Robinson is the latest in a long line of science fiction writers, dating back to Judith Merril and Robert Heinlein in the 1960s, who argue that science fiction is the only genre that seriously deals with the complex effects of technological change on humanity, and second, confronts the ecological devastation of the Earth by industrial capitalism. Particularly in 2020, few would dispute Robinson’s claim that we are all living and co-writing 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 most postwar fiction takes place in the minds of the characters. We are supposed to experience 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 realistic 1950s fiction, but they still treat the characters as if they were walking around the field in a Jane novel. Austen.
Science fiction at its best, especially in Robinson’s work, gives voice to collective hopes, fears, and dreams. His novels envision a future that allows us to ask ourselves fundamental questions about what existence is here and now. They describe a new realism for a technologically dynamic, politically adrift and environmentally semi-devastated world.