IS CORONAVIRUS THE EARTH ABIDES PLAGUE? from the “Earth Abides” Project

In his amazing predictive authoring, Stewart revived the earth by a plague. Is it here?

The book is available in paperback from Amazon and as an audiobook. I have both versions. I’ve read it (repeatedly) and listened to it (at least another three times, once with Garry, who loved it). I’ve always been surprised it never became a movie, but I can see where it would present some serious cinematic challenges.

Still, it might make an incredible Ken Burns series. If you haven’t read it yet, this is definitely the time to read it. It is NOT depressing because everything works out as it should, though I suppose it helps to be a bit existential about the world, life, and humanity.


IS CORONAVIRUS THE EARTH ABIDES PLAGUE?

Posted on February 11, 2020
George R. Stewart was quite a prophet.

George R. Stewart was quite a prophet.

In his first great work, Ordeal By Hunger, he told the story from an ecological (or Ranger’s) point of view. But he began with the Astronaut’s point of view from Low Earth Orbit. Not bad for a book published in 1936. (It’s still the best book about the Donner Party).

As he prepared for the publication of his ecological novel Fire he sent a letter to a Book-of-the-Month club publicist that prophetically explained:

“I consider the main theme … to be the problem of the relationship of man to his environment. I really think of myself, in most of my books, as what might be called an ecologist. ” (From a letter in the Bancroft Library’s George Rippey Stewart Papers. Published here by permission of the Stewart family.)

In the Third Book of The Years of the City, Stewart pretty well predicted how societies fade away, in a novel that has disturbing parallels for today.

And in his classic work, Earth Abides, he predicted the end of the Anthropocene – the human era – through a disease that spreads rapidly throughout society, decimating most of the human race.

His interest in the idea came from his own experience. After graduation from Princeton University in the Class of 1917 (one of his classmates was F. Scott Fitzgerald), Stewart, like many of his classmates wrapped in patriotic passion by the US’s entry into WW I, enlisted. Like other army soldiers – young healthy men expected to be the most resistant to disease – he contracted the Spanish Flu. It nearly killed him, and it would interfere with his health for decades – eventually leading him to have one lung removed.

The flu infected ONE-THIRD of the human population of the Earth. It may have killed as many as 50,000,000 people. And, like other recent epidemics, it became deadly when some component of a virus jumped from animal populations into a strain of human flu. This is exactly what caused the launch of coronavirus – almost certainly from a live animal market in China. Read about the 1918 epidemic. It killed perhaps 50,000,000.

(An excellent article about the Spanish Flu epidemic, In Flew Enza, focuses on the effects at UC Berkeley — discussing Stewart’s experience, and Earth Abides.)

So far COVID has killed about 6000 and has a 95% cure rate. This is not meant to discourage prudence but to point out that we are far from the 1918 pandemic.

Be prudent. Don’t panic.

If this already frightening disease, coronavirus, should mutate, Stewart’s prophesy could well become (at least partially) true. There are still isolated human populations – as many as 100 tribes, the Sentinelese being the best known – which might avoid the disaster.

Will this be the Earth Abides virus? Hopefully not. At least Stewart helped prepare us with his novel. The book is so widely-read and in so many languages that certainly many of those who are in the leading roles to battle this epidemic have likely read it, and have thus been thinking for decades about what to do if and when such an epidemic should happen. It has in fact been impressive to see how quickly they have begun to respond to it. So we shall wish them well and hope for the best.

In the meantime, you may want to re-read Earth Abide.

POSTSCRIPT, on the first day of spring 2020:

There is major economic and social disruption today – the economic weakening of society, and the isolation of neighbors from each other when cooperation and high social capital are needed but prevented by locking down a town. A city with which I am familiar (as was George R. Stewart) has one case. They have demanded the closure of all businesses except food and drug stores and the hospital. Businesses can’t pay rent or employees; employees can’t pay rent or buy food. For ONE case in a city of more than 50,000.

And there are proposals to close the national parks – the best places for people to get the medical benefits of fresh air and exercise with the best of social distancing.

This would be a good time to consider Rudyard Kipling’s poem IF – especially the first few lines:


If

by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, …


Let’s also follow the example of the locked-down Italians: Sing songs of hope.

Be prudent, keep your head, keep the faith. And sing from your balcony.

TIMING, TIME TRAVEL, AND THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT – ELLIN CURLEY

I am fascinated with the concepts of time travel, parallel universes and the Butterfly Effect. Fortunately for me, there are several TV shows today that deal with these things. One is Timeless and another is The Flash. The Flash is a Marvel comic based series in which the hero can run so fast that he can bend time. He can move both forward and backwards in time. Timeless follows a government team of time travelers who have to keep going back in time to prevent the ‘bad guy’ from messing with major past events and drastically changing the timeline.

In both of these shows, each trip back in time results in an altered present. In each, a seemingly random individual who is important to one of the main characters, is either dead in the present or was never born and no longer exists in the present timeline.

This brings up the Butterfly Effect, a theory popular with time travel enthusiasts. The theory, mostly used in science, states that a small change can result in a large, unrelated change down the road. In everyday life, this means that unimportant decisions, like whether to go out to dinner or eat in, can lead to very different ‘storylines’ in your life.

There is both a movie and a play that depicts the parallel universes created by a minor life decision. The movie is “Sliding Doors” from 1998 and stars Gwyneth Paltrow.

It tracks the different careers and love lives that the heroine would have if she a) catches a particular subway train or b) misses the train. For example, if she catches the train, she also gets home in time to catch her boyfriend in bed with another woman. If she misses the train, she also misses this tryst. Her life takes very different paths depending on that fluke of timing.

butterfly-effect-cartoon

The play was a musical called “If/Then,” starring Idina Menzel. The show follows the heroine’s parallel lives if she either chooses to go to lunch with friend ‘A’ or if she chooses to go to a play with friend ‘B’ instead.

Interestingly, in both the movie and the play, the heroine ends up with the same ‘love of her life,’ just at different times in her life. Her career paths diverge but I think most people like to believe that some people are ‘destined’ to be together.

The Jewish concept of ‘Beshert’ says that every soul is a half soul and that there is another person in the world who is their perfect ‘other half’. So in time travel shows, many aspects of life are allowed to be affected by chance. But we don’t seem to want to accept that chance can also change the big things in life, like true love.

TimeTravelSome time travel writers have a different theory. They talk about the fact that the past ‘resists’ change. Rather than believing in the Butterfly Effect as it relates to time travel, many believe that at least the major events in history are more predestined and less susceptible to change.

It might seem easy to keep a major past event from happening, especially if small changes in the timeline can eventually result in big ones. But time travel writers feel events, like WWI, the assassination of JFK, or the sinking of the Titanic, will always find a way to happen, no matter how hard you try to prevent it.

You might want to read Stephen King’s brilliant book “11/22/63” about attempting to go back in time to prevent the JFK assassination. It was also made into a mini series, but the book is much better.

I guess it is easier to accept the idea that relatively small things, like the details of an individual’s life, are changeable and not ‘meant to be.’ Maybe this is because on a small-scale, cause and effect is more linear and knowable. On the other hand, historians are still arguing about the multiple and interrelated causes of the Civil War.

delorean time machineMy grandfather was hit by a truck and killed when he stepped off a curb too soon at the age of 88. I used to obsess about what led him to that exact spot at that exact time. I used to imagine the tiny things he could have done differently that would have gotten him to that spot even a second earlier or later.

For about a year after that, I would imagine each time I reached a curb, that it could be my last moment on earth — if the stars were so aligned. Maybe this is the root of my love for some of these theories.

TOO MANY BOOKS TO READ BEFORE I SLEEP – Marilyn Armstrong

Half a dozen times during the past few months, I’ve seen the sunrise and heard the birds wake and sing the morning in.

Another Kindle and the Anker blue-tooth speaker.

I have sometimes gotten up very early to see the sunrise and take pictures. It is the thing I do that is most “me.” I am awake into the early hours because I am in the grip of a good book and can’t put it down.

I’m addicted to books.

Although I go through phases where I read a lot of one genre, I move through many genres over the course of time. I have spent years reading history, indulging my enthusiasm for the middle ages and especially that weirdest of times,  the 14th century. Perhaps I am specifically fascinated by this period because it was a fulcrum of civilization, the emergence of central governments, a free peasantry and what ultimately became the middle class.

There was the Black Death, the schism when two Popes reigned, one in Avignon, the other in Rome: a calamity for the Catholic world. There was an endless war. Brigands roaming throughout the European countryside, burning, raping, despoiling.  Destroying what sad remnants of communities had survived the other catastrophes of those years.

Inflation rendered money worthless. Many regions were entirely depopulated leaving no one to tend fields and grow crops. Famine followed.

I thought the 20th century, with all its horrors, could never top the 14th, but I was wrong. Because the 14th-century didn’t destroy the planet. It merely thinned out humanity. Which might not, on second thought, have been such a bad idea.

In this era, we are busy destroying the actual planet on which we live and which we need to survive as a species. If you’ve been reading too much science fiction, this is a good time to remember that this sphere is the only one we’ve got. We have nascent technology that might eventually take us into the universe where new planets might be waiting, but we aren’t there yet nor will we get there before the bad air and fire destroys everything we care about.

Meanwhile, to keep my sanity, I read thrillers, mysteries, police procedurals, and courtroom dramas. I read about lawyers, district attorneys, victims, criminals, and prisons. Then, when I need to escape even further, I turn to science fiction and fantasy. I immerse myself in other worlds, different realities, and the pursuit of magic.

I am, for the moment, caught between favorite authors. All of my favorite writers are in the writing process, creating their next books, though some are finished and publication dates are set in the near or not too far future.

I thought I’d make a shortlist for you of some of my favorite authors and a few of my favorite books. I encourage you to make suggestions for books I might like. I’m always looking for new authors and genres.

Barbara Tuchman is my favorite writer of history, but Doris Kearns Goodwin is close behind. Favorite history books include A Distant Mirror, The Guns of Augustand Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. Team of Rivals which became Spielberg’s movie, “Lincoln,” or her equally brilliant work on Franklin Delano Roosevelt No Ordinary Time are masterpieces.

Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraha...

The entire Hollows series by Kim Harrison for the finest of the urban fantasy genre. She has a new one coming out this summer. I can hardly wait!

Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series, the Chicago gumshoe who can throw a mean spell, but carries a loaded gun, just in case. He has finally written the final book in the series called Peace Talks.

I hope it isn’t really the final book because I have rarely loved a series as much as I’ve loved Harry Dresden. It’s set to come out in July.

I have been waiting for this book for almost eight years. It is already considered a best-seller even though it hasn’t been published yet. I guess I’m not the only one who has been waiting.

Connie Willis‘ time travel books including The Doomsday Book, Blackout, All Clear, and To Say Nothing of the Dog (the only humorous one in this bunch, but they are all wonderful!) are among the best books of this genre ever written. She has also written some of the most hilarious science fiction stories, especially All Seated on the Ground, and Bellwether, and many more novels and novellas.

Unlike most readers, I read her more serious ambitious books first and was surprised to discover she was best known for her lighter, humorous fiction. Both are wonderful and you can’t go wrong with any of them. I should mention that some of her older books are only available on Kindle and/or audio.

And, speaking of time travel, Stephen King‘s 11-22-63 is exceptional. It’s not a new book, but it is beautifully well-written. Not a horror story, but true time-travel science fiction. The prose is sometimes so beautiful it brings tears to your eyes.

Recently, I discovered Carol Berg. I completed the final of her various series last night … and am now holding my breath in anticipation of her next book. If you want to start with one of her books that aren’t part of a longer series, try Song of the Beast, especially if you like dragons!

I love almost everything written by James Lee Burke and he has written many books, all fiction. If Faulkner had written detective stories, he’d be James Lee Burke. His Dave Robicheaux series is a long-running favorite, but his other books are great too.

The writing of Anne Golon is an amazing series of historical novels about a fictional woman named Angelique. They take place during the time of Louis XIV. This series is has been one of the most significant influences on my life, not only literary but personally.  Angelique lived the life she chose and never accepted defeat. She gave me an interest in history that I carry with me to this day. She never gave up, she never backed down, no matter how bad things became, she always found a way forward.

The English-language versions of the books are many years out of print, but until her death a couple of years ago, she was still writing. Unfortunately, her recent ones are available only in French (maybe German too, but I’m not sure). I have managed to find many good copies of her books second-hand. I wish I could get her newer books in a language I can read. There was a time when I actually could read French, but that was long ago and far away.

I would be remiss in not mentioning Laurie King whose modern version of Sherlock Holmes, now retired and married to, as Mom used to say “a nice Jewish girl,” is a fantastic series. She writes a few other series too, but her Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series remains my favorite.

Of course, there is my personal favorite author, Gretchen Archer, whose Davis Way Crime Capers are funny, serious, hilarious, tense … all of the things you want in a “curl up and read until your eyes fall out of your head” series of novels. Start with her first novel, Double Whammy and move on from there. You absolutely can’t go wrong!

96-ColdDays-2

I cannot close this without referencing two authors that have given me great joy, the incomparable Douglas Adams, and Jasper Fforde.

I still mourn Douglas Adams. He should have had many more years. Douglas, you died way too soon. Jasper Fforde writes with similar lunacy in a fantasy world where fiction is real and reality isn’t quite. His Thursday Next series is brilliant.

Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series is wonderful and if he ever gets around to it, there should be at least one more book in the series. But he has been writing other books — mostly horror stories which I don’t like as much as his earlier works, movie scripts — as well as Lucifer (a series of brilliant graphic novels which contained the original idea for the TV series “Lucifer”).

This doesn’t even begin to cover everything. It would take me days to begin to remember everything … and way more pages than anyone would have the patience to read … but this is a tickler for you. Maybe you too are searching for something fresh to read,  and new worlds to discover.

These are some of my favorite authors. I’d love to hear about yours!

ME AND DOUGLAS ADAMS – Marilyn Armstrong

First of all, I missed International Towel Day, which was on May 25th. It was the day of Douglas Adams’ far too early passing. Towel Day is celebrated every year on 25 May as a tribute to the author Douglas Adams by his fans. On this day, fans openly carry a towel with them, as described in Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, to demonstrate their appreciation for the books and the author.

The commemoration was first held on 25 May 2001, two weeks after Adams’ death on 11 May of that year.

My friend Cherrie still has a newspaper article about his passing on her refrigerator.

For me, the big day is March 11th which was Douglas Adams’ birthday (March 11, 1950). Mine was March 11, 1947, but I like to think of us as — on some level — time twins even if I never wrote some of the best, most entertaining and thoughtful science fiction.

Author: Douglas Adams

My husband’s birthday is insanely populated with famous people, mostly movie stars. There’s something about April 7th and movies.

For example:

Famous People Born on April 7

From the Who2 database of 4,587 musicians, actors, historical figures, and other celebrities were born on this date, including :

Brown, Jerry (1938) – Governor of California. 1975-83 and 2011-present
Chan, Jackie (1954) – Hong Kong action superstar from Rumble in the Bronx
Coppola, Francis Ford (1939) – The director of The Godfather films
Crowe, Russell (1964) – The Oscar-winning star of Gladiator
Frost, Sir David (1939) – British TV host who interviewed Richard Nixon
Garner, James (1928) – Star of the TV show The Rockford Files
Holiday, Billie (1915) – Popular Blues singer, known as “Lady Day”
Pakula, Alan J. (1928) – Director of All the President’s Men
Shankar, Ravi (1920) – Sitar virtuoso who influenced The Beatles
Wordsworth, William (1770) – Author of the poem “Tintern Abbey”
Ian Richardson – Classical actor and founding member (1960) of the Royal Shakespeare Company
Michael Bellisario – Known for his work on Grandma’s Boy (2006), NCIS (2003) and JAG (1995)
Percy Faith – Child piano prodigy, but his hands were burned. Switched to conducting and arranging …and literally thousands more.

How about March 11?

There are 229 “famous” (mostly not very famous) including:

Lawrence Welk – 1903, TV’s “singalong” king
Antonin Scalia – 1936, Supreme Court Judge
Rupert Murdoch – 1931, Oy vay
Robert Treat Paine – 1731, Judge and signer of the Declaration of Independence
Dorothy Schiff – 1903, Owner/ publisher NY Post
Ralph Abernathy – 1926, American civil rights leader
Harold Wilson – 1916, British Prime MinisterAfter that, there are a lot of people I never heard of, Douglas Adams – 1950, most brilliant science fiction author … and me. I would not normally make the list, but it’s my list.

I apologize for Rupert Murdoch, but I feel that Douglas Adams makes up for him. Heaven knows I’m trying my best.

Douglas Adams inspired “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” and many others

If you haven’t heard of Douglas Adams, bow your head in shame. Find his books and start reading, laughing, and seeing the universe in a brand, new way.

And to all you Douglas Adams lovers? 

CHANGING THE WORLD BY TIME TRAVEL WORK WON’T WORK – By Tom Curley

So there I was. Thinking. Not quite awake. Not exactly asleep. You know. The funny place between. And it hit me. Fixing all this craziness is simple. The question is WWCKD? Or, to put simply, WHAT WOULD CAPTAIN KIRK DO?” 

If you look at the problem like that, the answer is simple. Obvious.

Travel back in time to a point where you can change the present from happening. As any Star Trek fan knows, Kirk did it all the time.

Now that I had the solution, the question became a matter of coördinates. To when and where do I go back to fix this? And the answer came to me as if in a dream …

Go back to 1998. Convince President Clinton to stay the hell away from Monica Lewinsky. There would be no scandal, no impeachment. Bill could campaign for Al Gore — like he was supposed to — and George Bush would never get elected. Everything that happened after that would not happen!

Brilliant!

So as I was drifting off to sleep, I imagined finding a time machine. Going back to 1998. Actually getting an audience with Bill Clinton … in the Oval Office.

How do I do this? Who knows? I’ll let the writers will work out those plot points later. I’m more into the “Big Picture Stuff”.

But … this is also where the whole idea fell apart because the conversation would go like this:

President Clinton: “Well for some reason the writers haven’t figured out yet, I believe you are a time traveler from the future with important information for me.”

Me: “Yes Mr. President. You must not have an affair with your intern, Monica Lewinsky.”

President Clinton: “Whoa! How’d you know about that?”

Me: “I’m from the future, remember?”

President Clinton: “Oh yeah right. I guess that makes sense. So, why shouldn’t I do that?”

Me: “Because you will get caught. The public is going to find out about it. The Republicans are going to impeach you because of it.”

President Clinton: “Well, that’s not good.”

Me: “Don’t worry. You don’t get convicted. Your approval ratings go up to over 70%.”

President Clinton: “Well that’s good, right?”

Me: “Not really. Because when Al Gore runs for president, he won’t let you campaign for him. Or let you anywhere near him.”

President Clinton: “Really. Hmm. Who’s he running against?”

Me: “George W. Bush.”

President Clinton: “You gotta be kidding me!”

Me: “Nope. And even though Al runs a terrible campaign, he will only lose the election by 500 votes. Well, actually years later, when a full recount is done, it turns out Al actually won. But in 2000, the Supreme Court steps in and stops the recount. And appoints Bush as President.”

President Clinton: “I don’t think the Supreme Court can do that.”

Me: “Neither did anybody else. Until they did it. So George W. Bush becomes the president. One of the first things he does is ignore all the intelligence agencies warnings that Osama Bin Ladin is going to attack the US.

Because of this al-Qaeda hijacks four 747’s out of Logan in Boston — and La Guardia in New York … using nothing but box cutters as weapons. They crash two planes into the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon.

The Twin Towers are destroyed, thousands of people die. Now, even though all the hijackers are from Saudi Arabia — and Bin Laden is hiding in Afghanistan — Bush invades Iraq. Totally destabilizing the Middle East.

Wall Street creates a bubble based on the housing market and that causes a worldwide financial crash in 2008 in which trillions of dollars are lost, and millions of people around the world lose their jobs.

So in 2008 America elects a black guy — Barak Hussein Obama — as president, then in 2010 a bunch of billionaires helps create something called the Tea Party. And the Republicans swing so far to the right, Barry Goldwater would be considered a Communist.

By 2016, it seems likely your wife is going to be running for President against … wait for it …

Donald Trump.

At this point, the Secret Service enters the Oval Office and drags me away. As I’m being hauled away, I see The Truth. You can’t change the past. You can try, but it just doesn’t work. However awful reality is, it IS. And has to be.

So when you say all this out loud? I don’t believe it either. Then I fell asleep.

SECRET BRAIN STEALERS – Marilyn Armstrong

I spend way too much time reading science fiction. “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is my favorite of the brain-stealing monster stories.

I first saw the movie when I was 14. I had a tumor on my right tibia. Not malignant, but big and it had to be removed. Even a non-malignant tumor can do considerable damage if it keeps growing and this one was growing like mad.

The movie was surprisingly quiet, a movie that sneaks into your brain

So there I was in Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York. I had a private room. I think most of the rooms were private and it was in that hospital that I very briefly met Eleanor Roosevelt who was not long for the world at that time. It was an elevator meeting, two wheelchairs and a brief “You are the woman I most admire in this world” and a “Thank you, dear.”

I was probably the only kid on the floor and the nurses tended to congregate in my room in the evening. I was watching TV at night. During the day, I read. One night, there was a movie on the tube — “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

I was terrified. I was convinced there was one of those pods under my bed and I made the nurses check there and in all the closets. Those Body Snatchers were sneaky and I wasn’t going to let them turn me into one of those emotionless neo-robots!

And if the movie isn’t enough, I just got the audiobook. Woo hoo!

Although I’ve seen many other science fiction movies — and read thousands of books in the genre — I think that was the single story that scared me the most. Not because of its strange appearance. No tentacles and nothing bug-like, but because it looked like me. Or you. It was the alien clone that removed our humanity.

I think I’m still afraid of that. Maybe that’s the one thing left to fear!

THE UNREALITY OF FINDING YOUR WAY HOME – BY TOM CURLEY

AND because this is absolutely relevant to the previous story … here’s one by Tom Curley.

I’m not a fan, I’m a zealot. I’ve read all his books. Listened to all the BBC radio series. And watched both movies of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.”  The first one done in the ’80s with the original BBC radio cast was actually a TV series. It was done on a budget of maybe 25 bucks, but it was great.

The Disney movie was okay. Mostly, because Douglas Adams was the producer. Unfortunately, he died before it was finished. Even if you didn’t like the movie, it was worth watching just for the opening musical number “So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish”.

While Hitchhiker is my favorite Adams work, I also loved the Dirk Gently series.

One of the things in the book always stuck with me. Whenever Dirk was lost he would simply follow someone who looked like they knew where they were going. He found that he never got to where he was going but he always ended up where he needed to be.

I used that concept once. I was driving home from work one night and I was on the local road that leads to my house. I came upon a police barricade. The road was closed.

There were no detour signs. I only knew that one road. So, I did what Dirk did. I saw a car in front of me turn off the road. He/she seemed to know where he/she was going. So I followed him/her. For the next 20 minutes to a half-hour, we wound our way through twisty back roads in the bowels of Southern Connecticut. I had no idea where I was.

Suddenly, the car in front of me turns on to the main road again. Past the barricade. I couldn’t believe it! It actually worked! But here’s where it got weird. The car in front of me turned off the main road and on to the road I live on. OK, I thought. Makes sense. There are a lot of houses on my street. This person was obviously going home too. But then the car turned into my driveway! That’s when I realized it was my daughter. I should have recognized the car, but I didn’t put two and two together.

The really funny part was that my daughter had just spent the last 20 minutes or so completely freaking out because this mysterious black car had been following her, turn for turn and then followed her to her house! True story.

I know Douglas Adams was smiling.

RANDOM, SON OF OBERON AND PRINCE OF AMBER – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Random

It’s a beautiful day outside today. The temperature is down and so is the humidity. The sun is shining and I want to go take some pictures. I could sit here and think of something random to say about something or other. I have nothing on my mind in particular. I’m just grateful that the heat has broken for a couple of days.

The heat will be back by Monday, so I feel obliged to enjoy this one day. The world will have to manage without me. I’ve been stuck inside trying to avoid the heat and humidity. Now, I want to go out. Before it’s too hot, too rainy, too busy, too something or other.

Random was, by the way, my second favorite character in Zelazny’s “Amber Chronicle” series. If you’ve never read them, they are great. Every time I ride an escalator, I try to magic the world and shift closer to Amber. It was that kind of book.

My your life draw ever closer to Amber — the truest of all realities.

YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP – Marilyn Armstrong

When in 2012, Rob Reid wrote Year Zero, a science fiction novel about the music business and its impact on the universe, many people sat up and took notice. Who better to write about the Byzantine complexities of the music business than Rob Reid?

The author of Year Zero, Rob Reid doesn’t have the kind of bio one would expect of a science fiction author. In fact, he was and is an entrepreneur and multi-millionaire, the kind of self-made multi-millionaire who makes many of us realize what failures we truly are.

Born in New York City, raised in Darien, Connecticut, got his undergraduate degree at Stanford University in Arabic and International Relations. Earned an MBA from Harvard. In 1994 he moved to Silicon Valley where he managed Silicon Graphic’s relations with Netscape. In 1999 he became a founding member of IGN Entertainment which went public in 2000. IGN was acquired by News Corp in 2005 for $650 million.

File:RobReid.jpgReid was the sole founder of Listen.com for which he served as CEO and Executive Chairman. Listen.com launched Rhapsody, a music streaming service, the first legal service of its kind. Rhapsody was bought by RealNetworks in 2003 and Reid continued to serve as one of its vice presidents until MTV purchased it for $230 million.

Year Zero is one of the funniest, scariest, weirdest science fiction novels I’ve ever read — up there with Jasper Fforde and the great Douglas Adams and certainly the only book of its kind that includes footnotes. Which are hilarious too.

The scary part of the novel is not the story but how it mirrors the realities of the music business.

The music business is very scary.

It turns out that Earth is the only planet in the universe that can create music worth listening to. It is not merely the best music in the universe. For all practical purpose, it is the only music.

Other worlds have made something that had been called music, until the discovery of Earth’s music. From the moment our music was heard by the highly advanced sentient cosmos, there was no turning back. The year of the discovery of Earth’s music was Year Zero, the dawn of a new era for every planet in every galaxy everywhere. It also signaled the probable end of life on Earth unless some legal loophole could be found in our insanely punitive copyright laws.

If not, the combined amount of money owed to Earth’s music corporations would be so monumental it would bankrupt the universe. Unable to pay the bill yet obligated by inter-galactic law to pay it, the easier choice would be to destroy Earth, eliminating the problem and de facto, canceling the debt.

Whether or not you will find the book as fascinating and funny as I did is probably a matter of what you find funny, but it totally killed me. No one knows the intricacies of the law and the music biz better than Rob Reid.

Did I mention the footnotes? They are even funnier than the text.

Humans are oddly heroic, each in his or her own way. People rise to the occasion. The aliens are deliciously bizarre and some of them also rise … or fall … to the occasion. The combination of real law and the idiocy of the situation is the stuff that makes you read and laugh, then read and laugh some more.

Although Year Zero is every bit as weird as any of Douglas Adams’ books to which it has been compared, the strangeness of the story is based on real facts. The “facts” are so odd, you have to sit there and let your jaw flap a bit.

Taking into consideration the world in which we are living, this book makes more sense than it used to … if anything makes sense at all.

Douglas Adams created the Improbability Drive from his imagination. Rob Reid only has to quote laws that exist which are as crazy as whatever you might imagine. Right now, nothing seems as scary as life. But I digress.

I loved this book. I have read it half a dozen times and I think maybe I’ll read it again. Like, today maybe. I bought the audiobook too and listened to it a few times. I’ll probably read that more also. Some books are worth memorizing.

There is no sequel. It’s the only novel Rob Reid wrote (well, he recently wrote something else, but it was awful and I try not to mention it). He has written other non-fiction books including Architects of the Web about Silicon Valley, and Year One about life as a student at Harvard Business School.

This is a great, fun, science fiction book. Give it a read.

If nothing else, you’ll learn everything you never wanted to know about the music business. Right now, reading about music seems a great idea to me. A million percent better than the news.

HOMINID OVERVIEW OF LOST ARTS: WELCOME TO HOLA! – Marilyn Armstrong

The horrors of the late 21st century were — as we all know — at the root of the collapse of hominids as Earth’s dominant species. It is a cautionary tale for every species — two, four, six, or eight-legged.

Insults to Earth had accumulated over many centuries. It would be unfair — and inaccurate — to lay the entire blame for the disaster on earth’s twenty-first-century humans. Nonetheless, it is equally impossible to excuse their failure to take measures that could have short-circuited the holocaust. To this day, their silence in the face of their dying planet is impenetrable to us.

what the frackThe final breach of the planet’s integrity was the corporate sponsorship of “fracking.” Cracking the earth’s core caused major instability everywhere it was practiced. History tells of the violent earthquakes which destroyed entire regions. The loss of North America’s West Coast and the formation of the Kansas seacoast are permanent reminders.

One of our most popular exhibits is a virtual trip through the submerged cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles. If you are interested in this tour, please sign up at the Activities desk in the lobby. Participation is by appointment only.

The birth of active and highly destructive volcanoes was another direct result of fracking. Newly born volcanoes burst from the ground in regions like New England and the Midwest. The desolation of cities and farmland, the concomitant poisoning of aquifers, wholesale elimination of other species, the demise of bees and other pollinators resulted in global defoliation and total crop failure.

Most noteworthy, the loss of the life-giving Amazon rain forests made it impossible for humankind to make a comeback as a species. I know there are those among you — especially our canine citizens — who mourn the loss of humans. We share your pain. We believe other cross-species relationships will fill that gap. Apes, monkeys, elephants and other creatures stand ready to help you through this difficult time.

Some progress has been achieved by reinventing tennis balls. Please note the big green ball bins located throughout this building. You are free to grab as many balls as you can carry in your jaws and are welcome keep them as souvenirs on your departure.

Despite the evidence before their eyes, human beings remained absorbed by their petty concerns. Hooked to devices and mobile gadgets, they ignored the world around them until the world was no longer there.

Plastic oceans

These artifacts from the peak of human inventiveness are a poignant reminder of what can happen to a dominant civilization. The banning of electronic communication (2074 and afterward) was insufficient to restore human culture. Even the replacement of internal combustion engines with vehicles powered by sun, wind –and in the case of dirigibles, hot air — were not nearly enough.

Too little, too late. How sad the community of nations failed to act in coördination until the glaciers had already eliminated so much that can never be restored.

We at the Hominid Overview of Lost Arts (HOLA) work to uncover remnants of human civilization wherever it lies buried. Whether under the glacial plains of Europe and North America or in the rubble pits of the Indian Subcontinent, our army of archeologists is ever-busy. Someday, we hope to understand the entirety of the calamity.

Welcome to our exhibit. Please remove your shoes at the door. Our rugs are soft and comfortable. Sound boosting equipment is available free from the Courtesy Desk.

Please remember your company manners. Rude, annoying, loud, or obnoxious individuals will be forcibly ejected without warning.

Thank you, and welcome to HOLA!

THE SECRET BUCKET LIST – Marilyn Armstrong

I don’t have a bucket list. Until I saw the movie of the same name, the concept had never occurred to me. Most of the things I wanted to do, I’ve done. Except for the things no one can do …

That’s what’s on my secret list. The things I really want to do but I know aren’t real. But, in case they turn out to be real … here’s that list.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND US 1977 THE MOTHER SHIP CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND US 1977 THE MOTHER SHIP Date 1977. Photo by: Mary Evans/COLUMBIA PICTURES/EMI FILMS COLUMBIA PICTURES INDUSTRIES I/Ronald Grant/Everett Collection(10307178)

The Mother Ship — from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” 1977. Photo: Mary Evans – Columbia Pictures/EMI / Ronald Grant/Everett Collection (10307178)

WAITING FOR THE MOTHER SHIP

Since I first read a science fiction story, saw “Forbidden Planet” and “The Red Planet Mars,” I’ve been waiting for the big ship to come and take me away. I have slightly modified this so that they will come and take both of us away. To wherever they went in “Cocoon.” Where we become young again. And where we can leave the mortgage, bills, and problems behind. But we can bring the dogs and they can be young, too.

MEETING THE ANCIENT ONE

Somewhere out there in the dark of night, there is an ancient vampire. So old, he is nearly made of stone. He remembers Egypt, perhaps even ages before that. He will offer me eternity in exchange for living in eternal night. Will I accept? I’ve only gotten as far as the offer. I have yet to determine my answer. I’m still thinking about it.

DISCOVERING MY POWERS

Magic is real and I can do it. I just never realized it until one day, in the kitchen, while mixing up a batch of my internationally renowned chili, I accidentally conjured a spell of enormous, overwhelming power. No longer a sickly senior citizen on a fixed income, I could rule the world. I’ll settle for living in peace. At the very least, I can probably make enough money to pay the bills and have something left over.

Money or not, magic would be the greatest adventure of all, would it not?

wormhole

THE WORMHOLE

There it is, the time tunnel. It has been there the whole time and I never knew it. That’s the problem with having such a heavy bed. I can’t move it aside, so I didn’t see the wormhole. It’s a good one that will let me travel to other dimensions or any-when. Talk about adventure!

I promise not to try to change anything. I just want to go hang out in the past and watch. I’m sure Garry would be happy to join me. Does anyone have a couple of Babblefish they can spare?


While I’m waiting for these things to happen, I’m still hoping someone will invent a workable transporter. Because however unlikely it may be, nothing is entirely impossible.

OFFICIAL MINUTES FROM THE FIRST “COUNCIL OF THE TOMS” – BY TOM CURLEY

There’s a lot of chatter these days about the Multi-verse. You know, parallel Earths in parallel universes. Different versions of Earth. It’s been a mainstream topic in the world of physics — and in science fiction forever.

And it shows up a lot in movies and TV shows. Spider-Man, Into the
Spider-verse.

Arrow, Flash and Super Girl hop back and forth between multiple Earths all the time.

In one episode of the Flash, one of the main characters brought different versions of himself from different Earths to help him solve the ‘problem of the week’. I thought that was cool.

The Council of Wells

So, I gathered three other versions of myself from three different Earths to talk about what’s going on these days. How did I do this?

Who cares?

Never mind.

Buy the premise, buy the blog.

TOM of EARTH 616: (me) I’d like to welcome all of you to the first Council of the Toms.

TOM of EARTH 17: (Panicked) How did I get here? Where am I?

TOM of EARTH 22: (Laid back) I think we’re on Earth 616.

TOM of EARTH 42: Who came up with these Earth numbers anyway? Earth 616?  Earth 22?  Who makes these decisions?

TOM of EARTH 616: Depends on whether you’re DC or Marvel.  Who cares? Just roll with it. You’re ruining the bit.

So, we’re here today to talk about Donald Trump.

TOM of EARTH 17: AHHH! Never say that name!

TOM of EARTH 22: Why are we talking about Donald Trump?

TOM of EARTH 42: Who’s Donald Trump?

TOM of EARTH 616: Well, on my Earth he has been the President of the United States for the last two years. Things are not going well, and I wanted to get your input — and your views — on what to do about it.

TOM of EARTH 17: Two years?? He’s been President for 10 years here!

TOM of EARTH 22: Wait a minute. You mean, the guy who had a bad reality show about 10 years ago? He’s your President? You gotta be shitting me, man!

TOM of EARTH 42: Again, who’s Donald Trump?

TOM of EARTH 616: 10 years? Oh my God. What’s it like there?

TOM of EARTH 17: Pretty much the dystopian nightmare you’d expect. After his first term, he learned he could do anything he wanted. So he did. He made himself President for life.

TOM of EARTH 22: You can do that on your Earth?

TOM of EARTH 17: OF COURSE YOU CAN’T DO THAT ON MY EARTH!  He did it anyway!

TOM of EARTH 616: How? Congress did nothing to stop him? The Courts did nothing to stop him?

TOM of EARTH 17: The Congress wouldn’t impeach him and he simply ignored the courts! He said, “Fuck you.” And he got away with it!

TOM of EARTH 22: You’re talking about the guy who put his name on buildings and has really weird hair? Right?

TOM of EARTH 616: Yeah, that’s the one. We can’t believe it either.

TOM of EARTH 17: Well, believe it! I live in a world where the global economy is in the third year of a global depression. Disaster relief for all the super-tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, and cyclones now cost almost one trillion dollars a year. And there’s no way to get rid of this guy!

TOM of EARTH 616: Well, he’s old, won’t he die soon?

TOM of EARTH 17: Maybe, but so what? He passed a law that when he dies, he gets replaced by … Eric.

TOM of EARTH 616: Fuck.

TOM of EARTH 22: Damn. Wow. Sorry man. It sucks to be you.

TOM of EARTH 42: WHO THE FUCK IS DONALD TRUMP?

(End of minutes.)

AS THE MORONS MARCH – Marilyn Armstrong

At my age, I am baffled by the world in which I am living. Young people assume it’s because I’m old and getting senile, but it’s exactly the opposite. Old, yes. Senile, no.

You see, age has made me cagey, wily, cunning. But at the same time, it has hardened me. Increased my cynical streak and general distrust of human behavior. I actually believe they are out to get me.

To be more accurate, those people are out to get us all.

“How can anyone be that stupid?” Garry and I ask each other as we watch a movie, the news, or sports. “Why would anybody do that? What did they think was going to happen?”

Like the guy who fell into the Grand Canyon trying to take a selfie. Or Trump and his sycophants, although I suppose we can assume they at least are aiming to rule the world by greed and corruption. And then, there’s Brexit.

What is WRONG with everyone?

From the manager who lets the star pitcher stay in the game until his minor injury accelerates to a major one that will keep him out all next season. To teenagers who think not learning in school is the same as “beating the system.” To people texting while driving and seniors buying expensive luxury cars they can’t afford to run much less pay-off on their fixed incomes — all to impress other seniors who don’t care. It’s a world of marching morons.

After the irreversible deed is done, someone will inevitably ask us: “So. What do you think about … (fill in the blank) … ” and we are left speechless. What do we think? Why are you asking us now? Wouldn’t the time to ask have been before you did it?  Is it okay for me to say “I think you’re a moron?”

Can I answer honestly? “You are screwing yourself and you will regret it for the rest of your life.” Would that be cruel or worse, politically incorrect? Can I ask, “And how’s that working out for you?”

Probably we should just keep doing what we always do. Smile. Say something bland and hope they leave before we find ourselves saying something we actually mean. Something memorable and unforgivable.

It’s beyond baffling. Not merely stupid, it’s also cruel, destructive, and rotten. I used to worry about the march of evil in our midst, how the bad guys keep winning. These days, I don’t so much worry about the bad guys. They have always been with us and always will be. I worry far more about the morons who follow them. They are all marching to the beat of a drum they don’t even hear but are forever marching towards their personal, welcoming oblivion.


The Marching Morons was a science fiction short story by C.M. Kornbluth originally published in Galaxy in April 1951. This dark and prescient story of a future devolved to idiocy remains one of the most frightening visions to have emerged from the science fiction of that decade.

Proposing a future United States overwhelmed by a population of low IQ citizens — a consequence of over-breeding amongst the stupid — Kornbluth was writing of his observed present. The steady, inexorable descent of human intelligence obsessed Kornbluth. It was one of his major themes and reached its truest statement in this novelette.

And sometimes, sixty years later, as I look around me, I get a shiver of recognition down my spine and wonder where the line can be drawn between science fiction and the world in which I live. Is there a line? Or have we already crossed it and left it far behind us.


It’s just cost me 62-cents for the Kindle version on Amazon. Probably 62-cents well spent.

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.