James Patrick Kelly

2007 Nebula Award winner
2007 Hugo Award nominee


The tiny planet of Morobe’s Pea has been sold and renamed Walden. Voluntary simplicity is now the rule, and Walden will become a rural paradise for everyone who embraces Thoreau’s philosophy. But some residents are willing to set themselves on fire to defend their own ideas.


by James Patrick Kelly

ISBN: 1892391279

Published: 2005

Available Format(s): Hardcover

Simplicity ain’t what it used to be.

The tiny planet of Morobe’s Pea has been sold, and the new owner has a few ideas. He has renamed it Walden, and voluntary simplicity is now the rule. It will become a rural paradise for everyone who embraces Thoreau’s philosophy. But the previous tenants have their own ideas. And they are willing to set themselves on fire to defend them….

James Patrick Kelly is the author of five novels and several collections of short stories for which he has won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, and Italia awards. A popular author of short stories, he is a four-time winner of the Asimov Reader’s Poll. He has edited a number of anthologies with John Kessel, described by the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction as “each surveying with balance and care a potentially disputed territory within the field.” He has taught writing in the NEA-funded Arts in Education program and served as the Chair of the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts.

Praise for James Patrick Kelly

 “One of the finest short-fiction writers in science fiction.”

“A meticulous craftsman in the demanding short-story form, as well as a tactful scalpel-wielding veteran of many a writers’ workshop.”
Publishers Weekly 

“A brilliant evocation of future possibilities that establishes Kelly as leading shaper of the genre.”
Booklist (on Wildlife)

 Visit the James Patrick Kelly website.

“A powerful cocktail of the strange and the hauntingly familiar”
—Cory Doctorow

 “When the new owner of the planet Morobe’s Pea renames the world Walden and imposes Thoreau’s pattern of simplicity in living upon its citizens, a few rebel against the new regime, setting themselves on fire to burn down the forests introduced on Walden’s surface. Spur—a young firefighter recovering from severe burns suffered while interrupting his brother-in-law’s arson attempt—conducts his own research on his world and unleashes a series of unforeseen events by contacting a group of off-planet benevolent meddlers led by a wise child known as the High Gregory. Veteran SF author Kelly brings a unique vision to his story of a utopia gone awry. With an intriguing set of characters and a plot both chilling and charming, this remarkable tale belongs in most SF collections.”
Library Journal

“Hugo-winner Kelly (‘Think like a Dinosaur’) mixes hard-edged extrapolation with messy human issues in this thought-provoking SF novel. The inhabitants of Transcendent State, a colony of ‘true humans,’ have rejected advanced technology for lives of voluntary simplicity on a world renamed Walden. They are threatened by the pukpuk, survivors of a previous settlement who seek to stop plans to cover the planet with healthy, dense forest by setting fires in the wilderness. Now even Walden’s citizens are beginning to question their charter’s tenets of simplicity, secretly trading produce and handmade goods for pukpuk tech through a thriving black market. The spark that will ignite Walden’s final conflict comes from one of its own, firefighter Prosper ‘Spur’ Leung, when he unwittingly contacts the High Gregory of Kenning, ruler of a distant world. ‘I make luck,’ the High Gregory says, turning Spur’s commitment to Walden’s (and Thoreau’s) philosophy of self-reliance and the primacy of nature upside down. Kelly’s many-layered story pivots on a set of paradoxes, asking questions about the difference between innocence and willful ignorance, responsibility and balance, and the true essence of nature.”
Publishers Weekly

“Bored while recovering from burns received in the line of duty, fruit farmer turned fireman Spur decides to contact similarly named people throughout the Thousand Worlds. He reaches a boy on a throne, who says he makes luck and becomes very interested in Spur’s world, the small planet Walden, designated a simple-living utopia by the wealthy man who bought it from its mother planet. A few days later, homeward bound from the hospital, a hover stops the train to take Spur aboard. On the aircraft are the boy, a gaggle of other children from other worlds, and their superintendent. The kids are all extraordinary and, as it happens, intent on resolving the warfare on Walden, which consists of the pre-utopian inhabitants setting forest fires to resist the forestation of all the land the Waldenites don’t farm. Besides its fireman hero (a reversal of Montag in Fahrenheit 451) and its would-be-utopian setting, the warm humanity and rural sympathies of this affectionate, winsome short novel will make many recall Ray Bradbury at his best.”

“With his immaculate prose and perfect structural tricks, Kelly’s book offers a richly satisfying blend of adventure and philosophy.”
SciFi.com (Grade: A)

“James Patrick Kelly is one of the masters of science fiction. He imagines futures both high-tech and human, both dizzyingly complicated and determinedly simple, and then sends us to Walden, where simplicity is anything but, and even Henry David Thoreau begins to look disturbingly different. Burn is inventive, moving, and involving. It’s James Patrick Kelly at his best, and there’s nothing better.”
—Connie Willis

“Kelly has written something fresh…some of the fundamental concepts of sf in an innovate way.” 
The New York Review of Science Fiction