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)