“Wyrd” Progress Update XII

Got a little bit further along in my novel, Wyrd, today, though not as much as I’d wanted, but that’s because it’s requiring me to plan out the chapter more, to refer to an earlier draft, just to know the history and what’s going on.  I can already tell three things about this novel:

  1. It’s going to be longer than anything I’ve done before, I expect 400 pages, if not longer.
  2. It’s going to be a lot of work.  Being a work of historical fiction, the writing is different from other novels that I’ve written where I was able to have a loose idea of the story in my head and know the characters and just do the writing and let the story unfold.  In Wyrd there is the story to tell, but there is the historical context to get right, as well as certain historical events that I either want to directly reference or allude to.  This is why the writing is feeling somewhat disjointed with stops and starts and reference checking and fact checking.  I expect to attain a rhythm at some point where the writing will come easier, but at the moment it’s hard going.  I also have a lot more going on with plots and subplots and various emotional resonances that present a very complex novel, which is a new endeavor for me.  So while part of me is finding it hard going and tough, another part is thrilled by it and I’m very excited to see what’s coming next and where it’s all going.
  3. Once the first draft or two is complete, I know it’s going to require a lot of work to get everything just right with respect to context, setting, time line, continuity, and things like that.

And that’s enough talk, here’s some writing in progress:

“Lord Hengist wants to know why he should sacrifice his men to receive so little in return.  Why should the blood of his people be spilled, their lives taken for some gold and food in return.  It is land that he requires.”

WORDS: 857


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“The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006)

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Dawkins latest book is as brutal and honest as its title.  For those who aren’t looking to have their faith and beliefs gravely challenged, you may want to skip this book.  However, Dawkins is looking for everyone to read this book with an open mind, whether you’re devoutly religious, agnostic or atheist.  Having an open mind is actually one of the New Ten Commandments Dawkins cites.

The book begins in a calm and orderly manner, with an opening chapter on the “god hypothesis,” where Dawkins talks about the idea of a god through history and how we are now in a time where medicine and science have come such a long way from the days of thinking the world is flat, balancing the humors, and believing there was a demon or god causing  every catastrophe.  And yet religion – especially Christianity – remains stagnated in the ideas of men from thousands of years ago.  As the book progresses, Dawkins seems to grow more impatient with religion and its wholehearted certainty in a book and a god.

He does an impressive job of going from chapter to chapter in defending different stances on science, always providing the evidence – a facet, he says, religion is lacking. One point Dawkins makes that I really found fascinating was his evolutionary reason for the existence of religion, in that it was a component of our very early societies in helping to unite communities and keep them together as a whole. As human beings, we strive for companionship and the evidence speaks for itself when we look back to the time when there was a shift from the nomadic hunting and gathering societies to settling down in groups and communities, which started farming, large scale food production, and ultimately leading to technology, writing, law, art and so on.

After this, Dawkins tackles the question of morality and makes it a very big deal that everyone understand we keep this separate from religion and not think them one and the same. The Bible is full of murder, rape, fratricide, torture – for a book on teaching us how to lead supposedly “good” lives, this book has a very strange way of trying to do that, says Dawkins. So he goes back into our ancestry to the days of Cro-Magnon, in the time when all humanity cared about was trying to survive. He posits that this was when we began to develop a sense of morality, because in being good to others, families and groups were formed, which helped improve survival. If we’d stuck to stealing and killing, we wouldn’t have lasted past that first winter.

Another big issue with Dawkins is the labeling of children as belonging to the religion of the parents without any consent from them: they’re Protestant children, or Muslim children, or Jewish children; even though in all likelihood they are far too young to comprehend what this applied label means. These children of heavily religious and fundamental families don’t have a choice.   One of the most horrific things I learned about in The God Delusion are the so-called “Hell Houses,” where children – ideally twelve year olds, because this is the perfect age for indoctrination – are taken through a labyrinth of horror revealing the terrible sins of sex before marriage, homosexuality, and abortion, and what happens in hell if one were to commit any of them.  A cast of actors rehearse these scenes to create the greatest sense of terror in the children – yes, there’s even a tall and scary looking man playing the part of Satan.

At the beginning of the book, one can sense that Dawkins is open to accepting the existence of religion, so long as it gets modernized and becomes part of the twenty-first century.  However, by the end of the book, Dawkins is fuming over the many pitfalls and handicaps of religion, especially where it causes pain and suffering to others.  While the author’s hope is to make everyone agree with his ideas and opinions, Dawkins at least wants people to think about what he is talking about, to make people contemplate these ideas with the evidence, and then to make an informed decision on their beliefs.  The existence of a god cannot be proved or disproved, Dawkins says, but the chances seem very likely that there isn’t one.  He gives an example of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which while most of the world thinks little more than a joke; if rumors of the Flying Spaghetti Monster had started thousands of years ago, might some of us be believing in this pasta god today?

While Dawkins didn’t set out to enrage people, with the title and content of this book, it was inevitable.  Yet, I think some compliment is deserved for both Dawkins and the publisher in having the courage to put this book on the shelves, and since it’s publication, The God Delusion has spent many weeks on top ten lists across the country which, if anything, says a lot about people beliefs in this country at this time.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on December 21st 2006 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies” by Jared Diamond (Norton, 1997)

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This is one of those books that takes you a while to read — it’s pretty heavy non-fiction — and yet at the end of it, you feel like Hippocrates, a Muslim scientist, or Leonardo Da Vinci must have felt at the realization of a great discovery. The Eureka! moment. This book is kind of like the movie Hotel Rwanda: the movie was life-altering for me, and just made every other movie that came out that year seem tawdry and unimportant; it was one of those movies that everyone should see (especially Americans and Western Europeans) just to understand the world and its history better. Guns, Germs, and Steel is one of those books that everyone should read to better comprehend their existence at this specific moment in time.

The premise of the book is revealed in the prologue in a conversation between the author and a New Guinea native who lives his very simple life in Stone Age conditions. The thesis that arises in their conversation is what specific events led to the fact that Europeans were the ones to reach New Guinea and interact with its people, and why it wasn’t the New Guinea people to develop the technology and abilities to travel the world and make first contact with the Europeans.

With the concept in place, Diamond sets about doing this in his conversational and, quite frankly, mind-blowing and ingenious way. As a professor, with studies in anthropology and biology, he has an astounding way of seeing things and being able to explain ideas in a simple manner that make so much sense and you’re left saying to yourself: “Oh, that’s how that happened,” or “that’s why it’s like that.” At times he can bog you down with details, mainly because he explains them in minutest and seemingly most insignificant level (such as different seeds around the world). And yet you are left with that adage of chaos theory: everything on this planet happens for a reason and has a knock-on effect.

One of Diamonds most astonishing explanations for the reason the continent of Eurasia was able to develop to a much more advanced level than the rest of the world, with its complex empires, cradles of civilizations, and large amount of farming and domesticated species was due to its latitude on a specific east-west axis. The other continents — North and South America, Africa, Australasia — are all on a north-south axis. What does this difference mean? For one, climate is greatly changed the further north or south ones goes, which has an effect on the migration of people, animals, and plants, as well as the spread of information, technology and culture. Because of this, Eurasia was able to develop more crops and have them spread around the continent through trade, as well as the spread of domesticated animals, culture and more importantly, technology. The other continents did not have this ease, which Diamond explains in clear detail with facts and dates.

Of course, I am vastly over-simplifying the book and it’s really necessary for one to peruse through its pages to get the full understanding. Another concept that I was very happy to be made so clear is the explanation of why white people conquered most of the world was not because they were a superior race in any way. And how is this simply explained? To use Jared Diamond’s example:

The Aboriginal people spent many thousands of years keeping to their simple ways due to the harsh conditions of Australia. When the Europeans arrived they were able to educate the Aborigines and share their technology and make it seem like these advanced whites were helping and “bettering” the Aboriginal people, and therefore making them civilized. And yet it was necessary for the Europeans to bring all their technology, culture and science with them for them to survive, otherwise they wouldn’t have lasted a week in Australia. It had nothing to do with the Caucasians as a race, but everything to do with the specific parameters for living in Europe and developing the technology and culture under those conditions. This is made clear when Diamond talks about two European explorers from different backgrounds who set out, with all their technology and science, to cross the vast landmass of Australia. Neither of them made it to the other side; they both died under the severe conditions. However, the Aboriginal people frequently cross this landmass on their nomadic journeys and make it relatively unharmed.

Overall, what I get from this book is this: Why are we all fighting and killing and hating one another? After all the seemingly random events over the last two million years that led from the ape-like hominid to the homo sapiens sapiens of today, it seems all we should be doing is hugging each other and patting everyone on the back for getting through the whole mess and still being alive to tell about it. A lot of other animals and dinosaurs aren’t.

But don’t take my word for it: read and absorb the ideas of Jared Diamond and have your life and your ideas changed for the better.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on July 22nd 2006 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The Planets” by Dava Sobel (Viking, 2005)


This is another book I bought because of it’s beautiful cover, especially in the hardcover edition, and one which, after reading, I thought failed in it’s job. I’ve read Sobel’s Galileo’s Daughter, which I really enjoyed with the mixture of history, science and story, so I had high hopes for The Planets. There was a chapter on each of the nine planets, along with one for the sun and the moon, and an intro and an epilogue. The book was under 300 pages and I felt didn’t go into anywhere near enough depth on each of the planets. Sobel presented each planet with a story on how it came to be discovered and by whom and then with some story and mythology surrounding the planet and then moved onto the next. I was expecting in-depth science with the planets and just far more than was given. There wasn’t a single photo in the book, which seemed crazy: you write a book about the planets with a colorful and interesting cover, the least I expect is glossy color photos inside of the planets and moons. But nada. So if you’re looking for a quick uninspired read that gives you some fun facts and quaint tales about the planets, go with this one, but if you’re looking for something that educates you and inspires you about the planets, look somewhere else.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on April 26th 2006 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The Long Emergency: Survivng the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century” by James Howard Kunstler (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005)

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The Long Emergency is an eye-catching book with its bright alarm-yellow cover and black and red title. It’s a book about the future of the world, what’s going to happen when we run out of oil, and what to do when this “Long Emergency” begins. The first part of the book goes into depth about when oil was discovered, how it was first used, when and how it was converted into the many products that use oil today. The reader learns what are the events that led up to the discovery of oil in the Middle East and the reason it is in its horrible state today.

After this enlightening history lesson, Kunstler goes on to explain that there is a specific oil production peak that will be reached, when half of the available oil in the world has been used up, and the other half — which is harder to get — will drive up gas and oil prices. According to a number of sources in the footnotes, this peak will be reached some time between the year 2000 and 2008. Kunstler says that the way we will be able to tell is through the oscillation of oil prices rising greatly, then dropping a little, then raising more, but only going down a little each time. Over the past year, this is exactly what has happened, and I’m pretty sure we’re never going to see gas go below $2 again.

Kunstler goes on to point out that the supposed alternative forms of energy we’re working on will be nowhere near to replacing the oil industry once we dispense with it. This is mainly due to the recent Republican Presidents, starting with Reagan who stopped most funding of alternative energy means and essentially killed the drive for it. Along with Bush Senior and our current idiot, they are all part of a white male arrogant group that believes we will never run out of oil, and it is merely a case of finding it in the earth, albeit by digging deeper and further (re: Alaska!); coupled with this is these men’s beliefs that the Rapture will arrive tomorrow and they’ll be ascending to Heaven, leaving all their problems behind them. Though Clinton is also to blame for not looking towards the future and working on preparing the civilized world for the inevitable.

Kunstler predicts all out pandemonium and chaos, worst felt in the United States, of course, where suburbia is in full force. When all the material goods and services we’ve taken for granted for so long collapse, and our society crashes around us, the Long Emergency will being. This is what Kunstler says. Though he provides little advice and assurance in how one can survive this event. Plus there’s the fact that this nonfiction work doesn’t have an index or bibliography at the end. I know all nonfiction works don’t need this, but when it’s a book predicting everything going to hell in my lifetime, I would at least like a list for further readings, or maybe some suggested websites.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on May 20th 2005 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse: Contemplating the Future With Noam Chomsky, George Carlin, Deepak Chopra, Rupert Sheldrake, and Others ” Edited by David J. Brown (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)

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Conversations on the Edge of Apocalypse is an interesting collection of interviews with a cornucopia of renowned people from all walks of life, although this group seems to consist mainly of scientists, Buddhists, and people of alternative beliefs other than the Western Christian World.

While there’s not really must I can say that the book gives the reader on the whole, there are a lot of interesting individual details with each person. Some I skipped past, because it just wasn’t my cup of tea, or rather I had absolutely no inkling of belief in this person’s seemingly crazy ideas. All the scientists were extremely interesting, giving up to date news of what they’re working on: the cure for AIDS is around the corner, according to one of these scientists. A couple of the interesting questions Brown asked each person was: Do you think the human race will survive the next hundred years? And, essentially: What happens to you after you die. The general consensus to human survival is that we will survive the next hundred years (and according to some scientists, with upcoming advances in longevity, a lot of us will be around to see it!), so long as we don’t blow ourselves up with outright nuclear war or a bioweapons war, or SARS, of course. As for the latter question, the funny thing was that every single person first answered with “I don’t know.” Then they went on to give their afterlife beliefs, but it was just amusing to have everyone preface their ideas with the “I don’t know” disclaimer.

On the whole, it’s a book I recommend to people to read, just to read the variety of ideas from people in the world today, for all areas, and it opens one’s mind and helps you understand that everyone doesn’t think the same thing.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on May 20th 2005 ©Alex C. Telander.