Sometimes the best way to escape the chaos in your world is to slip into another. I don’t remember who said it but she was right. A couple of evenings ago, I was looking for a good book to unwind, something witty, and Kim Stanley Robinson’ s Escape from Kathmandu, came to my mind. It was perfect.
I am, since I read the Mars trilogy, I big fun of KSR. I have read most of his recent work and I am always looking for his older novels and short stories. So when a rainy afternoon, I saw on the shelf of a second hand bookstore, the Escape from Kathmandu, I took it and I went straight to the bookseller. In my excitement, I didn’t even ask for the price.
Kim Stanley Robinson is primarily known as a science fiction writer, but that category doesn’t fit all of his work. Escape from Kathmandu can best described as a surrealistic fantasy. It is a collection of four linked novelas, Escape from Kathmandu, Mother Goddess of the World, The True Nature of Shangri-La, and The Kingdom Underground, and tells the story and the adventures of two Americans, George and Freds, who have fallen in love with the Himalayas. They both are now semi-permanent residents of Kathmandu and they work as tour guides for mountaineers and tourists.
As in almost all Robinson’s novels, the environment and the wilderness has a pervasive presence in all four stories. He looks at the impact and behaviour of people and how they relate to the physical world and he examines our intimate relationship with landscape, by shaping it and being shaped by it. In an effort to define what constitutes human nature, Robinson also touches on a lot of religious, buddhism in particular, and political issues, such a bureaucracy and corruption.
Escape from Kathmandu is surprisingly funny, comical at times, a bit didactic, and more relaxing than Robinson’s later stories. It is absolutely delightful.