The week traditionally (Yes, I use that word – some people were raised with Kwanzaa) ends with a feast and gift-giving. I always say, books make great gifts 😉
A hundred years ago this month, a young man wanted to be a designer-draftsman. In classes, he produced drawings that are fascinating and beautiful. But the job market didn’t allow him to enter his chosen field. He did something else, fell in love, married, raised a daughter, and eventually left the family home in New York to retire with his wife to a small apartment in Florida.
That young man was my husband’s great uncle. I never heard him talk about his early ambition. By the time I met him it was ancient history. But all through the years, even when he had to shed possessions to downsize their home, Uncle Irving kept a half-dozen drawings from his drafting classes.
After he died, Aunt Mildred gave the drawings to my husband and me. She said, since we were engineers, she hoped we’d appreciate them. The drawings had been rolled up for decades, but with care I was able to mount them in frames. They’ve hung in our home ever since. Uncle Irving, you would have been a great designer-draftsman.
Today I’m pleased to present a guest post by E J Randolph, author of a fascinating scifi series that follows a diplomat solving planetary problems. Though there’s plenty of action and good characters, it’s EJ’s unique perspective I especially enjoy. Take it away, EJ.
I use history in my science fiction. Strange as it seems, to write about the future, I have to know the past.
My main character is a Federation diplomat who goes to planets troubled by civil unrest, and she brings about peace through unusual but still historically valid methods.
That means I have to know how insurgencies develop.
There is a continuum that all insurgencies follow. First there is a movement. The government cracks down. The movement organizes. The government cracks down with violence. The insurgents pick up weapons, and a shooting war starts.
You may have noticed something. The government is driving the escalation of violence. In the news, the rebels are always portrayed as instigating things. No, the government is unwilling to share any power or address any issues.
Consider the problem: Does anyone willingly give up power?
Yeah, now you know why insurgencies seem to have an innate dynamic, why they seem unstoppable. Because the government has mishandled things.
And, that my friends, is a lesson of history.
I usually post short science news pieces, but it’s a shame to miss the story behind science. The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story offers a fascinating tale of discovery.
Since the first Europeans set foot in the Americas, they chased rumors of “lost” cities of gold. The first third of his book, Douglas Preston recounts the adventures of an amazing group of, generally, con-artists claiming to have found the Monkey God City in an inaccessible jungle – and would rich donors just give them more money to prove it. These characters make for fun reading.
But there are real ruins in Honduras, and the Monkey God City legend is a conglomeration of real places. Space age technology and changing politics in Honduras enabled a scientific team to take up the search. Deadly snakes, deadly insects, drug cartels, dense jungle, and sucking mud all provide a thrilling backdrop to the expedition.
Scientists must be brave sometimes, and it helps to hire ex-military survival experts.
Preston joined a team of scientists on a groundbreaking new quest. In 2012 he climbed aboard a rickety, single-engine plane carrying the machine that would change everything: lidar, a highly advanced, classified technology that could map the terrain under the densest rainforest canopy. In an unexplored valley ringed by steep mountains, that flight revealed the unmistakable image of a sprawling metropolis, tantalizing evidence of not just an undiscovered city but an enigmatic, lost civilization.
Read about the history of the Americas. Read about their discovery – as exciting as any tale spun by one of those early con-artists.
By the middle of the book I thought the story was done, but there’s more coming. Preston recounts what is known today of the first contacts between Americans and Europeans. I have read before that European diseases spread ahead of the Spanish, but had no grasp of the magnitude of the disaster. Current studies indicate that about 90% of the Native Americans were killed, most before they ever saw a European.
Those deaths tie into the aftermath of Preston’s Honduran trip. An horrid disease spread by sand flies infected many of his group.
This disease is worthy of a scifi horror movie – it can eat your face away, right into the bones. They required care by federal government infectious disease experts, and even the latest treatments can only put the disease into remission. There’s irony in comparing the modern and historical experiences.
Danger has not stopped the research in Honduras. The team has returned and expanded. Watch the news for more about this ancient Honduran civilization. And in the meantime, read this book.
What others are saying
With 4.4 stars and over 1400 reviews on Amazon, the book deserves its place as #1 in its Archeology category. Some reviewers didn’t want to read about the history, or modern Honduran politics, or other topics that surround the Lost City itself. Others thought the technologies used to discover the city were covered in too much detail.
If all you want is the archeology, the book may be too long for you. But if you enjoy the gem of a Lost City placed in a magnificent setting, this is for you.
The Irish have been making butter for a very long time, at least 5,000 years. We know, because some of it is still around.
Finding buried treasure is a dream as old as story-telling. Treasure chests overflowing with gold doubloons, shiny lamps containing genies, gargantuan lumps of thousand-year-old butter… with a distinctive, pungent and slightly offensive smell.
Some poor soul buried their store of butter and never returned for it. I bet there’s a story in that.
People who sample bog butter say it tastes more like cheese and modern butter, but after thousands of years I’d expect something to change. Bogs are acidic, cold-water swamps that exclude most oxygen. They occur is various north European countries and butter isn’t the only thing preserved there. Studies have shown burying meat in a bog is as effective as keeping it in a modern freezer. You may be more familiar with mummies found in bogs.
I’d love to spread some bog butter on my morning toast, but I’d want it cultured for pathogens first! I’m a wimp.
Wild in the deserts
Of Egypt and Sudan,
Grows hard and bitter fruit
Called gurma in that land.
Harvested and hoarded
Somewhere in the shade,
It holds a fount of water
In green flesh that it made.
Water for dry seasons,
Water kept in storage,
Water for a Pharaoh’s Ba
On his celestial voyage.
The fibrous fruit was pounded,
So juices bound would flow.
A gift to desert dwellers
Five millennia ago.
From one gene only, dominant,
Its bitter taste was made,
So when recessive flowers met
The bitterness did fade.
Melons bearing yellow flesh,
By Common Era’s time,
Rabbis grouped with grapes and figs
As sweet within the rind.
The gene for sugar links with red,
Though DNA was not yet spelled,
Medieval farmers bred
A fruit fit for angels.
Ruby slabs of watermelon
Decorate my table,
While in the wild deserts
Its ancestral stock is stable.
Civilization could collapse,
There could be Armageddon.
But in five thousand years,
Our Kin could once again
Thanks to nationalgeographic.com. And thanks to Mark Twain for writing that watermelon is what the angels eat.
All my books, including collections of my science-inspired poetry, are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, Kobo, and other major online retailers. You’ll also find paperbacks at Create Space and all major digital formats at Smashwords. Read one today.