I’m a klutz with my touch screen. This is third time I’ve been scrolling through the library catalog online and accidentally checked out a book with the same or similar title as the one I was actually going for.
It’s been mostly good. The first time, I wanted The Last Detective by Robert Crais and discovered the talented British mystery writer Peter Lovesey when I clumsily checked out his novel by the same name. The second time, I was after Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan and accidentally got James S.A. Corey’s Leviathan Wakesand – bonaventura! – stumbled onto what might be my new favourite series.
There was no such serendipity this time with the accidental book, but I liked my original choice, a highbrow, classic work. I feel accomplished and a bit smarter now.
It occurs to me that this would have been a mind-blowing read back when I still got stoned. If you partake, you might want to blaze up a fattie before you start reading.
So, the basic plot is this guy’s mother dies, and then he kills somebody else for no reason, and he feels nothing. The prosecutor is expounding on the narrator’s heinous crime and his utter lack of a soul, and our narrator is — bored.
The plot is a vehicle for some pretty deep stuff, a big surprise with its deceptively simple writing and its brevity. I read the whole thing in one day, a work day, on the metro to my office and home again. I’m still thinking about it and probably will be for awhile.
I decided I was an existentialist for a year or so when I was a teenager, mainly because I thought it sounded cool. While I don’t disregard it completely now, it’s been mooshed together with some other tenets to create my unique Heinz 57 (and thoroughly heathen but hey, it works for me) belief system. As much as I see the principles of living authentically (which phrase has become so overused by 2016 that it’s laughably trite) and being the architect of whatever meaning one’s own life has, I also get that our lives can just as easily mean what other people interpret them to mean and have nothing to do with us at all.
Black? Or white? Gray is not in this palette. Dichotomies abound.
Or maybe Meursault had the meaning of life nailed all along: It doesn’t matter.
Asphodel: White -flowered plant of the lily family; also said to be an immortal plant growing in the Elysian Fields
“Adam put on his pajamas, head spinning at the realization that his wife had faked her last pregnancy. Adam’s pajamas were blue and white striped, but Corinne’s were red paisley. Corinne was one of the few women who didn’t like fancy lingerie, opting for men’s pajamas instead, but she and Adam had very divergent tastes beyond that. Corinne’s pajamas were hanging from the set of hooks mounted on the back of the door. They’d found the hooks while shopping together for pajamas in Bed Bath & Beyond. Why would she lie to him about being pregnant? And how did that stranger at the lacrosse meeting know?”
I made that up, it’s not an actual excerpt, but you get the idea. I was intrigued by the story as it started, but was turned off by the telling instead of showing me what upper-middle-class paragons make up this family, with its SUV and a computer in every room and trendy sports and aw-shucks-boys-will-be-boys good-student, star-athlete teenage sons. It reads like an early draft that needed another trip or two past an editor. Other reviewers have noted that this was a poor showing by an author they usually like, but I’m not sure I’ll ever try any other of Coben’s books after this one.
Fortunately, today is one of the days when I didn’t forget my Kindle, so I have dozens of backup books with me. I usually enjoy mystery-thrillers but I’m abandoning this one midway through Chapter 4.
Becca twists in her chair to accept the incoming call. Naturally, when she’s got reams of medical records to index, cross-index, Bates-stamp, and prepare for the boss to send to opposing counsel by end of day, the caller is just another idiot who believes his life story will convince her he’s entitled to a free lawyer.
She finally gets rid of him and turns back to her work and her deadline, only to hear Jane pipe up, “I’ve always hated those calls the worst.”
My god, does the woman have two cents about everything?
“Well, you don’t rank high enough to worry about it here,” Becca snaps. She sees the shocked hurt on Jane’s face and feels a surge of angry satisfaction.
Carrot Ranch September 21 flash fiction prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using a lens.
Jane is looking idly around the Metro stop when she sees it.
Here she stands with everyone else, scrolling on her phone, her second-hand boots and Patagonia windbreaker and messy updo indistinguishable from anyone else’s. No way to tell that the thirty-eight dollars in her wallet is her very last, that her bus card is low-income, that the tall Americano she’s sipping is her first such splurge in a month.
Amazing. She’s pulling it off, looking like everyone else, with their Starbucks apps and credit card bills.
How many of these people are, secretly, no different from her?
Leviathan Wakes was waiting among the rest of my library holds, little tag with my name on it tucked between the pages. Huh? Oh, right. I must have accidentally touch-screened this one when I was requesting Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan (entirely different but also very good, so my new mission may be to read all books with “leviathan” in the title). I read the jacket blurb, decided it sounded interesting, and lugged it home.
What a ride. In the not-so-distant future, our solar system has been colonized. Detective Miller, working for an Earth-based private security company on Ceres, is assigned to find a young woman whose parents don’t like their daughter being a revolutionary and have the money to have her kidnapped and returned to them, whether she likes it or not. Meanwhile, Executive Officer Holden of the ice mining ship Canterbury unwittingly finds this same woman’s trail when he follows the emergency beacon coming from a derelict ship tucked up by an asteroid, right before his own ship is vaporized and Holden, all by himself, starts an interplanetary war.
That’s, like, the first two chapters. Things move right along from there.
It’s all here: Two big planetary powers nagged by a rebel resistance force and the exploited stations on various moons and big space rocks, g-forces and gadgetry, thugs and smugglers and general bad guys, Epstein drives and stealth transponders. Lots of action, some day-to-day of life in a space colony, some political back-and-forth, smidge of romance, a wee bit of horror vis-à-vis an alien life form (no spoilers!), grand heroics. It’s a bit on the noir side too, with bits such as “If the woman still had a soul, it had been pressed thin enough to see through” and “His voice sounded like it had been dragged down an alley by its ankles.” The alternating POV is well done, with chapters switching off between Miller and Holden.
I see now that this book and its sequels were the basis for the “Expanse” series on the SyFy channel. I might have known that sooner if I ever watched TV, but since I discovered it anyway I’m not going to change my ways. This might be my new favorite series.
“There’s a right thing to do,” Holden said.
“You don’t have a right thing, friend,” Miller said. “You’ve got a whole plateful of maybe a little less wrong.”
Waldo: A remote manipulator, like robot hands controlled by a human.
Steganography: Hiding a message within another message, such as secret code in a shopping list, or writing with invisible ink. The message is doubly safe, because to start with it doesn’t draw attention as a possible secret.
The only thing I didn’t like was that there was no Bigfoot. Bryson’s tale of hiking the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail is funny, self-deprecating, full of beauty and wonder, and never boring.
“But even men far tougher and more attuned to the wilderness than Thoreau were sobered by its strange and palpable menace. Daniel Boone, who not only wrestled bears but tried to date their sisters, described corners of the southern Appalachians as “so wild and horrid that it is impossible to behold them without terror. When Daniel Boone is uneasy, you know it’s time to watch your step.”
I don’t know why I hadn’t heard of this book before, being a fan of A Short History of Nearly Everything, but I only picked up on it through reviewers who panned Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. (They are two different books, written from different viewpoints and for different reasons. I liked them both.)
Bryson’s look at nature and what it takes to hike the AT includes the historical and environmental, the technical, and the recklessness and ludicrousness of our treatment of our planet and its denizens. I came away with a whole new respect for salamanders and moose. Bryson’s hiking partner pretty much made the book, though, what with getting lost and throwing away valuable supplies because they were too heavy, including the coffee filters that fluttered so beautifully.
This book is a treat.
“In America, alas, beauty has become something you drive to, and nature an either/or proposition – either you ruthlessly subjugate it, as at Tocks Dam and a million other places, or you deify it, treat it as something holy and remote, a thing apart, as along the Appalachian Trail. Seldom would it occur to anyone on either side that people and nature could coexist to their mutual benefit – that, say, a more graceful bridge across the Delaware might actually set off the grandeur around it, or that the AT might be more interesting and rewarding if it wasn’t all wilderness, if from time to time it purposely took you past grazing cows and tilled fields.”
Denier: unit of weight of silk, nylon, or rayon yarns, often used to describe hosiery thickness
Mesophytic: of of a moderately moist environment
Iapetus: proto-Atlantic Ocean, existing during the Taconic, Accadian, and Alleghenian phases of Earth’s formation (also a Titan in Greek mythology and one of Saturn’s moons)
Jane ducks out the back door, makes for the scabby bench overlooking the water, a couple of blocks down. A sandwich to eat on her so-called lunch hour would be nice, but more than one meal a day is a luxury that will have to wait until her first paycheck; she spends the time taking an inventory.
She already hates this job, no doubt, but she’s grateful for any job at all, so it’s a plus. She’s still crouching in an abandoned house, but she should be able to get her own real place in a few months, another plus. Fall semester starts in two weeks, and she’ll have some student aid funds, along with the return to academia she’s wanted.
Sometimes you can get a dream back, even if you have to back into it.
This is the first I’ve read that I can recall in the genre opposite to chick-lit and which others have called guy-lit, he-lit, and dick-lit (my personal favorite). I’d have given it a pass if I’d known there was a movie starring John Cusack, so sometimes it’s a good thing that I largely ignore pop culture.
Because this wasn’t a bad book. It’s about love, yes, but it’s also about self-realization, and the nerdy guy coming of age in his thirties, and figuring out that life and love are mostly matters of compromise and diving in and going for it and that’s really not so bad. The top-five lists of various things (TV episodes, records, break-ups) have depth of meaning under the wry surface. Humorous, and full of those little “you-mean-other-people-think-this-stuff-too?” and other weird psychological insight moments.
“It’s like everyone’s a supporting actor in the film of your life story.”
Of course. Isn’t that how it works for everybody?
Interregnum: Temporary suspension of normal government, such as between successive reigns or regimes (or when the Republicans are throwing a tantrum — okay, I made that up)
Carrot Ranch September 14 flash fiction prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write about an amazing feat.
“We’d like to offer you the position. “ Jane almost drops her phone. Emotions flood her bloodstream: relief, amazement, gratitude – and a whole new nervousness. She did it. She beat out the younger, fresh-faced, idealistic, just-graduated twenty -somethings. It’s only a file clerk job, but it’s a start. It’s a paycheck.
“Oh, thank you!”
Her mind races over hygiene and wardrobe logistics. Shower at the gym. An outfit for each weekday at the thrift store. She should have just enough money. If she can keep anyone from finding out she’s homeless until she isn’t anymore, that will be the trick.
“So, what do you think of Colin Kaepernick and his protest?”
Discussing hot-potato political issues with people we know can be iffy enough, especially with the unprecedented ugliness of the 2016 Presidential election, but with a stranger at the bus stop – well, you never know what might get you gunned down.
But my bus was running late and I was bored. What the hell, I thought. I’ll engage.
“I think he’s exercising his constitutional right to free speech to protest a problem that has needed attention for far too long,” I replied with a smile. I did not add that I am a Kap fan, being one of the #FortyNinerFaithful, which I don’t often mention in casual conversation seeing as how I live deep in Seahawks territory and all. Turned out that didn’t matter.
“But what about the flag?” he asked.
“What about it?” I replied cautiously.
“What about respect for the military, people who have fought and died for that flag?”
“I think the flag represents what we are – or what we aspire to be – as a nation. I don’t believe Kaepernick intended to disrespect the flag specifically, or the military. I think he was protesting a national standard of racism that is not in step with our constitution or the principles upon which this nation was founded.”
(By the way, I really do speak with correct grammar and impeccable eloquence in casual conversation. Okay, not really. I’m paraphrasing because writing should look good, and what I’m writing is the essence of what was said by both parties.)
“But what about veterans?” he pressed.
Ah, yes. “I read a blog post recently by Jim Wright at Stonekettle Station, a man who was career Navy, I believe, where he answered a question about what he thought about the subject as a veteran. [And you can read his entire, most excellent, post here.] He wrote about Kap’s constitutional right to protest what he sees as a societal injustice, and that he himself served for that right, along with anyone’s right to disagree.” Yep, I’m a diplomat.
“Well, I didn’t fight for anybody’s right to piss on the flag. I fought for that flag. “
OK. Fair enough. Your reasons for serving are your own, sir.
“And I bet that guy wasn’t a combat vet. Anybody who fought on the ground fought for the flag.”
I feared that was an overgeneralization, but what do I know? I let that pass.
“I’m from Cincinnati, ” he continued. “And I’m damned if I can find anybody who agrees with me about this. “
“Well, yes, ” I agreed. “Seattle is a pretty live-and-let-live place. “
“But Kaepernick has to feel like an idiot now. All that shit he stirred up for himself. “
I shrugged. “He’s a big boy, he can take it. He was probably counting on it. He’s a public figure, able to bring a lot of attention to a big problem through a visible and controversial action.”
“And now I hear the whole Seahawks team plans to protest the flag this Sunday. “
I shrugged again. I’m now pretty sure this guy isn’t incredibly perceptive to nuance, or shades of gray, or semantics.
“These football players don’t have any right to protest anyway. The NFL is very good to its blacks.”
I boggled a little. Its blacks. Like black athletes are the NFL’s pets or something.
“They need to protest Obama. He’s the one’s got all the blacks stirred up, police videos and whatnot.”
Okay, I’ve got a bona fide bigot here, proselytizing at me. I bet he’s voting for Trump, which is absolutely his right, but where the hell is my bus?
“Abuse of police power and unfair targeting of blacks has been going on forever,” I said. “What’s new are the cameras in everyone’s hands and the Internet to get the evidence out there. “
“But when some thug has robbed a store and is running –“
Yes, he said “thug,” which is pretty much the new n-word. And that’s when I started to get pissed. To which discussion of political and touchy social subjects will almost always lead. And I interrupted him. Fair’s fair. He started this whole thing by interrupting my solitary, minding-my-own-business-esque phone scrolling.
“Had he been convicted of that theft? Even if he was, is that an offense punishable by death? Is resisting arrest a capital offense? Did that officer have the authority to try him, convict him, sentence him, and execute him, right then and there? That’s another thing our constitution is supposed to guarantee – due process under the law.”
Aarrgh. No, I do not believe all cops are bigots. I worked hand-in-glove with many cops for many years, as a 911 dispatcher and as a criminal defense paralegal. I’ve seen first-hand how heroic and humanitarian many cops are, and I’ve also seen first-hand just how many are power-drunk national incidents waiting to happen. It’s alarming. And as usual, the bad ones taint the reputations of the good ones, but that doesn’t mean the bad ones shouldn’t be weeded out and disciplined appropriately.
The bus pulled up. Finally.
“Well, of course it’s a tragedy, but –“
Oh, shut up with the but. That sentence should not have a but. It’s a tragedy, and that’s only the start of what it is.
I greeted the driver, tapped my pass against the fare meter, and looked around. The bus was nearly empty. But my new friend was right behind me, still yakking. Instead of taking an empty seat I sat right next to someone else, so the guy couldn’t sit next to me. Enough is enough.
Sure enough, instead of sitting in an empty row, Mr. Flag sat next to someone else as well.
” So, what do you think of Colin Kaepernick and his protest?” I heard him ask the woman next to him. Oh God, poor lady.
But poor him, too. As he tried yet again to find someone who agrees that Kap is a subversive antipatriot who should be drummed out of the NFL, if not the country, I could hear desperation in his tone.
And I remembered when I first arrived in Seattle, what a fish out of water I was. Not for its liberalness, no – that was heaven for me, being a hippie peace freak at heart and coming here from a virtually 100% conservative, Christian, Caucasian community where President Obama didn’t even bother to campaign and I was regularly offended by openly voiced bigotry. This guy was a product of Cincinnati. I Googled “Cincinnati racism,” and the top three results were articles touting Cincinnati as the most racist city in America. Shudder.
No wonder he sounded so lost. It wasn’t just a change of scenery, of learning new streets and local ordinances. His entire worldview was being challenged on a daily basis. Seattle does not have ghettos as ghettos are generally defined, but even the poorest neighborhoods are pretty racially integrated, which is atypical. Everywhere you go around here, you see black skin and Asian skin and Indian skin, hijabs and yarmulkes and saris and skinny jeans and yoga pants and Northface gear, often in surprising combinations. Seattle rings with the music of a dozen languages. I love it.
I remember when I’d just arrived in Seattle, like the Country Mouse come to the Big City, just set my suitcase on the sidewalk and looking around in dazed confusion. It wasn’t the politics or social attitudes (“As long as you’re a Democrat we’ll like you just fine” one of my new co-workers had told me). It was learning city ways in general, on top of figuring out what street I lived on, public transportation, recycling (Seattleites will give you the hairy eyeball if you drop a recyclable or a compostable into the landfill bin), and umbrella etiquette – what are you supposed to do with the sopping wet thing anyway, just let it drip all over people’s carpets? (I found a lovely lambskin handbag, with a separate lined umbrella pocket, in a second-hand shop for eight bucks – score! )
This man had it so much worse. What was probably a lifetime of brainwashing – because hatred and exclusion are not inherent – was being challenged on a daily basis. Racial tolerance, support for the homeless population, marriage equality before SCOTUS said so, legal marijuana – Washington is the new California when it comes to making legal moves to accept and grant equality to all people, with all their wild and crazy shit, as long as they aren’t hurting anyone else. For someone with rather, can I say backward, views on this stuff, it has to be pretty damned lonely. I believe in challenging archaic attitudes, which is why I continued the conversation with Mr Flag as long as I did, but even as I cut him off, I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him. It can’t be easy to suddenly find yourself surrounded by people who think your life-long worldview is ugly.
To look at it from his point of view – which is what compassion requires – is to see that people he has been taught are inferior and frightening and sub-human are straining to take away something he believes he’s had his whole life – his superiority. People of color have had enough, and rightfully so, but even worse, some white people are not only accepting and even encouraging that frightening rise of the unimaginable, they are condemning this man with looks and words when he tries to keep things as he is used to them, as he has been taught to believe they are supposed to be. And the learning is real.
I’ve never been an outright bigot, but I’ve been as guilty of unintentional racism as anyone else. I’ve subconsciously bought into the propaganda, before I learned critical thinking, to question authority and the status quo. I like to think the majority of white people are good people, who believe in equality as a desirable principle and who, when they think about it consciously, believe people are people, no matter their skin color. But that is what is so insidious about racism in this country – it is underneath, built into all the policies we deal with and the ways people of color are portrayed by the media, the way they are treated by law enforcement, by financial institutions, by education, by health care, by employment practices, by the “it’s-just-a-joke” jokes. Sometimes it’s not so subtle, as with the Red Cross poster that showed all the rule-breaking children as non-white, or the police department that uses targets with black people as the bad guys for their officers to target shoot. We absorb that stuff subliminally, and it doesn’t matter whether we have “good friends” who are black or Hispanic or Indian or Asian. When that has to compete against what the news and entertainment media and political rhetoric saturate us with, it’s not enough. The racism is still there, and it runs deep in the body of this nation, on a molecular level. Literally. Our brains have become hard-wired to it.
I remembered the day I figured out that “I don’t see color” is actually pretty dismissive and unintentionally bigoted (and don’t get me started on “White Pride” or #AllLivesMatter), and cringed at how many times I’d spouted that to my non-white friends and acquaintances – and how they generously tolerated my ignorance. Or maybe they tried to gently educate me, and I was too oblivious to get it. It’s entirely possible. And I’m sure I still do it without even knowing it. Every time I catch myself, I cringe all over again.
I think any action, short of violence, that draws attention is a valid one. Sometimes it comes down to ramming it down people’s throats. Perhaps Krystal Lake made an error in judgment by wearing her “America Was Never Great” hat to work, but when it comes to institutionalized racism and misogyny, that statement is absolutely true. This is how things change, by stirring them up. It’s not easy to train people to think differently from how they’ve been taught to think their whole lives. Along with stirring the pot, we have to educate, to foster awareness, to promote compassion from a place others can understand. We do this one person at a time, with the millions in mind. We openly challenge a status quo that still, decades after it was outlawed, holds racist beliefs nestled close within its very infrastructure, and by creating such a furor that maybe, just maybe, one or two or even a few hundred might start to get it. It’s not easy. It takes guts.
Meanwhile, Mr. Flag was now loudly castigating the entire Seahawks football team. The woman next to him heaved an exasperated sigh, put in earbuds, and stuck her face in a book. After another few minutes of futilely seeking agreement (kinda fruitless in a city that bleeds blue and green, no matter the political issue involved) and countless dirty looks, Mr. Flag finally subsided into sullen silence.
Compassion. We teach best not with fists or angry harangues, but by making calm, reasoned statements and setting a visible example. We work to change our laws and enforce the ones we already have. We change our use of language, our media depictions and our popular representations. We hold on to our patience. We remember that change is damned hard and we keep working at it. We stand up and march, or we lie down and close a highway. We shut out a loudmouth on the bus.
Bookshelves: steampunk, alternate-history, fictional-history, heroine-kicking-ass, world-war-i, ya
A fun find! Scott Westerfeld gives good story, and the illustrations by Keith Thompson are delightful. The fictional history is just right, following the fate of the imaginary son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie after the assassination that sparked World War I. The focus here is on the technological discipline of the great powers, rather than political intricacies. Here the Allied Powers are essentially the Darwinists (those who monkey with DNA to create fabulous new lifeforms, such as a living-whale airship) and the Central Powers are the Clankers (those who make fantastic war machinery, akin to the huge Star Wars AT-AT landwalkers). It’s YA but not too much so for adults to enjoy, much like the early Harry Potter books. Fast-paced plot with deft writing, loaded with steampunk inventions, original characterizations, and an ending that sets up the sequels without being an irritating cliffhanger.
The only thing I didn’t like was the constant use of the word “squick,” often twice per page, so that I got to anticipating it even when there was no reason for it. That got a squick annoying. But I liked Deryn/Dylan’s other favorite word, “beastie,” used at least as often if not more, so go figure.
I see many reviewers liked the sequel, Behemoth, even more than this first installment, so I’m looking forward to that. Oh irony, that I find a fun new trilogy right after blogging about the tiresomeness of trilogies, trilogies everywhere.
Morganatic: (marriage): in which the lower-ranking spouse and any children do not inherit titles, privileges, or property – also called a left-handed marriage Clart: bit of mire or muck (the actual word, in context, is probably “shit”) – British dialect Bogle: phantom, spook, scarecrow Fléchette: small, dart-like projectile, fired from a gun Boffin: scientific or technical researcher -British dialect
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