The Green Progression, L.E. Modesitt Jr. & Bruce Scott Levinson

Tor, 1992, 312 pages, C$5.99 mmpb, ISBN 0-812-51641-9

Are you the kind of person that loves to say exactly the opposite of what everyone else is saying? Would you take on the job of being the devil’s advocate? Do you think that a bit of discussion is better than unthinking unanimous agreement, even if you happen to agree with what’s being discussed?

If so, you should have a blast reading The Green Progression. Perennial libertarian iconoclast L.E. Modesitt Jr. has teamed up with relative unknown Bruce Scott Levinson to write a reactionary environmental novel.

Everyone more or less assumes that the environment is something worth protecting. Everyone should cheer when Washington adopts stricter environmental standards, since it means that less pollutants will be released… and if there are less pollutants, it means the environment is better off, right? Anyone who complains must be evil industrialists trying to protect their profits, right?

Modesitt and Levinson take the position that enough is enough, and that environmental standards in the US are good as they are. But how to spin a novel around this? You wouldn’t think a novel whose protagonists are lawyers, bureaucrats, researchers and politicians could possibly be exciting. And yet, The Green Progression is surprisingly gripping.

Jack McDarvid is a former pilot, a former CIA operative, a former EPA staffer but a current husband, father and consultant at a law firm that specializes in environmental issues. At the beginning of The Green Progression, his boss is gunned down in a drug hit. Then, his inquiries in his former boss’s last case are proving very sensitive to some important people…

Modesitt and Levinson happily mix a few other threads in the plot. A Russian operative is shown encouraging tougher environmental standards in the US to drive away the high-tech industries. McDarvid’s associate gets involved with a woman implicated in radical environmental movements. A humble staffer receives a scholarship for her daughter in subtle exchange for… information. CIA, congressmen, French industrialists, radical lefties and other characters all get caught in this political/bureaucratic thriller.

The Green Progression is not an easy book to read. It uses more -much more- hard-science jargon, assumptions and concepts than most hard-SF novels on the market. (There’s a glossary at the end) The separate threads are difficult to differentiate at the beginning. The plot takes a while to coalesce, leaving the reader confused for the first part of the book.

But then, the novel somehow pulls itself together and the result is a fairly enjoyable, mostly ingenious novel that doesn’t quite resemble anything else you’re likely to have read so far. There’s a happy ending.

It’s a fascinating novel not only for its focus, but also for its attitude that takes pleasure is showing the reader how much of what he thinks he knows is wrong. The bureaucratic process involved in making new standards is very well described, with the result that the book expands your knowledge of how government works. (Whether or not you trust the authors is up to your confidence in their research and ability to represent reality!)

Some readers will enjoy the anti-rabid-environmentalist viewpoint, others will loathe it. That’s normal. The Green Progression will probably find a ready home among hard-SF enthusiasts, most of them already receptive both to the pro-technology agenda and to Modesitt himself, who’s better known as a SF&F writer. Unusual thriller; worth a look.

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