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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".
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on 31 August 2007
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.

it may sound odd given the subject matter but i actually felt a bit better about climate change after reading this book than before. climate change is such a vast and frightening potential that kim stanley robinson has done us a great service by going into that scenario and providing a clear sighted exploration. he makes it easier to think about and only when we think about it and accept it as a potential can we truly work to do something about it.
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on 25 May 2004
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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on 13 May 2005
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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on 27 September 2010
Like all of his books, the science and the policy background for 'Forty Signs of Rain' are well researched and engaging. However this book and the remainder of the trilogy are let down by a cast of major characters who are at best annoying and are at times just unappealing. A disappointment.
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on 19 April 2012
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 hope in today's dire state of cimactic affairs.
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on 19 September 2013
We, in England are struggling with floods but will we find solutions? It is an interesting storyline, a " what if" plot. But so real.
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on 23 June 2014
While not as gripping as his 'Mars, trilogy I enjoyed this book and will read the two sequels. Worth a go.
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on 21 January 2010
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. Being an avid fan of these genres and a keen geographer, this book looked like the one for me. I read the back cover and the reviews; they seemed promising. I left the library, pleased with my loan.

The author paints the characters well; the first one hundred pages delve deep into their minds, their backgrounds and the plot is clearly outlined early on. This did become slightly tedious and I became agitated with the lack of action but I decided to endeavour further into the novel.

However, after 200 pages, I was dismayed by the derisroy level of drama involved; after all this is meant to be a book to inspire us to avoid climate change! If recreational rock climbing and baby feeding is classified under the banners abovementioned, I may never read again! There is a significant lack of tension anywhere in the book and it is only as you reach the last few pages do you feel any craving to flip to the next page (yes I did read to the end just to find out what was the point of the whole thing).

I would urge you to avoid this book, even if you are interested in world climatic disasters and anything of that sort. This book deservedly gets a one star from me.
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on 3 March 2016
Good as I remember it thanks JNR
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