[realistic utopia]
February 9, 2020 4:12 AM   Subscribe

Three Californias, Infinite Futures - "Kim Stanley Robinson on science fiction, utopia, and the reissue of his Three Californias trilogy."
From the very beginning of his career, science-fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson has combined literary invention with an imagination somehow realistic and utopian at the same time. His first foray was Three Californias, a triptych of novels first published between 1984 and 1990 that imagine three possible ways that the Golden State could evolve in the 21st century: In The Wild Shore, a young man living in a post-nuclear holocaust navigates the chasm between his immediate community’s survival and the desire to rebuild the United States. For The Gold Coast, Robinson took a page from Philip K. Dick and imagined a hyper-Reaganite, hypercapitalist Orange County and what resistance to the forces of capital and empire might look like in the future. But it’s the third book, Pacific Edge, which tried to imagine in practical terms how you could build an eco-utopia, that signaled the incredible ambition—and thematic concerns—of his future work.
also btw...
  • A Sci-Fi Author's Boldest Vision of Climate Change: Surviving It - "Kim Stanley Robinson's novels imagine environmental collapse in arresting precision—and humanity finding a way forward."
  • How do you create something plausible?

    I read the scientific literature at the lay level—science news, the public pages of Nature. I read, I guess you would call it political economy—the works of sociology and anthropology that are trying to study economics and see it as a hierarchical set of power relations. A lot of my reading is academic. I am pretty ignorant in certain areas of popular culture. I don’t pay any attention to social media, and I know that is a big deal, but by staying out of it, I have more time for my own pursuits.

    Then what I do is I propose one notion to myself. Say sea level goes up 50 feet. Or in my novel “2312,” say we have inhabited the solar system but we still haven’t solved our [environmental] problems. Or in my new novel, which I am still completing, say we do everything as right as we can in the next 30 years, what would that look like? Once I get these larger project notions, then that is the subject of a novel. It is not really an attempt to predict what will really happen, it is just modeling one scenario.

    What technologies excite you?

    Clean energy. If we add clean energy, which is to say we are not burning carbon to get our energy for power and for transport, a lot of good things can follow. A lot of clean energy means people in the future don’t have to live like saints. They don’t have to reduce their lifestyle to something that is very much constrained. It will just be cleaner. And of course, I am like anybody who is paying attention: Modern medicine is rather thrilling, because all of us are benefiting from it with extended, healthier lives.

    Also, if you could drag carbon dioxide out of the air and turn it into a replacement for concrete, then you get a beautiful double gain.

    Justice and the language and law and the global economy—these are also technologies. They are software for society. The most crucial technology is that we get into a better social relationship to the planet at large. That is not just a matter of machinery or of hardware. It is really a software question.
  • Read Kim Stanley Robinson's Surprisingly Accurate Vision for Autonomous Cars — From 1988 - "Here's an exclusive excerpt of 'The Gold Coast' (1988), which Tor Books is reissuing as part of KSR's 'Three Californias' trilogy." [also btw: Jim Keller: Moore's Law, Microprocessors, Abstractions, and First Principles]
posted by kliuless (16 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I love KSR. I get that not everyone loves his particular writing style but it totally works for me.
I should re-read the Three Californias books and see how they hold up. I've still got his re-written version of the Science in the Capital series (now condensed into one book called Green Earth) sitting on my to-read pile. Of his recent stuff I enjoyed the one about New York more than Red Moon or Aurora (which was fascinating but a little to bleak for my taste).
posted by Wretch729 at 10:00 AM on February 9

KSR is probably the most influential author in my life, and not just because I read the Mars Trilogy while I was a teenager. Of his recent books I was disappointed by Red Moon, but I adored Aurora and was very much brought around by his view on artificial ecosystems.
posted by adrianhon at 10:51 AM on February 9 [1 favorite]

Aurora was such a gutpunch of a book. Also, Shaman pretty much never gets mentioned in these conversations, but that book really, really stuck with me.

There are several KSR books I haven't read yet. Time to catch up.
posted by Sokka shot first at 11:06 AM on February 9 [3 favorites]

Aurora made me so mad, but that's credit to what he was trying for. You know you have a solid career when you decide to write a book that's 100% dedicated to thoroughly taking down one of the genre's core concepts, with no mercy or apology. But not exactly a fun experience to read.

I reread Pacific Edge a little while ago when I was spending a lot of time in Orange County for work. That was interesting.

One thing about KSR is he is really, really, really Californian. It can be a little shaky when he writes about other places. As a native Washingtonian I appreciated his version of the city in the Science in the Capital books and some of his short stories. I know some New Yorkers were miffed about his drowning NYC in 2312, though I found that book hopeful. And he drowned DC first!

I reread The Mars trilogy frequently, it's probably my favorite SF series. But Icehenge, which prefigures it, is like a concentrated hallucinogenic dose of the same material, which might be better suited for folks who get understandably fed up with pages of geological exposition. (I sometimes describe the Mars Trilogy as being like Moby Dick, except the whalers are scientists, the whales are rocks, and there's more sex.)
posted by feckless at 12:32 PM on February 9 [5 favorites]

Thanks for posting this! I had thought about posting the interview about the California trilogy but decided it seemed thin on its own and hadn’t gotten around to fleshing it out. I just started rereading the Mars trilogy for the millionth time.
posted by skycrashesdown at 12:57 PM on February 9

I tried other books of his and none of them grabbed me, but I enjoyed that trilogy a lot.
posted by Dip Flash at 2:38 PM on February 9

I spent my teenage years in Southern California and never once felt the least less than completely alien there. I read the first Two of the Three Califronias the year I left for college (the third was not yet written) and for the firs time felt an affinity to California.

I haven't looked at them in years, maybe it's time.
posted by crush at 2:49 PM on February 9

The last couple of sentences of Pacific Edge bring me true joy.
posted by Guy Smiley at 9:29 PM on February 9 [1 favorite]

I've read a couple of his books, but I always bounce off of them.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:27 PM on February 9

>One thing about KSR is he is really, really, really Californian.

I went to school in Davis, CA, and he has lived there for decades. I noticed for a while he seemed to drop at least one scene or name check the town in his books. I never met him, but I knew his neighbors and probably passed him on the street without realizing it.

I have sorta trailed off reading his stuff as much, but around the time of the Mars series, I picked up a lot of socialist concepts for organizing groups to get things done in his novels. A lot of the groups that took over things later in some novels were more in the communal decision making organization structure trying to salvage something that was wrecked by a profits above all else corporate overlord. It seemed subtle at the time, but it did help me understand the concept more than dry textbooks ever would.
posted by Badgermann at 6:58 AM on February 10 [1 favorite]

Has anybody ever asked him why almost every novel features communal bathing? Repeatedly?

Love his oevre and read each and every book he's written, but thought that 'Gallileo's Dream' was a stinker of epic proportions.

Nevertheless, long may he write.
posted by fordiebianco at 7:17 AM on February 10

_The Gold Coast_ definitely resonated with me at the time, because I was working at a military-aligned beltway bandit in suburban DC. _Pacific Edge_ not so much, but maybe I should reread it as an older and hopefully wiser person who has lived in California for a while.
posted by tavella at 10:18 AM on February 10

It's nice to read Ecotopia as an amuse-bouche to these.
posted by sonascope at 11:24 AM on February 10

Interesting, very California-centric interview w/ KSR in Boom, from 2013.
posted by Bron at 12:23 PM on February 10 [1 favorite]

The Red Mars trilogy is the foundational text of my adolescence, in much the same way as that joke that compares Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. I've enjoyed the other KSR books I've read, although there's still a lot of his output I haven't gotten to yet.

However, I cannot, for the life of me, get through New York 2140. I'm probably about 2/3 of the way through the book at this point, and I just don't care about any of it. Everyone else seems to think quite highly of it. I will likely finish it at some point out of stubbornness.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:08 AM on February 11

While everyone is praising the Mars/California trilogies I'm just going to give a shout out to his alt-history book The Years of Rice and Salt.
posted by PenDevil at 2:37 AM on February 11 [3 favorites]

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