Archive for the ‘books’ Category

I read all of Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road in one sitting.  Granted it was a long sitting.  I read it during a return flight to Phoenix after visiting family in New York City.  Man, that is one depressing book.  When I got home that night I felt sad.  One the stark black cover the “Oprah’s book club” stands out.  I thought she only added uplifting books to her list.  I get the impression after only seeing a couple of her shows that she is an upbeat sort of person.  This book is not upbeat.  I suppose he calls it the road because it is about hours and hours wandering on the road.  The cover is stark, the story blunt, the sentences bare.  The man out-Hemingways Hemingway.   There are few, if any, lessons in the book, and maybe the lack of one is it’s lesson.  Life at its most basic level doesn’t need to have meaning.   Like I said, it is one depressing book.

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Thoughts and lessons learned while reading “Bangs & Whimpers: Stories about the end of the world” edited by James Frenkel.

Warning: Spoiler Alerts!  So don’t get all nasty, I gave you a warning.  I summarize the basic premise of some of the stories to help me remember their points.  You have been warned. SPOILER ALERTS BELOW!

The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke:  Just because lone self-proclaimed wise men are on the top of a mountain in the middle of the Himalayas doesn’t mean that they actually know what they are talking about.  Even if they have done it for centuries.   Also, who would sign up for the apocalypse?  Why would one ask God to quit?  Mr. Clarke, no surprise here, gives a solid plausible explanation to these questions.

Killing the Morrow by Robert Reed :  One man trusts his gut when all around him, including himself, falls to mind control. Aliens attack my osmosis.

We Can Get Them for you Wholesale by Neil Gaiman:  I enjoyed watching Gaiman lets his sense of dark comedy flow free. In his graphic novels, I am use to him getting more burdened down with obscurity.  A vain man  unknowingly hires other-being mercenaries to kill us all.

Not with a Bang by Howard Fast:  A wonderfully comic piece of how one sensible man reacts when the sun gets dramatically snuffed out like a candle.

Lost and Found by Connie Willis :Explains why it would be bad if the Holy Grail had been in Russia during the 1950’s.

The Wind and the Rain by Robert Silverber:  I really like the narrator’s angle to a common warning.  Think Inconvinet truth with the cold amusement of a perspective millions of years later.

Expendable by Philip K Dick: What a wonderful imagination on that man.  Would the spiders and the ants and the feral cats mourn our passing?

Finis by Frank L. Pollack:  The world burns quickly and two people kiss.

A Guide to Virtual Death by J.G. Ballard: More of a warning than a record of Humanity’s willingness to create their own end.

Emissary from a Green and Yellow World by Robert Sheckley: I really liked this one.  A wonderful comedic commentary of what makes Humans so wonderful and horrible at the same time.

The Portable Phonograph by Walter Van Tilburg Clark: Once we are barely holding on, living in caves, we will lament for the  beautiful things once-made my man.  Duh.

Fermi and Frost by Frederik Pohl: How the shit would play out in Iceland.  Well thought out scenario.  Good example of how to logically think out a world.

Ultimate Construction by C.C. Shackleton: At 2 pages long, the definition of how to switch-it up at the end.  Sandcastles made of sand might not be a bad idea when we know everything is going to melt anyway.

The Manhattan Phone Book (abridged) by James Tiptee Jr:  Lame.  It turns out to be a lecture to the reader on how the apocalypse won’t really be that fun, because, you know, of all the death also you, the reader, will probably die. WHATEVVVVER!!!!

The Man who Walked Home by James Thurber: I did not understand half of what was happening, but a wonderful story of the birth of faith and ghosts in the machines of science.

Interview with a Lemming by James Thurber: Great example of how to write a short, very short, story that is meant to only set up the end.  Makes you question the role of basic assumptions and how they lead to different logics.

The Last Question by Issac Asimov:  The end is very far out indeed.   Very very very far out.  Like a billion years far out.  Who else better to pull that off but the master?

On the plane ride back from New York two weeks back I read The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson about an 1840’s outbreak of cholera in London, England. I had picked it up to see how a society deals with a widespread and mysterious threat. Of the multiple potential causes of the apocalypse I think a fast-moving virus outbreak is my leading contender for most likely cause of the fall of modern-living.  At least the fear of it could cause the greatest media hysteria and therefore become the most likely self-fulfilling prophecy.  The fear of a fast spreading disease strikes a deep frigtening cord among humans (See 28 weeks later) because it has the most unknowns. Where did the disease come from? How far will the disease spread? How is it being spread?

1840’s London had even more unknowns when dealing with viruses, I wanted to read about people’s reactions and what role fear plays in destruction.  One of the things that struck me, was how willing people were to help out their neighbors.  Even though they did not know what was killing people, even though they suspected it had to dow with something in the air (it wasn’t, it was the water) the people still ventured out to help and console their neighbors.

One of the givens the preppers (and most post-apocalyptic movies) assume is when society is faced with a great struggle, we will turn on ourselves.  Thunderdome teaches that the end times will be a dog-eat-dog world.   I have been debating this given.  The world’s most recent disaster, Japan, has multiple stories of communities coming together.  This article in particular has been bouncing around in my head.

I realize anecdotal evidence could point to both people helping and hurting each other in crisis.  Also an earthquake, or a flood, is different that a fundamental break down in society.  After all, once the waters recede, our assumption is that we will need to rebuild.  Usually humans assume they are facing one freak occurrence and not an entire breakdown of everything.  The mindset to survive in the long-term might be different from surviving what is perceived as a shorter problem.

On the other hand, when civil society crumbles, we are most likely not going to clearly see this as the end.  Hopefully, we will have built enough survival bonds during the first few emergencies with others that by the time the end of society is obvious those bonds will be strong enough to sustain us.  I certainly hope so.

The last temporary visit of the local library yielded some useful videos on how to prepare for Humanity’s waterloo.

There were two decent videos on how to build an enviromental house.  From what I have seen so far, the community of people preparing for civilization’s curtains tend to be a conservative bunch.  One place where the preppers and the far left overlaps is Extreme Pro-Green Building. After all, surviving on your own is the goal of both groups. And I tend to like it when extremes meet.

Back to point of this post, the library had two decent videos on how to build green, a lot of the techniques might be good to know once the giant wire spider stops giving us it’s venom. They were a good start for me on how to approach the learning construction task. I really have trouble with hammers.

Building with awareness the construction of a hybrid home is a good overview of the considersations one might consider.

Building Green Hosted by Kevin Contreras goes into much more detail.  With four discs he walks through multiple aspects of building green during all stages on construction.

Neil Strauss has already wandered deep down the rabbit hole I am currently exploring.  Many of the same conclusions I am reaching (for example how we are more likely to help rather than hurt each other when the SHTF)  are chapters in his book, Emergency: This Book will save your life.  While I have been exploring what one would need to know when society crumbles for the last 4 months, he spent 3 years doing this and wrote a book when he was finished.

If one is looking for a practical “How to guide” for surviving the end of the days then this book is not for you, perhaps How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It: Tactics, Techniques, and Technologies for Uncertain Times is a better choice for that.   But if one is looking for a journal of how goes about learning how to prepare or one wants to reflect on the lessons learned while prepping then this is a book worth reading.

Since reading it I have caught myself a couple of times thinking when blogging “Is this my observation or Strauss’s?”    He killed a goat, learned how to make a knife, was instructed on how to respond to a disaster, cooked a fish and survived a wet night in the woods.  However, these things he did are not as valuable to the reader as his reflections of what conclusions one reaches when one does these things.  For that reason, if nothing else, it is worth reading.

In the meantime, I am going to take a least one of his specific recommendations, which is to take a CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) class.

I been reading Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times by Steve Solomon and frankly it just overwhelms me. 

After reading the watering section I am not sure if he is telling me to water more or water less.  I suppose one needs a little bit of a mathematical mind to follow his recommendations,  maybe having a mathematical mind is part of  a green thumb?     I wasn’t sure what he was talking about in the watering section, much less the composting or fertigation sections.

I believe my soil in Phoenix is Clay, and he doesn’t seem to think it is worth growing in clay.  This makes me sad.  The reviews on Amazon.com for the book are mixed, some feel as I do, while others strongly recommend reading the book a second time in order to get everything to sink in. 

I did like the idea of making a compost-tea and then use a drip method on the plants.   That might be a good project for the weekend.

Below: A less-than succesful experiment of using an old pallet to make a slightly raised bed.

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Fall Out Library

Posted: February 19, 2011 in books, fallout library

The books I currently would most like to add to my Fall Out Library.

Reader’s digest “Back to basics” the older the edition the better.

The SAS survival manual

How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It: Tactics, Techniques, and Technologies for Uncertain Times by James Wesley Rawles

Where There Is No Doctor: A Village Health Care Handbook by David Werner

Tappan on Survival by Mel Tappan (considered the “Classic” of this genre

Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times by Steve Solomon