Camp Zero by Michelle Min Sterling

In Camp Zero, Michelle Min Sterling brings together an unusual combination of characters to create an intriguing and layered story. Camp Zero is mainly set in Dominion Lake, a former oil town in Alberta, Canada, around the end of 2049 and into 2050. A series of climate disasters, and the ongoing heating of the planet, have made it clear by this time that climate change is real. Oil has been banned, and people cope with the grim new reality as best they can. Not surprisingly, those with financial resources are able to position themselves better than those without. Many of the wealthy live in “Floating Cities,” where they ride out some of the worst effects.

The premise of Camp Zero is that a man named Meyer is trying to establish a campus that will become a future haven for American “nation dodgers” on Canadian soil. The cooler climate and the availability of natural resources are the main draws of the camp’s location in northern Alberta.

Camp Zero’s story unfolds through the perspective of three characters: a woman named Rose, a young man named Grant, and an unnamed female character working as part of an all-woman team staffing a former radar station. Rose lives in an abandoned mall, where she works as of a group of “hostesses” called the “Blooms.” The Blooms serve as emotional and physical companions for the male leadership and management staff at the camp. After being recruited as an instructor at the camp, Grant becomes part of a men’s enclave located at a former warehouse. A two-day snowmobile trip away from Dominion Lake is a cadre of women stationed at a former Cold War outpost, now a climate research station. The women refer to their station as “White Alice,” which was the code name for a communications system established by the U.S. and Canadian Air Forces in the 1950s.

As the story progresses, flashbacks provide a better understanding of multiple motivations and factors at play under the surface. Tension heightens as we learn more about the camp and the forces that led to its creation. What’s really going on here? is a question that becomes more and more compelling as one goes deeper into the book.

As someone who believes in the importance of good stewardship of our planet, I found Camp Zero resonant. Climate change deniers might find it less compelling. Camp Zero makes several references to the role of men in destroying the planet. Depending on whether one interprets this as “men as in males” or “men as in humans,” the flavour I got (perhaps incorrectly) was more the former than the latter. While it may be true that males tend to dominate positions of power, including those which influence actions taken or not taken to mitigate climate change, not all men are complicit and not all women are innocent. As I was reading, the frequency with which these comments are made by various characters stood out. Then again, it might be reasonable once the world’s been irrevocably changed for people to be angry about it, and look to assign blame.

World-building is one of the features I appreciate in a good dystopian novel. Camp Zero filled the bill, providing unusual settings, circumstances, and characters. In the foreword, the author notes that the idea for Camp Zero was sparked during a trip to visit a cousin who was working as a pipefitter in the boom years in the oil patch. She tried to imagine what an oil town of the future might look like if everything went bust. She also researched sea-steading communities and remote radar stations as groundwork for some of the other venues described in the book. The blend of unique (Floating City) and mundane (abandoned malls and warehouses) settings was part of the appeal for me. For those who enjoy dystopian science fiction, there’s a lot to like in Camp Zero.

*content warnings, not necessarily all-inclusive, which may contain spoilers*

Perhaps not surprisingly for a dystopian novel, Camp Zero contains dark elements, including gun and other violence resulting in death, sometimes inflicted in a cold-blooded manner. There is also unwanted sexual contact. Readers who might find these themes disturbing should be forewarned.

Lisa Timpf is a retired HR and communications professional who lives in Simcoe, Ontario. Her writing has appeared in New Myths, Star*Line, The Future Fire, Triangulation: Habitats, and other venues. Lisa’s speculative haibun collection, In Days to Come, is available from Hiraeth Publishing. You can find out more about Lisa’s writing at