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Kim Stanley Robinson was born on March 23, 1952 in Waukegan, Illinois. Like so many other science fiction authors, his love for the written word manifested early. Unlike many others, this love stayed primary for Robinson, not subjugated to an interest in math and science. He earned a B.A. in literature from UCSD in 1974, an M.A. in English from Boston University in 1975. His PhD was earned in 1982 from UCSD and his dissertation was published in a mass market edition in 1984 as The Novels of Philip K. Dick.

Though his training is in English and literature, not physics or biology like most top-tier science fiction authors, Robinson's work is anything but technically inept. His most famous work, the Mars trilogy, is a technical tour de force that explores the challenges of terraforming Mars in exquisite technical detail. Everything in it, from the biology to details of physics, areology, and even economics is written with an eye to the current state of inquiry in all these fields. In fact, the most common criticism of the Mars books is that they are too focused on technical accuracy, to the point that plot, narrative, and characters suffer.

Though the Mars books are his most important and influential works, Robinson has written a great deal of other material in his career. The Three Californias triptych provides a fascinating look at three possible futures for Southern California, one dystopian, one utopian, and one post-apocalyptic.

In The Wild Shore, released in 1984, Robinson turns his considerable talent to building a post-apocalyptic Orange County. Some unspecified country (strongly assumed to be Russia) smuggled several thousand high power nuclear weapons into America, leveling the country's cities and reducing the survivors to an agrarian life. Highly critically acclaimed, The Wild Shore was nonetheless beaten by William Gibson's Neuromancer for the 1985 Hugo.

In 1988's The Gold Coast Robinson paints a corporate dystopia as the future of Orange County; all culture and beauty has been overwhelmed by highways and strip malls and people have been reduced to vacuous lives of triviality. Consumer culture has blossomed into everything that it can be, reducing humanity to nothing in the process. This is Robinson's attempt to paint the grimness of capitalism and to argue for his personal Marxism, an attempt that too often bogs down the story in needless polemic.

The Three Californias concluded in 1990 with Pacific Edge, the eagerly anticipated Utopian conclusion. Unfortunately, in the common Utopian failure, this book exaggerates Robinson's already tiresome habit of lapsing into long sermons on the topics of humanity's relationship to the environment. Long on modern Marxist utopian mush but short on character, plot, or literary value this book was a major disappointment.

Robinson made up for that, in spades, in 1992. The publication of Red Mars stands as one of the most important events in the history of science fiction. Here was a project of astonishing scale--the terraformation of Mars--and the first third of the story delivered on all of the promise of the underlying concept. The story follows the first several years of Martian occupancy by the First 100--the initial colony of 100 people sent to begin the human transformation of the planet. Political intrigue and personal love, hate, and betrayal drive the story against an intricate background of technical detail as the planet slowly comes to life. Red Mars won the Nebula Award for best novel in 1992 and was nominated for a Hugo for best novel in 1993 (beaten by the even better A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge and the inexplicably popular Doomsday Book by Connie Willis).

Green Mars, the 1993 followup to Red Mars, was even better than the first. With the terraformation efforts accelerating Robinson returns his core themes of ecological and economic sustainability. A Red faction of Martian environmentalists, opposed to the terraforming project, emerges under the leadership of 1 of the first 100 while another of the original colonists leads an equally radical pro-terraforming faction. Medical advances make wealthier members of humanity extremely long-lived (several hundred years, at least), which affords Robinson the ability to follow the same batch of characters across the entire multi-century span of the story. Green Mars is by far the best of the series, and won the Hugo Award for best novel in 1994.

The series concluded in 1996 with Blue Mars. This book is the weakest of the three, the great conflicts over what it meant to be Martian that drove the first two novels are largely gone. Instead we have a steady rapprochement between the Reds and the Greens, symbolized by Anne and Sax's burgeoning relationship. But that isn't enough to fill all 761 pages of this book, and once again Robinson returns to the podium to lecture on the need for sustainable behavior economics, ecology, and personal relationships. All stuff we've heard before, and all stuff that is better illustrated through the characters and actions of the first two books. This didn't stop Blue Mars from taking home the 1997 Hugo for best novel, though.

All in all, the Mars books are an admirable achievement. Though flawed, especially in conclusion, Robinson manages to explore the themes that have been of interest to him throughout his career while be entertaining and thought-provoking. These books are the reason why science fiction readers will still be reading Robinson in 50 years.





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