UltimatumUltimatum by Matthew Glass

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read two completely contradictory reviews of this environmental disaster thriller before I started it. The Economist reckoned it was an “engrossing work” that “leaves the reader thinking long after the last page is turned” .. sounds great, I thought. But the Guardian review dripped with scorn; “it’s as if the publisher of Hansard had been allowed to rewrite The War of the Worlds.” Oh dear. So I decided to try a couple of pages before I took it straight to the charity shop, and I was immediately hooked. Ignore the Guardian, this book is fantastic.

It’s 2032, and Straight Joe Benton has just been elected President of the USA. But before he’s even been sworn in, he’s called into a top secret meeting with his out-going rival, who reveals that global warming is accelerating at an unprecedented rate, and that large parts of the world will soon be under water and millions of Americans will have to be relocated if global carbon emissions aren’t drastically reduced now, with catastrophic effect on the American economy. President Benton must agree a deal with the other super-polluters, the Chinese, then bring the rest of the world on board before it’s too late.

It’s The West Wing meets The Day After Tomorrow, but with the action cut out. There are no giant tidal waves here, just a lot of intricate political maneuvering, negotiations and international talks. Although it’s meant to be 2032, this isn’t really a book set in the future. Matthew Glass has expended no energy on inventing new technology, or even imaging a different world stage. Instead, this is a book about now – about the virtual impossibility of reaching an amicable emissions deal, and what the cost of one might truly be.

The book spends a lot of the time in the corridors of power, with much of the dialogue concerned with the ins and outs of political tactics. The characters go through their paces and not much more (the US president is straight as a die, the UK Prime Minister is posh and decent, the Chinese leader is inscrutable…), but not much more is needed. This is B-Movie territory, and it’s all good fun, if only skin-deep in terms of character. It’s all very believable, and the suspense really builds, as the Chinese remain intransigent and a deal seems further and further away. (It’s a reality check after all those Hollywood environmental disaster movies when the world leaders get together on giant video links and all nod in agreement as America outlines how it will save the day.)

The tension ramps up to a truly gripping (and unexpected, for me at least) ending, which had me sitting up late into the night to finish it. Highly recommended, just don’t expect people-freezing super-storms.

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