Sixty Days and Counting Mass Market Paperback – Oct 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.
Praise for Forty Signs of Rain: 'The Brave New World of global warming ! A narrative that is rich in closely observed characters and a wonderfully vivid sense of place ! depicts a society sleep-walking towards the abyss ! His great achievement here is to bring the practice of science alive and to place this in an all-too familiar world of greedy capitalists and unprincipled politicians. Robinson's critique of science is heartfelt ! humans have gone from being the smartest animal on the savannah to being "experts at denial".' P.D. Smith, Guardian 'A funny, convincing, intelligent book' Kim Newman, Independent 'Kim Stanley Robinson is freed by his medium -- fiction -- to deliver [a] message with passion and restraint ! A great book' New Scientist Praise for Kim Stanley Robinson 'The excitement of the science is thrillingly rendered ! a very impressive work of the imagination !' TLS 'Unusually well written !three dimensional characters ! the scale is awesome.' Shaun Usher, Daily Mail More on the Mars books: 'To make Mars real and make it interesting. That's the double challenge which Kim Robinson has here so squarely and successfully faced! scientific reality leads straight into a conflict plot! a running commentary on human desire, frustration and fulfilment.' Tom Shippey Guardian 'A beautiful book -- to be lived in.' Ian Watson Daily Telegraph 'A complex combination of science fiction and fact, political and social commentary which, together with strong characterisation and a brilliantly conceived plot, blend into a book that reads like a heavily dramatised version of past events, flowing smoothly from start to finish and building up to a climactic conclusion. Probably the most outstanding aspect of Robinson's novel, however, is his stunning visualisation of the beauty of this hostile planet. By the end you can't help feeling you understand the place, that it has some meaning beyond that of just another location for a story ! I'm looking forward to reading the next two volumes almost as eagerly as I'm anticipating the reality of such an outrageous venture.' Alex Hardy Time Out On Antarctica 'A tour de force of adventure writing, memorably told ! He describes Antarctica like a great travel writer, but he does so in the aid of the story ! It is hard to put the book down. It is important, it is relevant, it gives us a huge new continent to imagine; and it is fun.' Mail on Sunday 'The most momentous science fiction novel of the year! Robinson has turned his gaze on a landscape almost as hostile and unspoiled as Mars and describes it gloriously well.' Daily Telegraph 'A fascinating richness ! with the unobtrusive lightness that allowed him to finesse so many of the difficult grandeurs of epic in the Mars books, he steals in Antarctica towards the tricky inward experiences of those archaic Brits, "conquering the world with bad boy scout equipment".' Independent --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
Chase sets things in motion with the biggest government effort since FDR; perhaps even greater than the Great Depression WWII battles. Things look a bit more positive when the stagnant Gulf Stream begins recirculating but that will not be enough to save our planet. He has brought together a top rate team of experts to end the trend of a speeding death and beyond that bring life back to earth. Charlie Quibler is on the squad though that means he no longer can spend as much time as he needs to with son. National Science Foundation scientist Frank Vanderwal is still recovering from a brain injury suffered when he and his beloved espionage agent Caroline Barr prevented a conspiracy to steal the election from Chase, and Caroline is now also on the team. However, as they seek scientific solutions and the President seeks the political will to do the tough decisions, others like the status quo that leaves them with affluence and power not caring about saving the earth, as they will be dead before the planet's final death.
This is an exciting action-packed environmental thriller that makes a powerful case that global warming is destroying the planet. The environmental debates between key players augment the tale as they are lucid, intelligent and decisive, which in turn augments the belief to the reader that the end is near if we do nothing.Read more ›
There was one slow bit near the end, but overall I quite liked it. I highly recommend that this book be read in the context of a series. It's the third book of "Science in the Capital".
Overall, I quite liked the book and its predecessors. I liked the character development and I think it's a story that has to be told; the world heading to ruin because of man's influence.
This is the third book in a trilogy on catastrophic climate disaster series and it builds on the first book and second books for an interesting conclusion.
A good read all around
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Robinson has two main problems. First, he has no new things to say. Second, for what he DOES want to say, the novel is not the best vehicle -- and so Sixty Days is awkward and ineffective.
But first, the good. Robinson is a great writer who combines powerful expressive skills with a passionate and insightful understanding of politics and philosophy. Moreover, he is a meticulous researcher who presents science by lifting the reader up, instead of dumbing the science down.
In addition, Sixty Days presents a detailed and compelling portrait of how a real President should behave, at a time when people are craving such a model. In fact, much of Sixty Days is simply political advice to a future Democratic Presidential administration. It is good advice, and that is perhaps the best that the book has to offer. You normally expect a Robinson book to offer loads of "Gee Whiz!" science, but because climate change has become so much more prominent in the public discussion than it was when this series began, most of what would have been fascinating science is now old hat.
Except for the politics, and without the science, Sixty Days is quite empty. The book might best be seen as a victory lap, or perhaps a "greatest hits" compendium from all his prior work. The first clue that Robinson was more interested in re-hashing prior work than introducing something new came when he started gratuitously recycling major character names like "Frank" and "Spencer" from the Mars series. But it turns out that nearly everything is recycled. We see again an uncontrolled experiment involving genetically modified lichen (as from Red Mars), a sexually loaded look at women's softball (as from Pacific Edge), home-made designer drugs (as from Gold Coast), primitivist living in an urban environment (as from Blue Mars), accounts of the Bardo (as from Rice and Salt), and of course all the themes from Forty Signs and Fifty Degrees, pounded endlessly.
Deemed by Robinson his "Science in the Capital" series, this book might originally have been intended to explore the possibility that the world would be better if scientists took over politics. Sixty Days is the culmination of this fantasy, in which scientists fill the White House, are amply funded, and drive all the key policies. However, a serious look at the potential pros and cons of a scientocracy this book is not.
Missing from Sixty Days is plot. The narratives carefully built in the prior books, such as election fraud and violence emanating from secret government programs, simply murmur in the background of Sixty Days, until suddenly resolved in a few pages (pp. 353-356, don't blink), without much detail about what was actually happening or how it was ended. The book's other conflicts are resolved as easily -- without giving away too much, the boy gets the girl, nobody dies, and everyone lives happily ever after. Robinson appears impatient to get to the movie-like ending, which features scene after scene of teary reconciliation.
Sometimes the passion comes through. What Robinson really wants to talk about is why primitivism is the best way of life, why outdoorsy people are the only completely realized humans, why rock climbing is so interesting, and why Californians should be infinitely more snobby about their state than New Yorkers could ever be about New York. These themes interrupt Sixty Days so frequently, and at such length, that they essentially hijack whatever the book was trying to be.
I would like Robinson to go back to his word processor and give Sixty Days a fair shot, dispensing with the kayaking, backpacking, rock climbing, and feral life. That book would be more like a novel -- but unsatisfying, I suspect, to Robinson. And thus we are left with this question: if Kim Stanley Robinson's main priority is to preach primitivism and impress upon us the virtues of the California landscape and outdoor sports, does he really want to be in the business of writing novels, or is there a better way to communicate this?
Instead of crafting this like a literary exercise, objectively pondering the possibilities and lyrically leading the reader onward, this feels like an angry blue-stater releasing his frustrations through abstract wish-fulfillment. I am a very angry blue-stater, but the idea that everything would be better if only the right man were president does nothing to assuage my anger.
Finally, as an economist, I have to say it bothered me that Robinson wrote so extensively and ignorantly about the subject of economics. OK, you may think I am an apologist for capitalism, offended by his epiphany for socialism. No, that would be confusing MBAs with economists. I am offended that a hard-science advocate gets the science of economics wrong in most every detail, taking an ideological stance against a straw-man version of capitalism and an equally ideological stance in favor of socialism. Economics properly taught covers market failure extensively -- reasons why markets systematically can be predicted to be *in*efficient with respect to externalities, and ways that public policy can restore (social) efficiency such as carbon taxes or cap and trade systems. The problem that causes pollution, global warming, and other externalities is not the private ownership of capital -- it is (in some sense) the lack of ownership of commonly consumed biosphere. Not that I am advocating private ownership of the biosphere -- just pointing out that if a good environment could be bought and sold, capitalism would provide us with a great environment. Social ownership of capital, the defining characteristic of socialism, could be used to fix market failures, but when everyone owns something nobody owns it and it is also quite possible (as we have seen in the Soviet Union and China when they were closer to the socialistic pole)that the environment will get worse.
This is, in fact, the strong point of this work, as Robinson envisions both a group of dedicated scientists who actively try to handle a myriad of different types of technological fixes and a newly elected President who gives far more than lip service to their plans. Many of the things Robinson describes here are both good science and show a good grasp of what is possible in the world of politics when the voting population can actually see and feel the detrimental effects (most of this was detailed in the prior two books). The economic costs of massive programs of this nature (such as pumping huge quantities of seawater into basins and back to the top of the eastern Antarctic) are not ignored, either, though I did feel that expecting a massive shift of dollars from military defense to ecological programs was expecting a little too much.
Unfortunately, the novel that above is wrapped in isn't much of a novel. We are presented with the continuing story of Frank in search of his briefly met mysterious love while still trying to live a feral life inside the city confines, and Charlie and his concerns about his youngest son. The whole incident of the potential election-rigging that formed a prime part of the last book is still here, but muted and almost buried under a somewhat far-fetched attempt to find and root out the super-black intelligence agency responsible for the plan. Now there may be little doubt that there may be intelligence-gathering agencies that have too much unsupervised power, and that current laws do not do enough to safeguard individual's liberties and rights, but Robinson's depiction crosses the line into James Bondian fantasy. Robinson also lets his own political biases show far too much, at one point making an unqualified statement that the people in the current administration are criminals.
The trouble with all of this is there is very little action, and almost no suspense. Frank and Charlie's stories just don't have much emotional grabbing power, so that in the end I felt I was reading more of a treatise (even if a good, well reasoned, and scientifically sound one) than a novel. The other plot threads that were started in the first two books are given conclusions, but almost in a back-handed manner, and with far too much of `everything ends well'. What would have helped this book considerably would have been a look at the world and the political maneuvering from the eyes of Phil Chase, the new President, but we are only given short glimpses of this. By the end of the book, everything just kind of sputters out, leaving me quite disappointed. I expect much better from this author.
--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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.
By the time Chase is elected president, it is clear that the planet's climate is going to hell in a handbasket. Not only is the weather in Washington DC wildly unpredictable -- warm one day, freezing the next -- but there are other daily indications that things are not going well, such as widespread housing and food shortages, flooding, drought, loss of biodiversity and numerous other problems. However, there is some reason for optimism: scientists have at least managed to restart the Gulf Stream, for example.
Because Chase was elected President, his principle advisor, Charlie Quibler, must go to work full-time at the White House instead of spending his days yelling advice into his cell phone while running through the city's parks, chasing after his toddler son, Joe -- a proposition that Charlie hates. But he finally does give up his mister mom role by entrusting his precious younger child to the White House daycare staff, and works down the hall from the President himself, helping Chase make key appointments to his cabinet.
One of those choices was appointing NSF head, Diane, to the role of Presidential Science Advisor. Diane, of course, asks Frank and Anna Quibler to join her, but Anna refuses, wisely preferring to stay at the NSF. Frank is suffering from a brain injury that renders him indecisive, and further, he is also in love with Diane, so he accepts her invitation, although he'd rather return to his previous job in California.
The novel mostly focuses on Frank, once again, although why it does, I do not know -- so would it be trite of me to mention at this point that even though he is working at the White House, Frank is still officially homeless? Hello?? Has the author ever heard of Homeland Security? Okay, it's true that Frank often stays with the expat Khembalese on their estate in Maryland instead of in his van or in his treehouse in a downtown park in Washington DC, and that he rarely hangs out with his homeless friends anymore and only tracks escaped zoo animals when he has spare time, instead of every evening as he did in the second book when he was working at NSF. I should also point out that when Frank stays with the Khembalese, he is properly nourished too, instead of living on refuse retrieved from dumpsters throughout the greater Metro area.
Anyway, after this idiosyncratic beginning, the novel rapidly devolves into a silly 500-plus page cat-and-mouse political spy thriller where poor, indecisive Frank is stuck in the middle of two women (neither of them knows about the other, of course), unable to decide who he is really in love with; the powerful, articulate and intelligent Diane, or the nearly invisible and flighty, but occasionally sexually available Caroline? Of course, there is Caroline's (ex?) husband to consider, too. He's the man who gave Frank his little brain injury in the second book by smashing him in the face with a tire iron.
The book occasionally comes up for air from the contrived Frank-Diane-Caroline emotional menage a trois to examine other topics that were introduced in the two previous books, such as the effect that the Khembalese ah, "exorcism" had on Joe's personality. Basically, in the second book, the Khembalese perform a so-called "exorcism" ritual that transforms the toddler from a complete brat into a more affable kid. But his parents, Charlie and Anna, are troubled by this sudden docility, realizing that they prefer their little Joe to be banging innocent playmates on the head with steel dump trucks that are the size of footballs. So by the end of this book, poof, the Quiblers get their wish: the Khembalese undo their hocus-pocus and little Joe is once again happily terrorizing his parents, their friends and all the children within city blocks of where he is located.
Additionally, this book includes a brief but nonetheless unsatisfying glimpse at the so-called "ferals" and homeless people (mostly men, mostly mentally ill) whom Frank spent so much time with in book two, giving me the impression that these people were not very important to Frank (nor to the story, and definitely not to the author). Further, I was especially disappointed with the thoughtlessly casual way that the author dealt "the problem" of the homeless teenager, Chessman: the author hinted that Chessman might have an important role in the development of the story as early as the middle of the second book, since Frank repeatedly wondered about Chessman's mysterious disappearance from that point onwards. But Chessman's disappearance had nothing whatsoever to do with the story's development or resolution, making it appear that the author didn't know what to do with this particular character, which makes me wonder why Chessman was introduced into the story in the first place.
In addition to all those little quibbles, I have a few other things I'd like to mention: I thought that Frank's brain injury, which made him unable to think clearly and to make decisions, was an absolutely ridiculous plot device. Ditto for Frank's entire lifestyle as a homeless, tree-dwelling, dumpster-diving, frisbee-flicking, animal-tracking primate who happened to be employed as a scientist at NSF. I mean, really, this was such an overt insult to all those truly hard-working scientists out there who actually do work at NSF or elsewhere!
I also thought the "exorcism" (and its subsequent reversal) of Joe Quibler by the Khembalese was beyond stupid: It was an overt insult to the author's main characters, most of whom were scientists -- people who are steeped in rationality and logic, who are not about to believe in that sort of mumbo-jumbo. He thoughtlessly betrayed so many of his characters, beginning with the cooly rational Anna Quibler, with this truly ridiculous and dead-end story line.
Further, I was astonished at the audacity and lack of ethics displayed by the scientists who released an untested, genetically-engineered lichen that would supposedly reverse global warming by absorbing carbon [yes, there was a wee bit of science in this book, although you did have to look hard to find it]. And finally, I admit that I laughed out loud when the author suggested that nearly all (or was it all?) of the US military's funds be shifted to ecological programs -- puhleeze. I thought the author was writing a "hyper-realistic science-fiction novel" not a comic fantasy.
Okay, this is my last complaint: I didn't like ANY of the characters. After spending 1500 pages with all of the characters in this story, I ended up wanting to slap every one of them for various reasons, starting with Frank, because they were so annoying, so stupid, so out-of-character! Well, except for Diane and Phil Chase, but we, the readers, never get to know either of them because the author is too busy regaling us with yawn-inspiring anecdotes about how women look sexy when throwing softballs or rock-climbing or kayaking up dangerous waterfalls.
Oddly, after taking more than one thousand pages to develop the story, the author casually wraps up most of his plotline's wacky loose ends in only a few pages (three or four, to be exact), none of which are even remotely interesting or logical. In short, Sixty Days doesn't end with a bang, as I had expected, instead, it ends with a barely audible whimper, accompanied by a stinky sulfurous cloud as it quietly slides past the author's sphincter muscles and out of his bowels and onto thousands of dead trees that these stupid books were printed on.