Hot-Earth Thriller Casts Chill

Posted May 18, 2009 at 2:55pm

With his first book, “Ultimatum,— Matthew Glass makes the already unpleasant heat a constant reminder of what disasters and challenges we are ignoring and must eventually face.

In his frightfully believable novel about the effects and dangers of global warming, Glass creates a politically based environmental thriller about possibilities of the future, when we may finally be forced to look at the issue more closely.

Glass, a British author who uses a pseudonym and whose true identity has not been revealed, treats the reader to a dramatic eco-drama that makes more dire predictions than Al Gore ever could have.

In the story, we meet Joseph Benton, a spirited Democrat who beat out the Republican incumbent to become the new president of the United States. The year is 2032. Just after he wins the election, this young and hopeful politician soon learns that his relocation plans for sparing citizens from overwhelming floods and droughts caused by rises in temperature are not nearly enough to combat climate change and the effects it will have in the near future.

After learning from select members of the previous administration about their grave projections for the future of the planet and the people living on it, Benton is faced with the colossal task of solving global warming through means nobody thought were possible, much less probable, in our lifetimes. Benton gives a speech to the American people: “I believe that our republic, and the nations of our planet, have the potential to emerge from this crisis, and from the shared endeavor of the Carbon Plan, a better place. Surely if we have learned one thing from the past week, it is that our capacity to destroy when we are divided is great, but our capacity to build when we are united is greater.—

Benton leads members of his party, including a suspicious and bull-headed secretary of State, through negotiations with the international world. He offers what he calls the Carbon Plan in coordination with the global effort of the Kyoto agreements to combat the effects of emissions and global warming. The reactions to this proposition set off events that nobody could see coming, and the way Glass effortlessly traces the transition from the current generation and administration to his fictional future president makes the shocking outcome of the story hit even closer to home.

Even though the story is riddled with political jargon and traces quite closely the proceedings and inner workings of the American government and other international organizations, Glass manages to keep the reader entranced with drama — and banter — reminiscent of the TV show “The West Wing.— When he is first elected, Benton’s team works through strategies for Cabinet nominations. One team member says, “And we’re looking for at least one Republican here. … Don’t forget that. That’s critical for the credibility of the economic team if we’re going to get support for our programs.—

Yet even with this level of bipartisan outreach, Benton appears to be both young and naive, and he must harden himself to take unthinkable steps toward solving the global environmental catastrophe slowly affecting the lives of billions of people. Glass makes it easy to love or hate Benton for his blindly optimistic attitude; but no matter what your opinion is of him, the nagging feeling of wanting him to succeed persists, keeping the reader engrossed for the entire 400-odd pages. Proving to be utterly unpredictable and exciting, “Ultimatum— does not suffer from the pitfalls of political thrillers and reads more like an action-adventure novel.

Glass manages to give an insider’s perspective on American politics, drawing readers even deeper into the story. The events and processes he describes seem realistic and give just enough detail without bogging the reader down. One quibble: At the beginning of the story, the list of names is a little overwhelming, although in time the reader gets to know these characters.

Glass presents a true thriller that may feel a little too daunting for a light summer read, especially with the heat acting as a constant reminder of global warming and the world’s impending heat stroke.

Even if you’re afraid to admit to friends and co-workers that you are enjoying reading an “environmental thriller,— the embarrassment is worth the adrenaline rush.