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Hieroglyph: Stories and Blueprints for a Better Future
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Natylie Baldwin, Kermit D. Larson
The Girl on the Train: A Novel
Paula Hawkins
Our Souls at Night: A novel
Kent Haruf
Above the Waterfall
Ron Rash
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Stephen King
Designs on Film: A Century of Hollywood Art Direction
Cathy Whitlock
The Homicide Report: Understanding Murder in America
Jill Leovy
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Edgar Rice Burroughs
Departure - A.G. Riddle
It seems I’m involved in a conspiracy that spans space and time and a conflict whose outcome will determine humanity’s fate in two separate universes.

Oh, is that all? Flight 305 from New York to London runs into a little space-time turbulence and finds itself, or a piece of itself, anyway, in an English lake. Help should be along shortly, right…um, right? The passenger list included five people of interest. Venture capitalist and take charge sort Nick Stone has done nicely in tech and is en route to meet with some folks who are looking for him to invest in their projects. Harper Lane is a ghost-writer of biographies. She is facing a knotty question about her career direction, to take on the bio of a very high profile businessman and philanthropist or attend to her heart’s true writing passion, an original adventure series. Can’t do both. Theirs are the alternating viewpoints we have throughout Departure. The other three are Grayson Shaw, son of a billionaire, who seems determined to make everyone loath him with his persistently boorish behavior. How he got that way, as the King of Siam might say, is a puzzlement. Sabrina Schroder is a German genetics researcher, a doctor with a less than warm and fuzzy crypt-side manner, and Yul Tan (or you won’t) is that mysterious Asian guy who not only kept banging away at his laptop through the abbreviated flight, but who is at it still. What’s up with that? There are plenty of LOST-type goings-on in the opening, but we soon get an inkling of the predicament that underlies everything and that is when the story gets going for real. And who are those guys in the latest Haz-mat couture being dropped off by airships and why are they pointing weapons at us?

 

 

description

A.G. Riddle - from PBS

 

A.G. Riddle is one of those rarest of the rare, a very successful self-publisher. His trilogy, The Origin Mystery has, according to his site, sold over a million copies and has been optioned for film. Riddle used to be involved with starting internet companies. Not sure what that means, but he was able to quit his day job and devote himself full-time to writing, so I guess it worked out well for him. It is not hard to see Nick as a magnified version of the author. Departure was, likewise, a self-pub. It came out on January 1, 2014 and did well enough that a major publisher made an offer.

 

Departure is a turbo-charged maze of sci-fi action adventure tale that will keep you flipping the pages, wanting to find out what happens next. There is plenty of high tech, some of which seemed a bit gratuitous. And there is even some substance, with a focus is on the importance of decisions.

I wonder what the world would be like if we could all glimpse our future before every major decision. Maybe that’s what stories are for: so we can learn from people living similar lives, with similar troubles.

Yeah, sounds a bit teenaged to me too, and this is not the only example of such fourth-wall breakage about writing. But it is fleeting. The book is actually very much about decisions, turning points in which the future is determined. Harper may be looking at a tough career choice, but it has implications that might affect the future of the human race. A butterfly effect of Mothra-like dimensions, but without the adorable twins.

 

There are a few mysteries to be sorted out, for the first half of the book anyway. What was Yul Tan so into on his computer? And if it’s a game where can I get it? Where can Grayson find more alcohol? When will Nick and Harper get a room? Can the future of humanity be saved? And can you please explain quantum entanglement?

 

Yes, there is eye-rolling over-simplification, and character names that sometimes sound like they came from pulp novels of a bygone age. There are some absurdly large, Akashi Kaikyō Bridge level, (or for us Yanks, Verrazano-Narrows Bridge level) suspensions of disbelief that one must endure in reading this book. I will not specify them here, but am putting them in a red portion of the EXTRA STUFF section.So if you don't want to know, skip the red stuff. Your eyes will roll, and if they don’t, they really, really should. Skip on by those and try not to let them interfere with the story. These items have nothing to do with time travel, but more with land use and international politics. But there are always complexities and minds to be bent when it comes to explaining movement and communication across timelines. Riddle offers a particularly nifty take on the communication piece. Kudos for that.

 

It is no stumper figuring out what AG Riddle is up to, keeping you strapped into your seats, breathlessly turning pages. Departure may take leave of its rational senses a fair bit, (not unlike Dan Brown offerings) but, nonetheless, it is a fast-paced, engaging sci-fi thriller that will impair your ability to make your travel connections. And if it prompts you to think a tiny bit more about the decisions you make in your life all the better. Having secured booking with a major publisher, and a film option to boot, Departure is about to take off and I expect you will enjoy the ride.

 

Published – January 1, 2014 (self) - October 20, 2015 (Harper)

 

Review Posted – September 11, 2015

 

======================================EXTRA STUFF

 

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Tumblr and FB pages Pods.

 

Although the sort of system Riddle posits is akin to the pneumatic tube notion being supported by Elon Musk , among others, the look Riddle described for the vehicles seemed to me more like that from this article from AllPics4U.com description

 

I did wonder up above about Quantum Entanglement – Here are a couple of pieces that try to explain this very real form of weirdness

-----Wiki

-----ScienceDaily.com

-----Livescience.com 

 

Spoilerish eye-rollers. I am not entirely certain that the items noted here qualify as actual spoilers, but why take the chance?

 

The Podway first united Europe then Asia and finally the rest of the world, enabling safe, convenient, cost-effective mass transit.

Piece of cake, right? The transportation system that is projected to take over mass transit may or may not be a wonderful thing, but little attention is given to how insanely challenging it is to get rights of way, then to build the infrastructure, and what of the existing mass transit? Did it cease to exist? If it didn’t, then what happened to the real estate it occupied? And for there to be an underground tube connection to some building in the burbs or boonies? Really? And there is a bigger eye-roller. The core organization here has put forth a plan to erect a dam across the Gibraltar straits. That is probably do-able. What is not do-able is for every country with a border on the Mediterranean to go along with a project that will wipe out a vast swath of coastal sea for those nations, creating a new nation in the middle of the former body of water. Really? Not only will Mediterranean nations ok the loss of a fishing industry, they will be ok with the creation of another country on their sort-of borders? And what about nations with military ships? Are their navies to be use to decorate the dam? Are you insane? We are in wishing-will-make-it-so land. And not even a wizard, even if he’s a whiz of a wiz, could persuade me that this is doable on a planet still occupied by a large number of humans, hell, by any number of humans. It is possible to look past these bits of silliness, but it is not easy.

(show spoiler)

 

Another masterpiece from Ron Rash

Above the Waterfall: A Novel - Ron Rash
All we seen is hard trials and sorrows. I’d not deny it. Burdens are plenty in this world and they can pull us down in the lamentation. But the good Lord knows we need to see at least the hem of the robe of glory, and we do. Ponder a pretty sunset or the dogwoods all ablossom. Every time you see such it’s the hem of the robe of glory. Brothers and sisters, how do you expect to see what you don’t seek? Some claim heaven has streets of gold and all such things, but I hold a different notion. When we’re there, we’ll say to the angels, why, a lot of heaven’s glory was in the place we come from. And you know what them angels will say? They’ll say yes, pilgrim, and how often did you notice? What did you seek?
How loud the sound of a fear-formed tear? How long the sorrow from a thoughtless wrong? The past. It informs, shapes, bolsters, damages, inspires, depresses and often defines who we are, who we become. In Ron Rash’s latest novel, Above the Waterfall, characters struggle with their past. William Faulkner famously said, “The past is never dead. It's not even past.” The past is indeed never finished with us until we’re done. It can no more be finished than our blood. It picks up nutrients there, drops them here, carries disease and defense, history, legacy and possibility. Is the past a medium or a message, a means or a purpose? Maybe the past gathers until enough force has been amassed and it breaks through the dam that has governed its power, spilling into the present.   Becky Shytle is a forty-something with deep scars from a childhood trauma and a dodgy history of more recent vintage. She was only a school kid in Virginia when a shooter left a trail of carnage that included her teacher. Becky became mute for so long that her parents sent her away to stay with her grandparents. It was while there that she was introduced to the beauty of nature, seeing in the natural landscape a form of salvation from her terrors.
I had not spoken since the day of the shooting. Then one day in July, my grandparents’ neighbor nodded at the ridge gap and said watershed. I’d followed the creek upstream, thinking wood and tin over a spring, found instead a granite rock face shedding water. I’d touched the wet slow slide, touched the word itself, like the girl named Helen that Ms. Abernathy told us about, whose first word gushed from a well pump.
And now, a state ranger at Locust Creek Park, she continues to find sustenance in nature, her spirit still trying to heal as it bonds with the beauty in the world. (I’m not autistic, she’d told me later, I just spent a lot of my life trying to be.) It is in Becky’s portions of the novel that Rash best joins his prose with poetry to create an eyes-rolling-back-into-one’s-head, toes-curling work of literary ecstasy.   description
Freight Car at Truro by Edward Hopper - from Wikiart
On first seeing this in Les’s office Becky notes “Even Hopper’s boxcars are alone”  
 
Becky feels she can share what she sees in the woods and fields with Les, a kindred spirit. Les is the sheriff in a small Appalachian town, three weeks from trading his gold star for a gold watch after thirty years on the force. He’s a decent man but carries the weight of a critical mistake he had made with his wife and a debt from his youth that he had never repaid. Becky and Les are friends, at least. They share an appreciation for the glory of nature. Les chose to build his retirement house where he did, for example, because of the view he expects to spend considerable time painting.   Above the Waterfall is organized into more or less alternating chapters, his and hers. Les’s perspective is presented in a traditional narrative, but Becky’s take on things is heavily poetic. She mentions early on favoring the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a man who wrote much on the beauty to be found in nature. And while Hopkins may have been looking for Jesus in the natural world, Becky is looking for peace without, necessarily, Hopkins’ religious associations.   The story centers on an assault, not on people, but on nature itself. At least in appearance. Gerald Blackwelder is in his 70s and owns a piece of land that abuts what is now a fishing resort that features a considerable stock of trout above the waterfall of the title. Someone dumped kerosene into the water, killing the fish, and harming business at the resort. The unpleasant owner of the complex is sure that old man Gerald is to blame and pressures the sheriff to arrest him. Les is not so sure. And Becky, who feels for Gerald as if he were her own grandfather, is certain he is innocent.   description
Ron Rash  
 
CJ is a local from a particularly impoverished background who had toughed it out, gotten past his familial disadvantages to become a man of substance in town, working now as an assistant to the resort owner. He carries with him the scars of his past, physical as well as emotional. The past of all four characters threatens to come cascading down when a sequence of seemingly unrelated events brings them together.   The town is home to some folks in the meth production and consumption business, which gives the sheriff something to do and avenues to investigate for a rash of local crimes. The depiction of Appalachian meth users is chilling. Les does his investigative due diligence and the story of his figuring out just what is what is indeed interesting. But that is not where the glory in this book resides.   There are several items you might keep an eye on throughout the novel. Silence comes in for considerable attention. Not only Becky’s muteness, but pondering what silence looks like, Les’s silence in not speaking up to correct a costly error when he was young, among other mentions. Mental health issues recur a fair bit, from Becky’s PTSD to Les’s wife’s depression, to whatever it is that makes a meth addict, to some household violence in Les’s family tree. If you are a young shrink looking for plentiful business you could do worse than to set up shop here. Water references pervade. Sometimes it is just something wet, but more than likely, given the subtext, there is more to this water than something to drink, a pretty stream or a place to cast your line. Maybe a connection, a flow between being and not. And of course, there are trout.
Trout have to live in a pure environment unlike human beings; they can’t live in filth! And so I think there is a kind of wonder; to me, they’re incredibly beautiful creatures. I can remember being only four or five and staring for long periods at them, just watching them swimming in the water. But also, like Faulkner in “The Bear,” the idea that when such creatures disappear, we have lost something that cannot be brought back. And I think this is what McCarthy is getting at, at the end of The Road. They mean many things: beauty, wonder, and fragility, in the sense that they can be easily destroyed. - from the Transatlantica interview
But the big catch here is the application of Gerard Manley Hopkins to contemporary Appalachia. His work pervades the novel. References to his poems are many, sometimes overt, sometimes popping up in the arcane words he favored. I would urge you to read this short novel through once, take a bit of a side trip to Hopkins, (I have provided tickets to that boat in EXTRA STUFF below) then read it again. There is a lot going on that may evade your hook on the first cast. But in case you opt to leave your tackle in the box, a bit of a short look.   You may have come across Hopkins’s main chestnut, Spring and Fall, in an English class at some point in your elementary school education. A young girl is saddened by the fall of autumn leaves, seeing, but not understanding that she sees her own demise and the demise of all in nature’s annual shedding. Hopkins, who not only converted to Catholicism, but became a Jesuit priest, looks through the tinted lens of nature in seeking the eternal. In a way this is what Becky does, and the language in which her chapters are written is suffused with the spirit, sound and feel of Hopkins’s poetry. If methworld is a hellish place, the flight of birds, stars tacked in place in a light-pollution-free sky, sun setting and a silver birch glows like a tuning fork struck offer the opposite. Birds seem to pull Becky. One even alights on her. What does that portend? Here is a taste of a Becky chapter, in fact, the opening chapter of the book, using some of the forms Hopkins was fond of.
Though sunlight tinges the mountains, black leather-winged bodies swing low. First fireflies blink languidly. Beyond this meadow, cicadas rev and slow like sewing machines. All else ready for night except night itself. I watch last light lift off level land. Ground shadows seep and thicken. Circling trees form banks. The meadow itself becomes a pond filling, on its surface dozens of black-eyed susans.
Ron Rash’s novels have a fair bit of darkness to them. There is a fair bit of optimism here, despite the challenges his characters face, and some of the less appealing goings on in the setting.
One thing I want to do is for landscape and my characters to be inextricably bound together. I believe the landscape people live in has to affect their psychology...This…novel is…about wonder, about how nature might sustain us. I wanted to look at the world a little more hopefully. – from the Transatlantica interview
Most writers would be happy to have written one masterpiece in their career. Serena is certainly that. But, with Above the Waterfall, Ron Rash has produced a second. There is a golden inner glow to Ron Rash's literary world. He uses words to scrape away the covering crust so we can spy what lies inside. It is a beautiful landscape to behold.
 
Review posted – 9/4/15  
 
Publication date – 9/8/15  
 
=============================EXTRA STUFF
 
Reviews of other Ron Rash books -
-----Serena  
 
Rash does not, so far as I can tell, have a facebook page. But his son, James, set up a Fan Club FB page for him.
 
Here is the Poetry Foundation’s bio of Rash, who, after beginning his writing life with short stories, spent about ten years focusing on poetry, and has published several volumes. His skill as a poet is eminently clear in …Waterfall
 
This is the Poetry Foundation’s page for Gerard Manley Hopkins   A wonderful article that explains Hopkins’ poem, The Windhover, which is mentioned in Above the Waterfall  
 
There is a cornucopia of intel on Hopkins in this Sparknotes piece  
 
Interviews with the author
-----TINGE Magazine – by Jeremy Hauck and Kevin Basl
-----SouthernScribe.com - by Pam Kingsbury
-----Transatlantica - by Frédérique Spill
-----Wall Street Journal - by Ellen Gamerman - Thanks to Linda for cluing us in to this one.

 

Distracted Driving is the Drunk Driving of our Time

Reggie's Brain - Matt Richtel

Hi, welcome. I’m happy to see you are settling in to read this now. But…what?...really?…please…ignore that chirp that just told you a new e-mail arrived. It is probably just another add for Viagra or penile enlargement. It is almost never something critical, so…hey…come back. Son of a bitch. (Taps fingers on desk, plays some solitaire, checks watch) Ah, you’re back. Took long enough. Geez. All right, can we get back to it now? You remember? The book is A Deadly Wandering, a pretty amazing look at attention, the demands on it, how it functions, how it is being compromised, and what the implications are for some aspects of that. Stop, no, do you have to answer the phone now? Can’t it wait? (sighs loudly, checks e-mail on a separate screen; weather.com lets us know upcoming conditions in another tab; who is pitching for the Mets tonight?) Oh, you’re back, sorry. Been there long? I must have wandered off. Focus.

I know a little bit about distraction. My job entails constant blasts of it. I work as a dispatcher for a security company. I have a dozen or more sites checking in every hour to make sure our guards are not sleeping (or that they know how to set the alarms on their cell phones). People call asking for their schedules. People call at 2 in the morning to let us know they will not be showing up for their 6am shift. They call because they just turned the wrong way and the cell phone in their pocket somehow redialed the last number they’d called. They call at 4am to let us know they will not be coming in for their 6am shift. They call asking for direction when there is some event at their site that requires handling. (This does go on for a bit, so rather than inflict on you the horrors of my typical work night, I will leave a full viewing for the intrepid and tuck a chunk of it under a spoiler label)

Our clients call, sometimes asking for emergency ASAP coverage in diverse places across the continent, sometimes to add ridiculous increases to the number of guards they want for a morning shift at a large institution. Our security guards call to ask if their check is at the office, or to inquire as to why the totals on their checks did not match what they expected. They call to let us know they have arrived at their post. They call to let us know they have clocked out for the day. They call at 5am to let us know they will not be in for their 6am shift because they have a newly discovered “appointment.” There are many, many calls. It makes it damned tough to keep a log of all the calls, particularly when half a dozen arrive at the exact same moment. It makes it tough to prepare the multiple reports of overnight activity, all of which have to be transmitted during the busiest time of the morning. In the middle of this, the boss comes in, drops papers on my desk and asks when this or that person arrived at or left from a post sometime in the last week or so. For someone who is, shall we say, not comfortable with being interrupted, this presents some challenges. And it presents a real problem. I write the bulk of my reviews while at work. And to enter notes, do research on items, and then compose actual reviews of books during this time can be a bit difficult. Thoughts that have not made their way into a file are in constant danger of vanishing into the ether with the next barrage of incomings. I scream sometimes.

(show spoiler)

 

I frequently forget what I was doing before the latest set of calls. And, struggling to remember, I am interrupted yet again by the next set. The one good thing about this blitzkrieg of interruption is that I am not enduring it while behind the wheel of a ton-plus hunk of metal hurtling down the road at 60 mph. My sanity may be in jeopardy, (or long gone) but I present no existential threat to the rest of humanity. The same cannot be said for the main character in Richtel’s story.

 

By all accounts nineteen-year-old Reggie Shaw is a decent young man. A Mormon, he was eager to serve his community by preparing for and then undertaking an LDS mission. His first try had come up short, so he was back home, working until he could build up enough moral credit to try again. In September, 2006, while driving a Chevy Tahoe SUV, Reggie had his Cingular flip-phone with him and was texting with his girlfriend. A witness reported seeing him weaving across the center line multiple times. Finally, Reggie weaved too far. The results were fatal. Reggie came through ok but two scientists were killed as a result of Reggie’s texting, leaving wives and children to pick up the charred pieces of their lives and go on without their breadwinners, husbands, fathers. Reggie denied he was texting when the accident occurred.

 

Matt Richtel is a novelist and top-notch reporter. He won a Pulitzer for a series of articles, written for the New York Times, in which he detailed the national safety crisis resulting from increasing use of distracting devices by drivers. He has written a few novels and even pens a comic strip. There is nothing at all amusing, however, about the tale he tells here.

 

Matt Richtel - from his site

Matt Richtel - from his site

 

The core of A Deadly Wandering is how constant distraction, particularly while in a car, kills. Richtel looks at the case of Reggie Shaw as a prime example of how the distractions that have become embedded in our lives have unintended consequences. Richtel spends time with Reggie, with the cop who pursued the case when most officials wanted to brush it off and move on, the surviving family members, and a victim’s advocate who pursued prosecution of the case. Richtel also talks with several neuroscientists who have been studying the science of attentiveness. That material is quite eye-opening.

 

There are legal questions in here regarding where responsibility lies for such events, and how far communities are willing to go to punish violations and even to establish that such behavior is not permissible. Where does your freedom to act irresponsibly interfere with my right to stay alive? There are scientific questions about how the brain functions in a world that seems to demand multi-tasking. How does the brain work in dealing with attentiveness? What is possible? What is not? Where are the edges of that envelope?

 

When drug companies want to bring to market a product for public use, they must go through a significant review process to make sure their product is safe to use. Before auto manufacturers can bring a vehicle to market they must put it through safety testing. 

But neither Verizon nor any other cellphone company supports legislation that bans drivers from talking on the phone. And the wireless industry does not conduct research on the dangers, saying that is not its responsibility - From - Dismissing the Risks of a Deadly Habit

 

And the corporations know what they are doing with their technology. 

 

If you take yourself back millennia, and you're in the jungle or you're in the forest and you see a lion, then the lion hits your sensory cortices and says to the frontal lobe, whatever you're doing, whatever hut you're building, stop and run.Well, here's what scientists think is happening in this data era, is that these pings of incoming email, the phone ringing, the buzz in your pocket, is almost like we get little tiny lions, little tiny threats or, let's say, maybe little tiny rabbits that you want to chase and eat, you get little tiny bursts of adrenaline that are bombarding your frontal lobe asking you to make choices. But these in some ways aren't these modern bombardments; they're the most primitive bombardments. They're playing to these most primitive impulses and they're asking our brain to make very hard choices a lot.- from the Terry Gross interview

 

In addition, and in a chillingly similar impact to other addictive substances, our communications technology knows how to make itself feel crucial to us.

 

when you check your information, when you get a buzz in your pocket, when you hear a ring - you get what they call a dopamine squirt. You get a little rush of adrenaline. So you're getting that more and more and more and more. Well, guess what happens in its absence? You feel bored. You're actually conditioned by a kind of neurochemical response. - also from the NPR interview

 

Richtel follows Reggie’s story through to the end, at least for some of the players here. Laws have been changed. New knowledge has been gained. Responsibility has been allocated. Amends have been attempted. It is a moving tale. In addition, you will learn a lot about what science has found about how our brains handle multiple concurrent demands. You will learn about change in how distracted driving is being addressed by our legal system. But most of what you will get from reading this book is a chilling appreciation for what is involved in distracted driving. You might even be persuaded to switch off your phone the next time you get behind the wheel. At least I hope you are. I would like to live a bit longer and not be taken out before my time because someone was talking on the phone with their friend, texting with their significant other, or trying to order penile growth products from the road. I would like to live long enough to spend at least a few more nights screaming at the phone to stop ringing at work so I can get some writing done. That call you were thinking of making while in the car can wait. It really is a matter of life and death. A Deadly Wandering is must read material. Please, please pay attention.


Review posted – 7/18/14

 

Publication date – 9/23/14

Trade Paperback - 6/2/15

 

This review has been cross-posted at GoodReads and CootsReviews

 

=============================EXTRA STUFF

 

Links to the author’s personalTwitter, FB pages

 

A list of Richtel articles in the NY Times’ Bits Blog

 

The Pulitzer site includes links to all the pieces in Richtel’s award-winning series. Very much worth checking out

 

Another article Richtel did looked at the benefits of uninterrupted face time free of technological intrusion, from August, 2010, Studying the Brain

 

There is some great material in Richtel’s 2010 interview with Terry Gross on NPR, Digital Overload: Your Brain on Gadgets

 

 

There are some interesting pieces on Oprah’s site. Distracted Driving: What You Don't See  is pretty good.

 

And it is worth checking out Oprah's No Texting Campaign

 

 

The US Department of Transportation has a site dedicated to the problem of distracted driving. There are some interesting bits of information available there.

Understanding Sandy and what Lies Ahead

Storm Surge: Hurricane Sandy, Our Warming Planet, and the Extreme Weather of the Future - Adam Sobel
Source: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1102282185

SevenEves by Neal Stephenson

The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.
I guess in order to indulge in a bit of world-building one must destroy the world first.
 
Neal Stephenson is a genius. A polymath with a wide range of interests, he specializes in the big idea, and the more concrete the better. In this way he carries forward the tradition of hard science fiction, in which the best example is probably Arthur C. Clarke. Stephenson eschews FTL transportation, time travel, invading aliens, or any of the other tropes of sci-fi that cannot find a solid basis in contemporary science. Instead he takes what is known, adds what is possible, and extrapolates to what could be. His one concession to the unknown is his opening, noted at top. Although a theory or two are trotted out, we never really learn what caused the moon to explode. Consider it the MacGuffin of the novel, the plot device that gets the action moving. I guess breaking up isn’t hard to do. No exploding moon? No story. Why does it explode? Doesn’t matter. The story is about what happens after.
The kernel around which the story nucleated was the space debris problem, which I had been reading about, both as a potential obstacle to the company's efforts and as a possible opportunity to do something useful in space by looking for ways to remediate it. Some researchers had begun to express concern over the possibility that a collision between two pieces of debris might spawn a large number of fragments, thereby increasing the probability of further collisions and further fragments, producing a chain reaction that might put so much debris into low earth orbit as to create a barrier to future space exploration. - from Stephenson’s site
And the story is a compelling one, not so much in the sense of classic plot construction, but in terms of how we get from the biggest “OH CRAP” moment in human history, to something not guaranteed to soil pants. Stephenson looks most attentively at the engineering details of what is involved in trying to salvage the human race, once it is clear that the sky will go all to pieces, that the term scorched earth will be applicable to all the land on Earth, that the homeland will become a wasteland. What hardware is necessary? What is available? What can go wrong? How do we get from here to up there? This is his gig. He loves this stuff and it shows. He also does a good job of portraying the ensuing struggles down below. Who will be selected to survive? How will they be picked? How will the politics of the selection be handled? What will the criteria be? Ideas bang into other ideas, which fracture and crash into even more ideas, and so on, until you have an entire layer of nifty concept blanketing your brain.
 
description
World leaders make the big announcement of imminent doom at Crater Lake, and yes, it really is that blue
 
I think Stephenson is more optimistic than most and his presumptions about the level of on-the-ground conflict and pure lunacy are out of line with what we know about humans. He gives only a little thought to deniers, but in a country like the USA, for example, in which a quarter of the population does not believe in evolution, in which the Republican base clings to beliefs that would make L. Ron Hubbard scream for mercy, in which Texas lunatics of both the tinfoil-hat and elected variety (I know, no real difference there) persuade themselves that a military exercise is a federal invasion, there would be a lot more going on, denier-wise, than Stephenson projects. All theoretical of course, but do you really think that in the time remaining that birthers and those who believe the Apollo moon landing was a hoax would not make use of their considerable ordnance to make life even more miserable for those with brains?
 
description
Neal Stephenson
 
The book is divided into three parts, although it breaks down into smaller chapter chunks. The first takes us from the initial event to the beginning of the end of Earth as we know it, how humanity comes together, or doesn’t, to preserve the species. Part two takes on the final days of earth and a whole new world of conflict, resolution, or not, setting the stage for Part three, five thousand years on, when, through forces natural and engineer-enhanced, it is again possible to set foot on Mother Earth without singeing your toes. The seven eves of the title refer to the last orbiting survivors, whose reproductive capacity and DNA is used in an attempt to reconstitute the species, and, hopefully, in time, reclaim the original Mother ship.
 
description
This inflatable harbinger will be heading to the ISS this year - image from Smithsonian Magazine
 
Stephenson does action-adventure pretty well, and there is plenty of that here. The end of the Earth is a compelling starting point and survival of the species concerns will keep you engaged. Will this work? Will that? Who will live? Who won’t? Character is not the thing in Neal Stephenson fiction. His greatest talents lie elsewhere. Although it is definitely fun that he puts an avatar of Neal DeGrasse Tyson aboard. The significance of character here is to consider personality differences and their social, and genetic engineering implications. Given people with certain traits, how are they likely to behave, and how will those behaviors help or harm the survivability of homo sap? There is consideration of the concept of the state of nature. What is natural for people? How is that defined? Pretty interesting stuff. And there is plenty more brain candy in SevenEves. (Not for you, zombies, go away) On the hardware side, how about harnessing asteroids and comets for raw materials? Using robots of unexpectedly small dimensions for space-mining? Making orbiting environments in which humanity could survive, and even expand? How about some notions for terra-forming not only lifeless space rocks, but…um…Terra. How about interesting ways of transporting people and materials between orbiting locations, and between Earth and orbit. How about some advanced notions for individual flight on-planet? Life sciences? How about the challenges of food production in space? Bio-engineering is the biggest item here, not only in selecting who gets to be among those sent into orbit to survive torch-ageddon. But in figuring out how the differences in people can be used to ensure survival of the species, and looking at the results, some of which are quite surprising. Social science? Well, the science is a lot softer here, but the politics of end-times Earth and struggles for power among the spacers offer a look at elements of human nature that will be familiar. Stephenson’s optimism about our ability to think our way to actual survival is balanced by his recognition that we are, as a species, probably certifiable, so will continue having at each other as long as there are others to go after.
 
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An O’Neill Cylinder – from the outside
 
I am certain that those more versed in contemporary sci-fi will have more recent comparisons to make, but the work that I was most reminded of here is the Hugo-Award-winner for Best-All-Time Series, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. In both, a core of talented people (a broader range of talent than in Stephenson‘s more engineer-and-hard-science-oriented portrayal) are brought together to preserve human culture in the face of an imminent catastrophe. The specifics are quite different, but they share a grandness of vision. No psychohistory in SevenEves, but the multi-millennial look at humanity offers the opportunity for and realization of a great speculative vision. There are some commonalities between SevenEves and another recent, and very popular, sci-fi offering of the space variety, The Martian. Not in girth, of course. The Martian, at a mere 384 pps, could dock with and be pulled up on the side the 880 page SevenEves like a tender boat on a cruise ship. Both deal with life-and-death scenarios in an airless void (no, not the US Congress), although one deals with a single life in jeopardy, while the other takes on a larger target. But there is a heavy emphasis on tech in both. Weir’s wonderful story offered an engaging narrator and way too much detail on how he goes about attempting to survive while stranded on the red planet. Stephenson writes about things that he finds interesting whether or not they clutter up the story with technical minutiae, and at 880 pps, trust me, there is too much detail. Hey, his book, his story. He gets off on the details of mechanics, and it is nowhere as mind-numbing as an endless jeremiad by, say John Galt, but you may find yourself feeling a need to skim from time to time. (Purely an aside - I think Chris Moore should write a novel about the Republican clown car of presidential candidates, called The Galt in our Stars, in which someone gets a life threatening disease and no one cares). I wonder also how the very small number of remnant original eves is supposed to be able to provide the training their progeny will require to master all the skills required to sustain civilization. I am sure there are many other details one could look at in considering the next five thousand or so years, but it might take a few more volumes. SevenEves is a major contribution to contemporary science fiction. It is engaging enough on a visceral level, but it is crack not just for sci-fi fans, but for futurists, scientists, geneticists, engineers, and those concerned with how humanity will survive the challenges that lie ahead. It is a big book, not only in its physical bulk, but in its ambition and range of interests. Like the great works of his predecessors, Asimov, Clarke and other giants of science fiction, the vision Stephenson has built in SevenEves will be read, I expect, as long as there are still people left alive, whether on Earth or not.
 
Publication date – 5/19/15
This review posted – 5/15/15
 
======================================EXTRA STUFF
 
Links to the author’s personal, Twitter, Google Plus and FB pages
 
Folks who object to paying their taxes are already interested in working on extra-national, and even extra-terrestrial living spaces. At Island One Society there is information on sundry plans that are currently being considered. Please do not take this as an endorsement of any of the political viewpoints expressed there. I include this link purely because it gathers together a nice list of such projects.
 
O’Neill Cylinders are mentioned in SevenEves. This link offers a nifty animated fly-through that will offer a better sense than a single graphic image could.
 
Roboticized mining is the likeliest way we will make use of extra-terrestrial natural resources This example of the coming tech is called Swarmies.
 
I have read several Stephenson books over the years, but Reamde is the only one I have previously reviewed.
 
More shots of Crater Lake, among other places in that general neck of the woods
 
Fascinating piece from The Atlantic Magazine on mining the asteroids, among other things, Robots, Platinum, and Tiny Space Telescopes: The Pitch for Mining Asteroids by Ross Anderson from the May 14, 2012 issue
Source: http://cootsreviews.com/2015/05/15/seveneves-by-neal-stephenson
Girl in the Moonlight - Charles Dubow
That afternoon was my first inkling that there was more to the world than it appeared. Like the glimpse of a secret garden through a crack in the door, I discovered something I hadn’t known was missing. Where colors were brighter, tastes stronger, feelings deeper. And once I recognized it, I wanted it, missed it—and was unsure I would ever find my way back to it. It was a land of Cockaigne, the hidden kingdom.

Girl in the Moonlight (originally, and better titled Naked in the Moonlight) is the second novel by Charles Dubow, author of the wonderful, steamy 2013 novel, Indiscretion. In …Moonlight, he brings us back to the Hamptons that was the setting for much of the earlier book. Wylie Rose is closing down a summer house where he’d spent much of his youth, and remembering. No madeleines required. But an evocative painting brings back to him, and us, the story of a lifetime of passion, obsession, and love.

 

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Charles Dubow

 

How young is too young to meet The One? Wylie was only 10 when he first met Francesca, at 12, the oldest of the four Bonet sibs. A hidden kingdom of attraction opens its doors to him. He falls hard for her, literally. Wylie forms a close friendship with Aurelio Bonet, Cesca’s younger brother, and through this bond, Cesca will pop into and out of Wylie’s life for the duration of his Odyssey. The driving force to the story is the will-they-or-won’t-they-wind-up-together question as they sail through their lives. Of course, even as a young thing, Cesca is special. In adolescence she begins to take on the characteristics of a siren and sings for all the ships to hear as an adult. Wylie may have known at some level that he should have plugged up his ears (and covered his eyes, for that matter) but he would spend most of his life tied to the mast, enduring the song. Will he be drawn in to his own destruction?

 

 

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Ulysses and the Sirens - by John William Waterhouse - from the National Gallery in Melbourne

 

There are certainly gross similarities in form with Dubow’s earlier work. We revisit the Hamptons, and the company of the very well-to-do. The author is of this set and writes what he knows. There is an almost supernaturally attractive female, and a smitten male. (Indiscretion actually had two smitten males, the secondary one having a bit more in common with Wylie than the primary) Trouble soon follows, with a trail of emotional collateral damage. But, lest one suspect that Dubow has shoved off into the water to net the same fish, there are significant differences. In the earlier book, a successful, well-known middle-aged, married man is drawn from (leaps from) his life by an admiring young thing. Here, the two know each other from childhood, growing together and apart over their lives. The time span of the core story (not backstory) is far greater in Moonlight, decades instead of a few years. Indiscretion had much to do with discontent with one’s life, and insecurity about one’s place in it. There is some of that here but Wylie and Cesca are not struggling with the detritus of generations. They seem perfectly content to employ their advantages in pursuit of their movable dreams, trying this and then that in hopes of plotting a steady course. Wylie, for example, opts to pursue a course of study, so enrolls in Harvard for his advanced-degree training, as if it were the equivalent of stopping off at the corner store to buy a lottery ticket. While both novels have a love story at their core, among the one-percent, so do a billion other books. There is a geographical sweep in Moonlight that extends far wider than that in Indiscretion, with stops in Spain, Paris, London and even some connections to Tokyo and Africa, in addition to the usual Hamptons/NYC setting. Indiscretion and Moonlight are indeed very different tales.

 

There are several elements in Moonlight that stand out. First there is the tension of wondering if the two will ever get together. That sort of thing may be standard fare for stories of this kind, but how that is executed is significant. I found it was quite well done here. Plenty stands in the way of the two getting together (has to be, of course, or there wouldn’t be a story to tell) not least Cesca’s ability to attract men. Second, there is a feeling of melancholy, which may summon your own regrets to mind.

What if I had chosen differently? Would I be here at this moment? There are the dreams our parents have for us, and then there is the life that we create for ourselves. It is impossible to know. The secret, they say, is not to regret—but that, I have found, is impossible. The most one can hope for is to forget. Memory, though, is a poor servant; it bursts in on you when you least expect it.

And there is the ever-present element of hope. It is not a misdirect, there really is a chance they might get together. But I will not tell if they do or don’t. Of course if hope is a thing with feathers, is that a good thing? Would it be better if hope were a thing with scales?

 

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Ulysses and the Sirens - by H.J. Draper - from Wikipedia

 

I have spent as much time with the one percent as I have with the Illuminati, so I did not feel much connection based on socioeconomic commonalities. On the other hand, I have had my share of emotional disappointments, false steps and traumas, so on a feeling level I found that it was quite possible to connect. Wylie is a very relatable character, a decent guy trying to find himself. Effective writing takes you past surface differences to core emotional experience. Can she hold him off forever? Doe she really care for him or is Cesca only toying with Wylie, luring him to his own destruction? Can he endure long enough? Should he? What about having a real life and not one based on a myth? At what point does one cross over from being dependable to being a doormat? When do you just throw up your hands and sail back out to sea? And what might happen if you did?

 

Dubow has a wondrous ability to describe places, imbuing them with life, with history. He can paint a scene beautifully, which is not surprising given that he once planned to be a painter. He can create living characters. Wylie Rose is the evidence. None of the other characters is as fully realized as Wylie, but they are still well done. Aurelio was also very appealing, but we do not see enough of him. Cesca’s path may seem scattered, but Dubow’s explanation for her zig-zag route is believable. I found the other characters much less well realized, but not everyone has to get center stage. They are filled in enough to contribute to the story. The author also has a wondrous gift for communicating the ambivalence we all experience, in looking back, at roads not taken.

 

Girl in the Moonlight will keep you turning pages, maybe not so quickly as Indiscretion did, but it is a solid read. It will pull you in and hold you, without, thankfully, dashing you on the rocks.

 

Review posted – 5/8/15

Publication date – 5/12/15

This review has also been posted at Cootsreviews.com

 

 

======================================EXTRA STUFF

 

Links to the author’s Twitter and FB pages

 

A piece Dubow wrote for Newsweek Magazine on Stuttering

 

About five minutes of the audio book

 

My review of Indiscretion

Source: http://wp.me/p3I01S-lU

Chase

Chase - Lorna Fergusson What lies below cannot be ignored, whether what lurks there is something physical, historical or emotional. In Lorna Fergusson's The Chase, Netty and Gerald Feldwick have fled Oxford, scene of a crushing family tragedy. Gerald sold his share in his business and has bought an ancient place near the village of Malignac (sounds daunting, non?) in the Dorgogne region of France, a bargain-rich magnet for retiring Brits during the downturn in the Euro some years back.

Netty's first view of their new home calls to mind Manderley, so we can expect some unpleasantness. We can also keep in mind that, as with Rebecca, we are looking at a relationship in which the power of the parties is far from equal.

The house is named Le Sanglier, or The Wild Boar, and those critters, of the four and two-legged variety will inform much of the tale. Place, the house and the surroundings, is crucial. Although the action does, on occasion break back to Oxford when Gerald is summoned for diverse reasons, it is this region of France that is the primary setting.

Fergusson's experience as an award-winning short story writer is clearly an asset as she intersperses images and tales of what has taken place before, from early cave artists, to Pan, to Roman invaders, a scene from the hundred years war, some aristocratic goings on in the 18th century, a 19th century tale of love and woe, and a story of the most recent uninvited guests, from 1944. The tempests of earlier times must have seeped into the soil, and left seeds, both physical and spectral, which pursue the 20th century residents.

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Lorna Fergusson

Apparitions will indeed appear, but in short enough supply that this cannot really be seen as primarily a ghost story. It is more one in which manifestations of the past make their presence known on occasion, projections, perhaps, of more contemporary emotional states. Are we doomed to follow the same paths as those who came before? Are we prisoners to history?

Although the primary focus is on Netty and Gerald, The Chase features an ensemble cast. Ex-pat Brits, some British visitors and a fair number of locals also. A well-to-do local widow serves as a sort of lady of the manor. There is an artist, a professor, an attractive gentleman of uncertain means, and an earthy farming family with a secret of their own. And many meal-time gatherings. Fergusson seems particularly fond of herding her troops into room-size clumps the better to bounce them off each other. I found the most moving parts, though, to be several intense one-on-ones.

Can Netty ever get past her tragedy, and the guilt which harries her? She does break out from time to time, feels her oats. But it is outside the box for her. Can Gerald face his feelings about it instead of running away? Can these two actually talk to and see each other? There are adult children who play parts on and off stage. The Feldwicks' son visits and is a source of competition between his parents. Netty handles things very badly when her son tells her a large secret. Their daughter remains out of the picture, living in Virginia.

The chase theme reverberates throughout the book, from a cave painter recalling hunts of his time, to battles in the middle ages, to some 20th century pursuits, to an actual present-day hunt. The pressing of classical mythological suits is noted as well. These echo the interpersonal chasing that is going on among Fergusson's contemporary characters, and which appear in art the characters own or create.
The picture was simple: the goddess of love stood in the midst of a forest, each branch on every tree heavy with birds in pairs. Venus’ unbraided golden tresses hung to her knees, gently waving in an unfelt breeze.
‘She sees the beautiful youth Adonis. It is a coup de foudre; instantly she loves him, she pursues him, and who can blame her, tied as she is to the dark and sullen Vulcan?’
Netty followed the sidelong glance of the divinity to the next picture, and drank in, as she did, the taut grace of the boy, his freshness, his eagerness, his easy strength and as yet unshaken confidence. The birds had left the branches and were crowding above his head. She could almost hear their voices.
‘The goddess and the mortal meet: how can the mortal resist? Her divine passion ignites him, he is consumed with desire, he forgets the world of men, he thinks only of her.’
The next panel depicted Venus reclining at ease, sated, triumphant, the boy lying in her lap. Her slender fingers coiled in his hair and curled round his white neck and held him there.
‘But alas, even for gods, perfection is hard to preserve. The youth becomes restless. Like all men he finds it hard to live for love alone. He chooses to go hunting, and defies his mistress.
It can be a struggle, when presenting characters who are not all that appealing, to sustain a reader's interest, but Fergusson manages. Netty, our primary, has suffered, but does not seem able to get past her trauma. Also she has some difficulty allowing others their reactions to the tragedy. She is not a bad sort, but she could do with a bit of sensitivity training. It is not easy to root all that much for her husband either. Gerald is an action-oriented man, who would rather do something than feel something. He decides, she accedes. Combined with his wife's inability to get past her problems, theirs is a marriage that is almost certainly doomed. On the other hand, the depiction of the relationship does have a definite ring of reality to it. One exception there is Netty's complete disinterest in her grandchildren. This struck me as curious.

The strength of The Chase lies in its heated moments, real and spectral, which are gripping and effective, and the intermission chapters in which tales from the past provide a diverse palette against which Fergusson frames the events of the contemporary story. She offers an interesting portrait of a place and its history, and a vibrant portrait of people trying to come to terms with the problems that hound them.

The author sent me a digital copy of her book in return for an honest review.


=============================EXTRA STUFF

The e-book I read was 169 pages, but the print length of the book (it is available in paperback) is 304 pps

The Chase was first published in hardcover by Bloomsbury in 1999. The author has retrieved publishing rights and is re-publishing it now via FictionFire Press in e-Book and paperback.

The author’s Facebook page

Interview of Fergusson on Richard Hardie’s blog

Fergusson also offers writing workshops in Oxford.


The Shining - Stephen King If you have not read The Shining already do not overlook the opportunity presented by the publication of Doctor Sleep, the sequel, to revisit one of the best ghost stories of our time. If you have not already had the fun fright of reading it previously, the appearance of the follow up offers a perfect justification for stepping through those bat-wing doors for the first time.

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1st Edition cover – Published January 28, 1977 – 447 pps

It has been a lifetime since I read The Shining for the first time, over thirty years ago. I enjoyed it then for its effectiveness in telling a scary, no, a very scary story. Reading it now is colored, as is all of life, by our accumulation (or lack of accumulation) of experience. We see, or appreciate colors, textures, shapes, structures, and feelings with more experienced, educated eyes. We have seen, or are at least aware of real world things that are scarier than any fictional spectres. So, what does it look like through old, cloudy lenses?

It remains a very scary story. The things that stand out for me now are not so much the deader rising up out of a bathtub to pursue a curious child, although that is still pretty creepy, or the mobile topiary, which still works pretty well at making the hair on one’s neck and arms stand at attention. But King was using the haunted house trope to look at more personal demons. And those shine through more clearly now.

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From Allyn Scura’s blog

He had some drinking issues at the time he wrote the book, when he was 30, and concern about that is major here. Jack Torrance is an alcoholic, no question. He also has issues with anger management, not that the little shit he clocks while teaching at a New England prep school didn’t have it coming. He did. But one cannot do that to a student, however deserving, and expect to remain employed for long. His little boy, however, most certainly did not deserve a broken arm. Jack is very remorseful, and wants to make things right. He manages to get a gig taking care of the Overlook Hotel in Colorado over the winter. It will offer him a chance to get something right after a string of getting things wrong, offer a chance to save his marriage, and offer an opportunity to work on his unfinished play. Risky? Sure. But a gamble worth taking. And his wife, Wendy, agrees, despite having serious misgivings. There are no attractive alternatives.

Of course, we all know that the Overlook is not your typical residence. Odd things happen, sounds are heard, thoughts from somewhere outside find their way into your mind. Jack is targeted, and boy is he vulnerable.

But five-year-old Danny is the real key here. He is the proud possessor of an unusual talent, the shining of the book’s title. Danny can not only do a bit of mind-reading, he can also see things that other people cannot. And for a little guy he has a huge talent. He also has an invisible friend named Tony with whom only he can communicate.

It is difficult to think about the book without finding our mental screens flickering with the images of Jack Nicholson in full cartoonish psycho rage, the very effective sound of a Big Wheel followed by a steadicam coursing through the long halls of the hotel, and the best casting decision ever in choosing Scatman Crothers to play Dick Halloran. By the way, the hotel is based on a real-world place, the Stanley Hotel, in Estes Park, Colorado. And the Overlook’s spooky room 217 was inspired by the supposedly haunted room 217 at the Stanley.


This image is from the hotel’s site – they clearly embrace the spectral connection

The room number was changed in the film to 237, at the request of the Timberline hotel, which was used for exterior shots. There is so much that differentiates Kubrick’s film from the book that they are almost entirely different entities. The differences do require a bit of attention here. First, and foremost, the book of The Shining is about the disintegration of a family due to alcoholism and anger issues. How a child survives in a troubled family is key. The film is pretty much pure spook house, well-done spook house, but solely spook house, nonetheless, IMHO. There is considerable back-story to Jack and Wendy that gets no screen time. You have to read the book to get that. Jack is a victim, as much as Wendy and Danny. You would never get that from the slobbering Jack of the film. The maze in the book was pretty cool, right? I liked it too, but it does not exist in the book. I believe it was put in to replace the talented topiary, which is the definition of a bad trade. There is significant violence in the book that never made its way into Kubrick’s film, but which very much raises a specter of domestic violence that is terrorizing real people living in real horror stories. There are a few lesser elements. Jack wielded a roque mallet, not an axe. Danny is not interrupted in his travels through the corridors by Arbus-like twin sisters. And the sisters in question are not even twins. There



are plenty more, but you get the idea. An interesting film, for sure, but not really the most faithful interpretation of the book. King saw that a film that more closely reflected what he had written reached TV screens in 1997, with a six-hour mini-series version.

Irrelevancies of a personal nature
The opening shot was filmed on the Going–to-the-Sun Road in Montana’s Glacier National Park in Montana. I have had the pleasure (7 times in one visit) and recommend the drive wholeheartedly. It is a pretty narrow road though, so you will have to drive carefully. Bring along the appropriate musical media for the best effect, Wendy Carlos’s Rocky Mountain, and dress warmly. It was below freezing when I reached the top of the road, in August. Some exteriors for Kubrick’s film were shot at the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon. I visited but did not stay there back in 2008. Sadly I do not have any decent personal photos from the place. I can report, though, on a bit


This shot was found on Wikimedia

of kitsch. There is a place in the hotel where an ax is lodged in a block of wood, with HEEEEERE’s JOHNNY on the ax, a tourist photo-op. And yes, I did. Sadly, or luckily, the shot did not come out well, so you will be spared.

Back to the book, Danny’s talent is a two-edged sword. He is afflicted with seeing more than anyone his age should have to see, but on the other hand, he has a tool he can use to try to save them all. Whether he can or not is a core tension element here.

King is fond of placing his stories in literary context. He peppers the text with references to various relevant books and authors. I expect these are meant to let us know his influences. Horace Walpole, author of The Castle of Otranto, a Gothic classic, is mentioned, as are Shirley Jackson, of Hill House fame. (King had used a quote from this book in Salem’s Lot A family saga rich with death and destruction, Cashelmara is mentioned as are some more contemporary items, like The Walton Family, the idealized antithesis to the Torrance Family, Where the Wild Things Are and novelist Frank Norris. The primary literary reference here is Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, which is cited many times. There had been a costume ball back in hotel’s history and it is the impending climax of that party, the unmasking, that looms here. And toss in nods to Treasure Island and Bluebeard for good measure.

King often includes writers in his work, avatars for himself.
I write about writers because I know the territory. Also, you know it's a great job for a protagonist in a book. Without having to hold down a steady job, writers can have all sorts of adventures. Also, if they disappear, it's a long time before they are missed. Heh-heh-heh. – from an AOL interview
Jack Torrance is a writer as well as a teacher. The play that Jack is writing undergoes a transformation that mirrors Jack’s own. In fact, there is a fair bit or mirroring going on here. Jack’s affection for his father as a kid was as strong as Danny is for him. His father was an abusive alcoholic. While Jack is not (yet) the monster his father was, he is also an alcoholic with abusive tendencies.
I never had a father in the house. My mother raised my brother and I alone. I wasn’t using my own history, but I did tap into some of the anger you sometimes feel to the kids, where you say to yourself: I have really got to hold on to this because I’m the big person here, I’m the adult. One reason I wanted to use booze in the book is that booze has a tendency to fray that leash you have on your temper…For a lot of kids, Dad is the scary guy. It’s that whole thing where your mother says, ‘You just wait until your father comes home!” In The Shining, these people were snowbound in a hotel and Dad is always home! And Dad is fighting this thing with the bottle and he’s got a short temper anyway. I was kind of feeling my own way in that because I was a father of small children. And one of the things that shocked me about fatherhood was it was possible to get angry at your kids. (from the EW interview cited in Extra Stuff)
He’s right. I have had the pleasure and I know. Wendy gets some attention as well, as we learn a bit about her mother, and see Wendy’s fear that she has inherited elements of her mother’s awfulness.

Not everything shines here. There are times when five-year-old Danny seems much older than his tender years, even given his extraordinary circumstances. It struck me as surprising that there is no mention of anyone suggesting that maybe Jack might attend an AA meeting. But these are like single dead pixels on a large screen.

If you want to read horror tales that are straight up scare’ems, there are plenty in the world. But if you appreciate horror that offers underlying emotional content, and I know you do, my special gift tells me, then The Shining is a brilliant example of how a master illuminates the darkness.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Definitely check out the Wiki for this book – nifty info on the King Family’s stay at the Stanley, and yes, there was a Grady at the Stanley.

I also recommend checking out SK’s site if you want to learn more about him

An interview with King in Entertainment Weekly

BTW, here is a shot of the model snowmobile that Dick Halloran drives back to the Overlook


A few other SK's we have reviewed
Under the Dome
Duma Key
Lisey's Story
Brief Encounters with Che Guevara: Stories - Ben Fountain Brief Encounters with Che Guevara is a 2006 collection of eight brilliant short stories by Ben Fountain, author of the wonderful novel, Billy Lynn's Long Half-Time Walk. Brief Encounters established Fountain’s reputation as a writer to watch, earning him a PEN Award, a Whiting Writers Award, an O Henry, and a Barnes and Noble Discover Award. Must be good, right? Indeed it is.

Half the stories are set in Haiti. Others are in Sierra Leone, Colombia, Myanmar and there is even one in Europe. They tell of people trying to do the right thing in an amoral world. The complexity of the world is a central focus in most of these stories, where it is often not so easy to figure out what the right thing to do actually is, let alone doing it. A grad-student ornithologist is taken captive by a revolutionary group in Colombia. An American NGO worker is persuaded to help fund a revolution in Haiti. A soldier returns from an extended tour in Haiti with some very unusual baggage. A pro golfer of questionable morality is recruited by the generals in Myanmar to promote golf in their corrupt and isolated nation. A Haitian fisherman finds that it is not so easy to foil the efforts of drug smugglers. An aid worker in Sierra Leone becomes involved with a blood diamond smuggler, while attempting to support a co-op that provides work for maimed locals. Sundry people relate their intersections with Che in the title piece. And in the final selection, a prodigy pianist with an unusual gift must cope with her notoriety while attempting a supremely challenging piece.

  Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0. via Wikipedia
Photo by Larry D. Moore via Wikipedia

There is considerable moral ambiguity in these pieces, a feast of Faustian bargains to be considered, and even mention of God and the Devil wagering over people’s souls.

Fountain was not always a writer. He was born in North Carolina and got his law degree from Duke, then worked in real estate law in Dallas for five years before pleading nolo contendere and turning over a new leaf.
It was a lot of things coming together at once: having a kid; my wife, Sharie, making partner at her firm; me having practiced for five years and just absolutely having had enough; me turning thirty and thinking that if I was going to make a run at trying to be a writer I needed to get going. There was a sense of urgency, of time passing. (from Ecotone)
Beginning his new career in 1988, he had stories accepted here and there but it took a long time for him to hone his craft and produce top quality work. One of the stories in this collection was first published in 2000. He had his share of frustration during this time, with a couple of novels taking up space in a drawer to prove it. But he stuck with it, treating writing as a job, whether or not he was published, five days a week writing every day, every day, every day.

As for why Haiti figures so large as a subject
On a rational basis, I saw Haiti as a paradigm for a lot of things I was interested in relating to power, politics, race, and history. I went there a couple of times and at that point I probably had what I needed to get. It was some comfort to me to know, flying out of there the second or third time, that I didn’t really have to go back—and yet I did go back, many times. Once I was there I felt pretty comfortable. And the more time I spent there, the more there was that I felt I needed to understand. But I still can’t give a satisfactory explanation for how it happened.
He would visit Haiti over 30 times. The notion of going to Colombia or Sierra Leone was raised, but funds and time are not limitless and his wife was aghast at the notion.

Fountain is very interested in the impact of the large forces in society on individuals.
I practiced law for five years and that gives you insight into a certain mind-set that maybe a lot of writers haven’t had firsthand access to. There’s an almost casual cruelty, a very low level of overall awareness, but sometimes there’s also knowledge that real damage is being done—this attitude of “Oh, what the hell,” this kind of moral cognitive dissonance. These are people who have never missed a meal. It’s an unknowingness, an unawareness, that Reagan personified. Reagan was so sure of everything and yet his experience of the world was so narrow. How could he be sure of anything? I saw that over and over again in the wealthier people I worked with or had contact with while practicing law. Many people were operating from a very narrow range of experience, and yet they had complete faith in it. Their way was the correct way, the only way. They had virtually no awareness of any other way of life except in terms of demonizing things like communism, socialism, or Islam. It’s an extremely blindered experience of the world.
 By Claudio Reyes Ule
By Claudio Reyes Ule via Wikimedia

The stories turn a widened eye on this sort of myopia, but Fountain does not spare the revolutionary sorts either, who have issues of their own. I found the stories very engaging, enlightening and moving. It is definitely worth your while to encounter Ben Fountain in this volume. You may find that the time spent in his company is too brief.

=============================THE STORIES

Near-Extinct Birds of the Central Cordillera

John Blair is a grad-student ornithologist who ignored the risks and is doing research in Colombia when he is kidnapped by members of MURC (a FARC stand-in), a revolutionary group, and is held for ransom. He winds up spending a long time with the group and establishing relationships with some members and the leader. It is a tale heavy with political irony and a very O Henry-ish ending.

Reve Haitien
Mason is an OAS observer in Haiti. He throws chess games with the young local players, as a way of boosting their self-esteem. He encounters a player better than himself, Amulatto, and is drawn in his world.
Life here had the cracked logic of a dream, its own internal rules. You looked at a picture and it wasn’t like looking at a picture of a dream, it was a passage into the current of the dream. And for him the dream had its own peculiar twist, the dream of doing something real, something worthy. A blan’s dream, perhaps all the more fragile for that.
The Good Ones are Already Taken
Melissa is a very sexual person and it is a big sacrifice for her to do without while her serviceman husband is away. But when Dirk returns from an extended tour in Haiti, he has changed, gone voodoo, religious, which has implications for their sex life. Can Melissa adapt to the new man who came home? And what’s up with all that weirdness he is into anyway?

Asian Tiger
Sonny Grous, 23, is a pro golfer, built like a bouncer and not all that successful. In Rangoon for a tournament he has the game of his life and is recruited by the generals to be the ambassador of golf for Burma, which is seeking to attract foreigners with great courses. The money is pretty good, but there is the dodgy element of working for people who are truly reprehensible.

Bouki and the Cocaine
Concerned about the massive drug-running, Syto, a small-town Haitian fisherman, and his brother decide to grab the bales that are left by the runners on the beach and bring them to the police, accepting on face value the frequent public announcements decrying the drug trade. Things do not work out as the brothers expect. There are real questions raise here about where honor lies, and how one’s interpretation of that informs behavior. There tale is exceptionally clever and will make you smile, while also getting the moral dilemma involved.

The Lion’s Mouth
Jill runs a co-op that provides employment for many local women in Sierra Leone but funds are cut off. She turns to her unlikely bf, Starkey, a dealer in blood diamonds, for help in finding the needed funds. More moral ambiguity here, and an image of a troubled place.

Brief Encounters with Che Guevara
Che is a touchstone here, not an actual character, for the most part. Several, very diverse, people tell of their encounters with Che. Among them is Laurent, a Haitian who knew Guevara. Laurent was my favorite character in this entire collection. It is worth reading the entire book just to get to meet him.

Fantasy for Eleven fingers
Anna Juhl is a young piano prodigy, gifted in a manner identical to Anton Visser, a luminous player of the early 19th century, and composer of a particularly wonderful and difficult piece called Fantaisie pour onze Doigts. She takes on the challenge. This piece seemed a bit out of place in the collection, geographically anyway.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

A great interview in Ecotone Journal – by Ben George – must read stuff if you find Fountain interesting, and you should, a lot on writing and Fountain’s writing history.

An interview in the on-line magazine, The Millions by Edan Lepucki. It is mostly on Billy Lynn, but there is plenty here about how Fountain thinks and writes. Definitely worthwhile.

There is a lovely bit in the Barnes and Noble writer details page on Fountain’s favorite books

In the on-line edition of the magazine Rain Taxi also has a lovely review with the author. He talks about his relationship with Haiti. There is a lot of detailed discussion of the stories.

There is a piece by Malcolm Gladwell in New Yorker that looks at Fountain as an example of a late-bloomer.
Ghosts - Eva Figes Ghosts is a place where poetry meets prose. It is a feast of observation and consideration, overflowing with rich imagery and mournful with the feeling of time and experience passing, fading, ghost-like into transparency, and non-existence.

Figes, born in Berlin in 1932 to secular Jewish parents, was brought to England in 1939. She is best known for Patriarchal Attitudes, an early book of feminist social analysis. Her 1984 novel, Light, illuminates a day in the life of impressionist master Claude Monet. The skill she had nurtured with that work returns in full flower here. If her dollops of verbiage were not so rich, one might be tempted to consider her work literary pointillism. There is not, I believe a paragraph in this book that exceeds eight lines in length.

An unnamed woman of a certain age observes her world through four seasons. She recalls her youth, visits her ailing mother, has some time with her father, her grown children, lets us in on the associations she has with the various sights and sounds of the places she visits, and with this or that object that carries the weight of her history. She remembers a lover, sees in the pedestrian sights and sounds of her day-to-day the ghosts of her past, memories.
the shadows multiply. They lurk in the texture of old bricks, faced stone, and gloomy basements. Where someone used to practice his violin, hour after hour, where I broke my heel on the kerb, where servant girls in uniform walked dogs, took messages, were she eloped with her poet. Where I walk.

I think of it, this continuum, as I walk along the pavement, one two, one two, crossing the lines, crossing the road where traffic thunders. And we shall all be changed utterly, in the twinkling of an eye.
I can certainly relate. I was not so long ago that I walked with my youngest through Greenwich Village, pointing out to her this or that place that was a part of my past—I dated a woman who lived on that street; I took classes in that building; I attended a frat party there that changed my life; Hendrix recorded there; I bought such and such in that store; we hung out there in that park—specific locations where ghosts reside, lying in wait for our presence to give them a bit more ectoplasm, however temporary. They do get dimmer with time.

This relates somehow to the book I read just prior, Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, which, among other things, is a paean to a place, Manhattan, the associations one has, memories, the changes one sees over time. I am not sure Figes would consider her rendering the sort of love story that Whitehead tells. Hers has more to do with the individual perceiving the haunting of the past in the now and looking beyond that to an invisible tomorrow. For Whitehead, the city may or may not be taken over by zombies, but it is eternal. For Figes, all is fleeting.
Nothing comes back. The eye sees for a moment, the ear hears, but look, now it is gone.
And later,
At times I think I have no sense of the actual. Are things really here at all, I wonder, are any of us present? I think of my brain as a film negative that has been doubly, perhaps trebly exposed.
Ghosts is not so much a linear narrative. It is a consideration of a life in the rearview, a glance here, a look there, and a consideration of where permanence might lie, or not, with each element beautifully crafted. You could open this book to any page and be dazzled. This is not a new book. It was published in 1988, and I came upon it accidentally. It merits attention. There is such beauty in the writing that it surely needs only to be seen by more readers for the images there to retain their substance. Eva Figes died at the age of 80 in 2012. The legacy she left will remain with us for a long time. Ghosts is a book that should definitely not be allowed to fade away.

=============================EXTRA STUFF

The wiki page for Eva Figes

An obit by her friend , Eva Tucker, in the Guardian

An interesting article on Figes in the Guardian

Zone One: A Novel - Colson Whitehead
Start spreading the news. I’m leaving today
There is a lot to sink your teeth into in the latest book from MacArthur Genius grantee Colson Whitehead. The nation has pretty much collapsed, with the implication that things are no better elsewhere in the world. But there is still some hope. A provisional government has been set up in Buffalo, and some organization is returning. The government wants to clear Manhattan of undesirables, in order to repopulate, in order to show that there is a future, that there is hope.

Mark Spitz, a nom de guerre, is a sweeper. There are zombies and mindless survivors still hanging out and Omega Unit is charged with clearing out a specific geographic area inside Zone One, the real estate below Manhattan’s Canal Street, where a wall has been built to keep out the deadbeats. I suppose one might call the area R/EbeCa. Manderley had nothing on this place.

Over three days we get Spitz’s story and that of some others as well. Do you remember where you were on 9/11? Do you recall what was happening when shots were fired that took out JFK, RFK, MLK? Maybe you have been around long enough to remember a day which will live in infamy? For the characters in Colson Whitehead’s latest novel, Zone One, the event is called “Last Night.” It was the moment it became clear that a zombie apocalypse plague had run amok. Fight or flight. Time to wonder if your loved ones had succumbed and decision time re whether you would risk your life to try saving or finding them. One of the major elements in this book is the characters’ recollections of that fateful night.

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From Colsonwhitehead.com

The largest element is the city itself, well, Manhattan, and even more focused, Manhattan below Canal Street. Whitehead loves New York. He is the author of The Colossus of New York, a love song to the city, and one of my all time favorite books.
I grew up in New York in the '70s and so I took films like The Warriors and Escape from New York as documentaries. Other kids did sports; I liked to hang around watching The Twilight Zone and various movies about the end of the world, whether it was Planet of the Apes, or Damnation Alley. And so that's part of the city I carry with me from my childhood. ... In doing this book, I was trying to pay homage to certain cinematic depictions of a ruined New York.
(From NPR interview)
CW did not have a lot of trouble imagining NYC as a wasteland, noting that in the wee hours parts of the city that never sleeps are remarkably unoccupied, desolate. ”Wall Street is completely empty. All the buildings are closed and no one's on the street. It's as empty as it's described in the book.” He also remembers growing up in the 1970s, a pretty tough time for the city, with the boom in drug use, the loss of revenue as a result of white flight, and the federal government telling us to go to hell. That’s a pretty good start for building an apocalyptic landscape. He sees the accretion of the new atop the old, the replacement of the current with the new, then the replacement of the new with the newer.
"I'm walking around with my idea of what New York was 30 years ago, 20 years ago. So is everybody else. And we superimpose that ruined city over what's here now. So it's cleaned up, but we're still seeing that old shoe store, dry cleaners, that old apartment where we used to live. So, any street you walk down in New York is a heap of rubble because that's sort of how we see it if we've been here a while."
I can relate. I moved from the Bronx to Manhattan in 1972, shared an apartment on the Upper West Side before it became an unaffordable yuppie apocalypse zone. I was on 81st Street between Columbus and Amsterdam. On one end of the block was a notorious SRO, and the other featured Davey’s Tavern, notable for the lineup of pimp-mobiles up the street. One night some pals and I decided to follow a trail of blood that led from Davey’s a few blocks east into Central Park, before re-attaching our brains and desisting. It was widely assumed that landlords were having their properties torched to evict the current residents and get insurance money with which to re-build, renovate and return to business with rentals several multiples of what they had been. So it is quite understandable how one could take the reality of that era and build on it to flesh out a flesh-eating landscape.

Whitehead is also well aware of the city’s life sucking potential.
Was this skel a native New Yorker, or had it been lured here by the high jinks of [a TV personality] and her colorful roommates. One of those seekers powerless before the seduction of the impossible apartment that the gang inexplicably afforded on their shit-job salaries, unable to resist the scalpel-carved and well-abraded faces of the guest stars the characters smooched in one-shot appearances or across multi-episode arcs. Struck dumb by the dazzling stock footage of the city avenues at teeming evening. Did it work, the hairdo, the bleached teeth, the calculated injections, did it transform the country rube into the cosmopolitan? Mold their faces to the prevailing grimace?
There are plenty of folks who might pass for undead in the city, even now:
the city had long carried its own plague. Its infection had converted this creature into a member of its bygone loser cadre, into another one of the broke and the deluded, the mis-fitting, the inveterate unlucky. They tottered out of single-room-occupancies or peeled themselves off the depleted relative’s pullout couch and stumbled into the sunlight for miserable adventures. He had seen them slowly make their way up the sidewalks in their woe, nurse an over-creamed cup of coffee at the corner greasy spoon in between health department crackdowns. This creature before them was the man on the bus no one sat next to, the haggard mystic screeching verdicts on the crowded subway car, the thing the new arrivals swore they’d never become but of course some of them did. It was a matter of percentages.
It cannot be a coincidence that in CW’s future Manhattan the powerless are being driven out of prime real estate by force, so the lucky can take their places. It’s called gentrification, and has been going on, under that name anyway, since the 70s. There are plenty of landlords who would like nothing more than to have armed groups evict anyone not paying market rates, so they could bring in new prey to gouge. No zombie apocalypse needed for that. It is extant reality here.

CW does not expect that, whatever disaster may arrive, those at the extremes of the human bell curve will be the likely remnants:
In the apocalypse, I think those average, mediocre folks are the ones who are going to live," he says. "I think the A-pluses will probably snuff themselves. The C-minus personalities will probably be killed off very quickly. But it's the mediocre folks that will become the heroes. ... Anyone who survives will be a hero."
From an NPR interview
Thus Mark Spitz is, by design, the ultimate average guy.

There is particular poignance for this native in scenes of a zombie crematorium creating mass quantities of gray ash that fall like snow on the city. I know CW’s city very well. I worked and have played in the area called Zone One for many years. To see it brought to life in these pages is a remarkable experience for me. As if someone had written a biography of your child and got all the facts and feel right, even about the aspects you do not admire. Whitehead has a remarkable gift, his writing rich with insight and observational acuity.

We have seen our share of death in New York, physical and spiritual, from the horror of 9/11 to the siren call of the city, tuned to the young and hopeful, luring so many onto the rocks of not good-looking/talented/smart/connected/special-enough, to the middle-aged newly unemployed dazedly going through the motions, even after there is no destination for the trains and their feet to take them to. The magic of power, lights, glitter and energy has its dark side, when the lights go out, the sparkle fades and security is no longer up to the task of keeping that which menaces at bay.

This is not a story where this happens and then that happens. It offers a novel format as a structure within which Whitehead can relate what he has seen and felt about his beloved city. (And to seriously bitch about Connecticut. Dude, did Connecticut shoot your dog?) If a few characters become fodder for roving people-eaters, like so many large hot dogs on the hoof, then so be it. If you can’t make it there, well, buh-bye.

There are elements of Zone One that reminded me of Gary Shteyngart, (and Max Headroom) a twenty-minutes-into-the-future feel to his social satire. Survivors of Last Night are often afflicted with PASD, or Post Apocalyptic Stress Disorder, pronounced “PAST.” So folks suffering with PASD are said to have a problem with their past, snicker, snicker. A remnant coven of lawyers who are looking for actual pounds of flesh. Corporate sponsorship is alive and well in the world of the zombie apocalypse with wonderfully cute corporate armadillo logos finding their ways onto a wide range of official items. The new national Anthem is "Stop! Can You Hear the Eagle Roar? (Theme From Reconstruction)." Trebly delicious for the Ashcroft ref, the intentional malaprop and the parenthetical ref to far too many contemporary songs

The creature feature is a means to an end for Whitehead. “I've had the same publisher for six books, and they know it's not just about elevator inspectors, it's not just about zombies—it's about people, it's about culture.” Yeah, it is. And as a portrait of New York, it is dead on.

==============================EXTRA MEAT

A wonderful interview with the author in The Atlantic, Colson Whitehead on Zombies, 'Zone One,' and His Love of the VCR by Joe Fassler

Terry Gross’s interview with the author on Fresh Air, A 'Zone' Full Of Zombies In Lower Manhattan, the transcript

The audio can be heard here
Fevered: Why a Hotter Planet Will Hurt Our Health -- and how we can save ourselves - Linda Marsa
As the planet gets hotter, we’ll live sicker and die quicker.
All change is a matter of degrees. Up or down, a bit here, a bit there. And in time, with persistence, you really have something. In the Broadway and later film musical, Pajama Game , the cast sings of the accumulating impact of a small change, in this case literal small change. And so it is with global warming. A fraction of a degree here and there, and what with adding that small bit over and over, the overall amount grows significantly. When we think of warming, we tend to think of what is going into the air, water and land right now. When the fact is that we have been making carbon deposits into our environment for a long time, and are beginning to see the result of that. If you will allow another dip into our musical theater history, the show Mary Poppins, offers a lesson on the value of compound interest. In the case of our planet however, the Fidelity Fiduciary Bank in question has grown far too large, its holdings are increasingly comprised of toxic assets and it threatens us all with more than just a fiscal meltdown.

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The author with a ring-tailed lemur in Sarasota, Florida

Global Warming is a hot topic. When we think of the medical impact of global warming it is usually in terms of coping with personal temperature management, keeping cool in the hot weather. We might think of shrinking polar caps, maybe rising sea levels, more energetic hurricanes and the like. But there are very concrete health impacts that might not be so obvious. What if the breeding season of disease-vector mosquitoes were to be extended? More mosquitoes = more illness. One effect of shifting weather patterns brought on by warming is desertification. Dust storms increase in frequency and severity. While one may think of dust storms as a health threat due to the danger of airborne particulates making their way inside our bodies, such storms also carry fungus spores, and the diseases they can cause. There are many such effects we can look forward to as the short-term focus of corporate and political leaders ensures that our long term is hotter and in need of medical attention. In projecting the likely result of any ongoing situation, the devil is in the details, and the author has collected enough of the pesky horned guys together to raise the global temperature even more.

Science writer Linda Marsa, whose previous book, Prescription for Profits , addressed the impact of corporate culture on medical research, has offered compelling details about how a warming planet will, hell, is already affecting our health. A lot of what she reports will surprise you. I am no stranger to the subject, and found that I was being regularly alarmed at what I had not known or suspected.

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Superstorm Sandy

Elements of warming that will affect our health include wider extremes and gyrations in weather,
Hot air holds more water, so we will have more torrential rains, more ferocious hurricanes, and, conversely, more dry spells as a result of heat-induced changes in rainfall patterns. Rising temperatures could trigger pestilence, drought-induced food shortages, raging firestorms, massive migrations, political instability, and wars, even the return of the bubonic plague…In the near future, millions might perish and millions more might be sickened by the litany of medical conditions caused or exacerbated by living in a rapidly warming world: heart disease, asthma, severe respiratory infections, heatstroke, and suicidal despair.
faster global spreading of disease with the growth of global access and increasing interconnectivity,
The explosion of international travel on a hotter, wetter planet—more than 60 million Americans travel abroad every year, and an equal number visit the United States—has created the perfect conditions for the increased transmission of lethal pathogens from the tropics to industrialized nations. Hitchhiking parasites and infected individuals carting microbes that can be passed on by mosquitoes can now go anywhere in the world in less than 24 Hours and deliver reservoirs of malaria, dengue, or chikungunya fever, a particularly nasty infection that causes arthritis-like joint pain, to newly temperate regions…These two factors—global movement and changing global weather—are what enabled the West Nile virus to become entrenched in North America.
assaults by air pollution on our ability to breathe,
One component of pollution, diesel fumes, delivers a double whammy for health. The diesel exhaust emitted by factories and big rigs not only damages the lungs, but also manes an excellent transport system for fungal spores, which proliferate in hotter, carbon-enriched environments. They attach themselves like glue to the tiny diesel particles, which scatter them in the wind in a “nasty synergy,” to use a phrase coined by the late Dr. Paul Epstein, a pioneer in environmental health at Harvard. The fungi lurking inside the spores can be lethal… [causing Valley Fever]

Dust storms may exist
By By Quinn Dombrowski

persistent exposure to hotter temperatures,
After 48 hours of constant exposure to temperatures in excess of 90°F, the body’s defenses start to break down. Consequently, the swiftness of the public health system’s response to heat-related illnesses can literally mean the difference between life and death.
and the stress of exploding demand on existing infrastructure:
[re New Orleans post Katrina]…the mental health care infrastructure—which had been inadequate before—was virtually nonexistent at a time when the need couldn’t possible have been greater. At one point there were only 22 psychiatrists in a city of 200,000. Within a year after Katrina, five doctors became so despondent they took their own lives. “It wasn’t just the destitute poor who had no hope, but professional people who didn’t leave New Orleans and who stayed in the middle of it.
It would be easy to look at all the dark sides of our current warming crisis and start looking for a convenient bridge from which to end it all. But wait. There is plenty more between the covers of Marsa’s report. In fact, she goes into some detail about actions that can be taken. Progress is already being made to reduce our carbon footprint, particularly via smart urbanization. She also shows how we can learn from pioneers in confronting the impact of warming, folks in the Netherlands and Australia specifically, who are learning the lessons of coping at the bleeding edge of climatic change.

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I do not have any gripes about Fevered. Well, ok, maybe a very small and irrelevant one. I am of the opinion that most written work is made more palatable with a dose of humor. I know most of you are not exactly looking for comic relief in a book on global warming, and that is where I happily concede that this is a purely personal bias, and probably needs to be ignored. But the book could have used a smile or two, maybe a Far Side comic, something. But really, feel free to ignore the man behind this paragraph.

Marsa is a seasoned pro who has done her homework and whose experience as a popular science writer is on full display here. Which is a long way of saying that is it an easy-to-read book, rich with information, without being dumbed down.

It is probably the case that folks who are of the rightist persuasion would not bother picking up any book on global warming that did not feature conspiracies and reassurance that nothing is really wrong. Why confuse ideology with facts? But that leaves two thirds of us. For readers with minimal familiarity with warming, Fevered is a good introduction. The audience that will gain the most from the book, I suspect, consists of those of us who have read and studied enough to know just how bloody real this event is, and can always uses some more specifics, both for use in fending off zombie hordes of deniers and in thinking about where public resources should best be directed to cope with the impact.

Hopefully we can apply some heat of our own, get fired up and light a match under the appropriate representatives, senators, mayors, governors, council members and CEOs. Along with us they share responsibility, to a large degree.

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Global Warming – It’s hee-er!

Posted 8/26/2013

This book was received via GR's First Reads program, just so's ya know

==============================EXTRA STUFF

The author’s website . There is one video in particular that sums up her expectations for the future, in the blog page of the site

Wiki on Valley Fever

It is hard to find an example more directly relevant to Marsa’s thesis than this one, Pollution Costs California Hospitals Millions of Dollars by Gina-Marie Cheeseman - March 23rd, 2010

The September, 2013 issue of National Geographic is focused on Rising Seas. This is MUST READ material, very accessible, very alarming.

More to come…




The Ocean at the End of the Lane: A Novel - Neil Gaiman
Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but aren’t.
I turned 7 early in third grade. It was a memorable school year because I had for a teacher a nun with a reputation. Sister Evangelista was about 5 foot nuthin’, and symmetrical. If the what’s black and white, black and white, black and white – a nun rolling down a hill joke were applied to her you would have needed a lot more black-and-whites, as her spherical shape would have kept her rolling a long time. It earned her the nickname Cannonball. She was notorious, not only for her distinctive dimensions, but for having a particularly foul temper. Her starched garb also pinched her face into a state of permanent floridity and pursed her lips into a particularly fish-like shape. It was not a happy year for me at school. There would be more than one instance of raised voices, and more than one rap across the hands with yardsticks. I was even banned from the classroom for a spell, to wander the halls for hours, unaccompanied. But I somehow knew that eventually I would be a third grader no longer and would escape the sharpened claws and flapping habit of this creature. She was unpleasant, for sure, but she did not present an existential threat.

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Neil on a drainpipe as a lad – from his FB page

When the unnamed narrator of Neil Gaiman’s book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, turns 7, he has troubles of his own. It begins with zero attendance at his birthday party. The family comes on some hard times and must take in boarders. The boy is given a kitten, Fluffy, to ease the loss of his room, but the pet falls victim to a cab, arriving with a South African opal miner, the latest paying resident. Not long after, the miner takes the family car. It is found soon after, at the end of a nearby lane, with a body in the back seat, and a hose running from the tail pipe to the driver’s window. At the scene, the boy meets an eleven-year-old girl, Lettie Hempstock, who takes charge of him, and brings him to her family’s farm, which borders the lane. And so begins a beautiful friendship. (Members of the extended Hempstock family, btw, turn up in several other Gaiman books)

Lettie lives with her mother and grandmother. When strange events begin to erupt in the area--the boy’s sister is assaulted by flung coins, the boy wakes up choking on a coin, and other strangeness afflicts neighbors--Lettie seems to know what is causing them. She is sent to take care of it and brings the boy, her little friend, along. They travel across the Hempstock property and into what seems another world, (mentions of Narnia and Alice in Wonderland, among others, let us know that lines will be crossed) a place that has some threatening inhabitants. Lettie confronts the troublemaker, but the boy reacts to an event instead of thinking and disobeys her lone order, to keep hold of her hand. That is when the real trouble begins.

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Image taken from abc.net.au

The boy is far too young for this to be a coming of age tale, but a central element of horror, whether of the Freddie Krueger, Nurse Ratched (or Sister Evangelista) variety, or the flapping beast central to Gaiman’s tale, is one’s helplessness before a greater, and ill-intentioned power. Although he doesn’t characterize his intentions as horror-mongering, Gaiman has laid out what he was up to in writing the book.
It was meant to be just about looking out at the world through the kind of eyes that I had when I was 7, from the kind of landscape that I lived in when I was 7. And then it just didn't quite stop. I kept writing it, and it wasn't until I got to the end that I realized I'd actually written a novel. ... I thought — it's really not a kids' story — and one of the biggest reasons it's not a kids' story is, I feel that good kids' stories are all about hope. In the case of Ocean at the End of the Lane, it's a book about helplessness. It's a book about family, it's a book about being 7 in a world of people who are bigger than you, and more dangerous, and stepping into territory that you don't entirely understand.
Gaiman was aware that his work might appeal to young readers for which is it not intended. He said that he deliberately made the first few chapters of the book dull as a way to dissuade younger readers, who would be put off by that and disinclined to continue on to the juicy bits.

The world the young boy faces may not be understandable. There is just too much to take in and Gaiman captures that element of childhood quite well.

Changes for the boy at home include the antithesis of Mary Poppins, in the form of one Ursula Monkton, who seems to have arrived on an ill wind, with the added bonus of her having designs on the boy’s father. Adults overall seem pretty careless. But there is some balance in this universe. Lettie’s family seems beyond time itself, a bright light in the darkness, welcoming, comforting, nurturing. And then there’s the ocean. Looks like a pond to you or me, but it has qualities quite unlike other bodies of water. As in his earlier American Gods, there are things that have been brought to this newer world from the place its residents once occupied. You may not be able to go home again, but what if you could take it with you? (Also a theme in American Gods)

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Gaiman says he usually writes for himself. One thing that was different about this book was that he was writing for someone else. His wife, musician Amanda Palmer, was off in Australia making an album. Where you or I might send along daily, or weekly notes of what was going on, Gaiman sent something else
I will tell my wife, by making stuff up, kind of what it was like to be me when I was seven, from the inside of my head, not in the real world, then put it in the actual landscape that I grew up in.
There really had been a boarder who killed himself in the family ride. Like his young hero, Gaiman climbed drainpipes. There really was a farm down the lane that had been recorded in the DomesDay Book.

And as with such enterprises he did not have a large frame work constructed. It was "like driving at night through the fog" – he knew "three or five pages ahead what would happen", but no further.


There is some material here that rankled a bit. The substitute parent trope had been used to good effect in Coraline and manifests in many of the Disney animated classics, evil stepmothers in Cinderella, Snow White and the like. Ditto here. Maybe going to that well one time too many? And is dad really that dim? But there is also a nice diversity of conceptual toys at work. The flapping baddie was fun. The magical ocean and ageless Hemplocks are also very engaging. The nothingness created by the creatures referred to, among other things, as hunger birds, reminded me of Stephen King’s Langoliers, also the Nothing of the Never-Ending Story and the Dark Thing of a Wrinkle in Time. Might the three Hemplocks serve as a sort of feminine Holy Trinity? There is a wormhole that involves an actual…you know…worm, which made me smile for a long time. And any time there is a dip into water, one must ponder things baptismal, rebirth, either literal or spiritual.

Letting go is what so much of growing up is about. It is the very thing that must be done in order to be able to grow, to live one’s own life. But sometimes letting go has the opposite effect, and can place you in peril, particularly when you are only 7 and not ready for the consequences. There is a lot in this short book on holding on, and letting go, and the price of both. There is a lot on doing what is right, on personal sacrifice, on permanence and the ephemeral, on remembering and forgetting.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a short novel. But do not let go of the notion that this is a book for adults. The ocean in question may look to be a pond, but do not be deceived. Jump in. The water’s fine, and deep.

Posted 8/19/13

==============================EXTRA STUFF

Gaiman’s FB page

A wonderful article on Gaiman in the January 25, 2010 issue of The New Yorker

An excellent audio interview by Jian Ghomeshi of Canadian Broadcasting

I also reviewed Gaiman's Stardust, briefly, a few back, and The Graveyard Book more fully in October 2012.
The Good Luck of Right Now - Matthew Quick
I wondered if faith were not a form of pretending
You’re in Luck! Matthew Quick, author of The Silver Linings Playbook, has written an incredibly moving story, populated with his usual range of damaged, quirky, lovable characters, but containing a core of significant philosophical substance.

description
A man called “Q”

Bartholomew Neil is 38 years old. He keeps a journal of interesting things. He has never held a job. He has lived with his mother all his life, and the two have always shared a close bond. His father has never really been in the picture. Bartholomew can probably be found somewhere on the autism scale. Although he has never spoken to her, he is smitten with a young lady at his local library. He calls her the Girlbrarian. He has an angry man in his stomach who keeps telling him awful things. He has no friends. He has a young grief counselor who has troubles of her own. After a prolonged illness, Mom has passed away. For the first time in his life, Bartholomew must take care of himself, a fledgling who needs to grow a pair…of wings.

The Good Luck of Right Now is the story of how Bartholomew creates a new family/home/life/nest for himself out of the shards of the past and the flotsam of the present.

The cast’s oddities are based in their personalities and in their troubles, and there is plenty of damage to go around. Mom is, well, dead. Not much to be done about that. Father McNamee is not just their local parish priest, but a close friend of the family. The padre has issues of his own, and after not hearing God speaking to him for a stretch, decides, from the pulpit, to chuck the collar, and pursue what he believes to be his personal mission from God. And he’s not even one of these guys.

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from Wikimedia

If Father McNamee is not enough, how about Bartholemew’s new friend, Max, who charmingly uses expletives as adjectives, nouns, and verbs, particularly the f-bomb, and has issues with paranoia, particularly as it pertains to therapists who may or may not be alien abductors.

The Girlbrarian completes the core cast, a quiet, but very dedicated library worker, several steps further outside the norm than that other librarian
you may have heard of. She is very retiring, and with good reason

The story is told by Bartholomew, writing letters to his more or less imaginary friend, Richard Gere (think Woody Allen in Play it Again, Sam). Mom had been a huge fan, and in her waning days imagined that Barthololew was someone other than who he was. Bartholomew played along, pretending, for her sake. Now, he writes to Gere as if they were buds, telling him about his life and ongoing challenges.

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from www.japanese-buddhism.com

He may never have taken care of himself before. He may begin this journey friendless. He may communicate with a person who has no idea he is alive. He may have more than his share of oddities, but Bartholomew is a good egg with an outsized heart, an admirable openness and an eagerness to learn, and to help others.

But there is so much more than quirkiness and warmth to this novel. As with Silver Linings, there is consideration for how one faces the downsides of our existence. Is there some sort of balance in the universe? What is worth dismissing and what is worth believing in? And can believing, or pretending make it so? Where does delusion leave off and faith begin?
Like the haloed saints depicted in stained glass at Saint Gabriel’s, Mom seemed to be guided by divinity. Her madness appeared holy. She was bathed in light.
Some part of Bartholomew believes that Richard Gere cosmically reads the letters he writes. And a part of his affection for Gere has to do with Gere’s Buddhism and alliance with the Dalai Lama. His one-sided communications are reminiscent of how the prayerful might feel about a favored saint. Father McNamee believes that God has spoken to him, and hopes He will again. He spends long hours on his knees, in prayer. Max believes in aliens, and swearing. Others believe that bad and hurt people will get better with counseling.

Lest one think there is nothing but sunshine here, let me disabuse you of the notion. Bartholomew has come in for the sort of treatment one might expect from moron bullies confronted with the unfamiliar. His home has been the object of unpleasantness as well. In fact there is a fair bit of abuse across the cast of characters here, all off-screen. It is how they cope with life’s challenges that is at issue, not the obstacles per se.

You might want to keep an eye out for avian references. I counted thirteen, but stopped counting after a point. They permeate, and work well to illuminate character and events. And if you are fond of cats, there is one scene in particular that is at least as uplifting as a good scratch behind the ears.

Madison 554
My nominee for a star turn in the role of Max's cat, Alice, is the female who shares my bed almost every day, the sultry calico, Madison

Toss in some human organs on public display, and peculiar therapeutic environments for good measure.

455 x 799
Charles Guiteau’s brain

650x674
Brother Andre’s Heart from HolyCrossUsa.org

What’s not to like? Very little. There is an event in which Bartholomew’s advisor offers guidance that seemed to me outside the realm of the likely. Just what the Good Luck of Right Now consists of is explained in the book. It has to do, generically, with there being some balance in the universe, but I will not dump details here. I must say, though, that, I do not think this particular philosophical view stands up to close scrutiny, at least not to mine. Yet it certainly is an uplifting, and comforting way of looking at the world, and very much informs the characters and actions of this tale. One can look at the world through one’s own lens and still appreciate the landscape as seen through Quick’s.

This book is a delight, well-paced, moving, (yes, you will need tissues) and content-rich.

You might even feel, when you get around to reading this, that your luck wihastaken a turn for the better.

==============================EXTRA STUFF

Quick’s web page

Canadian Parliamentary Cats - OK. This is not really a spoiler, but I wanted to include this stuff and thought it would clutter up the review even more than I have already done. The Cats of Parliament Hill figure in the story. I will refer you to the Wikipedia page
for that history. Don’t worry. You will not spoil anything about the book by reading this.

Here is a particularly wonderful FB page if you want to see more shots of the place and it’s erstwhile inhabitants. Sadly, it was shut down, (the place, not the website) as of January 2013. So here is a sample of shots from that page.

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Cat posse


One of the cats of Parliament Hill

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Standing Guard- well lying down, actually



Full, well partial, well, at least a little disclosure
While I can be bought, this review is not evidence of the fact. I received the ARE from my Book Goddess (no, not Madison) who works at HarperCollins. The opinions expressed here are mine alone.
The Story of Ain't: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published - David Skinner started June 27