What does the author of the best-ever Mars epic (Blue Mars, 1996,etc.) do for an encore? He shifts to Antarctica, an environment as near to Mars as you can get on Earth, in a novel set a few years into the 21st century. Earth’s population has risen above ten billion. Global warming is no longer just a theory: Summers in Washington, D.C., for instance, have gone from unbearable to life-threatening. The Sahara is rapidly taking over all of northern Africa. Hardly any forests remain. Oil resources are also waning, and thus there is a call—just as renewal of the international treaty banning mineral exploitation of Antarctica stalls in Congress—to tap into the oil reserves near Ross Island. Surreptitious drilling may already be going on there, in fact, and so an environmentalist senator named Phil Chase dispatches his chief aide, Wade Norton, to investigate. Norton falls in love with the inhospitable continent and, along with others, becomes an “ecoteur,” someone so committed to saving the planet that he—ll engage in sabotage on its behalf. A young laborer (dubbed “X” by the author) joins the campaign, partly to improve his low self-esteem and partly to impress a young scientist and guide, Valerie Kenning. Obviously, Robinson has no love for the “globally downsized post-revolutionary massively fortified stage of very late capitalism” portrayed here. But he’s no Ed Abbey, and his ecoplot seems almost perfunctory. He’s like Michener (when Michener was good). He lays in lore and history and atmosphere with great care: the amazing cold and the equally amazing capacity of humans to endure it; unlikely wildlife; volcanoes steaming amid mountains of ice. And Robinson brings to life the expeditions of Roald Amundsen and Edward Wilson, as well as the history of scientific inquiry into the “least significant” continent. Passionate, informed, mildly flawed, and vastly entertaining.