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2047: for 60 years America has been quarantined after a devastating nuclear attack. For the small community of San Onofre on the West Coast, life is a matter of survival: living simply on what the sea and land can provide, preserving what knowledge and skills they can in a society without mass communications. Until the men from San Diego arrive, riding the rails on flatbed trucks and bringing news of the new American Resistance. And Hank Fletcher and his friends are drawn into an adventure that marks the end of childhood...

384 pages, Paperback

First published March 1, 1984

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About the author

Kim Stanley Robinson

231 books6,195 followers
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".

Excerpted from Wikipedia.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 300 reviews
Profile Image for Chadwick.
306 reviews4 followers
April 3, 2008
I tend to go on binges when I discover a writer I really like, taking down as many of their works as I possibly can voraciously for the first few months of my acquaintanceship with their works. Hell, I read really fast, so it's not like I don't have time. So I'm kind of in that stage with Kim Stanley Robinson.

I've read science fiction pretty regularly since I was pretty young, devouring my father's and uncles' collections indiscriminately. When I was about 14, I decided I was more interested in grown up SF, and read more of the experimental New Wavers, Dick, Delany, Sturgeon and Ellison. Later I discovered the wonder that is Gene Wolfe. They wrote better than the bulk of the hard SF writers that filled the shelves at the used bookstores I frequented, they were more "literary." But in the past year or so, I started rereading some of the authors that I had discarded before high school, and I rediscovered the wonder and joy of great imaginative storytelling. This lead me somehow to the works of Kim Stanley Robinson.

I should say first that Robinson is a stylist of the first order, and the texture of his prose is a beautiful thing. The characters he creates are rich and believable. And I think that that is sort of the miracle of the Mars trilogy, as well as the promise of the Three Californias: these are novels of Big Ideas, for sure, but the narrative is never sacrificed for the sake of lumbering speculative exposition. Sure, the Mars books regularly feature capsule lectures about the possible effects of terraforming on Martian weather patterns, or the psychological effects of long interplanetary voyages, but they feel perfectly balanced by the furtherance of the rich tapestry of narrative and character development.

Such digressions do not make up the fabric of The Wild Shore. It's a tightly constructed, fairly simple narrative set on the West Coast after the United States has been largely destroyed by a nuclear assault. This is a very well traveled sf conceit, but the simple, narrative-oriented approach makes it much different from Alas, Babylon or A Canticle for Leibowitz. The focus here is not so much survivalist porn or the extrapolation of how society would crawl out of the ruins, although both themes are present. It focuses more on how normal people balance the necessities of survival with the dream of a return to an almost mythical lost civilization. In Robinson's scenario, America was destroyed in a terrorist-style attack by an unknown enemy, and there was no time for retribution. The rest of the world, mediated by the UN has elected to quarantine the United States, rather than escalate into war over who controls the blasted territory.

America exists for the postbellum characters in this novel only through fragmented reading and the stories of a handful of survivors, crystallized in the character of Tom Barnard, who is the memory of the fishing village of San Onofre and the teacher to its youth. He has tried to instill a knowledge of the past in the young people of the village so that the ideas of civilization and learning don't vanish in the slide back into primitive subsistence-based existence. This creates a sense of having had something stolen from them from them in the younger characters, and after making a trip south to the relatively-civilized metropolis of San Diego, it ignites the hope that they might be able to strike back at their oppressors. This leads to predictably tragic consequences.

The Three Californias is not a trilogy in the traditional SF sense. Rather than each novel moving forward in time, each novel covers the same period in a different possible future, with characters and themes recurring. In The Wild Shore Robinson plays with mirror structures that indicate the approach of the books to come. This is really a minor detail, but I think that it's good to note that with Robinson, the book doesn't end with the pages. His writing is the sort that bleeds into the rest of our realities, and that's really the best kind, isn't it?
Profile Image for Beth Cato.
Author 107 books488 followers
April 10, 2012
In the year 2047, humanity struggles to survive in the ruins of coastal California. Almost 50 years before, nuclear blasts decimated thousands of cities across the United States. However, this is the only world teenaged Henry knows: a world revolving around harvests, fishing, the howl of the Santa Ana, and the danger of wild-eyed scavengers in Orange County. His ancient mentor, Tom, taught him how to read and of the way things used to be. Henry's world shifts when strangers from the outside arrive. San Diego seeks to unite the coastal communities by handcar rail, even as outside forces bomb their efforts. Henry must decide where his future lies.[return][return]This was a fascinating coming-of-age tale. It's not a suspenseful read. It builds slowly, and shows how people have scraped by. I loved the details on fishing and harvest time, and all of the characters felt real and complicated. Some people might find the detailed world building to be dull, but in some ways, it reminded me of a childhood favorite, The Other Side of the Mountain, or a pioneer book. Those details made their hardship feel genuine to me.[return][return]This apparently is part of a trilogy called The Three Californas. I'm a little disappointed that the other books cover different interpretations of the future Orange County and won't continue this post-apocalyptic setting. However, as a native Californian, I adore speculative fiction set in the state, and I will read the next books at some point.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,655 reviews274 followers
October 4, 2022
Earlier this year I read this author's most recent novel, The Ministry For the Future. I liked it so much, I decided to read all his books, having not read any of them before.

The Wild Shore is his debut and the first of a trilogy: Three Californias. Each book in the trilogy imagines a different future for my home state. This one takes place after a limited nuclear war has left the United States blockaded and fragmented.

A small community south of San Clemente is eking out an existence by farming and fishing between the foothills of the mountains there and the Pacific coast.

It is an adventure tale featuring a 15 year old boy and his friends who want to break out of the community and discover what might be going on in the rest of the former United States. I found the voice of Kim Stanley Robinson I had become acquainted with in Ministry For the Future. A younger voice for sure but his underlying ideas about how human beings can work together to create life during adversity and his perceptions about the natural world are all there.

The author clearly draws on earlier sci fi authors such as Philip K Dick and Ursula Le Guin, as well as Mark Twain's boys. The coming of age of his teenage characters has elements I found in the first Earth Sea story by Le Guin. But I also enjoyed a political and social consciousness that felt well formed and informed.

I look forward to the rest of his books.
Profile Image for Glee.
624 reviews16 followers
March 25, 2009
I had already read his Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars) and had liked them but had trouble at times with his didactic style/approach, even when I agreed with his point of view (which I don't always).

However, this book was his first novel and I really liked it. It has a simplicity but is as powerful as anything else he has done. It is an interesting post-apocalyptic coming of age story about a group of teenagers and an old man who are part of a small fishing community eking out a subsistence living after America has been nuked. It was written in 1984 and has eerie resonance for events to come that have actually happened -- e.g. 9/11 and climate change for a couple of strong examples. If you like science fiction, I believe that you will like this book. Even if you don't as a general rule, his prose is very elegant and even poetic. It compares well with anything Cormac McCarthy has written, and while dark, he doesn't have the unrelenting grimness that overwhelmed me in reading McCarthy's The Road.
Profile Image for Oleksandr Zholud.
1,051 reviews100 followers
October 8, 2022
This is a SF post-apoc novel of an unusual kind. There is a nuclear attack in the past that devastated the USA, but the book’s present is not a usual struggle of survival with mutants, radiation sickness and new glory, but a life in a rural post-war community. This is the debut novel by Kim Stanley Robinson (KSM), but the story is quite solid, even if much less SF-ish than his x. I read it as a part of monthly reading for October 2022 at Hugo & Nebula Awards: Best Novels group. The book was nominated for Nebula in 1985 but lost to much more famous Neuromancer, which largely defined the cyberpunk genre – in this case, the KSM’s debut, which deals in alt-history (the nuclear holocaust there occurred in 1984, the time of writing) can be seen as a possible untaken way for the US SF of the 80s.

The year is 2047. The story starts with a narrator, Henry Fletcher, age 17, together with a group of folks of a similar age, discussing a graverobbing in order to get some silver, for they were told that long ago, before the nuclear attack, all rich people had silver handles for their coffins and silver is a unit of exchange once again. It quickly shifts from words to actions and soon they dig up a coffin only to find out that the handles are plastic painted silver, i.e. worthless. Angry, they go to a very old guy, who lived before the attack and likes to tell about the glorious past of the USA. He laughs at them and then tells that

“The really rich ones were buried in gold,” he said slowly, looking down at the steam rising from his cup. “One of them had a gold mask, carved to look just like him, put over his dead face. In his burial chamber were gold statues of his wife, and dogs, and kids—he had on gold shoes, too, and little mosaic pictures of the important events of his life, made of precious stones, surrounding him on each wall of the chamber.…”
Giving us, readers an indicator of the truthfulness of his stories. And quite a few of the younger generation (but not Henry) doubt the truth of his stories, especially such fantastic ones as the men walking on the Moon. They all live in a small village near the Pacific Ocean, working in fields, fishing, and trading with scavengers, who still loot destroyed cities. Life is hard but peaceful, at least until a group of men comes from San Diego by a secret railroad, for some power shots railroad bridges from the sky. And the mayor of San Diego wants to make America great again, to make it what it was before the war, the best nation on Earth, a slogan that reminds current readers of Donald J. Trump, but actually coined by the presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan. (it is also mentioned in Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler).

Just like in his later works, KSM here gives a lot of attention to possible environmental changes (much more than to nuclear fallout) and to American imperialism. Definitely a strong debut, but I much prefer his Mars trilogy.

Profile Image for Bart.
376 reviews85 followers
June 1, 2020

Information is key in the novel. Just like the readers, the characters are in the dark about what happened. They are also in the dark about what is happening, for Robinson shows glimpses of a bigger narrative in world politics in the aftermath of the attack – but characters nor readers get to know its true extent. It is a clever narrative device, maximizing the reader’s empathy with the characters: we share uncertainty and frustration about it. It is especially clever because – like the readers – the characters do know about what once was: trains, electricity, hospitals, national pride, and general literacy.

Robinson isn’t showy, and he doses the post-apocalyptic horror extremely sparsely, at the right times, with supreme command – so much that most of the time you even forget you’re reading a post-apocalyptic story at all.

Just as Hank doesn’t have a grip on what happens, he doesn’t have a grip on what he himself is doing. He doesn’t know whether his actions are the right ones, and moral information doesn’t come cheap. The obligatory old man in the story – Tom – seems to have a better grip on things. He’s the only character that survived from the olden days, but ultimately confesses to be a fool too, like anyone. Robinson leaves it to the reader: how much in control are we really, and how is history formed?


Full review on Weighing A Pig Doesn't Fatten It
Profile Image for Ric.
390 reviews39 followers
January 30, 2021
This book was among the set of SF first novels published by Ace Books in 1984-85 which included William Gibson's Neuromancer, Lucius Shepard's Green Eyes and Michael Swanwick's In the Drift, all of which I have read except for this first novel by KSR. Why I held off on The Wild Shore until now I attribute to bad optics. The other books seemed much sexier somehow. The omission is now gladly corrected and after reading this novel, I realize that The Wild Shore, aligned with KSR's other books, is the most passionate and poignant.

KSR's SF books are unique in that they are SF told from the perspective of the people who live it. These are stories of character and experience, adventure and contemplation. The SF elements remain strong but are not the focus of the novels, rather they provide the backdrop for a story about life and human endeavors.

In The Wild Shore, we are given an alternate history in which the United Stated was massively nuked in the 1990s, some 60 years earlier. The survivors find scrabbly subsistence in the few green areas available, in this case, southern California. The story is told through the eyes of a youth named Hank and his mentor Tom. Tom was a youth of 18 himself when the bombs exploded and is sort of a tribal elder among the sixty or so residents of the San Onofre Valley. Hank exemplifies the hardy youth who does dawn-to-dusk labor to fish, harvest and hunt for the valley residents. From the south, a hand-driven train comes one day, running on dilapidated tracks, and its rider/drivers bring news of a small city in San Diego that is actively resisting incursions of outside nations, particularly Japan. America apparently is under an interdiction that keeps it in a primitive, non-technological state and isolated from the rest of the unscathed world. Through this setting, the narrative wends touching on the tough life of the remaining inhabitants, the angry passions against foreigners, the wild indiscretions of its youth, all the while showing glimpses of the rest of this strange SFnal world. But like many of KSR's books, this does not dwell on the devastation or suffering of its characters but rather on their perseverance and innate hope for a better future.

Highly recommended for mature readers.
Profile Image for Masha Toit.
Author 14 books38 followers
August 22, 2011
The Wild Shore it one of the best books I've read in years. Fantastic story, compelling characters, interesting issues, vivid writing - I just loved it.

It is set in America "after the bombing". The United States is no more. America has suffered a severe nuclear attack. Millions died in the initial attack, and millions more in the aftermath, struggling to survive in the new pre-industrial world. Getting food by growing and hunting it, avoiding the "scavengers" - the people who live from the looted ruins and hunt one another.

What is more, the outside world is actively preventing any kind of reconstruction, using their space age technology to destroy any attempts to build up an industrialised civilisation.

About sixty years after the bombing seventeen year old Henry is living in a coastal farming community. He has a rather strange view of history, learnt from old Tom, one of the only people who still remember the "old times" before the bombs. This is a combination of truth and tall tales, and in fact, this is a strong theme in the book - the importance of story telling and the need for "lies".

Henry has to make some hard choices when he meets outsiders urging him to join the "resistance", a group people who vow to fight the outside worlds attempts to "keep America down". He learns about betrayal and regret, and what it means to be an adult in a harsh world.

The setting of this story is just awesome. Trees growing on the abandoned highways, crumbling sky-scrapers, flooded cities. Kim Stanley Robinson always loves to dwell on the detail, and its never just "description". The landscape is as important to the plot as the action.

And apparently there are more - a whole series of "Orange County" books. Off to the library to find some more!

Profile Image for Olethros.
2,610 reviews419 followers
June 6, 2015
-Lo iniciático en lo postapocalíptico.-

Género. Ciencia-Ficción.

Lo que nos cuenta. Henry es un muchacho que, como el resto de sus amigos, divide su día entre echar una mano a sus padres en sus respectivos trabajos, divertirse en pandilla y tratar de saber más del mundo antes de la catástrofe, de la que recibe diferentes datos confusos debido al tiempo que ha pasado, y también de por qué las costas de la California en la que vive son vigiladas por barcos no identificados. Cuando averigua que en una localidad no demasiado lejana ha habido desarrollos tecnológicos, no duda en unirse al grupo que se desplaza hasta allí.

¿Quiere saber más de este libro, sin spoilers? Visite:

Profile Image for Soo.
2,598 reviews255 followers
February 5, 2022

Trilogy is Currently on Audible Plus

- Great narration by Stefan Rudnicki
- I didn't have a lot of expectations, but this story was not quite what I thought it would be. It's more of a slice of life with very odd quirks. There's a long phase where you just have to go with the story flow in order to maintain suspension of belief.
- I enjoyed the opening, but found other points of the story to be stretched too thin.
- Tom was great. Even if he was a tall tale of tales.
Profile Image for Rob.
143 reviews35 followers
March 9, 2014
A good book, engagingly written though a bit too YA for my tastes. A book in the fine American tradition of 'Huckleberry Finn'; the innocent who wises up but at a terrible cost.
A very convincing post apocalyptic world is created by Kim Stanley Robinson. It is also a very ironically prescient world (it was written in 1984) where America is defeated in some sort of conflict and severely crippled. The world imposes a quarantine which is something like the no fly zone imposed on Iraq after the first Iraq war. In this case any sign of more than nineteenth century advances politically or economically result in laser beam attacks. Not collective punishments but precise blasting of new bridges and railway tracks etc..
After the nuclear apocalypse a sort of basic, near the edge communities start to emerge along the Californian coast. The book is the story of a teenage boy in one such community.
KSR does what he does best and plays with ideas in this book. The characters with moral force in the story are against "The American Resistance". Was that terrible movie 'Red Dawn ' around about 1984? The resistance are shown as chauvinists or innocents being used by chauvinists. Many people believe that America's arrogance and pride were the cause of the WHOLE world turning against it. Many in the community simply believe the time of empty, violent gestures are past.
Is it better to live in the ruins of a magnificent hubristic civilization with dignity and peace or pine for for the past with revenge (against for whom and for what you are not sure but someone has to pay) in your heart?
One thing is for sure all civilizations fall and sometimes we are not even sure if they have fallen. Sometimes we just 'feel' something has changed sometimes an apocalypse just sweeps them away. KSR poses the real questions and gives realistic answers as to what our responses would and could be.
Profile Image for Jeff Koeppen.
530 reviews31 followers
March 27, 2021
The Wild Shore is the impressive debut novel by Kim Stanley Robinson. It is part of the Three Californias Triptych, and all titles were free on Audible last time I checked. The Wild Shore is the dystopian novel of the three. The triptych covers three possible futures for California.

Written in 1984, it's not surprising then that the dystopian setting was caused by a nuclear war. The war takes place in 1987, and the book is set in 2047. The reader is never really sure what caused the war, rumor has it that neutron bombs were detonated in vehicles in the 2,000 largest cities in the USA as a surprise attack by the rest of the world who wanted to put the US in its place. The novel is set in Orange County, California and focuses on a village of about 60 people struggling to get by. The story is told through the eyes of a young man, Hank, who, like everyone else, isn't sure what is going on in the outside world (although rumors abound). Japan has blockaded the West Coast (and other countries guard the other borders) and no one is allowed in or out of the country. The Californians have no technology and any advancements, such as railroad track repair, are met with bombs from unseen satellites. Hank's friend Tom is the oldest person in their village, supposedly over 100, and tells stories of what life was like in the modern world before the bombs.

The plot involves re-establishing contact and rail travel with their southern neighbors in San Diego, and the ongoing debate in the village whether to try to fight back against the Japanese, who occupy Catalina Island and whose boats patrol up and down the coast.

The pace of the novel is slow and steady, and the tone is melancholic, which was right up my alley and why I liked it so much. Kim Stanley Robinson can really tell a story, and the characters are really well developed in this one. I'm looking forward to reading the next two books in the triptych.

Profile Image for Tom Rowe.
1,040 reviews5 followers
September 7, 2017
Nuclear war. People survive. Stuff happens. Parts interesting. Parts uninteresting. Parts meandering.
Profile Image for Joe Stamber.
1,067 reviews3 followers
February 3, 2017
Not so much a Sci-Fi or Post Apocalyptic novel as a coming of age adventure, the story of a young man Hank in a small community struggling to survive years after the bombs went off. Life has regressed to fishing and farming, with limited contact with other communities to trade the few things any of them have to offer. Hank and his buddies dream of better times but when opportunities present themselves are they all what they seem? Written in an easy, fairly old-fashioned style (it is over 30 years old), The Wild Shore is a pleasant read that ambles along but never drags. Kim Stanley Robinson has created a complete and credible world for this tale that anyone interested in a good yarn should enjoy.
Profile Image for Reynard.
272 reviews10 followers
March 15, 2019
Un post-apocalittico solido e ben strutturato, con una ambientazione molto convincente e un'ottima caratterizzazione dei personaggi. L'ho scoperto per puro caso, mi stupisce che sia sostanzialmente sconosciuto anche agli appassionati del genere, ai quali lo consiglio senz'altro. Il mio voto: 4 stelle.
Profile Image for Katie.
369 reviews3 followers
December 1, 2020
I'm usually a big Kim Stanley Robinson fan, but this one left me kind of cold. I think if it had been novella-length I'd have been totally sold. It's an interesting concept, skillfully built world, a compelling narrator, but it just dragged! I wasn't 500-pages levels of invested in the story, so he really lost me in the second half of the book.
Profile Image for James Morpurgo.
201 reviews8 followers
January 9, 2023
My first experience with KSR and if this is an early publication I think I will really like the more recent releases.

The Wild Shore is a very different take on a post nuclear apocalypse America to what I have been used to reading and frequently goes against expectations in a good way.

I enjoyed Robinson's style and fresh ideas and wish that this story was later in his career, some of the bigger plot reveals and revelations didn't quite go far enough or feel fully developed and although the characters were mostly well written it could have been an amazing coming of age journey with a larger page count and more time to breathe.

However, always great to try new authors that I have not previously read before and no doubt I will be picking my way through the KSR back catalogue in good time...
Profile Image for Ram.
630 reviews42 followers
June 23, 2022
In the year 2047 The United states is still recovering from a devastating nuclear attack. The attack has killed a vast percentage of the population, and in addition to this, the rest of the world powers have put the U.S in a quarantine, and basically, are preventing the U.S from building itself back. Any attempt to do basic things like build bridges, trade or develop technology are answered by missile attacks by technologically superior Japanese forces. The U.S is basically living with mostly 19th century technology.

Hank Fletcher is young, still in his teens and when people from San Diego arrive to the small community of San Onofre on the West Coast, where he lives a life of survival, he is exposed to news from other parts of the country and to the existence of a resistance movement.

The concept of the book is interesting, the plot is to some extent partial and unfinished.
Profile Image for Bryan Cebulski.
Author 4 books38 followers
October 10, 2017
This book wasn't what I wanted it to be, but I think I would have found it lacking anyway. I loved Aurora and wanted another that follows the same basic template, ie a slow moving, broad-scoped hard sci-fi novel that is more about process than plot. The Wild Shore had the added bonus of loosely falling into the solarpunk genre, which I've been trying to read more of. Instead though, The Wild Shore is a relatively basic dystopia. The post-apocalyptic pastoral scenes were probably my favorite parts, but they were relatively brief and didn't get too into the nitty-gritty of life in this cataclysmic future California like Robinson did aboard the ship in Aurora.

What's more, I didn't find the dystopic vision that compelling. It was naive at best and xenophobic at worst. Perhaps it's due to the fluctuating nature of dystopia--in the 80s I'd guess the US was back in "duck and cover" mode after anti-detente Reagan came to power--but I found the idea of America as a passive agent bombed to hell without any instigation on our part to be way out of touch with the contemporary American political climate. The remembrances of America as this great and idyllic land weren't particularly nuanced either (a protagonist actually says "make America great again", which was, uh, troubling), though to be fair this is part of a larger thematic point at the end of the novel. Still, if you are going to pay as much attention to the Before Time (TM) and the Event (TM) in a dystopia as much as this one does, it better be believable, and I just didn't really buy it here. And beyond that, I just didn't find these ruminations on the past in this novel that meaningful.

I think this novel didn't really know what themes it wanted to commit to. It feels like a YA coming-of-age story in places, like a more traditionally pointed dystopia in others (almost like the narrator is about to turn to the audience and ask "What will YOU do to prevent this from happening?"). Sometimes it's about the nature and power of storytelling, the uses of facts vs fiction. Sometimes it's about rebellion, class, patriotism, survivalism. Sometimes it's about really, really hating Japanese people (and, for a brief passage, Native Americans). Sometimes it just meanders.

I'm still enjoying Kim Stanley Robinson as an author, but I definitely see that this is his first book. Might have to continue to pursue his later work instead, as it seems to be more of what I'm looking for.
Profile Image for Antonio Ippolito.
272 reviews25 followers
August 23, 2018
“La foresta di notte è un posto strano. Gli alberi diventano più grandi, e sembrano diventare vivi, come se durante il giorno si fossero addormentati o allontanati dai loro corpi, e solo di notte si animassero e vivessero, forse persino tirando su le radici e camminanndo lungo il fondovalle. Se sei lì fuori a volte riesci quasi a beccarli, con la coda dell’occhio. Naturalmente in una notte senza luna basta poco vento per immaginare cose del genere. I rami si abbassano per scompigliarti i capelli, e i suoni di acqua corrente delle foglie sono come voci fioche che chiamano in lontananza. Due buchi fanno gli occhi, un sentiero è una bocca sorridente, i rami sono braccia, le foglie mani. Facile. Eppure penso che possano essere davvero un qualche tipo di animale notturno. Sono vivi, dopo tutto (4.21)”.
Dei tre romanzi della trilogia delle “Tre Californie”, questo è quello dedicati a un’umanità ridotta a vivere in assenza di tecnologie. Anche se scritto nell’84, trent’anni prima di NY2140, molti dei temi che caratterizzeranno l’opera di KSR sono già ben sviluppati. E non parlo tanto dell’incidenza della tecnologia nella vita delle persone, quanto soprattutto della proposta di un modello sociale alternativo. Ma vediamo il romanzo.
Narrato in prima persona da Henry, adolescente appartenente alla rinata comunità della valle di San Onofre, potrebbe essere un classico dopobomba: 67 anni prima, infatti, l’inferno atomico si è abbattuto sugli USA, tramite un subdolo attentato nucleare multiplo. Qualunque sia stata la potenza atomica regista della catastrofe, non è stata punita: i responsabili militari USA non hanno voluto o potuto scatenare la rappresaglia, e le nuove Nazioni Unite mantengono gli USA sotto sorveglianza: al “nemico storico” giapponese sono state assegnate le Hawaii, e da lì la California viene tenuta sotto controllo, con attacchi mirati che distruggono ogni tentativo di costituire grandi comunità connesse da ferrovie o simili. Quando la forte e popolosa comunità di San Diego propone a San Onofre di unirsi a una resistenza anti-giapponese, la comunità è divisa: gli adulti votano contro, soprattutto le donne e gli anziani che hanno visto la guerra, ma i giovani ribollono di spirito patriottico e libertario, oltre che della voglia di sfidare i genitori..
Come si vede, KSR usa le ben collaudate tematiche del romanzo post-catastrofe per introdurre temi diversi. Il romanzo è stato scritto nell’84: può apparire una chiara presa di posizione rispetto alla politica Usa di quegli anni, caratterizzata dal riarmo reaganiano e dalla sfida all’URSS tramite le tanto propagandate (ma mai realizzate) “Guerre stellari”, che avrebbero dovuto essere qualcosa di simile ai raggi laser montati su satelliti, che nel romanzo i giapponesi usano per distruggere le ferrovie che i californiani tentano di ricostituire.
Il fascino di KSR però è che il suo “socialismo” non è tanto “politico” quanto “umano” (altrimenti sarebbe un saggista anzichè un ottimo scrittore): è calato e vissuto nella vita quotidiana delle comunità, in maniera direi anche più convincente dell’anarchia nei “Reietti dell’altro pianeta”. Il romanzo si apre con due grandi scene corali: l’ “incontro di scambio” (“swap meet”), dove le diverse comunità, compresi i detestati “spazzini” (“scavengers”) che non coltivano né allevano ma recuperano merci dalle rovine delle città rischiando la contaminazione atomica, si incontrano per una sagra di più giorni dove nascono anche amori e risse; e la corsa collettiva a mettere al riparo le coltivazioni all’arrivo di una tempesta, per poi finire tutti insieme nelle terme comuni a togliersi il fango e il freddo di dosso. Due scene corali di grande umanità e ricchezza di caratteri e relazioni umane, che fanno pensare a quadri di Bruegel. Subito dopo arriveranno i rappresentanti di San Diego: l’armonia sarà spezzata e inizierà la grande avventura del giovane protagonista, unico prescelto per accompagnare Tom, l’anziano custode della sapienza del villaggio, nel viaggio a San Diego (suscitando le invidie dei coetanei più ambiziosi).
Il romanzo è sostanzialmente un “romanzo di formazione”, con la crescita e la maturazione del protagonista Henry “Hanker”: il più riflessivo dei ragazzi della comunità, lacerato tra la lealtà verso l’amico Steve, leader dei giovani ribelli, e la fidanzata di lui Kathryn, che chiede all’amico di riportare il fidanzato al buonsenso. Indeciso e incredibilmente ingenuo, Henry crede di far contenti tutti a forza di compromessi, anche perché scottato dal tradimento della “fidanzata” Melissa; ma quando avrà luogo la tanto desiderata incursione notturna contro i giapponesi insieme a “quelli di San Diego”, si renderà conto in modo sconvolgente che la realtà della guerra, quella della politica, quella dei rapporti umani, con cui aveva creduto di giocare con disinvoltura, sono ben più complesse e tragiche. A questo si aggiungeranno altre rivelazioni: la vera vita passata di Tom, l’anziano del villaggio; le conseguenze dell’incursione notturna, che continuano a concatenarsi imprevedibili ancora mesi dopo.. tutto il “non detto” che Robinson aveva lasciato tra le righe per la maggior parte del romanzo travolge finalmente il povero protagonista, che ne uscirà trasformato.
Da notare come KSR si limiti ad accennare temi “obbligati” di questo sottogenere: i bambini nati deformi per via delle radiazioni, che devono essere soppressi, con la perplessità delle persone più religiose; i nuovi riti della comunità, come il Giorno del Nome a cui un bambino deve saper arrivare dimostrando abilità normali; temi tipici, che costituivano intere parti persino laceranti di “Un cantico per Leibowitz” oppure del “Dottor Stranamore” dickiano, qui liquidati in una riga, perché interessa la vita quotidiana della persona comune.
Robinson preferisce affrontare temi come l’ambiguità del patriottismo, che nei racconti di Tom non viene mai risolta; l’incertezza dei calcoli politici; il dovere di lealtà verso la propria comunità contrapposto all’indipendenza individuale.
KSR gioca anche con la forma del racconto nel racconto: con i libri di viaggi che scaldano l’ambizione dei giovani ma si scopriranno immaginari; e i racconti del vecchio Tom, che si riveleranno artefatti, ma con un significato.
Belli i personaggi femminili anche se adolescenti: soprattutto la forte Kathryn e l’ambigua Melissa.
Lo stile è ricco, con minuziose descrizioni di paesaggio e delle azioni, ma siamo lontani dalla polifonia e dalle digressioni di “New York 2140”; quello riportato a inizio recensione è l’attacco di uno dei pochi brani davvero lirici e introspettivi.
Profile Image for Lisa Eckstein.
509 reviews18 followers
May 14, 2015
Henry is a teenager living in a small fishing community on the southern California coast. At least, Onofre is part of a place once called California, but that name has been fairly meaningless for sixty years, since a large-scale disaster decimated the population and isolated the small groups of survivors. Henry is fascinated by the stories of his teacher Tom, still spry at over 100 years old, though he's never quite sure whether to believe the tales. When strangers arrive from San Diego, Henry and Tom have the chance to learn more about what happened to the old America and what's going on in the wider world. It's information that may change their whole way of life.

I was excited when I realized Kim Stanley Robinson had written a novel in my beloved post-apocalyptic genre, since I was blown away by his Mars trilogy. THE WILD SHORE was his first published novel, and it turns out to be a rather less accomplished work. While many aspects of the book are interesting and entertaining (there's an especially exciting action sequence near the middle), the story meanders, and a lot of things are set up that didn't really go anywhere.

This is the first book of the Three Californias trilogy, which speculates on three different possible futures, so the other installments feature entirely separate stories and characters. I do plan to read the rest, and I'll be curious to see how they compare and whether this book works better as a part of the whole.
Profile Image for Adam  McPhee.
1,239 reviews168 followers
April 20, 2017
Some teens try go all Red Dawn after a nuclear apocalypse. It's good but not Kim Stanley Robinson good. One of his early novels. The problem is that he's not really interested in the guerrilla war stuff, and I don't blame him. He signals from afar that their big raid is going to fail, and you just want to get it over with as much as KSR does, because of course the fun is in the community and all the dumb anarcho-primitivist shit they come up with to keep themselves going.

One thing I thought interesting, and that you don't see in fiction very often, is that it's a small scale nuclear war that crippled America. The Americans refused to retaliate. So while there's climate change, the rest of the world manages to carry on much as before. Except now the Japanese patrol the Pacific Coast and bomb attempts to restore American civilization.

There are two interesting stories-within-a-story. The first hints at the author he'd become, with a found book detailing the changes a nuclear war would make to the weather patterns of the rest of the planet. The second is a little bit weirder, and reminds you that he did his dissertation on the works of PKD.

The final chapter is where he starts to become the writer of his later books. It just blew me away. Shame it doesn't make up for the run of the mill novel that preceded it.
Profile Image for Tomislav.
957 reviews68 followers
August 29, 2017
second read - 2009 October 15 - ***** 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.

first read - 1984 May 2
Profile Image for Michael.
1,532 reviews5 followers
November 11, 2013
(Spoilers alert!)

Here is the premise: in 2047, America is gone. Having suffered a sneak attack at the hands of the Russians forty years earlier, America no long exists as a political entity, and has been isolated by the United Nations. On the West Coast, in a small village in what was once Orange County, a young man writes down a narrative history of his life during an eventful summer when survivors in nearby San Diego try to begin knitting California, and the United States, back together again.

I can't say that this book was depressing so much as it was resigned. By the end you realize that the dreams of this young man and his fellow teenage friends are simply not going to come true: America is finished, and the narrator realizes it. What was once will never be again.

Mr. Robinson writes imaginative and thoughtful realistic science fiction. There is a haunting quality to his work; he writes well, and you end up actually caring about what happens to his characters. In this instance, the narrator learns a very hard lesson about what war is, and about being thankful for what you have.

Well done.
Profile Image for Tim.
589 reviews
May 16, 2012
Another post apocalyptic story set on the coast of California. Well done - a small village of interesting characters pulling themselves together over the course of several decades after a nuclear war.

America's population has been decimated by fusion bombs, so radioactivity is not the major legacy, just ruin by explosions, death, and a strange coalition of nations charged to keep America from rebuilding. (Apparently Russia or some nation was able to pin the blame on the US for the conflict and other nations are coerced into keeping "her down.")

But that is all just backdrop for the flow of characters living simple hard lives, and grasping at memories and ruins of a wealthy civilization to goad them into small acts of resistance.

No flaws, interesting tale. Kim Stanley Robinson is a favorite of mine
Profile Image for Rob.
18 reviews
November 5, 2014
This is the first in the post apocalyptic "Three Californias" trilogy. This first book is a decent story about survivors of a devastated United States living off the land in a community of "Onofre" along the southern California Coast. The story is told first person through a young man torn between the pleasant and familiar farming and trading community he is part of, and the exciting unknown of a distant and growing movement by other communities to bring back the "old America". The author speaks to the reasons behind the disaster and the nature of the characters present situation, through character memories and books in this story, but never really provides a satisfactory explanation as to the reasons for what happened. This was a bit disappointing but character development is good and the premise is intriguing. I have not decided if I will read either of the other books.
Profile Image for Katherine.
1,081 reviews17 followers
August 2, 2022
I was very pleased to finally get a copy of this book, now that it's been published in ebook format, because even my local library didn't have a copy. I have been a big fan of KSR, ever since the Mars series, and when I like an author, I try to read all of their work.

I think this is KSR's earliest published work, and it's definitely much more raw than his later stuff. It's the improbable story of a US post nuclear attack, that's been quarantined from the rest of the world.

Overall it's pretty good, one of those post-apoc spec fiction pieces that was popular in the 80s and is now again popular, although the premise is dated. I'd recommend it if you're a big KSR fan like I am.
Profile Image for Gregg Kellogg.
299 reviews8 followers
January 9, 2016
Interesting, if dated, examination of an alternate Orange County. As a kid, I used to go to San Onofre with my family when my dad was a member of the surf club. Hard to imagine n ding snow-shoes to get about in the winter.
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