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Robinson, Kim Stanley

ROBINSON, Kim Stanley

Nationality: American. Born: Waukegan, Illinois, 23 March 1952. Education: University of California, San Diego, B.A. in literature, 1974, Ph.D. 1982; Boston University, M.A. in English 1975. Family: Married Lisa Howland Nowell in 1982. Career: Visiting lecturer, University of California, in Davis, 1982-84, 1985, and in San Diego, 1982, 1985. Awards: World Fantasy award, 1983; SF Chronicle award, 1984, 1992; Locus award, 1985, 1991, 1994, 1997; Nebula award, 1987, 1993, 1995; John W. Campbell Memorial award, 1991; Brit. Sci. Fiction award, 1993; Hugo award, 1994, 1997. Address: c/o Tor Books, 49 West 24th Street, 9th floor, New York, New York 10010, U.S.A.

Publications

Novels (series: Orange County)

The Wild Shore (Orange County). New York, Ace, 1984; London, Futura, 1985.

Icehenge. New York, Ace, 1984; London, Futura, 1985.

The Memory of Whiteness: A Scientific Romance. New York, Tor, 1985; London, Macdonald, 1986.

The Blind Geometer. New Castle, Virginia, Cheap Street, 1986; withReturn from Rainbow Bridge, and The New Atlantis, by Ursula Le Guin, New York, Tor, 1989.

The Gold Coast (Orange County). New York, St. Martin's Press, andLondon, Macdonald, 1988.

Green Mars, with A Meeting with Medusa, by Arthur C. Clarke. NewYork, Tor, 1988; as Green Mars, London, HarperCollins, 1993.

Pacific Edge (Orange County). New York, Tor, and London, UnwinHyman, 1990.

A Short, Sharp Shock. Shingletown, California, Siesing, 1990.

Down and Out in the Year 2000. London, Grafton, 1992.

Red Mars. London, HarperCollins, 1992; New York, Bantam, 1993.

Blue Mars. New York, Bantam Books, 1996.

Antarctica. New York, Bantam Books, 1998.

The Martians. New York, Bantam Books, 1999.

Short Stories

The Planet on the Table. New York, Tor, 1986; London, Futura, 1987.

Escape from Kathmandu. Eugene, Oregon, Axolotl Press, 1987;London, Unwin Hyman, 1990.

Remaking History, and Other Stories. New York, Tor, 1991.

Other

The Novels of Philip K. Dick. Ann Arbor, Michigan, UMI Research Press, 1984.

Editor, Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias. New York, Tor, 1994.

* * *

Kim Stanley Robinson is a writer of hard science fiction, a spiritual descendant of Jules Verne, and a writer most closely aligned with such writers of hard science fiction as Isaac Asimov. When Jules Verne disparaged the work of H.G. Wells by calling Wells an "inventor," he defined a schism that divided science fiction writers into at least two camps: Verne considered himself to be a writer of "extrapolative" fiction, based in known and projected fact. He considered that writers of Well's camp "invented" material, making up whatever was necessary to create a good story. Kim Robinson is firmly within the Verne/Asimov/hard science fiction camp. Aside from the fact that all of science fiction is a branch of the larger category of fantasy, there is little that seems fantasy-like about Robinson's work. His knowledge of and use of science and technology in his fiction are impressive, and much of his work reads as if it were written the day after tomorrow.

Robinson first became familiar to science fiction readers with a series of books known as the Orange County trilogy. These books are not a "trilogy" in the sense of being connected by repeated characters or themes; they are connected largely by their Orange County, California, locale. The books are written in three science fiction traditions. The Wild Shore, the first of the books, is a post-nuclear holocaust novel. The Gold Coast is dystopian; Pacific Edge is utopian. The first of the books, The Wild Shore, is probably the weakest of the three, using as it does a rather self-conscious adolescent as its protagonist. In general, however, the books are well written and carefully researched. As an exercise they provide a beautifully done set of answers to the implicit questions in science fiction of "What if the worst happens?" and "If we keep going this way, what becomes of us?" and finally, "Could we do this better, and if so, how?"

Robinson's early work, however, is surpassed by his Mars trilogy, a group of books which promises to make secure his reputation as a first-rate science fiction writer. The three books, Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars, are works of considerable depth and power. Robinson's work is indeed extrapolative in terms of science and technology, but also in terms of economics, politics, business, and social trends. Robinson's understanding of our society's inclinations in each of those areas provides fascinating reading. In contrast to many writers who focus on science to the exclusion of the political and social implications created by that science, Robinson explores many of the possibilities and problems inherent in scientific advance.

Unlike the Orange County trilogy, the Mars trilogy is connected by characters, plot lines, and chronology. Prospective readers would be advised to approach the books in sequence because the frequent references to preceding events tends to make them less comprehensible otherwise. The books are tied together by the "first hundred," the first hundred colonists who landed on Mars. The colonists have been given longevity treatments which insure that they will live very long lives, and in spite of the fact that the books cover more than three hundred years, some of the first hundred survive through the final book, Blue Mars.

Two themes recur in Robinson's fiction, and both are explored in depth in the Mars trilogy. The first theme is the persistent nature of the human animal. In the Mars books as well as in other works, such as The Memory of Whiteness, he seems to consider that even if the human experience is moved to Mars or Jupiter or to any other planet, the human being remains the human being and, as such, behaves in human, therefore limited, ways. In the Mars books, factional and national differences on Earth are merely transferred to Mars. The fact of a new planet, of an interplanetary experience, does not erase them, though with time connections with Earth become weaker, in much the same way that connections of immigrants from the Old World lessened as they were integrated into the New World.

A second, related theme has to do with the ecological concerns of the Mars colonization groups. One segment of the population wants very much to keep Mars "pure"; that is, they want to keep the planet much as it was when they first landed on it. A second, much larger group, wants to "terraform" the planet; that is, they want to make it like Earth, with a breathable atmosphere and living conditions comparable to those on Earth. One has only to read the titles of the books to understand which side prevails.

These same ecological concerns appear in Antarctica, a novel set on that remote continent. Robinson has spent time in Antarctica, and the novel reflects his first-hand knowledge. To some extent Antarctica is a microcosm of ecological concerns in other parts of the world. Conflicts between nations, corporations, and citizens with diverse views of the "proper" use of the Earth's natural resources all play a part in this study of life on the world's least-explored continent. Robinson has also done his homework on the history of Antarctic exploration; the early exploration of the continent is presented in enough detail to make clear that he knows whereof he writes.

Robinson does not stint on scientific detail, nor does he "write down" to those readers who might not be as well versed in science and technology as he. His fiction has been called "dense" because of his tendency to embrace a science-text style in description, but fans of the hard science fiction genre will undoubtedly be taken with his verisimilitude. Other readers may be less entranced by the somewhat repetitious descriptions of the Martian landscape. As with all good writers, Robinson plays to his strengths, and his knowledge of geology is clearly among those strengths.

In spite of his tendency to immerse the reader in scientific and technological detail, Robinson does not lose sight of the fact that he is writing a novel. Unlike those science fiction writers who focus on presenting ideas to the exclusion of in-depth character portrayal, Robinson creates strong, consistent, and believable characters. Those characters express views that pull the reader into their worlds with an arresting facility. Indeed, so adept is he at the expression of various viewpoints through the characters he creates that the reader would be very hard put to determine which of the viewpoints he might personally support. There are no sharp good versus evil delineations here, as is the case with Star Wars -type space operas; these are real people wrestling with real problems, and simple answers are not provided.

Any quibbles about Robinson's works are probably minor. For fans of the hard science fiction genre, his Mars trilogy may well set the standard by which interplanetary colonization novels will be judged in the future.

June Harris

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