Robert Markley on Kim Stanley Robinson

The University of Illinois Press’ series Modern Masters of Science Fiction continues to provide the gold standard for recent science fiction criticism. I have previously written about Gerry Canavan’s book on Octavia Butler and Gwyneth Jones’ book on Joanna Russ; I have just read another excellent volume, Robert Markley’s book on Kim Stanley Robinson. Markley gives a thoughtful and comprehensive overview of Robinson’s voluminous output (even though KSR is one of my favorite currently active science fiction writers, there are still a lot of his books that I haven’t read; Markley covers all the novels — except for the latest one, RED MOON, which was published after Markley’s volume was already written — and several important short stories as well). Markley traces the intertwined themes running through Robinson’s work: his socialist politics, his largely positive view of science and working scientists, his historical imagination (which leads him to write revisionary histories of the past as well as speculative histories of the future), his concerns about the environmental crisis and visionary efforts to imagine ways of dealing with it, his broader vision (both scientific and spiritual) of ecological interdependence, and his accounts of dreams of interplanetary exploration, travel, and settlement, together with his counterbalancing sense of our necessary groundedness in the Earth. Above all, Markely charts how Robinson seeks to nurture possibilities for hope amidst all the dystopian dangers that we face, and his sense of utopia as a process, rather than a destination. Perfection is impossible, and limits are inevitable; but this doesn’t mean that we need to settle for things being as bad as they currently are. Markley both gives us insightful readings of Robinson’s fiction, and sends us back to that fiction, asking us to read or re-read it, and to ponder it more deeply.