Forty Signs of Rain

Forty Signs of Rain // Fifty Degrees Below // Sixty Days and Counting by Kim Stanley Robinson (Bantam Spectra, 2004 // 2005 // 2007)

Introduced by Lesley Arrowsmith of Hay Cinema Bookshop

[Not one book, but three today…]

This is Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy about climate change, based around characters living in Washington DC in the very near future.  Although he is known as a science fiction author, it s arguable whether this trilogy counts as science fiction at all, since it is set very close to the present day, and based on things that are happening now, such as the Arctic ice cap getting smaller and thinner every year.

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Forty Signs of Rain leads up to the flooding of Washington DC; Fifty Degrees Below follows up the flood with the worst winter ever recorded in Washington, and Sixty Days and Counting refers to the assessment of the new President’s performance during his first sixty days of being in office.

I was lucky enough to go to a Kaffeeklatch at WorldCon in London in 2014 – where a small group of fans gets to chat to their favourite author around a table – and he talked about how the main character in the first book, Charlie Quibler, was based on himself when he was the main carer for his toddler son.  Charlie is also an environmental policy advisor to the US government, but there are scenes that you can see came from Kim Stanley Robinson’s own experience.  On the way to work in one scene, for instance, he automatically makes traffic noises for his son while he is waiting to cross the road – and suddenly realises that his son is not with him, and the other people waiting to cross are looking at him strangely!

In the rest of the trilogy, he switched to another main character, Frank Vanderwal, partly because his wife kept looking over his shoulder at what he was writing about Charlie and his family and saying “But I wouldn’t do that!”

Frank is also a presidential advisor, and because the floods in Washington, caused by global warming, result in a housing shortage, he spends a lot of time living in a secret tree house in the park.  I rather liked the idea of that, and the way he managed it certainly seemed plausible. 

Later, he moves in with a Buddhist community which has been exiled from their home in Tibet, and then flooded out of their new island home in the Indian Ocean by rising sea levels.

Many of the characters work for scientific laboratories, or for government agencies which are trying to deal with the effects of global warming so there’s a lot of detail about how climate change can be dealt with by governments, as well as a thriller sub-plot (who is the mysterious woman Frank meets and falls in love with in the park?) and a religious sub-plot (is toddler Joe Quibler really a re-incarnated lama, as the Buddhist community believe?).

Lots of food for thought here, with lots of interesting characters.

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