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The CR4 Book Club

The CR4 Book Club is a forum to discuss fiction and non-fiction books that have science, engineering or technology thematic elements. The club will read and discuss several books a year. All CR4 users are invited to participate. Look out for book announcements and the ensuing discussions that follow, but beware of potential spoilers!

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Book Review: World Made By Hand

Posted May 20, 2010 11:06 AM by Steve Melito

"Children like my Daniel and Genna had sat in those very box buildings under buzzing fluorescent lights listening to their science teachers prattle about the wonders of space travel and gene splicing and how we were all going to live to be a hundred and twenty five years old in 'smart' computer-controlled houses where all we had to do was speak to bump up the heat or turn on the giant home theater screens in a life of perpetual leisure and comfort. It made me sick to think about it. Not because there's something necessarily wrong with leisure or comfort, but because that's where our aspirations ended. And in the face of what had happened to us, it seemed obscenely stupid". pp. 33-34

In World Made by Hand, James Howard Kunstler uses shades of gray to paint a portrait of small-town America after Armageddon. Set in Union Grove, New York, an upstate hamlet in rural Washington County, World Made by Hand is far brighter than the future imagined in either Cormac McCarthy's The Road or James Cameron's The Terminator. Some residents, such as the leaders of Union Grove's four subcultures, enjoy varying degrees of economic success, improved social status, or spiritual growth. For others, such as those Union Grove residents who cling to a twentieth-century past of plenty, Kunstler's world is a dark and desperate place.

Much as a good horror movie shrouds a killer or monster during the film's earliest scenes, James Howard Kunstler keeps most of the back-story to World Made by Hand off-stage. The United States exists, albeit only nominally, after losing Washington D.C. and Los Angeles to nuclear attacks. Rioting in other cities, a war in the Middle East, and an oil embargo that dwarves those of the 1970s cripples what remains of the nation's economy. TV stations go off the air, the electrical grid works sporadically, and roads and bridges fall into disrepair. There are no newspapers and there is no mail. For the residents of a small-town in upstate New York, isolation from the outside world is both a blessing and a break with the past.

Ironically, survival in Kunstler's world depends upon the ability to embrace a more distant past as both the new present and the only foreseeable future. Robert Earle, a former software company executive, builds barns when he's not serving Union Grove as its new mayor. Stephen Bullock, the son of a successful cider supplier to a now-defunct supermarket chain, builds an estate – complete with agricultural and technological novelties – reminiscent of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. Wayne Karp, a drug dealer who now scavenges the local landfill for building materials, forms his own fiefdom among residents of a ragged trailer park. Brother Job, the mysterious leader of a religious sect called the New Faith Brotherhood, buys the old Union Grove high school to build a New Jerusalem.

It is this high school, the subject of Robert Earle's soliloquy at the beginning of this book review, which brings the end of our modern age into such sharp relief. It's not just that there's no space travel, gene splicing, fluorescent lighting, or even dreams of "perpetual leisure and comfort" in World Made by Hand. It's not just the high school's classrooms are now workshops and its athletic fields arable lands. As Brother Jobe explains to Robert Earle as the end of the book, "Back in the machine times, there was so much noise front and back, so to speak, it kept us from knowing what lies below the surface of things. Now it stands out more".

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#1

Re: Book Review: World Made By Hand

05/21/2010 8:34 PM

There are a great number of places in the world now where there is quite a bit of a future, same as Armageddon, as if the fall of Rome was enough. Somewhere between Lord of the Flies, and likely The Road is some American predictable spin on the fictional expectations.

Faulkner said something to the effect that the past isn't even past yet.

My reading list is very extensive to the point that I one time read simply my explained reading list at a "Reading", and the owner of the bar told my wife I was a show off.

Since I started reading and writing on CR4, I've hardly read a book fiction or non fiction.

Cormac McCarthy is just bleak as hell, and I can't read him anymore. Blood Meridian is a masterpiece.

Troy is Ilium to me. Lived up that way plenty riding Amtrak back and forth from Rochester NY to Manhattan. Laid naked twitching on an Oxberry in Syracuse U for a Professorial Short "Restless", New Berlin, and wrote and photographed in Livonia for the Gazette. 10 dollar rifles in the KMart from Prussia laying around the store in expectation of deer season.

Wasn't it Penfield that ran Joe Smith out and down to Utah? Egypt, East Rochester, - there you go, it's a past and future more than dream, but evidenced by the history of the agricultural regions of NY State.

Back when Rome was falling apart smart people moved out to places like I live.

Who are the North Koreans gonnah help set off bad bombs in NYC? Too many threats. Adults know fighting words from insults. Fatalists wait for more.

Easter Island and the only winning is last to die.

Now you know that since this universe is getting cold and spread out, and the Sun will get big, and then explode or dwarf, there is nothing but an end to look forward too, sooner or later.

However we might figure out how to move to another different light speed universe with some kind of skin.

Not exactly the heaven we are looking for, but about best we might get, as a big time species.

Troy.

High School sort of place? - Pleasantville, maybe.

P.S. There is a science mistake in this post.

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Re: Book Review: World Made By Hand

05/21/2010 10:02 PM

Crackpot alert!

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#3

Re: Book Review: World Made By Hand

05/21/2010 10:02 PM

No one gets out of here alive; might as well make it interesting.

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