‘The High Sierra’ Review: A Zen Garden for Titans

Writer Kim Stanley Robinson is the reigning high priest of speculative science fiction, a master builder of alternative futures in his many novels, which include the award-winning Mars trilogy and “Red Moon.” His vision: sustainable colonization in which humans survive without plundering the non-human environment. Mr. Robinson is in some ways an old-fashioned naturalist, a sort of wonky, high-tech Thoreau with a dash of George Orwell thrown in. His recent novel “The Ministry for the Future” is a powerful morality play for our present moment. In that book, Mr. Robinson envisions a broad call to arms in the face of climate apocalypse, with a consortium of leaders banding together to save future civilizations from eco-calamity. He doesn’t take half measures, grounding his counter-revolutionary environmentalism in so much hard science that “The Ministry for the Future” feels like an essential how-to for the eternal health of the planet.

In “The High Sierra: A Love Story,” his first work of nonfiction, Mr. Robinson provides us with some of the key source code to his fiction: his long-standing passion for the Sierra Nevada range, and how it has transformed his life and work. “There are people who go up to California’s Sierra Nevada, fall in love with the place, and then live the rest of their lives in ways that will get them back up there as often as possible,” he writes. “I’m one of those.” Mr. Robinson’s goal for this book is to “explore various aspects of that feeling,” and he does so in chapters that display the full range of his erudition and interests. It’s hard to think of another writer who can touch upon climatology, geology, Gary Snyder, LSD, Aristotle, botany, zoology and Spinal Tap in a book about a mountain range.