I am currently just shy of halfway through Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Wild Shore. It is the first book of a trilogy called “Three Californias.” Each book is set in a not so very distant future California. They are not one story told across three books but separate stories told with different future Californias. The Wild Shore takes place in 2047 many years after a nuclear attack but not so long after that there aren’t a few people alive who remember what life was like “before.” The second book, The Gold Coast, takes place in 2027 in a California that is nothing but endless sprawl. And the third book, Pacific Edge, is set in 2065 in a California that has become a kind of eco-utopia. Rumor has it that this third book features bicycles crowding the freeways instead of cars. I often dream of cycling down the freeway, and it is for that reason alone that I have embarked on this trilogy. There are stranger reasons for choosing books to read, right?
The Wild Shore is not my first Robinson book. That honor belongs to Aurora, one I read last year. I liked that book quite a bit but found the writing itself rather dull and while not pedantic, certainly leaning in that direction. But the story and all its implications and the questions it raised were so interesting to me I kept reading.
Now I am well into The Wild Shore I understand that is simply how Robinson writes. It is his style if you can call it that. There is no flare, no real variation in tone, no soaring language or verbal surprises and flights of fancy. Nothing but pedestrian prose. It’s good, solid prose, clear and workman-like. It’s the kind of prose you long for in an instruction manual or textbook but never get. It is not the kind of prose you expect in a novel.
Yet Robinson is a hugely successful author. And I keep reading the book. I have thought a few times that I could not possibly go on reading this prose. But then Robinson will drop an interesting detail, an intriguing tidbit and I have to keep reading. The prose itself might be unremarkable but Robinson knows how to tell a good story, knows how to make me want to keep reading in spite of everything.
It is kind of a weird thing; on the one hand being bored by the writing but on the other enjoying the story and wanting to know what will happen. Are there any authors you read that are like this? They are terrible at one thing but you keep reading because of another thing?