Books I’m Reading, Have Read, Or Want You To Think I’m Reading Or Have Read.
My Latest Bibliothoughts
So, it’s obviously been a while. As in more than two years.
It might be hard to see the pattern in some of my recent reading choices. But I think a pattern is there.
Can there be a connection between the (psycho)history-spanning saga of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels and Michelle McNamara’s true crime book I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, which details a hunt for the Golden State Killer?
I suppose it depends on how hard you look. Or how hard you want to make a connection.
Foundation, Foundation And Empire
by Isaac Asimov
I first read Foundation in 5th or 6th grade, maybe 7th, when a family friend recommended it. I dutifully read it, liked it, then moved on to other books.
Nevertheless, the book served, if you’ll pardon the pun*, as the foundation for my love of science fiction.
In college, I picked up the series again, reading all seven books in a row, plus the inextricably-intertwined Robot novels (which might have a stronger connection to I’ll Be Gone In The Dark, but more on that another time).
And then I set Foundation aside for two decades.
After the launch of Foundation‘s TV adaptation for Apple+, I yearned to re-read the books. Out of nostalgia, maybe, or that simple cozy feeling of re-reading a favorite story, akin to revisiting old friends and beloved settings, the kind of feeling that inspires one to re-read P.G. Wodehouse over and over.
If you’ve somehow made it this long in an Asimov-free universe, the premise of Foundation is that the science of psychohistory makes it possible to predict and guide the course of human history over millennia. During the early death throes of a decaying Galactic Empire, and running afoul of the autocratic Emperor, Hari Seldon predicts an inevitable period of barbarity, and, despite execution by an autocratic Emperor, implements a plan by which that dark age can be reduced from 30,000 years to a single millennium.
The plot of Foundation is simple, deceptively so, akin to the deceptive simplicity of the Three Laws of Robotics** of Asimov’s Robot novels (more on those next time): “This happens, which causes this reaction, and this counter-reaction, leading to such-and-such a change in the political and cultural reality. And The Foundation wins again.”
Things happen because they must happen.
You could say, “Of course Hari Seldon’s plan will work. It’s fiction. The author controls the outcome.” Sure, but no one would still be reading Foundation seventy years later if the story wasn’t convincing, or if it relied on the author tipping the scales (now, well-founded deus ex machina resolutions could be another matter, pun intended).
It helps that there’s a twist or two.
Things happen because they must happen, but sometimes, things happen that shouldn’t have happened. Aberrations, like the Mule. A strong protagonist with will and influence.
While some of the characters might seem less-than-fully developed, you find some absolutely memorable characters like Salvor Hardin and the Mule, who may (or may not) trigger pivot points in the course of Hari Seldon’s plan. Can an individual’s actions divert the flow of history, or will normal service resume when a given character is off the stage, like a river filling the hole made when you step out of the water?
All of that is why Foundation and its sequels are worth reading (or re-reading), every thread coming together in a well-crafted tapestry. Even the aberrations.
*You: “I don’t think I’ll pardon that pun.”
**If you had any doubt as to Isaac Asimov’s impact on popular culture, consider that the Encyclopedia Brittanica sees fit to include his Three Laws of Robotics.
I’ll Be Gone In The Dark
by Michelle McNamara
Aberrations. People that should not happen but do anyway. Ghost stories.
You could use those descriptions for true crime stories, to plaster over what actually happened, at least enough to examine a puzzle, a mystery, a whodunnit, forgetting for a moment there were real victims.
When you can forget there were real victims, a true crime story can be a fascinating puzzle, just another film noir to be studied and dissected.
I’ll Be Gone In The Dark is one of the most haunting books I’ve read, for a few reasons.
- The subject itself: Michelle McNamara’s relentless investigation of the serial killer she named the Golden State Killer, previously known as the East Area Rapist, the Original Night Stalker, and other sobriquets.
- The fact the Golden State Killer operated and was ultimately arrested right here in the Sacramento area.
- McNamara’s tragic passing in her sleep while finishing the book.
McNamara’s personal drive to find the killer, to work with law enforcement, retired and active, and other amateur true crime journalists, became an epic quest, an all-consuming passion, inspiring an HBO mini-series.
There’s suspense on every page, and every chapter is so meticulous in building a profile of the Golden State Killer and proving the links between the East Area Rapist and crimes in Southern California.
She kept the case in the public eye. Named him Golden State Killer. She believed firmly that DNA resources such as 23andMe or Ancestry.com could hold the key to unmasking him.
But the toll this project took on her was heavy. Too heavy.
When you consider the emotional stress of investigating cold cases and violent crimes, you wonder how anyone can stand it. The answer is, they really can’t, but do it anyway.
I’ll Be Gone In The Dark was one of the most-compelling stories I’ve read in years. But there is an undeniable pain to it, the abrupt ending of Michelle’s manuscript, and the diligence with which her fellow researchers and husband worked to finish the book, and to update it for the paperback version with the details following the arrest.
For there was indeed an arrest.
In April 2018, not long after the book was completed and while her widow – comedian Patton Oswalt – was on a promotional tour for the book, the Sacramento DA announced an arrest.
And, two years later in June of 2020, a fact obscured by COVID, Joseph DeAngelo pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.
May he rot there, alone in the dark of a jail cell.
Reviewed This Issue
Reading, To Be Reviewed
- The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper
- The Caves of Steel, by Isaac Asimov
- The Naked Sun, by Isaac Asimov
- The End of Everything, by Katie Mack (resuming an interrupted reading)
- Black Forest, by Laramie Dean
- Smashing Laptops, by Joshua Wagner
In Limbo/Progress Made Here and There Between Other Books
- The Answer Is …, by Alex Trebek