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

Minority Report – Philip K Dick

Having read Philip K Dick’s Man in a High Castle a while back I was delighted and excited to spot a copy of his story Minority Report in a second hand book store. I knew a movie had been made of the story starring Tom Cruise but otherwise knew little about it. I was initially disappointed to discover that it wasn’t a full length novel, but was “only” a short story.

However, having now read said short story, plus several more in this collection of short stories, I am back to being delighted and excited once more. I realize I am a little slow on the uptake, but Philip K Dick is a Sci Fi genius…..and as a predictor of the future (much like George Orwell was hailed for his dystopian novel 1984), this collection of stories sets Philip K Dick head and shoulders above his peers. (And I think I just got away with using the phrase Dick Head in a completely accidental manner).

Both Dick and Orwell died well before their time. Orwell was only 46, Dick was 54. Both were excellent story tellers, but where Dick was a master of Science Fiction novels (44) and short stories (121), Orwell was mainly known as a journalist, essayist and writer of realism and only wrote a total of 6 novels.

But, there are similarities. Orwell’s Thought Police and Dick’s Department of Precrime for instance are both there to punish the citizens for crimes they haven’t yet committed.

Of the stories in this collection it’s difficult to find the weakest link. The book opens with a strong lead story which is of course Minority Report. Set in the future, the Department of Precrime relies on the predictions of 3 “precogs” – clairvoyant humans who’s babblings are deciphered by the computer they are all linked to – who usually come up with separate but unanimous decisions about future murders about to be committed. I say these predictions are usually unanimous, but sometimes only 2 of the 3 will agree – so a majority decision, a majority report is published and the future murderer is arrested and charged for a murder they haven’t yet committed, based on the majority decision. Of course if there is a majority report, there is also the minority report which is the decision of the odd one out. The department has murders down almost 100% and everything is working well until the head of the department finds his name on a card, spat out by the computer, that predicts that he will murder someone who’s name is not even familiar to him. Since the computer and the precogs are “never wrong” a warrant for his arrest is issued…..can he escape and prove his innocence by getting hold of the minority report? Of course the story written in 1956 is somewhat different to the action movie filmed in 2002 which includes technology not thought of by Dick back in the 50’s but the principle is the same.

Imposter is the second story. Again set in the not too distant future, Spence Olham is part of a team designing a weapon to be used against invading Aliens. He is accused by a co-worker and the head of security of being an android imposter sent by the Aliens to destroy the weapon. (Movie of the same name made 2001)

Second Variety is 3rd off the block set in a dystopian future on a battlefield where the Americans have designed small but deadly A.I. robotic drones with pincers and sharp blades that slash the enemy (Russian) troops. These robots have been taught to replicate themselves in underground factories within the battlefield. But the authorities have underestimated the growing intelligence of the A.I.’s (Made into a movie titled Screamers in 1995).

War Game – takes place in a building where futuristic interplanetary toys designed on Ganymede – a moon of Jupiter – are tested for safety before being allowed to be sold to the public. The humans in general don’t trust the Ganymedans as they always seem to be on the cusp of invading Earth. One game is a war game, where a dozen soldiers attempt to attack and breach the defences of a citadel. After each failure the soldiers re assemble and try a different tactic. The testers suspect that the citadel may contain a nuclear device. The second game is actually a suit that once put on takes the wearer into an alternate reality….and the third game is a board game similar to monopoly, called Syndrome.

SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!

This story “War Game” is one where I am about to reveal the end of the story so if you intend to read it skip the next couple of paragraphs.

The testers of the games decide that of the three games only the Syndrome board game is deemed to be safe for release to the general population and doesn’t constitute a threat to mankind. A toy salesman takes one of the games home to let his kids try out. He decides to show them how to play. Having been familiar with the game monopoly gives him, he believes, an advantage and pretty soon he has acquired all the property, shares in businesses and money and he declares himself the winner. The kids look puzzled and point out that, according to the instruction booklet, the aim of the game is to get rid of your properties, shares and wealth….so in fact the father had lost and the kids played off again to find out who was the winner. The father, was annoyed that it had taken the monopoly rules and turned them on their head, but the important thing was that his kids were enjoying playing the game. And the quote a couple of lines …evidently it would sell well. Already the two youngsters were learning the naturalness of surrendering their holdings. They gave up their stocks and money avidly, with a kind of trembling abandon. Glancing up, her eyes bright Lora said “It’s the best educational toy you ever brought home, Dad!”

Dick wrote War Game in 1959 – incidentally, but inconsequentially, my year of birth – however I can’t but help seeing the parallels here with Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum and his Great Reset plan – You Will Own Nothing and YOU Will Be Happy.

OK SPOILER OVER

The next…the fifth story is What Dead Men Say – again a futuristic story where the dead can, if the body is chilled correctly immediately after death and monitored carefully, be revived for a series of “half-life” appearances. But when they try to bring wealthy businessman Louis Sarapis back, something goes wrong. The revival of his body fails, but seemingly from the other side of the universe his disembodied voice is transmitted over the airwaves creating all kinds of plot twists.

Oh to be a Blobel! is the next offering. A human who used to be an interplanetary spy and underwent treatment to change his physical appearance to the of a Blobel – a little like a huge jelly-fish – in order to spy on another planet, was initially told that his physical transformation would be a temporary thing. It turns out that this was incorrect and he would now spend part of his day in human form and part as this huge blob of jelly……which brings about numerous trials and tribulations in his life and his quest to find a woman who understands and accepts him. I believe that the story has a lot to do with how one sees oneself. Self worth and what constitutes “success”.

The Electric Ant – is a story about a man (Garson Poole) who, after having a work accident and finding himself in hospital is told that he’s not actually human, but some sort of flesh covered android. This comes as a great shock to him and after he is sent home we follow his thought processes in his search for the meaning of life….of his life that is….and how, or even if, his life affects those around him.

Faith of our Fathers – is about a communist dictatorship where the population is kept in line by giving them hallucinogenic drugs. One day Tung Chien a mid level bureaucrat is given an anti hallucinogen by a crippled street vender which allows him to see the world as it actually is. (Includes communism, drugs, sex and god.)

We Can Remember it for You Wholesale – is another futuristic story in which space travel is only for the rich. But for a fraction of the cost of a space flight ticket, you can have an experience implanted into your brain so that you actually believe that you have made, in this case, a trip to Mars….and they provide you with helpful souvenirs as memory prompts. It features reality, false memories and real memories. The story was adapted in the 1990 movie Total Recall starting Arnold Schwarzenegger….and the 2012 remake with Colin Farrell in the staring role. Douglas Quail has a boring office job. He has always wanted to visit Mars but has been constantly put off the idea by his wife. He then discovers a company called Rekal where you can have “false” memories implanted into your brain which make you think that you have been to Mars, along with all the sensory effects. However when under sedation to have the false memories implanted, somehow he regains some long ago erased memories of who he really is.

All in all this is a really thought provoking collection of stories and well worth the few dollars to acquire this 2002 printed 2nd hand paperback.

If you’ve never read any of Philip Dick’s stories, this book would be a wonderful place to dip your toes into the magical waters of his strange and wonderful mind.

Again, thank you for reading this post. Comments always appreciated.

A few movie trailers of Dick’s books made into movies – for your amusement.

I can’t resist book sales.

Saturday 16th November brought around the annual Hastings Lions book sale. My daughter-in-law’s grandfather Morris helped to bring about the first Lions book sale over 30 years ago. This years was the first that he’d missed. He died a few days earlier . Very sad because he was such an outgoing and community oriented person. On a brighter note, once again there were thousands of books for sale. All used, secondhand, thirdhand and some really well read books donated by the community to the Lions and all money raised from the sale goes back unto the community in some form or another.

Part of my book haul from this years Lions book sale. A good balance of the old and reasonably new, plus a couple of classics and some non-fiction.

As it says in the caption, these were just some of the books I bought at the sale. They were mostly at the bargain price of 2 New Zealand dollars each and most were in good or very good condition despite their age. I also picked up a few books for my wife…which I think was a reasonable swap….cough cough. And I managed to even get a couple of photography books, one of which features the portraits of Steve McCurry, one of my favourite photographers. The deal at home is meant to be, “get rid of some books before you buy any more”. I always fail miserably at the getting rid part of the deal, but excel at buying some more. Oops!

So, as a result of the book sale purchases, my to read pile has grown considerably. Although I already have 2 other books on the go at the moment, I couldn’t resist starting Brian Viner’s book Pheasants’ Revolt – the second book about the transformation of his and his families lives in transitioning from Townies to living in the countryside. He is a very humorous writer, very easy to read and I find myself magically almost half way through the book at the first attempt….in a very short time. Absolutely loving it and wouldn’t mind trying to track down the first of his books…Tales of the Country.

I will do a quick review of Viner’s book in a later post. Meantime, better get back to it. Has anyone else been to any good book sales recently?

Thanks as usual for reading, commenting etc.

What I’m reading/have been reading.

I’ve not had much spare cash recently….that’s nothing new….so I’ve been borrowing quite a lot more – from my local library – than usual.

Picture below shows the latest batch of library books that have been keeping me entertained.

The Way Home and The Moneyless Man – both by Irish writer and Freeconomist Mark Boyle, I have written about in my recent post titled “After we stop pretending”.

The two books about building the perfect BUG OUT Bag and BUG OUT Vehicle I have written about in an upcoming blog post, still to be published. The remainder I’ll give a brief outline about here. 

The Natural Disaster Survival Handbook is a simple to follow book with lots of pictures and text in straight forward English giving lots of helpful advice about what to do in various natural disaster scenarios – Earthquakes, storms, floods, volcanic eruption  etc.

Hazards In Hawke’s Bay is about the natural hazards of concern in my immediate locality and is more in the format of a magazine than a book. The town that I live on the outskirts of is only a few kilometres from the ocean, on the southern edge of Hawke’s Bay. Just off the coast we have the Hikurangi subduction zone – a fault line where two tectonic plates meet…one dips down under the other producing what is known as a “slow slip fault”. These faults move almost imperceptibly until they stick for a time and then move suddenly in a jarring motion producing a large and potentially devastating quake of between 8 and 9 on the Richter scale, similar to the one that produced the disaster in Fukushima, Japan in 2011. The book covers other hazards, but understandably concentrates on earthquakes since this area was hit by a devastating quake in 1931 flattening both cities of Hastings (where I live) and Napier.

Building Small is a nice little picture and plan book about building tiny houses. Some of these are smallish houses, others really are tiny – a little larger than a garden shed – all are cleverly designed to optimise both living  space and storage areas. It’s a nice book with some good designs for tiny houses. On a personal note, my wife and I are considering downsizing our home size, but increasing our land size….moving away from the town into the countryside and living as self sufficiently as possible on a small-holding (small farm), so this book was of particular interest.

The two remaining books My Year Without Matches and Londonistan I started but didn’t finish as they just didn’t do it for me. Didn’t hold my interest at all. My Year Without Matches is about living in the bush for a year without any sort of technology, making your own shelter and surviving in the wild. There were a few interesting aspects to the book, but nothing that made me want to get from cover to cover. Londonistan was too much of a divisive racist rant about how Muslims are taking over the UK. I understand how some Brits may feel – that their way of life, British customs and traditions are under threat from immigration and multicultural society….and to be honest, I do share those concerns to a certain extent. BUT I think that this book pushes the boundaries a little too much and it becomes more of a rant rather than a balanced look at immigration versus the traditional British way of life.

Although I have not had any extra cash available to buy books, last month it was Father’s Day and my youngest son sent me a card with a book voucher inside, so I happily toddled off to Unity Books in Wellington (the NZ Capital) and purchased Shaun Bythell’s second book Confessions of a Bookseller, in hardback. In an earlier post I covered meeting Shaun, who lives in Scotland’s Booktown, Wigtown – where he owns the largest second hand bookshop in Scotland – when he was in New Zealand promoting the release of his first book Diary of a Bookseller, which was frankly hilarious. The second book follows on where the first left off, telling us in diary form about Shaun’s life in the book trade and the ups and downs of owning the bookshop….the insanity of some of his customers, the sometimes bizarre behaviour of his staff….and the trials and tribulations of his own personal life. Shaun’s humour can be rather sarcastic and caustic at times, but having met the guy I can tell you that he is a very nice person, despite his quest to prove otherwise in his books. 

The second book, I bought with the remainder of my voucher, was a paperback by Wendell Berry titled The World-Ending Fire – and features a number of his essays dating from 1968 up until 2011. I happened upon Wendell Berry after reading about him in one of Mark Boyle’s books and from a reference in a video by former environmentalist Paul Kingsnorth…who just happens to be one of Boyle’s neighbours. It’s funny how one book leads to another and then another. Berry is an American novelist, poet, essayist, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer. Wikipedia tells us – “He is an elected member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers, a recipient of The National Humanities Medal, and the Jefferson Lecturer for 2012. He is also a 2013 Fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Berry was named the recipient of the 2013 Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award. On January 28, 2015, he became the first living writer to be inducted into the Kentucky Writers Hall of Fame.” It’s probably his absolute love of the natural world that attracted Boyle, Kingsnorth and now myself to his writings.The back of the book says – Wendell Berry lives and works in the old ways on his farm in rural Kentucky. He is also one of America’s most powerful radical voices. In the pieces collected here he writes about the peace of nature, the food we eat, and, above all, why we must care for the land we live on.

I look forward to reading Berry’s book after I finish Bythell’s. 

Quotes about Books.

There is nothing quite like a book. It can entertain us, educate us, make us laugh, make us cry, amaze and delight us, frustrate us, and sometimes confuse us. It can toy with our emotions – lift us up, or exhaust us. A book can be our best friend. A trusted companion. Console us during our low points, take us on adventures we could only dream about, to places we could only hope to visit.

If a friend said “Come on let’s go!” – I wouldn’t need to know where. My only question would be “When we get there, will there be books?”

There are lots of quotes, by lots of wonderful people. Here are just a few of my favourites.

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”
Mortimer J. Adler

“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times?” Mo had said…”As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”
Cornelia Funke, Inkspell

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.”
Franz Kafka

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
Haruki Murakami

“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”
Madeleine L’Engle

On reading – fast or slow

Just a quick post to ask about your reading habits. Are you a fast reader who rushes through your reading list, getting through books – cover to cover – at speed, or are you at the other end of the reading spectrum….do you take your time, savouring each page, dissecting each line and meandering along in no hurry at all? The reason I ask is that I read a post by one of the bloggers I follow, about how they had already hit their reading target this year of 100 books. 100 books in the space of only 8 months is phenomenal! That’s almost 3 books a week (2.8 to be more accurate). I struggle to find the time to get through 1 a week usually….unless it’s a real unputdownable page turner.

Taking everything into consideration I estimate I’d read about 30 to 40 books in a year…in a good reading year possibly 50 (I’m not counting the ones that I start but don’t finish). Some books, those unputdownable ones, I can fly through over a couple of evenings – Zeitoun by Dave Eggers was one such book. But mostly I am struggling to get through a book in a week or more. Some books – if I find a really wonderful one – I’ll restrict my reading to only one chapter per day as I don’t want it to end.

Obviously fast readers can read far more books than slow readers…and there are millions of books out there waiting to be read. Do slower readers squeeze more out of a book than fast readers? Do fast readers skip through the books and not absorb the finer details, or are fast readers just better readers, quicker at absorbing the books than slow readers?

So what are your reading habits? Do you have several books on the go at once, or prefer to take them one at a time? Are you a tortoise, or a hare? And what are the benefits of being either a fast, or a slow reader? I’d love to know your opinions in the comments below.

Travel books – explore the world from your armchair.

One bookcase of travel books.

I love books and I love to travel, so it’s no surprise that I have, over the years, acquired a good number of travel books.

My favourite way to travel is by train. I only wish that I’d been able to travel more by steam train than by the modern electric or diesel trains. There’s so much more adventure or even romance on steam trains. As a passenger travelling by rail I can relax, let someone else take care of the driving, kick back and either watch the scenery flash past the window, chat to fellow travellers, or lose myself in a good book. I can take a walk if I get bored…or feel the need to exercise…or I can make use of the onboard buffet or bar. For me, the journey is just as enjoyable as the destination…sometimes, more so.

I have several books specifically about rail travel, a few of which are in the photo below, and will tell you a little about each of these 5 books pictured.

Just five of my books about train travel – there are more.

So as not to bore you all too much I’ll try to keep my summary of each book as brief as possible…just a few sentences.

Railway Stations – Charles Sheppard is a 1996 publication and looks at railway stations that are “Masterpieces of Architecture”. Some of the standout stations being New York’s Grand Central Station, Saint Louis’s Union Station, and Paris’s Gare du Nord is worthy of inclusion for its facade alone. All of which I am happy to say I have visited over my years of train travel. Moscow’s subway is also included, its passageways more ornate than many luxury hotel lobbies, and deserving of the title ‘Masterpiece’.

Amazing Train Journeys – a lonely planet publication (October 2018). Divided into neat sections – Africa, The Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Experience 60 of the world’s greatest and most unforgettable train journeys, from classic long-distance trips like Western Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer and Darwin to Adelaide’s The Ghan, to little-known gems on regular commuting lines. Personally I’d probably choose some of the small privately run railways in the UK that have preserved and operate steam trains – such as the short 2 hour trip from Fort William to Mallaig in Scotland – this is the line that the Hogwarts Express chugs along in the Harry Potter movies.

Chris Tarrant’s Extreme Railway Journeys – (as seen on the UK’s Chanel 5) published in 2016. The text in this book is by Chris Tarrant, accompanying the many colour photos. The problem is that the majority of the photos feature Tarrant’s face mugging for the camera. There are a few pictures simply showing scenery or trains from a distance, but anything close up has the man himself blocking the view. I realise it’s HIS TV show and HIS name on the book….but really, how many photos of Chris smiling do we need to see? There are some helpful maps showing the routes of the 14 Extreme Rail Journeys covered. The text is informative and easy reading, mixed in with a lot of moaning by Tarrant about trains not running on time, being overcrowded and uncomfortable in the third world countries he visited – however he was overjoyed and waxing lyrical about the Japanese Bullet train. The efficiency, comfort and the fact that the staff bow to customers scored points with him. Tarrant, it seems, prefers his “Extreme Journeys” to be accompanied by a large dollop of comfort and luxury.

Great Railway Journeys published by the BBC in 1994 accompanying the TV series of the same name, is in my opinion a far more interesting and better presented book than the one by Chris Tarrant. What makes it so is firstly, that Tarrant is not involved at all, so we can enjoy the beautiful photographs in peace, and secondly that each of the 6 Great Railway Journeys covered is narrated by a different celebrity travellers, who barely make one complaint among them. Mark Tulley takes us through Pakistan from Karachi to the Khyber Pass. Lisa St Aubin de Teran travels in South America, from Santos in Brazil to Santa Cruz in Bolivia. Clive Anderson takes us from Hong Kong, via Shanghai through to Ulaan Baatar in Mongolia. Natalia Makarova is on the Bolshoi Express from St Petersburg in Russia via the various ‘Stans to finish in Tashkent. Seasoned traveller and former “Python”, Michael Palin has a shorter trip from Derry in Northern Ireland to Kerry in the Irish Republic, and finally it’s a South African rail trip for Rian Malan starting in Capetown and ending eventually in Bophuthatswana.

More Great Railway Journeys again published by the BBC, in 1996, is more of the same….This time the celebs are Benedict Allen, Chris Bonington, Henry Louis Gate Jr., Buck Henry, poet – Ben Okri, comedians – Alexei Sayle and Victoria Wood. They journey through the middle east, Africa, the UK, Canada, Argentina and the final journey is from London to Arkadia in Greece. As in it’s predecessor, great photos and informative and witty text make this book another winner. Each journey, each story, has its own unique character, written especially for people who love slow travel….who savour the experience of the journey….rather than rushing as fast as possible to the destination. The only negative thing that I could mention about this follow up book is that there were no maps showing the routes taken. But all in all another marvelous BBC publication.

Do you enjoy the adventure of travelling via rail? What’s your favourite route? Please let me know in the comments section.

Featherston NZ book festival 2019 and my haul of books.

The weekend of May 9th to 12th saw the fifth annual Featherston Book Festival. As you will know from my earlier posts, Featherston was admitted into the organisation of International Book Towns last year, so this was their first book festival as an official member. They ran a number of events – Author readings, literary talks, book binding workshops, printing, poetry, activities for children and much more, plus of course lots of books to buy from existing Featherston bookshops and a number of visiting booksellers who set up stalls in halls. I particularly enjoyed John Arnold’s seminar, titled An introduction to book collecting in the Internet Age, which was very informative and included free handout sheets of useful information.

I had only recently arrived back in New Zealand on the Sunday the previous weekend after almost a month in the USA where I’d visited several bookstores in San Francisco and the mighty Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon and was feeling a little travel weary, so maybe didn’t appreciate Featherston’s festival as much as I should have. But that’s down to my demeanour, not their efforts. I’d had visions of returning home from the festival with the back seat of the car covered in books, but alas that was not the case.

There were maybe a dozen book sellers who had set up stalls in the main ANZAC hall in town, some from Featherston and some from further afield, but I found their stalls of books either not to my taste, or overpriced for the condition of the books. As Yoda would say “Disappointed I was”. I only bought two books for myself from the hall and one for my wife – Roald Dahl’s My Uncle Oswald. She’s been a reader and collector of Roald Dahl books since childhood……I love to annoy her by calling him Ronald, telling her that his mum was dyslexic. My own purchases from the hall were Janesville – An American Story by Amy Goldstein. Goldstein follows the fortunes….or misfortunes of the people of the town of Janesville, when the General Motors plant that employed much of the town’s population closed. It won the Financial Times & McKinsey Business Book of the Year prize. Tracy Kidder – the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Soul of a New Machine says “Anyone tempted to generalize about the American working class ought to meet the people in Janesville. The reporting behind this book is extraordinary and the story – a stark, heartbreaking reminder that political ideologies have real consequences – is told with rare sympathy and insight.” Over four and a half thousand people on Goodreads have voted and given this book a rating of 4.12 out of a possible 5.

My second book from the hall stalls was Colombian writer – Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. I was browsing the various books in the hall and when I saw the title of this one it rang a bell of recognition as a friend of mine, Chilean born/Czech based writer Jorge Zuniga Pavlov, recommended it to me some time ago. I have not read any of Garcia Marquez’s books, but he is….or I should say was, as he died in 2014….a prolific writer, who started as a journalist, and wrote many acclaimed non-fiction works and short stories, but is best known for his novels, such as The Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) and of course the book that I purchased, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967). He was a prize-winning author, having won the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1972 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. Over half a million people on Goodreads have rated this book at 4.06 out of 5 and say “The brilliant, bestselling, landmark novel that tells the story of the Buendia family, and chronicles the irreconcilable conflict between the desire for solitude and the need for love—in rich, imaginative prose that has come to define an entire genre known as “magical realism.

I had much more luck in the actual bookshops in town, rather than at the much hyped Anzac Hall. I visited 6 or 7 bookshops and made purchases in just two of them. In The Dickensian Bookshop (which incidentally sells much more than books by Dickens) I bought Tim Moore’s Do Not Pass Go where he takes us on a trip around London by way of the streets and utilities mentioned on the Monopoly Board. Its a comedic travelogue of one man’s erratic progress around those 28 streets, stations and utilities, Do Not Pass Go is also an epic and lovingly researched history of London’s wayward progress in the years since the launch of the world’s most popular board game back in the 1930’s. And according to the blurb on Goodreads….”Sampling the rags and the riches he stays in a hotel in Mayfair and one in the Old Kent Road, enjoys quality time with Dr Crippen in Pentonville Prison and even winds up at the wrong end of the Water Works pipe. And, solving all the mysteries you’ll have pondered whilst languishing in jail and many other you certainly wouldn’t, Tim Moore reveals how Pall Mall got its name, which three addresses you won’t find in your London A-Z and why the sorry cul-de-sac that is Vine Street has a special place in the heart of Britain’s most successful Monopoly champion.”

My second book from Dickensian Bookshop – where incidentally, I was most impressed by the friendliness and knowledge of books from the lady behind the counter – was a novel by Michael Palin called “The Truth”. Although I have read several non-fiction books by the great ex-Python comedian and renown traveller, I have only read one other novel by him (Hemingway’s Chair), however since I thoroughly enjoyed that one, I hope that this is equally entertaining. The Truth according to Goodreads…“Keith Mabbut is at a crossroads in his life. A professional writer of some repute, he has reached the age of fifty-six with nothing resembling the success of his two great literary heroes, George Orwell and Albert Camus. When he is offered the opportunity of a lifetime—to write the biography of the elusive Hamish Melville, a widely respected and highly influential activist and humanitarian—he seizes the chance to write something meaningful. His search to find out the real story behind the legend takes Mabbut to the lush landscapes and environmental hotspots of India. The more he discovers about Melville, the more he admires him—and the more he connects with an idealist who wanted to make a difference. But is his quarry really who he claims to be? As Keith discovers, the truth can be whatever we make it. “ Goodreads only rates this 1998 novel at around 3.5 out of 5 although it had good reviews from The Spectator, The Financial Times and Time Out magazine.

The remainder of my books, three of them, were bought from For the Love of Books. The first of which is a book that I have been meaning to read for a number of years. Douglas Adam’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came to life from a drunken idea while hitchhiking around Europe in 1971. Originally a radio comedy broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1978, it was later adapted to other formats, including stage shows, novels, comic books, a 1981 TV series, a 1984 video game, and 2005 feature film. My version of the novel was published in 2005 and includes a tie in with the movie…..showing several still photos from the movie. As the back cover of the book says “One Thursday lunchtime the Earth gets unexpectedly demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass. For Arthur Dent, who has only just had his house demolished that morning, this seems already to be more than he can cope with. Sadly, however, the weekend has only just begun, and the galaxy is a very strange and startling place.” Over a million readers on Goodreads rate the book at 4.22 out of 5 and add…“Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.”

So after 3 what may be called humerous books…..we come to a couple of books with more serious undertones. Jonathan Raban’s Surveillance although a novel, tackles the problems of real life threats to our privacy. The Times says “Post 9/11, everyone watches and is being watched…..in Raban’s black and brilliant portrait of his adopted city, all kinds of sinister forces filter and manipulate the truth. A wonderfully ironic, disturbing take on the un-privacy of modern life.” The Spectator adds…“Raban’s book should certainly be required reading. Of all the 9/11 books so far, Surveillance is perhaps the most disturbing because it offers scant comfort and no certainties.” Set in Seattle it follows fictional journalist Lucy Bengstrom on a particularly invasive assignment.

My final book is Jeremy Scahill’s Dirty Wars (the World is a Battlefield). This is a non-fiction book in which Jeremy Scahill tells the story about how the USA came to embrace assassination as a central part of its national security policy – and to pronounce the entire world as a battlefield. No country is safe from the wrath of the USA. Although this was ramped up after 9/11, the roots of the story by far predate the day when the Twin Towers fell. The book tells of the expansion of covert US wars, the abuse of executive privilege and state secrets, the embrace of unaccountable elite military units that answer only to the White House and the use of drones to murder civilians…..some of them American citizens. The blurb on Goodreads states “Funded through black budgets, Special Operations Forces conduct missions in denied areas, engage in targeted killings, snatch and grab individuals and direct drone, AC-130 and cruise missile strikes. While the Bush administration deployed these ghost militias, President Barack Obama has expanded their operations and given them new scope and legitimacy. Dirty Wars follows the consequences of the declaration that “the world is a battlefield,” as Scahill uncovers the most important foreign policy story of our time. From Afghanistan to Yemen, Somalia and beyond, Scahill reports from the frontlines in this high-stakes investigation and explores the depths of America’s global killing machine. He goes beneath the surface of these covert wars, conducted in the shadows, outside the range of the press, without effective congressional oversight or public debate. And, based on unprecedented access, Scahill tells the chilling story of an American citizen marked for assassination by his own government.” Ironically back in 2012 when speaking in Israel, President Obama said “No country on Earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” And yet that is exactly what American foreign policy is. It sends missiles and bombs raining down on countries all around the world in the supposed ‘defence of American lives’. What double edged bullshit is that? And because they have so much power in the UN Security Council they get away with it every time. Any other nations leader would be brought before a tribunal on charges of war crimes…..not the American President, no matter who he is. I am very much looking forward to reading this book.

If any of you have already read any of these books, please let me know your take on them. Were they good, bad, indifferent reads? As usual your comments, shares, likes are appreciated and thank you for reading my posts.

Earth Abides – an “end of the world as we know it” classic.

George R Stewart originally published “Earth Abides” in 1949, but it’s as readable and as prophetic today as it was then. This book is a CLASSIC (yes in big letters) – classic post-apocalyptic story. It deals with an end of the world as we know it situation – one that wipes out 99% of humankind – and follows, initially a lone survivor, and then a small group, who learn to depend on one another and to begin again. It’s not the literal end of the world – just the end of the world “as we know it”. We as humans have to adapt to change in order to survive.

I love a good dystopian novel/survival novel/even a good zombie (blood splattered) novel. And often-times I even envy the survivors – having a chance to start again with a clean slate – where hopefully they, and humankind as a whole, will not make as big a mess of things this time as they did the last time. Here there are no politicians, no corporations, no armies – doing the bidding of the political or corporate elites….just ordinary people with a will to survive. Earth Abides has no zombies, no gratuitous violence, and only implied sexual acts and either in spite of, or because of, this it is still a great story – of hopes, fears, strength and frailty of the human spirit, of quest, an adventure and a journey into an unknown future by learning from, and in some cases ignoring, the lessons of the past. But don’t get me wrong – there is death/murder and there are relationships and the usual relationship issues in this story.

This was one of the books I bought recently on my trip to the west coast of the USA. The story is based primarily in San Francisco (where I spent much of my time) and is a multi-generational epic. I highly recommend it. It’s not only about the quest for survival and a rebuilding (of a kind) of society. It makes you question things. To look at your own life and evaluate what’s important (the theoretical meat and potatoes of life) and what is merely gravy…trimmings… that are more there as a front to give the ‘right’ impression rather than having any real substance. It makes you look at the possibilities that a totally fresh start – either for humankind as a whole, or for ones self as an individual – could mean. Does a fresh start mean a clean break from the past or are there some things from the past worthy of carrying forward into a new future?

There are a couple of quotes, that may help in pushing a person to take the decision to make a fresh start, from the book, that I’d like to share with you. The first is “men go and come, but earth abides.” Which I think kind of puts our lives into perspective by which I mean that all our struggles and worries of today in our daily lives mean very little in the grand scheme of things. The worrisome things that keep us awake at night are not really worth the importance that we give them…..we live, we die, we become one with the earth…the whole ashes to ashes, dust to dust thing. The earth goes on regardless, so why not do what makes you happy? The second is “without courage there is only a slow dying, not life.” Sometimes you have to stand up – for either yourself, or for an ideal – even if it means swimming against the tide of public opinion. Live YOUR life, by your rules, not someone else’s.

It’s taken me almost 60 years to find out who I am, who I was, and who I want to be, and to figure out what sort of world I would like to live in – to be a part of…and what I can do to start to move me in the right direction. I am not an anarchist, but do believe that we have had a lot of pointless rules and regulations imposed upon us, by the people we elect to represent us. The same people who seem to think of new things to tax us for each day. We are being over regulated, our freedoms are being taken away (little by little in the hope that we don’t notice) and we are being taxed to death to finance the lifestyle of the rich and powerful. Sometimes I ask myself… would the end of the world as we know it be such bad thing?

As usual your comments and thought on this are appreciated.

“Goodreads” gives the book a 4 out of 5 and I’d certainly give it at least 4 out of 5 myself. They say “A disease of unparalleled destructive force has sprung up almost simultaneously in every corner of the globe, all but destroying the human race. One survivor, strangely immune to the effects of the epidemic, ventures forward to experience a world without man. What he ultimately discovers will prove far more astonishing than anything he’d either dreaded or hoped for.

A visit to the library….

A visit to the library was called for after an on-line chat with an author friend of mine who lives in the Czech Republic. We’d been discussing the “Lost Generation” of writers – they include Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Eliot, Stein etc. and he had asked me if I had read anything by Max Brod.

Brod (1884 – 1968) was a prolific writer in his own right, but is mostly remembered as the friend of Franz Kafka, who, when requested by Kafka to destroy all his writings at his death….refused to follow the writer’s instructions and had the works published instead. So it’s thanks to Brod that so much of Kafka’s writings saw the light of day.

Brod was a German speaking Czech Jew – who later moved to Israel to escape the Nazi take over of the then Czechoslovakia. He died in Tel Aviv in 1968. He was an author, journalist, translator and a composer of music. A very talented man. He first met Kafka, at Charles University in Prague where they both studied, in 1902. The rest as they say is history.

Naturally my friend’s insistence that I read Brod had me intrigued so I set off for my local city library feeling for sure that they would have at least one of Brod’s books. How wrong could I be? Not a single book written by Brod on their shelves. Deciding to check out on-line book sellers when I returned home, I set about searching the library’s catalogue of books for anything at all mentioning Brod.

The only book I found at the library with any mention of Brod, was a novel by Australian based writer Marija Pericic called The Lost Pages – which is a fictional story about the relationship between Kafka and Brod. I picked it up anyway and will have a read of it later. I also picked up 2 other books. One about New Zealand writers who – although not as famous as the main members of “the lost generation” of writers – were New Zealand expat writers living overseas during the same period of time – called “The Expatriate Myth”, by Helen Bones.

The other book – the one I decided to read first – is by another Czech Jewish writer who went through the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, the short relief of the end of the second world war and the subsequent take over by the communists under Stalin – by the name of Ivan Klima. It’s his autobiography titled “My Crazy Century” – with the C and Z of the word Crazy highlighted in Red – giving you a red Cz – I assume symbolic of the many years that the Czech’s were under communist rule. I’m about a quarter of the way into this 534 page memoir – enjoying it, but horrified at how people were treat – first by the Nazi’s and then by the Communists. I will probably do a review of the book once I finish it.

Back at home I googled Bron’s books and was surprised at how few were available in English. It seems that the ones concerning the diaries of Kafka are available in English, but little else. The two main books of Bron’s that my writer friend recommended were only available in German. One called “Prager Kreis” (Prague Crisis or Prague Circle) printed in 1967 and the other “Streitbares Leben: Autobiographie, 1960” (literal translation being – Quarrelsome Life: Autobiography, 1960 – although there may be another meaning). I may try to get them anyway and struggle through with my basic schoolboy knowledge of the German language.

Whilst at the library, much to my wife’s dismay, I was perusing the discarded books on the “for sale” table. Four books caught my eye, so for the princely sum of $2, my own library has grown by 4…..even though – as my wife was quick to point out…..my shelves are already overflowing. Those books were – “Now and Forever” by Ray Bradbury which is a collection of 2 novellas – “Somewhere a band is playing” and “Leviathan ’99”. Bradbury is of course best known for the novel Fahrenheit 451. “Extreme Rambling” by Mark Thomas – a travelogue about hiking through troubled areas of the world. “New Scottish Writing” – which is a collection of short stories by writers from Scotland – printed in 1996, so not in actual fact all that “New”. The final book was “Afterlight” by Alex Scarrow which is a post apocalyptic/dystopian story – set in Britain in 2010…. after the oil ran out. I must say I do like a good dystopian novel….hopefully this one won’t disappoint.

So there we have it. The library failed to deliver on what I went for in the first place, but the books I chose – both to borrow and the ones I bought -should expand my knowledge and entertain me. I do love the library!

Please do make use of your own local libraries. In these days of belt tightening and reduced budgets, city councils will cut funding if they think the libraries are not being used by sufficient people. So please get out there and borrow some books. And I’d like to say a little thank you to all librarians and library volunteers who keep the libraries staffed and open. Well done, you are appreciated, and thank you very much.