Kim Stanley Robinson’s Pacific Edge

I read/skimmed Kim Stanley Robinson’s Pacific Edge, one of the “Three Californias” trilogy.  I don’t know if these were written before or after Red Mars, his most famous book, but Pacific Edge deals with a favorite theme, nature and human’s role in shaping it.  We “terraform” even on earth.  Unfortunately, the story didn’t resonate with me, even though I feel very comfortable with the characters (I spent several years in Davis, and have hiked many of the places he describes).  But Robinson desperately wants his writing to convey an intensity of feeling about everything, from softball to morning dew.  The writing just isn’t up to the task; maybe a perennial problem with writing about Americana.  The emotions of the characters all seem somewhat childish.  Nobody really seems like an adult.  The female characters are particularly under-developed, and the main character Kevin doesn’t really have much character development.  The epiphany comes in love-making with the “girl of his dreams”, which I find a very implausible Hollywood-style trope.  All in all the story just isn’t very interesting.  The drowning at sea in a shipwreck of one of the main characters is truly a strange plot device.  Robinson I guess means the underwhelming plot to be deliberate: the small-town development battle of 2065, over whether to build a lovely semi-industrial plant at the top of a small hill, in a sense is a small deal, but thousands of small deals like that later we are at sprawling Orange County working for giant corporations and pretty soon, The Matrix down the line.  I get it.  Doesn’t make good literature though.

Lots of other reviews (many echoing my own thoughts) are on Goodreads.  Would be a nice book to inspire undergraduates to debate what a semi-realistic alternative to growth oriented corporate capitalism would look like.  Lots of interesting points for debate, in that sense, so gotta give Robinson credit for that.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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