One of the great powers of speculative fiction is its ability to make us aware of things we may not have considered.
PD James was 72, the mother of twOne of the great powers of speculative fiction is its ability to make us aware of things we may not have considered.
PD James was 72, the mother of two daughters, when she wrote Children of Men. (She’s still writing today at 92.) I would guess that being a mother gave her the ability to imagine a world without children, a race gone sterile. For 25 years, no babies have been born; elementary schools are abandoned and condemned, and playgrounds become graveyards. More importantly, the human race has lost its hope, sinking into anarchy and fascism as it winds down. PD James tells an engaging story, but she also spends almost half the book painting such a world, a world where we never knew we were so dependent on a child’s laugh or a to-be mother’s ambling with her pregnancy and expectation.
The hero of Children of Men is Theo, a one-time government advisor who lost his own child to tragedy, a tragedy that broke up his marriage. Theo doesn’t even realize how affected he is by the loss of hope, of humanity’s future. Then, a revolutionary group asks for help, and they show him why – one woman has miraculously turned out pregnant.
For anyone who has seen the brilliant Alfonso Cuarón film, you know the basic premise. However, the book and the movie are a bit divergent. In a way, that’s as it should be; the movie tightens up things, combining characters and making the plot also a long chase sequence with breaks for drama. It still has the same themes and ideas as the book, but it tells its story in action. The book allows for tangents that deepen the sense of dread and utter depression. The book also speculates more on the sort of social movements and government that would emerge from such a bleak situation. In short, it’s a great novel and the movie is a great film. Both experiences were beautiful and eye-opening, hopeful and heart-breaking. (In fact, I read the book three times in a row.)
On a personal note, I found a First American Edition signed by the author to someone named Ann; it was $2 at Goodwill. Ann, you’re an idiot, and your casual tossing away is now one of my greatest treasures. ...more
This is yet another book about Mark Hofmann, the geeky master forger who in the early 80s set about to bring down the Mormon Church. He was doing a paThis is yet another book about Mark Hofmann, the geeky master forger who in the early 80s set about to bring down the Mormon Church. He was doing a passable job embarrassing the church hierarchy with undetectable forgeries, while also creating and selling letters and “lost works” by some other of America’s great historical figures. Hofmann’s work as a criminal was amazing, beyond reproach. No, his problem was that his debt got the best of him, and he desperately started planting pipe bombs, killing two people, to try to escape getting caught. But he accidentally detonated one of the pipe bombs on himself, and some very smart people got very suspicious.
Thus was caught probably the greatest forger the world has ever known.
It’s all fascinating and impressive stuff, and journalist Simon Worrall deftly bookmarks the whole story around Hofmann’s drafting of a lost Emily Dickenson poem. So many people wanted to believe this “new work” was real, and Hofmann’s forgeries and back-stories were so outstanding, that people would not let it die. Over and over, this poem was sold and resold, even by the venerable auction house Sotheby’s, who had a very good idea they were peddling a forgery in 2002, almost 20 years after Hofmann got caught.
There are two essential problems with Worrall’s book. One is that two other books, Salamander and The Mormon Forgery Murders, have been written about Hofmann. (Salamander is actually the best of all three). There is only little new to tell, even with Worrall’s framing the story around Dickenson’s “poem” and Sotheby’s deception.
This leads us to the second problem. Instead, Worrall spends most of the middle of the book filth-mouthing and maligning the Mormon Church and its history. Truthfully, it is a strange, dark history, but one has to wonder if Worrall himself has the same goal as Hofmann does to bring down the religious institution. So much ugly rhetoric, so much bile and vicious vitriol is flung that one starts to doubt the author’s journalistic integrity.
It’s a book supposedly based on history; if a reader (and especially one like me, who knows much about Mormon history) senses such a strong bias on the part of the author, the whole thing begins to smack of forgery. ...more
This is a neat way to relay a city's history, totally through the art. I will say that the pictures themselves are mostly dark black-and-white; the feThis is a neat way to relay a city's history, totally through the art. I will say that the pictures themselves are mostly dark black-and-white; the few color photos are splendid. I did appreciate that Wills tried to take a more conversational approach, but his gimmick (relaying history through art) requires loads of reference that kill that idea completely. This would be excellent as a reference, but overall, this book lacks the skill of a storyteller. It often sounds like commentary about art by a knowledgeable, detail-fixated tour guide. (The voice I imagine is John Houseman's.) ...more