Birthday Reviews: Neal Stephenson’s “Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of Tribes of the Pacific Coast”

Birthday Reviews: Neal Stephenson’s “Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of Tribes of the Pacific Coast”

Full Spectrum 5-small Full Spectrum 5-back-small

Cover by Michael Parkes

Neal Stephenson was born on October 31, 1959.

Stephenson won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1996 for The Diamond Age and the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2004 for Quicksilver. His novel Snow Crash won the Prix Ozone, the Ignotus Award, and the Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire. Stephenson’s novel Seveneves won the Kurd Lasswitz Preis and the Prometheus Award. Stephenson has also won the Prometheus Award for The System of the World and Cryptonomicon.

“Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of ‘Tribes of the Pacific Coast’” is one of Stephenson’s few short stories and it originally appeared in Full Spectrum 5, edited by Jennifer Hershey, Tom Dupree, and Janna Silverstein in 1995. The story was reprinted in Steampunk, edited by Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. It has not, otherwise, been reprinted.

The opening of “Excerpt from the Third and Last Volume of ‘Tribes of the Pacific Coast’” has the feel of David McCauley’s Motel of the Mysteries, with a group of men in the ruins of an ancient shopping mall. However, while Stephenson seems to signal that the expedition will explore the mall and come to erroneous conclusions about twentieth century culture, the story itself is quite different.

Captain Napier, Dr. Nkruma, and the unnamed narrator clearly understand the purpose of the original shopping mall they have found and are savvy enough to figure out how to use it to make a stand against the 4Wheeler natives who are chasing them. They are also aware of the danger the 4Wheelers pose, although they are sure enough of their technology that they feel they can easily dispatch any force the 4Wheelers send towards them.

Stephenson’s story examines the damage we do to the environment to support our way of life and also looks at the idea that any group is innately more intelligent than other groups. The 4Wheelers eventually surprise the expedition even as the scientists can see their adversaries coming at them. The story is one of Stephenson’s rare forays into short fiction and works quite well. He builds up a believable, if not entirely explained, post-apocalyptic world which reveals that it has layers beyond the obvious.

Reviewed in its original appearance in the anthology Full Spectrum 5, edited by Jennifer Hershey, Tom Dupree, and Jenna Silverstein, Bantam Spectra, 1995.


Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Webinar: Web Sites” in The Tangled Web. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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