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Rivers of grass (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 16 July 2011 00:00

Imagine reading a dramatization of a cancer or degenerative disease that has been slowly spreading through your body, one you were not fully aware of. You read of the wonderful nature of each organ, their function and interplay, and cringe as you follow their demise. The whole is breaking down. And you realize it is probably too late to reverse the process.

This is pretty much what reading this beautiful, painful book is all about. Rivers of Grass follows the history of the Florida Everglades, from its geological makeup, its biological processes, its discovery and settling by nomadic Indian tribes, then the coming of the Spanish. And here's where the book begins its long and painful spiral.

The many Indian wars (which is a polite way of saying Make deals with the savages you are in the process of screwing are documented. There are pages of slavery, greed, murder, deal-breaking and religious buffoonery. It's like the seven deadly sins set against a pristine environment.

But not pristine for long. Soon there are passages about the canal proposals, the detonating of the limestone ridges that kept the water in and the salt out. And the bird hunts for plumage (for women's hats) in which men with shotguns strolled through the vast nesting fields, blasting swaths through the unsuspecting ranks. There are the efforts at cultivation, at big sugar, at the injection of fertilizers and poisons into the teetering biosphere. And then there is the ravenous thirst of the Miami megaplex, gallons and gallons of water spread across ever-parched lawns.

Rivers came out in 1947, and already its fate was grim. There is an additional section included on the revenges of the last fifty years. While this book is wonderful, to paraphrase, it's a difficult book to pick up. Every page brings more heartache.

What truly amazes me is that Orange County Libraries does not have this on their shelves. I tried to get it from them and failed. You can get any number of Harry Potter books but not this classic of Florida natural history, which explains why the glades are dying in the first place.

Of course, it is with a sense of deja vu that I hear our tea-bagger governor Rick Scott is gutting environmental regulations across the everglades. He only represents the most recent white wave of invasion, the self-centered retirees.

So, on your next trip to Disneyland and Universal, maybe you should swing south to see the rivers of grass. Look fast. They won't be here much longer.

Last Updated on Saturday, 16 July 2011 09:13
The Ragged Astronauts (review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 03 April 2011 21:07

My Florida room looks out across green native foliage. Beneath its wide widows is the grande shelf, three decks straining with books, the "I might want to read this again" books. Many of them I've read in college or before. Many of them are yellowing. But they are (or were, to that younger self I was) great books.

The Ragged Astronauts comes from a time before many Avatar / Potter fans were born, 1986. Back then, youth still cared about the environment (to the point they didn't throw their plastic bottles all over it). We were still jazzed about the moon landings and the shuttles were coming on line. It was the final burst of eco-interest and the wain of the great age of science fiction.

In other words, you young kids don't know shit.

But the review; yes, the book deals with a strange planet, "Land", whirling around another planet, "Overland" in such a close orbit that the two share atmospheres. The problem facing Land is that their run-away destruction of the environment (namely, the brakka trees, which they over-harvest to get at their power crystals), an act which has turned nature against them. Suddenly plagues and worse are sweeping humankind (well, Landkind) and they must escape their doomed planet. And they have nowhere to go but... up.

Airships are constructed for the high, high assent, and Toller Maraquine, our hot-headed but working on it hero, pilots the first ship to test the feasibility. The writing for this is... agoraphobic. Imagine being in a balloon miles and miles and miles in the sky, slowly turning over at midpoint. And imaging what would happen if, just one side of the zero gee zone, someone tumbled out (ugh - the image stayed with me for 25 years, and was freshly and horrifyingly replayed this time around). And even though the test flight is not fully successful, it becomes moot. The plague is spreading, civilization is falling apart, and the evacuation fleet lifts in a panic.

I'll say this - the end of our own world is generally grimly entertaining, the end of someone elses not so much. But here, we really can smell the smoke as civilization burns, as the ships launch in blind panic, as there are accidents (and worse) as they climb into the heavens.

Great stuff. And first of a set.

Sadly, the old cover fell off in midread. But it was worth it.

Find it in the library and have a look.

Last Updated on Sunday, 03 April 2011 21:32
The Egyptologist (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 26 March 2011 22:24

The act of observing an event changes an event.

And sometimes, the act of reviewing a book ruins it for the readers.

This is true for Arthur Phillip's novel, The Egyptologist - how can one review a book for curious readers yet put up spoiler alerts? Rest assured - I'll do my best not to give away any of the succulent moments or the gripping ending. So here goes...

The novel takes place directly in 1922, and indirectly in 1954. told entirely through correspondence. The primary writings are from the Egyptologist himself through his combination of his working journal and diary, seemingly fearful for his life following the discovery of a lifetime. The other thread comes from a depressingly retired detective in an Australian home, answering a written query (and desperately pitching a book deal on the subject). Other items, notes, cables, and bills, fill out the story.

So it's a mystery (of sorts) without a central detective (discounting the case-overbilling Ferrell), inwhich the reader must follow the thread, without explanation nor exposition, piecing together the clues themselves, cutting through the lies and staying with it to its grim conclusion.

First off; don't worry, it does become clear.

And secondly, it's marvelous.

The story is a wonderful mix of deceptions, perceptions, deceits, prejudices, boasts, and dreams. And in it, a double murder, mobster involvement, pornography, Egyptology, slums and mansions, Australia and Boston and Oxford and Egypt, even twin acrobats who share corrupt pleasures on the fly.

As I said, I can't tell you why you should read it.

Just read it.

Cats. Post. Bank. (if you read it, you'll get the joke).

Last Updated on Sunday, 27 March 2011 19:52
Keen Prose 1 PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 13 March 2011 12:13

I've started the "Keen Prose" thread, where I'll post phrases from authors whose pen's I'm not fit to lick. It's the word choices and phrases that bring smiles, and convey buckets of meaning in the tightest structure.


"On the following morning, whilst Major Sands was sulking, like Achilles, in his tent..."

The Black Swan

Rafael Sabatini

Footnote: I've always loved Sabatini - next to Wells, he is the author who's work comes across as poetry to me. And Major Sands in The Black Swan is the smoldering dufus who is being outwitted and outdone by the flashing hero, Charles de Bernis. Comparing the resentful Sands to Achilles is pretty sharp, since anyone who has read the Iliad remembers Achilles and his sit-down strike, and while he was the hero amongst heroes, this clever wording is Sabatini's little shared joke with his more well-read readers.

Last Updated on Sunday, 13 March 2011 12:26

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