27 July 2005

14. The Good Shepherd by CS Forester

From the author of the Horatio Hornblower series comes this story of a destroyer captain coordinating the defense of a transatlantic convoy during WW2.

It was 188 pages, making it about 185 pages too long. Kind of boring. They get harassed by Uboats. A lot. Men die. Ships sink. The captain drinks a lot of coffee.

Speaking of coffee, Forester goes into a lot of detail about how the captain drinks it and how often it is brought to him etc. One of the junior officers that the captain dislikes gets a pot of coffee delivered to the bridge:

"Carling, would you have a cup of coffee?"
"I could use it, sir."
Carling had been on the chilly bridge for two whole hours. He poured himself a cup and added cream and sugar to reveal himself as the sort of man he was."

I picked up another Forester at the same time, but I think I might pass.

25 July 2005

13. River Horse by William Least Heat-Moon

Thoreau he is not.

The book is about two guys who try to cross America by river. They get a boat capable of navigating strong currents, deep and shallow rivers, and keeping the crew comfortable.

I'm going to miss some of their itinerary exactly, but they start from NYC, go up the Hudson, across the Erie Canal, down the Ohio, I think, the Mississippi, the Missouri, the Yellow Stone, the Salmon, and then the Columbia. They do allow for the big boat to be carried by truck around dams and shallows, but try to then canoe instead.

For the most part, this was a pretty boring book. The author wasn't trying to be Thoreau, and he stayed away from trite introspection. I stayed with it until the end because I wanted to see what they would encounter and how they would make it across the Rockies. It wasn't easy. They had to time their trip so they could catch the snow melt off the Rockies, but couldn't get too far ahead because the Salmon river isn't one that anyone can chuck a canoe into and do. They needed an experienced guide because it is so dangerous. I think H-M said that Lewis and Clark carried their canoes for 90 miles of it so they wouldn't get killed.

I found three parts of the narrative exciting. First, I really liked the little stories Heat-Moon told about Lewis and Clark, a guy named Ballantine, and some German prince who all made their way across the West before it was colonized.

The second was how H-M describes the effect of civilization on the river. This was especially interesting to me after reading Earth Abides. First many of the dams are coming to the end of thier lifespans. The dams are an outmoded method of producing energy, according to H-M, and not worth the money they need to keep going. He says they are about to die because many of them, the shallower ones and the older ones, are being silted in. To get all of the silt out will take billions.

The third is also about man's effect on the rivers. So many riverfront communities have built levees and protective walls against floods that the river can't flood where it wants to, where it is supposed to, and where it has for billions of years. As a result, the floods downstream are worse. The Missouri is basically one giant canal, the stream bed is still natural, but the banks of the river are concrete walls, and somethign called "wing-dikes." No idea what they are, but I'm going to find out. Anyway. The other consequence of not letting the river flood where it is supposed to is that it doesn't leave silt for the farmers. Consequently they need more agrobusiness supplies like fertilizer and pesticides to keep their crops going. Consequently the river gets F'ed because the runoff kills fish and vegetation. And so on, and so on. Humans are seriously mismanaging the rivers.

I'm glad there was very little introspection, but reading the logbook of the trip was kind of boring. Whereas reading Thoreau can be boring, at least he is teaching you, questioning you, and provoking you. Heat-Moon complains about not knowing how Lewis and Clark felt at certain junctures, but other than being tired or hungry, I have no idea how either of the people on this boat felt either.

20 July 2005

12. Earth Abides by George Stewart

Great book. Got it from Crumbolst yesterday and stormed right through it. Reviews from Olman's Fifty, Mt Benson report, and Crumbolst

I realized, while finishing this book, that in addition to stories about animal societies (like Secret of Nimh or Charlotte's Web) that I also really like stories about the re-emergence/establishment of civilization - Lord of the Flies, the Rama series by Arthur Clarke, the first 7/8s of 28 Days Later, and this here book I just finished. I wonder if that is why, too, I like the DMing part of role-playing games so much. I get to experiment with my own societies and reasons for order and disorder.

The book is about how one man, Isherwood Williams survives after a strange fever wipes out (most of) humanity. He is away camping while the epidemic rages, and returns to the shell of civilization. He gets sick but doesn't die and has to make his way through the abandoned grocery stores and highways that are left behind.

I'd rather not give anything away, but will say that Stewart does a very good job making the assembly of survivors believable and giving amplifying detail (in the form of italicized omniscient narration) about the crumbling remains of American civilization. I hope that when it comes it's close to Stewart's description, I'll at least feel prepared.

The thing about this book though, is that while he does focus on the survivors, Stewart takes a lot of time to explain the consequences of the fall of man on the earth. It is about the people left behind, but more so how the earth reacts. I'm going to learn more about Stewart's ideas, but he does get into what happens when man is taken out of the environment-controlling and is removed as the top predator. Really so very interesting.

I've also wondered how I'd cope with some sort of apocalypse. I think I would do OK, but have wondered where I would go. East to LI? To the sailboat and be mobile on the water? Would I jump in the car and go south or west to more fertile places? I don't really have a plan, but I guess it would depend on the nature of the apocalypse.

I'm still digesting the book and will post again after I think a little more.

(I edited this post on 26 April 2008 to include the links to other reviews.)