17 Sep 2010

KSR Down Under, Part III

Submitted by Kimon

Aussiecon4 has ended, but articles, reviews and feedback is still coming in!

The Australian Literature Review is doing a whole series of articles dedicated to the event, and on Kim Stanley Robinson's panels specifically.

There's a report on Stan's Guest of Honour speech, for which there's additional reporting here.

"We're heading for a utopian future. And I say that because it's either utopia or a really severe catastrophe."

There's a report of Stan and Bob (that's Robert Silverberg) chatting on everything from New Wave SF, the process of writing (sitting or nude?) and archaeology to envrionmentalism, technology and the role of government. Additional reporting from Aussie blogs here.

Both started out writing on a typewriter and have known the frustration of typing and retyping pages because they couldn’t delete with their typewriter. Stan recalled about his first experience with a computer, “I remember pressing the backspace for the first time and the letter went away. I said, “I want one of these.””

Stan suggested that people’s lives in all societies are calibrated by the laws of that society and that governments have a role in continually re-calibrating those laws to meet the needs of people’s circumstances. However, Bob suggested that societies have worked best when people have freedom to pursue happiness. Stan suggested that governments have a role in distributing resources appropriately. Bob suggested that the appropriate role of government is to ensure people have the freedom to accumulate resources to direct as they choose toward the pursuit of happiness. It was refreshing to see this kind of conversation in Australia, in which two people with fundamentally different ideas on the most appropriate way for people to govern not only discussed it civilly but also discussed it in good humour as good friends.

Bob: “You’re something of an environmentalist.” (Eliciting a chuckle from the audience.)
Stan: “Except when I am flying to the other side of the world for parties.”

There's a report on the panel "Write What You Know!" with Jack Dann, Chris Lawson, Kim Stanley Robinson, Kaaron Warren, with advice for writers and the role of personal experience and research in a novel. Additional reporting and signing picture here!

Kim Stanley Robinson (K.S.R.) gave the following example: On a 2 month trip he spent in Antarctica, he stayed at a base where there were around 10 times more men than women, and the women had used the saying, “The odds are good but the goods are odd.” On that trip, he also observed how pine needles sank individually into the snow instead of a bunch of pine needles melting a patch of snow around the whole bunch. By getting some first-hand experience in an area you intend to write about in your fiction, you can pick up all sorts of details and this knowledge can add up and contribute to a much more realistic and detailed depiction.

Overall, the mantra ‘write what you know’ probably does more harm than good. Kim Stanley Robinson even went as far as stating that it came from people like Hemmingway and Kerouac who had no imagination therefore they felt they needed to have experienced everything themselves (his words, not mine). Everyone, barring aliens who read this blog, is human, everyone knows human emotions. A story, a book, a trilogy is made up primarily of human emotions. This is what we know, and this is the main area in which a writer can stuff up. The facts you can find out.

(Photo by Zachary Kendal; l-r: Tom Moylan (m), Jonathan Cowie, John Clute, Glenda Larkin, Kim Stanley Robinson)

And there's another report on the panel "Destroying the future to save the planet: the environmental politics of SF/F" with the likes of Tom Moylan, Kim Stanley Robinson, John Clute, Glenda Larke, Jonathan Cowie (also check the comments on that link). From Lord Byron's Darkness and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar Stan's own Science In The Capital trilogy, the relation of contemporary science with literature was discussed. Additional reporting here.

K.S.R. said he likes to look at the effects rather than the causes of the destruction in stories of this kind. He also said he prefers to provide practical and pragmatic portrayals of the effects of a situation – for example, if portraying a fictional situation in which use of resources is rationed out then also portraying the limitations on personal freedoms which go along with that.

John Clute describes climate change: “a global tragedy we don’t even seem to have the words to describe”

There's an exclusive interview with Stan, where he talks about his writing, his readings, his childhood and also teases his next novel:

I am about a third of the way through a novel, and will be writing it through the fall and winter, with the plan of finishing it in the spring. It’s a science fiction novel set in our solar system, all over our solar system, in the year 2312. By then people will be terraforming many planetary bodies, including Earth itself; but I hope to keep a realistic feel to the whole thing, to describe what we really could do, rather than shoot off into any kind of fantasy scenario. I’ll be pushing the boundaries of science fiction realism.

And there's more! Stan's talk on "Climate Change and Utopia" was captured on audio (direct mp3 link, courtesy of Gary Kemble) and, at least partly, on video:

Also, there's a report on the panel "The bioethics of terraforming" (basically, a panel on Mars) with Kim Stanley Robinson, James Benford, Sam Scheiner, David D. Levine.

The main question is: why would we want to go?

We could be doing it as an insurance policy. Kim Stanley Robinson said that this notion is both simplistic and naïve. Mars is not easy. Mars is cold and inhospitable. It is dusty. Dust gets into everything. It has less energy than Earth. While 15% less sunlight might not be detectable with the human eye, generating energy through solar power will require more effort. Terraforming is largely in the realm of Science Fiction, and the question is if we should attempt it in the first place. Is it ethical to modify an environment that may harbour information vital to understanding our origins?

Stan also presented this year's Hugo Award for Best Novel: a tie (!) between China Miéville's The City & the City and Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl. The Hugos have uploaded the whole ceremony on video (ack! the announcement of that award's win was not recorded!).

All in all it seemed it was great fun! And my thanks to Google alerts for helping me compile this post!

More is on the way...

(Top photo by Cory Doctorow)

4 Sep 2010

KSR Down Under, Part II

Submitted by Kimon

Kim Stanley Robinson delivered his Guest of Honour Speech at the WorldCon/AussieCon 4. Since interviewer Sean Williams was unable to make it, Stan conducted both the roles of interviewer and interviewee, jacket on/jacket off style!

An audio of the speech can already be found here (direct mp3 link), courtesy of writer and journalist Gary Kemble. Gary also wrote a piece on the speech for the Australian news service ABC News, which you can find here.

Stan took the opportunity to speak about the utopian process, and how important it is to believe, collectively, that a better future is possible, in order to achieve it.

"The more visions we have of a future where things are going right in some large sense, the more we believe in our hearts that we're headed that way as a consensus culture."

However, not much of utopia is found in fiction and literature, compared to dystopias that populate the SF genre (and in its filmic counterpart in particular!):

"The truth is it's really hard to write those kind of stories and we don't see enough of them," he said.

"Because of the utopian problem - the blueprint is boring whereas the disaster is more exciting. Making [sustainability] exciting is a double-bind, a particular problem that I wish more people would attack."

"Economics is the astrology of our time."

See previous post for the detailed program of events. Stay tuned for more.

3 Sep 2010

KSR Down Under, Part I

Submitted by Kimon

Kim Stanley Robinson, as the Guest of Honor in this year’s Worldcon, is travelling to Australia and has a very busy schedule!

First, he appeared in the Melbourne Writers’ Festival on August 29, where he was interviewed by Lucy Sussex and spoke about his passion for writing, landscapes, Galileo and history -- and his dislike of cyberpunk. Accounts of the speech can be found in the blogsphere here and there.

He was also a speaker in the Monash University academic series of conferences "Changing the Climate: Utopia, Dystopia and Catastrophe". He did a lecture with Tom Moylan on utopia and climate change on August 31st, and chaired a speech by Kohn Clute on "Truth is consequence" (this one sounds very intriguing) on September 1st. There were also many lectures on science fiction and utopia which sound extremely interesting, including several focused on Robinson's work -- Tom Moylan, Adeline Johns-Putra, Jenn Martin, Anne Melano, Chris Palmer -- the abstracts for the lectures and associated papers can be found here. I hope some of these papers will be available in some format in the future!

He was also interviewed by ABC’s Book Show, on, once more, utopia and climate change. The interview can be found here (direct mp3 link).

The Worldcon -- Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fiction Convention -- began yesterday Thursday September 2nd and will last till Monday September 6th, in Melbourne, Australia.

Stan and fellow SF writer Robert Silverberg just had a discussion in the Worldcon (see picture on the right -- picture by Cory Doctorow).

Stan’s solo lectures are set to be about Virginia Woolf’s correspondence with Olaf Stapledon correspondence and time in the novel more generally (he wrote about it last year in New Scientist); and one about the way climate change is forcing the work towards utopia upon us (after Copenhagen, Cancún, anyone?). Actually he is making a huge number of other appearances, panel discussions, interviews in the Worldcon in the coming days (wow, I didn’t know Worldcons were so busy!), namely:

Time and the novel
The mutual admiration of Virginia Woolf and Olaf Stapledon for each other’s novels will serve as a start for a
comparison of the very different treatments of time in their books, which will then lead to a discussion of the many
ways novelists can portray the passage of time, often in ways unavailable to the other arts. The impact of these
formal methods on the reader’s sense of pace and meaning, therefore crucial questions of readerly pleasure, will be
explored by way of examples from Joyce, Proust, Golding, Garcia Marquez, and other great fantasists.
Kim Stanley Robinson
Saturday 1000 Room P3

The future is overtaking us
Science fiction used to be a means of extrapolating today’s technology and society, and predicting the future. More
and more often, however, our ideas of the future simply aren’t turning true. What happens when the real world starts
advancing faster than the imaginations of science fiction writers?
Kim Stanley Robinson, John Scalzi, Mike Scott, Norman Cates
Saturday 1200 Room P3

Shaping the world: The possibilities of geoengineering
“Geoengineering” refers to the deliberate engineering of the planet, most often as a means of averting catastrophing
climate change. What sort of things would we be likely to do if the world’s governments pursued a geoengineered
solution? What could you do to a planet through geoengineering - and what would be the potential risks?
Kim Stanley Robinson, Tom Wigley, Greg Benford
Saturday 1600 Room P3

Climate change and Utopia
In the last thirty years utopia has gone from a nice idea to a survival strategy. In the coming era of climate change
we will not be able to muddle through in our current system, because the bio-physical base of our existence will not
support it. Social change is therefore inevitable; and the work of all the sciences together now suggest an emerging
plan for change in a positive direction, and a resulting sustainable civilization. Enacting that plan will be both the
history of the twenty-first century and the best utopia yet. The talk will explicate this argument.
Kim Stanley Robinson
Sunday 1100 Room P3

The race to the Red Planet
Ever since the Apollo moon landings, it always seemed Mars was the next target for human space exploration. It’s
been 41 years and we still haven’t been there. As the debate over a human mission to Mars continues, we ask the
questions: should we go? What is stopping us? What will we need to do, and consider, to make a human mission to
the red planet a success?
Kim Stanley Robinson, David D. Levine, James Benford
Sunday 1300 Room P3

The bioethics of terraforming
Let’s say we colonise Mars, and develop the technology to terraform its environment and create a warmer,
breathable atmosphere for humans to breathe. Let’s also so that we discover bacterial life on Mars - life that cannot
exist if the planet’s atmosphere changes. Do we have a responsibility to leave Mars intact, or simply try to save the
bacteria the best we can. What are the bioethics of terraforming worlds?
Kim Stanley Robinson, James Benford, Sam Scheiner, David D. Levine
Monday 1000 Room P1

Climate change: Possible futures for planet Earth
Climate change is real -- there’s no serious question about that, but just about everything else you read about it is
open to dispute by serious, knowledgeable people. Is it actually bad? (It’s change, but is change necessarily bad?) It
will cause habitat change, (But how much and how serious?) It will cause changes to the weather. (But for better or
for worse?) Assuming it can be stopped or slowed, which approaches are most likely to work? A discussion of what
we know, as well as what we don’t.
Kim Stanley Robinson, Sam Scheiner, Sean McMullen, Tiki Swain, Grace Dugan
Monday 1200 Room P1

Counterfactuals: Science fiction vs historical analysis
What role can alternate history fiction play in historical analysis? By examining the potential after-effects of a
fictionalised course of events, do we gain a fresh and valuable perspective on what actually happened? If so, what
requirements exist for alternate history fiction to achieve this aim? A look at alternate history fiction from two
perspectives: as science fiction readers, and as historians.
Kim Stanley Robinson, Gillian Polack, Dena Taylor, Jonathan Walker
Monday 1400 Room P1

This is happening right now!

I am working on gathering material from all this slew of events, and you are more than welcome to contribute! If you are attending the Worldcon and have your own word to say about the events, the topics discussed, the guests or the weather in Melbourne, do leave a comment or a link below.

5 Aug 2010

Summer releases!

Submitted by Kimon

It's the summer and you may be wondering what to read next. Here are a few fresh suggestions:

The Best Of Kim Stanley Robinson, a hardback collection of Stan's short stories and novellas across all his career, has just been released in the USA. Contents:

  • Venice Drowned
  • Black Air
  • Ridge Running
  • The Lucky Strike
  • Our Town
  • The Blind Geometer (previously uncollected)
  • Mother Goddess Of The World
  • Glacier
  • Remaking History
  • The Lunatics
  • Before I Wake
  • The Translator
  • Zurich
  • A History Of The Twentieth Century, With Illustrations
  • A Sensitive Dependence On Initial Conditions
  • Muir On Shasta
  • Vinland The Dream
  • Arthur Sternbach Brings The Curveball To Mars
  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • Discovering Life
  • How Science Saved The World (previously uncollected)
  • Prometheus Unbound, At Last (previously uncollected)
  • The Timpanist Of The Berlin Philharmonic, 1942 (previously unpublished)
  • Afterword by Kim Stanley Robinson

Some reviews can be found here, and of course you can leave your own.

Also, one year after its hardcover release (this seems to be standard publishing procedure), Galileo's Dream has now been released as a paperback in the UK (and by consequence the rest of Europe too)!

" Late Renaissance Italy abounds in alchemy and Aristotle, yet it trembles on the brink of the modern world. Galileo’s new telescope encapsulates all the contradictions of this emerging reality. Then one night a stranger presents a different type of telescope for Galileo to peer through, enabling him to see the world of humans three thousand years hence.

Galileo will soon find himself straddling two worlds, the medieval and the modern. By day his life unfurls in early seventeenth century Italy; by night he is transported through dimensions of time and space no other man of his time could possibly comprehend. Inexorably, Galileo faces trial for religious crimes in his own time, while in the new world he discovers, where science assures men that they can perform wonders, but does not tell them what wonders to perform, he is revered.

This sumptuous, gloriously thought-provoking and suspenseful novel recalls Robinson's magnificent Mars books as well as bringing to us Galileo as we have always wanted to know him. "

More reviews can be found here. Some minor corrections and modifications have been made in the text for this release compared to the first edition of the hardback. Personally, I prefer paperbacks because of how easily they can be carried around to be read anywhere in the Great Outdoors, so this is the edition I'll be reading.

All this makes for a very stellar post -- both covers are amazingly similar!


8 Jul 2010

KSR.info : 1st birthday

Submitted by Kimon

KSR.info has already reached its first birthday! Bring out the kava!

KSRi hopes to continue nurturing appreciation for Kim Stanley Robinson's works and fuel related discussions for many terrestrial revolutions around the sun to come...


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