THREE DEGREES AND GONE certainly doesn’t lack ambition. This science fiction novel takes place in the late 21st century and depicts a world in which climate changes ravaged the USA both ecologically and economically. While rising sea levels sink coastal cities, wildfires, hurricanes, and tornadoes devastate the interior of the country. Increasingly, as industries move to Canada, desperate American workers and their families follow. However, Canadians aren’t too happy about thousands of unwanted immigrants. The novel’s author J. Stewart Willis isn’t exactly subtle with his allegory about US immigration policy. He addresses heads-on such challenging topics like climate change, illegal immigration, racism, classism, and spousal abuse.
His novel follows three families on their desperate trek across the USA towards the 49th parallel. In their quest for a happier life, characters face criminals, border patrols, and inclement weather. However, their most daunting challenge is themselves. Most of the drama comes from inter-character relationships. Individually, these characters rarely rise above shallow stereotypes like abusive husbands, their long-suffering wives or sullen teenagers. And yet, Willis strikes a nerve when describing the way abusive bread-winners blackmail their families into submission by threatening to leave them with nothing. Such is a terrifying reality of poverty: an invisible prison made of fear, hopelessness, and lack of opportunity. It is in these sections that THREE DEGREES AND GONE becomes genuinely unsettling.
The novel isn’t as effective when describing the world of the future. There are some haunting images: cities flooded by the sea or endless shantytowns built by refugees. Regrettably, Willis keeps repeating himself. He belabors the same points as if he doubts the reader’s ability to comprehend his message. By telling instead of showing, he breaks the cardinal rule of story-telling. Even worse, his repeated explanations lessen the visceral effect of the story. Further, its characters are one-dimensional; its prose repetitive. And yet it is an ambitious and heartfelt novel striving to achieve what all good speculative fiction aims for: using a fictional scenario to shed light on our reality and problems that plague us.
What it lacks in its execution and style, THREE DEGREES AND GONE by J. Stewart Willis makes up for in its willingness to unflinchingly tackle challenging and important subject matter.
~Danijel Štriga for IndieReader