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Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson at the 63rd World Science Fiction Convention in Glasgow, August 2005
Born March 23, 1952 (1952-03-23) (age 57)
Waukegan, Illinois
Occupation Writer
Nationality  United States
Genres Science Fiction

Kim Stanley Robinson (born March 23, 1952) is an American science fiction writer known for his award-winning Mars trilogy. His work delves into ecological and sociological themes regularly, and many of his novels appear to be the direct result of his own scientific fascinations, such as the fifteen years of research and lifelong fascination with the planet Mars.

Robinson's work has been labeled by reviewers as literary science fiction.[1]

Robinson was an instructor at the Clarion Workshop in 2009. In 2010, Robinson will be the guest of honor at the 68th World Science Fiction Convention, which will be held in Melbourne, Australia.



Kim Stanley Robinson was born in Waukegan, Illinois, but grew up in Southern California. In 1974 he earned a B.A. in literature from the University of California, San Diego. In 1975, he earned a M.A. in English from Boston University. Then in 1982, he earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, San Diego. His doctoral thesis, The Novels of Philip K. Dick, was published in 1984.

Robinson is an enthusiastic mountain climber and mountain climbing appears in several of his fiction works, most notably Antarctica, the Mars trilogy, "Green Mars" (a short story found in The Martians), Forty Signs of Rain, and Escape from Kathmandu.

In 1982 he married Lisa Howland Nowell, an environmental chemist, and they have two sons. Robinson has lived in Washington, D.C.; California; and during some of the 1980s in Switzerland. He now lives in Davis, California.

He identified himself as a green socialist in an interview, as well as an admirer of Noam Chomsky.[citation needed]

Important works

Three Californias

This trilogy is also referred to as the Orange County trilogy. The component books are titled The Wild Shore (1984), The Gold Coast (1988) and Pacific Edge (1988). It is not a trilogy in the traditional sense; rather than telling a single story, the books present three different future Californias.

The Wild Shore portrays a California struggling to return to civilization after having been crippled, along with the rest of America, by a nuclear war. The Gold Coast portrays an over-industrialized California increasingly obsessed with and dependent on technology and torn apart by the struggles between arms manufacturers and terrorists. Pacific Edge presents a California in which ecologically sane, manageable practices have become the norm and the scars of the past are slowly being healed.

Though they initially appear unconnected, the three books work together to present a unified statement. The first shows humanity crippled by a lack of technology, the second humanity swamped and almost completely dehumanized by too much technology (along with the attendant environmental damage), and the third a workable, livable compromise between the two. Although the third is a utopian novel, there is still conflict, sadness, and tragedy. The stories all contain a common character, whose circumstances serve to put the three alternatives in perspective.

The Mars trilogy

This trilogy is Robinson's best-known work. It is an extended work of science fiction that deals with the first settlement of the planet Mars by a group of scientists and engineers. Its three volumes are Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars, the titles of which mark the changes that the planet undergoes over the course of the saga. The tale begins with the first colonists leaving Earth for Mars in 2027 and covers the next 200 years of future history. By the conclusion of the story, Mars is heavily populated and terraformed, with a flourishing and complex political and social dimension.

Many threads of different characters' lives are woven together in the Mars Trilogy. Science, sociology, and politics are all covered in great detail, evolving over the course of the narrative. Robinson's fascination with science and technology is clear, although he balances this with a strong streak of humanity. Robinson's personal interests, including ecological sustainability, sexual dimorphism, and the scientific method, come through strongly.

The Martians

Billed as a companion piece, The Martians (1999) is a collection of short stories that involves many of the same characters and settings introduced in the Mars trilogy. Some stories occur before, during, or instead of the events of the trilogy; some expand on existing characters, and others introduce new ones. It also includes the Constitution of Mars and poetry written in character by a Martian citizen.


Antarctica (1997) follows very closely in the footsteps of the Mars trilogy, and it covers much of the same ground despite the differences in setting. It is set on the icy continent of the title, much closer to the present day, but it evokes many of the same themes, dealing as it does with scientists in an isolated environment, the effect that this has on their personalities and interactions, and economic systems.

As with all of Robinson's later work, ecological sustainability is a major theme in Antarctica. Much of the action is catalyzed by the recent expiration of the Antarctic Treaty and the threat of invasion and despoiling of the near-pristine environment by corporate interests.

The Years of Rice and Salt

The Years of Rice and Salt (2002) is a work of alternative history that concerns a world in which the Black Plague wiped out 99 percent of the European population (instead of the actual generally estimated 30 percent), leaving the world free for Asian expansion. It covers ten generations of history, focusing on the successive reincarnations of the same few characters as they pass through varying genders, social classes, and, in one notable example, species.

The Years of Rice and Salt features Muslim, Chinese, and Hindu cultures and philosophies.

Science in the Capital series

The Science in the Capital series encompasses three novels: Forty Signs of Rain (2004), Fifty Degrees Below (2005), and Sixty Days and Counting (2007). This series explores the consequences of global warming, both on a global level and as it affects the main characters—several employees of the National Science Foundation and those close to them. A recurring theme of Robinson's is that of Buddhist philosophy, which is represented in the series by the agency of ambassadors from Khembalung, a fictional Buddhist micro-state located on an offshore island in the Ganges delta. Their state is threatened by rising sea levels, and the reaction of the Khembalis is compared to that of the Washingtonians.

Author speaking at the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair.
Kim Stanley Robinson speaking at the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair.

Other novels

  • Icehenge (1984) tells the story of the discovery of a monument in the style of Stonehenge found carved from ice on Pluto and the subsequent investigation into its origin. The setting of this novel bears strong resemblances of the Mars trilogy, albeit with darker, more dystopian undertones.
  • The Memory of Whiteness (1985) deals with a fantastic, unique musical instrument and the trials faced by its newest master as he tours the solar system; how it is described seems to contain the beginnings of many of the ideas later put to use in the Mars trilogy, although it is set centuries later.
  • A Short, Sharp Shock (1990) one of Robinson's few fantasy stories, dealing with an amnesiac man traveling through a mysterious land in pursuit of a woman who features in his first memories.
  • Galileo's Dream (UK release: August 6, 2009;[2] US release: December 29, 2009).[3]

Short stories

Robinson published his first two short stories in Orbit 18 in 1976. Most are collected in The Planet on the Table (1986), Remaking History (1991), and Vinland the Dream (2001). Four humorous novellas featuring American expatriates in Nepal are collected in Escape from Kathmandu (1989). The Martians (1999), discussed above, further explores the world of the Mars Trilogy.

Selected story bibliography

  • "A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations" (in: Vinland the Dream, originally published in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, 1991, revised for Remaking History)
  • "A Martian Childhood"
  • "A Martian Romance" (in The Martians)
  • "A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions" (in Vinland the Dream)
  • "A Transect"
  • "An Argument for the Deployment of All Safe Terraforming Technologies" (in The Martians),
  • "Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars" (in The Martians),
  • "Before I Wake" (in Remaking History)
  • "Big Man in Love" (in The Martians)
  • "Black Air" (in Vinland the Dream; originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1983)
  • "Coming Back to Dixieland" (in Vinland the Dream; originally published in Orbit 18)
  • "Coyote Makes Trouble" (in The Martians)
  • "Coyote Remembers" (in The Martians)
  • "Discovering Life" (in Vinland the Dream and in The Martians)
  • "Down and Out in the Year 2000"
  • "Enough is as Good as a Feast" (in The Martians',
  • "Escape from Kathmandu" (in Escape from Katmandu)
  • "Exploring Fossil Canyon" (in The Martians)
  • "Festival Night"
  • "Four Teleological Trails" (in The Martians)
  • "Glacier" (in Remaking History)
  • "Green Mars" (in The Martians)
  • "If Wang Wei Lived on Mars and Other Poems" (in The Martians)
  • "Jackie on Zo" (in The Martians)
  • "Keeping the Flame" (in The Martians)
  • "Maya and Desmond" (in The Martians)
  • "Mercurial" (in Vinland the Dream; originally published in Universe 15),
  • "Michel in Antarctica" (in The Martians)
  • "Michel in Provence" (in The Martians)
  • "Mother Goddess of the World" (in Escape from Katmandu)
  • "Muir on Shasta" (in Vinland the Dream)
  • "Odessa" (in The Martians)
  • "On the North Pole of Pluto"
  • "Our Town"
  • "Purple Mars" (in The Martians)
  • "Remaking History" (in Remaking History and Vinland the Dream originally published in What Might Have Been, edited by Gregory Benford and Martin H. Greenberg)
  • "Ridge Running" (in Vinland the Dream; originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1984 edition)
  • "Salt and Fresh" (in The Martians)
  • "Saving Noctis Dam" (in The Martians)
  • "Sax Moments" (in The Martians)
  • "Selected Abstracts from The Journal of Aerological Studies" (in The Martians)
  • "Sexual Dimorphism" (in The Martians)
  • "Some Work Notes and Commentary on the Constitution by Charlotte Dorsa Brevia" (in The Martians)
  • "Stone Eggs" (in Vinland the Dream; originally published in Universe 13)
  • "The Archaeae Plot" (in The Martians)
  • "The Blind Geometer"
  • "The Constitution of Mars" (in The Martians)
  • "The Disguise" (in Vinland the Dream; originally published in Orbit 19),
  • "The Kingdom Underground" (in Escape from Katmandu)
  • "The Lucky Strike" (in Vinland the Dream; originally published in Universe 14)
  • "The Lunatics"
  • "The Memorial"
  • "The Part of Us That Loves" (in Remaking History)
  • "The Return from Rainbow Bridge"
  • "The Translator" (in Remaking History)
  • "The True Nature of Shangri-La" (in Escape from Katmandu)
  • "The Way the Land Spoke to Us" (in The Martians)
  • "To Leave a Mark"
  • "Venice Drowned" (in Vinland the Dream; originally published in Universe 11)
  • "Vinland the Dream" (in Vinland the Dream; originally published in Remaking History)
  • "What Matters" (in The Martians)
  • "Whose 'Failure of Scholarship'?"
  • "Zürich"


Robinson's doctoral thesis was on The Novels of Philip K. Dick (1984). A hardcover version was published by UMI Research Press.

Robinson also edited and wrote the introduction of the anthology Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias (1994).

Major themes

Ecological sustainability

Virtually all of Robinson's novels have an ecological component; sustainability would have to be counted among his primary themes. (A strong contender for the primary theme would be the nature of a plausible utopia.) The Orange County trilogy is about the way in which the technological intersects with the natural, highlighting the importance of keeping the two in balance. In the Mars trilogy, one of the principal divisions among the population of Mars is based on dissenting views on terraforming; It is heavily debated whether or not the seemingly barren Martian landscape has a similar ecological or spiritual value to a living ecosphere like Earth's. Forty Signs of Rain is entirely ecologically themed, taking as it does global warming for its principal theme.

Economic and social justice

Robinson's work often explores alternatives to modern capitalism. In the Mars trilogy, it is argued that capitalism is an outgrowth of feudalism, which could be replaced in the future by a more democratic economic system. Worker ownership and cooperatives figure prominently in Green Mars and Blue Mars as a replacement for traditional corporations. The Orange County trilogy explores similar arrangements; Pacific Edge includes the idea of attacking the legal framework behind corporate domination to promote social egalitarianism.

Robinson's work often portrays characters struggling to preserve and enhance the world around them in an environment characterized by individualism and entrepreneurialism, often facing the political and economic authoritarianism of corporate power acting within this environment. Robinson has been described as anti-capitalist, and his work often portrays a form of frontier capitalism that promotes ideals that closely resemble anarcho-syndicalist and socialist systems, and faced with a capitalism that is staunched by entrenched hegemonic corporations. In particular, his Martian Constitution draws upon social democratic ideals explicitly emphasizing a community-participation element in political and economic life,[4] while a persistent threat to social democracy is embodied by transnational corporations, the characteristics of which resemble those predicted by institutionalist and socialist economists such as Ted Wheelwright and Karl Marx.

Robinson's works often portray the worlds of tomorrow as in a similar way to the mythologized American Western frontier, showing a sentimental affection for the freedom and wildness of the frontier. This aesthetic includes a preoccupation with competing models of political and economic organization.

The environmental, economic, and social themes in Robinson's oeuvre stand in marked contrast to the right-wing Libertarian streak prevalent in much of science fiction (Robert A. Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Larry Niven, and Jerry Pournelle being prominent examples), and his work has been called the most successful attempt to reach a mass audience with a left-wing libertarian and anti-capitalist utopian vision since Ursula K. Le Guin's 1974 novel, The Dispossessed.[5]

Scientists as citizens

Robinson's work often features scientists as heroes. They are portrayed in a mundane way compared to most work featuring scientists: rather than being adventurers or action heroes, Robinson's scientists become critically important because of research discoveries, networking and collaboration with other scientists, political lobbying, or becoming public figures. The Mars trilogy and The Years of Rice and Salt rely heavily on the idea that scientists must take responsibility for ensuring public understanding and responsible use of their discoveries. Robinson's scientists often emerge as the best people to direct public policy on important environmental and technological questions, on which politicians are often ignorant.


Robinson's novels have won eleven major science fiction awards, and have been nominated on twenty-nine occasions.[3]

Robinson won the Hugo Award for Best Novel with Green Mars (1994)[4] and Blue Mars (1997)[5]; the Nebula Award for Best Novel with Red Mars (1993) [6]; the Nebula Award for Best Novella with The Blind Geometer (1986); the World Fantasy Award with Black Air (1983); a John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel with Pacific Edge (1991);[7] and Locus Awards for The Wild Shore (1985), A Short, Sharp Shock (1991), Green Mars (1994), Blue Mars (1997), The Martians (2000), and The Years of Rice and Salt (2003).[6]


  1. ^ > News > Features—Robinson explores what-if of the future
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ Some Worknotes and Commentary on the Constitution by Charlotte Dorsa-Brevia, in The Martians pp. 233–239
  5. ^ Utopic Fiction and the Mars Novels of Kim Stanley Robinson - R A I N T A X I o n l i n e
  6. ^ Kelly, Mark R. (2007). "The LOCUS index to SF awards". Locus Publications. Retrieved 2007-04-07. 

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Kim Stanley Robinson (born 1952) is a science fiction novelist.



  • Science fiction rarely is about scientists doing real science, in its slowness, its vagueness, the sort of tedious quality of getting out there and digging amongst rocks and then trying to convince people that what you're seeing justifies the conclusions you're making. The whole process of science is wildly under-represented in science fiction because it's not easy to write about. There are many facets of science that are almost exactly opposite of dramatic narrative. It's slow, tedious, inconclusive, it's hard to tell good guys from bad guys — it's everything that a normal hour of Star Trek is not.

Red Mars (1992)

  • The only part of an argument that really matters is what we think of the people arguing. X claims a, Y claims b. They make arguments to support their claims with any number of points. But when their listeners remember the discussion, what matters is simply that X believes a and Y believes b. People then form their judgment on what they think of X and Y.
    • John Boone
  • Science was many things, Nadia thought, including a weapon with which to hit other scientists.
  • They were so ignorant! Young men and women, educated very carefully to be apolitical, to be technicians who thought they disliked politics, making them putty in the hands of their rulers, just like always. It was appalling how stupid they were, really, and he could not help lashing into them.
    • thoughts of Frank Chalmers
  • Historical analogy is the last refuge of people who can't grasp the current situation.
    • Frank Chalmers

Green Mars (1993)

  • You can't get any movement larger than five people without including at least one fucking idiot.
    • Coyote
  • It was not power that corrupted people, but fools who corrupted power.
    • Nadia Chernyshevski

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