Set in the year 2013, this novel begins with an intriguing premise. The "greenhouse effect" (a phenomenon James explained in his nonfiction book, Greenhouse has created massive drought and famine, forcing millions of Central and South Americans north to a America now guarded by the Rio Grande wall. There are more states in the U.S. because some cities have become independent. One of these is Milwaukee, a utopia possessed of a benevolent climate and governed by the principles set forth in Small Is Beautiful, but with strict immigration laws. The book's two protagonists, an aspiring artist named Rico, and Pooch, a middle-aged novelist who saw his family die in the famine, manage to gain entrance to this Eden on Lake Michigan.