Category Archives: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Walter Mosley and Love

Walter Mosley is the one I go to for great reading, time after time, and genre after genre, because he is a writer who never tires of exploring, in all different ways, how and why we humans keep on going. I just finished his latest work, the first in a series of novellas he is writing under the general title of Crosstown to Oblivion. These novellas are what he calls “speculative tales” about every day people being exposed to “life-altering truth.”

Part science fiction, part philosophical fiction, and part call for rebellion, the two novellas, The Gift of Fire and On the Head of a Pin, are exciting and riveting, with characters that hearken back to some of Mosley’s other heroes and villains, plots that had my head spinning in the best of ways, and completely unexpected but deeply satisfying endings.

Whether you believe in God or the gods or no god at all; in socialism or capitalism; in lasting love or the ephemeral nature of desire; in the capability of mankind to act together or the futility of movements such as Occupy Wall Street, these novellas of Walter Mosley will get you thinking, debating, hoping and praying (in whatever mode you choose).

In The Gift of Fire, Prometheus manages to escape from the manacles binding him to eternal punishment.  The gods punished him for having brought the gift of fire and the path of knowledge to the people of earth.  Now that he has escaped, Prometheus wants to bring down the fire and the knowledge once again, hoping to finally set humanity free from the burdens of oppression, anger, hate, violence, and greed.  He lands in L.A., slightly out of tune with the language and customs of modern day USA and his clothing tattered and spattered with blood.

No surprise, then, that he ends up in the custody of the L.A. police, where he meets up with decent Nosome Blane and gangbanger Luther Unty.  It is through these men that Prometheus begins to fulfill his promise of enlightening mankind and sparking a revolution in thought, action, and ambition — for “when you know a thing is fitting, you must not hold back.” A bedridden boy will become a hero, leading a growing army (a gentle army, for the most part) of the disheartened and beaten down towards changes that just might save the world.

 

In On the Head of a Pin, another unlikely hero, unsuccessful playwright Joshua Winterland, becomes part of a team working on next-generation filmmaking, in which computer generated images become as indistinguishable as the real thing, using a screen made up of fiber optic strands.

Once created, the screen takes on a life of its own, becoming a portal to the many dimensions of existence: “everything that ever happened, everyone and everything that ever lived has left an impression…. souls are carried, enveloped in a co-existing dimension…. vestiges of memory and self-memory live on, kept in place by yet other aspects of an unseen world.” But the portal also exposes the true nature of the souls it envelops, whether evil or good (no place to hide), while presenting past and future events in all its horrible sequences (doesn’t look so bright for us humans).

Joshua must realign his own ambitions to understand what the portal might offer the world and decide just how far he will go to protect the screen against those who see it as a tool for war and destruction and those who see it as a promise of the next Messiah, promising resurrection and eternal life.

Five centuries ago, San Juan de la Cruz wrote that “A la tarde de la vida, te examinaran en el amor.”  At the end of life, what will matter is how you loved. As much as Mosley’s novellas are about good and evil, empowerment and security, inequality and prejudice, and oppression and ignorance, the common core of all of his examinations is love.  Mosley, in all his writings (not only these novellas but also his novels, his political essays, and his mysteries), dissects and explores and exposes love as the defining element not only of who we are, but also of what kind of world we are creating.  Whether we love, how we love, and what we love determine who we are, and what kind of existence — past, present, and future – we live in, on earth and beyond.

And so Walter Mosley is the man.  He is the man for understanding love and all its manifestations, and writing about it, in volume after volume and genre after genre.  Great reading, and great understanding, through the works of Walter Mosley.

 

Words I Love To Hear

“I just read some great books on vacation.”

Those are words I love to hear, because then I am in for the treat of discovering new books to read books, books to be on my to-read list.   I just read some great books on vacation, so get your pens out — time to add them to your list.

A Welsh friend gave me Rape of the Fair Country by Alexander Cordell.  Cordell himself wasn’t Welsh; he was born in Ceylon in 1914 to English parents. But after being injured during World War Two, he was sent to Wales to recuperate and he promptly fell in love with the people, the language, and the history of this small but vital slice of the British Isles. He wrote Rape of the Fair Country in the 1950s and it met with huge success.  It is a novel of historical fiction recounting the uprisings in Wales in mid 1800s, in which Welsh miners protested the greed of the iron mine owners, the acquiescence of the Church in upholding the owners’ vicious grip on the mining community, and the collaboration of the English government in keeping miners and their families living and working like slaves, with no chance of bettering their lives, no protection in the harsh working conditions, and no hope that things would be better for their children.

Rape of the Fair Country could be all gloom and violence, horror and dismay, given the working situation of the miners, the hard and dangerous labor of men, women, and children, and the utter repression of gentry and church, government and Queen (young Victoria  just installed on the throne).  But instead it is a lively, ribald, and thoroughly compelling and robust portrait of the Mortymer family, and all the neighbors, friends, and foes that make up their mining community.  Cordell lusciously portrays the Mortymers’ beliefs, rituals, and customs, and their eventual and thoroughly necessary awakening to the power they must exercise in a world seeking so hard to hold them back, and keep them down.

I couldn’t stop reading Rape of the Fair Country: I just loved it, and I have gone ahead and ordered the next two book in the trilogy, to follow the Mortymer family through the years, and I hope to a better place in Wales, and in the world.

For something completely different, next I read The Damage Done, the first in a now on-going mystery series written by Hilary Davidson.  It was a great quick read, riveting and rollicking, and I loved the heroine (even when she annoyed me), travel writer Lily Moore whose heroin addicted sister turns up dead in the bathtub and Lily must uncover who, what, and why — or risk replaying the family history of self-destruction over and over again.  I look forward to more from Davidson (the latest, The Next One to Fall came out in February) and grateful that I found her in a bookstore in Quebec, as I had never heard of her before.  By the way, kudos to Quebec, where I passed so many independent book stores while trekking through the streets.

 

And finally, my son George handed me the first in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger.

 It took me a chapter or two to get into the strange, harsh world of The Dark Tower but once in, I was hooked. King is a good story teller, no doubt about it.  I have added the next on the series to my list of must-reads, The Drawing of the Three.

 

 

 

 

Going on vacation this summer?  I recommend Quebec for its bookstores, ice cream, bike paths and the great croissants found at Baguette & Cie on Rue St. Paul.   If you read anything great, be sure and let me know. 

Life After Sleep

In Life After Sleep, a fascinating and very funny science fiction novella about an invention that allows human beings to thrive on very little sleep,  author Mark Brand explores the essence of  our innately contradictory nature: no matter how much we humans beings have, we always want more, and no matter how potentially good something is for us, we can turn that good thing into a burden of stress and expectation. Remember when we all thought email, computers, and blackberries would lessen our work load?  Instead we used technology to ratchet up our hours spent working (and wasting time: Facebook cruising, anyone?).

In Mark Brand’s future world, humans can sleep so much less than ever before.  But how do they use these extra hours?  Work takes up more and more of the daily grind, along with complaining, virtual clubbing, and hapless coupling.  Why don’t any of these characters use all their extra hours for reading?  That’s what I would do!

Brand is sharp and imaginative, coming up with all kinds of new uses for technology in this future world, including the aforementioned virtual clubbing, twitter-like friendship following that starts to smell like stalking, and of  course the amazing “Beds” that allow instant REM sleep and deep rest — after just a couple hours.  Brand artfully explores what happens to the routines and rhythms of daily life in a life without (much) sleep. The trouble starts when amidst all the hoopla over less sleep and more work, the side effects of the Beds start to kick in. Life gets very interesting for the cast of characters in this wonderful new novella from Mark Brand and getting back to enough sleep won’t be easy for any of them — or us.

What is so good about this book is that with all his wild imagining for the future, Brand doesn’t forget that the basic wiring for humanity does not change.  Our need to connect, create, complain, and yes, sleep, are not only universal but eternal.

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Parasite Eve: Evolution Threatens

Parasite Eve by Hideaki Sena is a bizarre  and utterly mesmerizing book of science fiction horror.  I never would have found it, much less read it, without being pointed in the right direction by a good friend with a unique taste in books.  I am now pointing anyone I know in the direction: Read Parasite Eve!  Long a cult favorite in Japan, the book was made into a movie (clip above) and its premise — the rise of a parasitic mitochondria ready, willing, and — most scary of all — able to take over the world from humans, is the basis of a hugely popular video game.

But don’t let the movie/video game angle keep you away from what is a genuinely well-written book.  Parasite Eve is populated by richly-developed characters, energized by a well thought-out and patiently delivered plot, and amplified by its educational interludes; I learned all about mitochondria, nuclei, organ transplants, evolution, and the culturing of cells (Parasite Eve makes a strange but effective companion piece to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot).

Underlying the activity of the book — the intersecting interests of scientists, patients, and an unwitting host, all held hostage to the overweening dreams of a centuries-old parasite — is a consideration of the role of “work” and “ambition” in Japanese society.  The characters by and far work too hard, spend too little time with their families, and lose touch with the purpose of life.  When a new form of life threatens their existence, the wake-up call is sounded, but is it too late?  Is it too late for all of us to stop, drop, and refocus on what is important in life?  Read this book and the need for reflection will become clear — along with principles of cellular biology.  Live and learn.

Parasite Eve was translated from the Japanese by Tyran Grillo.

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Reading Scifi and Fantasy from Fresno

I don’t often read Scifi and just about never read any Fantasy but I was thrilled with the stories I discovered in the 2010 Anthology of the Fresno Scifi and Fantasy Writers group, coordinated by R. Garrett Wilson.  Entitled I Dreamed A Crooked Dream, the Anthology hooked me immediately with its prologue of a young woman being held for murder.  While her excuse for the crime puts her in running for an insanity defense (she claims that she knew the murdered man from another reality), it is not institutionalization she wants, but understanding.  And so follow ten highly imaginative and thoroughly engaging chapters, each a story to be understood as a different reality experienced by the woman. At turns funny and horrifying, provoking and disturbing, the ten stories took me to space and back again, to planets and times and civilizations just enough like our own to raise the hackles on my back.  Truth or fantasy?  Science or fiction?  The stories left me creeped out and sweating, and thoroughly satisfied.  Crooked Dreams, indeed. For more information on the Fresno Scifi And Fantasy Writers group, and to order a copy of I Dreamed A Crooked Dream, visit the FSFW home page.

Ice, Oceans, and a Warming Planet: Fact and Very Realistic Fiction

The days I spent reading The Great Bay: Chronicles of the Collapse by Dale Pendell were uneasy ones.  While reading this chilling book of fiction set in the future, I happened upon a very real article of fact entitled “On Thin Ice” written by Ben Wallace-Wells (Rolling Stone Magazine, September 30, 2010) .  In the article, Wallace-Wells explains how glaciers in both Antarctica and Greenland, subjected to warming from above (sun and wind) and from below (warmer ocean currents coming up beneath them) are losing ice faster than anyone thought possible.

Anyone, that is, except Dale Pendell, who envisions just that occurrence in The Great Bay.  Oh no, I thought to myself.  The Great Bay is not all fiction, after all.  And indeed, it is not.  The Great Bay examines exactly what will happen once the giant ice sheets north and south start melting, sea level starts rising, and weather starts oscillating between drought and cold.  In the novel, Pendell makes things even worse for us humans by adding into the mix a worldwide pandemic caused by biological warfare gone awry (presented in such a way as to be utterly plausible).  At night I had nightmares of being in a place where I didn’t want to be. In my nightmares, the place was not defined, it was more a feeling of being someplace horrible than a specific site.  But I knew what I was dreaming about.  I was dreaming about the earth of the future, a future described in great detail in The Great Bay.

Written as a series of historical and sociological papers, bits of memoirs and interviews, and even a few newspaper articles (Pendell imagines that literacy will fade away, leaving the news to be related orally), The Great Bay presents the next five millennia on earth as being pretty grim.  Yes, there are inspiring examples of cooperative living, communal sharing, and altruistic organizing of resources.  There are even some great parties when different communities come together; a few chess championships; new brews of beer; and adventures galore for anyone willing to take to the ever-expanding seas in primitive Chinese junks.  New mythologies based on old religions are invented and passed on to encourage survival and fertility, both of land and of human.

But in the post-pandemic/glacial melting/climate-changed future, there are also bands of outlaws and roving private militias, a plethora of dangerous religious cults, prowling and hungry wild animals, and an increasingly shaky food supply for humans as the weather continues to fluctuate wildly.  And did I mention that population levels fall to below bronze age levels?  Not only does the number of people decline, but what they know does as well. Reading falls into disuse as books are burned for fuel or used for personal hygiene.  It is mostly only the scholars who keep up their skills of reading and writing, and only in order to record what is happening in their world.  Some religious sects still teach their parishioners to read the Bible, and there are those romantics and bohemians still reciting poetry, poems of Whitman and Coleridge passed on as gifts from one to the other.  But for the most part, reading for pleasure has disappeared.  There is no time to read when the acorns need gathering.

Back to facts: the current scientific consensus is that global warming is causing a rise in ocean temperature, as well as causing a shift in ocean currents and in worldwide wind patterns. These atmospheric changes result in the shearing off and melting of glacial ice, north and south. Renowned scientist David Holland, quoted in Wallace-Well’s article, sums up the research, “That’s how it works. The atmosphere controls the ocean.  The ocean controls the ice.” And Richard Alley, a geoscientist at Penn State, says, “What is going on in the Arctic now is the biggest and fastest thing that nature has ever done.” Once the ice starts melting faster and faster, sea level will start to rise, faster and faster. Rising sea level will change the contours of the continents, to say nothing of the low-lying islands, and, according to Wallace-wells, could lead to the displacement of 153 million people now living in coastal areas worldwide.

Scary Stuff, coming true before our eyes. Scientists interviewed by Wallace-Wells posit that even if global warming were controlled and capped now, the amount of warming that has already been stored in the ocean (“the ocean has a long memory”) will result in significant rises in sea level. Nevertheless, efforts to stabilize planet temperatures and restore the ozone layer can prevent the worst-case scenario presented by Pendell (along with some serious controls on biological germ warfare) in The Great Bay.  Perhaps Dale Pendell’s gripping, chilling, and utterly believable fictional account of future life on earth will make all of us stop and think about what we want the future to look like.  We don’t want our worst nightmares to come true.

Creator of Universes and Beyond: Ursula K. Le Guin

I am not really a huge science fiction fan, as you can tell if you go through the books I’ve put on my “Great Books” list (one), and if you notice that only two books grace my “Best Science Fiction” list.  My favorite science fiction I’ve read this year was Kindred by Octavia E. Butler, but that only qualified as science fiction due to the time travel aspect of the plot.  I thought Bellwether by Connie Willis, renowned science fiction writer, was very funny but it was not one of her science fiction works.  I did like Simulacra by Philip K. Dick, probably because of the hapless heroes.

But insofar as the genre goes, there is no doubt that Ursula K. Le Guin is the high ruler of  sci fi creativity, and the master molder of alternative futures filled with new forms of  communication, transportation, and procreation.  As she proves in the collection of stories found in A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, Le Guin is a wondrous weaver of magic, myth, and science into one mind-blowing combo of story-telling extraordinaire.  She was the first sci fi writer to describe and name the “ansible”, a faster than light form of communication now used by authors throughout the genre (and by characters throughout the imagined galaxies of our universe and beyond).

In reading her stories I was amazed and sometimes confused (my sci fi muscles are flabby) by the muddle of  bizarrely-named characters and far-flung planets, the time-warping of places both fixed and unfixed in the universe, and the myriad of migratory modes of movement.  Many of the stories overlapped and transgressed, folding in upon each other to tell the tale of many places and one place in the universe: home is where the heart is, no matter where  –and how — the space traveler may go.

Le Guin isn’t all heavy space-tripping, she writes with plenty of humor, as in her story about a troupe of climbers (along with their “sherbets”) attempting to ascend the North Face — of a house located at 2647 Lovejoy Street! Or in her story about a long-suffering wife who gets her revenge — and fame and fortune too — when alien Medusa-heads (the Gorgonids) turn her awful husband into stone and his recording video camera into a fount of money.

Le Guin writes great science fiction for young adults and old adults (like me); she uses the genre not only to entertain but to open our minds to whole new ways of seeing. An open mind is a very, very good place to explore the universe, both real and imagined, and to explore all the possibilities of our own future.  It’s coming sooner than we think.  Just ask the ansible.

Fabulous First Lady: Simulacra

Yesterday I went for a science fiction break from reality and I was not disappointed.  Philip K. Dick never disappoints and his book The Simulacra was a fun and engaging read.  Set in the future (of course), Dick creates a scenario where the world has been divided into four governing states (one of them is France: as if!).  The USEA, which includes the USA, is being run by the first lady and her husband, the now-inconsequential president.  First Lady Nicole Thibodeau is beautiful beyond compare and has a narcotic effect on her constituents: they adore her and have kept her in office for over seventy years.  Only the husbands change and no one seems to notice that Nicole never gets older, only grows more beautiful and enchanting.  Do you smell a conspiracy? Of course, and it is a great one, one which is not fully untangled and exposed until the final pages of this fast-paced and entertaining book.

Dick throws de-evolution, time travel, Himmler, psychoanalysis, life on Mars, and the enduring power of music into the mix of the conspiracy, and then has the whole plot played out by diverse humans whose only similarity is their desire to survive.  An added bonus are all the great gizmos Dick thinks up, like the commercial bugs that buzz and irritate and nag with advertising, the reporting machines that have taken over for journalists, the living organisms that play back music better than stereos, and the best of all, the simulacra: the man-created appearances of humans, not robots but more real, more alive, more able to manipulate and be manipulated, so much so that simulacra might even be running the whole show.  But who is running the simulacra?

Ancestral Burdens

I was enthralled by Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred. It is a great book. Butler was a science fiction writer, unusual for a black woman, and she was the first science fiction writer to receive a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant.  Kindred is not really science fiction, although it uses the device of time travel to set up the plot and keep it moving. Butler herself said Kindred was more “grim fantasy” than science fiction, the “grim” being the exploration of slavery in ante bellum South.

Dana is a black woman from 1976 California who is transported one day back to 1819 Maryland, to the plantation of her ancestors. Dana is called back again and again over a period of over three weeks in modern time but over thirty years in nineteenth century time.  She is brought back to save the life of the white boy, then man, who will become her great, great, great, great grandfather, and she is only able to escape back to the present when she herself faces imminent death.  As she must play and be a slave while in Maryland, there are plenty of horrifying opportunities for her to be scared for her life, as well as scared for the lives of all the slaves around her. Her white husband is also transported back at one point, and left behind for what to him are five years of deprivation and violence.  He fears for his own life when he is accused of being a plotter of slave uprisings and rebellion, but that is not enough to send him back to the present: he needs Dana.

This book is brilliant — painfully so — in illustrating the inhumanity and cruelty of slavery.  Dana is forced into a personal experience with slavery and she realizes that all her reading on the subject, all her views on what it must have been like, are inadequate to the horrifying reality of what it is really like to have no rights, no freedom, no claim to anything, not even your own body or your own children, or your own mind.  Dana calls it Hell and it is.  And there is no escape from Hell.  Dana learns that education for slaves was not allowed and in most slave states it was crime to be caught teaching a black slave to read or write because with such tools of education, they might more easily escape. Not only was education denied to thwart escape, but when runaways were caught, they were made an example of with beatings, dog attacks, body mutilation, and being sold further and further south, from where escape was truly impossible.

Dana is subjected to one beating, and then another. The beatings leave her in pain but even worse, in the realization that physical and mental punishments  result in the loss of herself.  She sees that she can be broken, made submissive, and be assimilated into a society where to be Black is to be nothing at all. She understands the full magnitude — the bravery and the strength — of the slaves who did fight back, through violence or through escape, slaves like Frederick Douglas, growing up just down the road, or Harriet Tubman.  She also understands the survival mechanisms of those who give up trying to run away.  They remain under their white master: “they seemed to like him, hold him in contempt, and fear him all at the same time…..slavery of any kind fostered strange relationships.”

Dana’s relationship with Rufus, the boy who grows into a slave holder, is strange and horrible.  Rufus is a violent, impetuous, and erratic man whom she must keep alive until the child who will be the progenitor of her own family is born.  I felt so angry — really really angry — when reading about the duplicitous, deceitful, selfish, and vicious Rufus.  I cannot say I understood what it was like to be under the control of someone who can do anything  and get away with it, someone who can toy with your life and the lives of everyone important to you, manipulate and violate and humiliate and you can do nothing, but in my anger I did feel murderous desire to just get rid of him.  As Dana herself admits, she can feel the desire to murder but can she actually do the deed? Faced with a threat to ourselves or to our family, can we actually fight back? Again and again, Dana says she will fight to the death if beaten again but she is powerless, and she is beaten again. That realization — that there is nothing she can do — is the horrifying the nightmare of her transportation.

The book begins with Dana back in the present but missing one arm, an arm that has been left behind, torn from her and left in the past. I found that image very chilling and very perfect.  Chilling because when my sister died, the only analogy that I found to explain how I felt — and how I continue to feel — is that is was as if I had lost an arm, and I would always know that arm was missing but I would have to learn to live without my arm.  I think about my sister every day, I miss her every day, but I have had to live on, without her.  I find the image of the lost arm perfect because Dana has lost a piece of who she is — by becoming a slave, she was forced to lose her own identity as her own self — and even when she recovers, she will never recover the bit of her soul that was torn from her.

To think that there were whole populations and generation after generation, who had part of their souls torn away from them, who had their humanity denied to them, and their hearts truly broken again and again — and I am not just talking about slavery in the South but about genocide and enslavement on every scale, everywhere it has occurred and is occurring: how to mourn for the agony of those people?  I believe the way to mourn is to recognize the soul in every person you meet. To respect every person, to show compassion and not judgment, to offer kindness, help when necessary, and empathy always. Plato wrote, “Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  Some battles and some burdens are harder than others, and Butler has shown us that slavery was a very hard burden indeed.  We are thankful that Dana makes it out and sorrowful for all those who didn’t.

The Stinky Future of Jake and Willy

Yesterday I read The Pisstown Chaos, the third in a series of bizarre novels set far into the future (I hope) and written by the wildly imaginative and just plain wild, David Ohle.  This novel is so funny and so strange — and cannot be read while snacking.  The images are too gross and involve putrefaction and enemas and semen-filled suppositories and parasites, a whole lot of parasites.  In fact there is a whole new “race” of people, those who have become so infected by parasites that they are dubbed “stinkers.”  Stinkers take a long time to die, and smell quite a bit (hence the name) but seem to suffer very little.  Imps, strange creatures that used to roam free but are now bred (and tinkered with) like to eat stinkers. And guess what?  Stinkers like to eat imps.  So where is the humor in all this?  Trust me, it’s there.

Ohle is imaginative in coming up with the foods of the future: starch bars, urpmilk, and the beloved Jake drink, and roasted imp or eel or slug (or raw if necessary, with beetles or without).  His imagination goes lethal in devising the earth of our future: sinkholes leading down to armies of decaying bodies and dying persimmon trees dot the landscape while the waterways have become overrun with deadly and hungry hagfish.  Clean water, clean air, clean land are all distant memories of a very distant past and the people make do with what they have, while the parasites make dominant.

Who rules over all this hell?  The American Reverend Hooker.  He has come up with the ingenious idea of shifting people, all people, every few years, into new jobs, new mates, and new homes in new locations. Shifting will quell protest — who can organize when they are constantly shifted — but the stated purpose is to “cure boredom, a way to perk up the citizenry” and put a new spin on things.  With the steady supply of Jake and willy (a gel-encased drug that makes you happy or sleepy or awake, as needed), and bizarre entertainments (for example, Moldenke, a hero from the previous two novels re-telling his twisted life story and the display of Sally Doolittle, who has a vaginal opening so unique that no one can enter), the people of this novel endure the shifting and get on with the job of living.

Ohle does not take himself or his futuristic world too seriously. He is out to entertain and entertain he does, very well.  Nevertheless, there are some great parodies of the human will (or vice) to devise “solutions.”  For example, leader Hooker is always trying to come up with better imps; his scientists create imps that can have their flesh cut off their backs or rumps for eating.  In the morning all the flesh will have regenerated, ready for eating again; these uber-imps can feed on each other and on their own waste products, and thus are virtually care- and cost-free.  What a concept!  Keep it away from our bioengineering labs please….they’re busy trying to devise a brainless but living cow that can be eaten ( and that is not science fiction).

Ohle is a good writer having fun with words and his imagination and with us.  He gifts us a crazy and yet heroic family as protagonists of this crazy novel.  The Balls family just wants to survive the mania  — and the chaos — of the era.  Through every trial and tribulation they hang onto their inventiveness (Grandpa invented the Jake drink and Grandma invented a better pedal machine) and their sang froid and their derring-do.  Nothing seems to rattle the Balls family (they’ve got balls, and also more than a few screws loose) and they are excellent at going with the flow until the right wave comes for them to ride on out of the mess.  We’re with them every step, laughing and whooping.  And we’re oh so grateful for our current state of clean water, clean bathrooms, and the precursor to the starch bars, the Carnation breakfast bar.