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Lions Roar : September 2012
is the tale of several main characters and their reincarnations, spanning the fourteenth century to the modern age. Over their lifetimes, the characters struggle to better themselves, and between lifetimes they meet in the bardo, the gap between death and rebirth according to the Tibetan Buddhist understanding. Like Cary Groner, Kim Stanley Robinson is deeply interested in how Buddhism and science intersect, and this is the theme he explores in Forty Signs of Rain. The book opens with the scien- tist Anna Quibler showing up for work one day at the National Science Foundation and discovering that Khembalung, a coun- try she’s never heard of before, has established an embassy in the building. It turns out that Khembalung is a small, new country of exiled Tibetan Buddhists who originally hail from the mythical kingdom of Shambhala, and that among the monks at the embassy is the Panchen Lama. That is, Robinson clarifies, “the real Panchen Lama who the Dalai Lama designated, who the Chinese immedi- ately kidnapped, and who has been disappeared ever since. Well, in my novel he’s living under a pseudonym in the NSF building.” Forty Signs of Rain was inspired in part by the Dalai Lama, particularly his thoughts on the common ground shared by sci- ence and Buddhism. Scientists and Buddhists both investigate the nature of reality; they both look at the world and ask, How can we make things better? How can we reduce suffering? “I could not be more impressed by the current Dalai Lama,” says Robinson. “He’s always a presence in my house—his photo is on the refrigerator and next to my desk.” When Robinson read that the Dalai Lama was going to speak in Washington, D.C., he got tickets and flew out. “It was bizarre,” says Robinson. “There I was at the Washington Wizards basketball arena with 13,000 people, and the Dalai Lama was speaking. I put this event straight into the novel exactly as it happened. I couldn’t help it—it was so incredible.” These days, Robinson writes his novels outdoors in a little court- yard on the north side of his house. It’s shady there, so he can see his laptop screen, and he simply puts a tarp overhead if it’s raining and bundles up if it’s cold. As he puts it, being outdoors transforms writing into an adventure, into an interaction with about fifty little birds, the trees, the clouds, the changing of the seasons. Nature and ecology have always played a significant role in Robinson’s life. When he was a child, the coastal plain of South- ern California was orchard country, planted with lemon and orange groves, avocado and eucalyptus. At age ten, Robinson believed he was the Huck Finn of this terrain and he dressed like him, exploring the irrigation ditches and the creeks. But in his teenage years, the bucolic orchards were ripped up and replaced with the concrete of condominiums and freeways. This made science fiction feel eerily familiar when he started reading it. In the rapid change and heavy-duty mechanization of the fictional future worlds, he recognized his own home. “It struck From the cover of Red Mars