Termination Shock

Termination Shock cover

by Neal Stephenson, 2021

It's another 720-page doorstop from the much-beloved author (which is actually slightly slimmer than his average book, which would be 770 pages). It was enjoyable, but not life changing. Not as compelling as some of his previous. Reads a lot like a narrative wrapped around the author's own personal justifications for pro-active geo-engineering projects. Which, I have to admit, I was pretty horrified by the idea when I first heard about it - meddling further with a critical and horrifically complex dynamic system that we don't undertand, and all that.

The story presents the the scenario of countering the temperature rise caused by CO2 in the atmosphere by releasing high altitude sulphur dioxide, to reflect sunlight back into space. This mitigates many of the most prominent effects of climate change, such as high-temperatures, storms, forest fires, and sea-level rises.

It further presents the idea that it's relatively easy and cheap to do, and some nation or part thereof that cares the most - e.g. The Netherlands, or

Venice, amongst others, will either take a crack at it, or else will cease to exist. So we might as well get used to the idea and be prepared for what, geopolitically, happens after that.

I don't know if it's simply the story making me increasingly familiar with the idea, or whether the depiction of the mechanism genuinely quells some of my worries, in that it seems easy to start at a small scale, monitor the results, scale up as required, and the fail-safe is that the sulphur should quickly fall out of the air, allegedly harmlessly, if we realize this was a bad idea. I've at least tempered my initial harshly negative viewpoint somewhat. So, mission accomplished, I guess?

I've probably read more text by Stephenson than any other writer. Hmmm. By Goodreads page counts:

Title Pages Times
read
Effective
pages
Zodiac (1988) 308 1 308
Snow Crash (1992) 559 2 1,118
Interface (1994) 640 1 640
The Diamond Age (1995) 499 3 1,497
The Cobweb (1996) 448 1 448
In the Beginning... Was the Command Line (1999) 160 2 320
Cryptonomicon (1999) 1,152 3 3,456
Quicksilver (2003) 927 1 927
The Confusion (2004) 815 1 815
The System of the World (2004) 908 1 908
Anathem (2008) 937 2 1,874
Reamde (2011) 1,044 1 1,044
Seveneves (2015) 880 1 880
Termination Shock (2021) 720 1 720
totals 9,997 14,955


Ten thousand pages, all from one author, or fifteen thousand if you include re-reads. Not bad! The number of re-reads is a reasonable proxy for the impact each book had on me at the time.

But on reflection, there is another contender...