Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson (born March 23, 1952) is an American writer of science fiction. He has published nineteen novels and numerous short stories but is best known for his Mars trilogy. His work has been translated into 24 languages. Many of his novels and stories have ecological, cultural, and political themes running through them and feature scientists as heroes. Robinson has won numerous awards, including the Hugo Award for Best Novel, the Nebula Award for Best Novel and the World Fantasy Award. Robinson's work has been labeled by The Atlantic as "the gold-standard of realistic, and highly literary, science-fiction writing."[1] According to an article in The New Yorker, Robinson is "generally acknowledged as one of the greatest living science-fiction writers."[2]

Kim Stanley Robinson
Robinson at the Phoenix Art Museum in September 2017
Robinson at the Phoenix Art Museum in September 2017
BornMarch 23, 1952 (age 66)
Waukegan, Illinois, US
GenreScience fiction

Early life

Robinson was born in Waukegan, Illinois. He moved to Southern California as a child.[3]

In 1974, he earned a B.A. in literature from the University of California, San Diego.[4] In 1975, he earned an M.A. in English from Boston University.


In 1978 Robinson moved to Davis, California to take a break from his graduate studies at UC San Diego. During this time he worked as a bookseller for Orpheus Books. He also taught freshman composition and other courses at University of California, Davis.[5]

In 1982 Robinson earned a Ph.D. in English from the UC San Diego.[4] His initial Ph.D. advisor was literary critic and Marxist scholar, Fredric Jameson,[6] who told Robinson to read works by Philip K. Dick. Jameson described Dick to Robinson as "the greatest living American writer."[4] Robinson's doctoral thesis, The Novels of Philip K. Dick, was published in 1984 and a hardcover version was published by UMI Research Press. In the 1980s Robinson also spent time with a National Science Foundation team at a research base in Antarctica.[7]

In 2008, Time Magazine named Robinson a "Hero of the Environment" for his optimistic focus on the future.[8]

In 2009, Robinson was an instructor at the Clarion Workshop.[9] In 2010, he was the guest of honor at the 68th World Science Fiction Convention, held in Melbourne, Australia.[10] In April 2011, Robinson presented at the second annual Rethinking Capitalism conference, held at the University of California, Santa Cruz.[11] Among other points made, his talk addressed the cyclical nature of capitalism.[12]

Robinson was appointed Muir Environmental Fellow in 2011 by the John Muir College, University of California San Diego.[13]

Major themes

Nature and culture

Sheldon Brown described Robinson's novels as ways to explore how nature and culture continuously reformulate one another; Three Californias Trilogy as California in the future; Washington DC undergoing the impact of climate change in the Science in the Capitol series; or Mars as a stand-in for Earth in the Mars trilogy to think about re-engineering on a global scale, both social and natural conditions.[14]

Ecological sustainability

Virtually all of Robinson's novels have an ecological component; sustainability is one of 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 on dissenting views on terraforming. Colonists debate whether or not the barren Martian landscape has a similar ecological or spiritual value when compared with a living ecosphere like earth's. Forty Signs of Rain has an entirely ecological thrust, taking global warming for its principal subject.

Economic and social justice

Kim stanley robinson-bookfair
Kim Stanley Robinson speaking at the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair on the social themes of his work.

Robinson's work often explores alternatives to modern capitalism. 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 replacements 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. Tim Kreider writes in the New Yorker that Robinson may be our greatest political novelist and describes how Robinson uses the Mars trilogy as a template for a credible utopia.[2]

Robinson's work often portrays characters struggling to preserve and enhance the world around them in an environment characterized by individualism and entrepreneurialism, often facing the political and economic authoritarianism of corporate power acting in this environment. Robinson has been described as anti-capitalist, and his work often portrays a form of frontier capitalism that promotes egalitarian ideals that closely resemble socialist systems, but faced with a capitalism that is maintained by entrenched hegemonic corporations. In particular, his Martian Constitution draws upon social democratic ideals explicitly emphasizing a community-participation element in political and economic life.[15]

Robinson's works often portray the worlds of tomorrow in a manner similar to the mythologized 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 organization.

The environmental, economic, and social themes in Robinson's oeuvre stand in marked contrast to the right-libertarian science fiction prevalent in much of the genre (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 a left wing and anti-capitalist utopian vision since Ursula K. Le Guin's 1974 novel, The Dispossessed.[16]

Scientists as heroes

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. Robinson captures the joy of scientists as they work at something they care about.[8] 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, of which politicians are often ignorant.

Climate change and global warming

In 2017, in the novel New York 2140 Robinson explored the themes of climate change and global warming, setting the novel in the year 2140 when the New York City he imagines is beset by a 50-foot sea level rise that half-submerges the city.[17]


Year Award Work honored for
1984 World Fantasy Award for Best Novella "Black Air"[18]
1984 Science Fiction Chronicle Readers Poll-novella "Black Air"[18]
1985 Locus Award for Best First Novel The Wild Shore[18]
1988 Nebula Award for Best Novella "The Blind Geometer"[18]
1988 Asimov's Reader Poll Novella "Mother Goddess of the World"[18]
1991 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel Pacific Edge[18]
1991 Locus Award for Best Novella "A Short, Sharp Shock"[18]
1992 Science Fiction Chronicle Readers Poll Short Fiction "Vinland the Dream"[18]
1993 BSFA Award for Best Novel Red Mars[18]
1994 Hugo Award for Best Novel Green Mars[18]
1994 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel Green Mars[18]
1994 Nebula Award for Best Novel Red Mars[18]
1997 Hugo Award for Best Novel Blue Mars[18]
1997 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel Blue Mars[18]
1997 Ignotus Award-foreign novel Red Mars[18]
1998 Ignotus Award-foreign novel Green Mars[18]
1998 Prix Ozone SF novel, foreign Blue Mars[18]
1999 Seiun Awards foreign novel Red Mars[18]
2000 Locus Awards Best Collection The Martians[18]
2003 Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel The Years of Rice and Salt[18]
2013 Nebula Award for Best Novel 2312[18]
2016 Robert A. Heinlein Award Entire body of works [19]
2018 Arthur C. Clarke Award for Imagination in Service to Society Entire body of works [20]

Personal life

Robinson and his wife have two sons. Robinson has lived in Washington, D.C., California, and during some of the 1980s, in Switzerland. At times, Robinson was a stay-at-home dad.[6] He now lives in Davis, California in a cohousing community.[6]

Robinson has described himself as an avid backpacker with the Sierra Nevada serving as his home range and a big influence on how he sees the world.[5]

Politically, Robinson describes himself as a democratic socialist, going on to say that libertarianism has never "[made] any sense to me, nor sounds attractive as a principle."[21]


  1. ^ Beauchamp, Scott (April 1, 2013). "In 300 Years, Kim Stanley Robinson's Science Fiction May Not Be Fiction". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2015-09-08.
  2. ^ a b Kreider, Tim (December 13, 2013). "Our Greatest Political Novelist?". The New Yorker. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  3. ^ Adams, John Joseph (June 6, 2012). "Sci-Fi Scribes on Ray Bradbury: 'Storyteller, Showman and Alchemist'". Wired. Retrieved September 4, 2015.
  4. ^ a b c Potts, Stephen (July 11, 2000). "UCSD Guestbook: Kim Stanley Robinson". UCTV. University of California Television. Retrieved September 5, 2015.
  5. ^ a b Hudsen, Jeff (October 18, 2004). "Davis a perfect fit for a sci-fi novelist". The Davis Enterprise. Archived from the original on November 22, 2004. Retrieved September 8, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c Bioneers (2015-11-12), Kim Stanley Robinson – Rethinking Our Relationship to the Biosphere | Bioneers, retrieved 2016-08-27
  7. ^ Manaugh, Geoff (September 14, 2018). "How Will Police Solve Murders on Mars?". The Atlantic. In the 1980s, he told me, a team from the National Science Foundation was sent to a research base in Antarctica with a single handgun for the entire crew.
  8. ^ a b Morton, Oliver (September 24, 2008). "Heroes of the Environment 2008". Time Magazine. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  9. ^ Doctorow, Cory (December 8, 2008). "Clarion science fiction/fantasy workshop instructors announced". Boingboing. Boinboing. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  10. ^ Howell, John (May 18, 2009). "68th World Science Fiction Convention Australia 2010: Kim Stanley Robinson Guest". SFW. SFW. Archived from the original on October 9, 2015. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  11. ^ Pittman, Jennifer (April 2, 2011). "Rethinking Capitalism conference at UCSC to examine the cost of sustaining a fragile system". Santa Cruz Sentinel News. Retrieved September 6, 2015.
  12. ^ "Bruce Initiative on Rethinking Capitalism | 2011 Conference". Archived from the original on August 26, 2011. Retrieved April 26, 2011.
  13. ^ Iannuzzi, Giulia. "Science, Engagement, Estrangement:Remarks on Kim Stanley Robinson's Californian Ecotopia" (PDF). EUT. EUT – Edizioni Università di Trieste.
  14. ^ Brown, Sheldon (July 1, 2013). "The Literary Imagination with Jonathan Lethem and Kim Stanley Robinson". UCTV. 5:00: University of California Television. Retrieved September 5, 2015.
  15. ^ Some Worknotes and Commentary on the Constitution by Charlotte Dorsa-Brevia, in The Martians pp. 233–239
  16. ^ Smith, Jeremy (2001). "Utopic Fiction and the Mars Novels of Kim Stanley Robinson". Raintaxi. Retrieved June 19, 2015.
  17. ^ Canavan, Gerry (2017). "Utopia in the Time of Trump". Los Angeles Review of Books (LARB). Retrieved March 11, 2017.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u "Science Fiction Awards Database". sfadb. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  19. ^ "Robinson Wins 2016 Heinlein Award". Locus Online. January 7, 2016. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
  20. ^ "2017 Clarke Foundation Awards". Clarke Foundation website. January 16, 2019. Retrieved January 16, 2019.
  21. ^ Sethness, Javier (March 17, 2018). "Toward an Ecologically Based Post-Capitalism: Interview With Novelist Kim Stanley Robinson". Truthout. Retrieved September 16, 2018.

External links

2312 (novel)

2312 is a science fiction novel by American writer Kim Stanley Robinson, published in 2012. It is set in the year 2312 when society has spread out across the solar system. The novel won the 2013 Nebula Award for Best Novel.

A Short, Sharp Shock

A Short, Sharp Shock (sometimes titled Short, Sharp Shock) is a 1990 fantasy novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. The story deals with a man who awakens without memory in a strange land and journeys through it to find the woman he woke alongside.

His journey takes him along the narrow strip of land, surrounded by ocean, which makes up the whole world.

The phrase "short, sharp shock" is taken from Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta The Mikado.

Antarctica (novel)

Antarctica (1997) is a science fiction novel by American writer Kim Stanley Robinson. It deals with a variety of characters living at or visiting an Antarctic research station. It incorporates many of Robinson's common themes, including scientific process and the importance of environmental protection.

Arthur C. Clarke Award

The Arthur C. Clarke Award is a British award given for the best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom during the previous year. It is named after British author Arthur C. Clarke, who gave a grant to establish the award in 1987. The book is chosen by a panel of judges from the British Science Fiction Association, the Science Fiction Foundation, and a third organisation, which as of 2012 is the Sci-Fi-London film festival. The award has been described as "the UK's most prestigious science fiction prize".Any "full-length" science fiction novel written or translated into English is eligible for the prize, provided that it was first published in the United Kingdom during the prior calendar year. There is no restriction on the nationality of the author, and the publication history of works outside the United Kingdom is not taken into consideration. Books may be submitted for consideration by their publishing company, and beginning in 2016 self-published titles have been eligible with certain qualifications. An official call for entries is issued to UK publishers every year and members of the judging panel and organisation committee also actively call in titles they would like to see submitted. A title must be actively submitted in order to be considered. The judges form a shortlist of six works that they feel are worthy of consideration, from which they select a winning book. The winner receives an engraved bookend and a prize consisting of a number of pounds sterling equal to the current year, such as £2012 for the year 2012. Prior to 2001, the award was £1000.During the 32 nomination years, 125 authors have had works nominated, 27 of whom have won. China Miéville has won three times, while Pat Cadigan and Geoff Ryman have won twice; no other author has won multiple times. Stephen Baxter and Gwyneth Jones have the most nominations at seven, and Baxter has the most nominations without winning. Neal Stephenson has won once out of six nominations; Ken MacLeod and Kim Stanley Robinson have also been nominated six times. Paul J. McAuley and Miéville have been nominated five times; McAuley has one win, whereas MacLeod and Robinson have none.

Aurora (novel)

Aurora is a 2015 novel by American science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson. The novel concerns a generation ship traveling to Tau Ceti in order to begin a human colony. The novel's primary narrating voice is the starship's artificial intelligence. The novel was well received by critics.

Escape from Kathmandu

Escape from Kathmandu is a 1989 collection of novellas by American writer Kim Stanley Robinson, about a group of American expatriates in Nepal.

Fifty Degrees Below

Fifty Degrees Below (2005) is the second book in the hard science fiction Science in the Capital trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. It directly follows the events of Forty Signs of Rain, with a greater focus on character Frank Vanderwal, and his decision to remain at the National Science Foundation, following the earlier novel’s superstorm and devastating flood of Washington D.C.

Galileo's Dream

Galileo's Dream (2009) is a science fiction novel with elements of historical fiction written by author Kim Stanley Robinson. It describes the life of 17th-century scientist and astronomer Galileo Galilei, and the far-future society living on the Galilean moons he discovered.

It was published in hardcover on August 6, 2009 in the United Kingdom and on December 29, 2009 in the United States.


Icehenge is a science fiction novel by American author Kim Stanley Robinson, published in 1984.

Though published almost ten years before Robinson's Mars trilogy, and taking place in a different version of the future, Icehenge contains elements that also appear in his Mars series, such as extreme human longevity, Martian political revolution, historical revisionism, and shifts between primary characters.

Kim Stanley Robinson bibliography

This is a complete bibliography by American science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson.'

Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel

Winners of the Locus Award for Best SF Novel, awarded by the Locus magazine. Awards presented in a given year are for works published in the previous calendar year.

The award for Best Science Fiction Novel was first presented in 1980, and is among the awards still presented (as of 2016). Previously, there had simply been an award for Best Novel. A similar award for Best Fantasy Novel was also introduced in 1980.

New York 2140

New York 2140 is a 2017 climate fiction novel by American science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson. The novel is set in a New York City that has been flooded and altered by rising water. The novel received generally positive reviews.

Red Moon (novel)

Red Moon is a 2018 science fiction novel by American novelist Kim Stanley Robinson. The novel is set in China and on the Moon. It was reviewed in several national media outlets, but received mixed reviews.

Shaman (novel)

Shaman is a 2013 novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. Set during the Ice Age, it tells the story of a trainee shaman, from a tribe of European early modern humans, who must learn the skills to survive and to aid his people.

Sixty Days and Counting

Sixty Days and Counting (2007) is the third book in the hard science fiction Science in the Capital trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. It directly follows the events of Fifty Degrees Below, beginning just after the election of character Phil Chase to the White House. It follows the previous novel's deep freeze of the area surrounding Washington D.C..

The Memory of Whiteness

The Memory of Whiteness is a science fiction novel written by Kim Stanley Robinson and published in 1985. It shares with the Mars trilogy a focus on human colonization of the solar system and depicts a grand tour that travels from the outer planets inward toward the Sun, visiting many human colonies along the way. The different human societies on the various planets and planetoids visited are depicted in detail. The purpose of the tour is to stage concerts by the "Holywelkin Orchestra", a futuristic musical instrument played by a selected master. Readers follow the Orchestra and its entourage together with a journalist, who after some time detects a conspiracy that seems to be connected with a group of gray-clad, sun-worshipping monks. The tour ends near the planet Mercury in a solar station belonging to these "Grays", which controls the white line energy source for the whole solar system.

The Years of Rice and Salt

The Years of Rice and Salt is an alternate history novel by American science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson, published in 2002. The novel explores how world history might have been different if the Black Death plague had killed 99% of Europe's population, instead of a third. Divided into ten parts, the story spans hundreds of years, from the army of the Muslim conqueror Timur to the 21st century, with Europe being re-populated by Muslim pioneers, the indigenous peoples of the Americas forming a league to resist Chinese and Muslim invaders, and a 67-year-long world war being fought primarily between Muslim states and the Chinese and their allies. While the ten parts take place in different times and places, they are connected by a group of characters that are reincarnated into each time but are identified to the reader by the first letter of their name being consistent in each life.

The novel explores themes of history, religion, and social movements. The historical narrative is guided more by social history than political or military history. Critics found the book to be rich in detail, realistic, and thoughtful. The Years of Rice and Salt won the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 2003. In the same year it was nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, a Hugo Award, and a British Science Fiction Award.

Three Californias Trilogy

The Three Californias Trilogy (also known as the Wild Shore Triptych and the Orange County Trilogy) consists of three books by Kim Stanley Robinson, which depict three different possible futures of Orange County, California. The three books that make up the trilogy are The Wild Shore, The Gold Coast and Pacific Edge. Each of these books describes the life of young people in the three very different near-futures. All three novels begin with an excavation which tells the reader about the world they are entering.


Viriditas (Latin, literally "greenness," formerly translated as "viridity") is a word meaning vitality, fecundity, lushness, verdure, or growth. It is particularly associated with abbess Hildegard von Bingen, who used it to refer to or symbolize spiritual and physical health, often as a reflection of the divine word or as an aspect of the divine nature.

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