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Was a Time When: A Novel That Asks, “What Happens WHEN, Not IF, Resource Depletion, Population Pressures, and Climate Change Push The World of Our Grandchildren Into a Great Collapse?” Paperback – January 20, 2012
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"Penny's book is meant to be an on-going Worse-Case Scenario. Relax and enjoy the intellectual exercise it embodies...With a solid timeline and a keen eye toward cause-and-effect, Penny paints an intriguing picture, not of What Might Have Been, but more of What Probably Will Be." - San Francisco Book Review
I found WATW to be a fascinating read that held my interest right up to the end. In the story. The world suffers a series of cascading calamities through the 21st Century, and civilization disintegrates, although not completely. 31st century neo-archeologists study a record of the collapse. - Crash_Watcher.blogspot.com
About the Author
Sam Penny's avocation is to research a scientific scenarios of a large catastrophe that affects humankind and to tell people of what to expect using fiction, writing novels that describe what people who live through such events will see and feel. Born on a farm in Oklahoma before WWII, Penny entered the University of Oklahoma at the age of 17 and graduated with a BS degree in Engineering Physics. He went to the University of Illinois to earn a MS degree in Physics in 1960. He accepted a position at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at UC Berkeley as a computer systems programmer, working in the Luis Alvarez Physics group. Alvarez won the Nobel prize in Physics in 1968. In 1970 Penny and a fellow physicist/programmer formed a "start-up business" in the computer software industry. Penny was the CEO of the partnership as it grew and moved into the micro-computer hardware business. In 1981 the group merged with SBE, Inc. to go public. Penny left to try other business ventures and joined Exploration Logging, Inc in Sacramento to manage their software development of systems for logging oil and gas well drilling. He returned to SBE in 1992 in product development and marketing. Penny retired as the VP Engineering from SBE in 1998. He and his wife began tour the USA full-time in a Portable Home (PH), also know as an RV. In our case, this is a fifth-wheel trailer. This offered a means for doing on-site research for the 7.9 Scenario, a story about what would it be like if the same earthquake that struck the New Madrid Fault under the Mississippi River in 1811 struck in today's world. Two novels resulted from that research, Memphis 7.9 (revised) and Broken River, both of which have been successful sellers on Amazon since 2005. Penny became interested in the impacts of climate change, resource limitations, and population overshoot and did considerable research on possible scenarios. His latest literary effort is a new novel, Was a Time When, that tells of the western USA during the remainder of the 21st century. Penny's current efforts will be focused upon the effort to market his new book. He is looking into what his next research project will be. There is more to write.
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This book is a story within a story. The story is about a group of future archaeologists from 1000 years in the future. They are supposedly from a new species of humans who have developed sustainable living in the area around Hudson Bay but do not have advanced technology. They are on a trip to the Oregon coast to investigate the history of a great collapse that happened in the 20th century. Some of them believe that the ancestor who founded their tribe came from the area. Near the beginning of the book, a student discovers a case of computer disks containing the memoirs of the guy they are looking for. Each chapter starts with a brief description of the expedition's events for the day followed by a lengthy listening of the memoirs. The memoirs follow the life of a guy named Sam Hardy who was born in 2015 and lived more than 85 years. Along the way, he witnessed the collapse of modern civilization due to a scarcity of energy and the effects of global warming.
Of course any book like this is going to be speculative. This particular take on a collapse of society is basically a laundry list of all the author's favorite topics as well as all of the usual disaster suspects except for an eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera. In addition to shortages of oil and the effects of climate change, the US suffers major earthquakes in New Madrid and the Cascadia fault, a killer hurricane that floods New York, a solar flare that knocks out all satellite communications, a couple of pandemics and a number of significant floods. Are these possible? Maybe. Many things can happen over the course of 100 years. The thing that strikes me a bit off is the timing of major trends. It seems to me that the breakdown of society was a bit more fast and comprehensive than one would expect while at the same time, the evolution of a new species and the loss of technology and memory was bit more than extensive than one would expect in just 1000 years. In any case, the point of the book isn't necessarily to give an accurate prediction of what will happen, but rather a vivid picture of the kinds of things that could happen as well as some suggestions of what we should try to do in order to avoid catastrophes.
If you like disaster stories or post-apocalyptic fiction, you will probably like this book. I found it to be a real page turner. With a book like this you have to set aside the desire to nitpick details and enjoy the story for what it is.
That being said, the scenario is a good one and I enjoyed the book overall.