Science Singer: Kim Stanley Robinson and His Books

The path of the writer

Kim Stanley Robinson was born March 23, 1952 in the provincial town of Waukegan (Illinois), however, as a very young child, he moved with his family to Orange County in southern California. It is with this place that almost all of Robinson’s life is connected - here the action of a number of books of the writer or his heroes originates from here.

Unlike many other American science fiction writers, Robinson was not interested in such literature in his childhood. It was only when he was in college that he became acquainted with the fiction of the “new wave” - he especially liked the manifestation in such books of a subtle sense of rapid change in the world and people. After that, Kim wanted not only to read such books, but also to write them himself - being a person with an active lifestyle, he was eager to acquaint others with his thoughts and ideas that overwhelmed him.

After graduating from the University of California at San Diego, where Robinson received his bachelor's degree in literature, he decided to write three books with alternative versions of the future Orange County. The implementation of this idea, which ultimately brought him worldwide fame, took ten whole years.

Having chosen a writing career, Robinson took the matter very seriously. To begin with, he decided to acquire the luggage of the necessary knowledge - he was not going to compose purely entertaining science fiction, but hoped to make creativity the mouthpiece of his ideas. He received a master's degree in English from Boston University and a Ph.D. from the University of California, dedicating his dissertation to the work of Philip Dick. Somewhere between studies, he met with the environmental chemist Lisa Howland Novell, whom he eventually married.

The Gift of Fear: a chapter from a book

While Robinson wrote his “alternative” trilogy in detail, he worked in a bookstore, taught courses at the University of California and spent a lot of time hiking - Kim has been fond of climbing since his youth.

Already becoming a famous writer, Robinson lived in Switzerland for two years, then he and his wife moved to Washington, where Lisa worked for the Federal Ecology Commission while her husband was at home with a child. This everyday situation was described by Robinson in the first novel of the metropolitan science trilogy - he generally often uses facts and features of his own biography in books. Since 1991, the Robinson family has been living in Davis, California, in its own home. His wife works by profession, Robinson is engaged in housekeeping and composes science fiction, brings up two sons and looks after pets - in general, an idyll!

As a science fiction writer Robinson made his debut in his student years, publishing a couple of stories in the collection "Orbit-18" (1975). For ten years he wrote only short stories, one of which, “Black Air, ” won the 1983 World Fantasy Award. However, Kim Stanley Robinson was among the leading authors of world fiction after the advent of novels that brought him not only fame and money, but also many prestigious awards.

California choice

The first significant work of Robinson, which almost immediately won him the fame of a true master of “soft” science fiction - “Orange County”, or “California Trilogy”. The action takes place in California's Orange County in three different versions of its near future, and uses different genre directions.

In the post-apocalyptic novel “The Wild Shore” (The Wild Shore, 1984), America is before us after a lost war and the everyday life of a small community engaged in daily survival. But the younger generation dreams of something more than just the extraction of daily bread. That's just where to start the revival of past greatness, young people do not understand too ...

The anti-utopia “The Gold Coast” (The Gold Coast, 1988) shows a world where America suffers from overpopulation, is on the verge of an environmental disaster, and is stuck in several wars. The inhabitants of Orange County, which has become a gigantic metropolis, are mired in routine - an endless pursuit of money and success, senseless entertainment, drugs at every turn. And a few young heroes who dream of changing something in this indifferent world, for a start - at least their own lives. That's just not too good at them ...

Finally, the trilogy was completed by the utopia “At the Edge of the Ocean” (Pacific Edge, 1990), where America lives, at first glance, God forbid everyone. No hunger, no poverty, no environmental problems. People are free, happy and prosperous. But it turns out that their freedom is ephemeral - without tight control, utopia can be destroyed. And a group of young heroes is convinced of this from their own experience ...

As you can see, the scheme of all the trilogy novels is the same: the Next generation goes through a difficult period of growing up in its modern world - it suffers from loneliness and misunderstanding, searches for its own path, tries to find peace of mind. And disappointed. But maybe that's what you need? Refuse naive illusions, whatever they may be, have the courage to make a choice - and if it is wrong, try again and again. How's the classic? "Fight and seek, find and not give up."

We are all Martians!

According to a similar scheme, another famous Robinson series is built - about Mars, which is already written in the genre of solid science fiction. Indeed, the three novels of the cycle are a large-scale and extremely reliable panorama of the long-term development of an alien planet.

In the novel “Red Mars” (Red Mars, 1992), we witness the activities of the First Hundred Colonists, an international group of scientists who lay the foundation for the upcoming transformations of an alien world. Following them, thousands of followers go to Mars ... The novel is a hybrid of "production" science fiction and psychological drama, because the Hundred turns out to be a kind of litmus test for humanity. If even among the elect there are such deep contradictions and serious passions boil, are people capable of anything worthwhile at all? It’s no wonder that creating a “brave new world” does not work out right away - after all, the founders of the Martian civilization brought from the Earth all the flaws and vices of its civilization.

In "Green Mars" (Green Mars, 1993), the author focuses on a political factor - a colony that is on its feet is trying to challenge the exhausted metropolis. However, gaining political independence is only part of the matter, the main thing for the “Martians” is to form a society that will not repeat the mistakes of the earth’s ancestral home. Will the colonists be able to put into practice the high principles of freedom, equality and fraternity?

Finally, in “Blue Mars” (Blue Mars, 1996), Robinson shows the world that has completely transformed after terraforming, where dreams of a great future have come true. However, political and scientific problems did not disappear - there is enough work for everyone.

All the novels in the cycle are arranged as a series of episodes from the lives of numerous heroes, thanks to which the reader can look at the same events and problems from different angles. Moreover, such episodes are divided chronologically, often between them lie years or even decades. Robinson also reverently follows a scientific approach - for example, the reader will have the opportunity to learn many realistic details about terraforming. Given the fact that a fair part of the trilogy is devoted to social construction, the author pays a lot of attention to issues of sociology, political science and economics. Naturally, he does not forget about the inner world of the characters - sometimes even overdoing it.

The collection “Martians” (The Martians, 1999) adjoins the trilogy - in fact, an addition from several dozen stories, essays, essays, poems built on the “memoirs” of the colonists or “written” by them.

Even taking into account a number of shortcomings, there is no such a large-scale, verified and scientifically reliable cycle in world science fiction dedicated to the colonization of another planet, in the center of which there is no adventure, battle or intrigue. Of course, now many of the author’s views look outdated, and the conclusions often seem naive, however, for its time the trilogy was a landmark work, and even now it has not lost its relevance.

Battle for the future

One of the main themes in the work of Kim Stanley Robinson is ecology. Ecological problems are directly or indirectly addressed in almost all the writer's works. It is not surprising that Robinson devoted a whole cycle to this topic - the trilogy “Science in the Capital”, which has not yet been translated into Russian.

The action takes place in the near future, when global warming leads to massive melting of ice and a change in the Gulf Stream, which threatens the onset of a new Ice Age. Some people - scientists, politicians, businessmen, are fighting for the future of mankind, but there are many who are even concerned about money and power even on the threshold of the demise of civilization.

The main character of each of the novels serves only as a secondary character of the other two, thanks to which the author shows the events through the eyes of people with different status and capabilities. At the center of Forty Signs of Rain (2004) is official Charlie Quibler, who helps his boss Senator Chase mobilize society to tackle an environmental disaster. The hero of the novel “Fifty Degrees Below, ” (2005) Frank Vanderval, a biologist living in half-sunken Washington, is trying to unite scientists from all over the world in the struggle to save the planet. Finally, Sixty Days and Counting (2007) focuses on the figure of Phil Chase, who, as president of the United States, faces upcoming icing. However, Chase is developing an ambitious plan to solve the problem ... The cycle is written in the style of a political techno thriller, and spectacular and scientifically developed descriptions of the environmental catastrophe forced the American media to christen Robinson the "king of natural disasters."

The novel Antarctica (Antarctica, 1997) is also associated with environmental problems, in which a group of eco-terrorists try to intervene in the work of the American polar station McMurdo to prevent plans for oil production in the northern latitudes. However, as a result of the adventurous actions of the radicals, the world is on the verge of war ... It is interesting that the novel serves as a kind of prequel to the “Capital Science”, because some of the characters in the trilogy are mentioned there.

But Robinson’s most striking and spectacular ecological work is the recent novel “New York 2140” (2017). Its action takes place in a great metropolis, which, due to climate change, is almost completely under water. However, people still live on the upper floors of buildings as in modern Venice. Before readers unfold the colorful everyday life of the inhabitants of one of the half-flooded skyscrapers in Madison Square. Ordinary people - a merchant, a policeman, a video blogger, a couple of street teens - lead an ordinary life. That's just in completely unusual conditions. The novel uses numerous genre tricks - in different chapters we have before us a business thriller, an adventurous story about the search for treasures, social satire, a historical chronicle, an airplane ... And in total we get a large-scale, fascinating and very convincing panorama of a very possible future option. After all, the author placed the action in 2140 for a reason - according to scientific forecasts, at this time the level of the world's oceans will rise substantially and many modern cities will be completely or partially flooded. As a result, due to the relevance of the topic, the novel is read with even greater interest!

Space distance

Kim Stanley Robinson would not be a true “science fiction” science fiction if he had not written books about space exploration. However, he is mainly attracted by stories related to events taking place on alien planets.

The action of the novel "Icehenge" (Icehenge, 1984) takes place on Pluto, where scientists find a huge block of ice with a mysterious inscription in Sanskrit (the name of the book is a reference to the legendary megalith Stonehenge). Really aliens have tried? Or is it the work of some kind of great-human civilization? The events take place in three different time periods, the story goes from the point of view of three different characters, the book touches on many topics that Robinson revealed in more detail in a later Martian cycle - so the novel can be called a peculiar outline of it.

The hero of the novel “Memory of Whiteness” (The Memory of Whiteness, 1985) embarks on a dangerous journey through the colonized planets of the solar system. The author depicts in detail different societies on the planets mastered by earthlings. And again we can say that the novel became the forerunner of one of Robinson’s most famous works - a large-scale epic about the future “2312”, which was symbolically released in 2012. The plot scheme is about the same - a tour of the solar system, from Mercury to Pluto, when through the eyes of a heroine traveler you can get acquainted with the life of different cells of human civilization, which is going along the path of space expansion. Detective intrigue and adventure for the author is not the main thing - Robinson makes every effort to create a scientifically developed look of the future, which he is very successful in.

Even the novel “Aurora” (Aurora, 2015) may well be considered a “planetary” science fiction - despite the fact that a significant part of the events takes place in open space. The fact is that the main place of action is the “star ark”, a ship of generations, inside which there is a whole world, so that its inhabitants perceive their abode as a small planet. The main difference between Aurora and most other Robinson books is overt pessimism. No, Robinson cannot be called a rampant optimist, because his heroes often experience disappointment, doubt and the collapse of ideals. However, in the finale there is always a place for hope for the best. But in Aurora it’s not so - it seems that the author does not believe in the possibility of deep space exploration, trying to convey his pessimistic attitude to the reader. Perhaps for a reason the writer’s story about the successful development of other worlds is limited by the limits of the solar system?

Therefore, it is not surprising that in the most recent novel, “The Red Moon” (Red Moon, 2018), Robinson turns to showing the realities of the next planetary community. Moreover, the main beneficiary of the world of a rather near future, according to the writer, is not his native America, but communist China. The book has a detective story, but the main thing here is still a very detailed story about a possible option for the exploration of the moon. The story is even somewhat redundant in terms of “scientificness”, although fans of hard science fiction with an abundance of carefully thought-out ideas will like the book.


The work of Kim Stanley Robinson is not limited only to “soft” and “hard” science fiction. He composed a series of humorous novels “Escape from Kathmandu” about the adventures in Nepal of a couple of unlucky adventurers who constantly get into trouble, from capturing a snowman to searching for the mysterious edge of Shangri-La. One of the writer’s best novels is the alternative story “The Years of Rice and Salt” (The Years of Rice and Salt, 2002), a carefully designed and reliable version of the development of mankind, where medieval Europeans practically died out from the plague, after which Arabs and Chinese. On the account of Robinson and a couple of historical fiction novels - "Galileo's Dream" (Galileo's Dream, 2009) and "Shaman" (Shaman, 2013). The hero of the first is the great scientist Galileo Galilei, who received a gift from the distant future, completely changing his life and destiny. And the characters of the “Shaman” are the inhabitants of the Earth of the Ice Age, who are trying to survive in extremely harsh conditions. This is perhaps the only major work of Robinson with elements of outright mysticism.

And Kim Stanley Robinson composed many stories and short stories, wrote many articles and essays. Is it possible to rank Robinson as a great science fiction writer at all times - a moot point - even despite dozens of various awards and prizes. However, the fact that he belongs to the true pillars of modern science fiction is absolutely certain.

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