Kim Stanley Robinson Floods, Freezes DC

What would happen if some 20 or so inches of rain fell on DC in the span of a day or so? Hideous Catastrophe. What would happen if that flood was followed by a brutal winter like none we’ve ever seen before? Fifty Degrees Below.

He read tonight at the Borders’ Books in Bailey’s Crossroads from Fifty Degrees, from sections that describe the protagonists’ trips through a nigh-on post-apocalyptic Rock Creek Park in late fall (not far from today), and a part from the deep and frozen winter. He then took questions about his recent works, an attempt at transcription are below. Text is paraphrased unless marked with “quotes.”

Q: You mention a journal of sociobiology and you’ve included that same journey in several places. Do you utilize a lot of that in Fifty Below?

A: Well, I sure do. Frank, although he is a biomathematician, he is so interested in sociobiology. There’s a lot of volunteer labor, a lot of whuffie in these areas. There’s a lot in sociobiology, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to abide by these rules in reality. Part of the process of this novel is that the notion of reason as devoid of emotion is a mistake and that they are rooted together. We do a lot in life by how we think they’re going to feel. Many things in my life have been mixed up in a blender and put into this book, and Frank’s change in perception after the attack in the Park is out of my life. I have piled on the problems for Frank, for sure. There’s tremendous explanatory power in sociobio, but

Q: You used to live here, yes?

A: Yes, in Maryland. We lived off Wisconsin, close to the DC border, for four years. I know Rock Creek Park much better now than I did then, though. The Quiblers are somewhat in my house. There’s some reinvocation for me, but there’s no fidelity for my own life. After ten years on Mars, I love writing some of it from my personal experience.

Q: I particularly liked the jumping microchips.

A: One of the plotstrands has to do with some security agencies and espionage. Frank and some other scientists are under surveillance and it’s based on Poindexter’s TIA plan that’s now it’s under the ARDA. There’s a lot of interesting stuff here for a spy story. This is all based on RFID tags, and it’s certainly interesting in science fiction to tackle that and take it further still.

Q: The Third Book is yet untitled?

A: yes, but we’re not going to go toward 60 on this one, I promise. I’ll take your suggestions, if you’re interested, send it to Bantam. They’re marketing choices these days, and my choices are largely ignored.

Q: First off, any word on what the Scifi channel is doing?

A: The scifi channel has dropped the project for Red Mars. They didn’t please the executives enough to carry on. I saw the screenplays, and really, I see their point. They couldn’t make it work on TV. They “collapsed under the weight of the mighty tomes.” I was worried that my own images of the characters would be obscured and that would be a problem. There is discussion of Antarctica becoming a movie. They are guys with not a lot of money, but very gung ho.

Q: What input did Charles Sheffield have?

A: Charles is one of the sweetest and most generous residents of DC and a real friend of the SciFi community here. He actually built the projections for me for the breaking of the space elevator, and the speedup and slowdown of the Moons of Mars. God Bless Charles.

Q: How does Katrina change the way that you close Forty Signs and open Fifty Degress?

A: I believe in J.G. Ballard’s existential freedom as part of disaster. That disaster is a freeing influence upon us in a moment of catastrophe, and that’s where I approached flooding DC the way I did and treating it as a near idyllic event. Now, in the wake of Katrina, the opening of the book reads differently. Things that I had to go searching for, FEMA, The Army Corps of Engineers, are now commonplace and du jour. This is like the greek tragedies, you don’t want to be right, and yet, you are.

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