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Bouncing from Book to Book

Whoa. I’m about to do something I’ve never done before–and yes, I have drunk both whisky and black coffee–that makes me a hair uncomfortable: I’m about to recommend a book I haven’t even finished yet. And therby hangs a tale.

Back in 1991 or 1992, I noticed that a new Niven/Pournelle book had come out. In casual conversation, a friend of mine (now deceased) told me it was a waste of time and money and not to bother. The book? Fallen Angels, by Niven, Pournelle, and Mike Flynn. Even though I trusted his judgment, I was curious. I was close to a Niven completist at that point, and he remains up in my top three favorite SF authors of all time. Alas, in 1991, I was doing long, long days trying to establish a profitable publishing company, and in truth I wasn’t reading a lot of anything that didn’t directly relate to PC Techniques Magazine. So I passed on Fallen Angels. I’ve since passed on some of the later Ringworld books, and most of the Man-Kzin War saga. Not a completist anymore, I guess. The older I get, the more I ration my time and attention to things that will prove worthwhile.

Then I remembered a couple of weeks ago that Glenn Reynolds always cites Fallen Angels when he aggregates an article suggesting that the world has begun to chill. The core problem in Fallen Angels is that the Earth has begun a new ice age in the near future. An ice age!


I’ve always been interested in ice ages. Growing up in Chicago sometimes does that to people. I still lived in Chicago during the three blistering winters of 1977, 1978, and 1979. (And when I left, I went right to Rochester, NY, heh. No relief.) When I was a kid I had a plastic model skeleton of a mastodon. And I knew what a moraine was, having camped in Kettle Moraine State Park as a boy scout.

Six bucks on Kindle? Click. Sold! (The cover image, by the way, is gorgeous.) I didn’t start reading it right away, and the hideous conversion to ebook format made me nuts enough to order a paper copy before continuing. Typos, OCR errors, ugly layout, uggh. Nonetheless, I finished it.

No, that’s not the book I’m recommending. I didn’t hate Fallen Angels, but I didn’t love it. Much of the book consists of one SF fan in-joke after another. That was the intent, but self-referential art has always turned me off. The only one missing was lime jello, and it’s entirely possible that by then I had tuned out the fangab enough that it slipped passed me. It’s readable enough to finish, and if you were a fan in the ’70s and ’80s, you’ll recognize some of the people, or maybe even yourself.

No, what happened while reading Fallen Angels is that the book references another book, this time one that I’d never heard of before: The Sixth Winter, by Douglas Orgill and John Gribbin. Orgill was new to me. Gribbin is a British astrophysicist who has written a number of very good popular science books, my favorite of which being In Search of Shroedinger’s Cat. The Sixth Winter was published in 1979, and was about the emergence of a new ice age. (Gosh! Where did they ever get that idea?!!?!?) Four bucks on Kindle? Click. Sold! And just in case, I ordered a hardcover, because used hardcovers could be had for as little as $3.66.

As I write this, the hardcover is still on order. That was certainly a good bet, because the conversion to ebook format was every bit as bad as that of Fallen Angels. I started reading the crappy ebook edition…and couldn’t put it down. Wow. In Fallen Angels, the new Ice Age was backdrop at best. In The Sixth Winter, it’s the main attraction.

I don’t want to reveal too much about the book, since it’s full of clever little twists and turns, but I will say that it has something in common with the Carl & Jerry books: It tries to explain the science that it presents, more than you’d generally get away with in a typical SF adventure novel. I’ll present a hunch: Orgill wrote the fiction, and Gribbon wrote the science. I found it remarkable how such a book grabbed my attention. With the caution (again) that I have a keen interest in ice ages, I recommend it. It is not great fiction. But it is extremely vivid in its descriptions, and there are (fictional) ideas and (granted, dated) science that I’m much enjoying. So there! I did it! I recommended a book that I’m not quite halfway through. Make of it what you will. Sneaky tip: Buy a paper copy. You’ll grind your teeth less over OCR errors, which are legion. “Seat” becomes “scat.” Ouch.

Now hold on. The story isn’t over yet. Partway into The Sixth Winter, the book cites yet another book: Times of Feast, Times of Famine: A History of Climate Since the Year 1000, by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie. (1971.) This is a nonfiction book. There is no ebook edition. (I was slightly relieved to learn that.) Paperbacks from $8.93. Why not? Click. Sold! I don’t have it yet, but it includes some contemporary accounts of the Little Ice Age, which I consider to be part of the Ice Age concept and am much looking forward to reading.

Why this sudden interest in ice ages? It’s not sudden; it’s always been there. But I’ll tip my hand just a little bit: I’m heading into the downwind leg of my current work-in-progress, Dreamhealer. Next up (this time fersure, Amy!) is The Molten Flesh. I’ve struggled with the sequel to The Cunning Blood for a long time. I’ve got a nanotech intelligence, an interesting heavy, and plenty of ideas to toss in the pot. The backdrop is still what it was in The Cunning Blood: Canada rules a half-depopulated Earth with an iron hand. The US is still a province under direct Canadian control. The question that arises is this: After being in complete control of the planet for well over a hundred years, what could possibly get Canada’s attention?

Heh. Captain Obvious signing off for now…


  1. Amy Bowersox says:

    I see what you did there, Jeff. 🙂

    Another book that deals with the ramifications of a major Ice Age is Robert Silverberg’s Time of the Great Freeze. I recently found that again on Kindle after having read it way back when I was in school (possibly grade school). It’s got a bit of dystopian flair to it in the beginning, and much of it is a straightforward adventure story.

  2. Jim Tubman says:

    My questions, as a Canuck, would be (a) how did Canada avoid whatever catastrophe that left the rest of the world ripe for conquering, and (b) what would motivate the Canadian elite to take over the USA and wherever else? I can imagine a sort of accidental empire, happening gradually without the intent of conquest (but effectively conquest all the same).

    What would get Canada’s attention? A tedious legal dispute over whether some obscure issue was a federal or a provincial responsibility. Any Canadian government would be completely absorbed by this, even while the glaciers were moving in.

    1. “Accidental empire” comes mighty close. In the saga’s future history, there was a fifty-odd year period of global war that started about 2020, which I will probably change to 2030 as our future becomes our past. (Originally it was 2012, as a nod to the ancient Mayans and their calendar’s inexplicable end. That already seems like a long time ago.) In a way similar to what the US experienced after WWII, Canada had taken some hits but for the most part was intact, and lost no major cities. Canada took the lead in rebuilding the world circa 2080, but put certain nations (like the US, Russia, China, and Iran) under tight control. The US was easy: Same language, mostly the same culture. It was treated as a damaged province. Russia and what little remained of China were under gentle martial law. But the overall message was explicit, loud, and clear: This will never happen again.

      Canada has always been a goodhearted nation, mostly undisturbed by tendencies toward fascism and communism. Alas, over time the Canadian culture went too far toward safety and away from risk-taking and nation rebuilding. Things settled into an uncomfortable stasis in which humanity gradually pulled back from star travel except in odd cases, like shipping inmates to the prison planet called Hell. And when starships started vanishing (later found to be part of an American plot to throw off Canadian governance) space travel was deemed too dangerous, and (again, except for traffic to Hell) was abandoned.

      It sometimes takes a solid whack to stir things out of stasis. When the American Governor-General’s plot to destroy Canada’s four largest cities failed, stasis returned. To get things moving again, the sequel will take place perhaps ten years later, after what is soon recognized as a new Ice Age begins to take shape. World government authorities have no idea what to do, but the glaciers are advancing again, first in Canada and Siberia, and later on in Northern Europe. At that point, Interesting Things Begin to Happen–and that’s where The Molten Flesh opens.

      1. Jim Tubman says:

        Hmm. If the Canadian government of that time period is like the current one, it would insist that the infallible computer models had always predicted the ice age, and that it could be reversed through taxation.

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