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Overshoot by Mona Clee
Ace Science Fiction, $5.99, 388 pages, mass market paperback
Reviewed by Bill Meyers
Long before environmentalism became popular there were science fictions novels about apocalyptic environmental disasters. Long before science fiction was a genre, Malthus correctly pointed out that biological populations are held in check by limited food supplies. The very term apocalypse is associated with eco-troubles: though the cause of the apocalypse described in the Revelation of Saint John is the battle between good and evil, several of the horrors of the apocalypse are ecological, for instance plagues of scorpions and locusts and poisoned rivers and ocean. Famine and epidemics appear to have been with man since at least the beginning of civilization; John's Revelation is reminiscent of both the famine in Egypt, in the first book of the Bible, and of the plagues in the story of Moses in the second book.
Following the slow building of consensus among scientists that the ozone layer is deteriorating and the earth is warming due to greenhouse gasses, the number of eco-disaster novels published has accelerated. Overshoot, by Mona Clee, is set in Berkeley, California, and posits not a sudden catastrophe, but a slow wilting due to global warming. The narrator, Moira, is a 60's hippy refugee who had an interim career as a yuppie lawyer. In the book, which is largely a reminiscence, she is living in the year 2032, and was born in 1953. Mostly the book is about her life from around 1965 to around the millennium; history from 2000 to 2032 is vague, apparently a near-eventless period of personal and global decline.
The tone of the book is surprisingly optimistic, in the grand science fiction tradition of human triumph over adversity. It is not, however, the blind-to-the-facts optimism of the Wise Use Movement or the neo-liberal Economist or their too rich to see anything but dollars backers. Hope springs from the past, from an early encounter Moira had with some pagans in England and a Chinese dissident ex-lover. For some reason, when food must be grown in one's own garden, when there is no police service, and the only market in Oakland resembles something out of Mad Max, the internet works fine, and connects them to those who do save the world. Moira and her little enclave of humans in Berkeley play no part in saving the world, but rather provide the pretext for the narrative on how hard life is 30 years hence. When Moira finally meets her friends from the past, they've already saved the world, so we hear how it was saved in expository dialog.
Despite this, the novel is a strong one. Moira is a deep, many faceted character, and she has an interesting story to tell. She captures much of California in the 2nd half of the 20th century: the hecticness of professional downtown San Francisco, the strangeness of meeting pagans in Golden Gate Park, the relaxing town of Mendocino set near the great timber barons versus environmentalists wars of the 1990's. The friends who live in her enclave are diverse rather than homogenous, which adds greatly to the texture of the novel. Overshoot is a story about the strength and fragility of human friendship, even more than it is about ecology. I suspect this is a novel that will appeal even more to mainstream readers than to hard-core science fiction fans.