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 (4 comments total) 4 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

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

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

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

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