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Sixty Days and Counting (Science in the Capital Trilogy) Mass Market Paperback – October 30, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Inside-the-Beltway policy wonks and government scientists strive to save the world from environmental collapse in the well-written third installment (after 2005's Fifty Degrees Below) of this hyperrealistic, near-future SF series. The Gulf Stream—slowed by global warming—has been restarted and nuclear-powered naval ships stand by to generate electricity for frigid coastal cities. Phil Chase, an ecologically minded Democrat from California in the Al Gore mold, has won the presidency, due in part to the efforts of NSA scientist Frank Vanderwal and his spook girlfriend, Caroline Barr, who helped foil a right-wing attempt to fix the election. But only time will tell if the world has both the scientific know-how and the political will to reverse the ongoing rush toward an ecological precipice. Combining surprisingly interesting discussions of environmental science with Robinson's trademark tramps through nature and an exciting espionage subplot, this novel should appeal to both the author's regular SF audience and anyone concerned with the ecological health of our planet (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Kim Stanley Robinson is a winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards. He is the author of eleven previous books, including the bestselling Mars trilogy and the critically acclaimed Fifty Degrees Below, Forty Signs of Rain, The Years of Rice and Salt, and Antarctica–for which he was sent to the Antarctic by the U.S. National Science Foundation as part of their Antarctic Artists and Writers’ Program. He lives in Davis, California
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However, this book like the others is only tangentially about politics. Like mant works of science fiction it is a way for to think of how out technology will effect the world and how we might preemptively prevent negative consequences. When it thought we would have robots wandering around the street, the three laws of robotics were proposed. Star Trek proposed the Prime Directive for dealing with new cultures. The list goes on. This series presupposes a traumatized world that has not happened yet, and may not happen, and proposes some alternatives. It may not be the best idea to expend government funds to pump and mine every bit of fossil fuel and burn it for energy. It may be better to spend money on Solar. The same goes for accounting methods that do include ancillary costs of acquiring that oil, such as the $1 trillion for the war in iraq. Who knows if any of this will transpire, or if any of this work? This is science fiction.
Even this technological consequence thing is secondary to the real crux of the story, which is what Robinson, like so many other science fiction writers, excel in. That is people and relationships. Each character in the story is certain archtype, and each represents a specific manner of interacting with the world. Charlie is the domestic political, feeding ideas to those in charge in hopes of making a change, while at the same time knowing that family is what makes a country. Ann is the dedicated scientist, looking for a silver bullet to solve the problem. Diane is the scientist administrator who believes that world can be saved through science, a constant theme through most science fiction, and in the real world, politics is who one saves the world. Ergo, the thrust of all three books.
This is why I like this book the best. In the previous books it appeared that Robinson was going to take the traditional trajectory and claim that science would allow to live at our current standard of living, or even better, and still save the world. While it is a nice fantasy, I did not think it fit in with overall tone of the book, which was more reality based. However, in this last book with the increasing focus on the refugees from Khembalung and Frank, and the freegans, it is clear that he does realize, and is trying to promote, a change in relationship to our planet. This is another reason why some may find it to be their most hated book. Even Ann, the absolute scientist, has moments where she realizes that science alone cannot help us.
Which we see in the allegory of Frank dropping off the grid, people leading decent lives by eating what others waste, and an entire village raising Joe to become not what his father desperately wants, a son he can call his own, as Nick is definitely his Mother's son, but whatever Joe is. And this may be the lesson of book. We cannot, science cannot, religion cannot, make something that which it is not. The world happens. We can change it for a while, but at some point we just have to adapt.
The presentation of science and scientists, their points of view, passion, ... is the best I have ever seen.
The characters are strong, consistent. The very many social settings he puts them into are amazing in their detail, and all seem very real to me.
The systems aspects of ecology and the weather are explained very well, the inter-relatedness of everything is a central feature of the novels. The 'failure modes' of the systems are part of the dynamic that pushes the novel forward.
The interactions of the political system with the external events are also very well done. If you want to understand the political world of Washington DC and its interaction with the scientific establishment, this is the book. All of the descriptions of the National Science Foundation and the funding are real, at least as I saw them (from the outside), some years ago.
However, Robinson fails to continue his systems analysis into the political arena, so his political response to the "Global warming" crisis is the standard progressive fantasy : elect the right people and give them more power. This despite all of the detail he presents on how FDR's progressive reforms are now part of the problem, how all of the regulatory agencies are taken over by the regulatees. He doesn't even mention how all of the farming practices that contribute to global warming are driven by the federal subsidies, ditto forest management, ... Nor how all nations with progressive policies have stagnant economies, 20% unemployment, and don't produce enough jobs for the young people.