What if James Patterson and Greta Thunberg wrote a book together? The Undercurrent is an exact example of what their book could look like but it is safe to say that Burnett has told their story for them, raising the bar by one thousand percent. “I hadn’t really thought about the similarities between Yulia and Greta. The Undercurrent was intentionally written in 2018 as a short story and Greta wasn’t a known name at that point but I guess their passion for climate change is very similar” Michael Burnett told Melting Tundra in an interview.
Burnett beautifully tells the tale about two coming of age teenagers who are yet to embark on a sad, dangerous, life changing and thought provoking mission that educates his readers on the consequences of Climate Change. BookPub wanted to honour his approach to the important lesson by hosting The Undercurrent as a feature to this month’s blog theme: Climate Change.
“We don’t know if anything we do is going to make a difference in the end. But the end isn’t the only thing that matters. What we do now, matters now“
The Undercurrent is an excellent Cli-Fi novel about two coming of age teenagers, Yulia Solokov (daughter of an Oil Baron) and Curtis Knight (Son of a Casino Owner), who meets at a connected friends party in Italy. Yulia’s father is a well known Russan Elite, planning to tap into the wealth that is lying beneath the Antartic surface whereas Curtis the owner of a wealthy casino owner. His life of luxury has made him bored of the ‘same old’ so is looking for a purpose in life. His boredom and lack of courage is his downfall. That is until he met Yulia…
Under the pretence of an adolescent experiment, Yulia introduces Curtis to Saccoglossans Pyasinksii (Sea Slugs) which have the ability to show you memories, their memories. They torture his mind for weeks. Little did he know, he ends up joining an eco-activist group to help save the polluted, dying ocean. Burnett takes the theme of the environment and turns it into a dramatic, heartbreaking plot with deception, drama and a sense of adventure. The reader is encouraged to decide for themselves where they stand on what is one of the most important issues of our time.
The important topic to address on this review first is the environment. Burnett’s hot topic throughout his novel is the race against time to help preserve the planet verses the race against countries trying to harvest oil out of the bottom of the Antarctic for profit. Yulia’s father finds investors to carry out this operation which can generate an income of $35 trillion. “When I began writing the novel, Gazprom (Russia’s biggest fossil fuel company) had already conducted a small drilling operation in the Pechora Sea, which is at the extreme south of the Arctic Ocean” Burnett explained. Since the launch build up of The Undercurrent, it was announced on the news that a huge leak had reached Lake Pyasino” which is a place mentioned in his novel. This may take a decade to clean when there was no actual rush on taking oil from the Antarctic because there was enough to last from 30 to 100 years, according to scientists. “One of the scariest things about writing cli-fi is how quickly your fictions can become reality” he continued. It’s safe to say that Burnett’s realisation resembles Curtis’ attitudes when he first experienced the hallucination of a Saccoglossan. Yulia’s determination is the cause for action prompting him to raise awareness and do something. Curtis learns throughout the novel this mission is something bigger than himself and it was only just the start.
Creatively, Burnett created such as creature called Saccoglossans Pyasinksii (Sea Slugs). Funnily enough, he had mentioned to have a dream about the first chapter of the book where Curtis and Yulia meet at the party. “The coincidence is that a month later after this dream, I saw a Science News article about an experiment where memories had been transferred from one sea slug to another via an RNA injection. I honestly could not believe my eyes when I saw that story. Sea slugs are pretty strange creatures though, and if any creature were able to share memories with humans, my bet would be on sea slugs. There’s even a sea slug that can photosynthesise” Burnett said, stunned. There have been more than one occasion where we have all experienced something like this which makes creative writing to fun, interesting and inspiring. Burnett’s enthusiasm for the dream and the documentary had paid off in the novel but also goes to show that your mind is trying to tell you something. “I don’t think it’s pessimistic to say that we’re in for a very rough ride, and the scientific consensus seems to be that keeping warming below 2C is pretty unlikely. When you look at what some of the world’s most powerful people are doing and planning to do, it’s hard to be optimistic, and in any case misplaced optimism can be a barrier to action. My approach to the climate crisis is to accept the scale of the issue rather than deny it, to limit my own impact as much as possible” he went on. As he collaborated these two factors into the book, creatively making a huge statement on the environment, it makes the reader really think about the impact on animals, the environment, humans and the future. As he highlighted above, it is important to address the issues rather than shy away from them.
Were the characters credible? What did the main characters do in the story? Did the main characters run into any problems? Adventures? Who was your favorite character? Why?
When things take a turn for the worst, Curtis and Yulia manage to find their way to each other deep in the Antarctic. Both characters are driven there by sadness, destruction and deception through the fault of Yulia’s father. A brutal, powerful and dominating man. Burnett exploits each character by stripping them from their luxuries and placing them into a world beyond their belief. Yulia was the most annoying at first. She is spoiled, deceiving and childish. Her father is to blame for this and we learn he does remain loyal to his daughter until the very end. Yulia had grown into a fierce, head-strong and passionate young woman. Curtis found the courage to become thoughtful, creative and independent. They both had suffered through their travels mentally and physically but this was how Burnett captured our love for the main characters. Another character who stood out for the readers was Yulia’s mother. Like the environment, she was trapped in a almost bribed and unappreciated marriage. Through the thick and thin, we discover that she was longing for a bigger purpose and wanted to help the cause. She knew her resources would be beneficial but she needed to find the inner motivation. This was driven by Yulia’s actions. The lesson readers learn from this novel is: How far do we take our actions in order to achieve something?
The Undercurrent is available to buy (01.07.2020) on most bookish places!