The Ark, by Laura Liddell Nolen
Full disclosure: Laura & I went to the same law school and overlapped by a bit, and have met before.
Somehow I keep reading apocalyptic science fiction involving young female protagonists (like Exodus and Zenith and Ticker), and this is probably my favorite of the bunch. Excellently paced, we watch the end of the Earth as humans try to colonize the solar system to stay alive. There is plenty of action and just enough reflection to keep it from being shallow but not so much as to bore.
The story is told from the perspective of Charlotte “Char” Turner, a juvenile delinquent from an otherwise upstanding family. As an asteroid approaches Earth, the powerful and the lucky are leaving earth on shuttles that take them to five arks, large spaceships hosting 100,000 humans on their way to a new home. 19 billion must stay behind to die* in the impact. Char, having a criminal record, isn’t considered for the lottery, but on her final visit her mother slips her a ticket to the last shuttle.
*There’s a bit of a handwave as to why they remain so docile until the end, but it’s forgivable.
The race to the shuttle is interesting, and I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I say she makes it. (You saw the title, right?) On the Ark, the politicians and military who are in charge (and likely to create the most sociopathic society ever) allege a terrorist threat from a group called the Remnant, and Char finds herself in the middle of these power struggles.
There are other characters here, but none are as compelling as Char. In part that’s because the plot moves fastest when Char is out on her own, but in part it’s because she’s just more interesting in this world than anyone else. There are two sequels planned, and I’ll probably buy both to see where she goes.
The prose in The Ark is solid, very similar in style to The Hunger Games. One passage stuck with me in particular for the haunting efficiency with which it shows a catastrophe:
The Pinball struck Africa directly. The mighty continent split apart, creating instant shockwaves that coursed over the surface of the Earth. Australia was underwater within moments, along with ll of Western Europe. Near the poles, the remaining clouds ripped apart, then evaporated as the atmosphere shattered.
Earth no longer existed.