21 December 2007

One small strange trip into the past, one long strange trip from the future

Summer of Love

Lisa Mason
Spectra, 1995

Teenage Susan Stein, aka Starbright, runs away from middle-class Midwestern suburbia and uses her savings to fly to San Francisco in the first days of summer, 1967. (Interestingly, I began reading this book a few days before the media began hyping the 40th anniversary of this strange fleeting season called the Summer of Love.) Beckoned by a postcard from her old friend Nance, now calling herself Penny Lane, she has traveled to the City by the Bay to escape her parents' constant bickering and to reconnect with her old friend. In one of the most uncannily accurate portrayals of an LSD experience, she is thrown into the ecstatically, erratically archetypal lifestyle of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. She also becomes pregnant. Starbright accidentally comes across Penny Lane only to find that the young girl is now cynical, bitter, and self-destructive. Her friend confesses that her life has been one of absolute hell, as she was regularly raped by her stepfather and ignored by her mother. Not being as well-off as Starbright, Penny has had to sleep her way across the US in order to get away from his advances, and resents the fact that her once-best friend has somehow escaped all this, and was even able to fly to San Francisco thanks to her rich daddy. Starbright watches Penny, who is still basically a child, descend further and further into the dark side of 1967--speed, prostitution, biker culture, and death.

Into this time of upheaval tachyports Chiron Cat's Eye in Draco, a young man from 500 years in the future. He has come back in time to the Summer of Love in order to find a mysterious young woman, known only through a few seconds of recovered video footage and a lot of probabilities. His job is to find this girl, protect her, and ensure that events unfold as they are supposed to, so that the existence of his future will be assured. The girl's name is not known to him; what is known is that she is pregnant, that her pregnancy is important to the future of humanity, and that demonic anti-matter forces from an alternate timeline are seeking to destroy her. As a time traveler capable of producing profound paradoxes, he is bound by an incredibly strict code of noninterference called the Grandfather Principle. He meets and befriends Starbright, whom he suspects is his mystery woman, and Ruby A. Maverick, the gorgeous 35-year old proprietor of an occult bookshop. Over the course of the novel, he reveals both the daunting shape of the future--sharing tales of overpopulation, ozone depletion, genetic mutations, and devolution--and Starbright's role, through her unborn daughter, in assisting humanity to survive the coming transitions. Alas, things are never as easy as they seem, especially when time travel and the (pardon the pun) embryonic women's reproductive freedom movement are involved, and so Chiron and Starbright have their work cut out for them.

This novel was a joy to read. Although I wasn't around for the Summer of Love (and so can't vouch for the book's veracity), the story conveys such a complex mixture of innocence, hope, joy, exuberance, ecstasy, revelation, chaos, despair, freefall, nihilism, and violence that I can't help but suspect its authenticity. It reveals the same multifaceted, ambiguous "60s" as the Love album Forever Changes, and that makes it seem straight from the source. As well, the use of regular references to newspaper clippings from The Berkeley Barb and The Oracle, sections from the I-Ching, and tidbits about environmental science rounded out this loving, and knowing, portrait of the Left Coast in `67. Finally, Starbright's regular references to Star Trek were a loving homage to that groundbreaking show; as I read the book, I realized how much that program, and the increased interest in SF that accompanied it, inspired the progressive and outlandish thinking of many young people at the time, including most likely the author herself.

(This review was originally written on June 24, 2007.)

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