Resisting the tide

Daniel Silva’s latest Gabriel Allon thriller, Portrait of a Spy, dropped today. As always, Silva is tuned in to the real goings-on of the world, where his fiction tap-dances on the edge of:

Another article of faith lay in tatters that November—the belief that Europe could absorb an endless tide of Muslim immigrants from its former colonies while preserving its culture and basic way of life. What had started as a temporary program to relieve a postwar labor shortage had now permanently altered the face of an entire continent. Restive Muslim suburbs ringed nearly every city, and several countries appeared demographically fated to Muslim majorities before the end of the century. No one in a position of power had bothered to consult the native population of Europe before throwing open the doors, and now, after years of relative passivity, the natives were beginning to push back. Denmark had imposed draconian restrictions on immigrant marriages. France had banned the wearing of the full facial veil in public. And the Swiss, who barely tolerated one another, had decided they wanted to keep their tidy little cities and towns free of unsightly minarets. The leaders of Britain and Germany had declared multiculturalism, the virtual religion of post-Christian Europe, a dead letter. No longer would the majority bend to the will of the minority, they declared. Nor would it turn a blind eye to the extremism that flourished within its midst. Europe’s age-old contest with Islam, it seemed, had entered a new and potentially dangerous phase. There were many who feared it would be an uneven fight. One side was old, tired, and largely content with itself. The other could be driven into a murderous frenzy by a doodle in a Danish newspaper.

Nowhere were the problems facing Europe on clearer display than in Clichy-sous-Bois, the volatile Arab banlieue located just outside Paris. The flashpoint for the deadly riots that swept France in 2005, the suburb had one of the country’s highest unemployment rates, along with one of the highest rates of violent crime. So dangerous was Clichy-sous-Bois that even the French police refrained from entering its seething public housing estates…

Silva’s Gabriel Allon series is one of the best in the modern thriller class, and I encourage readers of the genre to check his work out.

“The current economic strategy is right out of Atlas Shrugged.”

Stephen Moore, ‘Atlas Shrugged’: From Fiction to Fact in 52 Years:

For the uninitiated, the moral of the story is simply this: Politicians invariably respond to crises — that in most cases they themselves created — by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs…and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism.

In the book, these relentless wealth redistributionists and their programs are disparaged as “the looters and their laws.” Every new act of government futility and stupidity carries with it a benevolent-sounding title. These include the “Anti-Greed Act” to redistribute income (sounds like Charlie Rangel’s promises soak-the-rich tax bill) and the “Equalization of Opportunity Act” to prevent people from starting more than one business (to give other people a chance). My personal favorite, the “Anti Dog-Eat-Dog Act,” aims to restrict cut-throat competition between firms and thus slow the wave of business bankruptcies. Why didn’t Hank Paulson think of that?

These acts and edicts sound farcical, yes, but no more so than the actual events in Washington, circa 2008. We already have been served up the $700 billion “Emergency Economic Stabilization Act” and the “Auto Industry Financing and Restructuring Act.” Now that Barack Obama is in town, he will soon sign into law with great urgency the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan.” This latest Hail Mary pass will increase the federal budget (which has already expanded by $1.5 trillion in eight years under George Bush) by an additional $1 trillion — in roughly his first 100 days in office.

The current economic strategy is right out of “Atlas Shrugged”: The more incompetent you are in business, the more handouts the politicians will bestow on you. That’s the justification for the $2 trillion of subsidies doled out already to keep afloat distressed insurance companies, banks, Wall Street investment houses, and auto companies — while standing next in line for their share of the booty are real-estate developers, the steel industry, chemical companies, airlines, ethanol producers, construction firms and even catfish farmers. With each successive bailout to “calm the markets,” another trillion of national wealth is subsequently lost. Yet, as “Atlas” grimly foretold, we now treat the incompetent who wreck their companies as victims, while those resourceful business owners who manage to make a profit are portrayed as recipients of illegitimate “windfalls.”
This. Must. STOP.
[Registration may be necessary to read complete article on]
[Wave of the phin to Stephen for the link, via IM.]

Reading 2008

Taking a cue from my good friend Brent, I’ve been tracking what I read, and here’s the list of 19 books from 2008 (in reverse chronological order):

My goal for 2009 is 26 books, one every two weeks. You can see what I’m currently reading, as well as what I read in 2007 and prior (from what I could remember reading), over on the Read page.

In The Back Yard

The dogs needed to go out.
No matter how much had changed, their routine was still the same. Before they ate their breakfast or dinner–they were only fed twice a day–they went out to take a piss. The little one would take a dump, too. Then it was back inside for the meal, then back outside so the big one could take his dump. Then back inside, where they both got a treat, usually a piece of ice, which they loved.
It worked in his favor now that long ago the two canines had learned to do their business in the back yard, without having to go for walks. The back yard was still protected by the fences, no section of which had yet to be pushed over. Then again, they hadn’t suffered a mass outbreak in their area yet, so there hadn’t been sufficient numbers to push over–or through, as he’d heard reports of–the fence.
His hand touched the SIG on his hip. It never left his side, yet he checked it all the same any time he was going to open the door to the house. It was his constant companion, because he never knew when he might have to use it. And he had had to use it. More than he cared to ever remember.
He picked up the Remington shotgun next to the back door. It was a nearly constant companion, and it had cousins at the front door, the door in to the garage, and in other rooms throughout the house. Because he never knew when he might have to use them. And he had had to use them.
He checked the breech, even though he knew there was a shell in there. He always kept the weapons loaded, with a round in the chamber, safety off, ready to go. Because you never knew when you might have to use them RIGHT NOW, when you wouldn’t have time to shove in a magazine, to pop in shells, to rack the slide.
He tested the flashlight mounted to the underside of the shotgun, confirming it still functioned flawlessly. It had been a worthwhile investment, having saved his hide more than once when stepping out in to the back yard with the dogs.
He lifted one of the blinds, peeking out in to the darkness lit by a pair of floodlights. The deck was empty. The playset was empty. Just as it had been for more than a year now. There was no longer anyone in the house to play on it.
He always peeked out. Just as he did out the front door, just as he did through the peep hole he’d cut in the big metal garage door. The dogs served as excellent early warning systems, but he always peeked just the same. You never knew.
“Let’s go boys,” he said to the mutts at his feet.
Hoisting the Remington to his shoulder, the muzzle canted down, he opened the door. The dogs squeezed past his legs, out on to the deck. They paused for a moment, sniffing the air. Then the larger, and older, of the two stepped off the deck on to the grass, sniffing the ground. The smaller one mulled about on the deck.
He walked outside and closed the door, listening to the falling night. A dog barked in the distance. It was about four blocks over, he knew. It was a dog that hadn’t learned yet, a dog that would be useless to its master in serving the function as early warning system. It was a distraction, and he wished it was kept inside.
He heard some shrieks of laughter, from kids. They should be going inside soon. He hoped their parents were at least checking on them regularly. The occasional auto passed by the main street nearby. Otherwise, it was quiet. Quiet was always good.
Not a zombie wail to be heard.
He walked around the yard, using the mounted flashlight to check the gates. It never hurt just to check. He still wasn’t sure how the three zombies he’d killed in the back yard over the last year had even gotten in. The undead really weren’t known for manipulation of objects, even simple ones like the gate latch.
He’d been really stupid about the first one. It had been something of a surprise; the zombie had gotten in to the back yard through the left-side gate, but then apparently had gotten confused. Or at least confused for a creature without higher-level brain functions. It just stayed in the corner by the gate, and when he’d made his sweep, it turned to face him.
It hadn’t been the first time he’d encountered an undead, but it was the closest he’d been to one yet, and it was the first one he’d put down himself. He’d been shocked, even scared. He’d nearly pissed his pants. But he managed to keep his composure long enough to line up the head in the Remington’s ghost ring and put the slug round through it. He called the disposal hotline before puking in the back corner of the yard, by the telephone junction box.
“First zombie kill?” one of the disposal techs had asked him as he sat in one of the deck chairs, shotgun across his lap, wiping his mouth for the umpteenth time. He’d only nodded, not looking at his questioner.
The tech, to his credit, hadn’t pushed it farther than that. He’d merely nodded and gone back to his work, which included dousing the part of the yard where zombie splatter had sprayed. “You’re going to lose the grass in this section,” the tech told him. He’d merely nodded in reply as the tech dropped a match.
The disposal squad was efficient, and nicely so, considering their area hadn’t seen a large outbreak. Twenty minutes after their arrival, they departed, leaving him shaken on the back deck. The whole time they’d been there, he hadn’t moved from the deck chair. He stayed there another half hour before he felt able to stand. It was another five minutes before he felt confident his legs would move, and he was able to go inside.
Tonight the yard was empty, as it should be. The mutts completed their business, and they all made their way back inside the house. Until the morning…

The above was a stream-of-consciousness quick piece of fiction I banged out a few months back while trying out Writer, “the internet typewriter”. Blame my nightly routine with our two dogs. Blame, at the time, random conversations with Nathan regarding Max Brooks’ zombie books, or the, again, at the time, public consciousness of Will Smith’s I Am Legend. Whatever the influence, it is what it is.

Gifts that keep on giving

Yesterday, I put to good use the Barnes & Noble gift cards I received for Christmas and my birthday. (I get at least a couple every year.) The “big” card was used online a few days before, to purchase two other items which were on my wish list:
+ Planet Earth – The Complete BBC Series, narrated by David Attenborough. I’ve wondered how many HDTV sets this series is responsible for the sales thereof.
+ Blade Runner (Five-Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition)
The in-store Barnes & Noble shopping resulted in:
+ The Shooters, by W.E.B. Griffin. The fourth in Griffin’s Presidential Agent series, which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed to date. W.E.B. Griffin writes some of the best military fiction out there, and this current-day, antiterrorism series is no exception.
+ Spirit of the Wolf by Shaun Ellis and photographer Monty Sloan. Wolves are among my favorite animals, and I believe a lot can be learned from their pack behavior. (Especially when you have a dog, and therefore a pack, of your own.) Sloan’s got some stunning photos in this coffee-table book, and I’m looking forward to reading Ellis’s commentary.
+ Star Wars Jesus – A spiritual commentary on the reality of the Force by Caleb Grimes. Any book that combines the movie franchise which impacted, informed, and defined my tweener childhood (and which continues to impact and inform my son’s childhood), and the Author and Finisher of my faith, well, that’s just something I’ve got to give a whirl. I think all of my other book reading just went on hold…
So my thanks to my family members who were very generous this year with the gift cards. They were well invested, I assure you.

I Am Confusion

Last night (this morning?), I finished reading I Am Legend. Well, re-reading would be more of an accurate statement. And yet…
This is the I Am Legend I recall from many years before, and at the same time, it’s not the I Am Legend I recall from many years before. For clarification, I have not seen The Last Man on Earth or The Omega Man, but I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I’ve read some homage to Matheson’s original work. Here’s some of what I recall, in the hopes that a reader can point me to the story I remember:
(Oh, and if you haven’t read I Am Legend and you plan to go see the Will Smith movie, there are some potential plot spoilers ahead, so you may want to stop reading now, since it’s likely you cannot help me anyway. Thanks for stopping by, though!)
+ as in the book, the story I remember takes place in Los Angeles, only the Neville character is living in a house on a hill, and has an actual moat in front of the place, so deep the vampires can’t cross it. I want to say he even bulldozed the dead vampire bodies in to the moat.
+ I recall the story mentioning the vampires having blue tattoos.
+ the story was obviously more recent than Matheson’s, since it has the Neville character watching a video of a plague victim, the Ben Cortman character, actually becoming one of the vampire creatures.
+ the Neville character has a dog that goes around with him, as we’ve seen in the trailers of the Will Smith movie adaptation, as opposed to the dog Neville tries to befriend in the book, but which ends up attacked by the vampires.
+ the Neville character, while foraging/hunting in the city, is trapped by a snare attached to a light pole. He spends a lot of time trying to get free, so much so that the sun begins to set, and vampire dogs come out. The Neville character’s dog defends him while he frees himself, and is mortally wounded. This also looks like it will be in the Will Smith movie, and seeing this split-second snare bit in the trailer is one of the memories that jostled me to re-read Matheson’s book.
+ the Neville character goes to a park to wait for any survivors who might still be alive; he leaves signs tacked up all over the city with the when and where.
+ the Neville character discovers a female survivor, very much like Ruth in Matheson’s book; except in this story, instead of hitting him with a mallet, she drugs him after learning how to turn off/undo all of his house’s defense mechanisms, letting the vampires in.
+ the Neville character is taken by the vampires to their underground lair, a miniature city below the real city, where he is somewhat put on display, and some of the vampires feed off of him. The Ruth character has a son or little brother, and the Neville character feels somewhat sorry for them, wants to help them, etc.
+ the Ruth character, and maybe others, help him escape, and they leave the city by a sailboat.
That’s the stuff I remember, and that stuff is not in the Matheson book. So where did I read it? I’ve spent a couple of hours searching the Internet for answers, all to no avail. Perhaps my Google fu isn’t strong enough. Perhaps I just don’t know what I should be searching for. But I know I’ve read this story as I’ve described above. Help me, scifi/horror readers. You’re my only hope.

I would love to witness a conversation like this

Another nugget from Sheriff Bell:

Here a year or two back me and Loretta went to a conference in Corpus Christi and I got set next to this woman, she was the wife of somebody or other. And she kept talkin about the right wing this and the right wing that. I aint even sure what she meant by it. The people I know are mostly just common people. Common as dirt, as the sayin goes. I told her that and she looked at me funny. She thought I was sayin somethin bad about em, but of course that’s a high compliment in my part of the world. She kept on, kept on. Finally told me, said: I dont like the way the country is headed. I want my granddaughter to be able to have an abortion. And I said well mam I dont think you got any worries about the way the country is headed. The way I see it goin I dont have much doubt but what she’ll be able to have an abortion. I’m goin to say that not only will she be able to have an abortion, she’ll be able to have you put to sleep. Which pretty much ended the conversation.

“If it aint too late.”

Some keen cultural insight, courtesy of Sheriff Bell in Cormac McCarthry’s No Country For Old Men (complete with McCarthy’s trademark non-punctuation):

I read in the papers here a while back some teachers come across a survey that was sent out back in the thirties to a number of schools around the country. Had this questionnaire about what was the problems with teachin in the schools. And they come across these forms, they’d been filled out and sent in from around the country answerin these questions. And the biggest problems they could name was things like talkin in class and runnin in the hallways. Chewin gum. Copyin homework. Things of that nature. So they got one of them forums that was blank and printed up a bunch of em and sent em back out to the same schools. Forty years later. Well, here come the answers back. Rape, arson, murder. Drugs. Suicide. So I think about that. Because a lot of the time ever when I say anything about how the world is goin to hell in a handbasket people will just sort of smile and tell me I’m gettin old. That it’s one of the symptoms. But my feelin about that is that anybody that cant tell the difference between rapin and murderin people and chewin gum has got a whole lot bigger of a problem than what I’ve got. Forty years is not a long time neither. Maybe the next forty of it will bring some of em out from under the ether. If it aint too late.
[Emphasis added. –R]

Recent additions to the library

Earlier this evening, in an attempt to drown our sorrows over the Tigers blowing their national title shot, the family dined at Rockfish, then did a little shopping. Normally, I try to avoid frequenting retail establishments on Black Friday, but by dinner time things had quieted considerably in our little corner of the metroplex. Part of the shopping involved an excursion to Barnes & Noble.
I’d been wanting to read No Country For Old Men for quite a while, more so after Nathan told me his impressions of it, as well as my own reading of Cormac McCarthy’s more recent bestseller, The Road. Now that the movie is out, and I, like Nathan, am jonesing to see it, I figured it would behoove me to read the book from whence it came.
(Seriously, what is the deal with McCarthy and dialogue? Does the guy just not believe in the use of quotation marks? All three of his books which I’ve undertaken to read have been bereft of this usual aspect of literature, and while it seemed to work well in The Road, at least for me, it’s made reading Blood Meridian quite a slog. I’m only 19 pages in to No Country as of this writing, and it’s not a problem so far, but geez.)
I first read Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend in…gosh, I really don’t recall, but it was late middle school, early high school. I really enjoyed it at the time, read it once or twice more before leaving college and getting married. After that, I didn’t give it much thought until, some time in the `90s, I learned that Tom Cruise’s production company had optioned it for a motion picture. I was worried about what Cruise’s involvement, notably as the star of the movie, might do to Matheson’s work. Of the myriad actors in Hollywood, Cruise is certainly not one I could picture as Robert Neville.
I’m somewhat apprehensive about the 2007 film release, even though I’ve yet to see it. I have no problem with Will Smith as Neville; from the teaser and trailer I’ve seen, he seems to bring the right elements to the character. I am disappointed with the film’s movement of the plot location from Los Angeles to New York City, mostly because I don’t really see the point; it seems to be a change simply for change’s sake. I totally understand updating the story for our modern time: the book was written in 1954, and the story takes place in the mid- to late-1970s. There are minor tweaks to the main character–Smith’s Neville is currently in the military, rather than formerly, and is a scientist, whilst Matheson’s Neville is more of an everyman–and those are also understandable and digestable. But the change in the plot location… I guess I’ll just have to see the film to make a final, informed judgment. Until then, another rereading of what I consider to be a classic is in order.

I knew there was something familiar about those Potter books

[From Lee, via IM]