Saturday, July 31, 2010

Movie Dude Weekend: Piranhas and Angels

We began this Movie Dude Weekend with a particularly bad movie:

Piranha, Piranha, 1972

Director: William Gibson
Cast: Peter Brown, Ahna Capri, William Smith

No one was really watching the movie. Instead Just Me had her laptop out and commenced with searching the internet for name generators. With out any more tedious explanations here are the names for most of our motley group:

Just Me is Dancing Blackberry, Saucy Lolly, Freaky Zombie, Sugar Squeeze.

Wonder Boy is Sweaty Quack, Ugly Zombie, Rockstar Coconut, Cuppy Dove.

Movie Dude is Blinky Cinnamon, Fighting Mango, Departed Werewolf, Pumpie Cheeks

Dragon scribe is Blood Thirsty Banana, Tickling Donut, Crazy Vampire, Lovey Bunny.

Princess Pink is Singing Tamarind, Tangy Viper, Wandering Poltergeist, Sweety Snoockums.

Some of the names seemed to strangely fit people better than others. I'll let you guess who really should be called what name.

The next two movies were:

The Trouble with Angels, 1966

Director: Ida Lupino
Cast: Rosalind Russell, Hayley Mills, Binnie Barnes, Gypsy Rose Lee

e Angels Go, Trouble Follows, 1968
Director: James Neilson

Cast: R
osalind Russell, Stella Stevens, Binnie Barnes, Mary Wickes, Susan St. James

Quotes for the evening:

Movie Dude, on The Trouble with Angels: Why didn't they ever make the monk version of this?

Just Me: Wonder Boy has three sides.
Lori : Good
Movie Dude: Bad
Just Me: Testy

Movie Dude: He hit me in the groins.
Lori: It is groin or loins, not groins.

Movie Dude: I know you play D&D with other people, but can you play it alone?
Just Me: Oh Movie Dude, that would be the most saddest thing of all...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Gone-Away World

The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2008
Hardcover, 512 pages
ISBN-13: 9780307268860
very highly recommended

From the Publisher
A hilarious, action-packed look at the apocalypse that combines a touching tale of friendship, a thrilling war story, and an all out kung-fu infused mission to save the world.

Gonzo Lubitch and his best friend have been inseparable since birth. They grew up together, they studied martial arts together, they rebelled in college together, and they fought in the Go-Away War together. Now, with the world in shambles and dark nightmarish clouds billowing over the wastelands, they have been tapped for an incredibly perilous mission. But they quickly realize that this assignment is not all it seems, and before it is over they will have encountered everything from mimes, ninjas, and pirates to one ultra-sinister mastermind, whose only goal is world domination. Unlike anything else, The Gone-Away World is a remarkable literary debut that will be remembered and rediscovered for years to come.
My Thoughts:

Set in the not-too-distant future after the Go-Away War has been fought, The Gone-Away World begins when a repair crew, which includes our unnamed happily married narrator and his best friend, Gonzo Lubitsch, is hired to put out a fire. But this is a fire on the Jorgmund Pipe, the pipeline that dispenses FOX, the pipeline that the whole civilized world lives near and relies on for their safety. Then Harkaway goes back in time to the childhood of our narrator and Gonzo Lubitsch, following them and all the events which lead up to the Go-Away War and the current crisis.

This is a book that you need to stick with at the beginning (it might even flunk the 50 page rule for some readers) in order to reap a huge payoff in the end. At first the flashback to the childhood of the narrator seems out of place and unnecessary, but, believe me, stick with it and everything will become clear. You will know why the background information was necessary to the story. In fact, there are all sorts of asides and what seem like inconsequential stories that all do become important and meld together in the end. But that's just it - you have to start The Gone-Away World with a commitment to read it to the end.

Harkaway, son of writer John le Carre, is a good writer. He's funny, insightful, verbose, and clever. His sentences are densely packed with descriptions and information. But, as you are reading things seem... off. You know there is more to the world and the characters than you are being told. I absolutely did not see several of the twists coming. Readers also need to keep in mind that this is not a linear, conventional plot.

Now, all that said, The Gone-Away World could have used a bit more editing. Not all the extra verbiage was necessary. There were also elements of stream-of-consciousness writing and cyberpunk that were a wee bit off-putting for me. But, in the end, the humor, plot twists, and fantastical characters (ninjas, mime, pirates) all come together for quite an interesting book.
Very Highly Recommended
- with some reservations


The lights went out in the Nameless Bar just after nine. I was bent over the pool table with one hand in the bald patch behind the D, which Flynn the Barman claimed was beer, but which was the same size and shape as Mrs. Flynn the Barman's arse: nigh on a yard in the beam and formed like the cross-section of a cooking apple. opening

It was a funny feeling: we were looking at the end of the world— again—and we were looking at something awful we'd never wanted to see, but at the same time we were looking at fame and fortune and just about everything we could ever ask for delivered by a grateful populace. We were looking at our reason for being. Because that thar on that thar screen was a fire, plus also a toxic event of the worst kind, and we, Ladies and Gentlemen, put your hands together, were the Haulage & HazMat Emergency Civil Freebooting Company of Exmoor County (corporate HQ the Nameless Bar, CEO Sally J. Culpepper, presiding) and this was the thing that we did better than anyone else in the entire Livable Zone, and therefore anywhere. pg. 5

Most people tried very hard to avoid noticing the Pipe. They had euphemisms for it, as if it were cancer or impotence or the Devil, which it was. In some places they painted it bold colours and pretended it was an art project, or built things in front of it or even grew flowers on it. Only in pissant remora towns like this one did you get to see the thing itself; the rusty and despised spine of who we were, carrying vital solidity and safety, and the illusion of continuance, to every nook and cranny of the Livable Zone.

In truth it was not a loop at all, but a weird bird's-nest tangle. There were hairpin bends and corkscrews, and places where subsidiary hoses jutted out from the main line to reach little towns on the edges, and places where the Livable Zone pulled close about the Pipe like a matron drawing up her skirts to cross a stream, where the weather and the lie of the land brought the outside perilously close; but taken all together it made a sort of rough circle girdling the Earth. A place to have a home. Get more than twenty miles from the Pipe (Old JP, they called it in Haviland City, where the Jorgmund Company had its headquarters, or sometimes the Big Snake or the Silver) and you were in the inimical no-man's-land between the Livable Zone and the bloody nightmare of the unreal world. Sometimes it was safe, and sometimes it wasn't. We called it the Border, and we went through it when we had to, when it was the only way to get somewhere in any reasonable length of time, when the alternative was a long drive around three sides of a square and the emergency wouldn't wait. All the same, we went in force and we went quickly, lightly, and we kept an eye on the weather. If the wind changed, or the pressure dropped; if we saw clouds on the horizon we didn't like, or strange folks, or animals which weren't quite right, we turned tail and ran back to the Pipe. People who lived in the Border didn't always stay people. We carried FOX in canisters, and we hoped it would be enough. pg. 9-10

In other words, this was a honey trap. If you're giving guys like us kit like that to do a gig like this, it's because either 1)you're going to make a ton of profit or 2) you don't think we have a rat's chance of coming back alive. pg. 20

In the still hours of the night-time in houses all around the Pipe, people woke, and listened, and were afraid of things from beyond the Border. Somebody out there ate towns, whole, and went on his way. People said it was the Found Thousand. I hoped that wasn't true. pg. 25

Mr. Hampton bows very low to Master Wu and thanks him for the lesson. Master Wu says Mr. Hampton is very welcome, and Mr. Hampton says that he wishes he had known Master Wu when he was Ophelia's age, to which Master Wu respond that when Mr. Hampton was Ophelia's age, Master Wu was a wild and intemperate youth much given to drinking and taking off his trousers in public places. Mr. Hampton smiles and says that he supposes this is not impossible, and Master Wu avers that there are photographs to prove it, although no one will ever see them. Mr. Hampton says that is probably for the best. pg. 57

I have heard of people who fought with their anger, who made rage into a physical force. I have never heard of anyone doing it with sorrow. pg. 63

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Ancestor by Scott Sigler
Crown Publishing, June 2010
Hardcover, 425 pages
ISBN-13: 9780307406330
very highly recommended

Synopsis from the Publisher
“The ancestors are out there…you have to believe me.”
From acclaimed author Scott Sigler—New York Times bestselling creator of Infected and Contagious—comes a tale of genetic experimentation’s worst nightmare come true.
Every five minutes, a transplant candidate dies while waiting for a compatible heart, a liver, a kidney. Imagine a technology that could provide those life-saving transplant organs for a nominal fee ... and imagine what a company would do to get a monopoly on that technology.
On a remote island in the Canadian Arctic, PJ Colding leads a group of geneticists who have discovered this holy grail of medicine. By reverse-engineering thousands of animal genomes, Colding's team has dialed back the evolutionary clock and re-created the progenitor of all mammals. The method? Illegal. The result? A computer-engineered living creature, an animal whose organs can be implanted in any person, and with no chance of rejection.
There's just one problem: these ancestors are not the docile herd animals that Colding's team envisioned. Instead, Colding’s work has given birth to something big, something evil....
My Thoughts:

Ancestor is a re-written version of Sigler's 2007 small press release (and previous to that his podcast release) of an earlier novel. I have no idea what was changed, but Sigler has a winner with Ancestor. It's a science fiction-thriller-horror novel with the perfect blend of fact-based science and action. In Ancestor, Genada, a Canadian biotech company, has a small group of brilliant scientists who are trying to genetically engineer an "ancestor" that will possess organs that can be transplanted into humans without risk of rejection. Seems plausible today, eh? And that is part of what made Ancestor so horrific - the reality behind the science.

Tension slowly keeps building throughout the novel, with a few bursts of release in either action (or some seriously funny descriptions and Stephenie Meyer jokes at times), until the action-packed ending. I could describe it as Jack Bauer meets Jurassic Park. Ancestor was really well paced and I found both the plot and the characters to be well developed, especially for a thriller. While I like to sit and read my books, be sure to check out Sigler's website if you enjoy podcasts. The word is out that there will be a sequel, which I'll be looking forward too - along with the awaited sequel to Infected and Contagious.
Very Highly Recommended


Paul Fischer had always pictured the end of the world being a bit more . . . industrial. Loud machines, cars crashing, people screaming, guns a-blazing. Perhaps a world- breaking bomb shattering the earth into bits. But here in Greenland? Nothing but packed snow, endless rocks, and the towering white vistas of glaciers sitting high on the horizon. No cities burning, no abandoned cars, none of that nonsense. Just a tiny virus, and some pigs. opening

Intel was almost positive that the viruses hadn’t escaped the Novozyme facility.
The key word being almost. pg. 4

The screen showed the high- angle view from a security camera. A lone man slowly crawled across a laboratory floor. He coughed over and over again, deep and wet, the kind that ties up your diaphragm for far too long, makes you wonder if you might not actually draw in another breath. Each ripping cough kicked out chunks of yellow-pink froth to join the wet bits that coated his chin and stained his white lab coat....
“You knew the guy?”
“A little. I’ve read his research, was on panels with him at a few virology conferences. We had beers once. Brilliant man.”
“He’s going out hard,” Curry said, his jaw rigid and grinding a little as he watched the man. “What’s happening to him?”
Paul knew that answer all too well. He’d seen people die just this way, exactly three years ago. “Doctor Matal’s lungs are filling with mucus and pus, making them stiff. It’s hard for him to draw air. He’s drowning in his own fluids.” pg. 5

“Oh, come on,” Curry said. “I’m not about to go licking that pinkish goo off Matal’s chin or anything, but how bad can it be?”
“The 1918 epidemic killed fifty million people. World population was just two billion people back then. Now it’s almost seven billion. Same killrate today, you’re looking at seventy million dead. No planes back then, General. There weren’t even highways yet. Now you can fly anywhere in the world in less than a day, and people do, all the time.” pg. 7

... pattern was the thing. Nightmares, then hallucinations, then a suicide attempt. Doc Rhumkorrf had already adjusted Jian's meds, but who knew if that would work?
Colding had to report this. Claus Rhumkorrf was brilliant, Erika Hoel was a legend, but without Liu Jian An, the project simply ceased to exist. pg. 21

"...We've just failed the immune response test for the sixteenth time. All of you, go work from your rooms. Maybe if we stop sniping at each other, we can find that last obstacle and eliminate it."
Jian nodded, then walked out of the lab and headed back to her small apartment. Sixteen immune response tests, sixteen failures. She had to find a way to make number seventeen work, had to, because millions of lives depended upon her and her alone. pg. 35

The term salt of the earth didn't go far enough to describe Detweiler. More like the rock on which that salt might crystallize. pg. 130

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Omega by Jack McDevitt
Penguin Group, 2003
Hardcover, 438 pages
ISBN-13: 9780441012107 (paperback)
Priscilla ''Hutch'' Hutchins Series #4
highly recommended

A civilization-destroying omega cloud has switched direction, heading straight for a previously unexplored planetary system - and its alien society. And suddenly, a handful of brave humans must try to save an entire world - without revealing their existence.
My Thoughts:

The existence of the omega clouds was known for decades, but virtually nothing was being done to try to stop the monstrous civilization killing omegas until it is discovered that one is moving toward an inhabited planet. The natives, nicknamed Goompahs, are in the early stages of technological development. Unwilling to stand by and watch their annihilation, the people of Earth hurriedly put together a team whose mission is to try to destroy the omega cloud, and, hopefully, save the inhabitants without revealing their presence to the natives.

I wasn't aware that Omega was the fourth book in the Priscilla ''Hutch'' Hutchins Series until I started writing this review. (I found it and a whole basket full of other science fiction novels in the clearance section of my local used book store.) The series includes The Engines of God, Deepsix, and Chindi. While I may go back and read the first three books, Omega stood alone. I found it quite enjoyable and the story was compelling. Actually "Hutch" is a supporting character rather than a main character in this novel. I liked the news tidbits or archival entries found at the end of each chapter and thought that was a very successful element. McDevitt handled the questions that would arise with the discovery of another civilization while following a non-interference protocol. All in all, Omega was a fine, thought-provoking book.
highly recommended


A survey ship, the Harry Coker, had been watching an omega, one of the monstrous clouds that drifted in waves out of the galactic core, and which seemed bent on destroying any civilization in their path. pg. 2

The omegas routinely hurled lightning bolts at perpendiculars. Any object designed with right angles or sharp departures from nature's natural arcs, could expect to become a target. pg. 3

Collingdale saw it right away: snow. The surviving city had been experiencing a blizzard when the cloud hit.
"It never saw the place," said Ava. pg. 10

Behind his back, his people were already calling them tewks. Star-like explosions, eruptions of enormous energy in places where there were no stars. And almost in a line. Not quite, but almost. It made his hair stand on end. pg. 15

"It looks artificial," he said. But not like any kind of vessel or package he'd ever seen. Spines stuck out all over it. They were rectangular and constructed with geometric precision. pg. 31

"We know the clouds rain down fire and brimstone on anything that has right angles."
Terry pointed an index finger at the image on the screen. "This thing is loaded with right angles. That's what it is: An oversized complex of right angles."
They looked at one another. "Is it designed to be a target?" Jane asked. "Or are the clouds intended specifically to kill these things?" pg. 32

There was a time when it had seemed easy. Almost inevitable. Just get out there and do it. But that had been during an era of overt optimism, when the assumption had been that every world on which life was possible would inevitably develop a biosystem, and that once you got a biosystem you would eventually get tribal chiefs and math teachers. pg. 53

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Butt Exercises with Hipee

One side effect of sharing all my little stories and memories is that some members of my family have started to give me story ideas. The only problem with this is that the suggestions are their stories and memories rather than mine.

I initially started sharing my stories as a way to record them for my adult children and for my sister Hipee to get a laugh. I haven't written anything in an attempt to write an autobiography. In fact, during a recent 4th of July visit to my parent's house, my daughter saw a trophy or plaque or something of mine from high school. She asked her grandma what it was and was shocked to hear that I won a national speech competition.
"Why didn't you ever tell me?"
I shrugged. "That was a long time ago."

Obviously we can see that I may not be the most qualified person to become the family historian. Beyond the fact that I'm decidedly not a writer (any book written by me would get scathing reviews from me), I have really just written about what I've wanted to write about - little snippets of my childhood here and there.

But one story suggestion simply will not die. I'm not in it. In fact, I have no part of it beyond knowing the exercise they were doing. This story belongs to Hipee and PB alone. (If they correct me I will edit this.)

My youngest brother, PB (pretty boy), was visiting our sister, Hipee (high powered executive). She was out of college and working at the time. I think he was spending the weekend with her. He must have been in about 4th grade. I have no idea what they had planned for the weekend. Let's assume they had pizza and were watching movies one night and then ran around the city, maybe went to a mall, the next day. What I do know is that sometime during this visit it was exercise time. PB, even a considerate house guest as a child, followed the exercise routine along with Hipee.

I haven't a clue what Hipee's exercise regime would have included. Not a clue. It would have been around 1983, so Jane Fonda VHS tapes were out. What I do know is that Hipee did butt exercises. In one of these butt exercises she sat on the floor and "walked" across it on her butt. It involved a sort of rolling motion as well as clenching and relaxing your butt cheeks. I don't think it is a recommended firming exercise any more. I don't even know if it was back then, but there you have it: Hipee and PB walked across the floor on their butts.

PB still laughs about doing butt exercises with Hipee. This is one of the stories he wanted me to write about. I think the questions this memory raises are more interesting than the actual story - questions like: Why would PB want me to write about him doing butt exercises with Hipee? Does he think they helped tone and firm his butt? Does he still do the walking butt exercise? Does Hipee? Where did Hipee learn about the walking butt exercise? Will this post increase my link-to-porn-sites spammer?
I'm sure I can and will think of more questions.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Becoming a Follower

I've done it. I've made commitments.
If you are visiting me because I've recently become a follower of your blog please note two things:
I've likely been privately following your blog for a very long time.
I just decided to publicly follow many of the blogs I try to check on a regular basis.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Chronoliths

The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson
Tom Doherty Associates, 2001
Hardcover, 301 pages
ISBN-13: 9780312873844
science fiction
Highly Recommended

From the Publisher
Scott Warden is a man haunted by the past—and soon to be haunted by the future.
In early 21st-century Thailand, Scott is a slacker in a beach community of expatriates, barely supporting his wife and daughter. One day he witnesses an impossible event: the appearance of a 200-foot stone pillar in the forested interior.
This is no ordinary artifact. Its arrival collapses trees for a quarter mile around its base, freezing ice out of the air and emitting a burst of ionizing radiation. It appears to be composed of an exotic form of matter. And the inscription chiseled into it commemorates a military victory...sixteen years in the future.
Not long after, another, larger pillar arrives in the center of Bangkok—obliterating the city and killing thousands.
Over the next several years, human society is transformed by these mysterious arrivals from, seemingly, its own near future. Who is the warlord whose victories they note? Scott wants only to rebuild his life. But some strange loop of causality keeps drawing him, to the central mystery and a strange final battle with the future.
My thoughts:

In The Chronoliths, Wilson tackles and interesting premise that certainly held my attention to the end. What would the world do if giant monoliths proclaiming victory in a battle fought some 20 years in the future suddenly started appearing? I felt that the world and the characters Wilson created seemed plausible. Considering that The Chronoliths was published before 9/11 and the current economic problems, I noted several times that Wilson seemed almost prescient - anticipating the future before us.

We often handle the big issues in our lives by dealing with the minute issues of day-to-day living. Wilson keeps the focus small, (I think) purposely following one man of seemingly little importance in the large scheme of events. The world the novel envisions could have been expanded and made more complex, but I think it worked quite well as written. It was interesting and quite realistic to read the way Wilson depicted society dealing with the monoliths.
Highly Recommended


It was Hitch Paley, rolling his beat-up Daimler motorbike across the packed sand of the beach behind the Haat Thai Dance Pavilion, who invited me to witness the end of an age. Mine, and the world's. opening

The monument. It was not, first of all, a statue; that is, it was not a representation of a human or animal figure. It was a four-sided pillar, planned to a smooth, conical apex. The material of which it was made suggested glass, but on a ridiculously, impossible scale. It was blue: the deep, inscrutable blue of a mountain lake, somehow peaceful and ominous at once. It was not transparent but carried the suggestion of translucency. From this side - the northern side - it was scabbed with patches of white: ice, I was astonished to realize, slowly subliminating in the humid daylight. pg. 16

"Down at the bottom of it... does that look like writing to you?" pg 17

We rode in that truck for almost eighteen hours and spent the next night in a Bangkok prison, in separate cells and without communication privileges. I learned later that an American threat-assessment team wanted to "debrief" (i.e., interrogate) us before we talked to the press... pg. 19

The irony is that I hated the monument almost before anyone else did. Before very long the silhouette of that cool blue stone would become a symbol recognized and hated (or, perversely, loved) by the vast majority of the human race. pg. 23

The inscription, carved an inch deep into the substance of the pillar and written in a kind of pidgin Mandarin and basic English, was a simple declarative statement commemorating a battle. In other words, the pillar was a victory monument. pg. 23

This was, as you will have guessed, the first of the city-busting Chronoliths... pg. 37

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Random House, 2004
Trade Paperback, 509 pages
ISBN-13: 9780375507250
Very Highly Recommended

From the Publisher:
From David Mitchell, the Booker Prize nominee, award-winning writer and one of the featured authors in Granta’s “Best of Young British Novelists 2003” issue, comes his highly anticipated third novel, a work of mind-bending imagination and scope.
A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan’s California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified “dinery server” on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilisation -- the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each other’s echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small.
In his captivating third novel, David Mitchell erases the boundaries of language, genre and time to offer a meditation on humanity’s dangerous will to power, and where it may lead us.

My Thoughts:

In Cloud Atlas Mitchell presents six different narratives, each a different genre, written in a different style, and from a different time period, but all are interconnected and related in some way. Five of these stories are interrupted part way through them, presented with part of the story before and part after the middle sixth story. The first story is "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing" in which a 19th century clerk is on a Pacific voyage. The second story is "Letters from Zedelghem" an episilatory tale which consists of letters from an aspiring composer describing his life as an amanuensis to a famous composer in the early 1930s. The third is "Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery." In this story a California journalist is in danger when she starts investigating the safety of a nuclear plant in the 1970s. The fourth story is "The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish" which follows the trials and misadventures of a present day publisher in Great Britain. The fifth is "An Orison of Sonmi-451" is set in Korea sometime in the future and features a cloned servant being questioned about her activities. The final sixth story is "Sloosha's Crossin' An' Ev'rythin' After" which is set in a future post-apocalyptic world on Hawaii.

I've never read anything like Cloud Atlas, which says a lot. It's a complex novel. The leaps across genres and writing styles (for goodness sakes!) is amazing. Themes include issues and questions about: genocide, slavery, and exploitation; the role technology and consumerism plays in society; following a soul (or reincarnation); what is civilization; the rewriting of the past; corporate greed. That's enough right there, although it certainly isn't a complete list. And even though this all makes Cloud Atlas sound quite weighty and serious, some of Mitchell's characters are really quite humorous at times.

I will have to admit that "The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing" (the first story) didn't capture my attention right away but I did enjoy the rest of them. It is also quite clear that Cloud Atlas may not be a good choice for everyone. I can see where it could frustrate some readers. If you don't care for science or post-apocalyptic fiction, the 5th and 6th stories might leave you cold. The 6th story also has a bastardized English dialect that some readers might struggle with. Although I would recommend reading Cloud Atlas as written, I may go back someday and reread it one complete story at a time. If it's worth a reread then you know it's Very Highly Recommended.


Thursday, 7th November—
Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints. Through rotting kelp, sea cocoa-nuts & bamboo, the tracks led me to their maker, a White man, his trowzers & Pea-jacket rolled up, sporting a kempt beard & an outsized Beaver, shoveling & sifting the cindery sand with a teaspoon so intently that he noticed me only after I had hailed him from ten yards away. Thus it was, I made the acquaintance of Dr. Henry Goose, surgeon to the London nobility. opening

Mrs. Evans said grace & I enjoyed my most pleasant repast (untainted by salt, maggots & oaths) since my farewell dinner with Consul Bax & the Partridges at the Beaumont. pg. 10

Peace, though beloved of our Lord, is a cardinal virtue only if your neighbors share your conscience. pg. 16

The very words, "California Bound" are dusted in gold & beckon all men thitherwards like moths to a lantern. pg. 22

Learn from this, Sixsmith. When insolvent, pack minimally, with a valise tough enough to be thrown onto London pavement from a first- or second-floor window. Insist on hotel rooms no higher. pg. 44

As an experienced editor, I disapprove of flashbacks, foreshadowings, and tricksy devices; they belong in the 1980's with M.A.s in postmodernism and chaos theory. pg. 150

Souls cross ages like clouds cross skies, an' tho' a cloud's shape nor hue nor size don't stay the same, it's still a cloud an' so is a soul. Who can say where the cloud's blowed from or who the soul'll be `morrow? Only Sonmi the east an' the west an' the compass an' the atlas o' clouds. pg 308

Books don't offer real escape, but they can stop a mind scratching itself raw. pg. 357

Thursday, July 15, 2010


Some of you may recall the story I told about my sister Hipee and I tinkling. Well.... During a recent visit with Hipee she reminded me that although we were tinkling, we called it kinkling. (Some things are better forgotten, eh?) Anyway, I've revised the Tinkling story to call it Kinkling.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Last Ship

The Last Ship by William Brinkley
Viking, 1988
Hardcover, 616 pages
ISBN-13 (for the paperback): 9780345359827

The unimaginable horror of total nuclear war has been let loose upon the world, and only one ship, the Nathan James, with 152 men and 26 women aboard, has survived. Her captain narrates the electrifying story of this crew's voyage through the hell of nuclear winter, their search for survival, and the fate of mankind when they find an uncontaminated paradise.
My Thoughts:

This post-nuclear apocalyptic novel focuses on the survival of the crew of the destroyer Nathan James. Although, surprisingly, the actual actions of the crew are secondary to the incessant, introspective, ponderous narrative by the ship's captain. Many of the captain's reflections concern how much more wonderful sailors are, in every respect, when compared to other people. I guess it's good sailors are, perhaps, the only known survivors, huh? Someone did need a good editor for The Last Ship. I concur with the sentiments expressed by Publishers Weekly: "Perhaps the most surprising thing about this apocalyptic novel of the sea is that Brinkley has been able to spin so slender a plot to so great a length - more than 500 pages." Or, more precisely for my copy, 616 pages - of small type.

It soon became clear that the key for reading The Last Ship was not to savor every word (as one does when reading a truly great author, where it is clear that every word was carefully chosen), but to quickly skim over many sections of the captain's verbosity, while looking for some forward movement of the plot. Oh, and the captain repeats information too - just in case you missed something. (Kudos to the great vocabulary, even though at times reading it felt like I was at a cocktail party stuck listening to some pretentious jerk talking just to show off. See the last quote, chosen because it was actually a typical sentence.) There was also a rather graphic sex scene late in the novel that felt like an unnecessary addition and was totally out of place. Actually, trying for no spoilers here, the arrangement with the women was totally unrealistic. It would have behooved Brinkley to, perhaps, talk with some real women about it rather than relying on his imagination.

Although this is asking a lot of a reader, set the writing aside and the actual plot is decent. We don't get enough information about what started the war, but the premise that only one ship has survived is intriguing. The dilemma is in whether or not I would recommend this book to others. You might enjoy The Last Ship if you like post-apocalyptic fiction and at the same time are not intimidated by an author's excessive use of a large vocabulary (not always correctly used), and pages of complicated sentences.
for the plot, so-so for the author's writing


In bravura beauty, no ship has ever come off a Navy ways to be compared with the destroyer and she was a fine example of a noble breed. opening

It was with the Tomahawk cruise missile, sometimes it seemed with scarcely anyone noticing the fact, that matters began to get beyond all hope of control. pg. 2

There follows the story of my ship, the Nathan James, DDG (guided missile destroyer) 80. I sometimes have wondered, as perhaps did every soul of the 282 men and twenty-three officers in ship's company, as to the extent to which what happened was affected by the fact that thirty-two of these - six officers , twenty six enlisted - were women. What the difference might have been had they not been present and aboard. pg. 5

Yet feeling surely it must be the former, how could it be otherwise: Remembering that moment when Lieutenant (jg) Selmon, gone ashore all alone with his instruments, staying overlong to make sure beyond all doubt of his findings, had finally returned, climbed the accommodation ladder to the quarterdeck where I stood awaiting him, and spoke in his quiet manner that imprimatur that took us awhile even to comprehend before belief set in: "Captain, the island is uncontaminated." pg. 21

When the Navy not long ago first commenced assigning a few women to ships, I felt it to be one of the incalculable fundamental errors that seem to be made only by civilizations in decline, a lapse profound and past comprehension in both the most elementary morality and judgment. pg. 23

"At continued reduced rations we can live off ship's stores for four months - allowing that for any kind of harvest ashore... figuring in an awful lot of fish..." Her voice bore down. "I mean a lot... I've checked all this with Palatti. He agrees." pg. 25

Even then I felt that life on the oceans was the only life worth living, the sea seeming to me, even at the earliest age - that surely but sensed dimly then, certainly put in no such grandiose terms; looking back I could but see the fledgling shoots for present, substantiated, full-grown certainty - to possess a purity, a simple straightforwardness, a rectitude, a scrupulousness, yes, a clear aristocracy, that stood in contradiction to the unnumbered corruptions of the churlish and plebeian land and the land life, with all its hustling, its tedious and incessant hype, its seemingly essential duplicities and deviousness, its insect busyness, its insatiable avarice, all in zealous pursuit of goals I did not judge worth having if, when attained. pg. 42

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Passage

The Passage by Justin Cronin
Random House Publishing Group, June 2010
Hardcover, 766 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345504968
Very Highly Recommended

From the Publisher:
“It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born.”

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he’s done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.
My Thoughts:

Wow! The Passage will definitely be one of my top books of the year. After reading several reviews, I knew it was a novel I would enjoy, and enjoy it I did, savoring all 766 pages of it. It is a hefty, epic, dystopian novel. While you may feel some large books (chunksters for all of you challenge people) have a padded story that could be edited down, The Passage is not one of those novels. Cronin is an excellent writer. His characters and plot are both well developed. I found the pacing to be perfect. Any editing it down would have ruined the story.

The Passage is the first novel in what will be a trilogy. The novel itself is broken into two parts. The first part, about the first third of the novel, deals what started the apocalyptic event. A secret army medical experiment creates the virals (and the Girl from Nowhere). The experimental subjects escape, unleashing the horrific viral outbreak which turns those people who are not killed (the majority) into what some are calling vampires. These are not your sparkly, sensitive movie vampires. These vampires are virals, more like huge, hairless, glow-in-the-dark insect-like mutants with an aversion to light. They are fast, agile killing machines.

The second part of the novel jumps ahead almost a hundred years in the future to a small colony of Survivors in what was California. As read in an interview on the Barnes & Noble site, Cronin said, "I wanted to take ordinary people and place them in circumstances of such dire emergency that they couldn't help but reveal their truest selves in the choices they make. I've heard it said that character is 'what you are in the dark'. Strip away the distractions of daily life, and what have you got? I wanted to put my characters to this kind of test." He succeeded. We see how the bonds between them shape these characters - their love for each other, the sacrifices they will make, and the courage of their actions.

My one small complaint is that when The Passage jumped to the second part it lost some of the momentum created in the first part. It was almost like starting a new book. Stick with it though, and you'll meet a whole new set of characters while the suspense slowly builds again. The Passage is one of those books that I read relatively slowly, savoring every passage, carefully following each character, wanting it to stretch it out even longer. I'm thrilled that there will be two sequels to look forward to reading. Very Highly Recommended


Before she became the Girl from Nowhere - the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years - she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy. opening

During the night, she'd lock Amy in the room with the TV on to make some noise and walk out to the highway in front of the motel and just kind of stand there, and it didn't take long. Somebody would stop, always a man and once they'd work things out, she'd take him back to the motel. pg. 11

...she let herself hold Amy a moment longer, trying to put this feeling in a place inside her mind, someplace safe where she could keep it. Then she let her daughter go, and before anybody said another word, Jeanette walked from the kitchen and down the driveway to the street, and kept right on going. pg. 17

I'm writing this to you in case I don't make it back. I don't want to alarm you, but I have to be realistic about the situation. We're less than five kilometers from the grave site, but I doubt we'll be able to perform the extraction as planned. Too many of us are sick or dead.
Two nights ago we were attacked - not by drug traffickers, but bats. pg. 23

Sykes explained what he wanted Wolgast to do. It was all quite straight forward, he said, and by now Wolgast knew the basics. The Army needed between ten and twenty death-row inmates to serve in the third-stage trials of an experimental drug therapy, codenamed Project Noah. In exchange for their consent, these men would have their sentences commuted to life without parole. It would be Wolgast’s job to obtain the signatures of these men, nothing more. Everything had been legally vetted, but because the project was a matter of national security, all of these men would be declared legally dead. Thereafter, they would spend the rest of their lives in the care of the federal penal system, a white-collar prison camp, under assumed identities. pg. 40

Wolgast felt lost. “I don’t get it.”
Sykes sipped his coffee. “Well, neither did anyone at the CDC. But something had happened, some interaction between their immune systems and something, most likely viral, that they’d been exposed to in the jungle. Something they ate? The water they drank? No one could figure it out. They couldn’t even say exactly where they’d been.” pg. 41

Sykes gave a shrug. “I’ve probably said too much. But I think this will help you put things in perspective. We’re not talking about curing one disease, agent. We’re talking about curing everything. How long would a human being live if there were no cancer, no heart disease, no diabetes, no Alzheimer’s? And we’ve reached the point where we need, absolutely require, human test subjects. Not a nice term, but there really is no other. And that’s where you come in. I need you to get me these men.” pg. 42

Richards didn't need a PhD in microbiology to know that it was risky stuff: vampire stuff, though no one at Special Weapons ever used the word. If it hadn't been written by a scientist of Lear's stature, a Harvard microbiologist no less, it all would have sounded like something from the Weekly World News. But still, something about it hit a nerve.... The teeth, the blood hunger, the immortal union with darkness - what if these things weren't fantasy but recollection or even instinct or even instinct, a feeling etched over eons into human DNA, of some dark power hat lay within the human animal? A power that could be reactivated, refined, brought under control? pg. 86

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

In a Perfect World

In a Perfect World by Laura Kasischke
HarperCollins, 2009
Trade Paperback, 320 pages
ISBN-13: 9780061766114
recommended, maybe highly

It was a fairy tale come true when Mark Dorn—handsome pilot, widower, tragic father of three—chose Jiselle to be his wife. The other flight attendants were jealous: She could quit now, leaving behind the million daily irritations of the job. (Since the outbreak of the Phoenix flu, passengers had become even more difficult and nervous, and a life of constant travel had grown harder.) She could move into Mark Dorn's precious log cabin and help him raise his three beautiful children.
But fairy tales aren't like marriage. Or motherhood. With Mark almost always gone, Jiselle finds herself alone, and lonely. She suspects that Mark's daughters hate her. And the Phoenix flu, which Jiselle had thought of as a passing hysteria (when she had thought of it at all), well . . . it turns out that the Phoenix flu will change everything for Jiselle, for her new family, and for the life she thought she had chosen.
From critically acclaimed author Laura Kasischke comes a novel of married life, motherhood, and the choices we must make when we have no choices left.
My Thoughts:

Although I'll admit I was enjoying In a Perfect World, I was also having issues with it.
In a Perfect World is lite dystopian fiction meets chic lit. The Phoenix flu was what highly interested me and I wanted gritty details about this new stepmother dealing with a pandemic. There's no grit here. A modern pandemic would spread much quicker and across the world much faster than Kasischke's Phoenix flu. In the P.S. section in my copy Kasischke said she was looking at the Black Death of 1347-1349 and the Great Plague of London in 1665-1666. That explains some of the little elements she brought into the story because they were from historical accounts (animals acting oddly, unusual weather, cults, etc.). Looking at a more recent flu pandemic, like the one in 1918, might have served Kasischke better. Even then she'd need to speed up the timeline for the spread of a truly virulent flu today. Additionally, given recent hysteria over H1N1, it is inconceivable that information regarding the Phoenix flu wouldn't be all over the news media.

But, while the pandemic storyline interested me the most, it ended up not being the main focus of the story. Jiselle's new marriage to Mark Dorn, her relationship with her three stepchildren, and, as the synopsis said, "the choices we must make when we have no choices left" are the main foci. Jiselle's naiveté in so many areas, and her, well, spineless, clueless behavior was a bit annoying. The fact that Kasischke is a talented writer and has some beautifully written descriptions helped redeem In a Perfect World to some extent, but not completely. After a strong start and some very promising directions that could have been taken, the story lost focus at the end. Kasischke could have done so much more with it.
Recommended, borderline highly - it was a good vacation book.


If you are reading this you are going to DIE!
Jiselle put the diary back on the couch where she found it and went outside with the watering can. opening

No one had said the word epidemic yet, or the word pandemic. No one was calling it a plague.
The first outbreak had swept through a nursing home in Phoenix, Arizona, over a year ago, leaving the elderly miraculously untouched but killing seven nurses and aides. pg. 5

Full of curious weather, meteor showers, and the discovery in rain forests and oceans of species thought to be extinct, it was the kind of year you might associate with an apocalypse if you were prone to making those kinds of associations, which more and more people seemed to be. pg. 6

The afternoon Jiselle announced her engagement to Captain Dorn, she saw them for the first time:
The white balloons. pg. 17

Jiselle had heard of the groups of volunteers and activists who gathered every Sunday in cities all over the United States to set them loose - a white balloon for every victim of the Phoenix flu - but as yet she'd seen them only on television. pg. 17

"...There will be no one from the States staying at my inn. You're all going to catch this and kill the rest of us. It's just a matter of time." pg. 31

Fearing something even worse this time, and in public, Jiselle had almost cancelled the birthday dinner, but she knew what her mother would think about that - about her new marriage, about her stepchildren, about her whole life, and all of her decisions - if she did. She would say, "How sad for you, alone on your birthday. Mark simply couldn't take one day off to spend with you?" pg. 40