Review of Summer of Love in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction

Books To Look For by Charles De Lint

Lisa Mason has a different take on time travel. Where Robert Sawyer uses it to have some fun—albeit he is serious in his speculations on dinosaurs—Mason uses time travel to explore the sensibility of the sixties and environmental concerns. On second thought, perhaps there isn’t that much difference. These days, true hippie culture is as much a dinosaur as those behemoths that once roamed the world, and part of Mason’s thrust is to explore how it died off—was dying even as, to all intents and purposes, it appeared to be in its heyday.

Her time traveler, Chiron Cat’s Eye in Draco, has his origin in our own far future. He comes to San Francisco during the Summer of Love because that summer in 1967 is a “hot spot” on the time line. Something happens during those few months that has repercussions through the centuries until, in Chiron’s own time, data is mysteriously disappearing from his people’s data banks. He’s been sent to stop it.

His mission begins with trying to track down a young woman names Starbright, his only clue a film clip from the CBS news. But finding her is only a part of the problem. Once he’s found her, he has to protect her from danger until the “hot spot” closes.

Starbright—we learn well before Chiron—is actually Susan, a fourteen-year-old runaway from the suburbs of Cleveland who arrives in Haight-Ashbury to find herself. Much of the story is told from her point of view, as well as that of an older woman named Ruby who befriends both Susan and Chiron. Ruby is an old beatnik who has made the natural transition into hippiedom as did many of the beats at the time, and her take on the scene is particularly fascinating.

The story progresses from there and is quite engrossing as the fated summer unfolds and we experience the group dynamics between the three and various secondary characters. But there’s more to the story than the (fairly) linear plot line. Mason is using Summer of Love to explore present day environmental concerns as well as old hippie culture. Her extrapolations of how the future will turn out are firmly based upon the present misuse of the world’s resources, and while she doesn’t beat the reader over the head with her message, she makes a good case for the three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle. Unfortunately, she’s probably preaching to the converted because one’s interest in this book is undoubtedly directly proportional to one’s sympathy to the counterculture as it rose up during the sixties.

That said, I have to admit (my age showing) that I found Summer of Love to be a clear-eyed look at the past, rather than one warped by the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia. Her characters are captivating and I enjoyed the stream-of-consciousness style of writing that opens many of the chapters as well as the clippings and quotes of the times that are interspersed with the main body of the text. She’s managed to capture both the innocence of the hippie culture and the streetwise cynicism that eventually brought it down.

Summer of Love is a far cry from the hard-edged cyberpunk sensibility of her earlier novel, Arachne, but I happen to consider that a good thing. There’s nothing more tiresome than an author continually rewriting the same book, and that’s certainly not the case here. Mason has given us an enchanting foray into the near past, as seen through the eyes of the people of its times, as well as through the eyes of an individual from our own all-too possible far future. In that sense it’s both a history lesson and cautionary tale, but one that doesn’t forsake the first tenet of good fiction: there’s an entertaining story at the heart of it all.”

So there you have it, my friends. The Philip K Dick Award Storybundle includes Aestival Tide by Elizabeth Hand (PKD Finalist), Life by Gwyneth Jones (PKD Winner), The Cipher by Kathe Koja (PKD Finalist), Points of Departure by Pat Murphy (PKD Winner), Dark Seeker by K. W. Jeter (PKD Finalist), Summer of Love by Lisa Mason (PKD Finalist), Frontera by Lewis Shiner (PKD Finalist), Acts of Conscience by William Barton (PKD Special Citation), Maximum Ice by Kay Kenyon (PKD Finalist), Knight Moves by Walter Jon Williams (PKD Finalist), and Reclamation by Sarah Zettel (PKD Finalist).

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