I recently finished reading the “Science in the Capital” trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. I’ve already reviewed the first in the series, “Forty Days of Rain”. It was followed by “Fifty Degrees Below” and “Sixty Days and Counting”.
Unfortunately, the second and third books don’t have the same sheer oomph of the first. But they’re still remarkably well written. Robinson continues to impress me with his ability to put words on paper.
But, this series being what it is, and this blog being what it is, the political/scientific aspect of the series is really the meat of the review. The premise of the series is, in a nutshell, that global warming ticks up a notch, causing a flood in Washington, D. C., a terrifying cold snap in the Northern Hemisphere, and the beginnings of the melting of the Southern Polar Cap. But it doesn’t read like a disaster movie, like “The Day After Tomorrow”. These events occur, much like I imagine they would, by degrees, slowly piling up until, finally, the world has to respond.
In the story, everyone responds, but it is the role of the US government to collate those efforts, which actually have a nifty, just-barely-believable sci-fi quality to them. A tremendous convoy of decommissioned oil tankers dumps trillions of tons of salt into the North Atlantic to attempt to keep the critical currents there from stalling. A vaguely scary genetically engineered lichen is released into the Siberian forests, causing extraordinary draw down of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. My favorite subplot is the pumping system designed to pull water out of the ocean and spit it back up onto the Antartic plain, basically reforming the Southern Polar Cap.
This being a book written about science, from the perspective of scientists, there is a measure of humility to be seen. The salt-convoy is described as barely a pin prick in the problem, a desperate delaying action that costs billions. The lichen, on the other hand, may well be a horrible mistake, if the carbon draw down is too much. (Though, they do say that compensation is as simple as burning a few billion tires.)
All in all, there’s little propagandist about the series. Robinson isn’t saying, “The world is about to end! Listen and learn!” He’s making the assumption that the scientific community is right, and telling a story about how it all might go. His tale is one of optimism. (Just like every other book of his I’ve read, incidentally.)
I guess the reason I like Robinson’s work so much is that he’s a writer that seems to be doing what I hope to with my career. He’s got a world view (which I don’t necessarily agree with) and he’s writing a variety of novels in different genres to explore that view. I look forward to his next.