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  • Falling into Theory: Simulation, Terraformation, and Eco-Economics in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Martian Trilogy
  • Robert Markley (bio)

In the introduction to Future Primitive: The New Ecotopias, an anthology of “green” science fiction stories, Kim Stanley Robinson defines science fiction as “a collection of thought experiments that propose scenarios of the future. . . . They are historical simulations . . . images, endlessly reiterated, [that] have come to form in our imagination a kind of consensus vision of the future” (9). In his own novels, as well as in this collection, Robinson offers alternatives to the genre’s “consensus vision” of humankind “as the last organic units in [the] denatured, metallic, clean, and artificial world” of a cyber-engineered future (9). In place of this denatured vision, Robinson urges his readers to explore the utopian possibilities of “cobbl[ing] together aspects of the postmodern and the paleolithic” in a “future primitive” that might best be described as an ecocentric turn toward holism (11). This “future primitive,” he implies, can serve as a powerful analytic to reveal—and indeed to gesture beyond—the forms of alienation that [End Page 773] structure and are structured by the deep-seated antiecological values and assumptions characteristic of western thought (9–10). In this context, Robinson’s Martian trilogy, Red Mars (1993), Green Mars (1994), and Blue Mars (1996), constitutes a sustained, theoretically sophisticated attempt to conjure into being a future that resists the romantic dystopianism of cyberpunk, the antitechnological bias of much “green” literature, and the blanket denunciations of capitalist technoscience that have become popular in some left-wing circles. Taken together, though, the three novels demonstrate just how complex a notion “utopia” can become. The “future primitive” that Robinson envisions both exploits and critiques what Don Ihde has called the “doubled desire” of technology (75): technology presents itself as a crucial means to empowerment by allowing humankind to control nature and improve the quality of life; however, the promises that it offers—pleasure, plenty, and self-actualization—ironically render it transparent. Massive investments of labor, capital, and resources, in other words, offer us enhanced versions of a “natural,” pre-technological existence (Ihde 76). In his Martian trilogy, the politics of this doubled desire lead Robinson to explore the consequences of people struggling “to yoke together impossible opposites” (Green Mars 229): mind and body, spirit and matter, nature and culture, and biosphere and technoscience. In the process, his novels call into question two of the constitutive fictions of modernity: the separation of nature and culture and the consequent privileging of contemporary technoculture at the expense of a devalued, technologically primitive past (see Latour 99–100).

Robinson’s comments in his introduction to Future Primitive encourage us to consider science fiction as a genre of ideas: sci-fi does not represent historical experience but generates simulations of what that experience may become. This distinction between representation and simulation is crucial to understanding his Martian trilogy as a theoretical intervention in late-twentieth-century debates about ecology, economics, and technology. If representation, as Lacan suggests, is predicated on a fundamental lack, if it entails “the murder of the thing,” simulation, as Steven Shaviro argues, “precedes its object: it doesn’t imitate or stand in for a given thing, but provides a program for generating it. The simulacrum is the birth of the thing, rather than its death” (Doom Patrols). In Shaviro’s sense, the “utopian” possibilities of science fiction occupy a register of simulation: they give imaginative form to the [End Page 774] desire to think beyond the contradictions of historical existence and, as the etymology of the word suggests, beyond our location in time, culture, and geography. Brought into the regime of representation, utopian schemes are always in the process, as Robinson suggests in a chapter title in Red Mars, of “falling into history,” undone by the distance between the idealized operations of a frictionless system and the wear and tear of embodied, historical existence. 1 Utopias can best be understood, then, as expressions of their creators’ (and their cultures’) desires to conjure into being the imaginary conditions which would allow humankind to transcend what the logic of simulation dictates must be an originary alienation—an alienation at once ecological...

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