I first experienced Misery in 1990 on the silver screen.  I was fourteen years old at the time and Kathy Bates scared the bejesus out of me.  I started reading the novel a couple of years later, but did not progress very far due to reasons that now escape my memory.  Recently, and once again inspired by my niece, I returned to what may now be my favorite Stephen King novel.

Famous author Paul Sheldon loses control of his vehicle in a Colorado snowstorm and crashes off the road.  Annie Wilkes, a certified nurse, extracts the unconscious and seriously injured writer from the wreckage.  With the snowstorm raging, the phones are out and the roads are blocked so getting Paul to a hospital is impossible.  She brings him back to her secluded home to nurse him back to health and it is there she learns who he is:  her favorite author.  Oh what a treat for her. 

As expected, the film took quite a bit of creative license with the story and while I enjoyed it, the novel is leagues better.  Where the film included multiple points of view, the novel is told exclusively from Paul’s perspective.  When Annie is not in his convalescence room, we have no idea what she is up to and that frightens me much more.  Just as with every Stephen King novel I have read, the characters are the strongest part of the book.  When the majority of your entire novel has just two characters, they’d better be strong characters and King delivers as he always does.  Annie Wilkes is one of the most frightening characters I have ever encountered because she is so vile, so sadistic, and so believable.  She is not a monster under the bed.  She walks among us, a hideous beast hiding in plain sight behind a sweet smile.  We first see her as a benevolent rescuer but in short order, the veneer begins to crack and the true Annie is revealed.  O, and the things she does to poor Paul!

Misery is truly one of the most intense books I have ever read.  Anyone who has only seen the film needs to read the novel.  In many cases, the film is enough like its source material that one could probably get away with not reading the book if one wasn't in the mood, but Misery demands to be read.  King is so clearly expressing some personal concerns here that his words need to be consumed to gain a deeper appreciation of the author as a human being.  Fortunately, Stephen King has never been in the same situation in which he places Paul, but you just know he received some fan mail that got his brain pistons pumping.  When you are as famous a person as Stephen King, you no doubt come into contact with all kinds of people, most of whom are perfectly decent folk, but a few of whom are Annie Wilkes.

In a heart stopping instance of life nearly imitating art, Stephen King was struck by a car and seriously injured during his daily walk in June 1999.  I don’t imagine that in that exact moment he subconsciously prayed that the driver was not an Annie Wilkes, but as he recovered in his hospital room, one has to wonder if he was grateful not just to be alive, but to be in a public hospital with the story plastered all over the news instead of being rescued by a deranged fan and secreted away to a secluded location in the mountains.  As Paul Sheldon wrote during his imprisonment in Annie’s house, so too did Stephen King write after his accident to help himself heal.  Being in such pain, King had considered retirement but in a recent interview with Bangor Daily News, King recalled that his wife set up a writing desk for him and encouraged him to work to help him mentally recover from the accident.  It worked too because King has written over thirty novels, non-fiction books, and novellas since his accident.  We all owe Tabitha King a note of gratitude.


For most of my life, I have been fascinated by the ocean but slightly terrified by it, by the sheer vastness of the sea, such a foreign environment for humans, the alien nature of the creatures within.  I have noticed this sensation growing worse as I grow older.  Still, stories like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and films like The Abyss stir my imagination as much as stories of interstellar explorers.  I even enjoyed SeaQuest DSV.  When I heard that Drew Scanlon and Dan Ryckert of my favorite video game website giantbomb.com were going to read Michael Crichton’s Sphere, watch the 1998 film, and then record a special edition of their podcast and that the story was set at the bottom of the ocean, I scurried to my local bookshop and snapped up the last copy on the shelf.

The military has discovered something at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.  They say they don’t know what it is or where it came from so they collect a group of civilian scientists to help them study it.  What the object turned out to be surprised me but what was within disappointed me.  Still, the story was fun and Crichton’s inclusion of scientific debate by the characters gave me something interesting to consider.  One thing Michael Crichton did well, at least in the novels I have read, is express scientific ideas via fictional narrative.  He tricked unsuspecting readers into thinking about things like evolution, astrophysics, psychology, and ethics among others.  In Sphere, as in his smash hit Jurassic Park, Crichton collects a group of scientists from varying disciplines and throws them into a situation that challenges their understanding of the existing world and the way they think about it and in doing so, challenges the reader as well.  I found their discussions the most interesting aspect of the novel, my enjoyment of the action falling secondary.

One area of the novel I that felt was deficient was an exploration of the sense of claustrophobia I suspect one might feel living in a habitat at the bottom of the ocean.  This was a military installation, not the Ritz Carlton del Mar.  Crichton does describe the habitat as cramped and on one occasion, a character mentions they feel as though they have been buried alive in a tomb but aside from that, there wasn’t much made of the psychological effects – even with a psychologist on staff – on humans unaccustomed to living in such conditions with no possibility of escape.  They couldn’t just step outside for fresh air.  Even on the few occasions when the characters left the habitat, they were stuffed inside uncomfortable and restrictive diving suits.  That would drive some folks stir crazy.

Okay, so perhaps the characters were too distracted by other events to fall victim to cabin fever.  Those other events involve some pretty awful things (this is a Crichton novel so it is no spoiler to say some characters don’t survive) but they do not seem to faze anyone.  “Huh… well, that happened” seems to be the predominant attitude regarding the horrific demise of many of the characters.  It just didn’t ring true.  I’d even be okay with characters experiencing shock or disbelief during these moments, but instead they just sort of move on with their day.

These gripes aside, Sphere is a thrilling page-turner.  The story is suspenseful, has a cinematic pace, and the academic discussions are thought-provoking.  It is easy to see why so many of Michael Crichton’s novels were translated to the screen.  It is not my favorite of Crichton’s works (that honor belongs to Jurassic Park), but it is worth reading if you enjoy adventure tales.

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.


It was my turn to pick the next selection for my Mommy & Me Book Club and I was having difficulty choosing.  I thought some element of randomness might be fun so I asked my mom to choose two letters of the alphabet.  I received “W” and “L” in response so I drove to my local Barnes & Noble and with the excitement of a kid hunting for Easter eggs, I dashed to the fiction section and found authors whose last names start with “W”.  Running my index finger along the lip of the shelves, I scanned the book titles and stopped on the first one that started with “L”:  The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman.  I believe I uttered an audible “ugh”.  The marketing blurb on the back of the book would have inspired me to put the book back on the shelf:

                “For every woman who’s ever wondered by he didn’t call and every man who has felt guilty – but not guilty enough – about not calling”

Good grief.  No, thank you.  I nearly put it back on the shelf and went for the next title.  Mom would never know, right?  But no, I had decided to try a somewhat random title and so it would have not have been right to reject this book.  When I returned home, I started reading immediately.  I knew if I didn’t, my initial reticence would result in me putting off reading for days or weeks.

I found the story of Nate Piven’s dating life not quite to my taste, but I loved Adelle Waldman’s prose.  She is insightful with an erudite vocabulary and though I found the titular character unpleasant and often offensive, I found myself grudgingly agreeing that Waldman accurately wrote Nate to behave and think the way many, not all, men do.  I would like to believe I am a better man than Nate, but as I reached the halfway point of the story, a long look in the mirror forced me to admit to myself that I have committed some of the same relationship crimes that Nate does.  While this made for an unpleasant moment, I found it cathartic.  We never like to admit when we are wrong but as long as we learn from the experience, even the bad can be put to good use.

A cause of much eye-rolling on my part is that it seems Nate lives in a world populated exclusively by attractive women.  I suppose this can be explained away by saying Nate only remarks upon the ladies he finds “doable”, but I grew tired of every female character in the novel being considered a sex object of some kind.  This is likely Ms. Waldman’s point, isn’t it?  There is good reason #YesAllWomen exploded on Twitter in the summer of 2014.  In fact, this novel appears to be a vessel for modern social commentary and that is what interested me most.  While I was irritated (envious?) that Nate was constantly surrounded by beautiful and sophisticated people, their conversations were my favorite parts of the book.  Waldman’s characters felt real and their discussions sounded similar to the ones my friends and I occasionally have.  I wanted to dive into the page and join in the chatter.

So story not so much, but a huge yes for Waldman’s style and characters such that I am going to keep an eye out for her work in the future.  This is her debut novel with no word yet about her second, but she has penned articles for several publications so I am going to hunt those down until her next book is published.  Mom felt much the same way about the book as I do, even as far as having an uncomfortable moment when she realized that she identified with one of the characters.  I’m pleased that our experiment of selection worked out this time.

Wolf in White Van

Reading Wolf in White Van casually will provide the reader with an interesting story of a troubled young man, but will rob one of the more complex and creative aspects of the novel.  It is a short book with a nonlinear structure so I think one needs to pay close attention or miss out on what John Darnielle is really saying.  This is not one of those fun little beach books.  Wolf in White Van demands and deserves thought.  The story begins with a wonderful, heartfelt hook that only vaguely hints at an awful event that has permanently disfigured Sean Phillips, the young narrator.  By the end of the first chapter, I was invested in Sean’s personal story and felt compelled to dig deeper and learn more about the event he calls an accident that has so dramatically altered the course of his life.

During the post-accident hospital stay, Sean conceives of a game-by-mail wherein a player’s goal is to safely traverse a dangerous post-apocalyptic landscape to reach the safety of the Trace Italian, a star-shaped fortress located on the Kansas plains.  Sean mails players an envelope containing a short narrative describing their surroundings and their options and players will respond by mail, dictating their actions taken and choices made.  Originally, the chapters about the game seemed like a distraction from what I felt was the real story and for a long while, these chapters frustrated me.  I wanted to know more about Sean’s accident, the cause and effect.  Still pondering the book weeks later, I realize the chapters about the game, indeed the game itself and thus the novel, are about choice and how each choice we make has a consequence.

We all know this at a surface level, but how often do we truly consider the choices we make?  Wolf in White Van begs the reader to pay attention to each decision point in our lives.  Since finishing Wolf in White Van, I have been hyperaware of the recent choices I have made, often tracing those decision points back several steps to see how I arrived at the point where I had to make that decision.  It is a fascinating exercise, but one that could potentially drive a person mad.  For your consideration:  If you don’t brush your teeth, you will develop a cavity and you will have to go to the dentist to get the cavity filled.  On the way home from the dentist, you decide to floor it through a yellow light, but you don’t make it and collide with cross traffic.  Had you made the decision to brush properly, you might not have developed that cavity and would not have had a dentist appointment that day, meaning you likely would not have been at that street intersection at that time and thus would not have been forced to react to the yellow light or try to get through it and would not have been involved in the car accident.  Consider then the branching effect of each of your decisions and how other lives are affected by them.

Had Sean made different decisions than the ones he made leading up to his disfiguring accident, he would not have ended up in the hospital and would not have created the game.  Had he not created the game, the two teens that took the game too far and ended up involved in their own tragic event would not have been placed in the situation in which they found themselves.

The title of the novel comes from a childhood memory Sean recalls about watching a talk show on television.  The guest panel discussed the alleged satanic messages heard when some music albums are played backward.  On one such record, the guests swore they could hear the phrase “wolf in white van”.  None of them knew what it meant, but were certain the message was sinister in nature.  This scene seemed like a throwaway to me, but upon further contemplation, I realized that the novel was also being presented backward with Sean retroactively revealing the details of his accident with the final scene being the event itself.  I feel like I might be reading too much into this, though, because for the life of me I cannot discern any meaning in structuring the novel this way.  Concluding the novel with the climax is certainly powerful and grim, but is the backward structure of the novel as meaningless as the backward messages on the records, intended to incite baseless and stumbling prattle much like that of the talk show’s guest panel?  I feel like I have either been duped into putting unnecessary thought into something or I have entirely missed one of Darnielle’s points.  Or am I getting Darnielle’s joke without realizing it?

Throughout Wolf in White Van’s 207 pages, the exact nature of Sean’s horrible accident is slowly revealed with a new tantalizing and horrific detail provided with each new anecdote of his life, each of which is presented with brutal and familiar honesty.  It is these sections that drove me toward Wolf in White Van’s stunning conclusion.  I use the word “stunning” not as a convenient adjective, but in the literal sense.  Upon reading the final sentence, I realized I had stop breathing.  I inhaled a great gasp of air and let my body collapse backward, slapping my head on the wall behind my bed.  I stared into nothingness for a good long while, thinking, sympathizing, and empathizing.  Since then, Wolf in White Van has stayed with me.



I don’t often read Westerns.  In fact, I don’t recall ever reading one until now – not even Lonesome Dove if you can believe it – but man, I love Western films.  I have my Dad to thank for that.  I remember being a little kid, he and I sitting down on Sunday afternoons to watch Channel 5’s feature presentation of the week.  This was back when the television had an actual dial you had to turn to change channels.  You actually had to get up from the sofa.  Eff that ess.  But Dad and I would sit there side by side, each of us with a plate of peanut butter crackers and a mug of chocolate milk and a Western film on the television.  I will now forever associate those food items and Westerns with my Dad.

For Father’s Day this year, I sent him a copy of Jeff Guinn’s Glorious after seeing it at my local Barnes & Noble and reading some good reviews.  After he read it, I decided I wanted to read it so I bought a copy for myself.  Not quite the same as sitting beside him on the sofa watching John Wayne six-gun some stagecoach robbers, but the sense of nostalgia was there nonetheless.

Glorious begins with a brutal prologue and then jumps into the main story about a young man on the run, looking for a place to hide, but also with designs on a lady.  He lands in a dusty little town in the middle of the Arizona Territory where he hears this lady might be because when you’re on the run from danger, the first thing you want to do it put a person you care about in that same danger.  Glorious includes several Western staples:  prospectors hunting for precious ore, a smelly saloon with bad beer and bar brawls, a wealthy rancher, the threat of attack by Apaches, and the ever-present Sheriff.  The supporting characters are well-written and I enjoyed getting to know them and felt for them when they struggled.  Even more so than the characters, Guinn nailed the setting.  I could clearly picture the town of Glorious, knew where each little adobe building was, felt the dust and grit on the hotel floor underfoot, the oppressive heat so early in the morning, and could smell the beer and stale sweat of the saloon at night.

As expected, or at least as I had hoped, it all comes together in a good old-fashioned Western shoot-out but just when the climactic conclusion is due, the story is interrupted by one of the most conspicuous deus ex machinas I have ever read.  My disappointment was palpable as the book dropped into my lap.  As Dad and I agreed, it seemed like an amateur move, though forgivable considering this is the first novel from Guinn, a veteran of non-fiction tales like The Last Gunfight and We Go Down Together.  I’m not giving up though.  Jeff Guinn is writing a follow-up to Glorious and the first ninety-nine percent of it was good enough for me to give the next one a read.  I feel like I want to watch Silverado now though.  And snack on some peanut butter crackers and chocolate milk with my Dad.

The Gutenberg Elegies

When Sven Birkerts’s The Gutenberg Elegies was published in 1994, the Internet was an infant.  The primary purpose of a cell phone was to make phone calls.  Texting was barely a thing.  It wasn’t until three years later that you could order a DVD in the mail through Netflix.  Youtube was a decade away.  iDevices didn’t exist yet, nor did e-readers.  Amazon had just been founded and wouldn’t release their popular Kindle device until 2007, a year after Birkerts released an updated 2006 edition of The Gutenberg Elegies.  The point is that our world has recently been flooded with new technologies all designed to make our lives simpler, more fun, more efficient.  Birkerts is afraid that books and literary culture as he knew it as a young man will disappear, occluded by electronic noise of the modern world.

In The Gutenberg Elegies, Birkerts expresses concern that the onslaught of electronic technologies will convert humanity into a species of automatons and that we will “lose the ability to confer meaning on the human experience”.  My initial reaction was to dismiss this concern, to think that humanity will be just fine.  But I look around and see an increasing number of faces buried in glowing screens.  I was at a baseball game a few weeks ago and hundreds of people around me spent the game staring at their iPad or cell phone screens, browsing the Internet or texting people.  Only when those of us actually watching the game cheered or booed would their heads snap up and they’d look around frantically asking those of us around them what had happened.  The next time you go to a restaurant, take a look around at how many people have their smartphones in their hands, not talking to each other.  Birkerts may be on to something, though I do not want to admit it.  Maybe it is not too late.

Most of the notes I took while reading this book are counter-arguments to the points of view Birkerts shares.  As I read those notes now though, having had a couple of weeks to mull them over and observe the world around me with Birkerts’s perspective, I find myself agreeing more often.  There are bright spots though.  Thanks to the Internet, we now have the ability to connect with like-minded individuals from around the world whereas in the pre-Internet age, one would need to meet up with book club members at the local library to discuss a book.  I think we should still do that because nothing beats a face-to-face conversation, but outlets like goodreads.com and the book blogosphere (into which I hope bookthump.com will be accepted soon) offer thriving communities full of intelligent people yearning to have thoughtful discussions and debates.

Sven Birkerts displayed an eerie prescience in 1994 about the effect modern technology has had on literary culture.  Many readers are converting to e-readers and downloading their reading material.  Brick-and-mortar stores are closing by the hundreds, unable to compete with the wholesale prices offered online.  Personally, I love the physicality of a book, particularly a nice hardback.  I even named this website after the sound a thick hardcover makes when you snap it shut.  I enjoy collecting books, browsing bookshops.  I enjoy the experience of holding a book in my lap and reading.  In this, Birkerts and I agree.  I am not sure I am ready to believe mankind is losing its humanity as a result of technology, but the more I read Internet forum comments (pick any news outlet and prepare to recoil at the magnitude of vitriol and hatred expressed by commenters hiding behind anonymity), the more I wonder if we may realize his prescience about our loss of humanity in another decade. It may already be happening, but we are too busy with our noses glued to tiny glowing screens to notice… or care.  Oh, and Birkerts is on Twitter so his journey toward the Dark Side is complete.

As I Lay Dying

Thoughts on William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying

Mom seems to be honing in on the classics for her Mommy & Me book club selections.  When her next pick arrived in my mailbox, I tore open the puffy white postal envelope to reveal William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.  The first thing I noticed after the title was that the book had affixed to the upper right corner a golden “Soon to be a Motion Picture” label.  I scowled at the foul defacement of the book cover and immediately went to work on the edge of the label with my fingernail.  Fortunately, it was just a sticker with gentle adhesive and easily removed, leaving no residue.  I detest those labels and will only purchase a book that has one if it is removable.  If the label is printed onto the cover, forget it.  Of course, the worst offense of all is the replacement of the original cover art with the dreaded movie poster.  Ugh.  I wonder if post-film printings of novels like Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle and Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist ended up with “Now in Cinemas!” stickers.  Which was the first novel to be defaced by such a label and whose idea was it anyway?  Because it remains common practice, I suspect it results in the sale of books people might not pull off the shelves otherwise, but I’d still like to cinch up my suspenders and wag my cane at that filthy marketing executive anyway.

William Faulkner is one of those classic novelists I had managed to avoid all throughout school and university.  I didn't dodge him intentionally.  I just never wound up in a literature class with him on the syllabus.  Syllabus.  I haven’t used that word in more than a decade.  Remember how exciting it was when a professor handed out the syllabus and you perused it, quaking with excitement to see all of the things you were going to learn over the next few months?

The book, though.  In several alternating points of view, each character narrates their involvement with the Bundren family’s journey to transport their recently deceased mother across the Mississippi countryside via mule-drawn wagon to her desired burial place forty miles away.  That would be an hour-long trip on surface streets in modern times, but this is early 20th-century Mississippi.  Roads are dirt, bridges are rotten wood.  Add to that a furious rainstorm the night before the family sets out and now the roads are mud and the bridges are washed away.  What should have been a two-day trip even in a wagon drags out over more than a week and momma’s not smelling too swell by the end of it.

The Bundren family are different people.  Hill people.  No – not people.  Folk.  These are hill folk of the American South – misunderstood and odd.  You know how when you are driving across the country and you stop for gasoline in a little town off the highway and the people there have teeth the color of candy corn, bathe in streams and seem to speak their own language and when you leave you look in the quivering rear-view mirror and see all of them standing in the road watching you go?

Even with so many characters written in first person, Faulkner managed to create clear voices for each of them.  Being inside some of these people’s heads was disturbing.  Some of them seem normal-ish, if not troubled, and some seem downright nuts.  I had a difficult time deciding whether Vardaman, the youngest boy, was mentally unstable or just a regular kid with fractured attention span who doesn't know how to emotionally handle the demise of his mother.  These fascinating people are what this book is about.  The journey to get momma’s corpse, matter-of-factly referred to as "it", from Point A to Point B is just an excuse for these people to have something to do.  It is the Bundrens and the people they meet along the way that are the focus of As I Lay Dying.  If you want plot-driven narratives, look elsewhere.  This book is an examination of a part of America we modern city dwellers may never see again.  Modern civilization was already spreading into Faulkner’s fictional Yoknapatawpha County in this novel and the Bundren Family was viewed with wary eyes by those who encounter them.  As I Lay Dying is about the values of these hill folk.  In some cases, their values are all they have, which explains why they cling to them so very much.  For them, it is about what is right and durnit when something is right, you best see it done.

Now, about that “Soon to be a Motion Picture” sticker:  I see this thing is written by, directed by and stars James Franco.  I reckon I might could set down to give it a look-see.


Thoughts on Kim Stanley Robinson's Shaman

I have seen Kim Stanley Robinson’s books in the science fiction section of my local bookshops for decades going back to the days when I worked in one of them.  His readers are accustomed to Robinson’s intelligent and thought-provoking prose about the far future. 

Shaman is very much about the long ago past and after reading this 2013 novel, I do not understand why it is labeled Science Fiction.  The book even says Science Fiction right on the spine above the imprint label.  There is a little bit of hocus pocus, but it is nothing so out of this world as any mystical goings-on you might find in a story about a tribe of Native Americans.  There is more paranormal wackadoo going on in Dan Simmons’ Black Hills and it is labeled Historical Fiction.  I know Kim Stanley Robinson is known primarily as an author of science fiction, but I do not understand why that means this work of historical fiction ends up on the SF shelf.

Taking place over a period of a few years, Shaman is the story of Loon, a young apprentice shaman living with his prehistoric tribe during the Ice Age.  We join Loon as he is a boy on the verge of manhood, beginning his shaman wander, a rite of passage during which he is stripped of everything including clothing, and told to disappear into the wilderness and not return until the next full moon.  What follows is a tale of survival told the Kim Stanley Robinson way.  His words are a paint brush.

The pace of the story is slow, much like the pace of Loon’s life.  Devoid of the hustle of the modern world, Loon and his tribe exist just to survive.  They are not worried about their 401(k), getting to a sales meeting on time, or navigating through gridlock traffic.  These humans are practically still just animals.  They hunt, they eat, they breed.  They maintain a connection to nature by naming themselves after birds (Loon, Hawk), plants (Heather, Moss), and rocks (Schist).  They recognize and appreciate their place in the ecology, unlike modern man who has paved over nature and replaced tree lines with skylines.  I enjoyed experiencing the simplicity of the ancient world through Loon’s eyes.  There are certainly harrowing moments that elevated my pulse, but I found Shaman to mostly be an exploration of early mankind’s life, like watching a well-produced documentary.

Robinson explores the cyclical nature of life, the passing of years marked by the seasons, the passing of days marked by the path of the sun across the sky.  He puts great effort into detailing these cycles and their importance to Loon and his Wolf Pack.  I found it almost hypnotic.  His setting is so crystal clear that even now, a week after finishing the book, I retain a vivid image of the woods in which Loon and his pack live, the river nearby, the tufts of snow on the ground late into Spring.  The seasons do not mean much to industrial man, but early mankind’s entire lives revolved around the seasons.  Summer was bountiful with rich hunting and gathering opportunities.  Autumn was a time to begin storing food for the long Winter.  The Hunger Spring was the worst, when food stores were low and wildlife had not yet returned so hunting was poor.

In a prehistoric society, the people told stories to retain their history and build their culture.  These stories were passed down through the generations.  The Wolf Pack’s shaman Thorn spends much of his time trying to teach his reluctant apprentice Loon the value of these stories and the importance of getting the details right.  I found myself wondering how much the stories might have changed over so many years, like a multi-generational game of Telephone.  In the Internet Age, information is at our fingertips.  Prior to the Internet, I could go to a library and read any number of volumes of scholarly information.  None of that existed thirty thousand years ago.  History was verbal.  This is how legends are born.  One person tells a story, the next embellishes a little, the next embellishes further.  Before we know it, we are sitting around the village bonfire listening as our shaman tells us the story of a man so strong, he killed an invulnerable beast with his bare hands and now wears its pelt as a trophy.  Loon’s own story is narrated by a seldom seen third party.  Is this the real tale or has it been sweetened to enhance the listener’s experience?

I thoroughly enjoyed Shaman and think even more highly of it as I continue to ponder it days after reading the final page.  Robinson can always be counted on to impart knowledge in an entertaining form and with Shaman, I feel as though I have been given a well-researched glimpse into a world I would not normally think about.  It is not science fiction though.  Not even a little bit.