As soon as I began reading, James Bradley’s Clade immediately brought to mind another Australian vision of the future captured in a series of interconnected stories – Things We Didn’t See Coming by Stephen Amsterdam. There are many similarities in structure and subject matter between the two books, although I would argue that Bradley has produced the more sensitive, thoughtful work.
We begin with a young couple – Adam and Ellie. A recent tragedy has brought having children to the forefront of Ellie’s mind, and after much struggle she eventually undergoes IVF treatment – some while Adam is away studying in Antarctica. As a scientist, Adam feels grim about the future, and this pessimism grows as he contemplates having children.
Then we leap forward – the pattern the book will follow throughout. We meet Adam and Ellie after the child is born, in her childhood and her turbulent teenage years. Then we follow her son and other adopted members of the family. By this part of the timeline, the world has changed and the concept of family has adapted.
While the relationships stay firmly in the forefront of all the stories, the suffering world also shows itself – subtly at first with hints of weather change and species changes and then more powerfully with extreme weather, plague and eventually, something new.
Many of the stories are nail-biters, and others are lower in key. Each is thought-provoking though, not only in the vision of the world portrayed but also in finding the subtle connection between each. This is no easy light read. You have to work to get the most out of it and see the delicate web woven expertly by Bradley.