Illinois State is proud to be able to acknowledge the work of graduates who are successful authors. If you’ve written a book that has been released by a publishing house within the past decade, submit it for review by Professor Emerita of English JoAnna Stephens Mink ’73, M.S. ’75, D.A. ’85. All books authored by alums will be added to a collection of work by other graduates on display in the Alumni Center. Autographed copies are especially appreciated. Please send your book to Illinois State editor Susan Blystone at Illinois State Alumni Center, 1101 N. Main Street, Normal, IL 61790. Inquiries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gregory, Daryl. Pandemonium. New York: Ballantine Books, Del Ray, 2008. 304 pp.
Summary: Daryl Gregory’s first novel, Pandemonium, which Publishers Weekly calls “darkly ambitious,” is about demon possession in a seemingly familiar world. It opens in the 1950s, when ordinary men, women, and children are the targets of entities that seem to spring from the depths of the collective unconscious, pop-cultural avatars some call demons: The Truth (avenger of falsehood), The Captain (brave soldier), The Little Angel (whose kiss brings death), and many others, ranging from the bizarre to the benign to the horrific.
The boy Del Pierce is possessed by the Hellion, an entity whose mischief-making can be deadly. With the help of Del’s family and a caring psychiatrist, the demon is exorcised . . . or is it? In the 1990s, following a car accident, the Hellion is back, trapped inside Del’s head and clamoring to get out.
Del’s quest for help leads him to Valis, a being possessing the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick; to Mother Mariette, a nun who inspires decidedly unchaste feelings; and to the Human League, a secret society devoted to the extermination of demons. All believe that Del holds the key to the plague of possession—and its solution. But for Del, the cure may be worse than the disease. (from back cover)
Pandemonium, a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and winner of the 2009 Crawford Award, is an exciting addition to the science fiction genre. Greg L. Johnson, New York Review of Science Fiction, is only one critic to heap accolades: “Pandemonium… swims confidently against the tide of grand space opera and epic fantasy that dominates much of current science fiction and fantasy. [It] is the work of a young writer willing to play with the conventions of science fiction and fantasy and turn them into a fresh, new vision of the world we live in.”
About the Author: Daryl Gregory ’87 has published two subsequent novels, both science fiction. The Devil’s Alphabet was named by Publishers Weekly as one of the best books of 2009, and Raising Stony Mayhill, a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. He writes two comic series, and many of his short stories were published in Unpossible and Other Stories. He, his wife Kathy Bieschke ’82, M.S. ’85, and their family live in State College, Pennsylvania.
Richardson, Randy. Cheeseland: A Novel. Chicago: Eckhartz Press, 2012. 206 pp.
Summary: The Christmas before their high school graduation, Lance Parker’s and Daniel McAllister’s best friend Marty committed suicide. Soon after they graduate in 1980, the two cross the border from their north Chicago suburban homes into Wisconsin—two teenagers coming to grips with their newly-found freedom and the loss of their friend. Randy Richardson’s second novel Cheeseland begins on a somber note, but the adventures and escapades, narrated from Daniel’s point of view, soon combine the hilarious with the picaresque.
The Welcome to Wisconsin billboard in the rearview mirror, Lance declares, “We’re legal now,” a reminder of the state’s lower drinking age. “No,” retorts Daniel, “I’m legal. You’re seventeen.” This small exchange reminds the reader of the illusive boundaries which these friends negotiate during their sojourn. Cheeseland is not merely about that idyllic summer interlude between high school and college.
As they learn more about themselves and each other, Lance and Daniel confront how their friendship altered when Marty hanged himself: “So why did that all change when Marty was no longer in the picture? What happened to our friendship? … Why did Marty’s suicide also kill our friendship?” (134). These are questions Daniel raises years later when he’s a practicing lawyer.
Even more dramatic are the decisions Daniel must make when Lance accosts the man who years earlier had molested him: “Torlikson’s body flies backward and his head crushes against the hood of the car. I instantly know it won’t be necessary to check for a pulse” (151). How far should one go to protect a friend? To maintain a friendship which may have already outgrown itself? Told mainly through fast-paced dialogue, Cheeseland addresses questions many readers have debated, even if the circumstances are different.
About the Author: Randy Richardson, ’85, is president of the 300-member Chicago Writers Association. His essays have been published in many anthologies, and in print and online journals and magazines. His first novel Lost in the Ivy was named a notable Chicago book in 2005. An attorney, he and his wife live in the Chicago area.
Wackrow, Richard E. Who’s Winning the War on Terror. N.p.: Empiricist Press, 2011. 246 pp.
Summary: Who’s Winning the War on Terror is Richard Wackrow’s exploration of how Americans have been changed since 9/11. On the surface, it’s been “business as usual.” Americans are lauded by politicians and others for their resilience in the face of terror. But, opines Wackrow in his Preface, that resilience “has been demonstrated in their tolerance of a war on terror that has eviscerated the core American values that it professes to be protecting—the right to privacy, freedom of speech and association, religious tolerance, due process of law—and that is squandering the nation’s financial resources to fight a ubiquitous tactic.”
Strong words these, words Wackrow meticulously explains in this thoughtful and thought-provoking book. The organization provides logical development of his thesis: Why we’re afraid, who is making us afraid and who we are told to fear; junk science that underpins terrorism scenarios; airport security; the compromising of our legal system and civil liberties; and, finally, the monetary and human costs of the war on terror.
The definition of “terrorism” determines what acts are considered terrorist and of what (or whom) we need to be afraid. The term “terrorist” has broadened to the extent that it is practically meaningless; nonetheless, it is bandied about. Because politicians will not be re-elected if they are seen as “soft on terrorism,” it behooves them to claim to protect us from many potential terrorists. Following this logic, says Wackrow, foments fear amongst us and advances the terrorists’ goals (9). Fear of terrorism has become entrenched in the American psyche.
Wackrow’s chapters on airport security are important reading for those who get a headache just thinking about the hassle of getting on a plane but fly nonetheless, as well as people who eschew flying altogether out of fear. “Terrorism succeeds by provoking a more-powerful enemy into turning its power against itself. The target state thus becomes the instrument of its own destruction….Nothing demonstrates this better than the U.S. counterterrorism industry’s obsession with the passenger airplane as a tool of terrorism” (95). Thus we are confronted with what security expert Bruce Schneier terms “security theater.”
We are all familiar with its components: remembering 3-1-1 for our carry-on liquids; removing shoes, belts, braces; putting laptops and purses into plastic bins; removing coats and sweaters even from toddlers, etc. None of this is effective, claims Wackrow, although it does raise our anxiety levels each time. In fact, would-be terrorists (Richard Reid or the underwear bomber, for instance) were thwarted by passengers and flight crew—not airport security people. “TSA screeners have not caught one single terrorist” since it was established in November 2001 (111).
Security theater is “self-perpetuating and irreversible” (111). Amazingly, the majority of Americans approve increased screening procedures, regardless of intrusiveness into privacy, believing they make us safer. We obligingly remove our five-year-old’s shoes. We allow TSA agents to feel around our breasts or to run their hands inside our waistbands. Only recently have we protested enhanced pat-downs, leading to changes in TSA practices.
“Whole-body imaging machines have something that [bomb-sniffing] dogs don’t have,” points out Jason Chaffetz (R–Utah): “Lobbyists” (121). The airport security industry mushroomed immediately after 9/11. Moreover, “eight out of every ten registered lobbyists who work for scanner-technology companies previously held positions in the government or Congress” (The Washington Post, Dec. 2010) (125). The connection is obvious.
Who’s Winning the War on Terror is an eye-opening book, written so that the nonspecialist can easily understand the connections. Wackrow has meticulously researched and documented his assertions, and the comprehensive bibliography (including many references to news articles), and detailed index aid in reading and understanding how “the war on terror” has terrified a nation.
About the Author: Richard E. Wackrow, ’71, resides in Polebridge, Montana. He is a former reporter and editor for suburban newspapers in several markets, as well as a writer for the Dallas Morning News, Entrepreneur magazine, and other major publications (www.centerforinquiry.net).