Kim Stanley Robinson (born March 23, 1952) is an American science fiction writer, best known for his award-winning Mars trilogy. Robinson's work has been labeled by reviewers as literary science fiction.
In 1982, he married Lisa Howland Nowell, an environmental chemist, and they have two sons. Robinson has lived in Washington, D.C.; California; and during some of the 1980s in Switzerland. He now lives in Davis, California.
This trilogy is also referred to as the Orange County trilogy. The component books are titled The Wild Shore (1984), The Gold Coast (1988) and Pacific Edge (1990). It is not a trilogy in the traditional sense; rather than telling a single story, the books present three different future Californias.
The Wild Shore portrays a California struggling to return to civilization after having been crippled, along with the rest of America, by a nuclear war. The Gold Coast portrays an over-industrialized California increasingly obsessed with and dependent on technology and torn apart by the struggles between arms manufacturers and terrorists. Pacific Edge presents a California in which ecologically sane, manageable practices have become the norm and the scars of the past are slowly being healed.
Though they initially appear unconnected, the three books work together to present a unified statement. The first shows humanity crippled by a lack of technology, the second humanity swamped and almost completely dehumanized by too much technology (along with the attendant environmental damage), and the third a workable, livable compromise between the two. Although the third is a utopian novel, there is still conflict, sadness, and tragedy. The stories all contain a common character, whose circumstances serve to put the three alternatives in perspective.
This trilogy is Robinson's best-known work. It is an extended work of science fiction that deals with the first settlement of the planet Mars by a group of scientists and engineers. Its three volumes are Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars, the titles of which mark the changes that the planet undergoes over the course of the saga. The tale begins with the first colonists leaving Earth for Mars in 2027 and covers the next 200 years of future history. By the conclusion of the story, Mars is heavily populated and terraformed, with a flourishing and complex political and social dimension.
Many threads of different characters' lives are woven together in the Mars Trilogy. Science, sociology, and politics are all covered in great detail, evolving over the course of the narrative. Robinson's fascination with science and technology is clear, although he balances this with a strong streak of humanity. Robinson's personal interests, including ecological sustainability, sexual dimorphism, and the scientific method, come through strongly.
Billed as a companion piece, The Martians (1999) is a collection of short stories that involves many of the same characters and settings introduced in the Mars trilogy. Some stories occur before, during, or instead of the events of the trilogy; some expand on existing characters, and others introduce new ones. It also includes the Constitution of Mars and poetry written in character by a Martian citizen. The collection has been translated into French (Les Martiens, 2001, translated by Dominique Haas, ISBN 2-7441-4569-6) and German (Die Marsianer, 2002, translated by Peter Robert, ISBN 3-453-21355-6).
Antarctica (1997) follows very closely in the footsteps of the Mars trilogy, and it covers much of the same ground despite the differences in setting. It is set on the icy continent of the title, much closer to the present day, but it evokes many of the same themes, dealing as it does with scientists in an isolated environment, the effect that this has on their personalities and interactions, and economic systems.
As with all of Robinson's later work, ecological sustainability is a major theme in Antarctica. Much of the action is catalyzed by the recent expiration of the Antarctic Treaty and the threat of invasion and despoiling of the near-pristine environment by corporate interests.
The Years of Rice and Salt (2002) is a work of alternative history that concerns a world in which the Black Plague wiped out 99 percent of the European population (instead of the actual generally estimated 30 percent), leaving the world free for non-European expansion. It covers ten generations of history, focusing on the successive reincarnations of the same few characters as they pass through varying genders, social classes, and, in one notable example, species (a tiger).
The Science in the Capital series encompasses three novels: Forty Signs of Rain (2004), Fifty Degrees Below (2005), and Sixty Days and Counting (2007). This series explores the consequences of global warming, both on a global level and as it affects the main characters—several employees of the National Science Foundation and those close to them. A recurring theme of Robinson's is that of Buddhist philosophy, which is represented in the series by the agency of ambassadors from Khembalung, a fictional Buddhist micro-state located on an offshore island in the Ganges delta. Their state is threatened by rising sea levels, and the reaction of the Khembalis is compared to that of the Washingtonians.
Icehenge (1984) tells the story, from different viewpoints, of the discovery of a monument in the style of Stonehenge found carved from ice on Pluto and the subsequent investigation into its origin. Because humans can now live hundreds or thousands of years, they can no longer trust their own memories; which makes this novel a mystery: At least two characters claim they know the truth behind the monument. The setting of this novel bears strong resemblances to the Mars trilogy, albeit with darker, more dystopian undertones.
The Memory of Whiteness (1985) deals with a fantastic, unique musical instrument and the trials faced by its newest master as he tours the solar system; how it is described seems to contain the beginnings of many of the ideas later put to use in the Mars trilogy, although it is set centuries later.
A Short, Sharp Shock (1990) one of Robinson's few fantasy stories, dealing with an amnesiac man traveling through a mysterious land - a ridge which encircles a planet, surrounded by oceans - in pursuit of a woman who features in his first memories.
2312 (2012) is set 300 years in the future, when most of the solar system has been colonized, and Earth has been ravaged by climate change.
Shaman - A novel of the Ice Age (2013) is set in paleolithic era, and portrays an extraordinary moment in humanity's development.
Robinson published his first two short stories in Orbit 18 in 1976. Most are collected in The Planet on the Table (1986), Remaking History (1991), Down and Out in the Year 2000 (1992), and Vinland the Dream (2001).
Four humorous novellas featuring American expatriates in Nepal are collected in Escape from Kathmandu (1989); the two main characters are the similarly-named George Fergusson and George "Freds" Fredericks. The stories are:
Escape from Kathmandu - George and Freds attempt to rescue a captured Yeti, who is to be taken to the United States, and during this adventure, the Yeti comes face-to-face with ex-President Jimmy Carter in a hotel; Carter shakes its hand.
Mother Goddess Of The World - Adventures abound while various people scramble to climb Mount Everest; George believes that the bodies of early climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine should remain buried on the mountain and not returned to England.
The True Nature of Shangri-La - George and Freds attempt to preserve the sacred, hidden realm of Shambala from outsiders.
The Kingdom Underground - George wants to help the Nepali people by improving their sewerage, but Freds explains why he must not: a vast secret network of underground tunnels lies below, unguessed at. Rambunctious exploits ensue, including kidnapping the King and fleeing through the tunnels.
The Martians (1999), discussed above, further explores the world of the Mars Trilogy. On August 1, 2010, Night Shade Books released a collection entitled The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson, which includes twenty-two stories and a concluding essay.
How Science Saved the World - Nature, January 6, 2000. Also published under the title: Review: Science in the Third Millennium, which appeared in Envisioning the Future: Science Fiction and the Next Millennium, 2003, ed. Marleen S. Barr, ISBN 0-8195-6652-7. This is a facetious review of two fictional books.
If Wang Wei Lived on Mars and Other Poems (in The Martians)
Vinland the Dream (in Remaking History, later in Vinland the Dream) Originally published in Asimov's Science Fiction, November, 1991. (nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Short Story) (frequently anthologized)
Robinson's doctoral thesis examined The Novels of Philip K. Dick (1984). A hardcover version was published by UMI Research Press. He also edited and wrote the introduction of the anthology Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias (1994).
Virtually all of Robinson's novels have an ecological component; sustainability would have to be counted among his primary themes. (A strong contender for the primary theme would be the nature of a plausible utopia.) The Orange County trilogy is about the way in which the technological intersects with the natural, highlighting the importance of keeping the two in balance. In the Mars trilogy, one of the principal divisions among the population of Mars is based on dissenting views on terraforming; It is heavily debated whether or not the seemingly barren Martian landscape has a similar ecological or spiritual value to a living ecosphere like Earth's. Forty Signs of Rain is entirely ecologically themed, taking global warming for its principal theme.
Economic and social justice
Kim Stanley Robinson speaking at the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair on the social themes of his work.
Robinson's work often explores alternatives to modern capitalism. In the Mars trilogy, it is argued that capitalism is an outgrowth of feudalism, which could be replaced in the future by a more democratic economic system. Worker ownership and cooperatives figure prominently in Green Mars and Blue Mars as a replacement for traditional corporations. The Orange County trilogy explores similar arrangements; Pacific Edge includes the idea of attacking the legal framework behind corporate domination to promote social egalitarianism.
Robinson's work often portrays characters struggling to preserve and enhance the world around them in an environment characterized by individualism and entrepreneurialism, often facing the political and economic authoritarianism of corporate power acting within this environment. Robinson has been described as anti-capitalist, and his work often portrays a form of frontier capitalism that promotes ideals that closely resemble socialist systems, and faced with a capitalism that is staunched by entrenched hegemonic corporations. In particular, his Martian Constitution draws upon social democratic ideals explicitly emphasizing a community-participation element in political and economic life.
Robinson's works often portray the worlds of tomorrow as in a similar way to the mythologized American Western frontier, showing a sentimental affection for the freedom and wildness of the frontier. This aesthetic includes a preoccupation with competing models of political and economic organization.
Robinson's work often features scientists as heroes. They are portrayed in a mundane way compared to most work featuring scientists: rather than being adventurers or action heroes, Robinson's scientists become critically important because of research discoveries, networking and collaboration with other scientists, political lobbying, or becoming public figures. The Mars trilogy and The Years of Rice and Salt rely heavily on the idea that scientists must take responsibility for ensuring public understanding and responsible use of their discoveries. Robinson's scientists often emerge as the best people to direct public policy on important environmental and technological questions, on which politicians are often ignorant.
Robinson's novels have won eleven major science fiction awards, and have been nominated on twenty-nine occasions.