One of my favourite science fiction authors is Kim Stanley Robinson. His novels are always deep and interesting on many levels -- if not always incredibly compelling plot-wize. Well, his new global warming series of thrillers seems to be a bit of an exception to the plot problems and are getting glowing reviews. The first of the novels is coming up soon on my to-be-read pile.
LabLit just posted a terrific interview with Robinson where he touches on science, politics, science and politics, science fiction, global warming and the intersection of all of the above. A couple of tastes:
How important is the perception of genre – do you ever feel that being labelled as a ‘science fiction’ writer has held you back or restricted your readership?
This is a complicated issue, not easy to characterize. I believe in science fiction as being the genre of novels best able to capture the feel of our times, especially in the developed and industrialized West. So I am comfortable with my basically instinctive choice of what kind of method to take in writing novels.
“Perception of genre” is a different thing however, and it speaks to assumptions and attitudes that are outside of my control and also hard to be really accurate about. I can see that there is a part of our book culture that still looks down on science fiction, and there are readers out there who won’t read it on principle or by habit, but I feel that this attitude is their problem and not mine, and that they are missing out on some of the greatest novels of our time, and also not understanding our culture as well as they could if they did read science fiction. So, there is little I can do about this but to write novels that are relatively transparent to anyone used to reading novels of any kind, focusing on a kind of “realism of the near future,” which means people used to historical or contemporary novels ought to find mine easy to read. And then also to talk about these matters openly, and with the idea of emphasizing always that we in the West, and maybe everywhere now, are already living in a science fiction novel that we are all writing together; that history is now a science fiction story; so that reading science fiction (and I always include “novels about science” (or lab lit) as a particular kind of science fiction) is a way of orienting oneself and examining questions of meaning in the contemporary world, as well as getting a lot of artistic pleasure as a reader.
In your novels, what are your favorite strategies to transmit any necessary science without losing or boring the reader?
Well, I will do anything, including the person who needs things explained, which after all can be anyone, for instance an expert in a slightly different field; and I kind of like lectures too. This is an issue in the aesthetics of science fiction, because it became the fashion for a while to disparage exposition as a kind of literary faux pas, with writing workshops calling them “infodumps”. But I feel this can be taken too far, and often results in an end product that says nothing new and has no way of really speaking about science, because of the perceived need for unrelenting action at all times. But life is not like that, so this is not a realism. When I started my Mars books I decided consciously to take the time to write about anything I wanted, including all scientific topics necessary, with the idea that anything is interesting if you make it interesting, and that the surface of Mars was at least as interesting as yet another car chase across same. It resulted in a strange-reading text, compared to much of the science fiction out there at that time, and it scared me quite a bit, but the response to those books encouraged me to think that I had judged correctly, and that readers of novels were open to all kinds of different modes, including exposition.