Book Review: Forty Signs of Rain

40SignsOfRainby Michael D. Pederson


Forty Signs of Rain
Kim Stanley Robinson
Bantam Books, 355 pp.

Set in the nation’s capital, Forty Signs centers around Charlie and Anna Quibler—the name alone tells you that there’s a little humor here to help lighten things up. Charlie is an environmental policy advisor and work-from-home dad; Anna is a director of bioinformation at the National Science Foundation. The two Quiblers are the driving force and emotional heart of the story but I found the supporting characters to be equally fascinating. Anna’s co-worker, Frank, provides the cynical POV and seems to be Robinson’s outlet for venting his opinions on the state of the scientific community. Most interesting though are a group of Buddhist monks that have moved to Washington to lobby for environmental reform—their island nation is endangered by rising ocean levels. Add in a decreasing Arctic ice pack and a heat wave and you have the recipe for an eco-disaster novel. However, there are no apocalyptic storms destroying city blocks and hurling billboards and SUVs helter skelter; it’s not that kind of disaster novel. Instead, Robinson treats us to a leisurely-paced story that serves as a very intriguing introduction to a new series. Pure enjoyment.


Book Review: The Years of Rice and Salt

YearsOfRiceAndSaltby Michael D. Pederson


The Years of Rice and Salt
Kim Stanley Robinson
Bantam Books, 763 pp.

Multiple Hugo award winner, Kim Stanley Robinson is a writer that continues to draw me in with fascinating premises, rich characterizations, and top-notch writing but somehow manages to always leave me feeling slightly disappointed. The Years of Rice and Salt (nominated for a Best Novel Hugo) is an alternate universe story that imagines a world where the Black Death has killed of 99% of the European population, leaving world history to be written by the now dominant Buddhist and Islamic cultures. Robinson recreates 1,400 years of history through a series of stories that cover a grand range of human emotions and milestones. Familiar scientific discoveries are made by Islamic alchemists, a Chinese invasion fleet is driven off course and discovers the New World, and Native Americans (the Hodenosaunee League) unite to form their own nation. Any one of the ten chapters could easily stand on its own as a fascinating novella studying an individual segment of this new history. Unfortunately, Robinson chooses to link the stories together by reincarnating three main characters over and over again in each sequence. It’s a cheap, tired gimmick that fails to deliver in the end.