Books

Kim Stanley Robinson, master of a sci-fi universe

“We’re now living in a science fiction novel we’re all writing together,” says author Kim Stanley Robinson.
“We’re now living in a science fiction novel we’re all writing together,” says author Kim Stanley Robinson. Sean Curtin

In three series and nine novels, A-list science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, 63, has time-traveled backward and forward on Earth, visited Mars and explored far-distant galaxies. “Stan,” as his friends know him, holds 11 major awards for his works, including two Hugos, three Nebulas and a World Fantasy.

Yet he’s grounded in the ecologically correct Village Homes of Davis, where he lives with his wife, Lisa. There, the avid mountaineer helps tend the community’s vegetable garden and plays “running Frisbee golf” and softball.

Robinson’s new novel is “Aurora,” about a colonization mission to a fictitious Earth-size moon orbiting the actual Planet E, which orbits the real star Tau Ceti, 11.88 light years from Earth (Orbit, $26, 480 pages). To make sure his scenario was scientifically solid, he consulted experts at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

In November, Penguin-Random House will release “Green Earth,” the updated and abridged version of his “Capital Code” trilogy, which imagines the consequences of global climate change. For more on the author, visit kimstanleyrobinson.info.

Q: “Aurora” touches on the growing notion that humankind will soon be able to leave Earth and start fresh on another planet.

A: It’s a nasty proposition and a wrong idea. The harder you press it, the more you realize it won’t work. Even the closest star systems are too far away.

Q: Your “Mars” series speculated on colonizing Mars, and a new book “How We’ll Live On Mars” by Stephen Petranek says we’ll be on the Red Planet by 2027.

A: Mars is in the ballpark, but we’re still 35 years out. Let’s be clear we’re talking about astronauts going there, doing scientific studies and coming back. The actual colonization of Mars is centuries away, and terraforming it (transforming it to support human life) might be a 10,000-year project.

Q: But what if we could get to another planet for colonization?

A: This is a mistake because there’s no place other than Earth where humanity can be healthy and safe. When we land on another planet, we’ll find out if it’s either alive or dead. It it’s alive, we’ll be in trouble because the life that’s there already will either make us sick or kill us. If it’s dead, we’ll have to terraform it, in which case we’ll die before it’s ready.

Q: Your “Capital Code” trilogy delved into global warming.

A: The last two bad winters on the East Coast are exactly what I described. The gulf stream is getting weaker and the polar vortex is hitting the East Coast in ways it’s never done before.

Q: You speculate on California’s future in the “California” series. Where are we today?

A: We’re living in a mix of dystopia and utopia. They’re like conjoined twins trying to strangle each other. We lead the world in terms of progressive environmentalism, and the future seems to be happening here first, yet we’re so overcrowded.

Q: You’ve said sci-fi is the most powerful of all literary forms.

A: We’re now living in a science fiction novel we’re all writing together. (Civilization) is changing so fast under the impact of new technology and the impact of 7 billion people on a planet that can sustain only half of them. So when you write science fiction, you’re writing realism.

Q: Which came first – the science or the science fiction?

A: Science fiction has a huge impact, but it’s slow-motion compared to the instantaneous impact of new scientific findings on the imaginations of science fiction writers. There’s a fast moment from science to science fiction, and a slow moment from science fiction back to science.

Q: What’s next?

A: I’m postulating a sea level rise and I’m doing a “drowned Manhattan” novel. For a Californian, writing about New York is scarier than writing about Mars.

Allen Pierleoni: 916-321-1128, @apierleonisacbe

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