This review is largely spoiler free, though it spoils some early reveals of the first section of the novel.
The Year of the Bad Decision starts out as a thriller set in the year 2043. The world has been ravaged by climate change, and the United States is about to deploy the Mylerium Project, which will cool the surface of the earth during the summer to combat the effects of climate change. But Dr. Warren Randolph, one of the scientists who developed the project, has discovered a fundamental flaw. He takes the evidence to his boss—and his concerns are dismissed. Knowing that the Earth is about to experience a devastating cold and food shortage, Warren dedicates himself to saving himself and some select friends and their families.
Sobczak put a great deal of research into this book, and that fact is abundantly clear from the introduction, which outlines some current trajectories of climate change and explains that he has sped up the timescale of the changes that will come upon earth for the purposes of this book. The decision, from a storytelling perspective, is a brilliant one.
One of the reasons the dangers of climate change has become so controversial over the last several decades is because its timescale is quite slow compared to the human life. It is cognitively difficult for humans to prioritize a tragedy that will take place on a scale of centuries rather than months or years. By speeding up the timescale by a few decades, Sobczak gives us Warren, who was a child in the times that we know now, and watched the effects of climate change personally affect him throughout his life. It makes the abstract personal, letting the reader see how we might feel about the future of climate change if we would be there to see it—and be at the age where we could still dedicate ourselves to doing something about it.
Intermittently, through Warren’s journal, Sobczak details the many, many aspects of how climate change will affect the human experience. There is the devastating heat of summer and the droughts and fires that result, of course. He also details effects of the strengthened hurricanes and sea level rise; the flooding and water shortage that plague humanity. There is the spread of disease, as climate changes and disease-carrying organisms spread to new territory. There is the acidification of oceans, and the effect that has on marine life. The way that transportation methods change as a result of climate change are also detailed.
Even more impressive are the rich details about the many ways that humanity has attempted to combat climate change in the decade since it became undeniably devastating, before the book begins.
But Sobczak’s vision of the future is not only limited to climate change. We see an NSA that is no longer even pretending to hide its total surveillance, and the black markets that spring up as people seek to hide from an omnipresent government. We see the public consciousness shift and elect the idealistic Green Party, and that party’s corruption into the power-hungry political entity that every other leading power has been. There is even a thread about the technological singularity.
This book was extremely readable. I want to say that the author was too compassionate, too timid to write about the protagonists falling prey to the horrors that consume the world and losing their humanity, but the book was a somber enough tale as it is without making it bleak as well. He managed to put a positive spin onto what seems like a terrifyingly real prospect.
There were a few things that took me out of it: magical realism, details that seemed a little confusing, and a few facts that, while not entirely wrong, were phrased in a way that was misleading. But these were only small details inside a much larger book. These details are the reason why I give it a 4/5.
Overall, I enjoyed this and am glad that Sobczak brought this book into the world.