2020 – Reading

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. – Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland (2017) One thing for sure about Stephenson, you never know which way he’s going to hop. In this one he combines hard core science with witches and magic. Throw in a plot that covers a time span from 1045 CE to the present and hops back and forth. Plenty of derring-do to keep our attention for all 750 pages. Yep, that’s Stephenson for you. Aided by Galland for the witches and magic. I loved it.

Agency – William Gibson (2020) When Folio Books called to let me know that my pre-publication order had arrived, I rode straight there and grabbed it. Got home and read it straight through with a break for sleep. Do I love Gibson or what! This one is the second in a new series that began with The Peripheral, and it’s at least as good. It alternates being set now in San Francisco and in London a century from now after some sort of cataclysmic catastrophe called “The Jackpot”.

Starting here, a talented apps tech takes a rather strange job beta testing a digital assistant that calls itself Eunice and almost immediately seems disarmingly human. Verity quickly picks up that her strange new employers have no idea how powerful, and valuable, Eunice is, and the two decide that there’s no rush to inform the employers.

Meanwhile some operatives in London a century from now in an authoritarian society made up mostly of plutocrats and plunderers look back at Verity and Eunice and determine that they might be able to tweak some events that will cause the Jackpot to hit us with less force.

“Rule of thieves brings collapse, eventually, because they can’t stop stealing.”

And so forth for 400 exciting pages. Two thumbs and several fingers up.

Salvador – Joan Didion (1983) Somehow I’d been banking this slim novel for nearly forty years, but finally it was time. It’s a slim volume, barely over a hundred pages, and in it she describes a two-week visit she and her husband made to San Salvador in the summer of 1982. Just to get a feel for the place, to try to understand what was going on. She left, of course, with more questions than answers, but her account of the visit is recorded in scintillating prose and manages to get across the fathomless depth of the problems faced there.

“This was one of those occasional windows that open onto the heart of El Salvador and then close, a glimpse of the impenetrable interior.”

Reading this book makes me want to go back and reread everything she wrote.

Brutal Journey – Paul Schneider (2007) This is a scholarly work, what with notes, bibliography, and index; but his prose style is so good that the book doesn’t read like scholarship. The subtitle gives it away: “Cabeza de Vaca and the Epic First Crossing of North America”.

He had me at “Cabeza de Vaca” because this man has fascinated me since I learned of him in high school Texas history class. Not to give everything away, but he was second in command of a force of 400 men led by Pánfilo de Navárez that landed on the coast of Florida near Tampa Bay in the spring of 1527. Owing to a combination of terrible luck and great ineptitude, when they faced Indians who were both hostile and superb archers, their numbers dwindled rapidly and Navárez left Cabeza de Vaca in command of the remaining few dozen men. They managed to fight their way back to the coast and built a shallow barge with the intent of following the coast down to civilization in Mexico. Alas, they were shipwrecked near Galveston Island, where the few survivors were enslaved by the Karankawas, a tribe so primitive that it had neither shelters nor clothing but subsisted on what they could pick up. After all but Cabeza and one other named Estebán had died, he and Estebán made a break for it and escaped.

There they were, naked and barefoot on the Texas coast over a thousand miles and a hundred thousand hostile Indians from the nearest Mexican outpost, so they started walking and kept it up for over a year until they’d reached the Gulf of California, turned south, and were finally repatriated.

So yes, I’ve given away the ending, but a gripping tale of how they crossed the continent remains.

Miami – Joan Didion (1983) Didion spent some months in early 1982 burrowing into the political and social scene in Miami.

Miami – Joan Didion (1983)

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