By: James Lawrence Powell
Release Date: September 2020
Publisher: Atria Books
Received From: Publisher
(All reviews are our own, honest opinions.)
James Lawrence Powell is no stranger to penning books, but The 2084 Report: An Oral History of The Great Warming is his foray into fiction. The majority of his books are nonfiction titles touching on the subjects he’s spent his life teaching and researching at various universities around the country—namely geology and climate science.
The 2084 Report: An Oral History is a slim novel set in the near future after climate change has both very quickly and very severely changed the planet. Daily life across the planet is different now, and a clear line of inaction and avoidance can be drawn to our own times.
The story is told in a series of interviews with a wide cast of characters. Some are scientists or teachers while others are people who have simply lived through great trauma and upheaval. These interviewees span a wide range of ages and live all around this changing world. However, each character’s voice sounds exactly the same.
Characters do not have distinct voices, instead opting for an essay-like approach to a single question posed by our narrator and interviewer. This makes otherwise interesting material turn into quite monotonous reading. None of the sections read as if they were told by someone who’s seen the fabric of their society tear or lived through unspeakable hardships. Instead, they are clinical and scholarly, which will most certainly turn off certain readers. Nowhere is this better encapsulated than on page 88 where the interviewer states, “Let me see if I can approach the subject as a scholar instead of a victim still feeling pain after all these year.”
It is exactly this thing Powell so carefully avoids that would make a conversation-starting novel into a story that grips at the heartstrings in a way that cold facts alone, no matter how bleak they may be, simply cannot match in some people.
That said, Powell has an incredible knack for weaving the past and present into a very believable near future almost flawlessly. History and the possible future mesh in often terrifying believability, leaving readers with a cold sense of dread as each interview gives way to another.
The narrative also has well placed sections, grouping interviews together on topics such as drought, rising sea levels, migration to safer locations, and much more. On the other hand, this can make the already voiceless cast feel a bit muter as instead of following a through-line of human emotion we find ourselves with something that replicates academic nonfiction a bit too closely.
Despite having an excellent premise and the author deftly weaving history into a very believable future, The 2084 Report: An Oral History of The Great Warming by James Lawrence Powell lacks the soul that would otherwise have given it great staying power.