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Issue Number : 54 - New Novel Completed, On The Road and in the Air, Unearthing the Hoover Dam


TO: JAMES P. HOGAN MAILING LIST -- August 31, 2009

NEW NOVEL COMPLETED

The Migration is finished at last and has been scheduled as a hardback release by Baen Books for next May. (Yes, I know it's a bit of a wait, but authors don't have control over that side of things.) This time we're following the fortunes of a generation ship that sets out from the recovering ruins of the old world to found a new one somewhere else. The difference is that the mission is designed to accommodate to the dissidents and malcontents that human nature says are bound to appear by proliferating into a constellation of custom-built mini-worlds as the voyage proceeds, so that those who aren't happy with the way things are run in the original mission ship can go out and start their own. The action revolves around Korshak, a former traveling illusionist from one of the still primitive parts of Earth, and a runaway robot enraptured by the ancient religion of the Sacred Dollar, which apparently swept and dominated the old world. Lots of robotics in this one, along with an interesting plurality of artificial worlds taking shape to suit different tastes along the way to another star. Go here for more, including some sample chapters and excerpts.

ON THE ROAD AND IN THE AIR

This is being written on a laptop in a hotel room in Columbus, Ohio, on a Friday morning before the Context science fiction convention here this weekend gets under way. It's as well that The Migration got finished and sent on its way when it did, because there followed one of those dislocated times that tend to happen in life (mine, anyway), when little that requires coherence and continuity of thought is likely to be accomplished--a summer of disconnect, you might say.

I actually arrived in Columbus a couple of weeks ago. Being in the States was a chance to visit some family and friends too, and since the convention were bringing me over as this year's Guest-of-Honor, the simplest arrangement seemed to be for them to cover a round-trip ticket from Ireland, and me make my own arrangements from there. Sheryl was already in Tulsa, Oklahoma, having come over several weeks previously to take care of some personal matters and attend a wedding in Oregon. The morning after arriving at Columbus I left for Austin, Texas, to be a guest at their ArmadilloCon convention, and Sheryl and I met up on the plane when it stopped at Dallas, which was also her connection. The Monday following the con, we flew from Austin to San Francisco, rented a car, and spent the rest of the week visiting around California before we had to split up again, Sheryl flying from Los Angeles to Atlanta to visit her daughter there before returning to Ireland to get back to her job, me taking the car back to San Francisco. (It seems to me that the car rental companies not so much shot themselves in the foot but blew both feet off with a cannon when they introduced these one-way dropoff charges that can be more than the rental cost itself. When airports became so ghastly, I would have happily preferred driving anywhere up to, say, 300 miles or so for straight trips not involving multiple visits. But if it's going to cost as much and take up a day, you might as well buy a plane ticket and put up with the hassles. I can remember times when things were little different from a bus station. Even for an international flight, the plane was there at the gate with the door open, not an agent in sight. You just walked on, found your seat, and waited for the crew to show up. Now we have a whole generation of younger people who have been conditioned to obedience training and think that being treated like criminal suspects is normal.) From San Francisco I went on to Pensacola in Florida for a week to see sons Joe and Mike before coming back to Columbus.

All of the above is a long-winded way of saying that apart from the new page for The Migration, not a lot has been added to the web site of late. One thing that did materialize out of all the traveling, however, was that I met a couple on the flight to Pensacola who have visited Ireland and love it, and want to trade houses and cars for a month of the year to spend more time there. That strikes Sheryl and me as a great idea. But of course it would first be necessary to finish the work on the farm and get the place to an appropriately respectable condition.

Which brings us to the latest episode in the ongoing saga . . .

UNEARTHING THE HOOVER DAM

The winter of 2008-9 in the world west of the Shannon was cold and exceptionally wet (global warming will do that, according to the believers, along with anything else that decides to happen or not happen), which meant that a lot of outside work had backed up, awaiting more favorable climes. An aspect of the local geology that revealed itself during that time was areas of intended lawn that were prone to becoming soggy and invaded by moss, indicating a need for the installation of ground drainage before the finer aesthetics could sensibly be attended to. This I resolutely resolved to tackle as soon as the first graces of spring should show themselves (a joke in itself in a country that can have four seasons a day throughout the year).

The work involves digging a system of branching trenches floored with gravel, upon which are laid perforated pipes packed to the sides and above with more gravel and topped off with a few inches of sandy topsoil. To the astonishment of the mailman and stalwarts of Stamfords bar down in the village, I announced that I would tackle it by hand with pick, mattock, and shovel, since letting machinery loose around the farm would have set everything back four years to the time we moved in, when the cowshed adjoining the cottage was demolished and the hillside at the rear cut back to leave us living in the middle of a scene vaguely resembling the Somme battlefield of World War 1. What, I asked them, has happened to the Irish spirit of honest, sweat-of-the-brow work and indefatigable perseverance that gave us the English canals and railways, New York's bridges and tunnels, Union Pacific transcontinental, and coal mines from Northumberland to Pennsylvania? Call in Joe Kelly with his "digger" (US, backhoe)? Not a bit of it. A week at the most to do all that would be required on the two areas in question, above and below the house. A welcome, invigorating interval of fresh air and excercise after a winter of mostly sedentary cabin-bound working on the book.

The first thing I found I'd underestimated was the total length of trenching needed to do the job. Working the ground at closer quarters uncovered further patches of waterlogging that the system really needed to cover if the job was to be done properly, which meant further orders of pipe from the supplier and an extended program of digging. I'd put it conservatively at around a hundred miles. On top of which was the matter I'd come up against before but relegated to minor significance on my scale of remembering things (we live and we learn . . . and then, we forget), which was the blue gray western Irish clay known as "dab". It's like trying to shovel glue when it's wet, while dried out it turns into concrete. Leitrim County is made of it. Hercules would consider his other labors a rest break from grappling with it. Maybe that was why the Irish navvies built all those canals and railroads somewhere else. It didn't help matters that I was also producing the filling for the drainage trenches as I went along by pulverizing the construction debis left from the demolished cow shed that had originally adjoined the cottage with a 12lb sledge hammer. Why pay one man to haul it away and another to deliver loads of gravel when I could make my own?

And then there were the rocks. The contractors who cut back the hillside at the rear of the property had solved the problem of what to do with the landfill thereby created by spreading it out over the slope below and in front, producing the lunarscaped appearance referred to above. This being an Irish mountainside, the earthmoving had included a lot of rocks, many of which began emerging as the ground settled, with bad implications for the future well being of things like lawnmowers--notably the ride around model that we had recently acquired. So the obvious thing to do was extend the operation to removing any rocks that I came across while I was at it. There turned out to be more of them than had been evident at first sight. The protruding parts showed a tendency that soon became almost predictable of turning out to be the tips of formidably large icebergs, in some cases too large to lift or lever out, even with a six foot, solid iron pry bar, which necessitated breaking them into smaller pieces with the sledge. The caverns left after extracting these monoliths had another tendency that also became predictable of uncovering a surrounding constellation of other rocks barely below the surface that it would be better to deal now, while the tools were there and time had been allocated, rather than leaving them and having to repeat the whole business after more settling later. Okay, then, let's give it a couple of weeks, say.

The cow shed had included a concrete tank to collect runoff from the roof to provide water for the yard. I'd always assumed the pieces had been hauled away somewhere, since little was in evidence by the time I took up occupancy. (I had been living in the flat over the pizza parlor in Sligo while the work was going on.) The discovery of things being otherwise came when the trenches had finally all been filled in, with just two barely visible fragments of of masonry were left to get rid of, and then everything would be finished. Cutting some space around them with the mattock revealed their form as corners--no doubt of construction cinder blocks, many of which I had unearthed by this time, which would be nothing compared to some of the Gibraltaresque demolitions that had gone before. The easy straight before home, I told myself confidently.

Dream on. The corners turned out to mark not a couple of isolated cinder blocks, but the beginnings of what was left of the the missing water tank. Huge chunks of broken concrete, strung together by tangles of three quarter inch rebar reinforcement, scrunched and pounded together before being buried, in some places lying in slabs three deep. Small wonder that the ground above had remained obstinately boggy despite being on a slope. All drainage below was blocked by what was in effect an underground dam formed from barriers of concrete welded together by impenetrable Leitrim dab. Add another week of digging, heavy sledging, and wheelbarrowing, plus the addition of hacksaw to the kit of tools to cut up the rebar. On the fortunate side, Sheryl was in the States while the last episode was playing out, and so never got to see the worst part of the lunaforming of her lawn. Anything green grows fast in Ireland, and nature had effected some impressive first steps toward recovery by the time she returned.

Also on the plus side, I found that I'd lost 50lb in the process and can do 45 pushups again. Not bad at all for 68, I'd say. Now I can take things easy by getting back to work for a while. The next major project will be to compact and consolidate a ramp formed from more cow shed debris that leads down from the yard before the cottage to the sloped lawn below, and extend it into a loop connecting around to the driveway. I think I'll talk to Joe Kelly about it when I next run into him in Stamfords.

More anon, no doubt.

With thanks again to all
JPH

 
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