New Yorker on Kim Stanley Robinson: "Our Greatest Political Novelist"


Writing in the New Yorker, Tim Kreider addresses the brilliant science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson as a political novelist. It's keyed to Stan's September novel Shaman: A Novel of the Ice Age, which I haven't yet read, but which I'm taking with on my Christmas holiday. Robinson is one of my favorite writers (and people!), and books like 2312, Forty Signs of Rain, the Mars trilogy, and especially Pacific Edge (which I re-read once a year, or any time I feel hopeless about the future) have made an indelible mark on me.

Shaman is ultimately a novel about the importance of stories, filled with Ice Age myths, legends, superstitions and proverbs—some of which, apparently, have survived intact the thirty thousand years into our own time, longer than any other human artifact, sayings more enduring than stone. Our culture is adrift between stories right now—the old ones we lived on for thousands of years aren’t working anymore, and we haven’t come up with new ones to replace them yet. It’s natural for us to see ourselves as being at history’s endpoint, since, so far, we are, but part of science fiction’s job is to remind us that it’s early yet, we’re still a primitive people, the Golden Age may lie ahead. In an era filled with complacent dystopias and escapist apocalypses, Robinson is one of our best, bravest, most moral, and most hopeful storytellers. It’s no coincidence that so many of his novels have as their set pieces long, punishing treks through unforgiving country with diminishing provisions, his characters exhausted and despondent but forcing themselves to slog on. What he’s telling us over and over, like the voice of the Third Wind whispering when all seems lost, is that it’s not too late, don’t get scared, don’t give up, we’re almost there, we can do this, we just have to keep going.

Our Greatest Political Novelist? [Tim Kreider/New Yorker]

(via Making Light)

(Image: Yes, I'm looking at you, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from jophan's photostream)

Notable Replies

  1. I wish Pacific Edge would get an ebook release somewhere. I prize my beat up old paperback copy, but it's one of those stories I'd like to keep in my e-reader to read whenever the mood takes me.

  2. The Red Mars books made it readily apparent to me that Robinson had his finger directly on that particular analytical pulse.

  3. DN3 says:

    It took me years to track down a copy of Pacific Edge. I read it just after reading Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and wanted to write an essay about the two. So hearing that Cory reads PE once a year is enlightening.

  4. The short answer is that there's no electronic manuscript extant (I almost got it for Humble Ebook Bundle, but we didn't have time to re-key it). Someday, I hope!

  5. ktetch says:

    Robinson was VERY influential for me. I pickde up Red Mars on a whim in 97 (along with Consider Phebalas) and read it on the train from Liverpool to Reading (I was looking at going to the Cybernetics department) and that book,and the sequels sortde my life focus. Ended up going to Liverpool Uni and doing Robotics (more to do with Kevin Warwick though) and then planned a second degree in astrophysics.
    I also almost went to the planetary society meeting in Colorado in 99 (but BattleBots was filming its first show in Long Beach the same time, and that was work) where James Cameron optioned the books (and instead gave us Fern Gully in Space).
    I then later remember being invited into one of the Liverpool Uni faculty coffee shops with Dr Andy Sawyer to discuss KSR (Sawyer is the curator of the John Wyndham archive) right when Antarctica came out (or was it The Martians).

    I read the Mars trilogy yearly, and have helped find focus with his books in my political work (I've worked with Pirate Parties worldwide since 06, including heading the international org during the 09 EU elections, governor of the UK party, and currently vice-chair of the US party).

    Gave me a lot to think about, and I really do need to find a copy of Pacific Rim (I read a little bit at a library years ago, not found it since)

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