I like to read, and I read a lot. So hopefully I’ll have enough subject material to share. I don’t have any great themes ready yet, but I’m reminded of how Bill Gates and Paul Allen got their big break. They had launched Microsoft, but I believe they were a bit unready when IBM came calling and asked the young software company to provide the operating system for their Personal Computer. Microsoft had acquired an operating system called QDOS for Quick and Dirty Operating System, and that ended up being MS-DOS (the PC’s operating system) and the rest is history. So this will start out as a QD blog, and hopefully move forward from that.
Many folks have heard of or seen True Blood, an HBO series that ran seven seasons and garnered both an Emmy and a Golden Globe. Not me, never saw an episode. But the creator of the books behind the series, Charlaine Harris, spoke at a conference I went to last year, so I decided to read some of her titles. Although she’s written SIX series including the one “True Blood” was based on, I picked her most recent series on which to cut my teeth (no vampire pun intended).
Characters: a friendly witch, a “good” vampire, a female assassin for hire, an internet psychic who is also the real deal, and other perhaps even more strange residents of an extremely small rural town.
Setting: Midnight, Texas – a middle of nowhere, “wide spot in the road,” “sneeze and you’ll miss it” town. By the end of the trilogy it will become as much of a character as the macabre inhabitants.
Audience: mystery readers, supernatural aficionados, and/or folks who grew up or spent time in miniscule rural communities.
Essentially, the residents of Midnight do what they can to keep their town and themselves “off the map” despite forces almost, but not quite, beyond their control.
I’d recommend all three books of the trilogy, as there really was not a drop off in quality in my opinion. It wraps up fairly neatly, with the multitude of mysteries and questions raised in book one almost all answered by the conclusion of the third and final title.
Check out the first book (in print, Large Print, or in eBook format) from FRL and let me know what you think!
Zombies! They just won’t go away, both in the stories featuring them and in popular culture. Now we could engage in a long discussion as to why zombies strike a chord with us, how they reach a primal part of our psyche, how an unrelenting, implacable, remorseless enemy that cannot be reasoned with is so terrifying, and so on. But instead I am just going to give you a top 15 countdown of good zombie reads.
Whether you like your zombies slow or fast, created by government scientists or plants or space viruses, mindless or intelligent or what have you, there should be something you find…palatable…in this list.
#15 Death Troopers, by Joe Schreiber
What better way to kick off our zombie list than with Star Wars. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. Set about a year prior to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, it tells the tale of poor souls trapped on an Imperial prison barge that is overrun with zombies. The chief medical officer leads the survivors on a desperate mission for escape with the help of a certain scoundrel and his furry companion, a pair well known to all Star Wars fans.
The prequel to Death Troopers, Red Harvest, is set 3500+(!) years earlier. It feels a little more zombieish to me, but the Star Wars setting in that one will be less familiar to most readers.
This is an anthology of zombie stories featuring some top echelon authors, including Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, and Neil Gaiman. As with many anthologies the stories vary in quality and style, but most are well worth the read. The opener, “This Year’s Class Picture”, by Dan Simmons, is perhaps the best.
The second volume I haven’t gotten to read yet, but seeing how it features stories from several authors that appear on this very list I will surely get to it soon.
An interesting thing about zombies is that they are more varied in books and movies than we realize. In this particular case people are driven into a zombie-like madness from using their (no real spoiler here considering the title) cell phones. Those who avoid being afflicted have to fight for survival versus more than one type of threat in a world rapidly disintegrating.
This may not be King’s best work, but is still a good read. And it is notably shorter than many of his other books, so it is a pretty quick read as well.
#12 Devil’s Wake, by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due
Barnes and Due, both accomplished writers on their own (and also married to each other) collaborate on this solid zombie tale. A group of teens must use all their wits to cross zombie filled territory to reach the promise of a safe haven.
While the zombies at first seem to be pretty standard, virus-infected biting killers, they turn out to be something more. To find out exactly what the zombies are you’ll need to read all the books in the series.
When the zombie outbreak occurs Allison Hewitt finds herself trapped in a bookstore. Not the worst place to start the end of days, I suppose. Allison and her fellow survivors make a good go of living in the shop, but must soon venture out into the world, facing not only zombies but the evil that lurks in humans as well.
If you like Allison’s story you can followup with Sadie Walker is Stranded, Roux’s second zombie book.
A small town sheriff, still recovering from her tour in Iraq, finds herself right in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. She has to fight to protect her people (from both zombie and human predators), she has to protect herself, and she has to find her kid sister, who is out there somewhere. Personally I felt that after a pretty good opening this book lost its way in the middle, but the ending makes it worth the read.
In fact the clever and chilling ending has me eager to read the sequel.
#9 Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austin
Where do we start with this one? How about with the fact that besides zombies we also get ninjas? Grahame-Smith (who also brought us Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter) took Austin’s book and added segments to it, which is where the zombies come in. Turning the Bennet’s into proficient zombie killers, while keeping the original plot intact, is quite an amazing feat. The concept is original, and the writing is sharp.
There is both a prequel and a sequel, written by Steve Hockensmith, but I haven’t read them yet.
#8 Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier
The second anthology on my list, and one quite different from the first. In this one Black’s Team Zombie stories alternate with Larbalestier’s Team Unicorn ones. They write an intro for each story, and in the end the reader decides whether zombies or unicorns are better. Choose a side!
The book features stories from some of the best Young Adult writers in the business, including Scott Westerfeld, Meg Cabot, and Garth Nix. Some top notch writing here, stories that made me want to read more. And I must say that I think Team Zombie scores a decisive victory here.
What a great title! Teen Mary lives in a secluded village in the forest, fenced on all sides to keep the zombies out. Of course things are not all as they seem, and Mary’s curiosity and questioning leads to danger.
One of the things I liked here is that the story is set a couple of hundred years after the zombie apocalypse. It gives the story a very different perspective. The two sequels take us out of the forest and into “civilization”. A related story appears in Zombies vs. Unicorns
Told by the point of view of Andy the zombie, Breathers shows the zombie side of things. Still self aware, Andy falls in love with a zombie girl, and fights against his urges to eat the living, which his parents (who are letting him stay in the basement) appreciate.
While billed as a rom-zom-com, the story stays true to the zombie genre and has its fair share of dark parts.
Appropriately, the heroine of Feed, Georgia Mason, is a blogger. Society is for the most part holding together and keeping the zombies at bay. The chronicles of Mason and her news team catch the attention of senator embarking on a presidential campaign, and they are drawn into a world of political intrigue. Plus zombies.
The first installment of the Newsflesh trilogy, Feed has all the elements of a socio-political thriller as well as satisfying zombie action. And while Grant may not have quite the same knack of predicting future technology that such luminaries as Heinlein, Bradbury, and Gibson did, she does give us an idea of how our current social media habits may evolve in the very near future.
In 2003 Image Comics published The Walking Dead #1, and black and white comic book written by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Tony Moore (Charlie Adland took over the art after issue #6). It kind of became a big thing.
The Walking Dead tells the story of a group of survivors facing one crisis after another. Food, supplies, and shelter are a constant concern, as are bad people and of course the zombies. The comic (which is still an ongoing series, with over 130 issues so far) spawned a hit tv series, and Kirkman has written Walking Dead novels as well.
One warning about this series: it is unrelentingly grim. No real comic relief, just one tragedy after another.
A Southern Gothic zombie novel? Yes, please! While the protagonist here is 15 year old Temple, this is not a Young Adult book nor a light read. All that Temple knows is zombies, having been born after the outbreak. She travels through the south, interacting with both the good and the bad survivors, trying to find her place in the world.
It is these interactions that make up the backbone of this terrific book. The zombies are always there, but the people are what we focus on. And Temple finds that there are consequences to her actions.
I don’t think anyone expected Pulitzer-nominated Whitehead to write a zombie book, but he did. And it is good. In the aftermath of the zombie plague “Mark Spitz” is working on a clean up crew in New York City, eliminating remaining zombies and disposing of bodies. As he works he ruminates on the past, giving us flashbacks of what happened at the beginning, how he survived, and how he came to be called “Mark Spitz”. And of course the zombie plague isn’t as over as we think.
Zone One is as much literary fiction as it is a zombie book, and is not a casual read. Definitely not for everyone. But for those of us it does work for, it works very well.
#1 World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks
Well, no one should be surprised at this. It is, to me, the acme of zombie fiction. Brooks (son of Mel Brooks) first wrote the Zombie Survival Guide, a book that described zombies and the ways to defeat them in great detail. This led to WWZ.
World War Z is told in vignettes, as related to an unnamed United Nations agent some 20 years after the war. The vignettes, presented as interviews, fill in the details of the zombie war, from the start of the outbreak, to humanity being pushed to the brink, to the ruthless and startling tactics used to fight back, and finally on to triumph and the clean up.
Some of these stories are better than others, of course, but the scope of the book is breathtaking. From the Kansas woman, now in an asylum, who as a toddler was a lone survivor and can still recall the events in harrowing detail, to the military disaster at Yonkers, to the decisions of the worlds leaders, World War Z leaves no part of the war untouched.
And so that is my Top 15 zombies reads countdown. But it is just my countdown, and is subject to change (Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion, is sitting on my shelf at home waiting. Let’s hope it makes the cut). For fun I took a look at how these books are rated by Goodreads users:
#15) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
#14) Zone One
#12) The Forest of Hands and Teeth
#11) Death Troopers
#10) Devil’s Wake
#9) Zombies vs. Unicorns
#8) Allison Hewitt is Trapped
#6) The Living Dead
#5) Rise Again
#3) The Reapers are the Angels
#2) World War Z
#1) The Walking Dead
Hmm. Some pretty close, and some not. Please share your thoughts on my list, and let me know what other zombie titles need to go on my reading list. Also, do you think we should have a zombie movie list as well?
A few years ago GEICO, famous for their funny commercials, embarked a series that labeled getting insurance from their company was “So easy a caveman could do it.” While America was laughing, scientists were trying to figure out what happened to the real cave men, the Neandertals (Homo neanderthalensis), and determine if are they close cousins to us (homo sapiens)? Did Neanderthals become extinct on their own, or did some of them inter-bred with humans and pro-create? Some scientists claim to have found NeanderthJuan Lal DNA in the Human Genome.
As is so often true in the world of science, research and theory sparks debate. The research over the fate of the the Neandertals is no different. As far I can determine, there are two contentious theories about the Neandertals: how they became extinct and whether or not they breeded with homo sapiens. Furthermore, are they distinct species or an ancestor of the homo sapiens?
Would you recognize a Neanderthal man or woman if they were walking down the street towards you, dressed in modern clothes? Based the skeletons found and identified as a Neanderthals, they were shorter than modern humans, more muscular, and stronger. With our diverse society nowadays, I doubt they would have much of a problem of blending in.
Much the research done about the origins of humans is related to DNA. Most of us are familiar with DNA if we crime shows on tv. David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, postulates Homo Sapien ancestors evolved in East Africa, then spread out through other continents where they lived together with other hominins, including Neanderthals, who disappeared about 30,000 years ago. It was first thought homo sapiens, or modern humans if you like, were much more adaptable than their new neighbors and took over Neanderthal territory and sources of food, causing the Neanderthal to become extinct. But Reich and his colleagues, after they found Neanderthal DNA in the human genome, contend the species inter-bred to some extent .*
Two years ago, “Nova” produced a three part series entitled “Becoming Human.” The web site for these programs is full of good information for viewers to follow up on what they saw on the videos.
*Carl Zimmer, “Interbreeding with Neanderthals,” Discover, March, 2013 (Vol. 32, no. 2), pp. 38-44. Accessed on Academic Search Complete, 10/05/13.
Listed below are resources available at your local library on this subject:
While some believe that privacy is a trade off for security or that it’s nothing to freak out about, others are concerned about what this privacy invasion may mean for the future: is this a sign of eroding freedom? Not that we’re paranoid or anything, but the NSA has ears everywhere: in your google searches, in your android devices (maybe!), all over the internet (reports say Facebook, AOL, Apple, and more are subject to NSA data collecting), and even overseas.
But it’s not just the big government agencies you have to hide from; Nordstrom, Facebook, Google, AT&T, and even your local grocery or retail stores are all in on the act, too. And that list doesn’t even begin to account for all the nameless entities out there buying and selling your personal data or the hoards of people who might someday be recording their every waking moment (and possibly yours) with Google glass or their smart phones .
Regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, your privacy is more or less in your hands. The two biggest steps you can take to ensure your privacy and data security are to secure your personal devices and don’t hand over your data (even unknowingly!). One of my coworkers often quotes,
“The only secure computer is one that is turned off, locked in a safe, and buried twenty feet down in a secret location –and I’m not completely confident of that one, either.”
So what can you do to protect your privacy? While it’s simply not feasible for most people to unplug completely and go “off the grid,” here are 20 tips to make your personal information more secure:
Securing your device (Computer, Smart Phone, Tablet, etc)
Lock your device with a passcode.
Set an idle timeout to automatically lock your device.
Keep all software and apps up to date.
Install an anti-theft app/software for mobile devices and laptops.
Get an antivirus for your device. Avast! has a free anti-virus for Windows, Mac, and Android (the Android app also come with anti-theft protection), but there any many options out there to fit your needs.
Beware of unknown software and apps and don’t click on unfamiliar links. Installing untrusted apps or software on your device can enable others to access your personal information, your location, or your contacts.
Check your permissions to see what data your apps are accessing. Revoke permissions for apps that don’t need access to your data. Your devices wi-fi and GPS can also be used by some apps to “check-in,” broadcasting your location to potential thieves.
Turn off your wi-fi, GPS, and Bluetooth when not in use and turn off file sharing when on public networks and disable automatic connections to wi-fi networks. These are all avenues that others can use to snoop on your data or manipulate your device. It will also save precious battery life on your mobile device.
If your phone goes missing, utilize any anti-theft measures you have on your device and/or report it to your wireless provider so they can disable your device. When you’re ready to upgrade to a new device, make sure you wipe your old device before you discard it or give it away.
Treat your mobile devices like your wallet: don’t leave it laying around, don’t let others access it, only keep in it what you need to minimize losses if your device does get stolen, and don’t save your PIN/password in them!
Securing your personal information
Don’t transmit sensitive data over open/public networks. Avoid using unsecured wi-fi for important data exchange.
Don’t save your log on information and always sign out of your accounts when you’re done. Don’t sign in to important accounts on public computers. Even taking steps to clear your tracks can’t protect you against keyloggers.
Change your passwords regularly and make them complex and difficult to guess. Your important accounts (including your email accounts) should all have different passwords. For your important accounts, you may want to consider making your username more complex than your real name as well, and don’t use the same username for all of your accounts.
Have multiple email accounts: one secret-ish email address that you only use for important accounts you want to keep secure (banking, utility accounts, World of Warcraft or Steam account… you know, the important stuff!), one public email address for people/accounts you trust but aren’t tied to you financially (Facebook, Twitter, your mom/kids), and another for junk (signing up for social forums, sweepstakes, etc. ). Don’t use the same username/password for these accounts. (For a good tale-of-caution, check out Mat Honan’s account of how his entire digital life was destroyed- within an hour- partially due to his online accounts all being linked to each other.)
When signing up for websites, don’t supply your real identifying information. If the information is not required for an account, skip it. If it is required, give a fake name, fake birthday, fake mother’s maiden name, fake high school, etc or choose security questions that don’t divulge important personal details.
Check your privacy settings for your social media accounts. Make sure access to your profile is limited to only people you add as friends. Don’t add your cell phone number, super secret email address (you already made one of these right?), address or birthday. Check out 10 ways Facebook can ruin your life.
Use incognito mode in your browser (incognito in Google Chrome, also called “in-private browsing” in Internet Explorer, and “private browsing” in Firefox.) While it doesn’t make your traffic anonymous or protect you from keyloggers or spyware, it allows you to browse the internet without saving any information about which sites and pages you’ve visited including visited pages, searches, passwords, downloads, cookies or cached web content.
Delete all old or unused accounts. Those accounts may become compromised and provide your personal information to someone who can use it to access your other accounts — yet another reason why it’s important to vary your usernames, use different passwords for each account, and never provide more personal details than you need to.
My friend carved out a trail through a tangled bog once and allowed me the pleasure of walking it when I had time and good weather. For the privilege, I would take along my cutters and clip back the encroachments. There were places along the trail where Multiflora Rose had taken over and when it bloomed, in May or June, it was like a beautiful waterfall of flowers. My friend didn’t like the rose, because it tended to take over everything, willfully going wherever it wanted, and she was ruthless in cutting it back. I thought it was beautiful and added enormously to the walk, so I only clipped the worst offenders and kept it to myself.
My thought patterns are a little like the rose: they start out small, take root, proliferate, and there’s no telling where they will end up. Others like to keep them contained; I like to just let them run.
These are a few of the ruminations I’ve enjoyed lately. I’ll bet you’ve had similar ones:
Do the folks at PETA use sponges to clean their homes?
If you pour used alcohol into clean alcohol, will it disinfect itself?
Everything is made of atoms, so how do atoms know what to be? And what binds certain ones together to form an object (outside the covalent or ionic bonds)? In other words, how do they choose their friends? And what keeps them from moving independently from one object to another and taking up residence?
If there were no stars, there would be nothing else. No planets, no life as we know it, no nothing. Imagine how cold and dark it would be. I would never get the ice off my windshield!
Though the night sky is full of thousands of stars, space is mostly SPACE. Think of the enormous distances between things. New galaxies could move into distant neighborhoods and no one would know. I wonder if we ever pick up refugees from other universes?
I saw long grass growing in the fork of a tree the other day. One of them has adapted, but I’m not sure which. Maybe both?
What would really happen if you threw a couple of shrimp on the Barbie?
And from my friend, Evelyn: why does everyone get sick when there is a stretch of warm weather in the winter, but they don’t in the heat of the summer.
If you would like some brain-teasers to help pass the cold (?) winter days, try one of these books from the library:
As far as I’m concerned, this is the best time of year.
Some of us are suckers for those first days of spring. Some of us live for the languid days of summer. A lot of us love the cozy season of Hannukah/Christmas/Kwanzaa/New Year with its deeply personal spiritual meanings and joyous celebrations.
But October, with its swirl of leaves blowing across the yard and slanted sunlight illuminating the world in strange ways and nights as crisp as an Arkansas Black apple, that’s where the magic lies.
And looming at the far end of the month like an enormous pumpkin in a darkened field is Halloween.
You can visit Sally’s wonderful October 29 2010 post “Where Did Trick-or-Treat Come From?” to learn all about this shadowed holiday, but there’s one crucial fact she left out — the first jack-o-lanterns were carved from turnips! Can you imagine a more tragic waste of the human spirit than someone hollowing out a turnip?
Anyway, since Sally did such a comprehensive job recounting the history of Halloween (except for those turnips!), let’s set the mood by considering the spooky tales awaiting you at the Fontana Regional Libraries.
I’m not going to mention the novels of Steven King, those are way too easy, like shooting fish in a barrel (which also happens to be a terrific, but dangerous, Halloween Party Game).
No, I’m going to make a plug for those other stories, the ones that grow like an unwholesome fungus beneath King’s considerable literary shadow.
You shouldn’t miss H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels.” Perhaps Lovecraft’s fevered prose isn’t your cup of fur, but there’s an undeniable power in his bleak, existential view of the Universe. Each of his stories is infused with an eerieness that sticks with you long after the book’s been closed.
“I Am Legend” is a masterful deconstruction of the vampire myth set in an apocalyptic America three days from now. Richard Matheson’s prose is stripped down and unsparing. If Hemingway wrote for “Weird Tales” instead of “Scribner’s,” he’d have come up with something like this. The other stories in this collection are pretty remarkable, too (especially “Witch War,” which would be hilarious if it weren’t so very brutal).
William James’ “The Turn of the Screw” sounds like it might be a playful home improvement guide, but this is a different beast entirely. It’s as though “Mary Poppins” had been written by an absinthe addict. Mr. James gives us a harrowing Gothic Novella and an unforgettable portrait of Victorian manners at their most stifling. If “Pride and Prejudice” captured your fancy, you may well fall under the dark spell of this story. If only The Governess had brought a steam-powered Spanking Machine with her, those naughty children would have been straightened out at once.
While we’re on the subject of Scary Home Improvement, how about “Better Homes and Gardens’ Step-by-Step Wiring?” I realize this probably doesn’t seem too terrifying, until you imagine that it’s me messing with your home’s electrical system (the last time I used a hammer was three years ago when I gished a spider that kept looking at me in the bathroom).
Finally, there’s Daniel H. Wilson’s “Robopocalypse,” as far removed from James’s haunted manor and Lovecraft’s Miskatonic University as you can get. The premise is elegant and chilling — an artificial intelligence evolves into self-awareness and quickly decides to decimate the human population. The task is made easier because everything is digital and everything is linked. Remember how HAL coldly dispatched the hibernating mission specialists in 2001: A Space Odyssey? Picture that on a global scale. Believe me, I won’t be forgetting the Incident with Baby Comes Alive. Though the story is set approximately 10 years in the future, its foundations are being laid right now.
(Just to be on the safe side, I beat the crap out of my Bread Machine with a baseball bat, just like Al Capone in “The Untouchables.” I made sure all the other kitchen appliances saw it. They got the message.)
Not Really Related To This Topic, But Kind of Scary:
In a previous post, I described my illicit love affair with the shadier denizens of the Culinary Community. My friend Carolyn found me face-down in my own crapulence and rescued me, but there’s a deep down (and almost certainly deep-fried) part of my soul that still lusts after those forbidden foods.
That’s why I was heartened by this list of 2011’s Favorite County Fair Foods, culled from across the Land of the Elastic Waistband: Chocolate Covered Corn Dog; Deep Fried KoolAid; Deep Fried Butter on a Stick; Buffalo Chicken on a Stick; Red Velvet Funnel Cake; El Bananarito (roll a banana in a flour tortilla, deep fry the whole thing, then top it with whipped cream, powdered sugar, and chocolate sauce); Chocolate Covered Jalapeno Poppers; Deep Fried Salsa; Breakfast Lollipop (a sausage patty on a stick dipped in corn muffin batter, deep fried, and covered in maple syrup) and the Fried Ice Cream Burger (a grease-infused hamburger patty, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickle and a scoop of cornflake-battered, deep fried ice cream).
Meet me at the Fair! (You can meet me later at the Coronary Care Unit.)