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.)
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.
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.
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.
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!
- 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!