Oh my stars! The Inland Valley in sci-fi
The earliest is Edgar Rice Burroughs' "Pirates of Venus" in 1932. Burroughs is, of course, best known as the creator of Tarzan, and secondarily John Carter, Warrior of Mars, but the hero of his five-book Venus series had a local connection.
"After the grand old man died," Carson Napier relates in "Pirates" of his personal history, "mother and I came to California, where I attended public schools and later entered a small college at Claremont, which is noted for its high scholastic standing and the superior personnel of both its faculty and student body."
That would be Pomona College, the only men's college in Claremont in existence in the 1920s, when Napier would have attended. (Burroughs' inspiration: Two of his sons went there.)
Napier says he boxed in Claremont and also won "several medals for distance swimming"; in "Lost on Venus," the second in the series, Napier mentions having "graduated with honors."
With honors! Pomona College administrators might want to hold their applause, however, because Napier, who builds a rocket to go to Mars, miscalculates and ends up on Venus.
The foreword to the 1960s printings of the series cheekily refers to Napier as "this `Wrong-way' Corrigan of space."
Next up is "Greener Than You Think," a minor classic of sci-fi by Ward Moore, published in 1947.
In this apocalyptic satire, an experimental growth serum is sprayed on a single sickly lawn in Los Angeles. The result is that its Bermuda grass won't stop growing, eventually overrunning not only Southern California but the entire planet.
By Chapter 25, after much of L.A. has decamped for the suburbs, "Pomona was swollen to boomtown size." Alas, this stimulus package only lasts a few pages.
The grass, says the narrator, "raced southward through Long Beach, Seal Beach and the deserted dunes to Newport and Balboa; it came east in a fury through Puente and Monrovia, northeastward it moved into Lancaster, Simi and Piru. Only in the north was the weed slower; by the time we were forced to leave Pomona for San Bernardino it had got no farther than Calabasas and Malibu."
Moore must have been paid by the SoCal place name. But it's a neat little book and worth tracking down.
Many more SoCal place names show up in Robert Silverberg's 1995 novella "Hot Times in Magma City," whose only book appearance is in a collection titled "Year's Best SF."
In this piece, a 7.6 earthquake - arising from "the tremendous but hitherto unknown Lower Yucaipa fault" - sets off an unexpected environmental disaster for L.A.: a volcano.
This 2,000-foot mountain in the City of Industry not only rains ash but, perhaps more troublingly, obliterates the 57 and 60 freeways.
The narrator says: "A distant plume of smoke that rises from the summit of Mount Pomona, as the main cone seems to have been named...can be seen far and wide all over the Basin."
Another feather in Pomona's cap.
The story follows a day in the life of a volcano crew as it's dispatched to hotspots in the San Gabriel Valley to hose down eruptions of lava.
The climax is a battle in San Dimas to tame what a crew member describes as "a lava bulge about to blow two blocks east of us down Bonita Avenue."
Finally, we have "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War," a 2006 novel by Max Brooks (son of Mel), made up of dispatches from various fronts in a war against the walking dead.
"Just outside Greater Los Angeles, in a town called Claremont, are five colleges - Pomona, Pitzer, Scripps, Harvey Mudd and Claremont McKenna. At the start of the Great Panic, when everyone else was running, literally, for the hills, 300 students chose to make a stand," a narrator reports.
In fact, those 300 students successfully hold off 10,000 zombies for four months "until the Inland Empire could finally be pacified."
Stirring, eh? Brooks, not coincidentally, is a Pitzer alumnus, and apparently a proud one.
Notice anything about the four works above? They only mention the L.A. County half of the Inland Valley. We're still awaiting a piece of Montclair-to-Mars fiction. Or Upland-to-Uranus.
To science fiction writers, San Bernardino County must be an unknown world.
David Allen writes Friday, Sunday and Wednesday, and if you read his columns in space, no one can hear you scream. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, call (909) 483-9339 or write 2041 E. Fourth St., Ontario 91764. Read his blog at http://www.dailybulletin.com/davidallenblog