Pacific Edge (Three Californias Triptych)

Pacific Edge (Three Californias Triptych)

author: Kim Stanley Robinson

name: Steev

average rating: 3.87

book published: 1990

rating: 2

read at: 2010/05/09

date added: 2010/05/11

shelves: novels, own-it

Of this book my judgment is mixed: the author is exploring something I think we need more of: visualizing a near-future where humanity actually gets its shit together and starts fixing some seriously broken stuff, like our abuse of nature and the out-of-control power of corporate capitalism.

But sadly, as with many science-fiction writers, the prose is sort of low-quality. Well, I'll say medium-quality. I started out reading SF exclusively as a kid, but I guess when you get used to reading top-notch contemporary literature like Lethem, BolaƱo, Eggers, Vonnegut, etc, and then come back to SF, it can be disappointing. SF addresses some important subject matter but really skilled authors in the genre are few and far between... and the thing about that is that Robinson is considered one of the betters ones!

I actually found myself skimming and flipping through big stretches of this novel because they were so bad and uninteresting to me. A lot of the story revolves around a love triangle between the main character, Kevin, Ramona, and the man Ramona's been partners with for many years, Alfredo. Alfredo and Ramona break up and then Kevin moves in, and the author blows many many words describing the bliss Kevin feels when he's successful at getting it on with Ramona, and how it's his first real love ever, etc etc. It's so bad that it reads like a Harlequin Romance! I don't mind a little character driven storyline, but I'm mostly interested in the future vision here, Kim, please spare us!

Sadly, I also find his sort of overexplanatory omniscient style to be a little annoying. The viewpoint switches from one character (always one of the "good" ones) to another fluidly, which is good, but you have to sit and watch each person think through all the back story and personal history that they know in order to get up to speed. I guess the other thing is that maybe as a filmmaker and someone who's been reading s lot of scripts and thinking about "show don't tell" I am less and less interested in that kind of story. And if you're going to stick us inside somebody's head, make that head unique and interesting, maybe a little unreliable, maybe profoundly different from the last head we were just in! ok? Also, most of Robinson's male characters are thinly-veiled horndogs who spend a lot of time noticing the shiny skin and muscled legs of the women they're crushing out on in this way that the author thinks is subtle but isn't really. "Insert gradually rising romantic tension here"... sigh.

Finally, even the future vision that drew me to this book was ultimately disappointing. Part of this can be forgiven by the fact that the book was published way back in 1988, before the dire situation with climate change and peak oil was really understood. Robinson actually alludes to these issues but for the most part the change he posits has mostly to do with limiting the size of corporations and limiting the incomes of individuals. These legal changes were made sometime about a generation before the events of the book take place, but there are still some rogue companies that are trying to grow bigger than they're supposed to, and some people trying to get richer than is legal.

The environment is nodded to, and there's plenty of bike riding. But there are still cars, mostly used via car-share type arrangements, and there are still genetic engineering companies, and high-tech materials companies, and they're getting ready to divert water down a huge aquaduct from the Columbia River in order to provide for the entire West now that the Colorado River isn't enough. It's typical sci-fi crap where horrid technological solutions are posited to solve the horrid problems created by the last round of technology, and people's lifestyles are somewhat more "green" but everyone still talks comfortably over video phones and travels the world in computerized super sailing ships and re-roofs their hip homes with wacky wonder-substances like "cloud gel"...

I just don't buy it anymore. The future won't look like that, not in 2065 as this book says, and not even in 2025. If we're to save the planet and humanity, the change must be much more profound. Maybe, if we're lucky, we'll still have books and bikes, but we won't be diverting the Columbia or designing heart valves. Hopefully.