Saturday, June 27, 2009

Kim Stanley Robinson, The Wild Coast

It turns out that Kim Stanley Robinson has a schtick, an MO, a standard procedure: his novels end at a convenient mid-point, rather than at the end of the action or the thinking. I felt that with Icehenge, and I definitely felt it with The Wild Coast. Whereas the former novel occurs on Mars and Pluto (among other non-Terran sites), this one occurs on Earth, specifically in northern California. Whereas the former deals with the outcome of humanity's mostly successful overcoming of nationalisms, the latter is consumed by their failure.

In other words, lots of differences, but I was still annoyed with where he decided to quit writing. It's an aesthetic decision, certainly, and the implication is of course that we've got work to do before the world becomes A Better Place, but still. Finish the damned story, man.

On the other hand, I really like how he so effectively buries very large issues. In Icehenge, humans live several hundred years now. In The Wild Coast, the US has been bombed almost out of existence. These points matter a great deal, but he doesn't bother explaining either one in much detail. We just have to figure it out, and I can respect that -- it shows some respect for the audience, and for that reason I'm OK with being annoyed at his endings. I won't keep working through the KSR oeuvre, but I'm content with what I've seen of it so far.

Plot summary: we spend our time with members of a small village in California, some sixty-three years after an enormous but mostly unexplained bombing campaign against the US succeeded in nearly obliterating the nation. The UN appears to be allowing nations to patrol the costs, bombing all attempts to recover, but there's no real reason given for this, or indeed much clarity about quite what's going on. The story is that of a young man trying to become an actual man, and what role he may grow into with his community. The novel is interested in the idea of story itself, and how communities exist as the manifestations of their own stories. Plenty of action, with some romance (PG-rated) and violence (ditto), but it felt like a teen novel rather than an adult science fiction work.

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