For a man whose mind plumbs the depths of time and space, Robinson savors life as a Mr. Mom homebody. Since the early 1990s, he and his wife, Lisa Nowell, an environmental chemist, have lived in Village Homes, a planned community with similarities to the utopian colony he depicted in his California trilogy. The couple's elder son is in college, and the younger is a ninth-grader.
Robinson reckons that he knows about 200 of his roughly 1,000 neighbors, and has even served on the community's board of directors. He's fond of citing a quote attributed to Oscar Wilde: "Socialism will never succeed. It takes too many evenings."
"It's one of the contradictions he balances," says Terry Bisson, a longtime friend and fellow sci-fi writer. "He's sort of a high-modernist bohemian. But he's pretty middle-class about it too."
The challenge for the affluent developed world, from Robinson's viewpoint, is to make places like this green-friendly Brook Farm of the Central Valley reproducible. "It's what I said in 'Pacific Edge,' we live in a pocket utopia, and we need the rest of the world to be utopia, or else we seem like criminals or idiots."
Much left to write
Although Robinson has a contract to complete three new novels, he also hopes to write a nonfiction book about his experience of the Sierras. He hikes there often, inspired by both John Muir and the poet Gary Snyder, another friend. For Robinson, such a book would be part spiritual meditation and part how-to book about "how to have fun up there as a Californian, without being a climber, without being in danger and without suffering." But he plans to heed Le Guin's advice: "Don't do the lone, enraptured male."
There's one more book Robinson envisions that can't be fully finished. As he sees it, humankind is authoring a great science fiction novel, as individuals and collectively. Every day, he believes, we are writing the future into being through our actions and dreams.
Is it harder or easier as a sci-fi writer not to know how those future chapters will turn out?
He reflects in his tranquil living room as the fog spreads its fingers against the sliding glass doors. Oh, definitely not harder, he says.
"It's a kind of reconciliation, since so much of our life is an imaginative act anyway. Since I can't go there biologically, at least I've imagined it."