Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain shows the struggle of politicians and scientists in combating climate change in a world that does not want to believe in it. Attempts to do so are opposed every step of the way by politics and climate deniers. The book also explores the themes of family and the struggle between emotion and reason. The book as a whole depicts a society that is painfully ignorant of oncoming tragedy, commenting on our own similar attitudes toward climate change. It contains a good bit of scientific jargon, but instead of taking away from the story, it adds to the chilling realism.
The novel is slow moving throughout, but depicts a realistic struggle for change. It centers on Anna Quibler, a scientist with the NSF, and her stay-at-home husband and climate lobbyist Charlie. Anna struggles with her logical mindset, and wishes all problems were as quantitative as science. She befriends a group of Khembalis, whose island home is in danger of flooding due to global warming, and attempts to help them get a grant to aid them in their struggle. Her husband, Charlie, struggles with his role as a stay-at-home dad to their young son Joe, while simultaneously attempting to introduce a climate bill into a Congress that does not want to believe in climate change. Frank Vanderwal, an associate of Anna’s, also struggles with connecting logic and emotion, but eventually realizes that scientists must combine the two to inspire the changes necessary to combat climate change. In the end, no one is successful until it is too late.
The novel first and foremost deals with the issue of climate denial. While the family struggles are interesting, the main goal of the novel is painting a picture of a society in which important change is stuck in a gridlock of bureaucracy. This is particularly evident in Charlie’s struggle to get his climate bill introduced to Congress. His meeting with the President (who is clearly meant to represent former president Bush) shows the willingness of even highly intelligent people to ignore important signs in order to remain in power. His climate bill is later watered down and made ineffective by useless compromises. Frank’s realization that the NSF, an organization formerly focused merely on facts and reason, must venture into the realm of activism is a comment on how silent the majority of the scientific community has been in relation to climate change. Robinson issues this call to arms for scientists in order to use their expertise in the fight against climate deniers.
While slow at times, and without much action, Forty Signs of Rain contains an important portrayal of our government and its failings. It shows both what we can do to combat climate change, and what will happen if we continue to do nothing. While slow moving and sometimes difficult to understand due to scientific jargon, it presents a realistic picture of how our government slows down positive change.