This review was originally published at ZHWJ on 14 June, 2004.
Obtaining fresh water has become a pressing problem in many parts of the world, including China. Agriculture, industry, and larger society all compete for a dwindling supply of water. There have even been predictions that wars in the next century will be fought not over oil or mineral rights, but over access to fresh water. In Cold Ice, Hot Blood, author Zheng Jun spins the fact that 70% of the Earth’s fresh water is trapped in the Antarctic ice into a techno-thriller set on an iceberg floating in the Indian Ocean.
The Berg Express company (it has a Chinese name but is called “BE” throughout the novel) is in its fifth year in the iceberg transport business. The founder, Qin Yu, is a self-made billionaire from a large, poor family in China’s northeast, who originally had scrapped his way up to become the owner of a small shipping company. He came across some articles by a university lecturer, Sun Yiran, who had developed a way of propelling icebergs using hydrogen fuels. Qin Yu financed his research, and in 2005 they shipped their first iceberg to the Arabian Peninsula.
In the four years since, the company continued to expand, shipping icebergs to parched areas, and landing Qin Yu on the cover of Time as Man of the Year. Iceberg water turns out to be cheaper and better tasting than desalinized seawater, and the sheer volume of fresh water now available to regions like the Middle East holds forth the promise of an end to territorial conflict. BE ships eight icebergs a year, with plans to expand to a maximum of about twenty-six.
The immense scale of the operations, as well as the scientific and technological heroism involved in transporting such massive objects, might recall the scientism of early American SF (and recent Chinese SF). Zheng Jun dispenses with that early on, however, when he mentions the motives of BE’s founders:
Although all of the technological wonders were built alongside a wariness of nature’s greatness, the two great heads of the BE company did nothing to refute the charge of attempting to “conquer nature.” Qin Yu craved greatness and reveled in this wording. He knew that in the eyes of westerners, nature was God’s creation, so to conquer nature was to wrestle with God. “I don’t believe in God–so what if I want to wrestle with him a bit?” Qin Yu once boasted at a company party.
Sun Yiran talked of his own attitude in a smaller setting: a person needs to conquer something; putting more attention on “conquering nature” means less attention on subjugating other people.— Cold Ice, Hot Blood, page 84