Saturday, January 31, 2015

Pacific Edge (Three Californias Trilogy, Vol. 3) by Kim Stanley Robinson (1988)

Volume 3* in the Three Californias series takes place in the year 2065 and shows us what life is like in the small town of El Modena, California, mainly through the eyes of Kevin, a young contractor
who also is making his first steps into local politics.  It also describes a sort of utopian world where people have seemingly taken the necessary actions to address environmental concerns: for example, everyone gets around by bike; while cars are only used occasionally for longer distances and then they are rented (so no one owns their own cars).  Homes are built with all kinds of environmentally sound technologies and people do not live by themselves in individual family homes; they co-habitate with a group of people so they can share cooking, chores and child care, and everyone contributes to doing work in the community, like helping to fix roads.  Exercise and team sports (softball) have become the most important way people spend their free time, and they have even developed a two-person pedal-powered airplane that can be rented for leisure.

However utopian the world of El Modena might seem, there are some things in human nature that never change.  Greed, for one.  One of the major themes of the book is the precarious water supply, which has become a major political issue in California cities and towns.  Also, because corporations have been forced to limit their size by law, there is still rampant fraud that enables them to be larger in a gray zone that is not apparent to the authorities.  One of Kevin's major battles as a new member of the town council is to fight the mayor's bid to develop a commercial zone on one of the town's last undeveloped natural hilltops.  As he investigates the issue, he finds there are ulterior motives to the mayor's plans.

Jealousy and heartache are another thing that a utopia does not seem to be able to fix.  Kevin's rivalry with the mayor is not just political; they are also fighting for the same woman, and so the narrative includes a love story as well.

Through Kevin's struggles and daily life, the author gives us a detailed picture of what he imagines life could be like in 2065; through vignettes of "the past" of one of the characters in 2012, we get glimpses of how he imagines the world got there and some of his "predictions" ring eerily true: for example, the way people are screened for HIV when entering the US and put into quarantine camps if they test positive in 2012 in the book is a spooky parallel to the Ebola screening and subsequent quarantine of numerous people coming out of Ebola-affected countries right now.  It is fascinating to read an author's projections, made in 1988, some of the shifts that he thought were going to take place in the next 30 years.

Excellent summary of the book here.

*My library only holds volumes 1 and 3 in this trilogy and volume 2 seems difficult to find on web bookstores, so I will have to be content with missing the middle of this trilogy.  Luckily it doesn't make a difference as far as being able to follow the story line is concerned; the three volumes are each three separate stories.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Wild Shore (Book 1, Three Californias Triology) by Kim Stanley Robinson (1984)

This was a random discovery on the library shelf, and turned out to be very intriguing.  Written in 1984, this book tells the story of a community of nuclear war survivors in the year 2047 on the Pacific Coast in California.  The book is part of a trilogy, where each book imagines an alternate future for Orange County, where the author grew up.

In this first installment, we learn about the small community of San Onofre and how they have managed to survive and rebuild following a nuclear attack on the United States in the late 1980's.  Through the narrator, Henry, we slowly become aware of the situation in the outside world, and how it might affect the relatively isolated and hardworking group of people in San Onofre, and the peaceful way of life they've been able to establish.

Henry is a young man, and this novel is also the narrative of his coming-of-age, and how he grapples with responsibility and comes to terms with the consequences of his and others' actions.

I always enjoy reading imaginations of what the future might look like, and so enjoyed this novel, as the author's ideas of what life in 2047 could be were well thought out and sometimes sobering to contemplate.

Detailed Wiki page on this book here.