In this bleak, overheating world, archivist Zoe is trying to make sense of the diaries of a pair of 21st-century, Brexit-crossed lovers. Two Tribes holds up a mirror to our fractured times, stripping away the shallow concerns of contemporary politics with razor-sharp observations.
Winner of the Arthur C Clarke award in 2013, Chris Beckett specialises in breathing fresh life into science fiction tropes. In Two Tribes, he presents a dystopian future in which the grim political and ecological landscapes of 23rd-century Britain are shown as logical consequences of what is happening now... Brilliantly and chillingly imagined, Two Tribes warns against Manichean positions, illustrating how history is never kind to them. As Zoe observes, Harry is unable to see ahead: “The idea that British politics might degenerate into civil war would have seemed to him far-fetched.” Time teaches us that nothing is.
“Neither of these diaries is a chronicle of major events and neither of the diarists could be described as a significant player,” we are told. Still, by reading them, Zoe thinks she can see how Britain has ended up the way it is: ravaged by climate change and civil war, now saved with the help of the Chinese (the old M11 “now forms the southern end of the No 5 China-England Friendship Radial Vactrain tube”). The specifics of Beckett’s meditation on stories and identity are dating fast, but read this for his mordant dissection of tribalism — why the sense of belonging can become so desperately destructive.