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The road goes ever on and on…

Last month over at Electrolite, there were some observations about how suddenly the premise of Kim Stanley Robinson’s first novel, The Wild Shore, seemed much more likely than it had previously. From Messr. Nielsen Hayden’s colleague, Beth Meacham:

...I had a big problem with the basic premise—that the United States had been devastated, forced into economic and technological primitivity by a sudden, overwhelming, tactical nuclear attack, and was now interdicted by the rest of the world. It seemed to me to be an unbelievable premise, the kind of thing where you just had to hold your breath and jump in for the sake of the story and the writing. How could we possibly get from here (20 years ago) to there?
This weekend I read a story in the Los Angeles Times, and was overwhelmed with the sudden knowledge that I now knew the answer to my question so long ago.

I had something of a similar reaction when I read Pacific Edge, the utopian third of Robinson’s Orange County books. Don’t get me wrong, it’s on my rather promiscuous list of favorites, with one of the most heart-breakingly funny suckerpunches of a last line ever; along with Red Mars, it helps define the point on my conceptual map to which I want somehow to muddle through, some day—the lighthouse towards which I’m sailing, to borrow Woody’s father’s metaphor; the hypothetical home at the end of my personal road to utopia. —But the mechanism by which Pacific Edge’s utopia came to be was obscured—rather appropriately, perhaps (the underlying hows of it being more important to Robinson’s point than the superficial who-did-whats-to-whom), but still frustratingly; apparently, We the People finally just got fed up one day and told Them the Corporations to stop with the bullshit, already. It all seemed (not unlike Green Mars’s constitutional carnival: realpolitik as science fiction convention) to spring fully grown from the forehead of some Zeus ex machina.

Until this weekend, when I started to see the numbers come in, and was myself suddenly overwhelmed with an unexpected surge of something that’s been in rather short supply, these days. —War may seem inevitable (in a very real sense, of course it is: we’ve been at war with the Iraqis for 12 years running), but it is already providing a focal point for something unprecedented, rich and strange, something altogether larger: an object lesson for more and more people around the world of something we’ve all found too easy to forget of late—how we can get things done together that we can’t get done alone.

So just, you know. Stop with the bullshit, already. We the People are getting testy.

  1. Patrick Nielsen Hayden    Feb 17, 04:15 PM    #
    Great post. Picky correction: it's Pacific Edge, not The Pacific Edge.

    Mind you, I'm still pissed off that a bunch of British SF writers managed to mau-mau Stan into changing the title from what it was originally--and perfectly!--going to be called: The Shining Sea. "Jingoistic American patriotism!" they cried, and Stan flinched.

    I love Stan Robinson, but I have nothing polite to say about people who think "America the Beautiful" is an expression of jingosim. I have always thought this story was inexpressibly sad.

  2. sebbo    Feb 17, 04:37 PM    #
    Oh, Jesus--don't get me started on the goofiness of the utopianism of the Mars books. I was ready to throw the book across the room when the Evil Capitalist Arab repents of his incorrect thought and joins the shining peaceful future. Robinson gives lip service to the notion that the world's problems are complicated, but I don't get the impression that he actually believes it.

    Any idea why MT isn't remembering me, btw? I keep checking the little box...

  3. --k.    Feb 17, 04:42 PM    #
    Picky correction: it's Pacific Edge, not The Pacific Edge.

    So noted and corrected. And you're right: The Shining Sea is frickin' perfect. Damn.

  4. --k.    Feb 17, 06:32 PM    #
    Sebbo, miladdo: I don't know why it doesn't remember you; I have the same problem from time to time with other Movable Types, but I've yet to figure out how or why, or spend much time or energy on the subject. (Nor do I know how you snuck in before me.) But! Robinson--aiyee. Yes. It can be a problem, sometimes, which I think he at least addresses in interviews: his working definition of a utopia as being not so much a perfect place as a place better than the here and now, and himself as writing more about places to go than specific road maps as to how to get there. It's something about him I sometimes like in spite of and not because (though I need him to dream like that sometimes, God do I). After posting this, I remembered Attack International's Tintin bootleg, Breaking Free, which is hopelessly naive about much the same stuff and nonetheless absolutely vital, and which I should have at least alluded to in this thing. --So let's say I did and move on. Maybe they're both dreams, but it's the dreams I want my stuff to be made of, dammit. So there.

    I've got a friend (hey, Charles) who's referred to Robinson as "the Left's Heinlein." --Which I didn't really start to understand until I read The Years of Rice and Salt--mostly a disappointment, I'm afraid. But. You might in light of earlier comments consider that for its amusement value, if nothing else.

  5. Charles    Feb 18, 03:02 PM    #
    While I wouldn't mind claiming that as my own, I am pretty sure I never said it.

    The thing that frustrated me about Green Mars (and Blue Mars even more) was that I thought Red Mars had an admirably accurate portrayal of a failed revolution, so I was hoping for an accurate depiction of a successful revolution in the sequals.

  6. sebbo    Feb 18, 04:34 PM    #
    Reading your reply I realize that I definitely do think there's a place for the starry-eyed fable. "What if one day everyone woke up and decided to stop being such shits to each other?" That can be a beautiful and moving thought. It's because Robinson does these "I-am-including-the-intractable-difficulties-of-real-life" gestures that I found his dismissal of them in a puff of smoke so obnoxious.

    As far as I could tell, much of what the Mars trilogy was about was original sin. People are inherently good and kind, but somehow (perhaps involving a reptile and some produce) we got trapped in some unbreakable exploitation patterns. Break us out of those patterns, and our goodness will inevitably reassert itself.

    Actually, that's not the most annoying thing about the series. The most annoying thing about the series is that he kills off all his interesting || likeable characters in the first book. and spends the next two dwelling on the dull and self-pitying ones.

    Oh, and MT is remembering me now. Mebbe I was just going too long between posts.

  7. --k.    Feb 18, 06:19 PM    #
    I've got a terribly clear memory of you saying just that, Charles, re: Antarctica. But those who know me know how reliable my memory can be.

  8. Charles    Feb 18, 08:52 PM    #
    Hmm, while was very dissatisfied with Antarctica, I really have no memory of having said that. On the other hand, my memory is not what it once was, and I can no longer recite even a small fraction of the last years conversations from memory, so I can't be confident in saying that I definitely never said that.

    On the other hand, I often seem to get cited as the author of pithy insites that I never actually said, so I remain doubtful.

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