A Reflective Visit to Silver Valley

To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection.
— Larry Niven, Lucifer's Hammer

That was written in 1977. How appropriate it is for today!

I stood at the location of one of Larry Niven’s ground zero dystopias from “Lucifer’s Hammer” –  Lake Success.

Lake Success, Tulare County. The lake was not very full. 

Lake Success, Tulare County. The lake was not very full. 

Dystopias are future cultures characterized by dehumanization, totalitarian governments, ruthless mega-corporations, and/or environmental disaster. 

The value of a dystopian vision is what reflection it will bring. 

Tulare County, just above Porterville and below Springfield, California.

Tulare County, just above Porterville and below Springfield, California.

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From Wikipedia: “In the science fiction novel Lucifer's Hammer, written by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, fragments of a comet strike the Earth, causing massive tidal waves to destroy most of the planet's coastal cities. Los Angeles is completely destroyed, and the collapse of dams throughout California causes the San Joaquin Valley to become an inland sea. The collapse of Success Dam is witnessed by two of the characters. After the disasters subside, an enclave of civilization forms in the fictional "Silver Valley", located slightly east or northeast of Springville, just north of the Middle Fork of the Tule River.”

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I had time available for a reflective moment at Lake Success.

The future land of Silver Valley rolls around my thoughts. Lucifer’s Hammer remains one of the best literary descriptions of what a meteor strike could look like.

I walked along an old closed road, cracked, and no longer drivable. Dark clouds hung in the distance, and shadows stretched long and distorted in the autumn light.

Below my feet, weeds filled the fields; mustard and spiny thistle. Something  killed a bird and left behind only a few feathers. Bits of trash were scattered around willy-nilly. Partially dried mud, cracked and caked, stuck to my boots. 

In Lucifer's Hammer some Californians resort to cannibalism.  

In Lucifer's Hammer some Californians resort to cannibalism.  

Lucifer’s Hammer, Part Three/The Quick and the Dead:

“Suddenly there were other sounds embedded in the sounds of the river and rain and thunder. Screams. Joanna looked back. “Jesus!” she shouted. Harvey stopped the TravelAll. The dam was going. One whole side of it crumbled, all in a moment, and the lake went forth in a wall of water. The screams were drowned in its thunder. It would be worse when the other dams went. The whole valley would be flooded. No dam would hold against this relentless rain.”

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The Army Corps Administrative Headquarters for the lake sits directly below the 156-foot earthen dam. That is faith! Flood control hanging over your head. Success Lake, when full, covers 82,500 acre-feet of water with a surface area of 2,450 acres. It has provided water for irrigation and recreation since in 1961.

How long will the dam hold?

Dead bird remains. 

Dead bird remains. 

“The value of a thing is what that thing will bring. -Legal Maxim”
― Larry NivenLucifer's Hammer

What value did Lucifer's Hammer bring? We have read, and watched, and talked about one dystopian future after another. How many times do we need to read our stories before we don’t need to live it for real? Mad Max, Atlas Shrugged, Blade Runner, A Boy and His Dog, Tank Girl, Fahrenheit 451, Ender’s Game, The Hunger Games, I Robot, The Matrix, Planet of the Apes, Terminator, the Bible… the list is long and familiar.

How hot does it need to get before we acknowledge our responsibility to the future? 

The off season at Lake Success is quiet. The campground is nearly vacant and the RV concrete pads sit barren. It is not my kind of camping location. Too flat, open and the reservoir was clearly not a natural destination. No riparian vegetation around the shore and not much diversity of plant species. 

Boaters like the lake, and there is a playground for the kids. The campground is open year round and offers 103 sites, several of which have electric hookups. Launching facilities, flush toilets, showers, drinking water and a dump station are provided.

On this visit, the temperature was mild, but it gets hot here. Really hot. Uncomfortably hot. Hot as Hell. A Yelp Reviewer from last July wrote that it was 115 degrees and “I have no idea who named it Lake Success because it was a pretty FAT FAILURE!!!”

Two Ranch families start a new civilization in the fictional Silver Valley. 

Two Ranch families start a new civilization in the fictional Silver Valley. 

I believe that George Orwell’s portrayal of 1984 was pivotal in preventing “2 + 2 = 5”. What survives? What dies? What if things go very wrong in California, and the climate suddenly dramatically turns against us? Or the San Joaquin Valley is turned into an inland sea? What if a meteor hits earth? We have already heard the story of ecological destruction in fiction. Will we live and die in the environmental collapse of climate change? 

What have we learned from stories like Lucifer's Hammer?

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But at Lake Success it wasn’t Lucifer’s day. No Tim Hammer or Hammerfall. No torrential rain. No horrendous heat. The rolling golden hills were dotted with healthy oaks and willows. Fluffy clouds hung in the blue sky. The air was fresh and clean and quiet. It was a peaceful and safe place. 

“No dystopian floods here today.”  I thought.

Hopefully not tomorrow either.

Tulare Creek above Lake Success. 

Tulare Creek above Lake Success. 

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