11 Feb 2020

The year 2020 will bring another Kim Stanley Robinson novel! The Ministry for the Future, a novel where we struggle and steer the anthropocene towards a good direction, is scheduled to be published in the fall by Orbit.

But before we reach that date, there's another KSR publication first! KSR is the Guest of Honor at this week's Boskone 57 convention, and he brings with him a book specially for the convention that he will present on Saturday, by the New England SF Association Press: Stan's Kitchen: A Robinson Reader:

In this book, Stan offers you a rare treat, a selection of his favorite pieces of his own writing, which offers a unique view into important ideas within many of his areas of interest. Stan has chosen examples of his entertaining fiction, including a band disaster, an exploration of the idea of whether Vinland existed or not, how a curveball might work on Mars, and his final Mars story.

Also included are insightful and wide-ranging essays on Gene Wolfe, Cecelia Holland, Joanna Russ, Stanislaw Lem, George Orwell, Philip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin, and Chip Delany that should make you want to run out to find and read more of their works.

You’ll read of some of his optimistic and naturalistic visions of our world in essays on predicting the future, on utopias and dystopias, on his Antarctic adventures, on hiking experiences in the wild, and on the fight to name a mountain. This personal collection of prose and poetry is the next best thing to sitting in Stan’s kitchen, sharing a cup of coffee and conversation with the master.

Dust jacket illustration “Isosceles Peak from Dusy Basin” ©2012 by Tom Killion

 

A nice collection of pieces that Stan has written for articles that have appeared in press or online, along with extracts from his novels and short stories! I see things from The Martians, The Years of Rice and Salt, Shaman, and more. The NESFA Press page has the full contents. The lovely cover illustration by Tom Killion is pictured above.

 

A couple of high profile interviews to kick off the year, both well worth the read:

KSR was interviewed by the New Statesman: "What the hell do we write now?". With the climate emergency becoming a more and more important issue, what can a novelist do? and what can a science fiction writer in particular do? and what does it mean to be a "pragmatic optimist" today?

“What the hell do we write at this point in history?” he asks. “My utopia has reached this low bar: if we avoid a mass extinction event, then, ‘Yay! Leave it at that.’” [...]

“There’s what I call the technocrat class, a kind of HG Wells scientific meritocracy, and it’s for them to advise the political class: this will work, this won’t work, try that,” he says.

Failing to consult the technocrats can lead to “lunatic” suggestions, Robinson has found. The radical left’s position of leaving the remaining wilderness entirely alone won’t work, he argues, as climate change requires management. Yet interventions suggested by technophiles, such as sucking carbon out of the atmosphere with hi-tech “vacuum cleaners”, are equally problematic.

Robinson favours actions with multiple benefits, from growing more forests, to supporting women’s rights around the world and making agriculture “a carbon-negative business”.

 

Continuing on the same trend, KSR gets coverage in no less than The Wall Street Journal! "A Sci-Fi Author’s Boldest Vision of Climate Change: Surviving It" (paywall...).

How do you think the government’s or the public’s views of climate change have shifted since you wrote that book?

It has changed enormously and in a good direction. It is very encouraging. If I had made up the Paris Agreement [an international climate accord signed in 2016 from which the Trump administration has subsequently withdrawn the U.S.] in a science-fiction story 10 years before it happened, which I did not, everyone would have just laughed at me as a utopian, but that really happened.

There is more awareness of climate change as the overriding issue of our time. If we don’t deal with it, we’re inhorrific trouble. If we do deal with it, all kinds of other good will happen from dealing with it. That is almost a night-and-day situation from 15 years ago.

 

For more KSR writings: University of Minnesota Press has released An Ecological Lexicon by Matthew Schneider-Mayerson and Brent Ryan Bellamy (editors), looking at new words and concepts to describe our new anthropocenic situation, and it contains a Foreword by Robinson. See also here for an interview with Schneider-Mayerson.

 

Also, the Three Californias or Orange County trilogy is getting a re-release by Tor Essentials! The omnibus of some of KSR's first novels pile up to some 800 pages. The Wild Shore, The Gold Coast, Pacific Edge -- three possible futures for California and the world, ranging from the reconstruction of civilization in a post-nuclear war world, to the techno-urban Star Wars dystopia, to the long way towards an eco-utopia.

In an interview with Slate, KSR reminisces about writing the trilogy and his career-spanning effort to write novels that try to combine realism and utopia.

I began thinking of myself as a poet in the Snyder tradition before I discovered the science fiction.

The result [Pacific Edge] was so bizarre that I was dissatisfied on a number of levels, and I thought if you were going to do a utopia properly, it would need to be global, it would need to be historical. So The Mars Trilogy comes out of my dissatisfactions with the constraints I had set on myself with Pacific Edge

Utopias are like blueprints and novels are like soap operas.

 

You can read an extract from The Gold Coast here -- written in the 1980s, when the Cold War was still a thing, it is still very prescient in many things and 2020 readers won't find the automated cars highway jungle too exotic.

 

In news around KSR:

University of Illinois Press has released their latest book on their Modern Masters of Science Fiction series, edited by Gary K. Wolfe: Robert Markley's Kim Stanley Robinson! The study covers Robinson's early career wit hthe Three Californias all the way to recent works Aurora and New York 2140.

Award-winning epics like the Mars trilogy and groundbreaking alternative histories like The Days of Rice and Salt have brought Kim Stanley Robinson to the forefront of contemporary science fiction. Mixing subject matter from a dizzying number of fields with his own complex ecological and philosophical concerns, Robinson explores how humanity might pursue utopian social action as a strategy for its own survival.

Robert Markley examines the works of an author engaged with the fundamental question of how we—as individuals, as a civilization, and as a species—might go forward. By building stories on huge time scales, Robinson lays out the scientific and human processes that fuel humanity's struggle toward a more just and environmentally stable world or system of worlds. His works invite readers to contemplate how to achieve, and live in, these numerous possible futures. They also challenge us to see that SF's literary, cultural, and philosophical significance have made it the preeminent literary genre for examining where we stand today in human and planetary history.

Robert Markley is Trowbridge Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His recent books include The Far East and the English Imagination, 1600-1730 and Dying Planet: Mars in Science and the Imagination.

 

Finally, Matt and Hilary's Marooned! on Mars podcast has covered in perceptive and tireless detail the entirety of the Mars trilogy's collection of apocrypha, The Martians! What a feat, three novels and a companion volume in fifty one episodes. Up next: coverage of Aurora should start soon.

We close with a photo that is Ministry for the Future-related!...

16 Oct 2019

(Pictured: a plan of Village Homes, Davis, California)

Sometimes there are surprises that come to you all the way from 1994! John J. Vester, long-time KSR reader and an acquaintance of his, contacted the website with an interview done in 1994 that never did find a home. At that time, Stan was fresh off of the publication of Green Mars and deep in writing Blue Mars, so we get a rare glimpse into his mindset at that time -- "a sort of time capsule of the time he was working on the trilogy" -- but also a retrospective on his early career, personal life events and interests that shaped him as an artist, and insights on novels such as The Gold Coast or The Memory of Whiteness. A lengthy and excellent piece altogether.

John was kind enough to provide a new introduction to his interview for its new home here at the KSR.info archival website. So, no less than 25 years later, here is this "lost interview": "The Mars/California Connection: Kim Stanley Robinson Off the Edge of the Map"!

An excerpt that could very well be from today:

Social thinker Robinson sees scientists as important to the work of improving our global situation. Science is very powerful in our society, he notes, elevated in some ways to god-like power—making the scientist god-like. What advice does he have for real scientists? "I think they ought to become much more politicized and try to seize control of their own work. Most scientists today are not in fact choosing their own goals, but goals are being chosen for them. And yet they are uniquely powerful. They could say 'That will go,' or 'That won't go,' or they could say, 'That might go but it's not worth doing,' or they could even say, 'That might go but it's completely trivial, and what is important to do is this and we're going to do this, and what are you going to do to me?' I think scientists could become a political activist force for good. I think they should all become utopians. That's what I would tell them: become utopians!"

Of course, reader and visitor, should you be in a similar situation and are trying to find a home for anything related to KSR, this website could be of help.

 

Meanwhile, the Marooned! on Mars podcast with Matt & Hilary soldiers on after having wrapped up its in-depth coverage of the Mars trilogy, and looks into the apocrypha of The Martians!

 

In other news:

  • Surely you have heard of the Green New Deal by now, a concept making waves in both USA and Europe? The Intercept brought together US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and writer/activist Naomi Klein to make this inspiring video blending historical fact, KSR-like fiction and visual art: "A Message From the Future". And, appropiately, in its promotion a quote from KSR is used! "The future isn’t cast into one inevitable course. On the contrary, we could cause the sixth great mass extinction event in Earth’s history, or we could create a prosperous civilization, sustainable over the long haul. Either is possible starting from now."
  • 50 years of Apollo 11! The short story The Lunatics was included in the Lunar SF short story collection "The Eagle Has Landed", by Night Shade Books.
  • Folio Society has published a beautiful illustrated deluxe edition of Philip K. Dick's UBIK, with an introduction by KSR.

 

Looking for something to read? Looking at blurbs, KSR recommends:

  • "Walkaway: A Novel" by Cory Doctorow. KSR said: "Cory Doctorow is one of our most important science fiction writers, because he’s also a public intellectual in the old style: he brings the news and explains it, making clearer the confusions of our wild current moment. His fiction is always the heart of his work, and this is his best book yet, describing vividly the revolutionary beginnings of a new way of being. In a world full of easy dystopias, he writes the hard utopia, and what do you know, his utopia is both more thought-provoking and more fun." (incidentally, I highly recommend it too!)
  • "The Girls With Kaleidoscope Eyes: Analog Stories for a Digital Age" by Howard V. Hendrix (cached). KSR said: "Howard Hendrix here demonstrates his imagination, versatility, and heart, in story after story. He has a gift for combining the latest news from the sciences with permanent truths of human nature to make fictions that are quirky and memorable. Highly recommended."
  • "Codename Prague" by D. Harlan Wilson. KSR said: "This novel is from the wild edge of science fiction, in the tradition of Philip K. Dick's The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch—fast, smart, funny, and full of a scarily plausible vision of just how weird things could get if we take our biological fate into our own hands."
  • "What’s the Worst That Could Happen? A rational response to the climate change debate" by Greg Craven. KSR said: "This is a tremendous book and well worth anyone’s time to read. It very clearly and concisely covers all the important points not only about the climate change situation in our moment, but how we think and decide about important issues. Anyone who enjoyed Craven’s YouTube triumph “The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See” will enjoy unpacking that experience in this book, and for people running into Craven for the first time, you’re in for a treat-he is funny as well as well as exceptionally clear, and wise."

 

Some reviews, new or freshly discovered:

6 Jul 2019

The Marooned! on Mars with Matt and Hilary podcast has done it! They have covered the whole Mars trilogy chapter by chapter and unlocked an achievement: an interview with the man himself!

This is one of those rare interviews where Stan talks not with professional interviewers but with actual fans who have analysed his work to great detail, and it's a joy to listen to! Included are plenty of never-before-heard-of details about writing the Mars trilogy, how Stan reflects on the trilogy so many years later and how his writing and focus have changed since, what he would change in the text were he to do a new edition, and... we learn that Hiroko's ultimate fate is revealed in the last two pages of Blue! That last one was very unexpected to me.

With this episode, Hilary Strang and Matt Hauske have completed their 15-month journey through the Mars trilogy, with extensive discussion chapter by chapter and plenty of insights from the humanities, literary history, science fictional references, present-day Chicago politics and domesicated feline behavior. As much as I think I remember these books well, I loved listening new perspectives about them and remembering parts I had half-forgotten or interpreted differently given the person I was when I first read them (Michel and Anne in particular). It's great fun to have a podcast dedicated to Kim Stanley Robinson's works, especially given how unadapted social media platforms are to in-depth analyses and how on-line discussion forums have fallen out of grace with the rise of social media. Next for Matt and Hilary is The Martians!

(Picture: Vin Scully, pre-podcast era.)

 

Some interviews:

Robinson's talk dedicated to Ursula K. Le Guin at The Interval from last November is fully online (a small excerpt here). KSR also talked about UKL at the Bay Area Book Festival, where the new documentary by Arwen Curry "Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin" was shown.

 

For IEEE Spectrum on Red Moon:

I see the Chinese now building infrastructure on Earth very quickly, by way of their Party and their state-owned enterprises as primary drivers and organizers and funders, and the Chinese population as the workforce. Their new seaports, high-speed rail, entire new cities, all these illustrate their ability to build infrastructure fast. They’re already building more infrastructure than they need just to keep their economy humming. The moon could function as more of that, plus add to national prestige. They have the workforce and a tremendous capital surplus. They also have the advantage that they are not solely driven by profits. [...] Capitalism is for profit. The problem in the West, in our version of capitalism, is that if you say the investment will pay off for the next generations, the investors will say, “Thanks, but I need quarterly profits at the highest rate of return,” and go back to immiserating labor and strip-mining the biosphere in their usual way. We have allowed the market to rule us like an emperor. China’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics” seems to mean a state-controlled economy that directs the private sector and can pay the private sector. They might be quicker to take on this obviously not-for-profit venture. China is better equipped mentally and structurally to do it.

 

For Anthropocene Magazine on New York 2140, the Green New Deal his next novel:

There are two directions to positive change. There are bottom-up changes, where individuals, small groups, and local collectives make changes at the individual, household, and local levels; and then there are the top-down ones, the stuff that happens in nation-states and in international treaties, often decided amongst the technocrats and diplomats and experts. There’s no reason to privilege one over the other—the important thing is to keep both of them in mind simultaneously. 

I would invite everybody to think of the Green New Deal as it currently exists (a document which is quite impressive in its amount of detail and substance) as a science-fiction story. It’s a utopian science-fiction story written in the form of a proclamation or a blueprint for action. In my short-story collection, The Martians, I experimented with all kinds of formats, including a short story in the form of the Martian Constitution and a short story in the form of an abstract in a scientific journal. In the case of the Green New Deal, and in the best possible way, I want to suggest that seeing it as a kind of science-fiction story is what we need. We need that kind of vision. 

 

For Mendelspod (podcast), on 2312, genetic enhancements and knowing the human brain, and apparently what are unconventional answers to such questions for a sci-fi writer:

What would you change? How would you know that was going to make it better without running human experimentation which can't be done. It's not just ethics, it's practicality. We wouldn't know what to do to make ourselves smarter or stronger.

 

For The Imaginaries (podcast), on his relationship with the field of "science fiction" as a literary genre, as a marketing category and as a community of people:

It's more interesting to write about doing things right.

[KSR's work] It's definitely an anti-capitalist body of text, it's a critique.

There is no pocket utopia, the ultimate fix has to be global.

 

In the "Dear Spacecraft" column of National Geographic, KSR wrote about his fiction based on the planet Mercury, in "Dear MESSENGER: How unmasking Mercury brought art to life":

This, ultimately, is what robotic explorers like you have given us—a known and humanized solar system. Mercury is just a distant rock in space, in appearance not greatly different from our moon. People may not land on it for centuries to come, if ever, and few people today even notice it in the sky. And yet now, because of you, it’s part of our cosmic neighborhood—a place with character, named like every other landscape we know.

 

Some more pieces by KSR:

  • The latest issue of The London Reader, "After the Flood", includes an interview of KSR (also short fiction?).
  • The Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona has published a book on "Cuando todo cambia / When everything changes" on the March 2017 edition of the literary event Kosmopolis, in which KSR participated (which we covered here and here and here).
  • KSR wrote the introduction and the foreword to a new edition of Our Angry Earth: A Ticking Ecological Bomb​, a 1991 non-fiction book on humanity's effect on the environment by Isaac Asimov and Frederic Pohl.
  • The Three Californias trilogy will be getting a new paperback omnibus edition with an introduction by Francis Spufford, due out in February 2020 by Tor!

 

Some miscellany:

  • Red Moon has just been translated in Spanish by Minotauro (and you can read an excerpt here), in Italian by Fanucci (and you can read a retrospective of lunar SF here), and in German by Heyne (publication on August 12)!
  • Some Red Moon reviews: Sukanya Ramanujan; FantasyMundo (Spanish).
  • Red Moon got nominated for a Locus Award for best science fiction novel of 2019...but just lost to Mary Robinette Kowal's The Calculating Stars! 
  • Red Mars finally got a Turkish translation in May, with Green and Blue coming soon! Check out these nice complementary cover designs!
  • The Lucky Strike also got a Turkish translation!
  • Just across the Aegean: Red Mars got a new Greek edition, in two volumes (same translation as the early 2000s out of print edition), no word yet on the other two volumes.
  • The German translation of New York 2140 got an award, the 2019 Kurd Laßwitz award for best SF translation!

 

Now if you have indeed read/listened to all the linked above, you might have caught the topic of KSR's next novel, expected for 2020: a positive history of the 21st century!

10 May 2019

Gene Wolfe and Earth Day

Submitted by Kimon

First, a sad news. About a year after UKL, SF/literature Grand Master Gene Wolfe passed away in April. Wolfe has been there since the beginning of Stan Robinson's career in the 1975 Clarion writers' workshop; he influenced him from the very beginning, and they have been long-time friends.

Indeed, the above illustration is a cover for Icehenge, with a recommendation from Wolfe. KSR's Icehenge shares with Wolfe's The Fifth Head of Cerberus a three-part structure and themes of ambiguity of reality and historical fact!

Here is what KSR has said about Wolfe in some interviews (Lightspeed, Infinityplus):

[Gene Wolfe and Samuel R. Delany] are two of my favorite writers, and two of my teachers when I was at Clarion in 1975, and two of the people I’ve read all through their whole careers, and two human beings I revere and feel are exemplary figures.

[Gene Wolfe] has contributed so much. In short, greatness. He is similar to the great modernist masters of the first half of the century, people like Stevens or Proust or Woolf, in that he has a very powerful personal vision, and great moral complexity and intensity, expressed in beautiful prose and surreal imagery, in many superb stories and novels. We in the sf community can point to his work as evidence that science fiction is capable of achieving all that modernism ever hoped for literature, and then some, in that he plots better than most of the modernists.

And of course KSR wrote the introduction to the 2011 short story collection "The Very Best of Gene Wolfe", available at NYRSF:

I am proud to know him even a little, and speaking with full confidence for the science fiction community, which is like a small town scattered over the face of the earth and across time too, I’ll say: we are proud of Gene Wolfe. We have published him, we read him with joy, we celebrate him; we will always have reason to be proud of that. Gene shows that literature can be everything, a game, a mystery, a religion, a dive into the deepest depths. 

 

RIP, Master Wolfe.

 

 

Since its release last October, KSR's latest novel Red Moon has been in the bestsellers list for hardbacks! As compiled by Locus from many sources (October, November, December - data comes in with a few months' delay). Also, Red Moon has been nominated for a Locus Award!

 

KSR was a keynote speaker at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies of University of Wisconsin-Madison for Earth Day on April 22 (named after the Wisconsian Gaylord Nelson, who founded Earth Day in 1970!). His talk was titled "Imagining the Possibilities: Climate, Technology, and Society". Some reporting from the talk in this article -- "Although the human population is never really the main point of our environmental problem because different humans use different amounts of energy and carbon. The fewer people there are, the less pressure on the planet, but it also depends how those people live. If you live cleanly, the numbers aren’t the problem." -- and I'm sure a video of this will surface soon.

While there, KSR was interviewed by a Madison radio show: KSR on Public Affair, on his career writing SF, Green New Deal, carbon tax, the Extinction Rebellion and Wisconsian Aldo Leopold.

He was also intervewed by the always-reliable Gerry Canavan, for Edge Effects. The fascinating discussion ranged from geoengineering, ecological consciousness in an age of rising right-wing politics and the place of SF today. The entire conversation is available here. A highlight:

The thing that I gives me hope is the Paris Accords. When we first began this discussion maybe fifteen years ago, that would have been a completely utopian prospect. If I’d said, well, what we need is an international organization that’s under the U.N. auspices, where all the nations come to agree to their own carbon burn reduction and that would be a framework going forward—if I’d proposed that—it would have been a Robinsonian utopian science fiction idea. And yet it happened in the real world. Of course, it’s not enough. It’s endangered. It’s just a set of promises, and there is no sheriff. There’s no sheriff on this planet to make us do the right thing.

 

A second interview I wanted to highlight is a particularly lively and enjoyable discussion with the Antifada podcast: "Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism w/ Kim Stanley Robinson" (the logo of which is too cool not to include here, at the bottom!). Topics discussed: Ursula K Le Guin, bird counting, being taught by Jameson about Philip K Dick, thinking about violent vs "smart" revolution, on the "too easy" quality of writing dystopias, the discussion around the Green New Deal and what is considered acceptable in the mainstream, billionnaires and innovation and taxation, the Democratic Socialists of America, computing power and the planned economy, blockchain, carbon quantitative easing, writing about drugs and sex, the omnipresence of screens and video games, gender fluidity and family and sociobiology, psychedelics. spirituality!... This was reposted by the Chapo Trap House podcast, too.

 

Another highlight is this older (November 2018) interview I did not link to earlier, an extensive exchange for the open-access online journal NatureCulture, "Writing Science Fiction Out of Experience: SF, Social Science and Planetary Transformations". Plenty of things to highlight here: several of KSR's influences and readings -- Marcel Mauss, Lewis Hyde, Michael Taussig, Donald Mackenzie, Bruno Latour, Frederic Jameson, Mario Biagioli, Gary Snyder, Ram Dass, Wai-lim Yip, Wang Hui -- his reading of Configurations (transdisciplinary journal about the interplay between science, technology, and the arts), the valorization and critique of  science and technology studies, science vs capitalism, and detailed discussion of his works and themes.

On a particular though line in his novels:

from the Mars novels: "both science fiction and metaphor or allegory, or a kind of modeling by miniaturization or what Jameson called ‘world reduction’—Martian society would be smaller and thus simpler, and it would be very obviously revealed to be necessarily also a place where people were actively engaged in making the biophysical substrate that we need to live."

...to Aurora: "an attempt to explain why that same process of terraformation and human inhabitation that might work on Mars would not work outside this solar system [...] it does shine light from a different angle on the difficulties of terraforming even Mars, where now we are not sure if it is alive or dead"

...to Red Moon: "the moon is different again—too small and volatile-free to be terraformed, and thus just a rock in space, a place for moon bases perhaps, but not for habitation as we usually think of it."

...and what he takes out of it all: "these stories have together convinced me that we co-evolved with Earth and are a planetary expression that needs to fit in with the rest of the biosphere here, that we have no other choice about that—and this is an important story for science fiction to tell, given there are so many other kinds of science fiction stories saying otherwise."

On his approach to pragmatism and ideology:

I am definitely in favor of pragmatic, impure forms of experimentation when it comes to survival by way of getting ourselves into a sustainable balance with our planet. And yes, I don’t like people proclaiming too vigorously their purity. That plays into a model of pure/impure that leads to sacred/profane, or simply good/bad, that I don’t think matches the biophysical realities of our position as living creatures on a planet, as a species trying to get along with other species. Most of the various “pure” positions are too self-righteous for me, too non-scientific. [...] Market fundamentalism is a pure idea that has failed badly but still controls far too much of our work and thinking, for instance. So I often find myself telling stories about this kind of conflict between pure and pragmatic, and about the need for open-minded approaches to our problems.

On science and regulating its development:

There’s an implied goal in science, to add to human power and to decrease human suffering; these are either derivative effects or preliminary axioms, but in any case they are philosophical or ethical matters that lie outside the scientific method itself, they are the why driving the how. 

[...] As part of all that, the more we know, the more we may be able to act on behalf of humanity and the biosphere of Earth. So in fact “science” should always be trying to “speed up,” at least in its understanding. Maybe in applications that one finds in engineering etc., there should be some slowing down, yes. But here we’re slipping around between science as science and science as a word for STEM.

After we learn new things, what should we do with what we know and what we’re learning? That’s what your question is referring to, I’m sure. There we are talking about law, and about the nexus of politics and economics that results in a power dynamic of some humans over other humans and over the biosphere. Powerful people trying to use scientific results to maximize profits no matter the costs to people and biosphere—they definitely need to be “slowed down.” As in disempowered and in some cases jailed. The economist John Maynard Keynes called this “the euthanasia of the rentier class,” an ominous-sounding phrase for someone as moderate at Keynes, but he definitely said something like this. In any case, the problem of what to do with our science is not a question internal to science or even to STEM practitioners. It’s a political question or a philosophical question, with answers that begin in philosophy and quickly turn into political economy.

On writing Red Moon and China:

when I wrote my alternative history, I took in so much Chinese history that I felt I knew the place. So, after all that, I thought I would try writing about China in the near future. [...] Ultimately when it came to the question of me writing a novel, I found that China was too big while the moon was too small. Some good choices concerning point of view and other formal aspects of the novel allowed me to find my way to a story I like, despite these problems. In the end the characters made it for me.

On the citizen revolutions in New York 2140 and Red Moon:

There are all kinds of inputs to this project, but an important one is a group of radical economists I ran into about ten years ago; these people been helping me think the particulars of how a “householders’ union” could seize power from finance and shift it back to people.

On artificial intelligence in Aurora and Red Moon:

I used to be an AI skeptic, but then I thought, what do I really know about this? Nothing; I’m basically just judging sentences uttered by other people for their plausibility as science fiction stories. So I’ve tried, since having that thought, to listen to some of the people on the cutting edge of research and experimentation in this regard. Some of them doubt we can even get self-driving cars, and fear another “AI funding crash” following over-hype, as in the early 1970s. But even these skeptics are doing the work, so I think it behooves a science fiction writer to pay attention and at least consider some ramifications, without falling into old cliches.

And two interesting bits that are unique insights about the relations between writer and reader:

I wonder, if it had occurred to me while writing, if I would have chosen it. But it never did occur to me. And truthfully, it feels odd to speak about choosing the incidents in my plots. I know it must be true that that happens, but it feels more like these stories just happen to me, like dreams do. I’m not a lucid dreamer; my dreams seize me. And my novels too.

A novel is a shared project between writer and reader, very strange when you think of it, and very satisfying to feel when on either side of the action. Because the novel is a heteroglossia, a polyvocal exercise in which the novelist choreographs things that everyone is already feeling, the power of any novel is limited—it has to fit the zeitgeist somehow to be read at all, and then it exists as part of a complex feedback loop, and may not so much make change as express it. 

 

Meanwhile, Earth Day in UC Berkeley was celebrated with the exhibit "Earth Day 3019: Mapping Climate Fiction", which paired cli-fi novels with maps and graphs related to the books’ locations, and KSR's New York 2140 was included!

NY2140 has been included in many articles of late discussing climate change and life in cities, for instance this Guardian article on books about building cities, or this Vice News little interview with KSR for HBO on his future New York City after sea level rise, or this Conversation article discussing the impact of SF in public discourse.

As for more proof that climate change is on everybody's mind, here is a bit of trivia: KSR's NY2140 was mentioned in Jeopardy, and the man who it seems coined the term "cli-fi", Dan Bloom, wrote about it!

We have reported about KSR being the judge for the short fiction contest by Arizona State University's Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative. "Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction, Volume II" has now been published (online, creative commons), featuring a foreword by KSR! More about the winner author and the collection here.

Speaking of forewords, KSR wrote the introduction to a new beautiful edition of Philip K. Dick's UBIK.

Finally, lest you forget, Matt and Hilary are fast ploughing through the Mars trilogy in their Marooned! on Mars podcast -- quick, catch up on this landmark KSR-inspired work!

14 Jan 2019

A Red Moon is no Planet B

Submitted by Kimon

As Red Moon continues to make waves, Kim Stanley Robinson continues to produce articles raising the alarm bell for action on ecological sustainability and social justice, and arguing for world civilization to change direction towards a "Good Anthropocene".

The latest one is for the important and historical NGO Sierra Club: "There Is No Planet B: It's up to us to craft the shape of the future", for a special issue of their magazine on climate change adaptation. Some selected passages:

That future would, in effect, be the story of humanity devoting itself to nurturing the health of the biosphere and creating a sustainable prosperity for all the living creatures on this planet. While not exactly utopia, that future could be called optopia—the "optimal place," the best possible outcome given the current conditions.

[…] "Geo-engineering" is a misnomer. It would be more appropriate to call these attempts at planetary remodeling by another name: geo-tweaking or geo-finessing or geo-begging. These terms better indicate how puny civilization's powers are relative to giant forces such as the chemistry of the oceans, the balance of the atmosphere, and the interplay among millions of species.

[…] Perhaps the most important thing we can do to adapt to climate chaos and the dislocations of the Anthropocene is to rethink the assumptions and revise the rules of corporate capitalism. After all, the current economic order, while massive, isn't permanent or unchangeable. It's a human artifact: We made it over time through a series of power plays and improvisations. And that means we can remake it, if we have the courage to do so.

[…] Essentially, we as a society would be deciding to pay ourselves to do the work needed to create a good Anthropocene. An ecology-minded quantitative easing would be its own kind of geo-engineering. Some are calling this the Green New Deal.

On similar thoughts of global change and need for reform is this article by Robinson at Buzzfeed: "To Slow Down Climate Change, We Need To Take On Capitalism":

the other vast, undeniable truth that goes hand in hand with the reality of our changing climate — the crux and cause of the problem — is that we live under a global capitalist system, in which the market rules. And that system’s oversimple algorithm, which measures priceless things in terms of quarterly profit and shareholder value, is mindlessly chewing up the biosphere and the lives of everyone in it.

[…] So climate change and capitalism are two parts of the same problem; they are effect and cause. And capitalism is not only driving climate change, but also our response to it — by influencing government policy, and the development of new technology, and our basic understanding of the options open to us as we fight for a planet that can sustain life. We need to fix our economic systems, meaning our political systems, in order to fix climate change.

[…] There are even some earlier forms of capitalism that might provide tools we can repurpose. In the system of neoliberal capitalism, as theorized by Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, and legislated in the US and UK during the Reagan/Thatcher years, the market makes our policy decisions. This 40-year experiment in political economy has been a disaster. But before the neoliberal turn, there was Keynesian economics […] Government was seen as not just necessary, but good. […]  After these first steps — carbon taxes, the Green New Deal, carbon burn reductions based on the Paris Agreement — things get murkier, but the trajectory of improvement would make the next steps clearer. And the measures needed to stabilize our climate and avoid a mass extinction event (regenerative agriculture, carbon capture, wildlife stewardship, Mondragón-style co-ops) could lead to — and would require — changes that would create a more sustainable and just civilization: equal rights for women, progressive taxes, universal basic incomes and health care, public education for all, and the return of real political representation.

Optopia as the obtainable utopia? In another article for Commune Magazine, Robinson discusses the concepts of dystopia and utopia and their Greimas rectangle opposites (where the top illustration here comes from): "Dystopias Now".

dystopias today seem mostly like the metaphorical lens of the science-fictional double action. They exist to express how this moment feels, focusing on fear as a cultural dominant. A realistic portrayal of a future that might really happen isn’t really part of the project—that lens of the science fiction machinery is missing.

[…]  For every concept there is both a not-concept and an anti-concept. So utopia is the idea that the political order could be run better. Dystopia is the not, being the idea that the political order could get worse. Anti-utopias are the anti, saying that the idea of utopia itself is wrong and bad, and that any attempt to try to make things better is sure to wind up making things worse, creating an intended or unintended totalitarian state, or some other such political disaster.

[…] As Jameson points out, it is important to oppose political attacks on the idea of utopia, as these are usually reactionary statements on the behalf of the currently powerful, those who enjoy a poorly-hidden utopia-for-the-few alongside a dystopia-for-the-many. This observation provides the fourth term of the Greimas rectangle, often mysterious, but in this case perfectly clear: one must be anti-anti-utopian.

From the global to the more local. Robinson was a keynote speaker at a gathering in Sacramento, in October, organized by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and UC Water, on outreach for water and climate research.

"There is a strange disconnect between what the scientific community is telling the world and what the world is hearing. As a result of data analysis, science is announcing to the world there is climate change. Individuals cannot perceive climate change. Show them in ways that can be understood by the senses. The story has to be told with pragmatism and common sense."

Turning to interviews, the Chicago Review of Books interviewed KSR about Red Moon: "Kim Stanley Robinson's Lunar Revolution".

The question these days, I think a question that is worldwide, expressed in different places and their different systems, is this: does anyone feel truly represented by their government representatives anymore? As different as China is from the US politically, and the EU is different in another way, that question keeps popping up. Wang Hui calls it “the crisis of representation.” No one is confident they are really represented politically any more, no matter the country. So that was something I wanted to explore in Red Moon—might a moment come when populations in different countries reacted against their governments, or against global finance, at the same time? What would that look like?

[…] A couple of real stories merged for me in the story of Ta Shu’s mother. And I like the birth scene in the book. The point of view of a deeply inexperienced male observer trying to help was easy for me to imagine, having been there myself long ago. And my neighbor and friend Djina is a midwife and gave me lots of good help with imagining some of the lunar ramifications, so to speak.

[…] Writing Red Moon brought me face-to-face with the feeling that China is hard to understand, maybe impossible to understand. I wanted to write that feeling down in some detail. Then also, writing the book gave me another time with my character Ta Shu, whom I had so much enjoyed in my novel Antarctica. And it gave me Fred and Qi and their relationship, not one I had encountered before. I don’t know if that’s a change in perspective or not.

In this recent podcast for Mendelspod, on the occasion of the announcement of gene-edited babies using CRISPR, KSR discusses the enhancement on humans in his novels (see Blue Mars, 2312) and argues that we wouldn't quite know how to approach the problem of doing better than evolution, as far as human cognitive enhancements are concerned.

And here I bring up an interview from last year that I had skipped, on New York 2140, but the themes are still the same, an interview with Truthout: "Toward an Ecologically Based Post-Capitalism":

I have never read a definition of the word “libertarian” that makes any sense to me, nor sounds attractive as a principle, so I avoid that word as much as I can. Maybe “democratic socialism” is the better term for me — the idea being that people in democracies would elect representatives that would then pass laws based on socialist principles. […] There would be more steps later. I usually favor stepwise reform, but I have to admit we need the steps to come really fast, one after the next, now that climate change is about to overwhelm us.

[…] we need the state itself to become just and scientific, and the expression of everyone alive agreeing how to live together. That agreement formalized as laws becomes the state…. Best to focus on creating a good state based on just laws. For getting through the climate change emergency, I think it’s the only way that will work.

Under the guise of a review of Red Moon, New Socialist wrote a full profile of Robinson's political-ecological themes, an excellent read. Some interesting bits:

Robinson’s insistence, through a career spanning more than 30 years, that human ingenuity can open up compelling new forms of life in and against the harshest circumstances and environments, makes him one of the most consistently interesting radical writers working today in any genre.

[…] In other words, he favours doing what works. Red Moon makes repeated approving references to China’s pragmatic, eclectic energy policy, with its massive land restoration programmes and selective use of nuclear power.

[…] For Robinson, there is no pristine wilderness. Life survives through relentless adaptation. But the cautious planetary engineering he advocates is closer in spirit to Fabian technocracy than Soviet prometheanism. Indeed, the Red Mars series offers perhaps the most exhaustive account in literature of the process of transforming another world, and the ethical questions it raises.

KSR's article for his second visit to Antarctica, "Nightmare on the Ice" for Smithsonian Magazine was awarded by the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation!

Plus, some reviews of Red Moon:

And finally, to wrap up this month's link-fest, some reading recommendations from KSR:

  • "Typescript of the Second Origin" by Manuel de Pedrolo, written in 1974 in Catalan, a post-apocalyptic tale of survival and safeguard of cultural heritage, was re-published in 2017 as a trilingual new edition for which KSR wrote the foreword.
  • "Solar Bones" by Mike McCormack, an elegiac novel set in modern-day Ireland written in a single sentence, recommended by KSR in this podcast by Bookriot.
  • "Short Cuts", a short text by Billy Beswick that was just published at the London Review of Books. WeChat, Marxist Society, Utopia, migrant workers, hukou -- it describes some aspects of a fast-changing daily life in China and the disorientation of being a Westerner there, in a similar way to what KSR did in Red Moon!

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