Monday, September 7, 2009

Juniper Time...or How I Discovered I Wanted to Visit Bend

For 9 in 0'09, I should also report on Juniper Time.

Kate Wilhelm is one of my favorite authors, I should confess that. I don't know why her and not others, but she's been on my list of used book store searches since I read Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang. I think it's because she isn't precious. She doesn't apply a Vaseline layer to make things prettier. She isn't exactly brutally honest, but she's honest.

Juniper Time is one of her science fiction novels (before the mystery novels, and after them, I suppose). There is a blight upon the world and a drought so extreme that people have been moved from some states entirely, people are living in ghettos full of crime and violence. There are some who aren't living there, but by parental luck. I expected none of this except the drought. I did not see the violence coming. I did not see how silly our male lead could be. I did not see what our female lead was up to. I was surprised. I'm still trying to decide if I agree with the idea behind the end, living as I do now and not thirty years ago. This is one reason I love older science fiction so much, it's taken from a time I have no direct experience with. Looking at 1984 or Brave New World now, you can still see the eerie truths, but you can smile at the places where the story is dated by its time, which does not demean the story or message.

I would write a synopsis of the book, but I feel that it would be unfair because I can't imagine explaining it. There's a drought. There's international conflict. There's a space station. And somehow, they are all related. Not that the space station is causing the drought.

Oh, but let me just say this: Bend, Oregon. Half of the book (or a little less) takes place in Bend and its environs. When I read "Bend", I thought Wilhelm was crazy or that I was crazy, but the crazy thing is getting a description of Bend from before I knew it. It's like reading about London before it was the heaving mass of a city it is now (except Bend is not anything like London).

So, I read Juniper Time in a whirlwind. I really liked it. I did not love it as I wanted to, but I realize now that it's because I'm not sure that I got enough of the end. It was a story where I wanted more and sort of resented that I didn't get more. Except let me add that no one can push a limit like Wilhelm. I remain shocked that she did what she did to one of her characters, but I love her for the shock.

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