Sunday, May 29, 2011

New Book on Chilean Mine Rescue

The book 33 Men by Jonathan Franklin was just released in March and is an interesting read. Last year, as the world watched daily, 33 men were, located, communicated with and eventually rescued in a sophisticated mine-rescue operation at a remote mine site in Chile.

On August 5th of 2010 thirty three miners found themselves on the wrong side of a mine collapse in the lower levels of a large and poorly maintained copper mine. Their route was blocked by a freighter sized collapse of broken rock. Though the miners had heavy machinery, fuel, a supply of explosives and drills it would still have been impossible for them to dig themselves out. They had no alternate escape route since the ventilation shafts never had escape ladders installed as required by Chilean law. The initial collapse severed communication lines and nobody on surface had any way of knowing if any of the thirty three men were dead or alive. Any trapped men would be as deep underground as the tallest skyscraper is tall. Those alive would be in a labyrinth of tunnels averaging 90 degrees heat and 90% humidity. The families of the miners understood death was all but a certainty.
Miraculously, after seventeen days of exploratory drilling to reach the tiny target of one of the tunnels or work stations, one drill found its mark. Word was sent to surface by a note tied to the drill bit - 'Los 33' were all together and safe.
As Franklin describes, the rescue succeeded because the newly elected President of Chile, Sebastien Pinera, decided to have his government intervene and take over the rescue, regardless of the cost*. Despite Chile's pride as a leader in mine technology and Chile having a wealth of mining experience, experts from around the world were called into a highly-scripted, photo-op-filled, spectacle orchestrated by Pinera. He had political hay to make with this dramatic rescue, but clearly without his efforts the men would have died. The mining company responsible was hopelessly in debt and unable to act.
Franklin's book is a good read. He had access to behind the scenes efforts on surface as drillers, medical staff, psychologists and technicians maintained contact and provided food and water, clothing and medicines, letters and magazines through a 3.5 inch drill hole to the men below. Unfortunately the book was rushed to the presses a few weeks before the blue pencil had done its final work. Many phrases and facts are repeated unnecessarily and there is a disorder to the writing. Don't expect well-organized chapters. It's more like tossed-salad.
Franklin also should have spent his weeks on surface talking to miners about the environment of a hard rock mine, or better yet, actually visiting one at work. Many misleading details could have been corrected. Anyone who has spent a day (or less) underground would recognize 'scaling' as a common job which must be performed regularly, not the rare and unusual task Franklin attempts to describe, and any miner could tell that the mesh screening bolted to the roof is, in fact, the proper way to do things. Franklin fails to describe the simplest heavy equipment, such as mine trucks or scoop-trams. A glance at a photo from a mine equipment brochure would have given him a 'Oh, so that's what they were describing...' moment. But I'm sure he was getting around to it.
It won't win a Pulitzer, but this book well describes how tragic events unroll by the minute. We get a glance at the hordes of media in the background as video links provide live footage of sweaty men trapped impossible distances below surface. We learn how the men were fed and clothed, doctored and given water and a hundred other things through a 3.5 inch pipe. We cringe at the overzealous efforts of medical and psychology zealots who overwhelm the fit but bored miners with exercises and intrusions when they simply want to go home.
The happy ending is the returning of Los 33 to their various loved ones; wives, lovers, (and wives & lovers who have just met) children, siblings, parents and fellow miners. Many of the specialty drilling rigs and equipment loans never charged for their work, and firms like UPS shipped tonnes of hardware for free.
It is a great feel-good read because it actually happened this way.

* His decision is a contrast to the tragedy of the Russian submarine Kursk, some years before, when crewmen died slowly and needlessly in a sunken nuclear sub, despite the fact that a foreign submarine rescue ship and submersible escape vehicle was ready willing and able to help, but was not requested by President Putin.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Reviewing Pure Spring by Brian Doyle

Author Brian Doyle has been published since 1978 and has won many awards over the years. Reading Pure Spring, a teen book published in 2007, I can easily see why. This author does it all. He strings along a good story in a fast and readable way. He introduces history and social situations from the 1950's in a 'painless' way for the modern reader. His book reads easily for those who struggle with reading, while maintaining a fascinating plot line for the mature reader. Doyle gives just enough hints of a past accident which takes the life of the main character's parents without giving away too much. Other traumas which shape the boys life and result in his sharing living space with "Granpa Rip" trickle out of the pages steadily. The character Martin is believable, appealing and has admirable moral qualities without this being overdone. One particularly seedy character is well-drawn and his lewd remarks are never written in the easy way which makes a book 'off-limits' for teachers and librarian recommendations. Racism, anti-communist paranoia and antisemitism is also treated in such a way as to respect the reader's ability to discern and judge for him/herself.
Did I say I like his style?
BTW Happy Birthday. Follow the link:

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Review of 'Victim Rights', by Nora McClintock

In my ongoing quest to catch up on Canadian Y.A. authors I just got Victim Rights by Norah McClintock from the library. I have heard Norah speak about mystery writing at a conference and she was full of good information. *
Anyway, back to Victim's Rights. I liked it. Not having read any of her books before I had to keep looking at the cover to see for sure I hadn't accidentally switched books and picked up some male author named Noah McClintock or something. Unlike a lot of writers she can get into the skull of the other gender and make it seem real. Emotions, decisions, thoughts, and reasoning like the opposite sex is more difficult than you might think. Little things give it away, especially when the reader, like me, is watching like a hawk to see if she can pull it off.
But McClintock does the angry young man thing very well. Dooley, the hero, is authentic. Unable to understand some of the more subtle points of emotions and often ready to explode at those things that piss him off, Dooley is a loaded shotgun. The reader is fascinated. Like a moth to a candle Dooley repeatedly approaches situations which anyone with half a brain would know are stupid and dangerous - obviously you need a character like this to move along a mystery plot, but this behavior is also just like a love-sick seventeen year old. The dialogue in this book is great, especially the unspoken thought lines that accompany most of it. The only problem with it, for me, was the swearing. But the difficulty with swearing is replacing it with something equally extreme that sounds like how people really speak.
I'll let you know if I ever figure that one out.

* There is a snobby attitude towards mystery writing. I had one comment on a manuscript of mine which was "...oh. Is it just a mystery? Nothing more earth-shattering? " - insert a little superior smile here- But Norah readily admits to being inspired by Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys - something the writing elitists would never admit to.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Review of Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas

I just finished reading Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas. I couldn't put this big fat (580 pages) book down. My arm is sore! It is very well written, but quirky*.
Read this book! This is a book for adults, WW II buffs, Christians, non-Christians and social scientists.
I'm not sure if anyone of our generation can fully understand how an entire modern nation of educated people can allow a segment of their own society (Jews, Gypsies, Homosexuals, Communists) to be reduced to the status of cattle, and worse. Even if Germans didn't know about the death camps, they saw their neighbours gradually lose their jobs, status, dwellings and savings and get shipped away somewhere, jammed into boxcars. Sitting in comfortable Canada I can't really understand how this can happen, but this book helps me get a bit closer.
Bonhoeffer was an unlikely hero. He was an aristocratic type, born into high German society and educated at the best schools. A gifted student of theology, he could travel and live and work where he liked as a lecturer or pastor and for a while he did, visiting England and the USA as a guest lecturer in Universities there. But soon he began to fight what was happening to Germany at the rise of Hitler. This book shows how Bonhoeffer and some of his associates were actively working against the change in moral thinking in Germany while Hitler's hold on German society was still very shaky. It is amazing to see how the state-supported Lutheran church began to make moral compromises early on in the 1930s. Slowly and with all sorts of clever logic and reasoning, intelligent and well-educated men began to make compromises about previously established rules regarding treatment of your fellow man. These compromises received state sanction. Lack of moral leadership on these basic issues helped the fascists control a whole country. When evil comes gradually, it seems, we are more likely to accept it.

One of Bonhoeffer's contemporaries, Martin Neimöller, wrote the following poem in 1944

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out –

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out –

Because I was not a Jew

And then they came for me –

And there was no one left to speak for me.”

Bonhoeffer, born to privilege and connected or related to many in the German government, first led a group of Pastors and theologians to publicly dispute the slipping Christian standards of the state-supported Lutheran Church. Later, as Hitler and the National Socialists became more established and didn't self-destruct as they predicted, Bonhoeffer joined a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler and some of his top henchmen. For several years they plotted and twice used bombs planted with chemical timers to do the deed. The first bomb failed to ignite on Hitler's plane and the second went off but Hitler was mostly uninjured because a massive table leg protected him from the blast. Bonhoeffer's work in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler was discovered and it landed him in prison, and just weeks before the war ended, execution.

* The quirky part of the book is many sentences in the translated material have that strange German word order where they put the modifier on the wrong side of the verb, or the verb at the very end of the sentence. Many sentences read like this one I pulled at random from the middle of the book : "Perhaps the worst thing of all is the military oath which I should have to swear." Read it as if a speaker has German accent and it will make sense to you.
Metaxas is of German descent and speaks the language well. He has written many books in English, but perhaps he was thinking in German when he wrote some of this. I don't know. Just a guess.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

review of 'Zack' by William Bell

I just finished another good 'read' in my quest to become a more effective writer. Zack, by William Bell, is a well-written book which won the Mr. Christie Book Award in 1998.
The main character, Zack, has a personal story which is typical teenager: feelings of social isolation, disputes with parents, and struggles with his personal identity. Zack's mother is Black and his father is Jewish, although Zack's own skin colour reveals none of his white heritage. Zack and his family have moved away from the busy city and move to small town Fergus, Ontario.
Several mysteries are established early on; why does Zack's blues-singer mother have nothing to do with her family in Mississippi? What are those mysterious objects Zack digs up in a locked box in the back yard of their new home? How will Zack improve his high school marks enough to earn University acceptance?
The mysteries sort themselves out in a more-or-less believable way. Zack learns how to apply his mysterious archaeological find to a study of local history. His social problems are solved early on with a girlfriend, Jenn, and Zack undertakes a quest to find out more about his mother's side of the family.
There is always a difficulty in writing about history of Canada in that you limit your readership to Canadians, and therefore have less chance of getting published no matter how well-written your book is. William Bell's book reveals Canadian and American history in one of the many natural ways our countries are intertwined, working backwards from the history of a Black former slave and leading into his life in Canada.
This book is fast-paced and well crafted. The dialogue is believable, including the accent of the American deep south, which seems accurate to me, but what do I know?.
I would recommend this book to upper elementary or high school students.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Stories as heard by those with auditory deficits.

I was organizing my files the other day and came across this example of how those with hearing loss can still find meaning in stories by substituting logical words for ones misheard. It was given us many years ago by a professor at York and was originally written in 1940 by H.L. Chance, a professor of French.
I'm sure you know this story.
Wants pawn term, dare worsted ladle gull hoe lift wetter murder inner ladle cordage, honor itch offer lodge, dock, florist. Disk ladle gull orphan worry putty ladle rat cluck wetter ladle rat hut, an fur disk raisin pimple colder Ladle Rat Rotten Hut. Wan moaning, Ladle Rat Rotten Hut's murder colder inset.
"Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, heresy ladle basking winsome burden barter an shirker cockles. Tick disk ladle basking tutor cordage offer groinmurder hoe lifts honor udder site offer florist. Shaker lake! Dun stopper laundry wrote! Dun stopper peck floors! Dun daily-doily inner florist, an yonder nor sorghum-stenches, dun stopper torque wet strainers !"
"Hoe-cake, murder," resplendent Ladle Rat Rotten Hut, an tickle ladle basking an stuttered oft. Honor wrote tutor cordage offer groin-murder, Ladle Rat Rotten Hut mitten anomalous woof.
" Wail, wail, wail ! " set disk wicket woof, "Evanescent Ladle Rat Rotten Hut! Wares are putty ladle gull goring wizard ladle basking?"
"Armor goring tumor groin-murder's," reprisal ladle gull. "Grammar's seeking bet. Armor ticking arson burden barter an shirker cockles."
"O hoe! Heifer gnats woke," setter wicket woof, butter taught tomb shelf, "Oil tickle shirt court tutor cordage offer groin-murder. Oil ketchup wetter letter, an den -O bore!"
Soda wicket woof tucker shirt court, an whinney retched a cordage offer groin-murder, picked inner windrow, an sore debtor pore oil worming worse lion inner bet. En inner flesh, disk abdominal woof lipped honor bet, paunched honor pore oil worming, an garbled erupt. Den disk ratchet ammonol pot honor groin-murder's nut cup an gnat-gun, any curdled ope inner bet.
Inner ladle wile, Ladle Rat Rotten Hut a raft attar cordage, an ranker dough ball.
"Comb ink, sweat hard," setter wicket woof, disgracing is verse. Ladle Rat Rotten Hut entity betrum an stud buyer groin~murder's bet.
"O Grammar !" crater ladle gull historically, "Water bag icer gut! A nervous sausage bag ice!"
"Battered lucky chew whiff, sweat hard," setter bloat-Thursday woof, wetter wicket small honors phase.
"O Grammar, water bag noise! A nervous sore suture anomalous prognosis!"
"Battered small your whiff, doling," whiskered dole woof, ants mouse worse waddling.
"O Grammar, water bag mouser gut ! A nervous sore suture bag mouse!"
"Daze worry on-forger-nut ladle gull's lest warts." Oil offer sodden, caking offer carvers an sprinkling otter bet, disk hoard hoarded woof lipped own pore Ladle Rat Rotten Hut an garbled erupt.
Mural: Yonder nor sorghum stenches shut ladle gulls stopper torque wet strainers.