Neal Stephenson’s Termination Shock

The themes of Neal Stephenson’s story encompasses near future climate disruption, political upheaval, some near future scene setting, and a global stage. These are all neatly tied together through one man’s stubborn attempt to correct climate change and risk the wrath of other nations’ politics.

There are journeys for the Queen of Netherlands, a local martial arts help in India, a veteran in Texas, and a truck-stop Baron. We introduced to their back stories and personal characteristics. I felt I knew them all rather than a wooden attempt to build their profile. It’s not until the final climax scene does the Indian, Laks, meet all the others. Along the way we have sub plots on the indo-Chinese border, a dodgy looking tidal surge in the Dutch coast, Texas, Albania and Indonesia.

It’s a long story with more contributory stories and themes including Venetian nationalism and martial arts. It can sometimes feel overly incidental such as the Chinese invasion in Indonesia.

Set in the near future, Earth has become difficult to live normally but Stephenson never lets politics of climate change get in the way of the plot. This allows the different themes to stay balanced.

Central to the plot is the egoist T. R. who brings a disparate band of influencers and friends to help him with his game changing project: a huge missile-style gun, that fires atmosphere-cooling sulfur into the air. This is the hard science in the novel. The need to use characters to explain this to the reader did leave me cold. While the sulfur sent into the atmosphere cools the planet, it has highly debated sure effects, and India are not happy.

Neal Stephenson’s eye for eccentricity is evident early on with the veteran trying to hunt down the massive feral hog that ate his daughter.

As he builds his world the first half of “Termination Shock” draws you in. But the sub plots do meander in the second half. Also, the drones that appear in some scenes, especially the end, are never fully explained.

The last third of the novel steps up a great into “techno-thriller” territory. Stephenson brings the individual stories together for a final battle scene. But to get there some scenes feel like slight to the main plot. The invasion by China in Indonesia feels almost comical.

Despite the grand arc of the themes and story, the final scene is reduced to two characters having that brief history changing moment. It felt anti-climatic, I didn’t get a clear sense of why India manipulated Laks, not what USA government thought of TR’s unilateral acts. But maybe that would have been too much politics.

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