Another rip roaring tale from Jonathan Maberry.

Wikipedia says – Patient Zero is a 2009 novel by American writer Jonathan Maberry and the first book in the Joe Ledger series. It was first published on March 3, 2009 through St. Martin’s Griffin and follows a detective that must help prevent the world from being terrorized by a bioweapon that turns humans into zombies.

See the source image

But it’s much more than that. Don’t write it off as “just another Zombie novel”. As Wiki says, it’s the first book in Maberry’s Joe Ledger series of books, and having already read King of Plagues – the third book in the series, which I blogged about in an earlier post – as a Mayberry and as a Joe Ledger fan….and let’s face it a fan of Zombies, I knew I had to read this book. The one that started it all. There are, by the way, now 10 books in the series. It was initially optioned for a TV series but as of yet nothing has happened as far as production goes.

Maberry researches his technical information thoroughly and for this book consulted many experts in their field, including Michael Sicilia who is the Public Affairs Manager with the California Office of Homeland Security, Exercise and Training Branch. He is the project manager of the Public Officials Initiative, which trains and exercises elected officials on their crucial role as crisis communicators in catastrophic emergencies – Staff at the Philadelphia Forensic Science Bureau – doctors working in the Department of Molecular Pathology and Neuropathology. He likes to get his tech info as factual as possible. Almost everything as regards surveillance, computer and weapons systems are real although some are not yet available on the commercial market.

The science, the prion diseases are also real…but the parasites and disease which cause the “zombie pathogen are fictitious (thank goodness)…BUT are based on and inspired by similar pathogens known about in science.

Getting back to the book….without any spoilers….you’ll just have to take my word for what a rip-snorter of an action packed story this is. We follow Joe Ledger, who at the start of the book is a police detective (ex army, martial arts expert), off duty and enjoying the waves… and the girls in bikinis, at his local beach. His peaceful day is ruined when he is approached by 3 large men with FBI I.D. who ask him to accompany them….in their car to a destination unknown.

And so begins the recruitment of Joe Ledger into the newly formed and highly secret DMS – The Department of Military Sciences (answering only to the President….or is the leader of this organization, the mysterious Mr Church, answerable to no one?). These are the guys responsible for snuffing out terrorist plots before they happen….the terrorist plots that never make it into the news media reports. We’ve all heard of black ops…..this department deals with a much, much darker shade of black.

Ledger has been brought in to lead an elite team of terrorist hunters, and in this story Zombie hunters, who threaten the existence of human kind, planet wide.

Even before Ledger can get settled in and start to train his team, he’s thrown in at the deep end…straight into one death defying mission after another. It’s fast paced stuff!

As the blurb on the back of the book cover says “When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world. And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.”

Yes…as you can see by that short smidgen of dialogue from the book, Maberry writes in the first person. He becomes Joe Ledger…or does Joe Ledger become him? Either way, and I noticed this in the King of Plagues book too, in some parts of the story it makes the writer (or the Hero) sound like a bit of a big head….a know all….a big I AM. To put it in a really cheesy / corny way – All men want to be Joe Ledger and all women want to be with him! That’s the way that Maberry wants his readers to view the hero of the hour. But, if you can get past that aspect of Maberry’s writing, you will enjoy this action packed story…..3 zombie slaying missions in 24 hours is as full on as it gets believe me!

Of course there is also a little dark humour, plus the all important romantic link to a female team member, a smattering of merciless terrorists, a power crazy multi-billionaire (think Bill Gates on steroids) and a mad, but very lustful scientist thrown in for good measure. …Oh and hundreds of bloodthirsty, brain munching zombies. You don’t have to think very much reading the Joe Ledger series….frankly he doesn’t give you the time to think as he barrels you along from one burst of action to another. This is definitely not a book that will exercise your grey matter, but for pure adrenaline rushing entertainment I loved it and got through it in 2 reading sessions…..not a lot of work achieved by me during that time, but worth it.

I’ll end with a few quotes of recommendation for the book …. but other than that, thanks for reading. Comments are always welcome.

Deserves to take his place among the best suspense writers of recent years” – John Connoly

His writing is powerful enough to sing with poetry while simultaneously scaring the hell out of you” – Tess Gerritsen

Scary, creepy and gripping…Patient Zero is Night of the Living Dead meets Michael Crichton” – Joseph Finder

A must for Zombie Fans

I’ve just finished reading The Return Man, by V.M. Zito. I borrowed it from the public library 4 days ago and given the chance I would have read it in one sitting, except of course life gets in the way of reading time. The book is an excellent take on the tried and tested Zombie story and is loaded with action, thrills and spills. If you’re a fan of Zombie books or movies, this book is an absolute must!

It’s not only me who writes in praise of this novel either. Here are some words by others to encourage you to read this book.

“Thrilling… crowd-pleasing.” –Publishers Weekly

“Hands down one of the best zombie novels I’ve read in a long, long time.” –David Moody, acclaimed author of AUTUMN

“A harrowing, haunting, and beautifully written novel…” –Library Journal

“… an action-packed, plot-driven thrill ride that is frightening and savage.” –Rue Morgue Magazine

“Highly accomplished… bloody excellent.” –Financial Times

“In a word: relentless.” –London Telegraph

“A hair-raising quest… Zito expertly piles on thrills, cliffhangers and numerous twists.” –The Guardian UK

“Compelling, captivating and at times hauntingly scary.” –Fantasy Book Review

OK, so for those of you who haven’t stopped reading this blog post and rushed out to buy a copy….here’s a brief outline of the story without giving up any spoilers.

Henry Marco…..formerly known as doctor Henry Marco….is now a bounty hunter of sorts. He finds himself living in the former state of Arizona, in what are now known as the Evacuated States of America – west of the great divide. The eastern states are known as the Safe States. Safe from what you may ask?…..Well go on….ask! Zombies are what. The eastern states being the Zombie Free Safe Zone and the western states, being handed over to the living dead, has supposedly been evacuated of all living humans….except of course for Henry Marco.

Marco’s new job is to locate specific zombies – ex family members of people living in the Safe States – and to make that zombie dead again…..permanently. To give the tortured soul, of that former human being, everlasting peace. He has a colleague who lives and works in the Safe States, who get the job contracts for Marco and who receives payment for the jobs as, when and if, they are completed.

The main reason Marco remained in the west, despite efforts to evacuate the living, is that he is desperately trying to find his own wife, who he suspects is dead….Zombified. Why does he think this? He thinks this because he found her car with bloody hand prints on the windows inside her car, AND a pile of entrails on the floor beneath the driver’s seat.

The story is set 4 years after the zombie apocalypse began and Marco, once a doctor who’s job was to save people, has now transformed into a Zombie Hunter. He sort of likes being his own boss and being responsible for his own destiny while being of service to others. But then he is given a mission by the head of Homeland Security…..a mission unlike any that he has been involved in so far.

Will he come out of this one alive? Will he complete the mission successfully? Will he find his wife and put her soul to rest?

You’re going to have to read the book to find out. It’s a brilliant page turner of a book. I hurried along the adventure with Marco, eager to find those answers and many more….but was extremely sad to finish the book. I want more. More Marco missions.

I was most upset to find out that V.M. Zito has only written one other Zombie story – a short story at that – which is a prequel to The Return Man with the title of Waiting Room.

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To quote Fantastic Fiction website “In the eerie abandoned corridors of St. Pius Hospital, professional corpse-finder Henry Marco is on a dangerous mission — to track and dispatch the Resurrected corpse of a man named Tim Patterson. The hunt will end in the dark waiting room of the sixth floor maternity ward, where Marco must confront the ultimate question: What meaning does life have to the dead?”

Waiting Room is not available at the library, but is available as a kindle download. I hate Kindles and don’t use them, but for V.M. Zito I will make an exception.

Many thanks for reading this blog post. Your comments are always appreciated. I shall endeavour….or for the Americans among you… endeavor….to write more regular posts.

The King of Plagues – Book Review

This is a brief book review for Jonathan Maberry’s novel The King Of Plagues – the third book in his Joe Ledger series of stories.

Joe Ledger was a Baltimore cop until he was enlisted by the DMS – the Department of Military Science – a crack team of investigators created to thwart bio terrorists and headed by a mysterious man called Church….or the Bishop…..or Deacon…or any other name related to the clergy. Everyone seems to know him by a different name

Ledger is accompanied by his white haired Alsatian dog by the name of Ghost, a dog almost as deadly as Ledger himself.

Ledger and Ghost are on the trail of a secret society known as the 7 Kings, who are lead by their self proclaimed Goddess, and who are determined to release weaponized versions of the Ten Plagues of Egypt in order to destabilize the world economy. The lives of millions of innocent people are in the balance unless Leger and his special ops team can bring down the Kings.

It’s a rip roaring, action packed story that will keep most Action/Military/Special Ops fans happy. Bad guys who kill without conscience, blood, guts, bullets, explosions and bio weapons galore….a fast paced story and a few twists and turns along the way to add enough uncertainty to make it interesting. Of course there is also a glamorous femme fatale or two to add a sexual angle to the story. Will Ledger and his team find out who the Seven KIngs are and stop them in time, or is this one fight that is unwinnable?

One particular Kings assassin, Santoro, has some good lines that enforce his reputation as a bad guy without a conscience….

“…when I kill for the Kings I am not committing murder, nor am I participating in acts of terrorism. Those are subjective concepts, and our worldview is grand. It is our mandate from heaven. As a result we are above all of that……because we have the power to enforce our own and particular set of rules”.

Anyone would think he was a politician, not an assassin. There are similarities I believe….they both think that they have the power to create their own set of rules that sets them above the common folk. Or am I just letting “Covid and the New Normal” bring out my petulant side?

He has zero remorse whether he kills thousands in a fiery bomb blast, or takes apart an innocent child.

The Kings set about wreaking havoc and Ledger and team always seem to be just a step behind, so close and yet so far from bringing a halt to the Kings dastardly plans. Will they get there in the end?

Read the book and find out.

The King of Plagues will never be looked upon as a classic piece of literature, but it is good entertainment and a light read. I give it a 3 out of 5.

Another Hemingway DNF

Although this was meant to be a book review, DNF being of course Did Not Finish, it would be hardly fair to review a book, in any depth, that I only read half way through. I mentioned in one of my very early blog posts how I struggled to get interested in Hemingway’s books and how much I wanted to like his writing. At the time I had been reading A Moveable Feast – his book of essays about life in Paris when he was a struggling writer. I said at the time of reading it that I enjoyed books, documentaries and movies about Hemingway, but couldn’t bring myself to a state of reading bliss when it came to books written by him.

I thought I would give him, and me, another chance and when I saw The Sun Also Rises on the shelves of Minton Booklovers – a most excellent second hand book store in the city of Napier, New Zealand – I felt compelled to buy it.

I had read, somewhere, that The Sun Also Rises was “a Hemingway masterpiece that salutes The Paris Cafe Scene, Spain and the Lost Generation”. Since all three of these subjects interest me I thought it would be a good read. BUT once again I struggled with Hemingway’s style of writing.

So, what is Hemingway’s writing style? It has been described as “economical, minimalist and sparse with few adjectives or adverbs”….OR “simple, direct and unadorned prose”. He writes giving little or no background information and often refers to it, he, or she without being specific about which it, he or she he is talking about. It has been suggested that his style developed from his days of being a journalist – giving just the bare bones about what happened and nothing else. He certainly doesn’t elaborate about anything. It was almost like stepping into the middle of a story rather than having a beginning and introducing us to the characters, setting the scene etc.

Many proclaim him a genius – a masterful writer. I honestly don’t understand why he is lauded by so many. He tends to provide the reader with the very basics necessary and leaves it up to us to add flesh to the bones of what the character means by what they say or deciding how they feel emotionally. I enjoy stories where I care about what happens to the characters, but it’s difficult to care about a character who is presented as all bones and no substance. There are, at times, occasional pages of conversation between two or more characters where it is difficult to follow who exactly is speaking….kind of like you’re listening into a conversation that you’re not part of, or not even meant to be part of. I felt like the book was some sort of “in-joke” that I was being deliberately excluded from.

I didn’t quite reach the half way mark of the 224 page story before I’d decided that enough was enough, for now at least. I’ll leave the bookmark in there and may get around to finishing it at a later date…..perhaps a bottle of whiskey would help?

Speaking of drinking, Hemingway is often associated with being a hard drinker and a tough fighter, but he claimed to rarely drink while writing. He would usually drink afterwards as a way of relaxing, to subconsciously work over the story in his mind, so that the following day he could continue to work with a clear head. Sometimes I wish he had partaken of a tipple or two while actually writing The Sun Also Rises as it may have relaxed his writing style, made his characters more believable, less wooden and far more interesting.

The Sun also Rises, I’m sorry to say, did not make my enthusiasm for Hemingway novels rise at all.

The Plot Against America – Book Review.

The Plot Against America was written in 2004 by American writer Philip Roth. It’s a novel, but told in the first person, using his own name along with real people from the 1930’s and 40’s – the time in which the story is set. So, in a way it reads more like an autobiography….but not one that is factual. In this story, rather than Franklin D Roosevelt winning the presidential election for the Democrats, it is taken out by Republican Charles Lindbergh (the famous aviator…..and Nazi sympathiser). This of course puts a different spin on world war 2 and which side the USA is leaning toward supporting.

See the source image

Roth is an American of Jewish heritage and in this book he writes a story featuring himself as a child in Newark living in a very Jewish neighbourhood. His main concern and his main passion, at the beginning of the story, is his stamp album….collecting stamps and keeping them safe for posterity. This of course is the period of history where Hitler comes to power in Germany, endeavours to conquer Europe and bring about the “final solution” to what he sees as the Jewish problem.

Once Lindberg looks like becoming the Republican nominee for the presidency, the world of the Jewish population in America takes a distinct turn for the worse. The persecution of the Jews becomes an accepted thing.

We follow the Roth family – Philip, the youngest child, his older brother Sandy and his parents – through a disturbing turn of events in an American history that didn’t happen, but could have very easily. Philip’s parents take in cousin Alvin to raise as their own ( a troubled youth) to try to straighten him out and set him on the right path, but he runs away to Canada to join the war effort against Hitler’s Nazi tyrants. Within a short time, Alvin is badly wounded, losing half a leg from the knee down….(what a stupid statement….it’s not likely to be from the knee up is it?) and returns to the Roth household broken and dejected. Young Philip shares a bedroom with Alvin and helps to dress his stump and look after his welfare.

Roth writes a very believable story of ordinary citizens turning against the Jews in late 1930’s early 1940’s America. The phrase “it can’t happen here” rings out….but fact is, it can happen anywhere and often does. In Nazi Germany, German Jews who had lived quite happily with other Germans for years and were considered friends and acquaintances were abandoned and attacked by their former neighbours and handed over to the Nazi’s and Gestapo. And in “The Plot Against America” the Jews are once again the target of hatred, but this time it’s in the “land of the free”.

Lindberg initiates the Office of American Absorption (OAA)- programs to separate Jewish youths from their families and place them far away from home with gentile families on “work experience” where they become more Americanized. Philip’s brother Sandy is sent away to a farm in Kentucky during the 6 week school holiday to return home later a changed character who has no respect for his father and mother and has become an admirer of Lindberg.

I don’t want to talk in any detail about the plot as I’d like to encourage you to read it for yourselves and so don’t want to give away too much and spoil your reading experience.

Leaving talk of this particular book just there, many of us look at the slaughter of the 6 million Jews in Nazi Germany and question how anything like that could happen, where right thinking people initially turn a blind eye and then actually support the persecution of a particular group of people based on race, religion, or political beliefs – but it happens a lot. It is often seen as convenient to blame a particular set of people for causing problems to make them scapegoats for something that they were never responsible for. A way for the government, ruling classes, or crazed dictator to drive a wedge between other once peaceful parts of the civilian population. It happened to anyone of middle eastern origin/Muslims after the 9/11 tragedy. It’s happened more recently in Europe with eastern Europeans moving to the west and taking western jobs….and more recently still with Syrian refugees fleeing conflict in their own country and escaping to Europe and Britain in particular. The established residents take an instant disliking to the “invading refugees” and eye them suspiciously because they don’t understand their culture and most people fear, and therefore hate, what they don’t understand.

It worries me that more division, hatred, bullying and other means of victimization will occur, and be encouraged to occur, between those who accept the official narrative and take the covid-19 vaccine and those who question or refuse a vaccination. Already rival factions are attacking one another verbally on social (or not so social) media. The vitriol was already heated with threats of violence even before the various vaccines were approved for use. I wonder and worry what will happen now that the vaccinations have begun in earnest.

Going back to Roth’s book. At the end of the story is a post script in which Roth provides true details of some of the real life characters who appeared in his story. It’s actually uncanny how close Roth’s fictional events came to happening in reality having read the details in the post script. Scary stuff.

There is a 2020 HBO TV mini-series based on Roth’s book. I haven’t seen it yet, but judging by the trailer – link below – it appears to stick closely to the original story.

(408) The Plot Against America: Official Trailer | HBO – YouTube

“Anything can happen to anyone, but it usually doesn’t. Except when it does.”
― Philip Roth, quote from The Plot Against America

My TBR list.

It’s been a while since I put out a to be read list. Some of these I have had for a while and have been meaning to read for some time.

I’ve never read any Philip Roth, but have heard good things about him….and a few bad things…so I’ll have a read and make up my own mind. I picked up Sabbath’s Theatre at a book sale in November and the other 2 books I bought today at a used book store that I’ve never been in before by the name of Minton Booklovers, in Napier…..which probably warrants a post of its own at a later date.

As you can see there are a few classics there among my picks, all of which I have never delved into before so have been languishing for a while on my shelf begging to be picked up and opened. I have no idea what order I will read them in, but since I have 3 of Roth’s there I guess I should start with one of his.

If anyone has any advice or opinions to share on any of these books, please feel free to comment.

Many thanks.

One mad scientist is all it takes…

I’ve just finishing the 3rd book in Margaret Atwood’s trilogy that began with Oryx and Crake (2003), continued with The Year of the Flood (2009) and finally concluded with MaddAddam (2013). Individually great stories but together, an exceptional epic story. Atwood has an amazing, imaginative and complex mind and this certainly comes out in her stories. I must say how much I respect her as a writer. She’s brilliant.

The first book, Oryx and Crake sets the scene for the other books. It begins in the aftermath of a devastating global pandemic (quite apt given recent circumstances with Covid-19) and is told from the perspective of a man named Snowman, who wears a bedsheet and lives in a tree by a lake. A strange ‘tribe’ of people known as Crakers appear to idolize him and seek guidance from him.

The story moves back and forth in time from present day post apocalypse, with Snowman telling the Crakers stories of the mythical Oryx and Crake who are seen as their creators and god like beings, and past times when Snowman was known by the name Jimmy. His parents worked for a science research company that made genetically engineered hybrid animals capable of growing extra organs (hearts, kidneys etc.) for transplant into humans.

We follow Jimmy’s life from his school / university days during which time his mother becomes disillusioned with the work that her company is doing and leaves both her job and Jimmy’s father and disappears. It is believed that she may be working for some underground subversive movement. Jimmy meets a very intelligent fellow student who calls himself Crake who is quite brilliant at both mathematics and science. They share an interest in online gaming and pornography. Jimmy’s passion though are words, so while Crake lands himself a top job in the science field, Jimmy ends up working in advertising. However they keep in touch and eventually their paths cross again when Crake offers Jimmy a job, at the company he works for, to promote a new pill called BlyssPluss which is meant to enhance both male and female libido, but also had a number of unrevealed side effects, one of which was to make the taker sterile. So you’ll have an amazingly multi-orgasmic sexual experience, but thereafter be incapable of reproduction.

Crake was also in command of a special secret experiment to produce genetically engineered ‘perfect’ humans. This all happened in a high security dome called Paradice, which was a secure home for this new breed of humans who Crake, never one for modesty, named after himself as Crakers.

I don’t want to give too much of the storyline away, because I don’t want to spoil things for you. There are many things that unfold during the story. One thing to bear in mind though is that all of the science involved is factual, is being done, or can be done, or at least in theory can be done. That in its self is quite a scary thought. Anyway it becomes clear who, why and how a major pandemic was released on an unsuspecting public…..and why Jimmy becomes Snowman, living in a tree, wearing a bedsheet and acting as some sort of guru for this new breed of humans.

The second in the trilogy – The Year of the Flood – introduces us to a whole new cast of characters many of whom are members of a group of eco-warriors known as God’s Gardeners. Again the chapters shift between present day and past to bring us a new focus on the pandemic, about the way people live, the way that society seems to have sunk to an all time ethical low and about the multitude of genetically engineered animals, now common place.

The new characters are many but the main focus is on former or current members of God’s Gardeners and their wish to live as natural a life as possible without government interference. They soon find themselves on a list of undesirables and face persecution. We follow several of the characters, Ren, Toby, Zeb and Adam One being the primary ones and examine their relationships with one another and their reliance on one another when things turn bad.

The shit hits the fan and people are separated from their loved ones, no one seems to know who has or hasn’t survived and roving bands of bandits and wild animals test their survival skills.

Again I don’t want to get into the plot too much as I’d rather you read all 3 books and hopefully enjoy them as much as I did.

The final book MaddAddam skillfully brings the characters and the plot lines of both of the earlier books together in a climactic finale where you find yourself saying “Oh I see….that’s how they’re related”. There is a coming together of long separated characters, happiness, surprises, the tying up of a number of loose ends left dangling in previous stories, as well as unexpected death and destruction….of course there is death and destruction – it’s a dystopian novel.

It’s a kind of warning, I guess, as to the direction that humanity seems to be heading and how we somehow yearn for self destruction. BUT it’s also about resilience, about unification and respect between the species. Let me just say that you’ll never look at a bacon sandwich in the same way again.

And it’s also a warning about how the actions and perceptions of one mad scientist…or should I say Madd scientist….can change the world forever.

If you’re into dystopia, read and enjoy these three books. Again, thank you for reading my blog-post. Likes, shares, comments and re-posts are all very welcome.

The Day The World Came to Town 9/11 – in Gander, Newfoundland

Jim DeFede’s book has rather a long title (above), but for the ten thousand people of the town of Gander, Newfoundland, it really did seem like the whole world had arrived on their doorstep in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy in New York.

When the second plane hit the twin towers and the American Government ordered the closing of all American airspace, the planes that were already over half way from their take off point and heading for the USA had to land somewhere. For almost 40 passenger aircraft and a few private planes, that didn’t have enough fuel on board to be able to turn around and head back to their origin airport, Gander was their designated emergency airport. The question was, what happens when a town of ten thousand suddenly has to accommodate a further six and a half thousand people? It was a logistical nightmare that would have tested a city, never mind a small town in the middle of nowhere.

The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander ...

DeFede’s story was taken from interviews with hundreds of people who were affected by this sudden influx of people….this tide of humanity…. washing up on their doorstep. He interviewed the residents of Gander, the passengers and flight crews and has come up with a true story of heart-warming humanity which came about as a result of the terrible terrorist action of the eleventh of September 2001.

The people of the town of Gander were more than up to the challenge in front of them. Everyone pitched in to help the people on the planes as best as they could. Even striking bus drivers left the picket lines to provide transport from the airport to many varied places of accommodation. Because the flight crews and support staff had to be ready and refreshed to fly out at a moments notice, they got the priority accommodation at the motels and hotels available both in Gander and nearby towns. The passengers were accommodated in various church halls, schools, sports clubs and residents homes for the few days that they were stranded.

It was a true league of nations with a multitude of nationalities, religions and languages to be attended to and cared for. Food, clothing, bedding and many more personal items were all donated by the residents and stores in Gander without a thought as to personal cost. They took in these strangers not only because it was the right thing to do, but also because they simply wanted to help their fellow human beings. And help them they did, by opening up their homes and their hearts. Volunteers arrived at the various halls where beds had been set up for the stranded passengers offering to drive them where ever they wanted to go…or to take them home to use their shower facilities, or simply sit and chat over a cup of tea.

Among the stranded were millionaires, company chief executives even movie stars families – they were all given the same level of care as everyone else, and it must be noted that although some of the high flyers (excuse the pun) were offered to be sent certain luxuries to make their stay easier…or even a flight out on a company jet, they refused, saying it wouldn’t be fair on the other passengers and they would see it out in solidarity with the rest of the group.

Various bits of blurb on the cover of the book tell it all….An inspiring true story that spotlights acts of kindness in a world shocked and saddened by unimagined violence. And When you read this book, I predict tears in your eyes almost from the beginning, but they will not be tears of sadness or grief. They will be tears of joy and pride for the citizens of the little town of Gander, Newfoundland, who bravely stood up and said to the world, “Today we are all Americans.”

It is quite a lovely story, all the better for being true and DeFede does a wonderful job of weaving so many personal accounts together into one big act of humanity, of love and caring for our fellow human beings. It is not without its tragedy though and your heart will bleed and the tears will sting the back of your eyelids as you read about certain personal losses.

On the plus side, once it was all over and the stranded passengers were flown out to their various destinations, many of the people who had been helped by the selfless generosity of the town folk of Gander, donated money into funds to help the people and the institutions who had helped them.

When tragedy strikes, humanity steps in. It’s how it should be and it’s how it was in Gander.

A book well worth a read.

Thank you for reading this post. Can you recommend any other true stories of acts of unconditional love and kindness?

The Chrysalids – John Wyndham (Review and comment)

Hello all. Firstly a shout out to John Bainbridge (https://walkingtheoldways.wordpress.com) who suggested I read this book. Thanks John, it’s certainly an interesting story. I had read what is arguably Wyndham’s most famous story – The Day of the Triffids – when I was at school many, many years ago, and thoroughly enjoyed it, as I did the movie and TV series that followed. I didn’t quite know what to expect of The Chrysalids though.

The story is one of 6 of Wyndham’s best yarns in an omnibus edition hard cover book that I picked up a few years ago and had been languishing on my bookshelves until the prompt by John to give The Chrysalids a read. The blurb on the cover states – “A thrilling and realistic account of a world beset by genetic mutations and of a community whose rules will not allow for any abnormality, even at the expense of its own children – and the chances of breeding true are less than fifty percent.”

The Chrysalids was first published in 1955. It is regarded by some critics as his best novel. An early manuscript version was entitled Time for a Change.

Amazon.co.uk: John Wyndham: Books, Biogs, Audiobooks ...

The story follows a young boy called David, who lives with his puritanical parents and sisters in a “closed community” where the bible is strictly followed. The part of the bible that describes how man is made as a perfect image of god, with 2 arms, 2 legs, five digits on each hand and foot etc. is strictly adhered to. Any plant, animal or human, found to be “deviant” in any way, by the local inspector, is destroyed – or in the case of humans, driven out to live in the Fringes or the Badlands. For humans, the flaw could be something as little as a birthmark, or different coloured eyes, or an extra toe…….”ACCURSED IS THE MUTANT IN THE SIGHT OF GOD”…well, you get the idea.

Early in the story, David has a dream about this fantastic city with things flying in the sky. He tells his older sister Mary about it and she advises him to keep quiet and not to tell anyone else. As David grows, he realises that he is different from the others, but not physically different. His difference, or deviation, or mutation, is in his brain. He discovers that he can communicate with his cousin Rosalind by thought….but it’s not communication by simple words, it’s more a wholeness…a communication that includes feelings, of what they call “Thought Shapes”. He then discovers that there are more children just like him and Rosalind, a group of eight of them scattered across the district, who can transmit and receive thoughts from others over several miles. Naturally, this would be seen as abnormal by the older generation so they have to keep their abilities secret from the “Norms”. They manage this just fine for a number of years.

Meantime, David meets a girl called Sophie in an area beyond the banks of their settlement. Like kids do, and have done for thousands of years, they play and have fun sliding down the bank. One time though Sophie’s descent carries her into some rocks and her foot becomes trapped. David tells her to undo her laces and slip her foot out of her shoe to free herself. Strangely, she refuses and continues to struggle, her foot however is firmly stuck. Eventually, with no other way to escape, she agrees to let David undo her laces and pull out her foot. As he does he sees that she has 6 toes, not the regulation 5. Rather than recoiling and branding her a mutant, he accepts her for what she is and helps her back to her house. Along with Sophie’s parents, David is now part of the inner circle who know about Sophie’s deformity. He agrees to keep it a secret and continues to meet Sophie to play on the bank and in the stream nearby.

One day however another, older boy happens along as the two play in the stream and he sees a wet footmark on a rock, clearly indicating 6 toes not 5 and tries to capture Sophie to take her to the elders – to report a mutant in their midst. David fights with the bigger boy and keeps him occupied long enough for Sophie to escape and run home. But, now that someone else knows about her toes, her parents decide to pack what little possessions they can carry onto their two horses and head for the Fringes. Naturally David is devastated that his friend is gone…forced to flee by the puritanical regime. And for his sin of mixing with the mutants David is flogged mercilessly by his devout father.

He confides in his uncle Axel – who is himself a widely travelled man (for their day and age) – someone who David feels that he can trust with his secret. Axel becomes a close friend and advisor to David and warns him not to reveal to anyone else about his ability to “thought shape”. He also tells David about mysterious lands beyond the badlands.

After a few years, unexpectedly, his parents have another baby, a daughter called Petra. When she achieves the age of about 5, Petra wanders off and falls into a body of water and struggling to make it to the shore – unbeknown to her, she sends out very strong thought shapes of panic and terror which are picked up not only by her brother David, but also by Rosalind who instantly drop what they are doing and sprint off in the direction of the transmission and successfully rescue her. Suspicions are aroused by a few other people who wonder how the two of them knew that Petra was in peril. They claim to have heard her calling for help. They then try to explain to Petra about her unusual ability and swear her to secrecy.

A little later on Petra is again in trouble when she rides her pony into the woods – a place that is off limits – and her pony is attacked by a wild animal and killed. Again she sends out loud and violent “thought shapes” and again David and Rosalind sprint to her rescue….but this time she had sent out such a strong signal that all 8 of the kids who had this “power” came running to her rescue. Unfortunately 2 of the girls were followed by a man, a stranger to them, who demanded to know what this group of kids were doing in the woods and how they had heard Petra’s calls for help, when he hadn’t and was in fact closer to Petra’s location than they. They managed to fob him off saying that they had definitely heard her and eventually he let them go on their way.

However, not long after this event, 2 of the girls were taken in for questioning by the authorities. The questioning soon turned to torture and one of them broke down and confessed to being able to communicate by thought alone. After using hot irons on her, the inquisitors gained the names of some of the children involved. Fortunately the girl managed to send out her thoughts to the others and warn them. David and Rosalind had no choice but to flee to the Fringes and onward toward the Badlands, taking Petra with them.

It becomes clear that Petra’s gift of being able to transmit thought shapes is significantly more powerful than any of the other children as she is able to contact others who share their abilities over a much larger distance. It also soon becomes clear that the authorities are not content with driving them away from the community when they form a posse to hunt them down. A reward is issued to take them prisoner preferably….or to kill them all. The kids are soon running for their lives – threatened not only by the pursuing posse, but also by the mutants and outcasts already dwelling in the Fringes and the Badlands.

I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone who wants to read it by telling you any more of how things progress or the ending. But let me just say that Petra’s range of thought shaping is vast. More powerful than anyone else on earth. For anyone who likes a little SciFi or Dystopia it’s certainly worth reading.

My own thoughts….just the standard sort of thoughts…I don’t have the ability to send out thought shapes, is that the puritans (or Norms) are too set in their ways and are totally inflexible when it comes to anything that deviates from the normal. In their world you can’t have anything to do with evolution. An evolved being would be considered a mutant and destroyed. They are very reluctant to accept change of any kind and so live what we would term a rather backward existence. It seems that perhaps the old world has been destroyed by nuclear war – hence the genetic mutations and the Badlands where nothing grows and the survivors have gone back to a subsistence existence and have embraced the teachings of the bible for guidance. But the rigidity of sticking exactly to the Word is their downfall.

In modern life it’s a timely reminder to us all that “different” doesn’t automatically mean inferior and we need to embrace all types of people. Not turn them away or shun them for being different – whatever that difference may be. The current situation with the Coronavirus outbreak has sparked racism against the Chinese. We need to recognise that it’s not the Chinese people who are the enemy, it’s the virus.

Thank you again for reading my blog posts. If anyone else has read the Chrysalids – what was your take on the story? And again thanks to John Bainbridge for recommending the book to me. For anyone interested in history and walking in the UK, John’s blog is well worth a visit. The link is in the first paragraph at the start of this post.

Lecture 06 - Some Characteristics of SF

Rule Britannia – Daphne Du Maurier (1972) – Review

For some strange reason I don’t read a lot of female writers. It’s not something that I’ve made a conscious decision about, it just happens to be that the majority of books that I have read are by male writers. However, I do read women writers from time to time and the books that I have read, with the odd exception, have been very good.

I forget where I saw it, but somewhere I was looking through a list of dystopian novels and on that list I saw the name Daphne Du Maurier and the book Rule Britannia – so I thought why not give it a try.

Rule Britannia; A Novel by Daphne du Maurier

Shortly after I’d seen the book listed as dystopian, I was at a book sale of second hand books and found a 1973 copy of Rule Britannia and it’s been sitting on my to be read shelf ever since. Once started though, it’s a difficult book to put down. I don’t want to insult the writer but, based on this one story, I would sort of put her along side Enid Blyton….not because she’s writing for the under 12’s like Blyton, but because of her go to whoa style of writing. There’s no real sub plot, no intricate back stories, just a linear one plot story that introduces the characters to us and then rips along from start to finish. I liked it. A simple read.

It’s about a young lady called Emma who lives with her grandmother – who is an actress of old, now retired and in her 80th year – and six adopted boys of varying ages. They live in a big old house somewhere in Cornwall in the south west of England. Emma’s mother died and she was taken in by her grandmother. Her father is some sort of merchant banker and adviser of the wealthy, but he lives in London….when he’s not in Switzerland or Brazil.

The story is set in the early to mid 1970’s and was written in 1972. It tells a story of a financially bankrupt United Kingdom who have just pulled out of the European Community and appear to have struck some sort of deal with the USA.

The household awaken one morning to find that there is no mail delivery, the radio and TV are dead and there is a warship in the bay, disembarking American Troops, who soon arrive at their door. Theoretically there is meant to be an equal partnership in the newly named USUK, but to Emma and many others it looks more like a takeover bid.

Du Maurier is concerned not only with what would happen to her country – England – under what is virtually occupation, but also with the effect on human relationships. In Emma we are given a view of the occupation through clear young eyes. She can see both sides of the argument, but comes down squarely on the side of Cornwall and England. Lines are drawn between the American occupying forces and those who will benefit financially as a result of them being on British soil on one side and what Du Maurier describes as true Cornishmen on the other.

It’s an interesting concept and Britain’s bankruptcy comes about because the bigger finance becomes, the more complicated, more risky it also becomes. Britain as part of the European Community have to have a certain amount of trade with the member states and eventually depended too much on foreign trade, so after they withdrew from the EU, they were already under pressure. When the occupying forces took control of the shipping lanes and transport links, food, water and fuel are scarce and rationing begins.

It’s quite interesting to read the book and to see how many of the locals and farmers come together as a united front to supply one another with their basic needs. One of the adopted boys, Joe, has learning difficulties and can neither read, nor write. His forte is manual work such as cutting firewood and tending to the vegetable gardens, but even he can see how ridiculous it is for a country such as England, which had been forced to be virtually self sufficient during world war 2, to now be so dependent on foreign trade to supply its basic needs. He says more than 3/4 of the way through the story, after he had just traded a load of logs with a local farmer for milk and pork – “You see, it does work, community living. Our neighbours support us, we support them. We don’t need any money, we can live without it. If everyone did this, throughout the country, there wouldn’t be any need to trade outside. We wouldn’t get rich but we’d be happy, we’d be free….”

And that’s it in a nutshell really. Humans love to make simple things complicated. Tariffs, quotas, trade wars, economic sanctions….all these go away if we’re self sufficient.

There are a number of interesting characters in the book – Emma of course, her rather eccentric ex star of the stage grandmother – known to all as Madame…..but known to Emma as Mad, the six adopted boys who’s ages range from 3 to 19, display assorted strengths and weaknesses – all play off one another quite well, Emma’s father – who is more like a caricature than a real person, in a world of his own, Doctor Bevil Summers – who comes to the family’s rescue more than once, as does their neighbour a farmer called Trembath and the rather mysterious Mr Willis, aka Taffy – who can turn his hand to anything and has rather more tricks up his sleeve than anyone else around. I was sorry that the story had to end and I shall miss a number of the characters.

It’s the only book I have read of Du Maurier’s so I can’t say if it’s one of her best, or worse, or even typical of her work. I guess I need to read more of her novels. It’s not a brilliant book, it’s not something that you’re going to rave about and it’s uncomplicated, it’s not going to tax your brain – but its a good, easy, entertaining read and makes one wonder how life would be under occupation of the forces of another country – whether they were there at the invitation of your government or not.

Once again, thank you for reading and I welcome any comments, likes, shares. Happy reading folks.