In the first decades of the 21st century, the world is convulsing, its governments mired in gridlock while a patient but unrelenting ecological crisis looms. America is in upheaval, battered by violent weather and extreme politics. In California in 2013, Tony Pietrus, a scientist studying deposits of undersea methane, receives a death threat. His fate will become bound to a cast of characters—a broken drug addict, a star advertising strategist, a neurodivergent mathematician, a cunning eco-terrorist, an actor turned religious zealot, and a brazen young activist named Kate Morris, who, in the mountains of Wyoming, begins a project that will alter the course of the decades to come.
A lot. A lot of characters, a lot of politicking and a lot of devastation, filling a lot of pages. But a lot of it is entertaining, and its length is purposeful ... Markley remains fixated on how people stubbornly cling to power and the pain that power inflicts on poor people with limited options ... In writing a clear-eyed, climate-justice-minded page-turner, Markley makes his influences obvious ... It’s not hard to see the role each character plays here. But Markley imagines predicaments that are hard to see coming and delivers them in convincing, fine-grained detail ... Markley conceives the climate crisis as a hearts-and-minds problem — we’ll do nothing until we viscerally feel the consequences of our actions ... The whole thing largely works. Markley is so gifted at imagining catastrophe that The Deluge generates the same kind of guilt you might feel watching a disaster movie ... He’s tried to write a big, unifying novel that has something for everyone — fans of horror, thrillers, science fiction, literary fiction and more. So it’s only natural that he’d play to both sides of the political aisle. He’d make room for hobbits and wizards if he realistically could. This novel might try to do the impossible; but as with the climate, so with novels: Why not try?
Bracing, beguiling, uneven ... The dystopia is realistic and nuanced, grim but playful, setting Markley’s book apart from the tsunami of recent climate-change literature ... The Deluge is long on ambition. It’s also long, weighing in at nearly 900 pages — baggy, restless, immersive. Centrifugal forces threaten to tear it apart, but Markley soldiers on, in hyper-real mode ... The caricature wears thin and the jokes don’t always land ... This poses a problem in the second half, where Markley’s humor and flair flatten beneath the seriousness of his purpose. He targets the inertia of our political institutions while lampooning online culture ... As The Deluge drags on, it loses its impact. It may endure as a climate-fiction classic, but it’s less than the sum of its parts, undermined by its length and labyrinthine design. The string of apocalyptic events seems cartoonish rather than cautionary.
Markley moves methodically from 2013 to the 2040s, presenting a kaleidoscopic sampling of American citizenry, an unrelenting series of increasingly tragic events and an in-depth examination of the desperate corner into which the world has painted itself. It is, if nothing else, an astonishing feat of procedural imagination, narrative construction and scientific acumen ... The redeeming merits of The Deluge call to mind those elaborate trick shot videos on social media in which the primary objective is missed but something else exciting occurs ... A giant canvas with Brueghelian detail that, while making the story compelling, also flattens some of the emotional impact. Characters disappear for as many as a hundred pages and reemerge a year later, necessitating repeated exposition dumps. As a result, the reader doesn’t feel intimately close to most of the characters ... When climate change is the subject of fiction, it becomes easy to interpret as advocacy, as a political novel of ideas rather than a tale driven by characters. Markley does little to dispel this impression ... This borrowed cloak of newsiness reduces the complexity of fiction into a single-minded polemic. Each storm, each wildfire, each avoidable death becomes a rehash of the same warning: This is what will happen if we don’t act now. Repeated finger-wagging, even the most deftly and eloquently crafted, grates after almost 900 pages ... More dispiriting than galvanizing.