Monday, January 3, 2011

1990 Campbell – PACIFIC EDGE by Kim Stanley Robinson

I'm going to have a lot of chances to talk about Robinson as we go forward, but he is one of the reasons that I'm doing this project, and I want to mention his first award-winning novel, especially since it represents that rarest of sf genres: the utopia. Pacific Edge is the third in Robinson’s Three Californias trilogy, in which he presents three possible futures for the LA basin. The Wild Shore depicts a post-apocalyptic subsistence society, The Gold Coast shows us a highway-obsessed cyberpunk world, and Pacific Edge examines an ecologically-oriented society.

In 2065, America has splintered and ecological crisis has fostered new pro-environment attitudes and an emphasis on local control and democracy – basically the precepts of social ecology which guide the Green Party, an important force in the novel. The reason that utopias are fairly rare (and good utopia novels even rarer) is that it’s difficult to set up the conflict necessary to drive a narrative. Pacific Edge, for this reason, does feel a bit relaxed. The narrative turns on a love triangle between the protagonist Kevin Claiborne, his friend Alfredo Blair, and a woman named Ramona Sanchez. Kevin spends his days reshaping the very un-ecofriendly geography of Orange County to fit the values of the new bike-riding, wind-powered utopian society. He eventually gets into a political conflict with Alfredo over real estate development… okay, the stakes aren’t too high here, but it does work as a personal story, and it does add a tinge of drama to a novel that is mostly about describing a better way of living.

I love Robinson because he really focuses on the intersections of history, ecology, and geography – topics that are close to my own heart and at the center of my work. Those concerns do add something to the Three Californias, which would otherwise threaten to be a bit generic. Pacific Edge is the most laid-back and slowest of the three, but it’s also the most original concept. Don’t expect a roller-coaster ride, but it’s a well-written, character-oriented novel that does depict a really admirable world well. Robinson also plays some games with intertextuality in the novels, as they bleed over into each other through storytelling. It’s not Robinson’s best work, but they’re worth checking out if you do like his work and are interested in these genres.

Grade: B

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