We’re All Going to Die, So Let’s Go Fishing

It’s perhaps unwise, and certainly ungenerous, to let the wisenheimer in me create the title of this post. Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel deserves its standing as a classic of apocalyptic fiction, because it presents an incredibly depressing topic in a manner that’s compelling and unforgettable. It begins just after a global nuclear war has devastated the northern part of the planet. In southern Australia, a handful of survivors hope to avoid the southern spread of radioactive fallout, and make contact with anyone above the equator. Yet with the advance of each page, hope is eliminated like autumn leaves falling to the ground. There is nobody left to receive the messages sent from Australia; the radiation retains its lethal potency as it makes its unstoppable descent. “On the Beach” is one of the few literary works where it’s best to know how it will end before you begin reading, because that ending — the extermination of humanity, as well as most other life on Earth — is overwhelming to contemplate.

And yet, while I appreciate the novel’s ability to keep me engaged with its characters, I can’t help being amused by their unwavering serenity. Maybe I’ve seen too many Mad Max movies, and been conditioned to believe civilization is just a catastrophe away from collapsing into anarchy and brutality. By comparison, the stoicism with which the characters in “On the Beach” meet their doom seems quaint, antiquated. Their actions seem impossibly naive; one character decides to enroll in secretarial school, another finishes working on his sports car, and as the government announces that suicide pills will be distributed free of charge (how charmingly magnanimous), one couple decides to, yes, go on a fishing trip. (They worry that their fishing may disrupt the breeding cycle of the fish, an incredibly odd thought for people who know that everything’s going to be dead within a few weeks.)

But maybe it’s that impossible serenity that explains this novel’s continued appeal. We probably believe that we should respond to Armageddon with such tranquility, even if we can’t actually see ourselves acting that way if our end does come. And that is why, despite having the most depressing of all outcomes, and despite the irresistable temptation to have some fun with its outdated sentimentallity,  “On the Beach” nevertheless remains an inspirational novel.


Friday Fictioneers: Darrel Icks

PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook

“You taking the car too?”

Darrel chuckled, then turned back to look at his younger companion. “Realtor’s paying for the tow. It’ll be gone in the morning.”

“Huh.” Simeon rubbed his chin, like he was admiring a portrait in a gallery. “I dunno. Kinda adds something, you know? Abandoned house, abandoned car… ” His face then lit, and he pointed at Darrel. “If only you’re last name were Icks!”

Darrel thought a moment, then groaned. “Derelicts. Got it. Remind me, again, why I brought you here?”

Simeon shrugged. “Hey, if you can’t laugh after buying this dump, you got problems.”

Rochelle Wisof-Fields is the host of Friday Fictinoneers, where the objective is to write a complete story in 100 words or less in response to a photograph. I encourage you to learn more about Friday Fictioneers.

I Am Legend

After finishing the excellent Station Eleven a few months ago, I was inspired to read other works of apocalyptic fiction. Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel “I Am Legend” may not have been the first “killer virus” novel, but it’s influence on the genre cannot be disputed, and seemed a good place to start.

Like many classic science-fiction novels of its time, “I Am Legned” attempts to provide a scientific explanation for a supernatural phenomenon. The vampires who ravish the United States are infected by a bacteria, and it’s the task of the protagonist, Richard Neville, to find a cure. The epidemiology of the plague is interesting, although how it turns its victims into full-blown Gothic bloodsuckers seems a bit of a stretch.

But it’s not the science that makes this novel appealing. Neville, who believes he might be the only human immune to the bacteria, mostly succeeds in his nightly battles against the vampires, but fares far worse against his crushing isolation.  Read as a character study of a man losing a war against loneliness, “I Am Legend” continues its appeal well over fifty years after its publication.

A Word Every Sixth of a Second

Joynell Schultz is in the midst of a project I would never advise any writer — cranking out a novel of forty thousand words (some figures just need to be expressed in letters rather than numbers) in four days. She reached her first day’s goal after five hours of writing, and is eager to continue her effort tomorrow.

Ten thousand words in five hours. A couple grand each hour. That’s over 33 words a minute.

While in graduate school a few decades ago, I earned some decent wages (for a starving student, that is) working for temporary staffing agencies. My strongest proficiency was in typing — I could bang out 80 words a minute, with good accuracy. But that was typing, my friends; I was just reading hand-written copy and making my fingers follow the lead of my eyes. Joynell isn’t typing, she’s writing, composing instead of transcribing, creating rather than copying.

When I’m in the midst of a NaNoWriMo challenge, I produce 300 words an hour on average, maybe five or six hundred if everything’s going right. Two thousand an hour… for five consecutive hours? Not a chance. My creative energy simply cannot sustain that pace.

Joynell, however, has accomplished that task today, so who am I to doubt her ability. I wish her continued success on her journey, as well as a long bath and a bottle of wine when she’s finished.

Looking Ahead to 2018

Today marks the end of a long vacation, far from the frigid eastern half of the United States to which I will be shortly returning. I’m not one for resolutions on New Years Day, but I do work better when I operate under some form of plan. And now seems like a good time to reflect on the past year, and look ahead to the next.

Back in February, I decided it was time to stop blogging on a daily basis, as I realized my streak of daily posting was impressing nobody except myself. Unfortunately, in the months after that decision, I’ve struggled to come up with a consistent blogging practice in its place. Too many times, I’ve gone weeks without posting. Not what I had intended, at all.

My current thought is that I need to commit to writing three or four posts a week, each on a different recurring topic. Book reviews, which I’ve enjoyed writing over the past week, is one such topic; maybe not a book, but a movie, or online magazine. Other topics I’ve thought of have been flash fiction contests, and reblogs from bloggers I admire.

So there you have it. For each of the coming weeks in 2018, I want to write a post on each of the following topics:

  • Reviewing
  • Flash fiction
  • Reblogging

Mixed in with these posts will be the occasional multi-post short story, political commentary, and of course some awful poetry.

That should keep my busy for the coming year.

I Will Find You

If I have to go to prison, I will miss you. And when I get out, I will find you.

Those are the final words spoken to Joanna Connors by the man who had just brutally raped her. Twenty years after the attack, Connors realized she had never fully recovered from the assault, and began writing “I Will Find You” (2016) in order to understand what forces led to the violent collision between her and her attacker.

The description of the rape in the second chapter is probably the most courageous writing I’ve ever read. Connors recounts the attack in almost clinical terms, neither sanitizing nor over-dramatizing what happens to her. She even spices her narrative with dark humor in a manner that seems bizarrely appropriate. It is a tough read; I can’t imagine anyone surviving such an attack without losing their mind. But in order to understand her struggles in the coming decades, we need to see this attack in all its brutality.

As she describes the research she conducted years later on her attacker’s background, Connors touches on a number of hot-button social issues — the wording and application of rape laws, the racial divide between black and white Americans, the ineffectiveness of our criminal justice system. The author’s handling of any of these issues would be worthy of analysis, but what I want to focus on for this review are her comments on the practice of journalism. When she begins to interview her assailant’s family, Connors provides a half-true statement of her intention. Her explanation is reasonable — who would want to speak to someone who says “Can I ask you some questions about your brother, who raped me?” — and one can see why lying about herself was the quickest way to get to the truth. To her credit, Connors sees why tactics such as hers, while perhaps necessary in her profession, are what lead to the negative impression most Americans have of the news media.

“I Will Find You” is a thoughtful, meticulous, and well-crafted narrative. It is a difficult subject to read about, but at a time when the leader of our country brags about sexual assault, we need to pay attention to the voices of the victims.

Climate of Hope

“Climate of Hope” was published immediately after the 2016 presidential election in the United States. Its appearance could not have been more timely.

Authored by two men on opposite ends of the American political spectrum, this book argues for climate change policies in a way that’s neither conservative nor liberal. Michael Bloomberg, the former Republican mayor of New York City and founder of a major Wall Street corporation, makes a compelling (if at times overwhelmingly dense) case that benefiting the environment is a sound financial decision. Carl Pope, an executive with the Sierra Club for several decades, provides more of the science behind climate change theory, and describes the successes and failures he’s witnessed as an advocate for Earth’s environment.

Both authors recognize the environmental threat posed by the Trump administration, yet argue that effective climate change policies are best implemented by cities and states, rather than Washington bureaucrats. They also claim that the best way to address climate skeptics (you know, the people who refuse to believe the data that show the rise in planetary temperatures) is not to warn of potential hazards, but rather to relate success stories. The improvement of the atmosphere’s ozone layer, for example, demonstrates how environmental policies, such as the reduction and eventual banning of chlorofluorocarbons, can have an immediate impact on the planetary climate.

If you don’t believe climate change is real and has at least partial human causes, don’t bother reading this book — you’ve already demonstrated the impermeability of your so-called intellect. But if you believe the data that’s been presented, and are looking for inspiration in this politically dispiriting time, you will find a lot to like here.