The New Yorker: Politics And More

Kim Stanley Robinson on “Utopian” Science Fiction



One of the premier writers of thinky sci-fi, Kim Stanley Robinson opened his book “The Ministry for the Future” with an all too plausible scenario: a lethal heat wave descends on India, with vast, horrifying consequences. It’s a sobering read, especially after July, 2021, was declared the hottest month on record. And yet Robinson tells Bill McKibben that his work is not dystopian; his central concern is how the globe could respond to such a disaster and begin to halt the momentum of global warming. “That whole dystopian postapocalyptic strain—it doesn’t serve as a warning, it doesn’t make you change your behavior,” Robinson notes. “I reject all that. I write as a utopian science-fiction writer.” But, “at the moment we’re at right now in world history,” he admits, “I have to set a pretty low bar for ‘utopia.’ If we dodge a mass-extinction event in this century, that’s utopian writing. That’s the best we can expect from where we are right now. Having put that story on the table as being possible, it suggests th