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AURORA: interviews & reviews PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kimon   
Tuesday, 08 September 2015 18:44

Kim Stanley Robinson's latest, AURORA, has been out for two months now.

This video is a great introduction to Aurora. Stan explains the concept and motivation for the novel, and his talking is complete by animation. This is a good piece of promotional material by Orbit Books, similar to their illustration on how to build a terrarium from 2312!

The entire first chapter of Aurora, "Starship Girl", is available to read at Orbit Books.

More than just human DNA inside the human body, the fuel problem for acceleration/deceleration, the non-realism of the staple of faster-than-light travem in most science fiction, the complexity of maintaining a functioning society in a confined space, the way humans and all living creatures we know evolved and are tailored for life on Earth, on the development of artificial intelligence, these are some of the issues tackled in the interviews discussing Aurora.

Beware of spoilers! Aurora, moreso than your typical KSR novel, has twists and turns and page-turner developments as the Aurora mission unfolds.

This short and sharp interview with the Sacramento Bee sets the stage for these hotly debated ideas at the center of Aurora:

Q: “Aurora” touches on the growing notion that humankind will soon be able to leave Earth and start fresh on another planet.

A: It’s a nasty proposition and a wrong idea. The harder you press it, the more you realize it won’t work. Even the closest star systems are too far away.

Q: Your “Mars” series speculated on colonizing Mars, and a new book “How We’ll Live On Mars” by Stephen Petranek says we’ll be on the Red Planet by 2027.

A: Mars is in the ballpark, but we’re still 35 years out. Let’s be clear we’re talking about astronauts going there, doing scientific studies and coming back. The actual colonization of Mars is centuries away, and terraforming it (transforming it to support human life) might be a 10,000-year project.

Q: But what if we could get to another planet for colonization?

A: This is a mistake because there’s no place other than Earth where humanity can be healthy and safe. When we land on another planet, we’ll find out if it’s either alive or dead. It it’s alive, we’ll be in trouble because the life that’s there already will either make us sick or kill us. If it’s dead, we’ll have to terraform it, in which case we’ll die before it’s ready.

Here is an interview for Science Friday radio, on interstellar travel, on Earth as our spaceship -- "There is no Planet B" -- on managing climate change, on who the narrator for Aurora is, plus a reading of an excerpt.

A short interview at Capital Public Radio, where Stan talks about how Aurora was constructed but also reminisces on his 40 year career as a science fiction writer.

In another Aurora interview for The Guardian, for the Books Podcast, Robinson's exploration of time and space are juxtaposed with psychologist Sheldon Solomon's exploration of death. It's interesting to hear him out on future history and the existential underpinnings of thinking about the future of humanity, of having objectives beyond the length of our lifetimes and how we have to cope with our own mortality with the new knowledge that science has brought to us on our size and place in the cosmos. It includes the reading of a passage of Aurora, and a discussion of forms of politics "passengers" might adopt in the context of a generational starship.

Science fiction realism versus fantasy is at the center of this other interview for The Guardian, along with writers Alastair Reynolds and Ann Leckie.

The spacefarers in his latest novel, Aurora, set out on a voyage to a star 11.9 light years away with no warp drives, no sentient robots and no nanomachines. The ship’s technology offers impressive upgrades on familiar 21st-century models, from “printers” that can manufacture anything the travellers require, to aquantum computer so sophisticated it wonders if it should award itself the pronoun “I”. But Robinson’s mission launches in 2545, putting his characters as far away from the world of Taylor Swift and the Apple smartwatch as we are from Niccolò Machiavelli and the matchlock musket. It’s almost as if Thomas More had imagined a captain setting out for the moon in a clipper.

Robinson makes no apology for the 21st-century tech of his 26th-century explorers, arguing that progress in science and technology will asymptotically approach “limits we can’t get past”.

“It’s always wrong to extrapolate by straightforwardly following a curve up,” he explains, “because it tends off towards infinity and physical impossibility. So it’s much better to use the logistic curve, which is basically an S curve.”

“‘Science’ implies the world of fact and what we all agree on seems to be true in the natural world. ‘Fiction’ implies values and meanings, the stories we tell to make sense of things.” David Hume argued that it’s impossible to argue from the way the world is to the way the world ought to be, Robinson continues, “and yet here is a genre that claims to be a kind of ‘fact-values’ reconciliation, a bridge between the two”.

“Can it be? Well, no, not really – but it can try.”

In this interview for Electric Literature, affiliated to To The Best Of Our Knowledge show/podcast, Robinson expands on the technical and human challenges to undertake such an interstellar voyage, and expands on artificial intelligence and the importance of science fiction utopias. Excerpts:

My working principle was, what would it really be like? So no hyperspace, no warp drive, no magical thing about what isn’t really going to happen to get us there. That means sub-lightyear speeds. So I postulated that we could get spaceships going to about one-tenth the speed of light, which is extraordinarily fast. [...] The physics of this is a huge problem.

SP: As you were imagining this voyage, which part was most interesting to you? Was it the science–trying to figure out technically how we could get there? Or was it the personal dynamics of how people would get along when they’re trapped in space for so long?

KSR: I think it would be the latter. I’m an English major. The wing of science fiction that’s discussed this idea has been the physics guys, the hard SF guys. They’ve been concerned with propulsion, navigation, with slowing down, with all the things you would use physics to comprehend. But I’ve been thinking about the problem ecologically, sociologically, psychologically. These elements haven’t been fully explored and you get a new story when you explore them. It’s a rather awful story, which leads to some peculiar narrative choices. [...] Because they’re trapped and the spaceship is a trillion times smaller than Earth’s surface. Even though it’s big, it’s small. And we didn’t evolve to live in one of these things. It’s like you spend your whole life in a Motel Six.

SP: You also wrote a whole series of books about Mars. You still have to get there.

KSR: But there’s an important distinction. You can get to Mars in a year’s travel and then live there your whole life. And you’re on a planet, which has gravity and landscape. You can terraform it. It’s like a gardening project or building a cathedral. I think terraforming Mars is viable. Going to the stars, however, is completely different because you would be traveling in a spaceship for several generations where you’re in a room, not on a planet. It’s been such a techie thing in science fiction. But people haven’t de-stranded those two ideas. They said, “Well, if we can go to Mars, we can go to Tau Ceti.” It doesn’t follow. It’s not the same kind of effort.
[...] I think Earth is the one and only crucial place for humanity. It will always be our only home.

SP: Does the future of AI and technology more generally excite you?

KSR: Yes, AI in particular. I used to scoff at it. I’m a recent convert to the idea that AI computing is interesting. Mainly, it’s just an adding machine that can go really, really fast. There are no internal states. They’re not thinking. However, quantum computers push it to a new level. It isn’t clear yet that we can actually make quantum computers, so this is the speculative part. It might be science fiction that completely falls apart. 

KSR: Dystopias express our fears and utopias express our hopes. Fear is a very intense and dramatic emotion. Hope is more fragile, but it’s very stubborn and persistent.

Bonus: Stan teases his _next_ novel! In the Sacramento Bee and Science Friday interviews:

A: I’m postulating a sea level rise and I’m doing a “drowned Manhattan” novel. For a Californian, writing about New York is scarier than writing about Mars.

And let's leave it at that for the time being!

AURORA reviews galore!

Gary K Wolfe for Locus: "Robinson is among the premier literary figures in modern SF"

Alan Cheuse for NPR: "near-perfect marriage of the technical and the psychological"

Book of the Month at

Adam Roberts for The Guardian: "Aurora is a magnificent piece of writing, certainly Robinson’s best novel since his mighty Mars trilogy, perhaps his best ever."

Niall Alexander for "its depiction of the ascent of artificial intelligence must be among the most momentous takes on the topic science fiction has ever seen"

The Daily Democrat, also includes reporting on a reading and Q&A event at the Avid Reader bookstore in Davis

News outlets: Chicago Tribune, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Star, Financial Times (gets a medal for spoiling the end with the first sentence), Otago Daily Times, The Age

Blogs: Val's Random Comments ("without a doubt one of the notable releases in science fiction of 2015"), Liwella, SF&F Reviews, Xeno Swarm, Examined Worlds, Hacked ("Yes, Mr. Robinson, we can go to the stars": a cyberpunk post-humanist critique)
Last Updated on Monday, 14 September 2015 19:23
Out now: AURORA! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kimon   
Tuesday, 07 July 2015 21:35

Our voyage from Earth began generations ago.

Now, we approach our new home.


As of today July 7 2015, Kim Stanley Robinson's new novel, Aurora, is out! (hardcover, ebook, audiobook)

The first two reviews are from none other than Gerry Canavan in the Los Angeles Review of Books: "The Warm Equations" -- along with reviewing Neal Stephenson's Seveneves -- and it's relatively as spoiler-free as possible...

Aurora traces the story of one of the generation starships flung out from the solar system during the Accelerando, Robinson’s alternative name for the prophesied technological Singularity. In previous books these launches have always been something of a dead end: those explorers journey (as he says in 2312) “beyond human time, beyond human reach” into “a vastness beyond comprehension,” outside history itself. [...] I think Aurora may well be Robinson’s best novel.

...and from Gary K. Wolfe for the Locus of July 2015.

Podcasting duo Gary K. Wolfe and Jonathan Strahan also did an extensive interview with Stan for Coode Street here.

We are delighted to be able to present what is one of the first major discussions about this extraordinary new novel, which we think will prove to be one of the standout SF novels of 2015.

Stan also talked to the Verge ESP podcast, here.

More material -- and KSR tour! -- as it becomes available.

(banner image from Coode Street)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 07 July 2015 22:04
Colonizing Mars: a revisitation PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kimon   
Friday, 01 May 2015 14:26

Kim Stanley Robinson's next novel AURORA is coming out in hardcover (+ ebook, audiobook) in the USA/Canada on July 7 2015 (July 9 for UK, July 14 for Australia). 480 pages.

The book synopsis from Orbit Books:

A multi-generational starship travels out of the solar system for the first time in humanity's history. Its destination is a planet in the Tau Ceti system, 12 light-years away, that they have dubbed Aurora, after the Roman goddess of the dawn. Will this be a new dawn for humanity or the dusk that will encompass us all?

Editor Tim Holman says, "Are you looking up at the stars? Kim Stanley Robinson is an incredible individual, a visionary and a truly wonderful writer. Aurora is about our future, but it is what this novel tells us about the present that really matters. A must-read for fans of SF, and a fantastic voyage of discovery for anyone unfamiliar with the genre."

One of science fiction's most powerful voices, Kim Stanley Robinson has won multiple Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards and has published more than 20 books, including the award-winning Mars trilogy and the New York Times bestseller 2312.

Aurora cover in super-HQ here.

It's been more or less two decades now that the Mars trilogy has been out there. It is recognized as a classic of the genre, and has helped shape the imagination and the mental mapping of the future of many a reader. Today, with so much more of the real Mars explored with robot probes, our better knowledge of the planet makes the project of a long-term human colonization and terraforming a much more challenging one -- plus some Earth issues have become much more pressing, like climate change and building a social-economic-environment system that is sustainable. See and listen to Kim Stanley Robinson reminisce on his Mars books and sharing the rough truth on our priorities as a global civilization:

  • Stan talked about his vision of the future for U-T San Diego Science Talks, a video of that is available here.
  • Stan talked about Mars at the SETI Institute's Big Picture Science podcast, Mars Struck (just the KSR bit here).
  • Another video interview with Stan, this one really laid back from his home, for StarShipSofa's online SF convention SofaCon2 (also available in StarShipSofa #382). He teases more the setting and story of Aurora, talks about the collections he has edited (Rexroth in the Sierras, Future Primitive, Green Planets), about the way he writes and the many birds he has come to know by writing outside, taking questions from our Facebook group, plus a cameo from Pandora the cat

Shelf Awareness has a short, to the point interview with Stan. Read about his favorite authors and books, what he's reading now, books he takes when backpacking, books read most often, all kinds of books!

Book(s) you're an evangelist for:

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth and Air by Geoff Ryman.

Plus, an interview from 2014, in a longer feature for Studio 360, "Will Sci-Fi Save Us?":

What does today’s sci-fi mean for our real-life future?  Cyberpunk author Neal Stephenson argues that it’s time to get over our love of dystopia. A class at MIT searches sci-fi classics for technologies they can invent right now, although maybe they shouldn’t. Geoengineers take a tip from Carl Sagan – who saw a green future for Mars – to see if we can save Earth.  And we meet some scientists who think that if we ever want to see the stars, we’d better start building the starship.

Some upcoming appearances:

  • May 22-25: WisCon 39, in Madison, Wisconsin: Feminist SF convention 
  • June: UCLA: talk about John Muir

More coming as we gear up to the release of Aurora!

Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 May 2015 07:00
Coming in 2015: Aurora PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kimon   
Wednesday, 07 January 2015 21:18

Let's kick off 2015 with a KSR-inspired video: Wanderers, by Erik Vernquist. Make sure to watch full screen!

It is really rare to find an optimistic and human-centered visual depiction of space exploration -- short films and videos are usually centered around either technological gimmicks or on something going tragically wrong, instead of the pure adventure and awesomeness of humanity expanding beyond the terrestrial frontier. For anyone that has read KSR (the Mars books and 2312 in particular), this really looks like it could be...a trailer for an on-screen adaptation of his books! According to Vernquist:

The film is a vision of our humanity's future expansion into the Solar System. Although admittedly speculative, the visuals in the film are all based on scientific ideas and concepts of what our future in space might look like, if it ever happens. All the locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available. [...] As some may notice I have borrowed ideas and concepts from science fiction authors such as Kim Stanley Robinson and Arthur C. Clarke, just to name a few.

Coming in 2015 is Kim Stanley Robinson's next novel: AURORA!

After taking us 300 years in the future with 2312 and 30,000 years in the past with Shaman, KSR extends further in the future than he's ever been with the generation ship-themed Aurora!

It will be published in May 2015 (hardcover, digital, audiobook). 480 pages. Book description:

A major new novel from one of science fiction's most powerful voices, AURORA tells the incredible story of our first voyage beyond the solar system.

Brilliantly imagined and beautifully told, it is the work of a writer at the height of his powers.

Our voyage from Earth began generations ago.

Now, we approach our destination.

A new home.


The cover was revealed by Orbit Books, but click the above image for higher quality.

Also coming in 2015:

  • Aurora book promo tour;
  • ...and the inevitable big debate Aurora is going to stir in the science and science fiction circles;
  • the publication of a Science in the Capital trilogy edit/omnibus;
  • a KSR / Marina Abramovic event;
  • some KSR trips outside the USA;
  • possible developments around a Red Mars TV series;
  • the announcement of KSR's next novel!
A major new novel from one of science fiction's most powerful voices, AURORA tells the incredible story of our first voyage beyond the solar system.

Brilliantly imagined and beautifully told, it is the work of a writer at the height of his powers.

Our voyage from Earth began generations ago.

Now, we approach our destination.

A new home.

- See more at:
A major new novel from one of science fiction's most powerful voices, AURORA tells the incredible story of our first voyage beyond the solar system.

Brilliantly imagined and beautifully told, it is the work of a writer at the height of his powers.

Our voyage from Earth began generations ago.

Now, we approach our destination.

A new home.
- See more at:
A major new novel from one of science fiction's most powerful voices, AURORA tells the incredible story of our first voyage beyond the solar system.

Brilliantly imagined and beautifully told, it is the work of a writer at the height of his powers.

Our voyage from Earth began generations ago.

Now, we approach our destination.

A new home.
- See more at:
Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 January 2015 21:46
The naming of things: "Mount Thoreau" PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kimon   
Tuesday, 04 November 2014 21:38

End of September 2014, a group of people passionate about wilderness and writing gathered to ascend and name a peak in the Sierra Nevada of California "Mount Thoreau" -- after the famous 19th century transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau, writer of Walden and such essays as Civil Disobedience and Life Without Principle. Very appropriately, this peak is opposite Mount Emerson -- after Thoreau's close friend and intellectual sparring partner Ralph Waldo Emerson! This is an unofficial name, as this does not follow USGS procedures -- and so a little act of civil disobedience -- but it was a moment to collectively live in the wild and remember Thoreau.

Kim Stanley Robinson was among them -- also poet and writer Gary Snyder, Tom Killion (whose woodblock print of the Sierra illustrates Robinson's collection of Rexroth poems Rexroth in the Sierras), writer Paul Park, and other friends of Robinson's, about 20 total. Robinson wrote an extensive piece on the event, the experience and generally on Thoreau: The Actual World, "Mount Thoreau" and the naming of things in the wilderness. You can read it here, along with photos from Christopher Woodcock and others. Some extracts:

[...] nothing up there is named after Henry David Thoreau, the great American nature writer, the man whose books inspired John Muir and helped create the preservation movement that saved the Sierra Nevada as wilderness. This seemed an oversight, a mistake, a little crime. And an opportunity. Because there is already a Mount Emerson up there, named by John Muir himself, after a trip to the area in 1873. [...] Peak 12,691 is somewhat lower than Mount Emerson, but much more gnarly and interesting; the two peaks have much the same relationship that Emerson and Thoreau had, not just in size and aspect but in position, being close to each other but separated by a huge gulf of air. [...]

Once you give up on the idea of sleeping during a night in the mountains, it can be very restful. If it is clear and not too windy, I dispense with a tent and sleep out. At 11,000 feet above sea level, the stars are simply incredible. I watch them, don’t try to sleep, and thus often sleep pretty well. Awake or asleep, in tent or out, a mountainous peace fills me. [...]

We were also continuing a long tradition of meeting in the Sierra to celebrate its art. In the early Sierra Club summer trips, John Muir or Ansel Adams might tell a story by the fire or Cedric Wright play his violin. Here we were doing it again, awake in the dark and the wind. The feeling of that moment resists expression, has no name. It was the kind of party even Thoreau might have liked.

[...] in this case I think the honor of the name is worth the loss of the unnamed. Emerson and Thoreau were friends, and together they changed us. Now their two peaks form a gate like the Pillars of Hercules, marking a way into a certain kind of American reality, as well as a bit of Sierra backcountry. In wildness is the preservation of the world.

The event was also covered by the New York Times, including an audio report!

(Photo: "Mount Thoreau" from the north, by Kim Stanley Robinson)

Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 November 2014 22:16
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