Hack the Planet

 Geoengineering—or "planethacking," as Eli Kintisch, in his smart, scary, sensational survey Hack the Planet, dubs the practice of large-scale deliberate human tinkering with the Earth's thermostat—is to everyday carbon-footprint-reduction practices as stomach-stapling is to a sensible diet:  it's a risky, last-ditch solution to a problem of overindulgence, employed when more moderate schemes have failed.  This is not to say such grandiose and drastic battleplans against global warming won't work, or shouldn't be tried in extremis—but only a sad and sober acknowledgement that we as a species, living in an era ironically labeled the Anthropocene, have indeed come to a shameful pass.   Although Kintisch is extremely careful to present both sides of the controversy surrounding geoengineering with scrupulous—and highly readable—scientific precision, his catalogue of past geoengineering and envirohacking schemes gone awry (Hello Aussie cane toads, goodbye Aral Sea!) mounts up to an indictment of humanity's ham-handed over-reaching in the light of Nature's unknowability.   Carefully describing plans to seed the stratosphere with sunlight-blocking aerosols—thereby rendering our familiar blue skies white!—and salt the oceans with iron in hopes of encouraging carbon-sequestering plankton, Kintisch simultaneously depicts the very human figures and emotional and philosophical forces behind the science and technology.  He travels around the globe, attending conferences and interviewing major players, all while constructing entertaining historical context for the debate.   Brian Aldiss's recipe for a good science fiction tale—"Hubris clobbered by Nemesis"—has found its ultimate expression in this riveting non-fiction saga of planet-wreckers and those who believe they can glue Humpty-Dumpty together again.





Paul Di Filippo's column The Speculator appears monthly in the Barnes & Noble Review.  He is the author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, Neutrino Drag, and Fuzzy Dice.

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.