6 Jul 2019

The Marooned! on Mars with Matt and Hilary podcast has done it! They have covered the whole Mars trilogy chapter by chapter and unlocked an achievement: an interview with the man himself!

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.)


Some interviews:

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.


For IEEE Spectrum on Red Moon:

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.


For Anthropocene Magazine on New York 2140, the Green New Deal his next novel:

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. 


For Mendelspod (podcast), on 2312, genetic enhancements and knowing the human brain, and apparently what are unconventional answers to such questions for a sci-fi writer:

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!


Some miscellany:

  • 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!

10 May 2019

Gene Wolfe and Earth Day

Submitted by Kimon

First, a sad news. About a year after UKL, SF/literature Grand Master Gene Wolfe passed away in April. Wolfe has been there since the beginning of Stan Robinson's career in the 1975 Clarion writers' workshop; he influenced him from the very beginning, and they have been long-time friends.

Indeed, the above illustration is a cover for Icehenge, with a recommendation from Wolfe. KSR's Icehenge shares with Wolfe's The Fifth Head of Cerberus a three-part structure and themes of ambiguity of reality and historical fact!

Here is what KSR has said about Wolfe in some interviews (Lightspeed, Infinityplus):

[Gene Wolfe and Samuel R. Delany] are two of my favorite writers, and two of my teachers when I was at Clarion in 1975, and two of the people I’ve read all through their whole careers, and two human beings I revere and feel are exemplary figures.

[Gene Wolfe] has contributed so much. In short, greatness. He is similar to the great modernist masters of the first half of the century, people like Stevens or Proust or Woolf, in that he has a very powerful personal vision, and great moral complexity and intensity, expressed in beautiful prose and surreal imagery, in many superb stories and novels. We in the sf community can point to his work as evidence that science fiction is capable of achieving all that modernism ever hoped for literature, and then some, in that he plots better than most of the modernists.

And of course KSR wrote the introduction to the 2011 short story collection "The Very Best of Gene Wolfe", available at NYRSF:

I am proud to know him even a little, and speaking with full confidence for the science fiction community, which is like a small town scattered over the face of the earth and across time too, I’ll say: we are proud of Gene Wolfe. We have published him, we read him with joy, we celebrate him; we will always have reason to be proud of that. Gene shows that literature can be everything, a game, a mystery, a religion, a dive into the deepest depths. 


RIP, Master Wolfe.



Since its release last October, KSR's latest novel Red Moon has been in the bestsellers list for hardbacks! As compiled by Locus from many sources (October, November, December - data comes in with a few months' delay). Also, Red Moon has been nominated for a Locus Award!


KSR was a keynote speaker at the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies of University of Wisconsin-Madison for Earth Day on April 22 (named after the Wisconsian Gaylord Nelson, who founded Earth Day in 1970!). His talk was titled "Imagining the Possibilities: Climate, Technology, and Society". Some reporting from the talk in this article -- "Although the human population is never really the main point of our environmental problem because different humans use different amounts of energy and carbon. The fewer people there are, the less pressure on the planet, but it also depends how those people live. If you live cleanly, the numbers aren’t the problem." -- and I'm sure a video of this will surface soon.

While there, KSR was interviewed by a Madison radio show: KSR on Public Affair, on his career writing SF, Green New Deal, carbon tax, the Extinction Rebellion and Wisconsian Aldo Leopold.

He was also intervewed by the always-reliable Gerry Canavan, for Edge Effects. The fascinating discussion ranged from geoengineering, ecological consciousness in an age of rising right-wing politics and the place of SF today. The entire conversation is available here. A highlight:

The thing that I gives me hope is the Paris Accords. When we first began this discussion maybe fifteen years ago, that would have been a completely utopian prospect. If I’d said, well, what we need is an international organization that’s under the U.N. auspices, where all the nations come to agree to their own carbon burn reduction and that would be a framework going forward—if I’d proposed that—it would have been a Robinsonian utopian science fiction idea. And yet it happened in the real world. Of course, it’s not enough. It’s endangered. It’s just a set of promises, and there is no sheriff. There’s no sheriff on this planet to make us do the right thing.


A second interview I wanted to highlight is a particularly lively and enjoyable discussion with the Antifada podcast: "Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism w/ Kim Stanley Robinson" (the logo of which is too cool not to include here, at the bottom!). Topics discussed: Ursula K Le Guin, bird counting, being taught by Jameson about Philip K Dick, thinking about violent vs "smart" revolution, on the "too easy" quality of writing dystopias, the discussion around the Green New Deal and what is considered acceptable in the mainstream, billionnaires and innovation and taxation, the Democratic Socialists of America, computing power and the planned economy, blockchain, carbon quantitative easing, writing about drugs and sex, the omnipresence of screens and video games, gender fluidity and family and sociobiology, psychedelics. spirituality!... This was reposted by the Chapo Trap House podcast, too.


Another highlight is this older (November 2018) interview I did not link to earlier, an extensive exchange for the open-access online journal NatureCulture, "Writing Science Fiction Out of Experience: SF, Social Science and Planetary Transformations". Plenty of things to highlight here: several of KSR's influences and readings -- Marcel Mauss, Lewis Hyde, Michael Taussig, Donald Mackenzie, Bruno Latour, Frederic Jameson, Mario Biagioli, Gary Snyder, Ram Dass, Wai-lim Yip, Wang Hui -- his reading of Configurations (transdisciplinary journal about the interplay between science, technology, and the arts), the valorization and critique of  science and technology studies, science vs capitalism, and detailed discussion of his works and themes.

On a particular though line in his novels:

from the Mars novels: "both science fiction and metaphor or allegory, or a kind of modeling by miniaturization or what Jameson called ‘world reduction’—Martian society would be smaller and thus simpler, and it would be very obviously revealed to be necessarily also a place where people were actively engaged in making the biophysical substrate that we need to live."

...to Aurora: "an attempt to explain why that same process of terraformation and human inhabitation that might work on Mars would not work outside this solar system [...] it does shine light from a different angle on the difficulties of terraforming even Mars, where now we are not sure if it is alive or dead"

...to Red Moon: "the moon is different again—too small and volatile-free to be terraformed, and thus just a rock in space, a place for moon bases perhaps, but not for habitation as we usually think of it."

...and what he takes out of it all: "these stories have together convinced me that we co-evolved with Earth and are a planetary expression that needs to fit in with the rest of the biosphere here, that we have no other choice about that—and this is an important story for science fiction to tell, given there are so many other kinds of science fiction stories saying otherwise."

On his approach to pragmatism and ideology:

I am definitely in favor of pragmatic, impure forms of experimentation when it comes to survival by way of getting ourselves into a sustainable balance with our planet. And yes, I don’t like people proclaiming too vigorously their purity. That plays into a model of pure/impure that leads to sacred/profane, or simply good/bad, that I don’t think matches the biophysical realities of our position as living creatures on a planet, as a species trying to get along with other species. Most of the various “pure” positions are too self-righteous for me, too non-scientific. [...] Market fundamentalism is a pure idea that has failed badly but still controls far too much of our work and thinking, for instance. So I often find myself telling stories about this kind of conflict between pure and pragmatic, and about the need for open-minded approaches to our problems.

On science and regulating its development:

There’s an implied goal in science, to add to human power and to decrease human suffering; these are either derivative effects or preliminary axioms, but in any case they are philosophical or ethical matters that lie outside the scientific method itself, they are the why driving the how. 

[...] As part of all that, the more we know, the more we may be able to act on behalf of humanity and the biosphere of Earth. So in fact “science” should always be trying to “speed up,” at least in its understanding. Maybe in applications that one finds in engineering etc., there should be some slowing down, yes. But here we’re slipping around between science as science and science as a word for STEM.

After we learn new things, what should we do with what we know and what we’re learning? That’s what your question is referring to, I’m sure. There we are talking about law, and about the nexus of politics and economics that results in a power dynamic of some humans over other humans and over the biosphere. Powerful people trying to use scientific results to maximize profits no matter the costs to people and biosphere—they definitely need to be “slowed down.” As in disempowered and in some cases jailed. The economist John Maynard Keynes called this “the euthanasia of the rentier class,” an ominous-sounding phrase for someone as moderate at Keynes, but he definitely said something like this. In any case, the problem of what to do with our science is not a question internal to science or even to STEM practitioners. It’s a political question or a philosophical question, with answers that begin in philosophy and quickly turn into political economy.

On writing Red Moon and China:

when I wrote my alternative history, I took in so much Chinese history that I felt I knew the place. So, after all that, I thought I would try writing about China in the near future. [...] Ultimately when it came to the question of me writing a novel, I found that China was too big while the moon was too small. Some good choices concerning point of view and other formal aspects of the novel allowed me to find my way to a story I like, despite these problems. In the end the characters made it for me.

On the citizen revolutions in New York 2140 and Red Moon:

There are all kinds of inputs to this project, but an important one is a group of radical economists I ran into about ten years ago; these people been helping me think the particulars of how a “householders’ union” could seize power from finance and shift it back to people.

On artificial intelligence in Aurora and Red Moon:

I used to be an AI skeptic, but then I thought, what do I really know about this? Nothing; I’m basically just judging sentences uttered by other people for their plausibility as science fiction stories. So I’ve tried, since having that thought, to listen to some of the people on the cutting edge of research and experimentation in this regard. Some of them doubt we can even get self-driving cars, and fear another “AI funding crash” following over-hype, as in the early 1970s. But even these skeptics are doing the work, so I think it behooves a science fiction writer to pay attention and at least consider some ramifications, without falling into old cliches.

And two interesting bits that are unique insights about the relations between writer and reader:

I wonder, if it had occurred to me while writing, if I would have chosen it. But it never did occur to me. And truthfully, it feels odd to speak about choosing the incidents in my plots. I know it must be true that that happens, but it feels more like these stories just happen to me, like dreams do. I’m not a lucid dreamer; my dreams seize me. And my novels too.

A novel is a shared project between writer and reader, very strange when you think of it, and very satisfying to feel when on either side of the action. Because the novel is a heteroglossia, a polyvocal exercise in which the novelist choreographs things that everyone is already feeling, the power of any novel is limited—it has to fit the zeitgeist somehow to be read at all, and then it exists as part of a complex feedback loop, and may not so much make change as express it. 


Meanwhile, Earth Day in UC Berkeley was celebrated with the exhibit "Earth Day 3019: Mapping Climate Fiction", which paired cli-fi novels with maps and graphs related to the books’ locations, and KSR's New York 2140 was included!

NY2140 has been included in many articles of late discussing climate change and life in cities, for instance this Guardian article on books about building cities, or this Vice News little interview with KSR for HBO on his future New York City after sea level rise, or this Conversation article discussing the impact of SF in public discourse.

As for more proof that climate change is on everybody's mind, here is a bit of trivia: KSR's NY2140 was mentioned in Jeopardy, and the man who it seems coined the term "cli-fi", Dan Bloom, wrote about it!

We have reported about KSR being the judge for the short fiction contest by Arizona State University's Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative. "Everything Change: An Anthology of Climate Fiction, Volume II" has now been published (online, creative commons), featuring a foreword by KSR! More about the winner author and the collection here.

Speaking of forewords, KSR wrote the introduction to a new beautiful edition of Philip K. Dick's UBIK.

Finally, lest you forget, Matt and Hilary are fast ploughing through the Mars trilogy in their Marooned! on Mars podcast -- quick, catch up on this landmark KSR-inspired work!

14 Jan 2019

A Red Moon is no Planet B

Submitted by Kimon

As Red Moon continues to make waves, Kim Stanley Robinson continues to produce articles raising the alarm bell for action on ecological sustainability and social justice, and arguing for world civilization to change direction towards a "Good Anthropocene".

The latest one is for the important and historical NGO Sierra Club: "There Is No Planet B: It's up to us to craft the shape of the future", for a special issue of their magazine on climate change adaptation. Some selected passages:

That future would, in effect, be the story of humanity devoting itself to nurturing the health of the biosphere and creating a sustainable prosperity for all the living creatures on this planet. While not exactly utopia, that future could be called optopia—the "optimal place," the best possible outcome given the current conditions.

[…] "Geo-engineering" is a misnomer. It would be more appropriate to call these attempts at planetary remodeling by another name: geo-tweaking or geo-finessing or geo-begging. These terms better indicate how puny civilization's powers are relative to giant forces such as the chemistry of the oceans, the balance of the atmosphere, and the interplay among millions of species.

[…] Perhaps the most important thing we can do to adapt to climate chaos and the dislocations of the Anthropocene is to rethink the assumptions and revise the rules of corporate capitalism. After all, the current economic order, while massive, isn't permanent or unchangeable. It's a human artifact: We made it over time through a series of power plays and improvisations. And that means we can remake it, if we have the courage to do so.

[…] Essentially, we as a society would be deciding to pay ourselves to do the work needed to create a good Anthropocene. An ecology-minded quantitative easing would be its own kind of geo-engineering. Some are calling this the Green New Deal.

On similar thoughts of global change and need for reform is this article by Robinson at Buzzfeed: "To Slow Down Climate Change, We Need To Take On Capitalism":

the other vast, undeniable truth that goes hand in hand with the reality of our changing climate — the crux and cause of the problem — is that we live under a global capitalist system, in which the market rules. And that system’s oversimple algorithm, which measures priceless things in terms of quarterly profit and shareholder value, is mindlessly chewing up the biosphere and the lives of everyone in it.

[…] So climate change and capitalism are two parts of the same problem; they are effect and cause. And capitalism is not only driving climate change, but also our response to it — by influencing government policy, and the development of new technology, and our basic understanding of the options open to us as we fight for a planet that can sustain life. We need to fix our economic systems, meaning our political systems, in order to fix climate change.

[…] There are even some earlier forms of capitalism that might provide tools we can repurpose. In the system of neoliberal capitalism, as theorized by Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, and legislated in the US and UK during the Reagan/Thatcher years, the market makes our policy decisions. This 40-year experiment in political economy has been a disaster. But before the neoliberal turn, there was Keynesian economics […] Government was seen as not just necessary, but good. […]  After these first steps — carbon taxes, the Green New Deal, carbon burn reductions based on the Paris Agreement — things get murkier, but the trajectory of improvement would make the next steps clearer. And the measures needed to stabilize our climate and avoid a mass extinction event (regenerative agriculture, carbon capture, wildlife stewardship, Mondragón-style co-ops) could lead to — and would require — changes that would create a more sustainable and just civilization: equal rights for women, progressive taxes, universal basic incomes and health care, public education for all, and the return of real political representation.

Optopia as the obtainable utopia? In another article for Commune Magazine, Robinson discusses the concepts of dystopia and utopia and their Greimas rectangle opposites (where the top illustration here comes from): "Dystopias Now".

dystopias today seem mostly like the metaphorical lens of the science-fictional double action. They exist to express how this moment feels, focusing on fear as a cultural dominant. A realistic portrayal of a future that might really happen isn’t really part of the project—that lens of the science fiction machinery is missing.

[…]  For every concept there is both a not-concept and an anti-concept. So utopia is the idea that the political order could be run better. Dystopia is the not, being the idea that the political order could get worse. Anti-utopias are the anti, saying that the idea of utopia itself is wrong and bad, and that any attempt to try to make things better is sure to wind up making things worse, creating an intended or unintended totalitarian state, or some other such political disaster.

[…] As Jameson points out, it is important to oppose political attacks on the idea of utopia, as these are usually reactionary statements on the behalf of the currently powerful, those who enjoy a poorly-hidden utopia-for-the-few alongside a dystopia-for-the-many. This observation provides the fourth term of the Greimas rectangle, often mysterious, but in this case perfectly clear: one must be anti-anti-utopian.

From the global to the more local. Robinson was a keynote speaker at a gathering in Sacramento, in October, organized by UC Agriculture and Natural Resources and UC Water, on outreach for water and climate research.

"There is a strange disconnect between what the scientific community is telling the world and what the world is hearing. As a result of data analysis, science is announcing to the world there is climate change. Individuals cannot perceive climate change. Show them in ways that can be understood by the senses. The story has to be told with pragmatism and common sense."

Turning to interviews, the Chicago Review of Books interviewed KSR about Red Moon: "Kim Stanley Robinson's Lunar Revolution".

The question these days, I think a question that is worldwide, expressed in different places and their different systems, is this: does anyone feel truly represented by their government representatives anymore? As different as China is from the US politically, and the EU is different in another way, that question keeps popping up. Wang Hui calls it “the crisis of representation.” No one is confident they are really represented politically any more, no matter the country. So that was something I wanted to explore in Red Moon—might a moment come when populations in different countries reacted against their governments, or against global finance, at the same time? What would that look like?

[…] A couple of real stories merged for me in the story of Ta Shu’s mother. And I like the birth scene in the book. The point of view of a deeply inexperienced male observer trying to help was easy for me to imagine, having been there myself long ago. And my neighbor and friend Djina is a midwife and gave me lots of good help with imagining some of the lunar ramifications, so to speak.

[…] Writing Red Moon brought me face-to-face with the feeling that China is hard to understand, maybe impossible to understand. I wanted to write that feeling down in some detail. Then also, writing the book gave me another time with my character Ta Shu, whom I had so much enjoyed in my novel Antarctica. And it gave me Fred and Qi and their relationship, not one I had encountered before. I don’t know if that’s a change in perspective or not.

In this recent podcast for Mendelspod, on the occasion of the announcement of gene-edited babies using CRISPR, KSR discusses the enhancement on humans in his novels (see Blue Mars, 2312) and argues that we wouldn't quite know how to approach the problem of doing better than evolution, as far as human cognitive enhancements are concerned.

And here I bring up an interview from last year that I had skipped, on New York 2140, but the themes are still the same, an interview with Truthout: "Toward an Ecologically Based Post-Capitalism":

I have never read a definition of the word “libertarian” that makes any sense to me, nor sounds attractive as a principle, so I avoid that word as much as I can. Maybe “democratic socialism” is the better term for me — the idea being that people in democracies would elect representatives that would then pass laws based on socialist principles. […] There would be more steps later. I usually favor stepwise reform, but I have to admit we need the steps to come really fast, one after the next, now that climate change is about to overwhelm us.

[…] we need the state itself to become just and scientific, and the expression of everyone alive agreeing how to live together. That agreement formalized as laws becomes the state…. Best to focus on creating a good state based on just laws. For getting through the climate change emergency, I think it’s the only way that will work.

Under the guise of a review of Red Moon, New Socialist wrote a full profile of Robinson's political-ecological themes, an excellent read. Some interesting bits:

Robinson’s insistence, through a career spanning more than 30 years, that human ingenuity can open up compelling new forms of life in and against the harshest circumstances and environments, makes him one of the most consistently interesting radical writers working today in any genre.

[…] In other words, he favours doing what works. Red Moon makes repeated approving references to China’s pragmatic, eclectic energy policy, with its massive land restoration programmes and selective use of nuclear power.

[…] For Robinson, there is no pristine wilderness. Life survives through relentless adaptation. But the cautious planetary engineering he advocates is closer in spirit to Fabian technocracy than Soviet prometheanism. Indeed, the Red Mars series offers perhaps the most exhaustive account in literature of the process of transforming another world, and the ethical questions it raises.

KSR's article for his second visit to Antarctica, "Nightmare on the Ice" for Smithsonian Magazine was awarded by the Society of American Travel Writers Foundation!

Plus, some reviews of Red Moon:

And finally, to wrap up this month's link-fest, some reading recommendations from KSR:

  • "Typescript of the Second Origin" by Manuel de Pedrolo, written in 1974 in Catalan, a post-apocalyptic tale of survival and safeguard of cultural heritage, was re-published in 2017 as a trilingual new edition for which KSR wrote the foreword.
  • "Solar Bones" by Mike McCormack, an elegiac novel set in modern-day Ireland written in a single sentence, recommended by KSR in this podcast by Bookriot.
  • "Short Cuts", a short text by Billy Beswick that was just published at the London Review of Books. WeChat, Marxist Society, Utopia, migrant workers, hukou -- it describes some aspects of a fast-changing daily life in China and the disorientation of being a Westerner there, in a similar way to what KSR did in Red Moon!
19 Dec 2018

Are you reading RED MOON over the Christmas break? Or during the Chinese New Year? It must be one of the two, East and West looking at each other, progressively realizing they are not that different. Meanwhile, China has launched a probe, Chang'e 4, to explore The Dark Side of the Moon, and it should be landing in the first days of January 2019 -- in a spot close to the location of Fang Fei's refuge in Red Moon!

Here are some Red Moon excerpts to whet your appetite: Orbit has the first chapters with Fred's landing on the moon (also on Facebook), Syfy has Ta Shu's first impressions of the moon, Hachette also introduces the Analyst and the quantum computer Little Eyeball, and at The Verge Ta Shu goes on a moonwalk with an Earthrise! You can also listen to Fed's moon landing in this clip from the audio book version.

KSR has wanted to write a China-themed novel ever since doing all that research to write The Years of Rice and Salt. Says Robinson (from Syfy):

"I really loved reading Chinese history, Chinese literature. I had never been there but I wanted to write about it again, and what I didn't realize was writing about China in the present and the near future was vastly harder than writing about it in the past."

"It's different from when people ask me, because of my Mars Trilogy, if I'd go to Mars, and I always say no," he revealed. "Because you're talking about five years away from Earth stuck in little rooms and it's not my thing. Now the moon is different! You get there in three days, you spend a while bouncing around looking at Earth and tripping on the strangeness of it and come back home."

He expands in an interview for Space.com:

I went to China myself, because I'd never been there before. It was a very limited visit, or two visits actually. I saw only three cities. I saw Hong Kong, Beijing and a coastal city called Xicao. That at least gave me some personal information and some visual and sensory impressions of what I was writing about.

Truthfully, I don't think [Moon colonization] will change or shape humanity very much at all. I think it will end up being a whole lot like Antarctica.

I think the main thing I want [readers] to take away from my book "Red Moon" is that China is really interesting and important and nobody understands it — and I mean not just Americans, who definitely don't understand it, but even the Chinese people themselves.

It's a big, powerful society in rapid flux. It's unstable and dynamic and it's super interesting. 

As he did with 2312, KSR presents his new novel in this nice little video with infographics from Orbit (which gives us little drawings of the protagonists!):

Wired did an extensive piece on KSR, visiting him in his home town and communal garden and outdoors writing spot, concluding "In other words, Kim Stanley Robinson is living inside a Kim Stanley Robinson novel"! A great read, some excerpts below:

[About cyberpunk vs other science fiction] “I’m gonna blow them away with infodumps. If it’s interesting, it’s fucking interesting.”

Robinson respects the newest generation of sci-fi writers for being “forensic in taking apart capitalism,” he says, but thinks that for stories to stick—to make their way into the hands of congressional staffers (so they’ll tell their bosses) and think tanks (so they’ll turn into policy statements that turn into laws)—the stories have to have heart, too. “You can’t predict,” he says. “But you can push.”

Because of a visa snafu, he had just 71 hours in Beijing, so his hosts careened him across town in a rush to compress, distill, purify an impression of the city—an experience echoed in one character’s mad dash across a Beijing gridlocked by a mass demonstration.

For Goodreads, KSR provides his favourite non-fiction moon literature (maps, photos, and histories) as well as his favourite lunar fiction (from Arthur C. Clarke to John Kessel).


Two more interviews with KSR on Red Moon, this time audio and video:

You might have seen the excellent National Geographic series "MARS", which fuses fiction sequences with documentary interviews. It is essentially a Red Mars, however sans some more challenging themes (politics, ecology)... however that might be different in the series' new season, which first aired in November-December. Indeed, things on/in Mars get more political, and KSR is interviewed in its second season!

Finally, here is the recipe for a sake & vodka-based cocktail to go with your Red Moon!

And as always, to wrap up this update, here are some reviews of Red Moon - but careful of spoilers!

(Photo: the new Shenzhou Ferry Terminal at Shekou inaugurated in 2016, which might be familiar to readers...)

20 Oct 2018

Kim Stanley Robinson's new novel comes out in barely a few days - RED MOON will be available from Orbit USA & UK in hardback, ebook and audiobook from October 23!

But first I wanted to showcase two examples of a vibrant community-building readership of Robinson's novels!

"Marooned on Mars with Matt and Hilary" is an on-going podcast that looks at each chapter of the Mars trilogy in detail! They are more than mid-way through Green Mars, and it's great to see these twenty year old books get the podcast treatment. In their latest podcast, Matt and Hilary meet Stan himself around a nice dinner! You can also support them with a small donation.

Through the past summer, Bryan Alexander animated a book club around New York 2140, where they looked at each individual part! This generated a lot of discussion and a plethora of links and further reading suggestions, do check it out.

More of these initiatives are sure to pop up in the future and we we are certainly going to cover them here!

On to some recent interviews with Stan:

As part of The Guardian's "Overstretched Cities" feature, Stan wrote a polemic article: "Empty half the Earth of its humans. It's the only way to save the planet". Taking inspiration from EO Wilson's book, Half Earth.

The idea is right there in the name: leave about half the Earth’s surface mostly free of humans, so wild plants and animals can live there unimpeded as they did for so long before humans arrived. Same with the oceans, by the way; about a third of our food comes from the sea, so the seas have to be healthy too.

This vision is one possible format for our survival on this planet. They will have to be green cities, sure. We will have to have decarbonised transport and energy production, white roofs, gardens in every empty lot, full-capture recycling, and all the rest of the technologies of sustainability we are already developing. That includes technologies we call law and justice – the system software, so to speak. Yes, justice: robust women’s rights stabilise families and population. Income adequacy and progressive taxation keep the poorest and richest from damaging the biosphere in the ways that extreme poverty or wealth do. Peace, justice, equality and the rule of law are all necessary survival strategies.

All this can be done. All this needs to be done if we are to make it through the emergency centuries we face and create a civilised permaculture, something we can pass along to the future generations as a good home. There is no alternative way; there is no planet B. We have only this planet, and have to fit our species into the energy flows of its biosphere. That’s our project now. That’s the meaning of life, in case you were looking for a meaning.

In These Times spoke with Robinson about Mars, our own fragile planet and his hopes for a robust space science program. In case you were wondering:

Elon Musk mentioned that having a reserve population in outer space—on the moon or on Mars—could be helpful in case World War III devastates humanity. Is this a viable solution? Or might the rich leave for space while the rest of us suffer?

Billionaires moving to space is not just similar to a sci-fi plot—it is a sci-fi plot, and not very realistic. It has to be said: There is no Planet B. It’s here for us, or nowhere. But really, that is very obvious. Very few people actually believe that setting up a small settlement on Mars is an adequate safeguard or mitigation for the damage we are doing here on Earth. Those who do are fooling themselves.

What does post-capitalist space exploration look like?

It looks like NASA. It’s government, exploring a commons of sorts, doing it in the usual “of the people, by the people and for the people” way.

Speaking of space exploration, Aurora got an unexpected increase in fame coming from a space/sci-fi-friendly reader: Tom Hanks, who tweeted about it to his large audience! "What a Saga! SciFi with honest, complex Humanity, Physics, biology, sociology. Never had the feeling I experienced on page 321. K. S. Robinson, you rocked our “world”... Hanx" Stan reacted for Sactown: "It was a total surprise. I once heard a rumor that he liked the Mars books. It was definitely a fun thing to see."

Back on Earth, Stan was also interviewed by the Italian SF&F site Nuove Vie, where he mainly talks about New York 2140 and his writing style. The interview is here in Italian, below is an extract in English:

In this case, I told my editor Tim Holman that I wanted to write about global finance, and he suggested that to write a novel about something so abstract I should set it in a tangible place, and he reminded me of the drowned New York that appears briefly in 2312, and pointed out that a novel about finance could sensibly be set in New York, a world center of finance capitalism.  Then he also suggested the apartment novel format as a way of portraying all kinds of lives in this drowned city.

There's no better insight into Stan's daily life than to get him to talk about gardening and preparing meals! In this article for Plymouth University's Imagining Alternatives, he explains why "Enough is as good as a feast"

I’ve lived in a small alternative community for the past twenty-seven years. 

[…] Organic gardening space is available to all who want it, and the landscaping is mostly edible in the form of fruit and nut trees.

[…] Taken all in all, it’s not paradise or utopia or the housing solution to the world’s ills, but it is nice, and for me it has proved the idea that urban design influences social reality, and that infrastructure helps to determine social and human relations.

[…] the loosely vegetarian orientation of our Village Homes potlucks felt good, for the reasons cited above, both environmental and animal-moral.  The variety of cooking styles at each meal was huge and made the absence of meat barely noticeable—really the meals were a treat for the senses.

[…] We were social primates doing a social primate thing.

A funny little interview: ten years after the great environmental animation film "Wall-E" came out, Marketplace asked Stan's impression of the film:

“[WALL-E] begins to make all kinds of mature adult decisions. He falls in love, does radical things, joins a revolution and overthrows the social order that already exists,” Robinson said.

Also of interest:

Prose and music! "A Forest Unfolding" was a musical project in New Hampshire. "Novelist Richard Powers presides over a collaborative effort involving four composers, four writers, and an ensemble of instrumentalists and singers. […] Four writers—the environmentalists Bill McKibben and Joan Maloof, along with the novelists Richard Powers and Kim Stanley Robinson—selected prose passages and poems on the relations among people and trees.  They presented these selections to four composers—Eric Moe, Melinda Wagner, Stephen Jaffe, and David Kirkland Garner—who set these words into a linked sequence of recitatives and arias.  The resulting whole traces a narrative arc from human estrangement from nature to a glimpse of the endless cooperation that knits a forest together."

Stan was the judge of the second edition of "Everything Change Climate Fiction Contest" of short stories for Arizona State University's Imagination and Climate Futures Initiative! Top winners will be published in a free digital anthology in fall 2018.

Stan will be participating in an architecture-meets-science-fiction master's program at UC Berkeley: "UC Berkeley architecture professor Nicholas de Monchaux and BLDGBLOG author Geoff Manaugh will teach a special, one-year graduate course, titled “Studio ONE,” focused on the intersection of architecture and science fiction."

2312 has been translated in Turkish, and its translator talks at length of all the issues with dealing with a novel that has such a varied and specialized vocabulary!

Blue Mars's translation in Japanese was nominated for the 2018 Seiun Award for best translated novel.

We will be back soon with news around Red Moon!

(Top image from A Forest Unfolding)


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