Further Reading: Day Zero


Cape Town, South Africa, will run completely out of water in April. Officials have given this event the apocalyptic name of “Day Zero.” While this marks the first time a major city will run out of water, fiction and nonfiction writers have long reckoned with the notion of catastrophic drought. To follow, a half-dozen books that explore what happens when the well runs dry.


After the Apocalypse, by Maureen F. McHugh

McHugh displays an uncanny ability to hook into our prevailing end-of-the-world paranoia and feed it back to us in refreshingly original and frequently funny stories. In these nine apocalyptic tales, people facing catastrophes, from a zombie plague to a fatal illness contracted from eating chicken nuggets, do their best to cope. In “Useless Things,” perhaps the most affecting story in the collection, a resourceful sculptor, worried about drought and money in a time of high unemployment and increasing lawlessness, turns her exquisite crafstmanship to fashioning sex toys and selling them on the Internet.


 American War, by Omar El Akkad

In 2074, the American South has once again attempted to secede from the Union, this time in ferocious opposition to the Sustainable Future Act, even as the ravages of global warming—severe storms, prolonged drought, and a massive rise in sea levels— cause waves of coastal refugees to pour into the Midwest as the federal government abandons deluged Washington, D.C., for Columbus, Ohio. The Chestnuts are getting by, living in an old shipping container in Louisiana, until Benjamin is killed in a bombing. Martina flees to a Mississippi refugee camp with her soon-to-be-rebel son, Simon, and twin daughters, fair and pretty Dana and dark, curious, and intrepid Sarat, the focus of this vigorously well-informed, daringly provocative speculative first novel by an Egyptian-born Canadian journalist.


Drought, by Graham Masterton

In San Bernardino, California, Martin Makepeace, a social worker, is concerned when representatives of the municipality tell him that a serious water shortage has led them to implement “rotational hiatuses in service.” This doesn’t sit well with Martin, whose client families are already in a desperate situation due to an ongoing heat wave, but he’s soon distracted by a rather more personal problem: his son is arrested for murder.


Dry Spring: The Coming Water Crisis of North America, by Chris Wood

A Canadian journalist interested in water resources, Wood combines reportage from places enduring shortages or allocation controversies with a survey of the drying North American climate. Speaking with farmers and other water users, Wood strives to embed their observations of aqueous anomalies in their regions, such as the Great Lakes, the Rocky Mountains, and the lower Colorado River, in a continental appreciation of climatic trends. Interviewing climatologists, Wood posits that storm tracks will migrate northward, soaking Canada and desiccating the U.S. in future decades.




 Rain: A Natural and Cultural History, by Cynthia Barnett

In the dramatic overture to this spectacularly vivid, all-encompassing history of rain, environmental and science writer Barnett describes young, still burning-hot Earth deluged with torrential downpours that lasted thousands of years and made life possible. She dispenses strong medicine in her incisive discussions of acid rain, polluted storm-water runoff, water shortages in major cities, and the current and dire rise in extreme storms and droughts, then sweetens the brew with lively histories of meteorology, the raincoat, and “strange rains” of fish and frogs.


The Water Wars, by Cameron Stracher

“I know a river,” says Kai. His words seem impossible yet tantalizing to Vera and her brother, Will, whose mother is slowly dying for lack of clean water. Shaped by severe drought, their civilization is caught in a power struggle among governments, and between governments and outsiders such as pirates and environmentalists. When Kai is kidnapped, Will and Vera begin a David-and-Goliath rescue mission that pits them and the allies they find against formidable, well-armed enemies.

About the Author:

Eugenia Williamson is the former Associate Editor of Digital Products at Booklist.

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