It has long been regarded as one of the roles of SF is to issue dire warnings in a way that is entertaining but thoughtful. A good book of this kind should leave the reader with a shiver of recognition that the scenario was a distinct possibility. In recent times, Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain trilogy is a powerful indictment of modern society moving towards climate change disaster. Trevor Hoyle’s The Last Gasp falls into this category.
This book was first published in 1983 and was looking forward to the 1990s as a starting point for the action. Since then, research has produced more information and evidence. This particular volume has been reworked to accommodate that. It doesn’t make it any less scary.
Most people are aware that the rain forest produces a lot of the oxygen we rely on and there are campaigns to preserve them. This is good, but most are unaware that the oxygen engine is primarily driven by microscopic marine plants called phytoplankton. As they are not spectacular or cuddly, most people ignore them. Theo Detrick has spent years studying the ecosystems of the mid-Pacific and when he notices a steep decline in the phytoplankton population he feels he needs to draw it to the attention of the authorities. The authorities don’t want to know. Like some factions are currently sceptical of the hard evidence for Climate Change, so no-one wants to be told that oxygen is going to run out. Surely that is impossible and scare-mongering mustn’t be allowed. What a shame that Dr Detrick dies in a swimming accident before any damage can be done.
As in any novel of this kind, there are those who believe in the worst case scenario and wan t to do their best to prevent it. Against them are the politicians and industrialists who see no profit in listening. It won’t happen in their life-time will it? Unfortunately, it is the industrialists that are the cause of the situation and the politicians who see eco-warfare as the next step in the arms-race. These people are a reflection of some factions in current politics who just can’t get a handle on the idea that if you mess with one continents climate, it will very quickly affect your own.
As a marine biologist, Gavin Chase understands the problem very well and when those who can do something, won’t, uses the very modern tool of social media to get the message into the public domain. The problem is that by the time governments are beginning to take notice, the tipping point has already been passed. More oxygen is being consumed, tied up in Carbon Dioxide from combustion and breathing, than is being produced. The phytoplankton is dying, being replaced by algal blooms that consume more oxygen.
The novel changes from a political thriller where success will save the world, to a desperate situation where survival cannot be guaranteed. The changes to the climate have been carefully worked out and the plot-line becomes chillingly believable.
The research here is impeccable but it is at times difficult to accept that governments would be so imbecilic to act in the ways portrayed here – or at least it would have been six months ago. If anything, the emphasis on the politics adds a layer too much to the situation, making this a very long book. Having said that, there are certain people, including politicians and industrialists that should be made to read and digest this book. Perhaps shut in a room with it and not let out until they acknowledge the difference between scientific fact and fake news. The scenario in The Last Gasp is shockingly prescient.