13 Nov 2009

This week, the UK newspaper The Guardian published a new interview with Stan Robinson, by Alison Flood. The interview was appearantly conducted this summer, when Robinson crossed the Atlantic to attend the commemorations for the 400th anniversary of Galileo's unveiling of his telescope in Venice (2009 was declared the year of astronomy by the International Astronomical Union).

Among other things, Robinson talks about time and our perception of it, a recurring theme in his works, of his conception of Galileo's Dream, and the love he developed for the historical character of Galileo.

The germ of it began when he was researching his alternate history, The Years of Rice and Salt [...] and needed to come up with an alternative scientific revolution. Studying our own, he found Galileo "right in the middle of it". "I put that aside but thought 'there's an interesting story'," says Robinson. "He seemed like such a confident guy, you might even say a brash guy – you could put him in any situation." [A] "tremendous human story". The result, all science fiction aside, is a wonderfully warm, accurate portrayal of the man. "I didn't want to mess with that. His life is too interesting to disturb."

Galileo's Dream is the first time Robinson uses time travel and aliens in his works, but that does not mean he departs from his trademark realism:

"Essentially I sort of believe Stanislaw Lem. If we did run into an alien intelligence we'd be reduced to doing what Galileo suggests [in the novel] – drawing Pythagoras's theorem and seeing if they're in the same physical cosmos as us. And that's about all you could say to an alien," says Robinson. "So these aliens which proliferate in science fiction – well, I don't think that's the way it's going to be."

Stanislaw Lem's novel Solaris is well-known for his description of a being that is undoubtedly conscious but also unfathomably other, alien, different -- far from the typical humanoid aliens abundant in SF literature and films (photo on the right from the film adaptation of Solaris by Andrei Tarkovsky).

In line with his idea that technological evolution is going so fast that we are living in a science fiction novel of our own making, Robinson says of "the crisis for this tiny genre" of science fiction literature:

"Depending what we do in next 20 years, it's very hard to be plausible, to say this is what's going to happen. At that point you can't write science fiction, [so] the genre is in a little bit of a crisis, and all the young people are reading fantasy." Robinson himself, however, presses on undaunted. He's considering future novels set around Saturn or Mercury; he's looking into a book about Herman Melville, who "after his career as a novelist crashed had another career as a customs inspector"; he's keen to put what he learnt from Galileo – the work ethic, "the tenacity of the man", into practice.

The next Robinson novel to focus on Herman Melville? Or one with a setting of a Memory Of Whiteness-type colonized solar system?

5 Nov 2009

The readings and Q&A sessions Stan Robinson conducted in October in various Californian cities for the launch of The Lucky Strike are now finished.

Some of them were recorded:

First, the Agony Column had an extensive coverage of the October 17th event organized by SF in SF, complete with readings, panel discussion and interviews. Present were also Eric Simons, who also did a reading of his novel on following the footsteps of Charles Darwin (literally), and Terry Bisson, who hosted the reading and discussion panel that followed. Stan's reading was actually a selection of passages from the Lucky Strike that give you a feeling of what it's about.

In the excellent words or Rick Kleffel: "And with this reading from his novella, you get the best of both worlds. Robinson abridged his story while reading at SF in SF, off-the-cuff, so to speak, reading selections here and there that boil down the story and give a perfect verbal version of the much longer written version. What’s so nice is that when you listen to the reading, you can get the emotional and intellectual shock of Robinson's story. You'll feel the literal blast that he describes as he reads. But because Robinson has read a self-abridged version of his longer story, you can still go out, but the book and read the story to get the fully fleshed-out as well as the live reading audio experience. This is a very clever move on his part, and not just because he sells you a book. No, it's much better than that. As a listener and a reader, you'll get to experience the same set events from two equally powerful perspectives; the reading experience will enhance the audio and vice versa, but in a different manner. It's a fascinating experiment for the writer and the reader."

The reading of The Lucky Strike was followed by a reading of A Sensitive Dependance On Initial Conditions, which is also part of the recent Lucky Strike publication by PM Press (I have/had not read it until now and I found it nothing short of amazing).

Suitably enough, the two authors' novels, one on Darwin and one on Galileo, fuelled the discussion that followed. The process of history, travelling (including a question on Escape From Kathmandu!) and writing. Robinson didn't miss the opportunity to express his disbelief at the technological Singularity, something he sees as a bad recurring science fiction idea that as of lately has replaced the preceding fad, nanotechnology, in the minds of certain SF writers.

Links: the reading; the panel; the interview.

Second, the reading at Stan's "favorite bookstore on this planet": Moe's Books, on October 22nd. The recording includes Terry Bisson's reading from his parodic "The Left Left Behind", a reading of "The Lucky Strike" similar to the above, and a reading of another of Robinson's shorts, "Prometheus Unbound, At Last"!

Also, Shareable has posted an excerpt of the interview Terry Bisson conducted with Stan for the Lucky Strike publication.

Thanks to Ramsey from PM Press for the feedback (and, well, for making the books a reality in the first place!).

If you attended these or another of the readings and have feedback or interesting tidbits to share, feel free to comment below.

12 Oct 2009

Apart from the two readings in San Francisco I posted previously, more readings in California with Stan Robinson and Terry Bisson have been announced, for their release of The Lucky Strike and The Left Left Behind from PM Press respectively. Each will give a presentation, then interview each other and answer questions from the audience.

You can see the list of events in the all-new Upcoming Events calendar on the left. The complete readings list is as follows:

The Variety Preview room for SF in SF in San Francisco on Saturday October 17, 7:00pm
[reading with Robinson and Eric Simons]
582 Market St. @ Montgomery
1st floor of The Hobart Bldg.
San Francisco, CA

The Avid Reader at the Tower in Sacramento on Sunday October 18, 2:00pm
1600 Broadway
Sacramento, CA 95818
Tel: (916) 441-4400

Pegasus Books in Berkeley on Tuesday October 20, 7:30pm
2349 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, California 94707

The Green Arcade in San Francisco on Wednesday October 21, 7:00pm
1680 Market Street @ Gough
San Francisco, CA 94102

Moe's Books in Berkeley on Thursday October 22, 7:30pm
2476 Telegraph Avenue
Berkeley CA 94704

The Avid Reader in Davis (where Robinson lives) on Friday October 23, 7:30pm
617 Second Street
Davis, CA 95616
Tel: (530)758-4040

Borderlands Books in San Francisco on Saturday October 24, 3:00pm
866 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

Moe's Books in Berkeley on Tuesday October 27, 7:30pm - event to be confirmed
2476 Telegraph Avenue
Berkeley CA 94704

11 Oct 2009

Anthology of Interest

Submitted by Kimon

The MangalaWiki, the Kim Stanley Robinson encyclopedia, has safely reached 120 articles and growing! You can drop by and browse around and contribute anytime.

News from what's happening in the world, touching upon themes that might be of interest to Stan Robinson readers. On the menu this week: some geoengineering, the economy crisis, prehistorical climate change, renewables investment and alien-like photos on Earth!

More after the jump.

Following the recent dust storm in Australia that made it look like Mars (we linked to pictures here), the dust had some interesting effects on the marine biota that could very well serve as proof-of-concept for geoengineering efforts. The dust that settled in the ocean provided nitrogen and phosphate to the plankton, whose population exploded and in turn expanded the population of local fish. At the same time, this ocean fertilization caused the algae to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their organisms and -- arguably -- store it in ocean depths for the long term.

Ocean fertilization using iron dumping has been proposed before but as with any large geoengineering project its wider effects are a matter of debate. This is very akin to the salt dispersion effort championed by Frank Vanderwal and NSF in the Science In The Capital books to restart the thermohaline circulation of the oceans. (via io9)

"Crisis management specialist and personal advisor" John Berling Hardy uses a Robinson quote from Green Mars ("That’s libertarians for you – anarchists who want police protection from their slaves", from the anarchist character The Coyote) to argue for a more balanced regulation of the market in this article.

William Ruddiman, professor at the University of Virginia, published a paper supporting the idea that humans first started altering the Earth's climate when they first started farming some 5000-8000 years ago, burning forests to clear land and building rice paddies that release methane, an idea he has been supporting since 2003. The idea has met with criticism, for example that people were too few back then to have an effect, that they had no modern fertilizers or tools, to which Ruddiman replied that these early farmers had a lot of land and no means to control the fires they started, meaning they could farm the ground to a barren state and move on -- effectively "those tens of millions (of people) had the impact of hundreds of millions, because per person, they had 10 times the impact". Coincidentally, I got a similar feeling when I read Stephen Baxter's Evolution: humans have been altering the environment extensively be it through bush fires, farming or wood and coal burning for thousands of years. A dangerous assertion from this would be to think that today's climate change is not caused by fossil fuel combustion and that there is no need to move away from that: a point on which both Ruddiman and his critics agree needs to be acted upon.

Speaking of which, the world is gearing up for the United Nations' meeting in Copenhagen in December, where a follow-up on 1997's Kyoto Protocol will be debated, with talks this week in Bangkok. This week also, the European Commission announced it would triple its research budget on clean technologies from €3bn to €8bn yearly following its 2007 Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan that would put it in a pathway to reduce its emissions by 80% by 2050 compared to 1990 emissions levels.

And on a final note, here are some beautiful photos from alien-looking landscapes that are however very much Earth-based. This city in Yemen looks straight out of a fantasy novel!

(photo by Jan Vandorpe)



2 Oct 2009

"The Lucky Strike" by PM Press is now released in the USA. It contains the titular novella, another short story and an in-depth interview with Robinson. You can post impressions and reviews here. The release date for other territories seems to be 2010.

On that occasion, Stan will be doing readings in October in San Francisco. He will be appearing with author Terry Bisson, who is also part of the "Outspoken Authors" series launched by PM Press and had participated in the Robinson-edited collection Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias in 1997 with "Bears Discover Fire" (also check out this excellent filmed short adaptation of Bisson's classic short story "They're Made Out Of Meat"!). Two readings are to be held:

The first on Oct-21-2009, 7pm, at The Green Arcade:
The Green Arcade
1680 Market Street @ Gough
San Francisco, CA 94102

The second on Oct-24-2009, 3pm, at Borderlands Books:
Borderlands Books
866 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

Also, Robinson has penned the introduction to "Mythmakers and Lawbreakers: Anarchist Writers on Fiction" (AK Press, an independent publisher specialized in radical and anarchist literature), also released on October 1st 2009. With interviews by Steampunk Magazine editor Magpie Killjoy of the likes of The Dispossessed writer Ursula LeGuin, ecotage partisan Derrick Jensen, V for Vendetta writer Alan Moore, "Multiverse" writer Michael Moorcock and many others, where they "reflect on the ways in which their personal politics have shaped their work", this book gives a "specific focus on anarchist politics" in fiction. Magpie will be touring for it as well, and since it's under creative commons a PDF should be available later on.



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