Tuesday, 13 March 2018

The United States of America as a Dictatorship?

Ruby reviews American Values by Jim Williams

American Values - an alternative history of the United States

Alternative histories are a tempting canvas for historical fiction writers. The “What if?” question might be, for example, a different outcome to a major battle or war, the survival of a key figure who died relatively young or the early demise of a stabilising character. Sometimes the novel places another perspective on a famous historical event that is shrouded in some mystery, offering an explanation where conspiracy theories hold sway. 

American Values by Jim Williams uses both of these devices and places the reader in a 1963 which has already seen three decades of Presidential rule by a charismatic individual who has turned democracy into a dictatorship, founded upon his nationalistic American Values policy. The figurehead, “Big A”, is a despicably familiar character who rose to power during a time of American crisis, survived attempts to depose him and built a formidable police state around his personality cult. But no one lives forever and the natural end of his reign is approaching. 

“Big A” is not, however, the main figure in American Values so much as a key component explaining the context of how America could have become an authoritarian country ravaged by decades of large-scale wars fought on foreign soils. The Old Man is expected to depart soon and the life or death race for succession is on. Harry Bennet, a foreign correspondent, is the main character in this historical thriller and we see through his eyes how thirty years of “Big A” has resulted in a society where no one trusts anyone, colleagues, friends and family are encouraged to denounce each other, and multiple security forces compete for primacy. (The characters fronting these forces will be familiar to the reader.)

Harry starts out with good intentions but becomes tangled in the General State Police web when he falls in love with Maria, whose racial ancestry might not stand up to American Values’ scrutiny. Harry’s first favour for the regime results in a bullet in the brain for a government operative and Harry is left holding the smoking gun. He and Maria go on the run and begin to discover too much about American Values.

Some might say that a country like the United States could never become an authoritarian society; that institutionalized racial persecution would not be tolerated by the free-thinking populace; that the USA would never send all of its young men abroad to defend and secure the nation’s interests and conquer the enemy. But the country has arguably never had a dominant charismatic leader in a time of crisis. Lenin and Stalin’s impact upon the USSR was profound and their legacy endured long after the characters departed. As for the key actor in 1930s Germany…what if? 

Jim Williams takes dark aspects of human nature from other parts of history and transplants them into the fertile soil of American Values. The result is a gripping and harrowing tale from which no one emerges covered in glory, but at least some survive.

American Values by Jim Williams is available on Amazon in paperback and ebook.

Friday, 19 January 2018

The Collector

We Brethren have an ancient accord with the bipeds. It's a symbiotic relationship and benefits both species. I like to compare it with the ants and aphids dynamic. The ants protect and the aphids feed them.

Historically, the Brethren had no need of the bipeds. We were perfectly capable of hunting our own food and we're natural predators, so we had no need of protection. But at some point, long ago forgotten, a pale, hairless species with only two legs bartered their food for the sharp teeth, tough claws, snapping jaws and swift legs of the Brethren, and we took the bipeds under our wing. That's a metaphorical wing, obviously.

In modern times, things have become very domesticated. The bipeds have developed their shelters and provide themselves with an endless variety of toys to while away their long hours of sedentary life. They've lost the hunting and foraging skills that first attracted the Brethren to the accord and they no longer take their food from the land. Instead, they mimic foraging in a controlled environment where the food and drink items are displayed (barely concealed) in a single structure. The feeble enthusiasm with which the younger bipeds greet the elders, when they return from fake-foraging, is a pale echo of the past.

However, bipeds still need our protection, and so the Brethren maintains the bargain. We keep them safe from predators (some of whom are bipeds) and provide them with continuous reassurance that the perimeter is secure. If a member of another biped pack attempts an incursion on our joint territory, then we repel them until our own bipeds show signs that they feel safe with the intruders. Bipeds are naturally nervous. Anything from a knock on the door, a bell ringing, the rattle of a fence panel or any unfamiliar noise will cause them to raise their heads from their toys and throw a worried glance at us. It's expected that we will launch a show of aggression against the threat and, to do so, we maintain constant vigilance. All this for two meals a day and a bowl of water. I sometimes wonder if the accord is stacked against the Brethren, but this is the accord and we keep it.

My particular pack of bipeds are typical of those in the area. Pale-skinned and virtually hairless, constantly chattering nonsense, teeth and claws that are useless for defending themselves. Slow, awkward and unbalanced, they are easy meat for any carnivore and so they travel around mostly within protective metal structures that can move faster than any biped.

I've been with this pack now for five sun circles. The behaviour of bipeds, from what I understand from my forefathers, has degenerated in recent generations. My biped pack leader, well I assume he's the alpha-male although the dynamic in the pack seems somewhat fluid at times, is particularly slow and stiff. He needs exercise at least once a day but is reluctant to venture out if the weather is bad. I can understand this to some extent - if my skin was bare to the elements, except for a grey fuzz around the snout, then would I be bothered with the ritual of cladding myself in layers of material just for twenty minutes of shuffling around the external environment? Probably not.

The lead biped - the other pack members call him Dad or sometimes Bark (they can't pronounce the B and it comes out sounding like Mmmark) - is easily led. Now and then he will stop during the walk to look at his toy or chatter to the ground, sky or another biped if they appear non-threatening. If the area is secure then I will let him disconnect and wander freely. I maintain a perimeter patrol while he ambles along and it's never difficult to find him as he always follows the same route. If he's in distress then he emits a weird, high-pitched sound which means he needs my protection. I'll come running to his aid, although if there's no visible threat then I might take my time about it.

The strange behaviour that has led me to assign a nick-name to my biped pack leader is his fascination with excrement. Bipeds are notoriously secretive with their own bodily waste and seem to store it under the dwelling, which is bad enough. Any sane living thing knows that the elements are the way to treat natural waste, but I have never seen an adult biped defecate in public. Dad or Bark has extended this strange obsession with my own doings and goes through a bizarre ritual whenever I perform my toilet during his walk. He huffs and puffs, rummages within the layers of material covering his pale and hairless body, and produces his right hand - always his right - covered in some thin and crinkly unnatural sheeting. Then he strides purposefully - the only time he moves in this way during the entire walk - to my delivery site and painfully bends his knees to examine my faeces. There are usually some mutterings which sometimes put a smile on his face, and then he scoops up my waste and twirls it around in the crinkly sheeting. About half way through the walk, he places the package in a green receptacle. From the smell in passing this receptacle, I can tell this is a communal collection. I once saw a man in a small vehicle empty the green receptacle, presumably to take the contents off to a larger collection point. I imagine that is a place of worship.

The Dad or Bark character now goes by the name of The Collector when I think of him or discuss him with other Brethren. On days that the weather is too bad for The Collector to venture out for his exercise, I naturally take care of my business on the patch of grass at the rear of the pack dwelling. This poses no problem that I know of, as the pack never uses that grass and nature's elements will dispose of things within a few spins of the planet. But no, The Collector doesn't want to miss an opportunity and every few days he will spend some quality time shuffling around the dwelling grass and collecting my deposits in a bucket. The Collector is very methodical in this, appearing to cover the area in quadrants, although he often misses something. I try to be creative in my locations, so as to make the experience more fulfilling for The Collector. When he thinks he has collected all, he ambles down to the end of the dwelling grass, where he has created a kind of shrine, and there he piles his collection. He mutters a few ritual sounds, grabs a handful of leaves or grass, sprinkles them on top and nods his head before returning to the safety of the dwelling. Then he resumes to play with his toys.

This is the modern biped world of fake-foraging and turd worship. I think it's just a passing phase. I hope so.

Alfie of the Brethren

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Ruby's Been a Busy Little Ninja

HBS Author's Spotlight features yours truly today with details of what I've been writing and what I have planned for the future. Please click the link and go take a look! http://hbsauthorspotlight.blogspot.ie/2016/05/ra-barnes-author-interview-at-hbs.html

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Ruby Reviews Mordred's Victory & Other Martial Mutterings

This non-fiction title is a collection of blog posts by Jamie Clubb, the founder of Club Chimera Martial Arts. I’ve never read the author’s blog but the chapters of this book are plenty long enough (not always the case with books formed from a collection of blog posts) and they group very nicely into the four sections of the book. Also worth a mention is the writing style which makes for easy reading while delivering enough detail to satisfy. The author manages to get his knowledge and experience across without preaching or condescension. Extensive use of reference material provides further credibility and the seven page list of those references provides a great starting point for those who might wish to delve further into martial arts reading.

The first section is titled Martial Mutterings and provides some very interesting background to the various combat sports that are known as the martial arts. If the reader is a martial artist (such as myself, I’m a karate practitioner) then these chapters help to place your sport in the martial universe. Jamie Clubb’s leaning is obviously towards self-defence and he begins to hint that many martial arts are not really practical in that sense, but he deals fairly with the validity of the different disciplines and clearly has a great breadth of experience.

Self-Protection is the second section and here the author begins to deal with his own special area of focus – how to be emotionally prepared and physically secure in the increasingly physically threatening modern environment. The four tenets of Club Chimera – Respect, Awareness, Courage and Discipline – are delved into with unassailable logic. The section concludes with some very interesting suggestions on pre-emptive strikes, proactive training and pressure testing. Having myself trained with four very different karate clubs over thirty years, I can appreciate the acid testing that is needed for effective self-defence. All too often martial artists can become deluded about the effectiveness of their carefully perfected, artistic techniques.

Reality Training for Children deals with the thorny issue of exposing children to the threats of twenty-first century life and finding ways for them to handle such situations. The first step is to train the teachers, as genuine self-defence for children is a rare commodity. Then the author deals with the why, what and how of his approach to reality training for children. He doesn’t give away his trade secrets but just enough to tantalise.

The fourth and final section is Training: Fit for Purpose – a very interesting set of perspectives on attitudes towards and types of training and fitness, including the pitfalls of being led astray by fitness training as an end in itself.

In conclusion, I found Mordred’s Victory and other Martial Mutterings by Jamie Clubb to be a very thought provoking read. Each chapter deserves careful reading and contemplation. Whether you pursue martial arts for fitness, sport, competition, art or self-defence, this book will assist in self-realisation and help any martial artist find their own path. The extensive reference section deserves another mention. Overall, highly recommended. 

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review. I have no prior connection with the author (although I am a martial arts fan and practitioner).

Thursday, 8 October 2015

To ASSUME makes an ASS out of U and ME

One of those truisms trotted out at management seminars, to ASSUME makes an ASS out of U and ME has people scrabbling for their pens and noting the phrase so they can lay claim to it in front of future audiences. But I'm guilty of ASSUMING. After a few years in this e-book business I have assumed that everyone knows what an e-book is, where they can get them and how to read them.

The truth is lots of people do know all about e-books (they're electronic files e.g. type mobi or azw for Kindle devices, type ePub for Apple and Nook and Kobo and Android and others, or even just plain old pdf) and are familiar with e-readers (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, almost any Apple device, almost any Android device).

But a large number of people really don't know about the world of e-books and how to read them. They just haven't delved into e-books. They don't know how to grab an e-book for a few bucks instead of shelling out several times as much for a hard copy. They don't have a Kindle ("What the hell is a Kindle anyway?") and don't realize that e-books don't require a dedicated e-reader. The answer to reading an e-book without a dedicated e-reader is to use an app.

If you want to buy and read e-books from the behemoth Amazon then you'll find they have FREE apps available for PC, Mac and other devices and Android (see links in column right). They also have a neat page where you can just enter your email or phone number and they'll send you a link to your app.

If you have an Android phone or tablet then you can also grab a free app for your preferred store from Google Play. The same applies for the Apple Store but, not being too clever at that sort of thing, I've fallen down on the link for that.

What I tend to do is install all apps on all my devices (I have a laptop, an iPhone and an old Kindle) and keep my e-book purchasing options open. I do tend to buy from Amazon though and then read via the Kindle App. The great thing about that is all three devices are connected through Kindle and I can pick up from the last page read at any time via any device.

Once you have your app(s) installed then you can go shopping at your e-bookstore of choice. If you happen to come across an e-book as a file on your laptop or PC (for example if you sign up to my list and grab a free copy of my first in the zombie series) then you can side-load the file onto your device by simply connecting that device via cable to the computer. (The only vagary I've come across with this is that Kobo devices like an extra suffix of "kepub" before the filetype suffix, so the filename needs to be edited e.g. from book.epub to book.kepub.epub. I have a Kobo Touch reader too, which is how I found that out.)

So, I hope I've gone some way to remedying the ASSUME phenomena regarding e-books. All of my titles are available in e-book format but, if you're a staunch paper addict then they're also available in paperback too.

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