Peace Corps Writers

The Rising

The Rising
Journeys in the Wake of Global Warming
by Tom Pollock and Jack Seybold (Brazil 1966–67)
450 pages
April 2004

The Rising
Reviewed by John C. Kennedy (Ghana 1965-68)

IMAGINE VAST ICE SHELVES plunging into the waters around Antarctica causing major increases in ocean depth and triggering massivePrinter friendly version under ocean earthquakes and volcanic eruptions which in turn create tsunamis beyond our current comprehension. This is the grim picture Tom Pollock and Jack Seybold paint as they describe the future of an over-heated earth in the first two parts (“Book One” and “Book Two”) of their novel The Rising. They also provide a human face to the more dire scientific predictions of the consequences of global warning through the reactions of a variety of protagonists to the unfolding of a series of natural disasters. (Their approach echoes John D. MacDonald’s effort in Condominium to make obvious the folly of massive construction on Florida’s hurricane prone shore line.)
     Books One and Two follow the lives of two separate but ultimately interconnected groups of people as they struggle to deal with worldwide catastrophe. This is not a simple book to read. When one combines the scientific complexity of the effects of global warming and the twenty-six principle characters listed at the beginning of the book (and dozens of minor characters), the effort to keep everything straight can be challenging. However, Pollock and Seybold have done an excellent job of describing sequences of natural disasters that could be caused by global warming in layman’s terms that are both accurate and understandable. (They provide a website:, for readers looking for additional explanation of the scientific data on which they base the flow of natural events in their novel.)
     Their choice of major characters provides both a personal and global view of the consequences of the multiple disasters caused by global warming on diverse individuals. They open with a gripping description of life in San Quentin as seen through the eyes of convicted murderer, Eli Barnes. Eli’s unintentional escape coincides with the collapse of the Ross Ice Shelf. Other characters include a mother and daughter with ESP powers, doctors, a senator’s aide, scientists, farmers and others from all walks of life. A global view is provided by a real estate dealmaker from California caught in Russia as natural and human environments deteriorate worldwide. His efforts to return to his wife and children in California in the midst of widespread natural and man made disasters are reminiscent of parts of Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain.
     In “Book Three” the authors describe the “coming together” of most of the major characters in the remote mountains of California and their efforts to develop a near utopian community. This section of the novel may remind readers of nuclear war survival novels that were popular before the collapse of the Soviet Union. A small group of gifted individuals come together in a remote, protected setting and quickly mesh into a productive community while much of the rest of the World is controlled by brutal military dictatorships or is collapsing into anarchy.
     The Rising provides readers much to ponder. Are the natural disasters of the type described a realistic or even possible result of global warning? The recent tsunamis in Asia and the series of hurricanes in Florida in the 2004 season though not attributed to global warming do provide convincing evidence of the power of nature to overwhelm efforts of human control.
     How would our government react to climate change and natural disasters of the type described by Pollack and Seybold? This question might keep you awake at night based on what happened before and after 9/11. I would have to agree with the authors’ implicit prediction that we could expect first denial then overreaction from our leaders. One of my favorite images in the book is the President of the United States declaring a “War on the Forces of Nature,” in a televised address to the nation as the government secretly prepares to declare martial law and move to Texas.
     What would life be like in these United States if indeed we faced climate change and natural disasters as described in this book and the government reacted as predicted? I like the idea of a near utopian community but I don’t think I would qualify for membership.
     Heavy stuff, indeed, this is not a beach book. But the authors have done an outstanding job of providing a good story with interesting, well developed characters. I like novels that provide provocative information and also entertain. The Rising does both. If you like “purpose” novels and/or just want to give more thought to the possible consequences of global warming, I highly recommend reading The Rising.

John C. Kennedy is the author of Last Lorry to Mbordo, a novel set in West Africa. He was a Volunteer in Ghana (1965-68), and then returned there with his wife, Frances Healing (Ghana 1966-68), in July of 2004. While there, they met with former students and teachers and current students from the secondary schools where they taught, and they are currently working on a slide and lecture presentation, “Ghana Then and Now.” John is also writing a second novel about the travails of RPCV readjustment to life in the US.
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