Science Fiction :: San Francisco —that has a certain capitalized symmetry, right? So I’m wondering how many science fiction books have been set, in whole or in significant part, in the San Francisco Bay Area.
I can think of six off the top of my head:
1. George R. Stewart, Earth Abides
2. Michaela Roessner, Vanishing Point
3. Pat Murphy, The City Not Long After
4. Lisa Goldstein, Mask for the General
5. Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle
6. Mark Budz, Clade
Strangely enough, of those six, four are postapocalyptic, and a fifth could be included in that category if you push the definition. I don’t know what that says about the Bay Area—or, more likely, about my memory.
Stewart’s Earth Abides is a classic, detailing the well-realized consequences of a plague that wipes out almost all of humankind. The characters have depth, and the decline that follows a brief period of hopeful community-building is heart-wrenching. The setting and the ecology is no less thoroughly realized than the characters; to this day, some twenty years after first reading the novel, I vividly recall Stewart’s depiction of the various plagues of vermin and former pets sweeping through the Oakland hills.
Roessner’s Vanishing Point, set in the South Bay, features the Winchester Mystery House. This excellently creepy setting enhances the mystery at the heart of the novel: the inexplicable disappearance of nearly the entire human race. Most postapocalyptic novels explore only the day-to-day physical struggles of characters who survive the disaster, but Roessner explores the psychological consequences as well, making us feel how traumatic it would be to never know why—or how—so many of your loved ones have vanished, leaving you and a few others behind.
Murphy’s The City Not Long After is set primarily in San Francisco, where a band of artists cope with the aftermath of a plague that decimated most of humankind. The novel offers an enchanting vision of San Francisco, as art and science mingle in the fog to combat an invading army from across the bay. As with much of Murphy’s work, there’s an appealing fantasy flavor to her science fiction.
Goldstein’s Mask for the General tells the tale of a young woman who comes to Berkeley after an economic collapse has left a totalitarian dictator in charge of the United States. Animistic religion and animal masks are set in opposition to the general’s totalitarian rule—a hippies-against-oppression plot that suits the Berkeley setting. I enjoyed Goldstein’s depiction of the changes wrought by the economic collapse—especially her idea that people would live in the drained Hearst Gym pool, where I swam for years.
Dick’s Man in the High Castle isn’t postapocalyptic, per se. But it postulates an alternate-history San Francisco in which the Nazis and Japan won World War II, so it certainly belongs with the others in a larger category of Places After Disaster.
Budz’s Clade is more recent than the preceding five novels on the list. Set in the South Bay, specifically San Jose (where I was born and raised), it depicts a “gengineered” society of people trying to climb the social ladder—a plot that resonates with the South Bay as it exists today, packed with technological entrepeneurs mere streets away from barrios and immigrant enclaves.
There must be other science fiction novels that feature the SF Bay Area, but I can’t name them. If you can, please comment, to add to the list.