Read Antarctica

Antarctica (1997) is a science fiction novel by American writer Kim Stanley Robinson. It deals with a variety of characters living at or visiting an Antarctic research station. It incorporates many of Robinson’s common themes, including scientific process and the importance of environmental protection.

In The Return of the Native, Thomas Hardy talks about heath to set the scene, however Antarctica for Kim Stanley Robinson feels like more than just a setting, it is both a physical place, but also political one too. With this, the book can be appreciated as an investigation into Antarctica, while being about Antarctica. Whether it be the geography, history, science, Robinson explores Antarctica in all its detail. In particular, the book attempts to go beyond the surface level of opinions on past expedition:

Everyone who joined a Footsteps expedition was an expert; it only took a half-dozen books to fill you in on the entire history of Antarctica, and after that everyone had an opinion.

Source: Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson

In some ways Robinson’s intertextual approach reminded of James Mitchener and the way in which different narratives are tied together to capture a particular subject. In Robinson’s case, this includes X, an idealistic young man working as a field assistant at McMurdo; Val, a trek guide helping people to trace the steps of past explorers; Wade Norton, an aide for a Californian senator; and the ferals, the ‘native’ people of Antarctica.

(Alternatively, I was also reminded of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. This made me think about whether Melville should be considered as a science fiction author?)

With each of the competing narratives, It is Norton who ties all these stories together. He has been sent down to Antarctica to get a picture of what is happening by Senator Phil Chase. As the novel unfolds, he relays everything back to Chase.

In some ways, this relationship is a proxy for Robinson’s relationship with us as the reader. Like Chase, we depend upon Robinson to provide an insight into all things Antarctica. One such insight relates to science.

It was not a matter of evil-doing either way; the simple truth was that science was a matter of making alliances to help you to show what you wanted to show, and to make clear also that what you were showing was important. And your own graduate students and post-docs were necessarily your closest allies in that struggle to pull together all the strings of an argument. All this became even more true when there was a controversy ongoing, when there were people on the other side publishing articles with titles like “Unstable Ice or Unstable Ideas?” and so on, so that the animus had grown a bit higher than normal.

Science was not a matter of automatons seeking Truth, but of people struggling to black-box some facts.

Source: Antarctica by Kim Stanley Robinson

As a medium, fiction allows a means of capturing various perspectives.

There are so many aspects that reminded me of The Ministry for the Future, ranging from blimps, science, politics and terrorism. I am left wondering if these are usual aspects to all of Robinson’s work.

Read science fiction novels by Kim Stanley Robinson by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

The Mars trilogy is a series of science fiction novels by Kim Stanley Robinson that chronicles the settlement and terraforming of the planet Mars through the personal and detailed viewpoints of a wide variety of characters spanning almost two centuries. Ultimately more utopian than dystopian, the story focuses on egalitarian, sociological, and scientific advances made on Mars, while Earth suffers from overpopulation and ecological disaster.

The three novels are Red Mars (1992), Green Mars (1993), and Blue Mars (1996). The Martians (1999) is a collection of short stories set in the same fictional universe. Red Mars won the BSFA Award in 1992 and Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1993. Green Mars won the Hugo Award for Best Novel and Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1994. Blue Mars also won the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1997.

I continued my exploration of Kim Stanley Robinson with Red Mars, the first book in the Mars trilogy. It was included as a part of the Audible membership.

Red Mars explores the colonisation of Mars. This journey begins with the First Hundred, who set up the initial settlement. (This reminded me of The 100.) One of the biggest challenges faced is that of radiation and atmosphere. This leads to significant debate around terraforming. Eventually, the debate is decided for them after someone sneaks in some algae into windmills. From there the novel explores the arrival of those coming to Mars not just to live and survive, but to exploit the environment. With this comes a change in culture, politics and conditions.

In the end, this is not The Martian. I wonder if that is because The Martian is somehow more authentic? Maybe, things have changed in the 30 years since Red Mars was published? However, I feel that sometimes Robinson’s narratives are as much about people and their consequences, as they are about the literal plausibility of everything discussed, from the burning up of ice asteroids to building a space elevator. It is interesting to consider this alongside as Antarctica, a foreign space on earth.

Liked Kim Stanley Robinson on inventing plausible utopias (eliotpeper.com)

Twenty-twenty will be remembered as the year of the pandemic. Lots changed, and now we have lots of questions too: When will things “go back to normal”? Will they ever go back to the way they were before? If there are some permanent changes from this year, what will they be? No one can say now. So the moment we’re living through now is a kind of interregnum, the space between two moments with their respective structures of feeling. The in-between can be acutely uncomfortable but also a space of freedom as old habits have ended but new ones not yet been settled. Proust called this the moment of exfoliation, when you shed one skin and grow another. It’s not comfortable, but it is interesting.

Listened Learning From Le Guin from The Interval at Long Now

Kim Stanley Robinson at The Interval: The legacy of Ursula K Le Guin lives beyond the page
 in generations of writers who have learned from her. She used fantastic fiction to imagine ideals for the real world. Kim Stanley Robinson, her student 40 years ago and now a celebrated science fiction writer himself, reflects on Le Guin the teacher, 
her impact on his work, and how she changed the world.

Kim Stanley Robinson is an American novelist, widely recognized as one of the foremost living writers of science fiction. His work has been described as “humanist science fiction” and “literary science fiction.” He has published more than 20 novels including his much honored “Mars trilogy”, New York 2140 (02017), and Red Moon due out in October 02018. Robinson has a B.A. in Literature from UC San Diego and an M.A. in English from Boston University. He earned a Ph.D. in literature from UCSD with a dissertation on the works of Philip K. Dick.

Ursula K Le Guin was one of the greatest imaginative writers of all time. Her science fiction and fantasy stories (as well as children’s books, poetry, essays, and many other genres & forms) have sold millions of copies, earned dozens of awards, and stayed constantly in print. Her honors include six Nebula awards, seven Hugos, and the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. In 02003 she became the 20th writer ever to receive the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America’s Grand Master award. She passed away in January 02018.

Le Guin’s book of essays No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters won a 02018 Hugo award and the 02017 collected edition of her Hainish Novels and Stories recently won a Locus award. A documentary entitled Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin will debut in 02018.

Kim Stanley Robinson reflects on the legacy of Ursula Le Guin.

Her sentences are like that line of gold they run through the thing and they’re a kind of living wire of thought that you can follow when you read it and that I think is really part of her talent as a writer

He ends suggesting that Le Guin was an ambassador who always reminded others of the importance of science fiction as a craft.

Bookmarked

Interesting listening to Greta Thunberg after reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Ministry for the Future.
.
Liked The Realism of Our Times: Kim Stanley Robinson on How Science Fiction Works | Public Books,The Realism of Our Times: Kim Stanley Robinson on How Science Fiction Works (Public Books)

The way I’ve been putting it over the last few years is that science fiction works by a double action. This is maybe another way of talking about the estrangement effect. Think of the glasses that you put on at a 3D movie. Those special glasses have one lens showing you one thing and the other lens showing you another thing, slightly different. And your brain puts together a 3D view from these.

So one lens of science fiction is a real attempt to imagine a possible future. The other lens is a metaphor for the way things are right now. What you get when the two coalesce is a vision of historical time, cast into the future. Like a trajectory of deep time.

Bookmarked The Coronavirus Is Rewriting Our Imaginations (The New Yorker)

What felt impossible has become thinkable. The spring of 2020 is suggestive of how much, and how quickly, we can change as a civilization.

Kim Stanley Robinson discusses the way in which the current crisis has rapidly rewritten our imagination.

The virus is rewriting our imaginations. What felt impossible has become thinkable. We’re getting a different sense of our place in history. We know we’re entering a new world, a new era. We seem to be learning our way into a new structure of feeling.

Our ability to adjust to respond to the idea of ‘flattening the curve’ has demonstrated our ability to move beyond the neo-liberalosm and the individual to instead focus on the greater good.

Just as there are charismatic megafauna, there are charismatic mega-ideas. “Flatten the curve” could be one of them. Immediately, we get it. There’s an infectious, deadly plague that spreads easily, and, although we can’t avoid it entirely, we can try to avoid a big spike in infections, so that hospitals won’t be overwhelmed and fewer people will die. It makes sense, and it’s something all of us can help to do. When we do it—if we do it—it will be a civilizational achievement: a new thing that our scientific, educated, high-tech species is capable of doing. Knowing that we can act in concert when necessary is another thing that will change us.

This then gives us hope for the responding to the multi-generational Ponzi scheme that is global warming and the new imagination required to respond to that.

You can’t fix extinctions, or ocean acidification, or melted permafrost, no matter how rich or smart you are. The fact that these problems will occur in the future lets us take a magical view of them. We go on exacerbating them, thinking—not that we think this, but the notion seems to underlie our thinking—that we will be dead before it gets too serious. The tragedy of the horizon is often something we encounter, without knowing it, when we buy and sell. The market is wrong; the prices are too low. Our way of life has environmental costs that aren’t included in what we pay, and those costs will be borne by our descendents. We are operating a multigenerational Ponzi scheme.

Bookmarked To Slow Down Climate Change, We Need To Take On Capitalism by Kim Stanley Robinson (BuzzFeed News)

As we head for the edge of a climate change cliff, neoliberal market capitalism is chewing up the biosphere and the lives of everyone in it. But it’s not too late to act.

Kim Stanley Robinson argues that change is still possible to alivate the crisis of global warming. However, this is not individual change, but rather political change.

Any such resistance will have to emerge in forms borrowed from the system we have now, in a stepwise process using the political tools already at hand. This is a depressing thought, but as methods go, it’s the lesser of many evils. The other options include things like world revolution (messy, murderous, prone to failure or blowback); or a fall into a new Dark Age, followed by a renaissance some centuries later; or — well, what else is there? Alien or divine intervention I leave to others to imagine. In our timeline, it seems to me the only real option is politics. Or to be more specific, political economy.

This ‘political economy’ would be post-capitalism. In many respects this touches on Douglas Rushkoff’s push for more human intervention and involvement.

A political economy like this would be a “post-capitalism” one in which everyone could live at adequacy, including wild and domestic mammals, birds, fish, insects, plants, bacteria, and all the other parts of Earth’s living symbiosis. What we’re doing now makes it harder to get to that good future, but the goal is still physically possible to attain. This is the project that human civilization has to take on to survive, and one that will provide not just employment, but purpose. We all crave meaning in our lives, and by a strange twist of fate, a very meaningful project has been given to us: Prevent a mass extinction event, and build a better world for the generations to come.

📓 Utopias, Dystopias and Neartopias

Reflecting on the extremes of utopian and dystopian imaginings, Mike Caulfield calls for another possibility, Neartopias:

Neartopias are not utopias. They have problems. They have to have problems because problems are what drive plots. And on another level problems are just interesting in a way that non-problems are not. They also aren’t post-scarcity Star Treks, or visions of a perfect 6030 A.D. They are “near”-utopias both in the sense that they lack perfection and in that they seem near-enough to be achievable.
Neartopias also have blindspots. Each neartopia pulls from cultural assumptions that will be eventually — like all things — be revealed as problematic. The Golden Age of sci-fi produced some neartopias, for instance, but had a relationship with technological progress and industry, for example, that was — well, let’s say underdeveloped.

Reflecting upon The Ministry for the Future, Kim Stanley Robinson reflects upon the break often associated with utopias:

One weakness I’ve become aware of is how often the authors of utopias set them after a break in history that allows their societies to start from scratch. In the 16th century, Sir Thomas More began the use of this device with a physical symbol: His utopia’s founders dug a Great Trench, cutting a peninsula in two and creating a defensible island. Other kinds of fresh start appear in utopias throughout the centuries, always clearing space for a new social order. Even Le Guin’s Annares is founded by exiles from Urras.

Liked Empty half the Earth of its humans. It’s the only way to save the planet | Kim Stanley Robinson by Kim Stanley Robinson (the Guardian)

The Global Footprint Network estimates that we use up our annual supply of renewable resources by August every year, after which we are cutting into non-renewable supplies – in effect stealing from future generations. Eating the seed corn, they used to call it. At the same time we’re pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at a rate that is changing the climate in dangerous ways and will certainly damage agriculture.