Reality Outpaces Science Fiction

By Neal Comment

ksrobinson.jpgOn the train down to D.C. yesterday, I was reading Forty Signs of Rain by Kim Stanley Robinson (left), a “twenty minutes into the future” novel in which a technocrat couple–he’s a senatorial aide, she works at the National Science Foundation–do what they can to make the government get serious about global warming. Sure, it has its wonkish moments; it’s science fiction, after all, and that particular branch of sci-fi grounded in the desire to engineer a better world. But it’s also an insightful political novel and a warm domestic comedy, with great crossover potential (although it’s not anywhere near as Clancyesque as the description on the back cover makes it sound). The novel ends with two massive storm fronts colliding over the capital and creating a downpour that floods the Potomac and puts about half the capital underwater. You can imagine how eerie that struck me as my train pulled into the city–even if it does become a bit weird then to be immersed in a future world that hasn’t been prepared for natural disasters hitting urban centers by Katrina.

Though the Guardian‘s Sarah Crown makes the connection as she interviews Robinson about the book’s forthcoming sequel, Fifty Degrees Below, she winds up asking him more about the background science and the overall political tone, which just might be a satire of the Bush administration’s approach to climate change and science in general.

“‘Well, there is a bit of that,’ he admits [to her], ‘but it’s very hard to be funny about this stuff, except in the blackest sense.'”

(While we’re on the subject of sci-fi and reality intersecting, Reason has an intriguing essay about Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren as a prescient vision of New Orleans.)