The population crisis lies at the core of the first full-length novel by British author N. R. Baker, an eco-thriller called 10:59. Through a well-developed storyline, it details the destruction caused by our ever-growing population, following a compelling main character as he joins an organisation intent on saving the planet. Ms. Baker manages to balance tension and moral conflict with information about the effects of overpopulation, in a way that doesn’t detract from a compelling story.
By Pernilla Hansson
10:59 is unusual as a novel about overpopulation. Overpopulation is not just mentioned in passing, but is the prime issue that the characters of the book have to deal with. While there are external forces that help drive the tension forward, probably the most important struggle is the moral conflict faced by the characters while dealing with such a sensitive issue. Both forces work in tandem, maintaining the reader’s interest and keeping you wanting to read more.
The book centres around Louis Crawford, a teenager who doesn’t quite fit in with his peers. Through his conviction about the threat of overpopulation, he finds himself working for an organisation of like-minded people trying hard to save the planet from the devastating effects of the human race. The organisation understands the real consequences of an over-populated world, having had to deal with all their successful projects (advancing alternative energy sources, replanting forests etc.) eventually being negated by the ever-increasing demands of a growing population. Their solution, a desperate last attempt to prevent a planetary ecological collapse, makes Louis question his morals, leaving him with the burden of not just saving himself, but also making life-saving decisions for those around him.
Louis Crawford is an effective choice of main character. Letting him be steady in his conviction about the population crisis even before the reader is introduced to him, the rest of the story is viewed through the eyes of someone who can identify the problems that arise from overpopulation. His conviction comes from what Louis himself calls his “superlogic” – an ability to see through the noise to the truths of a subject. Many of us may think of this as simple common sense, but when dealing with something as complex as human emotions, it is clear that facts don’t always weigh as heavily as they should. By allowing the main character to already be aware of the problem and basing it in an understanding of scientific facts, Baker shows how overpopulation is a factual reality, as are the issues that arise from it.
It is not only Louis and the organisation he ends up working for who heed the problem. The main story is interspersed with characters from other countries, who are either part of a group or know of a group who are planning to attempt to solve the overpopulation issue, mainly seeking national self-preservation. Through this inclusion, Baker does not just raise the tension in the story, but also provides the reader with a sense that overpopulation is an issue that sooner or later has to be dealt with. Whether it is dealt with by forces acting for the good of humanity and the planet, or by those only looking to their own personal or national benefit, will ultimately depend on our ability to openly discuss the subject.
The solutions proposed by the different groups are ones that should certainly be left to fiction. This is made clear through the moral dilemmas and consequences faced by the characters, but Baker dispels any worries of overpopulation being a problem without any ethical solutions. In the last chapter she reveals her reasoning behind the book and further clarifies the importance of dealing with overpopulation. While the story itself builds an interest in the subject as well as a basic understanding, this invaluable chapter summarises some of the issues and the need to break the taboo of discussing population control. She even includes a short list of things that people can do in the fight against human-driven ecological destruction, with the incredibly important point to keep learning about the subject.
The book is well-written and easy to read. As with any good thriller, the tension builds as the story progresses, and although the main storyline takes a while to emerge, readers are immediately drawn into the world of the key players and their engagement with moral challenges. All the characters are believable, scarily enough, even the antagonists. Despite dealing with such a serious issue, Baker manages to pepper the story with humour and witty comments, allowing her readers to smile, something that can be incredibly important when presenting such a tough subject through a story format. The information is also effectively spaced throughout the story, presented organically and without feeling stilted. N. R. Baker has managed to write a compelling story about our time’s most pressing issue, which will hopefully inspire everyone who reads it to help bring the overpopulation discussion into the open.
Read more about 10:59 and N. R. Baker on her website.