooding on the East Coast. Stephanie is a climate scientist in Wellington, a policy advisor, whose advice is welcomed, yet ignored.

When Allie accepts an invitation from Matt, her brother-in-law, the Minister for Resilience, to take a break in Wellington with him and his husband, she accepts. Zeke is sent to Wellington while his Mum waits for government relief and a plan to re-home her family. Stephanie’s wife, Miranda, builds windfarms, and they are part of a group re-wilding areas around Wellington. Stephanie likes the camaraderie of the group but knows their efforts will be futile, their plantings eventually washed away in the rising sea.

The plotting of Emergency Weather is brilliant. Allie’s harrowing attempt to reach Dunedin Airport, and Stephanie and Miranda’s nightmare tramping trip prepare the reader for what lies ahead. The three main characters weave around each other in passing before eventually ending up in the same place – a memorial service held after a climate catastrophe. The death toll is 43: “a good number for action: large enough to be shocking, small enough that the people killed could be distinguished in the public mind, could be seen as individuals rather than statistics.”

That is what Emergency Weather is about: how can people be motivated to act? All the main characters have ample motive for action, but all, even Stephanie, find themselves not wanting their lives to change, or planning a future centred on new hope and possibilities. Stephanie knows the science, but that doesn’t trump her relationship with Miranda. Allie meets someone who gives her options, something she hasn’t experienced in a long time. And Zeke is drawn into the climate action movement through attraction to privileged but driven Caity: “What would it be like to choose what you wanted to worry about?”

Emergency Weather is refreshingly complex when considering the differing views regarding global warming, while being very clear about the problem. In the Beehive, a “place where Euclidean geometry went to die”, Matt must manoeuvre between powerful lobby groups and activists. The terrifying denouement occurs while Stephanie is at another talkfest taking place on the Wellington waterfront. Zeke and his new mates are there to make their opinions known. And Allie is at the airport heading back to the farm.

Jones’ descriptions of the effects of two colliding weather fronts are gripping. Having seen footage of, or experienced, Cyclone Gabrielle, or the aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake, the havoc is readily imagined. And in the midst of it, the actions of characters we have come to know are heart-breaking and heroic: “Zeke felt as though all those hours in front of the [games] console had prepared him for this moment.”

Emergency Weather offers no easy answers: “If words could chemically react with carbon dioxide to draw it safely down from the atmosphere, then Matt would be making an outstanding contribution to climate action.” But it does tell a story of how when people are confronted with a common threat, they can work together to overcome it. Emergency Weather leads the reader to ponder how action can be taken before the threat descends. An excellent #CliFi #EcoThriller.

Alyson Baker is a crime-loving former librarian in Nelson. This review first appeared on her blog, which you can check out here

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