Friday, April 30, 2010


What do the songs

Linger by The Cranberries

Feelin’ That Way by Journey

Brother of Mine by ABW&H

Naked Eye by Luscious Jackson

Heroes by Motorhead

#9 Dream by John Lennon

Thunderstruck by AC/DC

Sea of Love by The Honeydrippers

have in common?

They’re all songs from youtube I listened to this past week on my PC while writing this and that and this and that. According to my IE history. Yeah, baby! LE, Techno Whiz of the Year, 2002!

On first glance that’s a rather eclectic list, even by my eclectic tastes. The strangest thing is that it seems so random. Normally, music-wise, I tend to stick to one thing until out of the blue I’m suddenly course-corrected with a subconscious paradigm shift. When I was a wee lad I would get into bands for months, even years, at a time before moving on to something else. In April of 1998 I was overturned by a paradigm quake of tsunamic proportions and switched exclusively to classical music. I didn’t buy a single rock CD for the next seven years.

But now that I’m thinking about it, wait a minute – no! Oh no … damn! … No, no … Must this wretched hopperism I’m cursed with now creep into my music choices and shatter any peace and inspiration I get from it?


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Don’t Forget the Space in Spacetime

Me and the little ones watched half of a “documentary” on the Philadelphia Experiment last night over a couple of bowls of cheese macs. Legend has it that sometime early in World War II – 1943, I think – a navy ship docked in a Philadelphia port disappeared in front of various eyewitnesses. Seconds later it rematerialized in a naval yard in Virginia, only to promptly disappear again to re-rematerialize back in Philly. It was the result, some say, of a military experiment based on research into “the unified field theory” of Albert Einstein.

All well and good. I love this type of stuff. But, personally, I don’t believe it actually happened. For one, the technology involved is still something like a century or two away. Remember, we were still working out the kinks with radar in 1943. Also, I think it would be impossible to keep such theory and engineering under long-term wraps. It took like a year or two for the Soviets to steal our A-bomb technology. And really, if the military was able to make a ship dematerialize and return it, how come nothing has ever come of it? Even as a bizarre sort of weapon?

Advocates might say that the whole project was scrapped due to terrible unexpected consequences. Allegedly, sailors on the teleported ship fused with the metal bulkheads in horrible ways. Some physically survived but were returned insane. Others never even came back from the Wherever. There are even claims that surviving crewmen faded in and out of our reality long after the experiment was concluded. The filmmakers teased me at a commercial break saying that the ship may have even traveled in time.

Which got me thinking.

I don’t believe time travel is possible. Yes, we’re all traveling through time, one second per second in a certain direction, true. But I’m referring here to travel in a backward direction, into the past, or accelerated into the future. I don’t think backward travel is possible because of the paradoxes that crop up: what-if-I-killed-my-grandfather-type stuff. Or the old SF cliché where the guy goes back to the era of dinosaurs and squashes a bug. He comes back to his present only to find flying donuts and raining toasters (to butcher a Simpsons Treehouse of Horror segment).

Time travel into the future is problematic, too. Ever since I was a little kid and I saw the 1960’s version of H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, one thing in particular bothered me. When we see the Time Traveler in his machine, as he watches the trees bloom and die around him, as he observes the buildings fall apart, as he sees time accelerating all around him, I always wondered, what the heck are all the people who see this frozen man in his machine thinking and doing? If there’s war being waged all about this museum exhibit, why don’t they try to use it for weaponry or something? Because if he’s watching time accelerate all around him, spectators will see this dude frozen in time as they come and go. You know what I’m saying?

Anyway, time travel is a huge subset of science fiction. In 99 point 9999999 percent of everything I’ve read or watched, one crucial piece of the time travel puzzle is left out. It has to do with the concept of spacetime.

Guess what it is?

When you travel forward in time, you also travel forward in space. In physics it’s known as your world line. The following example will hopefully illustrate what I’m talking about.

Say you have a time machine that will beam you one day into the future in one second of everyone else’s time. Great. But there’s only one problem. Unless you address the space part of spacetime, you’re dead. Know why? Because when you’re beamed 24 hours ahead in one second and rematerialize, you rematerialize in outer space, because the earth has moved away thousands of miles in its orbit, as has the sun in its orbit through the Milky Way ...

Yeah, it’s a fine point, but an interesting one, I must admit. I’ve only read one story, and it was a very good one, “Brown Robert” by Terry Carr, where this was taken into consideration.

So when I watched the show on the Philadelphia Experiment and they spoke in hushed reverent tones that the ship may – may – have been teleported through time, into the future and back, I almost choked on my cheese macs. I hope those eggheads working with Einstein remembered to take spacetime space into their calculations while they were doing all their magic on that poor little naval ship. Or else those sailors were definitely in for a lot of trouble in the cold, depressurized, airless void of outer space …

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Words I Hate VI



Always disliked this word. Lately (say, the past two or three decades) it’s a trendy way to say “This is a summary of my beliefs which I hope to shock you with!” And then the faux rebellious writer would attach “manifesto” to the end of his written-out belief system and it would attain some semblance of legitimacy. Cf. go to and type in “manifesto” in the search box for a couple of examples.

Manifesto has long ago been hijacked by Karl Marx and communism, and the hundred-fifty-plus years of baggage, justifiably so, that goes with him and it. It’s meant to be subversive. That’s the underlying message to the usage of the word.

The problem is that nowadays subversion is almost, if not completely, mainstream. If you watch a lot of primetime teevee, I think you can argue pretty persuasively that what has been labeled subversive in the past is now thoroughly established as mainstream. You might even be able to argue that, to a certain extent, traditional values are the new subversion. So an author wishing to cash in a bit might write something called “A Catholic Manifesto” and get away with it, technically.

But for the following point –

Traditional values people do not write manifestos. Those who believe in individual freedom and responsibility do not write manifestos. Those who champion reason and intellect as well as hard-work and practical experience do not write manifestos. We are not subversive, even though we may well be in the culture in which we are immersed.

Americans do not write manifestos.

There, I’ve vented.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Had some unsettling news yesterday from my cardiologist. It seems my left superior pulmonary vein is closing up again. At least, that’s what the lung scan is telling us. The inferior vein (the smaller and lower of the two veins to the left lung) has completely closed, so we need to keep this one open so I can keep the lung.

However, back in June, my doctor put a teeny tiny plastic stent in the vein when it had shrunk down to less than a millimeter in diameter (they like ’em to be ten or more millimeters wide). That was the risky procedure, primarily due to the chance of tearing the vein. Now it appears the healthy tissue inside my heart is growing over the hole held open by the stent. It’s starting to constrict the blood flow into the left lung, to the point where the left lung is only handling 14 percent of my blood oxygenation (down from 21 percent seven months ago).

If necessary, my doctor will go back in with a teeny tiny balloon and reinflate the opening around the stent. He assures me that it won’t be as risky as the surgery back in June. If he does have to do this, this will be the sixth time in two-and-a-half years I’ll have this type of procedure done. I’m really getting sick of it, you know? By now I’m quite familiar with the drill. You get stripped, shaved, pricked with a couple of IVs, take a dreamless nap in an ice-cold room, wake up and spend a nice night in a cozy hospital bed, and hobble out the doors the next morning. Sigh.

Here’s the possible get-outta-jail-free card. He wants me to take another lung scan in six weeks, sometime around the beginning of June. There’s a chance that – who knows? – there could have been an error in the last lung scan. Maybe it was mis-interpreted by the radiologist. Maybe it fell within the percentage of allowable error. Maybe something will change in the next six weeks. Who knows? Stranger things have been known to happen.

The most frustrating thing is that I can do nothing to affect an outcome one way or another. It’s my body just trying to heal itself, not realizing that in doing so it’s hurting itself. It’s similar to when a body rejects a transplanted organ. No amount of exercise, clean living, vitamins, affirmations, whatever, will stop the heart from trying to repair itself, unless, of course, it suddenly stops doing it on its own accord. I’m really amazed at how little doctors know. Medicine, and science, I suppose, is really just a huge faith-based system some times.

Anyway, that’s the scoop. Just to keep you in the loop.

Monday, April 26, 2010


I found an early scene from Lord of the World quite powerful and moving, and it essentially lays the groundwork for the ideological battle that develops over the course of the novel.

Lord of the World was written in 1907 and meant to portray English society a hundred years in the future. Therefore, it’s morphed to an alternative reality to our world today. Benson wrote the book just a scant few years after the Wright brothers’ initial flight, so air travel is represented in the book by “volors,” which are, to the best of my imaginative ability, mechanical bird-like things with movable wings that ferry a dozen passengers around at a time.

Somewhere in the second or third chapter we’re following one of the lead characters, the very young wife of a rising English politician, about on her business when – suddenly and surreally – a volor crashes all about her. Walking about in a dazed fog, shell-shocked, she tiptoes through the wreckage past the dead bodies and hears the cries of those mortally wounded mixed in with approaching sirens.

Then, two things happen. A group of men race onto the scene, each with a radio-sized box, and proceed to triage the wounded and help those nearest death complete their journey. They’re officially known as the “Ministers of Euthanasia.” Since the accident happens near one of the few remaining abbeys in England, a priest, who’s actually the protagonist of the story, also appears; only he proceeds to give the Last Rites to the dying and offer what comfort he can to those who are not quite at death’s door.

The unexpected punch is that the woman, a normal, average, unthinking product of her society, views the Ministers with relief and admiration, and the priest with revulsion and non-comprehension.

Very heavy and well-written scene for me. I’m about two-thirds done with the book (a lot of major stuff happens – it does deal with the end-of-the-world), so expect a review in a week or so.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Rose the Alien

This is Rose, my daughter’s alien. Somehow it’s been following me from room to room all day today, and this is the reason, I think, why I can’t seem to come up with something pithy, witty and wise for today’s post. Hopefully I’ll have something good for tomorrow, but first I have to convince the Little One to keep this crazy thing up in her room before it taunts and teases me past the point of sanity ...

... By the way, her creative endeavor kinda reminded me of the aliens from the episode “Catspaw” from Star Trek: The Original Series. A refresher for non-nerds:

Saturday, April 24, 2010


When I was a kid, I wanted to be an astronaut. Be honest: you, too, right? I know you nodded yes, especially if you’re a man.

Of course, for the vast majority of us, the dream dies, and it died quickly for me. Probably ’round the time I started reading SF, my mind so expanded that the space program seemed quaint by comparison. But there’s a kernel that’s still there, buried deep. Once, under the influence of too much alcohol and well under the legal drinking age, I remember laying on my back in my friend’s yard, staring up at the dozen or so stars defiantly poking out through the light-polluted North Jersey skies. I focused on Deneb, bright corner of the summer triangle asterism. How I’d love to voyage there and see your blue-white worlds! What would I possibly glimpse out of the porthole of my starship?

Let’s back up 1,400 light years, shall we?

I was privileged to have a lot of books as a kid, especially reference and non-fiction stuff. I had a set of “Explorer” booklets, about a dozen or so, and each one highlighted an explorer: Columbus, Magellan, Captain Cook, Stanley of “and Livingston” fame. I can still visualize those slim books now, feel them in my hands, the slick thick white pages, the somewhat artsy line drawings, the bright colors. My favorite one was the one that stood out, the last one of the series. No colorful hand-drawn illustrations, here. No, it had black-and-white photos. Cape Canaveral. The Mercury capsule. The launch pad, the metallic space suit. The last Explorer book was about John Glenn.

As a young teen I remember The Right Stuff vividly. Saw it in the theaters and a dozen times since, and I’m scratching my head, wondering, why don’t I have that on DVD? I have a bunch of other stuff concerning the US space program, DVDs I’ve acquired over the years. Fifteen or so years ago I read Tom Wolfe’s book and was so overwhelmed with that combination of courage and machismo that’s, well, the “right stuff.” But I think I admire more the newer breed of astronaut – from the “New Nine”, the group immediately following the Mercury Seven, up to the modern-day astronauts flying that outdated road-to-nowhere called the space shuttle. Starting with the New Nine, astronauts were now required to have, in addition to the “right stuff”, PhDs. This was right up my alley way-back-when. Courageous, macho eggheads.

The most wonderful and fascinating thing about the space program – from the strained and nervous attempts to actually launch a man into space to those bootprints on the surface of a world 240,000 miles away – was that it accomplished all its stated goals. And with the technology back then! The laptop I’m writing this on has more computational power than the Lunar Module that flew men the 70 miles down from lunar orbit to lunar surface and back up safely again. Incredible. Absolutely incredible. This was the era of those giant IBM mainframes with punchcards the size of your hand. Besides that, just how much navigational computation was done by hand, by twentysomething engineering grads, double- and triple-checked by other recent grads, furiously etching equations, chugging coffee and chain-smoking cigarettes. My wife and I never cease to wonder about this aspect of the whole thing whenever we watch specials about this.

Last summer I read a couple of truly fascinating books on the whole Apollo program and it reawakened a lot of these feelings. Though I was too young to remember the actual landing (the first NASA event I consciously remember, vaguely, is the Viking landings on Mars), I still get flushed with pride whenever I read or watch documentaries about the moon landing on teevee. What goes through your mind when you see that rocket thundering up past the swiveling tower, the black and white rocket with the red letters U ... S … A and all those frozen chips of liquid oxygen tumbling earthward? I don’t know about you, but I always get a terminal case of goosebumps.

So over the past year or so I’ve researched the program in depth and have written a bunch of essays and summaries and chronologies and trivia pages and all sorts of geeky goodness. But it’s more than geekiness; it’s pride, national pride. Let’s me ask a serious question: how much pride do you see out there, today? Obama, the master of doing exactly the opposite of what he’s says, has effectively eviscerated the manned space program. Even Neil Armstrong is speaking out about that. But though politics birthed the space race, let’s leave politics out of the discussion right now. I’m thinking very seriously of putting all this stuff I’ve written up on the web at my own site. I’m working with another company that’s teaching me all the technical and marketing end of bringing such a project to fruition. If I may be bold, it does seem at times to be a task as herculean as landing a man on the moon. I’ve done it in fits and starts over the last nine months or so. My goal is to get it up and running by my own one-year anniversary with the space program, in mid-July.

Maybe once a week or once every ten days I’ll post a little update, just to keep my feet to the fire. There’s a weird pull in me to this, so I’m just going to go full speed ahead, I suppose. Yeah, there are higher callings for creating a website to me, such as one devoted to science fiction books or Catholicism, but those topics are both so broad that I’d need to seriously pare it down to get something viable to work with. So if this idea works, good; if it doesn’t, also good, because it’ll be a learning experience.

All right, I’ve said too much already. Talk to you tomorrow …

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tarnsman of Gor

A quick word of pre-clarification: I’ve done no research for this book review (other than actually read the book). So all I have to say that does not explicitly refer to the contents of the story is just commentary on the bits and pieces I’ve picked up over the years of various views about the Gor series.

Anyway, here’s the scoop. In the mid-60s college professor John Norman wrote a short little novel that gets filed under the old Conan sword & sorcery section of the great big tent of fantasy epics. Only instead of sorcery, he threw in some science fiction. The novel was successful, and sequels followed. Many, many sequels. Outlaw of Gor. Marauders of Gor. Wizards of Gor. 401k Administrator of Gor. You get the idea.

Tarl Cabot is a disenchanted Englishman teaching history to college students in New Hampshire when, off camping for a weekend, he comes across a mysterious metallic letter from his long-lost father. Soon he’s accosted by a flying saucer and wakes up on the planet Gor, forever hidden on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth. Gor is a brutal, semi-barbaric caste world of nation states continually vying in a bloody game of one-upmanship. All under the watchful eyes of the hidden and hands-off Priest Kings, who have the superior technology to keep the majority of Gorians throwing spears and slinging swords at each other.

Gotta admit the story is quick on its feet. Tarl is trained in the ways of a Gor warrior and sent on a mission. Through a combination of everything going wrong and Tarl taking the higher road at every opportunity, adventure ensues. I actually liked it. The characters were a tad flat and stereotypical, but the situations were always gripping. Man, does Tarl take a beating. Oh, and a tarn is something like a ten-foot-tall hawk that’s saddled and flown by swordsmen. But be careful – a tarn can turn on you, depending if it’s hungry or just really grumpy, and that’s an unpleasant way to go.

Now, the main thing Norman and his series about Gor is noted for is its sexism. Each book in the series has a quite lurid picture on the cover – quite lurid for the 60s and 70s, I guess, but tame by what you’d see on some primetime TV shows or on MTV. Still, though, not something I’d want my girls to see. Usually a muscular warrior with sword in hand and – here’s the controversial part – a woman either chained or bound at his feet. Women are not treated very well in Norman’s world, unless they are strong and as wily as the men are portrayed. There is slavery on Gor, and women are often treated as chattel. Tarnsman of Gor had about four or five short scenes (each no longer than a paragraph or two) of women in captivity. However, Tarl is by no means an enthusiastic endorser of this attitude, and even sets one slave girl free at his own peril.

Some people get all bent out of shape over this aspect of the Gor novels. I suppose I need to state that I obviously don’t condone such brutish attitudes toward women. But I don’t believe it’s cause for boycotts or censorship. Yes, I wouldn’t want to see these books in a high school library, but I don’t think Norman’s livelihood should be litigated or protested away from him (if he’s even still alive).

All that being said, I’d give the novel a B – . I don’t think I would seek out more Gor novels to read, as opposed to, say, some works by Lin Carter. Similar worlds, similar cultures and sociologies, but I think Carter is more out of left field plain weird whereas Norman is more a straightforward author. But that’s just this guy’s opinion.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nine Years

They say the human being is 61.8 percent water. Right now, this human being is about 6.18 percent. All that salt I ingested last night moved that decimal point a spot to the left.

Last night was my ninth wedding anniversary. The wife and I celebrated by driving down to our old stomping grounds and having dinner at a superb Italian restaurant we used to visit. Despite its ethnicity, I was not in the mood for Italian food, pasta and tomato sauce. So, for an appetizer I had an egg yolk ravioli in a butter herb sauce and for the main course braised short ribs in a cherry red wine glaze. Washed all down with two glasses of Diet Coke. For dessert, we had dark fudge with various flavored whipped creams, dark fudge so heavy it actually had its own event horizon (bad physics joke). I need to hit the exercise bike after I post this to clear out the arteries.

The wife made friends with the head waiter, an interesting chap named Carlo. Carlo is Italian but was born and raised in England. So not only does he have a pretty good familiarity with both countries, he also lived in Spain for a year. And goes to Paris fairly regularly. Since my wife’s parents go to Italy twice a year, her best friend is interviewing for a job in London, her sister spent six months in Barcelona, and she herself lived in Paris for six weeks as an exchange student, there was plenty to gab about. Carlo seems to know the best, off-the-beaten-path places to eat and visit in just about every country in Europe. Acting the literary agent to Carlo which she does not for me (“I just don’t get science fiction,” she says), my wife proposed he start a book series focusing on just such personalized recommendations for travel and eating. Carlo enthusiastically agreed, saying he’d title it, “Off the Beaten Track.” There’d be “Off the Beaten Track: Italy” and “Off the Beaten Track: France”, etc. We laughed and promised to check in a couple of months to purchase his book.

We drove around a bit, seeing the old sights. This was the town we lived in for three years before we bought the house and had the kids. When we had money and lots of free time, in other words. And boy did we put both to good use. After reminiscing, we drove back home late and went to bed late. No matter; the little ones still got up at their usual times. Twice during the night I woke up and each time drained the glass of water next to my bed. I’m still dehydrated, which is probably one of the reasons I’m also so darn tired. The wife went downstairs a while ago to feed the children; I managed to sneak in an hour’s nap.

Lotsa stuff on the agenda today, nothing fun but stuff that’s gotta get done. Hopefully I can sit at the laptop this afternoon and bang out something interesting for tomorrow’s post. I’m a third done with that Cosmic Egg book, and there’s a lot of weird grooviness to be found. Such as: “We adjust not to the reality of a world but to the reality of other thinkers.” Plus, I want to get that review of Tarnsman of Gor down on paper; that’s a hot potato bouncing about in my head. Also, I’ve been fascinated with the number 153 lately (Can anybody guess why? Hmm?) Finally, I’ve been mulling a post tentatively titled The Next Ten Greatest Ideas for Mankind. That’s kinda bold, right? And I don’t only mean using the word “mankind”, either.

Well, stop by tomorrow. Should be something neat.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


This poem was mentioned in Michael Dirda’s book of essays, Classics for Pleasure. Since I enjoyed Kipling’s masterpiece Kim tremendously and am willing to forgive the man for being a product of his time, I hunted it down on the Internet and reproduce it here.

IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

Nice. Wish someone had shown that to me when I was thirteen or so.

Anyway, thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Dirda’s thoughts on the classics of literature. Some you’ve heard of, some you haven’t. The two main takeaways I got were the authors Edward Gorey and Italo Calvino. There’s a strange story called “The Insect God” of Gorey’s I want to seek out. And Calvino has been compared to Borges, so I must check out his work, particularly The Baron in the Trees, Cosmicomics, and The Castle of Crossed Destinies. According to Dirda, The Castle is about a group of travelers who somehow all fall mute and must communicate through the use of Tarot Cards. Their tales become intertwined and somehow dependent on each other. That setup alone makes me want to pick up this book and read it next.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Scariest Story Ever

What was yours?

What was the scariest thing you ever – read?


Sure, it’s easy to cite a bunch of scary movies. * It’s also fairly easy to talk about scary events in your life. ** However, it’s a lot harder, I think, to come up with the scariest thing you ever read because, well, to write something that’s scary – truly, effectively scary – is perhaps the highest form the art of writing can take.

All writing has to be emotional on some level, and by that I mean it has to elicit some deep feelings in the reader to be successful. Science fiction stories, by and large, aim to instill a sense of wonder in the reader. Thrillers keep the reader on the edge of his seat. Romances make their audience swoon with vicarious love. Historical fiction, I think, strives to impart to the reader a sense of satisfaction, of filling in historical details, of answering “what if” type questions.

The best horror stories scare the hell out of the reader.

Why is it more difficult to induce fear in the reader than any other emotion? I think it has something to do with the fact that fear is the primal emotion, the most basic, simple, warning signal to the individual that he needs to fight or take flight to accomplish nothing less than his very survival. And it’s tough, extremely tough, to bring this out in the reader who most likely is reading the horror story in a comfy chair in a well-lit room in his cozy, safe home.

So – any thoughts?

For me, I’m thinking of two bits of scariness I read as a kid that deeply, deeply warped me.

The first is The Amityville Horror. I blogged about it last summer, when the semi-lame movie version was on late one night while the wife and kids were away visiting her folks. If you’re so inclined, you can read those thoughts here.

But the hands-down most frightening thing I ever read, I just re-discovered. By frightening, I mean it’s just is too dreadful to contemplate. It’s disgusting, it’s claustrophobic, it’s nightmare-inducing, it gives me the heebie-jeebies. It’s concise, only three or four pages long, and extremely well-written. Not a word is wasted, and every paragraph furthers the fear factor.

“The Graveyard Rats,” by Henry Kuttner.

First published in Weird Tales in 1936, I had the unfortunate fortune to first read it 42 years later. I shudder with the memory of inadvertent enchantment with it at my local library, of shivers really running up and down my body, of the taste of bile in my throat, of my stomach twinging in horror.

I just found that same exact anthology I must have read as a youth, and I reread Kuttner’s piece of nastiness. It didn’t hit me as hard, but it still was quite unsettling. For one thing, I see that the “protagonist” of the work is far from being an innocent victim Young Me thought him to be, so his unpleasant fate is slightly less unnerving. Still, though, I had to shake my head once finished. That story is powerful stuff.

Now, I’m not advocating you do this. Really, I’m not. But if you are a fan of horror fiction and think you can stomach this, you can read it for free, here: ***

But, please, for the love of God, please, don’t …

* For me, Paranormal Activity and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, to name just a few recent ones.

** Just type the word scary in the Search My Blog! thing on the left, and you’ll get a glimpse into the blackened Mirkwood inside my head.

*** I had to click on “Full Text”, then the .txt file, then copy and paste it to a Word doc in order to read it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hog Wild

Wow. I went hog-wild Saturday. I overdid it, you might say, and no doubt I’ll regret it in the morning. Yes, I went overboard with pure, unfettered abandon. Once every couple of weeks, all too frequently, I’ll do something like this. I keep telling myself I’m not going to do it, and yet time after time after time I go out and I do it again. I’m not proud of myself. But it’s done, and there’s nothing left to do.

No, I am not talking about food.

Nor am I talking about any other commonly talked-about forms of addiction.

During Saturday errands I dragged the Little One way out of our way to hit the county seat library. The daddy of all libraries in our little group of eighty or so linked libraries. And what’s worse: I went there with a list.

Yeah, I have about two dozen books that I own on a reading list backlog. Yes, I am currently reading the 338-page Lord of the World and the 427-page Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church. A stack of paperbacks some 30 inches high is staring balefully down at me from the adjacent bookcase. George R. R. Martin’s A Feast of Crows is calling out for me to open it before I forget the who’s who and what’s what of his medieval world. Plus, the whole purpose of this blog was not only to make daily writing a habit, but to calm down this hopping about tendency.

So I returned from that humongous library with 7 books in my arms. 7 books totaling 2,106 pages.

There’s no way in hell I’m gonna read all these books.

But here’s how I rationalize it. I like to have a book handy when the teevee’s on, ’cause a lot of what the wife and the girls watch, I’m not into. It can’t be a book that demands concentration, so it’s something I can usually skim through. With the exception of perhaps one of these books, I do not plan on reading them cover to cover. I pick and choose, see what’s interesting to me, scan the table of contents and scan the index, always keeping blogging, short story writing, and my future novels in mind.

So it’s justified. Kinda. Right?

In no particular order, here they are:

The Invented Reality, edited by Paul Watzlawick

The subtitle drew me in: How do we know what we believe we know? I find stuff like this incredibly fascinating, though stuff like this can easily be extremely dense and confusing. I put the onus on the writer. So I’ll give this one a shot. It appears to be of the school of thought that we substantially create our own reality, though I may just be creating a book entitled The Invented Reality that appears to be of the school of thought that we substantially create our own reality.

The Crack in the Cosmic Egg, by Joseph Chilton Pearce

Promises to challenge my constructs of my mind and my reality. Flirts dangerously, though, with hippie chic, being published in 1971 and mentioning Carlos Castaneda and Yaqui sorcerers prominently on the book jacket. But I’m game. At least for a chapter.

Classics for Pleasure, by Michael Dirda

Highly entertaining writer gives his one- or two-page take on ninety “classics.” I already read his analysis of She, by H. Rider Haggard, which I read last August and thoroughly enjoyed. Gonna use this by having Dirda convince me what others cool things I might not have previously considered cool are out there awaiting for me to read. (Yes, more books.)

Ideas Are Weapons, by Max Lerner

How awesome is the title of this 1939 magnum opus! How few people, especially high school and college kids, are blissfully unaware of this as they’re herded like sheep from one fad cause to the next. However, being a product of 1939, we lack a lot of probable essential background, such as reasons and consequences of the second world war or the abject moral failure of communism. There’s an essay “Hitler as Thinker”, for example. And a lot of the stuff seems to be Wilsonian kumbaya and about economics and legal issues. Can’t tell the ideology of the book for sure just yet, but I’ll know soon enough.

Archetypes: The Persistence of Unifying Patterns, by Elemire Zolla

Like the whole idea of archetypes, just have never found a book about the subject that wasn’t godawful boring. (The archetype of the boring book about archetypes … hmmm.)

Strange Matters: Undiscovered Ideas at the Frontiers of Space and Time, by Tom Siegfried

This book looks like it could be a great read. Quarks, anti-matter, symmetry, dark matter, the multiverse, electromagnetic waves, string theory, black holes, brane theory, Riemann geometry, a second dimension to time. Gotta love it! I’m just wary it will fall into the trap that 99.97 percent of all mass-marketed general physics books fall into: dumbing it down and spending to much time on the history of the ideas instead of the actual ideas themselves.

Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization, by Robert Zubrin

This is probably the book I’ll read cover-to-cover. My wife bought me Zubrin’s excellent book The Case for Mars a few years back, and it was truly packed with lots of interesting and practical ideas. I’m looking for the same in this book. One of the things that’s sat a long time on my PC in natal form is an essay on “Why We Should Leave Earth for the Stars.” I am excited to think that Zubrin will give me lots more reasons.

Hi. My name is LE, and I’m a biblio-glutton.

Hi LE!

Sunday, April 18, 2010



There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he looked upon, that object he became,
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

- Walt Whitman


Ontology is not the name of Whitman's poem, but it's the first word that popped into my head while reading those lines. And if you are intimidated by the word ontology, like I once was, just know that it simply tries to answer this question:

What does it mean to exist?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Another Day in the Life

Greetings Gang of Thirteen,

Remember what I did ’bout two weeks back, going to Staples and printing out my first novel? Well, now, I’m going back, this time to get a hard copy of my second one, The Whale of Cortary. After about sixteen hours of work this week, I finally finished the third draft of the novel. I’d been putting it off forever because it needed a major re-write. Particularly the ending, which was, in the unanimous, separate opinion of three readers, kinda long and meandering. So I trimmed it down from 40 pages to 13, and in the process wrote 5,200 words yesterday afternoon.

I am bushed.

Still have a few more things to do with it, then it’s off to Staples again with the Little One in tow. It’s been chilly and rainy here yesterday and looks to continue again today. I have my father-in-law coming in for a visit with the girls, and we all may hit an arcade or a pizza parlor or something later this afternoon. So the remainder of the day should be fun and relaxing.

Should be some interesting posts approaching the near event horizon. Still have to do a review of Tarnsman of Gor, a book you may or may not know has a certain controversy attached to it. I also want to speak about my initial responses to Lord of the World, a book I’m thinking is as prescient as Atlas Shrugged is today regarding our socio-political climate here in the U.S. Of course, writing in 1907 about a future which is approximately our present day, Benson gets a lot of the details wrong. But he’s nailed the philosophical climate we live in down perfectly. It’s uncanny. But more about such things later.

Maybe I’ll post some of the summaries of the stories I’ve been working on and plan to work on, too, in a short post later in the week, so you all can see and maybe comment on LE as a long-form writer. I’m a tough self-grader, too. One thing I learned being a musician for ten years or so: I’ve known when I was bad, I’ve known when I got good, and I know the exact point where I made the transition. With writing, the same thing. I made that transition, I think, around 2006. I “found my voice” as they say. So, of my two novels, Kirana was written in 1999, pre-voice, while Whale was written in 2006, at the time of voice acquisition. While I’m pleased and satisfied with both finished products, I think a reader would be able to note this simple fact.

Anyway, my stomach churns when I read writers blah, blah, blah-ing, me, me, me-ing, I, I, I-ing in articles. Contrary to what it may appear reading this blog, I dislike navel-gazing. Unless, perhaps, it’s of an anonymous or semi-anonymous sort. (Wow, I’m even navel-gazing as I’m decrying it!). So enough of that, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Words I Hate V



Well, this guy thinks that anyone who uses the word “methinks” in any form of written communication whatsoever needs to be beaten, shot, salted, and spat upon. And if you use the word “methinks” in actual spoken conversation, as an additional punishment, every single strand of your nerdy beard hair must be plucked out.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Sine of the Time

Oh dear. Now I’ve done it.

Well, I’m not sure how, exactly. Or what, exactly. But it seems three weeks have elapsed since I posted my atomic riddle of, apparently, yesterday. Three weeks my time, but only twenty-four hours of yours.

I’ve played with time, and lost.

Let me explain.

My last vivid memory was yesterday afternoon, on my way to the hospital for a lung scan, driving through Paterson. The red hieroglyph “Check Engine” light came on at a stop light. Never a good sign. Even worse when it happens in Paterson.

Suddenly, the Rav4 stalled and would restart. Suffice it to say I drew a lot of attention as well as a crowd of quite unsavory thugs. They said they’d call a tow truck and then offered me hospitality which they would not allow me to refuse. I expected fully to be robbed, and I hoped that would be the worse of it. Before I knew it they led me into what I guess you’d label a “crack house,” where I spotted, of all things, a young ethnic gentleman tapping on a laptop.

“Excuse me,” I said, hoping to buy time, “but do you by chance visit The Recovering Hopper website?”

They appeared incredulous. Apparently, they did not.

I asked to show them. L-Dog had a silver-gray automatic pistol in his hand, but soon was so rapt in “yesterday’s” atomic riddle that he placed it back in his waistband. He whispered to a couple of his gang members, and before I knew it, they left, leaving me alone with L-Dog and Operator, the guy at the laptop.

In a flash L-Dog went to a shelf, reached behind the Sean John vodka bottle and the bong, and pulled out a gnarled paperback. A Case of Conscience, by James Blish! The man’s popularity transcends ethnicity! In few minutes we were deep in discussion over the hole-in-a-hole-through-a-hole theory of atomic structure. L-Dog lost plenty of sleep attempting to reconcile Feynman’s sum-of-histories-over-time approach to Blish’s comment, and we bonded over Feynman’s observation: If an electron always takes the path of least resistance, how does it know which path to take before it takes it?

Another example of the power of physics to transcend race, class, and the vicious self-feeding cycle of poverty!

Then L-Dog riffed through his well-worn copy of Blish’s book to chapter 10, the first chapter in Part II. He cleared his throat and quoted:

… he was slowed down to an hour a second, then whipped up to a second an hour, then back again, and so on along a sine wave …

Whoa. Dangerous stuff … to one’s sanity. But we were game.

First, imagine a sine wave. Like this one, here:

Now, at every trough, you experience an hour’s worth of time every second that passes by in the real world. That means you’ll live twelve and a half days for every five minutes that every single human being perceives. Wow. You can get a lot done at that rate.

Conversely, at every peak, the reverse is true. Every twelve and a half days that passes in the real world, only five minutes go by for you. In effect you’re slowed down, so I think Blish has his verbs mixed up. I think.

But the kicker is that it is not constant. When you cross the horizontal axis, you’re experiencing the passage of time at the same rate as everyone else. So after a full sinus cycle has completed, 360 degrees in a linear direction, the same amount of time has elapsed for everyone, including you.

So time – let’s label it capital-T Time, remains constant. You are sped up and slowed down at a ratio of 60:1 and 1:60.

Now: how can we visualize that?

The first image that came to my mind was some kinda gear system you might find in a car. You know, something like the differential gear, which can allow two wheels on the same axle to turn at different rates. I don’t know; I’m not mechanically-oriented. Neither is L-Dog, but he brought in a fellow member of his social club, Sway, who worked off-and-on at a Jiffy Lube. We sketched out something that involved a half-dozen gears that sat on a horizontal plane that would move a figure at the appropriate ratios following a steady vertical sinusoidal tracking motion.

At least, we think we did.

When observed from above, it gave the impression of something of a sawing motion. L-Dog thought it reminded him of a bow across violin strings. After a moment we both came to the realization that what we built was simply a three-dimensional graphical representation of the periodic acceleration and deceleration of subjective small-t time.

Sway noted that the dual horizontal and vertical sine wave traveling through time looked remarkably like a sketch he’d seen of an electromagnetic wave in an old physics textbook he once stole.

Truth be told over those three weeks our work was interrupted several times. Once by the Paterson PD, once by the ATF, and three or four times by rival gangs. There were plenty of false alarms, too. Once two of L-Dog’s girlfriends needed to be rushed to a local EmergiMed. Don’t worry; they’ve slept it off. In any event, by day 20 we had some Rube Goldbergian contraption that might be a physical representation for Blish’s Conundrum.

But was the contraption a physical representation-slash-metaphor for the metaphysical mechanism necessary to toy with time the way Blish describes? Or better yet, just how close did it approximate what we labeled MetaTime? That is, the objective Time field in which these subjective Time fields move? I know the map is not the territory, and what we were grasping for was something more than a map. Maybe a small-scale model mock-up would be a worthier goal.

Eventually, the fun had to end with these difficult questions. I realized I had to get back to my regular life and my regular responsibilities. L-Dog promised to back me up with a phone call if I needed it; he’d tell my wife that I was held hostage for twenty-one days. I macho-hugged each member of the gang, kissed their ladies’ hands, ruffled the hair of their babies. Then I stepped out into the hot street and my pimped out Rav4 and drove home.

Except, inexplicably, it was now April 15, and not May 5. I discarded my sombrero, the tacos, and the Feliz Cinco de Mayo banner I just bought. Then, I realized what happened.

I’d been hitching a ride on the sinusoidal metaTime wave.

Somewhere in the afterworld, James Blish is laughing …

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Atoms of Nirvana

Damn the nerdslinger! Damn him!

Oh, sure, it happened oh so innocently, oh so spur-of-the-moment. We passed in the hall, and he spotted the paperback tucked under my arm as I juggled my overheated microwaved lunch. “Say,” he said, adjusting those Coke-bottles on the bridge of his nose, his acne and body odor double-teaming me against the wall in the narrow hallway. “Say, is that A Case of Conscience, by James Blish?”

I was caught in his web of wimpitude. I agreed that it was indeed Blish’s novel while he took a drag off his inhaler. I told him … well, I guess I told him what I told you all, two days ago.

Then, he seized my arm, inadvertently causing me to drop my bottle of Diet Coke. Then we both gonked heads as we simultaneously bent down to pick it up. “Jeez, sorry, man,” he said, redder than the vulture in that Bugs Bunny cartoon. “But hey – what did you think about the atoms in chapter 8?”


“Check it out, man!” He went on his way, turning to smile and wave, walking into the swinging door the wrong way. And while I was contemplating my radioactive General Tso steamed chicken, I thumbed through chapter 8 and there it was:

An atom is just a-hole-inside-a-hole-through-a-hole

I’ve figured out the vehicle for me to attain nirvana!

Preferably, I’d need to have a net worth of about $150 million, but that’s beside the point. All I’d have to do is pack my bags and hop in the car, yelling to the wife, “Honey, I left thirty grand on the dining room table for take out and day trips. See ya in a month!”

Then, I’d drive up to a secluded mountain getaway next to a lake I own. And for the next thirty days, for several hours a day, all I would do would be meditate on what this means:

An atom is just a-hole-inside-a-hole-through-a-hole

What can this possibly mean? I mean, we’ve all heard of different metaphors to explain the unexplainable, in this case, the atom. Way back in grade school, it was a miniature solar system. In high school it was shells. Later, in college, they told me they was strings, loops of energy, edges of higher-dimensional thingies, or a collection of quarks and gluons, which somehow would attain infinite mass if one could manage to pull those charmed building blocks apart.

(Breathe …)

What would a “hole” mean? First impression leads me to a wormhole. A tunnel – maybe out of this universe, maybe not. What needs to be settled is whether it’s a finite hole (a hole with a bottom), or an infinite hole (which we’d call a tunnel).

Now, a hole inside a hole. Hmmm. Two things to consider. Imagine a generic, run-of-the-mill hole, such as one you might dig in your backyard to bury your nerd-friend’s Star Trek: The Next Generation DVD set. A hole-inside-a-hole could either be something in the hole (i.e. the negative of a negative is a positive), or it could ratchet the whole thing up a notch and go somewhere else entirely, something beyond our experience. Picture a door at the bottom of that backyard hole. When you open it, you see the surface of Altair IV. Or something.

But what the heck is it about this “through-a-hole” business? “Jeez,” to quote the nerdslinger. Now the first thing that’s popping into my mind are my sneakers. Specifically, the laces. I’m thinking knot, here, and that’s leading my to think back to string theory. I’ve tried to visualize an infinite hole within a finite hole, and somehow tie that back around itself and voilà – I have an atom in mind.

Damn that nerd! I can’t stop thinking of atoms, now, and before you know it, I’m gonna either be one hysterically crazy dude or I’ll be enlightened.

Which you guys, the uninitiated, would call by the term insane.

Damn him!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Kinda busy today –

Watching the girls and taking them to the park for train and carousel rides, then out for lunch (it’s Spring Break for my kindergartener) …

Must balance the check book and pay some bills …

Have to edit more of my second novel (about 240 pages remain, plus a rewrite of the final 45 pages) …

Need to come up with short summaries of both my novels …

Want to call my homeowners insurance company (two weeks now before renewal); I think I’m being overcharged by about a grand a year …

Laundry’s piling up to mountainous levels …

And have to hit the exercise bike twice and the weights once today.

But I have some really, really, really, really, really neat posts lined up, most nearly finished, so keep stopping by!

However, one of those posts does not explore the topic, “How to Jump Off Your Butt and Instantly Create the Energy, Enthusiasm, and Discipline to Do the Things You Really Really Don’t Want To Do!”

Maybe one should, though. Maybe one should.

Monday, April 12, 2010

A Case of Conscience

© 1958 by James Blish

I liked it. I did.

With reservations.

It certainly is a schizophrenic novel. No doubt because it was a fantastic serialized novella pushed by an editor to be rewritten to book length. A Case of Conscience comes in two parts, plus an epilogue. Part I details the examination of the newly-discovered world Lithia by a priest / biologist, a physicist, a chemist, and a geologist, and their recommendation of whether the new planet should either be open to Earth trade, maintain a partial quarantine, or be thoroughly off-limits. In Part II we follow the characters Earthside, the consequences of their decision, and the effects of a Lithian, Egtverchi, given to this commission to raise from an egg. The epilogue is a superfluous ten page summary of the planet Lithia, a dry, scientific description of the world. It should have been either a prologue or chopped up and parceled out throughout the novel.


Where to begin?

[Minor spoilers to follow …]

The first part was simply excellent. Goose-bump, page-turning, gotta-make-time-to-read-this excellent. So good I was despairing of ever writing another science fiction story. What a fully-fleshed out world Lithia became. What imagination, and what detail. Hard science fiction, my nemesis, but all I could think was how the heck James Blish knew so much about everything! He had to be fudging some things, but I couldn’t quite tell what.

The lizard-like inhabitants of Lithia – a Lithian a 14 foot cross between a dragon and a kangaroo – appear quite problematic to Jesuit Father Ruiz-Sanchez. Apparently they have evolved a highly moral society without the benefit of any idea of religion. Their moral precepts simply can’t be traced back to anything. Nor, really, can their scientific developments, (more nature-based than our sciences), nor any other aspect of their culture. It’s as if they just … materialized whole form out of nothing. And our Father has a sneaking suspicion that perhaps, just perhaps, Satan had a hand in its creation. Why? To tempt us to believe, for instance, that morality can exist divorced from any Creator.

This conclusion is not arrived at lightly, nor in a scoffing or trifling manner. Ruiz-Sanchez makes a convincing case. And the way Part I is written you don’t see it coming, but when it does, it kinda makes sense. There’s also another plot thread which comes in to play later in the novel. The physicist, Cleaver, discovers that Lithia is a planetary laboratory, with all the raw materials present, for the development of fusion bombs. Conflict arises when the Jesuit recommends complete quarantine and the physicist opts for the exploitation inherent in opening up Lithia to trade.

The novel kinda falls apart in Part II, however. Suddenly, Ruiz-Sanchez is not the protagonist, and the story loses its moral center. This now falls to the shallowly-drawn chemist Michelis. Suddenly he’s in a whirlwind love affair with another one-dimensional chemist while they both raise a Lithian, named Egtverchi, a departing gift from their new neighbors. Egtverchi somehow grows up within a few months and is suddenly a major celebrity, transforming Earth, throwing our worldview over the brink. I’m not sure how. Apparently he’s a broadcaster and his commentary is devastating. Ouch! But I can’t be too sure. Blish relies on a tell-and-don’t-show literary technique in these chapters. The novel meanders aimlessly here; the chapters seem disjointed and the tight plotline of discovery of Part I is nowhere to be found.

However, the last two chapters do redeem the novel. Ruiz-Sanchez returns after a receiving a seemingly no-win assignment from the Pope on dealing with the Lithian Problem. He’s reunited with Michelis, and a denouement approaches with Cleaver on Lithia. I must confess to being completely surprised and, yes, satisfied, with the ending “solution” and what happens, and I think most readers will be, too. Why? The ending can be genuinely interpreted from both a religious as well as a scientific point of view. For pulling this out of thin air, Blish earns high marks.

So, LE grades A Case of Conscience a solid B. (Part I gets an A+, Part II gets a C, and I take off half a point for that epilogue. I’m a tough grader.)

Still, mandatory reading if you’re into stories that explore the intersection of science and religion.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Manual Labor

Boy, my bones be aching! What a sally!

Remember the snowstorm that hit the northeast US back in February? I blogged about it here, and you could see some photos of my front and back yards.

At the time, it wasn’t that paralyzing for us. We shoveled out the next day, and in a week most of the snow had melted. But it did do us some damage.

On the east side of our house is a four-foot pathway between my garage and a four-foot stonewall drop-off where my neighbor’s property begins. His house is about six feet from this stone wall, four feet below my property. Well, between the pathway and the stonewall, up on my property, sit some hedges. I’m not a gardener, so I don’t know what plants they are, but there are five evenly-spaced stumps with a half-dozen shoots coming out of each one. They extended upwards about seven or eight feet and curl over towards my garage, forming a little tunnel you need to walk through to get to my backyard.

Well, during that February blizzard, the heavy snow and wind actually bent those plants away from my garage, over towards my neighbor’s house at a 45 degree angle, eventually brushing up against his house. What’s more, about two or three weeks ago, at the beginning of spring, I noticed that not only had these hedges not righted themselves, but the displaced weight actually caused a five-foot section of the stone wall below to crumble. A dozen twenty-pound stones were strewn about in the alley between the stone wall and my neighbor’s house.

Not good. Plus, my land above the stone wall is beginning to erode.

I bit the bullet, as they say, and rang the neighbor’s doorbell. I showed him what had happened to the hedges and the wall. He was aware of the bushes brushing up against his house, but the wall shocked him. Knowing that I owned the bushes, I told him I was going to either right them by tying them up with string or cut them down. He was thinking about getting a landscaper to repair the wall, but I said that I’d like to try restacking them myself. He agreed.

(Just to satisfy my curiosity, I went to the strongbox and got out the deed for my property when I bought the house in 2004. The surveyor drew circles along my property line indicating the stone wall. However, it does not indicate whether I or my neighbor own it. In fact, it kinda hints to joint custody. FYI, there’s also a stone wall on the western side of my property that I presumably share with that neighbor.)

I went to the store to buy rope. No rope. Only twine. Okay, so I purchase the twine. Next workday, Little One’s in school, Patch is napping, and I’m rolling up my sleeves about to do some yardwork. Hmmm. These hedges are a bit more thicker, stronger, and numerous than I’d thought. The average thickness where I want to attach the twine is about an inch. And these guys are stubborn – they won’t budge. Also, there’s nothing really to attach the twine to. I scratch my head, my spirits sinking. How the hell am I going to chop these bushes down?

Fortunately, both my stepdad and my brother are handymen. They’re as handy as I am not. I own one toolbox (about the size of a large lunchbox) and in that toolbox are two hammers, three regular screwdrivers and three Philips head screwdrivers. Oh, the screwdrivers are all the same size, by the way. These guys have a tool for every possible plan, for every conceivable contingency. Plus, they’re actually enthusiastic about home repair and maintenance. Must be a gene that passed double-recessive to me in the womb.

Anyway, this past Wednesday my stepfather drives down with a saws-all, a three-foot hedge clipper, and one of those sickle-shaped saws that can reach up in trees to cut through thick, high branches. We spend four hours in 85 degree heat cutting these bad boys down. I’m amazed at the sheer amount of work, the sheer volume of bushes that needs to be removed. We cut them off at about six inches from the ground, but they’re so thick and intertwined we have to cut dozens of branches lose just to get everything out. And then drag these humongous, snaking hedges across my driveway and front lawn towards the street. Thank God there wasn’t a beehive in those thickets, though there was an empty birds-nest. We cut some up and fill my trash cans about half-way, then stack the remaining brush in a fairly orderly pile.

That night I relax in movie theater air conditioning, watching Clash of the Titans and nursing a minor sunburn.

The next day I spend an hour-and-a-half making that pile shrink half in size. I fill my three trash cans with about sixty pounds of branches in each, and put them out for collection the next morning. I restack what remains and quickly rake the lawn. Finally, I hop over to the neighbor’s yard and attempt to rebuild the stone wall. The best I could do is get it to a 60 degree pile instead of a 30 degree pile. Those rocks are heavy, and because the dirt is crumbling they keep tumbling down. But eventually I get them all back on top of each other. If my neighbor wants to hire someone to redo it, I won’t feel guilty.

Then, yesterday, my brother shows up with a chainsaw, a woodchipper, and his 10-year-old son. We spend ninety minutes chipping down all the remaining brush, refilling the three trashcans, raking the yards, and chainsawing those six-inch hedge stumps down to the ground. Then they take off to make baseball practice. My parents stop by and help. I stand amazed at the incredible amount of work that’s been done by four people in seven hours – and not a trace of it remains on my lawn anymore!

Thank you, men, for all your help! If you ever need a short story written, I’m your man!

So, my yard is looking fine. However, my body is aching! I’ve not done manual labor of this sort since, well, probably not since we moved in to the house six years ago. Plus, this past year my only job is really managing two little girls, so I don’t really exercise much. What I do do is eat. Junk food. Too much junk food. And now not only am I feeling it, I’m regretting it! I need Advil just to get to bed at night. I walk around creaking like the Tin Man, afraid to stretch lest my leg breaks in half at the knee. God, even my neck aches.

Well, it serves as a warning, I suppose. A wake-up call. Monday I have to go down to the hospital and get a lung scan for my nine-month check up. Hopefully the lung is up to about 50 percent functionality. Two weeks after that I have a meeting with my doctor, the one who did my June 2009 surgery. So there’s plenty of incentive to eat right over the next fifteen days, and to hit that exercise bike.

That is, once I finish those cookies in the cupboard I bought yesterday …

Saturday, April 10, 2010


What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami

One day I’d like to write a book with a voice that’s reminiscent of Japanese translated into English.

What a pleasant read! There’s no rush, no hurry. The image of a small stream, no wider than ten or so feet, no deeper than ten or so inches, turning this way and that, gently bubbling as it flowed on a perfect Spring day, that’s how I visually represented this book’s voice. Yes, Murakami talks about the pain and intensity of long-distance running, of training for triathlons, of re-running the original Marathon. But somehow he makes it enjoyable, and the pages turn without your realization.

If you are a runner or if you are a writer, or if you have perhaps within your personality the qualities to be either or both, you might consider reading this book. I identify strongly with this man. One day, around the age of thirty or so, Murakami decided he’d like to write a novel – and did. Just like me. Also, he decided he was going to start running, and quit his four-pack-a-day cigarette habit and the bar he was running. Not so much like me, unless you count the desire to radically change and improve one’s life that I’ve always had. Murakami’s had strong success in both areas, one nurturing the other. He is one of Japan’s leading novelists, and completes at least one marathon a year, for over twenty-five years running.

It’s not really a “how-to” book. It’s not really a “why I do it” book, either. It’s not even what he thinks about when he runs, because – as he struggles to make clear, and I partially understand – as a runner he strives to attain a void when he runs. Maybe as a writer, too, and I think I know what he means. Perhaps you do, too: it’s that window that opens up into another world when you’re typing at your laptop (it used to open up within that sheet of white paper you stared at as you sat at your typewriter). It’s willed, yet it’s not willed, it’s merely allowed to happen, and when it does happen, it’s a grace.

Thoroughly loved it; took me about four hours to read over two days. Solid A. And I may get my hands on one of his novels if I can be convinced of a worthy translation. And, by the way, while writing this book Murakami was also working on a Japanese translation, agonizing line-by-line and word-by-word, of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (which I have not yet read, but plan to at some distant point in the future).

Friday, April 9, 2010

Rough Morning

Overslept, so didn’t get a start on my writing work. Still tired, though, deep in sleep debt. Thank you, insomnia. Achy from the manual labor over the past couple of days (taking down bushes along the side of the house, cutting up branches to put in trash cans, restacking four-foot stone wall). Getting fat so I have difficulty fitting in to last year’s shorts.

House a constant mess. Patch getting in to everything, including Mom’s make-up. The littlest one covered herself in it, and the flesh-colored powder is all over the bedroom floor. All over. Rushing to get last-minute homework and project assignments done for the Little One. No food in the house. Ugh.

I do have about a week’s worth of blog posts on backorder here at the Hopper. I do. I have two book reviews: A Case of Conscience and a mini-review of the Murakami book. Two far-out physics meditations that might lead me to Nirvana. A short story about a burned-out superhero. A little piece on the scariest story I ever did read.

But not today. If I allowed myself to drink, I’d have about three Spaatens out on the deck. But I don’t, and it looks like rain, anyway. So I’m going to read one of my trashy pulpy SF paperbacks, Tarnsman of Gor, while the big one’s at kindergarten and the small one’s napping. Then, it’s back to the one-step forward, one-step back existence in the afternoon and evening. I’m planning on cooking a fish, by the way.

See you tomorrow with something a little more substantial.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Clash of the Titans

Saw Clash of the Titans late last night with my buddy. Basically, it’s a 110-minute long special effect. Which is okay, for what it is. Sure, it kinda made up its Greek mythology as it went along; sure, the characters are all one-dimensional cliché cut-outs; sure, the plot is convoluted and doesn’t really make sense. But you don’t go see a movie like this to see great classic literature translated movingly to the big screen.

The two big drawbacks for me were the backstory and the fight scenes. If you’ve seen the 1981 original, you know it’s a quest movie: Perseus needs to locate Medusa, slay her, and bring her head back to Argos to kill the kraken and save Princess Andromeda. I saw the original probably a half dozen times, but the last time was at least twenty-five or more years ago, so I don’t remember its backstory, other than the immortal gods were plotting against each other. It’s the same in this remake, though the Machiavellian machinations of Hades, uncomfortably decked out like John Travolta in Battlefield Earth, seemed built on shifting sands. I could never quite remember why he was doing what he was doing at every particular scene he appeared. Usually, he appeared solely to have his winged minions wreak havoc on insolent soldiers.

The worse thing about the movie was the F****N’ SHAKEY CAM! I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate the shakey cam! Every time two men drew blades and attacked each other, every single time, all of a sudden I’m on Rolling Thunder at Great Adventure! Ever see a paint mixer at Home Depot? Well, that’s only a fraction of the camera work for every single action scene. Good job, director. And damn you, director of Bourne Supremacy, originator, I think, of this headache-inducing visual technique.

Sam Worthington was bland as Perseus; Liam Neeson is hammily reminiscent of Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of Zeus in the original. The women are boring feminists. Perseus’s soldiers you’ve seen in every buddy-buddy war or quest flick: the wise old rogue; the young idealist; the goofy, fun-loving foreign-types; the hero’s foil who later begrudgingly learns to respect said hero. In this case, a pleasant surprise for me, the foil was … Le Chiffre! From the remake of the James Bond flick Casino Royale! The bad guy who cried blood! Here, he’s a dread-locked warrior, but he’s tough and charismatic and I wonder why he’s not in more movies of late.

This was my first 3D movie since … Jaws 3D in, what, 1983 or so? As such, well, the 3D effect were okay, I suppose. I expected about sixty or seventy arrows shot right at my face, but that wasn’t so, and for that, director, I thank you. But honestly, after ten or fifteen minutes, I really wasn’t aware of the 3D effects. So that’s either a compliment or a drawback. I’m not really sure. I could have just saved $6.50 and just seen the 2D version. In actuality, some of the 3D flying scenes made me kinda seasick, and this is from the guy who loved Cloverfield.

The best part of Clash of the Titans were the evocative settings and backdrops. Olympus, not so much, but a big unequivocal yes for the River Styx, the temple of Medusa, the sea port of Argos, the lush forests of indeterminate ancient Greece, the ominous storms in the background as young Perseus broods on the seas. I also dig that hundred-foot statue of Zeus. Though it didn’t move (on its own accord), it reminded me of that giant animated warrior statue from Jason and the Argonauts.

I know I’m reading too much into the movie with this point, but let me just say, the movie was so … anti-god, I guess, for lack of a better word. Every major character, Perseus included, made it crystal clear to us that he was against the gods. Damn the gods, and the gods be damned! “The Age of Man has arrived,” cried out one king. Sounds like 21st century America, I thought. With the death of gods (God) proclaimed every five or ten minutes on screen, with man the measure of all things, with strength and valor and skill with a sword (or feminine beauty) the markers of power and good life in this world, one thought kept popping into my mind: This is Nietzsche’s World. A world populated by his supermen, living by his anti-values. I know Nietzsche was an admirer of ancient Greek ideals, and this movie is a sixth-grade boy’s interpretation of such ideals. Just a thought, and I know it was probably unintentional on the part of the filmmakers.

Anyway, a mixed bag, but a fun outing and an enjoyable experience if you keep in mind what it is you’re watching. I grade it a solid B.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

April 1993

The spring of 1993, April and May and half of June, was a strange time in my life. For the first time I was struggling with serious stress and depression, yet I was oddly excited and free. Strange.

Why so?

Well, for the first time ever I was both single and living alone. The whole music thing I was into for so long had derailed and stalled, and I wasn’t friends anymore with a lot of those people. I think I only had two, maybe three friends at the time, though I didn’t see much of them that spring. I was depressed because of the recent breakup of a three-year relationship, and I was stressed because I had just resumed attending college full-time, now at Seton Hall, while maintaining my full-time day job.

Why the odd excitement and sense of freedom?

Two reasons. First, I was living in an awesome apartment. Sure, it was tiny, hot in the summer and freezing in the winter, but it was isolated and had a lot of character. I really liked that isolation part. Second, for the first time in three years I was free to do whatever I wanted, and what I wanted at that moment in my life was to watch movies. Deep, thoughtful movies. Visceral, wrenching movies. Films I couldn’t and didn’t watch because my significant other – as well as the groupthink I was subjected to – was not so much interested in them.

Those dozen weekends that spring I must have watched twenty-five or thirty movies. Movies because I didn’t have much time to read since I was back at school and busy with homework and projects and reports and blah blah blah. So Saturdays and Sundays were movie night for me, and me alone. I turned my bedroom into my home theater. I wasn’t drinking, but I was smoking, and I remember lounging comfortably on the tiled floor against a pillow, watching my VCR through a 42-inch television on wheels, ash tray, pack of butts, and lighter at my side. Good times.

The first flick I watched was Goodfellas. Wow. The “ceremony” to make Joe Pesci a made man … jaw-dropping. The “Do you think I’m a clown?” scene. Now I knew what my friends were talking about two years back.

Then a succession of (mostly) violent, controversial, deep, and/or philosophical flicks followed. There was no plan, really. I’d just go in to my local video store and, more often than not, completely avoid the New Releases shelves and head for the Drama section. Whatever jumped out at me, whatever was gritty and challenging, was what I rented. In no particular order, I watched, all for the first time:

The Deer Hunter
The Razor’s Edge
(1946, with Tyrone Power)
The Razor’s Edge (1984, with Bill Murray)
The Last Temptation of Christ
The Mission
Raging Bull
Lawrence of Arabia
Mean Streets
Bad Lieutenant
Glengarry Glen Ross
The Remains of the Day
The China Syndrome
Agnes of God
The Last of the Mohicans
The Border

There are probably others; probably something important and significant I forgot – it was seventeen years ago. But I still can vividly recall watching each and every one of them, and loving them all, even the ones that now, retroactively, offend my morality or political views. The only bad one of the bunch was Revolution, with Al Pacino, because he had the worst accent (German? Austrian? Scottish?) I’ve ever heard an actor attempt. Also, the story itself was weak and poorly executed, especially contrasted with Mohicans.

Now, I was very busy at this period of my life: 40 hours of work plus 5 college courses that I commuted to three days a week. The only book I read was W. Somerset Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge, about an idealistic young man seeking something transcendent after a near-death experience in World War I, while his friend goes on to disaffected wealth in the business world. The man’s experiences take him to India and the Himalayas, studying the Upanishads and Buddhism, and eventually he comes full circle back to England.

I was drawn to the novel because I saw myself in the main character, albeit with only a fraction of his courage and conviction, but I was (and still am) a seeker myself. I bought and read the Upanishads, I studied Buddhism half-heartedly off and on for the decade of the 90s, until I came full-circle back to Catholicism around 2001 or so (remember I had my main “conversion” experience Easter of 1992). I’m not interested in re-reading Maugham’s book, but it was valuable to me back then as a guide, as I had no one to share or help me out with my internal quest.

The Razor’s Edge led me to explore Hinduism in the summer of 1993, as I was studying physics at Seton Hall. I managed to read a few books and purchase a few slim paperbacks, and though I became enchanted with the culture and land of India, I knew quickly I was no Hindu. I moved on to Taoism and Buddhism, especially Zen, for the remainder of the decade. That fascinated me: true Buddhism, true Zen, not the trendy distilled Hollywood Buddhism and Zen Americans are exposed to. And like all things true, it is difficult, incredibly difficult for us Americanos. Meditation was difficult, though attractive and enticing. Zen was maddeningly addictive. I had to solve it! And by solving it, I mean, simply, understanding it. I loved the koans, the stories of the Patriarchs, the pure dynamic of the disciple and the master. I still do.

During this period I also began my love-hate affair with philosophy. In the summer of 1993 I bought Betrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, and read large chunks of it, mostly in the bathtub. It took me a few years to realize I was feeding myself Russell’s own biases, and not a true history of Western Philosophy. But I learned enough to know who said what and who thought what and what the what they said and thought was. (Best sentence I ever wrote!) I read bits and pieces of bought used philosophy books over the next decade. Sometime last year I threw my hands up and decided the only philosophy worthy of study, for me, would be that of Thomas Aquinas.

Now, seventeen years later, I regard the spring of 1993 as the trunk which allowed me to branch out into several limbs of exploration. Some are low on the tree, spread out and stopped growing. Others grew outward and upward, sending out shoots and smaller branches in other directions. A few are still sprouting, high up on the tree. What started as the freedom to explore ideas, in movies, transformed itself into a seeking through books, which continues to this day.

Yeah, there was misery back then, more than my fair share, though I ’spose everyone goes through such periods now and again in their lives. But I really only see the bright spots when I think back to April of 1993.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Daily Philosophies

The English novelist W. Somerset Maugham once wrote that in each shave lies a philosophy. I agree wholeheartedly. Now, please excuse me. I have something like 4,500 philosophies to attend to today. One of which is composing something of interest to be posted tomorrow.

(Maugham’s novel The Razor’s Edge, as well as its two movie adaptations, was very influential to me seventeen years ago, in April of 1993. I’ll partially explain why tomorrow.)

Monday, April 5, 2010

Guitar Spew


All right, so perhaps I should rethink the title of this post. It’s a variation of “What’s LE playing on his guitar” theme that I blog about every six weeks or so, since I’ve discovered in that period of time I generally find I’m strumming out five or six new tunes.

So, what’s LE playing on his guitar as springtime is blossoming all about us? Flowers are blooming and sunny skies and warm temps are calling us out of doors, on to the deck for tennis and tag and all-purpose bumbling about. LE is bringing out his acoustic and walking the yard, troubadour-style, and the whole world wants to know: Hey, what you strummin?

Well ... how ’bout

“Pinch Me” by the Barenaked Ladies.

If you’ve heard this song, you know it’s a guy plunking on his acoustic singing about the world outside his backdoor. Like me! I love the simple riff, the pre-chorus arpeggios, the chorus chords. It’s fun, pure and simple. The wife hates it, or rather that nine-note three-chord riff. Which I’ve played about a thousand times over the past month and a half. Point taken. So I don’t play it around her, but I play it every time I’m out on the deck.

“Only Time” by Robin Trower

I went through a short Robin Trower phase for about a year sometime in the late 80s. Have two albums on tape that I’ve rediscovered, but I don’t know the album titles since the ink on the cassettes have long since faded. One’s Bridge of Sighs I think. Anyway, this is an F# to E arpeggiated thing with bluesy B riffs and sliding A-B-A-B triads. Though he’s playing it on a fuzzed-out wah-wah Strat, it sounds good on an acoustic. I dig it.

“We Got the Beat” by the Go-Go’s

Yeah, baby, Go-Go’s! I used to confuse the hell out of my wife when we were first dating by stating that I was a huge Go-Go’s fan, had all their CDs, had a drunken Belinda Carlisle vomit on me at one of their shows. Even sung “Vacation” when we went on our first joint vacation. All right, so you had to be there; I apologize. It wasn’t as stupid as it sounds. Or maybe it was. Anyway, I’ve been playing this song and my two little girls love it. So there.

“In the Flesh” by Pink Floyd

There, now I’ve reclaimed my masculinity in this post. First song, I think, off The Wall, and one of the last ones, too. Love it from the heavy low-string bent notes to the doo-wop arpeggios. Okay on an acoustic, but I really wish I had an electric for this. Especially to mimic the crashing airplane at the song’s conclusion. Fun nonetheless.

“Whip It” by Devo

The little ones call this “the bumpy song” and it’s a standard feature during Baby Dance parties. Never in my wildest imagination as a dumb twenty-year-old, drinking Jack Daniels and Hawaiian punch, smoking Marlboro reds, playing my Gibson SG through a Peavey amp – never in my craziest dream would I ever think I’d be playing this song for a couple of dancing toddlers, my own flesh and blood, and we’d all collapse in giggles after it was all done. I mean, it sounds so vanilla, doesn’t it? And yet, it’s something I’ll probably remember for the rest of my life.

So that’s all, I think. I’ll check back in with Guitar Spew Two around Memorial Day or so.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Day in the Life

Okay, so I just got back from Staples. I put my novel Kirana on a CD, had them print the whole dang thing out – 312 pages. That cost me $24, plus another $10 for a binder. Receipts saved for tax time. I now have an official hard copy of my first novel, my first attempt To See If I Could Do It, and now C is going to read it. She read the first draft … back in the summer of 1999. So, yeah, there’s a tortoise-like dimension to my writing. But in between that first draft and this hard copy (which is actually the third draft) I did do a second novel, 16 short stories, and two years worth of daily blogging.

What’s next? Well, as you can see to the left, I’m re-reading my novel The Whale of Cortary. Haven’t read it since I finished it partially-satisfied in November of 2007. This, too, will be the third draft, and the last draft. I’m expecting to complete it in a week or two, since the lengthy last chapter needs major reconstructive surgery, and get a hard-copy of that to keep on hand.

I have a list of 106 literary agents to go through; not all accept science fiction. After that, a Google Quest on “writing submissions” or “querying literary agents” or something to find out the proper way to contact one of these fellows. Sure, there are instructions on the agents’ various pages, but it never hurts to be thorough. Then I type up an email (or a letter) and hit the SEND button (or drop it in that big blue box at the corner of my street). And wait and see what happens.

I have three novel ideas, each in varying stages of enfleshment (ewww), that I’m pondering. Which to begin? Since both my novels are on the longish side (117,000 and 121,000 words) I’m also wondering whether it might make more economical sense (to a publisher) if I just expand one of my short stories (most, too, on the long side for a short story, usually around 10,000 to 15,000 words) into a short novel (75,000 words). (Lots of parenthetical information in that last sentence.) Economics is a huge factor. Imagine looking at the science fiction paperback shelves at B&N. The thicker your novel is, the more space it takes up, so publishers and retailers do take a novel’s size into consideration, especially a rookie novelist. So, I got some stuff to think over.

Currently, when I work at night I do about an hour on the website and an hour with my written original work. A lot of times I’ll do some work around lunch time if the wife is out on the road and the toddler’s napping. But I’m not consistent, for a variety of reasons, some of which are my fault, some not. Ideally, if I could free myself up and discipline myself to do this five nights a week, that’s a full 40-hour workweek a month devoted to making a living at this.

Tough, but doable.

Keep ya posted …

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

The hour of our Lord was at last come; his death-struggle had commenced; a cold sweat overspread every limb. John stood at the foot of the Cross, and wiped the feet of Jesus with his scapular. Magdalen was crouched to the ground in a perfect frenzy of grief behind the Cross. The Blessed Virgin stood between Jesus and the good thief, supported by Salome and Mary of Cleophas, with her eyes riveted on the countenance of her dying Son.

Jesus then said, “It is finished”; and, raising his head, cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” These words, which he uttered in a clear and thrilling tone, resounded through heaven and earth; and a moment after, he bowed down his head and gave up the ghost.

I saw his soul, under the appearance of a bright meteor, penetrate the earth at the foot of the Cross. John and the holy women fell prostrate on the ground. The centurion Abenadar had kept his eyes steadfastly fixed on the disfigured countenance of our Lord, and was perfectly overwhelmed by all that had taken place.

When our Lord pronounced his last words, before expiring, in a loud tone, the earth trembled, and the rock of Calvary burst asunder, forming a deep chasm between the Cross of our Lord and that of Gesmas
[the evil thief]. The voice of God – that solemn and terrible voice – had re-echoed through the whole universe; it had broken the solemn silence that then pervaded all nature.

All was accomplished.

The soul of our Lord had left his body. His last cry had filled every breast with terror. The convulsed earth had paid homage to its Creator. The sword of grief had pierced the hearts of those who loved him. This moment was the moment of grace for Abenadar; his horse trembled under him; his heart was touched; it was rent like the hard rock; he threw his lance to a distance, struck his breast, and cried out: “Blessed be the Most High God, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob; indeed this Man was the Son of God!”

- from The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Anne Catherine Emmerich

Son though He was, He learned obedience from what He suffered; and when He was made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him.

- Hebrews 5:8

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Holy Thursday

Lord, fill with the gift of the Holy Spirit him whom you have deigned to raise to the rank of the priesthood that he may be worthy to stand without reproach before your altar, to proclaim the gospel of your kingdom, to fulfill the ministry of your word and truth, to offer you spiritual gifts and sacrifices and renew your people by the bath of rebirth.

- From the Byzantine Rite of Ordination

Thank you Father Jim, Father White, Father Tom, Father English, Father Ron, Father Anthony, all the Jesuit brothers who played a role in my education, and all the men and women who ministered to me while I lay in various states of consciousness in two dozen hospital beds last year.

For my active experience during last year’s Holy Thursday, see here.