Through the Shadowlands

by admin on June 25, 2017

I’m going off topic today to promote a book written by a friend of mine. This is a copy of the review that I posted at

Through the Shadowlands: A Science Writer's Odyssey Into an Illness Science Doesn't UnderstandThrough the Shadowlands: A Science Writer’s Odyssey Into an Illness Science Doesn’t Understand by Julie Rehmeyer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I hope this book wins a Pulitzer Prize. It’s that good.

On the simplest level, “Through the Shadowlands” is a memoir of the author’s experience with chronic fatigue syndrome (referred to throughout the book by its less catchy acronym, ME/CFS), and most of its audience will probably read it for that reason. But it’s so much more. It is also:

A mystery, as the author tries to understand her illness;
An expose, as she reveals the scientific malpractice that has contributed to our current state of ignorance about it;
An unflinching look back at her life and childhood;
A story about the healing of a broken family;
A spiritual journey, a literal trip to the Valley of Death and out the other side;
And finally, a love story.

To call this a book about an illness would be to miss half the point!

Nevertheless, let’s start with the illness. For a long time, I’ve been a closet fan of books about illnesses. Even when I was still in grade school, I was touched by Karen and had the wits scared out of me by Death Be Not Proud. In graduate school I was blown away by The Siege: A Family’s Journey Into the World of an Autistic Child, which to me is the all-time classic of the genre.

I think that the reason I like these books so much is that life-threatening and life-altering diseases transform ordinary people into heroes. They force us to ask what is important in life.

What makes Julie Rehmeyer’s book stand out from the others is her voice. While taking us on this amazing journey, she never acts as if she has all the answers. There is never an ounce of self-pity, either. What comes through so clearly is her wry sense of humor as she observes herself, observes her body’s epic fails, observes her own skepticism about miracle cures… until a minor miracle practically hits her in the face. At the same time, she is way too smart to say, “Try what I did, it’ll work for you too.” She is as baffled as anyone else by what happened. But she is also very genuinely grateful. Most remarkably, one has the feeling that she would be grateful even if her disease had not abated, because it led her to a state of grace in which she could appreciate everything that life gave her. Over and over she says, “I died out there in the desert. Everything else is all extra.”

In the end, she succeeds in doing what Clara Claiborne Park did in “The Siege.” She takes us on the full spiritual journey of the illness, without stinting and without exaggerating. Like Park, she has to deal with a medical establishment that doesn’t believe her and that blames the disease on her. Like Park, she does not let herself get consumed by bitterness or despair; she moves on and finds her own way. I don’t want to give too much away, but in both books a very large part of the answer is love. I’m not talking about some hippy-dippy version of love, but a tough and practical love that scoops her up off the floor when paralyzed, accepts her for exactly who she is and doesn’t expect her to be anything different.

Now take this wonderful story about a spiritual journey, and add to it the fact that this book could be a game-changer for science. Just as Park’s book changed minds about autism, Rehmeyer’s book will change minds about chronic fatigue syndrome.

First of all, chronic fatigue syndrome is not about being tired. It is not in the patient’s mind. It is a physiological reality that, in some cases at least, has external physical causes. Yet scientists are still groping for ways to identify those causes, and one reason they are still groping is lack of money. While some diseases are awash in research funds, ME/CFS research struggles along on a pittance, precisely because it was so long thought to be psychosomatic. In the real world of medicine, miracles only come about through hard work and they require funding. I hope and believe that Rehmeyer’s book will legitimize the field so that people in the future will not have to stumble blindly into the desert with nothing but a hope and a prayer.

Disclaimer: Julie Rehmeyer is a friend of mine. It doesn’t matter. You should still read this book.

View all my reviews.

Print Friendly


This weekend I ought to be in Las Vegas, playing at the National Open, but instead I’m at home playing my computer. The nice thing about playing the computer is that I can forget all of my losses and show you only my wins.

So after losing about ten in a row against Shredder, I finally won one that shows the perils of playing without a plan. The funny thing about computers is that they always play without a plan, yet they seldom pay for it. In this particular case, though, I think that Shredder’s aimless play was somewhat reminiscent of human play. Its rating for this game was set at 2201.

passivity 1Position after 27. … Qc8. White to move.

FEN: 1rq3k1/4rpp1/p2p1n2/B1pPp2p/2P4P/1P3PP1/P1Q5/2K3RR w – - 0 28

This was the position where I took my time-out. How do you evaluate it, and what do you think White should be doing?

Here’s how I looked at the position. Obviously I have been building toward the g3-g4 break, but 27. … Qc8 prevented that. If I play 28. g4 now it will be a pawn sacrifice. Moreover, I didn’t think it looked like a particularly good one (but more on that below). So I came to the conclusion that I needed to improve my position first.

But what improvements can I make? I love my bishop where it is. It’s amazing how that one piece makes my queenside completely unassailable by his combined forces of two rooks and queen. I foresaw that I might need to move the bishop eventually, but I wanted to do it only after Black has made a commitment with a move like … e5-e4. If I play 28. Bc3 or 28. Bd2 right now, Black can immediately play 28. … a5!? and start getting counterplay.

My queen also seems to be in the right place. I looked a bit at 28. Qe2, but I concluded that after the simple 28. … Qd7, followed possibly by … Rbe8, White is not going to be able to hold back the … e4 break and then my queen will be awkwardly positioned.

What about the rooks? I looked at 28. Rh2 and at 28. Re1. The idea of the first is to double on the g-file (or maybe the e-file), but I think it is just too slow; Black gets good play with 28. … e4. And the same is true of 28. Re1. To my great dismay, Black seemed to be okay after 28. Re1 e4!? 29. Bc3 Qf5 30. Re3 Qg6! If I play in principled fashion with 31. R1e1, inviting Black to take on g3, he doesn’t have to. He (or “it”) can simply play 31. … R8e8, allowing me to win a pawn with 32. Bxf6 Qxf6 33. fe Re5 (diagram). White’s extra pawn is totally crippled, and White’s pieces are crippled by the need to defend it. I think the position is totally equal, and this is the way that Black should have played.

passivity 5Position after 33. … Re5 (analysis). A satisfactory position for Black.

FEN:4r1k1/5pp1/p2p1q2/2pPr2p/2P1P2P/1P2R1P1/P1Q5/2K1R3 w – - 0 34

So after a long think, I decided the position was equal! None of my possible moves seems to lead to an advantage.

That brings us to a good question: What do you do when you can’t see any way to get an advantage? The answer, I decided, was to play moves that are correct on general principles. I want to play the most positionally sound move, the one that leaves me in the best condition to carry on the fight. In this case, I felt that the right choice was 28. Re1, and that is what I played. The point is that … e5-e4 is Black’s main try for the initiative. If I can’t stop it, I should at least resist it the best that I can. If worst comes to worst and all the heavy pieces get swapped off, I would actually be quite happy because I would have good chances to win the B-vs.-N endgame.

And here is another point: Your opponent won’t always see things the way you do. I thought 28. … e4 was essential. But my opponent might not agree. If he doesn’t play it, then maybe I will be able to close down that threat and take the initiative on the kingside. And that’s basically what happened!

My opponent, being a computer, did not appreciate the need for a plan and did not aim for a target position, like the one I just showed you. Instead, it just wasted time on moves that did nothing. It started with 28. … Reb7?, a terribly misguided move. As I’ve just said, it will never be able to make any progress on the queenside as long as my bishop stays on a5. So its rooks belong in the center, fighting for control of the e-file. After this move, I no longer have to worry about the … e4 break at all.

I played 29. Re2 Qd7 30. Rg1 Qh3 31. Rh2 Qc8 32. Rhg2 Qh3 33. Bc3. Here I thought that I had gotten as far as I could with the bishop not playing a role in the attack, and it was time to bring it to the long diagonal, with possible ideas of playing f4. Of course, Black can now initiate his queenside play with the pawn sacrifice 33. … a5, but I had carefully timed my move Bc3 so that it occurred when his queen was very far from the queenside, thus making the attack less likely to succeed. Perhaps for that reason, Shredder played 33. … Qd7, bringing the queen back toward the queenside, and I played 34. g4 (diagram).  

passivity 2Position after 34. g4. Black to move.

FEN: 1r4k1/1r1q1pp1/p2p1n2/2pPp2p/2P3PP/1PB2P2/P1Q3R1/2K3R1 b – - 0 34

In this position, White has accomplished all of the goals initiated by the 28th move. I have launched my kingside pawn storm, and meanwhile Black has still not yet played either … e4 or … a5. White’s play has been motivated by a plan, and Black’s has not.

Black continued its incomprehensible queen maneuvers: 34. … hg 35. fg Qc7 36. h5 Qc8 37. Qe2 Nh7 38. g5 Qh3 39. Rg3 Qh4 40. h6! (diagram)

passivity 3Position after 40. h6. Black to move.

FEN: 1r4k1/1r3ppn/p2p3P/2pPp1P1/2P4q/1PB3R1/P3Q3/2K3R1 b – - 0 40

Touchdown! White forces a breach in Black’s castled position. To make matters worse, Black’s queen is far offside and can get trapped if it’s not careful. For example, if 40. … Nf8 41. Qg2! Ng6? the queen is lost after 42. Rg4. Or if 40. … Nf8 41. Qg2 Qf4+ 42. Bd2 Qd4 43. Kc2 Ng6 44. Be3 Black’s queen is amazingly trapped in the center of the board!

Instead Shredder lashed out with 40. … f5?!, the sort of move that computers (and humans) play when they know they’re busted. But especially against a computer, you’ve got to be careful! I played 41. gf Qxh6+ 42. Bd2 Qxf6 43. Rg6 Qf5.

passivity 4Position after 43. … Qf5. White to move.

FEN: 1r4k1/1r4pn/p2p2R1/2pPpq2/2P5/1P6/P2BQ3/2K3R1 w – - 0 44

Black’s last move set a trap. Do you see what it is?

All of my good work would have come to naught if I had played 44. Rxd6?? Then Black would turn the tables with 44. … Rxb3!! 45. ab Rxb3, threatening mate on b1, and White has to give up his queen to stop it.

It’s important in chess, and in life, to keep your eyes on the prize! In chess, the prize is the king. For that reason, it is infinitely stronger to win the g-pawn than the d-pawn. Therefore I played

44. Bh6!

After this Black’s position crumbles. Shredder played 44. … Qf8 and I snagged the queen for a rook and piece with 45. Rxg7+ Rxg7 46. Rxg7+ Qxg7 47. Bxg7 Kxg7 48. Qg4+ Kh8 49. Qd7 and the rest is easy. Black’s queenside pawns are easy pickings for White’s queen.

If only the computer were always so clueless …

P.S. Remember, way back in the initial position, when I rejected the pawn sac 28. g4!? It turns out I should have taken a closer look at it. The reason I rejected it was that I failed to consider 28. g4!? hg 29. h5!, offering a second pawn sacrifice. How often two pawn sacrifices are better than one! Indeed, Black cannot accept the second gift because after 29. … gf? 30. h6 g6 31. Rxg6+! fg 32. Qxg6+ White has a winning attack. Instead Rybka recommends 29. … Qd7 or 29. … Kh8 with a +0.27-pawn advantage for White, but this would have been a complicated and fun position to play. I’m sorry I didn’t see this; on the other hand, it was interesting to see how the conservative, “wait and see” approach with 28. Re1 paid off in the end.

Print Friendly


Books, King’s Gambits, and Cats

June 12, 2017

Yesterday I met again with Gjon Feinstein and Mike Splane, this time with Eric Montany as our fourth. For the last two years he has been working on a book, and this was the first time he had gotten together with us since he finished. Until this weekend, Eric had never revealed to us what the book was […]

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Flexing my King’s Gambit Muscles

June 3, 2017

How quickly can you spot the best move here? Position after 12. … Qxd5. White to move. FEN: rnb2rk1/p4ppp/5n2/3q4/2Np1R2/3B4/PP4PP/RN1Q2K1 w – – 0 13 This position arose in a blitz (game/7 minutes) game that I played against Mike Arne this afternoon. Mike is a veteran player who was rated in the 2300s in his heyday. […]

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Thrilling Conclusion of Kids’ Tournament

May 28, 2017

Yesterday I wrote about the results of the Aptos Library Kids’ Chess Tournament, which I directed yesterday. I have two followups to that post. First, our local paper, the Santa Cruz Sentinel, had an article about the tournament with some nice photographs (but no results). You can see me at the very, very far left-hand […]

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

In Which I Resemble a Tournament Director

May 27, 2017

As fans of my blog know, on one day each year I do an impersonation of a tournament director. Today was the day! The 2017 Aptos Library Kids’ Chess Tournament was (in my opinion) a big success, with 33 participants, our second-largest total ever. One year we had 37. (Really, 36 is the most we […]

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Dream Position

May 23, 2017

Most of the time, when we talk about a “dream position,” we mean a position that is too good to be true — all the pieces in just the right places, working together like a team. The position below, on the other hand, is an ACTUAL dream position: a position that came to me in […]

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

First game of 2017!

May 1, 2017

I know this seems like a weird thing to say on May 1, but yesterday I played my first chess against a live human opponent in 2017. I’m not completely sure of this because I might have played a couple of blitz games back in January or February, but I have been so busy with […]

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Two knights, two rims, twice as dim

April 27, 2017

The Reykjavik Open concluded today, and the winner was not too big a surprise: it was Anish Giri, who went into the tournament with the highest rating. However, the way he won was definitely a surprise; going into round eight he was half a point behind the leaders. The beautiful victory I showed in my […]

Print Friendly
Read the full article →

Cross Pin Sighting!

April 26, 2017

Six years ago I wrote a post called Master Class, about a class taught by Varuzhan Akobian at the Berkeley Chess School, which I went to along with several of my chess friends. In the comment thread after my post there was a lively debate over whether the class was really worth the time and […]

Print Friendly
Read the full article →