INTERVIEW: Kim Stanley Robinson, Author of “The Lunatics”

Tell us a bit about your story. What’s it about?

“The Lunatics” is about miners inside the moon trying to escape the system.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

My wife and I were living in Zurich while she was doing a post-doc, and we hung out with all the other post-docs, most of them chemists.  One night I saw a periodic table in someone’s kitchen and noticed the element promethium.  The story came from that.

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

No, it was a pleasure to write.  I had a desk facing out a window over the trees and rooftops of Zurich.  We had no kids and I was free to write every day.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

This one is not very personal to me.  To the extent it is, I suppose it is a reflection of the impact of my South African student, Thabo Moeti, on my understanding of how the world works, how injustice is a real force.

What kind of research did you have to do for the story?

I read up on the element promethium, and a bit about mining.

What is the appeal of dystopian fiction? Why do so many writers–or you yourself–write about it? Why do readers love it so much?

I don’t know.  I suppose part of the appeal is the feeling “things in my world may be bad but they’re not this bad.”  So there is a reverse comfort going on.  Often writers write it as a warning, at other times because they haven’t the nerve to try to write a utopian story, so do it backwards.  I’ve only tried it a few times in my career.

What are some of your favorite examples of dystopian fiction, and what makes them your favorites?

My favorite dystopian fiction is the novel We by Yevgeny Zamiatin, because it is funny, beautiful, frightening, and thought-provoking in just the way one wants dystopia to be.