Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reading on the Road

As usual before a trip abroad, I was dithering about what books to take with.

It was a long trip, and I thought I may have time to do a lot of reading. As it turned out, there wasn't much to do in the various RV parks once nighttime fell. The national parks are nature reserves, and as such are kept as "wild" and "natural" as possible, for the sake of the local fauna mostly. Which means that except for the public toilets, there are no lights at night. The bigger parks, like Yellowstone , and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, have quite a respectable commercial center, with shops and restaurants. But even those close down at a relatively early hour. No city-type night life (unsurprisingly). Some families sit around the fire and yak for a while. But on the whole, park rules dictate Quiet Time between 9 or 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., depending on the individual park.
Some RVs have TV sets, and some RV parks have hookup to cable TV. We didn't have a TV, and didn't miss it. Long and the short of it, once curled up in bed, I read.

As you may recall, I ended up settling on three books:
Frederik Pohl - The Case Against Tomorrow
Robert A. Heinlein - The Day After Tomorrow (a.k.a. The Sixth Column)
Larry Niven - A World Out of Time

I read them in the above order.

The first – the Pohl – comprises a novella – The Midas Plague – plus 5 short stories. Sorry to say that, except for the first one, I don't remember what the others are about… The Midas Plague is a somewhat silly but amusing social satire story, describing the possible (?) ultimate development of an advanced, industrialized society, where people can't possibly consume everything they manufacture. At least it has a sort of happy end. In fact, they all had not-too-depressing ends. As if saying, no matter how badly we screw up this planet and the future of society, all is not lost, there is a bit of silver lining.

The second – the Heinlein – was rather gripping. The Western World, in the shape of the USA, has been brought to its knees by the PanAsians, with all government and the military virtually wiped out. Unbeknownst to the enemy, a small group of men (women here play a *very* marginal, nearly invisible, role), in a safe location somewhere underground, are determined to save the day. At some point the plot begins to unfold in a rather mechanical way, since Heinlein does not want to bore us with a detailed report of the workings of the Underground. Or maybe he couldn't think of any plot complications or crises. But no harm done – the reader is really quite anxious for the Rebels to wipe out the baddies. I trust that this wasn't a spoiler. I liked the use Heinlein made of religion. The Great Lord Mota was an ingenious invention. The major protagonist, by the way, Major Ardmore, is quite human, he has his weaknesses, he gets irritable, he's not a super-hero. So much the better.

The third book – the Larry Niven – is a bit weird. And not just because much of it takes place three million years from now. It's my first L. Niven, I didn't know what to expect; I just vaguely remembered that my son Daniel was enjoying Niven's Ring World when he was 13. I'm on page 138 out of 246, and I've been told it gets weirder. The landscapes described are a bit difficult to visualize, and at the moment I'm feeling very sorry for Corbell (the protagonist).

Aside from those three books, I read what I always read on trips abroad – i.e, practically anything: signs, ads, ingredients on products, and of course the leaflets and magazines issued by the national parks. See, for example, the online version of the Yellowstone Guide. Not only are these publications chock-full of clear, useful information, but they provided me with zero material for my writing/editing-related blog – I could not find a single mistake in them! Fancy that.

To illustrate, here are a few pics:

This one is a typical view of Grand Canyon, which totally does not do it justice. You just go on clicking and clicking the camera all the same hoping to capture a bit of the awe you are experiencing.

The next one was taken at sunset:

Before sunset, though, you light a fire in the fire-pit next to your RV or tent, and grill your steaks:

For entertainment, you can attend an interesting slide-show and explanation by a well-informed, cute Park Ranger at the park amphitheater. Just remember that once the show is over, it is pitch-black out there, and even with a flashlight you may have difficulty navigating your way back to your tent or parked van.

And here are a couple of typical signs I read along the way:
 Ponderosa Point at Bryce Canyon

... and Ruby's Inn, just outside Bryce Canyon. The RV park was actually full, so we were given a spot in the "overflow" section, sort of behind the inn. No complaints.

- To be continued....

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