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Dear Friends,

The long wait is over!  It’s been just over a year since the release of Fourth World, and during that time the response to my first novel has been fantastic.  In addition to the usual suspects (e.g. immediate family), many friends-of-friends and distant acquaintances have expressed admiration for Fourth World.  For the numerologists out there, and those who love “objective” data:  out of 13 reviews, 11 gave the book five stars– and the other two, four stars.  The main complaint I’ve heard is that people are anxious to know what happens to the mysterious hero/anti-hero Benn Marr, and to his sometimes-befuddled friend Lora.

You may recall the final paragraph of Fourth World (spoiler alert):

 

Walther Beame shook his head, overcome by a heady mixture of resentment, relief and triumph.  Stepping forward once again with the Dermamist squeezed tightly in his trembling hand, he uttered through gritted teeth, “Welcome home, son.  Welcome home.”

 

Is Benn returning home like Leopold Bloom, or Ulysses, or is he more the Prodigal Son?  The answer to that and other burning questions lies in the sequel, Fourth World Nation (this is the second part of a planned trilogy).

To quote my own blurb on the back cover:  “The year is 2197, and young Benn Marr has joined the Chimera Project.  To escape the clutches of a greedy pharmaceutical corporation and the Pan-World Electorate, Benn and Lora flee to Mars, where they encounter the cruel effects of colonialism:  shameless exploitation, political inequity and militaristic oppression.  They are swept into the deadly conflict erupting between the world government, the Resistance, and a mysterious, quasi-religious cult.  It is a conflict which turns all of Benn’s relationships, as well as his conception of his own uncanny abilities, upside-down.”

 

Fourth World Nation is available on Amazon, in paperback or as an eBook (you can download the Kindle app for free).  There are links to both books on this blog, but here’s the Amazon site:

 

https://www.amazon.com/Fourth-World-Nation/dp/1973142503/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1509379909&sr=8-1&keywords=Fourth+world+nation

 

For those who have yet to read Fourth World, the first book in the science fiction trilogy, it really is best to start at the beginning.  Fourth World is also available on Amazon, as a paperback or eBook.  Here’s a link to that site:

 

 

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LWVNG6A/ref=cm_cr_ryp_prd_ttl_sol_0

 

 

My heartfelt gratitude to everyone for your generous comments, reviews and support!

 

All my best,

 

Chee Chow

 

 

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Now Is The Time

Much is made of freedom of speech, but equally important– and largely unmentioned– is freedom of dialogue, of conversation.  On the NYT Opinion Page this morning, David Brooks said, “You can’t have a civil conversation with people who are intent on destroying the rules that govern conversation itself.”*

In this ever more divided nation, you are free to make a statement, but good luck getting a meaningful response, an exchange of ideas from which both sides may come away a bit wiser.  His editorial got me thinking about several recent examples of the decline in conversation.  When Texas and Florida were inundated by hurricanes and rising sea levels, those who wondered whether global warming had worsened the storms’ effects were roundly scolded by Scott Pruitt and the Administration:  “How can you be so insensitive?” they were admonished.  Now is not the time to talk about climate change, not while people are still recovering!

After the mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas, some (probably the same insensitive miscreants as above) brought up the subject of sensible restrictions on firearms, only to be scolded again, this time by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who acted disgusted by the concept and righteously repeated the gun control mantra (the one chanted after Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Orlando and many other mass shootings):  This is a terrible tragedy!  Now is not the time to talk about…

Likewise, the playing of the national anthem at a sporting event is not the time to call attention to racial inequality and police brutality toward African-Americans by sitting down or taking a knee.  It’s not the time, even if you emphatically explain that you are not disrespecting the country, the flag or the military.  That explanation will not begin a conversation; it will only draw derision and threats of boycott, as though you had said nothing at all.

When we are standing at the edge of nuclear war because two national leaders with oversize egos are calling each other names, that is not the time to have a conversation about impeachment, when we must bravely face death by nuclear holocaust with national unity and patriotism.

When the Chaos President, fuming and frustrated at the repeated failure of Repeal and Replace, launched a couple of gratuitous torpedoes at the Affordable Care Act, aiming to sabotage his nation’s healthcare, very few in Congress spoke up.  Now is not the time to speak up against Trump– not when they still have to pass big tax cuts for the rich, not to mention having to appease Trump’s unshakeable, fearsome voter “base,” which might hurt shaking, fearful incumbents in next year’s midterm elections.

Only in times of national emergency do former presidents speak out against the sitting POTUS, so it’s not a good sign when both George W. Bush and Barrack Obama make speeches in the same week to denounce reneging on national commitments, white supremacy, nativism and divisive politics– unfortunately without naming the Great White Nativist, the Divider-in-Chief they obviously have in mind.  Nor does John McCain mention Trump, although his speech about the poorest Americans serving in Vietnam while the wealthy were able to get deferments for such reasons as bone spurs clearly points an accusing finger at the Donald.

Why not name him?  Steve Bannon has been running amok for years, saying anything he likes (even trumpeting the fact that he intends to destroy the careers of all Republican senators except for Ted Cruz– which actually makes Lyin’ Ted look bad)!  So why shouldn’t Republicans in Congress, who are known to hate Bannonism and Trump, pull off the gloves?  Now is the time!

Kudos to Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, and John McCain:  you waited until there was nothing more to lose, but you did finally voice what most Congressmen have been thinking.  Maybe more of them will be emboldened to speak up now, before we all have nothing more to lose.

 

* This is taken out of context; he goes on to advocate for the argument Yale Law professor Stephen Carter made in his book “Civility”– that one has to confront fanaticism with compassion.

Let’s Take A Closer Look

One evening in 1978, when I was in medical school, I described to a few dinner companions a fantasy/sci-fi machine for diagnosing illnesses.  CT scanners (which provide multiple computer-generated cross-sectional views, or tomographs, of the body using x-rays) had only recently been invented, and MRI (using NMR technology taught to us in physical chemistry classes at the time) was still a few years away.

My dream machine, I explained to my dinner mates– whose eyes I could see were beginning to glaze over– would compile all the tissue cross-sections to generate a 3-D picture, a hologram.  At that time, CT’s limited resolution showed us the organs and tissues, but what if we could greatly increase the resolution with a different type of energy beam, something other than x-rays?  Radar?  Microwaves?  Cosmic rays?  Who knew?  We would see not only tissues but cells, then drill down to the level of cell nuclei, mitochondria, chromosomes, even individual genes.  The resolution of the imaging technique was the rate-limiting step.

With my dream machine, abnormal cells would stand out right away; combine that information with indicators of tissue metabolism (PET scanners would come along later) and even images of gene sequences, and before you knew it, surgical biopsies of live tissue– for example, to diagnose cancer– would no longer be needed.  “You could examine the hologram from all different angles, then perform a virtual biopsy!” I exclaimed (stimulated by the excellent wine we had with dinner).  The computer, having obtained all necessary data from the high-resolution scan, could “biopsy” pieces of the 3-D image, then project them on a screen for the pathologist:  this could be repeated over and over, without any pain to the patient.

Well, the dream machine is one step closer.  This week– only 36 years later– a newsletter from the dean of Yale Medical School announced the arrival of a high-resolution cryoelectron microscope with tomographic capabilities, enabling researchers to view specimens in 3-D from multiple angles (unfortunately you still have to obtain a specimen, as nobody has figured out how to put a whole patient into the machine).  It can tell us the atomic structures of membrane proteins– now that is small!  By the way, the three scientists most responsible for developing cryo-EM received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry this month.

(Not making any claims to the Nobel Prize– just saying).  Here’s an excerpt from my science fiction novel, Fourth World:

Lora stepped out of the Pan-Bio Analyzer, commonly known as the Probot, and reached for her paper robe.  Her skin was flushed and tingling- it felt like a Sonicspray, she thought, only without the blowing sensation.  The Probot scan, which produced a detailed analysis of anatomy and organ function- it would have detected a gastric ulcer, sinus infection or brain tumor, for example- was the final part of the physical evaluation required of all students, and she had passed without a hitch.  So had Benn and Sool, who were already on their way to the first formal lecture for the incoming class of interns, scheduled to begin in Cushing Hall in just a few minutes.  After a week of organizational meetings and introductory talks, it was a much-anticipated moment.

Lora nodded to the technician seated at a control panel, hurriedly crossed the cold Probot Chamber to the adjacent dressing room, and exchanged the robe for her standard-issue orange bodysuit.  Almost everyone attending YaleConn Med- not only the lowly interns- wore those bodysuits to class, so Lora shrugged off their resemblance to the prison uniforms worn by PsySoc reformees back at Tharsis One.  In a way, Lora was disappointed that the computer hadn’t found anything wrong with her:  no explanation for the distracting noise, that persistent insect buzz that had kept her up for part of the night.  It was faint, but intermittently took on a pronounced throbbing pattern- quite annoying.  Neither Benn nor Sool seemed to hear that noise, whatever it was:  A blood clot?  Eustachian tube dysfunction?  Seizure activity?  The Probot said no, no and no.  Meaning that there wouldn’t be an easy remedy.

 

 

Ejection for Personal Fouls

A political football is a topic or issue that is seized on by opposing political parties or factions and made a more political issue than it might initially seem to be. “To make a political football” [out of something] is defined in William Safire‘s Safire’s Political Dictionary as “To thrust a social, national security, or otherwise ostensibly non-political matter into partisan politics”  — Wikipedia

Implicit in the term “political football” is the back-and-forth, unresolved nature of an issue from which both sides seek an advantage, and yet for which neither side accepts responsibility.

For example, our Chaos President’s rescinding of DACA.  Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and a large majority of the population, seem to agree that these young, undocumented immigrants should be given a pathway to citizenship in the only country they have ever known.  It’s the right thing to do, regardless of politics.  But Trump purposely exposed 800,000 young people to deportation, upending their lives, flooding them with fear and anxiety.  Then out of supposed compassion, he struck a deal (minus the Great Wall of Mexico) with Democrats to safeguard the Dreamers, passing the responsibility on to Congress to “fix DACA.”  Now he has reneged by demanding that the Wall be part of the deal.  In this football game of his creation, Trump is wearing the uniforms of both teams.

Another example is Trump’s antipathy toward fighting climate change, a cause which would seem to be a no-brainer (especially in light of this year’s severe hurricanes, floods and droughts).  Economic factors, such as the number of jobs in the methane and CO2-producing industries, do not change the science behind climate change, but they do change the politics.  To tackle this political football, the Administration’s strategy is to remove scientists from the EPA and deny the science altogether, rather than create new industries that don’t generate heat-trapping gases.  Now Scott Pruitt is trying to justify repealing Obama’s Clean Power Plan by lying about its costs and benefits.  As always, Trump is an extremely short-term thinker, and his first priority– even over world survival in the long term– is to pander to his political base.

Healthcare has been (and may still be, despite the apparent demise of Repeal and Replace) another political football.  How did taking away health coverage from millions of lower-income Americans for the benefit of the wealthy even get to a vote, let alone several rushed attempts to get Repeal and Replace passed?  Without considering the greatest good for all of the people, Trump appeals to his base (even though many of them would be among those losing coverage) by trying to fulfill a campaign promise.

But stepping back from each of these issues and looking at the whole of Donald Trump’s presidency, you begin to see a much larger game going on, in which immigrants, global warming and healthcare, along with the upcoming tax reform, threats of nuclear escalation in North Korea and potentially Iran, are all isolated plays called from the bench, with the ultimate goal of exciting Trump’s base and reliving the WIN of the 2016 election.  His support for white supremacists and the NRA, his heartless remarks made in Puerto Rico, and his ceaseless campaign rallies complete the picture for those benighted folks (sometimes spelled with a V).

Voices of dissent coming from within the Chaos President’s own camp are welcome news:  GOP Sen. Bob Corker has taken the biggest step so far by pointing out that Trump tweets lies, is volatile, unstable, incompetent, needs to be contained, and could set the nation “on the path to World War III”– but Rex Tillerson calling Trump a “f___ing moron” isn’t far behind.  It’s time for action:  hopefully more Republicans in Congress will muster up similar courage and not only speak up, but also take care of the Dreamers, rejoin the Paris Accord, stop sabotaging the Affordable Care Act, and pull us back from the brink of nuclear war.  Maybe when Trump calls on his team to throw the final Hail Mary pass, they will eject him from the game, or at least opt to take a knee.