Weird Frontier: California’s Strange Fiction
Southern California exists on borrowed life. Four hundred miles of water, sucked from the Sierra Nevada into a river of steel and rebar and concrete. It plows through hot basins of Joshua trees, up barren hills dusted with scrub oaks, through sunblasted pumping stations that roil and hiss. It traces a line along the edge of Lancaster, California, springing tract homes and strip malls, green lawns and chlorine-wet children. It is a thing that does not belong, and like all such things, there is an old story at its heart.
~ Five Tales of the Aqueduct, By Spencer Ellsworth
I have a few distinct childhood memories: racing through my great-grandfather’s orange groves on his retired cowponies with my cousins; attending a funeral for the son of my grandfather’s clients, Mexican ranchers from Monterey, after the man was gunned down by an LA gang; the colors and scents of San Francisco’s Chinatown; learning how to avoid stumbling over cartel drug fields; the effigy hanging over Main Street, celebrating my hometown’s violent judicial past; visiting my uncle, who was employed as an electrical engineer on the Predators. A mélange of cultures and histories, the weird and illegal and far-future all mixed into that wild, weird empire-state known as California.
It’s no wonder that California is the land of science fiction and weird fantasy. There’s a little bit of everything there, all mixed together and blurring together, and where the lines cross, it can get weird. One of my favorite authors, Clark Ashton Smith, wrote about my hometown, referencing El Dorado moonshine and the Placerville Bank. He corresponded with H.P. Lovecraft, the masters of Eastern and Western Weird frequently mingling their tales and sharing characters and mythologies.
And that’s just one example. A small sample of founding SF authors from, inspired by, or living in California includes Bradbury, Le Guin, Dick, Vance, Gibson, Powers, and Heinlein. The state still inspires many authors and series, and Silicon Valley itself is like something out of a science fiction novel.