Friday, August 30, 2013

Post apocalyptic wine

The author, Steve-don't-eat-it, calls it prison wine, but I don't see why it wouldn't work at the end of the world.  In one (pretty good) book I have read, getting drunk keeps the zombie virus from getting hold of your brains, so there may even be a survival (rather than entertainment) aspect to all this.

Prison Wine
Steve Don't Eat it Vol. 8, 13 June 2005
"Prison hooch can be made in your cell toilet (as long as you don't mind using other people's toilets or finding some other solution), or more often, in plastic trash bags. The recipe is simple: make a strong bag by double or triple-bagging some plastic trash bags and knotting the bottoms. Into this, pour warm water, some fruit or fruit juice, raisins or tomatoes, yeast, and as much sugar as you can get ahold of (or powdered drink mix). Now tie off the top of the bag, letting a tube of some kind protrude so the thing won't explode while it gives off carbon dioxide. Now hide the bag somewhere and wait at least three days. A week is enough.
One of the problems you have right away with making wine in prison is the difficulty getting yeast. It's a strictly forbidden item and you might not be able to get any. In this case you can improvise the by using slices of bread, preferably moldy (but not dry) and preferably inside a sock for easier straining.
All of which is very fine and good, but in this case the author actually tries out the product (based on moldy bread in sock based yeast) and has considerable success.  Sounds like a winner!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Shale bubbles bursting (still)

For reasons I don't want to go into, I have been a little closer at looking at the fracking issue than your typical interested observer.  It is almost the perfect microcosm to illustrate the disconnect between our current political discourse, and reality.  In this particular case, the lack of a reality to back up the political hype falls on the Republicans.  Obamacare would suit fine if you wanted to balance the issue, but that is an issue for another day.  After all, you actually have to get successfully started to have a collapse.
There have been numerous warnings that fracking is not all that it seems.  Results on the ground were so underwhelming that Chesapeake Oil, one of the main promoters of the (not new) technology fired its founding CEO recently.  You had the Wall Street Journal reporting some time ago that internal emails, of the oil and gas people indicated that the value of the wells, was not as great as had been anticipated, and that costs were too high to make them profitable.  Then you had the U.S. government geologists, reassign the clueless accountants estimates of 100 years of supply being closer to 33 years.
And now we have further confirmation from reality:

Shale Grab in U.S. Stalls as Falling Values Repel Buyers
Matthew Monks, Rebecca Penty & Gerrit de Vynck, Bloomburg, 18 August 2013(hat tip: Archdruid)
The spending slowdown by international companies including BHP Billiton Ltd. (BHP) and Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) comes amid a series of write-downs of oil and gas shale assets, caused by plunging prices and disappointing wells. The companies are turning instead to developing current projects, unable to justify buying more property while fields bought during the 2009-2012 flurry remain below their purchase price, according to analysts.
The deal-making slump, which may last for years, threatens to slow oil and gas production growth as companies that built up debt during the rush for shale acreage can’t depend on asset sales to fund drilling programs. The decline has pushed acquisitions of North American energy assets in the first-half of the year to the lowest since 2004...
North American oil and gas deals, including shale assets, plunged 52 percent to $26 billion in the first six months from $54 billion in the year-ago period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. During the drilling frenzy of 2009 through 2012, energy companies spent more than $461 billion buying North American oil and gas properties, the data show.
Shale oil and gas is a classic bubble.  Rolling Stone (in an article I missed at the time) made note of the issue a while back.  It is a sad state of affairs when your best economic, on the ground, reporting comes from a magazine that started as a rock and roll fanzine. 
Shale oil is giving us a nice little temporary lift.  But rather than using it to get ourselves out of our import dependence, we get complaints (again from Republicans) that our alternatives need to be competitively priced.  Based on the article, it is going to take four years for the bubble to clear.  That is more than enough time to kill a lot of viable (if they exist) alternatives.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Endworld: Doomsday - A Review

David Robbins' End World: Doomsday (Amazon, Amazon UK) is an apocalyptic novel that features the efforts of a well healed Hollywood director to set up a fancy survival compound in rural Minnesota, and of a group of selected people to make it to a survival compound before a nuclear-chemical-biological world war does them in.  The novel is a prequel to Endworld (see below),  an earlier series of 1980s post apocalyptic (100 years after the war) men's action adventure stories.

David Robbins according to his Amazon blurb has nine pseudonyms he writes under.  In addition to the 40 Doomsday related titles noted above, the other obviously apocalyptic series to his name is the Omega Sub series (UK) he wrote as J.D. Cameron. For those who like his work, he has a long standing Yahoo Fanclub group.

The original Endworld (Wikipedia) series first came out in 1986 with a total of 27 books in the series. A spin off series, Blade, adds another 13 titles.  As best I understand this novel here restarts the series as a prequel (by 100 years) to the original series At least some of the older books are being reissued with new covers, with audio books also being released. The end of this novel ties in closely with the start of the 1980s series (Fox Run).

The novel starts with filmmaker Kurt Carpenter setting up a select group of survivalists in a compound in a remote section of Minnesota.  The compound, located at/near Lake Bronson State Park (panoramic virtual tour),  has been seven years in the making.  As a nuclear war (featuring an Israel-U.S. standoff with China-Arabic-Persian forces with Russian actions a little unclear) gets rolling, time is running short. The compound is mostly setup for everyone to burrow in and wait out the end: but first everyone has to get there.

I am sort of used to Minnesota as a post-apocalyptic adventure land now (see here, here2, here3). Since this is a prequel to a 1980s series, this is nuclear warfare: weapons of mass destruction, all the way.  None of that crying over a few closed banks.

As action adventure goes, there is some coherence and logic to the action, there may be a fair amount of gee-whiz (not likely to function) gadgetry, and the hostile looters seem to have lived their whole life to no better purpose than to immediately run amuck at the end of the world:  which is unfortunate for them, because when you run into invincible (only flesh wounds allowed) good guys with gadgetry, or in the case of one wanna-be Thor, a large hammer, they tend to get knocked off in droves.  The bad guys either don't have guns, or they are always pointing the wrong way, at the wrong time.  It sort of reminds me of the old Rat Patrol , or A-team TV shows.  50 to 1 odd are insufficient.

The author (through the movie producer who builds the compound) takes pains to include people of many different races and nationality.  The groups is run as an extended, Spartan-like, family.  Spirituality, although not necessarily Christian spirituality, is not ignored.  In the form of young Norwegian-American, the wanna-be Thor noted above, who worships the Nordic (German) Gods, it gets just a little over the top when he is equipped with a rubberized scuba-like suit, and a thunderbolt throwing/electro-blasting hammer.  It is the return of Mjolner: Thor's hammer

As an aside, since I spend my working hours involved in electrical matters, life being stranger than fiction, a high voltage (80,000 volt see video) hammer has been done. Since Tasers knock people by conducting their electricity through electrical wires conducted through a (projected) prod, it is not surprising thing that you can't really shoot lighting bolts very well with a handheld device.  Conductors make life much simpler, and without the amperage (or more specifically the watts, or volt-amps) to back up your high voltage, you are mostly left using the magnetic field to agitate fluorescent bulbs to turn on.  Lightning bolt weapons aren't very workable.

The action is highly heroic, but interesting.  The heroes occasionally come up with entertaining ways to save the situation, and are not a bunch of jerks. You do get to know some sense of  their personalities.  Even when a typical red shirt throw away character bites the dust, you feel a little bad for him.

I wouldn't say I love the novel.  A little too much weird science thrown into the mix to justify the weird science that was more acceptable to the 1980s genre. But as pure action adventure, it is pretty good. Oddly enough, for all the heroics, and weird science, the author does make some reasonable points about survival in war, and difficult times in general.  To some extent our Thor-wanna be is dangerous because he doesn't hesitate in killing situations, not because he has a cool hammer.  He is acting when others are thinking.  Of course the cool hammer doesn't hurt.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.

For realism, I can almost copy verbatim what I wrote for the 1980s PA-novel Outrider: it is low for a non-fantastical novel.  There are no elves, not too much in the way of bizarre mutants, and the only telepathy is low key enough that it could be Bonner's Carpenters imagination.  With just a little more attention to realistic survival details, the half-point goes the other way, and I will call it a 3.

Ditto for Readability:  "The plot, sparse as it is, is coherent.  There is not a lot to puzzle through.  The novel is obviously the start of a series, ...but ... it is works reasonably well as a standalone adventure".  In this case, the book is structured as a page turner, so it is a 7.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Outrider: A Review

Richard Harding's The Outrider (1984: Amazon, Goodreads list) was the first of five in a series of Mad Max-like post apocalyptic men's adventure stories set in the aftermath of a nuclear exchange.  It is noted as occurring in the not too distant future.  But it is a not too distant future where people don't remember what birds, or radio, or television are, so we are probably at least a couple of generations past the apocalypse.  The country has collapsed into five or six warlord holdings with Chicago being the one free city on the North American continent. The first chapter is excerpted here.

Richard Harding (pseudonym for Robert Tine) (1954-) appears to have done a large number of movie novelizations, in addition to an unknown (under different pseudonyms) number pulp fiction style novels.  Different lists carry different numbers of novels by Tine. One biographical oddity I picked up, was that he was sued in 1978 by Lisa Springer, his ex-girlfriend, for portraying her (in a disguised form) as a high paid prostitute in one of his early novels State of Grace.  She lost the court decision 4-1 (further info), but she must have been an interesting girlfriend to presume the novel was about her, and get at least one vote in her favor. 

As an action adventure novel of the time, directed toward a male audience, one expects certain features:  from the Encyclopedia of Adventure Fiction (starting at page 147); we will check off the relevant points as we go:
With some exceptions pulp hero fiction for men was very similar across the board despite the genre in which it was being published. Little time was spent on characterization, not even the hero [], and often the villains were more memorable than the character [].  Women were generally plot elements rather than actual participants in the story []. They were there to be menaced and defended, captured and rescued [], or to provide someone to whom the hero could explain things [no check there, she is captured at the start]...
Our hero, Bonner, carries three knives that he throws with instant kill precision, and a cut down pump shotgun.  He is a professional scavenger (referred to as a smuggler) which is about as nice of a heroic occupation as one is likely to see in this post-apocalyptic world.  The novel, as seen in the excerpt, starts with an assassination attempt on Bonner.  Bonner responds by heading out to gather up a collection of like-minded folk, and we eventually get a post-apocalyptic dirty dozen  headed to the ruins of Washington D.C. to collect up his lost loved one, and exact revenge on his ex-partner, turned evil nemesis, Leather.

His vehicle of choice is all Mad Max.  Minimal frame powered by an 8 cylinder Lycoming marine engine.  Probably the last of the engines built for that company before they were bought out, the author is likely talking about the engines uses to propel the Navy hovercrafts of the day.  In a world short of gasoline (forget about the fact the gasoline hasn't gone stale) it would probably use up 80% of the Eastern Seaboard's supply in about a week as its fuel mileage would be rated in gallons per mile.  Although he notes he has a hard time keeping the 50 gallon tank full, the reality is that he probably wouldn't get much further out of Chicago than the dry lakebed that is now Lake Michigan.  He off course has a 50 caliber machine gun mounted with some sort of ad hoc pintle mount .  He shoots up a group  of marauders just outside of town - and of course drives off without scrounging their gasoline.

The fantastical, versus highly implausible, is kept to a minimum. There are hints of low level telepathy between two enormous violent brother, and the closest we get to mutants are some radiation sick crazies with bad skin: the radleps: who are Leather's shock troops.  Since the movie Star Wars was already out by this time, we get Storm Troopers, who are about as effective as Lucas', rather then the original World War 1 German ones.  On their journey, they have to wind there way through the abandoned vehicles left by those who died bugging out from the great cities, the Appalachian coal areas are permanently on fire, and water levels in lakes and rivers are low.  Most of the worst radiation is past, and there is no concern for continuing fallout.  So we have a suitably hellish, Mad Max world.

Is it worth reading?  Shrug...I don't know.  With brief a brief, descriptive text, the  213 pages it reads more like some other novels 140, so unless you count the sequels, you won't sink a whole lot of time into it.  Although the author names a variety of weaponry available for the period, there is not a lot of insight as to their actual usability, or function.  Bad guys miss, but tend to be able to overwhelm by shear numbers, good guys rock.  It is classic men's adventure with slightly better plotting, and characterization than the sub genre's reputation would normally lead one to expect.  Outside of the occasional curiosity read, it is not a flavor I would plan to spend much time with, and likely, the subgenre's day is past.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.

Realism is low for a non-fantastical novel.  There are no elves, not too much in the way of bizarre mutants, and the only telepathy is low key enough that it could be Bonner's imagination.  Since I don't give half-points, I will keep it down at a 2.

Readability I have already addressed above.  The plot, sparse as it is, is coherent.  There is not a lot to puzzle through.  The novel is obviously the start of a series, so there are a few minor threads left to explore for number 2.  But aside from those, it is works reasonably well as a standalone adventure.  It is almost a page turner, so we will call it a 6.


Monday, August 26, 2013

A Departure: A Review

Tom Ward's A Departure (Amazon, is an apocalyptic novel set in the immediate aftermath of a celestial event wiping out over 2/3rds of humanity.   The exact cause, and the extant of the death-event is never completely puzzled out, but it struck me as almost a Darwin's Radio meets death-ray event because survival seemed to cluster within families.

Tom Ward (per his Amazon bio) is a 23 year-old British writer and winner of the 2012 GQ Norman Mailer Student Writing Award.  He writes for Huffington Post and Sabotage Times.  Released by the small press Crooked Cat Publishing of the U.K., this is his first novel.

The novel starts off very shortly after the fast acting, death dealing cosmic event.  It appears to have been a one time event, or at least occurring over a very short period of time.  Society is immediately disrupted in the ensuing panic and basic services fall apart.  While it is not as extreme as some others of the type, the author seems to be in common with many other British apocalyptic writers in presuming that a significant number of people will lose their cool, and become deadly sociopaths within hours, if not minutes of the event.

Our narrative view point (with a couple of odd momentary switches) is Michael, an 18 year old boy who has lost his family, and decides to set off for France under some vague sort of idea of finding his girlfriend.  In a very nice touch, he stops off at his Grandfather's (Grandma died in "the event") and they have a last parting.  His Grandfather, knowing his time his short, and unwilling to travel, packs him up with some supplies, and sends him off.

Michael precedes to wander down from somewhere around Hull (to an American's way of looking at it about half-way down their European-side coast from Scotland, south to London, picking up, and losing a variety of people as he moves along.   Issues of mental health are often at the fore-front of the story, and a lot of the misbehavior seems to stem from people coming loose from their moorings.   The group is in a bit of a haze, which is apparently why they don't pick up any of the nice weaponry (British style SA80 bullpup assault rifles) weaponry at times. I didn't keep close track of the passage of time, but most of the story seems to be occurring within about a 2 week period, and enough people have collapsed into instant corpse-dom, that scavenging is not much of a problem.

One odd item, the author is young, and the narrative point of view is primarily from an 18-year olds point of view.  Characters who are older than 40 are generally viewed as doddering old timers, from which little can be expected.  The older woman, who eventually comes into the story, is 21.  It is a little like reading some of the science fiction of the 1960s or 1970s when a lot of writers were young, and exciting things could happen to youngsters.  Apparently the young author is not aware that 40 is the new 30, and all that.  He has a thin, and presumably healthy lady of 48 act as if she was a spinster.
Which also brings along the almost extreme binary nature of the people we meet along the way.  They are either completely level headed, competent people (rare), or complete incompetent, and often half insane on top of it.   The few people that are clearly bad guys, generally wind up being out of control incompetents.  Michael, an 18 year old prone to queasiness at the site of blood, is able to more than adequately defend himself with a largish kitchen knife.
Did I like the story?  Yes, overall I did.  It is a little uneven at times, with author switching from loose descriptive styling, to an almost poetic rendering.  The story doesn't have a whole lot of point to it other than wandering around in bedlam, but the odd cast of characters thrown together, makes it an interesting ramble through the back roads of England.  It's not a "must read" , but I think is worthy of a qualified recommendation.
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high.  Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting.  Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation.  Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
Realism is not all that straightforward here.  Normally a novel in the here-and-now with a mostly action based pacing would be viewed as being highly realistic:  particularly as we don't usually count the plausibility of the crises.  The fact that people are losing their moorings, and going a little crazy is also a plus.  But there is just a little too much convenience in their escapades.  Too many usable cars with fuel and keys handy, too many (very) easily scavenged supplies left behind in grocery stores.  Too much a lack of people around when it is convenient to the author's plot line.  Granted, all of these failings are common to the genre, but issues of travel and supply come awfully close to pushing this novel into the front end of a cosy (by original definition) with lots of fast cars and freedom to go with your collapse:  its a 5.
Readability is more straight forward.  There are a few confusing dream sequences and some of the point of view shifting can be jarring, but there is no magical realism, and no obvious opaque psychology to confuse issues.  It reads quickly:  a non-literary 6.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Since Tomorrow: A Review

Morgan Nyberg's Since Tomorrow (Amazon, Amazon.UK) is a post-apocalyptic novel (with in-progress flashbacks) set within the picked over remnants and small farming communities in Vancouver, Canada forty years from present.  The causes of collapse are listed as being everything from climate change to pandemic, to economic collapse and earthquake.

Morgan Nyberg (1944- )  was born in Ontario, but now lives on one of the Vancouver Islands noted in the story.  Graduating from the University of British Columbia, he never the less spent most of his younger years working as a laborer.  Thirty years on he became a much traveled English teacher. He has written 2 children's books, and this is his third adult novel. He has won a number of awards, his highest honor likely being the CBC literary competition for his memoir Mark.

We start ~40 years from now, in a greatly declined Vancouver, Canada.  Vancouver is on the western coast of Canada in British Columbia.   It is less than 20 miles from the border of the United States, but the path down to Seattle is a relatively rugged one, and at this point in time, there is no Federal Canadian, provincial British Columbian, or even City of Vancouver government around.  The area to the south doesn't appear to be in any better shape, so the locals are pretty well left to resolve their own issues.
There is a scattering of farm groupings around the area, and a large grouping of indigent scavenger types who wander in trying to sell their dwindling finds at the local market in return for food.  It is a little like a series of impoverished Irish clan chieftains somewhere in the Middle Ages.   At this stage, there are still a handful of people who have been around long enough to know what some of the old technology was about, and how it works.  But a lack of viable fishing (global warming) nixes the viability of a seaborne life.  If you look at the map below, you will see that the city (or remnants in this case) lie on a lowland delta, broken up by waterways.  So without much boating, the remnant bridges dominate the geography and group interactions.
The novel is an odd mix.  There is a group that has managed to grow opium, and are slowly trying to take over the area by addicting those they can, and overwhelming those they cannot.  Using that popular post-apocalyptic weapon, the automobile leaf spring crossbow, they have gained a technology edge over their competition.  The entire town appears to only have one firearm, a .22LR plinker, to its name.  As Jeebee, in Wolf and Iron, noted, crossbows are bleed out weapons, rather than crushing weapons like firearms, they don't tend to kill real quickly.  So they are an imperfect super weapon.  In any case, these are the evil in every way bad guys.   Given the authors background, and times he lived in, I expect he has lost some friends to addiction.  The cannibals in The Road arguably get a more sympathetic rendering.
In any case, the novel centers around the escalation violence between the drug lord farmers, and the independent groupings of people in the area.  The main good guys are a pointedly United Colors of Benetton grouping of people.  To my mind, finding running a relatively inclusive group, that makes the best use of the talents available, is a perfectly reasonable strategy.  As portrayed here, it is more because the main leader, Frost, is a "better" person, with somewhat hippie-like, secular, kumbaya aspirations.  There is a somewhat allied group that is Christian, but they are the mean spirited non-inclusive, use the "N" word (Noah and his curse on Ham and all that), type of Christians.  So we know they won't be taking the lead in the anti-bad guy proceedings.
And this is where we get back to the odd mix.  Alright, you have a pandemic in the mix, and that wipes out enough people that the people with no survival skills, and a lot of luck, have been able to glom off of the left over salvage.  Those people are at the end of their tether, and are easy prey for the drug dealers.  But why are all the other groups so pathetic?  You have an empty land, and not a lot of people.  They have potatoes, and vegetable gardens.  Rabbits are running wild.  Yet the introduction of the crossbow (with a blunt tip, a very effective small game hunting weapon) is viewed as some sort of extreme measure.   The good guys like to use large guard dogs, and they are viewed as some sort of canine supper soldiers.   I have chased off an awful lot of big dogs with a long  piece of rebar, and I am not a medieval foot soldier.  The good guys are just shocked, shocked!, at the evil bad guys behaving like ... evil bad guys.  What is almost the normal course of event in apocalyptic (post or otherwise) novels is viewed as beyond the pale here.
Now in our (real) world today, there are a very large group of people that do see some sort of "falling away" from our modern industrial society as being highly probable.  They just like to view the future as a less traumatic, less violent, more sustainable sort of downturn.  They buy into the idea of a collapse, they just don't think it has to turn into some sort of Road Warrior armed camp scenario.  I can appreciate that outlook.  Most of them are smarter than average people, so it is not even really my place to say that they are definitively wrong.  But the tension here is between that sort of future downsizing, and the type of downsizing portrayed in this novel.  The author has a going to hell in hand basket apocalypse, but is trying to combine it with an ethics from a more gradual downturn. It doesn't really work that well.  Based on the author's assessment of post-apocalyptic Vancouverites, good guys or bad guys, they are prime pickings for any sort of outside aggressive group.  I would give your typical largish suburbanite Taekwondo school armed with sparring weapons and pads even odds against the bad guys; Against the good guys not so much, because the kids will want to stop and pet the dogs. 
So did I like the novel?  It was interesting at points.  If it didn't have much tension within the physical violence and bullying, it did a surprisingly good job of having a lot more skullduggery, and betrayal within the small groups.   Somewhere along the way, they find a copy of Clausewitz's On War and Frost's young son becomes a Clausewitz-spouting military advisor of sorts: completely hilarious.
So I will give a qualified positive recommendation.  I think people who are looking for something a little different than the typical isolated survivor story might find it interesting.  The main good guys are a likeable bunch, but it is definitely an exercise in herding cats to get any sort of action out of the larger group.  That people in dire times might be inordinately drawn into substance abuse, and that those doing the providing these means might become inordinately influential, are a very good point.  The novel has its failings, its not a home run, but there is enough of to the story, even in a survival craft sense, to merit attention. If I were reading it on a Kindle, where flipping back and forth can be an effort,  you may  want to find some method of noting who the many character are as they come up, if you want to follow all the group dynamics.
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high.  Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting.  Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation.  Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
Realism is a little tough.  The author's realism is not a fully "realistic" reality from my own personal worldview.  But it is a rational one.  It is not as if we are traveling  the magical realism route and everything is all fuzzy on us.  If he thinks that people in the post apocalyptic world won't heavily rearm themselves once the firearms run out of ammunition, that is not a completely impossible outcome.  They do worry about supplies, they do worry about the bad guys, remnant modern bridges become major strategic choke points.   It is a little too far in the future to have a complete sense of immediacy with our world today, so I will call it a 6.
Readability is fairly straightforward.  There are moments of tension, but it is not intended as a page turner.  The group interactions, and difficulties in group cohesiveness are major points to the story. Which means that there is a lot of complex group interactions to work through, and a rather large cast of characters to try and remember if you want to understand all of the points being made.  There is not a lot of hidden symbolism that needs to be worked through.  It is pretty much where a book of this type should be: a 4.

Vancouver settlement map (from here)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Kikaffir: A Review

Ian Martin's Kikaffir: a black comedy (Amazon, AmazonUK, Smashword), is set in overheated, over polluted, post-apocalyptic South Africa of 2030 possibly somewhere in the very rough area of Richard's Bay or Durban on the East Coast where the white capped (?) mountains meet the sea.  The term Kikaffir is Afrikaans for Kaffir (derogatory term for blacks), but the term Kaffraria was once used in reference to that general area.

Ian Martin is native and resident of South Africa.  He spent his first 30 years as a bit of a knock about, but after meeting a very nice lady settled down to raise a family while working as a contractor.  Seventeen years later, he gave up contracting to become a writer.  His novels have what appear to be a violently pornographic intent, with the very rough language, and depraved sexual scenes appearing more to be included for shock value than arousal.

The authors blurb from his website:
This is Macbeth in 2030. The apocalypse has come and gone, and Earth is a smouldering wasteland. For the last remnants of the human race there is no possibility of a future. In desperation they set about butchering one another before they choke to death in the toxic vapours enveloping the planet.

The characters and plotting in a loose sort of way follows Macbeth. Trying to figure out which one is which is mildly entertaining.  And there is an absurdist element of comedy.  Some American, voyagers, of the "last ship" trope, pay them a visit.  But these are not engineers, or scientists rebuilding the world.  They are from San Francisco, and behave in the stereotypical way with there leader, Aldo, wearing pumps and women's gowns.  The Kikiffir tell them of their plans to build a resource center to the future.  A future that they know has no hope.
Knowing that our grandiose plans will amount to nothing,...needn't deter us for a moment. So what if we're unlikely to survive for more than another year or two?  It doesn't make our action, our very existence, any more futile and meaningless than if we were living in some golden age where the future beckons and every day dawns clear and full of hope. No matter what the circumstances, or the point in history, our lives amount to nothing in the end. There's only one honest epitaph: "This human became a handful of dust." (Kindle 1369).
Which goes some way I suppose toward the author's justification for the wanton and graphic violence and depraved sexuality throughout.  He says as much himself.  After Selo, has told a joke so vial, that Mike berates him.
"Seems pretty obvious, "  said Mike. "Some things you don't joke about.  So?
"Well it got me thinking about what's  happening to us right now.  I've always thought the only way to handle the human condition is to laugh about it. It's such a miserable story, it's asking to be mocked...It's all this painful sh_t, from the cradle to the grave. Disappointment, suffering and humiliation - that kind of sh_t.  And the longer you live the worse it gets.  The only escape is death; its a sorry story, and up to now my way of dealing with it has been to laugh in its face.  What else?  But now I'm beginning to wonder."
So you don't find it funny an more?" said Mike, "Losing your sense of humor?"
"It Looks like it, said Sello. "It's just too grim to be funny any more. Now, for the first time, I'm actually looking forward to being dead."
"We're getting there pal. We're getting there." (Kindle starting at 2778)
So the author isn't clueless as to the questionability of his writing style.  It's just debatable as to whether or not the ends justify the means.  Unfortunately, I am with Mike on this one, too much of this story just isn't funny, or really justified.  Watching some latter day post-apocalyptic mediaeval Scotsman acting extremely poorly doesn't really work for me.  Shakespeare makes Macbeth work with poetry and drama.  There isn't a whole lot of that here.  Except as a curio, I don't recommend it.
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
Realism is limited.  You have a very far future tale based loosely on an English Renaissance play.  The author interjects himself into the novel as a character occasionally.  People starve, there is cannibalism, so we will call it a 2.
Readability suffers because of the dual MacBeth-Kikaffir fuzziness.  It is intended to be over the top, but that causes some confusion at times in the scripting.  Eventually you get to where you figure most of it out, but it takes some time.  It is a 3.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Chicken Nuggets: The Raptor Apocalypse: A Review

Steve R. Yeager Chicken Nuggets: The Raptor Apocalypse (Kindle) is an apocalyptic story in which some recreated raptor-style dinosaurs shred civilization as we know it.

Steve R. Yeager is a corporate software engineer who has taken up writing as a side hobby.  He lives in Northern California with his wife and two children. He has noted that the original intent was to write a seriously over the top pulp fiction style novel.  As writing continued, he became more serious, but left a comic book edge.

At the start of the novel, Jesse, is a deputy in the sheriff's department headed by his father.  He comes home to turn on the T.V. and see that white ugly looking raptors are running loose in large numbers on the East Coast.
We than take a jump to a refugee camp a couple years later, under siege by the raptors, and the collapse of the last vestiges of civilization.  It is a nasty place, and with some attempts at gruesome scenes that somehow don't quite convince, we get to see it go under. 
Later jumps introduce us to a young man who was part of the intentional release of the bioengineered raptors, and latter still a young woman who is surviving in fortified compound with an odd dictatorial religious figure in charge.  I won't go into the details of the action, because it is best summed up as people wandering around variously fending off raptors.
The raptors were bioengineered from chickens, and at least to start with, about the size of a turkey. This is not that far fetched as scientists have discussed something very much like this. They have the usual sickle claws on their feet, and are exceptionally fast.  The real-life, back in the Cretaceous Period,  raptors laid rather large clutches of eggs (best we know), and real-life turkeys lay clutches of 8 to 15. If there is enough food, captive turkeys in a food factory setting can be slaughtered for market within 14 to 18 weeks.  While the human population seems to be rather slow on the ant-raptor uptake (Why don't they wear armor?), once raptors got loose in the wild, they would be extremely disruptive, and difficult to get rid of.

But the story goes on for a long time and the raptor-collapse story gets a bit thin.  The raptors are basically dangerous, oversized, plucked chickens with teeth and claws.  Where the main action takes place with the raptors it is generally warm, so we can see why they aren't freezing to death.  But, how do naked raptors, whose skin is so thin that it is badly burns in even normal sunlight, survive in the cold weather?  Even South Carolina can get down to 20 degrees in the winter.  So maybe with global warming, they can hang out at the relatively balmy Myrtle Beach.  Their pale skin would make them look like wintering over Canadians.  But what do the raptors in Canada do?  Remember these guys are supposed to be able to kill off mankind.

Lets see, what else?  We do have an appearance of the sacrificial gay supporting hero/sidekick.   Often showing more competence than the lead characters, this type must prove their worth by dying nobly and selflessly for the cause (examples: 1, 2, 3).  Presumably the lesson is that, in an apocalyptic setting, you want to have gay people around because they will do all the fighting, and after its over they won't be needing a share in the dwindling supply of rations.  We also have one of the more emotionally needy heroines around, which she makes up for by being exceptionally talented at manipulating people in self serving manner. 
So did I like it?  The action scenes were often well done.  Particularly those scenes toward the back end of the book.  The young-kid has a Japanese katana, a weapon that is just about perfect for chopping up oversized fowl without the need for a cutting board, and the cut and thrust scenes are actually coherent.  So it wasn't all bad. 
But the book is very uneven in quality.  At the start of the novel,  there is a huge, lengthy build up of father-son antagonism between Jesse and his father. Antagonism that ends abruptly when we are told almost in passing that dear old dad has bitten the dust.   Somewhere in this muddle, the author goes into this odd sort of anti-Iraqi war, anti-veteran spiel that comes very close to the old Vietnam War deal of accusing the vets of being baby killers (in this case they're rapists).   Similarly the buildup between the Katana-kid, and his genocidal mentor is never resolved, and the self-serving religious fanatic in charge of a small group of survivors was getting old when Mel Gibson ran into in the Road Warrior sequel.  The final straw was the cliff hanging ending on a novel stated (at least initially) as being complete.  The author goes so far at one point to say something to the effect of:  if enough of you like it well enough, maybe I'll finish it for you.  Gee thanks!  It is a shame, because there is some interesting material buried within, but I cannot recommend it.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high.  Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting.  Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation.  Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
Realism is tough.  There are supply issues and some of the survivors have devolved to spears and bows.  Since it is portrayed as a fast-collapse, there is scavenge to be found, the hard part is avoiding the big-chickens while getting it.  If worst-comes-to-worst the raptures do "taste just like chicken".   Comic book ethos with some worrying about supply: I will say it averages out to a 4.
Readability is a little easier.  The narrative is a little confusing, and  rather repetitive with describing similarly gory scenes.  There are page turning moments, but it is not a page turner throughout.  Unless you count various unresolved plot threads, there isn't too much in the way of deep thinking.  It's a 5.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Church Peak Hotel: A Review

Eric James' The Church Peak Hotel is a kindle short (US, UK) listed at 26 pages.  A young married couple decides to take a hike through a ruined African landscape.

I don't know much about Eric James, and both the given and surname are common enough that any biographical details are likely to be confused with other authors.  He does appear to be the author of the Farmers and Cannibals episodic series.

The story is a jail house telling of an event that took place in August of 2070, in the newly conquered United-American territories of Africa.  The author is telling of the horrible event that occurred on a hiking excursion with his young wife.  In a very Lovecraftian way, the narrator is attempting to unburden himself from these horrors.  As there are only 26 pages, obviously modern adventurers get to the point a lot quicker than the old master of madness.

In effect, what you have is a slightly over setup campfire story.  It is a little clunky in the telling but I  did laugh at the ending.   I gather that 99 cents is its regular pricing, which at 4 cents a page, is a bit pricey, but a lot of these broken up tales are often rather expensive when bought in series.  I am not going to recommend such a slight tale, but it's not a complete waste of time.

We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high.  Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting.  Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation.  Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.

Realism?  It's a spooky story, modified to a somewhat distant future.  There is not a ton of probability to the events as outlined, and the story holds together about as well as your typical bloody hook hanging from the door handle at the drive-in movie type story.  No elves or leprechauns, so we will call it a 3.

Readability? We are going to have to adjust a little for story length, otherwise all short stories would rate a seven.   The delivery is a little clumsy, and as with many ghost stories, padded to delay the ending.  It's what makes them fun, but it is not a completely straightforward delivery.  It is a  5.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Convergence: A Review

Paul Boerger's Convergence (Amazon, Amazon UK) is an apocalyptic novel setup as a dual time line: a retrospective from 200 years in the future, and the immediately apocalyptic events occurring a few years from now in 2020.  As the title implies, there is a laundry list of problems occurring simultaneously: listing in reverse order of prominence, water scarcity, war, changing weather patterns due to CO2 emissions, peak oil, pandemic disease, and global over population.

According to the back of the book bio,  Paul Boerger is an awarding winning journalist living in Mount Shasta, California with his wife and two children. If you dig a little further, you will find he spent 25 years working with juvenile delinquents and is the author of Your Teenager is Insane, The Care and Raising of the Teenage Boy. He enjoys skiing, kayaking and photography.

The novel covers a lot of topical interests within the sustainable movement, and unlike the many Cassandras warning of doom, does get to the root cause of most of our problems: global over population.   But the reporting is as they say, a mile-wide and an inch deep. Based on the summary of an earlier work of his, this appears to be the norm for him.  And since this novel is coming from the flip-side of the right-dominated survivalist/prepper side of the gloom and doom equation, it has its "left-side" politically correct blinkers on in full.

The author makes the huge mistake of jumping across a number of "expert" points of view, without actually showing that he has any real in depth knowledge as to the inner workings of their profession.  He has modern military forces "losing" in ways that they tend not to loose (firepower), he does not seem to be aware that there is already set up a large Federal and military infrastructure within the United States, with Acronyms and everything, to deal with in-country disasters, plagues, etc.  Our very first post, almost two years ago, was about NORCOM.  It's not that these efforts would necessarily succeed, but the President and his Chief of Staff don't even mention them.  Playing left-side intermural politics, since he is a "population-doom" guy, he has the eco friendly, hot-air, folks look completely ineffectual, and somewhat beside the point.

On the PC front, since he wants to have a positive military role player, they have to be in a wheel chair.  The one Christian, just sits around and wails, and prays, rather than doing the other thing that Christians are sometimes known for: community based action to help the needy.  The survivalist is a guns and beans guy, who is conveniently found to be useless as the plague kills everyone.  He goes at length to go into how our economic distribution of wealth is part of the problem, without fully discussing how he is going to remove a few billion people from poverty without further exacerbating peak oil, global warming, and food/water issues.  Of course, you could make everyone poor as a way of rebalancing (and we seem to be working toward that), but then there is no explanation as to how the poor of Darfur are going to set up the alternate energy sources they need once you somehow get rid of the big oil, nuclear energy interests he notes- yes, he actually has the slowly waning nuclear energy folks being part of the global warming problem.

When the author does get to the main issue, which is over population, he beats with such a heavy handed stick, as to make his points completely ineffectual.  At the same time he makes arguments for wealth re-distribution, he gets involved in forced sterilization and withholding prenatal care.  Who does he think would be hit hardest by these programs.  He is trying to have it both ways.  He wants to stay friends with his touchy feely friends, and yet take draconian population methods.  Is he even aware that without immigration the United States would have a negative birth rate?  Is he against immigration?

I was disappointed.  I have read plenty of rightward leaning (militia-economic collapse being the prototype), but the left-sided polemics are bit rarer, particularly such heavy handed polemics.  The left leaning authors tend toward illusions/delusions of literary merit.  So to have such a thin story, with such a poorly thought catastrophe scenarios, was disappointing.  You don't get any of the gun-play of the militia style novels, but you don't get much of a story.  A magical disease kills all (99.9%).  There has never been a disease that was that consistently deadly.  Even the Native Americans, who are often said to have lost 90% of their population to disease, suffered from numerous waves of very different diseases over centuries to get there, and there was a few additional issues (mass enslavement for one) that often helped them along the way.  I have to come out on the strongly negative side.
We now come to our two descriptive (not qualitative) ratings: 1 to 7 with 4 the mid-point and 7 high. Realism does not include the cause of the collapse or apocalypse, but is otherwise an assessment of how close to today's world is the setting. Could you imagine your friends, or families living through the situation. Readability is not literary merits, but literally how quick and painless of a read.
Well there aren't any elves.  But the author seems to be devoid of any concern for coherent story line.  Much of what goes on doesn't even make a whole lot of sense.  You have a poor African lady who actually manages to hitch a transatlantic ride on a oil tanker, only to let her self off on the shores of a Mexican jungle: where she is accepted by a deep jungle remnant group because she can bang rocks together to make fire.  Seriously, did they run out of matches that quickly?  Maybe its just me, but I just don't see country folk (or jungle folk) being all that impressed by that trick.  The survivalist, guns and beans, guy is a buffoon, as is crying-praying wife. But given the magical deadliness of the disease, its not clear what option the author is proposing as a wise one.  Given all the discussions of overpopulation, the author implies that the wisest course would have been for someone to intentionally create the disease, rather than the accident it was.  I'll add two points as it  is set in the modern world, and it involves normal people: a 3.
Readability is a little easier.  There is enough ranting polemics to insure that it is not a page turner.  But by bouncing around between enough people, you do keep from getting too stuck with any one persons activities.   Not counting the educational epilogue, it is only 142 pages.  Oh oh! Educational epilogue! There is one of those.  If you don't count the dated bibliography to the epilogue (I don't know if I have ever seen a bibliography that only covered an epilogue before), there is 20 more pages there.  So a penalty point for killing precious trees (aka: padding) with materials that can easily be found on the internet.  It is a 4.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Underwater reclamation projects

As best I can tell, the big banks shadow holdings of homes are untouchable to them.  It's a little like China's big wad of US dollars they have squirrelled away.  As soon as you start spending it/selling it, it comes crashing down in value.
In my neck of the woods, rental companies have bought up a fair amount of the excess stock at the more moderate pricing range (which in Central North Carolina means less than $300,000) and because the region is still growing, seem to be able to keep them somewhat filled up.
But in areas where the economy is shakier, I am guessing that that is harder to do without winding up underwater on you original loans.  And if you realize the loss on too many loans, too quickly, you wind up insolvent.  Thus they keep kicking the can down the road.  And of course since they are all about plundering, rather than long term business investment, any cash made by the free money handed out by the Federal Reserve will be taken as bonuses.

To Rescue Local Economies, Cities Seize Underwater Mortgages Through Eminent Domain
Peter Dreier, The Nation, 12 July 2013 (hat tip: Big Picture)
In Richmond, California, home prices plummeted 58 percent since their peak. Now the city is trying out a new way to help homeowners refinance—and halt the slide into foreclosure.
In 2005, Rodney Conway and his wife, Vicki, paid $340,000 for their 950-square-foot two-bedroom home in Richmond, California, a blue-collar city in the Bay Area. Today the home is worth about $140,000. But the couple still owes $320,000 and makes monthly mortgage payments to the Bank of America. “We’re basically renting this house for $2,000 a month,” said the 52-year-old Conway, who was disabled while serving on a Navy ship in Lebanon in 1983.
Since 2006, when the speculative housing bubble burst, home prices have plummeted; homeowners have lost more than $6 trillion in household wealth. Many now owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Despite rising home prices in some parts of the country, more than 11 million American families—one-fifth of all homeowners with mortgages—are still underwater, through no fault of their own. If nothing is done, many will eventually join the more than 5 million American homeowners who have already lost their homes to foreclosure.
Granted the silliness of people taking out these kinds of loans on housing is a contributing factor, but it is not clear to me why it is the banks that should be getting a free pass.  So using the power of eminent domain to help out local residents, as opposed to the more common practice of using it to seize land for property developers doesn't seem particularly wrong headed.
Of course there is a fairness issue.  We don't have a huge loan on my home, and we were very careful to buy within our means.  So as is typical, the thrifty and prudent will subsidize the foolish.  But if I am going to subsidize someone, I guess I would rather subsidize someone in a 900sf house, than a financier.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Other people infrastructure

Just in case you were thinking that we were the only First World country with infrastructure problems.

Ailing Infrastructure: Scrimping Threatens Germany's Future
Spiegel Online, 27 June 2013 (hat tip: Big Picture)
From the outside, Germany appears to have a robust economy. But a new study by a leading economic institute reveals that the country is investing far too little in infrastructure and its future, effectively saving itself to death.
"Despite all the successes of the past few years, Germany has not created an investment basis to ensure robust growth," the researchers conclude.
In other words, Germany is living off its reserves. Bridges are crumbling, factories and universities are deteriorating, and not enough is being spent to maintain phone networks. This has resulted in a massive impoverishment of the country, according to DIW calculations.
Nearly 15 years ago, the state's net assets still corresponded to 20 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). When adjusted for inflation, this amounts to nearly €500 billion ($650 billion). By 2011, this had dwindled to 0.5 percent of GDP, or a mere €13 billion, primarily due to systematic neglect.
Generally, this is more of a failing of low tax regimes, than more liberal policies.  But if you grow your infrastructure at a time of high growth, you are going to have problems when that growth stagnates and the bill for upkeep becomes a rather large portion of your overall budget.  While operations and maintenance do keep some people employed, the materials and planning required for new construction is a much bigger boost to the economy.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Surviving your employer

Given my leanings toward the slow apocalypse scenario, if only because it gives authors more time to write more books to read about it, the ongoing plight of employees is of interest to me.

If survival is not a matter of beating the bombs as you race to your wilderness retreat, than what are your best survival moves?

For a start, you probably want to avoid working for one of these dogs:

America’s Worst Companies to Work For
24/7 Wall Street, 19 July 2013 (hat tip: NC)
Not surprisingly, employees most often complain about low wages and poor benefits. Many noted that they were paid even less than the already-low industry average for their job. Benefits, if the company provided any, were either difficult to afford or inadequate.
While some employees at all levels were unhappy, complaints at these companies were disproportionately from sales representatives, customer service agents and technicians. These were generally lower-paid, front-line workers dealing directly with customers.
Issues with middle management were universal among the employees of these companies, but the types of complaints varied. Depending on the company, employees felt they were micromanaged, treated unfairly or like children, or asked to meet extreme demands.
Several of the companies on this list have failed to find a clear path to boost their sales and earnings. RadioShack has attempted to revitalize its brand multiple times by focusing on different strategies and metrics. Employees have seen the electronics retailer change its priorities so often they view these moves skeptically. Other companies have been stubborn and have not pursued any major changes despite overwhelming evidence that they should. Compared to other retailers, Sears Holdings invests little in its stores, a fact that bothers many of its employees.
Employees at poorly-rated companies tend to have low opinions of senior management. The average CEO rating across the companies measured by Glassdoor is 69%, according to Zupan. The majority of the worst-reviewed companies had CEO approval ratings of 40% or less. Only 23% of Dillard’s employees approved of CEO Bill Dillards II’s management. Sears Holdings CEO Eddie Lampert earned 19% approval.
Another attribute shared by many of the companies on this list is the perception that they have been overwhelmed by larger, better-equipped competitors. RadioShack falls into that category. It cannot effectively compete with, or even Best Buy. This is also true for Sears Holdings, which owns Sears and Kmart and competes with Walmart and Target. Dish, which competes with AT&T and large cable companies, faces a similar problem.

I'll let you go to the link to find out the specifics of the companies and how they were ranked.  It obviously leans toward larger companies with a larger basis for opinions.  I have worked with any number of small contracting outfits that were almost surreal in their dystopian flavorings.  Fox News may but the small business person up on a pedestal, but my guess is that most employees rank them somewhat lower.  The small business owner is likely the most delusional group of people you are likely to come across- which goes a long way toward explaining why they want to run a business in the current to economic-regulatory climate.
One note I do find striking is that a lot of the employees resentment is funneled through frustration with the companies success.  People don't like working for obvious losers.  If you're company is in the middling muddle of the pack, you can explain away all sorts of failures.  But if you work for a large company with a lot of media focus on it, the wiggle room gets small.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Blip - American style

We have discussed here the possible transitory nature of our current industrial-capitalist society.  There is not anything particularly new about the concept that the industrial revolution is running out of steam, and it should be noted that we are not even close to being in the first crises.  The Revolutions of the 1840s almost looked like they were going to upset the applecart, before the applecart even made it out of the driveway.  And of course the totalitarian response to the Great Depression, while arguably a doubling down on industrial methods by adding mass communications into the mix, also looked an awful lot like a serious change in direction.

The Blip
Benjamin Wallace Wells, The New Yorker, 21 July 2013 (hat tip NC)
For all of measurable human history up until the year 1750, nothing happened that mattered. This isn’t to say history was stagnant, or that life was only grim and blank, but the well-being of average people did not perceptibly improve. All of the wars, literature, love affairs, and religious schisms, the schemes for empire-making and ocean-crossing and simple profit and freedom, the entire human theater of ambition and deceit and redemption took place on a scale too small to register, too minor to much improve the lot of ordinary human beings. In England before the middle of the eighteenth century, where industrialization first began, the pace of progress was so slow that it took 350 years for a family to double its standard of living. In Sweden, during a similar 200-year period, there was essentially no improvement at all. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the state of technology and the luxury and quality of life afforded the average individual were little better than they had been two millennia earlier, in ancient Rome.
Then two things happened that did matter, and they were so grand that they dwarfed everything that had come before and encompassed most everything that has come since: the first industrial revolution, beginning in 1750 or so in the north of England, and the second industrial revolution, beginning around 1870 and created mostly in this country. That the second industrial revolution happened just as the first had begun to dissipate was an incredible stroke of good luck. It meant that during the whole modern era from 1750 onward which contains, not coincidentally, the full life span of the United States human well-being accelerated at a rate that could barely have been contemplated before. Instead of permanent stagnation, growth became so rapid and so seemingly automatic that by the fifties and sixties the average American would roughly double his or her parents’ standard of living. In the space of a single generation, for most everybody, life was getting twice as good.
At some point in the late sixties or early seventies, this great acceleration began to taper off. The shift was modest at first, and it was concealed in the hectic up-and-down of yearly data. But if you examine the growth data since the early seventies, and if you are mathematically astute enough to fit a curve to it, you can see a clear trend: The rate at which life is improving here, on the frontier of human well-being, has slowed...
What is interesting about the further discussions at the piece, is that it isn't just some sort of Club of Rome, decline through pollution- resource depletion meets population explosion argument.   It brings in the much more subtle arguments about the shift in population age, and population growth as well.

It also brings into focus the problem of the impossibility of compounding growth.  When your model of success requires more money (or oil, or gold, or whatever) units than electrons in the solar system (or eventually the universe) to sustain itself over the long run, than you are going to have to make some changes.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Guy Salvidge finalizes his Australian apocalypse

All my author e-associates -a shady group of apocalyptic folks if there ever was one- are busy.  Guy Salvidge has finally released the sequel to his Yellow Cake Spring novel that we reviewed many moons ago.  It's only planned to be a two-parter, so this it: Yellow Cake Summer (Amazon, Kindle,  no Amazon UK yet that I could find).
Note, in Australia they call our winter months "summer" because that is when it is hot down there.  So, being a novel set in Australia, it will be set in a time period when we are all cold up North here. I am not sure why I find this relevant, other than a possible concern for how Santa Claus handles these issues.
The first book, Yellow Cake Spring was unusual in that some of the more worrisome portions of it weren't even the apocalyptic portions of it, but the dystopian portions that occurred within the small groups of people who were still able to live the dream of the Western life style.  This novel appears to be continuing the trend:
Drought. Heatwave. Environmental ruin… Rion Saunders is forced to return to the ‘Belt and his hometown of East Hills as a Police Force draftee. Released from custody, Sylvia Baron must play a double game infiltrating the shadowy Misanthropos. The organisation’s founder, Sylvia’s ex-husband David, is on death row, while Jeremy Peters, Yellowcake Springs’ newest Director of Security, tries to keep a protest from spiralling out of control. Do the answers lie in Controlled Waking State, CIQ Sinocorp’s newest stratagem to subdue a restless population? Yellowcake Summer concludes the exciting story begun in Yellowcake Springs.

As I noted earlier, I am way behind on my reading schedule, but I'll have to see what I can do.  I do like the cover.  Sort of the Drowning Towers in reverse.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Archer Garrett has a new book out

Archer Garrett, who we reviewed last with the front end of his apocalyptic series, The Western Front has a new book out, that seems well positioned within the Steam Punk genre.

I am working (doorstep to doorstep) 11-1/2 hours these days, and that is set to increase, so I am behind on my reading, so I don't know if I'll be able to make it to this one.  It is listed at 60,000 words so it is not one of those kindle short stories disguised as a novel.

The blurb:

"A Classic Science Fiction Adventure in the Spirit of Jules Verne."

Imagine a world of extremes.  The Northern Lights dance across the Caribbean, mighty tempests are a common occurrence and the pendulum of politics swings from one radical to the next.  Welcome to Terra, an alternate earth somewhere across the multiverse, circa 1890.

It's a world of bizarre technological divergences.  Steamwork airships soar high above and are plagued by sky pirates.  Mighty sea creatures, the products of a prolonged Industrial Revolution's rampant pollution, haunt the seas.  Cities glow by the light of ethereal, alchemical reagents, while evil lurks in the shadows just beyond.

William Stallworth is a Pulse Chaser, able to leap from one world to another.  He came to Terra in search of adventure, but instead finds a world on the precipice of a great conflict - and a mysterious man that knows who he really is.  Can he turn back what's been set in motion, or will he forfeit his own life trying?

60,000 words.

Genres:  Steampunk; Classic Scifi; Scifi Adventure

Northern lights dancing in the Caribbean occurred with the first big solar flare of 1859 so there may be a little bit of apocalyptic action.  Maybe the ethereal currents will just all go to pieces.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Caribbean style self sufficiency

Food pricing was a driving issue with the Arab Spring, and it remains an issue for a lot of other countries.

As Cost of Importing Food Soars, Jamaica Turns to the Earth
Damian Cave, New York Times, 3 August 2013
Across the Caribbean, food imports have become a budget-busting problem, prompting one of the world’s most fertile regions to reclaim its agricultural past. But instead of turning to big agribusinesses, officials are recruiting everyone they can to combat the cost of imports, which have roughly doubled in price over the past decade. In Jamaica, Haiti, the Bahamas and elsewhere, local farm-to-table production is not a restaurant sales pitch; it is a government motto.
“We’re in a food crisis,” said Hilson Baptiste, the agriculture minister of Antigua and Barbuda... “Every country is concerned about it. How can we produce our own? How can we feed our own?”
Jamaica started earlier than most. A decade ago, the government unveiled a national food security campaign with the slogan “grow what we eat, eat what we grow.” Grocery stores now identify local produce with large stickers and prominent displays.
Members of rival political parties have also been mostly unified in support of expanding agriculture by experimental means; Jamaica is now one of several countries that have given out thousands of seed kits to encourage backyard farming.
Schools are heavily involved in the effort: 400 in Jamaica now feature gardens maintained by students and teachers. In Antigua and Barbuda, students are now sent out regularly on planting missions, adding thousands of avocado, orange, breadfruit and mango trees to the islands, but in Jamaica, gardening and cooking are often part of every school day.
Jamaica is showing a lot more sense than a lot of other countries in this regard.  The United States has been a net exporter throughout its existence, so it has never been much of an issue here, and is one reason that the United States has a buffer against a lot of the popular collapse theories.  Or at least the theories that don't involve overnight catastrophes.
But a country that is not self sufficient in food finds itself in a much more precarious position in a more "gentle" decline.  Thus the Arab oil producers interest in nuclear power plants to desalinate sea water.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Post Apocalyptic Feminism

I have read both of, and reviewed the second book, in James Howard Kunstler's World Made By Hand post-apocalyptic series.
Personally I thought they were more about middle age wish fulfillment than an accurate accounting of a possible future.
But apparently the author, who is touchy feely with the more leftward (sustainable) side of the survival spectrum, so there was fallout I didn't even consider.

Reality does not have an ideology: Class, Race, Hierarchy, and Social Relations in The Long Emergency, James Howard Kunstler, 30 July 2013
The characters in my novels lived very differently than people do in these late days of turbo-petro-industrialism. The economy of their town and the county surrounding it — the extent of normal travel in the new times — was centered on agriculture and the activities that supported it and derived from it. The division of labor had changed drastically in my fictional world, household management especially. Without microwave ovens, washing machines, heating furnaces, and other mechanical slaves that we take for granted, running a household required a lot more work. It was my heuristic judgment (i.e., guess) that such conditions would likely propel work assignments back to more traditional arrangements between men and women, especially because the care of very young children takes place in the home and, despite the wishful propaganda of our times, such care happens to fall mostly to mothers among the higher primates. (The vaunted role of “house-husband” might be improbable if it were not for the fact that so many “breadwinner” jobs today can be done by anybody, male, female, or someone in between.)
Anyway, the reaction to this fictional experiment was surprisingly pugnacious. High and low, far and wide, women denounced my book in formal reviews and casual emails. There was a unifying theme to them, though: a refusal to consider the possibility that social relations might change no matter what happened to the economy. That, and outrage that anyone might suggest a retrograde path for the recent achievements of feminism. It seemed self-evident to me that a lot of this achievement was provisional, depending on larger macro historical trends. That idea alone was greeted, in my replies to reader emails, by the sharpest opprobrium, since it was assumed that the political victories of recent decades have become permanent installations of the human condition. I recognize that, as a principle of politics, privileges and rights attained are rarely given up without a fight. But I wondered at the failure of imagination I was witnessing, especially among educated women readers.
I don't know.  In the near term, a soft collapse (which was the case of the distantly Upstate New York where the novel takes place, if not for the rest of the planet) into a lower level of technology probably isn't going to be particularly favorable to men or women.  It's not as if there is a huge amount of folks out there who have a whole lot of bankable survival skills.  He has the usual Navy SEAL types (backed up by a magical bee queen mama), but compared to the overall population total that makes for a very small number of people.  In some of the slash and burn cultures (the east agricultural type to get back up and running without fossil fuels) women were the main farmers.
So I think there is some fairness to some of the criticism. In the near term, the outcomes will be far more random than his novels indicates.  Historically, women were just as involved in the physical labor that went into feeding a family.  Not all cultures broke down the labor effort they way American frontier settlers did.
So while I think the feminists are likely being a bit clueless (he didn't link to specific complaints), that doesn't mean that Kunstler is isn't clueless as well.  If I had to take a guess, you will have near random small grouping of adults, with an equally random grouping of small children.  Given the stress, and likely starvation involved, there probably will be relatively few infants until there is a settling down.  Which is about where things are when his novels get started.