Fifty Degrees Below

Fifty Degrees Below

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Bestselling, award-winning author Kim Stanley Robinson continues his groundbreaking trilogy of eco-thrillers—and propels us deeper into the awesome whirlwind of climatic change. Set in our nation's capital, here is a chillingly realistic tale of people caught in the collision of science, technology, and the consequences of global warming—which could trigger another phenomenon: abrupt climate change, resulting in temperatures...

When the storm got bad, scientist Frank Vanderwal was at work, formalizing his return to the National Science Foundation for another year. He'd left the building just in time to help sandbag at Arlington Cemetery. Now that the torrent was over, large chunks of San Diego had eroded into the sea, and D.C. was underwater.

Shallow lakes occupied the most famous parts of the city. Reagan Airport was awash and the Potomac had spilled beyond its banks. Rescue boats dotted the saturated cityscape. Everything Frank and his colleagues in the halls of science and politics feared had culminated in this massive disaster. And now the world looked to them to fix it.

Whatever Frank can do, now that he is homeless, he'll have to do from his car. He's not averse to sleeping outdoors. Years of research have made him hyperaware of his status as just another primate. That plus his encounter with a Tibetan Buddhist has left him resolved to live a more authentic life.

Hopefully, this will prepare him for whatever is to come....

For even as D.C. bails out from the flood, a more extreme climate change looms. With the melting of the polar ice caps shutting down the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, another Ice Age could be imminent. The last time it happened, 11,000 years ago, it took just three years to start.

BONUS AUDIO: Includes an exclusive introduction by author Kim Stanley Robinson.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781978604162
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication date: 11/02/2018
Series: Science in the Capital Series , #2
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 5.40(h) x 1.80(d)

About the Author

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON is a winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards. He is the author of ten previous books, including the bestselling Mars trilogy and the critically acclaimed Forty Signs of Rain, The Years of Rice and Salt, and Antarctica–for which he was sent to the Antarctic by the U.S. National Science Foundation as part of their Antarctic Artists and Writers' Program. He lives in Davis, California.

Read an Excerpt

Fifty Degrees Below

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Random House

Kim Stanley Robinson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0553803123

Chapter One



Nobody likes Washington D.C. Even the people who love it don't like it. Climate atrocious, traffic worse: an ordinary midsized gridlocked American city, in which the plump white federal buildings make no real difference. Or rather they bring all the politicians and tourists, the lobbyists and diplomats and refugees and all the others who come from somewhere else, often for suspect reasons, and thereafter spend their time clogging the streets and hogging the show, talking endlessly about their nonexistent city on a hill while ignoring the actual city they are in. The bad taste of all that hypocrisy can't be washed away even by the food and drink of a million very fine restaurants. No--bastion of the world government, locked vault of the World Bank, fortress headquarters of the world police; Rome, in the age of bread and circuses--no one can like that.

So naturally when the great flood washed over the city, wreaking havoc and leaving the capital spluttering in the livid heat of a wet and bedraggled May, the stated reactions were varied, but the underlying subtext often went something like this: HA HA HA. For there were many people around the world who felt that justice had somehow been served. Capital of the world, thoroughly trashed: who wouldn't love it?

Of course the usual things were said by the usual parties. Disaster area, emergency relief, danger of epidemic, immediate restoration, pride of the nation, etc. Indeed, as capital of the world, the president was firm in his insistence that it was everyone's patriotic duty to support rebuilding, demonstrating a brave and stalwart response to what he called "this act of climactic terrorism." "From now on," the president continued, "we are at a state of war with nature. We will work until we have made this city even more like it was than before."

But truth to tell, ever since the Reagan era the conservative (or dominant) wing of the Republican party had been coming to Washington explicitly to destroy the federal government. They had talked about "starving the beast," but flooding would be fine if it came to that; they were flexible, it was results that counted. And how could the federal government continue to burden ordinary Americans when its center of operations was devastated? Why, it would have to struggle just to get back to normal! Obviously the flood was a punishment for daring to tax income and pretending to be a secular nation. One couldn't help thinking of Sodom and Gomorrah, the prophecies specified in the Book of Revelation, and so on.

Meanwhile, those on the opposite end of the political spectrum likewise did not shed very many tears over the disaster. As a blow to the heart of the galactic imperium it was a hard thing to regret. It might impede the ruling caste for a while, might make them acknowledge, perhaps, that their economic system had changed the climate, and that this was only the first of many catastrophic consequences. If Washington was denied now that it was begging for help, that was only what it had always done to its environmental victims in the past. Nature bats last--poetic justice--level playing field--reap what you sow--rich arrogant bastards--and so on.

Thus the flood brought pleasure to both sides of the aisle. And in the days that followed Congress made it clear in their votes, if not in their words, that they were not going to appropriate anything like the amount of money it would take to clean up the mess. They said it had to be done; they ordered it done; but they did not fund it.

The city therefore had to pin its hopes on either the beggared District of Columbia, which already knew all there was to know about unfunded mandates from Congress, to the extent that for years their license plates had proclaimed "Taxation Without Representation"; or on the federal agencies specifically charged with disaster relief, like FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers and others that could be expected to help in their ordinary course of their missions (and budgets).

Experts from these agencies tried to explain that the flood did not have a moral meaning, that it was merely a practical problem in city management, which had to be solved as a simple matter of public health, safety, and convenience. The Potomac had ballooned into a temporary lake of about a thousand square miles; it had lasted no more than a week, but in that time inflicted great damage to the infrastructure. Much of the public part of the city was trashed. Rock Creek had torn out its banks, and the Mall was covered by mud; the Tidal Basin was now part of the river again, with the Jefferson Memorial standing in the shallows of the current. Many streets were blocked with debris; worse, in transport terms, many Metro tunnels had flooded, and would take months to repair. Alexandria was wrecked. Most of the region's bridges were knocked out or suspect. The power grid was uncertain, the sewage system likewise; epidemic disease was a distinct possibility.

Given all this, certain repairs simply had to be made, and many were the calls for full restoration. But whether these calls were greeted with genuine agreement, Tartuffian assent, stony indifference, or gloating opposition, the result was the same: not enough money was appropriated to complete the job.

Only the essentials were dealt with. Necessary infrastructure, sure, almost; and of course the nationally famous buildings were cleaned up, the Mall replanted with grass and new cherry trees; the Vietnam Memorial excavated, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials recaptured from their island state. Congress debated a proposal to leave the highwater mark of greenish mud on the sides of the Washington Monument, as a flood-height record and a reminder of what could happen. But few wanted such a reminder, and in the end they rejected the idea. The stone of the great plinth was steam-cleaned, and around it the Mall began to look as if the flood had never happened. Elsewhere in the city, however. . . .

It was not a good time to have to look for a place to live.

And yet this was just what Frank Vanderwal had to do. He had leased his apartment for a year, covering the time he had planned to work for the National Science Foundation; then he had agreed to stay on. Now, only a month after the flood, his apartment had to be turned over to its owner, a State Department foreign-service person he had never met, returning from a stint in Brazil. So he had to find someplace else.

No doubt the decision to stay had been a really bad idea.

This thought had weighed on him as he searched for a new apartment, and as a result he had not persevered as diligently as he ought to have. Very little was available in any case, and everything on offer was prohibitively expensive. Thousands of people had been drawn to D.C. by a flood that had also destroyed thousands of residences, and damaged thousands more beyond immediate repair and reoccupation. It was a real seller's market, and rents shot up accordingly.

Many of the places Frank had looked at were also physically repulsive in the extreme, including some that had been flooded and not entirely cleaned up: the bottom of the barrel, still coated with sludge. The low point in this regard came in one semibasement hole in Alexandria, a tiny dark place barred for safety at the door and the single high window, so that it looked like a prison for troglodytes; and two thousand a month. After that Frank's will to hunt was gone.

Now the day of reckoning had come. He had cleared out and cleaned up, the owner was due home that night, and Frank had nowhere to go.

It was a strange sensation. He sat at the kitchen counter in the dusk, strewn with the various sections of the Post. The "Apartments for Rent" section was less than a column long, and Frank had learned enough of its code by now to know that it held nothing for him. More interesting had been an article in the day's Metro section about Rock Creek Park. Officially closed due to severe flood damage, it was apparently too large for the overextended National Park Service to be able to enforce the edict. As a result the park had become something of a no-man's land, "a return to wilderness," as the article had put it.

Frank surveyed the apartment. It held no more memories for him than a hotel room, as he had done nothing but sleep there. That was all he had needed out of a home, his life proper having been put on hold until his return to San Diego. Now, well . . . it was like some kind of premature resuscitation, on a voyage between the stars. Time to wake up, time to leave the deep freeze and find out where he was.

He got up and went down to his car.

Out to the Beltway to circle north and then east, past the elongated Mormon temple and the great overpass graffiti referencing it: go home dorothy! Get off on Wisconsin, drive in toward the city. There was no particular reason for him to visit this part of town. Of course the Quiblers lived over here, but that couldn't be it.

He kept thinking: Homeless person, homeless person. You are a homeless person. A song from Paul Simon's Graceland came to him, the one where one of the South African groups kept singing, Homeless; homeless, Da da da, da da da da da da . . . something like, Midnight come, and then you wanna go home. Or maybe it was a Zulu phrase. Or maybe, as he seemed to hear now: Homeless; homeless; he go down to find another home.

Something like that. He came to the intersection at the Bethesda Metro stop, and suddenly it occurred to him why he might be there. Of course--this was where he had met the woman in the elevator. They had gotten stuck together coming up from the Metro: alone together underground, minute after minute, until after a long talk they had started kissing, much to Frank's surprise. And then when the repair team had arrived and they were let out, the woman had disappeared without Frank learning anything about her, even her name. It made his heart pound just to remember it. Up there on the sidewalk to the right, beyond the red light--there stood the very elevator box they had emerged from. And then she had appeared to him again, on a boat in the Potomac during the height of the great flood. He had called her boat on his cell phone, and she had answered, had said, "I'll call. I don't know when."

The red light turned green. She had not called and yet here he was, driving back to where they had met as if he might catch sight of her. Maybe he had even been thinking that if he found her, he would have a place to stay.

Excerpted from Fifty Degrees Below by Kim Stanley Robinson
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Fifty Degrees Below 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
sturlington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don¿t know if I would have read the second book in this global warming series if I hadn¿t already received it for Christmas, and I liked it even less than the first one, actually. I know I will not finish the trilogy, never mind how much I have enjoyed over Kim novels or how passionately I feel about global warming.The sequel has even more interminable meetings and discussions and making to-do lists ¿ reading it is like going to work. And the main character¿s behavior ¿ living in a treehouse in the woods despite an abnormally cold winter, dating a married CIA spook who tells him he is being bugged and tailed, playing ultimate frisbee with homeless hippies ¿ snaps the elasticity of believability. This one was a chore to get through.
Hartman762 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The best of this series. The author spends a lot of time exploring the psyche of the main character and his attempts to get in touch with his primitive instincts. I found it to be quite insightful and valuable in light of that. The main plot of the environmental crisis is interesting but not enough to carry the book without the above elements.
alexbook on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A disappointment. Much worse than "Forty Signs of Rain."
Phyrexicaid on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Second book of the trilogy, things really picked up in this one, but took me a while to read for some reason.
wulf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was not until I did some follow-up research that I realised 'Fifty Degrees Below' was the central book of a trilogy. In that case, it did very well for having a beginning that was engaging to pick up and and middle that largely sustained my interest but it felt very lacking in the end department!The protagonist, Frank Vanderwal manages an intriguing balance of holding down a responsible job in an organisation devoted to finding effective measures to combat climate change while experimenting with splitting his private life between his van, a tree house and the bathroom of a gym rather than the more traditional house style of living.Initially this, combined with the backdrop of a Washington DC that had been devastated by floods and was now facing an extreme winter, was fascinating. Somewhere in the later portion of the book though, perhaps round about the time Frank got hit in the face and suffered concussion, it began to feel that it was dragging along.Perhaps reading the first and last books as well would give a better appreciation of the whole but I would rather have had things wrapped up a 100 or so pages earlier rather than be faced with another thousand pages to read before I can appreciate the whole.
Archren on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿Fifty Degrees Below¿ picks up where ¿Forty Signs of Rain¿ left off, with Washington D.C. dusting itself off after being totally flooded. As before, we follow a handful of characters as they try to force the political/scientific community into action on climate change through sheer force of will. We have Charlie & Anna Quibler, Charlie being an advisor to eccentric senator-cum-presidential-candidate Phil Chase, and Anna being a high-ranking NSF official. Then there¿s Frank Vanderwahl. He¿s a sociobiologist who get fully involved with the NSF efforts to coordinate a world-wide response to global warming. He¿s also an over-thinking freak who decides to live in a self-built tree house in a park that had been closed after the flooding, hang out with (commendably unromanticized) homeless people as well as (shamelessly over-romanticized) shamanistic homeless-by-choice feral people, has an affair with a married black-project intelligence woman who had been tasked with his surveillance while also having a crush on his boss. Almost the entire book is from his POV, and when he finally gets a 2x4 upside the head it was a welcome improvement (after which Robinson does a great job illustrating the different thought processes of his healthy mind and his concussed mind). Seriously, at least two-thirds of the book is from Frank¿s POV, and I found him to be the most annoying character in the series. In ¿Forty Signs of Rain,¿ the POV characters got more equity in their page-time. In fact Anna Quibler only got maybe two sections of her own in this volume, which was disappointing since she was the character I related to most directly. This book appears to suffer from the dreaded ¿second book in a trilogy¿ syndrome. Only a few things have to happen in this book to move the plot along: Washington D.C. suffers a severe and dramatic cold snap in the winter, the NSF funds a project to re-salinate a part of the North Atlantic to try to re-start the Gulf Stream, the island home of the Khembalis (fictitious Tibetan refugees) goes under the ocean, and Phil Chase¿s presidential candidacy is played out. All the rest of the book has the feel of filler, and it¿s all about Frank. I¿m willing to put up with a lot in order to read amazingly and rigorously imagined consequences of climate change on a global scale and what might be done about it, but the constant focus on Frank and his obsessing about the evolutionary antecedents of *everything* really got on my nerves. I hope that in the third book (currently being written, but not yet named), we¿ll get back to the real plots and the characters that I actually care about.
reading_fox on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Slightly less gripping than the first of the trilogy, it spans the 18 months since the big flood, including a very harsh winter caused by 'abrupt climate change'. Why climate change should have become so abrupt is not clearly explained. Frank gets a lot more of the plot devoted to him, and has remained in DC for a second year and the NSF. However from the shortage of housing due to the flood he decides to live in a tree. I can understand the appeal of this, but it seems an odd decision, again not thoroughly explained. There are many themes and subplots woven through this story, politics taking a backseat to the interpersonal relationships that still dominate even in science, but it doesn't have quite the spark of the original.
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Telltale signs abound for why it was boring. For example, prior to getting even 1/3 of the way through the book the reader will have been shown seven different bulleted lists of "things to do" and other administrative topics such as sets of choices the main character is considering. Also there are too many meetings where the purpose is something other than to move the plot along. How bad does it get? In two different sections the author actually describes different PowerPoint briefings, and he does it slide by slide including the speaker's description of the page contents, the speaker's remarks, and the comments of those seated at the table. The first spans only three pages. The second runs nine pages. In some sections the author lectures the reader. For example in six unnumbered pages of italicized, bold text at the start of Section VIII he gives us a summary of the medical research into a particular injury sustained by one of the characters. Personally I never wanted to know what the research shows regarding the effect of blocking oxytocin on the sex drive of the female prairie vole, but now I have been told anyway. I wish he had just worked it all into a few well edited paragraphs and delivered them in a dramatic dialog rather than as an extended exposition. Some of the science presented in conjunction with the story was really interesting. Unfortunately these tidbits were frequently presented as a very quick annunciation by the author of something that had happened rather than unfolded in good story telling. Not everything, but a lot of it. To me the story lines seemed like soap operas, and the main one had some odd aspects. Also to me the lifestyle choices of the protagonist were impractical and silly; the supporting characters were not convincing; and the pacing was not helpful. I also found the book to be somewhat hostile toward non-left-of-center viewpoints. Phrases like Nazi and "rapture enthusiasts, ready to take off and fly up to heaven!" contributed to my unease even as one to whom they do not apply.
UTmonster More than 1 year ago
The characters are lame and one dimensional. The author tucks in some basic human concerns, but its just a ruse to try to drag you through a mind-numbing lecture-as-story on the perils of our current domestic and foreign policies that have global warming implications. The do-gooder liberals are trying to save the day against an evil empire. There could have been so much more to this book. KSR squandered a great opportunity. I loved the Mars series. I want to burn this book as a protest for wasting my time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
You must suspend all logic to follow this book. While temperatures in the Semi-Tropical zone reach 50F below zero, the ice caps continuing to melt. There is no explanation as to how this could happen. Most of the book is pure unsupportable doomsday fantasy with everything blamed on the all bad 'big guns and oil' republicans and the world being saved by the 'Scientific all wonderful and caring' democrats. This book would be more correctly classified as a Political Fantasy then as Science Fiction. I kept waiting for the plot line to appear. It didn't. You follow a bunch of unbalanced characters (the main character lives in a tree house in a park in Washington DC, A girl that works for some super secrete society and is responsible for tracking him, a mystical child that may or may not be spiritual, some truly unbalanced scientists) through their totally unrealistic days...eventually leaving them to continue with nothing resolved or changed, except that the wonderful democratic have just been elected.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ok, so I'm a dork, a dork from DC. I love how he got all the little details about the city right (like the fact that you ahve to walk through the bus station at Bethesda to get to street level), and how Frank isn't quite likable, but still fascinating. I love all the political intrigue. Reading about how Congress talks about rebuilding DC, but never actually commits sufficent funds is timely and like a punch in the stomach. The writing is sublime, as always. His prose is outstanding and it's a shame he is pegionholed as a science fiction author. His work deserves to be read by a wider audience.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In the not too distant future, global warming has changed the earth¿s climatic patterns in a dramatic way. Washington D.C. was fatally flooded and now the clean-up operation has started but the danger is just beginning. The ice caps at both poles are melting and the Gulf Stream waters are stalled which could mean another Ice Age, similar to the Younger Dryas, is imminent................. Frank Vanderwal of the National Science Foundation is working with other scientists to find a way to fix the climate. Unfortunately, politics comes in to play with the current president believing that the scientific community is unnecessary alarmed. However when winter comes to the capital city, temperatures plummet to fifty degrees below zero and other states and countries are hit hard by storms and freezing temperatures also. Scientists prepare untested experiments to stop the earth from entering another Ice Age............... There are too many scientific explanations about global warming, climatic changes and methods to reverse the effects of global warming for the ordinary lay man to understand. There is very little action and the characters discuss theory as if working a treatise but only in the last one hundred pages does any real action occur. The premise of the story is interesting and there are many intriguing elements but for the most part only die hard reader with a science background will appreciate the cautionary work of Kim Stanley Robinson............ Harriet Klausner