I think Kim Stanley Robinson rocks. His Mars series was outstanding, I liked Years of Rice and Salt, and I'm almost done with Antarctica (about which, more soon). He's both one of those writers who manages to make science fiction a literature of ideas and one who understands fully the sort of times in which we live. So I was pleased as heck when I found that SciFi.com has posted a great interview with him:
You've become famous in the last decade for your future and alternate histories, but now you've undertaken a trilogy of near-future environmental thrillers. Why this change of pace, and what will the overall shape of the new trilogy be?
Robinson: I don't feel there's ever been a pace to change. Every book takes long enough that most of the time it feels like all I've ever done.
Near-future SF is crucial if the genre wants to make a complete attempt at envisioning or modeling future history. Also it's a growing test of our ability to come to grips with the present. When everything is morphing before our eyes, can we still write about the shape of things to come? It's an open question.
The chief concern of Forty Signs of Rain is the threat posed by global warming. In your view, how acute is this threat? Will it leave any aspect of contemporary life unchanged?
Robinson: I don't know. I'm sure global warming has already begun, but clearly climate fluctuates, and the physical threat this time to human civilization is hard to gauge. We're much more technological; on the other hand we're already stressed by population and consumption problems. So, it's hard to say. That's part of the interest of writing about it.
The Greenland ice-core data have made it clear that "abrupt climate change" has happened before, and when a certain type happens there are big changes in North America and Europe, sometimes within as little as three years. It's a case of science suggesting another amazing scenario.
Global warming is also a way to dramatize or symbolize the social storms coming down on us, as our way of life continues to damage the planet and exacerbate the gap between rich and poor. Stormy weather, yes, I've never been averse to committing the pathetic fallacy, I love it really. Weather is emotion as far as I'm concerned.
He seems to be a nice guy too. I appreciated the time he took to reply to my request for pointers on ecological visions in science fiction when I was helping to research a chapter for a business book a few years ago.
Turns out that there aren't many examples of positive ecological visions in science fiction. Ernest Callenbach's _Ecotopia- and _Ecotopia Emerging_ and Ursula K. LeGuin's _The Dispossessed_ and _Always Coming Home_ are about it.
One could plausibly add Frank Herbert's "Dune" to that list.