Bewildering Stories

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Book Review:
Kim Stanley Robinson, Forty Signs Of Rain
Fifty Degrees Below

by Jerry Wright

Forty Signs Of Rain
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Publisher: TOR
Hardcover: 564 pages
ISBN: 0-06-057731-2
Price: $25.00
Fifty Degrees Below
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Publisher: Bantam
Hardcover: 416 pages
ISBN: 0553803123
Price: $25.00

Welcome to two thirds of a novel. Yeah, this is a trilogy, and like many trilogies of late, it is NOT three complete novels that stand alone. On the other hand, so far I'm enjoying what I read.

Kim Stanley Robinson wrote the award winning "Mars Trilogy" a didactic (Inclined to teach or moralize excessively -- Dictionary.Com) series reviewed here. After reading those three books, I decided I didn't care that much for Robinson, or anything he had to say. I read Icehenge and discovered I still didn't care that much for Robinson.

So why am I reviewing these two eco-catastrophe books? Well... I ran into Forty Signs Of Rain about a month ago and decided to give it a chance. KSR is a good writer, although his politics leave me cold (ahem...). I picked it up and stood there reading. And 20 pages later decided that I'd give it a try. And I'm glad I did. So far, I'm really enjoying these books. We'll have to see how book #3 turns out though.

Forty Signs Of Rain details the life and thoughts of several different characters. Anna Quibler works for the National Science Foundation. Her husband Charlie is a stay-at-home dad who is a environmental consultant for a liberal (more-or-less) politician from California. Robinson is excellent at delineating the Quibler's family life, as well as the interactions of the scientists at the NSF and related organizations, including Frank Vanderwal, on loan from UCSD.

When a Buddhist delegation, whose country is being flooded because of climate change, opens an embassy near the NSF, the Quiblers befriend them and teach them to work the system of politics and grants. The Buddhists, in turn, affects Vanderwal in a true paradigm shift. Everyone shares information and theories, and believe in the threat of global warming, but they just can't seem to awaken a sense of urgency in the politicians who could do something about it. Sadly, Robinson's jabs at politicians are funny, and accurate.

Robinson seems to focus on details of the characters' lives, their work, and their thoughts, but behind it all, the specter of global warming looms. Soon there is a change here, a change there, until all the imbalances combine to bring about a catastrophe that who knows, might even wake up the DC politicians. KSR outlines quite a plausible scenario, and the science behind the troubles seem accurate. As to what will actually happen... Well, this is Science Fiction.

As to Book Two, Fifty Degrees Below, the flood that wipes out much of DC (shades of Katrina...) is just the beginning. Global Warming is not only raising the ocean level, but the millions of gallons of fresh water from the Arctic Ice Pack has stalled the Gulf Stream, and the warm water from the south is no longer flowing. And come winter, the temperature plummets.

In this second book of the trilogy, Frank Vanderwal becomes the primary viewpoint character, with occasional forays into the life of Charlie, and even less frequently, Anna. Frank is a fascinatingly complex character, and for very good and logical reasons ends up living in a tree house in the park. (Every kid's dream!)

Anyway, things are deteriorating. But wait! Could it be that science, accurately applied, and some backdoor sneakiness might help to ameliorate this oncoming catastrophe? Nyeh... Could be.

After reading Forty Signs Of Rain and enjoying it, and getting to like the characters, who frankly are just better people than those of the Mars Trilogy, I also enjoyed Fifty Degrees Below. By the way, these are not really "disaster novels", nor are they slam-bang SF. They are well-written, albeit slow-moving novels of character.

Book Two ends on a high note, but it doesn't really have a true ending. It just sort of stops. Book Three (Sixty Feet of Snow??) should finish it off properly.

Copyright © 2005 Jerry Wright and Bewildering Stories

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