Just read: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, first edition cover

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, first edition cover

I’ve been slowly working my way through a long list of books I probably should have read decades ago. I’d been meaning to read this one for years, even before I made the list. Most people I know read it contemporaneously or within several years of publication. Then along came the Hulu series based on the book, which kept it top of mind, for me. Released in 1985, the book garnered several awards in the wake of its release.

This is a gut-wrenching story, told from the perspective of an average woman in the opening years of an oppressive regime. The events leading up to a second civil war in America and the subsequent rise of a government called the Republic of Gilead, a theocratic military dictatorship. It is based on various interpretations of the bible, the fact of which is only dropped in hints. Atwood’s writing in this novel is masterful in telling the tale of ‘Offred,’ a handmaiden, the breeding caste of the subjugated women. Her value is entirely held within her ability to bear children and she has no remarkable talents, otherwise. Since the regime has banned any sort of artificial insemination and there is a case to be made for surrogacy, handmaidens are assigned to ‘Commander’ homes in order to be impregnated. When a handmaiden is reassigned, their designation is changed according to the name of the patriarch. In fact, there are few names in the book, most people are referred to by rank or position. This desperate attempt at increasing the population is driven by a severe drop in pregnancy that’s attributed to radiation poisoning from the war. Food is scarce, the population seems to be in decline, and the regime’s logic is driven by Biblical directives. I couldn’t help but be reminded that there is currently a decline in “white” birthrates that some have found troubling over the last few decades. The Gileadan regime prefers “whites” overall, there’s little to no mention of any ethnicities. The white supremacist notions of the misogynistic regime are made most clear in the final chapter of the novel.

Tension abounds throughout, we are never treated to the inner thoughts of other characters and Offred’s journey to suffering is made clear in short flashbacks leading up to the moment her partner and daughter are taken. It’s also unclear how reliable a narrator Offred is, since the text is ostensibly a remembrance of hers. Since the reader is never given a view beyond Offred’s, the goings on in the rest of the country, and the world, are completely unknown. The point of view heightens the already palpable fear. The story is set in New England—around Harvard University, in particular, I think. Walls have been erected, hangings are a regular occurrence and women have been divided into castes where ‘Wives’ have the most value and ‘Aunts’ are the penultimate enforcers. In between are ‘Marthas,’ women who work in the homes and assist the Wives, and a few other castes. Men hold all the power above the women. The list of horrors visited on women is long.

Frankly, reading this book was difficult, not only for the constant tension and slow-burning horror, but for how eerily it crafts realistic characters—people who feel familiar with. So many of the novel’s characters reflect the fantastical desires of prominent Evangelicals, Christian Fundamentalists and Dominionists—including women. I was often reminded of the opinions of certain, fiery American religious leaders as well as the Taliban in Afghanistan or the shift in Iran after their revolution, or Puritanical New England in the 1700s. Some particular points that creeped me the fuck out because they’re issues that remain in effect today:

  • The parallels with chattel slavery

  • The parallels with the Nazi regime

  • Nothing the men do struck me as out of character for men

  • The unlikelihood of an average person escaping such conditions

  • Horrific and pervasive interpretations of the Bible to justify atrocity

  • Propaganda is terrifying

  • The very realistic manner that people can be inexplicably cruel to each other when they should be sympathetic

It’ll be years before I’ll be able to handle reading this book again.

Just read: Dreadnought (Nemesis)

Dreadnought-cvr.jpg

April Daniels has written a wonderful book with a particularly compelling, teenage protagonist. Fifteen-year old Danny Tozer finds himself in the right place at the wrong time when the long-time hero Dreadnought meets his end. Gifted the abilities of the legendary “white” cape, Tozer is, in turn, gifted with his deepest desire: to be a girl. We follow Tozer as she meets Calamity, a “grey” cape and also a teen, new to the superhero scene, with a sad and novel-worthy back story. Egged on by Calamity’s comparative skill and experience, Tozer explores her new abilities. Along the way, she’s entangled with the Legion Pacifica, a super-team reminiscent of The Avengers or Justice League, a powerful villain, and—most interesting and integral to her character arc—her troubled mother and toxic father. Daniels hits all the right beats in creating a heartbreaking and heartwarming story about a transgender teen rife with super-heroics. If you’ve ever enjoyed a novel with super-powered characters, this is one well worth the read. The world-building is tight, for a community of heroes and villains. If I had a rating system, I’d give the book ‘5-stars’ or ‘2 thumbs up,’ or call it a solid ‘10.’ I thought it was that good!

Just read: Down The River Unto The Sea

79070b82-0d00-11e8-b610-7e1d197a08e2-780x1178.jpg

It’s Walter Mosley, y’all.

I know this isn’t a sufficient review. I’ll try again: It’s Walter Mosley, y’all, and it’s a damn good book. There, how’s that? I wouldn’t call it Mosley’s best, in my personal opinion, but, damn, the man can write like a hot knife through butter. Mosley creates a compelling character in King, a police officer framed and done wrong. He’s an escapist character, someone—I think—intended as a sort of fantasy, ride-along type for thrillers such as this. The kind of character who’s physically attractive, vulnerable in the right ways, smart, tough, and very capable.

It’s a damn good book.

Why I vote

Photo by Tim Mossholder via Unsplash

Photo by Tim Mossholder via Unsplash

Why vote? Quite a few people seem to be asking that and have been for some time. A majority of Americans, I think, ask that question. Since only about 58% of registered voters bother to vote, that means the rest of them are wondering why they should bother. Incredibly, at the national level, it’s considered successful when 80% of 50% of the electorate turns out to vote. Most of the people I meet who don’t bother to engage their civic duties, consider their vote worthless, something that won’t make a difference. Even if they vote, I hear, the system is rigged, fixed to benefit certain people. And that feels right to me, it does. So much of American governmental history is dominated by inequality or monied corruption, how could that not be the case? I even hear that there’s a significant portion of potential voters who don’t register in order to avoid jury duty. Still, I vote.

In North Dakota, the state legislature passed a restrictive voter ID law that requires each voter have a street address. This disenfranchises the homeless, for sure, but it also effectively nullifies the votes of Native Americans who live on reservations in rural areas without street addresses. For all intents and purposes, a people who have faced genocide at the hands of the United States government, a people who have to cope with rampant ignorance at the highest levels of American leadership, who entertain ideas of race supremacy. Those incredibly dangerous ideas consider chattel slavery to have been a tiny part of the U.S. economy (it was a major component), insignificant to the Civil War (it wasn’t), and bears no affect on society today (it does). It thinks Native populations are trespassers in their own country, unworthy of even the basic honesty required to follow treaties. For those people, I vote.

In Selma, Alabama, in 1965, only 2.1 percent of blacks of voting age were registered to vote. The only place you could attempt to register was to go down to the courthouse. You had to pass a so-called literacy test. And they would tell people over and over again that they didn’t or couldn’t pass the literacy test.
— John Lewis

Voter ID laws passed by the Georgia state legislature require state-issued licenses—excluding the most common forms used by the poor—in order to vote. Poor, rural citizens who don’t drive have no state-issued IDs recognized by the law. The nearest license issuing departments, such as the DMV, have moved offices up to fifty miles away from the populations. In order to vote, the working poor must take a day off, not get paid, spend money travel fifty miles, spend money to obtain an ID, and spend money to return. For them, I vote.

In my small state of Rhode Island—a state that led the way in progressive thinking—only about 48% of registered voters turned out for the 2018 midterm elections. That means an effective minority in a two-party system made the decisions on ballot questions and state leadership. A majority of Rhode Islanders are apparently okay with a minority of the state deciding its fate. And so it goes with national elections, but it is far more important to vote in local elections where the impact is far more potent. And so, I vote.

Too many people fought too hard to make sure all citizens of all colors, races, ethnicities, genders, and abilities can vote to think that not voting somehow sends a message.
— Luis Gutierrez

Mostly I vote so that people aren’t hurt. To have a city council with a heart, to approve ballot questions and legislative action that will help or protect people in need. To have a voice, however small, in the course of my neighborhood, my city, my state, and my country. I vote informed and with a conscience.

In 2013, an LGBTQ activist, Davis Hammet, a gay man, visited Kansas and fell in love with the people. So he decided to stay. He then witnessed the state, led by Gov. Sam Brownback, flailing economically and sliding down a right-wing hole where LGBTQ lives were not valued as citizens. This man left LGBTQ activism efforts in 2016 and helped start voter registration and turnout movements. By 2017, one-third of the state legislature was voted out. By 2018, there were three LGBTQ representatives elected for state and federal offices. In 2019, Gov. Laura Kelly (formerly Senator) has pledged to restore LGBTQ protections that had been rescinded under the Brownback administration. Some parts of our deadly, capitalist society are beyond our immediate control. I admit that. But this example? That’s a straight line of effort and influence driven by voting. It’s a demonstration of change for the better. And a damned good reason to vote.

This is why I vote.

Of course voting is useful. But then again, I don’t put a big glow to it. Voting is about as essential as washing yourself. It’s something you’re supposed to do. Now, you can’t go around bragging, expecting to get props because you voted. That’s stupid.
— Chuck D

Just read: "Seven Kinds of Hell" by Dana Cameron & "Positive" by David Wellington & "The Migration by Helen Marshall

ThreeNovels.jpg

This past July, I had the honor of serving as Toastmaster at NECon 38. Everyone just refers to the event as “Necon” because the conference has been around for thirty-eight years. Quick explanation: the North East Conference is for authors, publishers, genre sellers and enthusiasts, illustrators, and other creative folk. It’s a relatively casual con’ with a tight schedule of panels and events built on its years of tradition. There’s always a Guest of Honor—or two, or three; a GOH artist, Legends, and a Toastmaster. Which is where I came in this year.

The Toastmaster has a handful of responsibilities:

  1. Hold a kaffeeklatsch with new attendees
  2. Give the official conference opening toast
  3. Interview the guests of honor

One of the things I set out to do—in addition to some background sleuthing and Internet creeping—was to read. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get through their copious oeuvres: Cameron has several novels and multiple short stories, Wellington is the same, and Marshall is a short story enthusiast with four collections and many short stories out in the wild. These are the three novels I chose to read.

SEVEN KINDS OF HELL is Cameron’s first book in a modern fantasy series that blends history, archeology, and divided, but hidden, supernatural species called “fangborn.” The series follows young archeologist Zoe Miller. She’s been plagued for most of her life by episodes where, under stress and in the presence of evil, she believes she’s imagined becoming a wolf and…dealing with the problem. This is exacerbated by an absentee father and a mother who seems to be on the run. The book opens with her mother’s death and Zoe’s spiral into the world and conflicts of the fangborn.

I’ve read plenty of modern fantasy novels and series featuring enhanced, former humans and spooky supernatural goings on. “Seven Kinds…” fits right in. It’s a fast-paced, globe-trotting race to secure items of power. For Zoe, her personal challenge is accepting the most controversial aspects of her heritage and, of course, her role in this ancient power play. Frankly, I enjoyed the character. She fits the archetype of the heroine in modern fantasy books such as this, but that’s not who she is. It’s her experience—successes and failures—that are the highlight of this book, the character herself was a joy to follow along with as she grew and changed from the first page to the last.

POSITIVE is one of at least four zombie novels that Wellington has written. His rise began with the near-accidental serialization of his first novel on a blog that his friend had stopped using. Serendipitous. Walking dead stories are generally lumped into a horror category, but they probably best fit within science-fiction, Wellington’s first love. In “Positive,” Wellington’s hook is that he’s following a character who has grown up post-apocalypse. Only one generation removed, Finnegan lives on the blasted isle of Manhattan with his family and others in a few high-rises. They fish, they farm, they survive. ‘Positive’ refers to victims of the virus that has scorched the world. Exposure means twenty-years of uncertainty as the virus runs its course. The result is a hyper-aggressive human that craves the consumption of flesh.

As mentioned above, Finn is a product of this world after the fall. His perspective, awareness, and learnings are informed directly by this. There are still plenty of people—such as his parents—who remember what life was like before. This is where Wellington’s novel shines. The story is being recounted by Finn in the past tense. Often, this means something of a spoiler since the reader knows the protagonist survives. However, we have no idea what condition Finn is in or how he survived. When his mother succumbs to the virus, Finn is doused in her blood when she’s killed. The community flies into a panic and turns Finn and his best friend over to the military authority that has been trying to restore order since the fall. Part of his sentence is to have a large plus sign tattooed on the back of his left hand. In handing Finn over, his story truly begins as he learns how the military deals with positives and what other factions populate what’s left of America. All of this is from Finn’s post-apocalyptic perspective and we get to follow Finn as he learns, as he grows, and this is the most satisfying aspect of the book, in face of the trials he must overcome. Wellington populated the novel with an awful reality of hunger, misperceptions, fear, and opportunism, but his handling of Finn is the catalyst of change in the story. I’m sure plenty of readers will see a critique of our current political systems and cultures—and rightly so—but, in my honest opinion, the story shines a light on our current shortcomings as much as it considers what might be. Wellington does the zombie genre proud by keeping the threat of zombies in the background and exploring humanity’s progress or lack thereof through the eyes of Finn. Go forth and read it!

THE MIGRATION is Marshall’s first novel—which isn’t obvious, considering the quality. (I read an ARC, the novel is commercially available in March 2019, according to amazon.ca) She’s the author of four collections and a multitude of short stories elsewhere. She’s also a medievalist with a PhD and her fiction has won several awards. I only mention this because she’s very good at what she does precisely because she pours her life and her experiences into her writing that produces some stunning stories that easily defy categorization. Weird and bizarre come to mind, but they miss the mark, as do horror, science-fiction, or fantasy. Let’s just call it speculative fiction and be done with it. “The Migration” is no exception.

The story follows a young woman, Sophie, and her family. Her younger sister, Kira, has contracted a disease that is spreading around the world amongst the younger generations. Her mother and father have separated and her mother has moved them back to her country of origin, England, where there appears to have been some progress identifying and treating the disease. Nothing is as it seems, of course, as Sophie learns the hard truth of their situation between the historical knowledge of her historical epidemiologist aunt and the doctor treating Kira. In the meantime, the weather itself seems to have turned against humanity’s survival and the whispers of death afflict those who’ve contracted the virus.

Marshall is masterful at conveying the ties that bind us in humanity, the bonds of family and friendship. Her world-building is incredibly personal and all too real. In this debut novel, she explores the fraying of those ties, the building of new ones, and the courage of our younger generations. Sophie is dogged in her pursuit of the truth despite just about every adult in her life trying to dissuade her. This was a lovely, strange, and harrowing tale. I highly recommend it.

Perhaps a metaphor might help?

policebrutality.jpg

Is This Your Leopard?

“Excuse me?”

“Yes?”

“Is this your leopard?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Is this your leopard?”

“Where?”

“This one, the one that is eating my face.”

“Oh! That might be my leopard. I mean, how would I know?”

“It is eating my face.”

“If you say so.”

“Will you help? I took some video, to be sure. Would you care to see it?”

“If it will shed light on this situation, then, yes, please.”

“Here you can see the leopard eating my face.”

“Yes, I see the leopard eating your face.”

“Is this your leopard?”

“May I see the video again?”

“Yes.”

“Is there any more video?”

“What do you mean?”

“Because I think that is my leopard and I don’t understand why it would eat your face. I did not raise my leopard to eat faces.”

“Well, it is eating my face.”

“But what did you do to the leopard, why is it eating your face?”

“I thought you might know and, perhaps, get your leopard to stop eating my face.”

“I see… Well, it has never eaten my face.”

“But it is eating my face.”

“Did you disrespect the leopard?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“What did you do to my leopard? I love my leopard, my leopard loves me, it has only known my love, and my leopard does not eat faces.”

“But your leopard is eating my face.”

“That’s not possible, not without cause. What were you doing before the leopard started eating your face?”

“Walking.”

“Walking?”

“Yes, walking. I was walking to the store.”

“To the store?”

“Yes.”

“To rob the store?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Were you robbing the store?”

“No, I was not robbing the store. I was walking to the store.”

“You weren’t running from a robbery?”

“There was no robbery.”

“Was there a gun or a knife?”

“Why would there be a gun or a knife?”

“The leopard is eating your face. I can only assume you threatened the leopard.”

“I did not threaten the leopard. Can you please make it stop eating my face?”

“I love leopards.”

“I know.”

“That leopard is part of my heritage.”

“I understand that, but it is eating my face.”

“My leopard is part of my history.”

“I think your leopard may have eaten my parents faces too.”

“That’s just your opinion. What are the facts? My leopard has never eaten faces.”

“Never?”

“Never.”

“Your leopard is eating my face right now.”

“That is an exception.”

“I do not want your leopard to eat my children’s faces.”

“Your children should not provoke the leopard.”

“I was not provoking the leopard.”

“Then why is it eating your face?”

“I do not wish to speculate, but you raised this leopard, you love this leopard, this leopard is part of your heritage. And it is eating my face.”

“What can I do?”

“This is your leopard?”

“Yes.”

“You love this leopard?”

“Yes.”

“This leopard is part of your heritage?”

“Yes.”

“Then why won’t you at least try to make this leopard stop eating my face?”

“I’m not responsible for this particular leopard, this is the first time I’ve seen this behavior. Yours is only one face, it is simply an error, the leopard will correct itself, its history is good and I am a good person.”

“Are you saying this is not your leopard?”

“I misspoke earlier, I raised a leopard that came before this one. They look and behave remarkably alike. They do not eat faces.”

“And you loved that leopard?’

“Yes, and I love this leopard too.”

“Because?”

“Because it too is part of my heritage of raising leopards to be free and just.”

“Well, I fear it is too late, your leopard has eaten my face and I am dead.”

“I am sorry.”

“I am still dead.”

“Excuse me, might I have your assistance?”

“I can no longer help you, I am dead.”

“The leopard is now eating my face.”

“I am sorry. And dead.”

“I do not understand why this leopard would eat my face…”

Just watched: "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"

thumbnail.jpg

This is a great movie, most people enjoy it. Since it's being removed from Netflix soon, I thought I'd introduce my kids to it. They...enjoyed it, but all the gags that make it fun were almost completely lost on them, we had to explain something every five minutes.

  1. Every old cartoon character. These 'toons aren't in constant syndication anymore, they have no idea who Daffy Duck or Tweety Bird are. They're vaguely aware of the Disney characters and certainly had no idea who Betty Boop or Felix the Cat were. 
  2. "Shave and a haircut..." Not a clue about this tune or how it fits into the gag.
  3. Most of the adult gags and references to Valiant's alcoholism, such as "Dabbling in watercolors" or  "You change your name to Jack Daniels?" or "Is that a rabbit in your pocket?" They didn't miss the overt stuff like Jessica's booby trap or her affect on men. I mean, her boobs, y'all, her boobs.

I didn't realize how dated the movie is. I don't feel that old, but I guess 70-year old references from the 1940s on have finally been put to pasture.

Still, it's a good movie.

And Judge Doom is still scary AF.

maxresdefault.jpg

Just read: "Neuromancer" by William Gibson

3272152-neuromancer.jpg

I compiled a reading list for myself that includes books I should have read while I was growing up. These are books that are both hugely influential in genre circles or just popular and I totally missed them. I grew up in a sort of book desert. Most books are recommended by friends or stumbled upon in conversation—it’s an organic process. And I didn’t know anyone who read this stuff. The best I could manage was going to Barnes & Noble and browsing the sci-fi/fantasy section.

Neuromancer Novel.jpg

“Neuromancer” (published in 1984, after and influenced by Blade Runner) was a challenge because of it’s iconic status. Much like “Treasure Island,” it established a number of tropes that have multiplied into their own genre, in this case: cyberpunk. The Matrix movie leans heavily on narrative frameworks established by Gibson, for instance. As I read the book, it was difficult to see it as the first in a flood of work that explored a cybernetic noir of decay and advancement in human future. Gibson also heavily relied on throwaway lines about future events and products, creating a reality that is both foreign and familiar.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and it’s wildly expanding world of technology. I did the fact that Gibson envisioned the endgame for the World Wide Web and artificial intelligence.

Just watched: "Black Panther"

Black-Panther-Poster-Cropped.jpg

I’ve always liked the idea of the character Black Panther in Marvel comics. It wasn’t until Christopher Priest (writer) and Mark Texiera (illustrator) got a hold of him that I really started liking the character. That team did more to create the big-screen version of T’Challa than anyone before them. I thought the movie was phenomenal. I’ve seen it twice, once with my wife and again with my wife and my daughters. I’ll see it again, as soon as I can. But rather than try to explain why the film’s so good or what it means, I’ll rather provide an anecdote.

19panther-spoilers-lead-superJumbo.jpg

My mother used to read comics to me when I was a kid. I remember “Fantastic Four” and “Thor” being the first. I was hooked from then on, reading both Marvel and DC, consuming newspaper strips and editorial cartoons nonstop. There was a shop called “Sunny’s Cigar Store” a little over a mile away in Boston’s Mattapan Square neighborhood. (This was a neighborhood that was overwhelmingly black, nearly 100%.) They kept a spinning rack of comics and whenever I could manage to be there with my parents, I’d get some books. As soon as I was old enough, I started walking there on my own, trying to figure out when new comics were available. I enjoyed Marvel more than DC, but both of them treated their non-white and non-male characters as either second-rate or marginalized. As much as I wanted to see The Falcon or Black Panther or Power Man be as significant as Captain America, Spider-Man, the Hulk or even Wonder Man, it wasn’t happening.

Eventually, I started creating my own characters. Oddly enough, I was never all that interested in drawing or writing with the existing ones. I created dozens and cobbled together storylines before I hit the age of twelve. It was about that time that I realized every character I’d created was white. And male. Every one. Dozens. How was this possible? It was possible because every media property from books to television to movies was dominated by white faces and the white male gaze. Anything could be appropriated, but only white people could create it, fund it, star in it. And that media landscape infected my brain, subtly convinced me that only white people were heroes—men, specifically—everyone else was there to support them or be saved by them.

And here we are.

Just watched: "Blade Runner 2049"

blade-runner-2049-main-1.jpg

A friend of mine has a lovely 4K television with surround sound set up in his basement. Of course, we got together and watched "Blade Runner." The one from 1982, director's cut. It had been a while since I'd seen the movie and I'd never seen this version. The core idea about life, how it's defined, and who deserves it is an entertaining one. I still enjoyed it quite a bit, but... Something nagged.

There's a scene where Rachel is back in Deckard's apartment, after saving his ass from Leon. Something is drawing the advanced replicant and the recommissioned Blade Runner together, for sure. After a heated conversation, Deckard forces her to stay. Forces her to kiss him. Forces her to ask for him to kiss her. And the whole scene is kind of cringeworthy. Then I realized that there are no "real" women in the movie. Not one human woman. The women who are there have been created to serve men, in one way or another. Tyrell created Rachel as some sort of advanced replicant experiment.

blade-runner.jpg

All the advertising in the movie exploits women, in one way or another. Projected on buildings, in neon, wherever. There are women in the background, apparently living what passes for normal lives in Los Angeles, circa 2019. All of the women featured in the movie are literally objects. Women have very nearly been erased. And once you see that, it's creepy AF and hard to unsee.

Fast forward thirty years to 2049 and the second "Blade Runner" film. A new series of replicants have been engineered by another dude with a God complex. This new series is obedient. And generally homogenous. The entire cast is white, in appearance, at least. Which, for science fiction about the future, is getting beyond exhausting. Somehow, thirty years in the future, from the last future, there are even fewer non-white people in America. Oh, wait, there's that creepy black dude running an off-the-grid orphanage that sells kids. Or something. 

At the point in history being depicted, America has not only erased women, it's erased brown folks too, while also creating a slave class of white replicants. WTF is going on here? The replicant Blade Runner has an AI girlfriend, a customized, build that advertises as a 100-foot tall, nude woman. She's literally more object than replicant women. Who appear to be either bloodthirsty killers or street-walking prostitutes. Of the two human women featured in the movie, one is a politically motivated, awful person who tries to sexually harass her Blade Runner. And the other is Deckard's genetically damaged, but otherwise brilliant daughter who's literally kept in a bubble. Literally kept safe and productive. Classic. And it's one of those odd never-mind-the-man-behind-the-curtain moments because if the tech exists to manufacture human beings, why can't they fix this woman? Then again, why would they bother? Since the goal is to do away with women entirely, it seems. I wonder how much of this erasure was intentional?

Gorgeous movie, well-acted, great soundtrack, neat ideas, continuity, and execution, but once I saw it...

Just read: "The Forever War" by Joe Haldeman

Original cover

Original cover

This was a fantastic novel, an impressive entry for military sci-fi with an emphasis on the science fiction. The story follows William Mandella, a physics major conscripted by the United Nations Exploratory Force to fight the alien Taurans. The UNEF uses near-light speed technology in conjunction with “collapsars” to deliver the war. This and the fighting suits create some interesting problems for the soldiers. The exotic environments are often just as deadly as the enemy and traveling at near-light speed creates significant relativistic effects—a couple years’ time in space calculates to decades in Earth normal time. All of this amounts to a very entertaining setting for Haldeman to play with as Mandala navigates his new life in the war.

At times a bit dry or clinical, Haldeman’s narrative uses an understated tone to recount the horrors of war and time dilation. Culture shock, the hazards of life in a space war, language, gender, and more is dealt with as humanity cycles through hundreds of years of history. Everything is on the table for examination as the war progresses. It’s clear from both Haldeman’s background, the publication date (1974) and the progression of the war itself that the novel was inspired by the Vietnam War. Yet, nothing truly feels dated in the story which is a testimony to Haldeman’s creativity in envisioning humanity’s plummet into the future.

I truly regret not having read this novel decades ago. If I had, I’d have probably read it a few times since then! I highly recommended this book.

Just read: Logan's Run by William F. Nolan & George Clayton Johnson

The first edition cover by Mercer Mayer, 1967

The first edition cover by Mercer Mayer, 1967

"Logan's Run" was published in 1967, one year before I was born. Due to the circumstances I grew up in, I became more familiar with movies and television adapted from books than the books themselves! This is one of the more prominent examples. I enjoyed the 1976 movie and the following television series in 1977 as science fiction movies and television exploded. As is most often the case, the book is superior to the movie. Though I will admit that this is one novel ripe for a remake, there's plenty of material that was reinterpreted or omitted from the film. "Logan's Run" follows Logan 3, a "Sandman" police officer (Deep Sleep Operative) tasked with killing "Runners"—people who try to escape their inevitable death sentence once they reach 21 years of age. The future is a dystopian ageist society that copes with Earth's limited resources by ensuring that no one ages beyond 21. The entire system is administered by "The Thinker," a massive and complex, world-wide computer system. Children are raised by machines and encouraged to take advantage of unlimited, hedonistic pleasures. Their time is delimited by a crystal embedded in the right palm that changes color over time until black indicates the time of "Lastday" when a citizen is to report to a "Sleepshop" where a toxic and pleasureful gas is to be administered.

Logan is nearing his "sleep date" when he tracks down a Runner named Doyle 10 and witnesses his murder by near-feral children called "cubs." Before dying, the man hands a key to Logan that will grant access to "Sanctuary," a safe harbor for Runners. Logan decides that since he's running out of time, the greatest service he can perform is finding Sanctuary and destroying it. He manages to connect with Jessica 6, the Runner's brother.

logans-run-original-novel.jpg

The novel is a fun, scifi thriller and presents an intriguing, dystopia brought about by dwindling resources for an overcrowded planet—a recurrent theme in science-fiction since the 1960s. As much as I enjoyed the movie, I was struck by the richness of the novel's world. The twists and turns, the details of daily life, the various environments, and how the Deep Sleep Operatives are organized. One of the ideas introduced that seemed familiar was the DSO's weapon of choice, simply called "Gun." It's a six-shooter with various loads such as needle, explosive, and "homer"—a heat-seeking bullet. (The weapons struck me as impossibly similar to those used by Judges in the comic 2000 A.D.) "Omnite," the martial art of choice for Sandmen, reminded me of Krav Maga with it's malleable and hybrid nature. Certain political aspects which clearly materialized in the 1960s are prescient and seemingly immutable, compared to our current political climate. One line that stood out and showed what might be a conservative warning against liberal excess:

...with the death of the Republican Party in 1988
the Crazy Horse bill was passed without opposition.”

Later in the book, it becomes clear that the future relies on youth, but not on the utter destruction of aged wisdom. One political reality presented as unchanging in the future is delivered with unequivocal directness. In Logan's reality, the current dystopia has been brought on by a powder keg event referred to as "The Little War." At the time, the young had multiplied beyond easy capacity and challenge the comfortable existence of the older, fatter, selfish political leadership. Policy is enacted that creates far too many restraints on common life among the world's youth. The young rise up and, as the majority, crush the ruling class.

By morning, half of Washington was in flames. Senators
and congressmen were dragged in terror from their homes and hanged
like criminals from trees and lampposts.”

As satisfying as the fiction may be, it also serves as a warning for the young to remain engaged and not to trust the future to an aging leadership. Disengagement equals ruin.

Just read: Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

TreasureIsland.jpg

Because there are a great number of iconic books that I haven't read, I've started a project to read them. Treasure Island is the first up and, I have to say, it has turned out to be a somewhat difficult read. It's not that the English is so old that it's awkward, it's that the book has been the source for so many popular tropes about pirates. If you've seen any of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, you've experienced all the tropes. If you've seen more than one pirate movie, you've definitely absorbed all the cliches. Which is why, rather than attempt a synopsis or review, I'm going to list all the familiar bits I stumbled upon. Before that, I will say that I was struck by the diversity on display in this old tale. Not amongst the main characters, no, but people of color were acknowledged and sprinkled throughout. And now, the list:

  1. Fifteen men on the dead man's chest—yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
    Drink and the devil had done for the rest—yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!
  2. Constantly craving rum and being drunk.
  3. Treasure chests, buried on deserted isles, and cryptic instructions on a map with a big, red 'X.'
  4. Disheveled, tattooed, pirates living hand-to-mouth.
  5. "...with rings in their ears, and whiskers curled in ringlets, and tarry pigtails..."
  6. One-legged pirates.
  7. Tortuga (island).
  8. Wig-wearing Brit to act as a foil.
  9. The Spanish Main.
  10. Jim Hawkins
  11. Shiver my timbers! (Not: Shiver me timbers!)
  12. Long John Silver.
  13. Captain Kidd.
  14. Hispaniola.
  15. A parrot on the pirate's shoulder.

BONUS: Quite a few words that were new to me or I hadn't retained their meaning:

Marish - a marsh or swamp

Miry - very muddy or boggy

Mizzenmast - the next mast back from the main mast

Thwart - a mounted piece of wood perpendicular to the length of a small boat for sitting

Halloo - an exclamation used to attract attention or to incite dogs during a chase

Bolus - a small rounded mass of a substance, especially chewed food

Gammon - ham that has been cured or smoked like bacon or the bottom piece of a side of bacon, including the hind leg

Spars - a thick, strong pole such as is used for a mast or yard on a ship

Slough - a swamp

Puncheon - a short post, especially for holding up mine shafts

Hawse - the part of a ship through which the anchor cables pass

Keelson - a centerline structure running the length of a ship and fastening the transverse members of the floor to the keel below

Glim - a candle or lantern

Gibbet - an upright post with an arm on which the bodies of executed criminals were left hanging as a warning or deterrent to others

 

 

 

 

StorySLAM'd

vid-tile.png

For the first time I ever, I participated in a story-slam. I'd always enjoyed The Moth, but the event rarely came near me and, when it did, the theme wasn't something I had a story that fit. A smaller slam organized at Wheaton College did the trick. The theme for the evening was 'bloopers' and my story is "Of Whales, Gravy and Essays."

Just read: "The Rising" by Brian Keene

The Rising.jpg

I’d heard much more about this book than any other–with the exception of some King novels–before I got around to reading it. Keene is considered one of the grandmasters of modern, thrilling horror, somewhat prolific and officially recognized within the writing world. Many words have been spilled about this particular book and about Keene himself. Frankly, he’s an occasionally combative and always knowledgeable figure in the halls of horror fiction. I think all that is supposed to mean ‘controversial,’ but I think he’s a pretty regular dude.

“The Rising” features Jim Thurmond, a sort of everyman who’s been pinned down by a zombie apocalypse and has lost his new wife and child to the undead. He’s a divorcee, however, and has additionally lost all hope for his ex-wife and young son have survived. Until he gets a very brief phone call forcing him out of his hole and on the road to rescue his son. Thurmond is the most developed character and clearly the central protagonist. His emotional journey is the most wrenching. He’s followed by Frankie, a drug-addicted prostitute. Her story has a definitive, redemptive arc. Martin is probably the least developed, an aging priest whose self-assigned purpose is to help Thurmond along. Since Keene is unafraid to murder his characters, there’s some question, during the entire novel, about who will survive and who won’t. The first few chapters can come across as somewhat slow and that’s because Keene is setting a particularly large stage. There are a number of secondary characters and plots that need to be put in place for the horror show that is to follow. It makes sense later, but it can be a bit of a slog to get there.

Once Baker, Frankie, Martin, and the obligatory rogue military unit are established, the pace increases exponentially. Keene takes virtually all the modern zombie tropes—as well as one critical aspect of zombies past—and spins up the ante on the nightmare. No one is spared the horror of the world collapsing and there’s a nice mix of undead and living motivation. Often, zombie stories are best when the walking dead are treated like a natural disaster. This allows the living characters to drive the plot. Keene puts a more adversarial spin on that idea, where the rising dead are unmistakably antagonists with some motivations of their own. I truly enjoyed the book, it sits well with other zombie media that I’ve enjoyed and that makes perfect sense to me since the book was released around the same time and influenced by the same lore that I’d been enjoying.

Now, about that ending…

It’s a good ending. Anyone who says otherwise is looking for a reading experience that holds their hand and leads them to an obvious conclusion.