Top positive review
2 people found this helpful
An ambitious work and a convincing vision of climate change
on 22 April 2008
"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. In addition, a great deal of space is afforded to the fortunes of one Leo Mulhouse, a scientist working at a biotech startup in California - although the technical details of his work are impenetrable to the average reader, and his role in the longer term seems to be largely inconsequential.
"Forty Signs of Rain" is an ambitious work, dealing with what is arguably the biggest issue of modern times but on a largely human rather than a technical-scientific level. More measured and less sensational than, for example, "The Day After Tomorrow", this is a convincing depiction of how climate change could manifest itself, as well as of how it will surely affect our lives. To write a work of fiction on such a topic - the very scale of which lies almost beyond human comprehension - is no mean task, but Robinson has met the challenge well and set firm foundations for this series. I thoroughly look forward to reading the second book in the trilogy, "Fifty Degrees Below".