In the novels Flood and Ark Stephen Baxter describes a natural disaster that leads to the complete inundation of the earth by a massive flood. This flood is not a global warming horror story, but a completely new disaster in which oceans of water leak out of fault lines in the earth’s crust, submerging the continents and ultimately all land on earth. The first novel ends with a gathering at the peak of Everest, as it finally sinks below the waves. Ultimately the new oceans stop about 7 or 8 km above the old sea level, and the earth has officially become a water world. I reviewed the first of these novels here.
The survivors of this flood are mostly trapped on rafts and boats, bereft of any natural resources that might enable them to retain a civilized existence, and over the generations of the flood these survivors slowly change to a new and more primitive form of humanity, eking a subsistence existence from the sea and slowly forgetting all that they had been. The only remnants of civilization are a few arks, which Baxter envisages maintaining some semblance of the pre-flood societies. We only see three such arks in the novels: a replica of the Queen Mary cruise liner, an inter-stellar colony ship, and a deep-sea arcology.
I think that these arks Baxter envisaged are interesting, and the deep-sea arcology essential to continuing survival of the human species, at least in the short term, but I think there would be other, better ways of surviving such a catastrophe, and the world that resulted from human efforts to survive would make an excellent setting for a post-apocalyptic water world campaign, perhaps played with d20 modern or some version of Stars Without Number. Particularly, I imagine that the post-flood world would be dotted with what I think of as pelagic kingdoms, remnants of pre-flood societies that had taken to arcologies floating on the ocean, but linked to deep-sea arcologies that serve as industrial and resource extraction centres. The effort of building these arcologies in the two generations over which the flood submerged the land would mean that they were tiny compared to their pre-flood societies, and many people in attempting to escape the flood would make their own societies – on rafts and ships and old oil rigs and all manner of makeshift homes – and in the eras after the flood these societies would slowly drift across the globe, creating whole new settings and strange encounters. Furthermore, the strange weather and new ecologies of a submerged earth, and unexpected remnants of the old world, would create mysterious and intriguing adventure scenarios and settings. In the next few posts I will describe what I think would be some of the more interesting elements of this world, but starting today I will describe the main remnants of modern civilization in the post-flood world: the Pelagic Kingdoms.
These central kingdoms of the flooded earth would be the lynchpins of human survival in the post-apocalyptic world, because they would have solved the three problems that inevitably beset any attempt to create a sustainable human society in a world without land. These three problems are access to natural resources, energy, and diversity of food supply. In Baxter’s novels human society fails to solve these problems fully, instead fleeing to a new world where they can find the resources they need or settling into a remnant city on the sea floor, where they can survive but never prosper.
I think that in the era leading up to the flood the biggest societies on earth would solve these problems, though the pressing time scale and the challenges of adaptation mean they would not do it well and only a tiny percentage of their population would escape the flood into these official post-flood kingdoms. To rescue one’s society in such an era of social, economic and ecological collapse, with rapidly diminishing physical territory and resources, would only be possible for the largest, wealthiest and technologically advanced societies. This is because to do so they would need to simultaneously create floating arcologies and a functioning deep-sea city, capable of existing permanently at 4-6 km beneath the surface, but able to extract resources from the sea bed and ship them to the surface to exchange for food with the arcologies. The result of this would be the new, pelagic kingdoms of the US, Europe and China/India – kingdoms composed not so much of physical territory as of a large number of scattered, floating islands orbiting just one or two seabed mining communities.
The Arcologies of the Pelagic Kingdoms
As society realized that the flood was going to consume the earth, they would move to desperate measures. Old ships would be turned into floating apartment blocks and set free to drift, dependent on the diminishing land for food and increasingly needing to grow their own in rooftop gardens or fish for their sustenance; some of these arcologies would be set up as research centres or industrial towns, to continue producing the needs of a rapidly shrinking population base. As the situation became more desperate, governments would realize the need to build specialized arcologies rather than converting ships – with increasing numbers of their own internally displaced populations needing to be accommodated in a shrinking territory, they would realize that they needed to start building land on top of the sea. Thus would begin the project of building real arcologies, purpose-designed to float like oil rigs but cover the area of small towns. Whatever size technology enabled, they would begin to build, far enough away from the encroaching flood to be completed in time to rise with the sea waters when they came. These arcologies would be designed to be at least partially self-contained, proof against storms and the ocean salt but containing in their centre at least some small farms, intensive agriculture of some kind, power plants, and even manufactories. These arcologies, once they floated, would be populated with the elite of the old world and left to drift amongst the converted hulks and jury-rigged floating hamlets of a previous generation. They would trade with each other, try their best to feed themselves and their fellows, as they circled the diminishing landscape of their old nation. Perhaps some, equipped with deep sea salvage equipment, would mine the abandoned cities of the old world for ever scarcer resources.
The Deep-Sea Manufactories
Once it became obvious that the land was going to be forever extinguished, the problem of sustaining these arcologies beyond the next two generations would obviously present itself. How can one repair a solar panel without sand? How can one supply a nuclear fission plant without uranium? Obviously the only realistic solution is to build a deep-sea mining base, somewhere with resources that can be harvested. Such a base would perhaps be built entirely underground, with just a few carefully-constructed entranceways to allow ships in and out. It might be built in the last high points of the nation – the Rocky Mountains or the Himalayas or the Alps – with docks carved into mountain sides and deep mine shafts stretching far enough down to give access to the key requirements of industrial society. These undersea bases would be designed to include manufacturies, so that crucial engineering equipment could be built, ore smelted, and perhaps even ships repaired. Robotic machines would travel far into the old world under the sea, scavenging the remaining organic detritus of the old earth, or digging up mud from the new seabeds to transport to the surface as soil for the arcologies. Perhaps they would build huge wave-power generators in the valleys of their old mountain ranges, entirely robotically made and controlled, to ensure that the world would have energy even after the uranium ran out.
Society and Survival in the Pelagic Kingdoms
The social order in the pelagic kingdoms would be harsh, built around keeping strict authoritarian control over population growth and resource use. Those people who floated out to sea in the first hulks, crammed together like prisoners in apartment blocks that offer little better opportunity than survival, would soon come to be judged as an expendable burden on the dwindling resources of their nation; even once the purpose-built arcologies floated and the undersea manufactories began to function, these people would be seen as a burden, first to suffer calorie restrictions as arable land disappeared, last to be allowed to breed, always required to do the hardest and nastiest work. They would spend much of their lives without energy, would be moved from hulk to hulk as the need arose and treated as a slave population in a world of harsh demands. These would be the slums of the floating world, where everyone vied for a chance to get out to one of the arcologies or to a specialist dormitory ship – one that sat near a resource zone or had some industrial or defense or cultural function. Otherwise the only work on these ships would be security, fishing, and farming shellfish or seaweed in the area around the ship.
On the arcologies, life would be better, but still tough. Some arcologies might have a specialized industrial or farming purpose, others might play a mixed role providing energy, education and housing. These arcologies, being purpose built, would also be able to host proper docks and shipping, perhaps enabling them to trade between countries and with occasional visitors and develop a little real wealth. But even the largest arcology using the most advanced genetically engineered crops would only be able to grow a small amount of food, of which the entire surplus would be needed to keep the dormitory ships alive and functioning; life here might be better but it would still be harsh, and some of the chemical or industrial arcologies could be hellish indeed. In the world after the flood, no one would be allowed to rebel against their lot – find a way out, or be ground under.
Despite the harsh life in the arcologies, these would be the wealthiest and the best places on the planet, and through their combination of resource extraction, limited agriculture, and energy production, the Pelagic Kingdoms would form the central component of the human race’s recovery from its near-extinction. Everyone else living outside of these kingdoms would view them with only three goals in mind: to live in them, to trade with them, or to raid them. In such a world the Kingdoms would always be seeking adventurers – as would their enemies. It would be this world that player characters would interact with – performing dubious missions for the masters of the arcologies, fighting raiders, or raiding them for specialized goods that make the difference between death and survival for the less fortunate peoples of the flood. These Pelagic Kingdoms would also hire adventurers to scour the ocean world hunting out old resources and finding new trade opportunities. In my future posts I will describe some of the other communities that live on the world ocean, how they survive and the adventuring opportunities they might offer.