Robinson’s early life was a sci-fi novel in Orange County

October 30, 2006
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

On Thursday night, science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson said he was happy to be giving a talk in his hometown at the Davis library, in the Blanchard Room.

It’s a room he associates with happy memories since he is a regular at the library’s famous used-book sales. He buys books by the grocery bag, takes them home, and tries to recycle as many so he has room in his library.

“I’ve got a perpetual motion machine going on,” he said.

Robinson said he is a Californian – “not quite by birth but as long as I can remember.” His early years in Orange County shaped his future.

“I grew up in a science fiction novel,” he said, referring to the destruction of nature he witnessed in Orange County. He watched orange groves, avocado ranches and eucalyptus borders were bulldozed and torn out at a rate of five acres a day for 10 years.

“Ordinary literature describes the present and quickly becomes historical,” Robinson said. “If you want to write with the emotions of how life feels, you need to write science fiction. Orange County taught me this in advance of everyone else.

“Science fiction writers will be looked to in the future for emotional descriptions of what it was like in the last 30 to 40 years,” he predicted.

Robinson said he discovered science fiction (any story set in the future) in college and it was like a light bulb going on in his head.

During that time, in the early ‘70s, there was a term for the changes society was going through – future shock.

But we don’t use that term any more, he said. We have no need for it because we’re used to changes.

“Every five years there will be elements in our lives we didn’t have five years earlier,” he said. “We are beyond surprise.”

Robinson and his wife, Lisa, and their two sons, now 17 and 11, live in Village Homes. He loves Davis and has accomplished the bulk of his professional writing here.

He thinks of the destruction of Orange County when he hears about the university’s plans to expand the campus westward and build a faculty housing village on what are now open fields.

“I love Davis but I feel landscape-deprived,” he said.

Robinson says his fellow writers laugh at him – in a good way – because he always writes with a green slant, with a love of nature and wilderness.

“By now I am a walking cliché,” he said. But he is a true believer.

“You can’t say let’s burn less carbon by renunciation,” he said. “But what if our consumption is stupid? I say you’ll have more fun if you go outside and walk with a friend for health and happiness. Plus, we live in the best climate in a beautiful state – that makes it easier.”

Robinson says he works outside whenever possible.

“I write outside on my laptop in the shade, then I work in the vegetable garden and play Frisbee golf.”

His climate-change novels came about precisely because he felt that society was beyond surprise. What did that leave a science fiction writer to write about? Nature.

His most recent three novels are “Forty Signs of Rain,” “50 Degrees Below,” and “60 Days and Counting,” which is coming out in March.

Robinson, who earned his Ph.D. in literature at UC San Diego, loves long 19th century novels. He describes the three climate change books as a novel in three volumes, like a Victorian triple-decker.

“I just like long novels myself,” he said. “I like to settle in for the long haul and I hope some day it will be published as a single book.”

He also describes himself as a “science fiction patriot.”

“And for us, science fiction offers the best descriptions available of American life.”

-- Reach Elisabeth Sherwin at and watch for more local writers to be featured biweekly at this web site.

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Elisabeth Sherwin's PRINTED MATTER -- November 2, 1997

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Photo of  Kim Stanley Robinson and behind him, MarsScience Fiction novelist
Kim Stanley Robinson,
the author of "Red Mars,"
"Green Mars" and "Blue Mars."
His most recent three novels are “Forty Signs of Rain,” “50 Degrees Below,” and “60 Days and Counting,” which are coming out in March. 2007

Elisabeth Sherwin's latest interview
with Kim Stanley Robinson can be found in
Robinson’s early life was a sci-fi novel in Orange County
the October 30, 2006, PRINTED MATTER column.

Picture taken in October 1997

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