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Forty Signs of Rain
Kim Stanley Robinson
Bantam, 358 pages


Art: Dominic Forbes and Tom Hallman
Forty Signs of Rain
Kim Stanley Robinson
Kim Stanley Robinson has travelled and worked in different parts of the world (including Washington, DC and in Switzerland) with his wife, Lisa, an environmental chemist. His work has garnered many awards including the Nebula Award ("The Blind Geometer" and Red Mars), the Asimov, John W.Campbell, Locus and World Fantasy Awards ("Black Air") and the Hugo Award (Green Mars).

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Nebula Awards Showcase 2002
SF Site Review: The Years of Rice and Salt
SF Site Review: Antarctica
SF Site: Kim Stanley Robinson Reading List

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

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Anna and Charlie Quibler work in Washington, both desiring to help make real changes in the world. Charlie, whose work allows him to stay home and look after the kids, is working with Senator Phil Chase to write proposals to convince the rest of the senate to take steps against global warming. Anna, along with Frank Vanderwal, has the equally frustrating task of looking over grant proposals and choosing which ones get funding and which ones don't. It's not really about deciding what is the best, most deserving. It's about those to which they can allot the money. Frank also works with a biomedical lab that's working on a project that could really help mankind, by manipulating DNA in new ways. Another company, wanting a patent that company owns, takes over Frank's company, and the research is put on the shelf, all their hard work and hopes disappearing under bureaucratic red tape.

If it doesn't sound like the world's most scintillating plot, you're right. This is pretty much all there is to the basic story. These people are all concerned with trying to find ways to apply science to helping the world become a better place health-wise, and, more importantly, environmentally, since global warming seems to be the main thing we concentrate on as we spent much of the book following Charlie and his son Joe around. That's not to say Forty Signs of Rain isn't one of the most chilling books I've ever read.

Forty Signs of Rain is probably one of the most important and thought provoking books I've read all year (and if you've been following my reviews, you know that I've read a couple of pretty thoughtful books this year) but it is not about these people. It's about how absolutely messed up our own system is. It is about how all of these fabulous discoveries and projects get snowed under by lack of funding and poor management. Companies force scientists to keep their research a secret because if there's anything good to come out of the discoveries, they want to be able to cash in. It means that people from different companies with different equipment can't compare notes and perhaps bring the projects to fruition sooner. It also means that sometimes projects are completely buried or destroyed. Greed is the key, here, and it's a tragedy.

True, science has been around for as long as we have. But what we see as a drive for science with labs and people actually able to get jobs doing it (in America at least) really happened during World War II, with the rush to build the atom bomb and other weapons. That means that science (because of its roots and the funding it still gets) has always been associated with military applications. Now, America has always tried to keep military separate from the government (something that Kim Stanley Robinson and I both fiercely agree on) but this means that science, because of its indelible connection, has kept itself from the government, as well. This book is a wake up call of sorts, to scientists in the United States especially, to go out and fight for what they believe in. Lobby the government, because they aren't military personnel, they are regular civilians and they deserve to have their voices heard. More than that, we need to have their voices heard. We need the people who are behind the discoveries and research to be the ones who help make the decisions.

I couldn't stop thinking about this book last night because of the implications Robinson creates. The forty signs of rain that give the book its title are both scientific data given in front of the chapters and different signs in the text itself, such as the incredible heat, the fact that there is a group of countries binding together because they are worried about the ocean rising and obliterating their existence. The realization that you come to, that it's probably too late for the people in the book, that it's probably too late for us, is the stuff that keeps you awake at night.

Copyright © 2004 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at www.apenandfire.com.


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