Read any Good Books Lately (#8) – It’s all about water

A solid recommendation from some one whose opinion you trust can help whittle down that long list of books you are going to get around to reading some time. These two books fit into that category and they also come with the recommendation that they both should be read in quick succession in the following order.

CADILLAC DESERT by Marc Reisner is a non fiction book written way back in 1985. Despite the intervening years the self evident truths noted in this book still seem to be valid. “It is the story of the American West and the relentless quest for a precious resource: water. It is a tale of rivers diverted and dammed, of political corruption and intrigue, of billion-dollar battles over water rights, of ecological and economic disaster. In his landmark book, Cadillac Desert, Marc Reisner writes of the earliest settlers, lured by the promise of paradise, and of the ruthless tactics employed by Los Angeles politicians and business interests to ensure the city’s growth. He documents the bitter rivalry between two government giants, the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in the competition to transform the West. Based on more than a decade of research, Cadillac Desert is a stunning expose and a dramatic, intriguing history of the creation of an Eden–an Eden that may only be a mirage”  — Amazon

“The definitive work on the West’s water crisis.” –Newsweek

A couple of things that came to mind while reading the book. Number one – Donald Trump may seem to be an aberration on the political landscape but as evidenced in this book, and other examinations of American political history it is obvious that the States is populated by numerous characters and personalities that are just as obnoxious, bizarre and just as destructive of the common good. Number two – Huge bureaucratic public organizations such as the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are susceptible to inappropriate political pressure that result in less than satisfactory outcomes. These two particular agencies have overlapping mandates that have led to massive over building of dams, the destruction of the west coast salmon runs, the depletion of water resources and the massive build up of salt concentrations in the lower reaches of many rivers. Number three – American interests have their eye on acquiring access to Canadian water, particularly free flowing rivers in  British Columbia. This is important to keep in mind during the upcoming North American Free Trade Negotiations and the Renewal of the Columbia River Treaty. Southern California has tried, and failed, to get access to the few remaining free flowing rivers in Northern California, Oregon and Washington State and that should be a lesson for us. Also keep in mind that access to more water isn’t the answer. More access will only continue with the under valuation of the resources and perpetuate the ongoing problems.

The legacy of these some times well intentioned policies and projects is a time bomb just waiting to exploded. It is this time bomb that is explored in the second book —-

THE WATER KNIFE by Paolo Bacigalupi is set in the not to distant future and it is a  dystopian novel of a possible outcome of the water policies out lined in Cadilac Desert. In the novel the south western states, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico are entering the end game of past policies and errors and now face serious conflicts over dwindling water resources.

“Three different characters try to navigate a water-starved Southwestern United States. The survival of different cities depends on their political clout and ability to claim senior water rights. Las Vegas is one of the big players, with Catherine Case and her goons destroying nearby competitors by undermining their water supply. Angel is one of those goons, and when someone in the area starts claiming they have traced down a game changing water allocation document, Case send him to investigate. Lucy is a future Pulitzer prize winning journalist who is willing to risk her life to uncover the shady dealings and murders behind the ongoing legal battle for control of the Colorado. It is her friend who initially claimed possession of what might be the most valuable document in America, but when he is found murdered, she has the story of a lifetime in her hands. Maria is a refugee from the now ruined state of Texas who lives hand to mouth, trying to stay out of the way of local gangs and save up enough to escape to one of the more hydrated states.”  – Amazon.

Without giving too much away that is the thumb nail of the story. It is a story well worth reading. Not an absolute page turner but it is a good story with believable characters. The premise is not that much of a science fiction stretch and is entirely believable. The future of the region may not turn out exactly like this but it is sure to be some variant of a number of similar possibilities. I wouldn’t plan on buying real estate or relocating to the region any time in the near future.

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Read any good books lately? (#7) – War Stories

I have always considered myself a lucky person. I was born in the right place at the right time. I have never had to experience war, famine, pestilence, unemployment  or significant economic depression. My parents generation were not so lucky. They lived through the dirty thirties, World War II and the Korean war. I am part of a large extended family (my mum was one of fourteen children  and dad was one of three – that adds up to a lot of relatives) and what is remarkable is that not one of my many relatives were killed or physically maimed in WWII.. My dad did not go off to war but two of my uncles fought against the Japanese in New guinea. My Uncle Bill and Uncle Hector were young farm boys not even out of their teens when they were shipped off to war. I often think about that – at nineteen years of age what was I doing? Would I have been up to the challenge? Like many ex-soldiers my uncles had many demons  to deal with after the war. For years after being demobbed my Uncle Bill slept with a loaded  revolver under his pillow and often woke up screaming from horrendous night mares. That is one of the many tragedies of war. My Uncle Bill’s story is worth telling and at some future date I will do just that.The thing that is so striking is the youth of my uncles going off to war and that is a consistent theme in the following books. Namely it is the youth, some times extreme youth of the soldiers that fought and continue to fight in wars that are basically  the legacy of older inept leaders, politicians and diplomats. I know that often the intentions of the leadership are noble  but the fact remains that it is the young that fight and die and pay the price of going to war. The very act of going to war is an admission of failure of normal civilized processes. I am not particularly a military or war story story buff but I think the following books are well worth reading –

Of course, for the USA the Vietnam War was the pivotal armed conflict of the 20th Century. It put an end to the notion that America had never lost a war (they forget about the war of 1812) and has had a profound effect on political and military thinking ever since that American defeat. I am sure that, like WWII, there have been many books written about the conflict and the experiences of the soldiers and politicians who were involved in the war. Here are two books I can recommend without reservations.

CHICKEN HAWK by ROBERT MASON   More than half a million copies of Chickenhawk have been sold since it was first published in 1983. I first stumbled on this book in the Cranbrook Library and years later I found a cheap second hand copy in a used book store in Australia. Over the years I have  picked up this book and re-read it many times. Prior to reading this book I thought that helicopters and their crews were way above the fray with capabilities of getting out of trouble in an instant. I was way wrong on that score. Here is an Amazon.ca review of the book .

“Robert Mason uses a clear, conversational, fast-paced narrative to describe his experiences as an army helicopter pilot from 1965-1967, including a tour of Vietnam.
Mason always wanted to fly. Leaving college early, joining the army and becoming a helicopter pilot seemed like the way to do it. After successfully graduating from flight school, he comes to learn that the army has devised a new way to use helicopters in warfare — and Mason is drawn into the army air cavalry. Mason describes enough of how to fly a huey so you feel that you are right there with him. You experience the fatigue of war. You read as well, the senselessness and brutality of it — his gunner kills “human shields” in order to get a VC machine gunner, a platoon murders 12 prisoners as revenge for the torture and death of their comrades, a pilot is shot through the helmet yet miraculously survives, a fully laden huey lands in a minefield, and everywhere bodies are piling up faster than the army can take care of. Mason also describes his post-traumatic stress disorder, his panic attacks that start to haunt him towards the end of his tour, and his bouts with alcoholism.

There is much in Mason and his fellow soldiers that is admirable. Mason’s narrative presents a convincing portrait of the Vietnam war from a soldier’s point of view — a war Mason and many of his fellow soldiers didn’t entirely believe in, a war that didn’t match the descriptions in the press, or the pronouncements from the generals and the President.”

As an after thought, I remember a conversation I had with blues musician Mighty Joe Oliver when he was living here in Cranbrook. Although he was a Canadian, Joe volunteered and fought in Vietnam and he can remember flying in helicopters and sitting on his metal helmet to obtain at least a sliver of protection from bullets coming up though the floor of the aircraft.

THE TRASH HAULERS by Richard Herman

This is part three of the ONLY THE BRAVE TRILOGY (THE WAR BIRDS / THE FORCE OF EAGLES /  THE TRASH HAULERS). Of the three THE TRASH HAULERS  is the best. The first two are about fictitious military confrontations with Iran and, while military air craft fans will probably  enjoy the operational minutiae  embedded in the stories I think  it is the last story TRASH HAULERS that takes the prize. It is easy to believe that the author was at least a  witness to the events. ” Over an action packed 24 hours in Vietnam on January 31, 1968, three lives collide amidst war and violence.  Captain Mark Warren and his crew are trash haulers, airlifting supplies and personnel on their C-130 Hercules, the workhorse of tactical airlift. At the same time Wilson Tanner is a Dust Off pilot who risks all by flying a Huey on a rescue mission. In the jungles below at Se Pang, Colonel Tran Sang Quan comes into conflict with inept superiors as they initiate the People’s Army of Vietnam’s long-planned General Offensive and Uprising. This is the beginning of the Tet Offensive.  Both sides face more than the enemy as superior officers manouver for political advantage, and where cowardice, prejudice and treachery infiltrate the ranks – on both sides. In the air and on the land, raw courage, tenacity, and honor are the marks of humanity that deal with the wreckage of war”. The novel reeks with authenticity and is well worth the read.

Wikipedia: This is an image of one version of the C-130 Hercules. The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is a four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft designed and built originally by Lockheed. Capable of using unprepared runways for takeoffs and landings, the C-130 was originally designed as a troop, medevac, and cargo transport aircraft. The versatile air frame   has found uses in a variety of other roles, including as a gunship for airborne assault, search and rescue, scientific research support, weather reconnaissance,aerial refueling, marine patrol, and aerial firefighting.  It is now the main tactical airlifter for many military forces worldwide. Over forty variants and versions of the Hercules, including a civilian one marketed as the Lockheed L-100,  operate in more than 60 nations. At over 60 years the  C-130 Hercules is the longest continuously produced military aircraft currently in service.

The Bell UH-1 Iroquois known as Huey. This is the machine that changed the face of war.

YOMPERS WITH THE 45 COMMANDOS IN THE FALKLAND WAR,, by Ian R. Gardiner

The Vietnam war was about winning hearts and minds and in its least toxic manifestation it was about politics. At its most toxic the Americans were an invading occupying force and, like any occupying force, they eventually had to go home. The North Vietnamese knew that and that was their ace in the hole. They only had to hang on and keep up the pressure and eventually the Americans would have to leave. It had worked with the French and in the end it worked with the Americans. Although the Americans are reluctant to admit it they lost the war and have had had to live with scars and consequences of that defeat.

The Falkland Island War is a different story in many ways. It was very much about territory. “Hearts and minds” were not a problem. The Falkland Islanders were British and the British Army was the home team. And back at home the war was popular and literally saved the government of Margaret Thatcher from possible political defeat. It was also a very short war with a major naval component and on land the British contingent was composed of professional soldiers. Not conscripts. The lines of communication were lengthy and the terrain was vastly different to the jungles of Vietnam. It was fought in cold and foggy conditions on mostly treeless moors very akin to the highlands of Scotland. The Argentinians severely under estimated Britain’s willingness to fight for the islands. Also their timing was off. Britain had been considering disbanding their amphibious assault forces and a couple of months delay by the Argentinians could have resulted in a very different outcome. In essence this was an old fashion war fought by professional soldiers on the ground without massive tactical air support.

WIKIPEDIA: The Falklands War (Spanish: Guerra de las Malvinas), also known as the Falklands Conflict, Falklands Crisis, and the Guerra del Atlántico Sur (Spanish for “South Atlantic War“), was a ten-week war between Argentina and the United Kingdom over two  British overseas territories in the South Atlantic: the Falkland Islands  and South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands. It began on Friday, 2 April 1982, when Argentina invaded  and occupied the Falkland Islands  (and, the following day, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands) in an attempt to establish the sovereignty it claimed over them.  On 5 April, the British government dispatched a naval task force to engage the Argentine Navy and Air Force before making an amphibious assault on the islands. The conflict lasted 74 days and ended with the Argentine surrender on 14 June 1982, returning the islands to British control. In total, 649 Argentine military personnel, 255 British military personnel, and three Falkland Islanders died during the hostilities.

From the Amazon review:

“Called to action on 2 April 1982, the men of 45 Commando Royal Marines assembled from around the world to sail 8,000 miles to recover the Falkland Islands from Argentine invasion. Lacking helicopters and short of food, they ‘yomped’ in appalling weather carrying overloaded rucksacks, across the roughest terrain. Yet for a month in mid-winter, they remained a cohesive fighting-fit body of men. They then fought and won the highly successful and fierce night battle for Two Sisters, a 1,000 foot high mountain which was the key to the defensive positions around Stanley.

This is a first hand story of that epic feat, but it is much more than that. The first to be written by a company commander in the Falklands War, the book gives a compelling, vivid description of the ‘yomp’ and infantry fighting, and it also offers penetrating insights into the realities of war at higher levels. It is a unique combination of descriptive writing about front-line fighting and wider reflections on the Falklands War, and conflict in general. Gritty and moving; sophisticated, reflective and funny, this book offers an abundance of timeless truths about war.

Postscript: ‘Yomping’ was the word used by the Commandos for carrying heavy loads on long marches. It caught the public’s imagination during this short but bitter campaign and epitomized the grim determination and professionalism of our troops.”

The last book is about the war of current generation It is about Afghanistan.

OUTLAW PLATOON: HEROES, RENEGADES, INFIDELS, AND THE BROTHERHOOD OF WAR IN AFGHANISTAN  by Sean Parnell

From Amazon .ca

At twenty-four years of age, U.S. Army Ranger Sean Parnell was named commander of a forty-man elite infantry platoon, the 10th Mountain Division—a unit that came to be known as the Outlaws. Tasked with rooting out Pakistan-based insurgents from a valley in the Hindu Kush, Parnell assumed they would be facing a ragtag bunch of civilians until, in May 2006, a routine patrol turned into a brutal ambush. Through sixteen months of combat, the platoon became Parnell’s family. The cost of battle was high for these men. Not all of them made it home, but for those who did, it was the love and faith they found in one another that ultimately kept them alive.

The Review “The range of emotions that Sean Parnell summons in Outlaw Platoon is stunning. A nuanced, compelling memoir . . . Parnell shows he’s a gifted, brave storyteller.” (Pittsburgh Tribune)^“Outlaw Platoon put me back on the battlefield again. It’s a heartfelt story that shows how very different people can be thrown together in combat and find a way to make it work. Parnell and the soldiers who fought beside him are all courageous heroes—real bad asses.” (Chris Kyle, author of American Sniper).Two of the most intense tales of courage under fire I own are Black Hawk Down and Lone Survivor. I now have a third, Outlaw Platoon. It’s an absolutely gripping, edge-of-your-seat ride.” (Brad Thor, author of Full Black)^“Outlaw Platoon is an utterly gripping account of what our soldiers endure on the front lines—the frustrations, the fear, the loneliness. . . Here, in these pages, are the on-the-ground realities of a war we so rarely witness on news broadcasts” (Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried) Outlaw Platoon is an exceptional look into the mind of a platoon leader in Afghanistan; Captain Parnell shares his experiences of leadership, loss, and aggressive military tactics. You can really feel the bonds forged between these brothers in arms as the battle plays out” (Marcus Luttrell, author of Lone Survivor). At times, I forgot I was reading about a war as I was drawn up in the drama the same way you are when reading Krakauer’s Into Thin Air . . . This is a book of probing honesty, wrenching drama and courage.” (Doug Stanton, author of Horse Soldiers) a  soulful story of men at war . . . Outlaw Platoon shows us that the love and brotherhood forged in the fires of combat are the most formidable quaities a unit can possess.” (Steven Pressfield, author of Gates of Fire). Outlaw Platoon is expertly told by a man who braved the heat of battle time and time again. An epic story as exacting as it is suspenseful, it reveals the bravery and dedication of our armed service men and women around the world.” (Clive Cussler). This book is more than just a rip-roaring combat narrative: it is a profoundly moving exploration into the nature and evolution of the warrior bond forged in desperate, against-all-odds battles. A significant book, not to be missed.” (Jack Coughlin, author of Shooter: The Autobiography of the Top-Ranked Marine Sniper). Outlaw Platoon is the real deal. It’s a terrific tale of combat leadership that deserves to be studied by all small-unit leaders. The narrative goes beyond the battlefield to depict the maddening nature of the war and the grit of those who selflessly protect us.” (Bing West, author of No True Glory). Sean Parnell reaches past the band-of-brothers theme to a place of brutal self-awareness . . . he never flinches from a fight, nor the hard questions of a messy war.” (Kevin Sites, author of In the Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars)”

For me the most telling element in the book is the incredible youth of the soldiers in this action. Why so young? and to what purpose? A foreign war in a foreign land that in reality has nothing to do with the preservation of the America’s home security. In some ways there are still echoes of that lost war in Vietnam of so many years ago. They seem to be fighting the same battles for same wrong reasons.

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Read Any Good Books Lately (#5)? – Crime / Murder / Mysteries

The keys to a good murder / mystery novels are a good plot, interesting personalities, interesting locations, and, of course, a good writer. There are a number of authors out there that have the gift to pull all those ingredients together . The Scottish writer Ian Rankin with his dysfunctional hero John Rebus  and his stories set in Endinburgh is one such writer. He was my first real introduction to the genre. The Swedish writer Henny Mankell  (1948-2015) who chose Yarstad in southern Sweden as a location for his, once again dysfunctional hero Kurt Wallander. The novels were so successful that the BBC turned them into a mini-series staring starring Kenneth Branagh. Another Swedish writer of note is Steig Larsen  who, in the astonishingly successful Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, created the memorable characters Lisbeth Salander and Michael Blomkvist. All novels were published posthumously and sold 80 million copies. They ended up as highly successful movies in Swedish and English. Maybe we should add Michael Genelin  to the list with his five Jana Matinova  novels . Apart from his writing skills he seems to have the necessary legal background needed to bring an air of authenticity to the plots.

Check his resume:

Michael Genelin (born January 6, 1950) is an American author and former Los Angeles Head Deputy District Attorney in the Hardcore Gang Division. Genelin has been involved around the world in Penal Code reform, Anti-Corruption reform in government, including legislative drafting, Ethics Establishment and Training, Freedom of Information laws, Witness Protection Practices, Trial Advocacy, Investigation and Trial of Cases, particularly homicides, Judicial Procedures, Reform and Creation of Evidence Procedures, Human Resources, all aspects of training, including Anti-Corruption Investigation and Prosecution and the general operations of law enforcement/prosecution/criminal court programs, Investigative Journalism Training, and Interactive Governmental Communications. He has written five novels, mostly set in central Europe, and centered around investigations conducted by Jana Matinova.

  • Siren of the Waters (A Commander Jana Matinova Investigation) (July 1, 2008)

Jana Matinova entered the Czechoslovak police force as young woman, married an actor, and became a mother. The Communist regime destroyed her husband, their love for one another, and her daughter’s respect for her. But she has never stopped being a seeker of justice.

Now, she has risen to the rank of commander in the Slovak police force and is based in the capital, Bratislava, a crossroads of central Europe. She liaises with colleagues across the continent to track a master criminal whose crimes include extortion, murder, kidnapping, and the operation of a vast human trafficking network.

This investigation takes her from Kiev in Ukraine to the headquarters of the European Community in Strasbourg, France; from Vienna to Nice during the Carnival, as she searches for a ruthless killer and the beautiful young Russian woman he is determined to either capture or destroy.

  • Dark Dreams (A Commander Jana Matinova Investigation) (July 1, 2009)

Prudent Jana and impetuous Sofia were best friends when they were schoolmates. One day Sofia approached a man in a car when she shouldn’t have and ended up being raped by a nefarious Communist Party bigwig. Jana pursued the culprit’s car, identified him, and vowed someday to bring him to justice.

Now Jana is a commander in the Slovak police force and Sofia, having made her name as a reformer, is a member of Parliament. Jana has fallen in love with an upright government prosecutor and Sofia is carrying on a notorious affair with a suave, married fellow MP.

One day Jana finds an enormous diamond dangling from a string fixed to the ceiling of the living room of her house. Was it put there as a present? Or, more likely, to entrap her? Where did this magnificent jewel come from? And why was it left for her to find? The answer leads Jana across Europe to unravel a criminal conspiracy involving multiple murders which has entangled her hapless, impulsive friend, Sofia, in its web, and ultimately to the criminal mastermind, the onetime Communist Party boss.

  • The Magician’s Accomplice (A Commander Jana Matinova Investigation) (July 1, 2010)

Devastated by her lover’s death in an explosion—on the same day an indigent student was shot and killed in sleepy Bratislava—Jana is transferred to The Hague, headquarters of the international police force Europol. On the flight she encounters a retired magician, the dead student’s uncle, who is determined to help Jana investigate his nephew’s death. And his help is indeed needed as Jana faces an international criminal conspiracy emanating from Europol itself.

  • Requiem For A Gypsy (A Commander Jana Matinova Investigation) (July 1, 2011)

When the wife of one of Slovakia’s most prominent businessmen is killed in a very public assassination, it looks like the bullets were meant for her husband. But could she have been the primary target? Commander Jana Matinova must push through her own government’s secretiveness and intransigence to discover what connects the murder of Klara Boganova to an anonymous man run down in Paris, a dead Turk with an ice pick in his eye, and an international network of bank accounts linking back to the Second World War.

  • For the Dignified Dead (A Commander Jana Matinova Investigation) (Nov. 3, 2015)

When the wife of one of Slovakia’s most prominent businessmen is killed in a very public assassination, it looks like the bullets were meant for her husband. But, could she have been the primary target? Commander Jana Matinova must push through her own government’s secretiveness and intransigence to discover what connects the murder of Klara Boganova to an anonymous man run down in Paris, a dead Turk with an ice pick in his eye, and an international network of bank accounts linking back to the Second World War.

So that’s Amazon.ca basic synopsis of the series.

One of my criteria for reading enjoyment is how long it takes me to actually read the material. The shorter the time it takes me to read then, obviously, the more I have enjoyed the book(s). It doesn’t necessarily follow that they are great literature, just that I enjoyed reading them. That is the case with this series of novels. I read the entire series in under three weeks – turned lots of pages and missed out on some sleep. I found the plots were good, although, my wife only read the first and the last in the series and she felt that the plots could be tighter. There were interesting personalities spread through out the stories. They included the chief protagonist Jana, her boss, her associates and a super villain that drifted in out of a couple in the series. The locations were places that I felt had been under represented in recent fiction. Most of the action takes place in Eastern and Central Europe including  Czechoslovakia and the two member republics, then Switzerland, Austria, Hungry, Slovenia and France with side trips to the Ukraine and Germany.  Judging by the geographic detail outlined in the novels I can only assume that the author is very familiar with the locales. Although there is a chronology of events that suggest that the novels should be read in sequence, it is possible to read the them as stand alone stories.

All in all, if you are into Crime / Murder / Mystery novels then I suspect you will enjoy them as much as I did.

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Words become Images / Silence becomes Songs

422. Dusty Strings HarpPROSE, POETRY & PROVOLONE AT THE KIMBERLEY KALEIDOSCOPE FESTIVAL, Wednesday August 5, 7:30pm at Studio 64 in Kimberley.

It was the promise of an evening of Harp Music that got me out of the house. But it was the evening of Poetry and Prose that was my unexpected reward. I have never been a great one for poetry and that is probably the fault of my faulty education. In my youth there was a notion that Poetry was a “girly” thing – guys did Literature and the girls did Poetry. Over the years I have tried to overcome that educational deficient but still, to this day, any attempt to read  poetry causes my eyes to glaze over. I can’t seem to invest the written word with any real life. Every now and then that changes when I actually hear some one else evoke images with the spoken word. On this particular night that was very much the case when members of the Kimberley Writers group, Mike Whitney, Lori Craig, Sharla Smith, Bob McWhirter, Jill Christine and Jeff Pew invested their written words with lots of imagery and life. There was a lot to appreciate but my personal favorite was Jill Christine’s Tin Roof. It may have been about her own memories of Scotland and Kimberley that inspired the piece but for me, coming from Australia, the land of the “Corrigated Tin Roof”,  it evoked many images and memories that had largely faded into my past. Jill, I thank you for bringing those images back to me. The icing on the cake was the the poetry and music of Dawna McLennan. Dawna is a performer from Kaslo who writes, sings and plays possibly one of the most magnificent Celtic harps that one is likely to see up close. This beautiful hand crafted instrument was built by Dusty Strings in Seattle and would have looked very much at home in the stately houses and halls of olde Scotland and Ireland. Ever since I attended a concert of Celtic Harp Music in an old church in Australia many, many years ago I have had a soft spot for the folk harp. That concert, although billed as a concert of Celtic Harp music it turned out to be much more than that. The real knockout punch of the evening was delivered by a Chilean refugee who played a huge South American Harp, first as a solo instrument, then in ensemble with Quena, Pan flutes and percussion. To this day I can still hear the lopping bass passages that he used to invest his indigenous melodies with such dance like potential. Unknown to most of us the folk harp was introduced into South America by the missionaries in the early days of the Spanish conquest and to this day it is a major instrument in the indigenous music of the Andes. That’s all bye the bye in a trip down memory lane. Back in the present Dawna’s mission in life is to rock the world with her poetical images and that she did as “Harp Pixie” in her portion of the evening. The images were there and so was her voice in song. I always hesitate to compare contemporary performers to those of the past. I think it does a disservice to the performers own special uniqueness. But having said that there were qualities in Dawna’s vocal performances that reminded me of a young Joni Mitchell. Sorry about that Dawna. You deserve to be accepted on your own terms rather than as a ghost of days from the past. Here are some images of a wonderful evening of poetry, prose, music and song.

106. Lori Craig  104. Mike Whitney  116. Jill Christine124. Dawna McLennan 110. Sharla Smith   128. Dawna McLennan   118. Jeff Pew132. Dawna McLennan   126. Dawna McLennan     134. Dawna McLennan  400. The Dusty Strings Harp

And I almost forgot to mention the wonderful wine, cheese, meats and fruits that was more than a nice touch for the evening of poetry and music. Who ever made the food choices needs to be congratulated.

And here is a bonus from YouTube

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Read any good books lately? (#4) – wandering down memory lane

I don’t know how I stumbled on these two books. Possibly by net surfing on Amazon or Kindle. Either way both books set up a buzz of resonance in my memory cells. Both books are essentially travel books. The first one caught my eye because it was about recent travels in Australia and the second one because it was about the Old Indian Trails in the Canadian Rockies (just around the corner from where I live).

TRAVELS OF AN ORDINARY MAN AUSTRALIA by Paul Elliott (published in April, 2013) available on Kindle for 99 cents. At that price how could you go wrong?

All of us at some time or other have become frustrated with our jobs, our life and our relationships and yearn to just toss it all in and head out into great blue yonder. Paul Elliott is one of us. A job that was going no where and a girl friend who was a professional driver (“she had driven me up the wall, driven me around the bend and eventually driven me to the point where I needed to leave everything behind for the foreseeable future”). His answer was to jump on a plane and head down to Australia, specifically to Cairns in Queensland. In this day and age, from Heathrow you fly over Europe, Russia and drop down to Tokyo, Japan and then change planes for a direct flight to Cairns in Queensland.

In Canada if you live in the east you are exhorted to go West. In Australia everyone lives down south so the cry is to “go north young man”. And that’s what I did in the mid- 1960’s. I had worked in my first real job for nine years and life was passing me by. I didn’t have a relationship to jetson but I did have a yen to surf the fabulous beach and point breaks of Northern NSW and Southern Queensland. So why not do that and also take a wander around a part of the country where “even the bananas bend to the right”. This was the red-neck republic of Bjelke Petersen. Bjelke, a God-fearing Lutheran minister, was the premier of Queensland at the time and was the perfect example of that curse on mankind – “A Self Made Man” – whose motto in life was “my way or the highway”. Queensland was no place for unionists, left wing agitators, surfing bums or, then new on the scene, hippies.  So after some time tooling around the surf spots, including an epic birthday surf at a place called Broken Head, and some gainful employment for a few months in Lismore it was  on “To the North! to the North! The last place God made / The contract unfinished, lost, stolen or strayed ”  (an old traditional song). I had a vague idea of maybe making it all the way to New Guinea. I arrived in Cairns from the south 30 odd years before Paul arrived from the North. I think things must have changed somewhat in the intervening interval of time. In my day Cairns was a sleepy country town on the north east coast of Australia. Not exactly the end of the earth but pretty dammed close. You would have to go further north to Cook Town to get closer to the edge. The Japanese seem to like Cairns as a tourist destination, hence the direct flight. It is a gate way to the Great Barrier Reef so that may explain it. In my day it was as hot as Hades and that doesn’t seem to have changed. Cairns no longer seems to be sleepy and through Paul’s eyes it is pretty well a party town over run with backpackers who require ample opportunities to drink beer. His adventures included bungy jumping, beer drinking, a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, beer drinking, a road trip to Cook Town, beer drinking, avoiding predatory women, beer drinking, a trip to the Daintree Rain Forest, beer drinking, a trip to Lake Barrine, more beer drinking ……. you get the general idea. Memories of the area are still in my mind. Picking tobacco in the Atherton Tablelands, the launch “milk run” to Cook Town to what seemed like the end of the earth. In reality then, and I suspect now, it is the ends of the earth. Looking north from the jetty in Cooktown the country stretches for thousand of desolate miles before tumbling into the Torres Straight and then onto New Guinea. It  was place where you meet the odd characters that always seem to populate areas on the edge of settled society.  Paul finally hooked up with some fellow travelers in a shared vehicle and headed off into the interior to get first hand experience of the “real outback”. I don’t think he was disappointed. Despite the thousands of miles of dust, desert and flies and the lonely townships on the way the spectacle of Ayers Rock and the Olgas seem to have made it all worth while. I hadn’t traveled that route so I had no actual first hand knowledge of the terrain. However, he headed south to Port Augusta in South Australia and that is an area I knew. I had passed through it several times. Once on a hitch hiking trip from Sydney to Perth and again on a road trip to the Flinders Ranges. I distinctly remember standing at the end of the sealed road outside Port Augusta as it headed north to Alice Springs. Standing there and seeing the gravel road stretching north as far as the eye could see until it was no longer visible in the shimmering heat of the day. That road is now a sealed highway. The rest of his travels through South Australia and Victoria were also over country that I had traveled so, so many years ago. In my case they were mostly solo adventures in Paul’s case he seemed to have the knack of hooking up with any number of interesting fellow  travelers. Upon reaching the “big smoke”  (Melbourne) he toyed with the idea of heading back up North to MacKay and the Whitsunday Passage. I wish he had of done that because there could have been some very interesting comparisons. In my day getting to MacKay required traveling over hundreds of miles of “The Crystal Highway” so named because of all the glass from shattered windshields that sparked in the sun at the side of the road. I distinctly remember waking up at 8 am in a truck stop outside MacKay on top of picnic table. The temperature was in high 90’s (F) and the sun was beating down and me and my monumental hangover from a re-hydration attempt at a local pub. I also distinctly remember everybody in the pub drinking beer from 5 oz glasses.The idea was to drink the beer before it got too warm.  The tables were a sea of empty 5 oz glasses. Having said that the area off the coast is one of spectacular beauty – straight out of Treasure Island. For Colin that was not to be. He was running out of time and he decided to fly to Brisbane and travel down the coast and see “The Real Australia” – the one that is most familiar to most suburban Aussies. The coastal strip is one of unending seascapes, coastal communities and empty beaches galore. He spent some time in one of my old stomping grounds, Byron Bay, just around the corner from Broken Head. He finally ended up in Port MacQuarrie. This a community somewhat the same size as Cranbrook. His experiences ambling around Port MacQuarrie sparked a lot of memories. The truth be known that he was there probably only a few years prior to my last visit to Australia. Eventually Colin made it Sydney for an opportunity to explain why his visa had expired. Luckily for him he was on his way out of the country.

Old Indian Trails of The Canadian Rockies by Mary T.S. Schaffer (first published in 1911). ” Mary T.S.Schaffer was an avid explorer and one of the first no-native women to venture into the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, where few women  – or men – had gone before.” at $1.99 this was another steal of deal on Kindle.

There were not many of them around in the19th Century and early Twentieth Century but they were there. Women of adventurous spirits that defied convention and did what they felt they had to do. There were probably more of them out there than we will ever know but unless they documented their efforts they have faded into the blank pages of history. We are fortunate that Mary T.S. Schaffer chose to write a book about her adventures of two summers of horse pack explorations of the Canadian Rockies. Anyone travelling the Ice Field Highway these days between Lake Louse and Jasper are pretty well traversing the main route of her explorations. But, remember their trips were done  around 1911. Over two summer Mary and her guides and companions explored a significant number of side trips (left and right) travelling up the Rockies. If you spend any time checking the The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide (Brian Patton & Bart Robinson) it doesn’t take you long to realize that that these are the Old Indian Trails of her travels.

I moved to the East Kootenays in the mid-70’s. Over the years I had done a number of day trips both with the family and solo in the nearby National Parks but it wasn’t until I had been in the area twenty years that I realized that time was slipping by and this marvelous area required some personal exploration. I figured that I had about 15 years of hard core hiking and back packing left before the ravages of age and common sense slowed me down. I know it is not a sensible idea but the only way for me to achieve my desires was to go it alone. Over the next fifteen years I embarked on many day trips and and least one extended eight over-night night back packs per summer. Usually I set aside the the last two weeks of August and the first three weeks of September to take advantage of the good weather (not too hot and sometime cool to very frosty) and the diminishing summer crowds. The early trips were in the Kootenay, Assiniboine and Banff Parks with at least one foray into Yoho Park. Each summer I ticked them off the list until I needed to move onto Jasper Park. Reading Mary’s book is very Deja Vu. I was virtually following in her footsteps, maybe not in the same direction but essentially the same routes. The trip into Athabaska Pass, The Skyline Trail (Shovel Pass) to Maligne Lake and down to Jonas Pass and Brazeau Lake, Nigel Creek and so on. And of course the big trip into Mount Robson. Every summer was another adventure. Despite the fact that they were solo trips I experienced no sense of loneliness. I may have been alone but I was not lonely.

For anyone contemplating hiking in Jasper Park, Old Indian Trails of The Canadian Rockies by Mary T.S. Schaffer is essential reading.

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Geoff Berner at Lotus Books

Geoff Berner at Lotus Books, February 8, 2014, 8pm.  Check Geoff’s website at  Geoff Berner and also Youtube video Play, Gypsy, Play. Also his wikipedia entry Geoff Berner wikipediaGB-tour“Geoff Berner (born in Vancouver 197) is a Canadian singer-songwriter and accordion player from Vancouver, British Columbia. Due to his insightful humour, politically inflammatory compositions and showmanship, Berner has gained a cult following over 134a. Geoff Brennerthe years, especially in Canada and Norway, where he recorded his first live album, Live in Oslo (2004)………” –  Wikipedia entry.

The “show” at Lotus Books was as much a literary event as a musical performance. Although he is labelled as a singer / songwriter, with the publication of his novel Festival Man last October, he has also established his literary credentials. He is a more than a step away from the run-of-the-mill guitar totting songster. His performance, although in no way manic,  lives up to  “a wild combination of menace, madness, and genius… .” – Vue Weekly, Edmonton. His music has been described as “new Jewish drinking songs” or “Klezmer Punk” but despite some Jewish elements in the music I don’t think Klezmer is a good descriptor. Maybe, when people see the accordion they feel the need to apply some sort of ethnic label to give the music a specific dimension. Rather, I think his music is more geocentric than ethnocentric. By that I mean his music  comes specifically out of the politics and geography of his home base, Vancouver. His interpretations of that milieu , while personal, definitely have universal applications.  His The Official Theme Song of the 2010 Winter Olympics  with its somewhat chilling chorus “the dead children were worth it” expresses a sick notion that continues to be played out when ever big sport events displace priorities (and money) away from the public good. The song That’s What Keeps the Rent Down Baby is another edgy piece that could easily be associated with the East Hasting Street area of Vancouver  Youtube version. Something with more of a Jewish overtone would be the Russian song Dalloy Polizei (literal translation “Fuck the Police”) Youtube Version of Dalloy Polizei . Interspersed though out the evening were several readings by Geoff and Ferdy Belland from Geoff’s novel Festival Man.  Ferdy was in his best “Papa” Hemingway mode. Here are some images from the evening. Ferdy Belland Geoff Berner   Ferdy Belland  Geoff Brenner Geoff Berner 200. Geoff Berner   Ferdy Belland   Geoff Berner

This was a more than pleasant evening spent in the intimate confines of The Lotus Book Store listening to a unique performance . Thanks should got to Geoff Berner for his unique brand of music and satire and his low keyed accordion playing. Also, of course, thanks to Ferdy and Erin for bringing Geoff to the bookshop. Please also note that the novel Festival Man is available from the Lotus Bookshop.

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Read any good books lately (#3) – John Clarke: Explorer of the Coast Ranges

John Clarke – Explorer of the Coast Ranges, by Lisa Baile, published by Harbour Publishing 2012, ISBN # 978-155017-583-7, 287 pages including many wonderful photographs. This is a wonderful book that can be found in the Cranbrook Public Libarary.

I came across this book by accident when I was researching material on Wade Davis. It turned up in a Cranbrook Library search of Wade’s books. He wrote the introduction to this biography. This is a story  of the extraordinary British Columbian climber, explorer, conservationist and educator, John Clarke. Over the years I became vaguely aware of John Clarke from numerous fragments of literature in climbing magazines. This gentleman, originally from Ireland, while growing up in Vancouver,  developed a passion for the Coast Mountains that became the central theme of his existence. Every summer for over 25 years he would literally pack his gear and wander off the down town streets of Vancouver to head off into the wilds of British Columbia. He would return in the winter to find work, accumulate funds and plan and prepare for the next summer’s adventure. More extraordinary is the fact that for the majority of these expeditions he traveled alone. Later on, for a number of years, he did hook up with fellow climber and explorer John Baldwin. We tend to forget that there are huge swaths of our province that are a literally unmapped “jungle”, albeit, wet, snowy, glaciated, and over grown with Devil’s club and Slide Alder. This book, coming hard on the heels of the Wade Davis Amazonian lecture at the Key City Theatre  was a reminder that we live on the edge of a geographical wonderland that, in some ways, is just as magnificent and awe inspiring as the Amazon. John’s legacy is the filling in of details of the landscape in The McBride Range, The Misty Icefields, Mt. Mason, The Manatee Range, Toba watershed, Whitemantle Range, Kingcome-Knight Traverse, Klinaklini & Silverthrone Glaciers, Mt. Willoughby / Machmell, and the Jacobesen Bay / Chuchwall River area. He also explored ranges north of Bella Coola. His explorations resulted in over 250 first ascents. His climbing career morphed into that of a conservationist and educator. The loss of his friend Randy Stoltmann in an avalanche right in front of his eyes precipitated a career change for John Clarke. Randy was a noted conservationist  and his death left a gaping hole in the conservationist community. John stepped into that gap. His passion for the mountains was a natural catalyst for working with the many conservation groups and aboriginal communities. The  mountains and explorations are not his only legacy. He also had a passion for the preservation of historical buildings in Vancouver. It seems that during his winter months he photographed and catalogued the disappearing buildings of Vancouver. His work as a conservationist, historical and environmental, also led to a career as an educator. This may have been the beginning of his “settling down”, although by our criteria his new life was still a life of passion, commitment, ideals and excitement. The changes provided him with some stability and  assured income. Because it would have taken him away from his central obsession with the mountains, John had always steered clear of romantic commitment. That came to end with his obsession and marriage to Annette Lehnacker and the birth of his son Nicholas. Also around that time he was awarded the Order of Canada for his lifetime of exploratory mountaineering in the Coast Mountains and his recent achievements as an educator and conservationist.  When Nicholas was born in 2002 it would seem that John’s life was complete. However, and here is the emotional kicker, shortly after the birth of his son, John Clarke at the age of 58 years  was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. John died February 23, 2003. This is a man we should all thank and remember.

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John Clarke’s first ascents in the Coastal Ranges of British Columbia

 ps. Note on the map that despite John Clarke’s extensive explorations there are still great swaths of the province that are still “unexplored jungle”.

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Who is Wade Davis?

Wade DavisIn a nutshell he is the real deal. For the full profile check the Wikipedia  entry for Wade Davis .

There was time when Natural Scientists (Anthropologists, Botanists, Geologists, and Explorers) were the heroes of their day. This was before rock stars, politicians, computer geeks and celebrities usurped their place in the pantheons of significant individuals. In the 1700’s the botanist Sir Joseph Banks, besides his academic contributions to the world of science, was noted for his ground breaking discoveries while tripping around the world with Captain James Cook. He is still remembered to this day, especially by me because I grew up in a suburb in Sydney Australia named Bankstown. And who can forget Charles Darwin and his voyage of discovery that ultimately led to the publication of his Origin of the Species? His revelations and speculations are still rocking the world. His theory of Natural Selection is still denied and hotly debated. And yet despite the fact that it is only a theory it is still the cornerstone of our basic understanding of the natural world. Yes, in another time and place Wade Davis would be right up there. My first hand knowledge of the man is only through his book, a book that I have recently re-read, One River – Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest. This book was Wade’s personal immersion in the legacy of Richard Evans Schultes a Harvard Scientist who virtually invented the science of Ethno-botany. Ethno – what? I know it sounds a little strange but Schultes in 1936 was the first man to really investigate the peyote cultures of the North American Indians and the role of hallucinatory substances in the ethnic societies of Central and South America.  Schultes was no office bound academic he was very much a field scientist who was not above sampling the products of his investigations. He spent many years collecting, cataloguing and exploring. In this day of super-expeditions his equipment and mode of transport would be considered spartan, if not foolhardy. Pants, shirt, pith helmet, penny loafers, a hammock and his collecting gear was about all he carried. He walked, canoed, rafted and, very rarely, flew all over the Amazon basin. Wade Davis and a fellow student Timothy Plowman retraced some of Schultes travels and by doing so have become part of the legacy. Unfortunately Tim Plowman died in 1989 but Wade continues on in the tradition. The book is a fascinating look at Schultes legacy through the modern eyes of two of his students. It is full of interesting observations of today’s attitudes, including the misguided attempts to eliminate the coca crops in South America, our basic misunderstanding of the role of the coca chewing by tribal societies, the misguided efforts of Evangelical missionaries, and the impact and history of natural rubber harvesting in the Amazon basin. The book is a little weighed down by technical botanical names but despite that it is definitely still on my short list of books that demand to be re-read. On a different subject but one that is just as interesting as the Amazonian book is his Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest. This is also another “must read”. I believe both books are available in the Cranbrook Public Library.

So, if you want to see and hear “the real deal” Wade Davis will be at the Key City Theatre on Monday night – see the poster below.

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And the “real deal” it turned out to be. Not only because of Wade’s lecture but also because of Joe Pierre’s retelling of the Xtunaxa creation story. A wonderful tale that gave context to our familiar geography and place names. Of course Wade took us way further afield than the Kootenays. He delved into the legacy of the ethnobotanist  Richard Evans Schultes and a very different way of looking at our essential humanity. He explored why we should care about the environment and indigenous societies and perhaps we should explore alternative ways of doing things. Accompanied by a wonderful collection of images and a spirited delivery of tales that are from, literally, off the map, this must rank up there as one of the most entertaining and informative evenings in quite a while. Wade must have been better known than I thought because the The Key City Theatre was as about as full as it gets.  If you ever have another opportunity to hear this extraordinary individual then treat yourself. You will not regret it.

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Read any good books lately? (#2) – It’s about Africa

I have never read any of Agatha Christie’s crime novels. In fact I never paid any attention to the crime/mystery novel genre until I recently started reading Ian Rankin’s novels. Set in Edinburgh, Scotland, the novels have a gritty quality that is way more interesting than the “brigadoon” atmosphere of other Scottish novels. It was short step from Ian Rankin’s Scotland to  Henning Mankell’s Wallander series and Stieg Larsson’s – Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo – tales of murder and mayhem in Sweden. The common thread in these novels is the role of a central protagonist. For Ian Rankin it is Inspector John Rebus, for Henning Mankell it’s Inspector Kurt Wallander and Stieg Larsson has the journalist Michael Bloomkvist doing the honors. All of these characters seem to verge on the edge of being dysfunctional yet get the job done. The crimes are solved and justice, more or less, prevails. So, true to form the ex-BBC journalist Richard Crompton has stepped into the crime novel genre with a, yet again, slightly dysfunctional “hero” in the first Detective Mollel novel. But there is a twist. The novel Hour of the Red God is set in Nairobi, Kenya in 2007 during the turmoil of the much disputed general elections. At first glance a former Maasai warrior, complete with tribal scars, seems to be a little unbelievable as a detective. However, once the novel gets rolling it is easy to set aside any misgivings while Detective Mollel pursues the investigation of the murder of a prostitute. The Hour of the Red God is a gritty novel with a particular mix of tribal and urban elements set against the street riots and violence of the elections. The jagged view of life that is the trademark of Ian Rankin’s John Rebus is also reflected in Mollel’s struggle with his own issues set against the inter-tribal conflicts and corruption that are very much a curse on the African political landscape.  The novel navigates its way through many twists and turns in the political and social milieu before  the crime is finally solved. This writer, in this his first novel, is a worthy addition to the crime/mystery genre. It is available from the Cranbrook and District Public Library.

One thing leads to another. So while tripping around Richard Crompton’s dark side of Kenya Paul Theroux’s travel book Dark Star Safari – Overland from Cairo to Cape Town  immediately came to mind. So much so that I pulled it off my bookshelf, sat down and, over the course of a few days, re-read it. For Paul Theroux it was a return to the landscapes of his youth. He was a Peace Corp worker as a teacher in Malawi in the 1960’s. His opening line of the book “All news out of Africa is bad. It made me want to go there, not for the horror, the hot spots, the massacre-and-earthquake stories you read in the newspaper, I wanted the pleasure of being in Africa again.”  After an opening like that how could you put it down? So, on returning to Africa in the early part of this century for his monumental overland trip through pretty well all the countries of East Africa he obviously has a lot to say. He revisits old friends and old landscapes, indulges in some new adventures, has some narrow escapes and reflects on an Africa that is materially more decrepit than when he first knew it. He has very few good things, if any,  to say about “the agents of virtue”  – the Aid Organizations and NGO that, in his opinion, are a major part of the problem. He thinks the best thing that could happen to Africa is for all foreign aid to cease and let the Africans solve their own problems. I don’t think that Paul Theroux is a particularly nice person and, I suspect, if I ever met him I would probably not like him. However, he does write marvelous travel books and, without a doubt, this is one of his finest. On closing one of his travel books my immediate reaction is “I don’t want to go there”. That is a little different from the promise offered by most travel books.

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Read any good books lately? (#1)

I divide the populace up into two groups – readers and non readers. And, of course, as I am biased, readers are the more significant group. They are the ones whose imagination is fired by the written word. And among the readers there are the ones who are into ” molecules”. They like to have a book in their hand; they like the feel of paper, the physical act of turning the pages and being surrounded by walls lined with books. Then there are the “bits and bites” advocates who have no particular attachment to the physical presence of a traditional book. They are just as happy to get their fix via an e-reader, tablet  or computer screen. They consider themselves more eco-friendly and point to the waste of paper, storage space and the difficulty of finding that particular volume in their crowded living spaces. Regardless of their differing points of view they still all love to read. There was a time back in the dawn of the modern computer age that the notion of books becoming obsolete was considered a real possibility. Any casual stroll, on any given day, through any books store will demonstrate that the promise of the demise of books has be greatly exaggerated. My son, a child of the computer age, a confessed computer geek, is an obsessive reader. I guess all those trips to the Cranbrook Public Library when he was growing up sowed the seeds of a life long passion.

So back to the original question “read any good books lately” can be answered in the affirmative. Now retired, one of the joys of this new found condition is having the time to read and reread as many books that I can get my hands on. One of my criteria for identifying a good book is the desire to re-read the just finished volume. So the top of my list at the moment is  REAMDE by Neil Stephenson. I have read and re-read his spectacular Cryptonomicon and will probably re-read it again. Not everything of his has been to my liking, his Baroque Trilogy I couldn’t finish. His material always seems to have a “teckie” edge with plots that involve technology to some extent. The title Reamde is a corruption of the name of a file, Readme, that is nearly always appended to new software. Part of the attraction of this novel is the opening and closing locations in the Kootenays. The particular geography isn’t exactly as we see it in this area but there are recognizable locations that will definitely resonate with local residents (is that Fernie or Nelson he is talking about?). Geographically the novel ranges far afield from the Kootenays to  Seattle, China, The Philipines, Northern British Columbia, and back to the Kootenays and finally to Idaho. The plot revolves around international terrorism and on-line role playing games. I have never played computer games so that part of the plot is somewhat outside my experience and the whole genre of role playing is beyond me. And the concepts of financial profit from playing these games seemed a little far fetched. However, my geeky son came to the rescue and cleared away some of the fog and misconceptions. In answer to my question ” Is there really a virtual economy in these games that can be transferred back to the real world and real money?”. Here are his comments:   “Ah Reamde – yes, that was a good read, and along with Anathem has redeemed Stephenson after his Baroque Cycle trilogy (which I failed to finish even the first novel). And yes, there are virtual economies in these games – so much so, that many of these games companies actually have economists on staff to manage the economy, just like a Chief Economist would do for a country (printing money = “how many magical swords should we make?”). The practice of “gold farming” – using cheap labor in countries such as China to “farm” virtual goods in the game and then sell them to westerners who don’t have enough time to dedicate to the games to build their characters, is a lucrative business. In fact, many of the Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORG – think Dungeons and Dragons / Tolkien-esque stuff, or military strategy games) have had to struggle with the question of how to limit this black market without killing the interest in their games.  It’s a delicate question – how do you make the game hard enough to be interesting and challenging, without making it so hard that casual gamers can’t enter the game without immediately getting their asses handed to them? How do you, as a game company, make money from the obvious market for shortcuts (i.e. “buy the magical sword that would otherwise take 900 hours of gameplay to earn!”) without pissing off the hardcore gamers, who will perceive this as a “only the rich can win” game. In truth, these games are less like games, and more like entire worlds. They have their own economies, rules, mythologies – Tolkien would be envious. While there are guided epics/quests in the games, the worlds are effectively an open field with only a few “hooks” for whatever quest you might be on… It’s a hell of a long way from Pacman’s “eat all the dots, don’t touch the ghosts, and once you’ve eaten all the dots, start over, but faster and with more ghosts”. The games are immersive and complex, and they can be all-consuming. There’s a reason that the MMORG “EverQuest” is known colloquially as “EverCrack”. Even outside of the Dungeons & Dragons type stuff, there’s whole leagues of other online games. If you have a computer or a console, you can log in to things like XBox Live and play head-to-head against an opponent that’s halfway around the world, any time of the day. Talk about breaking down global barriers. It’s one thing to get schooled by your buddy when he’s sitting beside you on the couch – entirely another thing when a bunch of Chinese kids living on a couple bucks a month are schooling you from an Internet cafe, and you’re hearing the audio channel in your ears as they taunt you in a language you don’t even understand.” So there you have it, an education in an email.

So there is enough “teckie” stuff, adventure, murder and mayhem in this book to keep one’s interest up for many late night reading sessions. Who needs sleep when some much is at stake? This is a good read and one that will definitely go into my re-read list. The book is available from the Cranbrook Public Library.

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