Kim Stanley Robinson

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There are many facets of science that are almost exactly opposite of dramatic narrative. It's slow, tedious, inconclusive, it's hard to tell good guys from bad guys — it's everything that a normal hour of Star Trek is not.

Kim Stanley Robinson (born 23 March 1952) is a science fiction novelist most famous for his Mars trilogy.


Historical analogy is the last refuge of people who can't grasp the current situation.
It was not power that corrupted people, but fools who corrupted power.
  • Science fiction rarely is about scientists doing real science, in its slowness, its vagueness, the sort of tedious quality of getting out there and digging amongst rocks and then trying to convince people that what you're seeing justifies the conclusions you're making. The whole process of science is wildly under-represented in science fiction because it's not easy to write about. There are many facets of science that are almost exactly opposite of dramatic narrative. It's slow, tedious, inconclusive, it's hard to tell good guys from bad guys — it's everything that a normal hour of Star Trek is not.
  • If the amount of money going into the war economy were invested in landscape restoration, we would be in a far more positive position. It may get a little dire before we pull together, but I think when the prosperous nations, and in particular the US, realise they're wrecking their own kids' lives, there will be a mass change in value. It will be a difficult century, and ugly, but I don't think that in the end people are so stupid as to kill themselves off.
  • I think the US is in a terrible state of denial … Worse than that, we seem to be caught in a kind of Götterdämmerung response: we'd rather have the world go down in flames than change our lifestyle or admit we're wrong.
    • As quoted in "Future tense" in The Guardian (14 September 2005)

Red Mars (1992)[edit]

All page numbers are from the mass market paperback edition published by Bantam Spectra ISBN 0-553-56073-5 (29th printing)
All italics as in the book
  • “And with our work,” John continued, “we are carving out a new social order and the next step in the human story”—i.e., the latest variant in primate dominance dynamics.
    • Chapter 1, “Festival Night” (p. 5)
  • Ridiculous. But lies were what people wanted; that was politics.
    • Chapter 1, “Festival Night” (p. 7)
  • Their thinking clashed radically with Western thought; for instance the separation of church and state was wrong to them, making it impossible for them to agree with Westerners on the very basis of government. And they were so patriarchal that some of their women were said to be illiterate—illiterates, on Mars! That was a sign. And indeed these men had the dangerous look that Frank associated with machismo, the look of men who oppressed their women so cruelly that naturally the women struck back where they could, terrorizing sons who then terrorized wives who terrorized sons and so on and so on, in an endless death spiral of twisted love and sex hatred. So that in that sense they were all madmen.
    • Chapter 1, “Festival Night” (p. 9)
  • “Whenever scientists say they’re Christian,” Sax said, “I take it to be an aesthetic statement.”
    “The church of the wouldn’t-it-be-pretty-to-think-so,” Frank said.
    • Chapter 2, “The Voyage Out” (p. 53)
  • “You just don’t have faith!” Frank repeated.
    ”Well I hope I never get it! It’s like being hit by a hammer in the head!”
    • Chapter 2, “The Voyage Out” (p. 53)
  • The urge to excel and the urge to lead aren’t the same. Sometimes I think they may be opposites.
    • Chapter 2, “The Voyage Out” (p. 67)
  • “But that may be Freudianism.”
    “In other words something like the theory of phlogiston.”
    She laughed. “Exactly.”
    • Chapter 2, “The Voyage Out” (p. 77)
  • The only part of an argument that really matters is what we think of the people arguing. X claims a, Y claims b. They make arguments to support their claims, with any number of points. But when their listeners remember the discussion, what matters is simply that X believes a and Y believes b. People then form their judgment on what they think of X and Y.
    • Chapter 2, “The Voyage Out” (p. 77)
  • Beauty was the promise of happiness, not happiness itself; and the anticipated world was often more rich than anything real.
    • Chapter 2, “The Voyage Out” (p. 85)
  • “Being on Mars will change us in an evolutionary way.”
    Arkady shook his head vehemently, causing him to spin a little in the air over the table. “No, no, no, no! History is not evolution! It is a false analogy! Evolution is a matter of environment and chance, acting over millions of years. But history is a matter of environment and choice, acting within lifetimes, and sometimes within years, or months, or days! History is Lamarckian! So that if we choose to establish certain institutions on Mars, there they will be! And if we choose others, there they will be!”
    • Chapter 2, “The Voyage Out” (p. 88)
  • Nadia would have been pleased, if she had had more faith in the robots. These seemed okay, but her experiences with robots in the years on Novy Mir had made her wary. They were great if everything went perfectly, but nothing ever went perfectly, and it was hard to program them with decision algorithms that didn’t either make them so cautious that they froze every minute, or so uncontrolled that they could commit unbelievable acts of stupidity, repeating an error a thousand times and magnifying a small glitch into a giant blunder, as in Maya’s emotional life. You got what you put into robots, but even the best were mindless idiots.
    • Chapter 3, “The Crucible” (p. 114)
  • Science was many things, Nadia thought, including a weapon with which to hit other scientists.
    • Chapter 3, “The Crucible” (p. 137)
  • “Part of a team,” Ann said dully.
    “Well, you are.”
    “I know.” She sighed. “We’ll all say that. We’ll all go on and make the place safe. Roads, cities. New sky, new soil. Until it’s all some kind of Siberia or Northwest Territories, and Mars will be gone and we’ll be here, and we’ll wonder why we feel so empty. Why when we look at the land we can never see anything but our own faces.”
    • Chapter 3, “The Crucible” (p. 158)
  • “You damned liberals.”
    “I don’t know what that means.”
    “It means you’re too soft-hearted to ever actually do anything.”
    • Chapter 3, “The Crucible” (p. 174)
  • “The beauty of Mars exists in the human mind,” he said in that dry factual tone, and everyone stared at him amazed. “Without the human presence it is just a collection of atoms, no different than any other random speck of matter in the universe. It’s we who understand it, and we who give it meaning. All our centuries of looking up at the night sky and watching it wander through the stars. All those nights of watching it through the telescopes, looking at a tiny disk trying to see canals in the albedo changes. All those dumb sci-fi novels with their monsters and maidens and dying civilizations. And all the scientists who studied the data, or got us here. That’s what makes Mars beautiful. Not the basalt and the oxides.”
    • Chapter 3, “The Crucible” (pp. 177-178)
  • Beauty is power and elegance, right action, form fitting function, intelligence, and reasonability. And very often,” he grinned and pushed at her belly, “expressed in curves.”
    • Chapter 3, “The Crucible” (p. 187)
  • So life adapts to conditions. And at the same time, conditions are changed by life. That is one of the definitions of life: organism and environment change together in a reciprocal arrangement, as they are two manifestations of an ecology, two parts of a whole.
    • Chapter 4, “Homesick” (p. 205)
  • Thus they were driven by biology. There should be no such thing as fate: Ralph Waldo Emerson, a year after his six-year-old son died. But biology was fate.
    • Chapter 4, “Homesick” (p. 216)
  • You can’t make love to your fame. Even though some people try.
    • Chapter 4, “Homesick” (p. 221)
  • That didn’t bother John; there were always knee-high people hacking away, trying to get everyone down to their size.
    • Chapter 5, “Falling into History” (p. 242)
  • Very little detective work, he was noticing, could be accomplished before a crime occurred.
    • Chapter 5, “Falling into History” (p. 276)
  • And it seemed to him as he drove on day after day that history was like some vast thing that was always over the tight horizon, invisible except in its effects. It was what happened when you weren’t looking—an unknowable infinity of events, which although out of control, controlled everything.
    • Chapter 5, “Falling into History” (p. 283)
  • Well, societies without a plan, that was history so far; but history so far had been a nightmare, a huge compendium of examples to be avoided.
    • Chapter 5, “Falling into History” (p. 284)
  • Anyway that’s a large part of what economics is—people arbitrarily, or as a matter of taste, assigning numerical values to non-numerical things. And then pretending that they haven’t just made the numbers up, which they have. Economics is like astrology in that sense, except that economics serves to justify the current power structure, and so it has a lot of fervent believers among the powerful.
    • Chapter 5, “Falling into History” (p. 297)
  • ...there’s all kinds of phantom work! Unreal values assigned to most of the jobs on Earth! The entire transnational executive class does nothing a computer couldn’t do, and there are whole categories of parasitical jobs that add nothing to the system by an ecologic accounting. Advertising, stock brokerage, the whole apparatus for making money only from the manipulation of money—that is not only wasteful but corrupting, as all meaningful money values get distorted in such manipulation.” She waved a hand in disgust.
    • Chapter 5, “Falling into History” (p. 299)
  • Most ignorance is by choice, you know, and so ignorance is very telling about what really matters to people.
    • Chapter 5, “Falling into History” (p. 375)
  • The weakness of businessmen was their belief that money was the point of the game; they worked 14-hour days in order to earn enough of it to buy cars with leather interiors, they thought it was a sensible recreation to play around with it in casinos—idiots, in short. But useful idiots.
    • Chapter 6, “Guns Under the Table” (p. 395)
  • There was no pleasure like double-crossing a crook.
    • Chapter 6, “Guns Under the Table” (p. 395)
  • For of course it was impossible that she was doing it all without cause. That was the nature of power; when you had it no one was ever again simply a friend, simply a lover. Inevitably they all wanted things you could give them—if nothing else, the prestige of friendship with the powerful.
    • Chapter 6, “Guns Under the Table” (p. 398)
  • It was a mistake to speak one’s mind at any time, unless it perfectly matched your political purpose; and it never did. Best to strip all statements of real content, this was a basic law of diplomacy.
    • Chapter 6, “Guns Under the Table” (p. 418)
  • In games there are rules, but in life the rules keep changing.
    • Chapter 6, “Guns Under the Table” (p. 431)
  • Friendship was just diplomacy by other means, after all.
    • Chapter 6, “Guns Under the Table” (p. 432)
  • They were so ignorant! Young men and women, educated very carefully to be apolitical, to be technicians who thought they disliked politics, making them putty in the hands of their rulers, just like always. It was appalling how stupid they were, really, and he could not help lashing into them.
    • Chapter 6, “Guns Under the Table” (p. 452)
  • Some of them defined ideology as an imaginary relationship to a real situation.
    • Chapter 6, “Guns Under the Table” (p. 460)
  • It was a world of acts, and words had no more influence on acts than the sound of a waterfall has on the flow of the stream.
    • Chapter 6, “Guns Under the Table” (p. 461)
  • Historical analogy is the last refuge of people who can’t grasp the current situation.
    • Chapter 6, “Guns Under the Table” (p. 465)
  • How was it that destruction could be so beautiful? Was there something in the scale of it? Was there some shadow in people, lusting for it? Or was it just a coincidental combination of the elements, the final proof that beauty has no moral dimension?
    • Chapter 7, “Senzeni Na” (p. 526)
  • And then she was tired of talk again, tired of its uselessness. It had never been any more than it was now: whispers against the great roar of the world, half-heard and less understood.
    • Chapter 8, “Shikata Ga Nai” (p. 555)

Green Mars (1993)[edit]

All page numbers are from the mass market paperback edition published by Bantam Spectra ISBN 0-553-57239-3 (20th printing)
All italics and ellipses as in the book
  • Maya was very insistent that they learn their math well. “You’re getting a horrible education,” she would say, shaking her head darkly. “But if you learn your math you can catch up later.”
    • Chapter 1, “Areoformation” (p. 23)
  • “Have you told her that?”
    “You bet I have, but Hiroko only listens to me when I say things she wants to hear.” He cackled. “Same as with everyone, right?”
    • Chapter 1, “Areoformation” (p. 34)
  • Master and slave wear the yoke together. Anarchy is the only true freedom.
    • Chapter 1, “Areoformation” (p. 35)
  • “Continuous expansion is a fundamental tenet of economics. Therefore one of the fundamentals of the universe itself. Because everything is economics. Physics is cosmic economics, biology is cellular economics, the humanities are social economics, psychology is mental economics, and so on.”
    His listeners nodded unhappily.
    “So everything is expanding. But it can’t happen in contradiction to the law of conservation of matter-energy. No matter how efficient your throughput is, you can’t get an output larger than the input.”
    • Chapter 2, “The Ambassador” (pp. 76-77)
  • One morning he spent three hours talking about feudalism—how it was the clearest political expression of primate dominance dynamics, how it had never really gone away, how transnational capitalism was feudalism writ large, how the aristocracy of the world had to figure out how to subsume capitalist growth within the steady-state stability of the feudal model.
    • Chapter 2, “The Ambassador” (p. 80)
  • In the random flux of universal contingency, nothing mattered; and yet, and yet...
    • Chapter 3, “Long Runout” (p. 125)
  • But nothing lasts, not even stone, not even despair.
    • Chapter 3, “Long Runout” (p. 127)
  • It was fairly humorous to see how responsive mood was to chemical manipulation, despite what it implied about the precarious balance of one’s emotional equanimity, even sanity itself.
    • Chapter 4, “The Scientist as Hero” (p. 157)
  • But no. That was analogy rather than homology. What in the humanities they would call a heroic simile, if he understood the term, or a metaphor, or some other kind of literary analogy. And analogies were mostly meaningless—a matter of phenotype rather than genotype (to use another analogy). Most, of poetry and literature, really all the humanities, not to mention the social sciences, were phenotypic as far as Sax could tell. They added up to a huge compendium of meaningless analogies, which did not help to explain things, but only distorted perception of them. A kind of continuous conceptual drunkenness, one might say. Sax himself much preferred exactitude and explanatory power, and why not? If it was 200 Kelvin outside why not say so, rather than talk about witches’ tits and the like, hauling the whole great baggage of the ignorant past along to obscure every encounter with sensory reality? It was absurd.
    So, okay, there was no such thing as cultural polyploidy. There was just a determinate historical situation, the consequence of all that had come before—the decisions made, the results spreading out over the planet in complete disarray, evolving, or one should say developing, without a plan. Planless. In that regard there was a similarity between history and evolution, both of them being matters of contingency and accident, as well as patterns of development. But the differences, particularly in time scales, were so gross as to make that similarity nothing more than analogy again.
    No, better to concentrate on homologies, those structural similarities that indicated actual physical relationships, that really explained something. This of course took one back into science.
    • Chapter 4, “The Scientist as Hero” (p. 185)
  • No step along the way had seemed more than a little thing; but altogether it came to something rather monstrous.
    • Chapter 4, “The Scientist as Hero” (p. 199)
  • It was a real science; it had discovered there among the contingency and disorder, some valid general principles of evolution—development, adaptation, complexification, and many more specific principles as well, confirmed by the various subdisciplines.
    What he needed were similar principles influencing human history. The little reading he did in historiography was not encouraging; it was either a sad imitation of the scientific method, or art pure and simple. About every decade a new historical explanation revised all that had come before, but clearly revisionism held pleasures that had nothing to do with the actual justice of the case being made.
    • Chapter 4, “The Scientist as Hero” (p. 221)
  • Of course he had seen that human affairs were irrational and unexplainable. This no one could miss. But he realized now that he had been making the assumption that the people who involved themselves in governance were making a good-faith effort to run things in a rational manner, with a view to the long-term well-being of humanity and its biophysical support system. Desmond laughed at him as he tried to express this, and irritably he exclaimed, “But why else take on such compromised work, if not to that end?”
    “Power,” Desmond said. “Power and gain.”
    Sax had always been so uninterested in those things that it was hard for him to understand why anyone else would be. What was personal gain but the freedom to do what you wanted to do? And what was power but the freedom to do what you wanted to do? And once you had that freedom, any more wealth or power actually began to restrict one’s options, and reduce one’s freedom. One became a servant of one’s wealth or power, constrained to spend all one’s time protecting it.
    • Chapter 4, “The Scientist as Hero” (pp. 234-235)
  • “Bah. Irrelevant. Physical reality is clearly not a factor in these calculations.”
    “Well put.”
    Sax shook his head, frustrated. “Religion again. Or ideology. What was it Frank used to say? An imaginary relationship to a real situation?”
    • Chapter 4, “The Scientist as Hero” (p. 235)
  • Rituals should have some unpleasantness, or you don’t appreciate them properly.
    • Chapter 6, “Tariqat” (p. 291)
  • One sign of a good action is that in retrospect it appears inevitable.
    • Chapter 6, “Tariqat” (p. 296)
  • “It’s the same old story,” he said bitterly. “The resistance begins fighting itself, because that’s the only thing it can beat. Happens every time. You can’t get any movement larger than five people without including at least one fucking idiot.”
    • Chapter 6, “Tariqat” (p. 315)
  • What we need is equality without conformity.
    • Chapter 6, “Tariqat” (p. 338)
  • “Art is an optimist,” Nadia said to Maya as they walked on.
    “Art is an idiot,” Maya replied.
    • Chapter 7, “What Is to Be Done?” (p. 356)
  • Revolution has to be rethought. Look, even when revolutions have been successful, they have caused so much destruction and hatred that there is always some kind of horrible backlash. It’s inherent in the method. If you choose violence, then you create enemies who will resist you forever. And ruthless men become your revolutionary leaders, so when the war is over they’re in power, and likely to be as bad as what they replaced.
    • Chapter 7, “What Is to Be Done?” (pp. 359-360)
  • Even if you want no state, or a minimal state, then you still have to argue it point by point. Especially since most minimalists want to keep exactly the economic and police system that keeps them privileged. That’s libertarians for you—anarchists who want police protection from their slaves.
    • Chapter 7, “What Is to Be Done?” (p. 370)
  • We must not throw the baby socialism out with the Stalinist bathwater, or we lose many concepts of obvious fairness that we need.
    • Chapter 7, “What Is to Be Done?” (p. 373)
  • In the next meeting they were arguing about the limits to tolerance, the things that simply wouldn’t be allowed no matter what religious meaning anyone gave them, and someone shouted, “Tell that to the Muslims!”
    • Chapter 7, “What Is to Be Done?” (p. 373)
  • Nadia shook her head, marveling at the capacity people had for ignoring what they had in common, and fighting bitterly over whatever small differences existed between them.
    • Chapter 7, “What Is to Be Done?” (p. 386)
  • When she realized what she was doing she snorted in disgust, at herself and at the pervasiveness of politics—how it could infect everything if you let it.
    • Chapter 7, “What Is to Be Done?” (p. 387)
  • Anyone can agree that things should be fair, and the world just. The way to get there is always the real problem.
    • Chapter 7, “What Is to Be Done?” (p. 391)
  • Nakedness was dangerous to the social order, she thought, because it revealed too much reality.
    • Chapter 7, “What Is to Be Done?” (p. 395)
  • You conceive of science as nothing more than answers to questions?
    As a system for generating answers.
    And what is the purpose of that?
    ...To know.
    And what will you do with your knowledge?
    ...Find out more.
    But why?
    I don’t know. It’s the way I am.
    • Chapter 8, “Social Engineering” (p. 401)
  • If enough data points trouble the theory, the theory may be wrong. If the theory is basic, the paradigm may have to change.
    • Chapter 8, “Social Engineering” (p. 410)
  • Conspiracy theory was tremendously popular, always and forever. People wanted such catastrophes to mean something more than mere individual madness, and so the hunt was on.
    • Chapter 9, “The Spur of the Moment” (p. 450)
  • Every generation is its own secret society.
    • Chapter 9, “The Spur of the Moment” (p. 480)
  • “We could have a contest. Who does Jackie listen to least?”
    Maya laughed out loud. “Everyone would win.”
    • Chapter 9, “The Spur of the Moment” (p. 488)
  • He made a face. “Arguments, speculation—conspiracy theories of all kind. The usual thing, right? No one is ever simply assassinated anymore. Ever since your Kennedys, it is always a matter of how many stories you can invent to explain the same body of facts. That is the great pleasure of conspiracy theory—not explanation, but narrative. It is like Scheherazade.”
    • Chapter 9, “The Spur of the Moment” (p. 495)
  • Michael was so stubbornly optimistic that it made him stupid sometimes, or at least painful to be around.
    • Chapter 9, “The Spur of the Moment” (p. 510)
  • Revolution suspends habit as well as law. But just as nature abhors a vacuum, people abhor anarchy.
    • Chapter 10, “Phase Change” (p. 579)
  • It was not power that corrupted people, but fools who corrupted power.
    • Chapter 10, “Phase Change” (p. 582)

The Years of Rice and Salt (2002)[edit]

Plague was plague, and could not be treated lightly. And this plague was obviously worse than most, having killed everyone in the region.
  • A sudden gust: How big the world seems in a wind.
    • Book 1: "Awake to Emptiness", Ch. 1
  • Plague was plague, and could not be treated lightly. And this plague was obviously worse than most, having killed everyone in the region.
    • Book 1: "Awake to Emptiness", Ch. 2
  • He often spoke aloud to himself now, or hummed, without ever noticing it, as if ignoring an old companion who always said the same things.
    • Book 1: "Awake to Emptiness", Ch. 2
  • It is always the teacher who must learn the most … or else nothing real has happened in the exchange.
    • Book 2: "The Haj in the Heart", Ch. 5
  • What kind of story am I going to give them next? Because that's what we are to other people, boy, we are their gossip. That's all civilization is, a giant mill grinding out gossip. And so I could be the story of the man who rode high and fell hard, and had his spirit broken and crawled off into a hole like a dog, to die as soon as he could manage it. Or I could be the story of a man who rode high and fell hard, and then got up defiant, and walked away in a new direction.
    • Book 4: "The Alchemist", § 11
  • Rock is much more malleable than ideas.
    • Book 6: "Widow Kang", Ch. 3
  • The world operates by number, by physical laws, expressed mathematically. If you know these, you will have a better grasp of things. And some possible job skills.
    • Book 9: "Nsara", § 5

Galileo's Dream (2009)[edit]

When some French were assembling an encyclopedia of paranormal experiences, they decided to leave déjà vu out, because it was so common it could not be considered paranormal.
This vain presumption, of understanding everything, can have no other basis than never understanding anything. For anyone who had experienced just once the understanding of one single thing, thus truly tasting how knowledge is accomplished, would then recognize that of the infinity of other truths, he understands nothing.
The sky itself is the eighth color of the rainbow, spread over the whole sky for us, all the time.
  • There was nothing for it but to pace through just behind or ahead of the spooling present that was never there, caught in the nonexistent interval between the nonexistent past and the nonexistent future.
    • Ch. 13, p. 282
  • When some French were assembling an encyclopedia of paranormal experiences, they decided to leave déjà vu out, because it was so common it could not be considered paranormal.
    • Ch. 13, p. 284
  • One of the chief features of incompetence was an inability to see it in oneself.
    • Ch. 13, p. 295
  • Fights over ideas are the most vicious of all. If it were merely food, or water, or shelter, we would work something out. But in the realm of ideas one can become idealistic.
    • Ch. 14, p. 329
  • You could never teach other people anything that mattered. The important things they had to learn for themselves, almost always by making mistakes, so that the lessons arrived too late to help. Experience was in that sense useless. It was precisely what could not be passed along in a lesson or an equation.
    • Ch. 20, p. 513–514
  • Yes. God makes the world using mathematics, and he has given us minds that can see it. We can discover the laws He used! It is a most beautiful thing to witness and understand! It's prayer. It's more than prayer, it's a sacrament, a kind of communion. An apprehension—an epiphany—it's seeing God, while still in this body and in this world! How blessed we are, to be able to experience God like that! Who would not devote their time to understanding more, to seeing deeper in God's manner of thinking about these things?

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