Christopher's Reviews > Fifty Degrees Below

Fifty Degrees Below by Kim Stanley Robinson
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Apr 06, 09

bookshelves: alternate-history, fiction
Read in July, 2008

** spoiler alert ** I'm not sure if this is the place for this scree. For a while about a decade ago I was very interested in 'end-of-the-world' novels. It didn't matter if it was asteroid impact, nuclear war, pandemic disease, alien invasion, or micro-scopic blackholes run-amok -- I read a bunch of these.

Much to my annoyance, nearly all of these books started to sink into the supernatural. If everybody dies of disease, some of the survivors suddenly morph into vampires while others develop magical camoflage abilities...The devil begins to walk the earth and gather a band of followers. Even if the supernatural wasn't the main focus, the stories quickly got into haevy spirituality...meaning of life and finding your inner peace with the world.

Come-on! The world is ending, you are scraping by to survive. Do you really have time to decide that you're Western Catholic up-bringing was wrong and your should accept Sufi Islam as your new path? I'd be too busy trying to find something to eat, thank-you-very-much.

"Fifty Below" isn't an end-of-the-world book, quite. The world hasn't been changed too far that Robinson might not still pull out a "it's all back to normal now" or something close to it ending in the thrid book. However, I keep getting annoyed at the long philosophical asides from Frank the woodland-primate. The "you're toddler is a reincarnation of an important lama" storyline is even more annoying since it crosses the line from navel-gazing sprirtuality and superstition to full-on supernatural...all the while trying hard to maintain paper-thin plausible deniability.

The series claims to be about science. Why can't we just stick to the science?
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Comments (showing 1-8 of 8) (8 new)

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message 1: by Ben (new)

Ben Try the Walking Dead. Just good old fashioned end of the world stuff. Nothing supernatural. Well, other than the zombies.


Christopher It is interesting how zombies are becoming the default disaster. There is zombie squad (http://www.zombiehunters.org/) who watch zombie movies, have zombie marches, and train people on disaster-preparedness. We picked-up "The Urban Homesteader" which is really about sustainable living in urban/suburban settings but used the zombie horde as a short-hand for "bad-thing happening".

Amanda thinks that zombies are like that fake latin text they use in graphic design when they want you to focus on the design, not the content. If you are prepared for a ravening horde of zombies, you'll be prepared for floods or fires or tornados or terrorist attacks.


message 3: by Susan (new)

Susan Ha. You're right. And often the end of the world is a shallow excuse to start bringing in either mages or swords/bows and arrows. Or all of them.

I seem to recall that Year Zero, which I read a few years ago for Book Club, might satisfy the criteria. I recall that it had freaky religious end-of-the world cults, but that seems logical :).


David Zombies are just the newest iteration of the Big Bad typifying what's on people's minds. You can use them to symbolize all sorts of things - rampant consumerism, gluttony, the ultimate anti-natural being.


message 5: by Ben (new)

Ben Actually my point wasn't that zombies were a better end of the world disaster than any others, but that The Walking Dead seems to do a good job of examining what happens to people put in that situation. As opposed to using it as an opportunity bring in the supernatural and heavy spirituality (Chris's original complaint).


Christopher I always liked "Lucifer's Hammer" by Niven and Pournelle. Yes, there is a cannabalistic cult as bad guys; but the closest we come to deep spiritualism is one character applying Marx's historical dialectic to the survivors' politics to try and gauge how far back in history they've regressed. There is some Arthurian comparisons, but at least nobody picks up Excalibur or goes questing for a Holy Grail.


message 7: by Ben (new)

Ben "Lucifer's Hammer" was a good idea, but was severely hampered by the fact Niven and Pournelle's characters, especially their female characters, absolutely sucked.


David True - Niven and Pournelle were idea guys, not character writers. They couldn't do that worth a damn.


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