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Matthew Glass – Ultimatum

Title: Ultimatum
Author: Matthew Glass
Year: 2009

Very few books with speculative or fantastic elements can claim to be both thrilling and credible at the same time; sadly, the two seem to be mutually exclusive in some cases. Not so with Matthew Glass’ Ultimatum, though. Even though it’s set twenty-odd years into the future and incorporates an accelerated climate crisis, the book feels like it is one of many possible windows into the future. I don’t know if it is the most likely one, but the picture it paints is hauntingly realistic.

In 2030, a new American president gets the worst possible starts of any presidency; he learns that his predecessor has covered up data concerning global warming, which states that positive feedback loops (the simplest example being the ice caps melting, reducing the planets albedo, thus further increasing global warming, and so on) have had much quicker effects than anyone predicted. If humanity as we know it is to be saved, the president has to act now. In the process, he has to overcome two major obstacles; Chinese resistance to reform, as well as a drop in popularity at home as he tries to steer the world away from the precipice.

Although I have studied these issues superficially, I’m not qualified to say how credible this future scenario is, but as I already said above, it doesn’t feel like fiction. Matthew Glass has been involved with environmental issues for a long time and knows what it means to negotiate treaties like the Kyoto Protocol.

What is surprising and needs to be reiterated is that he manages to portray this future scenario in the most thrilling way. It’s not that the language is brilliant or the characters are outstanding (in fact, both these aspects are fairly mediocre), but rather that the story itself is so compelling I found it difficult to stop; this is one of the few books I read mostly because I wanted to know what happened on the next page. And that was true for almost every page.

Still, I hesitate to issue a general recommendation for this book. If you don’t like politics at all, don’t care about the environment and aren’t particularly into Sino-American relationships, this novel will prove to be very boring indeed. However, if you are, like I am, interested in all three (only one or two of the criteria is probably enough), this is a surprisingly good read and something you have to check out.

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