Forty Signs of Rain
Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson
I don’t generally like books that don’t have clear cut endings. Bad guy is caught, white hats save the day, etc. Forty Signs of Rain isn’t like that. In a way, the white hats fail and the bad guy is mother nature taking back what she gave. It’s not really a story of hope. But then again, it could be.
In this election year, I find myself thinking a lot about politics and how we govern ourselves. Clearly, Mr. Robinson had that in mind with this book. He very blatantly discusses the politics of Washington D.C. and the NSF and is not terribly impressed. And as we vote ourselves more bread and circuses, I have to say I don’t particularly blame him.
But this isn’t a political novel, not really. It’s set just a few years in the future (“Phone, call Roy” is the most technological advance you see – and that’s around now) and global warming has taken a turn for the worse. The arctic ice pack has broken up and the gulf stream may have stalled causing, possibly, rapid climactic change.
This was a fascinating look at the way that politics and science collide. And while it is a disaster novel, it also has suggestions for what we can do about it. I found the references to game theory and “The Prisoner’s Dilemma” interesting, but Frank, the character who brought them up spent 3/4ths of the story a flat, boring character who was only interested in analyzing life rather than living it. Luckily, Frank was not the only character.
Charlie, the work-at-home dad who was the environmental adviser for a member of Congress, was by-far, my favorite character. His discussions with his toddler son Joe were humorous and he had very strong beliefs that he was happy to expound upon. His wife, Anna, works at the NSF and is just a little less flat than her co-worker Frank. Then there’s Leo back in California, who seemed to be introduced mostly as a foil to all the rain in Washington, D.C.
But we don’t read SciFi for characterizations either. The science is interesting and inventive, the moral is not too heavy-handed, and the destruction is ultimately quite satisfying. This book is not Robinson’s best, but it’s a fun read with some interesting twists and turns throughout. If you find yourself feeling preached at, that’s probably a common feeling, but Robinson didn’t let the preaching get in the way of showcasing how science and government collide.