To satisfy my own curiosity about the kind of place California is becoming,"" novelist Houston took a series of trips around the state recently--eager, it seems, to present a more positive picture than that in most California journalism these days. And though the relentlessly upbeat, often sentimental approach here may not offer an accurate or balanced view of today's California, it does provide a number of pleasant, stylish, modestly informative vignettes and profiles. Houston goes to California's wine country--to learn the secret of zinfandel production: ""the soil, the climate, the grape growing history, the broadening market, and this elusive but essential feature, available space"" (psychological as well as physical). He heads into the ""alkaline wasteland"" of Kern County, rich in oil and country music. He recounts the story Of Mark Dubois, who chained himself to a boulder to protest yet another dam on the Stanislaus River. He visits the film-studio set of Cannery Row, Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles (""There is something very substantial about him, and an uncanny peacefulness""), a Chicano pageant-play, the staff of the Asian Law Alliance in San Francisco, Silicon Valley (the history of the Apple company is rather breathlessly reviewed), as well as assorted urban refugees who've found simpler lives. And throughout, except for an occasional reservation about such mixed blessings as Sun Belt expansionism (the San Diego explosion), Houston does seem a bit too swept away by it all--finding near-mystical connections, countless instances of quintessential Californian-ism, and little complexity in the impressive people he meets. Those who prefer a bit more edge and humor in their personal-journalism, then, may find the Pollyanna-ism a bit wearing--especially when Houston enthuses over a San Francisco radio-talk show (""What drew me to the thirty-second floor was something I have heard in Lila's voice, that abiding belief and enthusiasm for this part of the world . . .""), The Cupertino Psychic, or Marilyn Ferguson, author of The Aquarian Conspiracy (""An amazing book. Full of light, and full of hope""). But, as in his fiction, Houston is a fine scene-setter--and the variety of California people and places comes through vividly here, with lots of shrewd, precise details to balance the sometimes-gushy I-Love-California viewpoint.