When fiction merges with reality

Hunkered down in an elegant hotel in Washington DC, watching the epic storm continue unabated, I cannot help but think of award winning author Kim Stanley Robinson's "Fifty Degrees Below", the second novel in his three-part trilogy.

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In this book, Washingtonians experience the most intense winter on record. As rigid temperatures shut down the city, the main character, Frank, is living in a treehouse in Rock Creek Park and heroic women scientists (I especially like that part) are trying to force the self-absorbed politicians to put in place effective policies to avert a global catastrophe. It is not until crops fail and people begin to starve do the sluggish policy makers begin to take the situation seriously -something leaders of flooded low-lying nations have been trying to convince them to do for decades.

Funny how fiction starts to merge with reality. Only a few months ago, I was in Bangladesh talking to farmers there about their need for flood tolerant rice and a few days ago, Obama hit the road to publicize his energy policy saying that, really, something needs to be done to wean Americans off fossil fuels. Biofuels represent one renewable energy source the administration wants to promote, and I will be attending a Department of Energy meeting on this subject on Monday.

Back to gazing out the window. Better the Mayflower hotel than a tree house.

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What we need are biofuels that can be grown in sea water. Plants that make something like carnauba wax. Something that is excreted so new biomass doesn't have to be grown very frequently and all the photosynthesis can be used for fuel production.

If you put floating plantations on the equator, they wouldn't experience much bad weather.

Much as I liked the concept of living in a freezing Washington Paleolithic style (at least in theory - I'm an archaeologist, not a masochist), the problem with '50 degrees below' is that it sucked, big time (as did the third part of the trilogy).

Slow, messy, terrible dialogue and a hero you want to slap. The 'hero' (Vanderwal) is creepy, has a very strange view of women (paleo-anthropology is just stalking by another name), and seemingly has a wool base layer fetish. He also wants to live in a tree in the middle of a mini ice age, raher than just rent a room he can evidently afford. Its not all bad, but from the guy who wrote Year of Rice and Salt, its just embarrassing.

Have a look at Grrlscientists review of the third one http://scienceblogs.com/grrlscientist/2008/02/sixty_days_and_counting.p… . Its not generous,which is fair, but sad because the Mars trilogy and Rice and Salt were great.

In the meantime, wrap up warm, put on your wool base layers (I did learn something from reading the book)and head for the bar.

Here in the UK, we have a couple of flakes falling, so the whole country is about to grind to a halt.

I admit, I wanted to like 50 degrees, but I really thought it was a dreadful piece of writing.

I just heard the DOE's chief scientist argue that achieving 450ppm was a pipe dream, and state that only 550ppm was even remotely realistic. If that represents agency policy, then I wouldn't hold my breath, I fear.

Thanks for the connection with Kim Stanley Robinson though I had read the series, I had not made the connection. It really is climate change not Global Warming. I actually was disappointed with the series myself but loved the Mars series.

By Joseph Ormond (not verified) on 09 Feb 2010 #permalink

I love that series - I like that Frank is not totally likeable, and I enjoyed his unmoored thought processes. This series grabbed my attention much more readily than The Years of Rice and Salt.

Here I am in Toronto, almost no snow at all this winter, mild temperatures hovering around the freezing mark most days. It feels like an unusual year up here all right.