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Yale 62

Thinking about Neal Stephenson’s Termination Shock

By John Stewart

While re-reading for Neal Stephenson’s brilliant and entertaining eco-thriller Termination Shock, I was reminded of Isaiah Berlin’s hedgehog and fox categorizations: the fox knows many things and the hedgehog one big thing. In this case Kim Stanley Robinson’s very important novel about climate change, The Ministry for the Future, is the fox. Delving deeply into the science, he describes a variety of solutions for fixing global warming, complete with a great story line and a large number of sympathetic characters. Stephenson deals with one very plausible (I guess!) procedure, shooting sulfur into the atmosphere to deflect carbon out. Both novels seem to take place about 20 years from now, and both are fascinating in the imagined evolution of current technology, but Stephenson’s is an addictive page turner. Both open with powerful dramatic moments, and both include a variety of character viewpoints which converge towards (in Stephenson’s case) a very dramatic denouement. A minor spoiler alert is that Stephenson’s title refers to possible consequences of stopping the climate fixing techniques. Stephenson is especially good at having his writing style reflect the characters’ personalities, including an American ex-soldier, a Texan oil king, the Queen of the Netherlands (especially wonderfully characterized!) as well as Russians, Chinese and a lovable Sikh. His cynical description of the USA is especially delicious.

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