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Sixty Days and Counting
Kim Stanley Robinson
Bantam Spectra, 416 pages

Sixty Days and Counting
Kim Stanley Robinson
Kim Stanley Robinson has travelled and worked in different parts of the world (including Washington, DC and in Switzerland) with his wife, Lisa, an environmental chemist. His work has garnered many awards including the Nebula Award ("The Blind Geometer" and Red Mars), the Asimov, John W.Campbell, Locus and World Fantasy Awards ("Black Air") and the Hugo Award (Green Mars).

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Fifty Degrees Below
SF Site Review: Forty Signs of Rain
SF Site Review: Nebula Awards Showcase 2002
SF Site Review: The Years of Rice and Salt
SF Site Review: Antarctica
SF Site: Kim Stanley Robinson Reading List

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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With Sixty Days and Counting Kim Stanley Robinson finishes the series of novels begun with Forty Days of Rain and continued in Fifty Degrees Below. As before, characters struggle with personal and political issues while the world teeters on the edge of catastrophe. The timeliness of the novel is a factor in its impact, how we deal with global warming may very well be the Big Issue by which history will judge everyone alive today. By tackling an important topic at the right time, Sixty Days And Counting presents itself as an important book on the basis of its subject matter alone. The bonus is that when you add in character, story, philosophy, and style, you find that Kim Stanley Robinson has written not only an important book, but a book that ranks with the best of a very distinguished career.

There has been one more winter of wildly careening weather since the winter of Fifty Degrees Below. Frank Vanderwal is still working for the NSF, coordinating projects aimed at combating the causes of rapid climate change. With the election of Phil Chase as President, Frank and his co-workers' jobs are about to gain in influence and importance. Charlie Quibler, Frank's friend, is pulled away from working part-time at home and raising a son to being a full-time science advisor to the President. Frank's new love, Caroline, has gone underground, pursued by the same black ops organization whose plans to fix the election Frank and Caroline helped thwart in Fifty Degrees Below.

In addition, Frank is still suffering from the wound to his head, he suspects it has something to do with his increasing inability to make decisions. He finds himself almost floating through the days, until it becomes clear that whoever is after Caroline is targeting him too.

At this point, all the elements of a popular thriller are in place. There's a world-shaking threat, good people trying to prevent it and a shadowy organization whose motives may be unclear, but whose actions put them on the wrong side. There's political machinations and personal crisis, and a story-line that connects it all together.

For most books and most authors that would be more than enough. Robinson, though, has larger ambitions. Frank has picked up a new habit in his daily routine, he has been reading Emerson daily, working quotations and excerpts from Emerson's writings into his own experience with the changing landscape of a world whose climate has been pushed into instability and wild extremes. Emerson, and also Thoreau's work, with its combination of regret for what has been lost and hope for preserving what remains blends into the narrative, deepening its impact and placing Sixty Days and Counting into the great tradition of American writing on nature and conservation.

It strengthens the story, too. About midway through the novel Frank, a few friends, and, it would seem, the story take time out for a vacation. Everything else in the book pauses for a backpacking trip into the Sierra Nevada mountains. Without the groundwork laid by the quotes from Emerson, this section might have seemed an unnecessary digression. Instead, it is apparent that at this time the land itself is the story. The effects of global warming can be seen first at the edges and transitions leading from one climate to another. Ice shelves, coastlines, tundras, and alpine meadows are the first areas to be affected, and the hikers in Sixty Days and Counting can see, in the landscape around them, that the world they once knew is already gone.

Kim Stanley Robinson is, to this point, best known for his Mars books, the trio of Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars. In that series, as good as it was, the final book did more to re-emphasize the ideas in the first two books than it did to expand on them. In this most recent series, Fifty Degrees Below and Sixty Days and Counting each expand upon and deepen the arguments and ideas set forth in the preceding volume, with the result that, by the end, Robinson finds himself writing in the company of the thinkers and philosophers whose ideas permeate the novel, and not just quoting from them. In the face of an impending catastrophe, Robinson has seized upon a great nineteenth century tradition, brought it into the twenty-first century and used it to craft his best work ever, a novel that offers realistic characters, complex ideas and their consequences, politics, plots, intrigue, a world gone mad, and, believe it or not, hope.

Copyright © 2007 by Greg L. Johnson

After reading Fifty Degrees Below, reviewer Greg L Johnson sometimes wakes up thinking '“We should be dumpling salt in the ocean now!' His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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