Termination Shock – a masked adventure

I have long been enjoying the novels of Neil Stephenson. This includes the sublime Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age: or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer (probably my favourite) and The Big U, his 1984 novel about academic life. This year, summer holiday featured his latest speculative fiction, Termination Shock – a delightful romp from Texas to Indonesian Papua with local colour amply provided by Comanche, Punjabi, Afrikaans, Papuan and royal Dutch extras. It is set a decade or two in the future with the planet in chaos through climate change and semi-permanent waves of the viral infection that beset it in 2020, which will not be named here in an attempt to confuse the censor bots.

The treatment of climate change is, I would say, fairly nuanced. The main plot involves various parties' attempts to arrest it by seeding the high atmosphere with sulphur compounds and their opponents' efforts to stall any interference. 

There is more than a smattering of Texas and Dutch (colonial) history, with an emphasis on mining. It was probably fairly brave of Stephenson to feature epidemic control measures such as masks, border closures and warning apps as constant features of a future world. I am not sure whether this is primarily pessimistic, prescient or simply sarcastic. However, the book was the first work of fiction that I read which strongly features the masking situation.

Termination Shock is not one of my favourite Stephenson novels but it is generally well researched and entertaining. There is a minor point in the plot that I find very puzzling though. The Maeslant barrier at Rotterdam is destroyed during a storm, causing flooding in half the Netherlands, and the characters speculate about whether it could have been a freak wave. However, if you go online now, you will find plenty of live video footage of the barrier. How could it be that in future these cameras simply do not exist? If you are a fan of Stephenson's style of speculative fiction (or of Texas) you should definitely read Termination Shock.

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