Last night I went to a reading by Kim Stanley Robinson on campus. He read from his newest book, >Forty Days of Rain. He is a very engaging reader, in a quiet way. The passage he read reflected the more spiritual side of his writing, though still interlaced with references to scientific theories (in this case, sociobiology). He planned well, stopping on a cliffhanger of sorts. I was impressed enough to buy a copy on the spot (plus that gave me a chance to get it signed and an excuse to talk to him personally). Stan is a very engaging speaker, and seems like a great guy all around. He really knows his science, and gave a fascinating account of the mechanics that could cause an ice age from global warming. From the Q&A and signing: He tends to build his stories around recent scientific advances that he finds interesting, rather than doing research to support a story idea. Stan enjoyed the challenge of writing in the alternate-history setting of The Years of Rice and Salt, but he prefers "the day after tomorrow" and "far in the future" science fiction as it gives him more of a chance to prophesy and it can influence people more powerfully. His favorite science fiction authors are the New Wave: Ursula K. LeGuin, Roger Zelazny, and Thomas Disch were mentioned specifically. Before he started reading science fiction, Stan read "locked door detective mysteries." He reads Science News every week. He grew up in Orange County and is very sad about how it has changed from the farmland he knew as a child. He supports "flexible fuel" technology as a first step in slowing global warming. Stan's mother was a piano teacher, and he tried to write about music before he started science fiction writing.
I've started reading Forty Days, and I'm impressed with how real the characters are. I think his writing has improved since the Mars trilogy (I haven't read Rice and Salt yet), while still recognizable as his style. And who wouldn't like a book that Locus describes as "the best novel featuring the NSF this year?"