Category Archives: Authors

Too Fantastic To Be True

                   

The next Presidential election will be in less than four months, or it is supposed to be. That something unforeseen could delay or even prevent an election has now become a concern in some quarters. After all, since the last Presidential election, how many times a day have you said, “This is all too fantastic to be true”? Pundits on cable TV visibly scratch their heads and are often at a loss to compose articulate sentences. The frowns and nervous laughs are a daily part of recounting the latest bizarre antics of a man and his administration that defies all semblance of normality. Revered, brilliant scholars stare dead-eyed into their Zoom-enabled cameras to offer up nothing more than frazzled apologies for not having a better explanation as to why the world we once understood is upside down and inside out. “You couldn’t make this up!” Is repeated constantly, followed by, “it’s hard to separate fantasy from reality!” 

Fantasy vs. reality is a mainstay of another cultural phenomenon, Science Fiction.  A series of interviews we conducted last year with top writers of the genre, prompted a return visit to examine how they view fantasy vs. reality. Christopher MariJeremy K. BrownKameron Hurley, and Meg Elison each have a captivating perspective on our world and the blurred line between fantasy and reality. Yes, this edition of Life Elsewhere is a conscious diversion from the real-life absurdity we are all living in. Optimistically, we will all get through and rise above this dire period, and like most good science fiction stories, we’ll venture on to a better world.

Show #380

A Deadly Virus & A Disturbing Truth

                           

New York Times-bestselling author Robin Cook wrote Pandemic, his medical-thriller more than two years before Covid-19. The pulse-pounding story begins when an unidentified, healthy, well-dressed woman is struck down by a sudden respiratory illness on the subway as opportunist thieves snatch her phone and backpack. By the time she’s rushed to hospital, she’s dead. Ending up on forensic pathologist Dr. Jack Stapleton’s autopsy table as the potential victim of a contagion, reveals surprising findings. Fearing what could be the first in a severe outbreak of a deadly virus similar to the 1918 influenza pandemic, Jack works in overdrive for a diagnosis and to identify the woman. A task made more urgent when two other victims succumb to a similar rapid death. But nothing makes sense until his investigation leads him into the fascinating realm of CRISPR/CAS9, gene-editing biotechnology that’s captured the imagination of the medical community. . . and the attention of its most unethical members. Cook’s critical opinion of the greed dominating the business of the medical professions and the sad politics of health care in the United States makes this so pertinent now, as we live through a real pandemic.

For too long the Religious Right has masqueraded as a social movement preoccupied with a number of cultural issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage. In her deeply reported investigation, Katherine Stewart reveals a disturbing truth: this is a political movement that seeks to gain power and to impose its vision on all of society. America’s religious nationalists aren’t just fighting a culture war, they are waging a political war on the norms and institutions of American democracy. Stewart pulls back the curtain on the inner workings and leading personalities of a movement that has turned religion into a tool for domination. She exposes a dense network of think tanks, advocacy groups, and pastoral organizations embedded in a rapidly expanding community of international alliances and united not by any central command but by a shared, anti-democratic vision and a common will to power. She follows the money that fuels this movement, tracing much of it to a cadre of super-wealthy, ultraconservative donors and family foundations. She shows that today’s Christian nationalism is the fruit of a longstanding anti-democratic, reactionary strain of American thought that draws on some of the most troubling episodes in America’s past. It forms common cause with a globe-spanning movement that seeks to destroy liberal democracy and replace it with nationalist, theocratic and autocratic forms of government around the world. Religious nationalism is far more organized and better funded than most people realize. It seeks to control all aspects of government and society. Its successes have been stunning, and its influence now extends to every aspect of American life, from the White House to state capitols, from our schools to our hospitals. The Power Worshippers is a brilliantly reported book of warning and a wake-up call. Stewart’s probing examination demands that Christian nationalism be taken seriously as a significant threat to the American republic and our democratic freedoms.

Show #378

Two Compelling Books

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Peter Bergen – Trump And His Generals; The Cost Of Chaos

Peter Bergen

It is a simple fact that no president in American history brought less foreign policy experience to the White House than Donald J. Trump. The real estate developer from Queens promised to bring his brash, zero-sum swagger to bear to cut through America’s most complex national security issues, and he did. If the cost of his “America First” agenda was bulldozing the edifice of foreign alliances that had been carefully tended by every president from Truman to Obama, then so be it. It was clear from the first that Trump’s inclinations were radically more blunt force than his predecessors’. When briefed by the Pentagon on Iran and the Strait of Hormuz, he exclaimed, “The next time Iran sends its boats into the Strait: blow them out of the water! Let’s get Mad Dog on this.” When told that the capital of South Korea, Seoul, was so close to the North Korean border that millions of people would likely die in the first hours of an all-out war, Trump had a bold response, “They have to move.” The officials in the Oval Office weren’t sure if he was joking. He raised his voice. “They have to move!” Very quickly, it became clear to a number of people at the highest levels of government that their gravest mission was to protect America from Donald Trump. Trump and His Generals is Peter Bergen’s riveting account of what happened when the unstoppable force of President Trump met the immovable object of America’s national security establishment–the CIA, the State Department, and, above all, the Pentagon. If there is a real “deep state” in DC, it is not the FBI so much as the national security community, with its deep-rooted culture and hierarchy. The men Trump selected for his key national security positions, Jim Mattis, John Kelly, and H. R. McMaster, were products of that culture: Trump wanted generals, and he got them. Three years later, they would be gone, and the guardrails were off. From Iraq and Afghanistan to Syria and Iran, from Russia and China to North Korea and Islamist terrorism, Trump and His Generals is a brilliant reckoning with an American ship of state navigating a roiling sea of threats without a well-functioning rudder. Lucid and gripping, it brings urgently needed clarity to issues that affect the fate of us all. But clarity, unfortunately, is not the same thing as reassurance.

Colin Woodard – Union: The Struggle To Forge The Story Of United States Nationhood

Colin Woodard

Union tells the story of the struggle to create a national myth for the United States, one that could hold its rival regional cultures together and forge, for the first time, an American nationhood. It tells the dramatic tale of how the story of our national origins, identity, and purpose was intentionally created and fought over in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. On one hand, a small group of individuals–historians, political leaders, and novelists–fashioned and promoted a history that attempted to transcend and erase the fundamental differences and profound tensions between the nation’s regional cultures. America had a God-given mission to lead humanity toward freedom, equality, and self-government and was held together by fealty to these ideals. This emerging nationalist story was immediately and powerfully contested by another set of intellectuals and firebrands who argued that the United States was instead an ethnostate, the homeland of the allegedly superior “Anglo-Saxon” race, upon whom Divine and Darwinian favor shined. Their vision helped create a new federation–the Confederacy–prompting the bloody Civil War. While defeated on the battlefield, their vision later managed to win the war of ideas, capturing the White House in the early twentieth century, and achieving the first consensus, a pan-regional vision of U.S. nationhood in the years before the outbreak of the First World War. This narrower, more exclusive vision of America would be overthrown in mid-century, but it was never fully vanquished. Woodard tells the story of the genesis and epic confrontations between these visions of our nation’s path and purpose through the lives of the key figures who created them, a cast of characters whose personal quirks and virtues, gifts, and demons shaped the destiny of millions.

Show #377

 

Bad Books, Bad Movies, & Polite Behavior

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Since its publication in 1966, Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls has reigned as one of the most influential and beloved pieces of commercial fiction. Selling over thirty-one million copies worldwide, it revolutionized overnight the way books got sold, thanks to the tireless and canny self-promoting Susann. It also generated endless speculation about the author’s real-life models for its larger-than-life characters. Turned in 1967 into an international box-office sensation and morphing into a much-beloved cult film, its influence endures today in everything from films and TV shows to fashion and cosmetics tributes and tie-ins. Susann’s compulsive readable exposé of three female friends finding success in New York City and Hollywood was a scandalous eye-opener for its candid treatment of sex, naked ambition, ageism, and pill-popping, and the big-screen version was one of the most-seen and talked-about movies of the time. Stephen Rebello’s new book, Dolls! Dolls! Dolls! Deep Inside Valley Of The Dolls, The Most Beloved Bad Book & Movie Of All Time dishes the dirt on that hugely successful book and movie and uncovers how the movie has become a cherished widely imitated camp classic. 

Continuing on from over-the-top performances we asked film and media critic, Bob Ross to share his idea of best bad movies. He focuses in on the decade, ’79 – ’89 and suggests bad movies can also have great soundtracks, like Rock & Roll High School featuring The Ramones. Bob also warns that his list of bad movies should be watched alone for fear of ridicule by those with a more sophisticated taste.  

From bad books and movies, we turn to bad behavior. Vulgar, rude, obnoxious, unrefined are just some of the epithets used to describe the current President. Polite behavior seems to have escaped his daily routine. If it were possible, we believe he could learn a lot from Galateo: Or, The Rules of Polite Behavior. Although written in Renaissance Italy, it’s just as fresh and pertinent today. Editor and translator, Matthew Rusnak offers a droll take on academia, explaining how the author, Giovanni Della Casa, gives instructions for civilized behavior, which includes making sure nothing falls out of your nose when passing someone a drink.

Show #376

The Way Of Birds. The Ways Of Prue.

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Jennifer Ackerman photo by Sofia-Runarsdotter

The Bird Way: A New Look At How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent and Think by Jennifer Ackerman

“There is the mammal way and there is the bird way.” But the bird way is much more than a unique pattern of brain wiring, and lately, scientists have taken a new look at bird behaviors they have, for years, dismissed as anomalies or mysteries –– What they are finding is upending the traditional view of how birds conduct their lives, how they communicate, forage, court, breed, survive. They are also revealing the remarkable intelligence underlying these activities, abilities we once considered uniquely our own: deception, manipulation, cheating, kidnapping, infanticide, but also ingenious communication between species, cooperation, collaboration, altruism, culture, and play. Drawing on personal observations, the latest science, and her bird-related travel around the world, from the tropical rainforests of eastern Australia and the remote woodlands of northern Japan to the rolling hills of Lower Austria and the islands of Alaska’s Kachemak Bay, Jennifer Ackerman shows there is clearly no single bird way of being. In every respect, in plumage, form, song, flight, lifestyle, niche, and behavior, birds vary.

Anna Dorn

Vagablonde by Anna Dorn

Prue is a 30-year-old attorney who wants two things, the first is to live without psychotropic medication, and the second is to experience success as a rap artist. Her life is good on paper: she has an easy government job and a nice girlfriend who gets her into all the right shows, but she wants to truly thrive. When Prue is introduced to music producer Jax Jameson, a human disco ball as manic and unpredictable as he is talented, they instantly vibe. Prue joins Jax’s “Kingdom,” a collective of musicians and artists who share Prue’s aesthetic sensibilities and lust for escapism. Soon, she’s off her meds, closing her law practice, and becoming entangled with a suspect crew of heavy drug users. The group they form, Shiny AF, quickly reaches cult status, and using the stage name Vagablonde, Prue finds herself in a new reality dependent on self-commodification and her growing fandom’s approval. This is the background to LA-based writer, Anna Dorn’s debut novel. But, as you will discover in Anna’s conversation with Norman B, there’s more: a revealing study of LA’s millennial-hipster-scene, drug use, music-obsessives, sexual fluidity, and the big question – is Prue, Anna Dorn

Show #373

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