Kim Stanley Robinson (born March 23, 1952) is an American science fiction writer, probably best known for his award-winning Mars trilogy.
He has been widely acclaimed by readers and critics since the beginning of his career, and is considered by many to be one of the finest living writers of science fiction.
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 critics as "literary science fiction".
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 this has clearly had a strong influence over 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.
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 (1990). It is not a trilogy in the traditional sense; rather than telling a single story, the books present three very different yet equally possible future worlds. All three are set in California in the near future.
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 industralised California increasingly obsessed with and dependent on technology and torn apart by the struggles between arms manufacturers and terrorists, while 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 dehumanised 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 most well 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. The characters are rich and engaging, a rare feat in science fiction, hard science fiction especially. 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, though it is worked into the narrative much more elegantly than in some of his later novels.
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 heavily 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 is an epic work of alternate history dealing with a world in which the Black Plague wiped out 90% 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. Some readers find the format frustrating, as they are permitted only a brief glimpse at each stage of the world before the narrative sweeps them on to the next.
Science in the Capital series
Two volumes of a near-future trilogy known as the "Science in the Capital" series have been published to-date: Forty Signs of Rain (2004) and Fifty Degrees Below (2005). The third, Sixty Days and Counting, is due to be published in February 2007 in the U.S. and April 2007 in the United Kingdom.
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, this 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.
* 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 traveling through a mysterious land in pursuit of a woman who features in his first memories.
* The Galileans (forthcoming, 2008)