“I’ll Get You Your Asteroid!” Ben Winters’ “Last Policeman” Series.

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Before I started blogging about books and literature, I never used to go to “book events,” but now it seems like I’m going to them “all the time.”🙂 Almost all the ones I’ve been to have been enjoyable too, and I always think, “I need to write a blog post about this!” but rarely do. So I have a backlog of four or five book events that I’m going to try to catch up with, even if some of them took place quite awhile ago now. So here goes (Part I of) nothing.

If you were following the news in early September, you may have heard about the “near miss” (in astronomical terms, at least) of asteroid “2014 RC.”

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Also, a bit further back (in July), a local bookstore, Indy Reads Books (see link at left under “local interest”), hosted a kind of “launch party” for author Ben Winters on the release of the final volume of his “Last Policeman” series. What’s the connection? Well, for those who don’t already know, Winters’ trilogy is set in a world facing an imminent and catastrophic asteroid impact.

(below: Travis DiNicola, Executive Director of Indy Reads, introduces Winters, who waits in the wings with his family)

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I read the first book of the trilogy (“The Last Policeman”) in preparation for this event and, though not a frequent reader of detective novels, did enjoy this one, mainly because of the premise and setting. Think about it, how would the people of the world react in such a situation? (and – perhaps more importantly – how would you?) I suspect civilization would break down much faster than it does in The Last Policeman, but maybe that comes later as I progress through the next two books. We’ll see.

Winters gave an entertaining talk, including rendering some Bon Dylan tunes on a … ukulele(!). Dylan is a favorite of the series’ lead character, Hank Palace. In fact, we learned from Winters that he wanted to title the book “Slow Train Coming” (or maybe just “Slow Train” – I cant remember) from the Dylan song…

“And there’s a slow,
Slow train comin’
Up around the bend…”

…which does seem appropriate based on the book’s premise, but – as I’ve learned at other author events – publishers usually win the arguments regarding a book’s title.

(Below: a ukulele-wielding Winters entertains us as an adoring daughter looks on…)

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Anyway, Winters also challenged us with a few trivia questions about the series, with some token prizes of false mustaches (in honor of the third book’s cover erroneously picturing Palace WITHOUT a mustache) in addition to a grand prize of all three books in the series (signed by the author) to one lucky winner. With the novel fresh in my mind, I was fortunate enough to win one of the mustaches.🙂 Thankfully the monetary value of such a prize does not compromise my amateur status in the trivia world.

Below: my “prize” – the bandit mustache – which I later tried on…

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…though it made me look nothing like one of the famous bandits of cinema, from the classic film Treasure of the Sierra Madre

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<ahem> Getting back to the book, the novel starts out with Palace investigating a “suspicious” suicide. Even though suicides have become quite common in the world depicted in this pre-apocalyptic novel (can I coin that term here, by the way, or is it already taken?), there’s something about this one that doesn’t quite smell right, and that’s enough to start another, investigative slow train rolling, which gains momentum throughout the first book. In a nice touch, the start of the different sections of the book are illustrated with a depiction of the asteroid’s progress, with data that, though Greek to me and probably most readers, Winters explained as “basically GPS coordinates for outer space.”

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Winters shared some interesting anecdotes and inside info on the book and series’ progress, and my favorite was the story of his research to see if an asteroid with the timing characteristics as he describes in the book was scientifically feasible. He related a visit with Tim Spahr at Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics  (Winters is a former resident of New England) where Spahr was intrigued by the novel’s premise, and though it appeared a “normal” NEO (near earth object) wouldn’t necessarily fit the specifications, after some puzzling assured the author that “I’ll get you your asteroid!” I love it!

Have you read or heard of The Last Policeman series? (It won a 2013 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original) I have posted about a short story by Winters once before “The Man on the Monon (If You Believe)”  and have also enjoyed another of his short stories, “The Old Slow Man and His Gun From Outer Space” in an anthology of “Weird Western” stories, “Dead Man’s Hand.”

Below: Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics

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(Below: The great 1950’s film “On the Beach,” based on Nevil Shute’s novel of the same name was one inspiration for this series. It also takes place in a world where “the clock is ticking” with time running out as a radioactive cloud slowly approaches a – to this point anyway – unaffected Australia – another “slow train comin'”)

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8 Comments

  1. Paula Cappa said,

    October 15, 2014 at 9:41 am

    Great post, Jay!

    Like

  2. Dale said,

    October 16, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    I need to get more into local authors. My wife just went to “Books by the Banks” and bought a handful of books by local Cincy authors. Some of them I think might find their way onto this blog – eventually.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      October 17, 2014 at 9:10 am

      I’ve decided that local authors are going to be a focus at Bibliophilopolis next year. I’ll be officially announcing it in December when the book is out, but Bibliophiloplis will also be a “first edition sponsor” of a book of stories by local writers (including Winters and John Green) published via Indy Reads. I hope to be a sponsor (on a modest level) for some other local initiatives in 2015.

      Like

  3. October 26, 2014 at 7:24 am

    The Last Policeman has been on my TBR forever (taunting me, of course). Good to hear you liked it. It’s motivating me a little more!

    Like

    • Jay said,

      October 26, 2014 at 8:38 am

      I went ahead and bought all three (I’d read the first one but via my e-copy) and got them signed at this event. I look forward to reading the next two, even if mystery/detective fiction is not my normal genre. Winters has moved to Indianapolis also, so reading him supports my blog’s 2015 focus on local authors.🙂

      Like


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