Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Finally here

Ebola in the U.S.  Or to be more specific, in Dallas.

Government confirms first case of Ebola in US
AP through News & Observer (Raleigh, NC), 30 September 2013
After arriving in the U.S. on Sept. 20, the patient began to develop symptoms on Sept. 24 and initially sought care two days later, Frieden said. The patient was admitted to the hospital on Sept. 28, when Texas Health Presbyterian put him under strict isolation. Blood tests by Texas health officials and the CDC separately confirmed an Ebola diagnosis on Tuesday.
Frieden would not reveal the patient’s nationality or age.
Asked how many people the patient may have had close contact with in that time period, Frieden said, “I think a handful is the right characterization.”
Note per our discussions in the last post, Ebola can gestate up to 21 days, but like many diseases, the symptoms (coughing, sneezing, biting, vomiting) are how it transmits to another host.  So the long gestation period does help it to spread around, it tends to kill its host too quickly during the time period in which it is infectious.  So much so that preparation of the body for the funeral is a common method that it is transmitted.
Note though, that the fact we still knowingly allow nonessential travel (family visits) from countries suffering from a potentially pandemic event, I think indicates that we have not seriously internalized the danger present.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/09/30/4196023_officials-confirm-first-ebola.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy

Monday, September 29, 2014

70% tippping point

Since so many of the apocalyptic novels that I review are pandemic in nature.  I thought this was a very good tool for a fictional writer trying to be a little more realistic in their pandemic scenario.

The Magic Number That Could End the Ebola Epidemic
Tom Randall, Bloomburg, 26 September 2014 (hat tip: NC)
But perhaps the most important Ebola number right now is 70 percent. That’s the proportion of patients who need to be isolated -- in treatment centers or at least in their homes -- in order to put a quick end to the Ebola outbreak, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Once 70 percent of patients are effectively isolated, the outbreak decreases at a rate nearly equal to the initial rate of increase,” researchers wrote today in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. If 70 percent of the current outbreak was achieved by late December, the epidemic “would be almost ended by January 20.”

Ebola's problem is that it kills its host too quickly (6 days assumed which includes burial time), and is not an airborne transmitted disease.  The studies transmission rate is set at 30%/day for those in the same home with no isolation .  The number is 2% for hospitalized, 3% for home care with appropriate precautions.
Note that killing your host does not actually help the virus/bacteria.  That is why a lot of lethal disease mutate to tone down their deadliness over time.  The lethal bugs are out competed by the less lethal ones that allow the host to walk around spreading them longer. 
On a second note, as best I can tell,  the reason why animal vectored diseases are often so deadly is because the "bug" often doesn't need to keep the host alive for as lengthy of a period.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

No Room! No Room!

The title to this piece is a play on the title of Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room! which was the basis for the movie, favorite Charleton Heston cannibal movie, Soylent Green.

The panic over population waned somewhere in the early 1980s.  Likely a factor of (borrowed) renewed economic prosperity, and convenient projections that the worlds population would peak out somewhere around 10 billion.

Well maybe not.

World population to hit 11bn in 2100 – with 70% chance of continuous rise
Damian Carrington, The Guardian (U.K.), 18 September 2014 (hat tip: NC)
The world’s population is now odds-on to swell ever-higher for the rest of the century, posing grave challenges for food supplies, healthcare and social cohesion. A ground-breaking analysis released on Thursday shows there is a 70% chance that the number of people on the planet will rise continuously from 7bn today to 11bn in 2100.
The work overturns 20 years of consensus that global population, and the stresses it brings, will peak by 2050 at about 9bn people. “The previous projections said this problem was going to go away so it took the focus off the population issue,” said Prof Adrian Raftery, at the University of Washington, who led the international research team. “There is now a strong argument that population should return to the top of the international agenda. Population is the driver of just about everything else and rapid population growth can exacerbate all kinds of challenges.” Lack of healthcare, poverty, pollution and rising unrest and crime are all problems linked to booming populations, he said.
I should mention that No Room! No Room! is also a quote from the beginning of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Chapter 7: aka: The Mad Tea Party.
There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. `Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,' thought Alice; `only, as it's asleep, I suppose it doesn't mind.'
The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: `No room! No room!' they cried out when they saw Alice coming. `There's plenty of room!' said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.
Two days in a row mentioning Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Moral collapse down the cloud's rabbit hole

The cloud, is of course that virtual world contained in various servers that we access when we use internet based applications.  The rabbit hole?  Well go ask Alice when she's ten feet tall (or Woodstock with lyric scroll)*.
Andy Greenberg, Wired, 18 September (hat tip: NC)
In the digital drug trade as in the physical one, taking out one kingpin only makes room for another ready to satisfy the market’s endless demand. In the case of the FBI’s takedown of the Silk Road, the latest of the up-and-coming drug kingpins is far more evolved than its predecessor—and far less principled.
Since it launched early this year, the anonymous black market bazaar Evolution has grown dramatically, nearly tripling its sales listings in just the last five months. It now offers more than 15,000 mostly illegal products ranging from weapons to weed, cocaine, and heroin. That’s thousands more than the Silk Road ever hosted. And Evolution’s popularity has been driven not only by a more secure and professional operation than its competitors, but also by a more amoral approach to the cryptomarket than the strict libertarian ethos the Silk Road preached. Case in point: About 10 percent of Evolution’s products are stolen credit card numbers and credentials for hacked online accounts.

And if you go chasing rabbits, and you know your going to fall...
*Grace Slick's voice is some sort of weapon.  I recall reviews noting that she sang like an electric guitar.  I always thought it odd, that she did not have more mega-hits to her name. But if you look at her two big hits, "White Rabbit", and "Somebody to Love" they were written when she was with her band prior to Jefferson Airplane, "Great Society", and whatever musical combination created those huge songs, no longer existed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Supplying foreign fighers

So where do these foreign come from? Commander Salamander has an interesting post (hat tip: NC)discussing this point and links to an interesting chart:

On the chart, it shows the United States providing 100 foreign fighters into the mix.  He notes that that might sound like a lot, but goes onto note that if you adjusted the much smaller European numbers, to their also much smaller population, the European numbers start looking large:  Canadas's 100 becomes 183 (still a small number), But Britain's 500 becomes 2,449 in U.S. per capita terms, Belgium's 300 becomes 8,408.  Pretty much all the listed European countries have a much larger percentage of their population fighting for the Islamic revolutionaries in the Middle East.  Even Finland's "tiny" number (30) equates to 1,731 in U.S. terms.  A number that I would say is starting to approach the worrisome level.  Finland has a population of 5.439 million, this is very close to the population of Minnesota (5.420 MM).  I am sure Minnesota would not be particularly happy having 30 head chopping fanatics running around their state: Vikings excepted.

Chart found here

Monday, September 22, 2014

Public school panzer blitz!

Our whole sense of ...anything, common or otherwise, is so foggy that I am loosing my own sense of normality.  Since my book reviews have a whole little category called "realism" this of personal importance.
I have read some pretty out there apocalyptic novels, and bits and pieces of some even more extreme militia-style novels which can get really out there in their depiction of a hostile homeland government.
But I don't recall any of them ever thinking to include school authorities within the militarized forces going after people.
The Guardian (U.K.), 18 September 3014 (hat tip: NC)
School police departments across the US have taken advantage of free military surplus gear, stocking up on mine-resistant armoured vehicles, grenade launchers and scores of M16 rifles.
At least 26 school districts have participated in the Pentagon’s surplus program, which is not new but has come under scrutiny after police responded to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, with teargas, armour-clad military trucks and riot gear...
The Los Angeles unified school district, the nation’s second-largest at 710 square miles with more than 900,000 students enrolled, said it would remove three grenade launchers it had acquired because they “are not essential life-saving items within the scope, duties and mission” of the district’s police force.
But the district would keep the 60 M16s and a military vehicle known as an MRAP used in Iraq and Afghanistan that was built to withstand mine blasts.
Obviously the Los Angeles School police have managed to expand their bureaucratic reach by deploying some sort of SWAT team.  The problem is (and look at the ATF for this) once you have the bureaucracy in place, it likes to find a mission for itself to justify more expansion.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Fire Birds: A Review

Shane Gregory's Fire Birds is the third book in the zombie-apocalyptic King of Clayfield series.  We reviewed book one here, and book two here.  This is the third book, and possibly final book.  Most of the local loose threads, and more than a few new threads, get tied up in this one.  But with one group not accounted for (they could just be dead), the author has left himself open for a fourth book. Previously I had listened to the first two books in the series, with less car-time at the moment, I decided to read this one on the Kindle.

We went over the authors biography in the review of the first book, so we won't repeat that here, other than to remind folks that Clayfield is in reality the Western Kentucky town of Mayfield where the author works as a museum director.
The King of Clayfield series features mostly slow zombies, with only the fresh one being fast.  As we start this book, the collapse is almost a year old and well into summer. Our hero has been left to his own devices on a large fenced in farming property outside of towns.  The zombies are starting to rot out, and you don't see the new ones so much any more.  Missing his missing girlfriend, his loneliness seems to be wearing him down.
Well, people, living people, start to show up.  And man does life get complicated.  His lost love arrives, but having thought the hero was dead, she has a new boyfriend in tow.  It also becomes obvious that she is not so much a sweet innocent person, as one who makes a survival strategy of adopting to the cultural environment around her.  It gets very sticky, very fast.
What makes this series interesting is that the characters are entirely believable.  There are some extremely annoying people, who still make themselves useful at times.  The bad guys have fairly normal motivations, they are just rather forceful in satisfying those desires.  The baddies are also an odd mixture of annoying, revolting, inept, and deadly: sometimes all within the same person.
Both the good guys and bad guys make series mistakes.  Recovering, or taking advantage of those mistakes almost seems to be one of the lesson of the novel.  You need people to create a co community to survive within, but those same people can get you killed just as well.
So did I like it?  Yes I did.  I would certainly recommend it to the zombie-crowd, but with the zombies not being quit as important as they rot away, it starts looking like a more reality based survival novel. Easy supplies are running low, and differing strategies for survival become an issue. 
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 gave a 5 to the first one, and a 3 to the second one.  This one has a few moments of silliness, but they are much more plausible than the second novel.  The hero's combat abilities are toned down, and the combat seems to be fairly realistic.  You shoot at people, and miss.  You shoot again, and hit, but they don't die right away.  Issues of long term supplies are an issue, as well as the long term mental health issues plaguing the survivors of the collapse.  There are still zombies, so we will knock of one point and call it a 6.
Readability is easy.  The flow of this novel is better than the first two, and they were both 7s. So again we have a 7.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sunshine State: A Review

James Miller's Sunshine State is an apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic with regards to Southern Florida, novel set in the somewhat (`12 years?) future.  The collapse is brought about by a combination of resource depletion, global warming, and lots of crappy policy.

James Miller (1976-) is a native of London.  He studied English literature at Keble College, Oxford and has an MA in Anglo-American literary relations from UCL. In 2006 he completed his PhD in African-American literature and civil rights at King's College London.  Miller is known for a confused literary style of mash-up novel.  His first novel Lost Boys combined Science Fiction, Horror, and the Thriller genre with strong anti-Western overtones.

Sunshine State, is a retelling of Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.  The United States is in a state of slow collapse, ruled by a brutal Christion Fundamentalist government.  The story is of a British agent who has been sent to the United States to make contact with an agent that has appeared to have gone rogue, and is hiding out in the now abandoned "Zone" of Miami Florida.  It is told with a somewhat disjointed timeline, with the agent, Mark Burrows, having many fill-in flashbacks explaining how his personal situation came to pass.

The novel is intended to portray realistic events, but does so in a progression and style that is surrealistic.  It is hard to get too involved with the story line, because at least superficially, it mimics both Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and even more so the movie, Apocalypse Now.  But with elements of both.
This is confusing, because the theme of the novel, does not really fit well with either the movie, or this book. In the novel, the hero, starts in "civilization" travels, into the jungle, and then returns back to civilization. By the time you return back, you are aware (if you pay attention) that civilization itself is a bit of an illusion.  That the "horror" of the novel is the lack of substance to the civic-religion of the modern world, and the starkness of the abyss beyond.  The movie, along with this book, is coming from a society that is far less assured of its "civility", and acts as more of an indictment of the fallen nature of our ideals.  It is not a terror of the void, but a terror of a collapse of culture. The "horror" is what we do. Although not obvious, the two themes are almost opposites in their understanding of human society, and what they are trying to portray.

All of which would be fine if this novel stayed with consistent, versus cartoonish, reality.  You have clansmen-like government agents, running around the infidel, and a whole variety of thuggish characters in U.S. and British government employment, who just aren't the sensitive type. It veers into John le CarrĂ© territory with its indictment of  fighting evil, with your own brand of evil, with British Special Forces explosives experts taking the place of the spies.

It just doesn't work.  The original novel is a very tight 73 pages. This one clocks in at a flabby 344, with very little in the way of thematic expansion other than the author complaining about additional (presumably metaphorical to today's world) evils within his imaginary future.  It is interesting that British authors seem to think that an elected, transparently obvious, theocratic state, is a likely outcome for near the near future United States. Simon Morden in his Kingdom Come at least felt the need to go through a lengthy justification to make it plausible: nothing like that here.

So no, I didn't really like it.  But it is a shame because sprinkled throughout the novel are bits and pieces of interesting scenery and images, that if more tightly wound, would make for a more interesting affair.  The author seems to be intentionally going for a literary-through confusion effect here, which tends to negate some good individual bits of story telling.

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 author has a clue about weaponry and such.  He don't think he knows how to use them, but he seems to have done a reasonable job of the research.  I don't think you really want to use a under-barrel grenade launcher with explosive warheads in tight room to room clearing in American style construction, but I'm sure there is some flash-bang lethal military version that would get the job done.  Our hero, has the almost mystical ability to avoid notice, a good trick for a covert ops guy.  But the real failure in realism is to build a speculative future, and then not invest it with a tightness of logic to make it believable.  I can see some pretty nasty possible futures, but not for a moment does this one seem like anything other than a British-base politically correct, points-scoring exercise.  It is a 3.
Readability is low. The disjointed action makes for very little of the paging turning effect: unless your just in hurry to get done with it, and move onto something different.  The chaotic, and often unclear, cut aways to alternate story/reality threads accelerates toward the end of the book,.  Presumably intended to add a sense of confusion and unease, they simply muddle an already thin storyline.  It is an intentionally literary 2.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Neena Gathering: A Review

Valerie Nieman's Neena Gathering is a post apocalyptic novel set in a somewhat near future West Virginia after chemical/biological weapons of mass destruction have destroyed the main cities of North America in a bloody civil war between the already fractured pieces of the United States. [pause for breath] Originally published in 1988 by Pageant Books, this novel had been brought back by Permuted Press with a new cover.

New Cover

Original Cover. Note, Neena looks more like the gal in the first, but the tone of the story is closer to the second.

Valerie Nieman (alternate)(she was Valerie Nieman Colander on first printing) (1955-) Born in Jamestown, New York, she moved to West Virginia to get a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism (1978). She is an award winning poet,  and novelist.  Her other novels seem to focus on rural working folks lives and difficulties. At the time this was written, she was homesteading in West Virginia in a home she and her husband had built, and working as a reporter at a small daily paper.  She went back to school in her 40s to get a Masters of Fine Arts degree from Queens University in Charlotte, NC. She now lives in Greensboro, NC and is an associate professor teaching creative writing at North Carolina A&T University, and is the poetry editor of Prime Number Magazine.  This was her first novel, and the only apocalyptic one.

Neena, our heroine, and the main narrator of our story, is an orphaned teenager who, 8 years prior, had been sent by her mother to live with her Aunt in the Hills of West Virginia.    Where in West Virginia?  The nonexistent Middleton is noted as the nearest town.  Well the Tinker who brought her out of Maryland was leaving from Hagerstown, MD, and the Cumberland Gap (following Interstate 68) will take you to the area of Fairmont, West Virginia (present population ~18,000), which along with zip code 26554, gets referred to as the Middleton District.  Fairfax is also somewhat near Pittsburgh, PA which is referenced as being somewhat proximate.  It's not a lock, but seems reasonable to me.
Neena lives with a strict no-nonsense Aunt, who obviously cares for her, but lacks a sense of humor or play.  The Aunt is noted as being a bit of a homesteader-style survivalist, and makes her living by trading the various herbs, and plant materials that are available to those who know how to find and use them.
The story begins with the surprise arrival of the  aunts younger brother's: that is Neena's Uncle. The Uncle is very different, unlike the Aunt, who only cares about non-fiction, facts, and work, the Uncle loves poetry, classic literature, and does have a sense for enjoyment.  He also brings more mixed blessings.  While he is adds a strong back to their small household, he uses it to grow corn to be made into moonshine. The moonshine actually makes sense, because without water transport, alcohol is the easiest way to ship grain products without spoilage in this new low tech society. Thus our Whiskey Rebellion has a little more serious implications than bunch of backwoods folks arguing over moonshine.
The problem with the Uncle, and the moonshine, is that he likes to drink a little too much. In addition, he quickly becomes possessive, in a creepy sort of way, of the budding red head that is Neena.  He also has a rather violent, unforgiving nature, with a bit of a flash temper: traights not improved by alcohol.  Neena, with previously no experience open affection or enjoyment is both tempted, and nervous of his advances.
The final main character is a trader who lives a few hills over.  He is calm, capable, educated, and strong. But he was caught in one of the chemical attacks, and his outward appearance is a bit monstrous.  He is bitterly disliked by the intolerant Uncle, and the two quickly become antagonists.
The story would now be called a YA (young adult) coming of age story. I don't think 'YA' was the marketing vehicle it is today, so it is written in a more adult, literary style than most of today's fare.  The author has an obvious love for nature, and the wild abundance available to the knowledgable forager.
There are a number of sub-themes that run throughout the story, but the author doesn't tell you what they are, she simply tells her story and lets you draw your own conclusions.  There is the obvious distinction between the, possibly less effective, herbal remedies and the lost wonders of modern medicine.  But while the herbs may not be as potent, they also are not part of the chemical/biological industry that weaponized the medical process.  A medical technology, that helps to eradicate a large percentage of the North American population, is of course a mixed blessing. 
There are a lot of dangers in this world. Cholera, the red death, is back.  There are crazed (understandably) apocalyptic religious folks, and marauders.  But the author, I think, is much more realistic than the more combat orientated apocalyptic authors.  As an example, what do you do when marauders are around?  You hide near your property, leaving just enough of the little you have behind so that they will take it and go in piece.  If they get destructive, and their numbers are not too large, than you might intervene.  I think the authors work as a newspaper reporter gives are better sense of what types of craziness, and kindness, people are capable.  The character interactions, both with the major players, and minor ones, always have a certain "realness" to them.
Well did I like it?  Obviously from what I have written, I did.  It has a little bit of the eras nuclear war "death of the cities" feel to it.  The Archdruid, is always mystified about where the current scenario for everyone running out of the cities into the countryside comes from, and thinks there is no historical basis for it.  Well the basis is the World War 3 -nuclear war apocalyptic novels that started in the 1940s, and this book fits in well with that theme.  As an aside, he is correct that flights from cities in a disaster are unusual, but they did come during certain pandemics/plagues where the obvious locus of the disease was the city and its population.  Poe's Masque of the Red Death is all about such an attempt at escape.  Oddly enough though, in reading Braudel's Capitalism and Material Life 1400-1800, he notes that the Italian city states had problems during the frequent famines of the folks from the countryside piling into the cities, as only they were wealthy enough to have a large grain reserve on hand.  So while the cause of disaster doesn't fit in with the current fashionable crop of zombies, pandemics, and EMP-bursts, and as such does feel a little "off", it is none-the-less perfectly serviceable to get the job done.
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 pretty straight forward.  Other than the slightly futuristic nature of the events, the United States had already broken up into warring factions before the bombing started, it is very much concerned with life in the here and now.  As a homesteader, the author knows how much time is involved in getting things done, and the labor involved in running a small homestead.  It is a 6.
Readability is straightforward.  It has a calm and collected pacing, so while you are concerned as to what Neena will do, and how things will turn out, it isn't a page turner.  It is literary enough that some basic knowledge of a few very well known classics is slightly helpful.  But isn't critical.  As I noted there are a number of sub-themes, but the author does not beat you over the head with mysto-symbolism that is impossible to untangle. You can choose to think through the implications as you wish.  It is a literary 6.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Ecko Rising: A Review

Danie Ware's Ecko Rising is a mashup novel featuring a cyberpunk character from a dystopian sci-fi  world thrown into an apocalyptic, Dark Lord style, fantasy setting: tech versus magic. This novel is intended as the first in a series of three, with this novel stopping at a reasonable enough resting point, but not completely standalone in nature with regards to tying up loose threads in the storyline.

Danie Ware, originally from, East Grinstead in West Sussex, Great Britain (south of London on the English Channel), now lives in London with her son and two cats.  She has been a shop manager, actuarial technical clerk, document designer, ERM, kiss-a-gram girl, crew at the local theatre, a fitness instructor, and a member the Territorial Army, before becoming the publicist and event coordinator at the bookstore and specialty retailor, Forbidden Planet. one suspects it is these important retail and social-media connections which has helped push this book to the front of the marketing fore. Rarely has a first novel been so blurbed!

In an interview, she does show that she has some insight into the flavors of apocalyptia:
The apocalypse to avoid is the slow, strangling destruction of the planet, the critical overpopulation and struggle for resources, the death of our flora and fauna, and that final scrabbling bid to secure power and profit that won’t last anyway…
But look on the bright side - we do get all those pictures of abandoned theme parks.
In terms of the apocalypse I’d prefer? If I had to choose, it’d be the zombie version, Pavlov or not—because I do still have a cupboard full of old re-enactment weapons, and can just about remember which end is the pointy one. Plus: the enemies are clear and obvious and you won’t wind up in a cell for thumping one with a sword.
Or, for pure glamour points, maybe the epic meteor strike? Five minutes of frenzied Instagram goodness, and then BOOM.

She notes Michael Marshal Smith's Only Forward, as a must read, and I assume her mashup of genres was inspired by this work.

The originating world of our anti-hero Ecko, is that of a William Gibson-style techno dystopia.  The workers of the world are ground under with complacency drugs and housed in closet sized abodes, while the 1% get to play, and enjoy Machiavellian intrigues against each other.  The pawns in these intrigues are various bad actors, some of whom have a lot of technology worked into their physical features to give them something of an edge.  As one of these bad actors,  Ecko is a smart-alecky, fast, sneaky assassin, with a few tricks up his sleeves.

The first, relatively short portion of the novel, is filled with Ecko being on a stealth mission into a hostile corporate complex that turns bad.  In the explosive aftermath of failure, Ecko finds himself in a Tolkien, or maybe Fritz Leiber-like, fantasy world.

The fantasy world is played two ways in the novel (as noted in this video), one is that he is actually in a different world, and one is that he has been hooked into a machine and the powers-that-be are messing with his head.  Ecko vacillates between both possibilities, but tends to view it all as one big game: a game in which he is the anointed hero of the plot.  And as the author notes, he is about as unsuitable a hero for a fantasy plot as you are going to find.

Both worlds are fairly androgynous with males and females taking fairly balanced roles in the proceedings.  Although this isn't too stunning in the modern world of massive firepower, or a cyber-punk enhanced one,  it is a little odd in a fantasy setting where presumably muscles would normally count.  If you want everyone equal, why not just have people using poison weapons.  Would that make the fighting too unheroic?  Too unmanly?  The heroes and heroines are so over the top kick ass that it's not all that terribly realistic in any case.  Normal folks are just there as fillers in the casting.

She describes the magic as "elemental" with a passion-based delivery system.  Historically this tends to be the domain of the hedge-magic folks, because in real terms, being passionate about something is not always a terribly effective way to make a real change in the system: particularly if there is someone equally passionate in the opposite direction.  But I agree, the Dungeons and Dragons spell book approach is a bit cumbersome for an adventure setting; So passion it is.

So what you have is something of a the typical high fantasy quest, in a low fantasy setting, with a cyberpunk ninja-type who thinks he is the hero of a computer game.

Did I like it?  It was o.k. I give a qualified approval.  The combat, while fantastical, is well done. The evil villains are less stock characters than a lot of characters in supposedly realistic thriller, little less the  militia-apocalypse fare.  They are also fairly clever.  

Unfortunately, the many portions of interesting storyline and insight are mixed in with such stock fantasy and cyberpunk pabulum that you tend to get jarred out of the immediacy of the moment.  There is some odd, and to honest, often pointless shifting of viewpoints.  The novel would have been a lot more interesting with fewer points of view. Some of the folks, presumably put there for information purposes, The Bard (Roderick), The Demigod Savior (Rhan),  The Apothecary (Ress) work hard to suck the life out every scene they are in with pointless babbled ponderings.  In a world that is half played as a Matrix-style unreality, why on earth would we care about the Tolkien-like attempts at a mystic prehistory.  Particularly when much of the fare is as much low fantasy, as high.  Do we care what this gutter rat collapsed fantasy world's Gods are planning?  In net, it is somewhat interesting as a fantasy story.  If you don't like fantasy stories, I doubt this is one you will like.

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 book is not realistic.  The author is more interested in story points, then in a depiction of the reality of the world.  Even within the fantasy world, the combat, though interesting, is very hero-based.  Only heroes' or villains actions will have an impact.  The likelihood that someone mundane will do anything other than die, or act as a witness to important events, is small.  Although the magical "spells" are not as powerful as in some fantasy settings, it is still very much a fantasy book: a 1.

Readability is a little low for a book with so much action.  There is a lot of philosophizing.  Given the length of some of these ramblings, it is often hard to understand the point of some of them. The length of 524 pages knocks it down one notch from the midpoint: a 3.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A quick note

I will have a few reviews next week.  Some of them popped up briefly here as the scheduler was acting a bit odd.  In any case, some of you who use a viewer to go through the blogs you follow may see them early.

Fracking: a one night stand?

Well one night in historical terms.  Something more like three years is the actual number.
Robert S. Eshelman, Vice News, 8 Septemeber 2014 (hat tip: NC)
Working with the Post Carbon Institute, a sustainability think-tank, [Canadian geologist David] Hughes meticulously analyzed industry data from 65,000 US shale oil and natural gas wells that use the much-ballyhooed extraction method of hydraulic fracturing, colloquially known as fracking. The process involves drilling horizontally as well as vertically, and then pumping a toxic cocktail of pressurized water, sand, and chemicals deep underground in order to break apart the rock formations that hold deposits of oil and gas.
Hughes found that the production rates at these wells decline, on average, 85 percent over three years.
"Typically, in the first year there may be a 70 percent decline," Hughes told VICE News. "Second year, maybe 40 percent; third year, 30 percent. So the decline rate is a hyperbolic curve. But nonetheless, by the time you get to three years, you're talking 80 or 85 percent decline for most of these wells."
Hughes explained that more than 80 percent of the nation's shale oil comes from just two plays, the Bakken field in North Dakota and Montana and the Eagle Ford in Texas. He estimates that production in those regions will recede back to 2012 levels in 2019. Overall production across the nation's shale oil fields will peak in 2017.
In just the Bakken, Hughes calculates that 1,400 new wells are needed per year to offset current production decline, which right now is 45 percent of current production rates of about a million barrels per day, or 450,000 barrels per day each year.
"You need 1,400 $8 million wells to keep production flat, and they're drilling more than that — they're drilling 2,000 wells per year," he explained. "So production in the Bakken will continue to go up. But it's because at the moment they're continuing to drill the sweet spots."
So I think the title of the article shouldn't be that fracking will end, but "Fracking to Become More Expensive Than You Think".   And that is even more expensive than where we are at currently with the climb down from the initial Chesapeake Oil driven enthusiastic surge.
Which is pretty much what you would think would happen when your at a production plateau, a plateau that is naturally going to occur when rising costs hit a demand wall: an extended "peak" of sorts.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On Fairness

"Fairness does not always appear to be in your favor."
-hanging on the wall of the undergraduate advisor in the physics department at UCSD.

"The World isn't always fair Calvin."
"But why isn't it ever unfair in my favor?"
-Calvin and Hobbes

"it’s essential to get past the belief that history is under any obligation to hand out rewards for good behavior and punishments for the opposite, or for that matter the other way around."
-Archdruid Report

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Club of Rome data revisited

So, for those of us old enough to remember, the Limits to Growth predictions of an economic collapse driven by depletion and pollution came out in 1972.  Its predictions have been viewed as alarmist and scare mongering.
In the booming dot.com years, or before 2008, those were easier arguments to make.

Limits to Growth was right. New research shows we're nearing collapse
Grahm Tunere Kathy Alexander, The Guardian (U.K.), 1 September 2014 (hat tip: NC)
The 1972 book Limits to Growth, which predicted our civilisation would probably collapse some time this century, has been criticised as doomsday fantasy since it was published. Back in 2002, self-styled environmental expert Bjorn Lomborg consigned it to the "dustbin of history”.
It doesn’t belong there...
So were they right? We decided to check in with those scenarios after 40 years. Dr Graham Turner gathered data from the UN (its department of economic and social affairs, Unesco, the food and agriculture organisation, and the UN statistics yearbook). He also checked in with the US national oceanic and atmospheric administration, the BP statistical review, and elsewhere. That data was plotted alongside the Limits to Growth scenarios.
The results show that the world is tracking pretty closely to the Limits to Growth “business-as-usual” scenario. The data doesn’t match up with other scenarios.
So the projections for the "do nothing" scenario, is inline with the data for today's world.
So far, Limits to Growth checks out with reality. So what happens next?
According to the book, to feed the continued growth in industrial output there must be ever-increasing use of resources. But resources become more expensive to obtain as they are used up. As more and more capital goes towards resource extraction, industrial output per capita starts to fall – in the book, from about 2015.
As pollution mounts and industrial input into agriculture falls, food production per capita falls. Health and education services are cut back, and that combines to bring about a rise in the death rate from about 2020. Global population begins to fall from about 2030, by about half a billion people per decade. Living conditions fall to levels similar to the early 1900s.
The folks doing the study note that the scenario does not have to continue to line up with reality.  Major policy shifts, or war, would have a dramatic effect on outcomes.
Since I am on the pessimistic side of the resource versus population versus ever compounding economic growth, I am going to give my logic toward being pessimistic about the Club of Rome's pessimism.
One issue is that the Club of Rome heavily weighted the issue of pollution. While I think pollution is a major issue, it was also very much an issue for its times.  Unless you take a very expansive view of what is pollution (damaging invasive species for instance) it is not that clear that we are greater polluters so much as more sensitive to the pollution.  You could add global warming and rising sea levels into the equation, but again you have the problem that it is too much a "flavor of the moment" problem, and your not likely to get much serious discussion with all the hand wringing from both sides of the issue: denying the obvious versus near term extinction.
So if I am pessimistic about the specific pessimistic notes, why am I still pessimistic?  It's the whole compounding cumulative growth issue.  If your economic model requires more of everything, and ours currently does, you have to eventually run out of things. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Shale the savior

Shale the savior, until it's not.

Just an interesting blip on the radar screen.  Not a proven point, but the logic has been noted before:

Trader Who Scored $100 Million Payday Bets Shale Is Dud
Bradley Olson, Bloomberg, 3 Septemeber 2014 (hat tip: NC)
Hall is going all in on a bet that the shale-oil boom will play out far sooner than many analysts expect, resulting in a steady increase in prices to as much as $150 a barrel in five years or less.
Investing ever-larger sums of his own money, he’s buying contracts for so-called long-dated oil, to be delivered as far out as 2019, according to interviews with two dozen current and former employees and advisers who are familiar with Hall’s trading but aren’t authorized to speak on the record. To attract buyers, the sellers of these long-dated contracts -- typically shale companies that have financed the boom with mounds of debt -- need to offer them at a discount to existing prices.
Hall’s strategy -- which in a May letter he described as more akin to “loan-sharking” than market speculation -- has already shown some signs of success.
Hall's response to the neigh-sayers who think the shale boom will lower prices:
Hall’s main problem with the falling-price scenario is that it contains the seeds of its own demise. Shale drilling depends on high prices to survive. If oil falls toward $75 a barrel, much of the wave of new U.S. production would become unprofitable, prompting output to be cut, Hall wrote in April.
Scarcity would then start to drive up prices. Hall’s position is that the world may be awash in new oil but that new oil isn’t cheap to produce. The fact that the U.S. shale revolution has been able to replace most of the crude lost to strife in recent years in places such as Iraq and Libya is a fluke, in his opinion.
And while energy powers such as Russia and Saudi Arabia still have plenty of oil, they’ll have to significantly increase investments to maintain production levels. In a June letter, Hall made note of a statement from an OAO Lukoil executive, who acknowledged the “threat” that Russia’s “traditional reserves are being exhausted.”
A preliminary conclusion of sorts:
So far this year, there are signs that he may be on the right track. In North Dakota’s Bakken and Texas’ Eagle Ford formations, which have accounted for almost all of the jump in U.S. output, the combined year-over-year growth in production in July fell below 30 percent for the first time since February 2010.
Two central questions about technology and shale will likely determine the outcome for Hall: how many wells producers will be able to drill in a finite amount of land that sits atop oil-bearing layers of rock and whether the U.S. renaissance will be repeatable abroad. Hall is betting no on both counts.
It has been noted before, by myself and many others, that peak oil does not mean the world runs out of oil.  It means that it runs out of cheap oil.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Cli-Fi disaster list

Over at Resource Crises (used to be the much more interestingly named Cassandra's Legacy). They have come up with a list of ten climate related crises as appropriate to fictional settings.  They refer to this climate related disaster fiction as "Cli-Fi."

Here is the list

Cli-fi: ten assorted doomsday scenarios
1. "The great sea onrush"
3. "The great ring of ice disaster". 
4. "The Big Freeze" (or: "the Younger Dryas reloaded").
5. "Tickling the tail of the dragon" (or: "Shooting yourself with the calthrate gun").
6.  "The Great Coal Flame" (or "Saddam squared").
7. "Goldilock's disasters" or "The great climate rebound".
8. "Superstorms!"
9. "The world as a gas chamber".
10 "Venus, the ultimate disaster."

Note that I am only listing the types, the full details are at the post. Note that I do think they are missing a few of them.  Obviously they wanted to stop the list at ten.  The obvious, big one, is ozone related issues.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Knowing when to let go

So your all set up in your safe location.  Or maybe it is just your regular home.  When do you let go?

A real life example:

Flooding, Mudlsides Loom As Threats After Wildfire
Erica E. Phillips, Wall Street Journal, 2 September 2014 (from p. A2 of physical copy)
Glendora, Calif. - David Fredendall owns a single-family home here, on a quarter-mile long residential street that goes straight up into the San Gabriel Mountains, with sweeping views.
"We've been in town for about 27 year," said the 59-year old Mr. Fredendall, who lives here with his wife and son, "and we don't aspire to leave."
That is despite the real possibility that the hillside above..., which burned hot and heavy in a February fire, could become an unstable wall of mud and debris during the coming rainy season.  Their street, Rainbow Drive, was the site of a notoriously destructive mudslide in 1969, and it is at a better than 80% risk for debris flows in the event of a heavy rainstorms...
Well, I know people will pay a lot for a view, but usually they are talking about money.

This reminds me of the situation in the prepper-preachy novel, Event Horizon, that I reviewed recently.  In this case, the plot is set up to where a small grouping of four families are sitting in a house, and know that a militia is coming after them for blood-revenge.  In a novel, with all sorts of bug-out bag advise, and military hardware discussions, et cetera.  The family of course decides to stick it out!  And since it is a novel, they are able to devastate the militia with very light casualties.  In gaming terms, it's like the rolled boxcars (1 in 36 chance) for the win.
I hope the Fredenall's wind up o.k., they don't appear to need boxcars for the win, but even on much easier odds, if you roll often enough, a fail is inevitable.  Over attachment to your stuff is not a good survival strategy.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why they can't find skilled employees

It is a common theme you hear from employers; they can't find suitably skilled workers.

Of course, even in our "improving" economy, it doesn't take long to look at the classified adds within the skilled trades to see the problem.
Blame Employers, Not Workers, for Any Skills Gap, Economist Says
Josh Zembrum, Wall Street Journal, 18 August 2014 (hat tip: NC)
Much of the evidence in support of a skills gap could be explained by employers who are no longer willing to train their employees or raise salaries, and instead want to be able to hire people with exactly the right skills–and on the cheap. Mr. Cappelli points to data showing apprenticeship programs are being abandoned. The number of apprentice programs registered with the Department of Labor declined to 21,000 in 2012 from 33,000 in 2002, and the number of apprentices has plunged from 280,000 from 500,000 a decade ago. If employers really faced a damaging shortage of workers, this would be an odd time to abandon programs to train employees.
And you have the Wall Street Journal, of all folks, pointing it out.

The abandonment of the  is probably in part due to a more amorphous course-by-course approach that you see a lot these days.  But that is not a particularly good approach to use when you are trying to get folks onto a career path.

I have been looking at the more electronic-tcp/ip side of the electrical business.  The skill set seems very thin on the ground with tradesman, but you don't see anyone hiring much of anything outside of fully skilled folks, and then at wages that are way under the comparable for the rather similar IT folks.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Event Horizon: A Review

Steven Konkoly's Event Horizon is the second book in the apocalyptic series, The Perseid Collapse. Set in New England, mostly in the back woods of  Maine in this one, it details the near term consequences of a combination of "meteor" strikes and EMP-bursts.

From the blurb:
With Boston collapsing faster than Alex Fletcher predicted, his personal rescue mission deep into the heart of an increasingly unfamiliar city reaches a critical point. Pursued by a ruthless militia group, and forced to navigate a treacherous landscape, he runs a gauntlet of grim decisions and impossible odds to reach perceived safety.
Back home--in rural Maine, a series of lethal coincidences fuels a local militia leader's ghastly strategy to raise a private army, planting the Fletcher's firmly at the intersection of his power play--and the epicenter of his rage
The story is essentially that of Alex Fletcher, and his Marine friends, versus the diabolic militia folk.
The problem is that the story goes through all the tactical and operational details, characters tending to discuss details in depth that have already been related to the reader, and it really is just an excuse for improbable shoot 'em ups.   The Marines set up there machinegun firing points in Harvard so badly that one infiltrator can threaten the entire defensive perimeter.  Yet civilian, Alex Fletcher,  can climb into an armored truck (MTVR), in the parking lot, and from its roof mounted .30 cal. machine gun, sweep all the endangered points on the perimeter.  These defensive positions, don't appear to cover each other, and are all on the "forward" slope, and thus vulnerable to fire from beyond the perimeter. It's not realism, it's an excuse for overblown heroics.  On a side note, the author also seems to be unaware that, as with many large facilities-universities, Harvard has a series of steam tunnels (link), running through its campus, that have the potential to turn there hard edge position into a sieve.

The defense set up in the Fletcher's Maine rural bug-out home is typical prepper book stuff.  That a marine would actually think that it is a good idea to stay inside a stick-built building when fighting a militia of unknown size is bizarre.  The "defenses" are proofed only to carbine/pistol standards. In any case, you can put up all the sandbags you want, but if their .30 cal. machine gun has tracers, its hard to see how you are going to keep the whole thing from burning down over your heads. The affair would likely end with the militia shooting people trying to escape the conflagaration.  But as is typical, the bad guys aren't going to be that competent.  They will be sure to give the defenders plenty of easy shots.

The militia leader is so comically evil that he gets pissed off and shoots something like 10% of his available manpower.  Granted, he has recruited an evil bunch, but why would such an evil bunch cower in fear of him?  Why don't they just shoot him?  I had a hard time not picturing him as Boss Hogg in cameo.
As we alluded to above, ex-marine Fletcher had met up with the Marines in our first novel, and he becomes even more engaged with them this time around.  The novel in some ways is like a reverse of the well known militia-porn novel Patriots, in that it is the good guys are the military folks, and the bad guys are the local folks in old-style cameo.  The battle results are about as lopsided as those in Patriots, and you can pretty well guarantee that the good guys will make all their head, or through-the-corner shots, and the bad guys....  Well the bad guys will just suck: except when they are being dementedly evil, and Boss Hogg is shooting the incompetents.  For a book with preachy-prepper advise, which is in theory intended to be giving serious advise, this is a critical failing.
As I noted in the review of the first part, I cannot recommend the series.  It starts falling apart toward the end of the first novel, and it just gets progressively more ridiculous in the second.  The author may be an ex-Marine, and think it is cool to be fighting alongside his brothers in arms in an apocalyptic scenario. But for most of the reading audience, its not all that exciting.  There are some reasonable points about what modern arms and weaponry are capable of, but they are submerged under all the action-hero tropes.  So, if you like laundry lists of prep gear, and the silly types of combat that are typical of the militia style novels, you will probably be able to get through the repetitive dialog in okay shape.  I think most everyone else would be better off taking a pass.
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.
It is set in the near future.  To the extent that the author is discussing a lot of U.S. Marine military equipment, I guess you can call it realistic.  There is lip service at times to issues of supplies, but the whole novel only ends 96 hours after "the event" so it is a little too early for that to be a huge issue for even the moderately prepared.  Call it a 6.
Readability is mixed.  As noted above, it bogs down in repetitive dialog, and the author goes into overly complex details of the impromptu fortifications: to the point where a more simplified description might actually convey more information.  It isn't a page turner, even the fight scenes move a little slowly as he insists on jumping us around to all the good guys, and many of the bad guys points of view.  We will go with a 4.