The foundation of storytelling begins with the simple question, "What if?" In the large-canvas genre of science fiction, the answer can lead to fantastic scenarios that glimpse the consequences of humankind’s decisions—or absence of them—for better or worse.
If you’re fascinated by science-based speculation and a look at what could be humankind's future, join us October 23 at CapRadio Reads’ inaugural Authors on Stage for a voyage with award-winning New York Times best-selling writer Kim Stanley Robinson of Davis.
In New York: 2140, he takes us into a time when global warming has caused massive flooding around the world, transforming New York City into a “super-Venice” of skyscraper islands and thoroughfare canals. Still, its residents have found ways to live daily life—until an imminent threat rallies them to action.
The world’s scientific community continues to caution about what will likely occur if climate change worsens.
With that as the backdrop, I asked Robinson how he made the not-so-giant-leap from today’s headlines to his novel.
“The first step was finding a USGS topographical map of Manhattan to see what kind of sea level rise would result there,” he said.
“I settled on describing a world in which the sea level had risen by about 50 feet. (Research) convinced me that my scenario was not implausible, since something similar had occurred in the Earth’s past. How would the New Yorkers of that future adapt to and cope with the new situation? That was my basic question for the book.
“Then I visited New York a few times to do some investigations on foot that helped me imagine what the city would be like (partly underwater).”
As his project progressed, what was an eye-opener?
“One was learning about ‘assisted migration,’ a new topic in population biology and ecology, in which scientists are discussing what it might take to move various animal and plant species to places where they might have a better chance of avoiding extinction,” he said.
“Because life is adaptable (people very much included), the worst danger of climate change is the prospect of many species going extinct. My contribution to that new idea was to imagine moving some polar bears to Antarctica, which will stay much icier than the Arctic in the coming century. I’ve heard that (my scenario)—what I thought of as almost a TV reality show in the novel—has now actually stimulated some real scientific study of the possibility.”
One characteristic of Robinson’s novels is leaving readers with a sense of hope for the future. Is there a silver lining in this case?
“A silver lining to climate change?” Robinson puzzled. “Let’s try this: Humans were always going to have to invent a civilization in good balance with the Earth’s biosphere in order to survive.
“Our current civilization runs by a set of rules we call capitalism, a system that was never designed, but merely emerged from earlier systems with their own flaws (such as) the ongoing ‘economical’ destruction of the living environments we rely on for survival.
“That situation always had to change, and now climate change is forcing us to make the change sooner rather than later,” he said. “So it’s actually a great thing that we are the generation of humanity alive to take it on. It’s a crux moment in Earth's history and everyone knows it. We’re beginning to act to solve the problem, and that’s exciting.”
Next Friday: Where does Kim Stanley Robinson fit in with today's (and tomorrow's) other sci-fi superstars?
Kim Stanley Robinson will appear for Authors On Stage at 6 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Harper Alumni Center on the Sac State campus. Cost is $10 per person in advance or $15 cash at the door. More information at www.capradio.org/reads. For additional information, please contact Cathleen Ferraro at firstname.lastname@example.org.