Book Review: Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson

Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Publisher: Bantam Spectra

Summary:  The bestselling author of the classic Mars trilogy and The Years of Rice and Salt returns with a riveting new trilogy of cutting-edge science, international politics, and the real-life ramifications of global warming as they are played out in our nation’s capital—and in the daily lives of those at the center of the action. Hauntingly realistic, here is a novel of the near future that is inspired by scientific facts already making headlines.

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 breakup started in July. The third year it began in May. That was last year.

It’s an increasingly steamy summer in the nation’s capital as Senate environmental staffer Charlie Quibler cares for his young son and deals with the frustrating politics of global warming. Charlie must find a way to get a skeptical administration to act before it’s too late—and his progeny find themselves living in Swamp World. But the political climate poses almost as great a challenge as the environmental crisis when it comes to putting the public good ahead of private gain. 

While Charlie struggles to play politics, his wife, Anna, takes a more rational approach to the looming crisis in her work at the National Science Foundation. There a proposal has come in for a revolutionary process that could solve the problem of global warming—if it can be recognized in time. But when a race to control the budding technology begins, the stakes only get higher. As these everyday heroes fight to align the awesome forces of nature with the extraordinary march of modern science, they are unaware that fate is about to put an unusual twist on their work—one that will place them at the heart of an unavoidable storm. 

With style, wit, and rare insight into our past, present, and possible future, this captivating novel propels us into a world on the verge of unprecedented change—in a time quite like our own. Here is Kim Stanley Robinson at his visionary best, offering a gripping cautionary tale of progress—and its price—as only he can tell it.

I've read and very much enjoyed Seveneves so I figured I'd give KSR a read on his climate fiction trilogy. I've only ever read one other climate fiction book and it was an anthology that I felt was a bit hit or miss so I still don't know if my scifi loving heart extends too far into this sub-genre. Or, I should just stick to the summer blockbuster movies where the CGI is gripping with great sheets of ice dramatically falling away and crazy mega waves wiping out coastal regions while actors go on about oceanic desalinisation rates and jet stream consequences. Because I have to say, after reading this, I think I like the watching more than the reading of CliFi.

Technically there's nothing wrong with KSR's story but it feels like it's mostly set up for the big stuff. All the pieces are present: the impending catastrophe, the scientists tasked with a solution, the politicians & politics that must also participate in the solution & the inevitable masses who will suffer no matter what, while fewer survive & will probably wish they hadn't at some point. This makes me think that the strength of the total story of Seveneves was served by making it a big damned book instead of splitting it. I've a sneaking suspicion that I'll like the next book in this series better and likely will feel similarly about part of the third. Unfortunately, as I've read the first, I'm not inclined to jump right into the second. It was a quick enough read but I have to admit that I'm glad this wasn't my introduction to KSR because I'm fairly sure I'd not go on.

I'd only recommend this for CliFi fans, those who can roll with KSR's story telling (there's a pacing & tech spec info thing that occurs which seems to be his way) or those who are just looking to binge all three books in a week (doable).

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