One of my favorite books – a sextet, of which I actually read only three and a little bit – was the “Clan of the Cave Bear” series by Jean Auel. Officially called the “Earth’s Children” series, it was a strong tale that started with Ayla, a five-year-old Cro-Magnon girl, being orphaned in an earthquake, and subsequently taken in by a Neanderthal clan.
It’s a great story, well and enthrallingly told, but one scene sticks out for me in the four decades since the first book was published has Ayla sneaking into the back of a cave where the men are gathered for a pot-party. Their purpose was to expose themselves to visions – one of the original boys’ clubs. Ayla, who wanted to become a shaman, like the woman to whose hearth she has been adopted, wanted to see what was going on where she, a girl, was not allowed to be.
She apparently slipped close enough to the men and their burning mind-bender to see her own vision. Looking down on a valley, she saw boxes traveling a stone-paved road under their own power. Above them, birds flew without flapping their wings. Cars and airplanes? It was a time before early humans had not yet learned to tame and ride horses.
SciFi, well told, is a wonderful way to explore the wonders of the miraculous piece of equipment we call our “mind.” Currently in my exploration process is “Autonomous,” by Annalee Newitz. Set in roughly the 2140s, it features Jack, a pharma pirate whose main vocation is to reverse engineer popular expensive pharmaceuticals, then distribute them to people who otherwise could not afford them.
Her latest reverse-creation is a drug that makes people enjoy their mundane or otherwise objectionable tasks enough that they want to just keep at it. One might imagine that trait would be attractive to, for instance, clerks and warehouse workers.
Alas, unbeknownst to Jack, the drug has a side effect. It makes its users love their work so much they forget to eat or sleep. One might, for instance, paint a room over and over and over until – the painter falls over dead.
Then meet Paladin, a transgender robot who enters the story as a male but discovers his human brain is female, and her human partner, Eliasz. The pair are in the employ of the drug’s pharma company, which is eager to put Jack permanently out of business before word gets out that the company’s product actually is killing people.
Along the way are bits of North African and western Canada history, and some intriguing methods of conversing without actually cluttering the atmosphere with the cacophony of aural transmission. I eagerly await discovering Jack’s fate, and Paladin’s education.
I “met” Annalee Newitz on a webinar. She is a journalist and author and I intend to delve into more of her work.
Meanwhile, it has been a great week for reading. There has been some sun for photographing dancing hawks but, at least as I am writing this, the window over my head has been the shade of indirect lighting, just the right tone for reading, napping, reading, rinse, repeat to the light sound of much needed rain tapping my bedroom walls.
I highly recommend the endeavor. Take a trip and never leave the farm.