In The High Sierra: A Love Story (Little, Brown, May), science fiction writer Robinson shares his admiration of the Sierras.
You refer in the book to the concept of “psychogeology”—the idea that the Sierras’ geology has specific effects on the mind. Tell me more about that.
Sometimes, when you’re talking about landscapes like the High Sierra, you’re really talking about your own responses to them. So it isn’t just a matter of metamorphic rock versus granite, but that on granite, you’re happy and it’s friendly territory, and on metamorphic rock, it’s nasty and wants to trip you. It struck me that it would be useful to describe it in those terms in this book, so that people are clear that this account is a combination of human and landscape.
What was the hardest part of putting your decades of experience hiking the Sierras into a book?
Memoir. I’ve never done it. I think it’s suspect, and hard in and of itself. It’s a fiction, memoir. You make your past self into a character, and you summarize things that took years, and you’re judging your earlier self. So that was hard.
You’re best known for your science fiction. What impact did the Sierras have on your novels?
My Sierra experience has been crucial to my science fiction because I’ve written science fiction that is aware that we are part of a biosphere, and that planets are actors in the story. They determine societies and individuals and consciousness. I felt that in myself because of my Sierra experiences. I’ve always been writing about planets changing, and my Mars trilogy could be seen as a gigantic climate change novel. So my work hangs together, intellectually, and also emotionally by way of this Sierra anchoring point.
Many readers will be moved by the beauty of the landscape you describe, yet never make it there in person. What would you like them to take away from this book?
I hope that the book can inspire people to pay attention to simply being outdoors, the sky, the trees, walking—things that can be done anywhere. Some parts of the Sierra experience are very specific to the Sierras. Others are specific to simply being outdoors. I hope that people reading the book who will never get to the High Sierra will be thinking, “Well, that sounds like a good range. I wonder about my local hill—it’s got rocks, it’s got trees, it’s got sky and clouds, weather.” I hope it inspires them to find pleasure in outdoorness and the physical world, especially in this age of the internet and younger generations that are very often caught in their screen reality, to get out into that third dimension.