Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson

Infobox Writer

imagesize = 250px
name = Kim Stanley Robinson
caption = Kim Stanley Robinson at the 63rd World Science Fiction Convention in Glasgow, August 2005
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birthname =
birthdate = birth date and age|1952|03|23
birthplace = Waukegan, Illinois
deathdate =
deathplace =
occupation = Writer
nationality = USA
period =
genre = Science Fiction
movement =
notableworks =
influences =
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website =

Kim Stanley Robinson (born March 23 1952) is an American science fiction writer, probably best 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 15 years of research and lifelong fascination with Mars which culminated in his most famous work. He has, due to his fascination with Mars, become a member of the Mars Society.

Robinson's work has been labeled by reviewers as "literary science fiction". [ [ > News > Features - Robinson explores what-if of the future ] ]

In 2010, Robinson will be Guest of Honor at the 68th World Science Fiction Convention to be held in Melbourne, Australia.


Kim Stanley Robinson was born in Waukegan, Illinois but grew up in Southern California. In 1974 he received a B.A. in literature (University of California, San Diego). In 1975 he gained a M.A. in English from Boston University. He received a Ph.D. in English from the University of California, San Diego in 1982. 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 works, most notably "Antarctica", "Mars trilogy", "Green Mars" (a short story found in "The Martians") and "Forty Signs of Rain".

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

Important works

Three Californias

This trilogy is also referred to as the Orange County trilogy, and is the first of Robinson's important works. 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. The "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 actually 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, in effect, 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 hard science fiction dealing with the first settlement of 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 which the planet undergoes over the course of the story. 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. The reader may come to sympathize with one particular character as a protagonist, only to have the story line switch focus so that another character who the reader was beginning to perceive as antagonistic is then presented in a protagonistic manner. Science, sociology and politics are all covered in great detail, evolving realistically over the course of the narrative. Robinson's fascination with science and technology is clear, though 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. His passion for mountain climbing also shows through clearly.

The Martians

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


"Antarctica" (1997) follows very closely in the footsteps of the Mars trilogy, and 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 evokes many of the same themes, dealing as it does with scientists in an isolated environment, the effect which this has on their personalities and interactions. It even evokes the same sense of beauty and wonder at a bleak, hostile environment.

As with all of Robinson's later work, ecological sustainability is a major theme in "Antarctica". Much of the action is catalysed 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 an epic work of alternate history dealing with a world in which the Black Plague wiped out 99% of the European population (instead of the actual 30%), 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 culture and philosophy. Not only because of the long time scale, but because of its realistic-utopian elements, and the frequent reflections about human nature, "The Years of Rice and Salt" resembles the Mars books, brought to Earth.

cience 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 that returns in this series 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.

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 to that 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. The solar system it describes 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 travelling through a mysterious land in pursuit of a woman who features in his first memories.
*"The Galileans" (forthcoming, August 2009) []

hort stories

KSR 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".

List (not quite complete):

*"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",
*"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 Kathmandu"),
*"Exploring Fossil Canyon" (in: "The Martians"),
*"Festival Night",
*"Four Teleological Trails" (in: "The Martians"),
*"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 Kathmandu"),
*"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 Gregory Benford/Martin H. Greenberg "What Might Have Been"),
*"Ridge Running" (in: "Vinland the Dream", originally published in "The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1984"),
*"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 Worknotes 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 Kathmandu"),
*"The Lucky Strike" (in: "Vinland the Dream", originally published in "Universe", 14),
*"The Lunatics",
*"The Memorial",
*"The Part of Us That Loves",
*"The Return from Rainbow Bridge",
*"The Translator",
*"The True Nature of Shangri-La" (in: "Escape from Kathmandu"),
*"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'?",


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 to, the anthology "" (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 upon 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 capitalist society. 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 characterised 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 books often portray a form of frontier capitalism promoting 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 emphasising a community participation in political and economic life [Some Worknotes and Commentary on the Constitution, by Charlotte Dorsa-Brevia, written in-character by Kim Stanley Robinson, The Martians p.233-239] , while a persistent threat to social democracy is embodied by transnational corporations whose characteristics 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 mythologised 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 organisation.

The environmental and economic/social themes in Robinson's books stand in marked contrast to the 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 an anti-capitalist utopian vision since Ursula K. Le Guin's 1974 novel, "The Dispossessed"." [ [ Utopic Fiction and the Mars Novels of Kim Stanley Robinson - R A I N T A X I o n l i n e ] ]

cientists 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 won the Hugo Award for Best Novel with "Green Mars" (1994) and "Blue Mars" (1997); the Nebula Award for Best Novel with "Red Mars" (1993); 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); 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)cite web |url= |title=The LOCUS index to SF awards |accessdate=2007-04-07 |last=Kelly |first= Mark R. |year=2007 |publisher=Locus Publications] .


External links

*isfdb name|id=Kim_Stanley_Robinson|name=Kim Stanley Robinson
* [ A podcast episode featuring Kim Stanley Robinson discussing his novel Sixty Days and Counting]
* [ Short descriptions of K.S. Robinson's novels]
* [ An interview with K.S. Robinson]
* [ All of Kim Stanley Robinson's audio interviews on the podcast "The Future And You"] (in which he describes his expectations of the future)
* [ The Kim Stanley Robinson Encyclopedia: a new wiki project]
* [ Author's Entry]
* [,6000,1569830,00.html Guardian interview with K.S. Robinson]
* [ "Comparative Planetology: an Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson" at BLDGBLOG]
*hour25|Kim Stanley Robinson|
* [ Audio interview from IT Conversations] - recorded 2006-01-01 covering the "Science in the Capital" series

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