Review: George R. Stewart, Earth Abides (1949)

(Original printing by Random House in 1949)

One might ask, once you’re done Googling the given title, why the HELL would we be interested in a book published 72 years ago. That was before the Red Scare of the 1950s, before fears of nuclear war overtook all future versions of Armageddon. There is wisdom in old works, perhaps more than can be found in contemporary books. I found for myself this is a more timely text than was seemingly possible.

The back cover of the 1976 edition I read describes this as ‘a novel about a tomorrow that could happen today’. After the events of 2020 it seems very close to home. Our protagonist, Isherwood Williams, spends some time in a cabin in the woods recovering from a rattlesnake bite. He comes back to a city that appears deserted. Scattered newspapers, what’s left of them, tell of a ‘new and unknown disease of unparalleled rapidity of speed, and fatality’. Unlike in 2020, in the novel there was a concerted and competent government response, although this pathogen still wiped out the better part of the population of the late great United States.

I saw a lot of myself in Ish. He was well read, and probably more mechanically inclined than I. Basically he’s a good person trying to make sense of an impossible situation. At first he was all right with solitude, he could do without loads of people and their problems for a while. Peace and quiet were nice, and he was free to do what he wanted. Some inhibitions had to be broken, such as when Ish had to start breaking into stores to get canned goods, just for his own needs, now without fear of prosecution. Given that all means of mass production were essentially gone, canned goods were all that city people had to live on.

But no one can live alone forever. That’s how Ish was adopted first by a homeless dog, Princess, which lead him to Em, his future wife and the woman who would become this novel’s Mother of the community they gather together in an old California suburb. . As the first, original Mother, Em becomes the heart of what they call the Tribe, probably the most intuitive person and the one everyone defers to in matters.

This community Ish gathers, this Tribe, is comfortable, too much so perhaps. Even when a crisis arrives, when the reservoirs have dried up and no more water is to be had from their taps, it is very hard to stir the people to make an effort even to dig a well.

I can see this–I believe it. For a novel written seven decades ago, it has a clarity and insight. These are average people with average goals, without much ambition to rebuild civilization as they knew it. Ish’s efforts to educate the children of their small Tribe come to no avail, until he settles on more basic–and potentially fun skills, such as bows and arrows. And of course there is the Hammer, which Ish has carried with him from the beginning. This becomes an unconscious symbol of power, a tool as well as a faithful companion that Ish has to pass on in the end.

I would highly recommend Earth Abides. There is more truth, more humanity there than a lot of the propaganda we’ve indulged in for the past several years.

(The 1976 Fawcett Crest edition)

Lianna in the Microverse: Conclusion

Soon as this was over she wanted to get stoned again. So much had been real…so much surreal: the heft of Kali Ma’s sword in her fist, the cool solidity of the pommel. Cradling Lady Smirnoff to her chest, her weight in her four arms evenly distributed, drooping like a lazy cat…

Four…arms–!

The Professor and Dr. Chen bumbled into each other as Lianna jumped up. She tossed off the blanket, then immediately tugged it back to her naked chest. She took in the bland white medical cabinet over a sink behind the medics, the stiff sheets under her legs.

Dreamy, fuzzy images floated in the periphery of her thoughts; an emergence of some kind on the main floor of the observatory, her tail swishing between her buttocks. No tail now, she thought. Some wise ass must’ve thought it’d be a good idea to get her to the outpost’s dispensary. That was probably a good idea since she didn’t remember much after first she dropped Lady Smirnoff, and then collapsed herself.

She slapped her left shoulder, groping for ridges, skin folds, anything that would be indicative of a scar. She came up empty. “Professor, how many arms did I have when I got back?”

Their distended eyeballs gave the game away. Troopers that they were, they kept up the pretense. “Two, of course,” the Professor replied, lifting his arms. “Just two. Right, Chen?”

“Oh yes, yes! How many arms were you expecting to have?” His forced laugh reeked of fear and barely suppressed hysteria. And then Petersen burst in.

“Got the stills developed! They’re gonna love this at the…” he frowned, first at the two scientists waving their hands like livid sports coaches. His eyebrows raised at Lianna, nodding at her cot. “Oh. Hi, four-arms.”

That earned him the double sock in the arm that she’d been waiting for. “I knew it!” Lianna bounced off the cot, pacing the room despite the Professor’s efforts to keep up and drape his lab coat over her. “I knew it! It’s the first proof that the Hindu cosmology has a basis in fact! I gotta write this up in the Physicists Quarterly–“

“Lianna…”

“Mom would shit if she could see this! This would be the best–!”

“Lianna!”

Both bare heels slapped on the deck. The Professor stopped himself just in time, finally succeeding in wrapping his coat over her. “Your other limbs disappeared shortly after we had you settled,” he said.

“What, they melted?”

“No, they…how do I say this, dissipated. I can’t explain it better than that. They seemed to vanish as soon as you came off your high. Umm, how much powder did…?”

“A snootful.”

“I thought it’d be a bit much.”

Lianna crossed her arms with a smirk. “And if there had been evidence of a transformation, I suppose you’d keep it from me anyway?”

The Professor sighed. “Lianna, cultivating a personal relationship with Kali is not something I’d encourage.”

“But isn’t that what Mom and Poppa wanted to investigate? Surely that’s the reason they kept such extensive notebooks.”

The Professor nodded to both points, though his downturned bushy mustache suggested he now wished that he’d never let her get her hands on them, let alone follow the hints and star charts highlighted in red in the margins. ‘What happened to my tail? And what about Lady Smirnoff?”

“First, allow me to congratulate you on the successful conclusion of your extraditionary mission. She’s in the next room. Would you like to see? We can discuss the, umm, other item after that.”

Her deep crimson skinsuit glistened even in the dimmed lighting ordered for her recovery room. What was left of it, anyway. Lady Smirnoff looked like she’d been through a war and lost. Her right leg was a purplish stump below the knee. Her left side wasn’t in much better shape. The skinsuit over both her left shoulder and breast was torn, exposed to the dangers of the Microverse. In fact, her left breast appeared to have been punctured by a barbed shaft. Tardigrade, Lianna deduced silently.

Further puncture marks could be found in both wrists, another in her suit through the crotch. Some repulsion prevented Lianna from examining that hole too intensely. Lianna took a scanner from a young medic in training, which enabled her to probe the puncture just below Lady Smirnoff’s breast that almost reached through her chest cavity to her heart. Curiously, all these puncture wounds had been plugged with a flexible, indigo-tinted foam. Further proof, to Lianna at least, of Kali’s charity, or malice.

The medics stepped aside to let Lianna in, but not too far from the floating examination table. They were keeping her in an induced coma for now, they told her, pending a decision by the outpost’s chief of staff toward what exactly they were supposed to do with her; whether her punishment by Kali had been sufficient, if indeed that would factor into any subsequent care she’d receive at a better equipped facility.

Her hand squeezed the smooth blotchy stump, just above the knee. Lianna peeled back one of Lady Smirnoff’s eyelids. Her pupils had shrunk to tiny dots. Her facial features, usually so stern, was relaxed in sedated rest. She hadn’t been prepared for this, Lianna thought, her hand lingering for what little comfort it might offer. Sweet Kali, what a state her mind must be in.

“Baby, come on,” the Professor said, gently taking her hand. He led her along the main corridor to the Specimen Lab. Normally this was where cultures were housed in specialty racks, behind vacuum sealed doors housing the wall-mounted coolant cells. He fixed on the third coolant door to the right, grunting as he yanked the handle down.

A tray rolled out containing no racks full of specimen trays, only an extra-large storage bin, about the size of Lianna’s upper torso. With the input of a code, the top was forced wide open as a bushy something arched out of its confined space.

“It didn’t dissipate…”

“Presumably Kali wanted this preserved, as a keepsake,” the Professor muttered. “So we’d know this wasn’t entirely a dream.”

The thick fur yielded several centimeters to the touch. Moments passed as he watched her stroke the reddish streaks. The end where it should’ve ‘connected’ seemed evenly cut, or partly healed. “Did you guys…?”

“We didn’t have to do anything. It sort of popped off as soon as you two hit the floor, just as a chameleon’s would.” All latches shut quietly, efficiently as he tucked the fur back under the lid and shoved the tray door shut. Lianna drew the lab coat closer, almost disappearing inside it.

“Professor, this isn’t a surprise to you. None of it. I’ve given you probably the most absurd, unscientific reports you’d ever seen, about things that would normally get a gal shipped to the nearest funny farm. And you…you just accept them. How much did you know, before I started out there?”

He kept his hands in his pants pockets, then adjusted the online scribbler in his top shirt pocket with a smile. “I had a more adventurous youth than I’ve let on. Several of my experiences could be described as humbling. I’d like to tell you I was never…hmm, intimate within my interpersonal contacts, but,” he shrugged, “I could never lie to you, child.”

“But you’re never gonna tell me about those experiences, are you?” she asked.

Still smiling, perhaps a little more warmly, he held out his hand to her. “There’s too much to cover in one afternoon,” he said. She clutched the coat to her bunched in one hand, while with the other she took his proffered palm. “But I see no reason why we couldn’t start.”

Continued from ‘Summoned by Kali’: (link)  https://mike3839.com/2021/01/18/summoned-by-kali-a-story/

Here’s where it all began: (link)  https://mike3839.com/2020/02/11/lianna-into-the-microverse-introduction/

Barack Obama A Promised Land review

This has been a hard book to get through. It’s not a difficult read; President Obama has a way of drawing you in, making the hard choices easy to understand. His conversational skills haven’t failed him.

I suppose the problem, for me, was that I remember those years and the bullshit thrown at both he and his wife Michelle. For the first time Obama seems free to express his frustrations and disbelief not only at the continual obstructionism, but also his personal struggle with racism.

What’s also made it hard is the fact that the same dipshits are still in Congress, still spewing the same toxic nonsense they had 12 years ago. If anything, the recent crop of Republicans is 100 percent worse.

I’ve gone on but honestly, it is worth the read. We are guided from his early days as a senator, on through the first presidential campaign in 2008, and closing with…nahh, I won’t spoil it. Can’t wait for the second volume. Cheers.

Excerpt: Midnight Interruption

A short excerpt from my next novel in progress, Sanity’s Edge. Enjoy.

midnight interruption 300

I slipped off the ship after dark, once I could sense that everyone in the village was asleep. The forest was new but Mama had found me a new friend. We stared at each other under the shade of a mango tree as the Moon climbed into the sky.    Its tongue flicked the air in the three-meter space that divided us. This wasn’t one of the gen-altered snakes I was accustomed to from my home. This bugger was all wild, possibly the first of its kind that I’d seen since childhood, possibly the first I’d ever seen in my life. Sweet Ngai, was she massive! Her trunk was thicker around than my thighs.

I sensed her full belly, so I had no worries on that score. Her scales had a fresh gloss, as though she had just completed shedding not too long ago. I suppose she wouldn’t object to a warm body to enfold. I closed the distance between us and stepped into her embrace.

I knew this would be a problem as soon as a hundred kilos seemed to land on my hips, pressing me down. My knees buckled at first, but I kept to my feet as a second curl of muscle wound behind my legs, brushing the skin of my thighs before plopping atop the first coil, in the process pushing up my breasts.

Both were solid rippling muscle. A thrill shuddered through my chest, and perhaps a little excitement. I’d never given myself to such a beast before. A third coil slipped past my shoulders, pressing my breasts into flattened ovals between them. Sweat trickled over them and down the middle of my back; but that was probably just the heat of this place. For now, I was content.       As I held out my hand, the last meter of its tail settled in my palm, circling twice before cinching tight. With my eyes shut, we dropped as one bundled mass into the soft grass.

Of course that wasn’t the end of it. When was it ever so? The sun had barely emerged as a pink fingernail on the horizon when my hand comm chirruped in my waist pouch. This was ten meters away, along with the rest of my clothes.

Brutus, for so I named her, showed no inclination to release such a rich source of warmth, and gods, I didn’t want to leave this body hug just yet, either. Oh well. I stretched forth my free hand, the new new left one.

The hand comm made an oddly hard thump as it whipped through the grass into the false meat of my false hand. I settled back in Brutus’s coils, pillowing my neck on hers as I put the comm to my ear. “Jambo?

“The correct greeting would be I ni sogoma, young miss, but we will let it pass this time,” a firm male voice replied. “Am I speaking to Miss Jamai Dlamini?”

“Yes,” I said, suddenly a little nervous.

“My name is Magistrate Oumar Hadad, the local prefect for this hamlet. Would it be possible for you to spare me a few minutes?”

“H-have I done something wrong?”

“Not at all. Your Captain Ismalla discovered you missing this morning and got it into his head that you would be in the fields, with a snake. And so you are.”

My body seemed to have frozen, even snug in Brutus’ coils, though my stare darted left and right. “Don’t be alarmed. The local children spotted you sleeping from some trees they were climbing. They almost took you for dead, but for the fact that you were snoring.”

“I snore…?”

“My deputy has been watching you via long-range glasses, to see to your safety. He will escort you to my office, in your own time.”

My own time…I could make them wait another hour…No, best to be done with it. “Whenever he’s done masterbating, I’d like to dress in peace.”

A deliberate pause followed. “Let me speak with him. You can pull yourself together while I’m berating him.” And the comm chirrped off.

mango-trees

Overview: ‘Disturbing the Peace ‘ by Vaclav Havel

Between 1985 and 1986, Karel Hvizdala conducted a book length series of interviews with playright and reluctant human rights activist Vaclav Havel, via underground mail. At the time Havel was living in Prague, Czechoslovakia which was still under communist rule; Hvizdala was corresponding with him from West Germany. The book that came from these questions was first published in Czechoslovakia in summer of 1986. Later it would be translated by Paul Wilson and published in the West in 1990 just as Czechoslovakia’s democratic revolution was underway.

I thoroughly enjoyed Havel’s candor and modesty, even if it was only evident on the printed page. He describes his parents and grandparents as enterprising men born to create. Despite an admittedly privileged upbringing, in his childhood Havel says he “felt alone, inferior, lost, ridiculed, ” emotions I’m all too familiar with. Perhaps those feelings are the bane of every writer’s existence. He also touches on the depersonalization of modern society, of losing touch with our fellow man and losing a connection with the work we do, whether it’s in a communist or capitalist state.

He remains hopeful in the power of the masses, which had to be a hard thing as he’d been imprisoned three times for his activities, which would probably not raise half a fuss in our country, even today. “All power is power over someone, and it always somehow responds, usually unwittingly rather than deliberately, to the state of mind and the behavior of those it rules over. One can always find in the behavior of power a reflection of what is going on “below “. No one can govern in a vacuum. ” That gives me some hope too, and believe me we could all use some of that right now.

Fair Game by Valerie Plame Wilson: review

This has been my first opportunity to read a book as heavily redacted as this. That’s okay, this edition has a lengthy afterword by progressive journalist Laura Rozen to fill in the blanks. For instance, ms. Plame’s decision to become a NOC officer in the CIA.

 

If you recall from the first Mission: Impossible movie, a list of NOC agents was up for grabs which would’ve released their actual names to the spy world. In a crude inversion of life imitating cinema, what Tom Cruise was trying to prevent in that movie was exactly what Scooter Libby and Vice President Dick Cheney did to Valerie Plame.

Evidently the CIA has no romance in its heart either, as her courtship and marriage to Ambassador Joseph Wilson was deemed too sensitive to declassify. I’m still trying to get it in my head how the particulars of their relationship would be damaging to US foreign relations and intelligence gathering.

I’m grateful ms. Plame wrote this book. It’s a refreshing reminder to those seeing George W. Bush in a revisionist light, that his administration was just as corrupt as the current one. That his actions regarding Iraq and the Wilsons in particular were nothing less than pure evil. And I am frustrated that no one was held to account, that what Libby and senior Bush officials did in outing ms. Plame was an act of TREASON. Read it. It’s essential.

Elton John a perspective

elton-john-eyewear-bb13-beat-2019-billboard-1548

“Rocket Man ” was the first Elton John song that I fell in love with. It wasn’t even mine, my brother Kenny bought it, god rest his soul. The first single I bought on my own was “Daniel”, which I traded away. I guess I was disappointed at the time because it wasn’t a rocket like lot of his stuff was. Today I can say, “you IDIOT, why would you give that record away? It was a great song!” Maybe I share Elton’s lack of judgement; in his recent book Me, he admits that he thought “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me ” was a terrible song: funny how things will look so different in retrospect.

elton-john-rocket-man-1972-15    elton john daniel

He was fortunate to have ‘come out ‘ in 1967, the very year that the UK struck down its law making homosexuality illegal. Or we should say he was Found out by his boss Long John Baldry: “Oh come on, don’t you know you’re gay?”(or words to that effect).

It never bothered me that Elton was bi or gay or whatever. I just loved the music, his preferences were his own business. Gay wasn’t a thing people talked about when I was growing up, at least not around me, so I didn’t have a chance to be indoctrinated by anybody’s paranoid ravings. It’s just funny now. For instance I always liked Queen from the beginning and I never got the gay reference in their very name. Didn’t know, didn’t care. Those fellas could still rock.

Elton’s early records came out on the Uni label, a division of MCA Records, which is how his early singles like “Rocket Man ” looked like that in America but by the time “Daniel ” came along everything was on that black MCA label.

Oddly enough the songs I listened to first weren’t actually sung by Elton. “Lady Samantha” was a song I loved and picked up on my dad’s Three Dog Night record from 1969, ‘Suitable For Framing “. I remember we were at his cabin in Lake Land Village,  a development over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge near Allyn, Washington. Three Dog Night was also the first band I heard doing “Your Song ” on an album I got for Christmas of 1971, “Golden Biscuits “. Elton’s version was already a year old by then.

ELTONMUP

Of course he was also notable for announcing that he was retiring, and then coming right out of retirement a few months later. For some reason retirement just didn’t seem to take with Elton. The first time he said that was 1976 or ’77: didn’t last long.  He’d be in a slump for a while but that was okay: he’d give himself a jumpstart like his live Melbourne shows in ’86 or ‘The Lion King ‘ soundtrack.

Maybe I also liked Elton because he wore glasses.  So did John Denver but see the thing was, in the 1970s glasses were not sexy. I always wore glasses and I was never good at sports at any level of schooling. If you wore glasses, you were a four eyes: if you couldn’t play ball, you  were a faggot–sorry, their words.

elton john glasses 1    elton's glasses.4 jpg  elton's glasses 1974

Elton wore ’em, so did John Lennon. Not only that but Elton made them a fashion statement.  He had a gift for flamboyance unmatched in the rock world,  which is saying something considering it was par for the course with acts like David Bowie and KISS on the loose. I always appreciated Elton’s music and his example, and I thought I’d say so now.

The foregoing was inspired by Elton John ‘s 2019 biography Me, published by Henry Holt and Company.

me elton john book

A Beginning [fragment]

[Hello there. This was something I scribbled one night for a project that may or may not ever come to fruition, bringing together all my female characters. Just for the hell of it I’m throwing it out here. See what you think. Enjoy.–Mike.]

She pushed herself up from the pile of bodies, wrinkling her nostrils against the sulfar stench wafting up from the lowlands. She stood tall, her cinammon-skin already damp with perspiration. Someone had thoughtfully provided a tight pair of snakeskin trunks, while leaving her feet bare. Next time, she mused, I get to pick my outfit.

Perhaps it was still night, Jamai thought. Somehow she knew this purple skyline with her roiling storm clouds had always been so. All it needed was a cliché bolt of–

Holie!” And here it comes, grounded to the lightning rod her small companion thrust into the catwalk at the last second. A blinding flash illuminated her in white silhouette, but in all respects she appeared unharmed.

“Hah! Take that, you dinkoff! Nobody beats science around here!” After taking one quick around, she added to herself, “God willing.” None the less, her khaki shorts and dingy white safari blouse appeared undamaged.

“Well played, sister,” Jamai smiled, taking Kiana Richards’ hand.

“It was nothing special,” Kiana shrugged, flicking her neck-length auburn hair back from her face. “These things were just lying on the catwalk. It just seemed like the thing to do. One question…”

“Yes. Where are we?”

“Exactly where you need to be,” another voice intruded. Another sister. Her bootsteps rattled on the catwalk’s struts, shaking the fragile structure and sending sympathetic shivers through all their bodies. The violet skinsuit graced all her best features, while the window cut into the chest fabric did nothing to hide her globes.

“Lianna,” Jamai nodded.

Kiana did the same, adding, “This is gonna get confusing fast. So tell me, we were all called together for a reason, or fell out of time or some crap?”

“No need to get snarky, red.” A collective startle jumped up into their hearts as they jerked to the right. Another blonde like Lianna crouched on the handrail, honey-tinged this time. But even in this dank light she was pale beyond reason, the tips of her fangs dimpling the corners of her lips. Leather cloaked her from those wetlook leggings to the slinky coat on her back. “Hi there. I’m Vye.” Nudging Jamai’s forearm, she said, “Hi again, bosoms. Been a while.”

To the others she said this. “It’s probably appropriate that I’m here at least. Take a look down.”

Her gaze angled over the rail. Together the three of them joined Vye in peeking twenty stories down to the field of lava breathing acrid fumes below. A dark crust formed over a large proportion of the landscape, but there remained bubbling honeypots oozing fresh magma. And towards the east, from their position at least, there heaved a maw filled with stalactite teeth, wide enough to gorge on an elephant.

“Let me guess,” Kiana whistled. “That’s the devil himself.”

“I’m going for something more general,” Vye replied. “Evil from before the dawn of time.”

“And what say you, Godwalker?”

This was getting to be such a regular occurrence, the ladies simply joined in a mutual sag, then turned to greet the new intruders. Apparently this was to be the first man on their team, a husky fellow in buckskin breeches and waistcoat over a plain white shirt, with moccasins and a leather sash girding his Bowie knife.

“Welcome, Jeremiah,” Lianna grinned. “You’re just in time. Bring the reinforcements?” He nodded.

As the portal opened wide behind him, Kiana asked, “Excuse me. Godwalker?”                     “Just a nickname,” Lianna squirmed.

“You don’t say,” Jamai queried with her raised eyebrows.

Throwing up her hands, Lianna elaborated. “All right, I may have met some Hindu gods, and they were kind to me…”

“Hah! More like they fondled you!” Vye laughed.

“So wait…are we all…dead?” Kiana whispered.

“Only some of us, lass!” spoke the tall Irish beauty striding from the portal, flowing skirt trailing her. Beside her a girl of Chinese-American descent practically skipped to keep pace. Besides her TV-Western cowboy outfit, she also lugged a Santa Claus-sized bag across her right shoulder.

The flaming red Irish woman shook all their hands in turn. “Top of the day, lasses. I’m Caitlan, this poor we’en is my partner, Fong. As ye can see, television has thoroughly corrupted her.”

“Sez you,” Fong’s higher pitched voice laughed. “I got the gear.” She looked toward Jamai and smiled. “Hi, Granny!”

Six pairs of eyes at various heights swiveled to a suddenly bashful Jamai. “It’s an affectionate appellation…ohh!” Any shy feelings evaporated as Caitlan and Fong both swept in for a hug.

Lianna harumphed, drawing their attention. “Okay, we all know each other…most of us. We’re all connected in some way. We’re all sisters. A-and brother,” she noted, waving a hand to Jeremiah.

“We’ve all experienced our days of terror, all looked into the face of damnation. I can’t force you to do this, but…that thing down there represents a power even the gods are a little nervous about. We all have our powers, all have our own little gifts, and that’s going to come in handy in the next few minutes. So, I’m asking you, will you stand with me?” As she spoke, so she circulated among the gathered, touching each of her allies with a gloved hand. Those hands were now open, beckoning.

“We’re gonna need a way down there,” Vye commented.

“That’s what we’re here for,” Fong huffed, dropping the bag onto the catwalk. Reaching inside with both small hands, she distributed a rocket pack to each of her fellow warriors. Each one of them fastened the gear as though they’d done this before, like they’d done this all their lives.

“All we need now,” said Kiana cheerily, “is Gail Simone to lead us.”

“Maybe next time,” Fong chipped in.

“Ready, Godwalker?” Jeremiah smiled.

“Don’t call me that,” Lianna moaned. As the smallest, Vye and Kiana bunched on the rails, ready to push off. Everyone else dropped to a runner’s crouch, ready to watch Lianna’s back.

“Okay,” she called, “Let’s go!”

—-

Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.

f & d cover

Mike’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

 

Preview: Sanity’s Edge, progress report

This is a short excerpt from my novel-in-progress, Sanity’s Edge. Our protagonists Jamai and Youssou have left their homeland in exile; Jamai has chosen to leave Youssou, due to his erratic mood swings, and has joined a branch of the Order of Elias in the hopes of finding a place among people of her own kind. This is proving not so simple as she believed.

This is still a draft version and will be liable to revision. Comments and critiques are welcome. Enjoy.

The debriefing began that afternoon. Cyrano had the appearance of a well groomed wild man. He was taller than average and had to duck stepping over the threshold into Alejandro’s casa. His was a thick body with a flat nose that might have been broken on more than one occasion. And he had a mane, a literal flame red mane and beard with no hint of a mustache. All that was stuffed inside a deep blue dress suit whose creases had seen better care than his beard.

The other fellow, Lloyd George, was not so tall but unnaturally thin and clean shaven, even to his scalp which bore the signs of week-old stubble. He was also in a dress uniform, though his seemed more comfortably ivied-in than Cyrano’s. His stare darted here and there, taking in the surroundings while being unfailingly polite to Alejandro and me.

I found the big man’s interrogatories usually came in the form of a one-way shouting match. That, combined with the fact that apparently I might have been a little soft spoken, made for a bit of a tense session.

“I suppose the first time was when I was seven and the village ant totem–”

“SPEAK UP, GIRL! I CAN BARELY HEAR YOU!”

“–and that’s when I found out our elder Odu Molefe had been collaborating with them the whole time, can you believe–”

“DON’T MIX SUPPOSITION WITH THE FACTS! FOCUS, GIRL!”

I had to endure two days of this interrogation before I could even slip in one question, perhaps the only one that mattered to me. The small fellow, Lloyd George, tapped his padd like a mad keyboardist while the fat guy Cyrano sat as a rock on the Mara Plains, glowering directly at me. Alejandro was getting up to fetch us all coffee when I blurted, “Is there anyone else like me?”

Alejandro paused, recalling the one occasion I’d put the same query to him. Cyrano scoffed, “Certainly not. That kind of power in so youthful–”

“No, I mean, are there any other gifted people out there?”

“Like you?” Lloyd George prompted.

“Yes.”

The two interlopers exchanged arched glances. Perhaps it wasn’t so much a telepathic exchange as they’d worked together so long as a team that they thought along the same patterns. At any rate it was Lloyd George who answered.

“Why yes, we have wards much like you in our branches all across the globe,” he beamed. “Some have similar power levels to your own, some can be quite innocuous. Alejandro for example–”

“There’s nobody exactly like you,” Cyrano emphasized, and here his bushy mustache twitched at the right cheek. “Your powers are unique. That is why we’ve taken such an interest in you.” He seemed prepared to move along but I wasn’t done.

“I had another question.”

“Oh, what now?”

“I was wondering if you could help me find something to do with myself. Some kind of employment…”

“You want a job?”

“Y-yes,” I nodded. “I want to do something useful. It doesn’t have to be anything big. In fact I’d prefer it if I could find someplace not so public, where I could disappear in the back or something.”

“What do we look like, an unemployment office?”

“No, but you must have connections.”

“For Chrissakes, what do you think you’re doing here? You’re a murderess!”

Some dishes clattered in the kitchen. “I’m sorry…?”

“Huh, she’s sorry,” Cyrano huffed, nudging his companion. “You damn well ought to be. You should be grateful we’re even taking you in. we could be breaking ten thousand laws just hiding your sorry ass!”

“I didn’t mean to kill them, I panicked!”

“And how do we know you won’t panic in the future? What’s to stop you from doing it again?”

“Because I remember it! Because I can’t get it out of my mind!”

I had to stop; I’d started breathing in shallow gulps. Alejandro had to catch me as I slumped over the table with one hand bracing me up. Cyrano was noticeably silent, though his spirit matched the slow boil in mine. “Getting back to this business with Sydney,” Lloyd George interjected, “may I ask, umm, how did you know all that?”

“She told me. I already explained that.”

“Impossible,” Cyrano said. “We–!” He hesitated, cracking his fists as he huffed more deeply than before. “These are things known to only a handful of us on the Order’s Inner Circle. Sydney Merryman is gone. That’s established fact.”

“You may be wrong,” I said. “From what I could perceive Massoud didn’t want to steal our bodies. I don’t think the vast majority of Sydelle’s kin want to. They’re not after our bodies, our children, for their own pleasure. That’s just what we think based on what Sydelle has told us. I think they just want their purgatory to end. I think they just want to die.”

Our guests exchanged another doubtful glance. Lloyd George began, “Cyrano, maybe we should consider–”

“Oh don’t you be stupid too, man! It’s pure bullshit. Talking spirits? That’s never happened before. In the last five hundred years not one soul has been recovered, not one! Am I supposed to take this shit to the Inner Council, tell them everything we KNOW is wrong, based on the word of a stupid girl?”

“But my vision–what I saw–!”

“Maybe you filtered what your thought was a vision through your own perceptions,” Lloyd George suggested. That creature suffocated you. Perhaps oxygen deprivation caused you to fashion your ideas into a comfortable narrative.”

“No.”

“Miss, it is a possibility we should consider–”

“I said NO. I know what I saw and I won’t be dissuaded from that by the Fat Guy here.”

“Settle down, girl,” Cyrano growled.

“Who the hell do you think you–”

“SETTLE DOWN!”

Was it me, or did the rafters shudder? Dust sifted down from above as he continued. “Our people have been watching those maniacs for five hundred years. You can’t come crawling up out of the bush at nineteen years old telling us how to run our affairs. You’re barely out of diapers.”

“I’ve lived more in those twenty years,” I corrected him, heat rising into my cheeks, “than either of you fucking toubabs.”

“Cyrano…” Lloyd George’s eyes shone bright. He slapped a palm onto his companion’s knee. The fat one’s brow furrowed as his knuckles popped with what should have been a painful balling of the fist I was glaring at.

I had no idea what he could do and didn’t much care. “Oh please, try it.”

Senores,” Alejandro called, though honestly I think his voice only penetrated the periphery of our mutual glares. “Let’s call it a day, debemos? We should give these tense sessions time to rest before we resume.” Lloyd George nodded at least. After a few more moments where our eyes locked, Cyrano swerved his gaze away.

I pushed off the divan without a backward glance at either of my two acosters. “You can see them to the door, padre. I don’t know why I’m wasting my time with you people.”

Alejandro followed me as far as the circular stairwell leading upstairs. “Thanks for standing up for me,” I muttered. “You don’t believe me either, do you?”

“You have to understand it goes against everything we know,” he said.

Sweet Ngai, I didn’t want to talk about this. “Maybe I’ll just leave.”

Both hands slapped on his hips. “And where will you go?”

“I DON’T KNOW! Maybe I’ll go back to the bushes I crawled from, or maybe I’ll see if they’ll have me back at Abyei-Bentiu! That’ll make everybody happy!” it should have been satisfying to slam the door to my room on his face, but somehow it wasn’t.

 

Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.         Mike’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA

f & d cover

Kurt Vonnegut Slapstick (1976 novel) review

1-Slapstick(Vonnegut)

I haven’t read a book quite this fast in a long while, and I was barely trying. Published in our fair nation’s Bicentennial year, we have the story of twins separated by their judgmental parents, and a granddaughter the brother twin comes to care for. Family is the core virtue of this satire, even to the point of ludicrousness. Don’t expect it to be an endorsement of what we laughably call ‘family values’. Our protagonist is essentially a modern Neanderthal who with the help of his sister Eliza becomes by turns a genius, an idiot, a pediatrician, the last President of the United States and the King of Manhattan after a flu and the Green Death destroys civilization as we know it.

1 vonnegut lonesome no more

A means is also discovered to contact the Afterlife which turns out to be as boring as nails, so much so that it’s referred to as a ‘Turkey Shoot’. The biggest religion at the end of the world is the Church of Jesus Christ the Kidnapped. The insinuation that the Chinese are shrinking in stature may have been written in jest but by today’s standards or any other, it might be considered racist. The style is breezy and pure Vonnegut, sparing in detail and broadly farciful with even the most tragic of events. A step up from Breakfast of Champions.

Well, I am used to the rootlessness that goes with my profession. But I would like people to be able to stay in one community for a lifetime, to travel away from it to see the world, but always to come home again,…Until recent times, you know, human beings usually had a permanent community of relatives. They had dozens of homes to go to. So when a married couple had a fight, one or the other could go to a house three doors down and stay with a close relative until he was feeling tender again. Or if a kid was so fed up with his parents that he couldn’t stand it, he could march over his uncle’s for a while. And this is no longer possible. Each family is locked into its little box. The neighbors aren’t relatives. There aren’t other houses where people can go and be cared for.

–Vonnegut interview extract, Todd F. Davis (January 2008). Kurt Vonnegut’s Crusade; Or, How a Postmodern Harlequin Preached a New Kind of Humanism. SUNY Press. pp. 95–97. ISBN 978-0-7914-6676-6. Retrieved 13 July 2011^

1 vonnegut slapstick

 

Mikes’ latest book, FATHERS AND DAUGHTERS, is available at amazon.com.

f & d cover

Mike’s Amazon page:

https://www.amazon.com/Mr.-Michael-Robbins/e/B00CMHSMYA