Termination Shock
November 18, 2021 4:28 PM - Subscribe

Neal Stephenson's latest. Herein confronting climate change in the near future by populating this world with all new characters* that won't take 'no' for an answer or abide by bureaucratic lassitude when millions of lives are at stake. But don't worry, for you old heads, or haters, many baseline Stephenson** tropes are quite alive and well kicking in this book.

*Texans! Dutch Queens! Gay People! None of whom are named Waterhouse, Shaftoe or Comstock!
**Martial arts/sword fighting! Ranging through the Cascade Mountains! Guns! Ballistics! Seemingly kinda arbitrary sex, but not graphic!
posted by Cold Lurkey (14 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I think my library forecast 16 weeks. I will be back!
posted by janell at 6:07 PM on November 19, 2021

I've finished it, but i'll try to not be explicitly spoilery.
Broadest thought: This has to be book one, right? The ending is hardly a resolution for almost every character, or the climate for that matter. It just seems to be table setting for an even more epic conflict in this world's near future.

this leads me to a concern that stephenson has set himself too tricky a table to interweave future actual events and those of his story. (see also William Gibson's scrapping of Agency's first draft because the real world kept out-absurding his fiction). Covid seemed kinda a tacked-on addition to the front half of book (although the use of the PanScan to potentially explain the Bo's ability to pinpoint his location was a nice conceit). Actually this is a two fisted concern: I'm obviously worried that some obscenely destructive extreme weather event will happen, period. but most importantly (/s) if it's before the next book arrives that makes his job that much more difficult as a writer to elevate the stakes in his narrative beyond what we've already seen IRL. Or that things IRL are going to get so much worse so quickly that whatever remediations are working in his fiction are going to seem like a cruel fantasy to us because we're so far past the point of no return.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:41 AM on November 20, 2021

Hmm, I don't think Stephenson wants to tackle all ramifications of climate change, in the way KSR does. He wants to tell a fun story and make jokes about six shooters and be able to digress to this and that obscure thing, and this narrower range works for that.

The climate stuff also felt rather tacked on, on the whole. Earthsuits sure, but often he seemed to just be describing life in a conventionally hot place. The end felt closer than he usually gets to writing a solid ending.

I went back and re-read Ministry of the Future's chapter 10, which is about 4 pages long and covers the same remediation, in such a contrasting way, a crisp first-hand view of someone who worked with many others in a great work and yet knows it's a stopgap.
posted by joeyh at 4:11 PM on November 21, 2021

I finished this today. Overall fun, but don't think I'd ever re-read it unless it turns out to be part of a series that gets more interesting later. I felt that the lack of a strong plot detracted from the book. Moby Dick takes a while to get going too, but eventually Ahab does show up and hunt the whale. I feel like in this book, we have T.R. demonstrate his sulfur cannon, then we are just waiting to see if China, India, or anyone else will react. We only see a few glimpses of that reaction. I was baffled at how the attack on the Maeslantkering was just dropped immediately with the line, "But it doesn't matter. It doesn't help to know." Surely a deliberate attack with a novel weapon system, causing destruction of property and loss of life, would actually matter? I was also sorta baffled that someone could deepfake the Queen of the Netherlands, but then deepfake technology just completely vanishes from the plot later. For example, the Indians or Chinese could have made deepfakes of violations the terms of battle on the LAC, if either had wanted a casus belli. Also, how did China get away with zapping Laks anyway? I felt like the final attack on Pina2bo was just poorly planned. Why waste all this crucial time destroying nets that will be useless if the gun is successfully destroyed, and cheaply repaired and replaced if not? Why deliver the bomb via your priceless PR celebrity asset instead of by drone?
posted by rustcrumb at 8:15 PM on November 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Rustcrumb, I have similar thoughts. The PR crew just leaves after the nets, but surely taking out the gun is the most impactful climate peacekeeping action. I do like the symmetry where first the Pina2bo high-tech defences are knocked out by an insanely high-tech attack (although wouldn’t NORAD have been a tiny bit triggered?), and then the aggressors get taken out in a low-tech fashion.

I would like to see a Stephenson book with some more aggressive editing, lots of set up in this one that goes nowhere. It reminds me of Bruce Sterling a little, but I think Sterling usually gets better payoffs.
posted by boogieboy at 3:19 AM on December 17, 2021

I was about to post this book, good thing i searched first.

I'm having trouble with this one. I generally really enjoy Stephenson, but i have bounced off of a few of them, sometimes to go back later and try again.

I'm about 200 pages in, and I am struggling with not only the heavy heavy exposition disguised as banter, but also the sense that NO WAY would these important people have the patience for TR's folksy roundabout "I know you've already been here 3 days but I will tell you what this is all about after a choo-choo ride". Real people don't talk like this or act like this and it is taking me out of whatever story Neal's trying to get to.

I'm willing to do the grind if there's a payoff, but I kinda already think neal could have used a heavy-handed editor to help with this one.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:52 AM on January 5 [1 favorite]

I give it 4/5 stars.

I kinda already think neal could have used a heavy-handed editor

You are right, but also, isn't this his schtick (stick?) see what I did there...

With a NS book, you know what you are in for - at some point, you are almost guaranteed a 50-100 page battle that includes numerous digressions, almost always with some stick or sword fighting, drones, video cameras, maybe some EMPs or e-warfare.

This book delivered on that.

I appreciate that, unlike SevenEves, it just ended. I would have hated for it to have a "part two" that is 50 years in the future when all the Dutch are underwater and Rufus has evolved to have gills or something.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 4:56 PM on January 16 [1 favorite]

Just done. I am also glad it didn’t have a ‘5000 years later’ epilogue. And most of your comments are pretty spot on, so I will just offer this: after ALL THAT about Chekhov’s Feral Hogs, our dogged Laks gets in trouble with a SNAKE?!?!?
posted by janell at 6:32 PM on January 27 [2 favorites]

"Chekhov’s Feral Hogs" is fucking brilliant.

Thinking about this more, NS novels often embrace the absuridites - remember in Snow Crash when "reason" (the nuclear railgun) has a software error and needs to reboot during a firefight? (googling this is very difficult, because "crash" (title) and "crash" (action). I may have to go get my paper copy and look)

I feel like that level of absurdity in his novels is not so apparent any more - maybe he's not writing it as well? Or maybe reality has caught up with fantasy, so that future sciFi crazy stuff is just "tuesday" for us now?
posted by soylent00FF00 at 5:30 PM on January 28

Heh, yeah. Certainly NS relishes the absurdity in the all-singing all-dancing Jack Shaftoe syphilitic fugue set pieces in the Baroque Cycle, and say the gleaming tuk tuk (ish?) The Grace of God in the tail end of Cryptonomicon (and the fetishized ludicrous bureaucracies throughout). And the Big U is nothing but?
posted by janell at 7:52 PM on January 28

I don’t mind the digressions, that’s pretty much the point of a NS book. But he still needs an editor, for he uses the same phrasing every third paragraph.
posted by Eddie Mars at 5:34 PM on February 28 [2 favorites]

On a par with Seveneves, IMHO. Good but not great. Pluses: Classic Stevenson, Rolicking and witty. Always like the tech digressions, always like the absurdity.

Negatives digression-laden and amped up with "well jeez I like billionaires and their action and the downhome frontierfolks as being so much more human than those stupid GREENS and liberals and international ordeerrrrrr promulgaters",

.....it was still better than the fucking embarrassment that ministry of the future was.....and Much better than the shitshow that was Fall or Dodge in Hell.
posted by lalochezia at 6:38 PM on March 24 [1 favorite]

I’m about 200 pages in and not sure I’m going to get much further. I am starting to wonder if I’ve changed or NS has changed. I used to love his books. I bought them in hardcover as soon as they came out. I’ve read all the older ones multiple times, even. But I have hated - really hated but read nevertheless - everything starting with Seveneves. So far this one is encapsulating everything I specifically hated about Dodge: fetishization of billionaires, blithe dismissal of poor people, uncritical belief in tech, 2 dimensional characters. It just makes me so mad.
posted by mygothlaundry at 11:40 AM on May 21 [1 favorite]

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