TIMELINE

West Coast Science Fiction

Across the decades, these groundbreaking works of West Coast science fiction have shown us where we are and where we might be headed, from speculative postwar histories to cyberspace, the near future, and beyond.

1953: FAHRENHEIT 451, RAY BRADBURY

Bradbury’s early novel (the title represents the temperature at which paper ignites), written on a rental typewriter in the basement of UCLA’s Powell Library, imagines a world in which books are illegal and subject to burning and firemen are the ones who stoke the flames.

1962: THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, PHILIP K. DICK

Set for the most part in San Francisco, this influential work of alternate history takes place in a world where Germany and Japan won the Second World War, leaving America divided and defeated—but not entirely devoid of possibility.

1967: DANGEROUS VISIONS, EDITED BY HARLAN ELLISON

Featuring 32 contributors, including Robert Silverberg, Theodore Sturgeon, J.G. Ballard, and Roger Zelazny, this groundbreaking anthology of original short fiction—compiled and curated by one of science fiction’s greatest and most original contrarians—was among the earliest to showcase the genre as literature.

1984: NEUROMANCER, WILLIAM GIBSON

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel,” Gibson writes in the opening line of his debut novel, which revolves around a burned-out hacker and introduced the concept of cyberspace not only to science fiction but also to a world about to be transformed by the internet.

1985: ALWAYS COMING HOME, URSULA K. LE GUIN

Born in Berkeley and a longtime Portland, Oregon, resident, Le Guin wrote many key science-fiction works. This may be her masterpiece, a collage of documents and artifacts tracing the history of a future agrarian society that has grown out of the ruins of the industrialized past.

1990: PACIFIC EDGE, KIM STANLEY ROBINSON

The final volume in his Three Californias trilogy, Robinson’s novel unfolds in 2065 in Southern California, a region reclaimed from environmental devastation and rendered green and verdant again. The vision is less utopian than nuanced, an extrapolation of future possibilities from present-day concerns.

1992: SNOW CRASH, NEAL STEPHENSON

Stephenson’s breakthrough novel takes place in 21st-century Los Angeles, which is no longer part of the United States, and the world it dreams into being—where various municipalities and regions are controlled by corporations—feels dangerously close to the one in which we live.

1992: IN THE HEART OF THE VALLEY OF LOVE, CYNTHIA KADOHATA

This remarkable novel, set in 2052, imagines a Los Angeles in which class and economic inequities are heightened and resources have grown scarce. It’s not dystopia that interests Kadohata, however, but survival: the various ways we get along.

1993: PARABLE OF THE SOWER, OCTAVIA E. BUTLER

Butler was a towering figure in the Southern California literary landscape, and this Nebula Award–nominated novel—opening in the 2020s, in an environmentally and economically disrupted Los Angeles—is among her finest, the story of a young empath and the destiny she dreams.

2016: ALL THE BIRDS IN THE SKY, CHARLIE JANE ANDERS

Anders’s novel is a hybrid of science fiction and fantasy, adult fiction and YA. Involving two high school friends, one an inventor and the other a witch, it offers a celebration of possibility in a world that is in a state of disarray.

Explore the complete Science Fiction Special Section in Alta’s Summer 2020 issue. 

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