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Antarctica & Other Alien Landscapes

(excerpted from Locus Magazine, September 1997)
Kim Stanley Robinson pic
    Photo by Charles N. Brown

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Kim Stanley Robinson wrote his Ph.D. thesis on Philip K. Dick, and later published it as The Novels of Philip K. Dick (1984). His novels include the "Orange County" trilogy, consisting of The Wild Shore (1984), The Gold Coast (1988), and Pacific Edge (1990); and the "Mars" trilogy, consisting of Red Mars (1992), winner of the Nebula Award, Green Mars (1993), winner of the Hugo and Locus Awards, and Blue Mars (1996), also winner of the Hugo and Locus Awards. His latest novel, just published (in the UK), is Antarctica.

"I couldn't have written this book if I hadn't gone. ... I went to Antarctica without much of an idea for my main story, and the whole time I was thinking, 'OK, tell me the story.' I wanted to be open to the landscape and my experiences down there, to shape the eventual story, so every tale the mountaineers told me about disasters and accidents and search and rescue operations, and everything the scientists told me about the geology and the infighting amongs the geologists over what's going on down there and their explanations -- every story I was told began to filter in and become part of my thought. It felt like I was a conduit for other stories, reacting to the truth of the situation down there, rather than thinking up a horror novel, a suspense novel, etc., that you then plunk down in Antarctica because it's an exotic background. I wanted the story to come more organically out of what's going on in Antarctica right now, and I think I did that."

"Science fiction is the perfect angle to approach Antarctica. It is a science fiction artifact, like another planet -- a place you can't live unless you've got technological support."

"My original idea for Antarctica was to have some kind of conflict between development forces interested in the natural resources down there, especially oil and coal, and the kind of wilderness park idea that has been proposed for Antarctica, of completely leaving it alone. What interested me when I got down there was the idea of some third way that was not just exploitation of the natural resources and also was not leaving it alone as a blank wilderness, but was an attempt at a human habitation of Antarctica that went beyond the scientists' visits that are happening there now -- as a science fiction act of extrapolating a possible future society."

"Essentially, the millennium means nothing whatsoever to me, except it's a chance to think about history happening. It's one of those moments in time where you're almost forced to think about what was going on one hundred years ago, one thousand years ago. It has a certain science-fictional ability to force you to think about time and about history. But other than that, it's ridiculous. It's not the year 2000 for many cultures on this Earth. There's a variety of different year systems that are active and important. And even for the people where it is the year 2000, big deal! Numbers like that are so abstract and irrelevant, it's like gambling, like suddenly treating money as an end in itself."

"I figure if you come away from the novel with a clearer understanding of ecotage and of radical environmentalism (which in many ways I support), and also of Third World oil crews, the novel will have done something."

"Science fiction rarely is about scientists doing real science, in its slowness, its vagueness, the sort of tedious quality of getting out there and digging amongst rocks and then trying to convince people that what you're seeing justifies the conclusions you're making. The whole process of science is wildly under-represented in science fiction because it's not easy to write about. There are many facets of science that are almost exactly opposite of dramatic narrative. It's slow, tedious, inconclusive, it's hard to tell good guys from bad guys -- it's everything that a normal hour of Star Trek is not."

"Now I'm going to do another Mars book. I'm going to write about how cold it is on Mars, and salty! But also, what it does is allow me to go back and read the three books of Red, Green, and Blue Mars, and see what I did -- because I've never read them in order all at once -- and try to figure out a good short story collection that fills in gaps and explains some things, or creates new mysteries, that follows places the main storyline didn't allow me to follow. I'm trying to conceive of it as a short story collection that is a companion volume to the Mars novels, that will be provocative and interesting in whatever way. ... I've always called the collection A Martian Romance, which has to do with those early stories exploring fossil canyons, and 'Green Mars' the novella of '85. I'll add one more Roger and Eileen story, and then I'll have three stories describing a relationship that lasts a really long time. That's the Martian romance, but it's also my romance with the planet, and also the idea of the early Martian Romances. I'm going to do some stories that will be more like folktales or fairytales -- romances in the technical sense. My history with titles has been so up and down, I'm not fixated on titles as being all that important. So the name may change."

© 1997 by Locus Publications. All rights reserved.