If not for my commitment to finish every book I start, I think I would have given up on this one.
So what was the problem I had with it?
Firstly, there was an extensive early section of scientific jargon, something seemingly about genetics and proteins and immunology, that might make sense to someone with insider knowledge, but I couldn’t follow what it was all about. A more concise usage could have given the required flavour, without completely dulling the overall effect.
I have nothing against the use of scientific discussion within a book when used to enlighten, or to add a sense of authenticity to the story. I recently read and enjoyed the author’s much larger book Red Mars, and wasn’t put off by the technical/scientific content that often went way over my head. That book engaged me through character and landscape and its overall sense of wonder. I could accept it’s technical elements as texture to the story and not a distracting, unfathomable intrusion.
In contrast to the “hard science”, there was a section about a stay-at-home dad working part time work for a senator, and struggling to balance the work and child-raising. While giving a more human, domestic aspect to the story, the early sections of this narrative thread didn’t engage or maintain my interest, and again I had to push myself to keep reading.
Other parts of the story were about the political and commercial wrangling required by scientists to carry out their work – influences and hindrances that may even prevent worthwhile science from progressing. Commercial interests pick up and discard according to perceived profitable outcomes with years of research and slow progress being cast aside to pursue more immediate possibilities of financial gain.
What has been reluctantly tolerated as frustrating bureaucratic reality, in the day to day politics of practicing science, inevitably becomes crippling when science is faced with a crisis that has no regard for political or commercial ideologies. *
I’d read through a lot of the book before I found that it was part of a trilogy and that all three parts have been compiled into a single volume (updated and abridged) under the title Green Earth.
Before I bought this single volume of the first book, I already had Green Earth on my “wishlist” with an online book seller and didn’t realise that Forty Signs was part of it, otherwise I would have bought the compilation and not this first book.
I bought Forty Signs of Rain because it was supposed to be about climate change. Disappointingly, climate change seemed at best a peripheral issue through most of it, only becoming more important towards the end. But now, knowing it is the first part of a trilogy, I can see the book as an introduction or a prelude instead of a novel in its own right. It also helps me make sense of a relatively short book’s apparently slow narrative progress. That same pace in a larger book could be more acceptable.
Above I mention the heavy loading of scientific jargon in a section referring to “genetics and proteins and immunology”. Within this book that section seemed to have no narrative purpose and to me it seemed like padding – or as if the author was feeling his way along a path that he decided to abandon.
Could that episode have later relevance in the later parts of the trilogy? That’s a question I could ask about several other loose threads in the book that don’t seem to have purpose or lead anywhere.
Now the questions I need to ask are – should I treat this as a one-off, mostly disappointing novel and forget the rest? Or should I take the chance and carry on with the rest of the trilogy with the expectation of it all working better as a longer story ?
If the latter, do I turn to the newer abridged compilation (which may have removed some of the more tedious aspects) or do I try to find the original editions of the remaining two separate books?
* Note, this book addressing climate change was published in 2004 – and today, 15 years later, ideology is still trampling over scientific reality when it comes to climate science.