Last night’s blog post was superceded by the sudden need to buy a new washing machine. The repair guy who came out—who got paid even though he didn’t do anything—said 17 years was old for a washer and it would cost more to repair than to buy a new one. One could argue this but he seemed sure of himself and since he was from an independent appliance repair shop and not affiliated with a place that sells appliances, it was easier to throw in the proverbial towel. The new machine gets delivered on Saturday and will be immediately busy doing two week’s worth of laundry.
Washing machines breaking down is not something anyone in Kim Stanley Robinson’s book The Wild Shore had to worry about. Given that the United States was pretty much destroyed by nuclear bombs, they have other concerns.
It is 2047 and the small settlement of Onofre (used to be San Onofre on the southern California coast where there is a nuclear power plant right next to the freeway—I got to take a “tour” there when I was a kid!—that we always laughed at and called the “Dolly Patron Memorial” when we’d drive back and forth between San Diego and Los Angeles—apologies to Ms. Parton for that one I was a kid and din’t know any better). Life is not easy but it has been 60 years since 2000 neutron bombs were detonated in cities across the United States and people are picking up the pieces.
Our narrator is Henry who is 17 and has only heard stories about what the world used to be liked. Gradually as the book progresses, we learn that it was probably the Russians who attacked and the U.S. is currently under quarantine per the United Nations. The Japanese are supposed to patrolling the west coast and keeping an eye on things. But some of the Japanese patrols can be bribed to allow tourists to come ashore and gawk and scavenge.
Life goes on as usual in Onfore until one day some men from San Diego show up. They have managed to repair railroad tracks from San Diego to just south of Onofre and want to continue the tracks up the coast. They use handcars to travel up and down the tracks. They also want to recruit the people of Onofre into the “resistance” to fight the Japanese and unite with other resistance groups across the country to—er—make America great again.
Just like in his book Aurora, we have a small community that ends up being divided with one of the groups deciding to take matters into their own hands. Robinson is keen on the dynamics and motivations of individuals and how that affects the broader community. Once the crisis that results is resolved, Robinson does not go for simplicity; everything is not all better, life does not go on exactly as before. There are consequences and the community is changed by it.
The Wild Shore was published in 1984 during the height of the Cold War and probably seemed like a terrifying possibility. While nuclear war is still possible, the Cold War is over and we have moved on to other concerns and dominating fears. Still, it was a good book and an all too realistic look into an alternate future.
Robinson tends to have a slow wind-up to the climax and when everything is ratcheted up and can’t possibly get any more tense, he lets it go and—whoosh!—hold on to your seat. Suddenly characters I didn’t care about that much made me worried and concerned and my daily commute seemed too short because I wanted to keep reading. There is no moral to the story and much is left up in the air, but it turned out to be a fun read.
The Wild Shore is the first book of the Three Californias triptych in which Robinson imagines various future possibilities. The next one is The Gold Coast about development gone mad. I will definitely get around to reading it after I spend time with a few other stories first.