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Publisher's Summary

New York Times Bestseller

From Neal Stephenson—who coined the term “metaverse” in his 1992 novel Snow Crash—comes a sweeping, prescient new thriller that transports listeners to a near-future world in which the greenhouse effect has inexorably resulted in a whirling-dervish troposphere of superstorms, rising sea levels, global flooding, merciless heat waves, and virulent, deadly pandemics.

“Stephenson is one of speculative fiction’s most meticulous architects. . . . Termination Shock manages to pull off a rare trick, at once wildly imaginative and grounded.” — New York Times Book Review

One man—visionary billionaire restaurant chain magnate T. R. Schmidt, Ph.D.—has a Big Idea for reversing global warming, a master plan perhaps best described as “elemental.” But will it work? And just as important, what are the consequences for the planet and all of humanity should it be applied?

Ranging from the Texas heartland to the Dutch royal palace in the Hague, from the snow-capped peaks of the Himalayas to the sunbaked Chihuahuan Desert, Termination Shock brings together a disparate group of characters from different cultures and continents who grapple with the real-life repercussions of global warming. Ultimately, it asks the question: Might the cure be worse than the disease?

Epic in scope while heartbreakingly human in perspective, Termination Shock sounds a clarion alarm, ponders potential solutions and dire risks, and wraps it all together in an exhilarating, witty, mind-expanding speculative adventure.

©2021 Neal Stephenson (P)2021 HarperCollins Publishers

What listeners say about Termination Shock

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

The Men Who Shoot at Feral Hogs

A disjointed techno-thriller with some interesting ideas that fails to coalesce into something greater. India invades Texas.

I've come to the conclusion that Stephenson writes "heartbeat books." Like a heartbeat appears on an EKG, there are alternating lows and highs. If the last Stephenson book was impressive, the next one will be lackluster. That's what "Termination Shock" felt like after reading the impressive (if structurally flawed) "Fall, or Dodge in Hell."

Termination Shock takes place in a near future where climate change is real (and spectacular!), and we're working through COVID-25. Temperatures have risen sharply, bands of vicious feral hogs terrorize the landscape, China and India battle for a thin strip of border territory using sticks and rocks (because real weapons would spark a real war) and the United States is no longer viewed as a national superpower.

As nations flitter about doing not much of anything, a colorful Texas billionaire decides to start shooting sulfur straight up into the atmosphere to help cool the planet. This produces the desired effect but also causes drought in India -- naturally India objects and the end of the novel has a "Climate Peacekeeper" military action setpiece by India into Texas.

On one level, the idea of a truck-stop billionaire conducting a world-changing geoengineering project from his private ranch reads like the origin story of a Bond villain. Unfortunately, other than being a little Elon Musk-y (a little quirky), the character of TR Schmidt is not sufficiently fleshed out for the reader to care about him one way or the other.

Instead our main characters are Saskia, Queen of the Netherlands (?), TR's feral hog killer Rufus (??), and a Canadian Sikh named Laks who becomes an internet star conducting "performative war" along the Indo-China border (???).

Most of the narrative centers on Saskia and involves FAR MORE detail about the Dutch Royal Family and its Constitutional Monarchy than is remotely interesting. Other than a very entertaining intro about the state of the world (and the aforementioned plague of feral hogs), the middle section feels like a drawn out climate conference where there's a lot of talk and not a lot gets done. We also get very detailed descriptions of Dutch flood-control infrastructure and minutae of Dutch environmental politics. Quirky, well-written, but meandering.

The chapters with Laks fighting his stick battles for the benefit of social media and Vegas bookies are appropriately surreal but ultimately are little more than a plot device for the final "invasion" scene.

As with most Stephenson novels, the germs of big ideas are here, and as with most Stephenson novels, how well those ideas are fleshed out or contribute to the novel vary. Most notably, the conflict between geoengineering and a truly "green" environmental policy. If states can correct for their despoliation of the planet via geoengineering, then there's little incentive to move away from fossil fuels.

Another interesting idea that's teased but never satisfactorily addressed is the response of effected states to either these geoengineered projects or to a planet facing an increasing climate crises. While Stephenson ends the novel with such a scenario (the "Climate Peacekeeper" action) -- more could have been done to develop this idea on a broader scale than merely as a reason to have an shoot-em-up finale.

Stephenson always writes well and generally entertains, but just as frequently, his premise fails to satisfactorily deliver. Such is the case with Termination Shock.

27 people found this helpful

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Amazing...Completely Understandable...Six Stars

Neal Stephenson hardly needs a critique from me. Like his other books, this is a rollercoaster ride of ideas, information, and language. However, it is far more accessible and human. Cannot recommend it strongly enough -- invest the 23 hours.

25 people found this helpful

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uncomfortable scifi is sometimes the best Scifi

Everything about this story feels absolutely plausible in today's world, to the point that it is hard to call scifi... given the pace at which technology is improving, maybe it was sci-fi when the author started.

The lack of clear "good guys" and "bad guys" made the whole story more uncomfortable to listen to, but it also made it much more realistic feeling.

24 people found this helpful

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Still on top of his game

I've been a fan of the author from the Big U and, over the years, what started as a unformed affinity has deepened into a kind of respect and admiration for his ability to weave very believable characters into absurdly surreal events that grapple very real questions and expose the absurd and surreal in our own lives, all while offering rollicking adventures that can buckle a swash with the best of them. In that way, Termination Shock is no different, and the author's skills are on full display. It's characters are as a real as they come, the world as ridiculous and absurd as you can imagine and, yet, through his brilliant characterizations and narrative, it all feels startlingly real and it hits dangerously close to home. Whether you want a unique lens on some of the problems of our day, or you just want to curl up on the couch and bear witness to a rip-roaring adventure, Termination Shock has you covered, taking you reassuringly into its embrace as it turns to show you a sulphur-tinged sunset more brilliant than you would have ever thought possible.

22 people found this helpful

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no. just no.

read the whole thing unfortunately. it was long, boring, and not worth it. only thing it is good for is to put you asleep. the person that read it did a good job.

18 people found this helpful

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Slow development, had to give it up

Got a few hours into it and felt it really hadn’t gone anywhere… so had to return it. Sad, since I thought it would be enthralling from the description.

9 people found this helpful

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Embarrassed for Stephenson.

Somehow Stephenson had to find a way to account for the drastic acceleration in climate change. And the best he could come up with is so implausible that it really comes off as insulting, at least to this reader. Seriously? It's Elon Musk's fault?

We all know that thanks to technology and covid, the growing trend is to work from home, for those who can, which means far fewer vehicles on the roads commuting every day, and likewise a corresponding reduction in harmful emissions. And that trend is and will continue to grow because people don't like to waste years of their lives, literally, in traffic.

Yet Stephenson imagines a future in which the prevalence of self-driving cars leads to a drastic *increase* of vehicles on the road, because "they can drive very close to one another."

I'm not exaggerating. Stephenson wants us to believe that the world has gone to hell in 20 years because the number of vehicles on the roads has doubled, effectively doubling the rate of climate change.

Mr. Stephenson, who exactly are all these people inside these vehicles?

Even if we ignore the reductions due to telecommuting, there's the far more significant elephant in the room. As an author, you could have run with that elephant (albeit in the opposite direction) yet you chose to ignore it?

Or perhaps you aren't aware that our young men are no longer motivated as you and I were at their age, due to their addictions to both video gaming and pornography, and the fact that their single-mom parents aren't pushing them on (and out of the house, off to accomplish great things) like our fathers did, right? I'm not blaming single-moms, or absentee fathers, or anyone for that matter. Technology has continued to outpace our understanding of the impact it might have until decades after it's too late to intervene. Still, it's not too early to see what's in store for us.

Simply put, today's young men aren't motivated to work hard to attract and provide for a mate and children. After all, if mom could work and provide for them by herself just fine, what exactly do they have to offer? I would have thought, Mr. Stephenson, that you're not blind to this monumental societal change, which stands to alter the face of life on this planet far more immediately than climate change.

The writing is on the wall; our near future is full of out-of-work depressed men living with their mothers, *not* commuting to jobs they don't have or want, in cars they don't have or want, either. And they're not having children. Children are too much work.

So how the hell can you base your plotline on a rapid increase in climate change due to a great increase in traffic on the roads... without even bothering to come up with an even half-plausible reason for that traffic?

The efficiency of self-driving cars might very well lead to an increase in *potential* highway capacity, but those millions of extra cars you imagine aren't going to be going anywhere without passengers, ie people with both the means and desire to be driving every day.

And forget the means. The desire just isn't there, either. Young men today aren't even motivated to get their drivers licenses, unless forced to, let alone a car

When asked why, the standard response is "because once I can drive, mom is going to have me running all over town running errands for her, driving my sister to school and stuff."

Seems crazy, right? Back in the day, we all couldn't wait for mom or dad to give us an errand so we had an excuse to get out of the house and being the wheel, and maybe give a ride to those cute girls I met the other day at the plaza.

But today, leaving the house is the last thing a boy wants to do. Home is where the online gaming takes place, the one place they have any sense of worth or even identity. Your whole premise is so outdated as to be a mechanism of fantasy writing, not mere fiction but magic and unicorns.

Mr. Stephenson, you appear to me to have lost your passion for writing, and are instead writing to fulfill contractual obligations with your publisher. You don't have to keep writing if you have lost the passion. It's normal to lose one's passion in their art, and although it can be daunting, to not stride forward towards finding your next great passion, whatever it may be, isn't just sad for others to witness, it's a crime against the Creative Spirit.

7 people found this helpful

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Thanks Again NS

So- besides the length of book I see the beauty in that! Neil is one of a kind & hit’s this one out of da park…

7 people found this helpful

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Very Enjoyable!

Loved this audiobook! Narration was top notch and story was very original. Characters were well developed and extremely interesting! Highly recommended.

5 people found this helpful

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Great book

I always love Stephenson's work, but this is one of his all time bests. Globe spanning, forward looking. Lots of details but also big ideas.

4 people found this helpful