The Autumnal Bookshelf

We are enjoying a spectacular fall here in our little nook in the State of Jefferson. The temperature drops at night, flirting with frost, but the afternoons are still warm enough for t-shirts and shorts. The colors, albeit our limited Western versions, have been out for weeks and show no sign of abating. The riding has been sublime. Our local trail haven is hardly used and we have it mostly to ourselves on our twice-weekly mountain bike jaunts, a bunch hearty and (we hope) hardy oldsters fighting off old age. It’s shoveling sand on the beach, but it’s fun and good for us.

My mind needs the workout as well. I should say my mind-body nexus craves multiple inputs. I need to wheeze from over-exertion and reel from trippy fictions in at least equal measure. Just about everything I read is fiction and I define fiction as anything without footnotes. I love a good history tome and I expect lots of footnotes and an extensive bibliography. Otherwise it is just bullshit. It might be interesting, well-written bullshit, but still bullshit. I figure if you are going to all that trouble to make bullshit then quit faking it and call it fiction.

In the mail coming any day is the second volume (The Man Who Went Up in Smoke) of the Martin Beck series of police procedurals by Per Wahlöö and Maj Söwall. That completes my collection. These are from late-60s to mid-70s Sweden and have a taut, just-the-facts-ma’am style. The laconic protagonist tosses in a bit of wry humor, but he’s mostly a grim fellow doing a grim fellow’s job, that of chasing down murderers. Equally grim, but in an entirely different vein, are John le Carré’s spy thrillers. Found one I didn’t have (Our Kind of Traitor, 2010) and polished it off. He’s getting crankier in his later years but he’s just as sharp and entertaining. The Cold War was grist for his mill for a long time, now he’s more interested in rogue financiers, Russian mobsters, and Englishmen who sell out their country while serving it.

One of my all-time favorite books was recently returned to me and so I had to re-read it. Nothing can prepare you for Jack Womack, but Elvissey (1993) is probably his most accessible creation. It is part of a six-novel series about a near-future corporate-dominated dystopian America, but that’s just the setting. Womack’s voice is unique and his characters use a peculiar argot coupled with syntactic inversions that are both funny and unsettling. It reminds you a little of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange but is its own thing. The novel can be read alone or as part of the larger work. Another writer with a great ear is Mark Twain and I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn after I finished Elvissey. It had been decades since I’d opened it and it was a lot of fun. Both novels concern themselves with the American South, with ante-bellum Missouri the focus for Twain, an alternate-past post-WWII Mississippi for Womack.

Awaiting consumption is Jim Thompson’s The Alcoholics (1953). He’s always good for a brisk descent into hell, but unlike le Carré his hells are confined to small towns and lonely places. The globe-trotters in le Carré could just as easily be playing tennis in Antigua as they could be listening to wiretaps in Berlin. Thompson’s lead players are losers and psychopaths, le Carré’s are professionals and renaissance men; but both love grifters and con artists.

There aren’t many novels about the Korean War and I came across Pat Frank’s Hold Back the Night which was made into a movie with John Payne in 1956. I also picked up Frank’s Forbidden Area, also from 1956. Much of the fiction from this era is short, compact, and suspenseful, qualities I appreciate. There are many outstanding novelists working today but I find the trend toward longer and larger books less appealing. If you can’t say it in under three hundred pages you are probably trying too hard.

Speaking of contemporary stuff, I also just finished Gold Fame Citrus (2015) from Clare Vaye Watkins. It’s what they call “cli-fi” these days, short for “climate fiction” which assumes global warming catastrophe scenarios come true. In this case a perfectly plausible massive drought sweeps across the American Southwest as well as most of California and Nevada. A compelling story and good characters kept me engaged despite the overtly literary indulgences peppered throughout the narrative. This is one of the things I prefer about straight genre fiction—fewer opportunities for folderol and jibber-jabber. Editors were more slash-prone back in the day, it seems, now they are more encouraging and accepting. I like to read a lot of books and I get worn out if they take too long. Short & sweet and cut-to-the-chase is more my style.

Also on the soon-to-be-read shelf are another cli-fi, this one from Paolo Bacigalupi called The Water Knife, and Paula Hawkins‘ neo-noir The Girl on the Train which was made into a movie with Emily Blunt. Both were published in 2015.

So—what’s on your autumnal bookshelf?

It Explains Everything!

We got an insert in our local paper last Friday. We don’t subscribe, but pick it up at the supermarket while shopping. It was a full-color, two-sided, information-dense, letter-sized advertisement. What was being advertised was not a product. It was much better.

It explained everything.

It was certainly less predictable than a religious tract. And certainly much more sophisticated than the lowest of the low, the political mailers. This stuff was not only equally serious but at least as plausible.

Bible enthusiasts provide good reading material, it is usually logically sound if you accept the basic (absurd) premises. The stuff from your government representatives is laughably simplistic, and the voter propaganda on propositions is borderline dangerous. This fellow—and it appears to be one fellow—focuses on stuff you can really see.

Contrails. Or, I should say, chemtrails. You know, the stuff that the big ol’ jet airliners spew out. Condensation is of course a natural consequence of combustion. Just check your breath on a cold day, that’s the combustion of last night’s enchiladas. And there’s no doubt that burning fossil fuels makes air pollution. So it is safe to say that the air transport sector is responsible for spewing bad stuff into the atmosphere. Hey, join the club. We the people do our best to spew bad stuff into the atmosphere every day, what with our impossible energy demands. All those trips in the car, all that hot water and A/C and everything else. Air pollution is like farting, we all do it.

Seems this fellow who shared his wisdom with us via the newspaper insert is concerned that contrails/chemtrails aren’t just air pollution from jets. They are a deliberate government geo-engineering plan to change the earth’s climate. From the insert:

Covert global climate engineering programs are wreaking havoc with Earth’s life support systems and human health . . .

Our noble leaders and other power elites have, for decades, used the jets criss-crossing our skies to dump particular chemicals into the air in order to mess with the weather. The goal, it seems, is to cause catastrophic global warming in order to, and this part I’m not sure about, subjugate the citizenry under the guise of saving it. Natural disasters are the perfect time for the government to move in and take over. Evacuations, in particular, are great opportunities to seize control.

At least that’s what it seems, reading this stuff over. It is all very science-y and ties in lots of environmental issues that appeal to people all over the political spectrum, everything from carcinogens in the water and honeybee die-offs to severe droughts and catastrophic forest fires.

In order to have a workable conspiracy theory you have to have nuggets of truth. We’ve all seen the jets overhead spewing their exhausts. Since most of us probably don’t think about jet exhaust, having someone come along and break it down for us is very appealing. Everybody likes a good explanation. I used to provide explanations for a living, I understand their appeal. Life is complicated and when you think about more global issues, like ecological disasters, it is easy to feel despair and helplessness. Having it all tied together with a clear set of reasons is nice. Global warming aka climate change is a popular topic these days and to present it as the result of a high-level conspiracy is brilliant. Humans are indeed responsible for global warming, just not the way the scientists say! Scientists, lately, have about as much credibility as the mainstream media. One consequence of the internet is that now everyone is an expert and has their own soapbox. Or at least you can find one to better suit you if you don’t like what you are currently hearing!

Here’s more:

Any and all entities/individuals that are in any way associated with the illegal geoengineering operations must be fully exposed. Once exposed, all such entities/individuals must be held legally and morally accountable for their part in the climate engineering atrocities.

Moral outrage is very appealing as well. Our ideologies give us plenty of stuff to get pissed off about. If you want to gather people to your cause then get their dander up about something. I also like the smug, we-are-all-in-the-know-here attitude. All the stupid people out there, the drones going about their daily lives, are too zombied-out to be properly angry about the “atrocities” going on around them. But we here at fill-in-the-blank will keep you informed with THE TRUTH.

In the end it is all about THE TRUTH. We all want it. We all seek it. The trouble with science is that it can only provide truths with a lowercase-t and not Truth with the reassuring gravitas of an uppercase-T, let alone the screaming fury of ALL CAPS.

I’m not sure what this fellow gets out of his propaganda. I suppose it is rude of me to call it that. He probably believes it with a religious fervor. And you can’t really argue with that kind of thing. I don’t have religious fervor so I can’t really say how it feels or what it’s like. I imagine it gives you an authenticity that is hard to fake. That’s the flip side, the guy could be a complete fake, the whole geo-engineering kerfuffle a giant con. But confidence games are generally money-making schemes. I don’t see a lot of money-making potential here. Sure, he sells books and DVDs but that’s actually a hard way to get rich. There’s a lot of competition out there. And there are no ads on his website, but there is a donate button.

In a capitalist economy lots of things are for sale. Even supposedly non-profit enterprises like churches and charities are in the sales business. This fellow is another in the great American tradition of salesmen. From the tragic Willy Loman to the comic Cal Worthington salesmen are part-and-parcel of our Constitutionally-protected pursuit of happiness. Now I’m not buying what he’s selling, mind you, but it’s way more fun than the usual stuff like the hardware store ads.