Periscope Depth

highway run, into the midnight sun

This media blow covers the face of the Earth in record time.

Earth Abides: one of Stephen King’s inspirations for The Stand, George R. Stewart’s thin novel of post-apocalyptic America runs to overflowing with deep ideas. The characterization could use some work: aside from the protagonist, curious introvert Isherwood Williams, none of the other characters ever seem real. They all exist as very broad types: the nurturing mother Emma, the simple carpenter George, etc. So King trumps Stewart at portraying human beings in odd situations.

But Stewart trumps King in exploring deep ideas. He devotes much more critical effort to how a small community of humans might rebuild civilization after a plague depopulates the planet. What will children born after the plague think of old America? Is it worth it to teach them how to farm or build shelter, with the limitless wealth of a consumer society around them? Is it worth following the old laws?

It ends on a somber but optimistic note, which is the best a novel of apocalypse can hope for. Men go and come, but earth abides.

17 Again: An agreeable but uninspiring comedy. When Matthew Perry laments having thrown away his youth by marrying his pregnant high school girlfriend, a magic janitor (bear with me) turns him back into his 17-year-old self, played by Zac Efron. Already estranged from his wife (Leslie Mann) and two children (Sterling Knight and Michelle Trachtenberg), he has little difficulty convincing his friend Ned to pose as his dad and enroll him in school. Hijinks ensue.

The dialogue rings a little stiff in the ear at times, and the plot’s as suspenseful as a game of Horse, but it’s fun. Efron has some decent comic timing, or was at least edited to appear so, and The State‘s Tom Lennon (as uber-geek Ned) steals his share of scenes. Sadly, all the female roles are pretty weak, existing solely as satellites to Zac Efron’s radiant grin. Not a bad airplane flick (which was how I saw it).

Road Fever: I have been slowly expanding my world travel horizons, to the point that I now have detailed plans to see the world:

  • London in 2010
  • Hong Kong in 2011
  • Tierra del Fuego in 2012

Reading about Tierra del Fuego clued me into the Pan-American Highway, a network of roads that connect Ushuaia, Argentina to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Inspired by my plans for travel, I wondered if I could take this route to Tierra del Fuego.

As it turns out: that would be a terrible idea.

Road Fever is the story of Tim Cahill and Garry Sowerby’s 1987 record-setting drive from Ushuaia to Prudhoe Bay – a drive accomplished in twenty-three days, twenty-two hours and forty-three minutes. This route crosses through Argentina, Peru, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama and Mexico. In the late 80s. The path also winds up hills so narrow that buses frequently plunge off them, speeds past bandit roadblocks and crosses the palms of several border police with silver.

The book’s all right – Cahill reads like a terser Dave Barry and there’s only a tenuous throughline to the narrative. But given that it convinced me to reach Ushuaia by airplane from Buenos Aires, this book has probably saved my life. Thank you, Tim Cahill.