Although his bushy beard looks a lot more salty than it did in the old author photos, Neal Stephenson still wears it with a classic, well-shaven (and, to not get too phrenological, large) pate. He's easy to spot even in a packed Seattle bistro bar. We have arranged to meet to discuss his latest novel. It is number 17 in nearly 40 years of sci-fi thrillers. This was our plan anyway. But even as we greet each other, it is clear that two simultaneous disasters have engulfed us as quickly as the rush of tourists at lunchtime.
Disaster number 1: It is almost impossible to smell the Delta variant SARS-CoV-2 massing microscopically. This happened in July, right after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said everyone should wear masks inside. I can still see Stephenson's full face, which mirrors my own. Both of us are unhappy at the idea of inhaling the air of someone else from the narrow gap of a two-top.
There's also disaster number 2. It's 88 degrees outside, so the aerosolized virus could flitter upwards and away rather than into our respiratory system. The problem is that we humans have burned too many carbon. Now it's in our atmosphere and causing havoc. There are no awnings on the restaurant's tiny terrace seating, and there is only a metaphorical shadow over the city. The jet stream erupted a few weeks back and created a heat dome in Seattle that lasted triple digits. This was hotter than any time in the past 50 year. More than 700 people died in the Northwest.
It's too dangerous to eat indoors, and too cold to go outside. It's a quandary. We prevail and get the server to move a table outside in a shaded spot. He also brings some beer. Unavoidable disasters, the apocalypse is still something we can live with. It's just like real life. Because what can you do?
This is the question. This is also why I am here with Stephenson to discuss apocalypses and how to talk to people about them. There are so many ends to the world that have a stacked approach and no one seems to care. Stephenson's book, Termination Shock, is out November1.
Stephenson is the only sci-fi writer with the combination of vision, reach and passionate fandom. Stephenson, who is 61 years old, is the most prominent chronicler of Silicon Valley's foundation myths and the culture that surrounds it. He also has a high self-esteem, which enables him to report on the world that nerds have built.