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The Glass Sky

glasssky

“In 2050, the climate crisis has triggered famines, flooded coastlines, and worsened political instability. From the war-torn borders of Ethiopia to the moon’s desolate South Pole, American biologist Tania Black and Chinese engineer Tian Jie embark on an epic adventure that will touch all life on earth.”
(from Smashwords.com: http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/237948 )

Are you in the mood for a good (and very timely) reading experience this year? Well, in the spring of last year I was hired to help with the final editing and proofreading of a science fiction novel entitled The Glass Sky. The Canadian author, Niko Perren, is a well-trained scientist who knows his subject matter very well. He is also, I soon discovered on reading the manuscript, a very good writer. In fact, I quickly began to sense that he had written a book that just might (and certainly ought to) catch on in a big way. It seems that I was correct in my estimation of the book’s potential. Kirkus Reviews, one of the world’s most prestigious review journals, has selected The Glass Sky as one of the top 100 independently published books of 2012 (note that there are some 250,000 independently published titles to choose from)! The Kirkus review ( https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/niko-perren/the-glass-sky/#review ) calls the book “[a]n exciting, well-written and compassionate eco-thriller with real heroes and a mission worth caring about.”

The two main characters, Tania Black, a UN-appointed environmentalist, and Tian Jie, a Chinese nanotechnologist, are wholly believable, as is the thrilling plot that carries readers along in “can’t put it down” fashion. The problem they both face is one on which the very survival of life on our planet depends, and the manner in which they attempt to solve it makes for a compelling story. I highly recommend this book to everyone who enjoys a thrilling story and who is concerned about our collective future.

The Glass Sky is now available through Chapters/Indigo and Amazon as an e-book or as a paperback ( http://www.chapters.indigo.ca/books/The-Glass-Sky-Niko-Perren/978098791360-643489-Review.html OR http://www.amazon.com/The-Glass-Sky-ebook/dp/B009F26XZU OR http://www.amazon.ca/The-Glass-Sky-ebook/dp/B009F26XZU/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1361651329&sr=8-1 ).

I did say that at RomanViking I would be posting some articles on, and links to, music I think many others will enjoy, often classical but also some folk music and jazz from around the world. I also promised that, in general, visitors would not find empty “pop culture” here, but rather some real substance and alternative perspectives.

Well, here’s a substantial little treat for you. When I first heard this song, I was astonished, to say the least. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before; it’s unlike anything I’ve heard since. Stefka Sabotinova’s voice is uniquely beautiful; and the folk song she sings is beautiful. This is a taste of Bulgarian culture that anyone, anywhere can appreciate. Please do savour it!

Now, personally I prefer to listen to this woman’s beautiful voice with my eyes closed rather than diluting its purity with visual images. But I leave that choice up to you. One thing is certain: you will never hear another voice quite like Stefka’s, a voice whose otherworldly quality has brought tears to the eyes of so many listeners.

Stefka Sabotinova grew up within the living tradition of Thracian folk music, and started singing at the age of five. Later she became, for many years, a member of Bulgaria’s premier folk ensemble, Filip Koutev, in which she gained worldwide recognition. In the 1970s she also participated in the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir, better known abroad as “The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices.”

In 1975 Sabotinova was recruited for the project of Swiss music producer Marcel Cellier, which resulted in a number of recordings bearing the name of “Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares” that brought the “tension-riven beauty” of the Bulgarian traditional song to the wider world. Sabotinova made an enormous contribution to the preservation and furthering of the Bulgarian folk heritage. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s she also played an active role in a number of social activities for the benefit of disadvantaged children. It’s no wonder she gained a cult-like status in Bulgaria, and international fame and recognition.

The song in the video below is about two shepherds held captive by a mountain, each begging it to let him go – one claiming that his mother is waiting at home, the other that his wife awaits him.

The Mountain Has Overturned (Collapsed)

The mountain has overturned
And captured* two shepherds.
Two shepherds, two friends.
The first shepherd begs her**:
“(Spare my life) I have a beloved who shall grieve for me.”
The second shepherd begs her:
“(Spare my life) I have a mother who shall grieve for me.”
The mountain replies:
“Oh, you two shepherds,
A beloved one grieves from morning till noon, but a mother grieves for life***.”
The mountain has overturned
And captured two shepherds.

————————————-
* Literally – buried beneath
** In Bulgarian folklore the mountains and the forests were considered as living beings
***Literally – to the grave

Interestingly, Thrace, from whence this song comes, was the the birthplace of both Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher, and Spartacus, leader of the most significant slave revolt in the Roman world.

Main source of information on Stefka Sabotinova: Sofia News Agency

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Having discovered some years ago West Coast Environmental Law, an exemplary organisation working to enhance legal protection of the environment, I recently found that WCEL also has an excellent blog worth subscribing to, or at least visiting from time to time: Environmental Law Alert.

WCEL declares itself “British Columbia’s legal champion for the environment. [providing] legal information, guidance and support to individuals, communities and organizations seeking to protect their water, lands and air.” Such organisations have never been more essential, especially given the current federal government’s lack of serious commitment to environmental protection, as evidenced by recent cuts to the Environmental Emergencies Program budget and closure of several of its regional offices.

Referring to the cuts, Katie Terhune, Energy Campaign Co-ordinator of Living Oceans Society, labelled them “irresponsible and incredibly negligent” (Globe and Mail, April 13, 2012).

“If history shows us anything, it’s that accidents happen,” Ms. Terhune said. “When we have an oil spill on our coasts, the government should be there to respond and protect the public from harm. Instead they are doing the exact opposite by shutting down emergency response centres.”

The staff in the Environmental Emergencies Program co-ordinate the cleanup of spills that occur within federal jurisdictions including waterways, first nations and federal buildings. They also provide technical advice when incidents occur elsewhere and collectively respond to more than 1,000 significant spills every year.

Federal Green Party leader, Elizabeth May, was also outraged at the decision to scale back:

“To be closing the office [in Vancouver] when they are also relying on the office in their quite feeble attempt to say oil tankers can travel safely in and out of Kitimat [B.C.] and on the B.C. coast,” said Ms. May, “is to put the lie to any suggestion that they are concerned with the environmental impacts of exporting fossil fuels.”

A short interview on precisely this topic with Professor Ian Jones, a Memorial University biologist, which aired on CBC radio on April 16, 2012, is well worth taking a few minutes to listen to. Professor Jones, a world expert on seabird biology and ecology, refers to current federal government cuts to environmental protection as “almost an environmental disaster in themselves.” During the interview Professor Jones indicates the general direction this government is taking:

The federal government is completely ignoring and dismantling the possibility for appropriate environmental response to urgent issues which concern our water, our natural resources, our migratory birds, our wetlands, and our forests — things that are cherished by members of the public…. It looks like Mr. Harper is happy to have the polluters checking up on their own heinous activities.

Of course, this sort of thing is nothing new — merely another instance of a pathological economy protecting itself from the needs of the many and, unfortunately, from any responsibility to ensure the ecological integrity of the life-support system shared by all living things on planet Earth. Given that the original meaning of economy in ancient Greek (οἰκονομία) is “household management,” one must ask whether or not the diminution of environmental response capabilities constitutes good management of our collective household. If not, we are left with the question of what we, collectively, can do about it. To become informed and to convey vital information to others is a good starting point.

On Self-Publishing

I fell into self-publishing by accident or, to be more precise, as a result of not finding a commercial publisher for my first book. At the time I was quite surprised and pleased to discover how many now-famous authors had published their own works at some point during their lives. I’m referring to people such as Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Gertrude Stein, W.E.B. DuBois, Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Beatrix Potter, Upton Sinclair, Ezra Pound, Edgar Allan Poe, D.H. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot, e.e.cummings, Louis L’Amour, Oscar Wilde, Alexander Pope, Ernest Hemingway, William Blake, Howard Fast, William Morris, Zane Grey, Stephen Crane, and Henry David Thoreau. Books like Ulysses, Remembrance of Things Past, The Story of Peter Rabbit, Spartacus, Huckleberry Finn, Leaves of Grass, and Walden were all issued as self-published works.

Now, although not all self-published books are masterworks such as most of those above, there is no good reason for dismissing at a glance a self-published book simply because it has not undergone the editorial processes of a commercial publishing house. And while it is true that some self-published work is badly-written, unscrutinized by an experienced editorial eye, and shabbily formatted, one can also pick up all sorts of shallow, badly-written, and poorly-edited works issued by commercial publishers, part of what the English critic Martin Seymour-Smith once called “the billions of tons of junk shifted profitably towards oblivion each year.” A prudent rule, therefore, would be to judge each work on its own merits by subjecting it to the same critical analysis, be it self-published or commercially-published.

One of the planet’s most knowledgeable people on self-publishing is Dan Poynter. Back in 1972 he took an interest in hang gliding, a budding sport at the time. Looking for a book on his new sport and failing to find it, he took the time to write one. Within a few months his book Hang Gliding was off the press, and to date has sold more than 130,000 copies. From his book on hang gliding, Dan went on to write what has come to be regarded as the best book on self-publishing, The Self-Publishing Manual, with over 160,000 copies in print. In fact, it was the first, and still the best, book I’ve read on self-publishing; it helped me decide to take a chance on self-publishing. Over the years Dan has written and published over 100 books, and he remains the expert on self-publishing.

On a smaller scale I did a similar sort of thing with my first book, Weight Training for Everyone. It’s not that there weren’t other weight training books available at the time: it’s just that I wanted to emphasize certain aspects that I felt hadn’t received enough attention in other books. That first book sold 1,500 copies in Canada — not bad considering I did all the distribution myself. I followed it with several other books on weight training, and my wife added four books of quotations in hand-calligraphy with original illustrations. Our self-publishing enterprise grew into a publishing enterprise when we began to publish the work of other authors, specifically those who wrote handbooks for secondary school provincial exam preparation in British Columbia.

In 2007, I had my book Stargazers: Stories of the first philosophers published by John Hunt Publishing Co., UK/USA (O-Books imprint), my first work that was not self-published. It is interesting to note that the editorial department made no changes to the manuscript I sent in, as we had already subjected it to all the experienced critical eyes in our own family, as well as to those of some academic readers, the point being that had it been self-published it would have been essentially the same book and, hence, of the same quality as the commercially-published version. And in 2010, we made our first foray into the world of publishing children’s books with Missy’s Midnight Caper.

So, during a period of 20 years, much of which time involved only part-time work, following in our own way the sound practical advice given in Poynter’s The Self-Publishing Manual, we managed to produce the following:

* 21 titles self-published (7 student handbooks, 6 on weight training, 4 quotation books in hand calligraphy, 1 children’s hardcover picture book, 3 poetry collections);
* 9 titles (23 editions) written by other teachers and/or professors;
* 30 titles published;
* 53 editions published;
* over 30,000 copies of our self-published title The Math 12 Handbook;
* over 100,000 copies of all our books;
* over $1 million in net sales.

Aside from the benefit of our having been able to control all aspects of the publishing process, a very special bonus has been the enormous number of overwhelmingly positive responses we’ve received from readers of each of our titles! That’s perhaps the largest part of what makes self-publishing so rewarding. And it’s also one of the main lessons implicit in Dan Poynter’s excellent book on self-publishing.

The Very Great Caruso

It happened that about fifteen years ago I was driving along the road in Vancouver listening to CBC Radio 2 and encountered for the first time the voice of a man I had known of but never actually heard sing. The voice was that of Enrico Caruso, the great Italian tenor. Of course, I had seen parts of the movie The Great Caruso, in which Mario Lanza (a wonderful singer himself) played the leading role, but I had not yet been given a chance to understand why the epithet “Great Caruso” was so very appropriate. I understood on first hearing his voice on CBC Radio that afternoon.

About ten years later, my wife and I went to a theatre to see Woody Allen’s Match Point, the soundtrack of which consists largely of excerpts from arias sung by Caruso. On hearing the familiar words of “Una Furtiva Lagrima” (from having heard many times Luciano Pavarotti’s recording of the song), I was stunned by the exquisite beauty of Caruso’s rendition of the aria. Every time his voice emerged in the background of the film, I found myself drawn away from the story and into the music.

Since then I have spent ample time listening to many arias sung by this marvelous tenor whom so many have called the greatest of them all. I never find him lacking in anything, and when it comes to making me feel the music, Caruso is unsurpassed. It’s no wonder Richard Strauss said of him that he sang the soul of the melody. The composer Giacomo Puccini, on hearing Caruso auditioning for a role in his opera La Bohème, asked him, “Who sent you to me, God himself?” God, indeed. But now I invite the reader of these words to listen to a 1920 recording of the Great Caruso singing “Vaghissima Sembianza,” by Stefano Donaudy.

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One of my favourite scientists is Richard Feynman. I remember first encountering him when I read his book What Do You Care What Other People Think? I was immediately drawn to his insatiable curiosity, his manner of explaining things with beautiful examples, and his way of exciting the reader’s interest in the nature of things. I also found that I shared some of his fundamental values, and I liked the way he articulated them.

Later, I discovered several YouTube videos of interviews with Feynman as well as other clips of his classroom lectures. Among my favourites is one in which Feynman, although a Nobel Prize winner in physics, explains his distaste for “honours,” a distaste I have always shared, not just because honours often go to the wrong people, but also because they are generally a divisive instrument, singling out the “illustrious” by virtue of arbitrary categories and principles of selection, often for purposes of political and/or commercial advantage.

So, do we not need examples of people to whom we can look for inspiration? Of course we do, but we can take inspiration from good people based on their actions, whether or not they have been awarded a prize or other honour. If we are lucky, some of the best inspiration may come from within our own circle of family and friends, as well as from without. In either case, honours have nothing to do with such things. As Feynman says, “The honours are unreal.”

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