New fiction book rooted in real science

I remember when I was a kid living on the outskirts of Las Vegas wandering out into the desert and imagining what the world would be like if I were the only one left in it.

Retired University of Nevada, Reno history professor and Carson City resident Jim Roberts tapped into that fantasy in his book, "The Bois Blanc Island Affair."

Jim bristles a little bit when I describe his book as science fiction. He rightly points out that every assertion he makes in the book is solidly based in science.

"The science is real," the 78-year-old told me when I called him about the book on Saturday. "They are talking about cyberterrorism now. I was afraid events might overtake it and make the book obsolete."

Jim set his book in a place he knew well. He spent every summer until he was 12 on Bois Blanc Island, located in Lake Huron near Sheboygan. It is a real place and the island is as much a character in the book as any of the people.

The 200 or so residents are cottagers and islanders, a division familiar to anyone who has grown up in a resort town. The cottagers are the summer people who are on the island to get away from the world for the summer while islanders are the permanent residents, whose livelihood depends on the cottagers.

Just before Labor Day, disaster strikes. Jim doesn't try to explain the cause of the disaster, or even set the scenario. Like the people of Bois Blanc Island, we don't know what happened, we only know the vast majority of electronic gear has stopped working and the outside world appears to have been abandoned. There is no electricity or phone service and even most of the vehicles don't work.

From there Jim details struggle between cottager and islander, and between all the island's inhabitants and an outside world where madness has seized power.

Whether cottager or islander, inhabitant or outsider, Jim does not rely on stereotype to describe his characters, whether they be the Shakespeare-quoting bootlegger or the town gadfly, who finds himself leading the cottagers, almost by default.

"I really don't identify with any particular character," he said. "But the guy who has the still reminds me of someone I knew in the military. He remembered everything. He never said he was smart, just that he had a good memory."

Jim's book is self-published and there are only 250 copies in Nevada. That's a shame, because this book is worth reading. Jim and his wife, Anne, have been selling copies and are down to about four dozen left.

Jim tackles several topics, including our reliance on technology and working with nature, but the book is best when it discusses the divisions between people and how they resolve them without violence.

Instead of relying on their fists to settle differences, Jim brings his characters together and in doing so teaches the rest of us a valuable lesson about how to bring people together instead of driving them apart.

Obtaining a copy of the "The Bois Blanc Island Affair" may be a challenge.

"The only place you can get it from is me," he said.

The book costs $15 and you can obtain a copy by calling Jim at 775-882-2397. He is also available at He only had 500 copies printed and half those went to Michigan. The good thing about buying the book from the author -- it is pretty easy to get him to sign a copy.

I spent the last week in Greeley, Colo., and hooked up with two former Appeal staffers.

Former Appeal sports writer Ross Maak has been working in Greeley since he left the Appeal in the fall of 1997.

He is doing well, married and happy at work.

I had lunch with former Appeal and The Record-Courier writer Lee Ann Fleming. Lee Ann and Jennifer Hollister were housemates before Jenn and I got married. We all three lived in the round house on the Hollister property until Lee Ann got married in the fall of 1990.

She moved to Colorado in 1991, where she had a son, Ben, in 1997. She divorced her husband and remarried and is presently working in media relations at a Jesuit university in Denver.

Kurt Hildebrand is acting city editor at the Nevada Appeal. Reach him at 881-1215 or e-mail at


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