New Kim Stanley Robinson novel takes on climate change

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Science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel, “New York 2140,” takes place in a New York City that is mostly underwater, due to rising sea levels.

Robinson is known for his political and ecological themes, and “New York 2140” is no different. The book looks at ways the world adapts to climate change in a scientifically grounded manner, although scientists argue sea levels will not rise as high as fifty feet by 2140, as Robinson suggests in his book.

Robinson believes all science fiction writing is political in nature, as it requires the author to imagine a future based on political hypotheticals. In “New York 2140,” for example, Robinson imagines a world where society ignores climate change until its consequences are unavoidable.

TED SIMONS: KIM STANLEY ROBINSON IS REGARDED AS ONE OF THE GREATEST LIVING SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS, WRITTEN 19 BOOKS, BEST KNOWN FOR HIS MARS TRILOGY ALONG WITH NOVELS THAT DEAL WITH CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS EFFECT ON FUTURE SOCIETIES HERE ON EARTH. LATEST WORK NEW YORK 2140 IS A SCIENTIFICALLY GROUNDED VISION OF WHAT LIFE IN NEW YORK CITY MIGHT LOOK LIKE AFTER A 50-FOOT RISE IN SEA LEVELS. WE RECENTLY SPOKE WITH KIM STANLEY ROBINSON. THANK YOU FOR JOINING US ON ARIZONA HORIZON. GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE.

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: THANKS, TED, IT'S GOOD TO BE HERE.

TED SIMONS: DESCRIBE YOURSELF. WHO ARE YOU?

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: I AM AN AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION WRITER AND A CALIFORNIAN, I GREW UP IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA, I LIVE IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA AND I'VE BEEN WRITING SCIENCE FICTION MY WHOLE LIFE BASICALLY.

TED SIMONS: OTHER FOLKS, THOUGH, THEY SEE YOU AS A THINKER, A COMMENTATOR IN SOME WAYS AN AGITATOR. ARE THOSE THINGS YOU TOO?

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: YES. I THINK SO. BUT MOSTLY A NOVELIST. BUT IF YOU THINK OF A NOVEL IN ITS KIND OF 19TH CENTURY SOCIAL NOVEL ASPECT WHERE YOU TRY ON TALK ABOUT NOT JUST THE INDIVIDUAL BUT THE INDIVIDUAL IN RELATIONSHIP TO SOCIETY AND TO HISTORY, YOU GET A KIND OF A NOVEL THAT SCIENCE FICTION IS GOOD AT BEING, SO THAT'S WHAT I'VE BEEN DOING FOR SO LONG THAT I AM ONE OF THE PEOPLE IN AMERICA THAT'S THINKING ABOUT WHERE WE'RE GOING IN THE FUTURE FOR THE WORLD.

TED SIMONS: INDEED. AND I WANT TO GET TO THAT IN A SECOND, BUT YOU MENTION SCIENCE FICTION. WHAT IS, DEFINE SCIENCE FICTION.

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: SCIENCE FICTION IS ANY STORY SET IN THE FUTURE WHATSOEVER. LIKE EITHER TOMORROW OR 5 MILLION YEARS FROM NOW. SO THOSE ARE VERY DIFFERENT TIME SCALES. BUT ANYTHING SET IN THE FUTURE, YOU'RE DOING SCIENCE FICTION. THAT'S MY DEFINITION.

TED SIMONS: SOME PEOPLE FIND SCIENCE FICTION, THAT'S ALL THEY READ, THAT'S ALL THEY WANT TO READ. OTHER PEOPLE, THEY JUST SIMPLY CANNOT GET INTO IT. WHY IS THAT? WHAT'S GOING ON THERE?

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: GOOD QUESTION. I THINK WHAT'S GOING ON IS THAT SCIENCE FICTION BEING SET IN THE FUTURE IS A NONREALISM AND A LOT OF PEOPLE WHEN THEY'RE GOING TO GO TO FICTION AT ALL, THEY WANT TO FIND OUT WHAT'S GOING ON RIGHT NOW, AND THEY CAN'T UNDERSTAND THE NONREALISM OF SCIENCE FICTION, THIS EXERCISE THAT YOU DO OF GOING OFF AND IMAGINING WHAT IT WILL BE LIKE IN THE FUTURE. NOW, WE'RE ALL SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS FOR OUR OWN LIVES, YOU HAVE HOPES, THAT'S THE UTOPIAN SCIENCE FICTION, YOU HAVE FEARS, THAT'S YOUR DYSTOPIAN SCIENCE FICTION, FOR YOUR PERSONAL LIFE. YOU SHOULD READ A BOOK ABOUT OTHER CHARACTER GOING OFF AND DOING THINGS THAT ARE EITHER HOPEFUL OR FEARFUL, BUT I FIND THAT THE PEOPLE THAT ARE NOT INTO SCIENCE FICTION, THEY'RE THINKING OF STAR WARS, THEY'RE THINKING OF 5 MILLION YEARS FROM NOW OUT IN DEEP IN THE GALAXY, THAT'S A LITTLE MORE REMOVED FROM WHAT THEY LIKE TO DO.

TED SIMONS: PEOPLE DO GET INTO FANTASY, ESCAPISM, THESE KINDS OF THING, BUT YOU MENTION SCIENCE FICTION, THEY GET A LITTLE TENSE.

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: IT'S PECULIAR BECAUSE FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION USED TO BE SEEN AS SIBLINGS OR COUSINS, THE SAME EXERCISE OF A NONREALISM, BUT EVER SINCE HARRY POTTER, GAME OF THRONES, FANTASY HAS BECOME VERY, VERY PROMINENT IN OUR SOCIETY, AND FANTASY TENDS TO LOOK BACKWARDS TO MEDIEVAL SETTING AND SCIENCE FICTION TENDS TO LOOK FORWARD, SOMETIMES THAT'S A COMFORT LEVEL THING.

TED SIMONS: DO YOU FIND THAT SCIENCE FICTION IS A VEHICLE FOR YOUR IDEAS ON THE FUTURE, BE THEY UTOPIAN OR DYSTOPIAN?

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: OH, DEFINITELY. IF YOU ARE GOING TO POSTULATE A FUTURE, YOU HAVE BEHIND YOU A THEORY OF HISTORY, IN EFFECT, SAYING IF WE DO THESE THINGS AS SOCIETY, WE'RE GOING TO GET TO THIS PLACES, OR IF WE DO THOSE THING, WE'RE GOING TO GET TO THAT PLACE, THAT IMPLIES THAT YOU THINK YOU KNOW HOW WE GET PLACES, SO THERE'S A THEORY OF HISTORY INVOLVED, THERE'S A POLITICS INVOLVED.

TED SIMONS: MY NEXT QUESTION WAS, IS SCIENCE FICTION INHERENTLY POLITICAL?

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: I THINK IT IS. THAT MAY BE WHY SOME PEOPLE ARE THINKING LOOK, I READ NOVELS FOR ENTERTAINMENT, WHY WOULD I WANT TO THINK ABOUT POLITICIANS AGAIN? IT'S NASTY ENOUGH IN THE PRESENT DAY. ESPECIALLY UTOPIAN SCIENCE FICTION WHICH HAS BEEN MY EMPHASIS MY WHOLE CAREER, YOU TRY TO MODEL IN A DETAILED WAY WHAT IT WOULD BE LIKE IF WE GOT TO A BETTER PLACES, WHAT WOULD IT FEEL LIKE, WHAT WOULD THE ISSUES BE, WHERE WOULD THE DRAMA COME, WOULD IT BE BORING LIKE SOMETIMES THE ATTACKS ON UTOPIA, OH, IT WOULD BE BORING, WE WOULD HAVE OUR PROBLEMS SOLVED. THAT'S NOT WHAT I THINK IT'S LIKE. WHAT I THINK IS IT'S A POSITIVE COURSE OF HISTORY WHERE THINGS ARE GETTING BETTER. WELL, THAT WILL NEVER BE A PROCESS THAT HE UNDERSTANDS, IT JUST KEEPS GOING ON AND ON.

TED SIMONS: YET PEOPLE LOOK AT YOUR NEW BOOK NEW YORK 2140 THE COVER ITSELF IS DISCONCERTING TO SAY THE LEAST, HOWEVER, YOU TALK ABOUT NEW YORK CITY BASICALLY THE WORLD, YOU KNOW, RISING OCEANS, TIDES, FLOODED, IT LOOKS LIKE IT'S VENICE IN YOUR BOOK, IN YOUR MIND, ALL SORTS OF CRAZY STUFF, NOT NECESSARILY DYSTOPIAN.

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: WELL, LET'S THINK ABOUT IT. CLIMATE CHANGE WE'VE ALREADY STARTED IT AND WE'VE HAD ONE DEGREE AVERAGE TEMPERATURE RISE OVER WHAT WE STARTED WITH AT THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION, A LOT MORE CARBON DIOXIDE IN THE ATMOSPHERE, WE'VE ALREADY BAKED IN SOME CLIMATE CHANGE AND IT MIGHT GET WORSE BEFORE WE MANAGE TO STABILIZE THE SITUATION. AND RECENTLY SCIENTISTS HAVE BEEN SAYING THAT SEA LEVEL IS REALLY SENSITIVE TO THIS BECAUSE A LOT OF ICE PERCHED IN ANTARCTICA THAT MIGHT FALL INTO THE SEA AND THERE IS A LOT OF ICE, SO THAT YOU GET QUITE STARTLING SEA LEVEL RISE. SO I DECIDED TO PORTRAY THAT AS ONE SCENARIO. IT'S NOT NECESSARILY GOING TO COME TO PASS, BUT IT COULD COME TO PASS. WHEN YOU WRITE THAT, YOU REALIZE YOU DO HAVE MAN HALT TAN IN TERRIBLE TROUBLE AND -- MANHATTAN IN TERRIBLE TROUBLE AND YET NEW YORK IS THE BIG APPLE, PEOPLE LOVE T GREAT INFRASTRUCTURE, GLOBAL FINANCE, PEOPLE ARE GOING TO WANT TO STAY THERE, SO IT MADE -- WHAT I WANT TO SAY IS THIS, EVEN AFTER CLIMATE CHANGE HAMMERS THE WORLD AND CIVILIZATION, YOUNG PEOPLE ARE GOING TO FALL HAD LOVE, PEOPLE ARE GOING TO WANT TO MAKE A GOOD LIFE AND THEY'RE GOING TO ASSUME THE SITUATION IS NATURAL TO THEM.

TED SIMONS: SO IT'S NOT NECESSARILY A KORMACK McARTHY NOVEL.

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: NO ZOMBIES, YOU HAVE TO COPE.

TED SIMONS: IN YOUR BOOK YOU HAVE SUBMARINE MORTGAGES INSTEAD OF SUBPRIME MORTGAGES, EVERYTHING IS UNDERWATER.

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: A LOT OF GREAT METAPHORS.

TED SIMONS: THERE ARE. WE TALKED ABOUT THE POLITICS INVOLVED HERE. SO MANY OF YOUR BOOKS SEEM TO BE AN ATTACK, SUBTLE OR OTHERWISE, ON CAPITALISM. YOUR THOUGHTS ON CAPITALISM AND IF NOT CAPITALISM WHAT?

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: WELL, CAPITALISM UNDERPRICES THE FUTURE AND UNDERPRICES THE ENVIRONMENT. ALTHOUGH IT'S PERFECTLY LEGAL AND VERY NICE AND HONORABLE PEOPLE ARE LIVING IN THE SYSTEM AND OPERATE IN THE SYSTEM, THE RESULTS ARE IMISERATED PEOPLE, INJUSTICE, INEQUALITY, HAMMERED ENVIRONMENT, IN THE FUTURE GENERATIONS TO COME ARE ESSENTIALLY BEING HANDED ON A DAMAGED BIOSPHERE THAT WILL MAKE IT HARDER AND HARDER FOR THEM TO LEAVE. SO THESE ARE STRUCTURAL PROBLEMS WITH CAPITALISM AS I SEE IT. I'M AN AMERICAN LEFTIST, I THINK THE SOLUTIONS ARE A KIND OF POST CAPITALISM WHERE GOVERNMENT SETS CERTAIN PRICES. THE PRESIDENT OF THE WORLD BANK SAID WE NEED TO SET A PRICE ON CARBON. THE FREE MARKET MISPRICES CARBON, IT UNDERPRICES IT. EVERYBODY WANTS CHEAPER PRICES, SO PRICES GET DRIVEN DOWN SO FAR THAT WE AREN'T PAYING FOR FUTURE COSTS. SO THAT'S A STORY THAT YOU NEED TO DESCRIBE IN SOME DETAIL, AND THEN AS TO WHAT COMES NEXT, NOBODY KNOWS. IT'S A SCIENCE FICTION STORY. SO I DON'T EVEN BOTHER TO NAME T I CALL IT POST-CAPITALISM FOR LACK OF ANY OTHER BETTER NAME, AND I THINK THAT THERE WILL STILL BE MARKET, THERE WILL STILL BE GOODS FOR SALE, AND YET THE DISTRIBUTION OF THE PROFIT ACROSS THE POPULATION AND THE SAVING OF THE ENVIRONMENT FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS, THAT HAS TO BE PAID FOR.

TED SIMONS: CAPITALISM WITH A SMALL C?

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: WELL, OR A POST-CAPITALISM WOULD BE THAT CAPITALISM WOULD BE FOR THE GAMES AND THE TOYS BUT THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE, FOOD, WATER, SHELTER, CLOTHING, WOULD BE SOMETHING THAT EVERYBODY HAD ADEQUACY.

TED SIMONS: WHEN YOU WRITE ABOUT THESE THINGS, I'M ASSUMING IT WOULD BE DIFFICULT TO BE DIDACTIC, MAYBE YOU WANT TO BE DIDACTIC IN CERTAIN WAYS, BUT MY QUESTION S DO YOU WORRY ABOUT THAT, DO YOU WORRY ABOUT THE NOVEL AND THE CHARACTER IT'S BECOMING A LESSON, IT'S BECOMING A SERMON?

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: YEAH I WORRY A LOT. I AM A NOVELIST, AND WHAT I WOULD SAY TO YOU IS WHAT I WANT MOST IS TO WRITE A GOOD NOVEL. WHATEVER MAKES A GOOD NOVEL. SO OVER TIME, I'VE CONCLUDED THAT ONE OF THE THINGS THAT MAKES A GOOD NOVEL IS ADHERENCE TO REALITY, CRITIQUE OF REALITY, ENTERTAINMENT AND POLITICS ARE NOT THE SAME THING. ARISTOTLE MAKES THE SAME CASE. NEVERTHELESS, IT'S A HUGE BURDEN ON THE NOVELIST TO SAY WELL LET'S ALSO DO A CRITIQUE, LET'S ALSO TRY TO PORTRAY A FUTURE, THERE'S SOME ABSTRACTIONS, SOME DIDACTICISM AND I'VE LOST A LOT OF SLEEP THROUGH THE COURSE OF MY CAREER THINKING WHY HAVE I PUT THIS BURDEN ON MYSELF? IT'S ALL TO MAKE A GOOD NOVEL.

TED SIMONS: DO YOU FIND YOUR NOVELS CHARACTER DRIVEN OR PLOT DRIVEN?

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: CHARACTER DRIVEN. I THINK THE NOVEL IS A PLACE FOR CHARACTERS, AND EVEN SCIENCE FICTION, AND OF COURSE THIS IS ANOTHER BURDEN, BUT WHEN YOU THINK ABOUT THE NOVELS THAT YOU LOVE AND I WOULD SAY ABOUT A QUARTER TO A THIRD OF THE POPULATION THEY READ NOVELS ALL THROUGH THEIR ADULT LIVES AND IT'S IMPORTANT TO THEM BECAUSE THAT'S WHERE YOU GET MEANING. WHAT DOES LIFE MEAN? YOU FIND OUT BY ALL THE NOVELS THAT YOU READ COMBINED TOGETHER. BUT IT'S CHARACTERS IN EACH CASE. I'M VERY PLEASED WITH NEW YORK 2140, THERE'S ABOUT 8 CHARACTERS IN THERE WHO I THINK COME TO LIFE QUITE NICELY. IT'S ALWAYS A ROLL OF THE DICE.

TED SIMONS: AS FAR AS YOUR INFLUENCE, PHILLIP K. DICK --

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: CRAZY NOVEL WRITTEN.

TED SIMONS: AGAIN, THAT KIND OF LITERARY THOUGHTFUL SCIENCE FICTION.

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: YES, YES. THERE'S A BIG SPREAD IN SCIENCE FICTION FROM SOME OF THE SMARTEST LITERATURE OF THE 20TH CENTURY STARTING WITH HG WELLS TO SOME OF THE DUMBEST MOVIES EVER FILMED AND YOU HAVE TO LOVE IT ALL IF YOU'RE A SCIENCE FICTION PATRIOT, AND I AM, THEN YOU WOULD SAY THIS VERTICAL SPREAD FROM MOST INTELLECTUAL TO SILLIEST IS PART OF THE STRENGTH OF THE COMMUNITY.

TED SIMONS: REAL QUICKLY, THE WRITING PROCESS FOR YOU, DO YOU HAVE AN OUTLINE, DO YOU KNOW WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN, OR DO YOU START WRITING AND CHARACTERS GO THEIR ONE WAY AND THE PLOT GOES ANOTHER WAY AND YOU WAKE UP SAYING HOLY MACKEREL, WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN MYSELF INTO?

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: A LITTLE MORE OF THE LATTER. IT'S LIKE THE HAWAIIAN ISLAND CHAIN, I'M SWIMMING FROM ISLAND TO ISLAND, I KNOW THESE ISLAND SAYS, BUT HOW DIE GET TO THE NEXT ONE, THAT I DON'T KNOW, SO I KIND OF GO FOR THE NEXT SCENE THAT I THINK I WOULD LIKE TO PORTRAY, BUT GETTING THERE IS LIKE SWIMMING ACROSS THE SEA OR CONSTRUCTION OF A CROSSWORD PUZZLE, THERE'S KIND OF AN ARTIFICIALITY TO MAKING IT WORK, BUT I LIKE IT THAT WAY, I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'M DOING, IT'S EXCITING.

TED SIMONS: YOU'VE WRITTEN A NUMBER OF BOOKS, VERY SUCCESSFUL. NEW YORK 2140, KIM STANLEY ROBINSON, VERY GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE. THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.

KIM STANLEY ROBINSON: THANK YOU, TED, IT'S BEEN A PLEASURE.

Kim Stanley Robinson: Author, "New York 2140"

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