A small percentage of autism and schizophrenia -- among other things -- might be the result of autoimmune disease. It's entirely possible that cases o...moreA small percentage of autism and schizophrenia -- among other things -- might be the result of autoimmune disease. It's entirely possible that cases of demonic possession can likewise be attributed to inflammation caused by the body attacking the brain.
This book recounts the story of the author suffering from just such a mysterious disease. Dismissed as an alcoholic, diagnosed as an epileptic and a schizophrenic, when she was none of those things, Susannah Cahalan goes through an astonishing journey into disease-caused madness. Only the dedication of good doctors brought her back.
It's quite interesting to read a story like this from the inside. The only real trouble is that she doesn't remember much of it, so she had to reconstruct what happened to her. Fortunately her father and mother each kept a journal and she had access to not only the doctors who treated her but also the video of her weeks-long hospital stay.
I found the scientific aspects of it excellent; less so the reconstructed memories, which I thought were unnecessary. It got to the point that I would simply skip the large blocks of italics, because that was Cahalan being artsy rather than journalistic. Someone else may find that stuff interesting, but I'm more about facts than after-the-fact feelings.
Fortunately, there are enough of the former to keep me interested throughout. The reason why this has four stars rather than three is contained in the passage I'm going to transcribe. (It's not a spoiler, because you already know she survived.)
"As I researched my article, I was curious to get the perspective of Dr. Bailey, the neurologist who has asserted that my problem stemmed from alcohol withdrawal and stress, to see what he thought about the ultimate diagnosis. When I reached him by phone, though, it turned out he still had never heard of the illness, even though my diagnosis had been discussed in almost every major medical journal, including the New England Journal of Medicine, and the New York Times.
"In the spring of 2009, I was the 217th person ever to be diagnosed with anti-NMDA-receptor autoimmune encephalitis. Just a year later, that figure had doubled. Now the number is in the thousands. Yet Dr. Bailey, considered one of the best neurologists in the country, had never heard of it. When we live in a time when the rate of misdiagnoses has shown no improvement since the 1930s, the lesson here is that it’s important to always get a second opinion.
While he may be an excellent doctor in many respects, Dr. Bailey is also, in some ways, a perfect example of what is wrong with medicine. I was just a number to him (and if he saw thirty-five patients a day, as he told me, that means I was one of a very large number). He is a by-product of a defective system that forces neurologists to spend five minutes with X number of patients a day to maintain their bottom line. It’s a bad system. Dr. Bailey is not the exception to the rule. He is the rule.
"I’m the one who is an exception. I’m the one who is lucky. I did not slip through a system that is designed to miss cases just like my own – cases that require time and patience and individual attention. Sure, when I talked to him, I was shocked that he knew nothing about the disease, but that wasn’t the really shocking part; I realized now that my survival, my recovery – my ability to write this book – is the shocking part."
-- Susannah Cahalan, Brain On Fire: My Month Of Madness, p. 226-227
Cahalan pulls no punches with her own behavior, and vividly illustrates the pain and suffering her family, friends and boyfriend went through. I maintain that illness is always harder on the caregiver. The emotional cost is gigantic.
There are some really great stories here about life aboard interstellar starships. The hook for this collection is that they're all scientifically pos...moreThere are some really great stories here about life aboard interstellar starships. The hook for this collection is that they're all scientifically possible. Which isn't as heavy as you might think, since the focus really isn't on the science. Plus the last two stories really don't have much to do with it.
The last story is by Mike Resnick and it doesn't belong here. It's a fanciful tale about a race through the solar system and the "real story" about how one ship disappeared. It really should have been rejected; I suspect he's here for name recognition.
That said, many of the other stories are so good that I wish they were full novels. It reminds me why I like short stories so much: cracking good tales that leave you wanting more. It's a shame the book ends with a whimper.
There are a few science essays which detail some of the ways we can travel interstellar distances. A few decades ago I would have found them to be value-added, but there wasn't a lot of new information contained in them. Which is really a commentary on the sad state of cutting-edge scientific inquiry in America more than anything else. However, if this is your first exposure to these ideas then they are well worth your time.
Edit to add:
CHOICES by Les Johnson - A very good beginning to the collection, setting the tone that sometimes things break while in deep space, and frequently those broken things are people.
A COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN by Ben Bova - I really enjoyed this old school story about a stubborn man who knows what the right choice is and is determined to make it, no matter the cost. To win big you have to bet big, and the protagonist is just that kind of guy.
LUCY by Jack McDevitt - I loved this story. This is the flipside of the Bova story where the AI has a chance to go on one last adventure and metaphorically leaps at it.
LESSER BEINGS by Dr. Charles Gannon - This story really feels epic, with an interstellar spaceship used as an escape valve for a warring society. Every time someone loses a war, they take the ship to the next available system. The implication is that they are multiple generations -- and star systems -- removed from Earth, and as a result their society has mutated and stratified. Creating a completely new culture with backstory is something incredibly difficult to pull off, so I'm always impressed when an author does it in a short story. Excellent.
DESIGN FLAW by Louise Marley - This is a solid nuts-and-bolts working-class-spaceman story about a woman whose job is to inspect hard-to-get-to crawlspaces in spaceships because of her tiny size. Her diminutive stature comes partially from being naturally small and from growing up starvingly poor, which made her small. But small or not, she doesn't take guff from roughneck bullies, which causes her to make some tough choices. I discovered I'm slightly claustrophobic while having an MRI, so parts of this story were skin-crawlingly tense.
TWENTY LIGHTS TO THE "LAND OF SNOW": Excerpts from the Computer Logs of Our Reluctant Dalai Lama by Michael Bishop - A Buddhist colony ship funded by the Chinese eager to solve their Tibetan problem heads out for another solar system and the Dalai Lama dies en route. It is claimed he reincarnates in the body of a 7-year-old girl, who wants nothing to do with the responsibility. It's a nice tale of how she ages from 7 to 31 during the journey, with all the politics and dangers one might imagine in any group. I can't say much about the plot without spoiling it, but it's quite good.
THE BIG SHIP AND THE WISE OLD OWL by Sarah A. Hoyt - Another female protagonist, which is a nice trend, but this story felt a little too pat. Some of the things which happen do so just in time, the kind of coincidence which do stretch my willing suspension of disbelief. It's not a bad story, but when compared to some of the really good stories here it's a bit of the B team taking the field.
SIREN SONG by Mike Resnick - This story doesn't belong here either in terms of theme (going interstellar) or quality. This is the sort of disappointing trifle Resnick can do in his sleep, and I'm at a loss as to why it's included. This was a lame way to end an otherwise excellent collection.
Various essays - As mentioned above, the essays are almost certainly value-added to someone new to the game, with excellent summations of current thoughts, theories and designs. I didn't find they added much for me, but then I've been reading this stuff for 40 years now. that said, they are quite good.(less)