Monday, November 20, 2006

Book: The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson

The last Kim Stanley Robinson book I tried to read was The Years of Rice and Salt, which I couldn't finish. In the same Amazon order as the post below, I grabbed The Wild Shore, a post-apocalyptic tale by Robinson, and couldn't put it down.

Part of a triptych (trilogy) of similar books about three vastly different futures for Orange County, California, The Wild Shore takes place in an America about fifty years after a nuclear attack destroyed major cities. Bombs were detonated from ground-level, inside trucks and buildings, so the devastation isn't as complete as it could have been if they were launched from ICBMs, but it was still complete enough. The UN has decided that the United States should be cut off from the rest of the world for 100 years as punishment for its imperialism (at least, that's the explanation given in the book, but the narrator does show that there is a good reason to question whether or not that's true.) So anyone who tries to leave, is killed by one of the battleships that patrols the shore. Additionally, if any settlement makes too much progress towards reunification - such as building a railroad track - a space-based satellite destroys the structure.

A blurb on the back describes The Wild Shore as a cross between Huck Finn and Our Town, and that's as apt a description as any. The action centers around one small village of survivors, who have built a community based on fishing and agriculture. They battle with the "scavengers" who inhabit the ruins of Orange County, people who have chosen to simply live off the scraps of the old civilization rather than trying to make a new life. The book clearly comes down on the side of the farmers, and in an interesting twist for the genre, the calls to action for resistance, revolution, and reunification and rebuilding the old United States are less important than the personal lessons the main character learns as he instead grows up in his village and his decisions and perspectives start influencing the lives of those around him, for better or worse.

The Wild Shore is not a rollicking action-adventure, but it's a hell of a read regardless. It's an interesting contrast to David Brin's The Postman, which released about the same time (early 1980s) and embraced the spirit of reclamation and reunification rather than the spirit of community and family that The Wild Shore ultimately concerns itself with. Amazon sells The Wild Shore too.

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