Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Kim Stanley Robinson's Three Californias (California Troika)

While Kim Stanley Robinson's Three Californias occupy differing universes, there still are some interesting links drawing them together.   A brief reminder:  Wild Shore (WS) is the post-holocaust novel about life in what was once Orange County; The Gold Coast (GC) tells of life in a Orange County which has become completely covered over with expressways, condos, and shopping malls; and Pacific Edge (PE) relates of life in a world that takes the future of humanity, the environment, and our fellow creature into account.

All three novels open with a similar event or adventure, depending upon the novel--digging up the past.  In WS, Henry and his friends engage in a midnight raid on a graveyard located in one of the mostly deserted urban areas in the vicinity.  They are looking for the silver trimmings (silver is especially valuable as a trade item at the swap meets) from the caskets.  The problem is that these are considered to be their property by the scavengers who live there and have been known to kill trespassers.  They find that the silver trimmings are not really silver and barely escape the scavengers who have come across them..

The past again  becomes important in GC for Jim has persuaded his friends to dig up a parking lot which has paved over an old school, according to maps that Jim has found. He hopes to find a souvenir of that past time before the auto took over the county.   In this case, the police take a dim view of the destruction of the parking lot and Jim and his friends barely escape them.  One of his friends does manage to escape with a piece of  wood.

In PE, Kevin and others in his town are engaged in town work.  All residents must donate ten hours a week to doing work needed by the town, which has very few employees, part of the new legislation setting maximum levels of number of employees.  Aside from this which is a distinct break from our world, is another even more startling:  all governments must obey the same rules. They are busy digging up an old part of the town and putting aside for future use all the items made of metal with copper wiring and actually anything that can be reused.

Digging up the past is obviously an important element in all three novels, but this serves a different purpose in each.  In WS it's for  something that could be valuable as a bargaining/trading item,  in GC, it's for a souvenir of the long ago dead past, while in PE, it's for recyclable items.

A second link uniting the three is the main character's love life, and the course is unfortunately consistent across the three universes.  Henry, in WS, falls in love with the sexy daughter of a man who lives on the outskirts of the tiny settlement.  He is viewed with suspicion by the others for he seems to have considerable wealth, but from where no one can say.  It's a short brief but passionate affair (at least on Henry's side) that ends when Henry discovers the truth behind her sudden passion for him.

In GC,  Jim has a short, brief passionate affair with a woman who has just broken up with her boyfriend, or perhaps he has dumped her.  In any case, Jim is the lucky recipient of her affection, for a short time, that is.

Kevin, in PE, has been going with a woman for several years now, but it's clearly not going anywhere, and he's losing interest.  Then he discovers that his long ago secret love has broken up with her boyfriend after living together for more than a decade.  He finds that she suddenly discovers him, and he is ecstatic, until the sad end.  He then decides that his old girlfriend is his true love but soon learns that in the interim she has found a new boyfriend.

The path of true love does not run smoothly, regardless of the universe.

The third link is the supposed author of the works, two of which are written by the main character in each work--Henry in WS and Jim in GC. In both cases we are shown just when Henry and Jim get the idea to write down their experiences of the past months which were highly significant for them, their families, and friends.  We also hear from the author of PE, but the identify of that person is not clear.  The authorial intrusions soon make it difficult to see him as Kevin.  They live in two different universes.  Comments made by the author also suggest that this is a work of  fiction, and not autobiographical in any way.  Perhaps this is Robinson's way of suggesting that this world could never exist.  Sadly, I have to agree with Robinson that a post holocaust world is far more likely than a world that comes to realize that sheer greed and exploitation must be at least controlled, for eliminating greed and exploitation is impossible.

The last and most intriguing link is also the most direct.  In each of the three novels, there is an old man called Tom.  In WS, he is called Tom Barnard, and he is one of the few survivors from the pre-holocaust world.  He is a valuable member of the small community, for his memories of the past are highly useful.  Moreover, he is a teacher who conducts a school for the young people in the community.  Literacy among the people of his community may be his greatest contribution.  He is also a myth maker, not only telling about the pre-holocaust days but exaggerating the accomplishments of the Old Americans.  For example, Shakespeare was an American.  At one point, he becomes seriously ill and the entire community is concerned.  Existence without Tom Barnard would be unthinkable.

In PE, the old man is also called Tom Barnard.  He also lives on the outskirts of the community but is isolated from the community.  This is his choice.  He had been closely involved in the legislation that created the world as it is today in PE, and he now appears to be taking Voltaire's admonition to "tend to your own garden" quite seriously.  He is Kevin's grandfather, and Kevin attempts to get him involved in the struggle to defeat Alfredo's plans.  Tom's experience and knowledge would be very useful to those opposing Alfredo.

We find a very different situation in GC.  The old man is Jim's uncle.  I can't find any mention of him other than Uncle Tom, so I have no idea of what his last name is.  He is in a nursing home, with moments of lucidness and times of confusion;   He is mostly ignored by Jim, and by society in general, a too typical situation for many older people in our society as well.  Jim has to be nagged at by his parents to visit him once in a while.  On one visit, Tom is lucid and Jim finally realizes, much too late, that Tom has a storehouse of memories of the way Orange County was before progress took over.

In WS, the post-holocaust novel,  and PE, the fantasy universe that has gone green, Tom is a valued member of the community with close ties to both Henry and Kevin.  In GC, the universe that is closest to ours, Tom, for the most part,  is ignored by Jim and of no value to society.

Highly Recommended (naturally)

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