Sociologist Ulrich Beck has likened living with environmentally hazardous technology to dwelling on a volcano (1992: 17). But many people quite literally live on shaky ground, as Bengali Londoner Alsana Iqbal reminds us in Zadie Smith’s novel. Perhaps more of us than know it. Revisiting the earthquake-prone Los Angeles beloved of Hollywood scriptwriters, Mike Davis draws attention to the pervasive ordinariness of natural disasters. His Ecology of Fear (1998) depicts a sprawling metropolis whose patterns of land use places its citizens smack in the path of flood, tornado, wildfire,

drought and even puma attack. Misleadingly marketed as a new world Garden of Eden, Davis suggests that Southern California should be more realistically viewed as a landscape configured by waves of dynamic instability. Far from aberrations, the ‘catastrophes’ he tracks are episodes of the very processes that have produced California’s celebrated scenery. As well as reminding us that bursts of land-shaping activity remain a normal feature of urban environments, Davis points out that the periodic intensification of such episodes is an integral part of this normality. LA, he intimates, may be about to awake from a long climatic and seismic ‘siesta’ (1998: 35).