First published in 1992, this novel about one man's fight against the authorities has become something of a classic of dystopian futuristic fiction. Given the increasing conviction of the environmental argument in the past 15 years, it is now even more timely, and if its essential premise (a lone voice speaks out against the official version) is not too original, its plausibility is rarely in doubt.
William Fowke is on probation, banished to the inhospitable East Coast to write up standard engineering reports on the Baltimore Canyon region of a massive wall that has been built to keep the Atlantic ocean at bay. When he notices an unusually high level of saline, and suspects the wall has a dangerous leak, he reports to his superior, Dr Matthews. Matthews insists that everything is fine, but the saline level keeps on rising.
Fowke's futuristic existence is pretty much standard fare for lovers of dystopian fiction: the future is rarely imagined as a cuddlier place and David Ely doesn't deviate from that tradition. Human beings never interact physically in his novel; they are born and raised in farms without ever knowing their parents. Some human beings, called "the excluded", are kept outside of society, and as Fowke causes more fuss about the leak, he is eventually banished to live among them.
With a nod to the great master of the genre, George Orwell, Fowke's only human interaction is with an agent called Julia. Ely is excellent describing the sudden shock of fingers touching, of the possibility of affection, trust and loyalty. Dystopian fiction uses the landscape to dehumanise. It always feels that the real horror of the future is that we will forget what makes us human. Interestingly, what makes us human is never rationality, it is always imagination. Imagination and touch.