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Forty Signs of Rain [Hardcover]

Kim Stanley Robinson
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 Jan 2004

It's hot in Washington. No sign of rain. The world's climates are changing, catastrophe beckons, but no one in power is noticing. Yet. Tom Wolfe meets Michael Crichton in this highly topical, taut, witty and entertaining science thriller.

When the Arctic ice pack was first measured in the 1950s, it averaged thirty feet thick in midwinter. By the end of the century it was down to fifteen. One August the ice broke. The next year the break-up started in July. The third year, it began in May.

That was last year.

It's an increasingly steamy summer in America's capital as environmental policy advisor Charlie Quibler cares for his young son, and deals with the frustrating politics of global warming. According to the President and his science advisor Dr S, the weather isn’t important! But Charlie must find a way to get a sceptical administration to act before it's too late – and his progeny find themselves living in Swamp World.

Just arrived in Washington to lobby the Senate for aid is an embassy from Khembalung, a sinking island nation in the Bay of Bengal. Charlie's wife Anna, director of bioinformatics at the National Science Foundation and well known for her hyperrational intensity, is entranced by the Khembalis. By contrast, her colleague, Frank Vanderwal, is equally cynical about the Buddhists and the NSF.

The profound effect the Khembali ambassador has on both Charlie and Frank could never have been predicted – unlike the abrupt, catastrophic climate change which is about to transform everything.

Forty Signs of Rain is an unforgettable tale of survival which captures a world where even the innocent pattern of rainfall resounds with the destiny of the biosphere.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; First Printing edition (5 Jan 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0007148860
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007148868
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 16 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,189,889 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kim Stanley Robinson has won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards. He is the author of over twenty previous books, including the bestselling Mars trilogy and the highly acclaimed FORTY SIGNS OF RAIN. He lives in Davis, California.

Product Description


‘The Brave New World of global warming … A narrative that is rich in closely observed characters and a wonderfully vivid sense of place … depicts a society sleep-walking towards the abyss … His great achievement here is to bring the practice of science alive and to place this in an all-too familiar world of greedy capitalists and unprincipled politicians. Robinson's critique of science is heartfelt … humans have gone from being the smartest animal on the savannah to being "experts at denial".’ P.D. Smith Guardian

'Kim Stanley Robinson is freed by his medium – fiction – to deliver [a] message with passion and restraint … A great book' New Scientist

Praise for the Mars Trilogy:

'The excitement of the science is thrillingly rendered … a very impressive work of the imagination … The Mars trilogy is one of the landmarks of sf in the 1990s. The time may well come when it is regarded as one of the landmarks of American literature' TLS

On Years of Rice and Salt:

‘A tapestry of striving joy, unhapiness and ambiguity … the marvellous book may be the most hopeful thing you read for a long time’ Francis Spufford, Evening Standard

‘Robinson’s supple, thoughtful prose is always up to the challenge, whether exciting us with ideas, thrilling us with spectacle or presenting us with moments of elegy or quiet passion’ Roz Kaveny, Independent

‘A huge, complex and highly enjoyable book: buy it’ New Scientist

More on the Mars books:

‘Humane, witty, earnest and intricate books: they mark their readers indelibly with Robinson's seductive sense of place.' Independent

'Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy combines Big Science and real people. Robinson is a master of characterisation.' New Scientist
'One of the most impressive pieces of science fiction of the past ten years' The Economist

'First of a mighty trilogy, it is the ultimate in future history … Arthur C. Clarke hails Red Mars as "a staggering book", the best of its kind ever written … I have never read a book quite like Red Mars. It is unusually well written …three dimensional characters … the scale is awesome.' Shaun Usher Daily Mail

'To make Mars real and make it interesting. That's the double challenge which Kim Robinson has here so squarely and successfully faced… scientific reality leads straight into a conflict plot… a running commentary on human desire, frustration and fulfilment.' Tom Shippey Guardian

'A beautiful book – to be lived in.' Ian Watson Daily Telegraph

'A complex combination of science fiction and fact, political and social commentary which, together with strong characterisation and a brilliantly conceived plot, blend into a book that reads like a heavily dramatised version of past events, flowing smoothly from start to finish and building up to a climactic conclusion. Probably the most outstanding aspect of Robinson's novel, however, is his stunning visualisation of the beauty of this hostile planet. By the end you can't help feeling you understand the place, that it has some meaning beyond that of just another location for a story … I'm looking forward to reading the next two volumes almost as eagerly as I'm anticipating the reality of such an outrageous venture.' Alex Hardy Time Out

On Antarctica
'A tour de force of adventure writing, memorably told … He describes Antarctica like a great travel writer, but he does so in the aid of the story … It is hard to put the book down. It is important, it is relevant, it gives us a huge new continent to imagine; and it is fun.' Mail on Sunday

'The most momentous science fiction novel of the year… Robinson has turned his gaze on a landscape almost as hostile and unspoiled as Mars and describes it gloriously well.' Daily Telegraph

'A fascinating richness … with the unobtrusive lightness that allowed him to finesse so many of the difficult grandeurs of epic in the Mars books, he steals in Antarctica towards the tricky inward experiences of those archaic Brits, "conquering the world with bad boy scout equipment".' Independent

From the Back Cover

The world's climates are changing: catastrophe beckons.

It's hot in Washington. No sign of rain. While he cares for a boisterous toddler, Charlie Quibler works from home as environmental policy advisor to Senator Phil Chase, the author of a climate bill currently being debated. It’s a tough sell. According to the President and his science advisor Dr S, the weather isn’t important!

In her air-conditioned office at the National Science Foundation, Anna Quibler also has other things on her mind, such as the imminent departure of Frank Vanderwal, her best programme officer. What she doesn’t know is that Frank is scheming to hold back one very special grant application for his own private gain. Mostly she feels sorry for Frank. His private life consists of trying to crack the code of human behaviour.

Then Anna befriends the staff at a new embassy for the tiny island state of Khembalung, just arrived in Washington to lobby the Senate for help with their rising sea-level. The weather is very important to them. The Khembalung ambassador has a profound effect on both Charlie and Frank, which could not have been predicted. Unlike abrupt, catastrophic climate change, which could have been ...

And now there are signs of rain.

Tom Wolfe meets Michael Crichton in this highly topical, taut, witty and swift-paced science thriller.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars West Wing meets The Day After Tomorrow? 25 May 2004
By Russell
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
When you buy Robinson you expect beautiful description, genuine motivation and left wing ideology. Forty Signs of Rain does not disappoint - a story of big science and big politics in the face of ecological disaster; spiced up with cleverly observed moments of individual lives: dinner parties, childcare, meetings, coffee breaks. Robinson can really create those "yes, that's what it's like!" moments and then move on to surrealistic images of tigers roaming the backgardens of Washington.

Robinson continues to mature as a writer - he is more free with his brand of gentle humour, more relaxed and realistic with the romantic scenes. Above all, he disciplines his descriptions of nature and landscape - focusing on the telling detail rather than the pages and pages of description which occaisionally marred the Mars trilogy.

It's not packed with action. There are no laser guns, spaceships or aliens. It is thoughtful, intellectual, witty, moving, vivid, defiantly high brow and engagingly 'new age'.
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"Forty Signs of Rain" is the first novel in Kim Stanley Robinson's 'Science in the Capital' trilogy, exploring the potential impact of global warming as well as science's role in twenty-first century politics. One summer in the near future, an embassy of Buddhists arrives in Washington DC, seeking representation from the National Science Foundation. They are lobbying for assistance from the US government; their nation, an island in the Bay of Bengal, is slowly succumbing to rising sea levels as a result of global warming. However, as Charlie Quibler - advisor to pro-environment Senator Phil Chase - knows well, tackling global warming is low on the government's agenda. But evidence of the impending catastrophe is rapidly mounting: very soon either policy must change, or else the climate will.

The book eschews a conventional plot, instead following the lives of several characters over the course of one summer, all of whom have an interest in the issue of climate change. In some ways it has the feel of a political thriller, as the main characters struggle against the restrictive bureaucracies of the NSF and the US administration, and it is clear that Robinson has researched this aspect of his subject well. Likewise his treatment of the various weather events - impacting as they do on American soil and Western lifestyles - is believable throughout, and the novel's climax is unsettling even as it is compelling.

Unfortunately the novel is let down in places by its pacing, which can feel almost glacial at times. While it begins strongly, it is not until the last 150 pages of the book that Robinson really begins to address the question of what global warming really means for us all.
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4.0 out of 5 stars important storytelling 31 Aug 2007
By S. Egan
i enjoyed this book. ksr's trademark descriptions of nature and the landscape serve to root this novel into our greater world. in fact that is something very special about him. very few science-fiction authors have faced up to the fact that our science paradigms of progress are currently unsustainable. by giving us fictions of highly technologised futures without addressing how those technologies have been shaped by our current environmental situation we are really being provided with stories that may prove dangerous to our species.

this book squarely takes that on and faces the questions that no one seems to want to admit exist. robinson also provides some of his own ideas about how science itself can take responsibility for the paradigm shift needed to face where we find capitalism has taken us. admittedly some of this can sound a little preachy and there are a few pages which sound like a manifesto but really, it's exhilirating that someone is even thinking of this and has the guts to attempt to share their thoughts on it.

another aspect of the novel is that it doesn't get lost in epic disaster scenes. the effects of the weather changes are very realistic and the focus remains on the individuals within them. this helps prevent the reader falling into "oh disaster flick" mode. the day after tomorrow is a good film but the main emotional involvement falls into standard american adventure movie narratives. in this book we are kept in a world that could be very familiar to us and this helps keep the underlying implications real. this is really helped by a bunch of characters i found i really liked. the portrayal of "momdad" charlie is particularly resonant.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Seems like the first third of a larger volume. 13 May 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have read most of Kim Stanley Robinson's books since coming upon the Orange County books and enjoyed them greatly. I'm sorry to say that this was a disappointment. The quality of writing remains excellent, but as the characters and plot develop, you realise that you are 200 odd pages into the book, with ~100 remaining, and little has happened. I presume that this is the first in a series of books and the story will develop in "50 Degrees Below" out later this year. However, this would be like publishing the masterpiece "Red Mars" in thirds rather than one volume. Has this been a Publisher's decision rather than author?
A good first book in a series but standing alone is a little disappointing.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars OK
While not as gripping as his 'Mars, trilogy I enjoyed this book and will read the two sequels. Worth a go.
Published 3 months ago by behindthesofa
4.0 out of 5 stars It's wet
We, in England are struggling with floods but will we find solutions? It is an interesting storyline, a " what if" plot. But so real.
Published 12 months ago by S. Kelly
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good read
Speaking of the trilogy, not as good as some of his other work but a rewardable read nonetheless. Maintains his bang-on socio-economic analysis throughout and provides a bit of... Read more
Published on 19 April 2012 by jpnldn
3.0 out of 5 stars Disapointing
Like all of his books, the science and the policy background for 'Forty Signs of Rain' are well researched and engaging. Read more
Published on 27 Sep 2010 by MR GARY THOMPSON
1.0 out of 5 stars I hoped they'd drown
I liked his Mars tilogy I didn't like this. I won't be reading the next two in the trilogy. Maybe if you live in Washington DC this book speaks to you in some way. Read more
Published on 2 Aug 2010 by Mr. N. J. Keighley
1.0 out of 5 stars Simply boring
After painstakingly looking through my local library for a science fiction/fantasy/thriller to read on mundane journeys to and from work, I came across this book. Read more
Published on 21 Jan 2010 by patrick
1.0 out of 5 stars Slow Slow Slow
I'm quite ticked off with this book. I've read the Mars trilogy and one of the reviews lead me to believe that this book would not be so heavy on description. Read more
Published on 10 Mar 2008 by A. Hallett
2.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing after the 'Mars' trilogy
No, this is not as billed - most of the story is lost in the minutia of venture capital funding and the mechanics of scientific research. Read more
Published on 1 Jun 2004
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