Friday, April 22, 2011

Just Another Day?

Do you remember what you were doing on Earth Day 1970? That was the first national gathering of the environmentally concerned. Some of you might have still been in diapers, or not yet born, so here's the official history.

I was at the University of Michigan in 1970, and that campus was/is renown for activism and protests. I don't recall the exact details, but I'm sure I was into doing something. Our American Indian group, American Indians Unlimited, took Earth Day quite seriously; I remember a bumper-sticker we all had on our cars: "America: Love It or Give it Back". I also worked at the School of Natural Resources for Dr. Richard Duke who was involved in building one of the first social and environmental computer simulations for city planners. (Think prototype for Sim City)

Earth Day was originally a U.S. phenomenon, but has spread to global recognition. Yet in the ensuing forty years it doesn't seem that much has happened on the "Love Earth" campaign. Along with the natural calamities striking areas around the world, the national economics of many countries have restricted Earth's management to isolated areas, and education--what the original Earth Day was all about--has more of a "preaching to the choir" aspect rather than effectively reaching the masses.

With Earth Day, are we merely keeping up appearances by adding yet another "special" day to the calendar? I will contemplate this as I make my once-a-week trip to town; I'll recycle my paper, tin, cardboard and glass while I'm there--something I do every month, not just once a year (Getting rid of plastic is a bimonthly event; our area population isn't large enough to have a full-time plastics recycle center). As usual, I'll have groceries packed in my reusable bags and check the air in my tires to get the maximum gas mileage from my efficient four-cylinder car.

Just another day.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ember and Ash – Review

I received Ember and Ash as a publisher's ARC through netgalley. I chose Pamela Freeman's Ember and Ash because of the world-building elements suggested in the overview. I was not cheated here at all and was introduced to a rich work with eleven domains, each with its own environmental attributes as well as spiritual beliefs. But each Domain is under the influence of the Powers--main elements of nature--even when the people don't recognize this.

The story develops when the Power, Fire, suddenly denies fire to several Domains, beginning with the Last Dominion, where Ember and her family reside. To have the all-important element returned, Ember must travel to Fire Mountain to placate Fire. Her entourage includes Ash and Cedar, brothers who become vital to a successful quest. Ember refers to them as her cousins, but she isn't truly blood related.

Especially dominant are the characters of Ember and her parents, Martine and Arvid. Ember starts as a privileged girl who gains maturity as the story progresses. This transformation influences her decision-making in a well paced logical way. Her mother Martine is from an old line of seers; her strengths and that of her lineage come through well. Arvid, Ember's father, is conflicted by his position as Warlord of Last Domain and his love for his wife, who it appears has been deceitful with him. The emotional interactions between the two, and the events that caused them, are some of the most powerful in the book.

Many of the early chapters that detail the travels of Ember's group are also used to elucidate the beliefs and magic associated with the various regions of this World: The Great Forest, Starkling, and Ice King's Country are all vividly presented. (Although a map is provided, the ARC version didn't mark all the places mentioned in the book, such as The Great Forest and The Deep--the site of the book's first chapter).

The lifestyles of the various places are well defined, but the attempt to explain the interrelated histories of each gets a bit muddled. Several chapters are told from the view points of women who travel throughout Last Domain to prepare people for the hard times ahead without fire. While these were interesting, I felt distracted from the events involving the main protagonists. By the end of the book, I felt Freeman included too much information—some of which prompted my puzzlement about the story's ending.

I also found the official overview to be quite misleading. Ember doesn't strike out for retribution, but is following the orders of Fire—orders necessary to restore fire to her people. Fire's reasons become convoluted from Chapter 2 to the end, where a new elemental power is introduced; that's one of the puzzlements I had at with the ending.

But overall, Ember and Ash is a story of quest and transformation with lyrical writing and strong characters. It provides an interesting trip into an intriguing and well-thought-out world.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wading Home - Review

Rosalyn Story's novel Wading Home is a story of recovery. Not so much New Orleans recovering from the devastation of Katrina, but of people recovering from the disaster and from personal despair. Focus is not on New Orleans and politics and rescue/repair efforts, but on one family—the Fortiers. Their Louisiana heritage began in days of slavery, and is studded with interesting and not-so-uncommon black/white history.

Patriarch Simon Fortier, a renown New Orleans chef, now retired, lives in New Orleans in a house built by is father. Simon plans to see out the storm. The Fortier family also owns Silver Creek, rich delta land passed down through generations and dating back to the mid-nineteenth century. Amidst the upheaval aftermath of Katrina, ownership of this land seems in jeopardy. Simon's only child, Julian, has never been interested in the land. An internationally famous jazz trumpeter, he is in Japan when he learns of Katrina's slam into his hometown. He has recovery issues of his own: returning to his career after an accident; reestablishing his relationship with a special woman and with his father, with whom he has been slightly estranged.

All of these issues are presented in masterfully written prose—language that sets the reader in the physical and emotional scenes. This description, as Julian contemplates his options, he recalls better days when the river was bright with lights and activity. Story writes: "But tonight the only light on the river came from a pale gibbous moon casting oyster-colored shimmers across the rippled surface of the water. Downriver, a lone barge floated without sound."

Later is a description of a brass band funeral march: "No one knew exactly when the tradition got started—the funeral cadence, the somber march in slow, studied steps, the swell of trumpets and trombones wailing a mournful cry before escorting the departed soul to a jubilant release—but of the music's source there was no doubt. Born on a breeze that swept across the African plains, it winged west to the cotton fields of America and seated itself in the soul of the south..."

The picture of ravaged New Orleans is given through conversation, as Julian's friends express their despair, concerns and even anger. Scenes also show the efforts within tight-knit communities to help each other when it seems no one else cares.

I admit, at times the story was a bit drawn out, with elements often hinted but never revealed until later in the book. The deft prose kept me reading, even when I had determined the solution to one continual mystery—how to save Silver Creek.

A very enjoyable read both for the writing and the information presented.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Fractal Time - Review

Gregg Braden's Fractal Time: The Secret of 2012 and a New World Age is what I consider a quasi science/self-help book that investigates the possible ramifications of the "2012 world's end" predictions. The main precept is, Does the past hold the blueprint for the future? Braden reasserts many times that the 2012 date is does not predict an Armageddon. He presents cosmologic data that pretty much confirms that earth is a part of fractal time—a moving piece in cycles that have been going since the universe was formed. December 2012 is when the earth will reach end of an oblique circling of the sun that has encompassed 250 centuries. December 2012 also marks when the earth begins its long trip anew. This cosmic trek has been noted in several ancient records from several continents, most notably the 3,000 year old Mesoamerican calendar. The first part of the book details information about how the 2012 date was ascertained from these ancient, often stone-tablet, tomes.

Braden, a former computer systems designer, also presents the theory of the Time Code, and how the small cycles within the big universal cycle can be calculated. These small cycles affect the environment, world politics, and even a single person’s life. This theory is nicely laid out with formulae and several examples; an appendix at book's end has even more step by step detail.

The science part was interesting, and I've perused several of the online sites listed in the references for more information. The "calculate your cycle" part didn't hold my interest as much. I find it more a remarkable mystery that the ancient astronomers and astrologers were able to perceive this movement of the earth—a vast cyclical trek that modern scientists, with computers, space telescopes, and so on, are just now comprehending. Regarding the future, I'm sort of a "whatever" type person, and the idea of trying to determine the not-yet-arrived-at good or bad features of this life’s cycle, doesn't appeal. But for those interested, Braden's book has some unique and well presented ideas.