Thursday, January 31, 2013

Problems on the Farm?

The problem is not on the farm, it's in rural employment.
We have noted in the past that rural areas are showing many of the same problems that the inner cities showed decades ago when the jobs left.  Some of it seems to be a factor of corporate consolidation.  Another factor is technology.

Record Profits No Job Creator on Farms as Owners Automate
Alan Bjerga, Bloomburg, 30 January 2013 (hat tip: NC)
The property Kevin Liefer and his son, Kirk, cultivate in southern Illinois has been expanding for decades without adding a single manager. These are boom times for farming and a bust for farm jobs.
The 3,600 acres of mostly corn, wheat and soybeans the Liefers hold were about 30 separate, individually operated farms more than 40 years ago, said Kevin. As families left, the homesteads near Red Bud, about 40 miles (64 kilometers) southeast of St. Louis, melded into one operation.
Older tractors were replaced with models that cultivate more ground and serve as miniature offices, complete with global positioning systems that allow them to steer themselves. Mobile phones enable communication while in the fields.
“There’s so much more you can do now without as much labor,” said Kevin, 58. “The consolidation has been rapid.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Peak oil hype and reality

Peak oil always seemed on of the fuzzier of the politicized economic-sustainability issues going forward.  Although in a very general sense the left was more interested in it than the right.  That has gotten even fuzzier lately because the fracking/tar sand/etc. debates have made some on the  green left realize that peak oil can be used as an argument for no holds barred fracking.

Peak oil theories 'increasingly groundless', says BP chief
Fiona Harvey, The Guardian 16 January 2013 (Hat tip: NC)
The US will be self-sufficient in energy by 2030, with only 1% coming from imports, the company's analysts predict
Warnings that the world is headed for "peak oil" – when oil supplies decline after reaching the highest rates of extraction – appear "increasingly groundless", BP's chief executive said on Wednesday.
Bob Dudley's remarks came as the company published a study predicting oil production will increase substantially, and that unconventional and high-carbon oil will make up all of the increase in global oil supply to the end of this decade, with the explosive growth of shale oil in the US behind much of the growth.
Why Shale Oil is Not the Game Changer We Have Been Led to Believe - Part 1
Chris Martinsen, Oil Price, 17 January 2013 (Hat tip: NC)
There has been a very strong and concerted public-relations effort to spin the recent shale energy plays of the U.S. as complete game-changers for the world energy outlook. These efforts do not square up well with the data and are creating a vast misperception about the current risks and future opportunities among the general populace and energy organizations alike. The world remains quite hopelessly addicted to petroleum, and the future will be shaped by scarcity – not abundance, as some have claimed.
To my mind it looks somewhat like the global warming issue.  The cautionary side has the better arguments overall, but tends to overstate the near future case.  So while they have by far the better long term arguments, their near-term hysteria gets in the way.  The business as usual crowd has almost no case except for pumping out insanely optimistic data.
At the point where you are talking about building a nuclear power plant in Canada to be able to produce the steam for the tar sands cheap enough to make the operation worthwhile you have to be able to sense at least some sort of higher plateau has been reached.

Monday, January 28, 2013

New apocalyptic novel by Lexi Revellian

Lexi Revellian (also) has an frozen apocalyptic novel out: Ice Diaries.  It is at the U.S. Amazon (paper back and Kindle) and in the U.K. Amazon

She describes the genesis of her novel as such:
Long ago in 1981, Fred Hoyle wrote a book called Ice - How the next ice age will come - and how we can prevent it. I remember the cover of a colour supplement featuring the book; the Houses of Parliament emerging from a snowy wasteland, with a solitary figure skiing. This image stayed with me until I wrote Ice Diaries about a London in the near future buried beneath twenty metres of snow. Back in 1981, few buildings would have been tall enough to emerge from snow that deep. How London has changed.
Note that Hoyle will eventually be correct.  No matter if we manage to melt all the ice caps, cyclical variations in earth's orbit will eventually get us back to the frosty tundra über alles look.
The novel's general premise is rather similar to Earth Abides: a really big plague wipes almost everyone out. The difference is that after that, they all get buried under 20 meters (66 feet) of snow. The depopulation allows for less chaos and mayhem, but the ice age keeps it from being completely easy pickings. There is a little romance and British quirky humor apparently thrown in as well.

An excerpt may be found here.  There is also an interesting reference web page.

I don't actually know Ms. Revellian, but based on her website she seems very nice.

The snow globe cover I think is some of that quirky British humor. I am told I have a rather quirky, dry sense of humor, but I do find the trivialization of such a fine art form a little off-putting

Saturday, January 26, 2013

New apocalyptic novel by D. Robert Grixti

D. Robert Grixti has a new freezingly cold post-apocalyptic novel out:  Sun Bleached Winter.  Released by Damnation Books LLC, a small Californian press, it is at Amazon as both a paperback and in Kindle form.
It is descibed by the author as, "a dark, violent novel for mature audiences who love edgy stories with bittersweet endings. It's equal parts The Road and The Walking Dead, with some of The Stand thrown in for good measure". 
An excerpt can be found here.
Mr. Grixiti is the editor of Dark Edifice magazine, which we made not of a while back.  And some new copies can be found at this web page.  If everyone is seven-aquintances away from Santa Clause, I don't get very far toward the North Pole with Mr. Grixiti.  I know him through one of our Australian Apocalyptic Authors Guy Salvidge, who we also made note of a couple of for both Yellow Cake Spring, and The Kingdom of Four Rivers.

Friday, January 25, 2013

First Domino to fall

That domino might be Cypress.  The Europeans are forcing the issue with the largish island that is a country in the Mediterranean.

As Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution, who I frequently hat tip, asks:

The Big News from Today
Tyler Cown, Marginal Revolution, 25 January 2013
However small a country it may be, does anyone at this point want to be on record setting any number of precedents, one way or the other?...“Creative ambiguity” is getting harder to manage all the time. What would a depositor haircut here imply for Greek and Spanish banks?
Recall that before Lehman Brothers went down it was Bear Stearns that they rescued first. They got so much grief over that rescue, that they thought they could afford to let Lehman go: that is was not essential.

We shall see. In my opinion, it will all have to be let go at some point, but what king of landing you have is an option.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Polynesians got here first

Polynesians got to the South America before the Spanish and Portuguese.  When they went home, they brought back the sweet potato.

Clues to Prehistoric Human Exploration Found in Sweet Potato Genome
Lizzie Wade, Science, 21 January 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Humans domesticated the sweet potato in the Peruvian highlands about 8000 years ago, and previous generations of scholars believed that Spanish and Portuguese explorers introduced the crop to Southeast Asia and the Pacific beginning in the 16th century. But in recent years, archaeologists and linguists have accumulated evidence supporting another hypothesis: Premodern Polynesian sailors navigated their sophisticated ships all the way to the west coast of South America and brought the sweet potato back home with them. The oldest carbonized sample of the crop found by archaeologists in the Pacific dates to about 1000 C.E.—nearly 500 years before Columbus's first voyage. What's more, the word for "sweet potato" in many Polynesian languages closely resembles the Quechua word for the plant.

Because the Polynesians, like Vikings on the opposite end of the new world,  didn't take over and conquer the new people, the remnants of their transitory visits is rather ephemeral.  Just as with the Norwegians, now that their arrival is established it will be easier to pinpoint further examples without being labelled a crackpot.

Likely, as with other large cultural groupings, the extent of their reach waxed and wained over time. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Great Lakes shrinkage

I saw the initial story on this some time ago and saved it for what I thought would be near future use.  I forgot to use it, but as with many of these stories, they never really go away.

As Great Lakes levels plummet, Michigan town tries to save its harbor
AP Press/, 27 November 2012 (hat tip:  NC)
The Great Lakes, the world’s biggest freshwater system, are shrinking because of drought and rising temperatures, a trend that accelerated with this year’s almost snowless winter and scorching summer. Water levels have fallen to near-record lows on Lakes Michigan and Huron, while Erie, Ontario and Superior are below their historical averages. The decline is causing heavy economic losses, with cargo freighters forced to lighten their loads, marinas too shallow for pleasure boats and weeds sprouting on exposed bottomlands, chasing away swimmers and sunbathers.

And the problems continue:

Great Lakes water levels reaching a low ebb
Jay Ray, The Buffalo News, 2 January 2012
In fact, receding waters recently exposed several old shipwrecks in a river that funnels into Lake Michigan.
The low lake levels for Erie and Ontario, though not even close to record-breaking, are making some nervous. That is particularly true in communities such as Olcott and Wilson, which rely heavily on the business of out-of-state boaters and fisherman who launch and dock from local marinas.

The current levels can be found here.  Note that the relevant line is  "Difference from long-term monthly average of Jan (inches)"

Of course it is the sign of our times that the feared economic loss is tourism rather than industry.  Much the way satirically the big town economic loss in the novel Gone Girl was when their mega-mall shut down.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

France: the last Western European Power

Of course we should note that Russia is an Eastern European power.

France Alone
, Project Syndicate, 16 January 2013 (hat tip: NC)

In less than two years, France has carried out three decisive foreign military interventions. In March 2011, its airstrikes in Libya (alongside those of Great Britain) thwarted Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s troops as they prepared to retake the city of Benghazi. A month later, French forces in Côte d’Ivoire arrested President Laurent Gbagbo, who had refused to recognize his rival’s election victory, putting the country at risk of civil war. Now France has intervened in Mali.
The American mini-hate fest with France I think started when the French would not let us overfly their airspace on the way to attacking Moammar Gadhafi in 1986 when Ronald Reagan was President.  Spain and Italy also refused fly over rights, but France's denial was the most problematic.
From this incident, the idea that the French were pacifistic and non-combative arose.  Which is odd because the French have been almost as aggressive as the United States in getting involved in armed conflicts in colonial territories.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Return of Lucifer's Hammer?

The return of Lucifer's Hammer?  (U.K pre-order)In a literal sense it appears so.  An upcoming book by Naomi FoyleSeoul Survivors.  The blurb:

A meteor known as Lucifer’s Hammer is about to wreak destruction on the earth, and with the end of the world imminent, there is only one safe place to be.
In the mountains above Seoul, American-Korean bio-engineer Dr Kim Da Mi thinks she has found the perfect solution to save the human race. But her methods are strange and her business partner, Johnny Sandman, is not exactly the type of person anyone would want to mix with.
Drawn in by their smiles and pretty promises, Sydney – a Canadian model trying to escape an unhappy past – is an integral part of their scheme, until she realises that the quest for perfection comes at an impossible price.

It has a kind of cool cover.  I hope it doesn't drag the U.S. release, but even though some of what I read has it coming out in February of 2013, I don't see any preregistration at either the U.K. or the U.S. Amazon.

I recall somewhere reading that there are motorcycle thugs in the Orient.  They have nuclear reactors, and I am sure they have something like the Girl Scouts.  So all the elements are there.  For those who started on the apocalyptic novel deal with zombie or vampire fare, you just won't understand.

This author seems like she might be a bit more "sensitive" than Niven or Pournelle,  but we shall see.

Projected cover

Sunday, January 20, 2013

New novel by Archer Garrett

I am not a huge zombie apocalypse fan.  But for those who are interested in Archer Garrett's novels, he has come out with a new one, The Blighted.  It is listed at 30,000 words (a long novella), so it should move along fairly well.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Gone Girl: A Review

Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl is a psycho-thriller mystery set in today's modern (southern) Midwest.    The tale takes place within the dystopian currently economically collapsing small town of North Carthage (Quincy?), Missouri.
Gillian Flynn writes novels that sell very well.  People like them a lot.  Gone Girl has shot her into the stratosphere by being able to fit both within the popular genre of contemporary fiction, and getting rave reviews by the more artsy folks out there as well.
The start of the story is rather simple.  Husband and wife are about to celebrate their fifth reunion.  In what is an apparent break in, the wife is grabbed and taken off somewhere.  The story begins as a who done it, questioning both the motives and emotions of the husband, and the missing wife through her diary.  Because we are in modern America, we are treated to the whole three-ring media circus that all this entails.  It then moves on in a rather spectacular serious of plot twists into a whole different territory, while still remaining within the basic structure of a missing wife story.   There are tons of reviews out there that cover the whys and wherefores of the plot.  Most of them seem to miss some critical points.  I will try and go over them without giving out too much in the way of teasers.
My take is that the entire novel is a satire on our society and its values.  Granted I tend to think of Missouri as being culturally a Southern State, but we will play along with the crowd and say it's Midwestern.  The main characters, both those from New York visiting the town, and the Midwesterners who are already there, are portrayed in an extreme way that displays how dysfunctional much of our activities as a nation are today.
The town has had an economic collapse because its mega mall, that drew people in from all over, has shut down.  Just down the river, Hannibal Missouri, hometown of Mark Twain, is slowly fading away as a tourist destination.  So it is not just a collapse, it is a second derivative collapse.  New Carthage didn't thrive buy making things, it never did anything particularly functional beyond retail sales, and now even that is gone.  Hannibal I am sure is fun, but the modern town (versus Twain's) built itself on tourism.  The commerce, the riverboats had been long gone.   When the Midwest and Northeast industries collapsed in the 1970s they called it the "Rustbelt".  What are they going to call this? The "Discounted Belt"?

Our young couple lives in an almost empty development where most of the homes were never owned, and the few that were have mostly been repossessed.  The populous has nothing better to do than follow around celebrities, or make faux celebrities out of (possibly) dead wives and their (for sure!) evil husbands.  O.J. iterate, O.J., O.J., O.J.
Throughout the novel there are constant references to people only knowing how to act because they have seen the scene on T.V.   The husband runs a bar that is rather obviously modeled along the idea of Cheers!  Other elements in the story portray our obsession with celebrity, the desire for control over even our rather flimsy desires, the grasping greed, and the desire for renown and adulation even in the most artificial realities.
It is a dark satire.  The author manages to poke fun at huge swaths of our society as the narrative moves along.  Her ever so slightly over the top narrative lulls the reader into thinking they are not included in the conversation:  she is talking about "those other" people.  I don't think so.   The ending is more than a little bit of a surprise, but it manages to mix in that perfect combination of the desire for the lumpy fuzzy feel good with the grasping controlling greed that makes our modern culture so wonderful to behold.  Some are confused by the ending.  I thought it was hilarious.
Obviously I liked the book.  I agree with the reviewers who put it in the year best category.  It is light years better than most contemporary fiction.  That it is the (hidden) story of a slow apocalypse, of course only warms my heart even more.
This is not exactly the type of novel that I designed my two descriptive categories for, but we might as well see where they take us.  Realism and Readability:  1 to 7: 4 is the mid-point, 7 is high.
Realism is rather easy.  It has elements of slightly over the top satire.  But it is very much set in our world.  It is a soft apocalypse, so of course money is the most relevant life issue.  But issues of identity and prestige are only slightly (if that) less central.  A slow collapse means that life sort of sucks, and a moment in the sun can go a long way toward sweeping away some of those cobwebs.  It is an uncomfortable 6.
Readability is very easy.  She is an extremely good craftswoman.  The author knows what tone she is trying to pitch, so you aren't going to get elliptical references to Greek or Roman  Gods, but there is the of hand comment (p208) about singing every word to the Tom Petty's American Girl.  A song that includes the lines
"Raised on promises / She couldn't help thinkin' / That there was a little more to life somewhere else" (p204),
and the very funny flashback to the gift giving on their first anniversary
"neither of us liked our presents; we'd each have preferred the other's. It was a reverse O. Henry (p20).
So Ms. Flynn can drop the little symbolic clues, she just isn't going to make it too obvious.  She doesn't want to spoke the people who think its all about a missing/maybe murder mystery.  It is a compulsive enough read that I think we can even give it an honorary page turner status.  It is a literary 7.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Western Front: A Review

Archer Garrett's The Western Front is a near future apocalypse-in-progress set within a United States that is collapsing economically, narco-bandits are causing trouble on the Texas borderland, and there is a rumors of succession in the air.  The book is the first of a series of planned novels.

The author describes himself as a Christian conservative-libertarian who likes outdoor activities.  Based on his novels locations, he seems to have a connection to Mississippi, and the Gulf Coast in general.   His libertarianism comes into play in so far as the over-regulation and over taxation of the commercial enterprises is stated as a primary cause of the current economic collapse.
The novel is the story of an economic collapse combined with a certain amount of action-adventure spy novel as various enemies of the United States engineer a collapse of the country for their own purposes.  We visit a variety of folks along the way.  There is a whole bunch of Texas State National Guard with a some Navy SEALs (improbably) thrown into the mix, an over the top evil anarchist, a Libertarian Republican who is trying to run a political campaign in the middle of a full blown national collapse, a CIA Master Spy, and a Family of outdoorsy Christian sorts (one of whom is a Navy SEAL) who live in rural Mississippi.
The novel is a compilation of oddly thrown together conversations mixed with entertaining moments of pure action-adventure.  By odd conversations , I mean you have long discussions from an experienced politician about his near messianic respect for George Washington, and our outdoors family discussing odd quotes from the Biblical prophecies of Habakkuk.  By pure-action adventure I mean set piece shoot em up encounters where the good guys are always smarter, faster and slicker than the various bad guys.   Occasionally the good guys just have better equipment, but mostly they are sneaker.  Bad guys (probably realistically) do a poor job of keeping up their 360-degree security.  Good guys, maybe not as realistically, are always in position to exploit their errors.

The novel works reasonably well as post-apocalyptic military porn without (at least not in this first book in the series) becoming one of those insane militia novels where the re-invention of the Molotov cocktail leads to the downfall of modern military systems.  It is obvious from the moments of biblical discourse, and George Washington homilies, that the author is trying to push a certain worldview toward the reader, but the chaotic nature of the novel tends to tone down the impact of that discourse.  It comes across more as people with opinions than particularly effective rhetoric.  The free market mantra has long turned into something closer to a religious conviction for many people, so its not surprising that the arguments are stronger in their conviction than in their substance.   There are almost no female characters of importance, or for that matter of noteworthy competence.  In some of the military settings that is somewhat understandable, but it is generally true across the board.  
Did I like it?  It was o.k.  I was registered as a Libertarian at one time so its not as if those views are anathema to me, and while the Christian-themed discussions were not always well placed, but they were short and not as in-your-face as I have seen other places.  They did bring up my favorite conundrum of "What do you do when you find your neighbors 8-year old daughter stealing from your survival garden?"  The problem though, is that I tend to like action shoot em ups if they aren't too long.  So its difficult for me to really recommend it to a wider audience.  I suspect most people will find it a little chaotic, and a little odd.  My suspicion is that it is going to turn into more of a militia-style novel as the series progresses, and I tend to find those dull.
For our descriptive (versus qualitative) ratings:  1 to 7:  4 is the midpoint, 7 is high.
Realism is mixed.  Yes there are survival situations, but most of them involve gun play rather than real supply/water problems.  As is common for these novels, the collapse is rather uneven.  It is not clear why there isn't even more problems in the cities as, based on the descriptions of the state of highway transportation, just about everyone should be starved to death by now.  The author seems to have the common, antiquated concepts about the urban-suburban-countryside lifestyles.  The urban folk are not treated well here, and the suburban folks are mostly absent.  There are almost no random people on the roads - just bandit types.  The prepper types all seem to have a lot of money and time to set themselves up.  The effects of nuclear terrorism are noted as a voice over on a news commentary rather than personally witnessed.  I will say it is a 4.
Readability is a little bit more straightforward.  There is too much extraneous chatter to call it a page turner, but outside some biblical discussion, there is almost no heavy layering of symbolism, or extended navel gazing to slow up the storyline.  It is a 6.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Noir: A review

K.W. Jeter's Noir is a cyberpunk novel set mostly along the North American West Coast where a  small remnant of a parasitical corporate economy stationed in great loop around the Pacific Basin still "thrives".  The tale alludes to (presumably economic) collapsed areas, but as it is taking place within a brutal mercantile remnant, it's overall flavor is more dystopian than apocalyptic.

K.W. (Kevin Wayne) Jeter has an interesting mix of novels.  He was a friend of the Philip K. Dick, and wrote one of the earlier cyperpunk novels.   A novel with sufficient violence and sexual content that it took ten years to get it published  (Doctor Adder 1982).  He has also been a very successful author within mass-media inspired worlds:  Star Trek, Star Wars,  and Blade Runner.  Although not the inventor of the genre, he is the person who first coined the term Steampunk when describing that odd brand of Victorian era based science fiction. His literary output is highly varied and includes both horror  and contemporary action-adventure novels.
One item of note is that K.W. Jeter hates people who infringe on copyrights, and takes a highly moral stance on the personal property rights bestowed by copyright statutes.  That there is a bit of ephemeral quality to this type of ownership doesn't seem to figure within his philosophy on the subject.   So while it might be surprising that the main "hero" of the novel goes out and violently pursues the future dystopean equivalent of your college student pdf-pirates, it is not surprising that if such a protagonist should appear, that Jeter would be the originating author.
So we have McNihil, your typical physically enhanced cyberpunk style hero.  Most of his enhancements don't seem to be all that particularly helpful.  Most noteworthy is that he has surgically installed black mirror shades instead of eyes, which through elaborate software turn the world around him into a 1940s style noir film.  But the enhancement is a bit problematic for a detective, so he has to keep cheating and look into mirrored surfaces to figure out what he is really looking at.  We also have his dead wife, who he still visits from time to time.

His dead wife? Much like today's student loans, the debt of the future is difficult to be rid of.  If you die, and your in debt, your creditors will use various (not well explained) technical means to bring you back so that you can keep paying off your debt.  Since McNihil's wife owed money she was brought back and placed in the land of the dead (down south somewhere around Argentina I gather) to start paying off her debts.
The story has some of the feel of an old noir detective novel.   A young executive is killed in a seedy part of town, under unusual circumstance, and an over preening, overly powerful ubber-boss wants our copyright killer-cop to find out what happened, and more importantly, get back the intellectual property the executive is thought to have had on his persons when he was killed.  For reasons that are not particularly well explained, the copyright-cop doesn't want the work, so a large portion of the story is spent with the cop running around this dystopia while the executive keeps leaning on him harder and harder to do the job.  The author makes sure he adds in all the appropriate cyperpunk themes.  Adventures in a somewhat unreal web-matrix like world. The pretty young cyper gal assassin with the deadly high tech sneak attack weapon, and of course that mix of high tech impoverishment as best depicted visually in the movie Blade Runner.
The author throws in some talking points from classical literature, and there is a bizarre extended rant sequence where the author seems trying to convince of the necessity of copyright, while indicating that all the beneficiaries of these copyrights are extremely evil, and that copyright is likely to fade in the dystopia that the future brings in any case.
Did I like it?  Would I recommend it?  I am ambivalent.  I like the cyberpunk genre as a whole, but this one wades through some pretty serious muddy waters for what in the end is a relatively thin plot.  Bad guys using their power to do bad things, mixed in with a little bit of what I gather are some Jungian archetypes, as the collective public unconscious, brings to life disturbing entities/religions through their myopic lusts.  While it has its interesting moments, the collective pieces don't always add up well together, and while the ending had its nice little gotcha surprise, I am not sure how much most people would care by that point.
We move on to our two descriptive ratings:  Realism and Readability:  1 to 7, with 4 in the middle and 7 being high.
Realism in our case is intended to indicate how close the novels subject matter is to today, or a near future's struggles and difficulties.  In this case the apparent cause of collapse - economic myopia - is believable enough.  But while the world is supposedly in a relatively near future collapse, the storyline runs more within the theme of the more moody film noir movies of the 1940s.  There is more mood than plausible story.  I guess in theory, all the characters are worried about making money.  But its not because they worry about starving so much as they worry about being turned into undead zombies to pay their bills.   Most of the implanted gadgets are underwhelming in their effectiveness.  It is a three.
Readability is literally how straightforward the novel is to read.  It is not necessarily a mark of literary merit.  Cyberpunk novels tend to like to hold back their storyline to cause mystery and suspense, and this novel pretty much fits the bill.  There is a fair amount of philosophic discussions, which keep this from being a simple, plot driven, action-adventure.  Again it is a three.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Collision Course: A Review

David Crawford's Collision Course is an apocalypse-in-progress set in the very near future in a purposefully unclear (but somewhere where they have roads named after both prairies and cotton) portion of the United States.  The collapse, or Smash as it is called here, appears to be of a generally economic nature.

David Crawford is well known in some circles for his online, and than commercialized novel, Lights Out.  Lights out was a long serialized novel about life in Texas after an EMP burst caused by a vengeful Arab businessman.  I reviewed Lights Out a while ago, and gave it measured recommendation (Y but not Y+). David Crawford is into guns and karate, and prepping, so the novel presumably would appeal to those who are preparing for the coming crash, or smash as it were.
The book follows two tracks, one is that of a mall security guard, D.J.,  who is trying to bugout to a retreat in the countryside.  With an odd combination of prepper training skills, and amazing (but not clearly intended by the author) ineptitude, we get to follow D.J.'s rather self centered antics on his way to safety. 
Our next hero is Gabe Horne, a washed out drunk who is living in a little trailer outside of a small town.  Gabe is the nicer of the two characters, and to some degree replaces the super-heroic "Mark" from Lights Out.  As Gabe slowly sobers up, he acts in a somewhat leader-like role to help get his little group of neighbor farming families to work together to help each other out.
There are a number of lessons to be learned from the various happenings and encounters that both men have as time goes on, some a little more plausible than others.  One really obvious lesson, which I discussed some time ago in post-apocalyptic fortifications, is that flanking fire is deadly.  D.J. is like a moth to flames every time he hears shooting, and likes to get himself involved.  Because he is coming on the rear/side of the "bad guys", he gets the drop on them, and has the equipment to pull it off.  That many of these scenarios are just a little too easy (too many unobscured shots) is somewhat beside the point.
One lesson I am a bit dubious about is that desirable women are going to be very quickly interested in protective male figures.  My guess is that women will gravitate toward people they already know, and will work a lot harder at finding a weapon than finding some deeply flawed security figure.  In one case Gabe actually talks his lady friend, Jane,  out of selling her father watch for a .22 rifle and a lot of ammunition.  Its a nice gesture I guess, but why would she want to rely on a drunks help, and why wouldn't they want two guns (rather than Gabe's one) and a lot of ammunition.  I think we are getting into cozy territory here where the author is trying to demonstrate a return to normal-paternalistic relations between the sexes.  Whatever.
The title of the book pretty much tells you where it is all going.  But before we get there, D.J. has gotten predictably boring, and Gabe is getting melancholy dull.  The collision is amazingly anticlimactic, and doesn't seem to have a whole lot to do with the rest of the story line.
Up until about the 2/3rd point I would have said that the book was reasonable, but not great.  But D.J. gets more annoying, and Gabe starts annoying, and mostly stays annoying.  If the ending had been a little better thought out, it might have gotten to at least a maybe yes/ maybe no level.  If you really liked cowboy-like bug out adventures, you could skip over Gabe's part, but that would make for a short book, and D.J. just can't carry that much weight.  The guy's supposed killer weapon is a tricked out black rifle .22 with an extended magazine.  D.J.'s best line:
He could fight his way across.  There was a chance he might get hurt, but there were probably just two or three guys guarding the bridge... If it was just those two, DJ could take them out easily.  After all, he was a security specialist, and they were just a couple of yahoos.
For our two descriptive ratings: Realism and readability:  1 to 7: 4 is the midpoint, and 7 is high.
Realism is mixed.  The dialog and activities are far too "adventurous" to have a very real feel.  The collapse is rather uneven in its nature.  You have no rail traffic, but occasional supply trucks show up, somehow being able to make it through the impromptu blockades of local bridges.  Supplies can be had, but only for cash, and both fuel and food are rationed.  There is an awful lot of prepper-bug out type discussions, so I'll go easy and call it a 6.
Readability is fairly straightforward.  Gabe and his boozy ruminations pretty much guarantee its not a page turner, but the language is straightforward, and the obvious prepper/gun crowd in-jokes (mall security) are not particularly important.  It is a 5.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Jake Collins Band and The Fading Sun: A Review

Rob Krabbe's The Jake Collins Band and the Fading Silence (Kindle) is an apocalypse-in-progress set in the remnants of Chicago after a combination of magnetic pole reversal and solar flare crush modern society. 

Rob Krabbe is a Christian musician (a sample) turned author.  This is his first novel.  His wife, Melissa, is a Presbyterian minister who recently finished up her nine month parish internship (see page 4 of pdf and some of her sermons) Married for thirty years there children are mostly grown.  Rob grew up in California, but in 2004 he and his wife moved to live deep in the woods in the foothills of Senecca, South Carolina.  They jointly publish a worship blog.  For all that, it should be noted that the novel has adult sexual content, along with gratuitous violence, and is not set around a mainline Christian view of the world.  The spiritual concepts portrayed strike me more along the lines of the fuzzy Buddhist concepts popular in some Christians and secular humanist circles.
The novel starts off with a rather long preliminary of a current world rock and roll show occurring somewhere around Chicago.  I was not aware that up and coming rock and roll shows still did outdoor stadium gigs, but in this world they do.  At the very end of the show, the lights go out and stay out.
The world is hit by a combination of a polar reversal, which collapses the earths protective magnetic barrier to cosmic rays and what not, and a large solar flair.  Depending on where you are exactly, you are either fried immediately, or if it is night and the bulk of the earth is between you and the sun, you fry as the sun comes around to your location.  Quick retreat to the basement is advised. 
After the preliminaries, the story picks up 20 or so years latter.  It has calmed down some, but the continually flaring sun, combined with some pandemic waves over the preceding years have left the earths population at a fraction of its original total.  One advantage of the heavy decline though is that there has been a lot of salvage available to the survivors; but that salvage that is running out.
The cast of characters is extremely  PC.  You have a fabulous cross dresser, a beautiful deaf girl, a childlike genius supersoldier, a middle aged Cherokee superscout warrior woman, and the drummer and the singer from the previously mentioned rock and roll band.
Even the bad guys are PC.  They stand around in stark terror of the one bad influence super evil genius, and even the more active bad guys are able to rather easily repent of his ways and turn over a new leaf.  The evil of the Ubber Baddy is an explicit evil of the type found in James Bond villains - complete with deathray-like super technology, than a serious portrayal of the actual evils that people do in what they think of as the normal course of events.
The action and fight scenes are type-written versions of comic book actions.  You have guys (all the bad guy soldiers are guys) with 4 barrel automatic 10 gauge shotguns.  The good guys light a lot of C-4 with slow burn fuses (versus electrical ignition).  Thrown knives are instant kill weapons, and arrows are pretty much in the same category.  Obviously the guys at the O.K. Choral shot have been throwing knives at each other rather than using revolvers.
I didn't like this book in very much the same way I didn't like John Van Pelt's Summer of the Apocalypse .  Since there are a fair number of people that just love that novel, they may love this one as well.  This one has more grown up protagonists doing more grownup things, so maybe it will be liked by even more people.  It's just that I thought it was a ridiculous, emotional  mess. It reads very much like the wish fulfillment, PC feel good action adventure of someone who wanted to be a rock star.  The cultural references of the characters are further back in time (Example: Nancy Sinatra – These Boots are Made for Walking) than would be likely for today's young adults.  If the super villains were a little less evil for the fun of it, and a little more desperate evil, if the good guys were a little less cutesy perfect and brilliant you would had some elements toward a fairly meaningful story.

For our two descriptive ratings:  Realism and Readability: 1 to 7, 4 is the mid-point, and 7 is high.

Realism is actually somewhat difficult.  There are occasional stabs at realism.  The collapsed world has a realistic combination of cooperative folks trying to survive, along with some bad guys generally making life miserable.   But in the end it is all just to easy.  The author's good guy's talents are more on the level with superheros rather than normal humans.  That a middle aged woman, who in her previous life was a typical urbanite somehow transformers herself into a mystically powerful scout warrior woman who none can sneak up on (except when she is 'fooling around') and is able to beat supersoldiers who have a lifetime of training behind them is more about politically correct plot devices than reality.  Throw in some severely speculative sci-fi technology and you have a 2.
Readability is a little easier. Likely because the story is intended to drag on for another two books, the author spends a fair amount of time on banter.  Sometimes the banter is on point, sometimes not so much.  So it is not as fast paced of a book as an action adventure comic-like novel might be.  But the language is straightforward, and obvious typos are minimal.  It is a 4.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Review series coming up

This is just a mixture of mostly recent novels.  The reviews are planned to start this next Monday. 

In planned order of appearance:

Rob Krabbe's The Jake Collins Band and the Fading Sun

David Crawford's Collision Course

K.W. Jeter's Noir

Archer Garrett's The Western Front

Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl

I have a few foreign origin novels under the belt, but I am going to wait on them.   They would mix oddly with this grouping.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Clean tech tank

We noted a few days ago that Australia has been a bit warm.  Our friend Degringolade feels that rather than individual bunker type preparations, we should be flexibly-evolving our way through the coming bottleneck.

Let's see how we are doing on the environmental front with our ongoing evolution.

Clean Tech Investments Plunged in 2012
by Environmental Finance, 6 January 2013 (hat tip NC)
The San Francisco-based analysis firm’s preliminary 2012 results recorded venture capital (VC) investments of $6.5 billion in the clean-tech sector, down from the record $9.6 billion in 2011.
The number of deals seen in 2012 were 704, 15% lower than the 829 tracked in the previous year.
Clean-tech mergers and acquisitions (M&A) deals have consistently dropped in value over the past eight quarters, and totalled $39.7 billion in 2012.
“2012 was a difficult year for the sector,” Sheeraz Haji, CEO of Cleantech Group, said in a webinar presenting the figures. Early last year, the firm predicted that 2012 would be a record-breaking year for clean-tech investment.

Whoops!  Not so good.

Deringolade and I, I suspect, are too old to be building our bunkers.  But the youngsters (under 50) should be getting started.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

MBA bubble bursting

From the 2001 to 2011 the number of masters degrees earned grew 74% to 126,214.  The tuition and fees for these programs are 24% more expensive.  Sounds like the graduates are getting better and better results?  Maybe not.

For Newly Minted M.B.A.s, a Smaller Paycheck Awaits
Ruth Simon, The Wall Street Journal, 6 January 2013
For graduates with minimal experience—three years or less—median pay was $53,900 in 2012, down 4.6% from 2007-08, according to an analysis conducted for The Wall Street Journal by Pay fell at 62% of the 186 schools examined....
Another burdensome issue: a high debt load. Nearly 60% of graduating M.B.A.s said they expected to repay some loans after graduation, according to a 2012 GMAC survey. Among households headed by people with student debt who attended graduate school and are under 35, average student loan debt climbed to $81,758 in 2010 according a Wall Street Journal analysis of Federal Reserve data. That figure is up from $55,594 in 2007...
The M.B.A bubble is a mega-bubble made up of portions of two other bubbles.  One is the use of higher degrees to thin out the employee poll in times of excess population.  As Jack Goldstone has noted, this has been going on since the 17th century.  The other bubble is the education price inflation caused by incautious lending.  First by banks back stopped by the government, and now by the government directly.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Australia disasters continuing

More extreme weather down under.

Someone I know says that it is all just following the 30 year weather cycle.  I am don't doubt that there could be a thirty year weather cycle, just as in our extended economic malaise we still have a 4-1/2 year inventory cycle.  The question has to be where is the baseline?

Bushfires in Australia leave path of destruction
The Guardian, 6 January 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Australia is bracing for days of "catastrophic" fire and heatwave conditions, with fires burning in five states and a search continuing for people missing after devastating wildfires in the island state of Tasmania...
There are fires in five of Australia's six states, with 90 in the most populous state of New South Wales and in mountain forests around the national capital, Canberra.
Severe fire conditions were forecast for Tuesday, replicating those of 2009, when the Black Saturday wildfires in Victoria state killed 173 people and caused $4.4bn-worth(£2.7bn) of damage.
This is a continuation of previous bad weather

Fires Rage in Australia's Most Populous State
Enda Curren, Wall Street Journal, 8 January 2013
Australia has been hit by a spate of extreme weather in recent years. In 2009, 173 people were killed by wildfires that swept across Victoria state, while Queensland state was hit by flooding and cyclones in 2011. Last year, a decade-long drought that ravaged the country's farms was declared over after a consistent period of heavy rains.

And for a picture:

Temperatures off the charts as Australia turns deep purple
Peter Hannam, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 January 2013 (hat tip NC again)

Deep purple ... the Bureau of Meteorology's  interactive weather forecasting chart has added new colours.
Thumbnail Photo: Bureau of Meteorology  for an interactive map go here


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Alex Bobl sneak peak on Point Apocalypse

Alex Bobl is set to release his new science fiction novel, Point Apocalypse.  As best I can tell, it is set in the near to midterm future (the technology is still coherent) on a Russian prison planet.

The first chapter is posted at here at his blog.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Death was everywhere

Just a short little excerpt from a review of Bernard Bailyn's The Barbarous Years.
This is one example of what happens when unprepared people are thrust into the "wilderness" on their own devices, and very little real advice.
A fairly good reminder that even in a society where most of the people are still working the land, it takes more to surviving in an agricultural community than simply knowing how to plant and harvest.

Charles C. Mann, The New York Times, 4 January 2012 (hat tip: MR)
“Death was everywhere,” Bailyn writes of Jamestown. The colony was a commercial enterprise, started by the Virginia Company with the sort of careful financial evaluation that in the more recent past was the hallmark of the dot-com boom. Once the colony’s backers discovered that Chesapeake Bay was, contrary to their initial belief, laden with neither gold and silver nor a passage to the Pacific, they tried everything they could think of to salvage their investment. Ship after ship of ill-equipped migrants — many of them abducted, many of them children — went out, each vessel intended to fulfill some new harebrained scheme: winemaking, silk-making, glassmaking. Each and every one failed, as did the Virginia Company, which went bankrupt in 1624. By then three-quarters or more of the Jamestown colonists had died, felled by starvation, disease, murder, wolves, Indian arrows and even cannibalism.
English people kept coming anyway, lured by a discovery that the Crown and company hated: tobacco. Hip, fun, disdained by stuffy authorities and wildly addictive, the smoking weed was an ideal consumer product. Thousands of migrants were willing to risk death for the chance to cash in on England’s squadrons of new nicotine junkies. The Chesapeake Bay became a barely governed swarm of semi-independent tobacco fiefs, owned by families, operated by squads of indentured servants, all squabbling with one another, Protestants against Catholics, English against other Europeans, everyone against Indians.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Are collapse cycles faster?

It is not a huge mystery that many of the ancient empires and kingdoms lasted a really long time.  The Egyptians seemed to last a really long time.  Well somebody else did the number crunching, and if you are careful to avoid counting a collapse and place in the same place, the typical empire lasts less than 500 years.  Or to be more specific 349.2 years (see link here).
If you start the restoration of the Stuarts in 1660  as a starting point for when Britain became a serious empire (see link here), than they made it almost to the 300 year point.  Since than you have had a number of flash-in-pan Empires, Napoleonic Europe, the Soviet Union, the Kaiser Germany, and the Third Reich all failed to make it past 100 years. 
But maybe that is simply because the world is more globalized and that leaves less room for powerful empires.  The bench mark has been set higher.
Interestingly enough though, there is another trend that has also been shortening: Imperial Downtime.  In general the interregnums (down periods) between the collapse of an empire, and the restart of its successor is shortening.  The chaos doesn't last very long.

The Qing Dynasty and Its Neighbors (pdf)
Victor Lieberman, Social Science History 32:2 (Summer 2008)

As political, cultural, and commercial ties between subregions grew tighter, as integration grew more normative, the state grew more stable, and successive interregnums tended to become both shorter and less institutionally and culturally disruptive. Although one can debate specific dates, I submit that China’s first major imperial interregnum, the so-called Age of Division following the effective Han collapse in 190, lasted some 399 years. The second, from the onset of severe Tang debility to the Song reconquest of the south, lasted roughly 119 years. The third, from the collapse of the Northern Song to the Yuan conquest of the south, was 152 years. The fourth, from the outbreak of anti-Yuan revolts to Ming accession, was some 17 years, as was the fifth, from the mushrooming of anti-Ming rebellions to the Manchu conquest of Yunnan. The ratio of major Chinese imperial interregnums therefore was in the order of 399:119:152:17:17. In mainland Southeast Asia and northern Europe progressive consolidation began over 1,000 years later than in China. But the same pattern of decreasingly severe and prolonged interregnums—or conversely, ever more secure integration— obtained. Thus in Burma, for example, the ratio of the first three interregnums was 252:14:5. In France the first interregnum, from Carolingian debility to early Capetian vigor, lasted some 220 years; the second, corresponding to the Hundred Years’ War, lasted 116 years; the third, the Wars of Religion, lasted 36 years; and the fourth, severe disorders associated with the French Revolution, lasted less than 2 years. In Russia, which had only two genuine interregnums (those between Kiev’s collapse and Muscovite regeneration and between the onset and conclusion of the Time of Troubles), they lasted 210 and 15 years, respectively (p291-292).

So if the empires are falling faster, the reorganization time is also becoming a lot shorter.  Maybe not the length of a halftime show, but certainly short enough that you might live long enough to see it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Years readings

I hope everyone is doing well with the New Years.  If I recall correctly, the holiday season is one of the more stressful times of the year.
In my case I am not particularly stressed out, I have just had a hand-around ambulatory cold for some time.  It medicates reasonably well, but it doesn't seem to want to go away.  It is not so bad that I can lay around motionless and complain that I am dying of the plague, but it is bad enough that a few of the items I wanted to get done during the holidays (anticipatory gardening items mostly) had to be put on hold. 

So mostly I have been reading.
I finished Rob Krabbe's The Jake Collins Band and The Fading Silence (Kindle).  I was disappointed but it is the type of apocalyptic novel that some people like.
I started and read Davide Longo's The Last Man Standing (translated from Italian), and it was very good.  It is the only apocalypse-in-progress, and a slow-apocalypse at that, which features an elephant.  Granted the elephant is a little more symbolic than key to the action, but it is an elephant none-the-less.
I have been reading Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl.  It has made so many best of year lists, and is actually rather dystopian-  dystopian as in real world dystopian.  So it falls rather well within our 'final thoughts' theme.
I went to Barnes and Noble with my nine year old son: gift cards in hand.  Along with a number of other items, he picked up an Amazon River adventure "What would you do?" type book, The Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure: Amazon, and survived.  It throws in some survival types along with some rather gimmicky choices to make survival a little harder.  I warned him that even though "Dan" was an idiot, they would try and trick him by having Dan offer good advice one time.  Sure enough, even Dan can get it right once.  He managed to make it through in about an hour, and then went through the wrong paths.  Apparently a lot of people adventuring on the Amazon are killed by Jaguars as that comes up in three separate endings.
He enjoyed it.  Apparently there is a series of them.  Some take you to Mars, some are on the "Deadly Seas".  Maybe they can add some dystopian real world ones that include mortgage brokers, and speed traps in small southern towns.

For myself, I found Yael A. Sternhell's Routes of War.  A non-fiction book about the transport and movement in the Confederate South, as with most very close looks at the war it tends to show the war in a much fuzzier focus than your traditional political or military accounts.  You have a lack of news except for seeing the troops marching through, you have the wealthy running away (often to Texas) with their mobile possessions (small items and slaves) being able to avoid the immediate difficulties of looters and vagabonds, but being impoverished as they sit in Texas slowly selling off their goods.  The final dissolution of the Confederacy is not a pretty sight.
I will eventually post review of the fiction.  I have a fair number of reviews completed, or nearly complete, but I didn't want to post them in the middle of the holidays.