Sixty Days and Counting
by Kim Stanley Robinson
Review by Ernest Lilley
Bantam Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 0553803131
Date: 27 February, 2007 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Sixty Days and Counting concludes Kim Stanley Robinson's Capital Climatology Crisis, but the weather trilogy ends not with thunder, hail, tornadoes , a new ice age or a killer drought, but but with a spring day and another turn of the great mandala. It turns out that a disaster movie really is better than a book by a Hard SF author. The Day After Tomorrow may have been a classic disaster movie with laughable science, but in the end it was more entertaining than KSR's countdown to global warming.
The bottom line is that if I hadn't reviewed the first two books in this trilogy, I wouldn't have taken it up at this point. Neither, I suspect would the author.
When Forty Signs of Rain, the first book in this series came out, the weather gods were with Kim Stanley Robinson. and if DC didn't flood out the way it did in his book, Katrina at least gave us New Orleans, and that was close enough. But that was a tough act for the series to follow, and though Fifty Degrees Below, the next book, enjoyed a fairly cold winter in the Capital to keep people in the mood, it hardly matched the thermal negativity of the title. But for the series, the end of that book offered the worst of all possible worlds. Not just that global warming had drowned a few small islands and a few more homeless people had frozen to death than usual, but that a green candidate had been swept into office as the President. Well, swept may not be the right word, as it required the unearthing of a plot to subvert electronic voting machines and a lot of running around dodging black ops (ours) types.
In the present book the author has set himself up in a pretty much no win scenario. The greens are in the White House, the National Science Foundation has the ear of the president, and the harsh reality of the situation bogs down the book. We don't know how to terraform the earth back to the way it was a few decades ago, and no amount of good intentions can make it happen. And just to spite the author, the book had to come out after a mild winter. Global Warming doesn't seem so scary to folks who don't have to shovel their steps so often anymore, and if the equator heats up...well, those people like it hot, don't they?
Worst of all, we've now got a Democratic congress and companies are getting on board with green concerns left and right. You've got to hate it when events steal a march on your books. And when even a Republican president from oil soaked Texas makes environmental overtures, it just undermines the book's whole premise. Conservatives don't hate the ecology, they're just a little slow figuring out how to cash in on it.
For me, the problem is that KSR backs off from pretty much everything he's taken on in this book. The weather isn't that bad. To every thing there turns out to be a season, and if Buddhists have to relocate from their pacific island to a farm in Maryland, so it goes. Even the love triangle that was driving his scientist protagonist crazy, having to choose between the irrational passion for a superspy's wife or a mutually respectful relationship with the head of the NIH gets easily resolved.
And in the end, the last words of the book should have been; "We'll see what we can do." WHich would have echoed the end of the first book with the realization that the struggle for survival is an ongoing struggle, not a resolvable problem. Instead, he settles for a soporific clinch that all you need, or possibly can have, is love. The moral is, evidentially, that everybody talks about the weather, but our primate brains have better things to worry about.