Next is Kim Stanley Robinson's Fifty Degrees Below, where, as Senate aide Charlie Quibler comments, "The stakes just keep getting higher, don't they?" Robinson's latest book is the second of a near-future series in which politics as usual is thrown out the window by a succession of extreme weather events. In the first novel, Forty Signs of Rain, Washington, D.C., is flooded by a massive storm surge (an event strangely reminiscent of recent real-life events). In Fifty Degrees Below, the government reacts strongly to being hit in its home base. However, it is quickly apparent that not all parts of the District of Columbia will be treated equally, and while the water drains relatively quickly, there are regions of the city that do not receive more than cursory aid. Frank Vanderwal has been working for the National Science Foundation (NSF) and, after the storm, finds himself homeless. Being practical, he takes his outdoor skills and what he knows of the city and manages to live under the radar. Frank is one of the most fascinating characters in recent speculative fiction. He is interested in everything and dissects all kinds of behaviors, from casual to formal, to consider them from an evolutionary or socio-biological standpoint. With the weather going wild and the onset of another Ice Age a real possibility, Frank and the NSF undertake bold maneuvers to put scientists and science at the forefront of government policies. It is human engineering on a grand scale, yet Robinson tells the story through the lives of his characters: Charlie and his family, Frank and a mystery woman and the Buddhist inhabitants of the low-lying island nation of Khembalung. As with Robinson's other books (the Mars trilogy, Antarctica), Fifty Degrees Below is an intensely positive book, brimming with ideas and hope for the future real or imagined.
Gavin J. Grant runs Small Beer Press in Northampton, Massachusetts.