American Literature Kim Stanley Robinson
by
Gerry Canavan
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199827251-0189

Introduction

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). 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.

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    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.

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

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

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

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

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

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    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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Interviews

Robinson is a frequent and generous interview subject, having spoken with a wide variety of interviewers from the academy, science fiction industry press, and mainstream journalism since the start of his fiction career in the 1980s. Of particular interest is Foote 1994, likely Robinson’s most important early career interview; Seed 1996, his first major interview after the publication of the Mars trilogy; and Manaugh 2007, an especially extensive articulation of Robinson’s ecological politics. Bisson 2009 and Nolan 2014 (cited under Later Interviews (post-2012)) will likely be of interest to researchers and fans looking to see science fiction writers in conversation with each other.

Early Interviews (pre-2012)

Given the Mars trilogy’s central position in Robinson’s early career, it is no surprise that many of these early interviews focus on the books and their terraforming vision, most notably Foote 1994, Seed 1996, and Manaugh 2007. Many of the other interviews focus on Robinson’s leftist and ecological politics, like Szeman and Whiteman 2004 and Canavan, et al. 2010, or on Robinson’s relationship with and appreciation of the SF genre writ larger, as in Bisson 2009 and Davis and Yaszek 2012. In all cases we see a comprehensive and consistent political program emerging in Robinson’s thought, which both author and interviewer frequently link back to his fiction.

  • Bisson, Terry. “A Real Joy to Be Had: Kim Stanley Robinson Interviewed by Terry Bisson.” In The Lucky Strike. By Kim Stanley Robinson, 60–107. PM Outspoken Authors. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2009.

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    Included in “The Lucky Strike” chapbook reprint by PM Press, this extended conversation between two masters of the science fiction and alternate history genres produces a fascinating look at Robinson’s life, work, and governing philosophy.

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  • Canavan, Gerry, Lisa Klarr, and Ryan Vu. “Science, Justice, Science Fiction: A Conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson.” Polygraph 22 (2010): 201–217.

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    With the editors of a special issue of the Duke University graduate student journal Polygraph on “Ecology and Ideology,” Robinson discusses the relationship between science, capitalism, and eco-socialism, both historically and with specific reference to the Obama era. The interview contains a climate-crisis slogan that has since become closely associated with Robinson: “Justice has become a survival technology.”

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  • Davis, Doug, and Lisa Yaszek. “‘Science’s Consciousness’: An Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson.” Configurations 20.1–2 (Winter-Spring 2012): 187–194.

    DOI: 10.1353/con.2012.0005Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This interview from the special issue of Configurations devoted to Robinson’s work focuses on the relationship between science and science fiction, as well as from literary theory.

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  • Foote, Bud. “A Conversation with Kim Stanley Robinson.” Science Fiction Studies 21.1 (March 1994): 51–66.

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    This widely cited early interview, published shortly after the initial publication of Red Mars, touches on a number of issues that would prove to be important in Robinson’s fiction, including the importance of Mars as a place (which Robinson compares to Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County) and his repeated deployment of certain ideas and events in multiple narrative contexts. Robinson and Foote conclude with an extended discussion of the merits of capitalism.

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  • Manaugh, Geoff. “Comparative Planetology: An Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson.” BLGBLOG.com, 19 December 2007.

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    This interview focuses on the relationship between ecology and terraforming, including Robinson’s provocative suggestion that we are already terraforming Earth, just in an incautious and uncontrolled way.

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  • Seed, David. “The Mars Trilogy: An Interview.” Foundation: The Review of Science Fiction 68 (Autumn 1996): 75–80.

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    Another very widely cited early interview with Robinson, originating from shortly after the publication of Blue Mars. Here Robinson articulates his vision of utopia as a process rather than a destination, the “road of history . . . something we are working within, step by step” (p. 77).

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  • Szeman, Imre, and Maria Whiteman. “Future Politics: An Interview with Kim Stanley Robinson.” Science Fiction Studies 31.2 (July 2004): 177–188.

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    This interview focuses primarily on Robinson’s politics, beginning with his evaluation of then-recent Bush administration statements about a renewed space program and extending into discussion of his post-Mars works as well as general strategies for surviving a revanchist, reactionary time like the post-9/11 United States.

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Later Interviews (post-2012)

2012 is chosen as a dividing line between “early” and “later” interviews because of that year’s publication of 2312, which similarly seems to demarcate some division between “early” and “late” Robinson. In these later interviews we see Robinson associated even more directly with environmentalist and eco-socialist thought (Canavan and Robinson 2014, De Vicente 2017, Feder 2018); we also find Robinson speaking much more frequently and directly about literary form, befitting his turn toward a more experimental style in 2312 and later works (see, in particular, Paulson 2015 and Heise 2016).

Primary Texts

Most of Robinson’s fiction has remained in print since its initial publication, with frequent reprints and reformatted editions, and occasionally even corrected or entirely new editions. No definitive scholarly editions of any of his works have yet been created; they are available primarily in mass market and trade paperback formats. Both scholarship and popular interest in Robinson’s fiction has tended to treat his trilogies as if they were single works, which this bibliography replicates by annotating them together; particular care should be paid to the case of the Science in the Capital trilogy (2004–2007), which was later reworked into a significantly abridged single-volume novel, Green Earth (2015). Due to its central importance in his reputation as well as in his system of thought, many treatments of Robinson treat the Mars trilogy as the paradigm from which the other works are seen to be in either accordance or variance.

Series

Three Californias

Not a trilogy in the traditional sense, this “triptych” shows three possible futures for Orange County, California: a post-nuclear disaster zone (The Wild Shore); a technologized nightmare of urban sprawl (The Gold Coast); and an ecological, quasi-utopian commune (Pacific Edge). Elements of the stories overlap, despite the disparate settings, most notably a character called Tom, who appears in all three.

  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. The Wild Shore. New York: Ace Books, 1984.

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    In The Wild Shore, Robinson’s first published novel, set in 2047, we find survivors living difficult lives in tiny rural communities with a pre-20th-century standard of living in a post-nuclear-war California. Globally, the United States is considered the cause of the war and has been essentially quarantined by the rest of the world, leaving the country unable to recover from the catastrophe.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. The Gold Coast. New York: Tor, 1988.

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    The Gold Coast, set in 2027, may be the closest Robinson has come to writing a cyberpunk novel. In contrast with The Wild Shore, The Gold Coast takes place in a hypertechnological California, and focuses on the possibility of resistance to a mode of consumer capitalism that appears utterly triumphant.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. Pacific Edge. New York: Tor, 1990.

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    Pacific Edge takes place in an ecotopian community in the Orange County of 2065, in which a peaceful social revolution has moved the country in a green direction (while avoiding the disasters of apocalypse and continuity described in the other two books). Taking place on a relatively small scale, especially by the usual standards of SF, the protagonist, Kevin Claiborne, seeks to prevent commercial development of currently protected natural space in his local community.

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Mars Trilogy

Undoubtedly the work for which Robinson is best-known, the Mars trilogy concerns the colonization of Mars by a group of one hundred scientists in a joint US-Russian mission, extending over the next century-plus as life-extension technology allows the colonists to see their revolutionary project through to its scientific and political conclusion.

  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. Red Mars. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

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    In the first book of the series, the one hundred initial colonists of Mars (plus one unknown stowaway) begin human settlement of Mars, realizing before they have even arrived that on Mars they will be radically independent of the governments of Earth and able to create any sort of society they choose. As time passes, the “First Hundred” are eventually swamped by later, much-larger waves of colonists, and eventually become caught up in a revolution against Earth’s control.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. Green Mars. New York: HarperCollins, 1993.

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    Set fifty years after Red Mars, Green Mars continues the story of Martian settlement after the failure of the first Martian revolution, and traces the continuation of the terraforming project against the political intrigue of ongoing Earth-Mars conflict. The close of the book sees catastrophic ice-sheet collapse on Earth due to anthropogenic climate change, which throws Earth into chaos and allows the Martians to declare independence.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. Blue Mars. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

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    Taking the story of the First Hundred to its conclusion in the 22nd century, the extremely long-lived original settlers of the planet (who by now are viewed as almost legendary figures) are able to inaugurate a political program that can stabilize relations between Earth and Mars and set the stage for long-term Martian thriving.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. The Martians. New York: Harper Collins, 1999.

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    The Martians, while not part of the trilogy per se, collects short stories that “remix” elements of the original series with different focal points, background assumptions, character choices, and plot outcomes. An unusual companion-piece to the popular series, it presages the interest in repeatedly retelling and reimagining certain core narratives (especially those found in the Mars trilogy) that will characterize much of Robinson’s later work.

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Science in the Capital Trilogy

This is Robinson’s “abrupt climate change” narrative, focused on scientific and governmental workers in Washington, DC, confronting radical ecological change that is happening on the order of months rather than decades. Originally published as a trilogy (Forty Signs of Rain, 2004; Fifty Degrees Below, 2005; Sixty Days and Counting, 2007), and still frequently cited as such, Robinson elected to condense the trilogy into a single novel, Green Earth, in 2015, an edition he prefers and considers definitive.

  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. Green Earth. New York: Del Ray, 2015.

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    Inspired by Robinson’s experiences with the National Science Foundation, the novel explores the possibility for increased political activism by scientists, as well as the possibilities for a liberal, capitalist society like the United States to successfully confront climate crisis through democratic, nonrevolutionary means. Robinson’s career-long interest in Buddhism plays a secondary role.

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Stand-Alone Novels

Many of Robinson’s stand-alone works intersect with his trilogies, not only through the reappearance of particular characters, events, and themes, but also through his overarching commitment to socialist politics and environmental awareness (the major concerns of his work across his career). As noted elsewhere in this bibliography, many of the works read as remixed versions of each other, providing variations on a singular “future history” focalized through different settings, or exploring alternate possibilities that might arise out of the same set of historical conditions.

  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. Icehenge. New York: Ace Books, 1984.

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    One of Robinson’s earliest completed works (originally published as a novella, “To Leave a Mark,” in 1982), Icehenge is of special interest to scholars working on Robinson for its early articulation of themes and narrative situations that he would continue to work on across his career, especially with respect to deep-space exploration.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. The Memory of Whiteness. New York: Tor Books, 1985.

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    A tour of the planets of the solar system in the classic science fiction tradition, this novel is noteworthy for its particular interest in music (on this, see Laudadio 2017, cited under Other Works).

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. A Short, Sharp Shock. Shingletown, CA: Mark V. Ziesing, 1990.

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    A relatively obscure Robinson work, more fantastic or surrealist than his usual science fiction, A Short, Sharp Shock has not produced the same level of critical attention as most of Robinson’s other works, but it is included here for the sake of completeness.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. Antarctica. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.

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    Based on Robinson’s own visit to Antarctica in 1995 through a grant from the National Science Foundation, this novel not only extends some of the themes of the Mars trilogy “back to Earth,” but also lays the foundation for the Science in the Capital books (with which it shares several key characters).

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. The Years of Rice and Salt. New York: Bantam, 2002.

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    Spanning over six centuries, The Years of Rice and Salt tells the story of a small group of souls who are continuously reincarnated together in a world where nearly all of Europe was killed by the Black Plague (as opposed to the approximately 25 percent that died in our timeline). The result is ultimately a tripartite world divided between China, Islam, and an alternate version of the Iroquois Federation.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. Galileo’s Dream. New York: Spectra, 2009.

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    This book is centered on a future society of time travelers, living in orbit around Jupiter, who pluck Galileo Galilei from 17th-century Italy in the hopes that he might help them solve the scientific and political problems their society faces. While glimpses of the future society are fleeting, the strong implication is that this future history is a relatively dark one for both humanity and the natural world.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. 2312. New York: Orbit, 2012.

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    Set exactly three hundred years after its moment of publication, 2312 takes place in a timeline similar to but distinct from the Mars books, in which the solar system was colonized much more aggressively and Earth’s political and ecological crises were never solved.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. Shaman: A Novel of the Ice Age. New York: Orbit, 2013.

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    Another genre departure for Robinson, Shaman is set among a tribe of Paleolithic humans near the end of the Ice Age, facing their own moment of massive climate change.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. Aurora. New York: Orbit, 2015.

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    Set in a hollowed-out asteroid launched out of the Solar System to colonize an extrasolar planet, Aurora depicts the catastrophic failure of the mission and the tormented decision of the survivors to turn around and go back home to Earth instead—a remarkable twist that marks it as a must-read text in the history of the generation-starship subgenre in science fiction.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. New York 2140. New York: Orbit, 2017.

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    Set after the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (an event depicted in a number of other Robinson works, including the Mars trilogy and 2312), New York 2140 is Earthbound, centered on a group of squatters living in the Met Life Building after Lower Manhattan has been flooded and abandoned by the financial class (who have all relocated to Denver).

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. Red Moon. New York: Orbit, 2018.

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    This work is set on the Moon in a future dominated by Chinese hegemony, and is centered on intrigue involving international espionage, tech-capital profit-seeking and law-breaking, and human trafficking between Earth and its satellite, both of which are dominated by cultures of ubiquitous mass surveillance.

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Short Fiction

Robinson is an infrequent writer of short fiction, and, with limited exceptions (like “The Lucky Strike,” “The Blind Geometer,” “Black Air,” and “A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations,” all of which can be found in the Robinson 2010), his short fiction has not tended to attract the acclaim or the critical attention of his novels.

  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. Escape from Kathmandu. New York: T. Doherty Associates, 1989.

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    Another significant departure from Robinson’s typical style that may be of special interest to scholars looking at Robinson’s global imagination or his interest in Eastern spirituality, this collection of interrelated novellas is set entirely in Tibet.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. The Lucky Strike. PM Outspoken Authors. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2009.

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    This chapbook edition of “The Lucky Strike” (an alternate history narrative set in a timeline in which the bombardier flying on the Hiroshima mission refuses to drop the atomic bomb on the city) contains Robinson’s own essayistic follow-up to the story, “A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions” (pp. 59–74), as well as an interview with Robinson conducted by Terry Bisson.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson. San Francisco: Nightshade Books, 2010.

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    This is the natural starting place for any study of Robinson’s short fiction. It contains the most important and widely read stories from Robinson’s earlier collections, The Planet on the Table (1986), Remaking History (1991), and Vinland the Dream (2001), as well as three previously uncollected stories.

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Nonfiction

Although he is primarily a fiction writer, Robinson has also penned a number of noteworthy articles, essays, scholarship, and critical introductions that demonstrate his political and philosophical commitments in a different register than his fiction.

  • Canavan, Gerry, and Kim Stanley Robinson, eds. Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2014.

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    Robinson co-edited this academic collection of literary criticism concerning ecological and environmentalist science fiction, which concludes with an extended interview between the volume’s two editors (pp. 243–260).

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. The Novels of Philip K. Dick. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1984.

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    A hardcover printing of Robinson’s doctoral dissertation—on which Fredric Jameson served as the original supervisor and, later, a committee member—was printed by UMI Research Press. While rare, it is available from university libraries and Internet vendors.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. “The Profession of Science Fiction 34: Me in a Mirror.” Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction 38 (Winter 1986–1987): 58–63.

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    Personal reflections on Robinson’s early career.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. “Remarks on Utopia in the Age of Climate Change.” Utopian Studies 27.1 (2006): 1–15.

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    In a first-person essay, Robinson describes his utopian novels and the place of utopia in an era of environmental crisis.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. “A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions.” In The Lucky Strike. By Kim Stanley Robinson, 59–74. PM Outspoken Authors. Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2009.

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    This inventive and unusual hybrid essay on “The Lucky Strike”—part lecture, part commentary, part extension of the story—is now published alongside it in chapbook form from the PM Press “Outspoken Authors” series. Robinson explores quantum physics, chaos theory, and various ways to theorize the passage of history, using his own short story as his case study.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. “Introduction to The Sheep Look Up.” In The Sheep Look Up. By John Brunner, 7–11. Reprint. Lakewood, CO: Centipede Press, 2010.

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    Robinson’s introduction to Brunner’s classic 1972 novel positions the novel as a crucial warning that we have utterly failed to heed.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. “Martian Musings and the Miraculous Conjunction.” In Visions of Mars: Essays on the Red Planet in Fiction and Science. Edited by Howard V. Hendrix, George Slusser, and Eric S. Rabkin, 146–151. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011.

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    Part cultural history of the idea of Mars, part personal reflection of how he personally came to write the books, this essay details the creation of the Mars trilogy in the context of the evolving scientific understanding of the Red Planet.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. “The Map Is Not the Territory.” Slate, 5 September 2013.

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    A lovely glimpse into Robinson’s personal life, this essay describes the love of hiking in the California mountains that has informed so many of his novels.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley. “Empty Half the Earth of Its Humans. It’s the Only Way to Save the Planet.” Guardian, 20 March 2018.

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    A relatively rare op-ed first published in the Guardian in 2018, Robinson here argues for the need to vastly increase the population density of our living spaces in order to prevent ecological calamity, especially with regard to the mass extinction of animal life.

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  • Robinson, Kim Stanley, ed. Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias. New York: Tor Books, 1994.

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    Robinson’s brief introduction to the collection he edited on primitivist future utopias contains his thoughts on the nature of science fiction as “historical simulations,” oriented toward utopian speculation about the possibility of (and desire for) radical historical transformation—a key formulation for understanding Robinson’s own fiction as well. Additionally, the “Endnotes” and “Further Reading” provide an invaluable resource for scholarship on this subgenre of utopian speculation.

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Criticism

This section explores major examples of scholarly and critical engagement with Robinson’s work, primarily focalized through specific novels or trilogies. Two concluding subsections group other approaches to Robinson’s fictions, the first with respect to more global theories of science fictionality and the second with regard to ecocriticism and the ecological humanities.

Three Californias

While the Three Californias trilogy has sometimes been overlooked in favor of the Mars trilogy and post-Mars-trilogy works, it has attracted a significant amount of critical attention, especially Pacific Edge, which is a unique look at what “ordinary unhappiness” might look like in a society that otherwise appears to be organized like a utopia (especially in comparison to actually existing society). This theme is especially important in Moylan 1995.

  • Abbott, Carl. “Falling into History: The Imagined Wests of Kim Stanley Robinson in the ‘Three Californias’ and Mars Trilogies.” Western Historical Quarterly 34.1 (Spring 2003): 27–47.

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    Later reprinted in Abbott’s Imagined Frontiers: Contemporary America and Beyond, this article considers frontier ideology and the history of the American West in Robinson’s early works, with particular attention to Robinson as a California writer.

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  • Bellamy, Brent Ryan. “Reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Three Californias Triptych as Petrofiction.” Western American Literature 51.4 (Winter 2017): 409–427.

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    Applying the contemporary notion of “petrofiction”—literature about oil and its central place in contemporary society—to Robinson’s “Three Californias” trilogy, Bellamy finds each novel imagines a future still centered on oil despite the wildly different historical situations and fluctuations among them.

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  • Burgess, Helen J. “‘Road of Giants’: Nostalgia and the Ruins of the Superhighway in Kim Stanley Robinson’s ‘Three Californias Trilogy.’” Science Fiction Studies 33.2 (2006): 275–290.

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    Burgess considers the importance of nostalgia in Robinson’s Three Californias trilogy and related science fictional works, focusing in particular on the figuration of the “ruined superhighway” as a cite of futurological haunting.

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  • Csicsery-Ronay, Istvan, Jr. “Possible Mountains and Rivers: The Zen Realism of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Three Californias.” Configurations 20.1–2 (Winter-Spring 2012): 149–185.

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    This essay explores the importance of Buddhism in Robinson’s work, with particular attention to the way American Zen Buddhism informs the Three Californias trilogy.

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  • Moylan, Tom. “‘Utopia Is When Our Lives Matter’: Reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Pacific Edge.” Utopian Studies: Journal of the Society for Utopian Studies 6.2 (1995): 1–24.

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    This essay complements the Scraps of the Untainted Sky chapter by taking up the third of the Three Californias books, Pacific Edge, set in an ecotopian Orange County in 2065. Moylan argues that Pacific Edge’s depiction of a “sad utopia” instills in readers an “experience of the gap between their present world and utopia, but perhaps now enriched with more capacity for vision in the darkness” (p. 18).

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  • Moylan, Tom. “Kim Stanley Robinson’s Other California.” In Scraps of the Untainted Sky: Science Fiction, Utopia, Dystopia. By Tom Moylan, 203–221. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2000.

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    Moylan here explores Robinson’s The Gold Coast (the second book in his 1980s Three Californias trilogy) as a key instance of the “critical dystopia.” Moylan reads the post-apocalyptic 2040s of The Gold Coast as an allegorical commentary on the cultural logic of the Reagan years.

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  • Slotkin, Alan R. “The Ecological Newspeak of Kim Stanley Robinson.” American Speech 72.4 (Winter 1997): 440–443.

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    Slotkin reads Pacific Edge with a focus on the neologisms Robinson puts in the mouths of the characters who populate his 2065 California.

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  • Stratton, Susan. “The Messiah and the Greens: The Shape of Environmental Action in Dune and Pacific Edge.” Extrapolation 42.4 (Winter 2001): 303–316.

    DOI: 10.3828/extr.2001.42.4.303Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This piece reads both novels in the context of literary ecocriticism, concluding that the generational difference between Herbert and Robinson allows the latter to have a much stronger and much more positive ecological vision.

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Mars Trilogy

The single most influential piece of criticism on the Mars trilogy is almost certainly Jameson 2001, which is later reprinted in Jameson’s Archaeologies of the Future (cited under Robinson, Science Fiction, and Utopia); this essay provides a Marxist template for interpreting Robinson that much later scholarship follows. Much scholarship on the Mars trilogy focuses, as Jameson does, on the series’ socialist and environmentalist political commitments, especially with regard to its theory of revolution and radical historical break. Other influential readings include Burling 2005 and Franko 1997; Michaels 2001 has also been widely cited, and is included for that reason, despite using the Mars trilogy more as an example for a different argument, rather than providing a more traditional literary exegesis of the books.

  • Atkinson, Jennifer. “Seeds of Change: The New Place of Gardens in Contemporary Utopia.” Utopian Studies 18.2 (2007): 237.260.

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    This article focuses on the space of the garden in utopian science fiction, with particular attention to the hydroponic spaces in the Mars trilogy.

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  • Burling, William J. “The Theoretical Foundation of Utopian Radical Democracy in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Blue Mars.” Utopian Studies 16.1 (Spring 2005): 75–96.

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    A systematic reading of the utopian potentiality of the Mars trilogy by a key Robinson scholar, which begins by noting the ongoing lack of critical commentary on Robinson despite his popularity (especially among left-wing scholars of science fiction), and despite a critical consensus that the Mars trilogy is a canonical modern classic.

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  • Burling, William J. “Art as ‘The Basic Technique of Life’: Utopian Art and Art in Utopia in The Dispossessed and Blue Mars.” In Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction. Edited by Mark Bould and China Miéville, 47–65. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2009.

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    Burling’s chapter explores utopian fiction’s famous difficulty in describing the art of utopia, with focus on the music of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and Robinson’s Blue Mars. In fact, Robinson’s work is a frequent reference throughout Red Planets as a whole, befitting its status as a cornerstone of leftist science fiction.

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  • Cho, K. Daniel. “Tumults of Utopia: Repetition and Revolution in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy.” Cultural Critique 75 (Spring 2010): 65–81.

    DOI: 10.1353/cul.2010.0008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Written from a Marxist political orientation, Cho’s treatment of the Mars books focuses on the multiple attempts to fashion a revolutionary break in history orchestrated by Robinson’s characters, nearly all of which produce failure or even catastrophic reactionary backslide.

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  • Franko, Carol. “The Density of Utopian Destiny in Robinson’s Red Mars.” Extrapolation 38.1 (1997): 57–65.

    DOI: 10.3828/extr.1997.38.1.57Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An early essay on the Mars trilogy that has been frequently cited by later writers on Robinson, republished in Kim Stanley Robinson Maps the Unimaginable: Critical Essays (cited under General Overviews).

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  • Franko, Carol. “Kim Stanley Robinson: Mars Trilogy.” In A Companion to Science Fiction. Edited by David Seed, 544–555. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2005.

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    A helpful introduction to the Mars trilogy and its major thematic concerns.

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  • Jameson, Fredric. “‘If I Can Find One Good City, I Will Spare the Man’: Realism and Utopia in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy.” In Learning from Other Worlds: Estrangement, Cognition, and the Politics of Science Fiction and Utopia. Edited by Patrick Parrinder, 208–232. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.

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    Likely the single most widely read and most-cited essay on Robinson’s fiction, Jameson’s essay establishes the Mars trilogy as a landmark work in contemporary science fiction that reveals how Robinson’s use of a “hard SF” scientific register serves its utopian political content. Particular attention is paid to the ecological dimensions of the Mars story, and the characters’ disputes over the desirability of terraforming Mars for human settlement.

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  • Kilgore, De Witt Douglas. “Queering the Coming Race?: A Utopian Historical Initiative.” In Queer Universes: Sexualities and Science Fiction. Edited by Wendy Gay Pearson, Joan Gordon, and Veronica Hollinger, 233–251. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2008.

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    Kilgore reads Robinson slightly against the grain to explore the possibility of a queer futurity embedded in the Mars books, which Kilgore reads as part and parcel of the book’s utopianism.

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  • Knoespel, Kenneth. “Reading and Revolution on the Horizon of Myth and History: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy.” Configurations 20.1–2 (Winter-Spring 2012): 109–136.

    DOI: 10.1353/con.2012.0000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Knoespel reads Robinson’s Mars trilogy in the context of the pessimism instilled both by the trilogy’s repeated failed revolutions and by their echoing of our actually existing history; largely bracketing questions of utopian speculation, he instead suggests the trilogy as a kind of “laboratory for historiography” (p. 112).

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  • Michaels, Walter Benn. “The Shape of the Signifer.” Critical Inquiry 27 (2001): 266–283.

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    This well-known essay uses Robinson’s Mars trilogy as a launchpad for linguistic speculations that have interesting consequences for the way we read the Mars books but are also intended to stand on their own outside the context of literary exegesis.

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Terraforming Mars

An important subsection of Mars trilogy scholarship focuses particularly on Robinson’s detailed and exhaustively researched study of the possibilities for terraforming the Red Planet. Robinson’s trilogy is widely considered the most ambitious articulation of the possibilities for terraforming Mars that has to date appeared in science fiction, and many of the scholarly treatments below treat Robinson’s vision of terraforming as authoritative, even (somewhat perversely) as if it were nonfiction. Robinson himself, as discussed in Hasselin 2016 and in other more recent interviews and works of fiction (especially Aurora), has personally become much more pessimistic about the prospects for terraforming non-Earth planets with the speed and success that the Mars trilogy imagines.

  • Crossley, Robert. Imagining Mars: A Literary History. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2011.

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    From the page 1 epigraph from Red Mars that frames the first chapter, the book makes frequent reference to Robinson’s fiction, including a sustained consideration of the Mars books in the concluding chapters. Crossley suggests Robinson’s treatment of the Mars colonization narrative has become definitive in contemporary science fiction, and imagines any treatment of Mars after the 1990s must be considered “post-Robinson.”

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  • Heise, Ursula K. “Martian Ecologies and the Future of Nature.” Twentieth Century Literature 57.3–4 (Fall/Winter 2011): 447–471.

    DOI: 10.1215/0041462X-2011-4003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Science-fictional treatment of Mars becomes the occasion for Heise’s investigation of the relationship between postmodernity, lifelessness, and the natural world, with Robinson and Ben Bova’s Mars series serving as the key texts for interpretation.

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  • Hendrix, Howard V., George Slusser, and Eric S. Rabkin, eds. Visions of Mars: Essays on the Red Planet in Fiction and Science. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2011.

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    This edited collection contains an essay by Christopher Palmer on Robinson’s imagination of Mars (“From Icehenge to Blue Mars”) and an essay by Robinson himself (“Martian Musings and the Miraculous Conjunction”). A chapter on Philip K. Dick’s Martian fiction also makes reference to Robinson’s dissertation on Dick.

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  • Heise, Ursula. “Terraforming for Urbanists.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 49.1 (May 2016): 10–25.

    DOI: 10.1215/00295132-3458181Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article considers 2312 as a high-modernist literary text, particular with respect to its architectural imagination of alternative cityscapes and planetary ecologies; Heise argues that this artistic ambition and the blending of the urban with the natural marks 2312 as a key text of the Anthropocene that redirects our attention away from excess focus on human subjectivity.

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  • Huston, Shaun. “Murray Bookchin on Mars! The Production of Nature in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy.” In Lost in Space: Geographies of Science Fiction. Edited by Rob Kitchin and James Kneale, 167–179. New York: Continuum, 2002.

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    Later republished in Burling’s edited collection (Kim Stanley Robinson Maps the Unimaginable: Critical Essays, cited under General Overviews), this widely cited essay links Robinson’s Mars trilogy to the ecological thought of anarchist Murray Bookchin, arguing that the novels offer a vision of life in which human beings exist in harmony with both natural environments and with their natural, biological selves.

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  • Markley, Robert. “Falling to Theory: Simulation, Terraformation, and Eco-Economics in the Mars Trilogy.” MFS: Modern Fiction Studies 43.4 (Fall 1997): 773–794.

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    Noting Robinson’s vision of science fiction as “historical simulation,” as articulated in Future Primitive, Markley reads the Mars books as “a sustained, theoretically sophisticated attempt to conjure into being a future that resists the romantic dystopianism of cyberpunk, the antitechnological bias of much ‘green’ literature, and the blanket denunciations of capitalist technoscience that have become popular in some left-wing circles” (p. 774). Republished in Kim Stanley Robinson Maps the Unimaginable: Critical Essays (cited under General Overviews).

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  • Markley, Robert. Dying Planet: Mars in Science and the Imagination. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822387275Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Markley’s survey of Mars narratives (both real and imagined) naturally takes up Robinson as a major author working on the Red Planet.

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  • Otto, Eric. “Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy and the Leopoldian Land Ethic.” Utopian Studies 14.2 (2003): 118–135.

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    Otto’s multidirectional reading of the Mars books focuses on the Leopoldian possibility that ecological politics should recognize the right of nonhuman and even inorganic spaces to exist. Appears in modified form in Otto’s monograph Green Speculations: Science Fiction and Transformative Environmentalism (Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University Press, 2012), as well as Burling’s edited collection Kim Stanley Robinson Maps the Unimaginable: Critical Essays (cited under General Overviews).

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  • Pak, Chris. Terraforming: Ecopolitical Transformations and Environmentalism in Science Fiction. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.26530/OAPEN_608319Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    As the contemporary science fiction author most directly associated with terraforming, Robinson is naturally a central figure in Pak’s study, with chapter 5 devoted specifically to the Mars books.

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Science in the Capital Trilogy

As a more down-to-Earth, close-to-the-present approach to environmental science fiction than the Mars trilogy, the Science in the Capital trilogy has attracted the interest of scholars as an articulation of the possibilities and limits of contemporary environmental politics, as well as a vivid articulation of what climate change might look like if the scientific models are underestimating the urgency of the crisis. While many of the readings of this series still focus on its utopian potentiality, as with Cho 2011, Johns-Putra 2010, and Markley 2012, many readers find the novel taking a much more jaundiced view toward politics than the much more optimistic Mars trilogy (as seen in Luckhurst 2009, Prettyman 2009, Rose 2016, and Thacker 2012).

  • Cho, K. Daniel. “‘When a Chance Came for Everything to Change’: Messianism and Wilderness in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Abrupt Climate Change Trilogy.” Criticism 53.1 (2011): 23–51.

    DOI: 10.1353/crt.2011.0006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This reading of the Science in the Capital trilogy focuses on the way that the apocalypse devastation produced by abrupt climate disaster paradoxically “clears space, creates room, for Utopia to emerge” (p. 24) in the narrative.

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  • Johns-Putra, Adeline. “Ecocriticism, Genre, and Climate Change: Reading the Utopian Vision of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital Trilogy.” English Studies 91.7 (2010): 744–760.

    DOI: 10.1080/0013838X.2010.518043Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This essay uses the Science in the Capital trilogy as an opportunity to argue for the necessity of ecocriticism in literary studies and literary theory of the present movement, relating the trilogy’s representation of climate change to the larger context of the subgenre of utopian science fiction.

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  • Kilgore, De Witt Douglas. “Making Huckleberries: Reforming Science and Whiteness in Science in the Capital.” Configurations 20.1–2 (Winter-Spring 2012): 89–108.

    DOI: 10.1353/con.2012.0010Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Kilgore’s article explores the idea of whiteness in Robinson’s climate change trilogy, arguing that the cosmopolitan global vision called into existence by the dire emergency of climate change requires white male figures like some of the novels’ protagonists to radically reconceptualize their existing relationship to society.

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  • Luckhurst, Roger. “The Politics of the Network: The Science in the Capital Trilogy.” In Kim Stanley Robinson Maps the Unimaginable: Critical Essays. Edited by William J. Burling, 170–180. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

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    Published for the first time in Burling’s edited collection, this essay takes up the uneasy politics of Robinson’s first major post-Mars-trilogy series, the Science in the Capital, with a focus on the networks that link various scientific and governmental actors in a Washington, DC–facing near-apocalyptic global crises caused by rapid climate change.

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  • Markley, Robert. “‘How to Go Forward’: Catastrophe and Comedy in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital Trilogy.” Configurations 20.1–2 (Winter-Spring 2012): 7–27.

    DOI: 10.1353/con.2012.0004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Markley’s article on the Science in the Capital trilogy focuses on the way Robinson uses the trilogy as an opportunity to expose and attempt to resolve certain constitutive tensions in human society in search of “an ethical and spiritual—as opposed to instrumental—solution to environmental crisis” (p. 7).

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  • Prettyman, Gib. “Book Living Thought: Genes, Genres and Utopia in the Science in the Capital Trilogy.” In Kim Stanley Robinson Maps the Unimaginable: Critical Essays. Edited by William J. Burling, 170–180. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

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    Also published for the first time in Burling’s edited collection, Prettyman reads the Science in the Capital series as a kind of genetic mutation of the Mars books’ original utopianism.

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  • Rose, Andrew. “The Unknowable Now: Passionate Science and Transformative Politics in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Science in the Capital Trilogy.” Science Fiction Studies 43.2 (2016): 260–286.

    DOI: 10.5621/sciefictstud.43.2.0260Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article interrogates the ostensibly “happy” ending of the Science in the Capital trilogy by asking what it means to be called, as President Phil Chase does in the novel, to “become the stewards of the Earth . . . in ignorance of the details of how to do it” (p. 260).

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  • Thacker, Eugene. “Notes on Extinction and Existence.” Configurations 20.1–2 (Winter-Spring 2012): 137–148.

    DOI: 10.1353/con.2012.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Somewhat unusually for Robinson scholarship, Thacker focuses not on the works’ utopian sensibility, but rather on Robinson’s production of a sort of future-facing philosophical dread in Forty Signs of Rain.

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The Years of Rice and Salt

An ambitious stand-alone work spanning over six centuries, unified by an inventive plot inspired by the Tibetan “bardo” that sees a group of souls reincarnated together over and over again, The Years of Rice and Salt provides a very different vision of history and historical change than others promoted by Robinson in his more traditionally future-oriented science fiction. While Kneale 2010, Prettyman 2011, and Wegner 2009 see the novel as more or less successful in its ambitions, Mendlesohn 2002 strongly takes the novel to task for the failure of its imagination of the Islamic world in particular.

  • Kneale, James. “Counterfactualism, Utopia, and Historical Geography: Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt.” Journal of Historical Geography 36.3 (2010): 297–304.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.jhg.2009.12.003Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Kneale reads The Years of Rice and Salt and its alternate history narrative against the suspicion of counterfactual history evinced by professional historians, arguing that the novel helps demonstrate the value of counterfactual history as a critical method.

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  • Mendlesohn, Farah. “Review of The Years of Rice and Salt.” SFRA Review 257 (2002): 24–27.

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    This negative review of The Years of Rice and Salt takes the book to task for its failure to imagine a genuinely different history, despite its premise, with particular focus on the book’s treatment of Islam and Islamic feminism.

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  • Prettyman, Gib. “Critical Utopia as Critical History: Apocalypse and Enlightenment in Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Years of Rice and Salt.” Extrapolation 52.3 (2011): 338–364.

    DOI: 10.3828/extr.2011.52.3.5Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Prettyman reads The Years of Rice and Salt alongside Moylan’s notion of the contemporary “critical utopia” (which interrogates the naiveté of the traditional utopia) to argue that Years rehabilitates a sense of history that has been muted in contemporary science fictions, which have preferred the history-obliterating violence of the apocalypse.

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  • Wegner, Philip E. “Learning to Live in History: Alternate Historicities and the 1990s in The Years of Rice and Salt.” In Kim Stanley Robinson Maps the Unimaginable: Critical Essays. Edited by William J. Burling, 98–112. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

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    Previously unpublished before its appearance in the Burling collection, Wegner explores the logic of alternate history that governs The Years of Rice and Salt and the novel’s overall orientation toward utopia.

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Other Works

This catch-all category includes major scholarship from Robinson’s other novels, most notably Antarctica, which despite its status as a “second-tier” Robinson novel attracts important critical readings in Huehls 2016, Leane 2003, and (especially) Moylan 2003. Franko 1995, Gevers 2009, and Kessel 2009 take up Robinson’s short fiction, while the remaining entries in this section discuss later novels in Robinson’s oeuvre.

  • Canavan, Gerry. “Capital as Artificial Intelligence.” Journal of American Studies 49.4 (November 2015): 685–709.

    DOI: 10.1017/S002187581500167XSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The final section of this article discusses Robinson’s novel 2312, and its interest in artificially intelligent quantum computers as a potential sociohistorical actor in the future, in the context of the contemporary neo-Marxist tendency called “accelerationism.”

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  • Franko, Carol. “Dialogical Twins: Post-Patriarchal Topography in Two Stories by Kim Stanley Robinson.” Science Fiction Studies 22.3 (November 1995): 305–322.

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    Listed on the page of recommended essays and criticism at Robinson’s home page (kimstanleyrobinson.info), this essay takes up two of Robinson’s often overlooked short stories: A Short, Sharp Shock and A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations.

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  • Gaffney, Michael. “The Ice Age and Us: Imagining Geohistory in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Shaman.” Science Fiction Studies 45.3 (Fall 2018): 469–483.

    DOI: 10.5621/sciefictstud.45.3.0469Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article reads Robinson’s prehistory novel Shaman from two incompatible historical time scales (species time versus geological time), and argues the importance of the novel as a document of the Anthropocene is the way it is able to unite the two scales within a single artistic form.

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  • Gevers, Nick. “The Martians: A Habitable Fabric of Possibilities.” In Kim Stanley Robinson Maps the Unimaginable: Critical Essays. Edited by William J. Burling, 95–97. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

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    This short essay considers The Martians, a companion work to the Mars trilogy that contains several short stories that reconsider events of the canonical trilogy or depict the events happening in different ways.

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  • Huehls, Mitchum. After Critique: Twenty-First-Century Fiction in a Neoliberal Age. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190456221.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Robinson is a key, if somewhat problematic, author for Huehls’s study of hypercontemporary literature; in particular, Huehls takes up Robinson’s comparatively neglected novel Antarctica and its deployment of science “as a way of speaking for the world without imposing human interest, subjectivity, or perspective on it” (p. xiv).

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  • Kessel, John. “Remaking History: The Short Fiction.” In Kim Stanley Robinson Maps the Unimaginable: Critical Essays. Edited by William J. Burling, 83–94. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

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    A useful introductory survey of Robinson’s short stories, which aside from a few key exceptions (most notably “The Lucky Strike”) have not received the critical attention of his novels.

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  • Laudadio, Nicholas C. “‘Harmony Endowed with Gifts of the Stars’: Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Memory of Whiteness and the Orchestrionic Instrument.” Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction 46.126 (2017): 61–73.

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    Taking up one of Robinson’s neglected early novels, Laudadio performs a sound-studies reading of music in The Memory of Whiteness, seeing the novel as a response to developments in audio technology writ large across the 1980s.

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  • Leane, Elizabeth. “Antarctica as Scientific Utopia.” Foundation: The International Review of Science Fiction 32.3 (2003): 27–35.

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    As the title suggests, Leane reads Antarctica’s construction of Antarctica as a potential utopian enclave and site of resistance.

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  • Moylan, Tom. “‘The Moment Is Here . . . and It’s Important’: State, Agency, and Dystopia in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Antarctica and Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Telling.” In Dark Horizons: Science Fiction and the Dystopian Imagination. Edited by Raffaella Baccolini and Tom Moylan, 135–154. New York: Routledge, 2003.

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    Moylan extends his reading of the “critical dystopian” dimension of Robinson’s work (see Moylan 2000, cited under Three Californias) through a reading of his often overlooked realist novel Antarctica (1997). In Moylan’s treatment, it is normal society that is the dystopia, to which the isolated scientific colony on Antarctica stands (like Mars in the Mars trilogy) as a potentially utopian space of exception and resistance.

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  • Vint, Sherryl. “Archaeologies of the ‘Amodern’: Science and Society in Galileo’s Dream.” Configurations 20.1–2 (Winter-Spring 2012): 29–51.

    DOI: 10.1353/con.2012.0006Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Vint’s study takes up an often overlooked novel from Robinson’s middle period, the time-travel narrative Galileo’s Dream, arguing the novel offers a synthesis between science and utopianism that allows science to oppose capital rather than remain hopelessly subservient to it.

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Robinson, Science Fiction, and Utopia

Robinson, as a major writer of the contemporary period in science fiction, is very often discussed not simply in the context of his own work, but also with the ambition of articulating overarching theories of the genre as a whole. As all of these entries attest, this type of scholarship is most frequently undertaken with respect to the relationship between science fiction and utopian literature, for which Robinson is the nearly obligatory key example.

  • Canavan, Gerry. “New Paradigms, After 2001.” In Science Fiction: A Literary History. Edited by Roger Luckhurst, 208–234. London: British Library, 2017.

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    Canavan situates Robinson as a key writer of post-millennial science fiction, especially with respect to the growing urgency of ecological crisis and the darkening of Robinson’s utopian imagination in response to governmental inaction on the climate.

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  • Franko, Carol. “Working the ‘In-Between’: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Utopian Fiction.” Science Fiction Studies 21.2 (July 1994): 191–211.

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    This early treatment of Robinson’s novels of the 1980s and early 1990s establishes a dedication to “the possibility of ethical action—of working towards utopia” (p. 191). Franko notes Robinson, as a non-cyberpunk writer, is someone who is slightly out of step with trends in the genre, and deploys Robinson to show that “utopian vision is not dead” in the 1980s, but “perhaps hibernating, or mutating” (p. 192).

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  • Jameson, Fredric. Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions. New York: Verso, 2005.

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    Robinson is a frequent referent in Jameson’s magnum opus study of the intersections between utopia and science fiction. In addition to new analysis focused on some of Robinson’s other works, including the alternate history novel The Years of Rice and Salt, the book also reprints Jameson’s foundational essay on Robinson’s Mars trilogy, “If I Can Find One Good City, I Will Spare the Man.”

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  • Kerslake, Patricia. Science Fiction and Empire. Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2007.

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    Robinson is a key writer for Kerslake’s reading of celebration of and resistance to imperial ideology in science fiction, with the last chapter of the book titled “A Postcolonial Imagination: Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars” (pp. 146–167).

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  • Kilgore, De Witt Douglas. Astrofuturism: Science, Race, and Visions of Utopia in Space. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.

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    Robinson composes the major textual reference in the work’s final chapter, “On Mars and Other Heterotopias: A Conclusion” (pp. 222–238, see esp. 234–238).

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Robinson and the Ecological Humanities

Robinson is also a crossover figure for science fiction studies in that his work is frequently discussed independently of its relationship with the science fiction publishing genre, in the emerging interdisciplinary discipline frequently called the “ecological humanities.” Robinson’s political interest in ecological science fiction and his commitment to getting the scientific details right have made him a popular author for critics and theorists working in ecocriticism. Particularly important are readings of Robinson as an author of the “Anthropocene,” as in Trexler 2015 and Wark 2015, as well as the relationship between climate change and real-world governmental policy, as in Canavan 2013, Milburn 2012, and Thomas 2016.

  • Canavan, Gerry. “Debt, Theft, Permaculture.” In Debt: Ethics, the Environment, and the Economy. Edited by Peter Y. Paik and Merry Wiesner-Hanks, 210–224. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013.

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    The final section of this chapter discusses Robinson’s interest in the agricultural paradigm “permaculture” as a means to theorize a relationship with the future of the planet that was not extractive and exploitative-destructive. Canavan argues that Robinson’s fiction theorizes an eco-socialist alternative to the capitalist present.

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  • Garforth, Lisa. Green Utopias: Environmental Hope before and after Nature. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2018.

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    Garforth includes Robinson in her wide study of the politics of ecological speculative fiction, especially in chapter 4, “Utopian Fiction: Imagining the Sustainable Society” (pp. 72–95).

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  • Milburn, Colin. “Greener on the Other Side: Science Fiction and the Problem of Green Nanotechnology.” Configurations 20.1–2 (Winter-Spring 2012): 53–87.

    DOI: 10.1353/con.2012.0008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Milburn’s article explores the tense relationship between nanotechnology in reality and nanotechnology in science fiction, including the ways that nanotech corporations have attempted to disavow science fiction as a branding exercise, and uses Robinson’s novels of the 1990s and 2000s to argue that we need the forward-looking but communitarian ethos native to Robinson’s fiction to reimagine the relationship between tech capital and democratic governance.

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  • Murphy, Patrick D. “Pessimism, Optimism, Human Inertia, and Anthropogenic Climate Change.” Isle: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 21.1 (2014): 149–163.

    DOI: 10.1093/isle/isu027Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article focuses on 2312, arguing that the book can be read very pessimistically or very optimistically, depending on how seriously one takes its ostensible setting three hundred years in the future: read as a prediction, the book depicts an Earth falling into catastrophic disrepair; read as an allegory or a warning, it imagines a possible near-term intervention that might save Earth from the destructive behavior of human beings.

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  • Pak, Chris. “‘All Energy is Borrowed’—Terraforming: A Master Motif for Physical and Cultural Re(up)cycling in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy.” Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism 18 (2014): 91–103.

    DOI: 10.1080/14688417.2014.890527Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Pak explores the importance of composting and soil replenishment in Robinson’s vision of a terraformed Mars, calling attention to an underappreciated and quite down-to-Earth political dimension of the Mars books.

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  • Pak, Chris. “‘The Goal of Martian Economics Is Not “Sustainable Development” but a Sustainable Prosperity for Its Entire Biosphere’: Science Fiction and the Sustainability Debate.” Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism 19 (2015): 36–49.

    DOI: 10.1080/14688417.2014.984316Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Here again Pak uses Robinson’s Mars trilogy to intervene within contemporary ecocriticism and offer the Mars books as a paradigm for understanding what ecologically rational, sustainable development might look like in practice.

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  • Thomas, Lindsay. “Forms of Duration: Preparedness, the Mars Trilogy, and the Management of Climate Change.” American Literature 88.1 (March 2016): 159–184.

    DOI: 10.1215/00029831-3453696Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This essay (winner of the Pioneer Award from the Science Fiction Research Association in 2017) takes up Robinson’s Mars trilogy as an example of the way American culture has attempted in various ways to premediate a coming era of climate emergency by imagining we might somehow successfully prepare for it in advance.

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  • Trexler, Adam. Anthropocene Fictions: The Novel in a Time of Climate Change. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015.

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    Trexler’s study of the novel in the moment of immense geohistorical transformation—what has come to be known as “the Anthropocene”—devotes significant attention to the Science in the Capital trilogy.

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  • Vint, Sherryl, and Mark Bould. “Dead Penguins in Immigrant Pilchard Scandal: Telling Stories about the ‘Environment’ in Antarctica.” In Kim Stanley Robinson Maps the Unimaginable: Critical Essays. Edited by William J. Burling, 257–273. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009.

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    Somewhat unusually for Robinson scholarship, which tends to view Robinson in extremely positive terms, Vint and Bould problematize Robinson’s environmentalism by arguing that Robinson has a tendency to reduce “environment” to “landscape,” and thus is insufficiently attentive to nonhuman life.

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  • Wark, McKenzie. “Molecular Red: Theory for the Anthropocene (On Alexander Bogdanov and Kim Stanley Robinson).” e-flux 63 (March 2015).

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    Wark’s articulation of the need for new critical theory suitable for the Anthropocene (excerpted from a full monograph of the same name) turns to Robinson’s Mars trilogy to frame his call for solidarity and comradeship in a time of climate emergency.

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