Monday, January 19, 2009

Guest Blogger: The ALP

Greetings literature lovers. The ALP here with some dispatches from that other pile of books on the purely metaphorical nightstand. Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that Book Nerd, within her "About Me" sidebar section, claims that I read everything she doesn't. Here's what Book Nerd hasn't read recently.

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Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race, by Richard Rhodes

With his Pulitzer-winning 1986 book The Making of the Atomic Bomb and his 1995 follow up, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, Rhodes pretty much staked out the nuclear era as his personal stomping ground. In his latest, Arsenals of Folly, he moves from the dawn of the Cold War Era into the lingering last days of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the end of the arms race. Where Atomic played like a tragic Promethean foundation myth and Dark Sun was steeped in the shadowy cloak and dagger paranoia of the early Cold War, Arsenals reads like a grotesque farce. Late in the Eisenhower administration, it became abundantly clear that existing nuclear stockpiles were more than enough to deal fatal amounts of damage to the United States and the USSR (if not the whole planet). And yet, in the face of hard data and common sense, a moronic cabal of American hardline militarists managed to influence administration after administration, convincing them that a nuclear war was not only winnable, but that the secret to success was to simply keep developing and stockpiling more and more destructive nuclear weapons. Rhodes diligently and forcefully makes the case that this potentially suicidal and astoundingly wasteful strategy was neither wise nor inevitable. The cast of this particular comedy of errors includes notable military leaders, neo-Stalinists, leading lights from what would later be dubbed the "neoconservative" movement, a handful of now iconic presidents, and even some favorites from the Bush administration (Cheney is truly the bad penny of American politics). Rhodes makes no attempt to hide his contempt for this crowd of wannabe tough-guy bureaucrats who nearly led the word down the road to utter annihilation, and critics will certainly cite this overt hostility as proof that Rhodes's book is little more than a hatchet job of Reagan and his cronies. Still, if Rhodes is even half right, then these men fully deserve the scorn history will, one hopes, heap upon them. Arsenals is out now and I'm certain it is available at your finer independent book vendors.



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Castle, by J. Robert Lennon

There's a neat-o Deliverance by way of Kafka premise at the base of Lennon's up-coming Castle: Eric Loesch, an Iraq War vet with a tangled family history and nasty scandal hanging over his military record, returns to his hometown in upstate New York. He purchases a secluded house out where he plans to live out his remaining days in hermit-like isolation. This plan hits a surreal snag when Loesch discovers that there a small castle, complete with turrets and everything, smack dab in the middle of his property. This bizarre turn of events takes on a more sinister aspect when it becomes clear that the castle and its mysterious occupant are connected to Eric's guilt-haunted past. Lennon expertly shifts between exacting detail and fantastic horror, giving his tale the crisp realism of a well-remembered nightmare. The end result is somewhat marred by an awkward attempt to create a metaphorical parallel to the prisoner torture scandals of the War on Terror, the results of which are neither insightful or illuminating. Still, aside from that one misstep, Lennon's curious thriller is a refreshingly odd slice of genre fiction and it is bound to please fans of "new weird" horror and genre bending mysteries. Castles is published by Greywolf Press and streets in April. Go hassle your favorite indie bookseller about it now. Just keep telling 'em it is about a guy and this castle with no road to it. They'll keep saying, "It's Kafka's The Castle." And you'll keep going, "No. It's not that." You can probably keep 'em going for hours like that.


Book Nerd here: Give him a hand, folks! You can read the ALP's regular commentary on books, movies, comics, and other stuff horror-related on his own blog, And Now The Screaming Starts. I'm grateful to him for expanding this blog's book coverage outside my own reading. We may make this a regular feature.