I’m a decent way into Green Earth by Kim Stanley Robinson, and I have to say I find his entire take on the DC area really distracting. I know what he’s doing, he’s using excruciating detail to prove he’s been there and knows what it looks and feels like, but for some reason having him do it to a place I know, instead of a fantastical outer space colony or whatever, just feels terribly ungenuine.
And I guess it’s because, despite his obvious legwork in researching especially the NSF building in Ballston (I used to work across the street from it and would cut through on my way to that Metro stop), he still uses tourist words for some places, or describes them in weirdly formal ways after trying to demonstrate a familiarity with the place, and it’s just jarring.
I like that he says in the introduction that any writing about the modern world has to, by definition, also be science fiction; but science fiction also is more than its setting. DC is more than its geography and climate. And climate change is more than the texture of the walls in a conference room in the West Wing of the White House.
I think there is this level of detail because he doesn’t need to make anything up about where this part of the story is set, so he winds up over-explaining the setting in an effort to prove his legitimacy to describe it. And I get that, I definitely fall into that as well: you want to prove you put in the leg work to be able to set a story in a real location. And I also think he probably does it for other locations that he knows, and I just don’t notice it because they’re not familiar to me because I don’t notice him focusing in on details that I don’t find particularly interesting or relevant.
But maybe, that sort of detail isn’t totally necessary. I’ve become a big fan of writers allowing less to be more; you don’t need to exhaustively document every single blade of grass when you have a story set in a real life setting. It sort of feels like word bloat. I know Robinson cut a good 300+ pages of text from his trilogy to fit it into a single volume, but I can see more places where it could have been cut more.
Who knows; maybe I’m just nitpicking? I see the seeds of a good story, but the detail is just bogging me down to the point where I don’t really care to keep going. What do you think?