After defying all expectations with his alternative history The Years of Rice and Salt (2002), Robinson hews back to the expected with the soggy first of a trilogy that has promise nowhere near what the Mars trilogy had.
Set just a few years into the future, this one takes as its subject not the colonization of Mars, but something that should be more close to home and yet feels much more distant: catastrophic climate change. To populate this end-of-the-world scenario, Robinson has assembled a pretty unexciting and vanilla band of egghead experts. There’s National Science Foundation program director Frank Vanderwahl, who has a tendency, when around humans, to think about them in evolutionary terms—making it quickly understandable why he doesn’t seem to have had a girlfriend in quite some time. Charlie Quibler is a stay-at-home-dad and scientific adviser who’s working on an environmental bill that, if passed, could have global ramifications for the better. Robinson also puts in, just for excitement’s measure, Leo Mulhouse, a researcher at a West Coast biotech startup—these aren’t the most engaging people in the world. Meanwhile, the only serious signs of climate change—affected by global warming, which is causing the polar icecaps to melt away, drastically altering the world’s oceans—is that it’s really hot in DC in the summer, and there’s a doozy of a storm on the way. Now, your average 1970s disaster-novel writer might have had the same nerdy cast of characters but would have given them a few extracurricular affairs, a brush with the law, something to stir this mightily dull stew. Robinson is a true square, always has been, but that’s never been a problem until now. As stiff and hard SF as they were, the Mars books succeeded through the sheer chutzpah of their epic insight. This one feels like the ho-hum preview for a run-of-the-mill end-of-the-world story.
A hard rain is going to fall, yes indeed.