Wednesday, November 28, 2018


Anathem is a long philosophical novel. The world is just different enough from ours to make it difficult to understand what is going on. Most of the book involves conversations with "math monks". They discuss math, philosophy, theoretical physics and their interaction with the secular world. Interspersed with this philosophical discussion is a "mission" and the appearance of alien visitors. They discover that they are similar but different from the humans of their planet. Eventually people from both meet up and explore possible outcomes. In structure and length, the novel feels like a fantasy work. On content, however, it is science fiction write with clear modern day mores. There are plenty of ideas to keep for a long "geek" conversation.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life

In Growing a Revolution David R. Montgomery advocates farming practices that center upon building healthy soil. Conventional agriculture depletes soil of nutrients and gradually leads to an erosion of topsoil. Fertilizer attempts to restore some of the critical nutrients. However, it does not restore the important micro organisms that help make healthy soil. Also, a good portion of the fertilizer runs off, contaminating water supplies. In addition, the tendency to plant the same crops over and over makes them more subject to pests, requiring more pesticides, leading to resistant pests and more pesticide use.
He advocates for "no till farming" with crop rotations. Rather than plow the ground, the previous crops are used for mulch. New crops (of a different variety) are planted in the ground. The organic matter decays and improves the health of the soil. The rotation and planting of cover crops helps improve the health of the soil and make it more resistant to pests. This healthier soil is also much better at holding water than plowed soil. No till farming can be either organic or conventional. In general, it may more closely resemble organic farming because of less dependence on pesticides and fertilizer. However, the practice can be done with either conventional or organic approaches. (Pest control with conventional would still be an acceptable if needed.) An initial shift to no-till farming may see a drop in productivity. However, as the soil health builds up, productivity tends to be similar to conventional farming. However, the input costs of no-till farming practices are much less. Thus, even when productivity is lower, the no-till farms are still much more profitable.
The main problem with no-till farming is that there is not a business interest behind it. It results in lower demand for big agrichemicals. Perhaps what they need to do is get big farm implement companies behind it. There has to be a good deal of money behind "no-till" tractor equipment. Perhaps seed companies could also get behind selling more seeds. (Though the author does discuss a breeder who is working on perennial grains.)
The author also takes the discussion across the world. In Africa, he meets with a no-till advocate. In Asia, society has been returning human waste to the ground as fertilizer for many years. (Cities even sell their waste to farmers.) Even Tacoma sells processed sewage as fertilizer. Farmers in North Dakota have adopted no-till to significant success.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Light in August

Light in August tells the story of various people in the small town south. A preacher is disgraced by the bad behavior of his wife. However, he refuses to stop preaching until he is locked out of the church. He finally resigns, but refuses to leave town, even after he is attacked. Gradually, he is forgotten. Too guys make whiskey. They leave town after an incident where their land lord is murdered and house burned down. Later one of them comes back to try to collect a reward for the death of the lady. He claims his friend was having an affair. His credibility seems to go way down - until he brings out the trump card of his friend having negro blood. Now the town trusts him. (Were southerners really that racist?) He also had come to town to escape the pregnancy of a girl. Alas, she has followed him, and now has another guy chasing after her. The various stories are woven together with a timeline that flows back and forth to gradually provide backstory and action. The background helps explain the "scars" of the characters and why they behave the way they do. (Even though the civil war ended a few generations earlier, racism is still going strong.) While the primary characters get most of the print, there are other characters, such as a "wanna be military" gun nut. The storytelling also seamlessly switches between different styles, helping things to move along quickly. The novel was much better than I anticipated.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Tuck Everlasting

Tuck Everlasting is a whimsy tale of immortality. A girl is "kidnapped" by a family. However, they just want to befriend her. They have drunk from a spring and now cannot age or die. They don't want other people to drink from the spring. However, a man in a yellow suit wants to bottle up the spring water and sell it. He trick's the girl's family into signing over the property in exchange for delivering her back. In an altercation with the family, he is hit and eventually dies. This leaves the possibility of the gallows - which would not be pleasant for somebody that can live forever. However, the girl helps them escape. She also helps toad become immortal via the spring water. At the end of the book, the family visits the girl's grave. She had lived a full life. They also spot the toad, who is now ambivalent to any vehicles that may cross the road.
The book presents immortality as a lonely experience. How can you really have life if you don't have death?

So Cold the River

I fell victim to promotions and borrowed this book after hearing a preview at the end of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The first chapter seemed interesting. A failed filmmaker has a knack for identifying important things in people's life. After witnessing a funeral slide show he created, a woman hired him to do a project on her father-in-law's life in French Lick, Indiana.
The book continues with us learning more about his life. He is on the outs with his wife - mostly because he feels dejected for his failed film career. His anger seems to get the best of him.
Once in Indiana, he discovers that the namesake of the person he is researching had lived long ago and would now be well over 100. He also drank some of the mineral water from the area (Pluto Water). This caused him to have hallucinations where he felt he was experience events that occurred in the area. He discovered that his subject was notoriously evil. He also became "addicted" to the water, and would have serious withdrawal symptoms. He hooks up with another out of towner that is also doing research in the area (his family has connected with the black hotel economy of the area.) He does find that "original" water from an elderly widow helps relieve the cravings, while letting him experience situations from a distance. We also meet a Josiah Bradford, a good-for-nothing descendant of the research subject. He is the bad guy and eventually "becomes" the historical figure they are trying to research. There is a huge storm that comes through the area, with everything reaching a simultaneous climax before everyone lives happily ever after.
The book piqued my interest in the area of Indiana. (Apparently, the old hotels in the area inspired the author to write the book.) The book is fast moving and doesn't try to spend much time explaining why some of the supernatural things occur. Some of the key twists (like HAM radio) are fairly well broadcast, though there are some curve-balls. Amazon has it categorized as "horror", though contemporary fantasy may be a better categorization.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

The Hero With A Thousand Faces

The Hero With a Thousand Faces combines Freudian psychoanalysis with mythology to present a "universal" of human beliefs. The comparison of different archetypal myths across different culture is appealing. However, the book gets really bogged down in the psychoanalysis. The discussion of myths is interrupted with analysis of dreams (which often seems to show some sexual or maternal feeling.) The analysis of different mythologies has an odd relationship with "non-western" mythologies. They are at the same time referred and treated as inferior. This may just be a symptom of the analysis which seems to bring out the most extreme views that match the thesis. This leaves me wanting more, and stories are often left half-told, ending once they have got their point across.
I was less than impressed with the book. The conclusion and epilogue were especially demoralizing. He was attempting a focus on mythologies and had great respect for the importance in societies. He acknowledged the many different explanations of myths, and laments the lack of myths in modern society. (Society discovered the "light" of science, but lost the "light" of myth.) There was so much potential in a work of comparative mythology. Alas, the actual work got bogged down with the then-modern theory of psychoanalysis that it was not able to provide adequate treatment of the different myths.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

The House of Seven Gables

House of the Seven Gables is written in the flowery prose common in the mid 19th century. The story deals with a house that has been in the home of the Pyncheon family for some time. However, it was originally obtained by not so good means. (Somebody was accused of witchcraft, and then their property was taken.) Alas, since then, the house has been "cursed". One of the current residents opens up a store. There is also a resident that is in poor health - however, he is rumored to know the source of a vast wealth sought after by a relative (a judge.) The Judge dies and it turns out there is an "indian dead" that is now worthless.
It brings about an interesting point about wealth. If somebody has accumulated a vast amount of wealth and nobody else knows about it, what happens? It may be something that the owner could call upon. However, the people currently working with it would probably just continue on their lives with it as is. It probably wouldn't do anybody else any good.
The book itself has stood the test of time. It has served as an influence for other writers and genres (alas, not ones that I have a particular fondness.)