By the time Phil Chase is elected president, the world’s climate is far on its way to irreversible change. Food scarcity, housing shortages, diminishing medical care, and vanishing species are just some of the consequences. The erratic winter the Washington, D.C., area is experiencing is another grim reminder of a global weather pattern gone haywire: bone-chilling cold one day, balmy weather the next.
But the president-elect remains optimistic and doesn’t intend to give up without a fight. A maverick in every sense of the word, Chase starts organizing the most ambitious plan to save the world from disaster since FDR–and assembling a team of top scientists and advisers to implement it.
For Charlie Quibler, this means reentering the political fray full-time and giving up full-time care of his young son, Joe. For Frank Vanderwal, hampered by a brain injury, it means trying to protect the woman he loves from a vengeful ex and a rogue “black ops” agency not even the president can control–a task for which neither Frank’s work at the National Science Foundation nor his study of Tibetan Buddhism can prepare him.
In a world where time is running out as quickly as its natural resources, where surveillance is almost total and freedom nearly nonexistent, the forecast for the Chase administration looks darker each passing day. For as the last–and most terrible–of natural disasters looms on the horizon, it will take a miracle to stop the clock . . . the kind of miracle that only dedicated men and women can bring about.
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Kim Stanley Robinson is a winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards. He is the author of eleven previous books, including the bestselling Mars trilogy and the critically acclaimed Fifty Degrees Below, Forty Signs of Rain, The Years of Rice and Salt, and Antarctica–for which he was sent to the Antarctic by the U.S. National Science Foundation as part of their Antarctic Artists and Writers’ Program. He lives in Davis, CaliforniaExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
By the time Phil Chase was elected president, the world’s climate was already far along the way to irrevocable change. There were already four hundred parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and another hundred parts would be there soon if civilization continued to burn its fossil carbon–and at this point there was no other option. Just as Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected in the midst of a crisis that in some ways worsened before it got better, they were entangled in a moment of history when climate change, the destruction of the natural world, and widespread human misery were combining in a toxic and combustible mix. The new president had to contemplate drastic action while at the same time being constrained by any number of economic and politic factors, not least the huge public debt left deliberately by the administrations preceding him.
It did not help that the weather that winter careened wildly from one extreme to another, but was in the main almost as cold as the previous record-breaking year. Chase joked about it everywhere he went: “It’s ten below zero, aren’t you glad you elected me? Just think what it would have been like if you hadn’t!” He would end speeches with a line from the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley:
“O, Wind, if Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
“Maybe it can,” Kenzo pointed out with a grin. “We’re in the Youngest Dryas, after all.”
In any case, it was a fluky winter–above all windy–and the American people were in an uncertain state of mind. Chase addressed this: “The only thing we have to fear,” he would intone, “is abrupt climate change!”
He would laugh, and people would laugh with him, understanding him to be saying that there was indeed something real to fear, but that they could do something about it.
His transition team worked with an urgency that resembled desperation. Sea level was rising; temperatures were rising; there was no time to lose. Chase’s good humor and casual style were therefore welcomed, when they were not reviled–much as it had been with FDR in the previous century. He would say, “We got ourselves into this mess and we can get out of it. The problems create an opportunity to remake our relationship to nature, and create a new dispensation. So–happy days are here again! Because we’re making history, we are seizing the planet’s history, I say, and turning it to the good.”
Some scoffed; some listened and took heart; some waited to see what would happen.
As far as Frank Vanderwal’s personal feelings were concerned, there was something reassuring about the world being so messed up. It tended to make his own life look like part of a trend, and a small part at that. A hill of beans in this world. Perhaps even so small as to be manageable.
Although, to tell the truth, it didn’t feel that way. There were reasons to be very concerned, almost to the edge of fear. Frank’s friend Caroline had disappeared on election night, chased by armed agents of some superblack intelligence agency. She had stolen her husband’s plan to steal the election, and Frank had passed this plan to a friend at NSF with intelligence contacts, to what effect he could not be sure. He had helped her to escape her pursuers. To do that he had had to break a date with another friend, his boss and a woman he loved–although what that meant, given the passionate affair he was carrying on with Caroline, he did not know. There was a lot he didn’t know; and he could still taste blood at the back of his throat, months after his nose had been broken. He could not think for long about the same thing. He was living a life that he called parcellated, but others might call dysfunctional: i.e., semi-homeless in Washington, D.C. He could have been back home in San Diego by now, where his teaching position was waiting for him. Instead he was a temporary guest of the embassy of the drowned nation of Khembalung. But hey, everyone had problems! Why should he be any different?
Although brain damage would be a little more than different. Brain damage meant something like–mental illness. It was a hard phrase to articulate when thinking about oneself. But it was possible his injury had exacerbated a lifelong tendency to make poor decisions. It was hard to tell. He had thought all his recent decisions had been correct, after all, in the moment he had made them. Should he not have faith that he was following a valid line of thought? He wasn’t sure.
Thus it was a relief to think that all these personal problems were as nothing compared to the trouble all life on Earth now faced as a functioning biosphere. There were days in which he welcomed the bad news, and he saw that other people were doing the same. As this unpredictable winter blasted them with cold or bathed them in Carribbean balm, there grew in the city a shared interest and good cheer, a kind of solidarity.
Frank felt this solidarity also on the premises of the National Science Foundation, where he and many of his colleagues were trying to deal with the climate problem. To do so, they had to keep trying to understand the environmental effects of:
1)the so-far encouraging but still ambiguous results of their North Atlantic salting operation;
2)the equally ambiguous proliferation of a genetically modified “fast tree lichen” that had been released by the Russians in the Siberian forest;
3)the ongoing rapid detachment and flotation of the coastal verge of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet;
4)the ongoing introduction of about nine billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, ultimate source of many other problems;
5)the ensuing uptake of some three billion tons of carbon into the oceans;
6)the continuing rise of the human population by some hundred million people a year; and, lastly,
7)the cumulative impacts of all these events, gnarled together in feedback loops of all kinds.
It was a formidable list, and Frank worked hard on keeping his focus on it.
But he was beginning to see that his personal problems–especially Caroline’s disappearance, and the election-tampering scheme she had been tangled in–were not going to be things he could ignore. They pressed on his mind.
She had called the Khembali embassy that night, and left a message saying that she was okay. Earlier, in Rock Creek Park, she had told him she would be in touch as soon as she could.
He had therefore been waiting for that contact, he told himself. But it had not come. And Caroline’s ex, who had also been her boss, had been following her that night. Her ex had seen that Caroline knew he was following her, and had seen also that Caroline had received help in escaping from him. He also knew that Caroline’s help had thrown a big rock right at his head.
So now this man might very well still be looking for her, and might also be looking for that help she had gotten, as another way of hunting for her.
Or so it seemed. Frank couldn’t be sure. He sat at his desk at NSF, staring at his computer screen, trying to think it through. He could not seem to do it. Whether it was the difficulty of the problem, or the inadequacy of his mentation, he could not be sure; but he could not do it.
So he went to see Edgardo. He entered his colleague’s office and said, “Can we talk about the election result? What happened that night, and what might follow?”
“Ah! Well, that will take some time to discuss. And we were going to run today anyway. Let’s talk about it while en route.”
Frank took the point: no sensitive discussions to take place in their offices. Surveillance an all-too-real possibility. Frank had been on Caroline’s list of surveilled subjects, and so had Edgardo.
In the locker room on the third floor they changed into running clothes. At the end of that process Edgardo took from his locker a security wand that resembled those used in airports; Caroline had used one like it. Frank was startled to see it there inside NSF, but nodded silently and allowed Edgardo to run it over him. Then he did the same for Edgardo.
They appeared to be clean of devices.
Then out on the streets.
As they ran, Frank said, “Have you had that thing for long?”
“Too long, my friend.” Edgar veered side to side as he ran, warming up his ankles in his usual extravagant manner. “But I haven’t had to get it out for a while.”
“Don’t you worry that having it there looks odd?”
“No one notices things in the locker room.”
“Are our offices bugged?”
“Yes. Yours, anyway. The thing you need to learn is that coverage is very spotty, just by the nature of the activity. The various agencies that do this have different interests and abilities, and very few even attempt total surveillance. And then only for crucial cases. Most of the rest is what you might call statistical in nature, and covers different parts of the datasphere. You can slip in and out of such surveillance.”
“But–these so-called total information awareness systems, what about them?”
“It depends. Mostly by total information they mean electronic data. And then also you might be chipped in various ways, which would give your GPS location, and perhaps record what you say. Followed, filmed–sure, all that’s possible, but it’s expensive. But now we’re clear. So tell me what’s up?”
“Well–like I said. About the election results, and that program I gave you. From my friend. What happened?”
Edgardo grinned under his mustache. “We foxed that program. We forestalled it. You could say that we un-stole the vote in Oregon, right in the middle of the theft.”
“Apparently so. The program was a stochastic tilt engine that had been installed in some of Oregon and Washington’s voting machines. My friends figured that out and managed to write a disabler, and to get it introduced at the very last minute, so there wasn’t any time for the people who had installed the tilter to react to the change. From the sound of it, a very neat operation.”
Frank ran along feeling a glow spread through him as he tried to comprehend it. Not only the election, de-rigged and made honest–not only Phil Chase elected by a cleaned-up popular and electoral vote–but his Caroline had proved true. She had risked herself and come through for the country; for the world, really. And so–
Maybe she would come through for him too.
This train of thought led him through the glow to a new little flood of fear for her.
Edgardo saw at least some of this on his face, apparently, for he said, “So your friend is the real thing, eh?”
“It could get tricky for her now,” Edgardo suggested. “If the tweakers try to find the leakers. As we used to say at DARPA.”
“Yeah,” Frank said, his pulse rate rising at the thought.
“You’ve sent a warning?”
“I would if I could.”
“Ah!” Edgardo was nodding. “Gone away, has she?”
“Yes,” Frank said; and then it was all pouring out of him, the whole story of how they had met and what had followed. This was something he had never managed to do with anyone, not even Rudra or Anna, and now it felt as if some kind of hydrostatic pressure had built up inside him, his silence like a dam that had now failed and let forth a flood.
It took a few miles to tell. The meeting in the stuck elevator, the unsuccessful hunt for her, the sighting of her on the Potomac during the flood, the brief phone call with her–her subsequent call–their meetings, their–affair.
And then, her revealing the surveillance program she was part of, in which Frank and so many others, including Edgardo, were being tracked and evaluated in some kind of virtual futures market, wherein investors, some of them computer programs, were making speculative investments, as in any other futures markets, but this time dealing in scientists doing certain kinds of biotech research.
And then how she had had to run away on election night, and how on that night he had helped her to evade her husband and his companions, who were now clearly correlated with the attempted election theft.
Edgardo bobbed along next to him as he told the tale, nodding at each new bit of information, lips pursed tightly, head tilted to the side. It was like confessing to a giant praying mantis.
“So,” he said at last. “Now you’re out of touch with her?”
“That’s right. She said she’d call me, but she hasn’t.”
“But she will have to be very careful, now that her husband knows that you exist.”
“Yes. But–will he be able to identify who I am, do you think?”
“I think that’s very possible, if he has access to her work files. Do you know if he does?”
“She worked for him.”
“So. And he knows that someone was helping her that night.”
“More than one person, actually, because of the guys in the park.”
“Yes. That might help you, by muddying the waters. But still, say he goes through her records to find out who she has been in contact with–will he find you?”
“I was one of the people she had under surveillance.”
“But there will be a lot of those. Anything more?”
Frank tried to remember. “I don’t know,” he confessed. “I thought we were being careful, but . . .”
“Did she call you on your phone?”
“Yes, a few times. But only from pay phones.”
“But she might have been chipped at the time.”
“She tried to be careful about that.”
“Yes, but it didn’t always work, isn’t that what you said?”
“Right. But–” Remembering back– “I don’t think she ever said my name.”
“Well–if you were ever both chipped at the same time, maybe he would be able to see when you got together. And if he sourced all your cell-phone calls, some would come from pay phones, and he might be able to cross-GPS those with her.”
“Are pay phones GPSed?”
Edgardo glanced at him. “They stay in one spot, which you can then GPS.”
Edgardo cackled and waved an elbow at Frank as they ran. “There’s lots of ways to find people! There’s your acquaintances in the park, for instance. If he went out there and asked around, with a photo of you, he might be able to confirm.”
“I’m just Professor Nosebleed to them.”
“Yes, but the correlations . . . So,” Edgardo said after a silence had stretched out a quarter mile or more. “It seems like you probably ought to take some kind of preemptive action.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well. You followed him to their apartment, right?”
“Not your wisest move of that night, by the way.”
Frank didn’t want to explain that his capacity for decision making had been possibly injured, and perhaps not good to begin with.
“–but now we can p...
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Book Description Bantam Books 2007-01-01, 2007. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 1St Edition. 0007148925 We guarantee all of our items - customer service and satisfaction are our top priorities. Please allow 4 - 14 business days for Standard shipping, within the US. Bookseller Inventory # TM-0007148925