New Yorker on Kim Stanley Robinson: "Our Greatest Political Novelist"


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I wish Pacific Edge would get an ebook release somewhere. I prize my beat up old paperback copy, but it’s one of those stories I’d like to keep in my e-reader to read whenever the mood takes me.

The Red Mars books made it readily apparent to me that Robinson had his finger directly on that particular analytical pulse.


Robinson has been progressively more and more disappointing to me since the California Trilogy and I stopped bothering with his work after The Years of Rice and Salt.I wish I could get back the time I wasted on that book.

2312 was amazing, but there is no doubt that reading his books is not a light task. I rarely pick them up because much of my reading happens while commuting and I just don’t have the mental capacity for his stuff at 6am. Pathetic I know, but it’s my brain and it doesn’t work on higher planes at that hour.

It took me years to track down a copy of Pacific Edge. I read it just after reading Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and wanted to write an essay about the two. So hearing that Cory reads PE once a year is enlightening.


The short answer is that there’s no electronic manuscript extant (I almost got it for Humble Ebook Bundle, but we didn’t have time to re-key it). Someday, I hope!


Down and Out was directly inspired by Pacific Edge, FWIW. I’d love to read that essay!

I’m a long-time KSR fan, and yes, Pacific Edge FTW. But my all-time favorite has got to be ‘Galileo’s Dream’.

I’m sorry to have to say this, but Ayn Rand is a much greater political novelist. Note that I’m not saying she’s a better novelist; most of her novels are hackneyed hackery. But she’s had a lot more influence. And Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin was probably even more influential.

Red Mars is a great series, Forty Signs of Rain worked for me, Years of Rice and Salt didn’t. I still haven’t found Pacific Edge, though The Gold Coast was interesting to read after having worked with several defense contractors in Southern California in the late 80s, when the book was written. And Escape from Kathmandu wasn’t meant to be a highly deep book - it’s a fast fun read.

Unless I am mistaken I just saw it for the kindle.

If that is the case, it’s not visible to me from outside the US. I’m only seeing hardcover and paperback versions from Amazon.

For the sake of maybe saving someone from reading these books, I’m going to have to dissent. Red Mars series came across as superficial while trying to be grand and thought provoking. But while it at least stayed coherent, 2312 seemed like a bunch of random oddities crammed together for the gee-whiz factor, held together by a weak plot and weaker characters.

Maybe these aren’t his best examples of writing. His political analysis in these books is rather weak and consists of just statements that this group or that is experimenting with political or economic systems. It has the feel of some Old Testament book chronicling who begat who, who killed who, who conquered who.

Sorry if you disagree.

I’m not going to argue stature, but “our n” usually refers to somebody currently alive in this generation (“our”).

One thing I remember from the Mars books was the concept that every person would only be allowed 3/4’s of a child (overpopulation, ya know). Thus any couple was allowed one child with a half a child left over. If you wanted more children, you could go on the marketplace and purchase however many half children you could afford. Human life would therefore become monetized. This idea was both very rational and deeply disturbing.

Rand is certainly still influential today, among people who were alive while she was actively writing; I think it’s reasonable to include her.

I’ll be happy to let Harriet Beecher Stowe’s influence be counted as part of the past; it’d be nice if contemporary society finally stops fighting over the same issues that led to the Civil War, but apparently every time the Republicans try to tell us that racism is over with, other Republicans give us brand new examples of why it’s not.
And it didn’t occur to me to bring up any influential feminist novels; I suspect that essays and other non-fiction were far more influential, but could quite easily be wrong about that.

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Robinson was VERY influential for me. I pickde up Red Mars on a whim in 97 (along with Consider Phebalas) and read it on the train from Liverpool to Reading (I was looking at going to the Cybernetics department) and that book,and the sequels sortde my life focus. Ended up going to Liverpool Uni and doing Robotics (more to do with Kevin Warwick though) and then planned a second degree in astrophysics.
I also almost went to the planetary society meeting in Colorado in 99 (but BattleBots was filming its first show in Long Beach the same time, and that was work) where James Cameron optioned the books (and instead gave us Fern Gully in Space).
I then later remember being invited into one of the Liverpool Uni faculty coffee shops with Dr Andy Sawyer to discuss KSR (Sawyer is the curator of the John Wyndham archive) right when Antarctica came out (or was it The Martians).

I read the Mars trilogy yearly, and have helped find focus with his books in my political work (I’ve worked with Pirate Parties worldwide since 06, including heading the international org during the 09 EU elections, governor of the UK party, and currently vice-chair of the US party).

Gave me a lot to think about, and I really do need to find a copy of Pacific Rim (I read a little bit at a library years ago, not found it since)


The fascinating thing about Rand is how unfamiliar many of her followers are with her actual work. I read The Fountainhead several years ago just to see what the fuss over Rand was about. Then I tried discussing aspects of the book (like the scene where the main character rapes his c***tease love interest/antagonist) with Rand apologists only to find that they had no idea what I was talking about.

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