Twin girls born in a town that isn’t even on any map, black girls with skin so light who, in any fair world, would not have to worry about how society would classify them are at the center of this story – twin girls who see their father dragged from home and lynched in the middle of a traumatic night. This is the world that Brit Bennett describes in The Vanishing Half. It is a world where skin color is an issue and not just with white people but also with black folks. Desiree and Stella find their small eerily segregated town, confining. They graduate from high school and run away to the big city. Desiree is the twin with the inclination to wander, but Stella is the one who disappears.
Good characters and an interesting concept introduce us to a world most of us cannot inhabit. Even to talk about the issues presented in this novel makes it far too easy to stray from political correctness. Before slavery was there a skin color hierarchy? When we acknowledge that skin color is used as a kind of class indicator even among black folks does that indicate that the superficial judgments of slave owners were passed on to their human “property”? These are things I can perceive but cannot pass judgment on. But Bennett gives us a peek behind the curtain.
This is not a heavy tome full of academic discussions of these matters. This is basically the story of a family and the traumas that determine their futures. It is a story of separation and a sort of reconciliation. It is a story of secrets kept and finally half revealed. But behind the story is that undertow that makes us think deeper thoughts. Interestingly, it is a wanderer who becomes the glue in this family of woman who were robbed of their father/husband. I wouldn’t mind having my own Mr. Early.
Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell has gotten a lot of buzz and it made this reader curious enough to open the covers and enjoy Maggie’s novel. O’Farrell takes us back to Shakespearean England. She noticed a record in a local parish that recorded the death of a child named Hamnet Shakespeare. The tale she embroiders is as possible as any tale of Shakespeare’s homelife about which very little is known.
Agnes attracts the attention of a barely adult William while he is tutoring Latin at a local sheep farm to pay a debt owed by his father, a glove maker. She goes into the woods most days with a falcon (kestrel) on her gloved hand. She is a bit older than William but she is a conundrum he wants to solve. When that kestrel flies off to hunt and then returns from these wild adventures to the hand of Agnes, William imagines that she is a singular woman with a will of her own and powers that set her apart from other village women.
Agnes is able to read people’s lives, but she lives long enough to learn that what she reads may be cryptic and misleading. William and Agnes have three children, one girl, Suzanna and then twins, Judith and Hamnet. Judith is tiny and is often afflicted with health problems. Hamnet is a strong and smart boy. But when the plague comes to Stratford the outcome surprises Agnes and breaks the hearts of both Agnes and William.
I think what comes across most powerfully in this invented history is the depiction of a mother’s grief and what it does to a family and a marriage. Although Agnes is not a witch, she has supernatural talents and a knowledge of plants as medicines. How much of Agnes’ character is based in fact and how much is created by the author could be determined by finding out what is known about Shakespeare’s wife, who we know as Anne. The idea that Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, may have been inspired by family tragedy is a possibility that would be difficult to prove, but it makes for a good book, even if you have to suspend some disbelief.
In order to profit from The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson you must get through the first chapter – the catalyst for all that follows. Frank May is the only survivor of an extreme heat wave event that kills 20 million people, an entire village, in India. We don’t even learn his name until much later in the book. There are reasons.
Robinson skips around a lot which helps move this fictional/nonfiction book, full of what could be very dry science, along. India, in reaction to that enormous heat wave tragedy tries to recreate the ashy clouds of the Pinatubo volcanic eruption which blocked the sun for almost two years. The strategy India settles on of creating a layer of a reflective substance (several are under consideration) which would reflect some sunlight back into space thus cooling the earth’s atmosphere temporarily is an actual tactic being considered by climate scientists. The Children of Kali, also in India, decide to go ‘dark’ and use more violent strategies.
In order to make the billionaires listen up and force these greedy souls to give up fossil fuels, massively effective plans will be required. The Ministry of the Future, a UN project headed by Mary Murphy from Zurich, Switzerland, never openly supports violent action. But Mary’s Assistant Chair, Badim, has no such compunctions and he has Mary’s permission to head a ‘dark’ arm of the agency. It is so ‘dark’ that even as the book ends we have no clues about the tactics used by Badim’s group, but you might want to learn about Pebble Mobs.
Mary Murphy’s machinations are not secret at all. Through the Ministry, Robinson’s book offers up one idea after another – the state of the art ideas, the far out ideas and ideas unpalatable to many – that could be used to lower the temperature raised by global warming and for sequestering the carbon dioxide (carbon) that is to blame. A story that is basically a climate textbook is made readable by making it a personal story with characters who interest us, and by flashing around the globe. We might be in India in one short chapter, or in China, or at a committee meeting, or experiencing the kidnapping of Mary Murphy, or in Antarctica, or Russia, or in the Alps, or San Francisco, along the new wildlife corridors, presenting an audacious financial plan to the world’s central banks. It’s a whirlwind for the most part, belying how slow actual change may be, but it’s exciting and it makes the reader believe that we could do this; we could save the planet.
The Ministry for the Future is a fiesta of climate ideas. If it gets a bit Kumbaya near the end, after all our recent coronavirus isolation, some communal esprit might be welcome. Mary Murphy’s mantra is “lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, lose, win.” We might need to stop losing and use some of Robinson’s pirated ideas if we want to have any hope of winning. Every person on the planet should read this book.
Ron Chernow has written biographies of historical figures such as Hamilton, Grant, and now George Washington, in Washington: A Life. Of course there are many biographies of these men, but his biographies are particularly valuable because Chernow has access to such a complete library of Washington papers and letters. Chernow has a talent for making material that could be dense and pedantic interesting and engrossing. He does not keep himself out of his writing. Whatever he concludes about these great men as he studies their documents informs his opinion of who they are and he shares that view with readers. Lucky is the age that has a chief biographer like Ron Chernow, although, of course, he has his critics.
In these days when we are so immersed in the roots of our nation, and whether we should try to be originalists and channel what the founders meant when they wrote our Constitution, in particular, and the Federalist papers which followed, or whether we should deal with the Constitution as we have lived with it and changed it, it seems appropriate to go back and study the roots of our nation. Although this book tells the story of our beginnings it does not necessarily help with our twenty-first century dilemmas regarding the Constitution. We do learn that political parties were not a part of our founders republic but they developed almost as soon as the government first convened under George Washington’s guidance as our first President.
The George Washington that Chernow presents us with is both heroic and human, with all his own flaws, often overshadowed by his assets. He paints a picture of a man with passions that he keep firmly under control. Washington is ambitious but not aggressively so, he is vain and often oversteps his finances to keep up his style. He is a Southerner who keeps slaves although he also professes to hate the practice. He loves owning property and he has a number of farms, or plantations. He has 200 slaves of his own and some as a dower from his wife, Martha. He could downsize his farming operations, which suffer terrible loses from his long absences and from bad soil and bad weather, but he could never imagine changing the lifestyle that he feels offers him privilege and social standing. He’s not comfortable with owning slaves but he cannot see a way to maintain a life without them. He does free them in his will but he cannot free the slaves that belong to Martha. Abolition was already an issue and Washington only scraped by without much pushback because he lead the Revolutionary War and we won it. He became a hero, recognized and celebrated everywhere, which is apparently not as much fun as it sounds. After the war people stopped in at Mount Vernon all the time and he extended hospitality and often feed and provided beds for favored guests. Washington worried constantly about money but he lived like a wealthy man.
Washington lost a lot of income during the eight years of the war. He started the war with rough men who were ragged troops. But he came to feel for his men and they for him. He knew that they suffered without proper uniforms or even proper clothing for the weather, without enough food, in winter shelters they had to build themselves and he often suffered with them, although not to the same extent. The colonies never sent enough money to support the soldiers and they had high expectations of the outcomes. These soldiers eventually became a regimented army. There were both black and white soldiers. Washington took no pay as Commander of the Revolutionary Army. He had to appoint relatives to oversee his farms and he always longed to go home but he felt so strongly about the need to be a free country that he persevered although often criticized as lacking in military strategy. Considering the trials of his army it is a wonder that America happened at all.
After Washington was persuaded to be the first President things were at first productive but soon the split between North and South became apparent. The Northerners were known as the Federalists, led by Hamilton, and the Southerners as the Republicans, led by John Adams, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson. Although Washington was from the South, the programs designed by Hamilton for financing the new nation made sense to Washington even as they alienated the Republicans. The Republicans did not want strong central government because they were frightened that it would become a monarchy. Washington did want strong central government because he worried about fights between the colonies/states. Republicans did not like the idea of a central bank, but Washington feared that the new nation would always be in arrears without it. This did not just amount to squabbles in the legislature. There arose a press that was vehemently opposed to Washington. He served a second term when implored to do so, but it was a rough one.
It will be hard to leave the Father of our Nation and move on as I have spent so much time with him. Usually after I read such a long book I like to choose a few lighter books, some amuse bouche. What will serve as a chaser to Ron Chernow’s Washington: A Life I have not yet decided, but here I have only scratched the surface of the Washington depicted in Chernow’s book. Washington did not help much with the writing of the Constitution but he had clear ideas about how he felt it should be implemented. How different our nation might be now if Thomas Jefferson had been our first president we will never know. Washington set up the practical, everyday working bones of our government with his first Congress and Cabinet and that got the government off to a sound beginning.
2028: The Rebellion – Prologue Plus First Five Chapters
Donald Trump won in 2020 and again in 2024. At 77 many did not believe he could be reelected but the voting machinations of the Evangelical Council held and Trump was elected again in 2028 at the age of 82. The Council formed in 1972, but was only named as an official Council to the President in 2021. You could still vote against Trump in an election, votes were still tabulated, but the vote totals reported in the media were ‘fake’ news and the electoral college math was fudged.
Most of the work done by the Evangelical Council in terms of figuring out election math and creating an extremely effective ground game was done before the 2016 election, but the numbers kept working for Trump and the Republicans.
After 2016 it became impossible for a Democrat to win. Democrats could not use the tactics developed by Republicans. They found broadcasting propaganda distasteful. People’s taste for right wing Talk Radio and Fox news made mainstream media sound staid and ‘fake’ even before President Trump ‘upped’ the drama.
Democrats believed that the founders were wise to try to keep religion out of government and did not back a theocracy, even if in name only. Given the diversity of religions practiced by those who tended to vote for Democrats there was no religious council on the left to stamp candidates with the ‘imprimatur’ of God. Democrats tended to want to speak the truth to Americans while Republicans had no qualms about saying one thing and doing another, making promises they had no intention of trying to keep.
Doug Waller headed up the Evangelical Council, whose members were pulled from at least eight influential Evangelical organizations with names like Family Research Center and American Policy Institute. The mission of these groups was to lift up white Christians as the true Americans and to fight for turning old resentments into policy, like schools that are empowered to teach Creationism, states that allowed no abortions, and an immigration policy which ruled that only people whose roots were in Europe could be admitted to the United States as potential citizens. Senators Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, and Kevin McCarthy were also members of the oversight body known as the Evangelical Council and they were avid Trump backers, not because they loved the man but because he had an uncanny knack for sheer political razzle-dazzle and survival of the greediest.
By 2028 Democrats were barely represented in Washington. Huge losses in 2022, 2024, and 2026 had driven the Democratic Party underground. Joe Biden, that old moderate, won the popular vote in 2020 but the strangle-hold the Republicans had on the Electoral College also held, and Trump was inaugurated, although proceedings more closely resembled a coronation, right down to the ermine tips along the lapels of a black plush jacket. Melania looked regal and annoyed in sable. It was a very cold day. They rode in a horse-drawn coach, no walking to solidify their solidarity with the common folk. Trump announced that he planned to build a more formidable White House, a virtual Trump palace to commemorate his second term mandate. It promised to be a modern Versailles. As Washington held bad memories for Trump the US Capital was being moved to Florida. Congress would remain in Washington, DC as would the rest of the government.
Trump always gets revenge on those who oppose his will. New York State, Washington State, Oregon, and California were turned into prison states
In the New York Prison State, 2028
Mo Samuels, Drew Morgan, and Hannah Finegold met at the Samuel’s farm in deepest winter. The farm slept around them, although greenhouses still had to be tended every day. The wood stove in the second barn, was giving off heat from a fire that had been well-fed since early in the day. This was a favorite meeting place in wintry Syracuse because it was easy to heat. These neighbors had been friends since childhood. They remembered the now broken United States of America, divided into the Confederated States of America and Blue States of America in the years since Trump’s reelections in 2020 and 2024 and then for life. These young adults and their parents were now rebels who had to live a private life that was separate from their public lives.
No conversation could betray the Rebellion. All BSA citizens knew that privacy did not exist. Conversation had to center around everyday life, planning to feed and clothe everyone, keep people and animals well, make sure that medical care, however primitive, was available to everyone. Survival, once New Yorkers were deprived of shipments from the ports in NYC, the ports along Lake Ontario and the clandestine aid from Canada, was absolutely the main focus of this Blue State. There were other Blue States, lined up along the West Coast. Coordinating rebel strategies took ingenuity and courage. Rebels when caught were tortured and killed, to reinforce the ruthlessness of the CSA under the Trumps. Some people just simply disappeared.
Mo tapped his watch and started pulling on his insulated work boots which required tender-loving care because they probably could not be replaced any time soon. The other two also reluctantly stepped away from the stove and began to pull on puffy Thrift store coats and scarves and their own boots. They banked the fire and opened the barn door on to gently falling snow, a scene of deceptive beauty, given how dangerous cold could be to warm-blooded humans. They moved to the big barn to saddle the horses shared by their families and set off for the Center.
At the Center there would be a potluck supper today, early since the days were short. The families would gather to eat and make plans for spring planting. Plumbers or people with repair skills would connect with those who needed their services. After dinner there might be a game or karaoke.
But every citizen who was a member of the Rebellion knew that this Center, established on the campus of what was once Syracuse University, had expansive underground and very modern secret facilities well-guarded by the Rebellion forces who swore that they would make America whole again.
Mo, Drew, and Hannah were junior members of the Resistance, but age did not determine membership. In fact, the computer skills of these young people who had lived in the old America and who now lived in the new America were often superior to those of their seniors who did not grow up basically suckled on the internet. Of course, the internet was used by the CSA for surveillance so internet use by the Rebellion was not straightforward. And although for the most part Silicon Valley on the West Coast was controlled by the Confederated States (Red States) some of those fabled geniuses pretended to serve the CSA while actually aiding the Rebels. They had used their skills to create an internet that was not accessible from the World Wide Web, which only answered to the codes the Rebels used. But this separate internet left traces that would cause suspicion if heavily used so the youngest rebels used chat rooms on old school internet games and coded language to communicate with the remnants of the USA.
After dinner these three young Resistance members once again donned their outdoor winter gear and headed out of the Center. But they did not go home or even back to the small barn at the Samuel’s farm. They went to see the horses and then, if you were watching them, they just disappeared leaving only their horses fed for the night. Inside the stables was an elevator that carried the trio down into the bowels below the old university to the computer center, to the futuristic, clean room corridors of one of the New York State Rebellion headquarters. They hung up the puffy coats, set aside the boots to dry and manned their computers. It was four hours earlier in California, Washington State and Seattle but even if it was the middle of the night someone would be there to communicate with. Now Mo became Samwise, Drew became Whaler, and Hannah became Goldie as they joined the West Coast crew in the game. Beast was the head of the California group which had five young people all well-known from the games they played with the New Yorkers.
There were rebels stranded in the CSA who had to live according to Red State rules even more carefully than the Rebels. They had to bury their true natures deep, but they played an essential role as scouts. The Rebels could talk to the scouts in the games, a tactic that had worked so far. What would XM6 have to say tonight? But XM6 never came online. He did leave a coded message, however. “We got trouble,” was the gist of it. They sent out the search code, “Marco.” No one said “Polo.”
Beast sent to Wizard (Mo’s father) a code 404, the code for a document that was not found. Even in the command center verbal conversation was discouraged. It was hard to know if the CSA would be alerted or if a Red State Spy had bugged the center. “Check the list?” Samwise asked on the chat screen. “List, game over,” Wizard sent. “TO (time out), then, we wait,” Beast confirmed. The rebels stayed in the game and idly chatted but all the while they silently wondered how much the scout string had been compromised. Were they arrested? Were they dead?
To the Trump family, who now ruled in the Red States (the Confederated States of America – deliberately derivative), New York, California, Washington and Oregon were all prison states, although they refused to see themselves that way. These supposed prisoners saw themselves as the Blue States of America, the Underground, the Resistance, dedicated to restoring the Republic; the United States of America. They also saw themselves as Patriots, although the designation had been coopted by the right-wing.
Donald J. Trump, the patriarch was too old to govern, but not to rule. Now in his 80’s he was treated by those around him as a King, a Lord, and he considered the CSA to belong to him as his branded kingdom. He still ranted and raged, but not very often as excesses sent him to his sickbed for days or weeks at a time. So, for the most part, the Confederated States of America were governed by a surprisingly domineering Melania, and by Ivanka, Jared, Don Jr., Eric, and Baron. The House of Representatives had been disbanded and the Senate was powerless, a rubber stamp. The Trumps and the Senators considered themselves Patriots, although any connection to America’s founders had been broken as the Constitution was reinterpreted and finally rewritten in a Constitutional Convention of Red States in 2023.
The CSA had a few very simple priorities as a nation-state. Everyone not in government must work, except married women. There are no safety nets for anyone (except the Trumps, the millionaires and the billionaires). The CSA is a Christian nation, all schools are church schools, no other religious observances (including head scarves) are allowed, everyone must attend a Baptist Church every Sunday unless there is a medical reason. The CSA is a nation where white citizens of European extraction are the ruling class; regardless of how many minorities live in the CSA they cannot hold office and they cannot vote. They must work for whatever wage their employer wishes to pay.
If you don’t work you don’t eat. If your employer doesn’t pay enough to feed you then you must work a second job, or a third job. There are no entitlements. There is no health care. Charities teach first aid and how to care for contagious family members. There are no sick days. You must stay home if you are too sick to work, but you will not be paid. Trump’s Troops, loosely organized or well-organized militias, kept an eye on state and local officials. Follow Trump rules or die. Militias cannot take over homes of white citizens or loot from them, but in all other cases all bets are off.
Since there is no immigration white females marry or face discrimination, and they are expected to have babies – one baby after another. Big white families are lifted up as icons of patriotism. Minority communities tend to be truer communities with people helping each other out with childcare, food, and medical care. There tends to be more spontaneity and warmth in minority communities but also life is a daily struggle and downtime is scarce. Contraception is free and so is abortion in minority neighborhoods. Reproduction is discouraged. Minorities can work in white households but otherwise separation is mandated; equal is never a goal. Anyone can have a small business but only whites can buy from white businesses and vice versa. Segregation is back, shameless and blatant.
Scouts were citizens of the CSA who were appalled by the Trump family and their Conservative allies but elected to stay in place and feed information to the Rebellion. Some scouts were white and some weren’t. Some scouts were Rebels who the Underground sent back into the CSA because they volunteered and had useful skills. Anyone in the Resistance might be sent in to scout for a while and then get smuggled back out. The Resistance wanted to know the numbers and locations of the various militia groups, what regular army and police forces were loyal to the Trumps and what weapons they were stockpiling. They would use these numbers in their plans to “reunite” the states, meaning restore America to its legal boundaries. Civil War was brewing, but the Rebels were not quite ready for insurrection.
California Prison State
Hector Chavez is Beast. He’s the leader of a group of five young Californians who have been longtime friends like their counterparts in NY. Hector is a computer beast because he grew up in the small Silicon Valley town of Davis, California. Silicon Valley is not part of the California prison state – it is a protectorate of the CSA. Kids in Silicon Valley grew up dreaming of becoming the new Steve Jobs, or even Zuckerberg. Hector was a coding genius and he could build his own computer from parts. But he still had to abide by the rules of the Rebellion which meant the Rebel-band (R-band) offshoot of the web could only be used sparingly. He communicated in the games just like every young resistance person did.
Duran Estavez is Hector’s best friend but all five of these young members of the Rebellion went to public school together. When their school became a private theological academy, they were homeschooled with the help of materials provided by the Underground. They had no modern underground headquarters like the one in NYS. They met in hidden rooms behind the wine cellar at the Yang vineyards, rooms that were essentially SCIF’s, made invisible to Red State ‘prison guards’ by some very advanced computer skills, learned when many of the Underground Resistance were employed by Apple or Google. Duran’s screen name is Condor.
Joe and China Yang, brother and sister, more friends from public school days and from sports activities, were members of this young resistance ‘cell’. Their family had been in California for many years, even, perhaps, more than a century. Joe called himself Chink on the internet. As a brother-sister pair they were very close, only a year apart in age. They worked in the family business daily now that they were done with formal schooling. China Yang was studying medicine in the Underground University – a long process since the Underground had to lay low at times. The medicine she was learning was strong on facts and anatomy, short on practice with modern medical technology. Screen name – Doc227
Joanna Harvey, the last member of this group, reads as white-suburban-middle-class as anyone you could find in a prison state. She could easily pass for any Red Stator, but she would certainly have to keep her passion for equal rights hidden. She was hoping to be sent in as a scout. In any operation she could be a ‘surface dweller’ because she fit in demographically, but her Californian mannerisms and accent needed work. She had a very good, very fake Apple employee ID that might explain her habitual California girl persona. Joanna was a dancer, but most of all she was a painter and a good one. She knew her way around computers and especially knew the graphics programs where others might not excel. Once a woman in the CSA married and had a child, she was no longer welcome in a career. Joanna, as a young single, could apply for jobs and expect to be hired. She could also expect a lot of perhaps unwelcome attentions from men in the workplace since the CSA was a male dominated society. And she had better not get pregnant because abortion was a criminal offense. Screen name – Picasso101
California is never buried in snow and the Yang family owns a vineyard which supplies wine to elite members of the CSA, funneling some money back into the business, helping Davis families survive, and contributing to the privately managed investment account belonging to clandestine members of the BSA. No puffy coats here, not quite such a survivalist vibe, but it is more difficult to hide what you are doing when it is always so easy to get around.
People need a valid reason to go into a SCIF, even if the building is not labeled as such. The building itself must be bigger than the safe room and it must have a purpose so that it is expected that residents will go there. The other SCIF in Davis is disguised as an arts center. Residents can join a band there, or a dance group, or take art classes, or just work in any of the studios. The entrance to the SCIF is hidden away and you need a code to enter this room which is where the computers are kept and where you can go to take classes from the Underground University. Some of the SCIF premises, as mentioned before, are actually underground behind the wine cellar at the Yang vineyard.
When Chavez (Beast) got the message at the same time that NY did, the other four members of his group were not in the game. Before he left the “Pit” as this computer node was affectionately known, he left a message for the others. ‘Polo missing,’ it said. Joanna wandered in from an art class at the art center and saw the message. She also saw that there had been no other messages after the TO, but she checked into the game with NY anyway and played along in case they were being surveilled. ‘It’s very hard to learn to keep all your activism a secret, to mention it to no one, to not often even get a chance to have a conversation with her closest friends that wasn’t coded,’ Joanna mused after she died for the third time and the screen said game over. The screen invited her to play again and she said yes. ‘What could have happened out there in the CSA?’ she thought as she twisted a long strand of perfectly straight blonde hair. She noticed it was almost 4:30. She had to go home to help with dinner. Picasso101 AFK she typed, swished that long blonde hair over her shoulder and exited the Pit. But she would have a hard time waiting until she would be able to go back online again to hear about any updates.
Washington State Prison, 2028
Washington State is another of the blue states that Trump liked to focus some of his vengeful energy against. It was one of the first states to have cases of the novel coronavirus but fortunately did not get dragged into the PPE/ventilator wars with Washington, DC. They had the virus under control by the time it became clear that hospitals would not have enough protection for doctors, nurses and staff when the virus peaked. So, Washington State did not have to beg the federal government or hear the message that states would have to find their own resources.
But Amazon and Microsoft were both located in Washington State and Trump both lusted after and threatened to break up any large tech companies whose profits gave them too much social media presence and too much power. Trump, of course loved successful businesses and courted CEO’s but when a business crossed over into media and negative comments were allowed to stand, the unfairness of it all overcame his admiration.
Still when the prison states were declared there were those rich tech companies strung out like jewels along the West Coast, more enticing than even gold plumbing or the reception hall of the Saudi Kings. Trump made sure to stay connected to all the key tech industries and they were not considered part of the prison states which made them part of the CSA, subject to CSA control and surveillance. The tech companies were no longer free. They had to act as Trump toadies or die. Clearly the tech companies had every reason to take on an invisible role within the Resistance.
Trump also took over the ports of San Francisco and Seattle and all of the goods bought from and sold to Asia and beyond. Once again businessmen had to become farmers and the entire quality of life became more primitive. Washington State lost a century of modern growth and style in just the 8 years since it became an unofficial and then an official prison state. This was more or less true for all the Blue States on Trump’s enemies list. Vancouver offered some assistance to the Underground but the Canadian government ostensibly was staying out of below-the-border chaos.
With all the cheap minority labor and no unions to object Elon Musk, now a Trump fan, hired thousands of minority workers to build a high speed hyperloop train that ran between San Francisco and Colorado and Seattle and Colorado. It was a joint public-private project and it happened because Trump wanted it to happen. How did Musk conquer the Rockies? It was achieved in the manner of the Intercontinental Railroad without any worker protections and with many disabled or dead workers. Always good for a nation to have an expendable non-white population group, something nations have believed since civilization began. Now goods and people were zoomed right out of or into California and Washington State in a quick hurry. If you were a prisoner you did not want to be aboard that train. It did not bode well for your future.
Chantel Maxim was actually named Maxima Chan Zuckerberg. She happened to be in Washington State staying with her Aunt Donna who had fled California at her brother’s strong urging. Chantel was a charmer with her dark curls and dimples. But Chantel was only thirteen years old; too young to be a member of the Underground. However, the girl could code and she was practically born knowing computer social messaging, gaming, and marketing. Her father had invented a private messaging site for family only with an encryption code that no one else had tipped to yet. Although Chantel could not be sent into the CSA she was allowed to enter the large secret Underground rooms that the Rebellion used under Amazon. She loved old tech the best and knew all the old school games. Screen name: Max75
Since Chantel was so young she was always accompanied by her bodyguard, who did not look like a bodyguard and was only 17, not much older than Chantel. Paul Spaulding and Chantel were a great pair. They went everywhere together always deep in conversation, but at such a low level of volume that it was difficult to overhear them.
Paul’s parents worked at Microsoft but were fired and sent out into the prison state to find new jobs because of left-leaning accounts they had designed and their work with Democratic politics. So, they learned to tend their own garden, as did most residents of Washington State. Fortunately, everything in Washington, especially near Seattle, practically grew itself. Fishing was also still an accepted prison industry and so there was plenty of fish to eat. Spaulding was a handsome young black man, muscular and fit, who also grew up attached to a computer. The youth part of this cell was small but very talented. Spaulding liked Superman: Screen name Clark 1113
Where is XM6?
Games favored by the Rebellion included Pac Man, Space Invaders, All the Mario’s but especially Super Mario Brothers and Super Mario World, Frogger, Zork, Donkey Kong, Myst, the Sims, Oregon Trail, Tetris, Civilization II, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Half Life 2. Thank goodness for their connections to the wizards of tech. At the moment they were playing Civilization II. Chantel refused to leave the game until a message came through from XM6. Eventually the word ‘safe’ appeared in the chat. A while later someone started a biology discussion in which they used the combo ‘cell compromised.’ Then came ‘tell mom I will see her soon.’
There was a silent celebration in the NY Underground, in the Pit, and deep under Amazon, arms raised, dancing, hugging. People checked out of the game according to a prearranged order, a few rebels at a time, and went carefully home.
Since Henry Samuels, a senior organizer and Mo’s father, was in the game with the younger members in the NY center he was already aware of what the Scout network passed along. Actually, the resistance, the Rebellion, was pretty much done with the scouting stage. It was time for action. Actually, the Rebellion was always unsure what to call itself because the name Patriots was already taken by the enemies of everything the Republic stood for. So, they called themselves the Rebellion, the Resistance, the Rebels, any name you wished to use (except Patriots) for those who wanted to put an end to this Trump-branded, twisted, white supremacist, fake theocratic version of America, reunite the nation, restore the original US Constitution, and toughen it up so that authoritarianism would find it more difficult to take root in America.
“We give you a Republic, if you can keep it,” said the founders. Well we blew that. Could we reboot the Republic – (The United States of America 2.0)? Henry thought again it was definitely time to be done with the scout stage. The Rebellion had the counts, they knew the rates of production, they could predict what the CSA had available. The problem was that what they had available was formidable. Reminiscent of Star Wars, ‘how could a rag tag band of rebels’ hope to beat the Red States when Blue State rebels were far outnumbered. The CSA had the unpredictable Trump Troops, made up of police, the military, and home-grown militias to overcome – and these Red States also had nukes and the nuclear codes (would they use them?).
It was time to find a way to get the leaders of the Rebellion together and come up with a plan to break out of these prison states and free the ‘liberals’ so hated by all those who loved the Trumps. There had been much speculation about how a prolonged planning session could take place safely. Was there any way to meet secretly in person? Did any of their connections with technology geeks who were under the thumb of the CSA but also were members of the resistance have programs like the old Zoom program for video conferencing that could not be hacked, perhaps by the same hacker/s who compromised the Scout cell. Although private encrypted conversations had taken place, no actual plan had been decided upon. Henry knew that it was time for the BSA to take some risks. But which risks would offer the best chances for success with the fewest casualties?
“Well isn’t that the dilemma of every leader since the beginning of time,” Henry thought. He had been a professor and was now a farmer. How had this fallen to him? But he had taken control as the CSA clamped down on NY and turned it into this prison state. He had been proactively aware of Trump’s hostility and he had planned, along with a compliant university administration, the Center and the underground command center that was accomplished without fanfare or stacks of paperwork. By taking charge of the survival of Syracuse residents he had become the leader of the NYS Rebellion by default. But he had help. There were other New Yorkers who had agreed to accept his leadership and who served under him as a second tier of leadership. And there were leaders on the West Coast too who would have to be consulted.
The Rebellion tried not to use leaders who were too well known because their movements were watched too closely. They also liked to include some younger members because of their talents with technology and because they were not so fearful of innovation. Henry Samuels represented Syracuse, NY and he did not take his son Mo along with him. Someone had to stay at home to cover for him and take care of the family business. Hannah could not really hide her Jewish roots and she would be at risk of discrimination and hate speech and even violence so she stayed protected in the community. That left ‘Whaler’ Drew Morgan to be included in the leadership council meeting. Drew was never an academic although he loved to read; he was a natural engineer and a practical problem solver. And he did not really have any ambition to be a leader, which made him even more valuable. He had a reputation for being silent, but fierce when action was called for.
Three people represented Albany, two each from Rochester and Buffalo, one from Watertown, one from Binghamton. That put the delegation from NY at nine. California was sending the ‘Beast’ Hector Chavez, the lovely and intelligent mom of Joe and China Yang, the owner of the Yang vineyards, Lily Yang, along with eight others, so the California delegation had ten members. Washington State could not send Chantel, of course but they sent two ex-Amazon department heads.
Oregon, which no one had heard much about sent the father of twin boys who worked the computers in the Oregon underground, which was not literally underground. On the surface the Oxford boys seemed like a pair of hipster doofuses. They knew all the newest social media news and slang. They loved rap music and especially early rap and they knew the words: Tupac and Nas were their boys. But they lived in a state where Intel was made and they were also computer geeks, much admired for their programming skills and their grasp of early computer games and software. The rebels had often found it helpful to hide out in the past.
Their dad John Oxford would be included in the meetings and so would his sons, Theo ‘Heart00’ Oxford and Nathan ‘Dog832’ Oxford. There were misgivings about these last two, but under those ditzy exteriors were some very inventive minds. That made a ‘war’ council that consisted of twenty-four members from widely separated geographic areas in four prison states. Just figuring out how to meet, either in person or online was a thorny problem requiring careful thought. If they were caught it would take out some of their best leaders and tip off an already paranoid CSA that there was, indeed, an organized resistance movement.
Before Henry Samuels could decide how his council would meet the hacked scouts started rolling back into their home states through the underground, which was only sometimes actually underground, but the Rebellion was not opposed to the use of sewers and drainage pipes when times were dry and the infrastructure was big enough. The scouts would have to be debriefed and that would have to take precedence. Initial messages from the scouts, however cryptic, suggested that there was information that could help the council with their action plans.
The Rebellion did have access to a Global Satellite that was not supposed to be online yet, but friends of the rebels with skills had activated that GSAT. The Rebellion could send longer messages in Morse Code or even double-coded with Morse Code plus a short-term code pad.
What the scouts reported was an undercurrent of deep unrest in the Confederated States of America among two groups: women and minorities. Some women did not mind being good little submissive wives and mothers, but many women had held responsible and interesting, perhaps even powerful positions, before the formation of the CSA. However, women had no access to guns and they were often pretty closely monitored because men knew they were not all committed to submission, or to motherhood for the purpose of repopulating the white race. From past experience though, it is clear that women do not always require lethal weapons to wreak havoc.
Minorities were now faced with institutionalized segregation, geographic confinement, and forced low-wage employment, and were policed by Trump Troops, militia members, who had none of the discipline of regular military troops. Most minorities worked in white households or yards, but they could not own cars. ID’s were recorded when they boarded shuttles and again when they returned home.
So, good news and bad news from the ‘scouts:’ the Rebellion was horribly outnumbered and out gunned. It had proven impossible to plumb the loyalty of the police, the military or the Trump Troops who seemed to present a solid Red obstacle to either peaceful or violent change. The scouts were unable to guess if any of the enforcers would switch teams in the event of actual attacks by the rebels. But small forces with human rights as their platform also had succeeded against enormous odds many times before. Or was that only in fiction? Henry Samuels had to believe it had some basis in reality.
The scouts saved what they learned in interviews with people living in the CSA whenever they could get someone to speak with them. Scouts sent their notes through the GSAT feed in Morse Code, using their personal code pad and the notes were recorded automatically in the rebel centers. There were no names attached, just codes.
CM12 tells us about Anna living in Atlanta. She says, “I am a mom of five and a Christian and I was always Pro-life, so I should be a happy woman, but I sort of resent being turned into a baby factory, although I love my kids. I am convinced that whites should not become a minority group in America so I see the need to boost the birth rate. But I find myself bored. I am not valued as a thinking person. I have a fairly supportive husband who is good to all of us and even helps with dishes once in a while. He used to walk the floor with the babies patting them and talking to them. But I am more than happy with five children and I don’t like being pushed to have more. And Chuck works for long hours. I guess this isn’t how I thought my life would turn out.”
FM89 talked to Harvey in Florida and also to Brenda. Harvey is a 30-year-old black man living in Sanford, Florida and Brenda is a Hispanic-Cuban mixed-race woman living in the Miami ghetto. Harvey is a gardener who works for two well-to-do white families. He likes his job because his employers know almost nothing about plants so they leave him alone as long as he shows up on time and never leaves early. He is also allowed a truck with this job and does not have to rely on public transit or have to walk to his job as many other of his neighbors do. He had earned a degree in liberal arts and had begun law school but could not afford to move near a black college. Black migration involved getting a pass and was expensive. A black person could not attend a white university. He would only be allowed to practice law within the minority community and only if the case involved only minority persons. He learned to garden and minded his own business. He was in love but there were penalties to face if minority relationships produced children. There were few children’s voices to be heard around Sanford.
Brenda tells FM89 that she used to love America and think Miami was the best place on Earth. Miami was hot; so colorful, so full of love and fun, music and good food. But America now turned a hostile face to Hispanics, Cubans and all mixed-race minorities. Jobs were tiring and paid low wages. No one smiled these days or sang. There were penalties if you had a child – birth control was free and mandatory. Even to move was practically impossible. Where could you go? The same rules governed minorities all over the Confederated States of America. People even whispered about escaping back to Cuba or to South America. The streets were flooded with water after every rainstorm and the minority community was given the parts of Miami that flooded most. Houses had to have a second floor and everyone had to live upstairs away from dampness, mold and mildew. Brenda hated her life these days and longed to change it.
UM4 interviewed Tracy in Idaho. She’s single and white so she is allowed to work until she is 25. Then she must marry or she will be assigned a husband. But Idaho is an oil and gas state and the men are typical American men who exhibit male herd traits such as spewing sexual innuendo, even invading personal space with ogling and random touching – copping a feel if they get a chance. It you let some of these guys get you alone rape is a real possibility. Tracy was shocked at how small women’s lives were in the CSA, how few rights women had and how little there was to look forward to. She hoped to fall in love or attract a promising husband but there were few options. There were lots of men, but hardly any good men in the energy business. Find an engineer she was advised by her fellow female workers. Tracy hoped she was pretty enough to find one soon.
GM12 – subject of interview – Alex, is a black man, 40 years old living in an inner-city black neighborhood in Atlanta. Before Georgia in the USA became Georgia in the CSA Alex owned a very popular BBQ restaurant. He was allowed to keep his business but he could only serve the minority community. “Living as a black person in the CSA is terrifying,” says Alex, “You never feel safe. People get killed and terrorized every day. Do not ever relax your vigilance. I lived in Atlanta all my life and loved it, but I cannot love this Atlanta. Fortunately, I already had two sons before Atlanta entered childless apartheid. They are my company and the source of my greatest fears.”
PM88 interviews Cass in Illinois. Cass is a white woman in her 70’s and she’s a COVID19 widow. She has to work and since she has no special skills she is working in a factory on a production line. There is no such thing as Social Security or Medicare or even Medicaid in the CSA. If you can move you are expected to work. She and her husband had a house and there was some insurance money, but her husband was in the ICU for a long time and the government seized the money to pay for his medical care. She had a small nest egg but not enough to live on for long. It often helped her make ends meet. She liked the people she worked with but had to live in the dormitory space provided by the company and privacy did not come with the territory. Cass would have liked her coworkers better if she didn’t have to live with them. Long gone were the plans she and her husband had for an interesting retirement, perhaps spent traveling. She did not have any political leanings at all, although her husband loved Donald Trump, but she used to be proud to be an American and she didn’t feel that way anymore.
GM12 who covers Georgia and South Carolina gets to interview Ellen living in Charleston. Ellen is a tiny thin woman, very well-dressed, watching a pair of girls play in the local park. She looks exhausted and unhappy and there is the tail end of a black eye if GM12 is not mistaken. She says one of the girls opened a door and it hit her in the face but clearly she is a battered wife. It makes sense that a society that places no value on women and gives men almost unlimited power is bound to give domestic violence free rein. Ellen would not offer any honest appraisal of life in the CSA and the interviewer would not ask her to. She was too frightened to speak about anything beyond empty pleasantries. Nothing GM12 could do about Ellen right now.
LM10 interviewed Trey in a minority town in Louisiana near New Orleans. Trey made sure that they were alone and kept checking that every few minutes. The family next door to him, friends of his, had been terrorized by the KKK which supposedly did not exist just the night before and he did not want to attract any attention. His friend Lester was taken away. It was rumored that Mei Lin was pregnant. Someone else came by the next day to take Mei Lin away. Ten minutes was all that Trey was willing to give.
The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett was a must-read for me since I have read most of Follett’s books. The Kingsbridge series covered the ages when the great cathedrals were built. The books paint pictures of life in the days of guilds and the builders who were forerunners of Christopher Wren. This particular Follett offering is a prequel to the other Kingsbridge works. It is very early in the history of towns and we are in an England that is still rough, still being attacked by Viking raiders. There is a King but his attention is focused on stamping out the Viking raids that leave towns burned to the ground, that kill many English people, and that rob English subjects of any treasure that can be found from simple tools to expensive textiles and jewelry. If you live along the coast or on a river that can be reached from the coast an attack could come without warning in almost any season.
While the King is busy, some of his officials and priests and bishops are robbing everyone blind. Between corrupt and greedy leaders and Viking raids life is tenuous and depressing. From the bottom up citizens copy their leaders and are mean and brutal. Slavery is accepted if the slaves are conquered in a foreign war. Cathedral building is further advanced in Normandy than in Britain. Where there is a cathedral there is most likely a city. And, where there is a great builder, there is likely to be a great cathedral.
Edgar Builder is our handsome hero. He is the most talented of three brother who learned from their father how to build ships. Ship building skills can be useful in all kinds of building and Edgar is a creative person who understands innovation. His world is turned upside down when the coastal village where his family builds their ships is burned out by Vikings, his father is killed, and all his father’s tools are stolen. Edgar was just getting ready to run away with a married lady who was abused by her first husband. He was in love. That doesn’t go well and it affects Edgar deeply. Edgar’s mother is not a retiring woman, She negotiates some farmland in another village for her and her three sons.
The new village is a mean place and this is not a farm family, but they do manage to thrive because of the talents of the mother and of Edgar. The nearest town is Shiring ruled by three entitled brothers, Wifwulf, Wynstan, and Wigelm. Each one is a piece of work. Wifwulf finds a bride from an aristocratic family in Normandy. Ragna is young and lovely and not in the least submissive or stupid and yet these three brothers make her new life hard, hard enough to make a normal woman quit. But not Ragna.
It’s a love story and a story of corruption. Shiring already has a cathedral, but the Kings Bridge cathedral finally gets a start after many trials and enough abuse of power to ignite any readers sense of injustice. Life offers only the most minor and easily squashed victories. The novel was both a piece of historical fiction and a bodice ripper and not at all my favorite of the Ken Follett books in this series, but I could not stop reading it and if has left vivid scenes to play out in my mind.
Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari begins by lifting us up as humans and ends with our obsolescence as a species. Harari argues that we humans have almost conquered poverty and disease and that our newest goals will no longer be humanistic ones such as individuality and progress and success. He says, “In seeking bliss and immortality humans are in fact trying to upgrade themselves into gods. Not just because these are divine qualities, but because in order to overcome old age and misery humans will first have to acquire godlike control of their own biological substratum.” (pg. 43) He talks about the ‘new peace’ brought about by the existence of nuclear warfare which threatened man’s actual existence. The implications are so dire that powerful nations have backed off from all-out war. Humanism has replaced the Industrial Age and now even humanism is being replaced by a quest for immortality and happiness.
Harari believes that humans were once just one more animal living as hunter-gatherers like all of the other animals. He bemoans how far we have wandered from our natural state and he does this by making it clear that the way we treat the animals who provide our food is unacceptable. He talks about the cages pigs are placed in where they can barely turn around, and he describes how they are impregnated again and again but not allowed to raise their babies. His descriptions of our food industries’ inhumane way of treating animals, such as chickens, pigs and cows, ignores the science which tells us that animals experience psychological and physical agonies from our treatment of them. It sets the reader to imagining ways that we could change this dynamic, treat our animals as biological entities, or perhaps even become vegetarians. Harari is, of course, right that treating living entities like parts on an assembly line belies what science has taught us about our biological similarities.
Then Harari predicts that we are entering a new religious era. Mr. Harari believes that all of our religions are myths; myths that allowed humans to live together in ever larger groups (caves, villages, towns, cities, nations). He believes we now worship data and he names this new religion “Dataism.” According to Harari we are trying to create the Internet-of-all-Things (the Singularity). But, he warns, if we are able to do that we may create artificial intelligence that will make humans obsolete, unnecessary. His predictions about what our love of data could do to us reminds me of that old saying, “don’t ask for what you want because you might get it.”
Harari’s Dataism also reminds me of Neal Stephenson’s last book “The Fall” in which the world actually does end up empty of all humans when they choose to be stored as data after they die. Eventually there is no one left alive to reproduce and humans no longer have a biological presence, although there is an afterlife of sorts. Artificial intelligence (AI) will be a trending topic of discussion for some time. Can we look far enough ahead as we see the ramifications of our passion for information and data to understand if what we are doing will threaten our very existence? Human pride in accomplishing our objectives makes it difficult to step back despite apprehending the outcomes. Will the Internet-of-all -Things become like the nuclear bomb. Once we go there we will suddenly understand David Foster Wallace’s dedication of being a Luddite. Back away and live; succeed and become extinct. Is Homo Deus too far out? Perhaps not.
How does a character who relocates wild critters who have wandered too close to a human turn out to be a person of rare and admirable character? That describes Angie Anderson, the main character in Carl Hiaasen’s new book, Squeeze Me. Perhaps Angie stands out because most of the characters in Hiaasen’s book are caricatures. Hiaasen, a Florida author, is famous for creating both mayhem and humor that is recognizably Floridian. He loves Florida but he also sees that it is a wacky place and he mines it for his satirical prose. He knows how to tell good stories.
This time we find ourselves at Casa Bellicosa, a thin disguise for the winter White House. You can probably guess who has the code name Mastodon, and by association, who has the code name Mockingbird. There are secret service men and women all over the place. Mastodon and Mockingbird are getting it on, but not with each other. We also have the Potussies (POTUS + Pussies) a gaggle of old socialite club members who idolize Mastodon.
When one the Potussies disappears the wealthy ladies are sad to lose one of their own but they are also worried that there will be a scandal for their beloved POTUS. Assumptions are made which lead to the arrest of Diego, an illegal immigrant and college graduate who just found his way back to the US where he went to college. He’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mastodon is only too happy to whip up his cult to harass the young man in his cell in the local jail, and to even get cult members arrested so they can try to kill Diego. Sentiments are running high and Diego is in despair.
Angie Anderson has a good idea of what happened to Kiki Fitzsimmons, but the proof keeps escaping from her clutches even though the proof is dead. It’s a romp that feeds into a certain political viewpoint which may or may not be yours. If it is you will surely enjoy Hiaasen’s book, Squeeze Me. I don’t want to give away the yucky parts so this is all I can tell you. If you subscribe to the opposite political viewpoint buy the book anyway. You can always burn it on behalf of the president you love. Support writers.
Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari is right up my alley, in my wheelhouse, or any other cliché that means Mr. Harari and I like to think about the same things. We like to think about earth and mankind’s place on earth. We like to think about human societies or cultures if you prefer, how they developed, how we got to this particular overcrowded, possibly existential state we currently find ourselves in, and if and how we can find our way back from the precipice. He begins at the beginning when there are two species of humanoids on the planet at the same time, Neanderthals and homo sapiens.
Humans began as just another species of animals. They had the same needs for food and shelter, communal cooperation and reproduction. There are no other animal species that we know of that left drawings on caves though, and that may be the key difference that started the entire chain of human history. In our early days we did nothing that disturbed the natural balance of the planet. We hunted and gathered but animals and plants were plentiful and all living things flourished or experienced hardships together. If life became difficult in one location people simply moved to a new location. Life was ‘a moveable feast’.
Harari explains that people usually think that it was agriculture that changed the human equation. Of course it did. But, he reasons, what really separated people from other animals was the human facility with storytelling. Animals didn’t name constellations or make up families of capricious gods. But once humans did create these ‘stories’ which Harari calls ‘myths’ humans who shared the same myths began to join together in communities. They could not have done this without learning how to plant seeds and keep a stable food supply nearby. At first these myths might be small and local and they varied from place to place. People fought wars over them. One myth got absorbed into another.
The point at which readers may have difficulty accepting Harari’s ‘myth’ thesis is when we get to modern religions: Christianity, Judaism, Muslims, Buddhism, Hinduism. Whether monotheistic or polytheistic, all of these religions, to Harari, are myths. They are myths that separate us and keep us apart, set back a global future we can hardly avoid unless some disaster drastically lowers the human population or some other life-changing event occurs. Will we ever give up our myths or adopt one worldwide myth?
Yuval shows how far we have gotten from the balance of nature into which mankind was born. So many animals are extinct. Men and women no longer collect in caves and live off the land without radically changing the planet. He discusses the role of imperialism and capitalism, the economic idea of perpetual growth which occupies the thinking of so many of us. Can the exponential growth of the Industrial Revolution continue? Can Capitalism get reined in enough to restore some of the natural balance we need. This is not a book about climate change. This is a book that suggests that we “left the garden” when we built towns and cities and empires and our moves have thrown the planet out of balance. Harari explores economics and even the way we treat cattle and chickens. (We really do need to find a new way to treat our food. We know that this is inhumane because it makes no nod to the equal circumstances in which we all began and it weighs on our spirits.) He discusses globalization and the future of mankind but tells us he will offer more in a second book.
In all, it is a sprawling book and it inspires thoughts while immersed in the author’s ideas and long after. It’s a book I will remember, and I go to sleep some nights going over what Harari had to say, some of which is hard to take, but for the most part is not anything we haven’t heard in the corners of our culture where such things are contemplated. Exercise that brain with thoughtful books and perhaps you will solve the riddle of civilization at the same time. Or we will go to space, take our myths with us and do the whole thing all over again because it’s a pattern we like, or we can’t change, or our myths are now too imbedded and we are too committed.
Michael Hughes sent me a note asking me to read his novel Inland Intrigue so I did. I had never heard of the Inland Empire, a rather ostentatious name given to a not so ostentatious section of southern California, apparently to help market the area. The story takes place in the Inland Empire town of Riverside and all around the Inland Empire in 2006 and 2012. Tyler and his dad are on the way to the funeral of Bill Higgins, a man who was a friend of his father, a lawyer who worked for a bank called CalCoast that was into subprime housing loans. He died in a car accident. On the way David suggests that Tyler get involved with the Republican Party someday. Six years later Tyler Conway is home from college and staying with mom Linda and dad David at the upscale family home with pool and hot tub. Tyler is at loose ends about what to do with his summer so he decides to do as his Dad suggested. He gets involved in the local Republican election campaign.
Political campaigns are not exactly hotbeds of activity during the summer months but Tyler’s dad puts him in touch with the Vice Chair of Riverside County Republican Party, Seamus O’Malley. Madison, Tyler’s sister is the only Democrat in the family and she gets some heat as she comes back from Boston to work in a program called Housing Helpers which is supposed to assist those who were hurt when the housing bubble burst. Tyler figures the program is a scam. He is also not sure that his dad’s friend Bill died from natural causes. If he is doing detective work it is the lowest key detective work I have ever experienced, but he does get some answers.
Hughes spends a lot of time describing Tyler’s days which are almost as boring serving the party as they would be if he just stayed home all summer. Is the Groundhog Day pace of the book purposeful, as it really does describe political campaigning several months out from an election, or is it a flaw in plotting? Do we really want to pull into the driveway in Riverside day after day in either the Mercedes Benz E320 or the Land Cruiser and jump in the pool and then the hot tub, or take a nap and heat up a pot pie. I kept reading. I didn’t quit. Perhaps because, often enough, a day would bring one new piece of the puzzle, or one new character to catch my interest. Weekends we often went to dinner with Linda and David and Tyler where conversation seemed scarce. I also had problems with the unusual uses of the word “but” in Tyler’s thoughts and conversations. Is this a regionalism? Is it just bad grammar? Just when it started to bother me the odd usage stopped.
Highways are complex in California and knowing which ones you will take and where your exits are is very important. Is it important to include every detail of each time the ‘Benz’ or the ‘Cruiser’ hit the road? You will have to judge for yourself. However, if you need to know how to get anywhere in the Inland Empire or the route to Tyler’s sister’s place, or to a weekend convention or a photo shoot, Tyler is as good as a GPS. He tells you every highway to take, every exit and even surface street directions if necessary, and he describes the neighborhoods he is passing by. I would consider these kinds of details superfluous as they were not part of the plot, but another reader might appreciate knowing exactly where they were at all times, and it might be a California thing.
It is not easy to write books, even fiction books, so I give Hughes credit for a book that hangs together and has all the necessary elements of a story. Is it an exciting story? Is it great storytelling? I will leave that to other readers to decide. But there was intrigue of a sort and it was uncovered. I had some trouble with Tyler’s reactions to what he discovered. You will have to judge for yourself. Keep writing Michael Hughes. You’re off to a good start. And that’s how writers get better.