Global warming brings environmental catastrophe–and relationship problems–in this sluggish sci-fi epic.
Toward the mid-21st century, climate change becomes apocalyptic. Drought and torrential rains cripple agriculture. Super-hurricanes ravage the East Coast every few weeks, killing tens of thousands each time, while the West Coast endures 150 mph â€œPacific Screamer” winds and daily earthquakes. As Eurasia becomes overrun by warlords, America suffers under draconian Green Laws imposed by the despotic â€œNew United Nations”–energy is strictly rationed, unauthorized motorists are shot on sight and miscreants are sentenced to turning giant hamster wheels at power plants. Mankind’s last hope comes when the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence project contacts the alien Rostackmidarifians, who offer to establish a â€œsafe location” for earthling elites. The lurid environmental cataclysms are but a backdrop to the many personal melodramas unfolding–Carlos, Earth’s Ambassador to the aliens, who avoids emotional intimacy ever since his mom cut off his toe; Roxanne, a seeing-eye dog trainer who despairs of Carlos’s ever loving her; SETI scientist Simon, who falls for Roxanne; and Simon’s boss Susan, who loves Carlos but is sleeping with her boss Quentin, a UN honcho who personifies humanity’s moral corruption. No eco-crisis is too pressing to distract these characters from droning on about their feelings for each other, or from tiresome bureaucratic intrigues and sophomoric debates about whether ends justify means. Gottlieb’s portentous prose (â€œ[Carlos] knows humanity waited too long to address the horrors of climate change and feels he as well has waited too long to claim Susan’s heart”) devolves into trite surrealism (â€œa large fish sitting on a glossy red platter sings â€˜Mammy;’ tapping out the tune with its tail”) during Carlos’s hallucinatory trip to the Rostackmidarifians’ planet. Buried deep in the bloated narrative is a garbled warning about the ecological and spiritual dangers of the godlike pursuit of scientific advancement.
Like the future it depicts, gales of hot air make this dreary saga an oppressive experience.