15 Apr 2012

Over at Strange Horizons, a round table discussion between seven writers was published in February on the issue of climate change in fiction. Kim Stanley Robinson, notably with his Science in the Capital trilogy, was among them.

Excerpts (also relevant to 2312!):

Thinking about this composite epic we make, it occurred to me that it is thin in the middle. What I mean is that there is lots of near-future SF, and lots of space opera, but in between the near future and the far future is a much emptier zone—from say a century to a millennium after our time. Maybe this is just a difficult period to imagine, or maybe it forces the writer to include history, always a challenge to the novel as a form. Whatever the reason, that's also the time when climate change will be impacting us, so if science fiction writers shy away from that time zone, an unintended result is there is no easy way to write about climate change.

I like all three of these zones. Near future stuff is a way of talking about now as a kind of moving target—it's the best current realism. Space opera reminds us that we live in a big universe, and could become "cosmic engineers" if we were to hold on for the long haul. But maybe we need more of the in-between, which we could call "future history," if science fiction is to be really robust. That mid-zone knits together near and far futures, and helps SF to say interesting things about what humanity should try to do. Climate change might be an aspect of many stories set in that zone, as simply the likeliest future we face.

I am often called a political writer, but since I don't believe in art for art's sake, I can't really complain. Novels should have politics in them, but they should also try to be beautiful, which is not something we usually say about politics. Really the novel is a very big, capacious form, and I put my faith in readers who are generous and open-minded. They do the work of bringing stories to life, so they can say what they want, and all the writer can do is try to learn.

Indian SF author Vandana Singh also provided some positive thoughts on the Science in the Capital books.


2012 will also mark the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the release of Red Mars! A NASA astrobiologist offers his thoughts on these pressurized lava tubes that were used as settlements so memorably in Green Mars (Dorsa Brevia), in "Ask an Astrobiologist":


There are certainly many lava tubes on both the Moon and Mars. More are being discovered all the time with high-resolution photos we are taking from orbit. Lava tubes form when a lava flow begins to congeal and forms a roof of rock over the flow. When the hot lava eventually subsides and drains, a tube is left behind. I have watched lava tubes form in Hawaii, and once I accidentally walked across a tube with a roof only a few inches thick and a major river of lava still flowing inside (not an adventure I would recommend to anyone). The only problem is that lava tubes tend to form many "sky-lights" where sections of the roof collapse. Looking down from above, we see lava tubes only when there are such openings. Thus we really don’t know how many tubes there are or how easy it would be to seal them. I think that Robinson's idea remains a good one, however. His Mars Trilogy is practically required reading for astrobiologists.



Still on Mars, the fictional mathematician and physician that revolutionized the field in the twenty-second century in the Mars trilogy (Blue Mars), Bao Suyo, is mentioned in "A Wealth of Numbers: An Anthology of 500 Years of Popular Mathematics Writing", an anthology that was just published by Princeton University Press! A full seven pages of Blue Mars are reproduced within.



In other news, the 1986 short story "Our Town" is going to be released on April 24 in the online SF&F magazine Lightspeed, for its April 2012 issue.

More soon!

21 Mar 2012

Last October, the "Eye of the Storm: Re-imagining Ethics for Changing Times" project gathered in a "Thinking Community" event, close to Oregon State University.

Our premise is that old, human-centered moral systems have allowed us to damage the Earth, to our own peril and the peril of countless ecosystems and species. This cannot continue. We must find new ways to understand our moral responsibilities to one another, to the Earth, and to the future. Can these perilous times prompt us to discover and create a new set of ideas about how we ought to live?

The gathering was sponsored by Oregon Humanities, Oregon State University’s Environmental Humanities Initiative and the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word.

Among the many participants was Kim Stanley Robinson.

Along with the gathering, the Blue River Quorum was also convened.

We were philosophers, scientists, writers, poets, students, and professors of various bents. Over four intense days we thought collaboratively and open-mindedly, we learned from one another, and we worked hard to create something together none of us could create alone.
(Blue River Quorum member Michael P. Nelson, in Minding Nature, Vol. 4, No. 3)

The Quorum resulted in the Blue River Declaration: Ethics for a Changing Planet, a manifesto on the individual, the community, and the interconnectedness with the rest of the Earth.

It is available as a pdf document or a printer-friendly 3-panel brochure. Well worth reading, pondering and spreading around!

The necessity of achieving a concordance between ecological and moral principles, and the new ethic born of this necessity, calls into question far more than we might think.  It calls us to question our current capitalist economic systems, our educational systems, our food production systems, our systems of land use and ownership. It calls us to re-examine what it means to be happy, and what it means to be smart.  This will not be easy.  But new futures are continuously being imagined and tested, resulting in new social and ecological possibilities. This questioning will release the power and beauty of the human imagination to create more collaborative economies, more mindful ways of living, more deeply felt arts, and more inclusive processes that acknowledge the ways of life of all beings. In this sheltering home, we can begin to restore both the natural world and the human spirit.

A video of the gathering is available from OSU, and among many nice things it includes (from about 32min in) a reading of a draft of the Declaration by all the members of the Quorum (pictured above):

J. Baird Callicott, Madeline Cantwell, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Kristie Dotson, Charles Goodrich, Patricia Hasbach, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Katie McShane, Kathleen Dean Moore, Nalini Nadkarni, Michael P. Nelson, Harmony Paulsen, Devon G. Pena, Libby Roderick, Kim Stanley Robinson, Fred Swanson, Bron Taylor, Allen Thompson, Kyle Powys Whyte, Priscilla Solis Ybarra, Gretel Van Wieren, and Jan Zwicky.

More pictures of the event are available here and here.

19 Mar 2012

With Disney releasing the blockbuster film John Carter, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic pulp series Barsoom/John Carter of Mars, there are several articles on Mars in fiction popping up. You can say what you like about the fact that the vision of Burroughs' Mars is now extremely dated (and you can say even more things for today's film still choosing Mars as the setting!), but it left an undeniable mark in the history of science fiction.

Inevitably given the Mars trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson offered some thoughts on Mars for some of those articles.

For SF Signal:

The appeal of Mars is that it’s real. We can see it in the night sky, and we know it’s the next planet out. And now we know a great deal more about it than that. Its surface looks like parts of Earth, and has huge features, much bigger than equivalent features on Earth (volcanoes, canyons). It’s possible it still harbors bacterial life underground. It’s also possible we could visit it, and set up stations to inhabit and study it.

So: it’s real but empty, beautiful and remote, but within our reach, just barely. It’s this combination of qualities that gives it its appeal. We want to fill that emptiness with stories.

For Space.com:

"because of the Percival Lowell hallucinations, educated people from all over the planet from about 1895 to about 1935 could in good conscience believe there might be life on the next planet out, and maybe even intelligent life," said science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, who has won Hugo, Locus and Nebula awards for his Mars trilogy ("Red Mars" in 1992, "Green Mars" in 1993 and "Blue Mars" in 1996) and is author of the forthcoming novel "2312."

The first major works to deal with Mars were Kurd Lasswitz's "Two Planets," an 1897 German novel that imagined a technological utopia on the Red Planet, and H.G. Wells' "War of the Worlds" (1898), in which Martians invade Earth.

"'Two Planets' had this powerful influence on the German Rocket Society and rocket pioneers such as Wernher von Braun — we might not have been able to reach the moon if weren't for this science fiction about Mars," Robinson said.

For the Los Angeles Times:

“Mars has this secret, sneaky, almost mystical pull on people’s imagination,” says Kim Stanley Robinson, the Central California science-fiction writer who’s penned several important Mars novels.

[...] “It was a zeitgeist thing,” says Robinson. “The whole science-fiction community said, ‘We have to get beyond the Lowell-Burroughs vision.’” And though a number of writers — Frederik Pohl, Philip K. Dick — rendered distinctive visions of the Red Planet, the first and most enduring was Ray Bradbury’s.

The magazine stories that were collected in “The Martian Chronicles” in 1950 were poetic and mythical and showed a planet with a graceful, tragic race on the verge of fading out, just as mankind is showing up. “As a kid he must have loved Burroughs,” says Robinson. “In ‘The Martian Chronicles,’ he realized that Martians would be ghosts inside our minds. By the ’40s, we knew there was no oxygen, almost no water…. He was saying, ‘They may be hallucinations, but they will still haunt us.’”

And these Martians, as Newitz points out, were truly alien — not even humanoid. “The Martians are unknowable. To live on Mars you will have to become a Martian.” This, and the stories’ flashes of environmentalism, showed thinking about colonial conquest maturing past the Manifest Destiny model, she says.

A little later, the dream died unambiguously. The Mariner 4 spacecraft flew by Mars in 1964 and sent back the first detailed photographs: No canals, no seas, no aliens. “This is actually a dead world,” says Newitz. “How do we cope with that? We thought these were people we could be friends with.”

It took until the ’90s for a fictional masterpiece to adjust to the idea. Robinson’s Mars trilogy — “Red Mars,” “Green Mars,” “Blue Mars” — looked at the slow process of terraforming a dry planet by an international team and kept a focus on what the planet did to the humans who transformed and settled it. The books, Newitz says, are about “the horror of meeting ourselves — all our bad qualities are transported there.”

But even after these visions of a civilization on a sister planet teeming with life died, the shimmer of Mars hasn’t entirely dimmed.

It may be hard to move forward: Robinson’s Mars trilogy will be a tough act to follow, and the writer himself has little interest in going back. “It’s a closing-down story space,” says Robinson, “compared to Earth and climate change, or Earth and overpopulation, and so on. Earth is gonna be intensely interesting. It’s also pretty clear with the space program’s budget that we’re going to be on this planet for a while.”


Following up on the film-and-Mars topic, Alyssa Rosenberg, who had moderated a Red Mars book club reading recently, wrote a piece on"Towards Smarter Politics In Art, As a Means to Better Art", which tackles the representation of politics in films through narrative, aesthetics and the power of images in such films as Avatar, Iron Man, The Triumph of the Will, The Ides of March, Primary Colors, and eventually tails into Robinson's Mars trilogy:

Like Avatar, Robinson’s Mars trilogy has its artistic flaws, particularly a tendency to lapse into overly technical prose that explains everything from the way time works on Mars to the composition of Martian soil. And like Avatar, the Mars trilogy’s novel and refreshing engagement with politics more than makes up for those lapses. Simply by asking us what we’d dare to make new if we freed ourselves from of our gravity and our political system, Robinson’s performing a valuable service, removing some of the heaviest constraints on our thinking about everything from corporate power to energy consumption to living in multi-faith communities. His characters experiment with a barter-based economy, integrate Islam and Buddhism, and learn what it means to live beyond the normal human life-span. We may never reorganize our society so dramatically, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth considering what we’d do with the knowledge and concepts that we have if we were given an opportunity to radically realign them. Fiction can suggest juxtapositions that may not occur to us. Scenarios that seem impossible now may suddenly become pressingly important. And as his characters experiment with everything from architecture to monogamy, Robinson manages to affirm that some essential principles of humanity will carry into the future with us, making the prospect of heading off towards it less frightening.


(Image: cover for the 1970 Doubleday edition of "A Princess of Mars" by Frank Frazetta)

1 Mar 2012

2312 in The Baffler 19

Submitted by Kimon

The upcoming issue of The Baffler will feature an excerpt from Kim Stanley Robinson's upcoming novel 2312! This is an exclusive look before the novel's publication in May!

The Baffler, a magazine of cultural, art, political and business criticism, has been published since 1988 and has featured articles from some prestigious contributors. Since 2010, The Baffler has been relaunched with new editor John Summers and new publisher MIT Press.

On the contents of Issue 19:

In March, after a two-year hiatus, The Baffler will return with a dazzling new issue. Behold its cover! Contained therein are thundering new salvos from Thomas Frank, Barbara Ehrenreich, Rick Perlstein, and David Graeber, fiction from Kim Stanley Robinson and Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, plus a scintillating assortment of poetry, photography, and satirical art. Both print and digital subscriptions are now available.

The Baffler Issue 19 will be available in select bookstores but especially on subscription, on March 6.


Subscribe to KimStanleyRobinson.info RSS