Tag Archives: cold

When It’s Very Cold Outside

When it’s very cold outside I like to read books about people who are even colder than I am. When I sit by my heater and ponder the insanity of those who go outside on purpose, I feel much warmer by comparison. So let’s consider, if you will, the band of hikers in this book.

Dead Mountain

Looks cheery, doesn’t it?

Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident is the rousingly weird story of a group of Soviet students who died under very mysterious and very suspicious circumstances in the Ural Mountains in January 1959.

Basically, they went out on their merry way, caught rides on clunky Soviet trucks and buses, sang lots of folk songs, tramped into the wilderness, and… never returned. A search party eventually found their bodies scattered about their wrecked campsite – food was left unprepared, boots and pants were abandoned, and someone was missing a tongue. Ew. Better yet, tests conducted at the time showed that the bodies were surprisingly radioactive – now things are getting interesting!

The story alternates between the hikers in 1959 and the author in the present, so you get a little about their trip and then a little about the author’s investigation. The chapters are pretty short and often feel disjointed, though I suppose you could just call it “suspenseful” and deal. It’s not quite enough to make you throw the book across the room; rather, it gives you plenty of opportunities to stop and get a fresh mug of hot tea.

bonerecord

What’s that? It’s roentgenizdat! Image from an article at boston.com; click the picture to read it.

The chapters set in 1959 include a Cold War crash course, with just enough information about the era to help you make sense of things – though as a librarian, I was mildly horrified by the lack of a bibliography. But still, there are some mighty Fun Facts in here. For example, did you know that Soviet students with a hankering for Western music would make their own records out of used x-ray film? They’re called roentgenizdat (“bone records,” more or less) and they are amazing. That one weird fact, now lodged forever in my mind, totally makes up for the short chapters and occasional authorial digressions.

The present-day chapters introduce you to the lone survivor of the group (who turned back early due to illness) and to a fellow who maintains a whole apartment/museum dedicated to the incident – he’s the source of the pictures that appear throughout the book. You also get to see what happened to the formerly swanky university town of Sverdlovsk (like many Russian cities, it’s had a few name changes).

The hikers and a clunky Soviet truck, from the camera found at their campsite. Image from the book's website.

The hikers and a clunky Soviet truck, from the camera found at their campsite. Image from the book’s website, deadmountainbook.com.

But what really happened to the hikers? Of course, conspiracy theories abound – weapons test gone awry, crazed animals, serial killers, and (yes, I know) aliens are mentioned, and since the book is set in the Soviet Union there are suggestions of evil government cover-ups. In the end, the author decides to drag Science into it and comes up with a plausible new theory – but since Eleventh Stack is largely spoiler-free you’ll have to check it out and read it yourself (note: it wasn’t aliens; I don’t mind telling you that much).

– Amy, slightly chilled

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The 61A is My Longship

Happy New Year, constant readers! Eleventh Stack kicks off 2011 with a guest post from first-time contributor Sky. Stay tuned for more guest writing and creative twists and turns from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh as the year unfolds.

Chill winter winds always stir something in me. I feel my hair flowing in the icy breeze and the frost gathering in my beard, all under a leaden sky heavy with the promise of snow. My Scandanavian blood runs hot against the frigid air as the Jungian memories lurk in the unconscious. Through the fog of centuries I imagine I can recall days spent at the oar, bathed in the cold spray of the North Sea, and the nights illuminated by towering pagan bonfires.

And then, after a few minutes, I start to feel really cold, curse my unwillingness to shell out for a proper winter jacket, and pray that the bus comes soon. But in those short moments of wintery bliss, before my craven modernity asserts itself, I am driven to later browse the shelves of CLP Main, a reaver in search of Viking vibes I can enjoy from the safety and warmth of my couch.

For rollicking escapism, you can’t beat Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales series, beginning with The Last Kingdom. Cornwell is an old hand at historical fiction, having penned the lengthy Sharpe series of novels set in Napoleonic times.   The Saxon Tales take place in 9th-century England during King Alfred’s wars with the invading Danes, a group of Vikings long on hair and short on patience. These pagan raiders are actually looking to take up residence rather than the smash-and-grab type operation usually associated with the Vikings.

Scandanavia of the period was facing growing population pressure and the impetus to immigrate must’ve been strong. The north could be a dismal and joyless place, and it would be another 1200 years until ABBA formed. Amidst all the hacking and slashing a complicated political landscape unfolds in an England unfamiliar to us modern readers, one with weak central authority and an undeveloped sense of nationhood.  Uthred, the hero of  The Last Kingdom, is violently transported into new environments where he must learn to both survive and thrive, only to have all his hard work wrecked after a cataclysmic plot twist.  The novels in the Saxon Tales  series are page turners, no doubt about it.  And Cornwell is up to a fifth book by now, so many hours of dire combat, bending oars, and pagan oaths await the reader.

Pour yourself a horn of mead and dive in.

–Sky

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