Jean and Bob: a chat about Pip

Jean Austin Pickerell has no web site or blog. She sent me a very complimentary email about Ascending Spiral, but when I asked her to post this as a review, she said she’d prefer to interview me instead. So, here is our dialogue.


Jean, before you start quizzing me, give me your opinion of Ascending Spiral.


It’s an annoying book: once I started, I couldn’t put it down, and I do have a life to live, you know! Also, it’s one of those books you have to read maybe 3 or 4 times. First time, it was just an enjoyable read. I cried when Padraig died, then was relieved that he came back as Dermot. I have an Irish grandmother, so his story really got me in. But Amelia is my favorite in the book. I really identified with her. Then I got a bit of jolt with the extraterrestrial bits. I do like SF, and enjoyed the walking plant, then the space flower, but didn’t think they fit. Then there was Pip, and his development from a self-bashing sufferer to a shining star was wonderful.

It was when I got to the chapter with the past life recalls that everything fell into place. And the passionate last call to action really got through to me.

I got my hubby to read the book, then had to read it a second time, to enjoy the subtle connections. For example, I could see how Pip’s passion for the environment was formed by damage Dermot saw in Ireland, and the connection both he and Amelia had to the Aboriginal people. And I realized that the story would not make sense without the science fiction parts.

Then I read it a third time, enjoying the subtle, almost invisible little interconnections between the various parts. The best is the many ways the walking plant has influenced Pip. But also, I almost didn’t pick up that the nasty boys who tortured little Pip were English soldiers, come back just for that purpose.

And Bob, I’ve got to tell you, hubby and I have been working hard to reduce our environmental footprint. We are living simpler so we can simply live. I’m an elementary school teacher, and from your newsletter found out about Earthkeepers, and am doing the course so I can run camps.


Jean, thank you. This is the most astute analysis of Ascending Spiral I’ve ever seen. In fact, it’s better than I could do. OK, ask your questions.


Bob, I’ve looked at your web sites. You’re a counseling psychologist. Your character Pip Lipkin is a counseling psychologist. You were born in Hungary into a Jewish family. So was he. You say you’re a professional grandfather. So does he. I could go on with the similarities. So, is Ascending Spiral an autobiography?


Not quite. There is a standard therapeutic technique I often teach my clients. Suppose you dislike some things about yourself. Well, if you didn’t, you wouldn’t seek therapy, would you? I ask you to write a film script or story, with no plot yet, but a well-described character: the person you would like to be. This person has the same history and circumstances as you do, but reacts in the way you would like to.

Well, Pip is the person I have designed: the Bob I’d like to be, but am far short of.


So, everything in Pip’s life in the book happened to you?


I have changed certain names, modified some events in order to reduce the likelihood of certain people being identifiable. By and large, I have kept the names and other details of people I admire, including the “angels” who shaped my life when I was young. I want to pay them tribute.


What about the past lives?


I did have a four day continuous therapy session with the lady I called Caroline in the book. I have reported those four days exactly. Then, as described in the book, I spent many hours of self-hypnosis, gaining further recalls, or imaginings, who can tell.


Hang on, Bob. Were they recalls, or imaginings?


I do have an all too vivid imagination, and the handicap of my scientific training makes me aware of the power of wishful thinking. So, I worked very hard to find external validation for those recalls that could have left traces, such as names, places, dates in the lives of Dermot and Amelia. I actually hired a genealogist to look for me. She came up with a few things I consider near hits. For example there is record of an Amelia Margaret whose father owned a hotel in Parramatta, but the surname was not Poole.

One interesting thing was a recall of a conversation between Amelia and her husband in which he mentions the gold rush and the establishment of the colony of Victoria. I calculated the approximate date, which had to be within a year either way of 1850, then looked it up, and found out it was 1851.

I also tried very hard to find an Irish dance with the odd rhythmic pattern. That tune still often runs through my mind, but I’ve never heard it in real life. All the experts I’ve consulted say things like, “Oh well, there are many kinds of Irish dance. I haven’t heard that one, but it probably exists.”

But the real point is, my recalls have a high degree of internal consistency. They make sense, and they completely explain the kind of person I am. My final healing, my move into a contented life, started as a result of my past life recalls. So, “true” or not, the exercise has been useful, and writing the book has been part of that self-therapy.


What has been the most useful part?


My recall of the death of the Space Flower. I know why I am on this planet: to witness the end of humanity, or to be a part of rescuing us.


I thought that was part of the fiction. Surely, things are not that bad?


If you look at the evidence, the ecosphere of this planet is disintegrating. The 5th IPCC report gives us 30 more years of “business as usual” before major catastrophe, but because everything in it has to be based on firmly established and cross-validated evidence, it is inevitably way too optimistic. We do not have 30 years. Well, also, I’m sure I’m not going to live to 100!

Climate change is only one of the disastrous trends. We are now in the 6th great extinction period of this planet, losing plants and animals at a terrible rate. Ocean acidification alone will kill a huge number of species. And when the web of life unravels, it takes us with it.

The effects of playing the nuclear game, all the millions of unnatural substances we have dumped into the environment, and the inherent stresses of modern living have caused a largely ignored epidemic of cancer. I’ve written a book about that.

There are several other trends toward disaster. So, it would take a miracle to save humanity. I’ve written this book as my contribution to achieving that miracle.


I’d have thought that would be a reason for despair rather than contentment?


Then you need to re-read the final part of Ascending Spiral. I’ve made sense of the nature of the universe through my realization that places like our little planet are schools for souls. We are here to learn Lessons, and proceed along the path to perfection. We are grubs feeding on the green leaves of experience until we have learned all we can learn in this form. Then we graduate to being butterflies. Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi are examples of butterflies. There are such people in every generation. Pip is probably close, but sadly, Bob is not yet.

This is one of billions of schools in the universe. When the students burn it down, they simply need to move to another one.

So, I am doing my best to address the cause of our problems, but am not attached to outcome.


OK Bob, what do we need to do to stave off disaster?


Too late. We are living in disaster now, although most people don’t realize it yet. It’s a question of working for survival of some, in a manner that can form the seed of a new civilization. Whatever we do now, billions will die. Millions already have.

In a very real way, all those killed in the first and second World Wars were already part of the disaster.

What we need to do now is to establish a new culture. The reason for the problems is population growth multiplied by economic growth. Modern society cannot survive without growth, and that’s what is killing us and so many other things like tigers and corals and rainforest.

We need a humanity that is able to stabilize its population at a sustainable level. We need a new economic order in which more is worse than enough. Live simply so you may simply live.

I’ve actually designed a post-cataclysmic society, in my award-winning SF novel Sleeper, Awake. As with Ascending Spiral, I’ve clothed the serious ideas in fun reading.

If humanity could live by the message of Jesus, we could create a good life for everyone. And no, I haven’t become a Christian. Jesus’ message is also Buddhist, Toltec, Muslim (despite western prejudice, and the misinterpretation of the Qur’an by many versions of Islam), and of the humanist tradition. Gandhi was a Hindu, and at the end of his life, he gave us Jesus’ message of Love.

If, by a miracle, today everyone fell out of love with money, possessions, status, power, and became committed to living simply, cooperatively, with compassion, then we could ensure survival, and equally important, create a culture worth living in.


Well, Bob, that’s a bit of a conversation stopper. Thank you for allowing me to have this interview with you.


No, rather I thank you.


About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
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2 Responses to Jean and Bob: a chat about Pip

  1. ML says:

    I just came across this book. I was planning on picking up a copy from the library, but I was just browsing about it in the meantime and came across this interview, which spoils some supposedly major plot points in the first paragraph from Jean. Some warning might have been nice – how much of the plot has been spoiled? I haven’t read this article any further than that.


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you for your interest in Ascending Spiral, ML, and when you’ve read it, you might want to send me a review?

      I’ve re-read the start of that interview — it was some time ago — and I don’t believe it betrays anything you can’t get from the “blurb” (description published with the book). The Prologue, which is publicly available, says almost as much, but I think the basic story unfolds as you come to it.

      I’ll be interested in your opinion.



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