Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Terror: A Novel

By Dan Simmons, master storyteller...

Anyone who has read Dan Simmons' classic Hyperion Cantos, or his more recent Ilium and Olympos will tell you this gifted author knows how to spin a yarn that is completely realized, utterly uncanny, and amazingly literary.  Of all Simmons' writing talents the one I enjoy the most is the way he draws deeply upon classic, modern, and popular literature, culture, and traditions to inform his story.  In the Hyperion Cantos he called upon Roman Catholicism, medieval history, and The Wizard of Oz to color his canvas.  In Olympos and Ilium a future earth is shaped by the Homeric epics and Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

In The Terror: A Novel, Simmons uses the history of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition of 1845 as his stalking horse.  The story of the Sir Franklin’s lost expedition to find the fabled Northwest Passage is horrifying enough, but to the crushing ice, bitter cold, endless night, numbing hopelessness, privation, want, exposure, the stench of scurvy, gangrene, and suppuration that actually occurred, Simmons adds A Monster stalking the ice intent on their destruction.  Simmons summons Edgar Allan Poe to make scenes of shattered bone, torn off limbs, and freezing sprays of blood magically surreal.  To call it Master and Commander Meets The Thing would be glib, but such a description might get you into the ballpark visually.  This wickedly clever mash-up of historical fiction, arctic exploration during the age of sail, and horror chilled me instantly and left me so for all 766 pages.

The Terror is one of those novels you can't quit reading for fear the story will leave you behind. I knew the Franklin Expedition ended badly but loved being dragged into Simmons' even more hopeless version.  I’m glad I did not read it when it was first published in 2007.  Those were especially dark days in our house and this horror story would have made the gloom even worse.  Five years on I didn’t want this carefully crafted world to end, leaving me to find my own way back to a safe and slightly banal reality.

In The Terror, Simmons is a gory-minded storyteller with a heart made of grinding shards of ice.  Not for the squeamish, but I loved every minute of it.  The Terror is bloody, brilliant, and bloody brilliant.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What Better Day

To remember we usually get risk wrong...

click on image to enlarginate

As a society - perhaps 21st century Americans especially - we’re strongly inclined to get risk wrong. We worry about different things for different reasons, depending on our temperamentsWe worry about rare events we cannot control and ignore mundane hazards we can avoid.  As individuals - especially those of us in the resilience trade - we need to resist all the cognitive short cuts that make that possible.  I am reminded of a funny and challenging 2008 Op-Ed by Lenore Skenazy, the silly media firestorm that followed, and her refreshingly sensible blog.

Image credit:

Mourn The Past Or Prepare For The Future?

I much prefer the company of those who dedicate themselves to prepare for the future... 

The 11th Annual Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance has arrived.  The flag is lowered, we bow our heads, and are inclined to look back to mourn the past.  Arnold Bogis, a writer at the excellent Homeland Security Watch blog, recommends rather that we honor our heroes by training new ones.  I agree with him.  

As the most social of all primates, humans will follow the group, for good and for ill.  The herd, the troop, the tribe will choose compassion or cruelty.  Leadership creates the direction.  The able response mounted by emergency services at the Boston Marathon modeled appropriate action and made it easy for witnesses to become rescuers.  Like most all animals, we have three responses to threat: flight,fight, or freeze.  As individuals we do not rise to the occasion, we default to our level of training.  Effective training and frequent drill can create the difference between evacuation or rout, resistance or riot, a moment of evaluation or mindless panic.  As leaders we instill in our team members, communities, and families the habits they present to the world and the reflexes they will apply under stress.  Whether we model habits mindfully or carelessly is up to each of us, every day.



Sunday, September 8, 2013

What I Did On My Summer Vacation

It wasn't all just sleeping in, sipping dark roast, and reading...

First, there was a deck and railings to power wash, scrape, sand, repair, prime, paint, strip, brighten, stain, and re-stain wet.

Then there were ornamentals and stone.  About it I wrote to my friend Jim yesterday: 

Here is our latest completed project. It's been some time since I moved a ton of shovel and wheeled barrow.  The tree is a hydrangea, the evergreens are a low growing juniper, and the annuals at the far end are mums. There's a slate paver between the flowers that increased my total weight lifting by 50 pounds or so. Then I tuned the irrigation system to treat its new charges properly. All this for a house in which I no longer live and which we will likely sell before we have time to witness any growth.

Jim, a retired Roman Catholic priest in his late 60s who planted a stand of oak seedlings just three years ago, replied:

"What is planting except belief in the future...that is not our own. We are the planters; others will reap what we have sown." - Oscar Romero

I am not worthy of friends as wise as him...but I am grateful.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Why I Hate DIY Landscaping Projects

Some people do this for fun, others hire it done...

No, that wasn't an old root, it was the main irrigation line.  Yes, that is a shovel inflicted gash just below the clamped splice.  Ack!  Thpppt!

Yes, it is good to live near a Home Depot.  An hour later, I managed to break even and returned to prepping the front yard of the house where I no longer live for some shrubbery.

To paraphrase Greta Garbo, "I want to be in a condo!"