The only thing falling apart faster than our planet is the personal life of Michael Beard, the fictional lead of Ian McEwan's Solar
. He's a brilliant scientist, to be sure, the winner of the Nobel Prize in physics for the Beard-Einstein Conflation, much in demand not only as a research scientist but also as a public intellectual of sorts, the kind of guy likely to show up as a talking head in a documentary on climate change, speaking persuasively about his plans to use the immense power of the sun to create artificial photosynthesis, to craft the means to save us all.
But Beard himself is a mess, grotesque and downright unlikeable to boot, yet oddly irresistible to women. "He belonged to that class of menvaguely unprepossessing, often bald, short, fat, cleverwho were unaccountably attractive to certain beautiful women. Or he believed he was,...
Beyond the Book
Much of the science upon which Beard stakes his reputation (even though he may have gleaned it unethically) deals with the concept of artificial photosynthesis, a real proposed solution to energy consumption problems, one that Beard himself explains eloquently and convincingly in a speech to a group of businesspeople and investors. When he first encounters the idea, Beard calls it "brilliant or insane," but regardless of his ambivalence, artificial photosynthesis is a proposal that is very much under discussion as one of the potential answers to the mounting questions about where humans will draw their energy in years to come.
Essentially, artificial photosynthesis does what plants have been doing for the last 2.8 billion years or so: using the energy from the sun to...