Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What Are You Reading?

It has occurred to me that while I like to talk a lot about reading and writing, and even though I give mention to several books that are favorites of mine, I've never delved into what I'm currently reading(or have recently completed) and what I thought about them.  This is my chance to correct such an oversight.

11/22/63 by Stephen King is an incredible book about how good intentions don't always lead to the best outcome.  The main character is a man named Jake Epping who has discovered a time portal back to 1958.  He can return to the present whenever he wants, but the portal will always take him back to the same day in 1958, so he can get a "re-do" if things don't turn out like he likes.  Anyway, like so many who live in nostalgia rather than the real world, he's convinced the world would've been a much better place had JFK survived the assassination attempt in Dallas, so he decides to change it.  He spends years keeping tabs on Lee Oswald, but it's not as easy as he thinks - each time he tries to do something with big historical consequences, the world does something correspondingly big to try and stop him.  In the end, he discovers that maybe there were some benefits to JFK's murder(such as whether the country would've been as motivated to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 if Kennedy had lived and just managed to squeak by re-election in a divided nation as opposed to LBJ's landslide in the aftermath).  An interesting look at just how much the road to Hell may be paved with good intentions.

When Angels Weep:  A What If History of the Cuban Missile Crisis by Eric Swedin is a great counterfactual that posits the U2 flight that discovered Soviet missiles in Cuba took place one week later than it did in our reality.  Had this happened, several missiles would've already been operational and JFK would've had little choice but to respond militarily.  A general nuclear war follows the invasion of Cuba, pushed along by a series of mistakes and the paranoia of each side.  One might think that a general nuclear war would end the planet, but Swedin makes a convincing argument for why that might not have been the case.  To be sure, the devastation in the US would've been catastrophic - the book says that over 30 million Americans would've died - but the outcome would not have been as disastrous for the planet as it would've been just ten years later since most of the weapons of the time would've been air bursts with little radioactive fallout(ground bursts wouldn't be commonplace until the early 70s when hardened silos made them necessary).  Also, a little overlooked historical point, is that the US was far ahead of the Soviets in both numbers and technology at this point, something not as prevalent just ten years later when missiles would replace bombers as the primary weapon of choice.  In short, although the US would've been hit hard, it could've staggered and then bounced back, but such a scenario would've killed the Soviet Union, likely resulting in over 150 million dead.  Exploring the reshaped geo-political consequences of a world following a nuclear war was fascinating, if horrifying.

To Defend Earth by William Strook is a collection of short essays that chronicle an alien invasion of the planet.  It takes a different approach by postulating that Earth isn't facing a united alien government bent on galactic domination, but rather that we're essentially a rich man's fantasy as he brings his private army to Earth.  Although stretching the bounds of believability at some points, it was a fun read that re-establishes the point that mankind can resist whatever is thrown at us if we're willing to unite against a common threat.  It brings in the expected political infighting, as well as how we overcame the inherent technological disadvantages connected to fighting a race advanced enough to come across the stars.

The Dracula Tape by Fred Saberhagen is what I'm currently on, and it's a fascinating juxtaposition of Bram Stoker's classic tale.  This one imagines the story as told from Dracula's point of view and details the paranoid madness of those around him, as well as the fanatical devotion to his destruction by Van Helsing, a fanaticism that borders on religious zealotry.  I'm always intrigued by books that show things from a non-traditional standpoint, as evidenced by the book I wrote from the point of view of the ghost as opposed to those he haunted.  Dracula is no innocent wafe in the tale, but his actions are more clearly understood, and it gets to the point where you want to see him succeed in finding a new life in England.  I can't wait to see how Saberhagen depicts the ending.

So that's what I'm currently on.  What are you reading?

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