14 Down, 38 Left (52 Weeks, 52 Books)

Kim Stanley Robinson is most lauded for his landmark work, the Mars Trilogy, in which he documents the centuries-long terraforming and colonisation of Mars. Based on hard science and rich understanding of anthropology and social behaviour, Robinson created a true sci-fi epic, albeit grounded firmly in reality. It absolutely blew my mind when I read Robinson’s highly detailed descriptions of everything from thin atmospheric rocket science to evolutionary biotech to er, polygamy.

Before this, the closest thing I’d read in sci-fi that vaguely approached hard science was Isaac Asimov’s positronic robots, which with apologies to Sir Asimov, were complete and utter bullshit (although his geosynchronous orbit theories turned out to be prophetic update: Oops, geosynchronous orbits’d be Arthur C. Clarke, innit? My bad.) Of course, there’re the usual Willam Gibson and Philip K Dick, but Gibson never bothered explaining the science, and Dick… well, let’s not even go there.

In any case, Kim Stanley Robinson gave me the first rush of optimisim about science and it’s role in our future. Which ironically brings me back to Forty Signs of Rain, basically a novel-length negative warning on our impending apocalypse as a result of now-inescapable climate change. But this is no Day After Tomorrow, mind. Rather, it’s about capitalism and politics, and how the current paradigm we live in needs to shift in order to survive. Global warming is a reality, but there’re still people in power who still think the Earth is flat. The US is throwing away billions every day in Iraq, while mere pittances (relatively) are spent on minimising climate change. Scientific breakthroughs are hidden as trade secrets to secure patent rights instead of released for research and discourse. Our entire way of life is structured around economic wealth, but then as Robinson mentions in the book, ‘economics has no mechanism for dealing with catastrophe‘.

One of Robinson’s greatest talents is the ensemble cast, approaching a massive problem from different perspectives. So here, we have environmental lobbyists, scientific grant officials and lab scientists all chipping away at the big, ugly machine that is politics (and its big brother, Big Business). I’m glad he doesn’t resort to Hollywood histrionics and huge CGI disasters but instead focuses on things like pushing conservation bills, drowning sea-level island nations and the allocation of scientific grants. Instead of scaring people into merely reusing a plastic bag or two, he’s outlining realistic macro solutions to a macro problem. I mean, you really can’t get more macro than the end of the world, can you?

Again, I find it incredibly ironic that he made his name writing fiction about terraforming Mars and now he has to write not-so-fictitious fiction about terraforming Earth instead. Personally, I’m already biased, so he’s preaching to the converted, maybe you should pickup the book and decide for yourself. Don’t take too long, we don’t have a lot of time left.

Forty Signs of Rain
(ISBN No: 0553585800) Check NLB Catalogue for item availability.

My next book will be Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated.

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3 Responses to “14 Down, 38 Left (52 Weeks, 52 Books)”


  1. 1 Ivan Chew April 9, 2006 at 23:25

    I didn’t quite follow Robinson’s Mars Trilogy though. Maybe it’s because I didn’t read the first part and jumped to 2nd or 3rd vol. Found the pace quite slow and not terribly exciting.

  2. 2 Billy April 10, 2006 at 20:21

    wah, i cant skip chronological order – it drives me nuts.
    y’know, the series does effectively attempt to posit the beginnings of an entirely new human civilization with all the attendant technological and sociological hiccups. Plus he’s a stickler for detail, so i guess it might’ve been a little slow-going.
    i read the trilogy whilst in NS, so i really had a lot of time to savor it, probably why i enjoyed it as much.

  3. 3 The writer momentarily called Bombshell April 12, 2006 at 3:14

    haha my boyfriend went to college with Foer! MMMMM. respond to my email!


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