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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 October 2009
Frank Vanderwal goes Paleolithic in Washington DC, living in a tree-house in Rock Creek Park, a tranche of recently flooded and devastated wild land in the middle of the city. Washington is reeling from the horrendous recent weather conditions that have produced chronic real estate shortages. Frank is a realist - he has all the modern accoutrements to survive, whatever happens.

Fifty Degrees Below is a catastrophe novel which has tremendously good credentials. Robinson knows the theory behind global warming and he sites his novel at the heart of America's National Science Foundation, with a group of people, including Frank, who just might have the solution to the problem. Or one of several solutions, as it happens. It is also election-year and a credible candidate who has all the right ecological ideas has arisen and is muddying the political waters.

In this discomforting thriller, we are given a kind of treatise of what to expect when the earth's carbon resources are approaching critical depletion because of the warming effect of greenhouse gases. In approachable prose we learn some of the reasons why this results in - not warming but freezing. Those with an interest in environmental disaster scenarios will be well and truly hooked. There is a visit to a devastated Tibetan refugee enclave as well as intriguing side plots, one of which involves a teasing love-affair with a woman whose husband is a master of the black arts of metal bit technology and data mining. Robinson manages a wide and disparate number of plot-lines with consummate ease.

Fifty Degrees Below lives up to its chilling title and is a very good read.
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on 25 October 2007
Fifty degrees below focuses on one mans life as he decides to revert to a neolithic lifestyle amid the aftermath of huge flood in Washington D.C. and set during one of the coldest winters yet to hit the capital.
This book is quite good at revealing the machinations of the U.S government and the politics of climate change. It has a notable environmental narrative which finds the main characters in the book working together to sink a giant fresh water bubble that is threatening oceanic sea temperatures. There is a lot of environmental science riddling the narrative, but this works for the book, not against it, as most of the environmental science is actually quite interesting. The book does a good job of describing the pitfalls of working against various lobby groups within the U.S energy industry as well as the government itself. Interestingly enough the romantic pursuits of the main character provide more interest to the reader than anything else in the book, betraying a distinct lack of direction in the novel. Although the book is long, it somehow seems to end prematurely although this saves it from banality and more importantly from turning into a rambling overture on climate change.
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on 18 April 2009
"Fifty Degrees Below" is the second instalment in Kim Stanley Robinson's 'Science in the Capital' series, set in the near future and exploring the potential impact of climate change. Picking up almost directly from where "Forty Signs of Rain" left off, it charts the life of scientist Frank Vanderwal, currently homeless in Washington D.C., a city recovering from the greatest floods it has ever witnessed. Climate change is already beginning, and something must be done. A general election is looming, and - for once - the political will to change the planet seems to be there.

Winter is rapidly approaching, however, and with the Gulf Stream having been brought to a standstill, it is likely to be one of the coldest on record. As world leaders' attentions turn to radical plans to restart the Stream, Frank makes a home for himself in the treetops of Rock Creek Park. His adaptation to life in the wilderness forms an interesting thought-experiment on humanity's feral origins, as well as a wry commentary on modern civilisation and consumerism. However, despite the introduction of a romantic subplot and hints of government surveillance, it is not enough to sustain the whole book. Unfortunately Frank's story tends to dominate, with both Anna and Charlie Quibler reduced to mere bit parts. One senses that Robinson has missed a trick here, since a larger number of viewpoints could have conveyed more effectively the experience of living through climate change.

Even so, the scientific narrative - as ever a trademark of Robinson's writing - works well, and the technical information is easy for the lay reader to absorb. However, the novel lacks the drive of the first volume. Whereas "Forty Signs of Rain" was characterised by a sense of dread and impending disaster, its sequel deals with the catastrophe in full swing, and with humanity's response to it. In some respects Robinson achieves this very well: the evacuation of the drowning island of Khembalung is very well handled. But in general, despite the summer flood and the winter freeze, life in Washington appears to go on unchanged. Occasional snippets of news elsewhere filter through - the breakup of the West Antarctic ice sheet, for example - but the effect of climate change on human society seems almost negligible. As a result the book remains somewhat lacking in credibility.

In all, "Fifty Degrees Below" is an uneven book. While the scientific element remains as strong as in "Forty Signs of Rain", the plot and characters meander without significant development. Nevertheless, the scene is set for the third - and presumably final - volume in the series, "Sixty Days and Counting".
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on 28 April 2006
One of the good things about Kim Stanely Robinson is that he is unafraid to tackle the real issues facing humanity in the twenty first century unlike most modern scif-fi which appears to be stuck in fantasy. Fifty Degrees below is an interesting book, detailing how the American government attempts to cope with the shutting down of the North Atlantic Drift. However I found the whole read slightly unreal. It is mostly focussed on the characters in Washington DC who appear to carry on with their lives while the world falls apart around them. Major climate disaster is dealt with in a few very short paragraphes and the human sufferring brought about by these disasters is not discussed or dealt with, it is merely edited down to cold science. Also this rather like the Day After Tomorrow, with a new ice age threataning to descend on America - something climate scientists have taken great pains to point out won't happen, even if the NAD does shut down. The books real strength lies in the characters, particularly Frank who decides to live out in the Washington parks and regain his palaeolithic consciousness. The Buddhists were also very good. Alas if Robinson had focussed on warming rather than cooling this may have been a better book. A pity, a great idea missed out upon.
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on 5 June 2009
There are several interesting sub-plots in the book, the author writes with skill and the issues are important - climate change and the future of the world. Nevertheless, I found myself following the plot like a daily TV comedy show, never very interested in the fate of the characters nor impatient to learn what would happened next. Somehow the characters and situations never manage to feel entirely real.
If you haven't read any other book by Robinson, this is probably not a good place to start.
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on 17 October 2013
There are some nice ideas and lovely passages in this book but I keep getting irritated by certain sections that feel unecessary. The sections about family life and similar things are just tedious and I find myself skipping through them.

Also, stop using Fahrenheit please. It's meant to be about scientists and scientists don't use Fahrenheit. I would have given it three stars but I'm taking one off for this.
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on 15 December 2015
Dystopian, "Cli-fi" novel. End of the world climate change disaster novel, with some hippy elements. Is different to other cli-fi novels as it shows humans working together.
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on 12 February 2015
A nice read with most parts drawing together at the end.however there are a good many loose ends so the last book has some work to do.
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on 26 August 2015
Great ideas, but just soooo slow to read.
Keep thinking that I want it to be made in to a TV show scripted by Aaron Sorkin
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on 19 September 2013
You get immersed in the storyline and you feel cold. What if it really happens? How will we in England survive?
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