Congratulations to Vulture Company for winning this year’s UK Space Design Competition with a stunning design for Benevectorus, a settlement cycling between Earth and Mars. And well done to the lucky 12 students chosen to represent the UK at the International Finals in Kennedy Space Center this summer. A close-run race!
Spring is just around the corner but the long evenings are still with us. Time to snuggle up with your favorite RS Perry novel and dream of a trip to some of the locations featured in them. It may be a little cold for a hike in the Pasayten, but how about a trip to Arizona, making a short hop Over The Line into Mexico.
If it’s a touch of the old Wild West you’re after, you can’t go wrong in Tombstone. You can shoot it out in a gunfight at the OK Corral like Heather’s friends Kristina and Nicola or visit any number of saloons and Music Halls. And for those of you like Ralphy who are more keen to fill your stomachs than empty your guns, there are plenty of restaurants, cafes and ice cream parlors to choose from.
If you are interested in mining and want to see what a mine was like in its heyday, then head to Bisbee. You can have a tour of a real mine and learn of some the hard and sometimes tragic life of the miners. You can even go prospecting for gold. But don’t feel you need to avoid the abandoned mine near El Sauz. The terrible things that happened to the University group there were only fiction, thank goodness.
The Arizona-Sonora desert museum is not to be missed. There are examples of many of the plants, minerals and wild life of the area, all in surroundings as close to their natural habitat as you can get. See if you can spot olneya tesota or ironwood and peniocereus striata, the plants that the two sergeants were supposed to be collecting when they went on their recon mission to the hacienda.
Just Over the Line from the U.S, border town of Douglas, Arizona is Nogales. As in most cities, it is best to be careful but if you want to pick up a bargain at up to half what you pay stateside, there are plenty of shops and stalls aimed at tourists doing just that though you will need to haggle. You can also sample authentic Mexican food and wine. After that, you will probably want to drive straight through Tubutama with your windows closed!
Arizona is surely a must for those who, like Jim Johnson, are interested in anything to do with astronomy. It has some of the most prestigious observatories in the world including Kitt Peak Observatory, the University of Arizona Biosphere, Spencer’s Observatory and the Planetary Science Institute. University of Arizona astronomers were just involved in finding the largest black hole yet discovered.
Unfortunately, the Fort Huachuca Museums are closed for renovation at the moment but we only have room to mention some of the places to visit on your Over The Line tour. There are plenty more, such as the Nature Conservancy birding center in the Huachuca Mountains. And hikes and trails enough to keep you occupied for a week or maybe more. Why not re-read the book and plan your own itinerary in the footsteps of Jim, Brush, Heather and their companions. Remember, stay watchful, stay safe and enjoy. It could turn out to be a great adventure.
Llama Packing in the Pasayten Wilderness area in north central Washington State on the Canadian Border provides a way to see this wonderful wild area and take some of the comforts of home, such as a bottle of wine, a large tent, a queen-size sleeping bag and even frozen food. Llamas are great company and allow you to leave that 55 pound back pack at home. Llamas have soft padded feet and are gentle on the delicate mountain meadows. Of course they try to eat that meadow but they are grazers and pick at many of the sedges and grasses doing little harm to the environment if they are moved on a regular basis. While relaxing on the mountainside among the lupines you might consider reading Off The Edge as a way to spend part of a sunny summer afternoon. You might even be sitting in the exact spot where Heather or Jim sat in the novel.
A Very Happy New Year to all our readers! May you enjoy long hours of pleasure with RS Perry‘s Jim Johnson novels and may Najma never get you. Thank you for all your comments and photos. Keep them coming.
Outside your windows some of you will be seeing a warm, sunny day, others will see the snow sparkling or blowing in a cold East wind. Some won’t be able to see anything at all for fog or mist or darkness. Whatever you see , you can be sure that there will be people out there like Jim and Brush, General Crystal and Nielly, fighting against crime and injustice, using their skill and their brains and the latest technology. So while we have been having a good festive season with friends and family, let’s spare a thought for all those who sacrifice their comfort for our safety, whether in the military or any of its unknown branches.
Meanwhile, back at the Ranch, Heather and Duane and their helpers still have the llamas and the rest of the animals to tend to. They can’t take a day off for Christmas or New Year. They have to make sure there is water, not ice for all to drink, the llamas have to have their salt to lick and they have to be checked to make sure any babies born are warm and cared for as llamas can give birth at any time of year. And very importantly, fences must be checked and made strong and safe as llamas, given the opportunity, like to have a romp over the country side.
So stay warm and safe and dry by the fire while you can. And look forward to the next Jim Johnson novel, out this year.
Watch this space.
Our hero Jim Johnson is definitely a complex character. Who would have expected that a rancher and Biological Warfare Agent would have an interest in Philosophy? But Jim Johnson does and there are several clues that make this not as unexpected as it first appears. Jim is, after all, a scientist, interested in how and why things are as they are and what proof or evidence there is that we actually have the facts of the matter. Several of the other characters share this trait e.g. Sheilla and Bertrand. Jim is also extremely intelligent, a thinker and someone who reflects on his experiences to learn from it. Both he and Heather struggle with the morality of some of the actions Jim has to take in his job and the relationship between good and evil in the world. Jim and Brush share a ‘live in the moment’ philosophy knowing that this entails a mixture of skill, experience, observation and luck. They, and Glenda and others, act not selfishly but out of a concern for others, particularly the weak and oppressed.
It isn’t surprising, then, that the philosopher mentioned most frequently by RS Perry is Bertrand Russell 1872-1970. Russell had very definite views on a number of topics. He was an outspoken and active pacifist all his life and a voluble supporter of changing the laws on homosexuality. He believed in an equal and co-operative world that would allow the individual to flourish. He thought that religion was little more than superstition and while recognizing the positive effects it could have, he felt it was responsible for many of the wars and misery in the world. As a philosopher, he was very interested in mathematics as getting as close as possible to expressing facts, and in language and definitions. He wanted to explore whether humans could say that they ‘knew’ anything.
Bertrand Russell didn’t want to just find out about these things for himself. Like Jim, he wanted to pass them on to other people. He wrote many books on both the humanities and sciences for audiences ranging from academics in theoretical mathematics and other disciplines, to ordinary thoughtful people. In fact he listed his profession as ‘writer’ in his passport and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1950. He wrote with style and wit and many people still enjoy his writings. ‘A History of Western Philosophy’ is a hugely ambitious book and had rather conflicting reviews but it still remains one of the mostly widely read books on either history or philosophy.
Towards the end of his life, Russell stated, ‘Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind.’ This is probably true for Jim, too.
Another philosopher mentioned is Will Durant 1885-1981. Like Russell, he wanted to bring the ideas of philosophy into everyday life and his ‘Story of Philosophy’ 1926 tried to do just that and was very popular. There are many different schools and types of philosophy and Durant attempted to unify them all and make them understandable. He also wanted to share his knowledge and believed in a unified society where each was working for the good of the other and where the principles of democracy and equality eradicated the lust for power. He believed in Christian principles but I think Jim would agree with him that to be yourself means to ‘rise above’ the impulse to ‘become the slaves of our passions’ and instead to act with ‘courageous devotion’ to a moral cause.
Ayn Rand 1905-1982 is different. Although she is sometimes spoken of as a philosopher, she is best known as an author, particularly of the novels “Atlas Shrugged’ and ‘The Fountainehead’ which illustrate her ideas on Objectivism. Like Russell, she is interested in what knowledge is and how we acquire it but she differs from him in her conclusions. The emphasis of all three on the importance of acquiring knowledge is something that Jim and Heather and RS Perry would certainly agree with.
The main difference between Rand, and Durant and Russell is over the relationship between the individual and the majority of society. Having experienced the worst excesses of collectivism in Russia, Rand thought that this kind of socialism led to a society in which the merits and aspirations of the most creative and intelligent few were stifled and sacrificed to the mediocrity of the many. While I don’t think Jim or any of his friends or colleagues would necessarily agree completely, most of them believe more in their own ideas and assessments than they do in commonly held beliefs and are prepared to flout rules and laws if the situation demands it. However Rand also believed that the proper moral purpose of life was the pursuit of one’s own happiness and the only society consistent with this was one that fully recognizes the right of the individual to gain wealth without restrictions. A bit like the ideas put forward in Dawkins ‘The Selfish Gene’. We have examples in the Jim Johnson novels of the how this can go wrong without the checks of morality. Nusmen is highly intelligent but is led astray by selfish personal emotions; Najma’s completely selfish pursuit of a twisted happiness pays no regard to the wishes or lives of others, nor does Farasie and Guillermo’s greed for amassing wealth by any means possible.
These writers all have an influence on the philosophy of these books but in the end, the dominant philosophy can be summed up in Heather’s words. You do something ‘because it is just the right thing to do.’
More information can be found on Wikipedia and in
Irvine, Andrew David, “Bertrand Russell”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), forthcoming URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2014/entries/russell/>.
www.spartacus-educational.com – Bertrand Russell
A History of Western Philosophy – Bertrand Russell, 1945 Simon and Schuster
The Cambridge Companion to Bertrand Russell – Nicholas Griffin, ed (2003) CUP
Bertrand Russell Memorial Volume – George W Roberts, 2013 Routledge
The Story of Philosophy – Will Durant, 1991 Pocket Books
‘Ayn Rand’ by Jeff Britting – Duckworth 2005
As Astonishing as Elvis by Jenny Turner – London Review of Books Vol.27 No.23
Wealthcare by Jonathan Chait – New Republic Sep 14 2009
With the Ebola epidemic recently spreading outside the African continent, we have a terrible real life example of what can happen when an engineered and untreatable bug, like the one by produced by Nusmen,in the book, Off The Edge, (see image, Staphylococcus aureus on blood agar), gets loose. Throughout history, millions of people have died of diseases such as bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death, which is caused by Yersinia pestis bacteria, and smallpox, which is caused by the variola virus. In more recent times viral infections have been responsible for two major pandemics: the 1918-1919 “Spanish flu” epidemic that killed an estimated 60-80 million people (estimates vary widely), and the ongoing AIDS epidemic that caused an estimated 1.3 million deaths worldwide in 2015. Although HIV mortality is declining, it is still a major cause of death in the African region.
The possibility of an untreatable bug being developed and released is unfortunately not just fantasy. Many experts feel that it is an eventuality that we are little prepared for. The author agrees that there is a high probability of a future pandemic.
- Both can be spread by touching contaminated surfaces; Nusmen smears traces of SAVE (Staphylococcus Aureus Vancomycin Resistant) or ‘the Nusbug’ on surfaces in the University of Washington Medical Centre and people touching those surfaces unwittingly spread the disease. The SAVE bug is resistant to all antibiotics including the “high end” drug of last resort, the vanquishing drug – Vancomycin. Nusmen and a fellow student easily engineered his deadly bacteria while at university.
- Both EBOLA and SAVE need isolation to stop the spread.
- Neither have a surefire cure, nor is there a vaccine to prevent them. In the novel Off The Edge, the scientists, as Jim suggests they might, eventually find an anti-toxin, which, although it would not stop the spread of the bacteria, would limit the lethal damage caused by the toxin it produces.
However, in spite of any semblance of likeness, the two are very different: the Nusbug is a BACTERIUM and Ebola is a VIRUS.
Bacterial and viral infections can cause similar symptoms such as coughing and sneezing, fever, inflammation, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and cramping — all of which are ways the immune system tries to rid the body of infectious organisms. This makes it difficult sometimes to tell whether an infection is bacterial or viral. Even JT (a microbiologist in Off The Edge and in the series books that follow – Over The Line and Out Of Time, says, when he first hears of the Nusbug, ‘…if it’s untreatable it is likely to be a virus or maybe even a prion…’ Bacteria and viruses are both usually too small to be seen without a microscope but there are interesting exceptions. For example there is a giant bacteria found in ocean sediments that can just be seen by the naked eye or at least with very powerful reading glasses. Viruses are usually smaller than bacteria but there is a 30,000 year old virus that is similar in size to ‘normal’ bacteria, though still far too small to be seen without a microscope. Both viruses and bacteria can mutate rapidly, so finding a permanent fix is a problem.
Despite these similarities, bacterial and viral infections are very different in many other important respects, as different as jelly and chocolate. Most of these differences are due to the organisms’ structural differences and the way they respond to medications.
- Bacteria are relatively complex, single-celled creatures, some kinds with a rigid wall surrounding the interior of the cell, and others with a softer lipid wall. They can reproduce on their own. Fossilized records show that bacteria have likely existed for over 3.5 billion years, and perhaps longer on Earth. Bacteria can survive in different environments, including extreme heat in deserts and in Arctic ice, hot radioactive waste and, of course, in and on animals and the human body.
- Most bacteria are harmless; many are helpful, or even necessary: for example in digesting food, destroying disease-causing microbes, fighting cancer cells, and providing essential nutrients. Perhaps as few as 1% of bacteria cause diseases in people.
- Viruses are usually much tinier: the largest of them are smaller on the whole than the smallest bacteria. Essentially all they are is a strand of genetic material, either RNA or DNA. Unlike bacteria, most viruses can’t survive long without a host. They can only reproduce by inserting themselves into cells. In most cases, they reprogram the cells, either human or unicellular bacteria, to make new viruses until the cells burst, releasing the replicated viral strands to infect hundreds to thousands of healthy cells.
- Also, unlike all bacteria, most viruses do cause disease, and they’re quite specific about the cells they attack. For example, certain viruses attack cells in the liver, respiratory system, or blood. In some cases, viruses, (Phages), target bacterial cells. We all know about specific problems caused by viruses, such as Herpes, Measles, Mumps, Polio, Rabies, Dengue Fever, and even warts.
- Whilst vaccines can be effective in prevention of certain bacterial and viral infections, only those infections caused by bacteria are potentially treatable by antibiotics.
This means that Ebola and SAVE (Nusmen and Wally Banks’ name for their superbug in the adventure novel Off The Edge) are very different and the approach to combatting them has to be different
- The virus Ebola causes bleeding inside and outside the body. As it spreads through the body, it damages the immune system and organs.
- The Nusbug, called Vancomycin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus is similar to MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) . It is one of the bacteria that causes so much trouble in hospitals, but the Nusbug cannot be treated by the vanquishing antibiotics such as those used in the first line of defense for MRSA , although MRSA is gaining resistance to this treatment.
- Healthy people can contract the Nusbug and may not be symptomatic. People, including doctors and medical staff, could infect others while showing no symptoms and never getting sick themselves.
- Only those whose immune systems were already damaged or weak, e.g. the sick, the old, the very young and those undergoing chemotherapy, were likely to suffer from the Nusbug. This made it more evil in some people’s eyes, although it also made it easier to contain.
Any comparisons between Ebola and SAVE are, luckily, purely hypothetical,: Ebola is a real virus and a growing threat, while the Nusbug is only fictional, the product of RS Perry’s imagination. Like most things in the Jim Johnson novels, however, it is based on factual information, and the possibility is out there. Let’s hope that there is no real-life genius like Nusmen, temporarily crazy for whatever reason, increasing the risk from the many viruses and bacteria that are themselves adapting and learning, increasing the odds of a worldwide and deadly epidemic.
Microbial Life by Jerome J. Perry, James T. Staley and Stephen Lory; Sinauer Associates 2002
Are you a doctor? Do you have any experience of treating viral or bacterial epidemics? Have you, or anyone you know, had the misfortune to be infected during an epidemic?
Share your experiences with other members of the RS Perry community.