Forty Signs of Boredom

Kim Stanley Robinson’s third-person narrative “Forty Signs of Rain” is the living embodiment of a literary precautionary tale that follows the lives of the novel’s main characters, and the divesting effects of a storm which happens in the end. In this sense, the precautionary tale morphs into a “call-to-action” commentary to Congress and all levels of Government to enforce legislation and pass mandatory climate effective Precautionary Principle Laws. It is important to note, Precautionary Principle is a regulatory outline for policy-making that anticipates how homosapiens’ interferences with the planet will effect existing and future life, atmospheric layers, land/soil variances, rain/snow fall, and sea levels: in an attempt to construct positive, proactive solutions to offset any negative results. Succinctly, this is why FEMA exists, because it is extremely complicated to create and implement an effectively agreeable precautionary outline; many factors must be considered and specialists consulted.

There are five key elements to consider in designing Precautionary Principle Laws: (1) Anticipatory Action: this is the dominating justification point as it mandates that all individuals within the communal area (Governments, businesses, community groups, and the general public) have an implied shared responsibility to take preventative measures to thwart any harm to the community; (2) Right to Know: the community has an inherent right to full disclosure of accurate information on potential health and environmental impacts associated with the selection of products, services, operations, and plans designed to offset negative occurrences. The burden to supply this information falls on the governing agencies, not with the general public; (3) Alternatives Assessment: this obligates the agencies, FEMA for instance, to evaluate multiple alternative rebuild and resource distribution proposals with the least negative impact on human health and the environment, including the alternative of doing nothing; (4) Full Cost Accounting: this is the financial feasibility to enact an outlined response to a disaster; there is an obligation to consider all the reasonably estimative expenditures, including raw materials, manufacturing, transportation, cleanup, eventual disposal, and health risks costs, even if such costs are not reflected in the initial price; as well as, the short and long-term benefits and time thresholds; (5) Participatory Decision Process: decisions applying the Precautionary Principle must be transparent, and constructed with the best available science and all other relevant information. With this in mind, the construct of “Forty Signs of Rain” is just as complicated as preparing this type of doctrine.

Whereas the vast majority of literature has one main protagonist, the complication of “Forty Signs of Rain” lays in the fact that the novel has several essential characters that create its storyline, and assists in the progressive flow and development of the tracing climate-change theme. Given that this book is the first in a trilogy, it is not uncommon for the plot to be inundated with descriptive details to build the story’s foundation for readers. However its formation of facts, imaginative prose, and multiple characters’ developments are what makes the novel difficult to focus on with any cognitive concentrated efforts of interest, for which there was none. There are various plots and characters’ developments that become convoluted and difficult to keep track. However, from the onset of the first page of the novel it is clear that this story is about climate-change. Robinson’s book is devoted to the negative effects climate-change is having on environments globally, this is why the setting is Washington DC in the National Science Foundation (NSF). The author cleverly focuses the narrative around climate-change in the United States by inserting the need of a small, economically depressed island nation, Khembalung, and how climate-change has caused ocean levels to rise putting its citizens in grave danger. By developing the storyline of helping a less fortunate nation before their climate-change problems become those of the United States, Robinson brings to light the responsibility that congress has to take the issue of climate-change more seriously; thus, emphasizing the need to create and mandate a more effect financial budget that will allow the United States, and all world nations, to act more responsibly with regard to the issues of negative climate-change by enacting an effective Precautionary Principle Plan.

Due to the elaborate, overly developed, compound, background themes and individual characters’ descriptive formations, this is not a book one should consider as an introduction to the genre of cli-fi; only fans of sci-fi and cli-fi would consider this book worth reading. This review contains the same amount of enthusiasm as did the experience of reading this novel, which is lackluster and uninspiringly poor. Comparatively, “Forty Signs of Rain” is a poor, incompetently executed, horrendous rendition of multi-sequenced characterized dramas such as the movies Crash or 11:14, both movies were interesting and enjoyable to watch unlike reading this book.

Her Forty Signs

Although this was a long book and dragged in the beginning I liked reading the background info of the main characters, to see their beliefs, struggles, and passions. Unfortunately, after 7 books into the semester, I still don’t like the part of the stories that focus on the terminology of climate change (science was never my forte). One point that really stuck with me was when Charlie claims that it is “easier to destroy the world than to change capitalism even one little bit”. Robinson’s strong distaste for politics and corporate/capitalistic greed is shown through Charlie. Charlie’s frustration with how Senator Phil Chase and the rest of the United States Government’s refusal to make any real changes on environmental policies, even when climate disaster were directly affecting them.

I liked that the setting was placed in Washington D.C., because I think Robinson’s intention was to tell them (politicians) that it will affect them too. All the dirty politics and backdoor deals affect the larger group and should go beyond money and power. I appreciated that Robinson a male author, shared both the financial and family burdens, it’s a reality that most families are obligated to manage. I thought it was cute how the couple’s professions were rooted in the same cause. Also I found the attention Robinson gave to Anne and Charlie’s children was important, because they signify the future, and that they will have to deal with climate change effects more than their parents.

“The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered ‘Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices his money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die and then dies having never really lived’” Although this quote does not mention climate change or the government, it reminds me of this story. In our society we are concerned with financing a luxurious lifestyle, unworried about the environmental and health fears that we pay. He explains this is a cycle and in the end our hard work is damaging.

Forty Signs that Frank’s a Creep

This novel certainly had a different perspective than most books about climate change which I appreciated. The multiple points of views helped the reader to understand both the scientific and political aspects of the behind the scenes effort that goes into climate change policies. It really helped that the characters of Anna and Charlie were so realistic and normal. Being a casual couple with two young kids who still maintained their busy work lives was impressive but not totally surprising as it’s something that most parents have to do (though most parents don’t essentially have jobs that entail saving the earth from a climatic catastrophe). From their couple-y nicknames that make you baby barf in your mouth to their constant phone calls expressing their worry and concern, you can’t help but feel the affection in their relationship which strengthens the reader’s bond to the story. These two characters are so realistic that you could probably find a very similar couple on the street in real life. Which brings me to the third main character, Frank, whom I hope nobody could meet in real life.

Frank was a strange character to me from beginning to end. For the first half of the book, I kind of understood his analytical viewpoints since he’s a scientist and he can’t help looking at the world through his scientific lens. Though I must admit, his views romantic relationships took his approach way out of my comfort zone. The way he looked through the section of the newspaper filled with people advertising themselves and their romantic needs was pretty weird and personally unsettling. What really took it too far for me was his encounter with the woman on the metro. He actually had the mindset to follow her out of the metro and into the elevator simply because he liked her physical appearance. I don’t know about anybody else reading that part, but that screamed rapist/stalker to me and made me beyond uncomfortable; uncomfortable enough to start verbally expressing my discomfort to my very confused friend who was sitting next to me. It only got worse, though, when he made extended efforts to get in contact with this woman after his elevator encounter. I know that people who have read this novel often praise Robinson’s realistic portrayals of characters and situations, but I hope the character of Frank is far from realistic.

Forty Signs of Climate Change

I really liked this book a lot. I found the book to be incredibly engaging, especially since the characters were relatable and real. I liked that reading it was not a chore, and I actually finished it rather quickly. The parts I liked most about the book were indeed the characters, and not necessarily the actually plot. I found the plot to be rather humdrum in some places, in particular any time we got an “inside look” at NSF, something I never want again. I think that Kim Stanley Robinson does a really good job of setting up a Washington D.C. that is very familiar to us, but at the same time slightly different. He never gives us a date or a time for this story, so there is nothing to say that it isn’t tomorrow. The “near-future” genre of sci-fi that he chooses to work with is interesting to me, this genre allows the reader to feel a part of the story more so than someone reading a book about a time that they may never live through. It is very possibly, practical in fact that we will see climate related weather changes in our life times. That is what makes this book so gripping. There is an interesting interplay amongst the politics and science of the book, and that is interesting to read for someone who knows very little about both.

The book does not however, make science more fun, enjoyable, or entertaining. I found a lot of the scientists in the book to be big headed, and very annoying, for lack of a better word. They all seem to suffer from a complex of “what I’m doing is more important than what you’re doing, and everyone needs to listen to me”, they honestly would be better off not speaking sometimes. The science of the book is interesting, but only to an extent, and when I say interesting I know that makes it sound like it wasn’t boring, as they are opposites, but the science was interesting in the way that a documentary about the production of cheese is interesting, mildly at best. The science-stricken parts did not however turn me off entirely to the book because I liked seeing how different characters reacted to the same stimuli, or facts.

A rather interesting part for me was the wide variety of characters in this book. We have, to name a few, shaman from the island nation of Khembalung, senators, world-renowned scientists, power-couple Anna and Charlie, and Frank the asshole. These characters show a wide variety of opinions and views about the matters discussed in the book, and I’m rather curious as to why Robinson did not make a bigger deal out of the shaman. I found them to be fascinating, perhaps because this is a trilogy, but the information that Charlie uncovers about them towards the end of the book when trapped in his office is one of the most interesting parts of the story, and its forty pages before the end of the book. I would actually consider reading Fifty Degrees Below merely to find out whether or not Joe is a reincarnated shaman with magic powers, because that is certainly the impression I got from the ending of the book. The other characters are all contrasting kinds of scientific expression; we have Frank, the stubborn rationalist who is slightly misogynistic. We also have Anna, who is a wonderful scientist who also cares deeply about the issues at hand and the science behind them, and then we have Charlie, who is more of an extremist or radical, caring almost too much about the issue to actually affect change. These different types of personalities had to be purposeful because they are very well constructed to contrast each other and show the different perspective of the story from.

I think that this book connects most to class when we consider that there is nothing being done about climate change until it is actually at the president’s doorstep. This is what we have been saying in class all along. There will be nothing done until the president has to swim over to air force one to evacuate, and that is the sad truth. This book brings home a lot of the points we’ve discussed and captures the real issues of climate change very well.

40 Signs of Rain and What’s next….

This was a compelling read. I felt the characters were well rounded and relative to everyday life. Coming from the perspective of a person who is starting to grasp the science fiction and the whole idea of climate change, this novel allowed me to think in a more significant way. What struck out the most aside from the characters, was the different scenarios in which the author showed in building a case for climate change or science in general. All of the politics that goes into getting funding and your message out about initiatives was presented in a way that I could see a lot of this happening.

There were not a lot of theatrics but bare boned discussion and situations that I would say is everyday life. While it could have had some stronger high moments (the biggest one was when Frank broke into the office to get is resignation letter and the elevator tryst:-) so some might see it as boring it did have some moments where you felt sorry, mad and disappointed in how hard it is to get a project off of the ground. I really was getting pissed when the group of scientist were deciding whether or not to give funding and I felt like why does is it in the hands of a few to make a decision about something that is much bigger than that group of people.

Towards the end with the chunks of cliff falling, animals escaping from the zoo it kind of brought things full circle. It showed that cause and effect and brought it back to climate change is a real and that we as a society need to take note. It is a collective idea that requires much work and attention. While this book is fiction based it has enough relevance for you to want to do research and find out more about this idea and where we are currently.

I am not compelled to read the trilogy because too much of this will make me depressed. Will recommend to others.

Forty Shades of Rain

Although this book was absolutely and horrifically long, I actually did enjoy parts of it. I say “parts” only because a lot of it was very science-y, if you will, which was to be expected. In class on Wednesday, we discussed whether or not we thought Kim Stanley Robinson made this science sound more exciting through poetic writing rather than the cold hard facts, and I have to say I agree. Even though part of the reason I wasn’t married to the book was because of all the science Kim Stanley Robinson did manage to make it readable and more interesting. Ten points for Kim Stanley Robinson. A part of the book I did really like was the part where Frank had a romantic encounter in the elevator. I think that provided a more human touch to the book (not that the book was very non-human anyway) and helped make it a little more relatable while also striking an emotional cord because we all assume that something bad is probably going to happen. I think the connection to climate change in this book is painstakingly obvious. A massive rainstorm, the Hyperniño, hits the West Coast; obviously triggered by climate change. Along with this there is another huge storm that generates in the Atlantic Ocean that floods Washington, D.C., trapping the scientists in the capitol building. In the second to last line of the book, Charlie finds he can hardly contain his “I-told-you-so” attitude about this entire situation and bursts out, “So, Phil [the senator]! Are you going to do something about global warming now?” (393). Overall, I thought the book was just fine. Not as good as Climate Changed (the graphic novel) but DEFINITELY not as bad as Earth Abides. Also, I agree with the majority when I say that Kim Stanley Robinson really is a fantastic writer. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys lots of science, politics, and the idea of meeting mysterious women in elevators.


Forty Signs of Rain: Effective Boredom

             Forty Signs of Rain is a clearly well written novel about the scientific/ political landscape through which the issue of climate change must navigate. As far as my knowledge goes, this is a very realistic and scarily plausible account of what could happen in real life. As I read this book, I could not tell if it was intended to be a warning or simply a story told by a concerned author. Kim Stanley Robinson’s ability to combine plot, character development, and science is quite effective. In many instances, people who do not have much prior knowledge about climate change can be put off by overly scientific language. I cannot say that I disagree; often times scientific literature can be as interesting as reading an Ikea instruction manual. In many ways, books such as Forty Signs of Rain are exactly what the scientific community and the regular population needs. People need a solid blend of relateableness and raw facts. Robinson begins each chapter with a page or two of scientific information before continuing with the story. We get to know and like a wide array of people who have some sort of presence in the scientific/environmental field. In my opinion, this is the vessel that may potentially get people to the destination of understanding the seriousness of climate change. It can be truly difficult to describe this phenomenon because in reality we cannot know which forms it will take. It is because of this that the climate deniers can poke holes in the issue. They can say “see, even the experts don’t know what will happen.” This is exactly the kind of short sighted, simplistic mind state that is preventing us from achieving any progress. While it is true that we do not know how climate change will play out, we do know that it will affect the overall climate of Earth. In many cases people confuse the idea of climate with weather, when weather is really just a part of the overall climate. When people talk about impacting the climate, they are talking about how as humans we are directly influencing the very fragile chemical and systematic equilibrium of the Earth. The Earth in essence is its own living entity, and when you alter one aspect of it, say the chemical composition of the atmosphere, this throws out the overall balance, which can in turn affect weather, pressure patterns, overall temperatures, oceanographic flows, and many, many other aspects. In a way, the climate is like an ecosystem in that if an outside party does something to one particular species, it disrupts its entire dynamic. While impacting our climate is a rather broad and somewhat incomprehensible idea in and of itself, through books like Forty Signs of Rain we can all picture how it will affect everyone’s lives when the planet as we know it is out of balance. Forty Signs of Rain describes one such possibility, which is that eventually we will be forced to face extreme weather events, and this is an inevitable result of climate change. This is something that we are already seeing. While the book is set in the near future most likely, we are already starting to see such events.

I think that Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a very effective book. His point definitely gets across to the reader by the end. I do think, however, that it could have been about 200 pages shorter. After I finished reading the first 200 pages for class last week, my first thought was, geez, I just read 200 pages of a book and absolutely nothing happened. I truly thought if someone asked me what was the book about I could not have come up with an answer. From those first 200 pages, I think he talked about Anna’s breast milk and Charlie getting Joe to drink it more than anything else. I couldn’t for the life of me think of how this served any purpose to the overall story. Part of me wanted Kim to be a female author to reduce this level of oddness. Nonetheless, Kim turned it around in the second half. You realize that by the end, all of the boring droning done by Charlie and other characters was simply to illustrate how these things work in Washington. If one has a passion for a certain topic or issue he or she must do a bunch of horribly boring and tedious work to get any type of progress. I think that democracies such as ours are able to pass some truly evil bills and suspicious legislation because it is masked by dry, old politicians droning in what they would claim to be English but resembles more 18th century legal language on the CSPAN network. Most people could watch a politician try to pass a ban on breathing, and not even know that its happening let alone stay awake long enough to hear them say more than two sentences. I think that in the end Robinson created an interesting and realistic work. I also think that he is taking the stance that something terrible must happen first in order for people to care, but as a student studying this, I like to remain more hopeful in that we can take some real action soon.

Forty Signs of Rain: Boring in the Best Way

Kim Stanley Robinson’s Forty Signs of Rain is not destined to become a summer blockbuster nor is there adventure on every turn of the page. If there was, I’d think the book was pretty weird and missed the point completely. As it stands, this is a really intriguing start to a trilogy with a powerful ending that matches the rest of the book.

There’s something about the goings on of Washington that really interests me, but I never had the chance to explore the scientific side to politics, or the very little that politicians seem to know about science. This novel sort of acted like a scientific/political procedural complete with meetings, offices, talking, and meetings. There was even some interesting stuff about biology that didn’t seem to have a whole lot to do with the story, but was still interesting to read about.

Now I do have gripes with the book. Like Kingsolver did in Flight Behavior, there is some rambling on about things that really meant nothing to me. What does breast pumping and Charlie’s sex life have to do with anything? It was just black on a page to me at that point. In fact, most of Charlie hanging out with Joe at the park was pretty pointless to me too, and I forgot about until just now that Charlie, at one point, saved Joe from getting hit by a car. It just wasn’t important to the story and might as well have never happened.

Still, Forty Signs of Rain is my favorite of all the books we’ve read so far, and I’m actually interested in finishing this trilogy and picking up some other works of Robinson. Just the way people talked to each other about the science and the politics was very interesting and made me want to keep reading. It also succeeded at making climate change and global warming realer than any other book so far.

“Traditional” Cli-fi from Kim Stanley Robinson

When I first heard the word “cli-fi,” this is exactly the sort of novel I envisioned. Kim Stanley Robinson’s 40 Signs of Rain is rife with scientist characters, discussions of global warming, dubious politics, and a sardonic caricature of President George W. Bush. These are all of the ingredients necessary for a perfect work of climate change fiction (Dan Bloom’s terminology of choice). Yet, I am quite ambivalent towards Robinson’s novel, and perhaps towards this genre as a whole. My primary gripes with 40 Signs of Rain are quite similar to some of the problems I addressed with Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior: the lack of significant action and the flat characters.

I really am willing to forgive the slow pacing within cli-fi novels. Realistically, climate change-related disasters are not something we can foresee very ahead, so it only makes sense that novelists within this sub-genre choose to depict disasters as unpredicted surprises rather than easily predictable events for which everyone is already bracing themselves. However, when I read a novel, I really do want some meaningful events to occur. It took over 300 pages before anything truly exciting happened in this novel. Now, I don’t necessarily want all of the books I read to be novelistic forms of Hollywood disaster films, but I want them to have some meaningful action. In Robinson’s first novel in his “Science in the Capital” trilogy, I felt like he was just describing to readers the predictably ordinary lives of predictably ordinary scientists. While the writing quality I quite good, there is just nothing about the first three quarters of this novel that I found to be truly captivating. The only interesting scenes for me were when the politics of science is discussed, and I would have liked to read some more sections about this highly relevant issue of the struggle between bureaucracy and scientific progress.

Another issue I had with 40 Signs of Rain was its characters. I found nearly every character in this book to be utterly stagnant and boring. The only character who really undergoes any sort of drastic change is Frank, and I felt that the romantic scene which serves as the catalyst for Frank’s change of heart was just predictably hackneyed and maudlin. Additionally, both of the Quibler parents seemed to remain the same throughout the novel. I feel like Robinson’s goal was to depict the lives of the ordinary people who are battling against the bureaucracy and struggling to make great strides in the fields of science. This truly is a noble and interesting idea, especially in 200 when this novel was first published. However, I just wish that Robinson had written more likeable and interesting characters to serve as his, for lack of a better phrase, everyday heroes.

As I believe about many contemporary novels, I believe that 40 Signs of Rain could have benefited from a great deal of trimming. Robinson could have cut out all of the fat (i.e.: the elevator romance, the poison ivy, Frank’s love of rock climbing, etc.) and built up upon the struggle between politicians and scientists. If he had done so, I believe 40 Signs of Rain could have been a greatly important and well-written novel about the struggle of science vs. politics vs. climate change. As it stands, Robinson’s novel is quite messy and long-winded, but there are some very interesting themes and ideas at play underneath it all. 40 Signs of Rain’s characters did not captivate me enough to wish to continue reading his “Science in the Capital” series. However, Robinson seems to have some really interesting ideas and a talent as an author. I would certainly consider reading another one of his works in the future.