Wednesday, October 30, 2019

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Red Skies” – Cole and Shapero

A few years ago Niall Shapero asked me to write a song-to-order, an anthem for a Furry rebellion, that included the words “crimson skies” at the end of the last verse.  No problem: I was already working on a song – guaranteed to put a twist in the knickers of the Parlor Pink crowd – called “God Bless Hate”, and I could easily slip the code-words into the last verse, which I did.  When I asked him about the peculiar phrase, he explained that he was writing a Sci-Fi novel about, yes, a Furry rebellion.  Of course I wanted to read it right away, so he sent me then-current first draft.  I really liked what I saw, including the libertarian politics of course, so I sent him the song (hard-copy and, IIRC, I sang it to him over the phone), and urged him to hurry up and finish the novel.

Well, he didn’t exactly hurry up, he picked up a co-author/conspirator on the way, and the novel has expanded into a trilogy called “The Chinese Curse”, but the first book – “Red Skies” – is finally in print, from Jarlidium Press, and should soon be up on Amazon soon, if it isn’t there already.  No, my song isn’t in this book, but I expect it’ll show up further in the trilogy when the revolution starts.  “Red Skies” is about the set-up situation that makes the rebellion necessary.

As it stands, the book is a tight and complex police-procedural thriller, whose hero is a classic honest cop in a crooked police department.  The police department is in a future Los Angeles, the cop is a Siamese-cat Furry, the other cops are mostly human bigots, and the background is a recent war fought with Furry cannon-fodder in which the Furry veterans are seriously mistreated (sound familiar?).  Detective Carl Siam is tapped by a federal secret task force to go undercover in the LA Furry ghetto, to find and infiltrate a rumored Furry revolutionary/domestic-terrorist group (familiar again?), only to find that the rebels are friends and neighbors in his own back yard, and their goals and tactics are very different from what he’s been told.  Naturally, his own loyalties come under a lot of strain (ditto).  Within the familiar tropes, though, there are a lot of original situations and plot-twists.

Furry Sci-Fi very often consists of allegories on present-day human racism and political corruption, and political attitudes in modern Sci-Fi vary between classic Progressivism and Libertarianism, often taken to theoretical extremes.  “Red Skies” clocks in solidly on the Libertarian side, but the politics are far from preachy;  they’re smoothly shown, not told, leaving the reader to connect the allegorical dots him/herself.  In that sense, “Red Skies” compares favorably with Heinlein’s classic “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”.  We’ll have to wait for the rest of the trilogy to see how well the Furry rebellion is depicted as a possible handbook for the future, but I expect it will be very convincing. 

I’m particularly impressed with the ring of authenticity in the detailss of police procedures and politics, and don’t doubt that the next two books will be just as keenly researched and plotted.  The true test of Science Fiction is how realistic it appears, and on that score “Red Skies” succeeds masterfully. 

Well done, Niall.  I can’t wait to see the rest of the story.

--Leslie <;)))><          

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Righteous Use of the Forbidden Word

This past week I've seen a few news stories about teachers, editors, and even low-level politicians losing their jobs because somebody, somewhere, caught them using "the N-word" sometime-- and promptly were harassed and denounced as "racists", which is the Kiss of Death these days.  So the tale I'm about to tell, might be enough to get me cyber-mobbed -- again -- except that I have no boss to be pressured into firing me.  There's also the fact that I'm not what you'd call entirely White, which collapses one of the main features of the Politically Incorrect stereotype.  Tsk.  This is a true story, and in my book truth outweighs anybody's offendedness.

My husband Rasty is a sometimes-annoyingly hereditary Democrat, but he came by it honestly.  His father, Dale Ralston, was chief administrator for the WPA in Depression-era Yuma County, Arizona.  At that time the chief industry of the county was, of all things, farming -- thanks to the rivers, the Gila and the Colorado, that ran through it.  Its population was about 18,000 total, not counting migrant workers who came up from Mexico during the harvest season.  It was a poor county, in a poor state, during the Great Depression, and it sorely needed the services of the Works Progress Administration.

Dale Ralston became well known as a fair and very efficient local WPA administrator.  The "clients" had previously had to ride to the work-sites on a truck, which never had enough room, but he managed to obtain a bus and sent it to the local office, where the clients showed up early in the morning, to take them to their workplace -- which then happened to be a government construction-site.

The first day that he had the bus brought into the office parking-lot and steered the clients toward it, a problem showed up.  About half of the White clients were clustered by the bus but not getting on it, only blocking the doorway, and glowering.  Everyone else -- White, Black, Indian and Mexican -- was milling about at a distance, looking bewildered.  Ralston marched up to the glowering crowd and asked them why they weren't getting on the bus.

One of the men stepped forward and claimed that he and his buddies didn't intend to get on a bus with "niggers", or to work with them.  It wasn't "seemly".

  Dale Ralston pulled himself up to his full 5'8" height, glowered right back, and gave the grumblers a speech that everybody remembered.

"Don't you think that a nigger's got to eat, and work for his money, the same as you?" he snapped.  "Don't you think a nigger's got to feed his family, the same as you?  Don't you think a nigger has a hard time finding work these days, the same as you?  And if you're so much better than the niggers, then what are you doing down here on the dole, the same as them?"

There was a long moment when nobody spoke or moved, so he went on. 

"So I'm going to open that door, and you can get on the bus and go to work -- the same as the niggers -- or you can stay here being all righteous, and go get work somewhere else.  Your choice."

As he stepped toward the bus door the grumbling crowd moved aside for him, but one of them insisted: "All right, we'll get on, but the niggers have gotta ride in the back of the bus."

Ralston laughed as he pushed the bus door open, and he shouted to the rest of the crowd:  "All you niggers, get over here -- get on the bus first, and go to the back."

The rest of the crowd hurried to comply, the Blacks first, then the Mexicans and Indians, then the other Whites who hadn't complained.  And all of them were chuckling, because they'd figured out that whoever was sitting in the back of the bus would get off the bus last -- and would therefore stay in the shade longest, while everyone in front would get off first, and spend an extra few minutes outdoors -- doing physical labor, in the Arizona sunlight.  The "nigger-haters" paid a noticeable price for their pride.

When Dale Ralston got home that night he told the whole story to his wife, who was a local school principal, and they both had a good laugh about it.  She urged him to write down the story in his journal, where he kept his daily record of his job, and he agreed. 

In time that journal was handed down to Rasty's daughter, and Rasty's been urging her to make a clear typed copy of it and get it published.  I hope he can talk her into it;  that record would make interesting reading all these years later.

--Leslie <;)))><   


Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Mowing Month

Now for something completely different: the fun and games of trying to raise a miniature orchard on a large lot in a rural town in central Arizona.  Wheee! 

Many of you readers have been following my reports -- admittedly few and far between -- of my Go Fund Me campaign ("Rare and Endangered Orchard"), and have read a few tales of my adventures on this venture.  Ahem.  But a lot of it looks incredible, I know, unless you've actually tried fruit-farming in Arizona. 

The main problem, bar none, is water.  This isn't called the Great Desert State for nothing.  The topsoil is actually quite good, which is why the town of Buckeye came to be founded in the first place.  The tale goes, after the Great Locust Plague of the 1870s, ruined farmers from Ohio went looking for some of the still free-for-the-homesteading lands to the west.  A bunch of them -- driven by the harsh winter -- went south as far as Arizona, intending to turn west for the fabled lands of the west coast. 

Most of them completed the journey, got to the west coast and then turned north, if you please, for the recently-opened-for-settlement lands of Oregon and Washington.  They finally ended their march in the lush and lovely Klamath River valley, and there they eagerly started claiming and plowing the land. 

Now unknowingly, this gave them the ultimate revenge on the locusts that had ruined them in the first place.  It seems that the great locust swarm, having fed themselves well on all the crops in the midwest, went home to lay their eggs -- and their home just happened to be in, yes, the Klamath valley.  There they dutifully laid their eggs and died, no doubt expecting that their next generation was safe.  Ah, but when the farmers plowed and harrowed the Klamath valley, they exposed those eggs to the wind and rain and sun -- and to all the birds in the territory.  Farmers' accounts from that time mention the peculiar phenomenon of huge flocks of birds following the plows and harrows, and pecking up the ground as if there were no tomorrow.  Well, that smorgasbord for the birds meant the extinction of the Rocky Mountain Locust.  The breed hasn't been seen since.  Thus did the farmers get their revenge -- not to mention bumper crops thereafter -- on the locusts, without realizing it.

But not all those refugee farmers made it all the way to the west coast.  A number of them, from Ohio if you please, stumbled across the land flanking the Gila river.  Seeing that the land was reliably watered from the river, besides being deep old-river-bottom silt, they decided to settle where they were.  They named their biggest town Buckeye, in memory of their old territory, cleared it and farmed it, and they've been farming it ever since.  My yard is a subdivision of an old farm that was broken up for residences after World War Two.  There are working farms within a block of my house. 

Aside from the salt content in the soil, which makes it impossible to grow avocado trees -- and the eternal war with the #%&$*@ gophers -- the only problem is  getting enough water during the summer.  That's actually the major problem.  In a year when the summer "monsoon" rains are plentiful, all you have to do is plant your crops and stand back.  For professional farmers who can pay for regular irrigation from the Gila river, a dry summer is survivable.  For mini-farmers like me, it's a different story.  Not having irrigation, I have to water my trees from "city water": purified for drinking, and therefore expensive. 

This year started with a fine, cool, wet spring -- which promptly turned into an excessively hot and dry summer, starting on Mayday.  There were maybe three rainstorms, all short and light, between Mayday and the end of September: a "non-soon" rather than a monsoon.  This meant that my trees, which had put out lots of branches during the spring, had to be watered by hand -- every other day -- all summer.  I tried to keep the watering contained to small areas right around the trees' roots, but the mini-topography of the land -- including treacherous tunnels dug by those #@$%&* gophers -- carried a lot of it off to other patches.  This meant that the native grass, and weeds, grew unchecked.  Being distracted with mundane problems, not to mention short on cash, I wasn't able to keep up with the mowing.

So I finally got around to it last week, and it was a battle.  The grass is almost up to my waist, and some of the weeds are over my head.  Worse, some of those weeds have thick woody stems.  This is the only yard I've ever seen that has to be mowed partly with a power-saw.  No kidding.  Even machetes won't cut through some of those stalks!  I'll be at it for the next couple weeks, at least.

The cut grass, weeds, and twigs from the Palo Verde and Mesquite trees form a thick mat on the ground that we'll have to rake up and feed through our new wood-chipper.  Some pieces are too thick for the wood-chipper, and will have to be cut into billets for firewood -- which is where the power-saw will be helpful again.  What does get chipped and shredded will more than fill the compost-pit, which we'll have to expand. 

And what am I going to do with all that firewood?  I suppose I can burn it to charcoal, and then plow that into the topsoil, but the plowing-in will take a lot of work too.  And that's not even counting the pruning we'll have to do on the pomegranate trees and the grapevine.  *Sigh*  I always knew that farmers have to work hard, but the sheer labor (or money, to pay for somebody else to do the labor) of working even a micro-farm like mine is incredible. 

I no longer sympathize with the Beatles'  song, "Hard Day's Night".  Working "like a dog" is nothing compared to working like a farmer! 

So if I don't keep up very well with my blog entries, or comments on my FB page, or Go Fund Me page, or even on the Sci-Fi blog "The Sietch" (which I heartily recommend), it's because I'll be outside swinging the heavy-duty weed-whacker or the power-saw.  Patience, fans!  At any rate, you'll know where to find me.

--Leslie <;)))><