Kim Stanley Robinson returns with the second in his trilogy on the current state of global warming and its possible ramifications. Robinson does a great job in making his world seem very much like our own, but his sequence of events are a lot more “down to earth” than The Day After Tomorrow.
Forty Signs of Rain ended with a flash flood drowning most of Washington DC and leaving the main characters to fend for themselves, having to travel around by boat. Some time has passed and the waters have receded and life is back to normal in DC. All that remains are faded muddy water lines on famous monuments to prove that the flood actually happened. But the mentality of the world is a little different now, as the weather begins to deteriorate: increased storms, hurricanes (with obvious similarities to Hurricane Katrina and that terrible Fall), droughts, and fluctuating temperatures. Meanwhile the main characters continue their plight to alert the world about global warming and to come up with ways to fight it, while the current administration struts blindly on, not caring.
Then the world changes. The crucial Gulf Stream that circulates around the Atlantic via the Gulf Coast, which keeps a balance of cold and warm waters, as well as setting an equilibrium of sorts with the weather, stalls. Having never happened before, the world is not sure what the results will be. Time slowly passes and nothing happens. Then the weather begins to change and the temperature drops and drops and drops. In the winter the western world is freezing, and DC reports a record temperature of fifty degrees below. Everyone’s lives are changed, as they accept the reality of global warming, even the current administration, soon to be out of office, accepts this fate, knowing they can do nothing in the immediate future to help. It is the National Science Foundation, working with different groups around the world, that comes up with a possible solution: dumping many of tons of salt into the north Atlantic to restart the Gulf Stream. It takes some time to mine the salt fields throughout the world and load the giant cargo ships with the precious material, but the plan is eventually successful and the catastrophe that would only have gotten worse is averted. But everyone knows this isn’t it, that there is more in store for the world at the hand of global warming.
Fifty Degrees Below ends with the successful election of Senator Phil Chase, the important environmental politician who the main characters have been working with in support of the agenda to prevent global warming. It is in the concluding book of the series, Sixty Days and Counting, where all will need to be somehow resolved, and the new president will have to make some big changes to get the world back on its feet again.
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Originally written on April 5th, 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.
Kim Stanley Robinson will be interviewed in episode 28 of Bookbanter available March 15. Check out the Bookbanter website for more information.