25 Years of Spectra: FORTY SIGNS OF RAIN (2004) by Kim Stanley Robinson


Kim Stanley Robinson, who already made our list with Red Mars, now discusses the first book in his Science in the Capital series, Forty Signs of Rain. His editor on this series, Anne Groell, also includes here thoughts.

fortysigns.jpg“My trip with the National Science Foundation to Antarctica, in 1995, had put me in contact with many scientists who were very concerned about climate change, and when writing my novel Antarctica I used these concerns to place that novel in a world affected by global warming. A couple years later, when climate scientists analyzed the data from the Greenland ice cores, and began to talk about “abrupt climate change,” I thought this was an exciting and important topic for a science fiction novel. I also wanted to talk about how science worked in our political system, and in the private sector as it developed the possibilities of bio-technology, which also looked like it might have geo-engineering possibilities applicable to climate change problems. And I wanted to write about our years in Washington DC, as part of the description of the science/government interaction.

So all these elements joined several more to become another trilogy, which I call “Science in the Capital.” I wanted to start the novel as a realist domestic novel about life in Washington DC, which then “abruptly” became a science fiction novel after the quick onset of climate change, caused by melted fresh water in the north Atlantic stalling the Gulf Stream. I also wanted it to be a utopian novel, ultimately, and a comedy. A realist utopian black comedy about climate change? Why not! A new genre was needed as well as a new style.

I am lucky that the fine team at Spectra continued to support me in this experiment. This was the beginning of my work with my editor Anne Groell, who taught me things about sentence making that I will use for the rest of my career. And again I owe thanks to Chris Artis, Irwyn Applebaum, and Nita Taublib; and, as always, to my friend and agent Ralph Vicinanza.

By now Forty Signs of Rain is almost a historical novel, with the science fictional future appearing only late in the concluding volume, Sixty Days and Counting. Before we all begin to take the present moment for granted, however, I’d like to point out that the Science in the Capital trilogy predicted, among smaller things, all these: the preeminent importance of climate change in contemporary affairs; a Katrina-like flooding of an American city; the submersion of an island in the Ganges delta; the widespread discussion of geo-engineering methods to combat climate change; and an Obama-like president to lead the effort to take on these challenges. Some of these developments were obvious, others not. I like having succeeded at the Jules Verne task of science fiction as prediction of the future, but I think the trilogy will also stand as an artistic expression of how things felt during the first decade of this century, with all its fears and hopes.”

–Kim Stanley Robinson, June 2010


Forty Signs of Rain was the first Kim Stanley Robinson book that I ever worked on, and I have to admit I was a bit intimidated going in. I mean, Stan had a storied history already. He was a Name Player. But it quickly proved to be a great match. For one thing, a lot of that book was about scientists, and I knew scientists. (Before entering publishing, I was a PhD candidate in developmental biology, and spent for years in a science lab, cheek by jowl with scientists, before dropping out with a Master’s degree.) And then… Well, it was just a damned cool book. Totally impossible to describe, but damned cool.

What is the book? Well, it’s about climate change, but it’s not exactly an eco-thriller, because it is too quiet, and really mostly about people’s every day lives. But it is also, in its quiet way, completely gripping; you really can’t stop reading. Its heroes are scientists and politicians and Buddhists. And it is filled with a plethora of amazing facts. And really, that it what I kept coming back to. What is the book? Well, let me tell you something amazing that I learned from it today. I probably drove everyone around me crazy for a while, quoting facts from the book. And how often does a book both edify and entertain?”

–Anne Groell, Senior Editor, Spectra


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