Pot and Spoon tells the tale of Madeline, a young woman who brought her pot and spoon to the OWS protests and had them confiscated by the Police. As Madeline tries to get them back we learn about flaws in the system, unhelpful public employees and police over reach. Pot and Spoon, locked up in an evidence holding warehouse, have a great conversation about social structure and the types of change the Occupy movement hopes to engender.
Mary Roach’s books are just like her TED talk. They’re smart, funny and charm you with a total affection for her subject matter.
I’ve read all her books and so far Packing for Mars is the best. She is writing about the insane goal of shipping a few bubbling meat bags through an irradiated vacuum for 500 days so that we can visit a lifeless planet.
She covers it all from a people perspective, looking at the glorious business of being a person. How do we handle the boredom, the food, the farting? She covers the serious problems with poop, pee, vomit and also sex. The book is worth reading for the chapter on Space Hygiene alone. It’s called “Houston We Have a Fungus”.
Near the end, a final quote from Ben Franklin, on someone who sees the Montgolfiers’ maiden balloon flight and calls it frivolous:
James gives a crap, so he’s not just selling a Kindle or Nook version – you can buy a DRM free epub file that works or a PDF for the same price. I ended up buying all the rest of his stories – he’s selling them for $.99 each.
I do not often tell you to buy something. Buy this.
Now I will tell how Octavia, the spider-web city, is made. There is a precipice between two steep mountains: the city is over the void, bound to the two crests with ropes and chains and catwalks. You walk on the little wooden ties, careful not to set your foot in the open spaces, or you cling to the hempen strands. Below there is nothing for hundreds and hundreds of feet: a few clouds glide past; farther down you can glimpse the chasm’s bed.
This is the foundation of the city: a net which serves as passage and as support. All the rest, instead of rising up, is hung below: rope ladders, hammocks, houses made like sacks, clothes hangers, terraces like gondolas, skins of water, gas jets, spits, baskets on strings, dumb-waiters, showers, trapezes and rings for children’s games, cable cars, chandeliers, pots with trailing plants.
Suspended over the abyss, the life of Octavia’s inhabitants is less uncertain than in other cities. They know the net will last only so long.
Young Helward graduates into manhood and responsibility at the age of “650 miles old.” For him, this means helping guide the city his civilization lives in north to safety on 4 giant rails. To the south,a terrible secret danger grows, always more powerful, always dragging anything too slow backwards into it.
We follow Helward through an inverted story on an inverted world. The hero is not the iconoclast, but tries his best to prop up the calcified old order. Over time we learn more about the danger behind them. The descriptions of Helward’s journey down south into the past is a highlight of the book. It is hard to tell you about this without giving too much away, but if you liked “Flatland”, you will like this.
Ok, that is nice, but the book feels always a little styled, a little uncomfortable and I found out why at the end of the book. The story arc is as twisted as the physics are. Also, the book was written in the 70s, there is a flavor of writing from that time that is unfamiliar on my inner ear. It is strange to reflect that in such a short time, the rhythms of writing have changed enough to make a noticeable difference, but they have. I can’t quite sort out what it is, but it is there. If you have any idea what it is, please comment.
Alas, it is a good book, but not a great book. I found myself appreciating the weirdness, but waiting for it to get even weirder. Perhaps this is because the book was written in a time where people were beginning to really feel the old order collapse, while I live in an age of change both exponential and fractal. I think you should read great books, and there are so many. You’ll die far far before you read all the great books, which is why I drink.
This time, picture Carl Zimmer (he of Parasite Rex fame) and Jared Diamond getting drunk and writing a comic adventure about hyperintelligent spiders shaping humanity’s history in a long war against the parasitic wasps that lay eggs in them ( the spiders ). Oh yes, please, more. Told from the perspective of the spiders, centered around a marriage that collapses as part of the fray, it’s funny and wildly predictive. See, Julia leaves Ray when a species of wasp lays eggs in her that free her of all her inhibitions and compassion. She joyfully murders and causes havoc while Ray obsesses about her, wondering why his loving wife suddenly left. Then he sees her in a supermarket, follows her, and begins to piece things together. He shouldn’t have.
Internet shutdowns? Global anonymous protest movements? People who live in Brooklyn not being entirely clear on their ethos or objectives, but being very very cool? All there. I leave you with a video about a parasitic wasp that zombifies cockroaches because you probably think this premise is more unlikely than it is.
Another fin del mundo comes as Alan Moore’s Neonomicon. While Supergod is almost plotless – more a series of provocative ideas strung together, Neonomicon is a train on rails to hell. Every page brings you closer to Cthulhu in an FBI investigation of a Lovecraft copy-cult in Brooklyn. Instead of hitting all of the high notes of a Cthulhu story like Nick Mamatas did in Move Underground, Moore brings you the creeping dread, the knowledge of the potential coming. There’s one monster in the book (other than the people) but most of it is more about the dark at the top of the stairs rather than the monster stomping into view. Also, a secret about Alan Moore I have noticed: the secret to horror is killing real people. When a person with no connection to you dies, it means nothing to you. So, before Moore begins killing people in his stories, he connects them to you. Most writers don’t want to waste character time and exposition on people that they know are going to disappear later – they are having enough trouble getting you to care about the main character. Moore is fast at fleshing out people, so he has the time to make his secondary characters real characters with just hints and flashes of their past.
For me, the Brooklyn setting is icing. My adopted city is perfect for this sort of story, and if Moore gets some of the details of BK wrong, it is still creepier to read a horror story written WHERE YOU LIVE! Imagine “The Wilderness Downtown“, but after dark on a moonless night. That gives me another idea for a project – a short story set in your house, right where you live.