A Second Look: Painsharing and Other Stories

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After nuclear war, a survivor of the monster-populated ruins of Oakland California joins the crew of a clipper ship sailing the waters of the Pacific.  A typhoon shipwrecks him on a tropical island whose inhabitants share a bizarre secret.

 Visitors from Earth on a far planet discover that a group of white tigers with enhanced intelligence are terrorizing the locals.  As one of the visitors escorts a young crippled girl back to her village the tigers begin to hunt them.

 At the edge of the solar system an interstellar spacecraft is ordered by an unknown power to change course and fly to Pluto; when it refuses to comply the entire crew is mysteriously killed.  An unlikely team goes to investigate and are confronted with a life-or-death conundrum stranger than anything they could have imagined.

 On a distant planet the ultimate civil punishment is to be genetically deformed into a monstrous beast and forced to live in the forbidden compound called Purgatory as slaves of the State.  When authorities arrest and condemn the woman he loves, a man determines to find and save her, even if he must descend into Purgatory itself. 

 In these and other gripping science fiction tales John Walters explores possible futures on Earth and other worlds.

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Book Review: Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

I can’t remember the recent thought processes that caused me to desire to read Doctor Zhivago now, after all this time. The David Lean film was very important to me as a young teen. I saw it multiple times in the theater and more times on TV. I was utterly enthralled by the cinematography, the music, the story, the historical background, and the performances. It meant something different back then during the Cold War era than it does now. It had relevance; it was a hot topic. The novel was rejected in Russia and was first published in 1957 in Italy. In 1958, Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, but Soviet backlash forced him to refuse the honor. In an article published in the Paris Review in December 2017, shortly before her death, Ursula K. Le Guin writes with admiration that a prize for refusing major awards should have been named the Boris Pasternak Prize in honor of this deed.

I had had a copy of the novel Doctor Zhivago when I was young, but the length and style daunted me and I never got around to reading it. I had been thinking about watching the film again, as certain scenes accompanied by the music had been playing in my mind, but decided to wait until my son arrives from the east coast in a month or so to join me. Reading the novel, I suppose, was a prelude to this event.

Once the decision was made, I had to choose which translation to go for. There are two major translations, both of which are applauded and criticized. From my research I found out that the early original translation flowed better but did not follow every nuance of the original Russian so closely. The newer translation was more meticulous but as a result much harder to follow. I decided to go for the older easier translation; I didn’t want to hamstring myself with a text that might not make sense in the literal rendering. Unfortunately, our local library system had many copies of the newer translation but only one 800-page large print edition of the older one. This version turned out to be rife with typographical errors; it was almost as if whoever was responsible didn’t bother to check the text at all. Nevertheless, I was able to ignore these as I read.

To be honest, the book starts slowly. I was about 300 pages or so in before it began to get interesting. The story begins with Zhivago as a boy witnessing his mother’s funeral. It follows his life as a young man as well as the background of Lara, his eventual lover, a corrupt lawyer named Komarovsky who torments and abuses Lara, and Pasha, a revolutionary who becomes Lara’s husband. The plot also unfolds around a number of secondary characters whose stories were trimmed from the film version. Zhivago and Lara meet at the front during World War I but remain chaste with each other. During the course of the war the Marxist revolution grows and spreads. The story really becomes interesting and absorbing as Zhivago and his family are forced to flee Moscow and take a long train ride across Russia to Varykino in the Ural Mountains. Zhivago’s father in law has an estate there where they all hope to find peace, but the peace is short-lived. Zhivago reunites with Lara and has an affair with her, but soon afterwards he is abducted by a faction of armies fighting in the countryside and forced to serve as a medical officer. Eventually he escapes, but only after his family has already fled back to Moscow and then to Paris. He and Lara have a brief, heartfelt affair and then are once again separated.

My summary of the plot is hopelessly brief and inadequate. As I mentioned, there are many nuances and subplots. Parts of the novel, for me, were slow and ponderous; others seemed unnecessary; there were moments, though, when Pasternak’s gift of poetry shines through in all its glory. This happens frequently when he describes the colors and landscapes of the cities, towns, and countryside in all seasons.

The glorious highlight of the book is when Zhivago, Lara, and Lara’s daughter go and live for a short time in an abandoned house in Varykino in the dead of winter. The town is deserted. They are all alone and isolated. They know that they have but a short time, as they are in danger of arrest or execution. In the midst of it all, Zhivago finds a pen, ink, and paper, sits down during the late night hours at a desk, and writes poetry. Pasternak’s description of the creative process, of sheer uninhibited abandonment to the writer’s art, is unparalleled, and I found the joy of discovering and reading these few pages worth the time it took to read the entire 800 pages of the book. He writes of Zhivago first putting to paper and revising poems he had already written, and then, as he starts on a new poem, inspiration takes over. As it does, language becomes the receptacle of beauty and meaning and assumes the power of a piece of music or the flow of a mighty river. When this happens, the writer is but a tool of universal thought and the poetry of the present and future. Ah, I don’t do it justice. I’m sure the translation doesn’t do it justice either. This is probably one of those sublime passages that can never be properly read except in the original language.

In short, I enjoyed reading this novel, but some parts were far more evocative than others. And I also highly recommend the film by David Lean, which remains one of my all-time favorite cinematic experiences.

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Book Review: A Fiction of the Past: The Sixties in American History by Dominick Cavallo

I came into the sixties indirectly – that is, in the backwash of the early seventies. Gone were the Diggers, the SDS, Woodstock, the Summer of Love, the whole Flower Power scene, and other manifestations that made the era so unique. When I moved to the Bay Area to attend university in 1970, a hopelessly naive and clueless seventeen-year-old, what I got full force were the drugs, the rock music, the cynicism, the growing violence of spirit, and the confusion that followed the dissolution of a short-lived dream. I took psychedelics, smoked grass and hashish, and listened to the Grateful Dead, Santana, and whatever else the people around me were playing at the time, including Black Sabbath, which always sent me into a negative funk and spiral of despair. I kept searching for a ray of hope in all the vague kaleidoscopic mélange of impressions, but found that whatever glimpses I received of stability, strength, and growth were mirages.

Still, the youth counterculture of the sixties and early seventies impressed me profoundly and became my formative influence as I returned to my hometown and eventually hit the road to find my voice as a writer. Since then, the era has fascinated me, and I have sought out history books and memoirs on the hippy phenomenon, the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the politics of the time, and so on, that can help me make sense of what happened. I even wrote two mainstream novels that take place back then: The Misadventures of Mama Kitchen, set in a wilderness commune, Haight/Ashbury, and the Woodstock music festival in the late sixties; and Sunflower, which begins at the Altamont music festival during which a fan was murdered and then goes into the disillusionment of the cultural landscape in the early seventies.

All that to explain my interest in this book. At the end, the author reveals that the title is based on a quote from the essay “Walking” by Henry David Thoreau. It says: “Perchance, when, in the course of ages, American liberty has become a fiction of the past – as it is to some extent a fiction of the present – the poets of the world will be inspired by American mythology.” The author’s conclusion, basically, is that the various forms of rebellion put forth by white radicals from middle class backgrounds in the sixties failed. This is not intended to be a comprehensive history of the sixties – something I still haven’t found that would have to be much longer than this rather slim volume. Instead, it focuses on that one demographic: white people, mainly men, from fairly affluent families; and on three groups: the Diggers, who appeared as a form of countercultural street entertainment in San Francisco in the mid-sixties, rock groups from the Bay Area such as the Grateful Dead and the Jefferson Airplane; and the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS.

The first third of the book does not touch on the sixties at all; rather, the author describes child-rearing behavior in the fifties to attempt to explain why the sixties rebels behaved as they did. He posits that many middle class parents inculcated their offspring with a sense of independence that was further reinforced by the predominance of westerns in the popular media. The idea is that the pioneering spirit that spurred the move west in the United States crashed on the shores of the Pacific where there were no more worlds to conquer, and these young people, brought up to be individualists and free thinkers, translated that spirit into the sixties counterculture. Each of the three groups the author describes attempted to embody this spirit in its own way. The Diggers, which began as a Bay Area mime troupe, took their act to the streets, where they performed dramas intended to bring about changes in the minds of their audience. The popular musicians of the era expressed their rebellion in the deals they made with record companies, eventually achieving an unprecedented degree of autonomy that allowed them to pursue their own artistic visions. The members of SDS argued for a better sense of community and more involvement in local politics, but their movement fell apart for lack of a strong central vision to guide it.

This is an interesting book, but disjointed and far from complete. It’s difficult, perhaps impossible, to take a slice of history out of context and attempt to explain it on its own terms. This is especially true of the sixties, during which such shattering events as the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam were of such overwhelming importance. No, this is not the sixties book I am looking for. I would like to see something comprehensive that at least attempts to tie all the pieces together. Perhaps such a book already exists, but if so, I haven’t found it. Maybe the subject is too big to be encapsulated in one volume. A Fiction of the Past also has the problem of being unbalanced. Far too much space is given to the childrearing methods of the fifties and the abortive SDS movement, and not enough on the ongoing effects of the hippie counterculture and rock music.

One point, though, that I found particularly interesting: The author explains the importance of rock musicians insisting on breaking with the convention of the big recording companies calling the shots and receiving unheard-of autonomy in the recording of their music. This reminds me of the self-publishing trend in modern literature today. It has given many literary artists the opportunity to pursue their individual visions without being thwarted or limited by overpowering publishing companies.

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A Second Look: World Without Pain: The Story of a Search

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In the 1970s, after the Altamont Rock Festival, the Manson Family cult murders, and the fiasco of the Vietnam War many young people, disillusioned by the hippy movement, began to leave their homelands and travel to the far places of the world.  Hoping to find drugs, sex, freedom, and excitement, they more often were confronted with destitution, despair, disease, loneliness, and culture shock.

 As a young writer wishing to break out of the familiar rut in which he was stagnating, Walters hit the road during this time, first to Europe, then onward to the Indian Subcontinent.  He sampled Buddhism and radical Christianity; he wandered alone in the Himalayas; he listened to strange gurus spouting stranger doctrines; he watched the people around him deteriorating and dying in the lands of the East.  As he traveled onward he became fascinated with the road itself, and determined to discover its secrets. He wondered what it was that gave the road its alluring power, and he forsook everything else to find out.

 His story will appeal to those who lived through the turmoil of the 60s and 70s, to those who are hungering after spiritual fulfillment, to writers and other artists in search of their voice and their inspiration, and to anyone who loves a true story of adventure and excitement set in unfamiliar lands.

This is my first memoir. Recently I have been looking back on the times I write about in this book, and I am amazed at where I went and the dangerous and unsettling situations I encountered. Now my temerity astonishes me, but back then I took it in stride, considering it all a glorious and grand adventure. You don’t hear about people stepping out onto the road like this anymore. Give this book a read; you won’t be disappointed.

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Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Disclaimer time: I haven’t read The Martian, the book that made Andy Weir famous. I’ve seen the movie a few times, though, and that will have to suffice to allow me to make comparisons between that story and this, because comparisons are inevitable. The Martian is an amazing story about a man’s struggle to survive when he is left alone in a place where he should not have been able to survive, and about the myriad people who went all out to help him. It stirs the heartstrings. You really want to see this person succeed.

Artemis is set on the Moon instead of Mars, and the technology involved in surviving in the Moon’s harsh environment plays a large part in the plot. The difference here is in the universality and appeal of the characters and circumstances. Don’t get me wrong. Artemis is a very entertaining read, but it’s by no means as significant a work as The Martin. The reason lies in the characters and their motivations. In The Martian, we have interplanetary explorers studying a new planet, and we have a noble hero fighting for survival. On the other hand, the hero of Artemis is a petty smuggler turned industrial saboteur. A rich criminal wants to take over the Moon’s most lucrative industry, and he recruits Jasmine, nicknamed Jazz, a young Saudi Arabian woman in her mid-twenties with a penchant for profanity, to destroy the expensive equipment that helps the industry run in return for the Moon equivalent of a million bucks. Jazz agrees, not because she needs the money for some noble cause, but so she can move into a better apartment. This is before it comes out that the industry is run by bad guy mobsters. I can’t buy that in a hero, and I almost stopped reading at that point because I felt no sympathy for the main character.

I persevered because despite its flaws, the story is interesting. Weir’s strength as a writer is not in his prose, which is rudimentary, or his characters, which are quite shallow. What he does well is imagine the technology needed to sustain an environment suitable for human life and use it to play a key role in the plot development, just as he did in The Martian. All the little details of what it takes to survive in a city on the Moon are the unique aspects of this tale. It’s a quick, fast-paced read, and I could almost see the movie cameras setting up as I went along. After the success of the film of The Martian, it’s almost certain that some company will make a movie of Artemis. And that’s fine. It will probably be fun to watch. All the intricacies resolve themselves at the end in a very clever way. It will probably be a hit film.

Would I recommend this book? As light entertainment, sure, why not? It’s fun to read. It’s a relaxing diversion. I kind of wish Weir had gone deeper into all the issues he brings up, like homelessness, alienation from parents, predatory large corporations, amoral criminals, and the sociological and psychological implications of spending one’s whole life in a tiny confined space in the midst of a hostile environment. But then again, that’s obviously not what he’s after. He wants to tell a fun, light, action-packed, tech-based science fiction story. And in that he succeeds.

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Book Review: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

I have wanted to read this book for some time, so I put in a reservation at the library and I was about two hundredth in line. It would have taken many months. Then it became available as part of the library’s Peak Picks program, in which bestsellers are shelved in a special place and can be taken out on a first-come first-served basis with no reservations, two weeks borrowing time, and no extensions. Fair enough. I could have read it in less than two weeks, and when I finally got it, I did. However, I delayed initiating this particular reading project. Why? Because the subject matter hit too close to home. Let me explain.

Ever since I moved back to the States after living in Greece for over fifteen years, I have had a terrific struggle bringing in income. In Greece, I taught English as a second language for a long time and got very good at it. I assumed I would easily get a job teaching English here with my experience and recommendations. I was wrong. No school would even consider my application because I lacked a college degree. I could have been a great asset to their teaching staff. Their loss. But mine too, because I found that I had great difficulty finding any kind of job. And I applied for a lot of them at all sorts of places. You can read about my struggle in my memoir America Redux: Impressions of the United States After Thirty-Five Years Abroad. In desperation, I sought freelance writing work, and that’s what I have been doing to pay the rent and bills since then.

Recently, one of my adult sons who had been helping to pay the rent moved out, leaving me to foot the bill by myself. Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad he moved; it’s the best thing for him at this time. But I have not been making enough money to cover the rent by myself, and I wondered what I would do. At the same time, my current lease was coming to an end, and I received notice that the company that owns this housing complex was raising the rent for the new lease. Again. Seattle housing is expensive. Even with a roommate, I have been spending about ninety percent of my income on rent and bills.

A seemingly bottomless pit of despair opened up before me. I didn’t want to lose the apartment; I knew I couldn’t find anything better in a decent neighborhood. Okay, well, now I am writing this from a position of relative advantage, because I managed to find some writing work that should help – at least on a temporary basis. But as I said, my first reaction was despair, and then my second reaction was to go on the attack and fix the problem. At the same time, the book Evicted became available. However, until I got my own situation – especially my attitude situation – under some sort of control, I didn’t want to compound my negativity by reading about other people’s similar experiences.

Actually, the people in this book have it much, much worse. Desmond chronicles the lives of about a dozen residents of Milwaukee who are living in deep poverty. He alternates between the poor black north section of town and the poor white south section of town. He follows the residents of crappy slum apartments and house trailers as they struggle to cope with eviction notices, landlord negligence, and the raising of their children. He follows the lives of the landlords too, who are getting rich off the misery of their fellow citizens.

It’s a traumatic but eye-opening read. An essential read, I would say. At the end, he proposes possible solutions. Each viable way to help dig these struggling people out of poverty involves sharing and sacrifice – commodities in short supply in the present political environment. In a postscript essay, the author explains how he researched the project. The amount of interviews he conducted, surveys he commissioned, and data he compiled and consolidated is truly impressive. Even more impressive, though, is the fact that he dove into the lifestyle himself. He lived in the trailer park and inner city slum he writes about. He experienced the filth and degradation first-hand. He got to know the landlords personally. There is no doubt as to the veracity of his story.

So yes, this is a significant and important and essential book. As the author points out, everyone has the right to a decent, safe place to live. The terrible housing crisis in the United States needs to be addressed. This book is a step in the right direction. Read it. I just hope that you never have to realize its truths on such a visceral level as I have

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What a Long Strange Year It’s Been: A Personal Look at 2017

Like many of you, I have been aghast at America’s convoluted, complex, and dysfunctional political situation this past year, but I’m not going to comment on that. Early on in this blog’s history, I decided to stay far away from politics, religion, and other hot topics in favor of a more literary outlook. There are other blogs that argue contemporary issues, but this is not one of them.

Contemplating the vicissitudes of my life since January 1st, 2017, I wonder what I should focus on. I had an important operation early in the year, spent the night at the hospital, and then spent another month or so recovering. The operation was successful and enabled me to get off some medications that were leaving me constantly dizzy and exhausted. But I don’t really want to talk about my health. I’m almost sixty-five years old, and I’m bound to have health issues from time to time.

I suppose I could delve into my financial situation. That certainly occupied a lot of my thoughts over the past year. It’s been a struggle to survive sometimes, and when I came close to the edge of poverty from time to time during the year, I became anxious and depressed. But I don’t really want to write about my finances either. I actually did write a blog post called “Sometimes We Just Have a Bad Day” when I was going through some of the worst of my financial struggles. And do you know what happened? I never published it. I decided that it was too negative and I didn’t want to bring you down. Anyway, I’ve been poor most of my life, and I’ve written extensively of my poverty before, especially in the memoirs World Without Pain: The Story of a Search, America Redux: Impressions of the United States After Thirty-Five Years Abroad, and Writing as a Metaphysical Experience. No use going over old ground. Suffice it to say that over the past year I have had considerable difficulties with finances.

What I would like to talk about instead is my writing, and in that I have made considerable progress. I published my twenty-second book, a short story collection called Heroes and Other Illusions: Stories. Some stories of mine were published in anthologies. Among these was my first hardcover anthology sale, my story “The Lady of the Lost Valley” in the anthology Gothic Fantasy: Lost Worlds, in which I was sandwiched in between two writers you may have heard of called Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

In 2017, I focused on writing short stories and novelettes rather than longer works, and so I also focused on marketing short stories. For most of the year, I have had from twenty-five to forty short stories making the rounds of science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and literary magazine and anthology markets. Persistence has paid off, as I have several stories sold and due to be published in the spring.

One of my most important accomplishments this year was finally selling enough stories to professional markets to qualify as an active member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I have been an associate member for years, but those final qualifying professional sales were elusive until recently. As I wrote in an earlier blog post called “Three Out of Five”:

The goals that I formulated shortly after I began writing again a little over three decades ago were these:

 First, to sell a story to a magazine or an anthology. Self-publishing was not an option at that time, and to count the story had to be sold and not given away for free.

 Second, to get at least one professional sale so I could join Science Fiction Writers of America as an associate member. I understand that some writers value membership in writers’ organizations more than others, but to me this held great significance ever since I attended Clarion West Science Fiction Writing Workshop when I had just turned twenty in 1973.

 Third, to get at least three professional sales so I could upgrade my membership in SFWA to active, which is the highest class of membership.

 Fourth, to sell enough fiction and other writing professionally so I could make my fulltime living as a writer.

 The fifth goal, I admit, is the most arbitrary and the one I have the least control over. I’m not going to tell you that one right now; it stays under my proverbial hat.

 I sold my first story in 1999: “Clear Shining After Rain” to the Australian SF magazine Altair. I don’t count my first publication, which was “The Ghost of Halkidiki Past” to an English-language Greek magazine, because they never paid me for it – I had to wait to get paid for that story until it was reprinted in the US literary magazine Lynx Eye in 2001.

 It turns out that my first sale was also my first professional sale, as Altair paid pro rates, but SFWA didn’t list it as a qualifying market for membership until 2007, which is when I joined as an associate member. So that was that.

 In the next ten years, I sold quite a few stories and self-published many more, but I didn’t get the credentials to upgrade my SFWA membership to active until recently.

 So there it is: three out of five. It’s taken a long time and a lot of work.

 As far as goal four, I am in fact a fulltime writer, but many of the pieces I get paid to write are articles about which I have no personal interest. While I am researching and writing these articles, I often wonder how much more productive my fiction writing would be if I could pour all that energy and effort into that instead of those articles for which I get a one-time payment and then they are afterwards relegated to oblivion. So I won’t feel I have reached goal four until I am supported by my fiction and memoir work, not by that work for hire crap.

 As for goal five, that one goes on the back burner. It’s not in my hands.

 What’s upcoming in 2018? As I said, several stories are coming out in the spring, all of them in prestigious professional venues, so I hope that they create a stir. I have suddenly found myself in the midst of writing a novel that I thought was going to be a novelette. This will be novel number seven, so there’s that. Additionally, I still have a lot of stories out to market. Although I am busy with article writing to raise funds for the rent and bills, I always try to write a minimum of five hundred words of fiction or personal essays daily, even if I have to do it late at night, and I intend to continue that practice. Persistence is the key. I hope to progress much farther along the path of my own personal writer’s journey in 2018.

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A Second Look: Love Children: A Novel

LoveChildren_WebCover (2)BigIt is the mid-1970s.  The Summer of Love and the Woodstock Music Festival have come and gone.  Into the atmosphere of cynicism and doubt following the wild optimism of the youth revolution the Love Children, raised from birth by benevolent aliens, come home to Earth.  Sexually free, telepathic, and honest to the extreme, they are appalled to find that the world they left behind is full of darkness and deceit. As they set about using their extraordinary powers to bring light and unity back to their world, they run up against a sinister alien force intending to keep it in darkness.

 This is my first novel, a science fiction tale that contrasts the telepathically advanced and pacifistic alien culture human orphans are brought up in with the selfish and violent societies on Earth to which they return to search for their parents. It’s a fast-paced science fiction adventure set in exotic locales such as Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Thailand, Greece, the San Francisco Bay area, and a spacecraft orbiting Earth.

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Book Review: Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

I have to blurt out right from the start that this is the best novel I have read in a long time. How I came to read it was unusual. I had started another novel, a highly acclaimed novel in fact, and it just didn’t hold my interest. The premise was fascinating, but the prose was pedestrian, mundane, boring, uninspired – I might even say pulpish. There’s nothing wrong with pulp fiction – it has its place – but this particular story and subject deserved much better. I got about one hundred pages in and it was a real slog. I kept thinking that I was supposed to like it. I kept wondering when it would all fall together and start to hum with life. Alas, it never did. So I finally found this book by Erdrich at the library and dropped the other one. Unusual move for me, to leave a book before finishing it. But whatever.

As soon as I started reading Future Home of the Living God I knew I’d found the real deal. Erdrich has a wonderful fluid writing style, and her characters come off as real people. Within a few sentences I was hooked, and the fascination and suspense didn’t let up at any point in the narrative.

Native American Erdrich is renowned as a literary writer, and this science fictional near future dystopia is a departure for her. In the story, evolution has stalled or reversed itself. Few women become pregnant, and of those who do, even fewer give birth to live, normal babies. The narrator is a Native American woman who was adopted by white middle class parents. Early on in her pregnancy, she learns about and visits her Native American mother and her family, so she has two sets of parents looking out for her in the crisis that follows. In the wake of this disaster, pregnant women are rounded up and imprisoned, and other women of childbearing age are drafted and sent to special facilities to attempt to conceive and bear children. The government has mutated and become some sort of evil Big Brother whose minions put on sickening smiling faces to hide their evil deeds. The narrator attempts to evade capture while her pregnancy becomes more and more noticeable.

The idea is not new. One treatment of a similar theme that comes to mind is in the acclaimed movie Children of Men. What makes this story special is the talent that Erdrich brings to the narration. She is an amazing writer. Not a word is misplaced. She has the ability to hold your attention and your heartstrings in a firm grip and not let go. It was such a pleasant surprise to dive into this novel after being so disappointed in the previous one, to come to the realization that this is how it is supposed to be done. This is a wonderful book; I can’t praise it enough and I highly recommend it.

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Book Review: Chief Seattle and the Town That Took His Name: The Change of Worlds for the Native People and Settlers on Puget Sound by David M. Buerge

When I take my daily walks in my neighborhood in north Seattle, I marvel that so much of the indigenous foliage has survived the carpeting-over by houses, shops, streets, and sidewalks. Majestic evergreens tower high over the tallest buildings, and the area is otherwise replete with many other types of trees, bushes, shrubbery, flowers, and grass. After spending hours in front of a computer, my eyes drink in the deep natural colors and my nose the sweet sharp scent of pine and spruce resin like spiritual nourishment. I often imagine, as I stroll along, what the landscape would have been like without all the aforementioned shops, houses, streets, and so on. I attempt to picture the primal forest and its stark beauty.

There are too few books about the history of Seattle, so this new volume is essential. It comes across as being very well researched, and the stories it tells are fascinating. Having said that, I have to admit, for me at least, it is not an easy read. Much of it has to do with how the material is presented, which takes some getting used to. Instead of presenting the material with the simple English alphabet, the author has chosen to use phonetic symbols for many Native American names of people and places. After a time, when these words written in symbols multiply, it becomes very confusing to try to keep them straight. Additionally, although there are numerous pages of maps in the front of the book, so many places are mentioned so often that it dragged down the narrative as I had to continually search for the right map to consult and then locate the place being discussed. The author also comes across as more of a historian than a storyteller, and a smoother style would have eased absorption into the events on the page.

On the plus side, it’s a fascinating story. Buerge focuses on Chief Seattle and his influence in creating and nurturing the city of Seattle, beginning with the era on Puget Sound before pioneer settlers came and initiated the disruption of their way of life, through the years of early city growth, and on into the statehood of Washington and the primacy of Seattle in regional commerce and politics.

It’s a bloody tale. There’s little in it of peaceful, noble Native Americans or settlers. In the early days, Native Americans made savage, violent raids upon one another. When white people came, they warred with the Native Americans. When the Chinese came, both whites and Native Americans resented and fought them. Overall, Puget Sound in the early days comes across as a terrifying place to try to live and raise a family, but many settlers came and gave it their best.

As the book makes clear, in his early years, Seattle was quite a savage warrior himself, but as more and more white men settled in the area around Elliot Bay that eventually became a city that appropriated his name, he became a man of peace and reconciliation, attempting to blend the cultures of white men and Native Americans to mutual advantage. In his old age he converted to the Catholic faith, setting an example of integration that he hoped his people would follow to ensure their survival. His was a unique and interesting life that straddled great societal changes in the Pacific Northwest region.

Overall, I would recommend the book for its value as a historical document, although it’s a bit too effortful a read to qualify as relaxing entertainment.

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