I was lucky enough to attend the Science Friday event last night at the Strand bookstore with Kim Stanley Robinson and Ira Flatow. Although I've loved Mr. Robinson's writing since I first read his novel The Years of Rice and Salt over a decade ago, it was great to finally hear him speak about his work and some of the ideas and motivations behind it.
A lot of the questions centered around social commentary of things that wouldn't just be relevant in the future, but are also important today. For example, there was discussion about the American class system, which Mr. Robinson jokingly called "income inequality," since most Americans don't like to draw attention to the fact of a class system here. Mr. Flatow pointed out an interesting tidbit in the book about a woman who operates a dirigible to save endangered species, and that sparked a whole discussion about land reclamation, conservation, pollution and the effects of globalization.
Having read several of Mr. Robinson's earlier books, it came as no surprise that he had very decided ideas about the social and political landscape of today. However, he had the audience laughing throughout the talk with his dry humor, which contrasted with the outrageously opinionated things he would say.
For example, Mr. Flatow brought up Margaret Atwood's controversial take on science fiction writers - namely, that she would not label herself as one. Mr. Robinson's response: "I hate that crap. I hate it! It's science fiction - any writer who writes science fiction and says it's not because you think you're a genius... I hate you and I'm not going to read you anymore," he added, garnering another chuckle from the crowd. He said he's proud to be a science fiction writer, that this was the genre that best defined who he was growing up: "I started writing science fiction because I grew up in California," a place that started out as heavily agricultural when he was a kid and quickly became the tech capital it is today. "Science fiction is the best literature in describing what reality feels like."
When asked by an audience member about the increasing politicization of his work from the first novel to his most current, his response was for people NOT to go back and read his first book, which got a laugh from the crowd. But he also talked about his day-to-day writing process. He always writes outdoors, for about three hours a day, but then he spends a lot of time gardening, which allows him to, "Get my hands dirty and sit out there in the sun and get antsy and think." As to the idea of writer's block, he said he hated the idea of it and would rather write something unusable than not write at all. "I do write a lot of crap, but I'm a big reviser."
His advice for a new writer? "Gather with a group of like-minded friends... don't do it in classes." Also, "Let things hang around for a while and revise them. And then let go and move onto something else so you don't get hung up on one project." For the aspiring J.K. Rowling, "It is an absolute accident that people make money at fiction writing." If you love writing, do it because you love it - don't expect riches.
A final note about his process, which I thought was interesting, was when he was asked about how he came up with his characters, many of whom are wildly different than him. "I love the idea that novels are not personal testaments. ... I don't want to be there. ... Novels are not about personal expression, they're about being the voice of the community."
And for fans of Mr. Robinson's Mars trilogy, an audience member asked if it would finally make it to television, since it's been picked up several times by networks, but never actually made it to the small screen. His response was positive: "Hope springs eternal."
For all of Mr. Robinson's fans out there, I think we can all agree that it does. I'm excited to read New York 2140 - keep an eye out for my review of it soon.