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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, March 13, 2005

Hawai'i's alternative past, catastrophic future

By Wanda Adams
Advertiser Staff Writer

"BLACK OCEAN," by Rick Blaine; Pacific Monograph, paper, $19.41

Between the author's name (a pseudonym that plays on the Humphrey Bogart character in "Casablanca") and the price tag (the year in which the book is set), this book has a certain "the joke's on you" air about it. (As to the author issue, it seems likely to have been written by someone with Star-Bulletin connections — it's dedicated to veteran S-B writer Lois Taylor and the book design is credited to reporter Burl Burlingame; but the book's Mainland publicist says she doesn't know who "Rick Blaine" is.)

Flipness aside, this is a serious thriller in the "alternative history/what if?" vein.

The hook: Hawai'i is under Japanese imperial rule, not because of a 1941 battle, but because of a marriage years earlier between Princess Ka'iulani and Japan's crown prince (a marriage that actually was proposed by King David Kalakaua but never taken seriously by the Japanese government).

The book is peopled by a mix of real and fictional characters — notably, the one-time publisher of this newspaper, Lorrin Thurston, who is murdered in a particularly gruesome manner in Chapter One, and the late Hawai'i governor John A. Burns, cast as a collaborationist captain in the Kempeitai (but has he really sold Hawai'i out?).

Slack-key artist Gabby Pahinui has a role, as does writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, famous for inventing "Tarzan" but also at one time a Star-Bulletin columnist and war correspondent.

(If you don't happen to have a microscopic knowledge of Hawai'i history and personalities, a chapter at the end, "History and Mystery," mercifully untangles fiction from fact.)

At the center of the action are a courageous Filipina reporter and a hapless nisei policeman struggling to find out the truth and save their beloved Islands, and there's a plot line involving Nazis and the "final solution" that you have to read to believe.

The book is a good, engrossing read. The writing is of the just-better-than-beach-book quality, but the plotting and construction of the book's outline show considerable creativity in a swashbuckling style worthy of a book in which Edgar Rice Burroughs appears.

"EARTHQUEST HAWAI'I 2054," by Richard Ziegler; self-published, paper, $8.50

While we're on the subject of alternative history, how about alternative science fiction? Richard Ziegler, a Honolulu Community College professor emeritus who co-authored "Red Sun" (Bess Press, 2001), in which the Japanese win the Pearl Harbor story, has written a science-based novella that paints a very scary picture of Hawai'i in the grip of global warming and sea-level rise 50 years from now. The action takes place through the eyes of a young man whose grandfather was one of those who predicted the effects of global warming. Only Grandpa's prognostications were way off; the reality turns out to be much worse.

This is a Hawai'i in which Kailua's Coconut Grove development has become Coconut Lagoon, the houses jacked up and everyone living surrounded by water sounds, mold and mildew — and a very happy insect population.

Folks "drive" home in kayaks and Jet Skis; Chinatown is under water; downtown is protected by a sea wall; and everything — social and material — is coming apart at the seams.

The book is rather homemade — odd-sized with odd spacing — and Ziegler is more a scientist than a writer. But if you want a bedtime story that will really keep you awake, this one will do it.