Unreal Book No.1 – The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson

I like to come up with ideas for books, to push and prod to see if they can happen, and I occasionally even get to work on them. However, not every book can happen, and I certainly can’t work on all of them either. So, I thought I might occasionally blog about book ideas, see how they sound out in the world. And who knows? Someone might even do the book some day.

Kim Stanley Robinson is best known for his ‘Mars’ trilogy, and perhaps for the ‘Three California’ novels. However, he’s a Nebula and World Fantasy Award winning short story writer, and he’s done some of the best work of his career at that length. I can’t help but feel that a Best of Kim Stanley Robinson would be a terrific book.

The first problem you come up against in compiling this book is that three of his best stories – “Green Mars”, “A Short, Sharp Shock”, and “The Blind Geometer” – are all long-ish novellas. I don’t have word counts, but I’d be unsurprised if they topped 80,000 words as a group. For me, in an ideal situation, a ‘best of’ shouldn’t top about 125,000 words all up. Doing a four or five story book isn’t an option, and I don’t like the idea of splitting the book into a ‘long story’ and ‘short story’ book (something that seldom works, for my money).

So, stepping outside the real world, here is an eighteen story selection from Robinson’s near 70 story bibliography. I’m guessing, but I’d say it’s about 200,000 words long, though you could probably shorten it by dropping a story or two. The book opens with his World Fantasy Award winner, “Black Air”, and just goes from strength to strength. If you’re interested in reading this unbook, I can point you to sources. Just let me know in the comments field to this post. Oh, and I’d love to hear any alternate suggestions.

1. Black Air
2. Escape from Kathmandu
3. Rainbow Bridge
4. The Lucky Strike
5. Exploring Fossil Canyon
6. On the North Pole of Pluto
7. Green Mars
8. Coming Back to Dixieland
9. Mother Goddess of the World
10. A Short, Sharp Shock
11. Our Town,
12. Remaking History
13. Venice Drowned
14. Arthur Sternbach Brings the Curveball to Mars
15. Down and Out in the Year 2000
16. A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions
17. Ridge Running
18. The Blind Geometer

8 thoughts on “Unreal Book No.1 – The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson”

  1. Actually, I was rather surprised on checking that KSR hasn’t really published all that many short stories — and none in this century! (Unless he had one in Nature, maybe?)

    I can’t seriously argue with your selection — it’s excellent. I will say that I prefer “To Leave a Mark” to “On the North Pole of Pluto” if we are doing Icehenge excerpts. (Partly, but not wholly, because that was the first KSR story I read.)

    I would put “Green Mars” last. It is in my opinion his best story ever, with one of the great last lines in the history of SF — and one of the most fully SFnal. It’s also a very important story to me personally — in the mid 80s I had fallen away from SF. One of the stories — probably the most important one — that brought me back was “Green Mars”.

    (His other best story is “Black Air”, and having that first works just fine!)

  2. Oh, and the thing about Robinson’s best stories being novellas? It’s true, obviously, and it’s just the way he is. The best parts of his novels are really novellas too: the glorious “Falling Into History” section of RED MARS, and the long paean to the US in THE WILD SHORE, are examples. (The whole Mars trilogy is of course a series of novellas.)

  3. In all honesty, I did the table of contents pretty much from memory. I’d want to re-read all of his sixty-odd short stories to make sure I got the best selection, removed too much thematic repetition, and got the sequencing right. Moving “Blind Geometer” back into the book would be ok, end with “Green Mars”. I think the quality of the novellas would make it very hard to keep the book short, but they are that good. I agree about “Black Air” too. And, I know you’re not suggesting it, but I don’t think I’d excerpt a piece of a novel.

    In all honesty, it’s a book I’d love to edit. If not, I’d like to read it again.

  4. A Robinson story I liked a great deal when I originally read it, but which received not as much attention as some of his other stories, was “The Part of Us That Loves,” originally published in Full Spectrum 2 (1989).

  5. I’d probably kill off A SHORT, SHARP SHOCK, not because of quality, but because it’s always been published as a solo piece, and it would help keep the length more manageable.

    I’d also likely keep “Escape from Kathmandu” and jettison “Mother Goddess of the World” as those set of stories need be represented by only one, I think.

    It’s been so long since I’ve read ICEHENGE that I’d not know which of those, if any to include. In collections like these, I’m a little wary of plucking out part of a fixup novel, though I’m so fond of “Escape” this isn’t a hard and fast rule, obviously.

  6. Since we’re talking a fictional book, I can set the real world considerations aside a little, and disagree somewhat. I think SHORT, SHARP SHOCK is a strong piece, if long, but makes the collection stand out from his others. Same for “Green Mars” and “Blind Geometer”, both of which were published separately. I’d need to re-read the “Escape rom Kathmandu stories, too. My recollection is they’re quite different in tone. I really like them.

    Again, stressing this is a fictional ‘unbook’, I’d stick to the idealists line: this is the path to his best book.

    Hmm. Maybe I should post my best of Waldrop piece.

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