This post is about my personal favorite author, Kim Stanley Robinson. He is one of, if not the best, sci-fi author of the 1900-2000s. All of his stories are simply beautiful, and always have resulted in me having a “book hangover”, where I can't stop thinking about the book, because it's just too beautiful, the characters are too likeable, too great, and you can't stop thinking about them. I read his Mars trilogy (which had all three books in it win the Hugo award for best science fiction novel for their respective years) almost a year ago, but I still think about it spontaneously at least twice a week. This post will be about how each of his books that I have read is amazing, and a short plot synopsis of it.
Mild spoiler warning:
I live in New York City, and this book set here, in my hometown (I do feel weird calling this city of 8 million a “town”, but regardless). It also predicted stuff that is currently happening here, such as the construction of a massive wall to try to keep water out (it hasn't yet actually gone into plan, and I haven't heard much, but I do recall being told that the city was discussing doing that to southern Manhattan). It was also very wonderful to read the way in which this flooding affected the city, and the water buses and such. The characters in it are also some of the best, with an airship pilot (I love airships), and everyone living in one of the most prominent buildings in the city.
The topics the book also touched one where dope as fuck. Climate change, and sea level rise is something which has been really affecting me lately, do the weird shit that's been happening here, with torrential rain happening in the beginning of the summer, and then 80 degree heat starting to be considered normal, and the fact that there was no real snow last year, with the no snowfall record being hit this January (and I don't believe it has snowed since), and the wildfire smoke from Canada making the whole city look like a dystopia, and killing my lungs when I tried to go for a jog. Additionally, the whole part in the book with the massive civil unrest, and riots in Central Park and everything felt like an eerily accurate prediction of what would happen in 2020 and 2021, with the massive protests.
This book is an outstanding book, about how history can be both manipulated, and how it simply gets distorted with time. History being distorted especially seemed like a major plot point, and how you interpret things, accidentally, can lead to massive issues in the interpretation of a portion of history. This problem, actually, was something that always seemed offputting to me about history – how do we know that we're not just wrong?
The way the book was set up too was also one of the best parts in my opinion. It starts off with a (supposed) diary, recounting a mutiny on a ship, and a revolution on Mars, in which a city gets bombed. It also covers the plans for a symmetrical henge made of ice on Pluto. It ends with her trying to escape the city. It then jumps forward three centuries, to an archaeology professor leading a dig of that same city which got bombed, which he was told by the (previously) totalitarian government had been bombed by the radical revolutionaries and not the government (which had won the revolution). He spends a while excavating the city, before, outside of the city, finding a semi-burnt car, that in it contains boxes and boxes of revolutionary material, including that journal. The professor then determines that the stuff said in the journal is true (primarily after the “first” manned landing on Pluto, where they discover the Icehenge talked about in the book), and that the government was lying and everything. It ends with him taking a job as a member of the government, saying he will try to bring change. The third chapter is of that professors grandson, who is fascinated as a child by Icehenge, but then meets a man, on the street, who claims to have been the one to build it. He then publishes several papers claiming that the current view of Icehenge is false, and that more research needs to be done, and he believes that this reclusive woman who lives on a space station in Saturn's orbit is the person who built it (due to her having money, and being in charge of a massive space fleet for mining). He then is invited to her house, where he finds a model of Icehenge, where some light goes down into certain pillars, but then also up from one pillar. While there, she says she didn't make Icehenge, and says she will fund an expedition to Icehenge. He goes to Icehenge with his crew, and eventually they discover a chamber under a pillar, containing ceramic, dating back less than 300 years, meaning the journal lied, and the Saturnian built it.
Ministry for the Future is a great book, which starts off with a massive heat wave in India, claiming the lives of everyone in the town where one of the main characters is from, except him, and his subsequent PTSD and lapse into a murderous rage at the people who, he believes caused it. If I recall correctly, MF (Ministry for the Future) never explicitly says when it occurs, but implies that is near future (I would hazard a guess to say within the next 30 years). The book then focuses on Zurich, where the UN's new ministry, the Ministry for the Future is located, alongside seemingly weird sub-chapters, which aren't quite long enough to be a normal chapter, and tend not be set in Zurich, but are important nonetheless, and, overtime, tend to form their own coherent, independent, storyline, sometimes even interacting with the main storyline in a way that the reader doesn't learn for a while.
It had a lot of really good and interesting themes. The first one that struck me was the central banking system (like the Fed), who the Head of the MF (who you see from the 3rd person limited for a while, as she is a main character) posits are essentially the rulers of the world, the people tasked with controlling the thing that controls people. However, she then tries to get them to like “blockchain” all money or something, which was also a common theme, one which I really, really didn't appreciate. However, adding on this, she says that there should be a way to “short” society, and says that is essentially what a lot of central banks does. The concept of “shorting society” I think is interesting (and I will definitely look into what that actually would be, outside of prepping), but the thought that the central banks do that is preposterous – you can't short yourself! There was also a terrorist theme I really liked, as, after the heat wave in India, which claimed I believe 20 million lives in the story, a lot of people, understandably, become radicalized, and they create the Sons of Kali, a terrorist group getting its name from the Indian got (not the OS), which decides to try to stop this rampant climate destruction once and for all, primarily by what was called “Crash Day”, where they flew fleets of drones into a large amount of airliners, causing their engines to explode/flameout. They also do a lot of attacks on the massive ocean liners. It also brings up something I have found interesting, which is how a relatively small terrorist attack (“crash day” killed around 7000, and it was primarily mostly business only jets and the like) gets a lot of people to change (airlines started going out of business and such because of it, and the boat attacks caused “solar powered” boats, which had solar panels in their masts, to become popular), but 20 million deaths, large scale damage does not. I guess it needs to be able to actually affect you, but regardless. The side stories and their themes are also really good. There are two main ones which I remember. The first is one about an immigrant family, unnamed. It starts off with the main character in that side story coming to Switzerland (or it might start with them leaving from their old country), as a young child. They then grow on the way, and in waiting, as they are carted from camp to camp. It then goes over riots, and moving camps more and more, until they are middle aged, when everything finally goes through and stuff, and her and her family create a middle eastern kitchen in some random Swiss village, which becomes a mainstay of the town. It also goes over some talk of this scientist, a geologist working on glaciers in Antarctica, who, in order to stop sea levels from rising, helps to come up with an elaborate series of pipes, which pipe water from below glaciers, which they slip on into the water, up onto the top of the glaciers, where they freeze. It goes over him constructing it, and then, sadly, and for no discernible plot reason, he falls into a hidden hole in a glacier and dies right as it is being finished.
Aurora is a great book about a generation ship that goes to Tau Ceti. It starts off simply following from the normal disembodied, 3rd person limited description that most Kim Stanley Robinson novels tend to have, before transitioning to being a narrative account of the ship, following the lead engineer's, Devi's, daughter, Freya. It starts off with Freya just wandering around, doing I don't remember, until she begins her rebellious phase, with her doing random stuff, technically against the rules (but they don't really have prisons here, as they only have ~2000 people), such as going into off limits areas. After a while, Devi gets fed up, and forces Freya to start what they call on the ship her Wanderjahr, which is a journey she does around the ship, visiting all 24 biomes, each designed to emulate a real part of Earth. She keeps meeting up with her boyfriend from when she was a teen, Euan, and they go explore the insides of the ship, between all the biomes (the ship is set up like a torus). After numerous years, the ship starts to really break down, after hundreds of years of traveling at 10% the speed of light, a ludicrous speed, and she returns to her parents, in order to help fix the ship. Devi starts to get sick as they are approaching where they will send their colonists, Tau Ceti E's (an exoplanet) moon, which they call Aurora. While approaching, however, less than a month before the first landfall, Devi dies. But that sadness is overlooked by the joyous landing. However, the happiness doesn't last long, as people start getting infected by some mysterious disease. I believe I should stop there though, as I do not want to recap the entire book (that would take ages), and I think you should read it yourself, as it is a beautiful book.
It brings up some interesting points, but the there are only two which I thought where really interesting. The first is a problem which, when I have discussed or read articles on generation ships (which I have not done that much, but regardless I have) I have seen seldom talked about, which is the problem of not having everything screwed up by microbes and the like, and a loss of genetic diversity, as bacteria evolve faster, they get more virulent. Additionally, over hundreds of years, in a closed system, small leaks, such as airlocks opening and closing, or stuff bonding with the construction material of the ship, causes a loss of certain molecules, leading to molecular shortages, which are not very easy to sort out. The second plot point that I found interesting, was about how people discuss generation ships, which (possibly because of the type of person to look into it), simply talk about how we should do it, how we could solve all the problems associated with it, rather than if we should. Is it really our human destiny to manifest beyond our star? Maybe Fermi's paradox is false in its premise. Life is a planetary endeavor.
I don't think I'll spend that much time on 2312, as I view it to be the runt of the litter, as it wasn't that good imo. It is set in Mercury, in a city on rails, which uses the sun to heat up metal rails, which expand behind the city, pushing it permanently into the cool part of Mercury. Then, there is an incident by the city, where the tracks a bit in front of the city get hit by asteroids. The rest of the book was then a detective novel as to why this was. I thought it was good, it just didn't have as many overarching themes, and I can't say much here without making the book impossible to read. It is still in my top 20 books, but I digress.
These are my four favorite books of all time. They're just too good. I don't feel like explaining them here, however, as they are miraculous, just stunning. I think about it all the time, a year after reading them. In fact, I sometimes will even feel a pang of sadness. I can't experience the awe of the characters again. I will write another post, hopefully soon (maybe by next week, I'm really busy), specifically about it (I will also probably include like graphs and everything that I've made because it is just such a good trilogy + anthology companion).
Overall, I think that Kim Stanley Robinson's books are outstanding, primarily because of their in depth exploration of their numerous themes, but also because of the method of storytelling, where you can see from several different characters' points of view, which just adds a richness that most books don't have. All the books I listed here, I believe you should read.If you know any other author like this, PLEASE tell me, I need to change it up