Book Review: Icarus Rising

Icarus Rising by Dominic Carney was published in January 2012. I bought this because I read a post by the author in the Facebook “The Cli-Fi writers process forum” group.

In my basic distinction of climate fiction novels, this falls into the first category of my “list of global warming fiction books“, which are those that propose a solution to the problem.

The solution proposed by this book is to release more oxygen, which word for some reason I don’t understand is always spelled capitalized (“Oxygen”) throughout the book. That will dilute the CO2 in the atmosphere and radically reduce the greenhouse effect. The necessary large amount of oxygen will come from an underground lake in the Antarctic, lake Vostok. The main character gets this idea by playing around with a cigar and the concept of using viagra. I was not able to understand that part.

When reading this, the first objection I had was that the author must have made up the part about the lake in Antarctica. How is that supposed to be possible? The whole continent is frozen many times over.

As it turns out, there actually is a “Lake Vostok“, and it is the sixth largest lake on the planet. It seems that there are packets of higher temperature under the ice sheets, or something. Anyway, I was wrong about that being impossible.

I still don’t think that this solution would work. With CO2 now at 0.04 percent of the atmosphere and oxygen at 20.949 percent, there is around 523 times more oxygen than CO2. Increasing the share of oxygen by 10 percent to 23.043 percent would require injection of an amount of oxygen that is over 50 times larger than the whole amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, only one third of which has been released by human activity. The numbers just don’t add up. Even if they would, reducing the share of CO2 in the atmosphere would not remove one single CO2 atom from there. And it is the absolute amount of CO2 and not the market share that is responsible for the greenhouse effect.

I also disagree with the basic idea that it would make much of any difference if such a “solution” gets deployed a couple of weeks or months later. It is just not a realistic scenario to have one clear tipping point for the climate. I understand that one would want such a tipping point when writing a novel. I have one in my own global warming science fiction novel “Tasneem”. But this comes at the cost of leaving the area of credible scenarios.

Early in the novel there is a part where oxygen comes up from the drilling well and somehow causes a fire. I had trouble understanding that. Obviously, oxygen doesn’t burn. Fuel does.

There are a lot of violent fighting scenes in this novel. Some of them seem to be rather lacking in realism. Twice we see characters who have multiple guns pointed at them from short range somehow kill the people pointing the guns. In the second case there is the additional question why the murderers would wake up the main character in the first place instead of just putting a bullet through his head, if that is what they want.

The motivation of the main villain (a leader of a fossil fuel company) was rather interesting for me. That’s because contrary to what one would expect he has his company investing in low carbon energy and is motivated by a desire to suppress voices critical of the scientific consensus on global warming. He doesn’t want his investments in renewable energy go sour.

If so, then there is not much reason to attack the main character, whose warnings make such investments an even more urgent priority.

But this motivation is exactly what I want to have fossil fuel industry leaders in a novel as well as in real life, though for different reasons. The global warming problem is the best thing that could happen to the fossil fuel industry. If Bill McKibben and Greenpeace win and we start strongly reducing the amount of CO2 that can be legally blown in the atmosphere, fossil fuel prices will go way up. I call this idea “phaseout profit theory”, and it is one of the main themes of this blog as well as of my own global warming novels. So yes, it actually makes sense to have a fossil fuel industry leader want to affirm the scientific consensus on global warming.

Update: Carney kindly answers here. He says that indeed, some of the science in the novel does not exactly work out, but that that is not important. He compares it to the Godzilla story. The scientific basis for that does not exist either. And his aim is to get people thinking about geoengineering.

 

Published by kflenz

Professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Tokyo. Author of Lenz Blog (since 2003, lenzblog.com).

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