That Was Awesome! Writers on Writing

Bicycles on the 55: The Audacity of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Pacific Edge

I grew up in Orange County, California. It was sprawl more by way of Ballard than Gibson: tract houses, malls, and freeways. To get anywhere, you have to learn the freeways: where they lead, when to drive them, what they’re called. Every freeway was “the.” The 22. The 405. The 55.

Oy, the 55. That was the route that took people from the northeastern part of the county to their jobs in my neck of the woods (or, usually, to Los Angeles). You could take the 55 from Riverside all the way to the beach, assuming you were willing to sit in your car and stew with everyone else crawling along the road. The 55 was purgatory.

Kim Stanley Robinson made it awesome because he had people riding bikes. On the freakin’ freeway.

It happens in Pacific Edge, the third book of Robinson’s Three Californias tryptic. In each book, he explores a different future for Orange County. Pacific Edge is the ecological utopia where people have turned away from the sprawl and greed. And cars. Oh, have they turned away from cars.

There are few things more radical in California than riding a bike. My home state has a reputation as being green and crunchy, but we’re also up to our armpits in cars. Cars are the source of traffic and pollution and so much time-wasting misery, but God help you if you suggest to Californians that they get out of their cars and ride bikes.

Early in Pacific Edge, Kevin Claiborne, a building renovator, convinces Ramona Sanchez, his unrequited love, to go on a bike ride to the beach. In the ecotopia of Pacific Edge, that means riding a tandem bike down the 55. The first time I read that passage, I couldn’t help but laugh from the sheer audacity. Bikes on the 55? In what universe is that possible?

In Pacific Edge’s universe, of course, and that’s what’s so awesome. Science fiction is about writing the future, and that means writing a future that would be worth working toward. The world of Pacific Edge is one where people have decided to live within their ecological means, to minimize the amount of stuff they use, and to scale back their society to one on a smaller, more human and humane level. There are a lot of big ideas on this book, but none seemed as radical as Kevin and Ramona on their tandem, cruising down the 55 to Corona del Mar, reclaiming territory that belonged to polluting, time-killing cars.

You can take living in the United Federation or the Culture. I’ll take Robinson’s El Modena. Where’s my bike? It’s time for a ride.

Adam Rakunas has worked a variety of weird jobs. He’s been a virtual world developer, a parking lot attendant, a triathlon race director, a fast food cashier, and an online marketing consultant. Now a stay-at-home dad, Adam splits his non-parenting time between writing, playing the cello, and political rabble-rousing. His stories have appeared in Futurismic and the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Windswept is his first novel. You can find Adam on Twitter @rakdaddy and on Facebook and Tumblr.

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