2027: Southern California is a developer's dream gone mad, an endless sprawl of condos, freeways, and malls. Jim McPherson, the affluent son of a defense contractor, is a young man lost in a world of fast cars, casual sex, and designer drugs. But his descent into the shadowy underground of industrial terrorism brings him into a shattering confrontation with his family, his goals, and his ideals.
The Gold Coast is the second novel in Robinson's Three Californias trilogy.
Kim Stanley Robinson is an American science fiction writer, probably best known for his award-winning Mars trilogy.
His work delves into ecological and sociological themes regularly, and many of his novels appear to be the direct result of his own scientific fascinations, such as the 15 years of research and lifelong fascination with Mars which culminated in his most famous work. He has, due to his fascination with Mars, become a member of the Mars Society.
Robinson's work has been labeled by reviewers as "literary science fiction".
so very familiar, close to the surface, lived in. the emotional life of robinson's characters are too close for comfort. more than anything it reminds me of dark early mornings after a show at kpft with big jesus trash can winding out the over caffeinated state of affairs by driving around the 610 loop in houston, windows open, music blaring, at the speed of progress, these concrete ribbons beneath the wheels, racing towards dawn while the city lights shined on crazy diamonds, and streams of pale smoke were snatched from inside the racing car. it makes me long for the mist cloaked cascadian mountains on the olympic peninsula, hiking out of their evergreen shrouded paths to a set of hot springs above a racing river; my teenage self mourning the terror that the yellow dinosaurs of construction sites leave behind, the scars of ripped scourged earth, as remains of their work.
The dystopia that is oh so nearly true. Late stage-capitalism inhabited with unhappy people stuck in late childhood. 'Friends' with angst, 'Breaking Bad' with more fun. This is what happens when you have "let it rip" capitalism hooked on military spending and development for development's sake.
KSR (Kim Stanley Robinson) engages the reader with a story that eventually picks up more narrative energy in the second half of the book as Jim's (the main character) world starts to seriously unravel. Jim has charismatic, hedonistic friends with an unlimited drug supply in a time of uninhibited sex. Sounds like paradise except that few have a real job and those that do are crushed by it.
The theme that KSR often comes back to is how the land affects the people and the people affect the land is a very big part of this novel. A sense of place is something I appreciate more and more in all the stories that I watch and read. The OC (Orange County) is alternately viewed in awe or disgust or pity. It is always there though, not quite a protagonist but an entity with a past and a present.
The California trilogy might be KSR’s most autobiographical work – at least the setting is, as he moved to Orange County when he was 2. Stan was 34 when he wrote it, and it is very much a book about saying goodbye to late adolescence – the extended period of drugs, booze and parties, being twentysomething before settling down.
I’m not sure how much of an epicure KSR is or was, but Jim McPherson, the main character, is an idealist – something he shares with his inventor. McPherson teaches languages for a living, and KSR taught freshman composition. McPherson is also a struggling writer, writing poetry and history, trying to come to grips with postmodernism, something I’m sure Robinson had to do as well under the auspices of his PhD mentor Frederic Jameson – a giant of pomo literary criticism.
In an excellent 2012 interview in the LA Review of Books, Robinson confirmed the partly autobiographical nature of The Gold Coast, implies his father was a military engineer too, and even goes as far to call it “the story of that time and place, Orange County in the 1970s, in a way I don’t think any other novel has.”
Not cyberpunk or dystopian in the strictest senses of either term - but only by a matter of degree. It’s not about corporate assassins and cybernetic ninja. It’s a story about a near-future Orange County and a few guys who have been friends since high school: a part-time teacher and amateur historian/failed poet, a paramedic, a real-estate developer, a surfer who lives largely off the grid, and an illegal drug designer. The book is also about the history of Orange County and Southern California – and that of the American military-industrial complex/aerospace industry (via one character’s father who is involved in the development of attack drones and space-based missile defense systems as well as a subplot involving anti-war activists’ attacks on weapons-development facilities). This book came out slightly before the final collapse of the Soviet Union, so, although the characters live in a generally wealthy and privileged culture, the shadow of the Cold War (and the potential of WWIII) and American military involvement (including the draft) across the globe (Burma, Indonesia, Bahrain, Thailand, Pakistan, Turkey, etc.) hangs over them. The technology is also interesting mix: recreational psychotropic drugs with highly specific effects are common and taken via eye dropper. Most people have home video cameras and multiple large-screen playback in most rooms, but the images are still recorded on magnetic tape cassettes. Police wear infrared sensors that allow them to track suspects’ footprints. Electric cars are the norm, computer-guided on tracks with drivers simply punching in their destinations. But the world is still one that is very close to our own. Making allowances for events that occurred between 1988 and the present, it’s still a very believable future.
The Gold Coast is book two in KSR's triptych. This story is set in 2027 and Orange County is totally developed, full of shopping malls, sprawling industrial development, massive residential buildings and the autopia - multi-level electric/magnetic roads (built in the "roaring 20s") filled with programmable self-driving cars. It is a concrete jungle. This book was published in 1988 so KSR is projecting technology and world events out ~40 years, some predictions he gets pretty close and some not so much.
Our Californians are still recording things on CDs and video tape, and there isn't a cell phone to be found. Standard old telephones are still in use, so if you don't want to talk to that annoying friends just leave the phone off the hook like we used to. Houses have video walls which serve as computer screens and television screens, very interesting. Young folks take designer drugs via eyedropper and record their sexual encounters for later viewing. The world is an extension of 1988 in that Russia and the US are still in a cold war, and the development of weapons systems similar to Reagan's "Star Wars" is one of the main topics of this novel.
The narrative switches back and forth between Jim McPherson, a disgruntled twenty-something wannabe author who works part-time as an English teacher and spends a lot of time running with the same group of friends, and his dad Dennis McPherson who is an engineer for a major defense contractor which is trying to land the government contract for an advanced Star Wars weapons system. Sprinkled throughout the book, KSR tells of the past and future (1988 to 2027) history of Orange County and how it became the overdeveloped, overpopulated mess that the novel is set in.
In Dennis' timeline we learn all about what life is like at a defense contractor, how bidding and negotiation with the Department of Defense is handled, details about future weapon design, and how Dennis and his company are hoping to put an end to the cold war once and for all. Concurrently, we see the other side of the coin in Jim's timeline as he and his friends are anti-war and are looking for ways to take down companies like the ones his dad works at. Dennis and Jim aren't close and don't see eye to eye during the course of the novel, but their separate plots converge somewhat at the end.
Just like in The Wild Shore there is a very old man named Tom with memories of the past, and in this novel he happens to be Jim's grandpa.
I thought this novel came together nicely at the end, in a similar way the first novel of this triptych did. I liked it but not as much as The Wild Shore - 3.5 stars.
This book is a good example of what we might say differentiates speculative fiction from science fiction. The novel takes place in the 2020s in Orange County, California. Apart from the future setting, however, it is basically a mainstream novel about empty people leading empty lives in a society without values. What small futuristic touches Robinson adds to this - increased population density, cars that drive on tracks in the road like slot cars, laser defense systems - are mostly there as background. Robinson writes of what to him would have been Orange County forty years in the future as if it is mostly the same as Orange County in the 1980s, just more intensely so. Thus, it is interesting to compare his imagined future with our world now. In his imagined future, the cold war is still going on, there are still video cassettes and cds as the major means of getting entertainment, people still use telephone answering machines. There is no widespread use of cell phones, and there is no internet. Reading the book now makes it even more like a mainstream novel than it was at the time. I kept sensing Don DeLillo as an inspiration for the style and subject. That might not be the case, but it is the "vibe" that I kept getting. Robinson writes very well. He has a knack for getting inside his characters and showing us what they feel. I was put off, though, by what seems to me to be too many repetitious scenes of drug-infused parties. I also find Jim McPherson's wimpy self-destructiveness annoying more than anything else. So, my quibbles about this book are not with how Robinson writes, because he is very good at what he does, but with the subjects of that writing.
second read - 2009 October 11 - **** I first read all three of Kim Stanley Robinson's Orange County novels as they came out, which was spread out over a few years in the 1980s. In the past two months, I re-read all three of them, and still like them quite a bit. They are related to each other, not sequentially, but as three alternate futures for the same Orange County (extensive suburban area of Los Angeles). The first time I read them, I was not aware of the extent to which subtle geographic references, a few plot events, and one character, were re-used in different ways in each. But watching for that now just added to my interest. They can be read stand-alone, or in any order. They are - The Wild Shore - a post-apocalypse novel set in a world where the US was nuclear bombed, and then quarantined by the rest of the world for 100 years. A first-person narrative, and coming of age story. The Gold Cost - a future of overdevelopment and overpopulation where some individuals try to find meaning in their lives. A dystopia. Pacific Edge - a future where deliberate population reduction and choice of sustainable lifestyles has led to a technological but low key network of villages in Orange County. A utopia, but still with human drama.
One of the 3 wonderful books in this triptych. They can be read in any order and don't have to all be read, but it's so worth the time. Robinson shows the possible future of southern California (coast around northern San Diego county and southern Orange county) in 3 very different scenarios, all plausible and all very interesting.
Διάβασα τη Χρυσή Ακτή το 2011. Η γραφή του Robinson είναι εντυπωσιακή και, κάτι πολύ σημαντικό για συγγραφέα Spec Fic, δε σε αφήνει λεπτό να αμφιβάλεις ότι δεν ξέρει για τί μιλάει.
Πολυεπίπεδο βιβλίο, "σκληρή" ΕΦ που δεν το δείχνει πουθενά και που δε σταματάει στιγμή να είναι ανθρωποκεντρική. Η κοινωνία που περιγράφεται τόσο όμορφα μέσα από την οικογένεια ΜακΦέρσον (ο πατέρας μηχανικός σε εταιρεία αμυντικών συστημάτων, ο γιος παιδί της χαμένης γενιάς μιας Αμερικής που στηρίζεται στον πόλεμο για να αποφύγει τη χρεωκοπία και ακτιβιστής κατά της Αμυντικής Βιομηχανίας) και η εταιρική διαπλοκή με τις περίπλοκες ίντριγκες που όμως αρκεί ένας απλός άνθρωπος για να χαλάσει. Αν το βρείτε σε κανένα βιβλιοπωλείο τσιμπίστε το, είναι πολύ παλιό (από τα πρώτα που έβγαλε νομίζω το Οξύ) και αξίζει την ανάγνωση.
Robinson's writing style has changed quite a bit since the 80s, but one thing hasn't changed, his concern about the environment, and capitalism.
In this future version of California, things are dark and nihilistic, which seems appropriate for a book written in the mid 80s. It's set in 2027, about 10 years from the writing of this review. We're locked in an endless arms with the Soviet Union, mired in endless little police actions in Vietnam-like countries (Indonesia in this case.) It's a world where Orange County, California has basically been paved over, with endless freeways reaching ever higher into the sky, a world of endless flyover ramps and shopping malls.
Kind of funny to look back and see what he got right and wrong. We don't quite have self-driving cars yet, but there's a restless sense of unsease that permeates the book that I think you can see today, even before the most recent election.
The characters here really remind me of the ones from A Scanner Darkly, and that makes sense, because Robinson was probably still working on or had recently done his thesis on Dick when he was writing this. They are aimless, driftless, driving around going nowhere in their cars, taking drugs and having an endless, pointless party.
Most of the book is pretty slow compared to Robinson's later work (if you can believe that) and the prose is much less poetic, the poetry is there but it's separated off into occasional stanzas. This is a super deep cut of Robinson's work, but I still think very much relevant today.
great! i liked this book is being prescient an interesting thing for speculative fic? it's definitely cool lol crazy setting, 2027 orange county, just endless freeways, sprawl, condos, malls, freeways... KSR is unmatched in world-building!! the eyedropper drugs ("lidding") and video-wall sex were cool details
KSR sets up a kind of revolution vs. reform (??) contrast with jim and his dad dennis, jim is a slacker poet who gets pulled into sabotaging defense aerospace contractors, dennis WORKS for a defense contractor! dennis designs defense systems that he thinks will end the cold war/neutralize the thread of nuclear weapons/eventually deter war altogether. i like that KSR draws a fairly ambivalent conclusion about all of this lol none of the characters (jim, tashi, abe, sandy, humphrey) had distinctive voices and i think that's why it was hard for me to focus for a lot of chapters in this book i wish this book was shorter but KSR's ability to write long technical paragraphs also impresses me, there's one page where he goes in-depth describing the RFP process issued by the air force, and since i read a lot of RFPs for work i was like... Hahaha... cool...
Writing about a speculative future is always risky. In the real time of 1984, some scoffed at George Orwell's predictions but I often think about that book. Like Old Testament people we still need our prophets.
The Gold Coast is Kim Stanley Robinson's second novel as well as the second book in his trilogy set in Orange County, CA. As in the first, The Wild Shore, he features a gang of young adults leaning towards a meaningful adulthood, desiring change while making egregious mistakes. This time he sets his story in 2027!
He got quite a bit right about the future of a desert land watered and engineered into a society jam packed with freeways, cars that are programmed to run on electrified tracks, endless malls and high rise condos and the industry that powers all of it.
Amidst what feels like an unending party of casual sex and every drug you could think of, Jim McPherson emerges from his gang of young men and their "allies" (means girlfriends or wives) as a thoughtful, aspiring writer who wants to uncover the history of Orange County while engaging in destructive acts to counter the Military Industrial Complex's presence.
As he did in The Wild Shore, his first book and in The Ministry For the Future, his latest, the author alternates between madly paced adventure and what I call his "teaching moments." The mixture might not please everyone but I don't mind.
What I admire is the author's preoccupations with a more meaningful (dare I say hopeful?) approach to how the earth affects the people and the people affect the earth. It is a preoccupation I share.
I liked this one less than the first book in the series. The first was the post-apocalyptic version of the story, while this was the “capitalism run amok” take. Like the first book, the protagonist is Jim, a young man finding his way in an uncertain world. There is a lot of time put into the description of the defense industry in which Jim’s father works. There is also quite a bit of discussion of the partially fictional deterioration of Orange County from a literal orange growing region to a conglomeration of malls and condos.
One of the interesting aspects of these books is that they were written in 1995, so reading/listening almost 30 years later, some of the author’s ideas about how technology would develop are anachronistic. One idea that freeways all have tracks - a type of mag-lev system I think - so private vehicles are still used, but they are controlled by “car brains” and programming in your destination. It seems like the concept of the cell-phone didn’t make it into the story, and “answering machines” are still a thing.
Drug users drip designer drugs into their eyes instead of shooting up. And “video” including “tapes” are also still around. In one scene, Jim takes all his sex tapes up to the freeway track and destroys them by putting them in the path of upcoming traffic. Technology evolved but he extent of digital technology we now have isn’t predicted.
Anyway, I was a bit bored by all the defense industry talk, and didn’t really need a lecture on how the shopping mall evolved…
Obviously, when an author is writing about the near future (this book was written in the 80s and takes place in the 2030s), one takes the technology and social trends of the day and moves them forward. Unfortunately for Robinson, he got a lot wrong in this book. The Cold War is still a thing, people still use landlines and video cassettes exclusively, and people listen to music on CDs. There is no internet, no cell phones.
But it isn't just prognostication that make this book merely "ok." Generally, I felt like Robinson didn't know what to do. There are threads that never pay off in later chapters and chapters that leave you wondering why you just read what you had.
This is the second book I read from this Three Californias Triptych series by this author. I should have read the cover a bit better to understand that it does not follow book one but it is an alternative history in relation to book one.
reading a sf book that was written in 1988 and takes place in 2027, today (mid 2022) is kind of lame.
The technology part is far from a good prediction and in order for such a book to be good it should either have an interesting plot or amazing sociological insight or well formed characters……anything.
This book had nothing, basically a stream of words.
Writing this review, a few days after I finished it, and I practically don’t remember what it was about and how it finished.
This is the least fun of the "Three Californias" trilogy, probably because its the one that's the least "sci-fi" of the lot... Here American consumerist culture, suburban sprawl, military-industrial complex, and the Cold War just keep on chugging on thru to 2027... Not much different than the Southern California I spent my own wayward youth in. The weirdest thing for me about this book was how seemingly impossible some technological developments are to predict... There are so many moments when some character can't get a hold of someone because they aren't home to pick up the phone, and they have to leave a message on their answering machine! I mean, KSR even has people having car phones, and this was written in the late 1980s... Could people not see ubiquitous cell phones were on their way? Makes me wonder what soon-to-be-universal tech I'm not aware of. Anyways, sci-fi isn't for predicting the future, but for reflecting the anxieties of the moment it was written in, and "The Gold Coast" definitely does that. Reccomended if you want to complete the trilogy and compare and contrast KSR's visions of the future of Southern California, but both the other novels are quite superior.
I enjoyed this book, but it lacked a little of the tightness of KSR's later work. I waffled between giving it 3 or 4 stars, but I settled on 3 because it didn't pull me in quite as much as the first book in the Three Californias series.
Had touches of “Snow Crash” to it, deeply set in ennui of being written in the 80’s, a love letter to what’s good & bad about OC & SoCal.
“And it’s true, isn’t it? Jim has despised the ruling forces in America for as long as he has been aware of them; but he’s never done anything about it, except a complaint. His efforts have all gone to creating an aesthetic life, one concentrating on the past. King of the culturevultures.” P.41
“... maneuver Tashi on to the surfboard surrogate surrogate and urge him to ride some video waves for them, which she does with a perfect stoned grace, unaware of anything but the video wave, a pipeline beauty 20 feet tall and stretching off into eternity.” P.53
“He lives here, but is infinitely further away. The utopia is of the pastor always a little sad.” P.64
“Back to work, fuming at Humphrey, at his job, at the greedy and stupid government, from the local board of supervisors up to Congress and his foul administration. Shift over, three more hours sacrificed to the great money god. He’s on the wheel of economic birth and death, and running like a rat in it. He shuts down and prepares to leave. Scheduled for dinner at the folks tonight--“ P.71
“Kids are cruel,” Jim says. “And they stay that way! They stay that way.” Coppery bitterness burrs Tom‘s voice. “The nurse’s here O’s and Q’s. O’s have the mouths hanging open. Q’s have a mouths hanging open with their tongue stuck out. Funny, eh? “He shakes his head. “People are cruel.” P.74
“He feels sad. There was a place here, once. And a person, with a whole life. Now hanging on pass all sense. This awful condo Mundo Dash a jail for the old, a kind of concentration camp! It really is depressing. He’s got to come by more often. Tom needs the company. And he’s a historical resource, he really is. But tracking up 5, Jim begins to forget about this. The truth is, the overall experience is just too unpleasant for him. He can’t stand it. And so he forgets his visits there, and avoids the place.” P.77
“And then when the houses were built, fences put up, roads all in – well – it was a different place. Then it wasn’t so much fun. But by then we weren’t kids anymore either, and we didn’t care.” P.79
“There’s a kind of religious rapture in feeling this movement: as the universe is an interlocking network of wave motions, hitting the stride of this particular wave seems to click him into the universal rhythm. Nothing but gravitational affects, slinging him along. Tuning fork buzzing, after a tap of God‘s fingernail.” P.94
“Here he lives in one of the most densely populated places in the world, and all he hast to do was swim 100 yards offshore and he’s in a pure wilderness, the city nothing but a peculiar backdrop. Wildlife refuge, and him the wildlife. Not only that, but the tide is going out and the waves are getting hollower and Holloway, little 4 foot tubes tossed into existence for the five seconds necessary to stall back into them, so that he can clip along in a spinning a blue cylinder that provides swirling floor walls and roof, with a waterfall fringe at the open end, leading back out into the world. Might as well be in a different dimension when you’re in the tube, it is such a wonderful feeling. Tubed, man! How tubular!” P.95
“If the highest response to the universe is an ecstatic melding with it, and surfing is the best way to spend your time. Nothing else but you in such a vibrant contact with the rhythm and balance of the cosmic pulse. No wonder the Godlike detachment afterwards. And the scene from advantage, Lyon flaked on the beach looks lame indeed. Mines turned off, or turned to trivia (their selves). Surfing calls for so much more grace, commitment, attention.” P.97
“His home is part of his larger theory, which goes like cell: the less you are plugged into the machine, unless it controls you. Money is a great plug, of course: need money, need a job. Since most jobs are part of the machine, it follows that you should lead a life with no need for money. No easy task, of course, but one can approximate, do what is possible. The roof is a fine solution to the major money problem...” P.98
“He chops away at the whole side of the car, looks up to see the hundred cars passing slowly, vampire eyes feasting on the site.” P. 119
“As he walks to his car Jim marvels over it. And tracking home he wonders if everyone is, perhaps, unaware of the principal aspect of their personality, which looms too large for them to see. Yeah, it’s probably true. And if so, then what part of his own character doesn’t he see? What aspect of him do Tash and Abe giggle over, behind his back or even right in front of him, because he doesn’t even realize it’s there to be made fun of? It comes to him in a flash: he’s got no sense of humor at all! Hmm. Is that right? Well, it certainly is true that he has about the same amount of wit as a refrigerator. His carbrain would be quicker with repartée, if it only had a speaker.” P.152
“All their lives used up and meeting deadlines for these proposals. And for five out of every six of them it’s work wasted. Nothing gained out of that work, nothing made from it. Nothing made from it, Mac. Whole careers. Whole lives.” P.221
“He tries to imagine the amount of human suffering contained in 137 generations, the disappointments, illnesses, deaths. Generation after generation into dust. With the myriad joys: how many festivals, parties, weddings, love trysts, in this little city-state? How often had someone set on the snow through a moony nights, watching clouds scud by and thinking about the world? Oh, it makes him shiver to think of it! It’s a hillt with spirits, and they’re all inside him.” P.237
“But then the professor gets out “To Autumn” by John Keats, and reads it out loud. Oh. Well. Take your poem and eat it. In fact scratch that topic entirely, it’s been done before to perfection. Well fine! Ain’t no such topic an OC anyway! The trouble is that if you start that process you quickly find that every topic in the world goes out the window the same way. It’s either been covered to the max by the great writers of the past, or else it doesn’t exist in OC. Usually both.” P.260
“If he did something like that, if he made that his orienting point, then all his books, his culture vulture in, his obsession with the past – all that could be put to use. He recalls Walter Jackson Bate’s beautiful biography of Samuel Johnson, the point in it where Bate speaks of Johnson’s ultimate test for literature, the most important question: can it be turned to use? When you read a book, go back out into the world: can it be turned to use? How did it get that way? Well, it’s a starting point. A Newport freeway. You can get anywhere from the Newport freeway....” P.261
“There isn’t much to say. The whole neighborhood is still. The street light overhead flickers. Street, gutter, curb, grass, sidewalk, grass, driveways, houses, they’re all flickering too, leech of color by the mercury vapor‘s blue glow: a gray world, flickering a little. It’s strange: like holding watch for some mysterious organization, or performing a new ritual that they don’t fully understand. So strange, Lucy thinks, but things life lead you into doing.” P.304
“They smoke a while in silence. Jim takes a deep breath: he’s used to the Bernard’s Saddleback house becoming a brooding, Byronic place, overhanging the world; but it appears Abe can confer the atmosphere wherever he goes, if his immense nervous energy is spinning him in the right away, in the right mood. So that Jim’s streetcorner curb under its sodium vapor light now swirls with heraldic significance, it looks like an Edward Hopper painting, the bungalow aps lined out side-by-side, the minilawns, empty sidewalks, fire hydrant, orange glare of light, giant pylons in the great strip of freeway banding the white-orange sky – all external signs of a dark, deep moodiness.” P.318
“But Tom doesn’t hear, he’s off in a dark Santa Ana wind, muttering to himself, to his childhood friends, trying to recall the name of that carol, trying to keep the candles lit.” P.339
“The junk of the past, the memories strange to try this. Why should he remember what he does? And does any of it matter? In a world where the majority of all the people born will starve over be killed and wars, after living degraded lives and cardboard checks, like animals, like rats struggling our two hour, meal to meal – do his middle-class suburban orange county memories matter at all? Should they matter?” P.347
“How could he have guessed that sabotaging the sabotage would get Sandy in such trouble? Not to mention Arthur! And what, in the end, did he and Arthur accomplish? Were they resisting the system, or only part of it? He wonders if anything can ever be done purely or simply. Apparently not. Every action takes place in such a network of circumstances.... How to decide what to do? How to know how to act?” P.379
Started slow, but picked up as it moved along. Robinson creates an interesting vision of an Orange County, California, obsessed with not only a narcissistic view of itself, but obsessed with continued intensification of development. This is a world, much like the novel 1984, by George Orwell, where there is constant war, and in The Gold Coast the Department of Defense and the weapons industry play an important role in both the world at large, and in Orange County.
The action centers around Jim, a young man who is "lost" in the classic "finding ones self" sense of the word. Life in The Gold Coast's Orange County is shallow, to say the least. Jim's friends party every night and are constantly "lidding" (most drugs are taken by drops into the eyes), and the only way the young can apparently feel satisfied during sex is by watching themselves go at it on video screens, while they are actually partaking in the act. Robinson paints a picture of a world that has no further purpose than to constantly try to build upon what already exists; buildings are built on top of each other; highways are layered and erupt into the sky; pleasures are constantly experienced; and everyone and everything is devoid of meaning and as the story progresses the main character begin to sense that something is amiss in their lives and begin to peek at the plastic facade that is their life.
I enjoyed the first book of the Three Californias Trilogy, The Wild Shore, more. Robinson's writing in this book takes some getting used to - I wouldn't say it's bad writing, but his style is often dry and truncated. Nevertheless, he presents and interesting image of a potential, and scary future.
This is the first book I've read in the Three Californias trilogy.
The story follows Jim McPherson, a writing instructor in his late twenties living in a futuristic Orange County. Jim is what we now would call a failson - he's downwardly mobile, perpetually fighting with his defense industry father, and his love of history and literature put him at odds with his STEM-obsessed society. He spends his free time partying and doing drugs with his tightly knit tribe of male friends and is completely clueless about women and romance. (I related to his character quite a bit). Without offering up too many spoilers, this is a bildungsroman in which Jim's continued dialogue with his great uncle, an ailing former public defender, and an encounter with an anti-war activist change his dissolute way of life and lead him to live with more purpose and action. There's also the prominent side story of Jim's father, Dennis, as he navigates the politics of the defense industry.
So far this is my favorite book of the trilogy, mainly because the California depicted in the Gold Coast feels more or less like the one that exists today, with its crushing traffic, hedonism, and cripplingly high cost of living (of Jim's three best friends, one lives in a fancy luxury apartment, one in an illegal squat, and one with his parents - sounds like the Bay Area today!) I was also sort of amused by the very 80's view of the future present (the Cold War is still going on - the book was written when it was assumed that the Soviet Union would exist indefinitely).
In my estimation "The Gold Coast," (second book in Robinson's California Trilogy) is not as as good a book as its predecessor, "The Wild Shore."
While I understand that the novel's setting is a major element of the novel, I found that Robinson's digressions into the history frequently derailed the narrative. When subtly woven into the story (as in Wild Shore), the background material lends a certain richness, but in this case, Robinson injects several chapters worth of history. This comes across as clunky and took me out of the story each time.
The story of a young man and his friends and family in the sprawling, dystopian California of the future, the novel explores universal themes like the need to find meaning in a highly corporatized consumer culture, and the impact of ever-expanding military budgets on society. While this cultural examination is interesting at thoughtful at times, at other times it came across as emotionally flat. I didn't get the emotional fire from the author that I expected.
Kim is too good!! The greatest compliment I can give is that his writing is THOUGHTFUL! He writes for those who live, who pay attention to their environment, the details. He makes you ask more by showing how to come up with questions. He has the Steinbeck discipline of starting from the ground up, every time. In tight, efficient writing he nails science, nails politics, nails characters, nails sense of place. Just nails it. Why aren't kids required to read books like THIS in school??? I haven't read the 3rd California book but I'm sure that Gold Coast is the best. It's head and shoulders above the first one, which was charming for sure. Kim, please read this comment and let ME be the guy who writes your retrospective! I have deep precise observations and questions about every book by Robinson I've read, and I think there is a certain class of writer who writes to have the material recognized and understood. Anyway. Another Kim classic.
Jim McPherson is unsatisfied with the future. Unable to find steady, well-paid work, Jim mostly spends his time partying and casually hooking up with random women. Jim’s family is of small comfort to him since he spends most family dinners enduring his father’s many complaints about how Jim does nothing useful. Jim does not know it, but his father, a defense contractor, is also deeply frustrated in his career, even if it does provide what appears to be a successful lifestyle to outsiders. Jim only begins to feel as though he is doing something of value when he starts protesting against militarism.
Kim Stanley Robinson’s The Gold Coast explores a dystopian future in which the American Dream has been reduced to consumerism and militarism. The Gold Coast... Read More: http://www.fantasyliterature.com/revi...
I've decided to give up on The Gold Coast in favor of reading Blockade Billy by Stephen King. The Gold Coast has been really hard for me to read. It's full of technical jargon and the characters don't really have any depth for to them. I've been struggling through it because I loved the first book (The Wild Shore). This book paints the future as a very bleak place that leaves no inch of earth uncovered by pavement or buildings. Sounds like a very horrible future to me. I also have the third book (Pacific Edge) at home waiting for me to read but I think I'm just going to take it back to the library and move on. After trying to read The Gold Coast and hating every second of it, I feel disillusioned by the author and I want to move on.
This book was very disappointing after reading the first book in the series. It lacked the focus and clear plot lines of the first book, and felt like an aimless series of events not all that tied together. Even by the end of the book where all the loose ends do get tied together, it still feels unsatisfying and as if a lot of the story details had nothing whatsoever to do with the plot or even the important characters. I just did not find this that enjoyable.
Ah, to me this is a deep thought experiment that failed. I could almost identify with the characters but it did not quite work even though many similarities occurred between my own life and the ones in this historical simulation of the near future. Perhaps if I had read this before reading 'wild shores' I l have been able to connect with the characters. I kept expecting the neutron bombs to go off but maybe that is in an alternate future....
Maybe a 3.5. I think this may have been a bit more successful than the first in this series. The story lines were woven well together. It was maybe a better novel than a science fiction novel. California and the main characters being a young group of friends are really the only links in the books in this "triptych". Robinson is good at characters and good at presenting the realities and consequences of certain technological advances. But it's always jarring to read science fiction which is set slightly in our future but there are significant things missed. The information/computer revolution never really happens in this world and the cold war/Soviet Union are going strong. You can't fault a science fiction writer, writing in the eighties, for missing the fall of the Soviet Union (though perestroika was happening when he was writing this) or not realizing about smartphones. Regardless, it's hard to ignore how different things have actually gone. But this still works as a novel, and the themes of environmental degradation and rampant corporatization are relevant. The setting, the social commentary, and the little historical asides, were reminiscent to me of Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath . I like Robinson's writing; I'm looking forward to reading the third book in this set, and seeing his overall picture for the series.
I'm a huge fan of KSR's more recent stuff, and a recent reading of one of his early short stories that I loved (The Lucky Strike) inspired me to look at some of his earliest novels. This is one of his three envisionings of a future for Orange County. In this one he thought up a world dominated by freeways, malls, real estate developments, and defense contractors. Sort of the world we now have, except still with CDs and rotary dial phones. And with hipsters that do all sorts of custom drugs, near continuously, by "lidding" with droppers under their eyelids (when they aren't busy having sex).
KSR has always been a go-to for idea-driven science fiction. The key conflict here is the engineer-turned-manager for a defense contractor father with his underpaid college prof turned saboteur of defense contractors son. And he's the go-to for hard SF. In this book, he took the step I've never even seen Neal Stephenson take and included equations to establish how a defense strategy worked in one of the chapters. Okay, not very hard equations, but I totally enjoyed it.
The characters were uneven. The one that was most touching was Tom--the uncle of the young college prof--near-abandoned to decay in hospice care, because California's is the culture of the young, there are way too many old, and Jim is living in a slum underneath a freeway tangle. I got a very good intellectual understanding of the characters, but the not-so-deep POV didn't really have me enmeshed in their lives.
And the ending that left nothing resolved--well, I see what KSR was saying, but it was rather depressing.
His prose is impeccable, as always. And The Monkey Wrench Gang transported into the future was a fun ride.
I will likely pick up the other two volumes of this trilogy at some point. However, if you are new to KSR, start with New York 2140. Everything he did terrifically here in this early part of his career is combined with much deeper characterizations. As a bonus, one can trace the evolution of "That Citizen" from the style of the nonfiction book the young professor was writing, presented in interstitial chapters.