Saturday, October 20, 2012

"Botanicaust" novelist coins new sci fi term that explores new territory

Having lived in Alaska for 10 years in the
1980s, this blogger often browses the online newspapers in Juneau and Fairbanks
from his electronic cave here in Taiwan, and the other day I came across an
arresting term I had never heard of before -- "botanicaust."


newly-minted word is

the title of a new sci fi novel by Alaskan writer Tam Linsey, and

since I wondered if she was using the term in reference to an older

word that is part of Jewish history now

-- ''holocaust'' -- I sent her a message via Facebook and asked if we could


Ms. Linsey kindly said yes, and an informal email interview took place

across the invisible wires of the Internet, from Alaska to Taiwan and

back to the San Diego offices of this newspaper.

When I asked how she came up with the title of her novel, and if it was

coined off the "holocaust" term, Linsey said: "You guessed correctly;

I came up with the word by playing off the word 'holocaust'. I love

etymology -- the roots of words. In Greek, the root word 'botan' means

plant, and 'caust' means to burn. In Botanicaust, there is a place

called 'The Protectorate' where the people defend their

city by burning everything within a five-mile radius -- plants,

animals -- even people."

"I focused on the 'botan' prefix because the post-apocalyptic world I

write about has been devastated by genetically-altered weeds, wiping

out croplands and forcing people to resort to other 'nutritional'

methods," she added. "I went through several titles as I was writing,

but I knew I'd hit the jackpot when the phrase Botanicaust came to me

while I was driving."

"Botanicaust" is a dystopian story that takes place some 400 years

in the future. when the world has been destroyed by genetic


In Linsey's narrative, the Earth has become a place, as one reviewer

has already noted, ''where a

few isolated

outposts of civilization attempt to survive amidst a landscape of

deserts and scrub weeds populated by cannibals who harvest what the

description on the back cover of the book calls 'the only crop left.'

The reader can guess what that ''crop'' is: human beings! Remember, this is

science fiction, so anything goes.

Linsey's book, while not religious in tone, nevertheless delves into

some important and intriguing religious issues: one character named

Levi Kraybill is a resident of a small Christian farming colony known

as the 'Holdout'. The people who live there call themselves the Old

Order, speak German,

follow only “Gotte Wille” (God’s Will) and are patterned on today's

Amish people, according to Linsey.

What caught another reviewer's attention was how ''deeply religious''

the novel is, with the author delving into some of the main

themes found in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Bible.

Linsey does this with an open mind, and the characters' search for God

becomes a major part of the story.

When I asked Linsey how the idea for the novel came to her, she

replied: "As a certified master gardener, I am very attuned to the

plant world. I’m pretty sure the first kernel of the idea for

'Botanicaust' came to me while pulling weeds in my garden here in

Alaska. Here the battle against non-native species is growing. I

watched invasive sweet clover creep along the edges of the highways

for years. And then one day a stand appeared on my street. I was

aghast. Eradicating the weed takes constant vigilance, which is

impossible on a governmental level – Alaska simply has too much land

to cover. And then I thought – what if these weeds were

bio-engineered, making them even more difficult to control?"

"The idea for 'Botanicaust' had sprouted," she said.

When I asked Ms. Linsey if, as a life-long Alaskan who was born there

and came back to live after going to college in the Lower 48, Alaska

played a major role in the inception of the book, she said: "Alaska is

completely dependent on outside sources to feed the population. If I

remember correctly, we only produce about three percent of our food

locally. I try to grow or hunt for as much of my family’s food as I

possibly can. I like the idea of being self-sufficient if a disaster

were to strike. In writing 'Botanicaust', I pondered who might be the

least susceptible to something like an invasion of genetically-altered

weeds. I also have relatives in Amish country, and have seen how many

of them still have their 'hands in the Earth,' as they put it. That's

why I chose to make the settlement called Holdout an Amish


Linsey's views about genetic enginering informed much of the book as

well, she said, noting: "As far as 'Frankenfoods' go, I am hopeful the

technology can feed the world – my concern is that we are moving too

fast, without a care for the possible consequences. Not only to

consumers, but to the ecosystem in general. Some crops are pesticide

or herbicide resistant, encouraging farmers to spray. Herbicides kill

weeds and increase crop yields, but the weeds not killed by the

pesticide then reproduce and pass along the genetic resistance to the

spray. What will we do when the spray is no longer effective? The same

goes for pesticides. Add to that the fact that genetic engineering

inserts foreign genetic material into our crops (which is not the same

as hybridization; a mouse cannot breed with a plant), and we have the

potential to create consumer allergies or other disorders. Long-term

food testing is not required. The citizens of America are guinea pigs,

with many people eating genetically-modified foods without even

knowing it. In another twenty years, we may see a surge of diseases

and disorders in the children who are currently eating large amounts

of this food. Or we may not. But I think people should have the right

to choose whether or not to participate in the experiment."

When asked how her own religious background might have impacted the

novel's themes, Linsey said: "I do profess to be Christian, but I am

not religious. Some of the things the Christian church celebrates

today are actually of pagan origin, not Biblical at all. 'Religion'

has been warped, in my view of things. I like to think of myself as

more spiritual. Throughout my life, I have studied many faiths –

perhaps not in great depth, but enough to know which path is, or is

not, for me. I pray for guidance and wisdom often. Like Levi in

'Botanicaust', I think each human being needs to search for God (or

the Divine, if you prefer) their own way, on a personal level.''

Linsey sees her first book as part of a series, although she is not

sure yet how far it will extend.

"I intend to write stories about the 'Botanicaust' world until I’m

tired of it," she said. "That may be three books. Or it may be

ten.Another full-length novel is in the works where we get to see how

Eily has adapted to life at the Holdout. After that, I have at least

one more 'Botanicaust' kernel I’m holding onto."

Friday, October 19, 2012

One very good sci fi novel stands out, one very clunky one doesn't -- a double review

[Not the Fairbanks News-Shiner]

One very good sci fi novel stands out,
one very clunky one doesn't -- [a double review]

FAIRBANKS — Kudos are due to Tam Linsey, who has accomplished a feat that many have tried but few have completed successfully: Writing a self-published debut novel that turned out to be quite good.

“Botanicaust” is a dystopian science fiction piece set several centuries hence, long after the world has been brought down by genetic engineering run amok. It’s a desolate planet where a few isolated outposts of civilization attempt to survive amid a landscape of deserts and scrub weeds populated by cannibals who harvest what the description on the back of the book calls “The only crop left.” In other words, it’s the worst-case scenario envisioned by anyone who has ever shaken an angry fist at Monsanto.

As “Botanicaust” opens, we meet Levi Kraybill, a resident of a small religious farming colony known as the Holdout. His son is suffering from cystic fibrosis, and against the strict rules governing the cloistered settlement, he departs in an effort to locate a group of scientists rumored to live somewhere across the desert who supposedly possess a cure for the disorder.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the landscape lies the Haldanian Protectorate, where people have learned to survive by a conversion therapy that leaves them with chloroplasts and the ability to photosynthesize, therefore needing few calories. It also turns their skin completely green. They wear nothing but tiny breechcloths in order to absorb as much sunlight as possible.

Like the Holdout, the Protectorate is guarding against the marauding gangs of cannibals just beyond its borders. To keep them at bay, aircraft are sent out to burn large swaths of land along with the people found there, although those cannibals that surrender are taken back to the protectorate where they are offered the choice of conversion or being euthanized.

Tula Macoby is a female psychiatrist working in the Protectorate, assisting converted cannibals into their new lifestyle. Her efforts meet limited success, however, and often her patients are euthanized for failing to change their ways.

Levi is captured during one of the raids on cannibals and brought back to Haldania, where Tula meets him and soon determines he’s not a cannibal. Although unable to speak his language, she quickly discerns that he comes from an established village that the Haldanians were unaware of. She becomes enchanted with him, but her boss, Vitus Dedecus, considers him unsalvageable and wants him quickly euthanized.

Readers can see where this is going: Tula decides to save Levi by helping him escape, and in the process winds up becoming a fugitive alongside him. And of course, the two are bound to fall in love as well. But those are among the very few predictable parts of this book, because Linsey has crafted a fast-moving plot that takes numerous unexpected twists. She may be working with some well-worn themes here, including forbidden love, the quest for salvation, and a world undone by mankind’s hubris, but she does so with a relish and originality rarely found even in much of what comes from the major publishing houses, much less the vanity presses.

After a series of mishaps in the desert, Tula and Levi finally reach the underground home of the Fosselites, the scientists Levi was seeking. They have discovered — and keep closely guarded — the secret of immortality, and also prove to have played a hand in the events that initially brought on the Botanicaust.

Unsurprisingly, their formula for eternal life has its own drawbacks, and the Fosselites turn out to present new dangers for our heroes, but we shouldn’t be giving away too much here. Suffice to say that it’s back to the desert, where Levi and Tula are alternately pursued by Haldanians, Fosselites, and cannibals. Their only possible hope lies with the Holdout, but Levi knows that the people dwelling there — who call themselves the Old Order and are patterned on the Amish — will immediately reject Tula; her green skin is viewed by his deeply religious brethren as being the Mark of the Beast.

Linsey explores a number of themes in this book. Obviously, our collective jitters about how far we should go with our experiments in genetic engineering underlie the entire plot, not just regarding the Botanicaust itself but also the steps taken by both the Haldanians and the Fosselites. Yet she doesn’t use the book as a political treatise. The actual events leading up to the initial catastrophe are barely explored, and the characters hold widely divergent views on the nature and capacities of science.

The relationship between Levi and Tula opens up the area of love found across racial and cultural gulfs, and Linsey works with these ideas thoughtfully as well.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this book, however, is how deeply religious it is. Levi is caught in a horrific struggle with his faith, and his attempt at squaring it with the world around him allows Linsey to contemplate some of the primary themes found in the Bible. Here, too, she accomplishes this goal with ample sensitivity and respect. Despite a couple of fairly graphic sex scenes — as well as the shockingly green naked woman on the cover — this is a book heavily focused on the search for God.

None of these themes detract from the plot, however. Like any truly skilled novelist, Linsey keeps the story at the forefront, with both the action and the character development moving apace.

“Botanicaust” could easily be picked up and reissued by a large publisher with little more than a few minor editing corrections. That can’t often be said for self-published works. This is top notch sci-fi.

[However, another sci fi book, also about the distant future, and whose title I am loathe to even mention in print because it is so bad, is set in Alaska, near Fairbanks even, but the book was so clunky and annoyingly cliche-ridden, in terms of plot and characterization, that I am loathe to even review other than to say a few words about how bad it is. That should explain why my newspaper refused to ask me to use my peering critical eye to review the sad excuse for a sci fi novel that the book presents, if truth be told.
To be be honest, I must tell you, this other sci fi novel that I refuse to even look at, is one

of the worst books I've come

across this year. I get over 20 books a week in the mail from would be

novelists and authors from all over Alaska and the Lower 48. This clunky book in question takes the cake.

The characters are one-dimensional, the dialogue is stilted and often

unintentionally hilarious, the situations are merely a series of

cliches derived from any number of other 'end of the world'stories.

There is

little about the book that appears to be truly original, or is

presented with any sort of literary skill beyond the most rudimentary

-- the book's preface rant is so ham-fisted and clumsy that it's

almost funny.

I understand the author's emotional and professional invested in the 'ideas' in

his book . But that is all that it is

-- a single vague idea, and not a terribly original nor a very

carefully considered at that, about a single eventuality that might be

extrapolated from the science and speculation that surrounds the topic

of global climate change, that has been churned into a slapdash series

of anecdotes about uninteresting characters and their unimaginative


Perhaps there
is a decent work of fiction that could be crafted from
this clunky and ill-written book. But if the author herself is pleased with
the results of her novel, and was happy to see it released to the world, then, really,
that's all that matters. I, for one, refuse to even mention the title, its author, or even take the time to review it. I have much better things to do than waste my time with junk.]

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Peter Cook focuses on ''Conscious Living'' in his ''Hydrogen to Human'' Project

"It would seem that the human race is at a crossroads, because for the

first time ever, we can see things not just from a global perspective,

but a universal one," writes Peter Cook, a British expat living in Taiwan.

"That should help us to make future choices, but a glance at the long run of human

history shows that we are flawed as a species,

and not the masters of the Earth as we once thought.''

Cook has been working in Taiwan on a project he calls “Hydrogen to Human,”

and which details the self-assembly of everything in the universe, which

includes human behavior.

"Because we can look at all cultures on the

Earth in real time, we can see which behaviors are common to them all," he says.

Cook adds: "Logic tells you this is who “we” are. The other behavior will have

patterns that are the same, even though the behavior is completely

different. This can also be used as evidence to predict what we will

do in the future."

Take World War I and the current financial mismanagement in Europe and

the US, for example, Cook says, noting "You would think that with just a little bit of foresight,

people would have sidestepped these problems, they were so obvious.

However, we don’t see the obvious until the amount of pain we have to

endure forces us to change."

"Why? Because we are still very much animals whose bodies are a

relationship between two interdependent partners, a mind and a body.

Work from basic principles now, they never let you down. The mind

floods the body with chemicals to make it behave in certain ways. This

simply allows the mind to exist (that’s how DNA works, to just exist)," Cook writes.

"The body needs a control mechanism so it can exist. Because human

beings have no bodily weapons, we rely on tool-making and cooperation

to get the better of the animals we share the world with. We are

programmed to conform, not to make calm logical decisions based on the

current philosophical concepts of the day. We react to the chemicals

in our bodies first and think later (test this the next time you are

driving). As the only animal that can do the opposite of what the

chemicals tell us to, why don’t we? It is very difficult to do, as any

addict will tell you. When you fall in love, or hate, it’s all but

impossible to react calmly."

"The moneymakers and warmongers have learned to exploit this to their

own advantage, another universal trait. Good education can teach the

next generation what to do before the chemicals kick in: They can

react to intelligent rules, rather than chemical ones."

"The problems caused by over-conforming can now be clearly seen:

Religion is now ironically the biggest threat to world peace, the

banks who are supposed to safeguard our savings turned out to be the

biggest thieves and looking from a universal perspective, humans on

the Earth are a product of what DNA does, so we could go on

reproducing like a virus until we kill our host."

In conclusion, Cook says: "We do have a choice, and that requires the number of people who are

making intelligent choices to have more influence than those who make

chemically driven reactions. Technology does not make anybody smarter:

If you are making a mistake, you just make it faster. Good education

with logic rather than emotion as an underlying principle gives us a

tool to save us from our own DNA."