Kim Stanley Robinson was born on March 23, 1952 in Waukegan, Illinois. Like so many
other science fiction authors, his love for the written word manifested early. Unlike many others,
this love stayed primary for Robinson, not subjugated to an interest in math and science. He
earned a B.A. in literature from UCSD in 1974, an
M.A. in English from Boston University in 1975. His PhD was earned in 1982 from UCSD and
his dissertation was published in a mass market edition in 1984 as The Novels of Philip K. Dick.
Though his training is in English and literature, not physics or biology like most
top-tier science fiction authors, Robinson's work is anything but technically inept. His
most famous work, the Mars trilogy, is a technical tour de force that explores the
challenges of terraforming Mars in exquisite technical detail. Everything
in it, from the biology to details of physics, areology, and even economics is written
with an eye to the current state of inquiry in all these fields. In fact, the most common
criticism of the Mars books is that they are too focused on technical accuracy, to the
point that plot, narrative, and characters suffer.
Though the Mars books are his most important and influential works, Robinson has
written a great deal of other material in his career. The Three Californias
triptych provides a fascinating look at three possible futures for Southern
California, one dystopian, one utopian, and one post-apocalyptic.
In The Wild Shore, released in 1984, Robinson turns his considerable talent to
building a post-apocalyptic Orange County. Some unspecified country (strongly assumed
to be Russia) smuggled several thousand high power nuclear weapons into America, leveling
the country's cities and reducing the survivors to an agrarian life. Highly critically
acclaimed, The Wild Shore was nonetheless beaten by William Gibson's Neuromancer for the
In 1988's The Gold Coast Robinson paints a corporate dystopia as the future of Orange County; all culture and beauty has
been overwhelmed by highways and strip malls and people have been reduced to vacuous lives
of triviality. Consumer culture has blossomed into everything that it can be, reducing humanity
to nothing in the process. This is Robinson's attempt to paint the grimness of capitalism and
to argue for his personal Marxism, an attempt that too often bogs down the story in needless
The Three Californias concluded in 1990 with Pacific Edge, the eagerly anticipated Utopian
conclusion. Unfortunately, in the common Utopian failure, this book exaggerates Robinson's
already tiresome habit of lapsing into long sermons on the topics of humanity's relationship
to the environment. Long on modern Marxist utopian mush but short on character, plot, or literary
value this book was a major disappointment.
Robinson made up for that, in spades, in 1992. The publication of Red Mars stands as
one of the most important events in the history of science fiction. Here was a project
of astonishing scale--the terraformation of Mars--and the first third of the story delivered
on all of the promise of the underlying concept. The story follows the first several years
of Martian occupancy by the First 100--the initial colony of 100 people sent to begin
the human transformation of the planet. Political intrigue and personal love, hate, and betrayal
drive the story against an intricate background of technical detail as the planet slowly
comes to life. Red Mars won the Nebula Award for best novel in 1992 and was nominated for
a Hugo for best novel in 1993 (beaten by the even better A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
and the inexplicably popular Doomsday Book by Connie Willis).
Green Mars, the 1993 followup to Red Mars, was even better than the first. With the terraformation
efforts accelerating Robinson returns his core themes of ecological and economic sustainability. A
Red faction of Martian environmentalists, opposed to the terraforming project, emerges under the leadership
of 1 of the first 100 while another of the original colonists leads an equally radical
pro-terraforming faction. Medical advances make wealthier members of humanity extremely long-lived
(several hundred years, at least), which affords Robinson the ability to follow the same batch of
characters across the entire multi-century span of the story. Green Mars is by far the best of
the series, and won the Hugo Award for best novel in 1994.
The series concluded in 1996 with Blue Mars. This book is the weakest of the three, the
great conflicts over what it meant to be Martian that drove the first two novels
are largely gone. Instead we have a steady rapprochement between the Reds and the Greens,
symbolized by Anne and Sax's burgeoning relationship. But that isn't enough to fill all
761 pages of this book, and once again Robinson returns to the podium to lecture on
the need for sustainable behavior economics, ecology, and personal relationships. All stuff
we've heard before, and all stuff that is better illustrated through the characters and
actions of the first two books. This didn't stop Blue Mars from taking home the 1997 Hugo for
best novel, though.
All in all, the Mars books are an admirable achievement. Though flawed, especially
in conclusion, Robinson manages to explore the themes that have been of interest to
him throughout his career while be entertaining and thought-provoking. These books
are the reason why science fiction readers will still be reading Robinson in 50 years.
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