Friday, October 9, 2015

Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson

There’s a new genre of fiction that is becoming ever more popular – climate fiction, or cli fi. Plots are focused on the environment and especially our planet’s climate. Climate fiction is benefitting from the fact that dystopian and apocalyptic novels are super hot right now – or maybe climate fiction is helping drive that popularity.

The Galesburg Public Library’s Food for Thought book discussion group found the water shortage dystopian novel Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis to not be scientific enough in explaining how we as a society could reach such a crisis. Then we discussed Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain, and we found it to be a little too scientific. We all at times felt a little overwhelmed by the facts, background information, and explanations of primate behavior and how the scientific proposal and grant process works.

Still, those who finished the book were glad they had done so, and we all agreed it could make a great movie.

Most of the book is set up – the flooding crisis in Washington DC does not take place until the last 100 pages. But there are two more books in the series so Robinson could take his time introducing his characters. Scientists, politicians, biomathematicians at a start-up, and refugees from a low-lying island nation all meet and interact as we are fed the circumstances driving the planet toward an environmental crisis.

It’s refreshing to have a male author writing about a lactating working mother whose husband works from home and assumes most of the childcare. Their toddler is a real character in the book, not just a plot device.

The politics in the book (published in 2004) seem all too real. The animals in the Washington zoo are released to fend for themselves as the city floods, something that recently happened in the country of Georgia. I often wonder how so many Americans can vote against their own interests, and one of Robinson’s characters agrees:  “You work every day of the year, except for three lousy weeks. You make around a hundred thousand dollars. Your boss takes two thirds, and gives you one third, and you give a third of that to the government. Your government uses what it takes to build all the roads and schools and police and pensions, and your boss takes his share and buys a mansion on an island somewhere. So naturally you complain about your bloated inefficient Big Brother of a government, and you always vote for the pro-owner party….How stupid is that?” (p. 74)

Quite a few times as I read Forty Signs of Rain I found myself thinking “Yes, that’s so true!” Another example:

“The battle for control of science went on. Many administrations and Congresses hadn’t wanted technology or the environment assessed at all, as far as Anna could see. It might get in the way of business. They didn’t want to know. …And yet they did want to call the shots. …On what basis did they build such an incoherent mix of desires, to want to stay ignorant and to be powerful as well? Were these two parts of the same insanity?” (p. 114-115)     
If you agree that climate change is a real planetary issue that needs to be addressed and don’t mind a fair amount of facts and figures, you might enjoy Forty Signs of Rain. If you think climate change is a load of bunk or just don’t think we can afford to do anything about it, the book would probably just make you mad.

The Galesburg Public Library owns all three books in Robinson’s Science in the Capitol series.

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