Far North

21 Sep

Some sci fi can start like this:

Young Cyrus emerged from the Tube and automatically pulled down his sh’trithra to guard against the perishing gamma deflection from Cygnos XI’s sister sun; as perishing as the glare of the Old Mistress if I’m late to the education factory, on GuyFawlke3000 Day no less, he thought.

Some western fi can start like this:

Young Cyrus carefully closed the cabin door so as not to wake the sleeping baby brother and stepped onto the porch, pulling down the brim of his hat, it being a bright morning in the Barefoot Hills of Montana. Unless he lit out of there he knew he’d face the wrath of Miss Crabtree, followed by the smothered laughter of the other kids, already likely to be riled because tomorrow was to be the 4th of July.

While in the bookstore the other day, I thumbed through a book and within two lines was hooked on what (eventually) turned out to be an intriguing blending of the two:

Every day I buckle on my guns and go out to patrol this dingy city.
I’ve been doing it so long that I’m shaped to it, like a hand that’s been carrying buckets in the cold.

This is a great read. If you love stories in the Survivalist, Post-Environmento-Apocalyptic, Western/Sci-Fi, Little House on the Prairie/Prison Camp genre, you’re gonna love Far North. I like the anthropological aspect to it. It’s like reverse engineering sci fi, picking up the archeological artifacts and making the connection going back over time.

In addition to the main character’s treatment (and treatment), the other great character is never named but is obviously known as WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED? If I ever have a kid, that’ll be his middle name. If it’s a her, the middle name will be TOLT YOU SO PIPELINE.

WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED? is, again, never seen, only hinted at, but is omnipresent, on all the minds of the characters and on every page. Makepeace Hatfield, the sheriff and central actor, is a tour de force. I won’t ruin the details, but the details are amazing: when it comes to the plane, I picture something like an Antonov 12, some classic Russian cargo transport, but this sort of thing is never spelled out specifically and in such terms, just hinted at through the interpretive lens of a post-interpretive mindset: curvatures, smells, bouncing, g-force sensation, the shine of the metallic skin. It’s a masterful story both in what’s included but almost even more so by what’s not included.

I highly recommend this book to y’all. At work, on a Friday afternoon, one of the chaps on my team came up and said, I’m about to fly to Florida for a three-day weekend and need a book. You wouldn’t happen to have any thing?

I had just finished Far North and handed it over. He apparently read it in one go. It’s that kind of book.

And, if you like it, I highly recommend Marcel Theroux’s Confessions of Mycroft Holmes: A Paper Chase (or also known as The Paperchase). It’s chock full of the most pithy simile/metaphor suggestions… I remember one passage, describing a kitchen oven that apparently was never used by its late owner, as having an ‘aura to it like an abandoned car in the middle of a forest’ or something to that effect. His father Paul Theroux is famous of course, and I have tried on several occasions to get past the first 100 pages of his uncle’s book Laura Warholic, published by Seattle’s own Fantagraphics (I worked there one summer! a long, long time ago…).


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