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I needed something to happen on Earth that was shocking enough to allow a kind of historical gap in which my Martians could realistically establish independence. I had already been working with Antarctic scientists who were talking about the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, and how unstable it might be — so I used that, and in Blue Mars I showed a flooded London. To a certain extent, later, in my climate change books, I was following in that mold with the flood of Washington DC.

I wrote that scene before Katrina. I think it has to be acknowledged that the use of catastrophe as a literary device is not actually adequate to talk about something which, in the real world, is often so much worse — and which comes down to a great deal of human suffering. It got people out of their ruts. Is there a risk that all these reports about flooded cities and lost archipelagoes and new coastlines might actually make climate change sound like some sort of survivalist adventure?

For one thing, modern civilization, with six billion people on the planet, lives on the tip of a gigantic complex of prosthetic devices — and all those devices have to work. They have to do with basic life support and basic social activities unboosted by technological means.

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Even though it looks quite magical, the sense of accomplishment is not there. So they do it more and more — and they fall down a rabbit hole, pursuing a destructive and high carbon-burn activity, when they could just go out for a walk, or plant a garden, or sit down at a table with a friend and drink some coffee and talk for an hour. All of these unboosted, straight-forward primate activities are actually intensely satisfying to the totality of the mind-body that we are. So a little bit of analysis of what we are as primates — how we got here evolutionarily, and what can satisfy us in this world — would help us to imagine activities that are much lower impact on the planet and much more satisfying to the individual at the same time.

Because a lot of these supposed pleasures are really expensive. You pay with your life. You pay with your health. You can simply walk out your front door and get what you want out of that particular fantasy. What is it about Mars that brings out this particular kind of speculation? Robinson : Well, it brings up an unusual modern event that can happen in our mental landscapes, which is comparative planetology. You start with nothing — the bare rock, the volatile chemicals that are needed for life, some water, and an empty landscape.

So on we go. Mars is an interesting platform where we can model these things. Actually, for many years, Mars will be even less important to us than Antarctica, because the Antarctic is at least part of our ecosphere. But if you think of yourself as terraforming Earth, and if you think about sustainability, then you can start thinking about permaculture and what permaculture really means. By some magic waving of the hands, or some techno silver bullet, suddenly we can make it all right to continue in all our current habits.

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Robinson : Right. We should take the political and aesthetic baggage out of the term utopia. People tend to think of utopia as a perfect end-stage, which is, by definition, impossible and maybe even bad for us. Permaculture suggests a certain kind of obvious human goal, which is that future generations will have at least as good a place to live as what we have now. The future needs to be taken into account by the current system, which regularly steals from it in order to pad our ridiculous current lifestyle.

Turbine House, Taos, New Mexico. Courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, from their excellent, and uncannily well-timed, exhibition Sorry, Out of Gas ]. Where will its structures and ideas come from?

John Boone Speech (Red Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson, 1993)

Robinson : Well, at the end of the s and through the 70s, what we thought — and this is particularly true in architecture and design terms — was: OK, given these new possibilities for new and different ways of being, how do we design it? What happens in architecture?

What happens in urban design?

The Ruins of Mars Trilogy: The Ruins of Mars by Dylan James Quarles (2013, Paperback)

I had a whole shelf of those books. Their tech is now mostly obsolete, superceded by more sophisticated tech, but the ideas behind them, and the idea of appropriate technology and alternative design: that needs to come back big time. And I think it is. Courtesy of the Canadian Centre for Architecture ]. Now, suddenly, these problems are in our face and we have to deal.

And part of dealing is going to be design. The feel of existence is completely different.

The Ruins Of Mars (The Ruins of Mars, #1) by Dylan James Quarles

Meanwhile, their entire tech is built elsewhere. The Mars books were where I focused on these design questions the most. I had to describe fifteen or twenty invented towns or social structures based around their architecture. Everything from little settlements to crater towns to gigantic cities, to all sorts of individual homes in the outback — how do you occupy the outback?

I think, actually, that one of the main reasons people enjoyed those Mars books was in seeing these alternative design possibilities envisioned and being able to walk around in them, imaginatively. Robinson : Sure. And, you know, reading Science News week in and week out, I was always attentive to what the latest in building materials or house design was. Also, I seized on anything that seemed human-scale and aesthetically pleasing and good for a community.

I thought of Greek villages in Crete, and also the spectacular stuff on Santorini. They would put their towns in places where it would look good to live — where you would get a permanent sense that the town was a work of art, as well as a practical solution to economic and geographical problems.

That was something I wanted to do on Mars over and over again. Mondragon, Spain, was also a constant reference point, and Kerala, in southern India. I was looking at cooperative, or leftist, places. Bologna, Italy. The Italian city-states of the Renaissance, in a different kind of way. Also, cities where public transport on a human scale could be kept in mind. So those were some of the reference points that I remember — but I was also trying to think about how humans might inhabit the unusual Martian features: the cliffsides, the hidden cities that I postulated might be necessary. I was attracted to anything that had to do with circularity, because of the stupendous number of craters on Mars.


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There was a real wide net I could cast there — and it was fun. Situated in Pavonis Mons "peacock mountain" in Latin , one of the big Tharsis volcanoes, at the planet's equator, it was the perfect candidate for being the receiving end of a space elevator. Sheffield offered a magnificent view inside the caldera of Pavonis Mons. UNOMA financed the construction. However, equipment and personnel had been provided by Praxis. The elevator touched down on Mars in the so-called Socket, the complex where elevator cars were loaded and unloaded.

Sheffield housed the offices of the Space Elevator Authority.

Sheffield became the third capital city of Mars, taking over from Burroughs. Many small tents were created around it as immigrants arrived and the Sheffield metropolis expanded. The tents were connected by a railway web. During the First Martian Revolution, the elevator was destroyed; the elevator cable wrapped itself around Mars and fell across the eastern side of the metropolis' domes. The Sheffield metropolis was partially destroyed.