Science Fiction Writer Kim Stanley Robinson Visits the U for Tanner Lecture on Human Values


Kim Stanley Robinson (Photo courtesy of Public Books)

By Arlo Marler


Science fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson came to the University of Utah on March 16, 2023 for the annual Tanner Lecture on Human Values at Kingsbury Hall. Robinson presented a unifying “all hands on deck” message in regards to the ever-present climate crisis.

The talk was centered around his newest novel, “The Ministry for the Future,” which imagines a future Earth in which nations and leaders have to work together to combat climate change. The talk focused on optimism rather than impending climate doom, a refreshing change of pace from much climate change discourse.

Robinson has won many sci-fi accolades for his work. His Mars trilogy, which discusses human resettlement and terraforming of Mars, won several Hugo and Nebula awards. Robinson noted that the settlement of Mars is “irrelevant to us,” and his more recent works have focused on topics he views as more pressing: His most recent novels, “The Ministry for the Future” and “New York 2140,” revolve around saving Earth from climate change in a myriad of ways.

Member States Instead of Nation States

An overarching focus of the night was potential legislative solutions to the climate crisis. Robinson suggested transforming nation states into member states to encourage cooperation on climate solutions. He also touched on the Green Investment Bank Model, which encourages private investors to invest in efficient and renewable energy, and ways to incentivize fossil fuel companies to adopt green energy sources while slowly phasing out the use of fossil fuels through economic policy. Robinson’s ideas tend to lean towards change through current political and economic systems of capitalism rather than radical systemic change. Surprisingly, he doesn’t seem to account for the importance of giving indigenous land back and land stewardship, which should be included in fighting and navigating climate change.

Women Leaders As Protagonists

One particular question asked during the lecture was about the importance of the inclusion of women, not only in Robinson’s body of work, but also within real life. In “The Ministry for the Future” the main character is a woman who was a former prime minister of Ireland, and women are featured very prominently within his body of work as a whole.

The event garnered a packed audience and afterward a signing was held. After running out of time in the talk, Robinson lamented that he wasn’t able to discuss issues regarding the Great Salt Lake and the climate crisis locally in Salt Lake City. Perhaps we can hold out hope that he will stop by in Utah once again in the future.