2047: For the small Pacific Coast community of San Onofre, life in the aftermath of a devastating nuclear attack is a matter of survival, a day-to-day struggle to stay alive. But young Hank Fletcher dreams of the world that might have been, and might yet be--and dreams of playing a crucial role in America's rebirth.
The Wild Shore is the first novel in Kim Stanley Robinson's highly-acclaimed Three Californias Trilogy.
About the Author
Kim Stanley Robinson's Three Californias trilogy -- The Gold Coast, The Wild Shore and Pacific Edge -- has been observed as "an intriguing work, one that will delight and entertain you, and, most importantly, cause you to stop and think" (The Santa Ana Register). His many other novels include Escape from Kathmandu and Green Mars -- which won the Hugo and Locus Award for Best Novel.
Read an Excerpt
The Wild Shore
By Kim Stanley Robinson
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 1984 Kim Stanley Robinson
All rights reserved.
"It wouldn't really be grave-robbing," Nicolin was explaining. "Just dig up a coffin and take the silver off the outside of it. Never open it up at all. Bury it again nice and proper — now what could be wrong with that? Those silver coffin handles are going to waste in the ground anyway."
The five of us considered it. Near sunset the cliffs at the mouth of our valley glow amber, and on the wide beach below tangles of driftwood cast shadows all the way to the sandstone boulders at the foot of the cliff. Each clump of wave-worn wood could have been a gravemarker, swamped and washed on its side, and I imagined digging under one to find what lay beneath it.
Gabby Mendez tossed a pebble out at a gliding seagull. "Just exactly how is that not graverobbing?" he demanded of Nicolin.
"It takes desecration of the body to make it graverobbing." Nicolin winked at me; I was his partner in these sorts of things. "We aren't going to do any such thing. No searching for cuff links or belt buckles, no pulling off rings or dental work, nothing of the sort!"
"Ick," said Kristen Mariani.
We were on the point of the cliff above the rivermouth — Steve Nicolin and Gabby, Kristen and Mando Costa, Del Simpson and me — all old friends, grown up together, out on our point as we so often were at the end of a day, arguing and talking and making wild plans ... that last being the specialty of Nicolin and me. Below us in the first bend of the river were the fishing boats, pulled up onto the tidal flats. It felt good to sit on the warm sand in the cool wind with my friends, watching the sun leak into the whitecaps, knowing my work for the day was done.
"Why, with that much silver we would be kings of the swap meet," Nicolin went on. "And queens," he said to Kristen. "We'd be able to buy anything there twice. Or travel up the coast if we wanted. Or across the country. Just generally do what we pleased."
And not what your father tells you to, I thought to myself. But I felt the pull of what he said, I admit it.
"How are you going to make sure that the coffin you take the trouble to dig up has got silver on it?" Gab asked, looking doubtful.
"You've heard the old man talk about funerals in the old time," Nicolin scolded. "Henry, you tell him."
"They were scared of death in an unnatural way back then," I said, like I was an authority. "So they made these huge funeral displays to distract themselves from what was really happening. Tom says a funeral might cost upward of five thousand dollars."
Steve nodded at me approvingly. "He says every coffin put down was crusted with silver."
"He says men walked on the moon, too," Gabby replied. "That don't mean I'm going to go there looking for footprints." But I had almost convinced him; he knew that Tom Barnard, who had taught us to read and write (taught Steve and Mando and me, anyway), would describe the wealth of the old time, in detail, as quick as you might say, "Tell us —"
"So we just go up the freeway into the ruins," Nicolin went on, "and find us a rich-looking tombstone in a cemetery, and there we have it."
"Tom says we shouldn't go up there," Kristen reminded us.
Nicolin tilted his head back and laughed. "That's because he's scared of it." He looked more serious. "Of course that's understandable, given what he's been through. But there's no one up there but the wreckrats, and they won't be out at night."
He had no way to be sure of that, as we had never been up there day or night; but before Gabby could call him on it, Mando squeaked, "At night?"
"Sure!" Nicolin cried.
"I hear the scavengers will eat you if they can," Kristen said.
"Is your pa going to let you leave doctoring and farming during the day?" Nicolin asked Mando. "Well, it's the same with all of us, only more so. This gang has got to do its business at night." He lowered his voice: "That's the only time to be graverobbing in a cemetery, anyway," laughing at the look on Mando's face.
"Graverobbing at the beach you can do any time of day," I said, half to myself.
"I could get the shovels," Del said.
"And I could bring a lantern," Mando said quickly, to show he wasn't scared. And suddenly we were talking a plan. I perked up and paid more attention, a bit surprised. Nicolin and I had outlined a number of schemes before: trapping a tiger in the back country, diving for sunken treasure on the concrete reef, extracting the silver contained in old railroad tracks by melting them. But most of these proposals had certain practical difficulties to them that became apparent at some time or other in the discussion, and we let them slide. They were just talk. With this particular plan, however, all we had to do was sneak up into the ruins — something we always swore we really wanted to do — and dig. So we talked about which night the scavengers were least likely to be out and about (full moon, Nicolin assured Mando, when the ghosts were visible), who we might ask to come along, who it would have to be kept secret from, how we could chop the silver handles into tradeable discs, and so forth.
Then the ocean was lapping at the red rim of the sun, and it got a good deal colder. Gabby stood up and kneaded his butt, talking about the venison supper he was going to have that night. The rest of us got up too.
"We're really going to do this one," Nicolin said intently. "And by God, I'm ready for it."
As we walked up from the point I took myself off from the rest, and followed the cliff's edge. Out on the wide beach the tidal puddles streaking the sand were a dark silver, banded with red — little models of the vast ocean surging beyond them. On the other side of me was the valley, our valley, winding up into the hills that crowded the sea. The trees of the forest blanketing the hills all waved their branches in the sunset onshore wind, and their late spring greens were tinted pollen color by the drowning sun. For miles up and down the curving reach of the coast the forest tossed, fir and spruce and pine like the hair of a living creature, and as I walked I felt the wind toss my hair too. On the ravine-creased hillsides not one sign of man could be seen (though they were there), it was nothing but trees, tall and short, redwood and torrey pine and eucalyptus, dark green hills cascading into the sea, and as I walked the amber cliff's edge I was happy. I didn't have the slightest notion that my friends and I were starting a summer that would ... change us. As I write this account of those months, deep in the harshest winter I have ever known, I have the advantage of time passed, and I can see that this excursion in search of silver was the start of it — not so much because of what happened, understand, but because of what didn't happen, because of the ways in which we were deceived. Because of what it gave us a taste for. I was hungry, you see; not just for food (that was a constant), but for a life that was more than fishing, and hoeing weeds, and checking snares. And Nicolin was hungrier than I.
But I'm getting ahead of my story. As I strolled the steep sandstone border between forest and sea, I had no premonition of what was to come, nor any heed for the warnings of the old man. I was just excited by the thought of an adventure. As I turned up the south path towards the little cabin that my pa and I shared, the smells of pine and sea salt raked the insides of my nose and made me drunk with hunger, and happily I imagined chips of silver the size of a dozen dimes. It occurred to me that my friends and I were for the very first time in our lives actually going to do what we had so often boastfully planned to do — and at the thought I felt a thrilling shiver of anticipation, I leaped from root to root in the trail: we were invading the territory of the scavengers, venturing north into the ruins of Orange County.
* * *
The night we picked to do it, fog was smoking up off the ocean and gusting onshore, under a quarter moon that gave all the white mist patches a faint glow. I waited just inside the door of our cabin, ignoring Pa's snores. I had read him to sleep an hour before, and now he lay heavily on his side, calloused fingers resting on the crease in the side of his head. Pa is lame, and simple, on account of tangling with a horse when I was young. My ma always used to read him to sleep, and when she died Pa sent me up to Tom's to carry on with my learning, saying in his slow way that it would be good for both of us. Right he was, I suppose.
I warmed my hands now and then over the gray coals of the stove fire, as I had the cabin door partway open, and it was cold. Outside, the big eucalyptus down the path blew in and out of visibility. Once I thought I saw figures standing under it; then a clammy puff of fog drifted onto the house, smelling like the rivermouth flats, and when it cleared away the tree stood alone. Except for Pa's snoring there was no sound but the quiet patter of fog dew, sliding off leaves onto our roof.
W-whooo, w-whooo. Nicolin's call startled me from a doze. It was a pretty good imitation of the big canyon owls, although the owls only called out once a year or so, so it didn't make much sense as a secret call in my opinion. It did beat a leopard's cough, however, which had been Nicolin's first choice, and which might have gotten him shot.
I slipped out the door and hurried down the path to the eucalyptus. Nicolin had Del's two shovels over his shoulders; Del and Gabby stood behind him.
"We've got to get Mando," I said.
Del and Gabby looked at each other. "Costa?" Nicolin said.
I stared at him. "He'll be waiting for us." Mando and I were younger than the other three — me by one year, Mando by three — and I sometimes felt obliged to stick up for him.
"His house is on the way anyway," Nicolin told the others. We took the river path to the bridge, crossed and hiked up the hill path leading to the Costas'.
Doc Costa's weird oildrum house looked like a little black castle out of one of Tom's books — squat as a toad, and darker than anything natural in the fog. Nicolin made his call, and pretty soon Mando came out and hustled down to us.
"You still going to do it tonight?" he asked, peering around at the mist.
"Sure," I said quickly, before the others seized on his hesitation as an excuse to leave him. "You got the lantern?"
"I forgot." He went back inside and got it. When he returned we walked back down to the old freeway and headed north.
We walked fast to warm up. The freeway was two pale ribbons in the mist, heavily cracked underfoot, black weeds in every crack. Quickly we crossed the ridge marking the north end of our valley, and narrow San Mateo Valley immediately to the north of the ridge. After that, we were walking up and down the steep hills of San Clemente. We held close together, and didn't say much. On each side of us ruins sat in the forest: walls of cement blocks, roofs held up by skeletal foundations, tangles of wire looping from tree to tree — all of it dark and still. But we knew the scavengers lived up here somewhere, and we hurried along as silently as the ghosts Del and Gab had been joking about, a mile back where they'd felt more comfy. A wet tongue of fog licked over us as the freeway dropped into a broad canyon, and we couldn't see a thing but the broken surface of the road. Creaks emerged from the dark wet silence around us, as well as an occasional flurry of dripping, as if something had brushed against leaves.
Nicolin stopped to examine an offramp curving down to the right. "This is it," he hissed. "Cemetery's at the top of this valley."
"How do you know?" Gab said in his ordinary voice, which sounded awfully loud.
"I came up here and found it," Nicolin said. "How do you think I knew?"
We followed him off the highway, pretty impressed that he had come up here alone. Even I hadn't heard about that one. Down in the forest there were more buildings than trees, almost, and they were big buildings. They were falling down every way possible; windows and doors knocked out like teeth, with shrubs and ferns growing in every hole; walls slumped; roofs piled on the ground like barrows. The fog followed us up this street, rustling things so they sounded like thousands of scurrying feet. Wires looped over poles that sometimes tilted right down to the road; we had to step over them, and none of us touched the wires.
A coyote's bark chopped the drippy silence and we all froze. Was that a coyote or a scavenger? But nothing followed it, and we took off again, more nervous than ever. The street made some awkward switchbacks at the head of the valley, and once we got up those, we were on the canyon-cut plateau that once made up the top of San Clemente. Up here were houses, big ones, all set in rows like fish out to dry, as if there had been so many people that there wasn't room to give each family a decent garden. A lot of the houses were busted and overgrown, and some were gone entirely — just floors, with pipes sticking out of them like arms sticking up out of a grave. Scavengers had lived here, and had used the houses one by one for firewood, moving on when their nest was burned; it was a practice I had heard about, but I'd never before seen the results first hand, the destruction and waste.
Nicolin stopped at a street crossing filled with a bonfire pit. "Up this one here."
We followed him north, along a street on the plateau's edge. Below us the fog was like another ocean, putting us on the beach again so to speak, with occasional white waves running up over us. The houses lining the street stopped, and a fence began, metal rails connecting stone piles. Beyond the fence the rippling plateau was studded with squared stones, sticking out of tall grass: the cemetery. We all stopped and looked. In the mist it was impossible to see where it ended. Finally we stepped over a break in the fence and walked into the thick grass.
They had lined up the graves as straight as their houses. Suddenly Nicolin faced the sky and yowled his coyote yowl, yip yip yoo-ee-oo-ee-oo-eeee, yodeling as crazily as any bush dog.
"Stop that," Gabby said, disgusted. "That's all we need is dogs howling at us."
"Or scavengers," Mando added fearfully.
Nicolin laughed. "Boys, we're standing in a silver mine, that's all." He crouched down to read a gravestone; too dark; he hopped over to another. "Look how big this one is." He put his face next to it and with the help of his fingers read it. "Here we got a Mister John Appleby. 1904–1984. Nice big stone, died the right time — living in one of them big houses down the road — rich for sure, right?"
"There should be a lot written on the stone," I said. "That's proof he was rich."
"There is a lot," Nicolin said. "Be-loved father, I think ... some other stuff. Want to give him a try?"
For a while no one answered. Then Gab said, "Good as any other."
"Better," Nicolin replied. He put down one shovel and hefted the other. "Let's get this grass out of the way." He started stabbing the shovel into the ground, making a line cut. Gabby and Del and Mando and I just stood and stared at him. He looked up and saw us watching. "Well?" he demanded quickly. "You want some of this silver?
So I walked over and started cutting; I had wanted to before, but it made me nervous. When we had the grass pulled away so the dirt was exposed, we started digging in earnest. When we were in up to our knees we gave the shovels to Gabby and Del, panting some. I was sweating easily in the fog, and I cooled off fast. Clods of the wet clay squashed under my feet. Pretty soon Gabby said, "It's getting dark down here; better light the lantern." Mando got out his spark rasp and set to lighting the wick.
The lantern put out a ghastly yellow glare, dazzling me and making more shadows than anything else. I walked away from it to keep my night sight. My arms were spotted with dirt, and I felt more nervous than ever. From a distance the lantern's flame was larger and fainter, and my companions were black silhouettes, the ones with the shovels waist-deep in the earth. I came across a grave that had been dug up and left open, and I jumped and hustled back down to the glow of the lantern, breathing hard.
Gabby looked up at me, his head just over the level of the dirt pile we were making. "They buried them deep," he said in an odd voice. He tossed up more dirt.
"Maybe this one's already dug up," Del suggested, looking into the hole at Mando, who was getting up a handful of dirt with every shovel toss.
"Sure," Nicolin scoffed. "Or maybe they buried him alive and he crawled out by himself."
"My hand hurts," Mando said. His shovel stock was a branch, and his hands weren't very tough.
"'My hand hurts'," Nicolin whined. "Well get out of there, then."
Mando climbed out, and Steve hopped into the hole to replace him, attacking the floor of the hole until the dirt flew into the mist.
Excerpted from The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson. Copyright © 1984 Kim Stanley Robinson. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.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.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.
This is the first in Kim Stanley Robinson's Trio of Orange County novels, each depicting life in an alternate California, 50 years in the future.In this novel, America was ravaged half a century ago by thousands of nuclear bombs going off. More than 95% of the population were killed, and technology was destroyed, electric power gone, and most of the survivors mad. The rest of the world was relatively unscathed however. 50 years later, small communities across America have survived and are attempting to rebuild, but outside forces are stopping the Americans from banding together and rebuilding in any meaningful way.In one valley in Orange County California, the protaganist in the novel, a teenage boy, gets drawn in to a plot by the new 'American Resistance' founded by residents of nearby San Diego...This is a great novel. It does a good job of depicting what life would be like 50 years after the near destruction of America. The story is good, if not great, and you find yourself caring about most of the characters. On it's own it is a very good book, but it will be interesting to see how it compares with the other two books in the series by the same author, depicting different futures.
The great part about this book (that the reviewer below gives away)is that you read this story from the perspective of a young boy in America in the future gone wrong and it isn't clear what happened to any of the characters, they are just trying to survive. Even though it was written in the eighties the cautionary tale really works for now.
As always Kim Stanley Robinson does an amazing job building imaginative and amazing worlds, and ‘The Wild Shore’ is no exception. He paints a vivid picture of life in a post nuclear California, however I really felt as if the plot didn’t go anywhere. Mr. Robinson focuses on the interpersonal relationships of the people in this small village which is fine if done right (see ‘Red Mars’) but I never really felt that there was a story. Is the protagonist the Japanese? Russians? Folks from San Diego? What’s the story that’s being told? Overall I just didn’t find the story line interesting. In addition, I didn’t feel a connection with any of the characters. They weren’t particularly likable but I wasn’t put off by them either. Overall this one just didn’t do it for me.
This book is set in a quarantined America devastated by nuclear weapons. While we are subjected to much speculation by various characters, we never do find out precisely who attacked America, why they were attacked or why they are under quarantine. Kim Stanley Robertson has a real talent for presenting believable characters and situations in his books, and this one is no exception. I felt sympathy for the people in this book, who were simply trying to rebuild their lives under very trying circumstances, not knowing who to trust, who to regard as the enemy or why they were being held back from recovery. I found this book to be so realistic, particularly in the light of the fact that it was written in the mid-eighties, during the height of the cold war, that it was, at times, quite frightening. This is not the best post-apocalyptic novel I have read, but it is definitely worth your time.
This novel was very disappointing, so I definitely won't be reading the other two books of the series. The only reason I liked it at all was the same reason I read it: it's the only novel I know that is largely set in San Onofre, which is an area that interests me since it's one of the few pristine places left on the Southern California coast. There are some nice descriptions of the plant life of the area, especially Torrey Pines and eucalyptus, but otherwise everything is so unrealistic. The story's premise is that the United States suffered from a coordinated nuclear attack, and has been bombed back to the stone age: shades of post-9/11 sentiment in reverse, but this was written in the '80s. For some reason the author saw it necessary to change the climate as a result of this attack, which is probably not even scientifically possible. Apparently she liked the San Onofre setting as much as I do, but then why did she make it snow there, and cover it with forests so that it becomes unrecognizable in just 30 years? That much forest growth is not realistic, either. I had trouble believing any of the story: the male teen hero does not seem to have any memories of his childhood, his boldness in spying and ambushing an attack on a landing party is too out-of-character with his lifestyle and experience, his long ocean swim and walking in the snow after his escape from the Japanese were too extreme, the difficulties at rivers that the San Diegans were willing to suffer with their railroad were unrealistic, the male teen's ruminations on trees was uncharacteristically feminine, the story of the purring tiger was far-fetched, and so on. To make it worse, the story wasn't even interesting, for the most part. There was one cute detail that most people might miss, however: the place the book calls Concrete Bay is where the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station currently exists, which suggests that facility either suffered a meltdown or was ground zero for a nuke, which is what Californians have been fearing for decades. The book did stay on my mind for a while, but unless a reader has a particular interest in this geographical area or an interest in post-apocalyptic societies, I wouldn't recommend that anybody waste their time reading it.