Saturday, January 07, 2017

Shadows (and light) from science fiction: drowned worlds and brightnesses

Before discussing dark dystopias, here’s something more uplifting... 

The perfect, thought-provoking pre-order! Chasing Shadows is an anthology edited by David Brin and Stephen Potts -- in partnership with the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination -- with stories and essays by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Cat Rambo, Vernor Vinge, Ramez Naam, Scott Sigler, Neal Stephenson, Aliette de Bodard, John Perry Barlow, Robert J. Sawyer and other science fiction luminaries—available January 10th from Tor Books (pre-order now).

Already posted at Tor’s site is the book’s Introduction, by James Gunn, and one of the novellas — “Feast War” by Vylar Kaftan — which portrays how a near future band of online foodies and wargame players do their own sleuthing to solve a deadly biowar attack that has all the authorities flummoxed! Drop by and have a look at one of the best themed anthologies, every tale offering a unique glimpse at what life just might be like in a future that’s filled - for worse or much better - with light.

== Dark Visions that match our mood ==

Veering to dystopias, I will start with a brief mention of a book that will get its own posting and analysis, soon. Several times I have spoken of the predictive power of Robert A. Heinlein. Among other things, he knew that underneath the American surface of tolerant, progressive pragmatism there simmers a spectacularly anti-future, anti-science troglodyte. 

A Nehemiah Scudder, who might leap upon a populist wave, much like 1930s Europe, only with a fundamentalist-zealous tinge, and proceed to shut down our Great Experiment on any contrived excuse. Heinlein had scheduled him for 2012, but there's still time. (Read more about Heinlein's vivid prophetic novel Revolt in 2100, now available on Kindle.)

Also look at Heinlein's short story “The Year of the Jackpot", in which several dozen insanities result when all sorts of statistical ‘cycles’ combine, at the same time.  

Is it possible then, that we are in a fluke? Heinlein’s Crazy Years? Certainly all the smart folks whose professions deal in actual facts and bringing about positive change did not want or see this coming… So might we just ride it out? Well, to do that… Survive. I urge you to. And keep hope. We'll get back to Revolt in 2100 in a later posting.

But more and more, it seems we are living in a sci fi story. In darker moments, watching neo-Nazi ravings, I am reminded of Ray Bradbury’s great story “The Sound of Thunder.” A tale of time travel and the Butterfly Effect. How one change could profoundly alter the course of history. Terrifying… and clearly prophetic. 

Watch a short -- and moving -- film version here from the Ray Bradbury Theater.

An interesting and fun article discusses how various robot and AI apocalypse scenarios play out in the movies....often following the three themes: direct attacks, social manipulation and runaway intelligence.

An excerpt: “At the Georgia Institute of Technology, a team of researchers have been attempting to teach human values to robots using Quixote, a teaching method relying on children’s fairy tales. Each crowd-sourced, interactive story is broken down into a flow-chart, with punishments and rewards assigned to various paths the robot can choose. The process particularly targets what the researchers call “psychotic-appearing behavior.”

"The question is this: how do you test to make sure the robot is effectively learning values? One possibility involves using a real-world testing methodology that puts the AI in increasingly complex environments and situations that challenge its training.”

See an excellent podcast exploring: Asimov and the Robot Uprising.

== Other Dire Futures ==

A quick look at books old and new...

Swastika Night, by the English author Katharine Burdekin, was first published in 1937 under the male pseudonym Murray Constantine. This dark dystopia, which predates Orwell’s 1984, portrays a nightmarishly feudal Europe, in which Hitler's fascism and male dominance have reigned supreme for seven centuries. All remnants of pre-war history, books, and art have been destroyed; Hitler has been elevated to a god. Boys are removed from their mother’s care at 18 months, indoctrinated in a male culture of violence and brutality. Women are regarded as sub-human, caged, subjugated and kept docile and ignorant; rape is acceptable and allowed. When Alfred, an English subject is presented with a secret history, he begins to question Nazi ideology and power, trying to spread ideas among those who have lost the ability to think for themselves.

A shadowy region: Annihilation and its sequels Authority and Acceptance form the Southern Reach Trilogy, by Jeff Vandemeer. These surreal thrillers offer spine tingling suspense and dark layers of intrigue. The mysterious wilderness of Area X has been sealed off, abandoned for thirty years for unknown reasons. Eleven expeditions across the border have failed. Now four women are sent across the border. Known only by their professions (Biologist, Psychologist, Surveyor, Anthropologist), their mission rapidly begins to fall apart …Everything seems wrong -- as they find themselves transformed, their memories altered, unsure what is real and who to trust. Whatever has encroached upon Area X…it must be stopped… before the world becomes Area X. A chilling, haunting tale that will pull you in… and won’t let go.

Note: I am reminded of the series of eco-collapse novels penned by the great J.G. Ballard, whose The Crystal World, The Downed World and The Burning World all featured mysterious zones of danger and weirdness encroaching upon our normal reality.

Speaking of drowned worlds, do have a look at Kim Stanley Robinson's new epic peek at a daunting future, in New York 2140. After the ice caps have melted, Gotham is an enclave of Venice-like canals in a world devastated by deserts and floods and extinctions.  Yet (as the cover depicts) humanity cleverly finds new ways.  KSR's trademark mix of cautionary chiding and optimistic belief in scientific ingenuity is on display, in full force. You know in advance that you'll have to buckle down, in earnest study-mode, for some data-rich passages. Nevertheless, Robinson is a diverting and fascinating professor. And you have not gone to him for light, escapist sci fi. This is exploratory, grownup science fiction, of the first water.

See another drowned world novel, below. Also note: I portrayed Houston and other cities flooded and using gondolas, back in my 1989 eco-and-more novel, EARTH. Just sayin....

Afterparty, by Daryl Gregory offers an all-too plausible future where desktop printers can customize and manufacture designer drugs. Lyda Rose was part of the scientific team that set out to cure schizophrenia, manipulating the brain’s biochemistry with a newly developed pharmaceutical called Numinous. However, the drug had unintended consequences, causing people to see god -- or at least hallucinations of their own personal version of god. When Lyda is released from a mental institution (along with an angel doctor that only she can see), she tracks down drug pushers who have released the drug onto the streets.

From Tor: a wide-ranging list of science fiction and fantasy novels that explore issues of religion and god – including Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, Roger Zelazny’s excellent Lord of Light, Walter M. Miller's classic A Canticle for Leibowitz, Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man, James Blish's insightful A Case of Conscience, and Arthur C. Clarke’s The Nine Billion Names of God

This issue is explored in great detail in Paul Levinson's anthology of stories and essays -- Touching the Face of the Cosmos: On the Intersection of Space Travel and Religion - in which I have an article. As we move out into the cosmos, how will our sense of identity, humanity and spirituality evolve?

Okay, back to another drowned Manhattan! And more religion drugs! The Burning Light by Bradley P. Beaulieu and Rob Ziegler is a post-apocalyptic tale set amid the canals flooding the hollowed ruins of New York City, overrun by scavengers, pirates and slavers. The ruthless Colonel Melody Chu has a singular obsession, stopping an epidemic of the “Light.” Chu relentlessly drives her squad of exiled soldiers to track down junkies addicted to the ecstasy of the Light – as well as the “vectors” – often children, who give people access to it. The Light can make you feel like you’re touching infinity… but it also kills. Chu knew: “She had personally stared into the Burning Light – and the Light had stared back. She knew it was coming.” And yet, controlled, the Light may usher the next stage of humanity… This short novel presents a vividly textured, if dark future. 

Have we seen some common themes, yet?

And... a few recent novels in French: Les 5 romans SF du moment à ne pas manquer.

Jakub Rozalski
Finally, a reflection on shadows and light.... Scroll through these idyllic landscapes (by Polish artist Jakub Rozalski) of East European peasants and soldiers of the early 20th century -- haunted by nightmares of steampunk-ish robots and machines... See more of Rozalski's fantastic artwork on his website. I was just informed that there is a boardgame - Scythe - using Rozalski's artwork.

Oh, don't forget to pre-order Chasing Shadows! You will see the light. 


David Bley said...

While not known as a Science Fiction author, Jack London wrote a novel entitled "The Iron Heel" that seems prescient.

LarryHart said...


He looked at me like I was stupid.
I'm not stupid!

Paul SB said...

Dr. Brin,

A couple threads back you posted science fiction from a number of places around the world, including Iraqi sci-fi. Have you found any Persian sci-fi in your searches? My daughter was a lab assistant for a professor in the agriculture department who is Persian and talked with him a bit about his culture. I imagine she would enjoy reading what people there are doing in her favorite genre.

David Brin said...

Nothing proves that Donald Trump is a Russian stooge more than the fact that he has packed his cabinet with raving Iran haters. Men who never mention Riyadh in their screaming jeremiads, ignoring that every effective-harm that's been done to us via terror was rooted in the Saudis, not the Iranians. Indeed, Americans and Persians had a long friendly relationship that easily 50% of Iranians would love to restore, much to the horror and terror of the mullahs, who would like nothing better than for histrionic saber rattlings to pour from Washington.

When Trump and his team start screeching at Tehran, you can be sure Putin will be chortling with glee, as this helps to eliminate reformers in Tehran and will cement his alliance with the mullahs.

The Saudis have it in their power to prevent this, by one simple means. Stepping up to finance what they prevented for 70 years, peace between Israel and the Sunni Arab world. But, like most inheritance lords, they are much less bright than they believe. They imagine that Trumpists hating on Iran serves their interests. It does not.

Think about the extreme up and downside possibilities. The best we can hope for, from a Saudi alliance is some slight tempering of the Wahabbist propaganda teaching millions of young Sunnis to wage terror on the West. The worst? If we walk away? Nothing. Their era of relevance is over, since America recently achieved energy independence.

What is the upside, if we make friends with the Iranian people and work with them to render the mullahs impotent? Spectacular benefits. But the downsides of turning them back into a raving theocracy are huge.

David Brin said...

PS Paul, tell your friend that if his daughter posts online here own research into Persian science fiction, I will tout it!

David Brin said...

PS... here are a couple of purported Iranian SF scholars she could write to: Shayan foroozeshnia>;
Milad Enferadi

TCB said...

Dr. Brin, the thing I always come back to is that in World War 2, President Roosevelt left the country only a few times to meet with the other two top Allied leaders (Churchill of Britain and Stalin of the USSR) or their representatives. The first really famous one was in Casablanca, but Stalin. First really famous meeting was in Casablanca, Morocco; Stalin was not at that one. Al three met only twice: Yalta in February 1945, and before that in Tehran, Iran in late 1943.

It was safe enough in 1943 for the three most important men in the world to meet!

Think how much our country (and the British) had to shit on them (for oil! For oil!) over the next 35 years to change that. Wow.

TCB said...

Edit: know how you can tell I did a bad job of editing my last comment? tell I did a bad job of editing my

Anonymous said...

You're stupid country is beyond redemption.

Hendrik Boom said...

I vaguely remember reading Revolt in 2100. Having run out of SF in the childrens' library in Kingston, my parents arranged for me to have access to the adult library. There was a small, neglected-looking shelf of paperbacks. Revolt in 2100 was one of them. My father had to explain some of it to me; I was quite young then. It's probably time to read it again. That shelf is also where I found Blish's Triumph of Time. Quite exciting to find differential equations in a book of fiction. Though the math was beyond me then.

LarryHart said...

Hendrik BoomL

That shelf is also where I found Blish's Triumph of Time.

Did you ever read Blish's stories which were collected as "Cities in Flight"? We're coming up on the year in which he predicted (from memory, but close to verbatim) :

Gravity was discovered in 2018, having already been postulated for millennia.

LarryHart said...

...come to think of it, "Triumph of Time" was one of those. Right?

LarryHart said...

re: captcha...

So signs posted on a fence which clearly state "No Dogs Allowed" and "Park Closes At Sunset" count as "street signs"? Really?

LarryHart said...

From today's :

Since [Trump son-in-law] Jared [Kushner] took over, the company has acquired at least 120 properties, including 666 Fifth Avenue, which cost $1.8 billion, the most ever paid for an office building in the United States.

Heh. In addition to having the number of the beast for an address, that building was known among comics fans in the 80s for housing the offices of DC Comics.

And seriously, I wonder why it's so valuable now.

Anonymous said...

Ian Mortimer in "Millennium" at least mentions "The Machine Stops" by E. M. Forster, a title that never quite seems to come up on your lists. From your oft-restated beliefs, it could be rather easy to see why you might go full blinkered mode re. Meanwhile! Did you actually read "Millennium" before blindly affiliate linking it? Ian mentions spaceflight—a lack thereof, to be specific.

TCB said...

LarryHart said: "re: captcha... So signs posted on a fence which clearly state "No Dogs Allowed" and "Park Closes At Sunset" count as "street signs"? Really?"

Two thoughts. 1): They are not road signs, of course, but they do sorta qualify as "street signs" in a very loose sense.

2): You are assuming that the capcha KNOWS the right answer and will deny you if you pick the wrong squares; I have not tested this assumption, and it's possible that you are feeding a machine learning algo which counts on you to know the right answer, which it can then use for its knowledge base. In that case it will (maybe) not punish you for marking the wrong squares.

3:) Several times I have chosen squares (pictures of sushi, for instance) and then been hit with the follow-up query "Pick the squares that match." What? None ever match. All I can do is reload the capcha and get something I can answer. What's up with that?

LarryHart said...


2): You are assuming that the capcha KNOWS the right answer and will deny you if you pick the wrong squares; I have not tested this assumption, and it's possible that you are feeding a machine learning algo which counts on you to know the right answer, which it can then use for its knowledge base. In that case it will (maybe) not punish you for marking the wrong squares.

It is hard to test, but I've often suspected that some images count as "maybes". They could go either way as far as matching the criteria, and I wonder if captcha accepts your response whether or not you click those particular squares.

3:) Several times I have chosen squares (pictures of sushi, for instance) and then been hit with the follow-up query "Pick the squares that match." What? None ever match. All I can do is reload the capcha and get something I can answer. What's up with that?

I don't think that means "match each other". It's giving you a second chance to click some additional squares that you missed which "match" the criteria they are asking for.

Jumper said...

I suspect the capchas are querying for AI. Google street view for address numbers, and likely other info for self-driving cars. "What does this sign signify?" it muses. "Ask some humans and ask a lot," it concludes.

Jumper said...

This is probably useful:

It's also interesting to do yourself. I saw on one of our troll's links that a major company was advertising on one of the YouTube links and notified them.

LarryHart said...


I suspect the capchas are querying for AI. Google street view for address numbers, and likely other info for self-driving cars. "What does this sign signify?" it muses. "Ask some humans and ask a lot," it concludes

But if it doesn't know the answer, what good does it do to ask me? Since the only signs of any kind visible were "No Dogs Allowed" and "Park closes at sunset", I clicked those even though I thought they were more "park signs" than "street signs". So now, the AI believes those are street signs because I clicked them, but I only clicked them because it didn't give me any better choice.

What information does it have now that it didn't have before it asked me?

David Brin said...

LH, 666 5th was also where Bantam Book bought my 1st novel!

Slim Moldie said...

Jumper, thanks for sharing that link.

Zepp and Paul SB...way back on the previous thread you were discussing amphetamine abuse and depression and "how after three or four major life events, the neurotransmitter levels stop returning to their normal base."

As someone who has experienced depression and lowered cognition from head trauma, I'm embarrassed to admit I've never really stopped to think about depression in the big picture as a societal issue. At age 19, I performed a cycling stunt that rendered me unconscious for about 10 minutes. My last memory of the event was that I was flying...just like superman! (The buddy riding with me said after going over the handlebars I flew about 12 feet--landing on my face. After coming to I actually walked my bike to the ER where they had to call in a plastic surgeon to do the stitching to reconnect my upper lip and philtrum.) I didn't make this connection until recently, but prior to this event I had far-above average short-term memory retention. But for about 18 months after the accident I was relatively stupid. I couldn't pay attention or concentrate. Calculus that had been easy before was almost incomprehensible because I couldn't connect steps. My processing time slowed down and I'd fall asleep trying to read texts etc. I became less motivated, was moody and would sleep 12+ hours several times a week. I didn't connect this at all to the accident. Stitches were removed and that was it. What's most disturbing to me in retrospect is that at the time I lacked the capacity to recognize my problem or question the underlying causes, or seek help. The lowered cognition was my reality and I just accepted mediocrity. It took nearly 2 years for a semblance of my old, driven self to reemerge.

In the last few years I've noticed research linking
A: traumatic brain injury to
B: intestinal dysfunction to
C: the inflammatory pathophysioligy of depression.

There are so many compounding factors (including emotional and physical) that I hesitate to over simplify, but I think it's safe to say it is highly probable that depression is contributing to our stupidity.

TCB said...

@Slim Moldie, when in doubt, take anti-inflammatory supplements. Not saying it'll fix you all up, but hell, a five per cent improvement is not nothing. I take something called Arthro Select which is mainly meant to help joints (it has glucosamine, chondroitin and MSM) but also curcumin, which fights inflammation in joints (duh) but also in the rest of your body.

I'm sure there are plenty of other supplements with roughly the same ingredients, and you can take curcumin alone... in any case, I find that I cannot easily separate pain from depression from brain fog. If one is better, so are the others, and if one is worse, so the others.

I have situational depression which is exactly what it sounds like. Give me good news and hope, and I respond to it. Give me opportunities to do interesting things with interesting people, and I respond to that. Give me drudgery and despair, and I plod along the best I can, but I don't sparkle.

Paul SB said...

Slim Moldie,

Ow! That sounds like it hurt!

Thanks for the anecdote. What I was talking about is much more general. You don't have to have a major physical accident to have those same effects you experienced. The neurotransmitter that makes you feel physical pain (Substance P) is exactly the same one that makes you feel emotional pain, and in exactly the same brain regions (mainly the diencephalon). So physical and mental pain have the same affects on the human body. This is why just yelling at people to "man up" and get over it is caca de burro. It looks very much to me like American-style capitalism, with its high-pressure, high-anger hierarchy has the effect of handicapping or crippling most of its citizens. No I doubt that anyone at the top of any corporate ladder or political party is thinking of it that way, it's just that their actions and words produce those effects. Most people interpret this as they have been taught to - that some people are better than others, some just can't cut it, and - true to the Just World Fallacy - people by and large get what they deserve.

TCB, the Adjustment Disorder you are talking about is likely about being more sensitive to some neurotransmitters than others. There are a whole bunch of reactive pathways involved in depression, including big things like serotonin and dopamine, but the best doctors recognize this as highly complex, and, like everything else, normally distributed. Hopefully you're not too many deviations from the mean. What I wrote above about Substance P probably explains why you find pain and depression difficult to distinguish - same substance, same circuits. It helps to have some kind of goals you can realistically work toward - I'm hoping to get the hell out of my career and go back to get a PhD or maybe EdD - and more short-term things you can accomplish quickly to ratchet up those feel-good neurotransmitters.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"You're stupid country is beyond redemption."

You know, an old girlfriend of mine once told me that when she was in Catholic high school, there was one nun who equated good grammar to godliness. Jesus, it seemed, approved of people who used correct 20th century English grammar (or 21st--it hasn't changed all that much.) Being somewhat literal minded and something of a load at parties, I asked how a first century Nazarene would know about English grammar 19 centuries before that variety of language actually existed. She laughed and explained that Jesus was magic.
You may have no doubt that that long-dead nun is up in heaven, reading your post, and a tear is running down her cheek in compassion over the loss of your immortal soul.

Zepp Jamieson said...

"Zepp and Paul SB...way back on the previous thread you were discussing amphetamine abuse and depression and "how after three or four major life events, the neurotransmitter levels stop returning to their normal base."

I wasn't actually in that discussion, but I've struggled with cognitive issues and depression, and suspected that the two were linked. (I didn't consider digestive issues as a part of that link, but consider it quite possible.
I've always had issues with noun aphasia and ability to concentrate, and the most effective self-treatment I discovered was that of writing. Even a fairly linear novel requires a lot of focus and concentration, and writing SF requires an ability to remember unfamiliar names for people and places.

David Brin said...

A team of brilliant cinematographers have forged ahead on the "Neo" film, about humanity's future. Their first announcement trailer won the 'Future-Maker Award' at Beijing's 2016 Global Innovator Conference and was covered domestically in the US. I'm flattered how they made use of my miserably limited supply of erudition and charisma.

Here is a link to the trailer:
...and the film's News page.

TCB said...

Paul SB wrote: "This is why just yelling at people to "man up" and get over it is caca de burro. It looks very much to me like American-style capitalism, with its high-pressure, high-anger hierarchy has the effect of handicapping or crippling most of its citizens."

This reminds me of a very interesting psychology factoid I've run across: [A 2014] study suggests that the way schizophrenia sufferers experience those voices depends on their cultural context. Surprisingly, schizophrenic people from certain other countries don't hear the same vicious, dark voices that Holt and other Americans do. Some of them, in fact, think their hallucinations are good—and sometimes even magical.

In the land of Man The Hell Up And Go It Alone, your voices are Type A management assholes and Stern Father disciplinarians who tell you you are not good enough.

In more collectivist societies, your voices are "more likely to be seen as just another point in the schizophrenic person's already extensive social network. In fact, the participants were sometimes so sympatico with their hallucinations that they didn't even see themselves as mentally ill".

As for myself, I basically see myself as a racehorse pulling a plow. From a distance I look just like a regular plow horse, not even a very good one, but adequate. I probably could have gone pretty fast if they'd ever let me near a track, but that was long ago. So I'll make furrows today, glue tomorrow.

Which is still a better deal than many get.

Incidentally, since we're talking about brain function, if I could change one thing about mine, it would be a MUCH better memory. Probably would have been a crapload more successful in my doings. For example, I'll read that Elon Musk once taught himself to program BASIC in, what, three days when he was ten or so? I don't think I was ever able to learn anything that rapidly. And then there's the related property of 'working memory', or how much you can process at one time, a major component of raw intelligence. I do okay with what I have, but am painfully aware of never having enough... horsepower.

Paul SB said...


There was an article on Science Daily not too long ago that showed a correlation between skin disorders in people who have anxiety issues, and digestive disorders in people who have depression.

Your comments about writing are very interesting, since the big push at my school this year is called Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC for short, and we have been making lots of jokes about that). People are beginning to see how writing actually solidifies thinking, making concepts less nebulous in the mind. When I was in high school we didn't write much, but in college there was a whole lot of writing, and probably the main reason I can think at all is because of a history teaching who pounded good writing into me. back then.

I think your words are probably wasted on the anonymous illiterate.

I think I read the same article you did, or some other internet incarnation of it. It adds to the idea that many of the problems in our society stem from how badly or social structures match our internal natures.

I've always felt low horsepower too, in spite of some people telling me otherwise. Sometimes we aren't sure we know ourselves that well after all. But muddling through is all we can do, and try to keep the glue factory at bay as long as possible.

Musor said...

Just thought I'd link to the great War Nerd who recently did a podcast with David Forbes about right-wing ideology and SF. For those who don't know, the 'war nerd' is the persona of John Dolan, an ex-Berkeley academic, SF fan, and writer who also writes under the nom de plume 'Gary Brecher'. I've never heard of David Forbes before, but apparently he's written a (very interesting-sounding) history of sci-fi's far-right. Anyway, thought this was definitely in your wheelhouse Dr. Brin and that you'd be interested in it if you haven't already heard of it. Even if your not interested in the SF aspect, John Dolan has some great writing on US foreign policy and US wars in the Middle East. Some of the podcasts are free while others are behind a paywall for Patreon subscribers only. Anyway, here's the link:

Zepp Jamieson said...

"I think your words are probably wasted on the anonymous illiterate."
Oh, I didn't write it for his benefit...
Schools should encourage writing. I think it's the most effective form of self-induced learning there is. Hands up, anyone who put in more than 40 hours researching some outre subject so you could just mention it in a story without sounding like an imbecile? I know I have--and enjoyed it.

donzelion said...

Dr. Brin: "Nothing proves that Donald Trump is a Russian stooge more than the fact that he has packed his cabinet with raving Iran haters."
Russia, Saudi, and several American oil men want Iranian oil off the market - if they can curb supply, prices north of $150/barrel will enable closing out a number of increasingly onerous debts. Problem is, if the entire Gulf goes offline, the losses will outweigh the gains. World depression will hit if oil crosses $300/barrel suddenly.

"Stepping up to finance what [the Saudis] prevented for 70 years, peace between Israel and the Sunni Arab world."
(1) The Arab Peace Initiative has been on the table since 2002. Which part of it do you have a problem with?
(2) Surely you mean the last 40 years, rather than the last 70, seeing as how America controlled ALL Saudi oil until the late 1970s. Unless you believe America deliberately orchestrated war between Arabs and Israelis...

LarryHart said...

Don't mind me just rambling here, but I was reminded in this weekend's Chicago Tribune. Forty years ago, January 1977 was the only month ever in Chicago weather history (which dates back to the Chicago Fire of 1871) to never once break freezing during the entire calendar month.

I often mention that 1977 was the best year of my life, or at least of my single life. What I really mean by that is the school year bounded by June 1976 and September 1977, including both bookend summers, and it's primarily the warm weather periods I remember so fondly. But the brutal winter of 1976-77 is in its own way a part of that fond memory as well. Chicago was in the middle of an extended cold spell which lasted 43 days never breaking above the freezing mark, from late December until Wednesday Feb 9, and I didn't have to look that last date up. It stuck with me even before my dad passed away on another Wednesday Feb 9 several decades later. During the worst of it, which included finals week at my high school, we spent something like 72 straight hours below zero Fahrenheit. I hate such weather now that I have to drive in it and pay for heat and worry about burst water pipes and all that adult stuff. But back then, it was an adventure, an eagerly-participated-in endurance test, and almost a Campbellian hero's journey (Let's not go nuts). The best part was helping distressed drivers push their cars out of snowdrifts, especially when they were damsels in distress. That was real-life superheroing!

I realize this is not relevant to the topics here, and that except for the regulars in Wisconsin, most of you don't relate to the specifics. But where else am I going to ramble about such things?

Carry on. :)

David Brin said...

LarryHart excellent ramblings.

donzelion: " The Arab Peace Initiative has been on the table since 2002. Which part of it do you have a problem with?"

Good question. Nearly all of it. Like the fact that the surrounding Muslim states still make it almost impossible (except Jordan) for Palestinians to relocate. Forcing the refugees to stay in camps for generations rather than letting them relocate was THE great war crime of 1948-1990, when equal numbers of jews fled Arab countries and their homes could have been given to some of the refugees. A swap similar to what Hindus and Muslims did at the same time, in India-Pakistan. But the Saudis wanted the camps as propaganda weapons.

Where's the offer of massive aid the Saudis could have used, to help ease the Palestinians' pride and get them to accept Israel as-is?

Paul SB said...


Your blizzard story reminded me of blizzards I experienced when I was just a larva around that same time. As a kid, having snow so deep we could tunnel through it like Bugs Bunny, and build forts and snow sculptures (I like to make fake giant bird tracks in the snow) was among my few joy-filled memories from those times. By the time I was old enough to start thinking adult thoughts, those school-closing blizzards stopped happening.

Ramble all you like!

Darrell E said...


I enjoyed reading your blizzard memories and it reminded me of my own "big" blizzard adventure. This was in Colorado Springs. I was between college semesters and was out driving around looking for a job. I can't remember the name of the road I was on when the snow fall started, but it was the road on the eastern edge of the city that paralleled the mountains. As I was driving the road and all sight references to it began to disappear except for the telephone / power poles running adjacent to the road. Not from lack of visibility but because the rate at which the snow was covering the ground.

15 to 30 minutes later, after turning and heading west toward the mountains, by coolant temperature dial hit the danger zone. My radiator had the specified antifreeze mixture in it so I was rather surprised. I pulled into a parking lot, popped the hood and carefully removed the radiator cap. Inside was green jello. I didn't know it yet, but the wind chill was -40 F.

I began walking home, which was 2 or 3 miles away. I had on USAF issue arctic flight gear from the 1960s. As I began walking the wind was mostly on my beam and things seemed okay. Then I made a turn into the wind. I instantly thought "Now I really understand what the phrase the wind cut like a knife means. The cold cut right through that Arctic flight line gear. I also continuously had trouble with my eye lashes freezing together from exhalation + blinking. Lucky for me a kind soul in a properly outfitted 4x4 who was out looking for idiots like me happened to come by and give me a ride home.

The next day I learned that the storm was the worst blizzard in 40 years, the wind chill was -40 F and it dumped 48" of snow in town and 70" in the mountains. Skiing was freaking great for weeks after.

More on topic, I really like Rozalski's artwork. I'd never heard the name or seen any of his work before. Good stuff.

LarryHart said...

@Darrel E,

I had forgotten that several regulars here hail from Colorado Springs.

I was trying to think if I've ever been in a situation where the environment would kill me before I could escape exposure. The only thing that comes to mind is the story I already related here once, when I tried to save a kid from drowning and was stuck with him unable to proceed toward shore. Even then, I technically could have just saved myself by swimming (if I was willing to let the kid die). You didn't even have that choice.

In my case, it was a canoe which appeared out of nowhere to save me in place of the 4X4 in your story. God apparently does watch out for children and fools.

I'm surprised that your antifreeze wasn't up to the task, as I don't think wind-chill affects car fluid temperature the same way it does human skin. But you didn't say what the thermometer temperature was at the time. Also, I suppose Colorado altitudes affect fluids differently from what I'm used to.

Fun fact about -40 F--it's the same thing as -40 C.

Paul SB said...


Centennial Blvd, I'm guessing, or maybe Mesa Rd. Which college did you go to? Downhill or cross-country?

Oh no, we're going to turn the blog into old-man reminiscences!

Jumper said...

The snow stories remind me of when my older brother made an igloo in the back yard. Not satisfied, he built another one you could only enter through the first. That one had no wind, obviously. I tried to organize a camping event and sleep in the igloos, but in the end I was the only volunteer. I woke up about midnight and crawled out and went inside the house.

Jerry Emanuelson said...

You wouldn't freeze in Colorado Springs right now. It has been warm and breezy today. By warm, I mean a high temperature of about 62 degrees Fahrenheit. By breezy, I mean an 80 miles-per-hour gust this morning, which was the highest wind speed ever recorded at the official weather reporting station at the Colorado Springs airport.

A wind gust of 101 MPH was reported by the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station just south of the city. They didn't say exactly where the wind speed sensor was, but the implication was that it was on the building just outside of the entrance to the tunnel going deep into the interior of Cheyenne Mountain.

During most of the day, there have been more than 300 separate power outages within the city affecting around 16,000 people. Right now, it is down to 271 power outages affecting 6226 customers.

They banned all trucks and buses on I-25 in the entire southern half of Colorado today because so many of them were just blowing over.

David Brin said...

Great snowy memories! Keep em going here, if you like!

Otherwise... onward

Darrell E said...


Your near drowning experience, the risk and the decision you faced, was much more dire than the situation I was in during that blizzard! A couple of times in my life I happened to be in the right place at the right time to prevent injury or death to another, but never in conditions where I faced a situation like yours. I hope never to be! My hat is off to you.

The green jello puzzled me as well. I think the actual temperature was -20 F. I suppose that air at that temperature flowing at a certain rate over the radiator did the trick.

Paul SB said...

Centennial Blvd, I'm guessing, or maybe Mesa Rd. Which college did you go to? Downhill or cross-country?

Oh no, we're going to turn the blog into old-man reminiscences!"

You inspired me to look at a map. I believe it must have been N. Powers Boulevard.

I was considering going changing school to UCCS but ended up going to the University of Florida. Had been attending University of South Florida. I had visited Colorado Springs many times, but never really lived there. My longest stay was about 3 months. Love the area, loved skiing in the Colorado Rockies. Really loved the little town of Green Mountain Falls up in the mountains above CS. Especially the restaurant Ristras & Ribs.

As for skiing? Downhill all the way. Cross country is too much like work!

Tim H. said...

LarryHart, I remember that winter, got so cold in Kansas City that the aftermarket electronic ignition I'd installed on a '71 pinto stopped working, had to reinstall points & condenser before it'd start.

Anonymous said...

2017: Beginning of the END

Some people would argue that 2016 was the year that the world economy started to come apart, with the passage of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Whether or not the “coming apart” process started in 2016, in my opinion we are going to see many more steps in this direction in 2017. Let me explain a few of the things I see.