The Lucky Strike by Kim Stanley RobinsonThe Lucky Strike by Kim Stanley Robinson

The Lucky Strike collects a short story and an essay about alternate history by Kim Stanley Robinson. At the end, readers are treated to an interview with the author. It is part of a larger series of publications that highlight “outspoken authors.”

“The Lucky Strike,” the short story, is an alternate history about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In this world, however, Frank January chooses to drop the bomb early so as to minimize human casualties. He hopes that the Japanese will surrender when they realize the destructive power of atomic bombs.

It is difficult to discuss the text without spoilers, so what follows is full of them:

Begin highlighting here to read the spoiler:  When Frank returns home, he is court-martialed and ultimately executed. His stand inspires a league of activists. The history of this world continues to deviate from our own until all of the nuclear weapons are destroyed. [end spoiler]

When I finished “The Lucky Strike,” I found the ending a little too easy, like a sad fairy tale. In the essay that follows, “A Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions,” we learn more about what follows in Frank January’s world, and it’s not necessarily as rosy as one might expect. If this story is meant to bend minds, it only succeeds when combined with the essay. History is a complex thing, and if an author changes just one detail in the initial conditions, who knows how the course of history will change? All of us are participants in history, and our decisions potentially have just as much power as Frank’s.

My favorite part of The Lucky Strike was the final interview, which is conducted by Terry Bisson and entitled “A Real Joy to be Had.” Bisson casts a wide net, asking about hiking, Robinson’s career, and poetry. Perhaps the most interesting sections of the interview touch on Robinson’s political observations. Robinson argues:

anyone can do a dystopia these days just by making a collage of newspaper headlines, but utopias are hard, and important, because we need to imagine what it might be like if we did things well enough to say to our kids, we did our best, this is about as good as it was when it was handed to us, take care of it and do better.

Robinson’s novels often explore utopia as an ecological system rather than a political system isolated from the environment. When Bisson asks about climate change, Robinson suggests that the world is now caught between science and capitalism, concluding that “science is now a leftism, and thank God; but capitalism is very very strong.” I suppose these sections are not for everyone, but I found it interesting to see Robinson’s ideas expressed in conversation rather than fiction.

The Lucky Strike is a neat little book, and readers new to Robinson’s ideas would certainly get a sense of what his novels explore by reading this short story, essay, and interview. Given that Robinson’s novels are so long, this book may indeed be useful as a primer, as it’s just over one hundred pages. I nevertheless came to The Lucky Strike after having read several of Robinson’s novels and don’t regret it.


  • Ryan Skardal

    RYAN SKARDAL, on our staff from September 2010 to November 2018, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.