Hello is this the government I would like to talk to science

It’s probably fair to say that Forty Signs of Rain is more compelling than it has any right to be. I’m probably an outlier in that I’ve never really considered science and the environment and politics boring by any means; if you want to give me the GRIPPING DRAMA OF DRAFTING ENVIRONMENTAL LEGISLATION AND NATIONAL SCIENCE POLICY I’ll say yes, please, and without the irony. But the book is really successful at framing that stuff in the context of characters and human drama that keep things from getting too dry or technical, and there’s something anybody with any sort of activist leaning or interest can relate to in the book’s cast of desperate Cassandra. Even the smug, cynical know-it-all Frank gets to be an engaging and nuanced person in spite of what a sleazy jerk he is. There’s something I really like in how the book tries to reconcile the scientific and the human, the detached, somewhat condescending position that aims to be purely objective and free of the limitations and uncertainty of myopic human subjectivity, and the unavoidable fact that no human will ever be free of bias and the limitations of their own perspective. Characters who start off trying to be avatars of pure reason eventually learn that there are other ways to look at things, that striving for pure reason is its own kind of madness, and even though it eventually takes the book on a weird tangent that’s fairly minor but still baffling and distracting (I’m not sure I needed the ancient Tibetan prophecy that’s just a little too on-the-nose, or the “they think my son might be a reincarnated lama” subplot), on the whole I think it’s a really effective and important theme.

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