* “A zany, wildly gripping, dark futuristic fantasy.” —Vogue, Most Anticipated Books of the Year * “Fascinating…a propulsive ride…through a well-built world.” —The Christian Science Monitor *
From the brilliant, bestselling author of Child 44 and creator of the FX series Class of ’09 comes a “cinematic” (The Washington Post), “captivating…[and] “brilliantly conceived postapocalyptic story” (Booklist, starred review) about an Antarctic colony of global apocalypse survivors seeking to reinvent civilization under the most extreme conditions imaginable.
The world has fallen. Without warning, a mysterious and omnipotent force has claimed the planet for their own. There are no negotiations, no demands, no reasons given for their actions. All they have is a message: humanity has thirty days to reach the one place on Earth where they will be allowed to exist…Antarctica.
Cold People follows the perilous journeys of a handful of those who endure the frantic exodus to the most extreme environment on the planet. But their goal is not merely to survive the present. Because as they cling to life on the ice, the remnants of their past swept away, they must also confront the urgent challenge: can they change and evolve rapidly enough to ensure humanity’s future? Can they build a new society in the sub-zero cold?
Original and imaginative, as profoundly intimate as it is grand in scope, Cold People is a “spellbinding…speculative masterpiece” (Library Journal, starred review) that’s “chilling in so many ways” (Los Angeles Times).
Reading Group Guide
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This reading group guide for Cold People includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Thirty days to evacuate everyone to Antarctica. That’s the edict given to the human race when, on an ordinary day in August not too long from now, a superior life-form arrives in the skies above Earth. Thus begins the largest and the last human migration, with the seemingly impossible task of making a life on the only continent where human beings can’t survive. Faced with extinction and a rapidly dwindling population, the remaining scientists and world leaders come to the conclusion that humanity cannot rely on natural evolution to save them; and work begins on engineering a new species. Called Cold People, these new humans are capable of so much more than we’d ever dreamed.
Ordinary-born people have to eke out an existence in the harshest environment on the planet, surviving minus-40-degree weather, six months of darkness a year, and scant resources. Yet people begin to do what they do best. New cultures emerge; teenagers fall in love and dream of a better life; and all the while, beneath the ice, something new is growing with dreams of its own.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. Unlike many other apocalypse stories, Cold People does not discuss the initial attempts to establish a means of survival on the ice but skips ahead twenty years. Why do you think Smith made the assumption that people would last that long?
2. When the aliens arrive, Liza and Atto are forced to quickly take steps to save their own lives and those of their families. How do you think you’d react? Have you ever made plans for surviving an extraordinary event?
3. Hope Town functions on a basis of community care and mutual aid whereas McMurdo City is more martial and operates like the governing structures we’re accustomed to. Each town has to create a society from scratch and decide which values will be essential to its survival. Which town would you select to live in in Antarctica? How do you think each town would have fared? Do you think that, had Hope City been in charge of the Cold People project, its leaders would have handled it differently?
4. On page 135, Yotam muses that “It was clear that the survivors of this alien occupation would be disproportionately represented by the two most powerful countries in the world.” A recurring theme in this book is the role that class plays in the ability of individuals and cultures to survive, from access to fast transportation to the society’s means of maintaining control over people like Yotam, who continue to follow orders even as all the power structures of the world fall apart. Discuss the presence of class in this book and in contemporary crises.
5. On page 161, upon seeing Eitan, a geneticist says, “‘Invaded by aliens, we have created aliens of our own.’ Adding: ‘We should kill it now. While we still can.’” Discuss the definition of “humanity” within this context. Eitan and his people are derived from the human genome but with significant alterations. At what point does something stop being human? Why is this distinction important? Do you think, in that moment, the geneticist displayed humanity?
6. Song Fu declares on page 200, “‘For the first time in human history, we had made a world-altering discovery and then declined to alter the world with it. To me, it was preposterous and provincial.’” Discuss other world-altering discoveries, the degree to which they were shared with the world, and their consequences. Could it be argued that making something inaccessible, due to geography or ability to pay, is also a failure to use it to alter the world? What of those ways in which the world should not have been altered? How do these considerations stack up next to the eventual consequences of Fu’s eventual world alterations?
7. Song Fu is a fascinating character and her disdain for ethical dillydallying in the face of the ultimate deadline ends up determining the priorities of the human race. How does this perfectly illustrate the ways in which crisis can give way to authoritarianism? Discuss the implications of using this method of governance as a fallback in times of chaos.
8. A common theme throughout the book is the suddenly precious commodity that is human life. Because of the dwindling population, the new society drives home over and over the value of each person. Yet exile and brutal utilitarianism also abound, from the orders for the guards of the Cold People to shoot anyone to the women sacrificed after failed experiments. Discuss this juxtaposition and how people are both more valued and more objectified than ever.
9. When Yotam is put on trial, he is held in a museum because there are no prisons in Antarctica. “[T]he decision had been taken not to replicate the justice systems of the old world . . . [they could not] afford for a large portion of the workforce to be imprisoned when there were so few people left.” They created a society that did not have prisons and then imprisoned their new species that most people assumed would become a new working class. Discuss the inability of the surviving leaders to imagine a society that is not based around the oppression of workers. What does this reveal about who survived the journey to Antarctica? How do you think this mentality informed the values that they attempted to instill into the new race of people? Did they succeed?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Genetic engineering plays an enormous role in Cold People and is highly controversial in our world as well. Look up some of the modern uses of CRISPR and discuss some theories for its future applications. What do you make of these developments?
2. One of Yotam’s tests for Eitan to prove his capacity for empathy is to show him movies and gauge his reactions. What movie would you use as a standard for evaluating humanity? Watch that movie and imagine seeing it through Eitan’s eyes. What did you notice about this movie for the first time?
3. An enormous emphasis is put on the value of preserving history in Cold People. Even the aliens saved many of our most significant cultural landmarks. What would you choose? Do some research on archives across the world and their contingency plans for disaster. How do we judge what is worthy of being saved?
Tom Rob Smith is the author of the acclaimed Child 44 trilogy. Child 44 itself was a global publishing sensation, selling over two million copies. It was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Prize and won the CWA Steel Dagger Award. His most recent novel, The Farm, was a #1 international bestseller. Tom also writes for television and won a Writer’s Guild Award for best adapted series and an Emmy and Golden Globe for best limited series with American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. He is also the creator and executive producer of FX’s suspense thriller series Class of ’09.
Why We Love It
“Smith is one of those novelists whose imagination feels supercharged as it builds speculative and threatening worlds, in this case an Antarctic colony of global apocalypse survivors seeking to reinvent civilization. This is a Mad Max landscape set at the bottom of the globe, where the urgent need to develop ‘cold people’—genetically engineered beings who can cope with dramatic temperatures well below freezing—has led to strange and sentient creatures who cannot be controlled by their creators. It’s all totally creepy and fascinating. Smith’s prose is crystalline and elegant, even as he draws us rapidly to the book’s climax. We may not want to be in this world, but we do want to know what happens in it.”
“Cinematic . . . Natural selection is magnificent in the abstract, when it works over millennia, but seeing it sped up to take place in a single lifetime, as Smith vividly imagines, exposes its brutality.” —Washington Post
“Fascinating . . . a propulsive ride [that] unfolds at a galloping pace through a well-built world.” —Christian Science Monitor
"A vastly ambitious novel, tackling the weightiest questions of our time in a form that rarely loses the tension of a thriller, despite the complexity of its subject matter." —The Observer (UK)
“Cold People is a zany, wildly gripping, dark futuristic fantasy that achieves escapist lift-off [and] recalls H.P. Lovecraft and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. . . .Wild, imaginative, [and] fast moving.” —Vogue, Most Anticipated Books of 2023
“Original and imaginative, as profoundly intimate as it is grand in scope, Cold People is a masterful and unforgettable epic.” —Bookreporter.com
“A brilliantly conceived postapocalyptic story . . . absolutely captivating . . . Smith’s near-future world is wonderfully imaginative and rigorously detailed, the kind of made-up place that feels viscerally real. A real treat.” —Booklist (starred review)
“Spellbinding . . . suspenseful . . . electrifying . . . A speculative masterpiece that will resonate with fans of Emily St. John Mandel, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Jeff VanderMeer.” —Library Journal (starred review)
"What lines, if any, shouldn’t be crossed to save humanity from extinction? That question is at the heart of this stunning postapocalyptic thriller. . . . [a] triumph of imagination and empathy." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)