Robinson is the latest in a long line of science fiction writers, dating back to Judith Merrill and Robert Heinlein in the 1960s, who argue that science fiction is the only genre that, on the one hand, seriously deals with the complex effects of technological change on humanity, and on the other hand, confronts the ecological devastation of the Earth by industrial capitalism. Particularly in 2020, few would dispute Robinson’s assertion that we all live and co-write a giant sci-fi novel.
What we call “realistic fiction” or “literary fiction” focuses on the traditional ideas of the individual subject. The real action in great Victorian novels and in many post-World War II fiction takes place in the minds of the characters. We are meant to live their hopes, fears, dreams, efforts to connect with others, etc. Contemporary novels may be dirtier, weirder, more susceptible to the consequences of racism and sexism than the realistic fiction of the 1950s, but they still often treat characters as if they were wandering the estate in a Jane novel. austin.
Science fiction at its best, especially in the work of Robinson, gives voice to collective hopes, fears and dreams. His novels envision a future that allows us to ask fundamental questions about what existence is here and now. They describe a new realism for a technologically dynamic, politically adrift and ecologically half-devastated world.