Saturday, July 24, 2010

UNDER THE DOME by Stephen King


It has been some time since I read anything by Stephen King but I always enjoyed his writing style and his ability to come up with compelling stories. So, when I ran across UNDER THE DOME, the storyline sounded intriguing and I was in the mood to settle in for a long read -- at 1,074 pages, UNDER THE DOME is a long read. I surfed over to Amazon, found a soft cover edition for $9.99, put in my order and waited. The book arrived in a week and I jumped into it. It was like returning to familiar territory. Stephen King is easy to read, surely one of the prime ingredients of his commercial success. His prose is straightforward, with stories told in an easy-going manner that pulls the reader in. We can identify his characters as regular people from all walks of Americana, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. As I read, I was happy with the thought that this was the same old King, a writer I can always rely on to entertain me with both dark and light elements. And he did just that.

UNDER THE DOME is about a small town in Maine, Chester's Mill, that wakes up one morning in October to find itself surrounded by an invisible barrier and subsequently is cut off from the rest of society. Faced with such a startlingly impossible occurrence, the inhabitants of Chester's Mill react in differing ways but it is only a short time before their mounting fear manifests itself in murder, suicide, and a blind dependence on the one character who steps to the fore of leadership. That would be Big Jim Rennie who happens to be a corrupt local politician and car salesman. Big Jim is driven by a lust for power, a control freak who cloaks himself in pithy religious quotes often explaining to others that what he does, he does for the good of the community. Although Big Jim's character is pitted against Dale "Barbie" Barbara -- who represents the good, reasonable side of humanity -- Big Jim steals the show. Big Jim is hypocritical to the core and it is fascinating to watch how King plays with his main character's self-absorbed self-righteousness.

If any of this sounds familiar, it should. Stephen King wants us to think about how people are easily hoodwinked by politicians and the lure of easy money as well as the creeping corruption we witness at all levels of our lives. By creating the segregated community of Chester's Mill, King has offered us a microcosm of American society complete with people from the various social stratums. Some are honest, hard-working citizens, some are shiftless but harmless denizens of the lower class and some are just downright hypocritical figures who don't give a thought to the welfare of others.

Of course, King displays his own biases while unfolding his story. If he didn't, it would not be much of a story and, realistically, what writer cannot remove bias from a fictional account that by its very nature is charged by emotional responses elicited from the actions and attitudes of his characters? While I do not wholly agree with King's apparent political/social/religious positions, I do not wholly disagree either. There is corruption around us, along with all the accompanying motivating factors of greed, runaway desire, and an underlying sense of entitlement. While some of the attitudes expressed in UNDER THE DOME may offend some readers, others will surely clap their hands in approval. Such is the nature of opinion.

My chief complaint against Stephen King's stories (and this does not include all by any means) is the sometimes inability to give me a satisfying, believable ending. The resolution of UNDER THE DOME works for me, even though there are elements of the fantastic. But hey, what do you expect? It's Stephen King! King ties up all the loose ends, a significant act of writing in itself considering the cast of sixty-three characters he has put together.

I thoroughly enjoyed UNDER THE DOME. The author worked hard on this one and it shows. As I said from the outset, reading King again was like a reunion with an old friend. Thanks for another entertaining read, Mr. King.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Today's Quote

"Do as little harm to others as you can; make any sacrifice for your true friends; be responsible for yourself and ask nothing of others; and grab all the fun you can. Don't give much thought to yesterday, don't worry about tomorrow, live in the moment, and trust that your existence has meaning even when the world seems to be all blind chance and chaos. When life lands a hammer blow in your face, do your best to respond to the hammer as if it had been a cream pie."
Dean Koontz

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Review of REMAINS by Mark W. Tiedemann

Mark Tiedemann's book, REMAINS, is a science fiction mystery set in the early twenty-second century at a time when mankind has established itself on outposts throughout the solar system. The colonies consist of corporate-sponsored settlements on Earth's moon, Mars, several small to large space stations, and a distant foothold on Ganymede. The bulk of the story transpires on the fictional space station, Aea, a space community large enough (twenty kilometers by seven) to house and employ a managed population of roughly a hundred thousand inhabitants.

Tiedemann's protagonist is one Macefield Preston, a high-tech security man whose wife turns up missing, presumably dead, in a catastrophic incident at a construction site on Mars. Mace inserts himself into the investigation amid nagging suspicions of industrial espionage and thereby becomes entangled in corporate intrigue and the politics of competing space communities.

To this humble editor, the story seems to turn on two futuristic themes: the handling of information and the management of closed societies within high-risk environments. Tiedemann approaches both of these themes with thoughtful imagination and meticulous detail. As we so often hear, information is the key to power. How information is passed and secured is central to story development. Since REMAINS' main character is a security expert well-versed in data management, we are taken on an inside tour of how off-planet communities would deal with the realities of shared, and unshared, knowledge. As a key component of this scenario, Tiedemann inserts the concept of cyberlinks, people who can accept and store digital input via artificially enhanced brains. This is certainly not a new concept to the science fiction genre, but Tiedemann's portrayal of a cyberlink's persona (Nemily Dollard, Mace's romantic interest) is accomplished with a humanistic style that adds much depth and sympathy to the character. As the tour progresses, we are reminded that the orderly progression of technological societies is apparently accompanied by restrictions to freedom, as we currently understand the term. This is illustrated via the use of constant public surveillance and by the often heavy-handed tactics of the corporate authorities. Although Tiedemann does not discuss it at length, readers cannot help but consider what it would be like to live in an environment where an individual mistake, or worse, an overt act of espionage, could wipe out an entire community in a matter of minutes.

Tiedemann has a beautiful writing style that showcases his intelligence as well as his knowledge of story-building. His characters are drawn with fine detail; their passions and motives fully exposed for the reader's consideration. Such characterization truly adds depth to Tiedemann's work and is part of why Tiedemann stands out among his contemporaries.

Mark W. Tiedemann is an American science fiction and detective fiction author. He has written novels based on Isaac Asimov's Robot universe as well as within his own original universe, tagged as the Secantis Sequence. REMAINS was published in 2005 by BenBella Publishing and was shortlisted for the prestigious James Tiptree Jr. Award in 2006. More can be learned about author Tiedemann and his other works at his web site: http://www.marktiedemann.com.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Support US Territories!

Hafa Adai... means hello!

Guam (Chamorro: Guåhan) is the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands in the western Pacific Ocean and is an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States. It is one of five U.S. territories with an established civilian government.

Although Guam has a long history of European colonialism, the Chamorros, Guam's indigenous people, first populated the island approximately 4,000 years ago. Discovered by Europeans on March 6, 1521, by Ferdinand Magellan, the first colony was established in 1668 by Spain with the arrival of settlers including Padre San Vitores, a Catholic missionary -- significant because Catholicism remains the dominant religion among Guam's indigenous people. The island was controlled by Spain until 1898, when it was surrendered to the United States as part of the Treaty of Paris following the Spanish-American War.

As the largest island in Micronesia and the only US-held island in the region before World War II, Guam was captured by the Japanese on December 8, 1941, hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and was occupied for two and a half years.

During the occupation, the people of Guam suffered terrible atrocities including torture, beheadings, and rape, and were forced to adopt the Japanese culture. The Japanese occupation also imposed a new name, Ō-miya Jima or Great Shrine Island, on the island.

Guam's Japanese occupation lasted for approximately thirty-one months. During this period, the indigenous people of Guam were subjected to forced labor, family separation, incarceration, execution, concentration camps and forced prostitution. Approximately one thousand people died during the occupation, according to Congressional Testimony in 2004. Mariana Island historians estimate that 10% of Guam's population were killed by violence, most by the Imperial Army and Navy.

When the United States' military returned on July 21, 1944, more than 18,000 Japanese were killed in the battle to recapture the island from Japanese military occupation. On the American side, 1,747 US Marines and Army personnel were killed and 6,053 wounded. To this day, Guam remains the only U.S. soil with a sizable population to have been occupied by a foreign military power, since the War of 1812. The United States also captured and occupied the Northern Marianas.

Today, Guam's economy is supported by its principal industry, tourism, which is primarily composed of visitors from Japan. Guam's second-largest source of income is the United States military.

After the war, the Guam Organic Act of 1950, established Guam as an unincorporated organized territory of the United States, provided for the structure of the island's civilian government, and granted the people U.S. citizenship. However, to this day, U.S. citizens residing on Guam are not allowed to vote for president and their congressional representative is a non-voting member.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Rolling Thunder July

In appreciation to my readers for their support, I am offering free downloads of my book, ROLLING THUNDER, through the month of July. Download and enjoy!

ROLLING THUNDER can be downloaded here.

Thanks for reading!