Sunday, January 29, 2017

Recently Read

Simon Winchester The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics, and Mavericks and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible.

I first ran into Winchester's writing with The Professor and the Madman about an American Army officer, confined to an English mental hospital for murder caused by his mental illness.  He played a major role in creating the Oxford English Dictionary, the largest contributor, I believe.  His status he kept secret from the editors so well that they did not understand his unwillingness to come to its unveiling.

Winchester has since immigrated and become a U.S. citizen.  This is his love letter to his new country, examining how various "explorers, inventors, eccentrics, and mavericks" as the subtitle describes them, created this nation.  The organizational scheme is wood, beneath the Earth, water, fire, and metal.  Lewis & Clark, steamships, mining, railroads, telephones, and electronics.  Winchester has been visiting the U.S. for decades and often sprinkles in heartwarming stories of his new nation into the history.  While visiting Montana as part of the Lewis & Clark story, he met repeated selfless and generous actions excused by the locals as "This is Montana."

It is informative (even for me).  My only gripe is his chapter on how broadcasting helped to make us one nation, until cable broke down the old CBS/NBC/ABC dominance.  He then launches into praise of National Propaganda Radio as the only real hope for what he would call unity, and I would call the left's master narrative to suppress diversity that isn't part of the left's triumvirate of race, class, and gender..

Stephen King End of Watch.  I don't read a lot of fiction, but when I do, it is often Stephen King, in spite of his left-wing tendencies and assumptions.  This is one of those supernatural (or maybe not: is telekinesis and mind control supernatural?) tales that within the needed suspension of belief, makes perfect sense.  A mass murderer never goes to trial because just before murdering hundreds, if not thousands of teens at a concert, one of the good guys bashes in his skull with a sock full of change, rendering him incapable of trial and apparently anything else, until a doctor engages in unauthorized drug testing, producing dangerous powers in this monster, which a terminally ill retired police detective must prevent from causing computer game-induced mass suicide (those he missed at the concert).  Like all of King's novels, the characters are so well drawn that all seem quite alive.  And being King, it is a powerful piece of storytelling with lots of, "I can see this part of it."

There is a saying that you should never write fiction about something with which you don't have experience: Don't write novels about teaching high school if you haven't done so.  False knowledge shows through.  Here King's personal tragedies show through: the misery of physical therapy after a severe accident.  (No, the van that ran him over a few years ago wasn't named "Christine.")  A previos King novel, Duma Key involved several survivors of severe cranial injuries which opens them up to supernatural control, and I suspect its setting in Florida means King has a winter house there.  End of Watch involves a man approaching death by old age related maladies.  King is old enough that he is probably confronting these same concerns.  Having read The Stand, which King described as a story of "dark Christianity" (meaning a positively Zoroastrian battle of good and evil after a biological disaster destroys most of humanity, I hope that he has his relationship with Jesus in good order.

1 comment:

Rich Rostrom said...

Yabbut authors get away with writing about what they've only read about. Dean Koontz wrote a thriller set in Tokyo. He got fan letters praising the authenticity of the setting from people in Tokyo - where he had never been.

OTOH there is an American woman who writes mysteries set in modern Britain, and is mocked by Britons for egregious mistakes in background details.