Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Station Eleven: A Review

Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven is a pre-apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic novel set 20 years after the "Georgia Flu" pandemic, and the resulting chaos thereafter, have killed ~99% of the worlds population.  The action takes place along the re-wilded western shores of Michigan south of Traverse City.  I note it as being pre-apocalyptic because about the half the novel involves look backs at relevant characters and their activities in the lead up to the deadly event.
 


Emily St. John Mandel (St. John is her middle name) is a main stream literary novelist whose interest in post-apocalyptic fiction has lead her to stray into new territory.  She was born on the West Coast of British Columbia, Canada. She studied dance at the Toronto School of Contemporary Dance, and now lives in New York City with her husband where she is a staff writer for The Millions: a weblog about books and the publishing industry. 
 
This novel combines interesting elements of main stream fiction and the post apocalyptic genre to where it has received an enormous amount of attention within the main stream reviewing media.  It has received glowing reviews all over the place and is at the moment a 2014 Book Award Finalist. Although not inclined to agree with their world view, being very much the Canadian version of the NPR gun control, socialized medicine crowd (interview), her research included a number of survivalist forums, to give the apocalypse a realistic feel.  One wonders if it is this research that prompted her to take up terrace gardening?
 
She notes in another interview:
My assumption is that in the immediate aftermath of a complete societal collapse, it probably would all be rape and mayhem. But probably not forever, because constant mayhem isn’t a particularly sustainable way of life and because I harbor a possibly na├»ve but stubborn notion that the overwhelming majority of people on earth really just want to live peacefully and raise their kids and go about their business with a minimum of fear and insecurity. So I think that the initial spasms of violence would most likely eventually subside, and people would start figuring out ways to live together again, with systems of local government and division of labor and such. I think that twenty years after the collapse, there’s a fair chance that at least some parts of the world would be fairly tranquil.
Maybe so, but there is still a lot of danger in this quieting post-apocalyptic world.  She noted that her original idea had been to have a simple story of a wandering minstrel type traveling through Michigan. Granting the novel's theme of "survival is not enough", her realization of societies fragility, and the basics of survival have made the story a bit darker.
 
The story begins, in the here-and-now,  with the death of famous actor Arthur Leander who is playing King Lear on stage in Toronto.  He misses, barely, the coming pandemic that has already reached the city.  Although Arthur can be said to have died an "actor's death" we learn that contrary to all his success, he was a restless unsatisfied sole doing the Hollywood thing of going through multiple wives, and detached from his only child.  The story goes through moments of his life, and through the moments of a variety of folks within his orbit (wives, child actresses, paparazzi, et al) leading up to the pandemic.
 
The title of the novel comes from a graphic novel that his first wife, Miranda, has been working on throughout here life, but never quite finishes.  She had ten copies of the first two issues printed, and in a roundabout fashion they come into the hands of Kirsten, the seven-year old child actress in the King Lear production who becomes the main protagonist, at age twenty-seven, of the post-apocalyptic portion of the tale.  As remembrances of her vaguely remembered life before the collapse, they are her treasured possessions.

The storyline of Station Eleven is that Dr. Eleven a hostile civilization form a nearby galaxy has taken control of Earth and enslaved Earth's population, but a few hundred rebels managed to seal a space station and escape by slipping it through a wormhole and hiding in deep space.  The Stations is the size of Earth's moon, but requires no sun and is mobile.  Unfortunately the artificial sun it uses has been damaged cloaking the interior in permanent twilight, and the water control systems got out of control and flooded all the dry land except for a few isolated islands.
 
On the station there is a rebellion, the Scientist wants to keep out of the grasp of the Earth enslavers.  The majority of the population, which has taken to living underwater in the submerged portions of the station, want to go back to Earth and plead for mercy.
They live out their lives under flickering lights, aware at all times of the fathoms of ocean above them, resentful of Dr. Eleven and his colleagues who keep Station Eleven moving forever through deep space. They are always waiting, the people of the Undersea. The spend all their lives waiting for their lives to begin.
There are other details of the story, but that is the main summary.  People waiting for their lives to begin.

The Traveling Symphony is both a small symphony and an acting troupe. at the time of the story A Midsummer Night's Dream: although they also do Hamlet and King Lear. The motto of this small troupe, who try to bring entertainment to an archipelago of small towns, is the Star Trek inspired "Because survival is insufficient."  They are housed in horse drawn repurposed pickup trucks. As I noted above, although in year Plague +20, the danger level is much lower, the group still keeps on the alert for trouble.
 
The troupe going to a remote location, St. Deborah by the Sea (possibly inspired by Frankfort, MI) the very edge of their traveling territory, to pick up a couple they had dropped off they dropped off two years ago to take care of their newborn.  They come to find the village's character has changed in the intervening years.  A rather creepy "Prophet" is now in charge.
 
The various pre-apocalyptic, and post-apocalyptic plot lines are intermeshed.  Not all of the plotlines involve the traveling troupe, but all are in some fashion related to Arthur Leander. WE do get glimpses at the back story of various folks, so the apocalyptic story is not ignored.  It is not worthy that while the main excitement is found in the post-apocalyptic world (interactions with the prophet mostly), the look backs to the modern world about to collapse are interesting enough keep ones attention.
 
There are a number of themes running through here. King Lear, as one reviewer noted, is noteworthy for articulating “unaccommodated man” — humanity stripped of luxury and easefulness.
Is this all a human being is? Look at him. (to EDGAR) You are not indebted to animals for your clothes since don’t wear silk, leather, or wool—not even perfume. Ha! The three of us are sophisticated compared to you. You’re the real thing. 
The human being unburdened by the trappings of civilization is no more than a poor, naked, two-legged animal like you (modernized, King Lear Act 3, Scene 4).
In an interview, the authoress has noted:
King Lear struck me as an ideal play for that moment, because on one level it’s a play about loss. Lear loses absolutely everything—his kingdom, his family, his dignity, his life. Everyone in the theatre stands on the precipice of losing everything.  
Which is of course very much on point in a collapsing world.  The acting troupe is also has Hamlet and a Midsummer Night's Dream in its repertoire. Hamlet is of course famous for its exestention lines, "to be or not to be, that is the question."  As for Midsummer Night's Dream, the authoress notes (same interview as previous):
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is sheer entertainment. It appears in the book at a moment when the Traveling Symphony has arrived in a creepy little town that seems to have changed since they last visited. It seemed to me that if one wanted to cheer up a depressing place in the middle of summer, A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be an excellent choice.
Although I think it is fair to say that the post-apocalyptic dominates the plot line, it is the difficulties, or we could almost say "the perceived difficulties" of folks who are living in the here-and-now, that give the post-apocalyptic reality its poignancy.  Within both timelines there is a search for meaning, and for what is really important.  It is not just about survival, as the troupes motto notes, but is also not about the going through the motions in the way that much of the modern world induces us to behave.  Throw in a number of thoughts about art, life and ambition (possibly influenced from the also non-linear A Visit from the Goon Squad that she lists as a favorite), and you get the complete package.
 
Did I like it?  Yes, I had a lot of distractions, but I still managed to work my way through it pretty quickly.  The author's use of language is excellent, and all her settings do a wonderful job of putting you in the scene: a difficult accomplishment given the number of characters, and the variety of settings.  Her post-apocalyptic world has a very plausible feel to 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 rather easy.  It is the story of the very near future modern world that collapses due to a very (may a little overly) contagious influenza-based pandemic.  Those who don't die of the disease, often don't survive the near term rape and mayhem. Issues of the slow loss of top notch salvaged, the value of modern schooling in a post-modern world, and the difficulty of restarting society onto a modern track are all reasonably well explored.  There is also enough of a storyline in the here-and-now, and within the near term apocalypse, that you don't get that detachment from the setting that can occur with a lot of futuristic science fiction.  It is a seven.
 
Readability is a little tricky in that it is a pretty straight forward story, but it is not told in an entirely linear fashion.  However, I don't think at any point we are confused by who someone is when they are introduced.  As far as I can recall, all of the characters are introduced in the here-and-now timeline, before we meet their part of the post-apocalyptic storyline.  The Prophet is a partial exception, but the mystery of the Prophets origins is a major subtheme of the book, so it is used as a tension builder, not a confuser.   There are a few portions, mostly around  (the likely somewhat autobiographical) college years that go a little slow, so it is not a page turner.  So with two deducts (non-linear, not all zippy action) we'll call it an above the mid-point literary 5.
 
 


Ms. Mandel standing in front of a promotional mockup of the graphic novel "Station Eleven" that is a featured discussion point within the novel.


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Star's Reach: A Review

John Michael Greer's Star's Reach is a post-apocalyptic set in the neo-mediaeval mid-west of about 550 years into our future, and about 400 years after the collapse of the "old world".



John Michael Greer is (based on blog blurb) is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America and the author of more than thirty books on a wide range of subjects, including hermetic magical systems,  peak oil and the future of industrial society. He is best know here for his blog The Archdruid Report, and he recently started a slightly more philosophic blog: Well of Galabes which is stated to cover Druidry, magic, and occult philosophy with heavy doses of cyclical world systems as well.
 
The story takes the form of a memoir written by a professional scavenger (belonging to the Ruinmen's Guild) who has found a clue to the location of the legendary Star's Reach facility.  Star's Reach being a higher tech (remember the collapse was in our future) version of the Seti Project and its search for alien life.  In a sense the memoir tracks this Ruinman from Chattanooga (Shanuga) in his journey to look for this facility.   The journey itself has a number of twists and turns, which is simultaneously complicated by the jumpy time frame (back and forth in time) of the narration, and relieved of much of its narrative tension by the author's propensity for narrative plot spoilers.  Before we are to the halfway point, we know the general outcome of the search, who will attempt to betray the mission, and that betrayal will be unsuccessful.
 
So if we know much of what is going to happen, only lacking details, what is filling up 366 pages?  A few plot twists to be sure.  But mostly it is a rumination by Mr. Greer on his idea of what a far future society, with some remnant ideas of technology, but denied access to fossil fuels, and living in an environmentally damaged environment, would be like. And what would it be like?
 
Well it would be similar to a (very) low magic fantasy setting where their is a certain amount of religious tolerance (there are a few Christians hanging around), but dominated by a matriarchal Earth Goddess Cult.  Mexico, apparently not bothered by the global warming is the main world power. Washington D.C. and most of the East Coast megalopolis is underwater, and the isolated Midwestern U.S. is a usually female president for life elected by the ruling classes, and a variety of disabling mutations caused by left over radiation and toxins.  The author shows his allegiance to the old game, Gamma World, by having his ruins set with all sorts of impractical and implausible traps. Traps that seem to have no purpose other than to kill unwary scavengers of the future.  Granted there are no tentacle monsters or giant spiders in the mix, but it does come off more like a dungeon adventure than a archeological dig.  Apparently there is no AIDs anymore as three are a number of very loose, free love style, sexual practices noted in a few locations.
 
As a the storyline moves into the second portion of the novel, the plotline begins to channel Forest Gump, in so far as our hero's ability to run into all sorts of semi-legendary folks, key political instigators, and even a visit with the President for life.  The coincidences become staggering.  Since the novel does have a few magical elements to it, I am not sure if this "luck" is caused by some sort of Karmic powers, or simply forced story telling.  Our hero, as I suppose is appropriate for a story with a fantasy element, tends to be capable beyond what is plausible.  Competent street fighters armed with crowbars wouldn't normally be expected to take on nearly invisible super assassins: but they do here.  By the end of the story, our Ruinman has major seismic events coinciding with his quest.
 
If the social/cultural elements are pushed a bit hard, the story does work at doing a fare amount of analysis of the what a post-carbon, post-globally warmed, successor culture might look like, particularly one that is self limiting due to its efforts not to repeat past mistakes. Although the narrator, being part of it,  doesn't sense it, much of it is rather squalid and rough.
 
So does it work?  Not really.  The Druidic version of a PC history pushes a little bit too much into wish making, and with much of these revelations being parallel to rather than part of the storyline, it all seems forced.  Our Ruinman is a decent enough fellow, but is a rather detached sort.  He has friends and companions, but doesn't seem to really miss their company when they are not around.  The mystical element, particularly the dream sequences, are reasonably well done.  But the novelistic arguments for a more "magical" basis for reality are perfunctory once we get past the dream sequences.  He pushes for a too overt magic, while at the same time, not making the "magic" particularly credible.

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.

We are in too far of the future to allow for much immediacy to the realism.  The "magic" has a little more of a tacked on feel than that  of an immersive magical-realism approach, so I am not going to make a huge deduction there.  I think it is safest to put it at the midpoint and call it a 4.

Readability is a little tough. The journal approach, particularly with all the plot spoilers tends to take away much in the way of possibilities for a page turner.  Much of the activity seems to be more centered around displaying the author's view of a future post-carbon reality, than to driving the plot line.  I kept running out of steam, and putting the book down, coming back to it more out of a sense of obligation than desire.  Still, the storyline isn't that hard to follow.  It is a 3.



Monday, December 22, 2014

The Peripheral: A Review

William Gibson's The Peripheral is an pre-apocalyptic novel (likely somewhere in Missouri) set in the dystopian near future (~2025 AD) U.S. Midwest, and simultaneously a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel set in the mid-distant (~2100 AD) future London.



William Gibson is famous as the author of the cyberpunk novel Necromancer.  One of the most influential science fictions of all time.  Although the cyber- part of the punk has faded in and out, varying forms of gritty, dystopian, near futures, or even speculative pasts often borrow the moniker: nano-punk, steam-punk, et al.  Lately Gibson's novels have taken place in a tech-driven, dystopian present.
 
The plotting is somewhat beside the point.  It is a small story, a dangerous intrigue if you will, that is of major importance to the actors, but not generally of a global scope.  You have a current near term slow-collapse, soon to reach more complete collapse rural United States.  I noted Missouri above because the topography is slightly hilly and broken and yet they are close enough to hurricane ally to note public shelters, and the main protagonist is a young lady named Flynn.  Which given the tone of the dystopia, is very likely a nod toward Gillian Flynn and her dark Midwestern novels such as Gone Girls and more in particular here, Dark Places.  It is collapsed rural landscape that features damaged U.S. special forces folks, illegal but economically important designer drug designer/manufacturers, and a variety of normal folks trying to survive in a location where all the jobs have dried up.  In the case of Flynn, she would leave for someplace else, but she is taking care of her ailing mother.
 
The second plot of the story involves a dystopian London.  It is a world that has recovered from a multi-locus (peak-everything, global warming, localized pandemics, et cetera) collapse.  But the here and now is not overly friendly with an oligarchy of "business folk" much like the business folk that turned up after the collapse of the Soviet Empire.  That they are referred to as the Klept, short for Kleptocracy, pretty much tells you how much fun they are.  Fortunately, technology is of a level that they don't need slave camps, and too many worker drones, but they tend to keep a tight reign on any activities of importance, and to gain their attention can be a lethal issue.
 
Essentially the folks of the future have figured out how to communicate with the folks of their alternative pasts.  Alternative is key because once the future contacts the past, the past goes off on a separate track, and its eventual (70 years later) present, will differ.  Of course whether you call that an alternative past, or future, is all a matter of perspective.  In any case, it is only communications (information) that can pass back and forth, not physical reality.
 
So the people of the future go back into the past, and hire some of the ex-veterans to "inhabit" drones of their future, to act as security guards of a sort.  The future is a little short on people, and it is easy to get hold of money when you can game the stock market at will with advanced AI-algorithms.  In any case, Flynn filling in for her brother, witnesses a murder, a murder committed by someone associated with Klept-level politics, and it turns into a murder mystery with people of both time-frames using proxy devices of the other's world to make appearances and generally create mayhem.
 
I will say it is an interesting read, and I did enjoy it.  Parts of it reminded me a lot of Neal Stephenson's REAMDE, other parts of Corry Doctorov's Maker's, and as I noted above Flynn's Dark Places updated from the 1980s.  Oddly enough, it shares some of the failings of all of these novels.  It has a really interesting tech-heavy futuristic, speculative plot that is very hard to sustain, mixed in with elements of the here and now, that can be hard to keep exciting.  Getting your mom her meds. is realistic, but not exciting. 
 
So it is a fun enough read if you think you might like a somewhat futuristic mystery, with a little bit of low tech assassination action thrown in for the fun of it.  But Gibson, like Stephenson and Doctorov are, and Flynn should be, are considered thoughtful authors, so it brings into play the "worthiness" of the thoughts.
 
The depiction of the Missouri slow collapse is well done.  The author is extrapolating based on known trends.  Their tech is a little ahead of ours, but not by much.  It shows, realistically, the worst near future outcome for the continuing globalized, techno-future.  If Doctorov has his folks making useful gadgets that quickly get copied so that profit margins only survive a few months, we have that here:  only the useful things are drugs. We have Stephenson's mercenaries of the online roleplaying game: except they are not Chinese youth, but unemployed young U.S. vets.  The author does not assign one cause for the coming collapse, but notes a number of causal agents.
 
The future dystopian is obviously more speculative.  It argues, as Gibson would be inclined, for technical solutions to our current problems.  The technology is a gearing up of current AI possibilities with nano technology.  Either of which have been used all by themselves in apocalyptic scenarios. It is not completely clear just who is in charge, but neither the "algorithms" nor the Klept, can be guaranteed to have the best interests of the common folks at heart.
 
To the extent that there is an actionable message, it would probably center around the idea that nimble folks with resources, and allies, are more likely to come out ahead.
 
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 bit split.  Obviously 100 years in the future, or even 25 years, is going to throw in some distortions.  I would also say that some of the story line (the financial speculation, and the ending story line) seem to involve a little hand waving to make the story work as a story.  But within those constraints it does a pretty could job of facing off with folks who have access to more resources than you, and the problematic nature of survival in a world with a distorted legal system.  It's a 5.
 
Readability is mixed.  It has elements of a page turner in places, but the author's style, its detailed descriptions, make it difficult to flip-fast and still follow the action.  There are a fair number of characters to keep up with. Some don't seem to do much except add color to the proceedings. In addition there is an a lot of setup, and a lot of background/world building going on.  They are very well thought out world building exercises, but it does slow up the pacing. At 485 pages, it is a semi-doorstopper.   It is a 3, an interesting 3, but a 3 none-the-less.



 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The China Pandemic: A Review

A.R. Shaw's The China Pandemic is a pandemic fueled apocalyptic novel set in Seattle, Washington, and the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest. It is the first book in a series, but ends at a reasonable stopping point.




A.R. Shaw (facebook) is originally from Texas, but now lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest.  Her Summer vacations along the Skagit River inspired the bug out location for the series. Looking at her blog and facebook entries, she has an obvious interest in the prepping community.
 
The Chinese, who have zero direct involvement in the story, design some bio-bug virus, and then accidentally let it loose on the world.  This bug kills, in the usual mysto-fictional way 98%, of the folks who come in contact with it.  And again, everyone comes in contact except for tiny groups of people (preppers) who have isolated themselves from all of humanity. 
 
But this book is only  a little about the preppers.  The preppers are a group of hyper prepared folks that are reluctant neighbors of our surviving immune protagonists along the mountain lake where they have all settled.  The preppers have all sorts of expensive items, and military training and what not.  They are not quite as extreme as the folks in Thomas Koloniar's Cannibal Reign. They don't have a refabbed missile silo. 
 
The story mostly involves a family like gathering of survivors who make their way to a small hunting lodge in the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest.  At the start, we have a Korean woman, who knows she is dying of the China Plague, leaving her son five year olds son, Bang, with Graham, a math teacher with a woodsy background.  Starting in a bedroom community (noted as Mountain View) near Seattle, they make their way to Grahm's father's hunting cabin.  The trip is episodic and they collect a few teenagers along the way.  Eventually they settle into their cabin with a grandfather-figure, mommy-figure, daddy-figure, teenagers, and little boy making up a reasonably cooperative ad hoc family.
 
The cabin sets the second stage of the story.  The virus has the now usual apocalyptic aspect of having all survivors being carriers (plague vectors) to any that haven't come in contact (aka. preppers).  That this isn't a normal part of most truly deadly pandemics (people don't worry about survivors of Ebola killing them after all), or even the flu-based relatives the Chinese designed it from, is beside the point.  It is a given truth now in apocalyptic fiction circles, so does not need justification.  So the preppers are around, and they have some interactions, but it must always be done at a distance.
 
The family group's main focus is getting ready for the winter, dealing with a group of bad guys that want to steal their women-folk, and the occasional run into town for supplies.  All very normal prepper-based apocalyptic fare.  The group combines a helpfully large amount of outdoor/camping survival knowledge, with a more appropriate level of general cluelessness about much else.  The bad guys are, fortunately, not Navy SEALS, so it is a somewhat fair fight.  The author is realistic in that this oversized family, with only a few able bodied adults, doesn't try to start commando raids against the bad guys, and truthfully, their defensive preparations are pathetic.  In rural America, it doesn't seem to dawn on them that their is likely a rural supply house that should have rolls of barbwire in stock to slow up and annoy intruders.
 
There are a few odd notes that just don't add up.  They release trapped deer, and then much later in the book, speculate about whether they have enough meat to survive the winter.  They talk about a garden, but it is not clear where in these heavily wooded surroundings they plan to plant a large enough crop to make it worthwhile.  That they won't be able to drive into town to get canning supplies (gas going bad) doesn't seem to be on anybody's radar screen.
 
I would give it a qualified approval. I tend to like prepper books that involve a little bit of group dynamics, and don't turn the apocalypse into some sort of weird World War 3 with semi-automatics.  The author does have the common obsession of all the wild animals becoming instantly dangerous.  After this type of pandemic, where the owners don't have time to eat their dogs, wild dogs would be an issue, but wolves and mountain lions?  Maybe a few birthing cycles after the collapse, but not in the immediate months preceding.  Two-percent is still a pretty large group of people to contend with.  The author also makes an odd comment about people naturally heading for the hills, which indicates that she really has no justification for the scenario.  Yes! Why would everyone head for the hills, if they are part of the immune population?  The answer: they wouldn't!  They would stay in town for a year or two until the supplies started to run down.
 
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 bit difficult.  There is a weird quirky lip service to supplies, but if the group hadn't wandered up into the mountains after 98% of the folks died, or would make a few more supply runs into town to get their share of the loot, that wouldn't be such an issue.  It is almost as if the book follows the known fictional memes, without ever really thinking through important issues of cause and effect.  Still, there are issues of survivor psychology, group psychology, psychiatry when one's meds. can't be taken, etc.  So even with that quirky feel to it, let's call it a 5.
 
Readability is straightforward.  Their is some activity.  There is a little drama.  But it is all fairly slow moving.  The author has a tendency to extend her gap filling/explanatory scenes far too long.  But, it is all very straightforward. There is not a ton of deep thinking going on here.  Excepting the Korean mom, you pretty much get the shallow philosophy of modern American folks here. It is in the middle: a 4.

A.R. Shaw

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Ballroom of the Skies: A Review

Copyrighted in 1952, John D. MacDonald's Ballroom of the Skies is a post-apocalyptic novel set in a mid-1980s world semi-recovered from World War 3.  In this world, the United States is a third-rate power, with Pak-India, Brazil, Northern Chinas, and Iran being the new, feuding great powers.  This novel is often packaged with two non-related novels in Time and Tomorrow.



John D. MacDonald (1916-1986) is best known for his Travis McGee series private detective series.  published seventy novels and more than five hundred short stories in his lifetime.  Early in his career, he published three science fiction novels.  This novel being the only one with a post-apocalyptic flavor.
 
As noted at the top, this world of the 1980s has different super powers.  The novel starts with an idealistic Dake Lorin, a former newspaper man, now diplomat, working as part of a secret peace conference that will bring about a negotiated world peace.  When his boss, has a very strange in personality, and torpedoes the whole deal, he becomes suspicious that something odd is going on and begins his own investigation.
 
The novel is an odd alien invasion type story.  It has a little in common with the "aliens among us" type themes so popular that younger audiences might remember from television shows such as the X-files, but actually go back some way.  The UFO/alien invasion phenomena in film and fiction has been noted as being something of a shadow theme to nuclear apocalypse: similar to the way the zombie apocalypse can stand in for more "real" forms of societal collapse.
 
The novel has some odd twists and turns.  Various forms of advanced psionic (mental) disciplines are used by the aliens, and fairly early on, we learn that the aliens are not exactly trying to conquer the earth, but to keep it unstable.  The aliens make an effort to recruit our would be whistle blower, and the story proceeds from there.
 
Did I enjoy it?  It is obviously very dated.  The author has much more modern sensibilities on race, and environmentalism so he is not too jarring in those respects. But a lot of relevant points, the United States plundering its resources, Malthusian style issues with overpopulation, or the cyclical nature of war, turn into meaningless chatter against the background of alien designs. It is interesting to note, that this is another case of a deeply cynical apocalyptic view coming very early after the war.
 
It is no worse than many self published e-books of today, but is a unevenly written, and confusing at times. So I will give it a qualified negative recommendation.  It has some interest as a nostalgia piece, and has some entertainment value, but you can get these same light stories so readily in a more modern dystopian format, that I don't see why you would go out of your way to hunt this one up.
 
 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 there any?  It is both too fanciful, and too dated of science fiction to easily see ourselves in Dake Lorin's situation.  The off planet excursion and psionics brings us into magical territory.  It is a 1.
 
Readability?  It is a short novel at 147 pages: but a confusing one.  There is a reasonable amount of not unentertaining philosophizing.  That the author in 1952 is preaching against the evils of television is amusing.  With the confusing nature of the story, I am going to call it a 3.

The novel is commonly found in this collection grouped with two of the author's other short science fiction novels.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Noise: A Review

Darin Bradley's Noise is an apocalyptic novel set in the college town, Slade, Texas (a stand in for Denton, TX near Dallas) in the near future.  The action occurs within a short time frame when a severe economic crises is collapsing the U.S. economy.  Retrospectively, the novel covers the much slower progression toward that tipping point.  The author has a second novel, Chimpanzee,  that also has apocalyptic elements, but is not part of this story line. 

The marking on the cover is based on the graffiti tag used by the group in the book

Darin Bradley went to school in Denton, Texas, and after a brief stay in Greenville, SC, has returned there. Although he has spent a considerable amount of time teaching at the university level, he appears to be working as a writer, and  software developer at the moment.  As noted, the college town Slade, is a slightly reworked Denton, Texas.  There is an interesting video of a reading from the book which I think tries to give a flavor what the intended effect of the writing.

Because of the offbeat, some find it off-putting, nature of the novel, the author was forthcoming about the psychology of what he is trying to produce. In this first case, the interview is actually occurring at a very early stage in writing the novel.
My work typically addresses the "weird" as an operating metaphor for alienation, but I sometimes work with more straightforward, mythic themes. I'm fascinated by dissolution, decay, and the unstable nature of "self."...
When asked about the music he was playing while he wrote the novel (then being titled Amaranth):
I chose these particular artists and albums because the novel I was working on is very bleak. There is only one arguably "happy" scene in the entire story (which is really more of a textual artifact than a story), and I wanted a writing environment that reflected the ambient solitude expressed in the text. Some of these albums are experimental "noise music," and others are simply wild audio recordings of vast, bleak places. I found writing some of the material both challenging and disturbing, and this playlist helped me echo that . . . troublesome nature of the project. It made for some somber writing periods, but they were all ultimately rewarding.  Author Interview: Darin Bradley, Writers and Their Soundtracks, 8 April 2008

In an interview explaining the fully written novel:
I wanted to explore how environments destabilize identity, including our feverishly held beliefs about life, the universe, and everything, to intone Adams.  
So, I decided that an otherwise normal person, when thrown into a social environment that no longer supports (or makes room for) the conveniences and niceties of social coexistence that we know now, would have to re-examine his or her personal mythologies to re-purpose them for a more violent environment. I mean, what good are the lessons you learned playing T-Ball when you’re concerned about people kicking in your door to steal your flour? What does it matter if you excelled at finger-painting when you spend all day hunting for desiccated potatoes in the barren earth? How could one change the meanings of these identity-building experiences so that they rationalized violent, survivalist behavior? What we know, what we think, about our selves and those around us is really just convenience. A lot of it doesn’t mean anything, even though we’d desperately like it to. Interview with Darin Bradley, author of Noise, Samuel Snoek Brown, 31 August 2010
Specific to the story line, the author describes it as such:
Noise is a story about the collapse of American society. It follows a handful of characters in their early 20s–people who are just coming of age in college when the world they’ve been studying falls apart. The novel concerns itself with what one has to do to establish and maintain a survival group as society descends into barbarity. In fact, the novel includes “The Book,” which is an instruction manual for building a newer, stronger nation-state around your survival group on the other “side” of the collapse.

So understanding that the story is delivered  a bit disjointedly, as the narrator, the self-named Hiram, is looking back on what has transpired.  So we know that he has survived, but we don't know how exactly, and as we come to see, we are not sure to what extent they will remake themselves in their effort at building a new culture for these apocalyptic times. Hiram flashes from the recent past, to the distant pass as he tries to build a narrative that  makes sense of what has happened. 

Anyone who has ever tried to look at a detailed narrative of life events that have gotten "off schedule" knows, that the events are much more confused, the information much more limited, than the simple explanatory stories we come up with later.  Hiram, to his credit, does not attempt to simplify or disavow his/the groups actions. In yet another interview, the author notes, Hiram and his friend, Levi, take a no holds, hard-line, no-exceptions, survive-at-all-costs attitude to the collapsing world around them. They have given themselves Old Testament style names, not because they are Christian or Jewish (Hiram was raised Southern Baptist), but because they are founding a new social order. So the "Noise" is the effort of pulling together a coherent story line out of the chaos. And as the old testament identities implies, it is going to be brutal.   Amaranth, the name of their destination, is a type of flowering plant that holds onto its blooms for a long time. The name of the comes from the archaic Greek, amaranton, which means unwilting, and thus by extension immortal. They are not playing for low stakes.

In planning for their survival, the two friends, Hiram and Levi, have written out a book which is their outline plan of what to do in the coming collapse.  As noted, it is a horrifically brutal approach, something like what Hitler might write without any of requirements for social justification. It is an exercise in pure-survival, and for the neo-tribal group, power.  It is this book, which they follow closely in spirit, but less so in detail, which is the core backdrop to the novel.

A  second core idea, beyond the book, is the local and national, anarchist-style underground group: Salvage. Salvage has taken over the tiny amount of bandwidth left over from the analog to digital television conversion, and much like the earlier pirate radio, various groups use it to publish their various personal agendas.  Through the use of repeaters, the Salvage network spreads through a variety of locations, but one suspects mostly centered around liberal arts colleges where the students might have both the time and inclination to parse out the often cryptic messages. Within the greater confusion of the collapse storyline, the Salvage broadcasts are a beacon, but also with a fair amount of noise peculiar to its own delivery form.  The anarchistic nature of the groups, sometimes working in parallel with each other, but often at somewhat competing purposes, adds additional noise. 

As far as the small group that is the focus of the novel, the novel follows a fairly simple bug-out novel time line:  Go to central meeting point in town (named the House of Cards), gather up supplies, go to bug-out location.  But events don't exactly transpire as planned.

The supply gathering is required because they are not wealthy and don't have a supply of guns and ammo at their disposal.  Of course, as we come to see, some of this "poverty" is simply a factor what they choose to accumulate and work on, rather than purely a factor of money.  Even at the planning level, which Hiram views retrospectively, a lot of money was spent researching the local situation as they debated the tactics of bugging-in versus bugging-out.

Most of the novel involves the snatch and grab portion of the storyline.  The actual bug-out is not ignored, but by this point the narrative is at freight train velocity and their is a certain numbing momentum toward the conclusion.  I wouldn't say the conclusion is a let down, but the power of the novel is in the getting there.

Did I like it?  Yes.  A lot of people don't like it because they object to the character's being sociopaths, or evil, or both.  To me, calling every brutal person with an agenda a sociopath, is a cop out.  If the world collapses do you want your family, however you constitute it, to survive.  If you do, what are you willing to do?  The author came to the conclusion that he would pretty much do anything, and given some time to think it out before hand, the results get scary.  The novel is far more realistic than the many prepper wish fulfillment novels where the preppers take the place of the gunfighter heroes in some gritty Western novel.

An example:  if you are going to survive a total collapse of society, you might come to the conclusion that it is better to be sharing resources with fewer people.  There are a couple of ways you could do this.  You could kill your non-preparing neighbors, you could destroy competing prepper groups, or you could accelerate the collapse time line so that the non-prepared have less time to work out partial, but ultimately futile, solutions.  All of this is explored to some degree in the novel in very brutal terms.

Mind you, you don't have to take Hiram and Levi's solution as being the correct one for the end times.  But if you reject it, you would need to come up with a plausible alternative for survival. Because if the Hiram/Levi's of the world are the only people left standing, they will get to dictate the storyline going forward.

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.

The time frame of the immediate action is relatively short.  Some of the combat strikes me as being a little overly proficient of neophyte combatants.  But given that even the National Guardsman, who make an occasional appearance, may not have tons of combat experience in a built up urban area, it is not completely unbelievable.  Obviously, the group, in its own unique way, has made a lot of plans, and thought through a lot of contingencies.  The world is very close to that of our world today.  It is a seven.

Readability is uneven.  As you would expect a college student writing a memoir, there is a bit rambling going on.  But in general, the author gives you the information you need to figure out what is going on.  So while it is not a linear narrative, it is not a complete mass of confusion either.  There are points where the storyline is a bit of a page turner.  As a fast moving 222 pages, I will call it a 5.






Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fugue in Ursa Major: A Review

David Dalton's Fugue in Ursa Major is an apocalyptic novel set in modern day and the mountainous corner of Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee, and the Charlottesville, VA, the home of the University of Virginia.  Although most of the story time is spent in the buildup to the apocalyptic events, when they do come they are in the nature of a conspiracy theory generated nuclear war.
 
 
 
David Dalton, born in Salisbury, North Carolina, starting in North Carolina before moving to San Francisco in 1991, he seems to have worked in various operational and administrative roles in the newspaper business.  He has retired to the hills/mountain area of Stokes County, North Carolina, just north of Winston-Salem, and east of Mount Airy (aka Mayberry). 
 
There are a couple of threads in this run up to an intentional apocalypse story.  The main one, by word count, is the story of a young architect, Jake Janaway, awakening to his homosexual desires for the elderly man that will become his mentor, Phaedrus Bartholomew.  The other major thread is, from hints he picks up from Phaedrus, his research and discoveries about a coming collapse that a lot of Washington insiders seem to be preparing for.
 
There are of course a few subplots, but most of the rest of the story is filled with various rants, generally delivered in monologue form, about various issues of our modern society.  Oddly equating them as being near synonymous, the author hates Christianity and Imperial Romans in particular.  He seems to mostly hate them for their invasion and quashing of much of the various Celtic group's culture.   And he hates Christianity, which he views as the Roman Imperial religion, because of its persecution of homosexuals.  That Christianity picked up its anti-homosexual flavorings from Judaism, and further as a revulsion to the (then) modern Roman Imperial culture under which it formed, long before Christianity became the official religion, does not seem to have entered into his thought process.   As for his supposedly lovely Celts from Gaul, it is ironic that one of the earliest written books in the New Testament, Galatians,  gets its name (Galatia ~ Gaul) from a group of Celtics who came stomping into Asia Minor (what we now call Turkey) and took over the place. The  Galatians, before their culture was absorbed by the greater numbers, hung around for some time, being famous for their berserker-like naked charges and the late use of chariots.
 
What is head-spinningly odd is that at the same time he is beating up some folks for being foolish and closed minded, he is promoting the concept that a forced mass die off of ~90+% of the population, by a well connected (but not billionaires-he kills them off too) political/academic types through a rain of nuclear weaponry.  Although neither, Jake nor Phaedrus are part of the conspiracy, they are obviously not overly upset by the outcome, and are willing to work with the folks that caused all the destruction.  As Phaedrus notes at the end the world will be run by a technocratic elite, with presumably the non-technocratic rural survivors action as the new peasants.
 
The supposed points of wisdom that aren't extended rants includes bits from Star Wars, and Tolkien, with the occasion reference source pointers (Tainter, Berry) thrown in for good measure.  Jake spends a lot of time complaining about his girlfriends, and women in particular.  And we get his extended phallic (he seems to be more interested in being the catcher rather than the pitcher so to speak) about homosexual love, that never actually get anywhere by the books conclusion.
 
So did I like it?  Well it was unique.  If the author's points more concisely, and with a little more sense as presented, it might have at least had some curiosity value. He is after all not the inventor of evolutionary socialism after all, maybe he could have cribbed some better arguments from the Fabians.  It would also have been nice if there had been a little more of a plot.  There is a little bit of a two-stage bugout, but because the author is so busy representing Jake as superior to the masses, particularly those dumb ignorant folks at Liberty University, that there just isn't enough room for a plot.  So in the end, I didn't like it.  It represents itself as a work of philosophy, when it is really just a long, poorly thought out rant.  It is about on par with what some of the militia folks will inflict on, just coming from the other side. 
 
As an aside, in this urban dominated genocide that the author seems to be encouraging, who exactly would be heavily represented in the death toll.  Well African Americans are a large group in many major cities.  Many gays seem to gravitate to an urban culture where their live style is more acceptable.  Most of his friends that he had back in San Francisco would be dead.  In fact, if rural America is the group that is more likely than most to trend conservative, his nuke-the-masses strategy would appear to leave a relatively large proportion of his arch-enemies alive, relative to his supposed allies.  Of course he has retired to a rural area, so he himself would be safe for a little while. And of course.
 
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.
 
We must remember that the cause of the collapse is not generally part of our realism test.  Although some form of nuclear catastrophe would not be a shocker, the one postulated is a little unlikely.  It is not clear how you would get so many military folks to blast their own families, or get the born-again dominated U.S. Airforce to go along for the ride.  So the situation as it stands, a wealthy prepper in his mountain retreat with a young adult who want to get close to him, is not particularly unrealistic.  The realism is marred by the occasional appearance of flying-saucer like UFOs that appear to have no actual part in the plotline, but none the less do take up almost as much page space as his figuratively erotic stallion dream.  So with a point deduction, its a six.
 
Readability is low.  There is a whole lot of close to incoherent rambling and not a ton of plotting.  High rambling to plot content is pretty much the inverse to being a page turner: particularly at 320 pages of it.  The homo-erotic symbolism is rather easy to figure out, so we will set readability at a 2.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Each New Morn: A Review

L.G. Thomson's Each New Morn is a pandemic apocalypse with some zombie-like elements set in contemporary Scotland, starting in the area of Dundee, and settling in at a rural area somewhere south of Inverness along the A9 (highway).

This may be the least appealing cover, even a Kindle self published one, that I have run across yet. The novel was accidentally published early, and this is actually the revised cover The novel's trailer is howlingly campy as well.


L. G. (Lorraine) Thomson (1964- )was born in Glasgow, and grew up in Cumbernauld. Dundee, the novels starting point, is where she graduated from Art School. She has two daughters, and now lives in Ullapool on the northwest coast of Scotland. 
 
The basic plot instigator is that a sudden global pandemic, a rogue prion causing what is called the Falling Down Flu, wipes out  90-something percent of the population.  A small fraction of the "survivors" come down with a rabies like disease giving them a nasty zombie-like personality.   As is fairly common with contemporary zombie fiction, the zombies fairly quickly get replaced by nasty people as the ultimate threat.
 
The plot line starts with two separate survivors that eventually, as is obviously going to happen, meet up in the middle portion of the story.  The man, Shaw, is a collector of wayward survivors.  Realistically, a lot of these folks wind up being more a nuisance than a help.  The secondary die-off count is pretty large.  The second survivor, Chrissie, has various scary adventures before she finds a little cottage to hole up in.
 
I would say that there are three general threads to the plot line, all of them related to survival possibilities.  The first thread, is that group dynamics, and individual personalities, are probably the largest single factor in survival.  A small group of cooperative folks can generally make a go of it.  But getting a collection of strangers, suffering from the psychological impact of the death of family, society, and forcing to rough it a little for the first time, is a difficult accomplishment to achieve.
 
The second issue is whether is best done in larger, more cooperative numbers, or smaller more tightly knit groupings.  Shaw wants to collect people and skills.  That doesn't always work out.  Chrissie wants to hide away somewhere and avoid discovery.  That is also problematic as it is very difficult to eliminate all possibilities of discovery over the very long haul.
 
The final issue, is surviving the marauder types.  Within the story line both of the first two issues relate back to this one.  Group cohesion is important because the marauders can take over a group through infiltration as well as they can attack it.  Also collecting groups of survivors, along with larger encampments are most likely to attract the farthest roving, and thus largest groups of bad guys.  Of course little hidden groups, once found, will get stomped.  To add to all that is finding the balance between size, location, and site layout/defenses, that give the best combination of success. Of course in a place like Scotland, there are left over fortifications to be found that will help you along the way.  Granted if you had to choose, an early medieval site, smaller and often very hard to get to if it is an old refuge location, is probably more workable than the more spread out gunpowder era spots.  Or, you can, much like in Alex Scarrow's Afterlight, try hiding off shore.
 
Did I like the novel?  I would call it good, but not great: a conditional recommendation. The zombie-theme seemed heavily forced, and the bad guys you get to meet come of as simplistically evil.  Both elements tend to signal that, even within the Scottish glass is half-empty attitude, that the evil forces will not prevail.  On the plus side, the other is unusually, a glass half-empty sort of writer.  So it isn't a happy bouncy bunny wrap up at the end either.  The author is not into firearms or tactics, but doesn't try to push the details either, so she avoids the common technical mistakes.
 
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?  Well as I noted above, the screamers are a bit forced.  Zombies in Scotland no doubt have helped the book sell, which it has done, in Scotland.   The author doesn't seem to be aware that gasoline ages out pretty quickly.  But the author invasions the pandemic aftermath being dominated by the people that don't care anymore. They are going to loot and burn, and cut amount of left-over supplies down drastically.  So if short term supplies can be had at risk, the long term is much more questionable.  It is a five.
 
Readability is easier.  It is not a page turner.  Group dynamics dominates far more than the action scenes.  If there is any extraneous literary symbolism, I did not detect it.  Again, it is a five.




Tuesday, December 16, 2014

It's Only Temporary: A Review

Eric Shapiro's It's Only Temporary is an apocalyptic novella that from, the perspective of a college aged boy, details the final 110-hour countdown of a meteor doomed world.  It is a very short read with my hard copy ending at page 100, and the Kindle listing (2nd e.) listed at 76 pages.  This novella is also collected in the three-story Stories for the End of the World.

Cover from Kindle link


Eric Shapiro (1978-) is an actor,  screen writer, filmmaker, essayist/film critic and author of horror novels. Originally from New Jersey, he now (per the book blurb) lives with his wife in Los Angeles. This novella was on the shortlist for the Edgar Award.
 
Sean loves Selma, his ex-girlfriend from college.  With six weeks notice that the world is going to end, at the last moment (10 hours left) he decides he wants to be with her, rather than his faily at the end.  This is the necessary input for an episodic road trip, where he meets a very mixed assortment of folks good and bad.  Some of them going a little crazy.
 
Given the author's film credentials, and a common modern literary framing technique in any case, the book feels like a series of scenes from a sometimes comedic, action-movie.  This has the advantage of keeping the pace rolling, and hitting a lot of highlights in a short length, but tends to leave everything a little shallow.
 
Did I like it? It was o.k.  It's short so the time-spent opportunity cost is low.  But when I was interrupted a couple of times while reading it, I didn't rush back as quick as possible to get started again.  There is just enough existential ramblings to give the story a little purpose, but the protagonist was sitcom glib, and just a little too annoying for me to call this a fun read.  I will give it a tentative rejection as the rejection is as much about stylistic preferences as it is about content.
 
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.
 
Realistic?  It is set in our modern world, has a scientifically plausible excuse for the coming collapse, and doesn't get far enough into the adventure to deal with the more mundane issues of the world.  The people are a little odd. But it is the sort of oddity that much of the rest of the country would expect Californians to act.  The setting is "small town USA" and interconnecting highways, but has a Californian feel to it.  The protagonist is an Art Major after all.  With nothing to make it overly gritty or intense, and some intentionally surreal encounters with people acting oddly, we will call it a 5.
 
Readability:  Easy.  Short book: a novella.  Too much psychological babble to be a page turner, but the vignette style keeps it moving: a 6.




Original hardcopy Cover (the one I have)

Monday, December 15, 2014

Jakarta Pandemic: an update review

One of my earliest reviews, back in 2011,  was Steven Konkoly's Jakarta Pandemic
 
It is one of the more realistic novels we have reviewed here, more carefully thought out and thorough in its scope than a lot of "prepper-advice" style novels.  If Alex has it a little too easy money wise, and is a bit of a hot head at times, it is a nice change from the "neighbors come together in adversity" meme that you often see overplayed in collapse scenarios.  Much of the book is spent in arguments with non-prepared neighbors in their little cul de sac neighborhood.
 
In any case, in this day and age of e-book revisions, no book need ever be in its final form until the last person with the Amazon-self publishing site password dies.  The author, as is typical now, has done a considerable amount of editing to the novel.
 
Essentially it is a clean up. It is too long ago that I first read it to recall if he deleted any scenes.  None major enough that I noticed.  The year was pushed to 2013 from the original 2012, but it could just as well be "any year" in the present.
 
In my mind I had forgotten a lot of sticky details about his heavy handed employer, his neighbor interactions,  and even some of the details of the serious bad guy interactions.  It is not the guns blazing, mass combat approach of his later (and lesser) Perseid Collapse novels, which feature the same cast of characters, but it is a realistic one. I would continue to recommend it.
 
[Updated 16 Dec. 2014]
 
I came across a nice interview with the author.  He notes this in his future plans:
I plan to start a new series in 2015. The series will keep me squarely planted in the post-apocalyptic realm with a story based in southern California. I’m looking 15-20 years in the future, at a drought-ravaged southwest and Great Plains. Kind of a futuristic version of Grapes of Wrath. California will be on the verge of secession, plunged into a low-intensity political and martial conflict with the federal government. As usual, I’ll examine the impact of this world through the eyes of a family.
 
The new cover
 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Mad Max is back

Our at least the trailer for the new series is.


Alternative link if the embed is annoying.

I have been working away at some book reviews.  A number that take a little more thought and/or time than typical.  It's fun to wiggle into daylight the real life person attached to the nom de guerre, but it takes a little while.