Fabricating a Future from Science Fiction

Earth is undergoing a massive climate change. The polar ice caps are beginning to melt into the warm saltier waters of the Gulf Stream. Over time, warm waters that surround Europe, Eastern Africa and North America are becoming displaced, and the regions have become covered in ice. Humankind is grasping on to its last moments of survival, for Earth has entered into the first stages of an ice age.

Jennifer Hsu/Guardian

According to prize-winning science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, who received his bachelor’s degree in literature from UCSD in 1974 and then earned a doctorate degree 10 years later, an ice age is a real possibility if the human race does not start to make some environmental changes.

“”What is important to remember is that the future is not written yet, hasn’t happened and what we do now is going to start it off in one direction or another,”” Robinson said. “”This is something that people need to acknowledge, that it is not an ordinary dangerous moment in history. It is actually an extremely global, dangerous moment in history, so that it isn’t just one empire that will crash, but all of humanity that’s in trouble, and lots of other species.””

Robinson’s “”Three Californias Trilogy,”” which consists of “”The Wild Shore”” (1984), “”The Gold Coast”” (1988) and “”Pacific Edge”” (1990), addresses America’s blind dependence on technology and its ensuing ramifications. “”Red Mars”” (1993), “”Green Mars”” (1994) and “”Blue Mars”” (1996) – known as the “”Mars Trilogy”” – confront readers with the concept of “”terraforming.””

“”Terraforming is the process of humanity going to another planet and making that planet, engineering its ecology, so that it could support an earthy biosphere or some part of an earthy biosphere,”” Robinson said.

His latest science fiction endeavor, the series “”Science in the Capital,”” focuses on the notion of global warming and the possibility of an ice age. Although many of Robinson’s novels draw attention to environmental issues and concerns, at the end of the day, Robinson just wants his readers to have a positive experience when they read his books.

“”I am hoping my readers, when they read my novels, that they have taken a trip, or have an experience with a different reality,”” he said. “”If I helped to educate some on various matters of environmentalism that’s good too, but ultimately, all I really want to do is to write a good novel.””

The experience Robinson’s readers feel can also be heightened by a sense of reality. Even though science fiction is known as a speculative writing process, Robinson believes that his novels can be accepted as a form of reality.

“”I write a kind of science fiction that doesn’t include impossibilities and usually doesn’t go into the far future and it usually doesn’t leave the solar system,”” he said. “”So there’s a particular kind of science fiction that I do that has to do with what humanity might do in the next 100 or 200 years on Earth and in the solar system. And so it’s a kind of realism.””

His own adventures hiking through the High Sierras inspired some of that realism in his books. He goes backpacking every chance that he has and actually wrote some of the descriptions of Mars while staying in the mountains. Also, Robinson’s reality is marked by his attention to the common person. His stories never overlook the potential of average individuals to make a difference in the world.

“”I try to pick characters even if they are perfectly ordinary citizens,”” Robinson said. “”They suddenly have an opportunity to make a difference and then when they try to do it, that becomes the story alone.””

His admiration for the campus has remained strong since graduate school.

“”Now what I’m seeing is UCSD organizing itself to make a difference in terms of sustainability where everything that UCSD does is trying to help make this better future,”” he said. “”As a UCSD alumnus I want to be part of it. I really like what’s happening here and I am always really thrilled to visit.””

Indeed, Robinson argues that Americans are living in a pivotal point in history, one in which the lines of history and science have blurred.

“”Essentially, to my mind, we are all living in a gigantic science fiction novel that we are all writing together,”” Robinson said. “”And that is what history has become, because it’s so scientific and because we are making it up.””