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Even an essentially desolate tale like Jonathan Lethem 's Gun, With Occasional Music almost embraces the claustrophobia of its venue, as do William Gibson 's All Tomorrow's Parties or Bruce Sterling 's Holy Fire ; elegies to the end of San Francisco like Crawford Kilian 's Tsunami or Elizabeth Hand 's "The Saffron Gatherers" in Saffron and Brimstone: Strange Stories , coll are hard to imagine being composed about Los Angeles; and the relative intimacy of the cityscape makes it clearly easier for Rudy Rucker to focus his large cast in Postsingular rather than in the inchoate megalopolis to the south, or for Chris Adrian to locate the clement Urban Fantasy [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] at the heart of The Great Night beneath Buena Vista Park, or for Tim Powers to create a deliberately modest Time Travel tale of love and loss in Salvage and Demolition Similarly, it is hard to think of Cory Doctorow 's Little Brother as being set in the south: the fertile indignation of his Young Adult cast flourishes in a city it is possible to save.


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This sense that this city is or had at one time been a humane enclave is almost certainly intensified by the fact that — unlike coastal California as a whole, which serves as an Icon of terminus for the American Dream — San Francisco can be perceived as a port, as a place to recuperate in during the course of a journey. The city is also sufficiently coherent to be contemplated from a distance see Ruins and Futurity , as in Nevil Shute 's On the Beach , where its visible depopulation can stand as a metonymy for the End of the World ; any sight of the Golden Gate Bridge in ruins, as in It Came from Beneath the Sea , can supply the same message, for the loss of San Francisco will always affect the rest of the world while the loss of Los Angeles may well be seen as a localized punishment.

San Francisco is tellable, as are the mountains and valleys and coastal lands it frequently represents: a territory extremely easy to cherish and to evoke, as in novels like Ernest Callenbach 's Ecotopia or Ursula K Le Guin 's Always Coming Home or Jean Hegland 's Into the Forest ; and the Near Future loss of whose urban civility can be mourned without special pleading, as in John Shirley 's Everything Is Broken , set in a coastal enclave north of the city.

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It is less common for San Francisco to be contrasted directly with the megalopolis to the south; an exception would be Starhawk 's The Fifth Sacred Thing , where by San Francisco is a Ecologically -sound Keep and Los Angeles a drought-shattered Dystopia governed by a fundamentalist tyranny. The south is another matter, engaging the reader in a journey from something like civil life into a fragmenting maelstrom, like the hegira undergone by Oedipa Maas from north to south in Thomas Pynchon 's The Crying of Lot 49 , a paradigm novel about the geography of the giant state.

It is a bifurcation that can seem arbitrary when it is understood that California writers like James P Blaylock in The Digging Leviathan and Tim Powers in Dinner at Deviant's Palace have used the Los Angeles region as a venue for tales that — a decade and a half before the twenty-first century began — impart a warmth and intimacy, even in the latter after the city has long been destroyed.

In tales of this sort — along with their colleague K W Jeter , much of whose Cyberpunk Dr Adder sequence is set in Los Angeles — they brought Steampunk to maturity, a genre conspicuously used by authors of every sort to make the world storyable; only perhaps in this context should London , which embodies a different kind of Entropic chaos, be compared with Los Angeles: two vast sprawls that the comforting tactility of Steampunk bring into some kind of order, in London's case with some success.

But Steampunk — which asserts that the urban world can be made legible — never flourished in Los Angeles, where the engines of threatened change, and the science-fictional metastasis of the original city into ontologically vacant suburbs like Thought Experiments running on fumes after the budget cut , make nonsense of this assertion. Blaylock no longer sets his Steampunk tales there, and Powers's ambitious Fault Lines sequence is set in a crippled Los Angeles only magic can, very tentatively, hope to heal; or, perhaps, Nanotechnologies complex enough to infuse the megalopolis with commensal life, as in Greg Bear 's Queen of Angels and its predecessors and successors in his Quantum Logic sequence.

Only one category of Fantastika set in Los Angeles treats its venue with anything like the complex mix of affection and regret typical of so many San Francisco tales, whether or not fantastic: sf or fantasy tales set in or focused on Hollywood.

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The more interesting of them frequently involve either Time Travel or ghosts or both; and typically engage with and sometimes redeem the fug of lost promise that so saddens the city as a whole. It may be noted that in almost all of these examples the death-throes of Hollywood — which gave birth to Icons unceasingly until or so, and which has been mourned ever since — are usually dramatized within the frame of a relatively stable platform.

For this reason alone, the Hollywood tale can be thought of as distinct from the Los Angeles tale, where the vast City is usually seen as itself under threat, most often through the operations of nature, or through nuclear Holocaust ; Mutants are common, and World War Three often starts, or concludes, here. The world itself seems to be the elephant in the Los Angeles kitchen. It was not until the s that geologists fully recognized, by applying the theory of plate tectonics, that the extraordinary concentration of earthquake and volcano zones along the Pacific Rim was a consequence of Continental Drift, and that further tectonic convulsions were inevitable: more quakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, tornadoes, savage droughts, deadly heat waves, flash floods, flash wildfires, sudden changes of all sorts.

Early work

The history of California as a whole, and southern California in particular, could now properly be understood as inherently catastrophic. The violent natural events of the past two centuries had not punctuated the "normal" course of nature: they were the natural course of nature. Nor is the seismically unstable desert eastwards of the city itself seen in fiction as a safe place to locate a residential tracts ravenous for energy, as Scott Bradfield 's tales of deep estrangement assembled in The Secret Life of Houses coll and elsewhere demonstrate [for Mars see below]; Robert Silverberg 's "Hot Times in Magma City" May Omni Online shows the region transformed by geological Disasters.

Los Angeles itself is, of course, often, perhaps usually, given short shrift. Far more commonly found are tales in which the megalopolis itself is at risk or doomed through Disaster or Holocaust or War or calamitous culture decay, a rare exception being Greg Bear 's Queen of Angels and its predecessors and successors in his Quantum Logic sequence. A Television series like 24 seems to drink a sickened Paranoia from the very bones of the city as various Holocausts are narrowly averted.

Films set in Los Angeles, even more often than novels, focus on its destruction. See Checklist below for films set somewhere in the megalopolis; several of these are linked to individual entries. California has clearly attracted a wide range of authors, some of them negligible, others significant. Four of the latter are central to sf; interestingly, at some point or other in the career of each, analogies between the colonization and in a sense Terraforming of California and the colonization of the Moon or more usually Mars are drawn, explicitly or by implication, as in Robert A Heinlein 's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress Though much of it is set in an indeterminate future location, his first novel For Us, the Living: A Comedy of Customs written late s; deeply and intimately responds to and anatomizes the utopian s California he himself actively inhabited and attempted to influence; the novel clearly draws on this material to create a Thought Experiment in the making of Utopia.

Heinlein's love-hate entanglement with California as venue and template can be traced throughout his long career, and his Future History can be read, like its predecessor, as a Californian Thought Experiment.

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The depth of his knowledge of California as a tympanum for sf cognition and effects is perhaps most conspicuous in his novella "The Year of the Jackpot" [cited above], a dead-serious spoof about the self-destruction of the state. The use of the idea of California as an engine to create a future world seems clearly to have shape Ray Bradbury 's The Martian Chronicles coll of linked stories , where the human attempts to impose a recognizable template upon ineluctably alien Mars echoes both the imperial attempts of white settlers from the north of Europe to treat southern California as a Promised Land in the image of their dreams, and the twentieth century attempt to transform the fragile ecosystem of the Los Angeles basin into vast ecologically unsound suburbs.

Much of Bradbury's short fiction — in which what reads as nostalgia for a lost California can in fact be understood as desiderium for a deeply desirable California that did not and could not exist — plays on his personal memories of the state during the years when it most resembled the dream that drove so many of us to go there. These years, the s and s, were also the years of Chinatown directed by Roman Polanski, which embeds within a literally nonfantastic narrative a vision of the State so proleptic that the film has occasionally been taken for sf. But whether the pre-War years were more dream than reality, or the other way round, they could only be seen by their greatest sf memorialist as irrecoverable, here or on Mars.

The entire life work of Philip K Dick 's, the greatest and most prescient California writer of the twentieth century, relates in one way or another to the state where he lived from childhood. His early realist novels, only published after his death, are mostly set in the state, but the magical estrangement of the sf magazine stories, written about the same time, is missing. Several other novels, whose locations are not tied to specific venues, are clearly located in all but name in his familiar territory. Dick's used his extraordinarily intense understanding of contemporary California to give hallucinated but inescapable concreteness to his tormented apprehension that reality was a construct see Perception ; Zoo ; that any Conceptual Breakthrough served not as an escape from prison but as a deepening of our awareness of immurement; and that the entities or "gods" responsible for building these traps — these Virtual Reality Californias even more deadly than the Promised Land of earlier dreams — were not the friends of Homo sapiens.

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