terraforming

Arctic Rising by Tobias S. Buckell

Arctic Rising by Tobias S. Buckell

I have previously read and reviewed Tobias S. Buckell’s Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin, both of which I enjoyed. On the other hand, I am skeptical of alarmist claims about global warming. So it was with some ambivalence, a mixture of excitement and trepidation, that I began reading my advance review copy (ARC) of Buckell’s latest novel — his first foray into techno-thrillers — Arctic Rising (Tor, 2012). Though he had me worried a time or two, I was pleasantly surprised and glad I read it.

Arctic Rising is set in the near future — the Earth is warmer and the Arctic Circle is largely ice-free year-round. States and corporations are racing to take advantage of the new oversea North Pole trade route and the untapped resources made accessible by the receding ice. As you might expect, this is a situation ripe for political conflict, and environmentalists are none-too-happy with the change in climate either.

Buckell handles the environmental angle fairly gracefully. The global warming issue mainly shows up as background, for the setting, and as a plot device. Speaking of the plot, don’t read the GoodReads description of the book if you prefer to avoid major spoilers.

For the most part he avoids thumping you over the head with an ideological bludgeon. The one time I got really worried he was going to spoil the book for me was about 3/4ths of the way through when the co-founders of a green energy corporation go off on a talking point–ridden tag-team duologue, but let’s just say that the impact was lessened by the way they were subsequently portrayed.

Unlike many environmentalists I’ve encountered, Buckell has no difficulty recognizing that global warming would be harmful to some but also beneficial to others; that, contrary to the frequent warnings of doom and gloom, it wouldn’t be all bad. Sea levels would rise. But rising temperatures would open up more arable land in the north. While already hot regions might get detrimentally hotter, colder climes would get warmer as well and benefit from longer growing seasons. Resources previously buried under tons of ice would become open to exploitation. Moreover, once people have adjusted to the warmer temperatures, a return to colder temperatures of previous decades would result in winners and losers as well. There are no neutral climate changes; any changes in the Earth’s climate will have both positive and negative consequences.

As Arctic Rising opens, we are introduced to our sole viewpoint character — one Anika Duncan, a mixed-race Nigerian airship pilot for the chronically underfunded United Nations Polar Guard. As the story progresses we gradually learn more about her colorful past as a child soldier and later a mercenary pilot. When offered her dream job by the UN, prior to the start of the action, Anika had jumped at the chance for a safer, less eventful career doing what she loved.

And things were nice and quiet for Anika… until a hunch leads her to take a second look at a freighter. When something radioactive in the ship sets off her neutron scatter camera, Anika, thinking they are just nuclear waste dumpers, orders them to prepare for boarding. But the crew respond by blowing her and her co-pilot, Tom, out of the sky and into the still-frigid waters of the Arctic. Something bigger than nuclear waste dumping is going on here.

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BOOK REVIEW | The Empress of Mars by Kage Baker Thumbnail

The Empress of Mars
By Kage Baker
Trade paperback, 304 pages
Tor (2009), $10.87

The Empress of Mars was written by the late Kage Baker (June 10, 1952 — January 31, 2010; 1st name pronounced like ‘cage’). It started out as a novella (Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine July 2003), which won the 2004 Theodore Sturgeon Award and was nominated for a Hugo Award and a Nebula Award, but was later expanded into the full-length novel published in 2009 that I review here.

The Empress of Mars is not Martian royalty. This is not Barsoom, the Mars of Edgar Rice Burroughs. You won’t find a John Carter-type hero fighting native Martians and rescuing princesses within these pages, though Baker does pay homage to Burroughs’ Mars tales. Tars Tarkas makes an appearance as the Martian Santa Claus, for example.

No, The Empress of Mars is a restaurant and bar owned by one Mary Griffith, an early settler of Mars and former biological scientist. A tough, motherly figure, Mary Griffith embodies the rugged individualism and pioneer spirit that pervades Baker’s The Empress of Mars. Baker’s tale is more scientifically literate than Burroughs’, and qualifies (mostly at least, see below) as hard science fiction, leavened with superior writing and humor. It is set some unspecified time after the year 2186 — marking a past event, the year the Kutuzov expedition discovered Olympus Mons is not an extinct shield volcano, it was the only date I recall seeing in the novel.

The story revolves around Mary, her three daughters, and a host of other quirky characters, some of whom she takes under her wing, others she befriends or does business with, as they deal with at first neglect by and then interference from the bureaucrats of the British Arean Company (BAC).

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Ceres by L. Neil Smith

Ceres by L. Neil Smith

Ceres, a finalist for the 2011 Prometheus Award for best libertarian novel, is the latest opus from noted libertarian author L. Neil Smith, best known for The Probability Broach.  As you would expect from Mr. Smith, Ceres is a treasure trove for the liberty lover, a work that could only come from an uncompromising libertarian.  Nearly every page has some sound libertarian principle or perhaps a new twist on libertarian ideas that the reader may not have considered before.  For instance, we know that government is coercion, an institution organized around this principle, but have we considered the role of agriculture in the development of the State?  Was it perhaps our settling down into permanent communities that allowed for the contraction of that particular disease?  Right or wrong, it’s food for thought and worth considering.  Ceres is filled with such things.

The story takes place in the 22nd century and follows the lives of characters connected in some way to the terraforming of Ceres, the planetoid – now called a dwarf planet — and largest object in the main asteroid belt.  Most of the protagonists belong to the Ngu family, and those that don’t are close friends.  Llyra Ayn Ngu is a figure skater born on Pallas, an object in the asteroid belt even smaller than Ceres.  She goes to Ceres to acclimate her body to its greater gravity, and from there moves to the Moon, and thence to Mars and finally to Earth, where she dreams of ice skating success.

The different sections of the book are named after the gravity of each body, whether it’s one tenth gee, one sixth, one third or one gee.  Given this, we might call Llyra the main character, although her brother Wilson gets just as much attention.  Nevertheless, Llyra’s goal and struggle to achieve it are the only constants in the novel, present from the opening chapter to the end.  The rest concerns the various interests of the Ngu family and friends, often when in conflict with the environmentalists who seek to stop human expansion into space and the sullying of the environment as they see it.

It is beyond dispute that L. Neil Smith is a dedicated libertarian.  He has spent many hours of his life pouring himself into prose, seeking to spread the libertarian ethic and philosophy for the betterment of mankind.  However, just as, in a debate, a libertarian stands a better chance of convincing if the other party genuinely likes him, so too does a book stand a better chance of convincing in proportion to how much it charms the reader.  One might make a few suggestions in the interest of getting the most out of Ceres.

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