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The Great Transition

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The Great Transition

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Author: Nick Fuller Googins
Publisher: Atria Books, 2023

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Book Type: Novel
Genre: Science-Fiction
Sub-Genre Tags: Near-Future
Climate Fiction (Cli-Fi)
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Emi Vargas, whose parents helped save the world, is tired of being told how lucky she is to have been born after the climate crisis. But following the public assassination of a dozen climate criminals, Emi's mother, Kristina, disappears as a possible suspect, and Emi's illusions of utopia are shattered. A determined Emi and her father, Larch, journey from their home in Nuuk, Greenland to New York City, now a lightly populated storm-surge outpost built from the ruins of the former metropolis. But they aren't the only ones looking for Kristina.

Thirty years earlier, Larch first came to New York with a team of volunteers to save the city from rising waters and torrential storms. Kristina was on the frontlines of a different battle, fighting massive wildfires that ravaged the western United States. They became part of a movement that changed the world--The Great Transition--forging a new society and finding each other in process.

Alternating between Emi's desperate search for her mother and a meticulously rendered, heart-stopping account of her parents' experiences during The Great Transition, this novel beautifully shows how our actions today determine our fate tomorrow.



There was this big throwback craze at school that started on Cooperative Day with a band called U2. Cooperative Day is when all the major cooperatives make presentations in the auditorium to convince you to apply. PepsiCo was there, and Alibaba, and CareCorps (Juniors and Seniors), and Uniqlo and Public Safety and DisneyCo and MemeFeed and tons more. The day isn't so awful except it's on a Sunday and mandatory. It got me out of garden hours with my mom, but still, who wants to be at school on a weekend? But then Maddie Choi somehow got onto the network during the very first presentation--the Carbon Capture Cooperative was on stage--and she cast a song "Sunday Bloody Sunday" through the auditorium. It was hilarious. Maddie Choi was a hero--for the prank and for introducing us all to U2. I remember sitting in the auditorium, laughing, and then suddenly quiet with everyone as we were like, How come we've never heard anything this good before?

Overnight everyone became U2 obsessed. Lunch was a battle zone: either you ate on this side of the cafeteria because The Joshua Tree was the greatest album ever, or you ate over there because Unforgettable Fire was best. My basketball team warmed up to "Beautiful Day" before games. The only oldies I knew before then were Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift and Valerie June, because my dad said my grandmother used to listen to them. But now I became obsessed along with everyone else. The difference, however, was that to everyone else the oldies were a fad that ended like all fads end. For me though, it just keeps going and going.

I can pick almost any year before the Crisis and name the top hits around the world. I have them all memorized. I love oldies. Music recorded pre-Crisis sounds different. Better. More real. There were still huge problems back then. Obviously. Like the band U2 was from Ireland which had been colonized by England for basically 500 years. There was poverty and pandemics and like a thousand people owned everything on the planet. But nobody had any idea what was coming. Not really. It's hard to imagine what it must have felt like. I try. I pretend it's 1980 or 2010 or 1960 and we think everything is great and will continue being great forever. Not even thinking it--just assuming it. Maybe that's why their music was so good. And why I love it so much. I can slip on my headphones and turn up Madonna or Beyoncé or Prince and pretend that nothing bad is ever going to happen again.

Part One

Chapter One

The day before my mom leaves for extraction duty, she's not herself. She doesn't wake me early. She doesn't force us to jog upcity together. Instead, she makes breakfast. I smell it before I see it: egg tacos, sweet potato hash, warm cinnamon milk with honey. She has her screen on the counter streaming something upbeat and bland, and she's smiling--practically singing good morning--as she pulls out chairs for us to sit.

My dad and I throw each other looks like, Do you know this woman?

My dad's always the one who makes breakfast. Also lunch and dinner. It's always been this way. He's a team nutritionist for the Tundra and he's really good at his job, even if I don't always eat what he cooks. When I don't eat, my mom will say I'm spoiled, or picky or ungrateful, or accuse me of being difficult on purpose. But I'm not. Sometimes I just don't want to eat. Sometimes I can't. Even when she tells me I must eat so many bites, like I'm a little kid. She'll ask if I have any idea how lucky I am, not to know real hunger? She'll lose her temper. She'll ignite. She's most predictable in this way.

Other ways to ignite my mom:

Tell her you want a cat.

Tell her you want your own screen.

Tell her you hate getting up early.

Tell her you wish you lived somewhere less crowded than Nuuk.

Tell her school is stressful.

Tell her that Sundays aren't meant for sifting compost in the plaza garden.

Tell her you're scared of choking on your food.

Tell her that you're scared of anything at all.

But the day before she leaves for extraction duty, the sparks bounce off her. She won't ignite. When I take one sip of milk and push back my plate, she just smiles and says, Maybe later.

I look at my dad while she scrapes my tacos into the compost.

He shrugs like: I'm not complaining.

My mom's strange mood doesn't end at breakfast: usually my dad and I walk the compost to the garden and then he drops me at school, but today she insists on taking me. Except instead of walking to school--after we dump the compost--she stops in the middle of Norsaq Plaza under the shadow of the maglev tracks and touches my arm so I stop too. Morning sun is glowing over the tallest landscrapers like an aura. People stream around us. A group of workers is unloading tools from crates. They have been building a Day Zero stage for our plaza. Next to the stage, the McDonald's cooperative is putting up this huge food hall. Hanging on the landscraper behind their hall is a banner that curls in the breeze, the fabric rippling upwards from Rebuilding Together! at the bottom to 16 Years and Onward! at the top. I'm one-thousand-percent ready for my mom to make fun of the slogans as she loves to do, and remind me of all the reasons the holiday is a chance for grown adults to play dress up, eat junk, and get drunk, but this isn't why she stopped us. She doesn't mention Day Zero at all. She nods to the upcity rambla and suggests we go on a walk.

A walk where? I ask.

Oh I don't know. Summit Park?

I can't skip school, Mom.

Who's skipping? You'll only be late. It's the last day before vacation. I leave tomorrow. Your teachers will understand. We'll make it a picnic. We'll grab lunch.

I just had breakfast.

You didn't eat a thing.

I'm not hungry.

You can get a smoothie.

I said I'm not hungry.

Well fine, we don't have to eat, Emiliana. We can just walk and talk.


It's not until I'm in North American History, and Mrs. Helmandi is reminding us that our final Great Transition projects are due after break, that I realize why I didn't go picnicking with my mom.

One, what would we have talked about?

Two, I know what's going on: she hates the holiday, but feels bad leaving us.

She and my dad have been arguing about it for days. Their arguing isn't unusual, only their volume. I don't care. She's always leaving for extraction duty. Four or five times a year. And our family doesn't even celebrate Day Zero. My mom doesn't allow it.

Yes we slowed the warming, she'll say. Avoided annihilation. But everything we lost? We should be throwing a funeral, not a party. We should be mourning. Organizing. Working twice as hard to ensure it never happens again.

So for the holiday week, that's ordinarily what we do. Literally. We work. Most years my mom volunteers us at the geothermal farms, which sounds worse than it is. You have to fly to get there, and Greenland from a blimp is insanely pretty. The farms are by the sea with tons of hot springs and saunas. After work, you soak and watch the waves. Last year we saw orcas. But this year's different. This year we're splitting up. She's leaving for extraction duty and my dad's staying home and I'm going skiing with my basketball team.

Or I'm supposed to go skiing. The problem is this: I keep seeing myself at the ski lodge getting hungry and there are no soups, no smoothies, nothing easy to swallow. And instead of helping me like teammates should, the other girls laugh as my throat closes up while I'm stranded hundreds of miles from home. So I've decided I won't go skiing. I haven't told my mom. She will one-hundred-percent ignite. I guess I'm saving the spark. Which brings up one last reason I couldn't skip school to walk and talk with her, even though a part of me really did want to: sometimes it feels good to tell her no.

Chapter Two

The day before Kristina leaves for New York it is like we have woken up as a family ten years in the past. You cannot go back. Not overnight. I know this. Still.

The first thing that is different is she does not shake Emi out of bed to jog with her. Their morning argument is my usual alarm. Today Kristina jogs solo, returns, showers off. Then there's no sound of the front door. She does not leave for the windfields or the energy docks. She pops her head in to tell me not to step one damn foot out of bed until I can smell the coffee. After breakfast she insists on walking Emi to school. She puts a hand on my chest. Kisses me goodbye. Gestures that may not sound terribly exciting. But. Her hand over my heart. Her lips. I am washing the dishes when she returns.

Hey you, she says.

Hey yourself.

She swings the compost bucket under the sink. Leans against the counter. Smiles.

You look happy, I say.

I have news.

Do you now?

I hold my breath. Praying she has not decided to run again for Leadership Council.

You're going to skip work, she says.

I am.

Yes. You're going to skip work to stay home with me.

It's the day before vacation, I say, turning off the water. Staying home won't look great.

I'm doing it.

Easy for you. I don't have half your hours.

She slides behind me. Wraps her arms around my waist.


I examine the sponge in my hands. The soapy suds. Her hands.

Convince me, I say. What'd you have in mind?

We'll catch up. Have fun. Celebrate us.

I continue scrubbing the spatula. Kristina rests her head against my back. Her breath is hot through the threads of my shirt. I try to relax as if this is a common marital scene for us. It is not common. I could remind her of this. I could unclasp her hands and say it is not fair to turn a page backwards right before she leaves. Not fair to me. Not fair to Emi.

But then again if you are dreaming a soft warm dream why risk waking up?

Alright, I say, rinsing and racking the spatula. Let's celebrate us.

Copyright © 2023 by Nick Fuller Googins


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