Book Review: The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-First Annual Collection Edited by Gardner Dozois

I found this book, a hardcover in excellent condition, in a boxful of books that one of my sons was planning to donate to Goodwill. When I pointed it out, he told me he was going to offer it to me before he gave it away. I definitely wanted to keep it. Gardner Dozois died recently after an amazing career as a writer and editor. He edited best-of-the-year collections of science fiction for over thirty years.

Currently three or four best-of-the-year collections come out every year covering science fiction or a mix of science fiction and fantasy. Others cover fantasy only, horror, and other more specialized subgenres. What made Dozois’ anthologies different was their comprehensiveness. Besides hundreds of thousands of words of fiction, he also included introductions that summarized major publishing events during the year (the introduction to this book runs almost thirty pages of small print) and a long list of stories that in his opinion merited honorable mention. These books stand as important literary milestones of science fiction’s achievements year by year. They are not only valuable collector’s items, but they also contain hours of entertainment in their many stories.

As with any editor’s best-of-the-year collections, I don’t agree with all of Dozois’ selections in any of the anthologies of his I have read. Especially because of the sheer volume of stories in these anthologies, there are bound to be some that readers favor over others. However, as usual, in this particular collection there are enough gems to make a great reading experience. This anthology has Dozois’ selection of the best stories from 2003. Here’s a brief summary of some of my favorites:

“The Ice” by Steven Popkes is an intriguing story about a man who is a clone of a famous hockey player. For a time he plays hockey and is a star, but after he becomes too obsessed with the sport he realizes he has to forge a unique, individual life for himself.

In “The Bear’s Baby” by Judith Moffett, aliens have invaded Earth and restricted access to certain areas of wilderness to all but a few naturalists. One of these naturalists discovers a sinister reason why the aliens have marked off the wilds for themselves. This story starts off a bit slowly, but gets more and more intriguing as it progresses.

In “The Fluted Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi, the world is ruled by an aristocratic elite who can use the rest of humankind however they want. The fluted girl of the title has been altered so that her body itself is a musical instrument. This leaves her intensely vulnerable to injury. How the fluted girl gets revenge upon her mistress is the subject of the story.

I think my favorite story in the volume is “Welcome to Olympus, Mr. Hearst” by Kage Baker, which concerns the visit of a team of time-traveling immortals to William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper tycoon, at his palatial complex on the hillside near the town of San Simeon in California. Hearst’s gluttony for power and the trappings of power was the inspiration for Orson Wells’ cinema classic Citizen Kane. In this story, Baker presents Hearst as a dynamic and complex character who receives a most unusual offer from the time travelers.

The closing novella, “Dear Abbey” by Terry Bisson, is another time traveling story. This time a team of academics ride a time machine all the way to the end of time, stopping at all sorts of interesting locations on the way. The most fascinating aspect of this story, though, is how Bisson presents God as an AI unit created by man that infiltrates the Earth.

Whenever you come across one of Gardner Dozois’ best-of-the-year anthologies, you can be assured of plenty of thought-provoking entertainment.

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A Second Look: After the Rosy-Fingered Dawn: A Memoir of Greece

Greece has always been regarded as the birthplace of western civilization and a Mediterranean paradise.  In The Iliad and The Odyssey Homer uses the magical epithet rosy-fingered dawn to describe the sunrise over a land of myth, fascination, and mystery.  But when preconceptions and illusions are swept aside, what is Greece really like?

 John Walters has lived in Greece for over fifteen years.  He has hitchhiked over many of its roads; traveled by camper; journeyed by plane, boat, bus, car, taxi, motorcycle, and on foot.  He has lived and worked and raised a family among Greeks.  He offers insight from an intimate perspective on aspects of Greek society and culture of which tourists are unaware.

 Many have visited Greece and afterwards acknowledged that the country has profoundly changed them.  This memoir is for those who feel something special when they think of Greece and Greeks, those for whom Greece holds a special thrall, those who have visited and have their own memories of the place, and those who would like to visit someday and know that when they do they will obtain new insight, new clarity, and will never be the same again.

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Book Review: Travels With Epicurus: A Journey to a Greek Island in Search of a Fulfilled Life by Daniel Klein

Lately I have come to realize that I am getting old. I should have known it already for some time now because numbers don’t lie, but I have been able to ignore my age so far because of my excellent genes and the exercise regimen that I have kept up for decades. I’m well into my sixties and I hardly have any gray hair yet. However, I’m tired almost all the time now, my muscles and joints ache more that they used to, and I simply don’t have the endurance I once had. There was a time I could best my sons not only at running, but at any other sport we attempted together. Alas, those days are long gone. Every one of them except the youngest is bigger and stronger than me. The youngest is stronger too; he just doesn’t tower over me quite yet.

These are the realities of life. People age. It’s inevitable. In the viewpoint of the young, it’ll never happen. It’s only when the deterioration begins that one realizes that yes, it will happen to me too, and the vicissitudes of time have already begun to reap their toll.

This brings me to the book Travels With Epicurus, which is a meditation on old age. The writer, an American, took off for a period of time to a remote Greek island without roads or motor vehicles to contemplate old age and what one’s attitude should be towards it. In a nutshell, he is of the opinion that old people should adopt the philosophy of Epicurus, who believed that life was meant to be lived as simply and pleasurably as possible. Epicurus’s recipe for happiness was doing as little work as possible, growing your own food in a garden, and spending most of your time in conversation with friends.

Ah, if only…

It’s a nice idea, but for many people it falls apart under analysis. If I had a plot of land on which I could live and grow food and an abundance of compatriots with which to share leisure time, I would probably be content enough. However, that’s not how it usually works. The weakness of this book is its presumption that all old people own their own homes and have enough free time to be able to relax and enjoy life. The author was able to take off alone on an extended trip to an idyllic Greek island, get by during this time without working, and then return to a wife, house, and enough income to continue living comfortably.

Okay, that’s the downside to the book. However, I don’t want to give you the impression that this is a negative review. In fact, I loved this book. It’s just that despite its wonderful thoughts on old age and what aging means in a metaphysical context, it’s not really a practical guide to how anyone might actually live except for the small percentage of affluent people who can afford to relax, contemplate their existence, and do nothing else but write their life story.

I have to admit that I daydream frequently about circumstances such as the author suggests in this book: a modest quiet place in which to write, free time in which to leisurely compose my thoughts, and enough income to meet my needs. Instead, due to circumstances about which I have written much in the past, I struggle daily for survival, work long hours seven days a week, and breathe a deep sigh of relief when I once again manage to pay the rent and bills at the end of the month.

Still, I appreciate this book, impractical though it is. It’s like comfort food for old folks. I sincerely enjoy reading the predigested philosophy and hearing about Klein’s simple existence on the Greek island of Hydra. I have lived in Greece and I have visited several of the islands, and I would love to put in some writing time in a situation similar to what Klein describes in this book. Just thinking about it brings back the quietness, the simplicity, the warm breeze bearing the aroma of the ocean, the hot sand underfoot, and the feel of the cool clear waters.

If only… If only… Maybe someday.

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Book Review: Ten Years a Nomad: A Traveler’s Journey Home by Matthew Kepnes

I’m about three-quarters of the way through this book, and I have mixed feelings about it. In its favor, it’s an easy read, and it brings up nostalgic feelings of my own road experiences. I can relate to a lot of what he is saying. I too have traveled for years with no set itinerary, stayed at hostels with diverse types of roommates, seen some of the world’s fabulous and remote places, and had passing friends and lovers. And yet…

I suppose I have to take this author’s experiences for what they are. Although he writes mainly in generalities, in fact every traveler has a different story and a different motivation that propels them out on the road for the first time. This is one person’s story. That he attempts to compartmentalize the realities of budget travel – well, I suppose it works for some people.

It calls to mind the title of his other book, evidently a best seller when it came out: How to Travel the World on $50 a Day. When I first read that title I thought, Wow! If I had had fifty dollars a day to spend when I was traveling, I would have been living in luxury. Kepnes always seems to have had enough money to bale himself out of tight situations. He could grab a flight to somewhere else whenever he wanted. I don’t intend this as criticism. In fact, I don’t recommend that most people attempt to travel the way I did back in the day. That way they won’t go hungry in Delhi, India, or be forced to beg on the streets in Tehran.

Kepnes is concerned with traveling for entertainment and adventure, as are most people. As for me, my motivations were more artistic and metaphysical. I wanted to find my voice as a writer, and also I sought answers to profound questions about life that I couldn’t find wallowing in my misery back at home.

Before I get too far in my criticisms, though, let me reiterate that I enjoyed this book, even though I expected something different. I was hoping for a memoir of Kepnes’s time on the road. Instead, the chapters are broken down, as I said, into general subjects concerning road life. Fair enough. My expectations were errant. Each of the chapters brought back its own memories, especially those concerning finding friends on the road, taking jobs in other countries as an expatriate, and having and then abandoning precious love affairs.

I’m presently at a time in my life during which travel is difficult. I did manage to take a couple of road trips with my sons this past summer, and those were a lot of fun. I’m speaking, though, of extended travel when you don’t know how long you’ll be gone or where you’ll end up. Reading this book brought back those wonderful aimless and carefree feelings and made me realize how much I missed them. It’s true that it’s a lot easier to make friends and leave your cares behind on the road. However, taking off on the road is not always possible. Right now I’m seeing a son through school. Afterwards, who can say? I recently converted my longing for the road into a new novel that will hopefully be available soon. That’s one outlet.

In conclusion, this is an interesting and entertaining book, even though it over-generalizes and is content to skim the surface of the travel experience. It offers insight into a subculture that seems to have survived since my own travel days.

*     *     *

As I mentioned above, I hadn’t quite finished reading the book when I wrote the first part of this review. Now that I’m done, I have a few more things to say.

The rest of the book focuses on Matt’s decision to come in off the road. After spending close to two hundred pages extolling the wonders of the road experience, he finally realizes that he is burned out and wants to quit and settle down. He fantasizes about a house with a garden that he can tend. Part of the reason for this change of heart is a deep love affair with a woman he meets. It turns out, though, that she doesn’t want to stop moving, whereas Matt feels he has to. And so they split up.

The chapter in which he describes his road burn out is among the most poignant in the book. I know how he felt. I came in off the road several times before I settled for decades while my ex-wife and I raised our family. The difference is that in a sense I was still on the road because we set up our home in Greece. Still, there is a profound difference between constantly moving as a road nomad and settling in one spot, however exotic it might be.

So Matt came in off the road, moved to Austin, published books, and now runs his Nomadic Matt blog as a business. The website has a lot of interesting articles about all sorts of subjects related to travel. As for Ten Years a Nomad, the closing chapters in which Matt settles give a fitting conclusion to his road adventures.

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Book Review: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

It’s interesting that I came across this graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, shortly after reading George Takei’s graphic memoir They Called Us Enemy. The authors of both books are Asian Americans, and both books deal with traumas that their families had to undergo while the writers were children. In Takei’s case, it was the forced imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II, while in Thi Bui’s case it was escape from Vietnam shortly after the end of the war.

The Best We Could Do begins as the author is about to give birth to her first child. From that point she reminisces about the births of her brothers and sisters and her own birth. She traces the stories of her parents as they are brought up in Vietnam under the French. Her father is raised in relative poverty and loneliness, while her mother is born to an elite family. As they grow up, the country changes around them. It divides into northern and southern portions, and ideologies split between communists and non-communists.

Both of Bui’s parents become teachers, and for a time they do well in South Vietnam on their two salaries. However, inflation soars as the United States becomes more involved and the war intensifies. The family lives in penury. They never know when they might be called out by secret police. In desperation, they search for passage on a boat on which they can escape to another country.

The boat that the family eventually ships out on is small, filthy, and overcrowded. Eventually Nam, Bui’s father, is selected as pilot due to his intelligence and education, and with the help of a compass he successfully navigates the boat out into international waters and then safely to Malaysia.

The family spends time in a refugee camp in Malaysia. Soon, though, thanks to the help of Bui’s aunt in Indiana, they are accepted as refugees to the United States. Bui’s mother with her four children flies on ahead while her father is in temporary quarantine because of scars on his lungs from an old case of tuberculosis. He joins them soon afterwards.

Bui’s parents and siblings don’t do well in the intense cold of the winters in the Midwest, so the family relocates to California where the weather is warmer. There they start a new life in their own home.

The book closes where it began, in the hospital where Bui is giving birth. After her baby arrives, she wants to nurse him, but he develops jaundice and has to stay in the hospital after she is released. She and her husband rent a room across the street and wake up every ninety minutes to walk over to the hospital so she can give milk to her son. She contemplates the importance of the relationship between parents and their children and considers the awesome responsibility of parenthood.

This book is very well written and well illustrated. The story is fascinating. I’m sure I would have enjoyed a full-length words-only memoir by Bui. However, the graphic memoir is the art form she has chosen in which to present her tale, and it works well in this instance. The vivid, moody illustrations add depth to this heartfelt, sometimes joyous, and sometimes frightening story of a family from one world relocating and establishing a new life in another.

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Find a Way

I knew that I was destined to be a writer since I was about seventeen or eighteen years old. The realization descended upon me with the force of revelation. It came about after a powerful short story in an anthology for one of my college classes hit me like a thunderbolt. That’s what I wanted to do. I was sure of it.

At first I didn’t know how to go about it. I attempted various short stories that didn’t really amount to anything. I struggled to come up with things to write about. In those days, I thought that writing came out of your head, out of ideas that you somehow came up with. And it does, sort of. However, the most powerful writing initiates from your heart and your guts. You dredge it up out of your experiences, your hopes, your dreams, your frustrations, your victories, your sins, your deep dark secrets that you don’t even tell those closest to you. I had plenty of all that. I just didn’t know how to access it. For me, it took getting out on the road and traveling halfway around the world before I managed to break through the ice or the rock crust or whatever metaphor you want to use into the pure gold beneath. That’s when I found my so-called voice.

Really, though, what is termed a writer’s voice is only the arrangement of whatever he or she chooses to put on the page. It’s not some sort of mysterious algorithm or code that you somehow crack and are thenceforth able to impart pearls of wisdom. It’s just you speaking. I had to figure that out the hard way, to compile the bumps and bruises of experience while all the time the simple reality of it was staring me in the face.

A writer writes. A writer is an artist who observes the world and reacts to it in words. It’s as easy and as difficult as that. Easy because all you have to do is look around you and then describe what you see. Difficult because the lens through which you see the world is often tarnished and muddied by falsehoods, inadequacies, insecurities, deceptions, and distractions put there by you or by others.

One of the most important pieces of advice I would give to someone who realizes they are a writer is to write. Write and don’t ever stop. No matter what life throws at you, find a way to write through it. As I look back on my life, one of my greatest regrets is that I stopped writing for about two decades in the middle of it. Oh, I have my excuses, and they are valid ones. I’m not going to bother delineating them here. However, those two decades are gone and I can never get them back. As I look back now from the perspective of old age and realize that I have limited time left on this Earth, I regret losing that time and those words. My current minimum daily word count of creative words, which I resolve to keep no matter what and manage to meet five or six days a week, is five hundred words. Usually I manage more; I would say my average is about seven hundred words. Let’s keep it at five hundred words, five days a week, for the purposes of this analysis. That’s two thousand five hundred words a week, ten thousand words a month, one hundred twenty thousand words a year, and two million four hundred thousand words in twenty years. That’s how many words I have lost by my midlife hiatus. I can never get that time or those words back. They are lost forever.

Not all of those aforementioned words, perhaps, would have been superb words or publishable words, but they would have been my words, and I might have used them in some way, if only as raw material for further projects. And that brings me to another important piece of advice: keep what you write. Don’t ever get rid of it – not even those old diaries or journals that cause you a twinge of embarrassment whenever you think about them. This prompts the memory of another profound regret in my own life. In an unwise, self-righteous, self-critical moment when I was overseas, I had a relative destroy the box full of manuscripts from my early writing years, thinking that they were inadequate and inferior compared to what I had begun to produce. Perhaps they were, but I have often longed to have them back so that I could go over them again. I might have been able to glean some insight into my thought processes back then, which in turn might have helped me with my current work.

So there you have it: for whatever they are worth, insights gleaned from the perspective of experience. Never stop writing, and keep what you write. I’m not talking about holding onto all those muddled first drafts; rather, retain a record of your past efforts in case for some reason in the future you want to refer to them.

Writers write. And future work is built upon present and past work. That’s the crux of it all.

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Book Review: A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit

People don’t commonly look on disasters as uplifting experiences, but in this book, the author argues that overwhelmingly traumatic shared experiences often bring out the best in the so-called victims. Within minutes or hours of disasters striking, says Solnit, magnanimity and solidarity take hold and many of those involved seek ways that they can help out others around them.

In this study of reactions to disaster, the author focuses on five of the worst catastrophes to strike North America in recent history: the San Francisco earthquake and subsequent fires in 1906; the Halifax explosion in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1917; the devastating earthquake that hit Mexico City in 1985; the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York City in 2001; and the Hurricane Katrina devastation of New Orleans in 2005. The five sections of the book correspond to these disasters. Some of these events Solnit examines in depth, while others she describes and then uses as springboards to discuss other historical disasters.

Solnit’s point, and the reason that this book on disasters is so strangely uplifting, is that people naturally tend to form communities and help each other when disaster strikes. As examples she highlights food distribution in parks in San Francisco, those on the scene during the 9/11 attacks relinquishing their own safety to help other victims find their way out of buildings and the toxic cloud surrounding the collapsing structures, nearby boat owners risking their own lives to find stranded victims of Hurricane Katrina and carry them to safety, and other instances of people tirelessly and selflessly assisting the weak and helpless in extreme difficulties.

There’s a dark side to disasters too, and Solnit brings it out in gut-wrenching detail. It’s not the deaths caused by the disasters themselves, but rather the reaction of the upper classes that Solnit calls elite panic. Disasters usually hits the poor hardest, who can’t afford strong houses and special safety measures. The wealthy become concerned that the masses of displaced people will commence looting and rioting, and they take measures to protect their goods. These measures often involve making villains out of the victims. Instead of focusing on rescuing, evacuating, feeding, and clothing those traumatized by the event, the authorities attempt to control them and curtail their activities. In some of the disasters, notably the San Francisco earthquake and Hurricane Katrina, rather than rescue people lost in floods or buried in wreckage, armed police and military personnel roamed the decimated streets shooting supposed looters.

New Orleans after Katrina was an extreme example of elite panic. Many people that were trapped in the floodwaters died while authorities, instead of going in to get them, cordoned off the city and didn’t even allow rescue workers with vitally needed supplies to get in. They invented a myth that the city was dangerous. Armed vigilantes roamed the streets shooting anyone they suspected of looting, especially people of color. Thousands of deaths probably could have been prevented if the authorities at both state and federal levels had stepped in and done what they were supposed to.

This book is important, but it’s not necessarily an easy read. The difficulty was exacerbated by the fact that the local library system only had the paperback available, and it’s printed in miniscule font that made my eyes water and ache. I really wanted to persist and finish it, but I got physically and mentally weary from the effort and did something I almost never do: after finishing the first three sections, I put the book aside to quickly read a short light science fiction novel, and then I got back to it. I’m glad I did. The last two sections, about the 9/11 attack and Hurricane Katrina, are the most eye-opening of the book.

So I recommend this book, but be prepared for some heavy mental lifting. In addition, try to get hold of a copy with larger font if you can.

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Book Review: The Cruise of the Snark by Jack London

The background of the edition of this book and how I came by it is an interesting story. Two of my sons and I went on a road trip from Seattle to the San Francisco Bay Area in late June 2019. One of our stops was the Jack London State Historic Park. In the park’s bookstore ensconced within the museum in the House of Happy Walls, I noticed uniform editions of many of Jack London’s books. The clerk told me that a publisher had suggested creating a new set of London’s books exclusively for sale at the state park. These books are exceedingly attractive, having for the most part the same covers as the original first editions published hot off Jack London’s pen. They are available at the museum, through the state park’s website, and at Amazon.

The museum edition of The Cruise of the Snark was the souvenir I chose to carry away with me from our visit to the park. It’s a nonfiction account of the voyage to Hawaii and then to the South Seas undertaken by London, his wife Charmian, and a small carefully selected crew. The text is accompanied by one hundred twenty illustrations; unfortunately, most of the illustrations are poorly reproduced, and their subjects are barely discernible. Additionally, the text of the book has more than the average share of misprints and errors. Apart from these defects, which do not really diminish from enjoyment of the stories, the book is very entertaining.

When Jack London decided to custom-build a small sailing ship and journey around the world, he contracted with major magazines for articles that he would write along the way. The Cruise of the Snark is a compilation of these articles. Most of the stories I was already familiar with, having read several versions of London’s life story; some of the biographies reproduce his accounts almost verbatim. Still, there were numerous details that became uncovered like hidden gems as I made my way through the book.

When London got the vision to sail around the world, rather than purchase a used vessel, he decided to build his own from scratch. Unfortunately, as he was so busy, he left management of the construction to others, and it was marked by ineptitude, a bloated budget, and endless delays. London wanted the best of everything and spared no expense. In the end, the ship cost several times the initial estimated price, and when London went to claim it, most of the expensive innovations didn’t work. Rather than risk further expense and delay in San Francisco, London accepted the ship in its incomplete state, loaded the crew aboard, and set off for Hawaii to complete its construction. On the way, he had to teach himself to navigate and handle all the petty emergencies that arose due to the shoddy craftsmanship of the original builders.

In Hawaii, while repairs to the Snark were being made, London learned to surf, visited the leper colony on Molokai and wrote one of the first sympathetic accounts of the lives of its residents, and joined an expedition on horseback that forayed deep into the crater of a volcano.

After Hawaii, London, Charmian, and the crew sailed for the Marquesas Islands, the site of Herman Melville’s classic travelogue Typee. Ever since he had read Melville’s account, London had wanted to visit the Marquesas. However, when they arrived, the travelers from the Snark found a wretched population of former cannibals dying out from various tropical diseases. For his account of his visit to Tahiti, London focused on an American he calls “the nature man” who was dying of pneumonia in Oregon, but in Tahiti, eschewing clothing and other trappings of civilized society, he lived a robust, healthy life. In Bora-Bora, London and Charmian were treated, as guests of honor, to endless abundant feasting and revelry. In the Solomon Islands, he and Charmian toured the archipelago with a ship recruiting native labor for plantation work and were in constant danger from cannibalistic headhunters.

Soon after their adventures in the Solomon Islands, London and Charmian, after two years at sea, were forced to abandon their journey. The toll on their health became too great, especially on London’s. He developed an excruciating condition in which his hands grew to twice their normal size and continually pealed multiple layers of skin. He had no choice but to return to California to recover.

I tried to do a quick online search to see what had happened to Jack London’s Snark after he was forced to abandon it. Most accounts say that it was sold in Australia for much less than it cost to build, but after that, its fate remains a mystery.

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Book Review: They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker

Although we have shelves of them in our home, I don’t normally read graphic novels and memoirs. When I found They Called Us Enemy on the new book shelf at the library, though, I realized that I would make an exception. The principle author, George Takei, is famous as the actor who played the helmsman Hikaru Sulu on the original series of Star Trek and later in the first Star Trek films. I didn’t realize until I read this book that he and his family were imprisoned in Japanese internment camps during World War II.

The book opens as Takei, his parents, and his brother and sister are abruptly forced to leave their home in Los Angeles. It then alternates between Takei’s later life and career not only as an actor but as a hard-working proponent of civil rights, the background of his parents, reenactments of government workings that led to the roundup and incarceration of Japanese Americans, and the family’s daily life in the camps.

During the course of the war, Takei and his family were imprisoned in three different locations. After the roundup, they were taken to Santa Anita Racetrack and housed in stables smelling of horse shit. They were then sent in a heavily guarded train to Camp Rohwer in Arkansas. During the train ride, every time they pulled into a station where white people might observe them, they were ordered to pull down the shades on the train. Camp Rohwer was in a compound surrounded by barbed wire. In the summer it was blistering hot, and when the rains came, the entire area became a swamp.

Later, the family was moved to a camp at Tule Lake in northern California. The fences had even thicker layers of barbed wire. In addition, there were battle-ready troops, tanks, and machine guns – all to guard Americans whose only crime was that they had Japanese ancestry.

After the war, the camp was shut down and the family, along with over one hundred thousand other Japanese Americans, was freed. They returned to Los Angeles and had to start from scratch, because when they had been captured and imprisoned, the government had seized all their possessions except what they could carry with them. They had a rough time because there was still a lot of anti-Japanese prejudice among the American populace.

Takei eventually attended acting classes at U.C.L.A. He got a key role in a play and other roles in various TV series episodes, but his big break came when Gene Roddenberry cast him in his iconic role in Star Trek. Besides touching on his acting career, Takei also tells of some of the important highlights of his career as an activist. For instance, he met Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., when the cast of the play Fly Blackbird performed a song before one of King’s talks. He was invited to the former home of Franklin D. Roosevelt to talk about the internment and the value of American democracy. An exhibit in his honor opened at the Japanese-American National Museum. All in all, this book, although about a horrendous crime committed against American citizens, is extremely inspiring and edifying.

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A Spray of Short Stories Part Two

This article was originally written and posted in January of 2019. I have updated it to include my latest short story collection. Relax and enjoy the excitement of some great short stories while you bask in the summer sun. (Or while you listen to the pounding rain outside. I write this during an intense August rainstorm in Seattle.)

I mean the word “spray” in the title both as a powerful expulsion of metaphorical liquid and as an attractive display of flamboyant flowers. I’ve recently written a blog post called “Books Make Great Gifts” about some of my available full-length works, so I thought why not highlight some short stories that are among my personal favorites? So here they are, volume by volume, some of my personal favorites from among my own short stories.

From The Dragon Ticket and Other Stories:

The Dragon Ticket“: Presented with an extraordinary gift by an alien artifact high in the remote Himalayas, a young woman named Michelle must learn how to use her new power as nuclear war plunges the world into chaos.

From Painsharing and Other Stories:

Beyond Purgatory“: On a far 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 a slave of the State.  When authorities arrest and condemn the woman he loves, Justus determines to find and save her, even if he must search Purgatory itself.

From Dark Mirrors: Dystopian Tales:

Dark Mirrors“: The people of Earth are losing a war with aliens that they themselves provoked.  Every able-bodied person is being called up to fight, even prisoners; those who refuse are threatened with dismemberment to provide spare parts for wounded soldiers.  A battle-hardened general enters a prison to recruit a woman who refuses to fight, but who may have a most unusual special ability that can turn the tide of the war.

From Fear or Be Feared: Fantasies:

Fear or Be Feared“: A teenage Greek girl climbs Mount Olympus with some of her friends.  Lost in a lightning storm, she discovers the spirit of an ancient Greek god which possesses her and uses her against her will as an instrument of vengeance.

The Customs Shed“: Those who wish to cross the river of death must first be purged in the customs shed; but within await the mysterious customs agents.  What will they require as the price of passage?

From Opting Out and Other Departures: Stories:

Opting Out“: It is the near future, and due to easier availability of alternative energy, fossil fuels are becoming outlawed.  Fleeing south along the coastal highway from a state government that threatens to confiscate the gasoline-fueled camper-van he lives in, a homeless man comes across a seemingly-idyllic communal refuge for homeless people set up by a philanthropic dot-com billionaire.

Opting In“: An old man, feeling useless, leaves his daughter’s home to go live in a homeless shelter. Following up on a tip from a fellow vagrant, he finds an alien being preparing to leave Earth who invites him on a journey from which he can never return.

From Heroes and Other Illusions: Stories:

Matchmaker“: From a future bereft of emotion, a time traveler journeys to Thessaloniki, Greece, in 1917 to find a legendary matchmaker and learn the lost secret of true marriage. Although aware that the city is about to become decimated by fire, he becomes betrothed to a local woman and must choose between remaining in the past or returning to the future with the desperately needed knowledge he has acquired.

Katabasis“: After traveling to India to take advantage of cutting-edge psychiatric technology, a jaded ailing old man embarks on a guided journey through his memories to locate and correct errant decisions that shaped his life.

From Invasive Procedures: Stories:

The Beatification of Lady Poverty“: A government operative recruits a young woman with a very special power of self defense for a mission to help end a war in Europe. However, once she unleashes them, her mysterious abilities provoke changes beyond anything her handlers intended or imagined.

Camp College“: In the near future, as societies continue to erode and the gap between rich and poor widens, inexpensive college camps spring up around the country as an alternative form of higher education. At one such camp, a partially dysfunctional veteran and a woman alienated from her family meet and attempt to make sense out of the rapidly changing world.

From Apocalypse Bluff and Other Stories:

Connecting the Dots in Pointillist Paintings“: A recently divorced woman joins a virtual community in search of social acceptance and companionship. After fashioning a new identity for herself, she sets off to explore the meticulously created landscapes of this new world, unaware that the beautiful environments are rife with human predators.

Apocalypse Bluff“: As invading aliens unleash monsters resembling mutated Earth carnivores to devour humankind, an extended family gathers together in a mansion on an isolated bluff for a last stand. To survive, they must fight together against ravenous beasts attacking from land and sea.

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