Hello fellow Glibertarians! We’ve been reading, or in jesse’s case listening…or in JW’s case looking vacantly at pictures on the back of a Lucky Charm’s box and wanted to share our experiences with you! Gather round and share your latest reads in the comments (like we could stop you).
Nothing but British Apocalypse this month, starting with a tenth or twelfth re-read of John Wyndham‘s The Day of the Triffids (1952), easily the best killer-plants-eat-middle-class-England novel. Despite my commitment to cut down on re-reading to focus on material I always wanted to read but never have managed to get around to, Triffids was an overlap of my book-to-film read/watch project. After reading it again, I watched the 1962 film adaptation, as well as the 1981 and 2009 BBC TV miniseries.
Triffids is an oddly refreshing apocalypse to read in retrospect, relying on neither the dreary analogue politics of nuclear annihilation or the current vogue of climate change. Wyndham makes two changes to a familiar post-WWII England and lets the plot unwind: There are the huge plants called Triffids–poisonous, mobile and fecund–that everyone tolerates because they produce a valuable oil and manageable because in non-industrial settings their stinger can be docked and a comet that produces a cosmic light-show that blinds anyone who watches it. The protagonist, a worker on a triffid farm, wakes up in a hospital, eyes bandaged from an attack by the vicious vegetables that almost blinded him. (If all this sounds familiar, it is because the premise was taken in bits in pieces for the set-up for The Night of the Comet (1984), and the intros for both 28 Days Later (2002) and The Walking Dead (comic and TV show.) The protagonist stumbles around in London, avoiding packs of blind people who grow more violent in their desperation, finds himself a beautiful sighted girlfriend (who missed being blinded because she was sleeping off a massive hangover) and the struggle to survive begins. Slavers, plague, clueless goody-two-shoes and separation all afflict our lovers long before the killer plants become too much of a problem. A foster daughter and a couple of the friendly sort of blind folks later, they build themselves a comfortable if hardscrabble life on a lovely country estate, flamethrowers ever at the ready. (The last part led Brian Aldiss to dismiss this entire genre as “cozy catastrophes.”)
The 1962 movie is pretty garbage, discarding most of the plot for rubber Triffid suits and wooden acting. The 1981 miniseries the most accurate to the spirit and letter of the book, lifting dialogue straight from certain sections. The Triffids are fairly well done; modeled on pitcher plants and oddly pretty (you understand why people would have a deadly walking plant in their gardens.) The 2009 miniseries is pretty crap, using only the broadest outlines of the book (and stealing a plot point from 28 Days Later in a sly twist.)
Old Man With Candy and I both read The Death of Grass (US title: No Blade of Grass), 1956, a savage little exercise in doing what it takes to survive from John Christopher, best known as an author of children’s fantasy and science fiction novels. A virus attacks all the grasses of the world, wiping out more of the ready carbs and leading to worldwide famine. However, OMWC smartly declined to put himself through the terrible 1970 film adaptation, which changes the virus-famine to a namby-pamby environment horror story (think horrible folk guitar over stock footage of industrial waste and oil spill birds) that misses the point of the book.
I finished off the spree with J. G. Ballard‘s apocalypse tetralogy: The Wind From Nowhere (1961), The Drowned World (1962), The Burning World 1964; variant title: The Drought), and The Crystal World (1966). Ballard takes the four medieval elements (air, water, fire, and earth) and sets about gleefully destroying the world. They were a bit much to read back-to-back. Wind and Burning are fairly skippable, and Drowned tries to work in far too much Heart of Darkness. Drowned and Crystal incorporates the sort of nightmare logic that informs his later and more accomplished work and the writing is superb, full of lush prose about awful things–but all of them are flawed in their own way, and you would be better off reading Crash or High-Rise to experience Ballard.
Oliver Pötzsch – The Hangman’s Daughter. Pötzsch digs into his own family history to write a detective novel set in an inter-war period (1660, so not *that* inter-war) Bavaria. The story focuses on Jakob Kuisl the town hangman, and the town physician. The title is a bit misleading because even though she’s in the story and has all of the hallmarks of a strong heroine (clever, headstrong, agile), she’s a relatively minor character. The setting and the story are fun and the presentation (Kindle In Motion) was something I hadn’t experienced before. It made me feel a bit like I was reading a children’s book, but the art was solid.
Randall Munroe – What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions. As a fan of XKCD for about as long as XKCD has been a thing, I was excited to finally take a crack at What If?, and it was breezy and delightful. The audio edition was narrated by Wil Wheaton, which probably should’ve annoyed me but his tone augmented the nerdy whimsy of it quite nicely.
John Scalzi – The Dispatcher. I have limited exposure to Scalzi’s early works (Old Man’s War has been near the top of my to-read list for a solid five years, but never quite gets there), and have heard his later stuff isn’t that great, but I enjoyed The Dispatcher as a thought experiment of a violent place (Chicago, natch) where violence has changed: when you’re murdered you feel it, but you return home unscathed after death. Much of the novella is presented as a conversation between a dispatcher (a licensed killer) and a CPD detective who are trying to find another dispatcher who has been violently abducted. Zachary Quinto brings a warm affability to the dispatcher which gives the moral discussions an interesting dimension.
Well… I’m testing on the material presented in this book on April 3rd, then I can start reading other books again. (Y’know, provided I pass…) I’m looking forward to finishing up the copy of the Kama Sutra that Swiss got me for Christmas. What, your friends wouldn’t get you a book like that? Get better friends. Mr. Riven and I also recently visited his parents and listened to about half of Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life on the drive there and back again over ~8 hours. We still have the last half to listen to, but what we did hear was some pretty solid advice with a good bit of dry humor. Much to my delight, Peterson is the narrator of his own audiobook, and I’m looking forward to the next road trip across the state so we can finish it.
My extended road trip to visit OMWC’s Mom resulted in varied reading. I read a couple issues of The Jewish Journal (Palm Beach), which is really pretty informative, but not as informative as my MIL’s canasta ladies. I read many of those inserts that pharmacists include with medications. I read through and sorted out all my MIL’s tax documents. And, as indicated previously on this website, I read many, many, MANY wine bottle labels.
I downloaded The Complete Father Brown Mysteries for my Kindle app. Although there is some controversy of the “completeness” or lack thereof among the reviewers of this edition, for what I needed… mindless relaxation I could fit into small blocks of free time… this filled the bill nicely. Especially for $.99. In the 40 years since I last read them, I’d forgotten how gentle and charmingly written these short stories are. Perfect.
Beer labels, and lots and lots of contracts.