EARLY RISER – A NEW NOVEL BY JASPER FFORDE – Marilyn Armstrong

Early Riser
A Novel – By Jasper Fforde



In Audible. I have it in hardcover too.
I’ve read it and listened to it.
Narrated by Thomas Hunt
Length: 15 hrs and 16 mins

Jasper Fforde has written some of the funniest books I’ve ever read. You know, the kind of book you read in bed, but you are laughing so hard it makes your partner wake up and irritably ask what the hell you are laughing at?

This book has moments of humor and once in a while, a chuckle. There’s no hilarity, however. Overall, there’s a seriousness to this story that none of his other books have had. This isn’t so much humor as it is a warning about where our climate is going and who is running our world. I don’t know which is more terrifying: the obvious sub-arctic winters in Scotland … or the death grip the mighty “pharma” company has on all humankind.

There are fighters against big pharma and the corporate grip the company holds over everyone. For reasons you will have to read the book to understand, it isn’t easy to figure out who is the good guy or who is the bad guy. There’s not “history” about how the world got to this place, but if you have been reading even the headlines, it isn’t hard to put it together.

This is science fiction, except … it’s not all that far-fetched. Sometimes, I found myself not merely listening to the story but worrying if this is just a story or this is the real future history of my Earth — unless we DO something about it. Like … NOW.

Of course, it’s beautifully written because everything Jasper Fforde has written is wonderful, though I still am in love with Thursday Next.

I do recommend this book very highly, but I have to warn you — it isn’t like his other books. It isn’t hilarious and sometimes, it’s pretty serious. But he’s telling us a story that I think we need to think about … while being well-entertained. Just so you know, this does take place in the future, so it actually is science fiction. Not your usual sci-fi, however.

Is this science fiction or is it our science future? I think you will have to decide for yourself.


I have mixed emotions about the narrator. He was good … but I think I’d have preferred a deeper voice? Or maybe I’m just being overly picky.

WHEN THE END COMES, WE’RE READY – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Construct

This is a rerun, but I laugh every time I run it. This is THE construction we need to survive the end of the world — which I think is about to pop up any day now. This piece of real estate could solve all our problems. No zombies gonna make it into this “residence.”

WELCOME TO THE LAST SAFE PLACE ON EARTH!


The above-ground home is 2,000 square feet. But if you use the keypad entry to the basement, you’ll find 2,300 more square feet that were a former launch control center. It has been converted — with dining and entertainment space and two bedroom suites — complete with marble bathrooms. It has 10-foot tall ceilings, simulated daylight — and what we all need in our post-apocalyptic home — an open floor plan.

Another view of the house.
Aerial shot of the property.
Views from the property.
Your own personal runway.
Great media room!

Basement entrance. Good solid construction.
Inside the basement house. it’s a whole new world!
Comfy bathroom.
Stairway to the silo.
Tunnel to the silo. This could use a little work. Maybe some paneling?

Inside the missile silo is a 9-story structure, currently empty. Consider it would be perfect for underground condos. Bring your friends on board and recycle that air!

It used to be selling for a mere $1.7 million. If it hasn’t sold by now, maybe we could make a deal?

A TALE OF TWO TREKS: TO BRAVELY GO – BY TOM CURLEY


“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”


Well, that’s not really true. More like: “It was the best of times. It was not so bad, at times.”

Also, I hear they are bringing back Patrick Stewart — at 78 — to reprise Jean-Luc Picard. I have no idea how the show will go, but you have to hand it to Stewart! At 78, a weekly show? So there will be yet one more Star Trek. Not sure when they are planning to start this one, but that’s the word.

Talk about a concept that has survived through many long years!

Does this mean I’m finally going to have to pay CBS because they put all their good shows on the “pay to view” network?

Once more, we are bravely going where no Star Trek series has gone before. This is not our universe, of course.  Real life would be more like “It was the worst of times. It was the ‘what the fuck is going on? This can’t possibly be real! Would somebody please wake me up’?” … of times.

This is the current run of the Star Trek universe.

Our world has been without a Star Trek series for a few years. I think we are always supposed to have at least one original on the air. I’m pretty sure it’s a law, but, for some reason, we have been forced into reruns. But times, they are a’changin’ …

Now, we have two and both are bravely going wherever they are sent.


STAR TREK DISCOVERY: CBS All Access, Streaming


Star Trek Discovery takes place 10 years before Kirk, Spock and the gang started their five-year mission to boldly go wherever the hell they were told to boldly go.

In this variation, the main character is not the captain, but the first officer. She’s a human raised on Vulcan by Spock’s parents. Its main storyline is about the First Federation vs. Klingon war. It was shot using a huge budget. The actors are all pretty good. The show is … okay.  I mean, it’s not bad. It’s good-ish.

But it has a few problems.

First, the Klingons only sort of look like Klingons. As a start, they are bald.

Klingons are usually pretty hairy.

They’re also incredibly racist. They believe in racial purity. Everyone else in the universe is inferior. And they are all victims of every other species in the galaxy.

You know, like Trump supporters. 

ALL the Klingon’s dialog is in Klingon. Actual Klingon. With subtitles in English!

Really?

Now, I’m as big a Star Trek nerd as anybody out there. I know there are Klingon camps you can go to learn the Klingon language. The bible has been translated into Klingon. People have Klingon weddings.

Yeah. That’s real.

But even for me, this is one nerd-step over the line.

Second, the ship has developed some kind of biologic warp drive that takes you instantly anywhere. Basically, it’s folding space. But what happened to it later?

In all the other Star Trek shows? Where did it go?

Voyager sure as hell could have used something like that. They were stuck in the other half of the galaxy for seven years — not including syndication.

Maybe someone will explain it in later episodes. Also, the ship can do weird things. Like the outer ring of the ship can spin around for no discernible reason.

The captain is sensitive to light, so instead of red alerts, they have black alerts!

Black Alerts?

WTF? The show’s creators say “they are taking liberties with the show.”

Liberties? Did any of them actually watch the other shows? The final, really big problem is that it only airs online through CBS All Access. You have pay for it. Like Netflix or Hulu.

The show is very dark, but still … it’s okay. Maybe the problem is that none of, or at least, very few of the people involved in all the other Star Trek series are working on the show.

That’s because they are working the other show.


THE ORVILLE – FOX Network


The Orville takes place in a very Star “Trek-ish” universe. It’s not exactly Star Trek, but really, it is.

Seth McFarland is Captain of the Planetary Union science ship, The Orville. He wasn’t the first choice for command, but the Planetary Union has over 3000 ships to man, so he got the job anyway. The show is funny. Very funny.

It’s also serious. Actually, it’s brilliant. Oh, and the Captain’s first officer is his ex-wife. Only a little minor stress there. 

The helm officer’s main concern is whether or not he can drink soda when he’s on duty.

Here’s a line of dialogue from one of the shows. They find a giant ship where the people on board don’t know they are on a giant ship. When they try to contact one of them, he shoots at them and they shoot him.

Well, they actually just stun him. They then run into his son.

CAPTAIN: We mean you no harm.

DOCTOR: Well, you did just shoot his Dad.

CAPTAIN: Other than shooting your Dad, we mean you no harm.

The plots are really, really good. Great science fiction. They do what the original Star Trek did. Take current events and put a spin on them. In this case usually a funny spin. This is the Star Trek that needed to be made. The one about the ship with a crew of screw-ups, who smoke pot, drink a lot, love to gossip, and yet, always get the job done.

I like this show so much I usually watch each episode twice. I never do that. Maybe because it reminds me of a series I did years ago (that Marilyn created) called Sterling Bronson, Space Engineer! 

Why that name?

Mostly because we knew if we called it any variation of Star Trek, we’d get sued. And it was an inside joke.

So, if you’re a tried and true Trekkie …

Excuse me, Trekker. Trekkers hate being called Trekkies. NOTE: You know how you can tell if someone is a Trekkie? They insist on being called Trekkers. But I digress.

If you’re a serious fan check out Discovery, but if you really want to see a great Star Trek series, it’s “The Orville.”

Boldly going wherever they’re told to boldly go!

BACK TO THE DRESDEN WORLD: READING THE SERIES AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

I really missed Jim Butcher and Harry Dresden. I missed Harry, the only wizard listed in Chicago’s telephone book. I miss his huge furry dog Mouse. And his gigantic cat. I  miss his magical Chicago and the strange island in the middle of Lake Michigan.

The only new writing he has put out in recent years is a collection of short stories, which I bought and read. And then, I began the entire series from the beginning, books one through 15 because I live in hope that someday, he will decide to write one last book about Harry Dresden. Just one more.

Including spineI am a Harry Dresden and Jim Butcher fan, so there’s no way for me to discuss any of these books with even a semblance of neutrality. If you also love the series, the enchanted world of Harry Dresden and Jim Butcher … I’m with you.

In the next to last Dresden book, “Ghost Story,” Harry was neither entirely alive nor quite dead. It was a difficult excursion for Harry’s fans. I liked it well enough, though it was different from any previous Harry Dresden adventure. I was sure it was an important bridge to the next phase of Harry’s world and I was right.

“Cold Days” is more satisfying. Although Harry gets pulverized (as usual), I’m consoled knowing Harry will survive what would kill an ordinary mortal. He has, after all, already survived death. Earlier books ended with more resolution than the last few. Now, each book is an episode in a continuing storyline. “Cold Days” brings Harry back — alive, this time. He is different. Changed, less careless of life having lost it … but as Winter Knight, he is powerful in new ways. This is just as well because his foes are stronger than ever and they aren’t going away.

Jim Butcher is brilliant.

He extracts Harry from impossible predicaments in which he faces horrendous odds, then adroitly uses these apparently hopeless situations to move the story in a new direction that will become the next book. Nothing is superfluous. It’s all part of a giant jigsaw puzzle, a piece of the full picture to be revealed in a subsequent installment.

I love the Dresden universe. My world has more than enough evil to keep an army of wizards busy, but the evil on this plane is likely to consist of grey bureaucrats, smarmy politicians. Fighting them is like trying to punch a hole in jello. You can’t beat them; they have no substance. Harry fights evil for me. He takes his lumps and then some, but he’s out there fighting for justice, even when it seems he’s taken a wrong turn. Despite appearances, Harry is never bad, though he is stubborn, too wedded to his own opinions. He has always been a poor listener and this failure has cost him dearly.

He listens better these days.

Harry is changing and growing. He’s painfully (in the most literal sense) aware of his mortality and fragility. He knows he’s made terrible mistakes he can never set right. He’s not cocksure anymore. He has become more of a planner. He is less inclined to charge headlong into danger unless it is the only course. Mindless violence is no longer his default setting. All to the good.

I’m sensing a climactic conclusion to the series coming. I wish the series would go on forever, but Jim Butcher has said it will be 20 books and a trilogy. I’m not sure if the trilogy is part of the 20 books or in addition to it. I keep meaning to ask. Maybe I’ll just wait and see.

Harry Dresden

I hope — by now — the next installment of the Dresden Files is nearing publication. I’ll be waiting and ready to read when it comes around! Meanwhile, if you haven’t gotten to this one, don’t miss it. It’s rich, complex and I promise it will grab you and take you for a ride you won’t forget.

I’m now finishing the last full book – Skin Game. I think there needs to be at least one more. Please Jim, one more. Just one. After that, I’ll stop begging.

He has his own website where you can find all his books. It’s called Jim Butcher. All his books are available at Amazon and everywhere they sell books, including Audiobooks.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN: AN INTERVIEW WITH DEATH – Marilyn Armstrong

My fame as An Important Blogger has spread beyond the realm of the living into the nether regions as I went searching for a character to interview. Death popped right up and volunteered. I wasn’t sure he was entirely fictional but eventually decided most people don’t believe he’s real, so he qualifies.

He has been hanging around here far too much lately.

When you meet Death, your first impression is of a quiet, retiring fellow. The kind of guy you’d never even notice. He walks silently, accompanied only by a faint rustling, like fabric gently ruffled by a breeze. You notice his nearness when folks disappear permanently. Like in a bad science fiction movie, characters keep vanishing without a trace.

I suppose it goes with the territory, but I have a few questions for the old buzzard.  Speaking of old,  Death does not look old. His face is unlined. He could be forty. Or two hundred and forty. His voice seemed a murmur, yet I had no trouble hearing every word he spoke. I didn’t know a stage whisper could be so loud.

Let the interview commence!


ME: I know you get everyone, eventually. It seems you’ve been taking away my crowd. Is this a Karmic thing? Have we been particularly wicked?

DEATH: Not really. You’re a hard-living crowd, but not bad in the sense of righteous or not righteous. Everyone gets a limited amount of hard living. A lot of your kinsmen used up their portion early.

ME: So partying causes an early demise?

DEATH: Not partying. Living hard. That includes working hard, worrying, not resting properly. Wears out your spirit, not just your bones. Of course, there is also a DNA component. Some of you are heartier than others. You have bodies — and souls — that can take more abuse. And the opposite. Some people aren’t resilient.

ME: Abuse? What do you mean by “abuse?”

DEATH: Drugs, booze. Insufficient sleep. Stress. Danger. Never taking the time to step back and understand what’s happened to you. It’s all part of the equation.

ME: I don’t suppose you’d let me in on the equation? Like how you calculate life and death?

DEATH: {Looks amused}

ME: Moving right along, is there anything we can do to score a few extra points with you? On the plus side, I mean.

DEATH: I’m tough but fair. Like a good coach.

ME: I never played on a team.

DEATH: Let us not bandy words. You get my drift. They use that line on every cop show on television. I know you watch TV. I’ve come round and sat with you on many an evening.

ME: {I shiver} Maybe too much television.

DEATH: Television is good stuff. Extends your life. I’m such a fan! {Death chuckles and sends a chill down my spine} Unless I’m under special orders, I never take anyone who’s watching a good show or a playoff game. Have I mentioned how much I loved Law & Order? That was a great show. I was upset when it ended. I related to it.

ME: How’s that?

DEATH: Catching bad guys, making judgments. Deciding whether to lock them up forever or hand them to me. Well, I can tell you, we don’t “do” locking up where I come from. I always take’em out of the game.

ME: So there’s no Hell?

DEATH: Did I say that?

ME: Never mind. Why so many good people? Young people? Even little children and babies?

DEATH: I have a degree of discretion, but if the Boss says “that one,” there’s no further discussion. He’s got his agenda. I follow orders. Age, sex, ethnicity, color. Sexual orientation. Don’t care, don’t discriminate. To me — us — you’re all customers.

{This made me uncomfortable. I shifted in my seat. Death noticed, of course. I could see the twinkle in his pale eyes. He was enjoying my discomfort.}

DEATH: We met before. Yes, I remember. You were young the first time. A teenager. But I was told you could choose to stay or go. You stayed. Not many people get to choose. Before you ask, I have no idea why. Just following orders. Then … what, ten, twelve years ago? You were in my court, but someone in the boss’s office told me to push you back to the other side. How did that work out for you?

ME: Obviously it worked. I’m here.

DEATH: I congratulate you. You are one of the few I’ve brushed against twice who’s still on this side.

Death cust serv

At that point, I realized I needed to end the interview. Beads of sweat were breaking out along the back of my neck. I didn’t like the way my interviewee was looking at me. I felt like a bag of potatoes in a supermarket.

ME: Time to wrap this up.

DEATH: {Grinning} You think, probie?

ME: I just wanted to ask you a couple of quick questions about some of your movie roles.

DEATH: “The Seventh Seal (1957)” — Ingmar Bergman’s black & white classic — is by far my favorite. I think I should have gotten a nomination at least. After that — John Huston’s 1969 “A Walk with Love and Death” was pretty good.

ME: Do you have favorite periods in history?

DEATH: You can’t beat the 14th century. I was the King of all I surveyed! I ruled. All good things come to an end, I suppose. Not to worry. My time will come again. From the way you humans are messing around with the Earth, not to mention breeding lethal viruses in labs? I’d say it’ll be my time again soon. That whole fracking thing. Wow, what could go wrong with that, eh?

I also want to mention war. I love war. That humans make war is how I know you love me. Sending off your best and brightest to die in the mud — stabbed, shot, mutilated, mowed down. Blown up. Shattered. It’s a love poem to me.

ME: Well, that’s about all the time we have for today. Let’s get together again real soon.

DEATH: {Evil smile} I think the next time we meet will be the last time.

And he gathered up his black robes and slid from the room, dark as a shadow, soundlessly.

{Fade to black}

THE END AND THE BEGINNING – Marilyn Armstrong

According to Google, both the 70th and hundredth anniversaries are honored with platinum gifts.  Since Earth Abides is just a year short of its 70th anniversary, George R. Stewart’s epic work is approaching platinum. One year to go.

In the meantime, I finally got Garry to listen to it with me. It’s funny how many times I’ve read it and listened to it. This is the first time I spent the whole second half of the book crying. Probably because this is a book about the rebirth of the world after a plague wipes out most of humanity.

Maybe it’s all the stress about the near demise of our current world, but somewhere around the middle, I started crying and couldn’t quite stop. I think Garry was crying too.

Ish's Hammer(1)

The novel was published on October 7, 1949.  It immediately caught the attention of reviewers for its well-written, epic tale of humans living in a world they no longer dominate.

One later reviewer went so far as to call it “… a second work of Genesis.”  With its title from Ecclesiastes and the old testament rhythm of its language, it is biblical in its feeling. But not dull.

Stewart later insisted he didn’t intend it to be a religious work.  But even he admitted that there was “a certain quality there.”  The language was one thing.  Stewart taught himself Hebrew before he wrote the book.  He wanted to translate portions of the Bible into more modern English.  He was surely influenced by the style of ancient Hebrew.

The book has had an enormous influence on Science Fiction as an art form. To call this “the original post-apocalyptic story,” Stephen King based The Stand on Earth Abides, Grammy-nominated composer Philip Aaberg wrote “Earth Abides,”  Jimi Hendrix was inspired to write “Third Rock From the Sun” from the novel (his favorite book). Other authors and scientists honor Stewart’s works.  It is published in either 20 or 27 languages, depending on who you ask.

There is some talk about producing a film version of the novel, but it’s a book made up almost entirely of talk and thought.  To make it work on TV or in a film, they’d have to add “action.” It would be something, but not this book.

 

ligda

Earth Abides is a “foundation book.” It is frequently cited as “the original disaster” story. But isn’t a disaster story or post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s the end and the beginning.

Earth Abides was the first recipient of the medal for Fantasy Novel.


You might think the technology in the story is going to be old and silly. Except, everything fails immediately when the electricity stops. It doesn’t matter what you had. If you don’t have electricity, you have nothing. 

The plague is the starting point. The important part is how humankind copes with the tragedy as scattered remnants of people slowly find one another, form groups and rebuild. The earth itself revives and finds balance.

The book was re-released as a 60th-anniversary edition in 2009, including the audio version with an introduction by Connie Willis. It’s now 2018 (going on 2019) — making it just a year short of 70 years. The book is not merely relevant. By my standards, it’s optimistic.

It’s available for Kindle, Audible download, audiobook, hardcover, and paperback. There was a time when it was hard to find, but it seems to have found its way back into bookstores and libraries.  I’m glad. It remains among my top five all-time favorite books. If you haven’t read it, there’s no time like the present.

Now that Garry has read it, he won’t forget it. It’s not a book you forget.


A final note: Despite the fact that both “Storm” and “Fire” have been out of print for years, both books are available as Audiobooks. I had an extra credit and finally decided on “Fire” only because it was based on a real fire, one of the first that blazed through California. “Storm” is a combination of fiction and science — something that could happen and given the way the weather is these days, probably will. But just so you audio listeners know, George R. Stewart’s “Fire” and “Storm” are both ready for listening. 

HISTORY VERSUS TRUTH – Marilyn Armstrong

How’s your credibility doing these days? 


We watched “Serenity.” Again.

It’s a consolation prize, a followup movie to the all-too-brief television series “Firefly.” We loved it. It went a small distance to answer the questions left in the wake of the premature ending of what should have been the best ever science fiction television show.

serenity_movie_poster

Nathan Fillion was a fine, dashing, surprisingly believable hero. He was just un-heroic enough to be witty and upbeat, but brave enough to save the universe.

Despite spaceships and a futuristic planetary setting for the movie, it’s a western. It’s “Tombstone” and “The Magnificent Seven.” A dollop of “Ride the High Country.” It is every thriller, western, and space opera you’ve seen. “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and “Forbidden Planet,” too.

serenity_8

It’s based on “Firefly”, currently available on Netflix and Amazon Prime — so if you haven’t seen it and you like science fiction and/or westerns and/or thrillers, you can’t help but love this.

Heroes curse in Chinese. Some have super powers or maybe they aren’t superpowers, but they sure do seem pretty super to me. Beautiful women, handsome men. Terrific pseudo-science that you are pretty sure you almost understand because it uses familiar gobbledygook language.

Serenity movie cast

No warp drive. I suppose that means that going from galaxy to galaxy on a whim isn’t going to happen. No one exactly says where the story takes place. It’s a “terraformed” planetary configuration that you would call a solar system, except that technically, there’s only one solar system because there’s only one “Sol.”

And then The Hero, Mal Reynolds, Captain of Serenity, said it. He’s the kind of guy you probably don’t want mad at you, so when he came out with a line this terrific, I wrote it down on the back of an envelope before I forgot it. I knew I would write about it.


“Half of writing history is hiding the truth.” Spoken by Malcolm Reynolds, Captain of the “Serenity.”

I read a lot of fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, steampunk and weird mysteries involving some kind of magical or futuristic technology. But I also read a lot of history, recently a lot of history that essentially debunks all the history I read in the past and makes me completely rethink everything I thought I knew. Tony Judt’s “Postwar” was one such book, but there have been a bunch of others. Some of them I’ve reviewed or otherwise written about. Others, I will talk about eventually.

serenity movies firefly science fiction 1024x768 Fillion

When Mal Reynolds talks about “hiding half the truth,” it sums up history as most of us know it. We learn the “mythology” of history. It can also be a complete lie. There’s half the truth — and then, there’s a complete absence of any truth.

We are told what is true and for most people, it is easier to accept what we are told as “The Truth” rather than make an effort to find out what really happened.

History (mostly) is the stuff the winners say is true.  Author Dan Brown said:


“History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books-books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon?”


Sometimes, what you hear as “history” is a truth which never happened, but which losers need. It soothes guilty consciousness and makes it possible for them to “move on” and thus pretend the past never happened.

Every nation has a dark past. No nation is guiltless. In no country have the victors treated their victims with kindness and charity. There has been slaughtering throughout the world. Whether your particular people got slaughtered or not is pure luck of the draw.

It’s always an interesting philosophical question: Who draws the straws? Why us? Why them? It’s one of those “ultimate” questions and there is no answer.

History isn’t credible as taught. The history we hear in school has nothing to do with telling later generations what really happened. It ought to be but actually, it’s about getting everyone to believe a story that supports the current power structure.

Debunking those stories comes later when a changed power structure requires a different story.

Nathan Fillion Hero

Take your history with many grains of salt. Not because I said so, but because Mal Reynolds said so.

He saved the universe, so he ought to know.