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Could ‘Termination Shock’ become our new reality?

New York Times best-selling author Neal Stephenson introduces you to Termination Shock. A dystopian world where global warming is in full force, COVID-19 has now become COVID-27 and testing procedures have become the social norm. Termination Shock opens with one of the main characters Saskia arriving in Texas in a small private plane. She immediately faces the consequences of global warming. The characters could land their plane in Houston, Texas, but would not be able to fly out again due to the heat wave breaks.

Termination Shock identifies the problematic political course the USA has been on for quite some time – the book is set somewhere after 2029, and the USA by then is a “basket case and a global laughingstock.” Stephen recognises that earth is complex and connected politically, culturally, and financially.  

The common themes in Termination Shock are focussed around the social consequences of the rogue fix climate change. Neal Stephenson’s Termination Shock uses his own interpretation of the effects of climate change and the possibility it can have on this earth for years to come as cooling earth suits have become a necessity when venturing outside in parts of the world. 

Young woman wearing a mask due to COVID-19 in 2022

The believable portrayal of a near-future climate change is not quite as rebellious as his earlier novels. Termination Shock uncovers the complex interaction of technology, economics, and politics. While this is still a fictional world, certain themes are based on real issues including COVID-19 which has become COVID-27 and is mentioned throughout the novel but only when insignificant character are dying from the virus. 

Termination Shock brings together a unique group of characters from different cultures who wrestle with the consequences of global warming. Stephen does not try to point out the general disconnect between people and the reality of climate change like he did in the Grimdark Magazine interview: “Trying to communicate about human-caused climate change is far more difficult than that, given that the consequences are mostly far away and detectable only by scientific instruments and statistical analysis. It would be difficult to get people to understand these facts even if social media weren’t pouring highly optimized disinformation into their heads.”

Termination Shock offers readers a potential nearing future where Stephenson imagines a geo-engineering project designed to reduce the earth’s heating, and how it might play out globally. The novel reveals the consequences of global warming including the unlikely sounding disaster that hits the Dutch shores. Termination Shock incorporates exaggerated parts of the story including one of the main character’s daughters who is soon thrust into a new role but then all of a sudden hardly mentioned.

The novel ‘Termination Shock’ by Neal Stephenson

The editor of the Clermont Sun Brett Milam believes Termination Shock is a “celebration of the way in which humanity ingenuity as hindered as it may be at times by stupidity, greed and nation states with their own geopolitical motivations and interventions – can help us to either adapt to, and survive with, climate change, or wholesale change the outcome of climate change, at least to the extent of it not being a civilisation ending problem.”

Stephenson includes very much his own interpretation of what the future could become and highlights a more utopian future. It is unusual for a novel about climate change to bring realism and optimism together so cohesively and imagine a possible future where people might come together and try to save civilisation.

Photos by Cara Lehr