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Lions Roar : September 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2012 63 An Empty Land From Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel The Years of Rice and Salt. WE ARE REBORN many times. We fill our bodies like air in bubbles, and when the bubbles pop we puff away into the bardo, wandering until we are blown into some new life, somewhere back in the world. This knowledge had often been a comfort to Bold as he stumbled exhausted over battlefields in the aftermath, the ground littered with broken bodies like empty coats. But it was different to come on a town where there had been no battle, and find everyone there already dead. Long dead; bodies dried; in the dusk and moonlight they could see the gleam of exposed bones, scattered by wolves and crows. Bold repeated the Heart Sutra to himself. “Form is emptiness, emptiness form. Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond. O, what an Awakening! All hail!” The horses stalled on the outskirts of the town. Aside from the cluck and hiss of the river, all was still. The squinted eye of the moon gleamed on dressed stone, there in the middle of all the wooden buildings. A very big stone building, among smaller stone buildings. Psin ordered them to put clothes over their faces, to avoid touching anything, to stay on their horses, and to keep the horses from touching anything but the ground with their hooves. Slowly they rode through narrow streets, walled by wooden buildings two or three stories high, leaning together as in Chinese cities. The horses were unhappy but did not refuse outright. They came into a paved central square near the river, and stopped before the great stone building. It was huge. Many of the local people had come to it to die. Their lamasery, no doubt, but roofless, open to the sky— unfinished business. As if these people had only come to religion in their last days; but too late; the place was a boneyard. Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone altogether beyond. From The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson (Bantam Books, 2002). me,” says Robinson, “that science fiction was my realism.” In his SF, Robinson strives to convey a sense of hope about the environment, because he feels that despite the bad choices we’re making right now, we’re not necessarily creating a dysto- pia or apocalypse. “Science is powerful, people are smart, and there’s potential to have both good and bad at once,” he says. But people need to think deeply about possible ecological solu- tions, and fiction can be an accessible foundation for doing so. “I want to leave people with the sense of having had a lot of fun reading a novel, but I also want to lead them to interesting ques- tions. That’s really what science fiction always does.” In addition to SF, Robinson resonates with poetry and, when the renowned Beat poet Gary Snyder was teaching at U.C. Davis, he informally audited classes with him. “I was writing my novels at the same time,” says Robinson, “so taking a break for Gary’s class put extra stress on my novel-writing schedule. But it was worth it because Gary is truly an exem- plary figure. I always joke that Zen Buddhism must be good for you—Gary is living proof of it. And he jokes himself about how, after spending ten years sitting on his butt, everything looks good to him ever afterward. But he’s a very positive force in a lot of people’s lives, including mine. He’s informal, but very sharp, very generous. I think he always thought I was an oddball. You know, what is this science fiction author doing in my class writing second-rate nature poetry?” Then Snyder’s wife convinced Snyder to try Robinson’s Red Mars, and he crunched through the whole trilogy, saying he never knew science fiction could be that good. Snyder is now retired, but the two writers have become friends and they see each other whenever Snyder visits Davis. According to Robinson, writing is intimately connected to impermanence, to the fleeting present moment. “We’re always in the present,” he says. “There’s a present in which I write sentences. Then later there’s a present in which someone else looks at those sentences—the black marks on the page—and at that moment in their mind they make up a story based on the sentences that they read, as well as images from their own life. So there are the black marks on the paper, which are always there and continue year after year to be the same, but the book is only alive when someone’s reading it. It’s an interesting kind of impermanence. It’s similar to music in that you always have the scores but you don’t have the performances except when it’s being played.” Reading, concludes Robinson, is what makes fiction live. ♦ ANDREA MILLER is deputy editor of the Shambhala Sun and the edi- tor of the anthology Right Here With You: Bringing Mindful Awareness Into Our Relationships. Miller recently completed her MFA in creative writing and is still futzing with her first novel.