We are in a dystopian future where governmental and commercial interests have ensured the suppression of scientific information about climate change. Any efforts to inform humanity about the gravity of the ecological situation, and what might be done to halt the inevitable advance to catastrophe, is immediately and violently suppressed. The only hope is to hide such information in remote places around the world, and off world, so at least there is a chance of life on Earth having a future. The only people who can do this are those people in society who are less likely to be viewed as intelligent agents: women.
The Stone Wētā is a wonderfully conceived book. The book is organised around life forms which live in extreme environments and which have evolved to adapt to violent changes in climate, and who are now facing unprecedented rapid alterations which challenge their futures. Each is the study subject of a woman who is part of the cell-like network caching information, and each woman has a story that echoes the behaviour and defence strategies of their study subjects. The book is full of amazing scientific information, this makes the reader consider the wonders of the natural world, and what is at stake if we don’t do everything we can to stabilise, and improve, the climate.
The story of the women is low key and secret, with them having to be suspicious of everyone, never knowing if those reaching out to them are genuine or whether they have been planted to draw them out as part of the network. Each woman has retreated; to high mountain, arid deserts, or distant forests, to be alone in a large library – both to make it easier to spot enemies, and easier to find places to cache the information. They tend to be with other scientists who don’t know what they are doing, but who if they did would probably be sympathetic, and sometimes this proves to be right. Very few of the women know who the other operatives are, they all tend to find their own way of camouflage: vapidness; being totally focussed on non-climate-based science, being under the control of a husband.
The caching network is inspired by the librarians of Timbuktu, who saved many precious ancient texts from the ravages of Al Qaeda. One of the librarians has a niece, who regrets not having supported her uncle and his fellow librarians more, but who sees how their work could be expanded and applied to drives of electronic information: she is Sand Cat, who is well equipped to initiate the network: “When the sand cat moves, it slinks low and short-legged across the ground and when startled it freezes, crouches down and, if approached during the night, closes its eyes so that the light cannot be reflected back from the tapetum lucida behind its retina.”
Bodies are found; people are killed; we travel to Mars; there are enormous lethal explosions. But the action is all viewed by the women from their clandestine positions, wondering what it means for their project. This means that while the story progresses, the tension builds and adding to the tension is the knowledge that for the network to be successful, there will be more violence before things can improve. But the end of the novel nicely indicates that inflicting violence has consequences that must be faced to allow you to carry on. The book emphasises the need for cooperation and for action to be taken on behalf of the many, rather on behalf of the few of just one species who call Earth home.
I really enjoyed reading The Stone Wētā, it is refreshingly novel and genre mixing, and it makes you think how close we are to the world being pushed into the horrific situation depicted.