Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson (born March 23, 1952) is an American novelist, widely recognized as one of the foremost living writers of science fiction. Robinson began publishing novels in 1984. His work has been described as "humanist science fiction" and "literary science fiction". Robinson himself has been a proud defender and advocate of science fiction as a genre, which he regards as one of the most powerful of all literary forms.


Robinson was born in Waukegan, Illinois, but moved to Orange County, California, when he was two. As a child he loved to play in the orange groves stretching out for miles around his home, so when suburban sprawl began to encroach and the groves were torn out and paved over, the rapid change of modern life hit close to home. It was not until college in 1971 that he would stumble upon new wave science fiction and find in it an expression of that very sense of rapid change that had made such an impression upon him growing up, at which point he knew almost immediately that he would be committed to science fiction from then on. He enrolled at the University of California-San Diego (UCSD) in 1970 and received his B.A. in Literature in 1974. During that time he developed the idea to write a trio of books exploring three different alternative future histories in which southern California had gone down different paths, what became the Orange County trilogy. After briefly leaving California to receive an M.A. in English at Boston University in 1975, Robinson returned to UCSD to complete his Ph.D. Though science fiction was something of a "literary ghetto culture" in the academic world, Robinson could not have had a more sympathetic advisor in Fredric Jameson, who suggested that Robinson do his thesis on the works of Philip K. Dick, whom Robinson was not particularly familiar with at the time but whom Jameson regarded as the greatest living American novelist. Robinson agreed to the idea and finished his Ph.D. in 1982, a revised version of which was published in 1984 as The Novels Of Philip K. Dick. In 1978 Robinson took a break from his Ph.D. work and moved north to Davis, Califonia, where he worked in a bookstore and spent a lot of time outdoors, especially backpacking in the mountains, where he continued to develop his love for landscape and the outdoors. While in Davis he met Lisa Howland Nowell, an environmental chemist, and in 1982 upon completing his Ph.D. he returned to Davis and the two were married. He taught freshman composition among other courses at UC Davis, another autobiographical tidbit that would be bestowed upon his fictional alter-ego Jim in 1988's The Gold Coast. Then a few years later, after publishing his first few novels, his wife's post-doctoral work in environmental toxicology took the couple to Switzerland, where they lived for two years, and at which point he began to write full time. Her work also took them to Washington, D.C., and during their four years there Robinson was a stay-at-home parent to their first son while his wife worked. Finally, in 1991 they moved back to Davis to buy a house in Village Homes -- a planned community that shares many things in common with the community depicted in his 1990 novel Pacific Edge -- where their second son was born. Robinson is still the stay-at-home parent, giving him plenty of time to write, while his wife continues to work full time as a chemist. As a result, much of the couple's social circle is made up of her friends and colleagues, giving Robinson ample material with which to write about scientists. As can be gathered from above, Robinson enjoys inserting personal life experiences or autobiographical elements in his works. For example:

  • Robinson enjoys mountaineering greatly, which can be seen in landscape descriptions and trekking trips in nearly all his works.
  • His stay in Switzerland is a likely inspiration for frequent references to Swiss government and people (Green Mars, Fifty Degrees Below).
  • He has visited Greece and enjoys the architecture of the Greek islands (The Gold Coast, Blue Mars).
  • He likes softball, referenced in Icehenge and Pacific Edge, and plays the frisbee golf described in Fifty Degrees Below.
  • At times he is a stay-at-home dad, like Charlie Quibler in the Science In The Capital trilogy.
  • He is a Californian teacher, like characters in The Gold Coast and The Years Of Rice And Salt.

Early Writings: Short Fiction and Doctoral Thesis


Novels: 1984-1990

During a drive to visit his parents, still just up the coast in Orange County, as he passed through Camp Pendleton Marine Base he was struck by the contrast between that undeveloped patch of land and the surrounding urban sprawl, and came up with the idea to write a trio of alternate futures for that place, the Orange County trilogy. The first book, The Wild Shore, would be set in that very patch of undeveloped land, while the second, The Gold Coast, was an opportunity to use science fiction as autobiography and finally express poetically his feelings about Orange County's orange grove past and urban sprawl future that had been bubbling in his mind for twenty years.

Novels: 1992-1999

The Mars trilogy is the result of a long-time passion of Robinson for Mars, as was obvious from his earlier writings. In the trilogy he was able to use the scientific research he conducted in Martian geography for Icehenge and realize the full scope of social experimentation that he had initiated with the Orange County trilogy. Antarctica

Novels: 2002-2009

The Years Of Rice And Salt

The Science In The Capital trilogy

Galileo's Dream

Novels: 2012-onwards

Shift from Bantam to Orbit




New York 2140

Major themes

Humanism, utopia, environmentalism, transcendentalism

Criticism and Analysis

(to be expanded)

See also