Sixty Days And Counting by Kim Stanley Robinson
This is the third volume in the Capital trilogy.
Much of the trilogy is about personal lives of people that have a connection to climate issues. Some characters work at the National Science Foundation and are connected via the science of climates. One character is an environmental advisor to the politician who is elected president 2/3 through the series. We spend a considerable amount of time on his relationship with his toddler son. One character is a woman working for a secret government agency who has an affair with one of the NSF characters. In book 2, the woman warns about a plot to rig the presidential election. In book 3, we spend a fair amount of time wondering where she is, attempting to pass messages to her, getting hints about what she’s doing. Eventually, this leads to a relatively brief showdown with the bad guys. This adds some suspense and excitement to parts of the book, but didn't strike me as integral to the series.
The series has a lot of discussion of / presentation of ideas on a variety of science, political, economic and human behavior topics as well as Buddhism. These discussions are interesting. However, I got a feeling of meandering around and beyond the main theme both in these discussions and in the personal lives. To say the book was "unfocused" might be unfair. However, the fact that the result was the length of a trilogy plus my misgivings about the uneven role the climate played in the series left me feeling mixed about the books.
To me, the feel is similar to that of a fix-up. It's as if Robinson had all these vignettes about this group of characters. Some of these stories were about the growing signs of climate change, some were about working in the science community, some were about their personal lives, some were discussions among them on a wide range of topics. The "vignettes" are sewn together so the books hop around among these while managing to suggest progress in time.
For instance, one of the secondary characters attends a tango performance where he ignores the dancing and thinks about the music in terms of its Argentinean origins, a major modern composer of tango, the politics of Argentina, etc. Its only connection to the rest of the story is the fact he meets a friend after the performance and discusses issues that play a secondary role in the plot.
Another example: Charlie and Frank go on a hike in the Sierra Nevada with some of Charlie's old friends. This vignette is longer than many. There are some references to the area's climate becoming drier, but doesn't really give anything new to the story.
We’re also told about a ceremony held by Tibetan monks, which we are lead to believe results in a change in the personality of Charlie’s son. Charlie’s concerns about his son’s more sedate personality becomes a theme through part of the book. Another ceremony is held, which we are lead to believe restores the son’s personality by bringing back some Buddhist spirit. Aside from causing Charlie some distraction (which does not change the course of the plot), this has no real role in the book. At the same time, the mumbo-jumbo about Buddhist ceremonies affecting spirits inhabiting children rubbed my scientific perspective the wrong way.
Some readers may enjoy it simply as a collection of stories of personal lives. Some may enjoy the discussions of ideas (perhaps skimming through some of the other material). Some readers will simply enjoy the book.
The underlying premise of the trilogy is climate change having a more significant effect that currently - although not on the scale with definitive permanent impact. A person [such as myself] who already believes that climate change is occurring and already anticipates dire consequences in the future will tend to see the book's events in that context. Those who don't already believe it may not find such events to be decisive evidence to make them a believer. So would realistic characters be converted to believers?
I imagine I'm not the only reader who has found the handling of climate change in this series somewhat frustrating. Climate change pops in and out of the story – mixed in with a great deal of other material. In the first book, there's a flood in Washington DC - a temporary episode perhaps realistic of the "weather" hinting at the "climate" to come, but less decisive than what one expects in literature. In the second book there's an extremely cold winter. There is evidence suggesting this is a result of melting polar ice interfering with the ocean currents. An international effort is made to alleviate the problem by adding salt to the North Atlantic. This apparently does have an effect on the ocean current. But even if a non-believer was convinced this salting operation did fix the current, would the circumstances convince him the current caused the cold winter, that human impact on the climate was responsible and that this operation wasn't a one-time fix that made the problem go away forever? (Just look at all the people today who argue climate change is still controversial among scientists because only 99% are firm believers in it.) In the third book a new president takes office, with hopes he'll take action. By halfway through Sixty Days And Counting we see that the new administration's machinery is laying a foundation for attacking the problem...
I guess what I’m rambling / ranting about is that in view of what we see about American politics today, I didn’t find the result convincing under the given circumstances. Sure, there are lots of readers who would prefer an unrealistic feel-good story, but that’s not what I expect from Robinson.