The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab warns us to follow her neighbor Estelle’s advice and never make a deal with gods who answer after dark. The tale of Adeline LaRue shows what can happen if you make such a deal, even by accident, or because you are desperate. Adeline ends up making a very bad deal with a tricky god who takes on the appearance of Adeline’s perfect partner, a made up figure she has been drawing for many years.
Adeline grows up in the 18th century in a small village called Villon in France. It is practically impossible for a daughter to avoid a local marriage and the life of a wife and mother, hard and full of toil if you are not from a wealthy family. Adeline doesn’t want this life. She wants to be free, in a time when freedom for women was also something that might be marginally possible only if you were rich. Adeline’s family is not rich. Her father carves small, and quite desirable figures from wood and sells them at local markets.
Be careful what you ask for.
I almost put this book aside because I don’t usually read fiction about the occult or magic but I was ready for light entertainment and so I kept reading. Adeline’s deal means that she gets to live a long life as a ‘free’ woman, but no one remembers her. She can’t rent a hotel room or own any thing or have a normal relationship because she is always unknown. Everything is temporary. She can’t even say her own name. She is not really free at all because she sold her soul to ‘Luc’ for a freedom that is worthless. Luc visits Addie frequently to see if she is ready to give up her soul yet, but she is a stubborn girl. The more he tries to get her to give up, the more determined she becomes to go on. Three hundred years later, looking back, she acknowledges the things she has gained from her long life. Certain pieces of art work seem to give credence to Addie’s story. But she is tired.
In 2014 she finds a way to change the deal – at least temporarily. How does that happen? Read and find out. This was an inventive and entertaining piece of fiction, although the word ‘palimpsest’ cropped up a bit too often perhaps. Good job, V. E. Schwab.
The only complaint I have about Andy Weir’s new book Project Hail Mary is that I finished too quickly. But I had a big smile on my face most of the time. Weir’s book has upset some physicists and astronomers because they say Andy Weir doesn’t always get the science right. I am not a physicist or an astronomer, although I like to read articles about both areas so, for me, this book offered enough math to make it seem authentic, without getting too esoteric. The main character, Ryland Grace, is, after all, just an eighth grade science teacher and the math seems just about right for that level. Acceleration in different gravities, temperature ranges that support life, an alien culture that uses base 6 rather than base 10, spectrographic analysis and control screens that can offer up any missing information or do the math—all of these elements are intended for readers who are not physicists or even biologists.
I don’t usually read reviews before I write about books but The Washington Post kept dangling one in front of me so I finally opened it but I tried to just lightly skim it. Another thing the reviewer found annoying was the use of coma amnesia by the author as a device to prevent information overload. We learn everything in flashback mode. If our reluctant astronaut only remembers info as needed we learn about technicalities as he relearns them or remembers them. He wakes from his coma alone and has lost the team of true experts that were supposed to keep the mission on track. This device did not bother me, it seemed useful, but it might bother some readers.
Earth has a pressing problem. For some reason the sun’s energy is being diminished and it looks like the culprit is Venus. With a probe scientists are able to collect samples from the place where the ‘Petrovian’ line heads from the sun and hits the atmosphere of Venus. We learn that the true culprit is a tiny organism called an ‘Astrophage’ and that it goes to Venus to breed because it needs carbon dioxide to reproduce, which cannot be found in the sun. It then returns to the sun to collect more energy for a return trip. Each trip increases the Astrophage population. So, as if climate change were not enough, now our own sun will get so dim that we will starve to death.
When Grace (corny name or perfect?) finds himself alone in space he hears a Tap, Tap, Tap and finds he has a neighbor, an alien spaceship is nearby. He makes a leap of faith and allows his neighbor to connect the two ships with a tunnel. “Rocky” and Grace cannot share the same spaces or they will die. Rocky requires an atmosphere heavy on ammonia and he lives in extreme heat. Thank goodness for xenonite. Rocky’s planet is also being attacked by Astrophage, but Tau Ceti, the sun they are both visiting is infected with Astrophage and yet it is not losing energy. Why? Grace and Rocky find ingenious ways to figure it all out.
When my friend’s daughter was four she saw a movie over and over, as children love to do. The movie was called The Land Before Time. There was a character in the movie, Ducky, who would always say “yup, yup yup” or “nope, nope nope,” three times. It was so catchy and we all heard it so many times that summer that it has stayed with me all these years, although I never even watched the movie. Rocky and Grace also talk in threes after they learn enough of each other’s language. “Bad, bad, bad” they intone, or “good, good, good.” Rocky is a really lovable little alien engineer with a can-do attitude and a pretty even disposition. Does he make the book childish? I don’t know. That WaPo critic claims that the book is written like a movie script rather than a novel. Maybe. But Ducky prepared me well for a space engineer that looked like a turtle on top and a spider underneath, who had the lovable habit of saying things three times.
What is relevant about the book is not an imminent Astrophage attack on our sun, but the way humans come together to solve the problem quickly and efficiently. It is reminiscent of the way The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson tackles climate deniers by just finding ways to develop strategies that bypass them, right down to the leader of the Ministry, Mary Murphy, a strong woman who doesn’t take no for an answer. Dr. Eva Stratt is just such a strong woman and she leads the group of scientists from all of earth’s nations in getting a mission ready to travel to Tau Ceti as soon they see that earth will die if they don’t figure out why that other sun is not losing energy.
Mary Murphy had a male counterpart who used the most aggressive and unethical approaches. Dr. Stratt plays both roles. She does not mind getting down and dirty. But this idea that humans, even humans and aliens, can let go of jealousy and animosity when the survival of their species is at risk is present in both books. It is cooperation, even enforced cooperation, that solves existential problems. We end up with the question of whether our problems are existential enough to get us to work together towards a common goal, which just so happens to also be related to carbon dioxide. What do I have to say about Project Hail Mary? It was good, good, good!
The Sympathizer reads as if the author was there at the fall of Saigon, except that the author, Viet Thanh Nguyen, although born in South Vietnam, was born after those events. His parent were there, the authors of the source materials he read either were there or had used journalistic methodologies to research Vietnam history, the Vietnam War, the fall of Saigon and the aftermath. He may have learned about the war second hand, but he writes about it very much as a first hand observer/participant.
Others have written about those harried days when the U. S. admitted defeat and had to get out of town fast, but here is a new voice. And, although the book is fiction, it is immersive. Until I read the end notes I was convinced that V. T. Nguyen had been in Vietnam throughout the war. Our narrator remains unnamed and the use of first person is consistent throughout. This novel offers us an expert’s use of point of view.
Our unnamed main character is both simple and complex. He is the “man with two faces,” “the man with two minds.” The child of a culturally unacceptable liaison between his Vietnamese mother and a French priest, he’s reviled by villagers–his mother shunned and very poor–he is labeled a bastard. He is also handsome and bright and is sent to a Californian college where his views become more global. He has made a blood pact with two other guys, Man and Bon, and they are the only two who command his loyalty. They are communists.
Back in Vietnam during the war years, our narrator is imbedded in the South Vietnamese Army, but he is a spy who sends off reports to Man in North Vietnam. He appears to be a shallow, somewhat cynical guy, his voice is irreverent and politically ambivalent. He works as an aid and driver to the Commandant of the Vietnamese troops in the South. His grasp of English makes him valuable to both the Vietnamese and the Americans. He doesn’t seem to have any real ideological attachment to communism and certainly, given his deceptions, doesn’t even think in revolutionary rhetoric. He tells us on the very first page that he can see both sides.
Our narrator escapes the fall of Saigon with a General and others, including his sworn brother Bon, whose wife and child are killed during the escape. Our narrator may not have many values that demand his absolute allegiance but he is determined to keep Bon from despair and suicide.
The book is masterful, so well-written, evocative of what we already understand as the senselessness of war, combined with the truth that we seem unable to end our apparent love affair with wars.
“…our revolutions had gone from being the vanguard of political change to the rearguard of hoarding power. In this transformation we were not unusual. Hadn’t the French and the Americans done exactly the same? Once revolutionaries themselves, they had become imperialists, colonizing and occupying our defiant little land, taking away our freedom in the name of saving us…Having liberated ourselves in the name of independence and freedom—I was so tired of saying those words!—we then deprived our defeated brethren of the same.” (pg. 326)
Nguyen dazzles as he traces the occupations of Vietnam back to its origins, starting from the origins of his character.
“…if history’s ship had taken a different tack, if I had become an accountant, if I had fallen in love with the right woman, if I had been a more virtuous lover, if my mother had been less of a mother, if my father had gone to save souls in Algeria instead of here, if the commandant did not need to make me over, if my own people did not suspect me, if they saw me as one of them, if we forgot our resentment, if we forgot revenge, if we acknowledged that we are all puppets in some one else’s play, if we had not fought a war against each other, if some of us had not called ourselves nationalists or communists or capitalists or realists, if our bonzes had not incinerated themselves, if the Americans hadn’t come to save us from ourselves, if we had not bought what they sold, if the Soviets had never called us comrades, if Man had not sought to do the same, if the Japanese hadn’t taught us the superiority of the yellow race, if the French had never sought to civilize us, if Ho Chi Minh had not been dialectical and Karl Marx not analytical, if the invisible hand of the market did not hold us by the scruffs of our necks, if the British had defeated the rebels of the new world, if the natives had simply said, Hell no, on first seeing the white man, if our emperors and mandarins had not clashed among themselves, if the Chinese had never ruled us for a thousand years, if they had used gunpowder for more than fireworks, if the Buddha had never lived, if the Bible had never been written and Jesus Christ never sacrificed, if Adam and Even still frolicked in the Garden of Eden, if the dragon lord and the fairy queen had not given birth to us, if the two of them had not parted ways, if fifty of their children had not followed their fairy mother to the mountains, if fifty more had not followed their dragon father to the sea, if legend’s phoenix had truly soared from its own ashes rather than simply crashed and burned in our countryside, if there were no Light and no Word, if Heaven and earth had never parted, if history had never happened, neither as farce nor as tragedy, if the serpent of language had not bitten me,…” (pg. 307-8)
Nguyen leaves us, like Bon, in despair that we will ever find ways to suppress the flaws in our blighted human condition. It’s depressing but the narrator’s rather amoral and insouciant patter takes some of the sting out of some really dreadful things. Viet Thanh Nguyen is an excellent new voice in both American and global fiction.
How To Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates – Book
If you like a level-headed, carefully researched roadmap to ‘get to zero’ (zero greenhouse gas emissions), tapping into the mind of a man who brought on the age of technology can’t hurt. Bill Gates in How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, is exactly the unemotional problem solver, backed by a team that has helped collect data and facts (you remember facts) who could foment the kinds of changes the humans on our planet need.
Did you know that 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere in a year? How do we get that number to zero? Gates comes as close to showing us how we can do this, without making our lives unrecognizable, as any one has. “I came to focus on climate change in an indirect way – through the problem of energy poverty,” says Gates. (pg. 8) Eventually Gates divested of all stocks in coal, gas, and oil.
Gates offers plenty of graphs and charts but not to prove that carbon dioxide and methane are heating up the world and causing global warming that is great enough to affect climate. He begins with the assumption that this correlation is real and spends his time exploring every thing humans do that creates emissions and how we get each to zero global warming emissions. He uses one graph and some dramatic examples to show how warming affects the earth and some people more than others. He admits that ‘getting to zero’ will be hard. The effects of warming will be worse in poorer countries that are not responsible for emissions. The changes will have to be made in rich nations who will be most reluctant to change their ways.
“To sum up: we need to accomplish something gigantic we have never done before, much faster than we have ever done anything similar. To do it we need lots of breakthroughs in science and engineering. We need to build a consensus that doesn’t exist and create public policies to push a transition that would not happen otherwise. We need the energy systems to stop doing all the things we don’t like and keep doing all the things we do like – in other words, to change completely and also stay the same…But don’t despair. We can do this.” (pg. 48)
Gates starts us off with a chart on page 51 which shows “How much greenhouse gas is emitted by the things we do?” Making things (cement, steel, plastic) – 31%, Plugging in (electricity) – 27%, Growing things (plants, animals) – 19%, Getting around (planes, trains, trucks, cargo ships) – 16%, Keeping warm and cool (heating, cooling, refrigeration) – 7%
Using this chart every greenhouse gas producing activity is assigned a Green Premium. That green premium needs to go to zero. Gates, with the help of his research groups (Gates Ventures and Breakthrough Energy) takes each greenhouse gas emitter and shows how we get to zero carbon emissions. This is another climate book you really need to read. In fact, if you are an inventor, there are any number of areas where you could follow in the footsteps of Bill Gates and perhaps get in on the revolutions in energy that we all need. Will you end up skyrocketing to fame and fortune? Perhaps, perhaps not, but you could end up in some future history books. Help Bill Gates, help yourself.
I am announcing that my new novel 2028: Trump at Guantanamo by NL Brisson has just gone live on Amazon.
This is a Trumpian fantasy which takes place in the future. It imagines what might have happened if Trump had won in 2020, if he wins again in 2024. It is fiction and it is meant to be enjoyed. Although Trump’s policies are reflected in the content, the actual policies the story describes are extrapolations. You might enjoy meeting Cyborg Trump with a half metallic head prosthesis. He selected two wigs to wear. He wears them under a MAGA hat. See which wigs he chose. Come join Melania, Trump, Barron, Ivanka, and Jared at Guantánamo. It is a fun revenge fantasy.
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.
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.