#115 Reading The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver

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Lionel Shriver  is probably best known for her novel We need to talk about Kevin which was adapted for film with Tilda Swinton playing the mother of Kevin. The Mandibles: A Family,  2029 – 2047 begins, unsurprisingly, in 2029 during the middle of a debt crisis which causes the collapse of the US economy. The Mandible family is particularly affected and must go to extraordinary lengths to survive.

As I was listening to the book, I imagined that Shriver must have used the example of what happened in Germany during the depression years in the 1920’s as a model for her ideas but I don’t think this is the case. The Mandibles is like a futuristic Grapes of Wrath and expounds Shriver’s economic politics.

The book started me thinking. I’m a firm believer that the past tends to repeat itself and that, given the evidence of humanity’s inability to deal with the challenges of climate change and resource depletion the prospect of this current civilisation going the same way as so many others through the ages as Jared Diamond explores in his book, A New Green History of the World.

I wrote WHEN THE WELL RUNS DRY with this idea in mind that as societies learn to deal with less energy and resources that, without proper management, they would regress to the same uncivilised states from which they emerged.

After listening to The Mandibles, after seeing the terrible state countries are getting themselves into voting for right wing governments in the UK, the US and Brazil, and contemplating the worst things that could happen following Brexit, the desire to write some kind of prequel to WHEN THE WELL RUNS DRY grabbed hold of me.

Still stimulated by this idea of history repeating itself, I decided to do some research into Germany in the first third of the 20th Century and the circumstances which led to the tragedies surrounding the Second World War.

One of the best diarists of the period was a German, Victor Klemperer. His books, Munich 1919 and I Will Bear Witness, give a valuable insight into the revolution at the end for the First World War and the build up to the Second World War, respectively. To fill the missing years in between I turned to Little Man, What Now? by Hans Fallada which is a great reflection of every day German life during this period.

If we are not to repeat the mistakes of the past then we must learn from history. However, judging by the knee jerk reactions in the US and Europe over what is a relatively small number of immigrants, imagine how these societies will react when the real climate and resource refugees start to arrive.

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#114 Why democracy does not work

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Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

You must have heard the statistic that the wealth of the richest 1% in the world is equal to the combined wealth of the other 99%. It doesn’t sound very equitable does it?

Almost half the world’s population live in some form of democracy so why don’t they do something to change this inequitable situation? Well, unsurprisingly, the world’s media tends to be owned by the wealthy who, having become rich under the current system, would like to keep things that way, thank you very much.

It therefore makes perfect sense to assume that those in control of the media are going to favour candidates who are more likely to maintain the status quo. But how capable is the population at reading between the lines and understanding for themselves what is really going on? A study of world intelligence shows a not conclusive but arguable link between intelligence and the amount that country spends on education.

It makes sense why those parties of a right leaning are supported by big businesses and media giants and tend to be more reluctant to invest in education for the masses but it’s more insidious than that. The programming of these media giants glamorises the 1% making their lifestyles something to aspire to. So, there’s another reason why the 99% chose to maintain the status quo, it’s because they believe that if the system stays as it is they might one day become part of that elite.

Of course, this is not new. Back in 2011, the Occupy movement started in Wall Street and spread to over 951 cities across 82 countries, and in over 600 communities in the United States.

It’s time to destroy the myth that giving tax breaks to the rich will somehow help the poor. This video by Britain’s Labour Party explains why this simply is not the most effective way to stimulate an economy.

Come on. We are the 99%, let’s take back control of our lives.

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#113 Watching and reading His Dark Materials

My first encounter with Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy was when I downloaded the first book, Northern Lights, onto my audible app as part of a 2 for 1 deal. The first book in the trilogy is now being marketed as The Golden Compass because of the film of the same name which was based on the book.

My daughter went on to listen to it and when she finished, I downloaded book 2, The Subtle Knife, for her to listen to. I had enjoyed the first book and the film and was very excited when I heard that the BBC had made a television series of the whole trilogy and decided to listen to The Subtle Knife as well.  By the time I’d watch the first two episodes of the TV series I’d finished The Subtle Knife and downloaded the third book in the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, which I am listening to now.

The themes within the trilogy are not made explicit until the end of the second book, but having studied John Milton and William Blake for my Masters Degree I was interested to see how this aspect of the story developed and am interested in how it might conclude in the third book.

The TV series has introduced elements from The Subtle Knife surprisingly early in the series but I imagine that this is to help the viewers understand how the story develops and has not detracted from the enjoyment of the series at all, so far.

I am enjoying the series so much that I even bought a hardback version of La Belle Sauvage, which was on special offer at one of my local bookshops. This is the first book in a prequel trilogy called The Book of Dust which begins 12 years before His Dark Materials. The second book in this trilogy, The Secret Commonwealthwhich was published this year, is set 20 years after La Belle Sauvage and seven years after The Amber Spyglass and follows the life of the protagonist of both series, Lyra, as she becomes an undergraduate. There doesn’t seem to be any news on when the third book in this trilogy will be released but I, for one will be waiting for it eagerly.

(all paid links)

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#112 Reading The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman

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The Memory Book is a Sunday Times bestseller and was a Richard and Judy Autumn Book Club pick. It follows the fortunes of Claire, a mother who is struggling to come to terms with early onset Alzheimer.

The book, told from various perspectives, gives a sense of the frustrations and confusion which a sufferer must experience as well as the effects the condition has on those around.

It is an emotional journey, not just for Claire but also for her eldest daughter who goes in search of her father and for Claire’s husband who finds himself in an awkward position.

If found the book deeply engaging and even the slightly predictable twist was still very rewarding. Readers who like LIVING WITH SACI or LIVING WITH THE HEADLESS MULE will probably like The Memory Book .

Rowan has now written twelve novels including The Day we Met, The Accidental Mother and The Runaway Wife. I listened to The Memory Book on Audible where it was brilliantly read by Robert BlackwoodClare Corbett and Anna Bentinck

(all paid links)

 

 

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#111 Wondering what could be the worst thing that could happen after Brexit.

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The whole Brexit debate has already polarised the country but while I’ve been writing my dystopian prequel to WHEN THE WELL RUNS DRY, I’ve been wondering about what’s the worse thing that could happen, how bad could it get?

Regardless of who wins the General Election on December 12th, we could be in for a rough ride. If Labour wins and organises a second referendum we could see a rash of right wing riots which have already been promised by Boris Johnson in a remark reminiscent of the National Socialists in Germany in the 1930s. Corbyn himself was in favour of leaving the EU and there is no guarantee that the peoples vote would not end in the same result, with the UK leaving the EU, albeit perhaps within the customs union.

The negative effect on the UK economy, combined with excessive divorce payments to the EU could see widespread disatisfaction with whatever government is in power. If you combine this with fake news campaigns promoted by foreign powers, the increasing number of refugees that will inevitably attempt to enter the country, the increasing failure of infrastructure to deal with the demands of climate change and the rising costs of the effects of climate change and a potentially volatile situation could develop. We also might see Svotland demand devolution and regions like the north demanding not just a manifesto but their own assemblies. Could we see a complete break up of the union with Northern Ireland ceded to avoid being the wrong side of the border and igniting further troubles  Could that be the last nail in the coffin for the monarchy?

Both of the major parties have promised huge spending programmes. The Conservative plans don’t return the UK to pre 2010 levels and both parties ignore the national defecit which apparently doesn’t matter any more. Labour plans to use a method is measuring investment which has never been used in a major economy.

Let’s take the pessimistic view of the possible outcomes. Widespread discontentment leaves the path open for the right wing to promise a return to a golden era which never really existed. We have seen this already in the first Brexit votes and in the presidential elections in the US and Brazil where nationalism is thinly disquised as patriotism and used as an excuse to implement right wing policies.

The population can so easily be manipulated as was cleverly demonstrated in the Netflix documentary, The Great Hack. And with social media giants so far refusing to apply their fact checking software to political ads or to ban micro targetted political ads altogether, the stage is set for more election interference.

And why are so many leading politicians so eager to leave the EU so quickly? I would recomend watching the film, The Laundromat, also on Netflix, in which a stella cast explains the system of tax avoidance. The EU intends to implement tighter laws which would prevent the rich from using offshore shell companies to avoid paying tax. So it should come as no surprise then that leading Brexit campaigner and CEO of fracking company Ineos is planning to live in Monaco to avoid paying £4bn in tax in the UK which could be used for hospitals, schools, public transport and policing. Why to we listen to people that only have the good their own pockets in mind, rather than the good of the country.

Make sure you vote on December 12th and vote for the good of the country not the good of the rich.

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#110 Reading Constitution by Nick Webb

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If you like Rusky bashing, space wars and alien threats then this is definitely the book for you. In the top ten Kindle books in space exploration, colonisation and metaphysical science fiction, Constitution obviously appeals to a large audience and as the first in the Legacy Fleet series, there is plenty more where that came from.

The book has over 1,600 5-star reviews on Amazon.com and in his bio, Nick claims that he became a scientist so that he could build starships. He laments that Unfortunately, his ship is taking longer to build than he’d hoped, so fictional starships have to do for now. He also says he is busy on social media,  tweeting and facebooking about Nasa, science, space, SciFi, and quoting Star Trek II from his home in Washington state.

I listened to the book on Audible because I wanted to see how one of the best selling science fiction books compared to the series of sci-fi novellas that I’m currently writing. I have to admit that my own series is more light-hearted than Nick’s book which is a patriotic alien bashing of the kind you would expect from a blockbuster movie like Independence Day. Perhaps one day they will adapt the series for the screen.

The first of my own novellas, THE DOOMED PLANET, has already gone out to the beta readers and I hope to be able to reveal some cover options in the next week or so. The actual launch date is December 6th. The sequel, SHIPMENT TO DAPHNIS, has also gone out to the beta readers and should be launched early January. I am still editing novella three, ROCKET TO TRINCULO, which should be launched early February.

Watch this space for more information.

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#109 Reading Booker winning novel Milkman by Anna Burns

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At a time when the Booker Prize has just been controversially awarded to two authors, Margaret Atwood and Bernadine Evaristo, I thought it might be an opportune moment to share with you my opinion of last year’s Booker Prize winning novel, Milkman by Anna Burns.

Anna Burns was born in Belfast and raised in the working-class Catholic district of Ardoyne which gained notoriety due to the large number of incidents during the Troubles. Milkman, like her previous two novels is set against a backdrop of violence division and retribution.

Having never been to Northern Ireland, my knowledge of the Troubles has been limited to what I have see in the British media so I’m in no position to say whether the communities depicted in Milkman are an actual reflection of the reality of the time, however, I would like to think that the novel has helped me to understand the issues which touched these communities a bit better than before I had read it.

The book is experimental in the respect that it has no character names. The protagonist is ‘middle sister’ and the other characters are referred to either by their relationship to the protagonist and her family or by the way the community views them, for example, ‘issue women’ or ‘real milkman’ as opposed to just ‘milkman’ a man much older than the protagonist who begins stalking her.

This novel is a humourous and enlightening look at what was clearly a very difficult period in the history of the people of Northern Ireland and I would recommend to anyone interested in literary fiction.

It certainly kept m away from writing for a while.

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