Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson

Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson
Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson

First thrilling volume of KSR's new eco/science series

Let me start with my biases. I am a big fan of Kim Stanley Robinson (KSR), because of his hard sci-fi talent. The Red Mars/Green Mars/Blue Mars trilogy is one of my favorites. I unknowingly narrowly missed meeting KSR in Antarctica while he was researching his book of the same title, and I like to think I'm marginally responsible for some of the Antarctic tall tales that ended up in that book. But, I'm not some sycophantic fanboy -- despite my best intentions, I never really got into Years of Rice and Salt, though it seemed like an excellent work.

So, it was with great anticipation that I bought Forty Signs of Rain. I cruised through it in a very short time, and came to the end, abruptly. Maybe I'm spoiled by the hefty tomes of the Mars series, but I turned the last page, expecting I was about halfway through the story.

So, what is the story? The book follows the actions of a small group of scientists and policymakers in a near future (maybe nearer than we realize). Global warming is running amok, sea levels are rising and the whole world is fighting about what to do about it. Several gripping sub-plots and intruiges are introduced, action begins to swirl, some mysterious Tibetans are stirred in, there's some hot action in a DC subway elevator, a superstorm heads for Washington DC, and then...

The book ends.

Now, I love a cliff-hanger as much as the next guy, but this one killed me. I can't think of a single plot element that gets tied up. It's not like this is book one of a series (which it is), it's like part one of a book. If you start reading this book, be prepared to hit the brick wall at Category 5 hurricane force when you reach page 358. Curse you Robinson! You know I'll have to buy your next book as soon as you write it, so get on with it already!

On the plus side, this book is classic Robinson. As I said, I never got into the historical context of Rice and Salt (though I did learn from it where Vernor Vinge got the "Cheng Ho" in Deepness in the Sky -- but that's another review). But Forty Signs is edgy modern hard science -- there's virtually no fiction here, other than it hasn't happened -- yet. There are venture capitalists, backstabbing, the NSF, politicians, stay-at-home-dads, genetic engineering and crazy kayaking geeks. In short, it's the world we live in every day. Plus, who can resist "The League of Drowning Nations" -- led by the Dutch?

I'd have given this something close to a 10 if hitting the brick wall at the end hadn't injured my nose so much.

If your nose has proper restraint and front-impact airbags, you can go check it out.

[UPDATE:] The sequels are Fifty Below and Sixty Days and Counting (Feb 2007). I haven't read them yet, but they're on my list.