I like to read a wide variety of books. The problem I have is hearing about them. The more you read in one genre, the more you learn about it and the more books you come to know in it. If you haven't read any books in a given genre, it's difficult to know where to start. The same is true for non-fiction books. If you've never read any book about a particular topic, it can be difficult to know which books to check out.
The result of this is one's reading list can be insular, with each book you purchase reinforcing your views or expectations. There are a variety of ways to try to get around this, but one I've become a big fan of is asking for recommendations. Sometimes I'll buy a book recommended to me, but I made a vow some years back that I would read any book anyone gave me. I've held to that, and I will happily accept and read any book (physical or digital) given to me.
Today though, I want to talk about a book I bought after having it recommended to me. It's title is Dubito, ergo sum:
It is not what I would call a good book, but it is a very interesting one.
What makes this book interesting is not the story. The story is, to be blunt, weak and filled with holes. The story begins in 2042, with an astronomer and his colleague accidentally detecting a signal sent from aliens on another planet. This leads to him, his family and a few friends being sent on a mission to travel to that planet to meet the aliens and get them to save Earth from global warming.
There is a lot wrong with this story. Some of the problems are simple holes in the plot, like how there is never any mention of anybody receiving training for this trip and there being no professional personal on their spacecraft. The adults on board are an astronomer, a nerdy undergraduate student who deciphered the aliens' message, a child psychologist, a forgettable woman who's profession never receives any attention and some children. That's it. It's not exactly a group you'd expect to be able to complete an interstellar trip that would take 15+ years.
The biggest problem is something entirely different though, and it is what makes this book interesting. This book was written by a person worried about global warming dooming civilization as we know it, and that clearly shows throughout the entire book. The first 40% of the book barely has any action or plot development. It is devoted mostly to narrative flashbacks describing how global warming has affected the planet and how evil corporations have tried to deceive the populace into disbelieving the truth. The stage is set with the first paragraph of the book:
The precipitous 2025 loss of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets followed the early warning signs in 2014. The changes could immediately be seen from spacecraft in the outer solar system.
This immediately tips the reader an interesting facet of the book. The book is quite damning of global warming "skeptics," and one would naturally expect them to disagree with things it says. What's interesting, however, is the book doesn't even agree with what climate scientists of our day say. This paragraph saying "the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets" were lost in 2025 goes far beyond even the most extreme predictions offered by climate scientists.
This creates an interesting dynamic in the book where the author, through his expy of a main character, rants and raves about how the horrible skeptics denied and misrepresented the science while constantly depicting a doomsday scenario beyond anything global warming is though capable of causing. The best example of this comes when the main character and his wife are discussing whether or not to go on this mission to another planet. They decide to go entirely to escape the horrors of global warming, explaining:
"Oh that's frickin' great. So now you're selling out? Those simulations show with 97% certainty a future filled with civil wars driven by water shortages, crop failures, continued displacement of massive populations, massive spread of diseases that have been ` eradicated', need I go on? Can you honestly say you would put your kids on a 3% chance? We were hoping to send the kids to college, not a hospital or god-damned concentration camp!" Rosie's face was a deep purple, she broke into deep sobbing.
"But Michael, that is precisely the point." interjected Rosie, "The simulations include not just physical problems, they predict that the stress on humankind will take a serious toll on individuals. The models include everything from the individual to entire civilizations. There will be no more "normal" at all! Some friends and relatives will turn into sociopaths, even dangerously unpredictable desperados. God knows what might happen to young children."
It should go without saying there has never been any science suggesting global warming will turn people into sociopaths or lead to the creation of concentration camps. It should, but apparently it cannot. So to be clear, there is no science suggesting global warming will turn people into sociopaths. There is no science suggesting global warming will lead to the creation of concentration camps.
Now that we've gotten that cleared up, I should note the main character's name is Michael. His wife's name is Rosie. I had forgotten their names as the characters in this book are all but indistinguishable from one another. You could never tell who is speaking by their mannerisms or styles of speech. Characters are so indistinguishable when one character suddenly decides to stop using contractions for a section, all the other characters join in.
Yes, I am criticizing the book's writing on a technical level. It gets tiring to read things like:
It is a one-way trip, as planned, with the Cetaceans providing you with supplies for the return journey our our newly developed interstellar ship.
"Honey, that one gets a bit too close to insanity, no? But you make me thing...."
"Oh the power of words" I whispered to Rosie, "but of course they've never experienced anything like th before!". I had to chuckle, as did Rosie.
The latter example comes from on board the spacecraft, when after half a decade of travel Rosie decides to introduce her children to music. Yes, they apparently hadn't listened to or sang music for year after year of travel. Bizarre, I know. Then they finally sing for the first time, and one of the children's voice breaks for the first time because he is going through puberty. Bizarre and coincidental!
Criticisms aside, that section of the book is actually enjoyable enough. It's about a third of the book devoted mostly to the various characters talking to one another. It doesn't have the random, lengthy diversions like this section early in the book that contributes nothing to the plot:
The Marshall Islands lay in the Pacific Ocean, just north of the equator and west of the International Date Line. Formed of volcanic calderas and lava, they were once host to over 70,000 Micronesians. Less than 6000 souls now remained resolutely perched only on the highest land areas.
Their existence, once peaceful, would have remained so if it had merely been the rise in ocean levels. The loss of the ice sheets had raised oceans enough to take away 90% of their habitable land. Now, entire communities had gone. Every one of them lost several people, mostly the elders, determined to die on the land they were born on, "come hell or high water". (English colloquialisms were common, English being one of the main languages of the Marshalls). Germany, Japan and the United States had taken refugees, being ex-gubernatorial powers of the Islands.
Now, in 2042, no eclipse expeditions were imaginable in this part of the world. Hurricanes ripped across and flooded the Islands several times a year, making survival almost impossible. The Islands could no longer support even the smallest community. High water, if not hell itself, had indeed come.
No. This Island Nation was no longer sustainable. It was abandoned completely in 2041. The lonely, battered remnants of land were empty of humanity, except for those wanting to stay, and die, with the ever rising waters. The Marshalls were just one of many lost communities.
I actually cut part of that section out to save space. I wish the author would have done the same. That section has nothing to do with anything discussed in the book. The Marshall islands are literally never mentioned anywhere else. There is also no science that remotely suggests the islands could be lost like this by 2041. Had these superfluous sections been removed with more time spent on interactions between the characters, the book would have been more interesting.
That wouldn't have satisfied the author though. His reason for writing this book becomes clear in that discussion Rosie and Michael have. After the portion I quoted, our protagonist says:
"I don't know. I just don't. So much confusion. I do agree, 3% is not enough, even if we hide out in the back of beyond. And you said the basic role of a parent is to protect the next generation and get them into adulthood. By any measure, the skeptics have been better skeptics than parents or grandparents. They have made a mockery of parenthood by their passive approval of corporate raids on the Earth's future. God damn them! I am so angry!"
This is what the book is all about. While it is presented as a novel telling a story, it is really just a global warming screed. This is shown time and time again. Here are just a few examples:
I wondered. Presumably these people had children, grandchildren? Given their libertarian spirit many of them likely had enormous families. Why the hell would these Skeptics choose to play Russian Roulette with their grandchildren? This question kept me up at night, after I had kissed my own children and said "sleep well".
God damn those bastard skeptics for gambling with everyone's future for the sake of their perceived entitlement to unfettered consumerism. God damn them for hijacking and abusing the English language to that end.
And poetically, I guess:
Through their direct denial they de-clawed the Lion. They sacrificed it on the altar of convenience. The Lion's blood congealed among the flotsam and jetsam of our disposable world. Through plastic cups, bottles, through take-away boxes, electronics cartons, discarded vehicles. Like oil spills, the blood clotted black on Greenland's bare rock, on the child refugees, on their own grandchildren, on all things living. Yes, they the Skeptics are responsible, and yet now completely irrelevant. They took down the Lion. This was tried before, in the very beginning of modern science by the Inquisition. Yet Galileo's legacy endures, the Lion's pride endures, and the skeptics will not. But the "unfortunate" loss of innocents, weak, poor, dispossessed. This was not mere "collateral damage". The skeptics had played Russian roulette with the gun pointed directly at their grandchildren. They, and we, had all lost. The bastards.
This last example also highlights the author's metaphorical fellatio of Galileo in this book, whereby he portrays Galileo as a hero who stood up for scientific ideals and a strict adherance to evidence in the face of a dogmatic Catholic church which refused to believe anything no matter how obvious.
In other words, it shows the author's total lack of knowledge. Galileo's conflict with the Catholic church came about entirely because Galileo tried to force people to accept his claims even though he couldn't provide evidence for them. The Catholic church merely told Galileo he needed to teach his views only as theory unless or until he could prove they were true. Galileo balked at that, insisting people believe him even though there was no proof he was right (and a number of the arguments he made were terrible and wrong).
Ironically, one could draw a parallel with the global warming situation, at least as presented by this author. That's sort of the point. The point of this review is this book is very interesting not for its weak plot or poor writing but because the author's worldview. There are many people who feel the same way this author does. They foresee a future in which this is plausible:
News reels showed physical and political challenges slowly worsening. A pandemic flu virus spread across Eurasia, preferentially taking the poor, underprivileged, young, old, the weak. It was shockingly reported by the BBC as "alleviating pressure on the world's ability to deal with overpopulation". The matter-of-fact reporting suggested to me that we might be witnessing news that was already out-of-date somewhat, and that the initial shock of such news had passed already. However, disposal of infected corpses was being carried out mostly in massive open fires, temporarily replacing Private Idaho as the brightest feature seen from space. Much to the distress of all, digging machines were used to move bodies from deathbed, to mass crematoria. The losses were just too great. The smoke plumes stretching across half of the continents could be seen from the Earth's satellite fleet.
This view has nothing to do with the actual science of global warming, and I can offer no explanation for why people might subscribe to it. All I can say is Dubito, ergo sum offers the most honest insight I've ever seen into such people. For that, it is well worth reading.