In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Kim Stanley Robinson

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews

American Literature Kim Stanley Robinson
Gerry Canavan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 October 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0189


Kim Stanley Robinson (b. 1952) was born in Waukegan, Illinois, but moved to California as a small child, where he has since lived most of his life. Robinson attended the University of California, San Diego, and received a BA in literature in 1974. He earned a PhD in English from UC San Diego in 1982 for his dissertation on the novels of Philip K. Dick, for which the famous Marxist literary critic Fredric Jameson served as a committee member. The dissertation was published as The Novels of Philip K. Dick by UMI Research Press in 1984, the same year as Robinson’s first novel, The Wild Shore, set in a post-apocalyptic California. Since then Robinson has published many major works in the science fiction genre, most notably the Mars trilogy (1992–1996). Robinson’s science fictions are closely associated with the socialist left, especially with regard to the environment, though the utopian optimism of his work seems to have been tempered somewhat by disheartening developments in global politics since the 1990s. Many of his post-Mars works explicitly “remix” elements of the Mars books; for instance, Aurora (2015) explores the idea of launching an inhabited asteroid out of the solar system to reach another star, as imagined in Blue Mars (1996), while Galileo’s Dream (2009) and 2312 (2012) imagine colonization of the solar system happening with much more destructive speed. Likewise, the Science in the Capital trilogy (2004–2007) and New York 2140 (2017) both explore the climate catastrophe of ice sheet collapse that also occurred in the Mars books, while the title of Red Moon (2018) alone suggests an obvious intertextual relationship with earlier works. Other noteworthy novels explore multiple possible futures for California (the Three Californias trilogy, 1984–1990), life in the scientific colony on Antarctica (Antarctica, 1997), an alternate history in which a much more virulent Black Plague killed nearly every European on the planet (The Years of Rice and Salt, 2002), and the dawn of modern humanity at the end of the Ice Age (Shaman, 2013). In 2020, his novel The Ministry for the Future focalized primarily through a United Nations subgroup charged with advocating on behalf of the unborn and the nonhuman in near-future rocked by climate crisis, brought significant new attention to his work, including an appearance on Barack Obama’s best-of list at the end of the year. While Robinson’s short fiction has not garnered the same critical attention as his novels, he has written a number of important and well-anthologized stories, most notably “The Lucky Strike” (1984), an alternate history in which the bombing of Hiroshima does not occur. Since the 1980s, Robinson has won the Campbell, Locus, Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy awards, among other distinctions, demonstrating his importance as a major figure in the field of contemporary science fiction.

General Overviews

Perhaps not surprisingly for a still-living figure working in a popular genre that still does not have the same cultural respect as mainstream literary fiction, Robinson’s work has not yet garnered many full-length critical monographs, much less formal biographies or critical bibliographies, or even collections of letters, personal journals, or essays; nor are his papers yet available to researchers. A researcher working in Robinson studies who is looking for biocritical resources will thus likely need to rely on Interviews and his Nonfiction essays instead. Still, some resources do exist that provide useful overviews of Robinson’s career.

  • Burling, William J., ed. Kim Stanley Robinson Maps the Unimaginable: Critical Essays. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

    This collection combines thirteen previously published articles and interviews on Robinson’s fiction (many of which are included elsewhere in this bibliography) with five previously unpublished articles to produce an obvious foundation stone for the future of “Robinson studies.” Also contains an essential bibliography for Robinson scholarship prior to 2010.

  • “Kim Stanley Robinson.” In Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 34. Edited by Daniel G. Marowski, 105–107. Detroit: Gale, 1985.

    While short, this critical overview might be helpful in the absence of longer-length critical introductions to Robinson’s work.

  • Krieder, Tim. “Our Greatest Political Novelist?New Yorker, 12 December 2013.

    Partially focused on the publication of Shaman, this essay also discusses Robinson as one of the last great utopian thinkers in American letters.

  • Yaszek, Lisa, and Doug Davis, eds. Special Issue: Kim Stanley Robinson. Configurations 20.1–2 (Winter–Spring 2012).

    This essential special issue of Configurations: A Journal of Literature, Science, and Technology is devoted to the work of Kim Stanley Robinson, bringing together major critics from science fiction studies to explore different aspects of Robinson’s work. The journal’s interdisciplinary orientation at the intersection between science and culture makes it a nice fit for Robinson’s fiction, as he similarly has feet in both camps.

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