Thursday, September 30, 2010

LHO Reading Habits


All right. Two points here.

First, you can find anything on the Internet. Anything.

Second, I am really, really creeped out.

Last night, after everyone’s asleep, I’m reading this book on the JFK assassination entitled Case Closed. I’m about halfway through, and the book is focusing on the seventeen-month period between Oswald’s repatriation from the Soviet Union and the events of November 22, 1963. Oswald is an avid reader, despite his drop-out status and dyslexia, and frequents the local libraries on a weekly basis. A casual, throwaway footnote states that during the latter part of this period he moved away from political-ideological-oriented material and began devouring science fiction and spy novels.

That interested me. What SF did he read? Anything I’m familiar with?

No kidding, in less than five minutes of googling, I have a list of his library charges. You can see it, here.

He’s read just about every Ian Fleming novel, and seems to enjoy SF short story anthologies. If you look at the complete list, you realize that for a guy with at best an eighth-grade education, he tackled some very deep and penetrating works.

Still, it’s a little oogy to realize that we’ve both read:

Moonraker, by Ian Fleming
Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by T. E. Lawrence
1984, by George Orwell
Nine Tomorrows, by Isaac Asimov
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

and he’s read Ben Hur, by Lew Wallace! I have that all cued up to read this Advent season.

Man … Nine Tomorrows! How I loved that book as a kid. I must’ve read it a dozen times, maybe more. It’s on my Acquisitions List and way way overdue for a rereading.

I just read and reviewed Seven Pillars, here, and I did the Ian Fleming experience around the time I first started this blog, here.

The other three, Brave New World, 1984, and One Day, I read, as did you perhaps, way back in high school. The Huxley book is also on my Acquisitions List for a re-reading, as my intuition tells me that is more the threat to contemporary American society than the Orwell book.

Just a weird feeling. But then, I wonder, how many books read do you and I have in common …?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Today is the feast day of St. Michael, St. Gabriel, and St. Raphael in the Roman Catholic Church. They are known as the archangels, angels of the highest order.

Gabriel was the name of the angel who appeared to Mary and Zacharias. In the Old Testament, he helped Daniel to understand the future.

Raphael is mentioned only in the Book of Tobit, a book which is only in the Roman Catholic canon. His name references God’s healing power, and he heals Tobit of his blindness and exorcises the demon haunting his daughter-in-law.

Michael is the angel who fights against Satan and will eventually defeat him, according to the Book of Revelation.

The prayer to St. Michael, instituted by Pope Leo XIII in 1886, goes as follows:

St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him we humbly pray; and do you, O prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls. Amen.

* * * * *

Do I believe in angels? Yes. I take it on a leap of faith, as we take most everything we believe in on a daily basis in this world of ours. Every choice in an act of faith, and I choose to believe this. Why? Because I believe the Bible to be supernaturally inspired, and there are dozens of instances of angels interacting with men and women within Scripture.

It’s analogous to a belief in climate change, or evolution, or string theory, or Hawking Creationism-by-Gravitational-Fluctuation, except it has a 2,000 year history of faith and reason behind it. Those twenty centuries of thought also convince me of the Truth of Scripture.

But I don’t believe in cutesy-wootsy Hallmark channel chubby-baby-bunny angels. The angels I believe in fulfill the Will of God to the exclusion of everything else. They are terrifying to behold, reflecting a little bit more of the Holy Face of God than the holiest man ever did or will. St. Michael is indeed, in my imagination, a fearsome warrior with flaming sword who we are blessed to have on our side.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Traod

I must escape. Every single neuron dendrite axion is screaming me so.

One last glance, for there mightn’t be another for a long while. In the distance, perhaps a half-mile away, we spy men at the edge of the leftward beach, the rural wrench of the cove, all turned towards me (or the keep I was in), all with pocketed hands, calmly watching, assessing the conflagration. Unhurried, unharried, they might have been a claval of gentlemen, casual acquaintances passing idly by and chatting one early morning before sputitia. I make out little detail save the overall physical bearing of two: one lean and tall and missing an arm; the other, squat, a full head shorter, wider, older. The mien of command lies with him. Both sport military hats and jaunty angles, covering tufts and wads of gray or white hair. I commit these two to memory, then turn to discover a way for us out of the cell.

But … I hesitate; what else do I see?

Floating in gauzy multihued haze among the bars of smoke and flame are those ethereal, translucent forms … angels …

I shut my mind off from those paths, and whirl on my bootheels.

Before us a wood door, vertical planks reinforced by diagonal stripes of a fragrant type of cedar unfamiliar to me. A forbidding metal bolt. I glance round for something, anything, in the spare room to use as a weapon or a lever. The olive tunic floats from the table; I hastily button it up – paying the price as I force my injured shoulder to move in ways it still denies. For a wink and a nod I seize a shard of the shattered pitcher and clench it firmly in my still-bandaged right hand. It will cut skin but not uniform or armor. It will do.

Steeling myself, I caress the vertical planks, testing for heat or voices beyond. There are neither. I grip the bolt, prepared to throw my whole weight against it, praying I would not reopen my wounds, but to our complete astonishment, the door opens on its own accord, lightly, silently, and I am a free man. With you.

The keep is bustle-thick in motion; blur and panic whirling men and women who, perhaps, have tended me in my stasis. In fact, all ignore me, and I roam room to room, seeking stairwells downward, winding westerly, away from the conflagration in the town. A small squadroon of soldiers pass me in a rush as I slip across a small open courtyard. A solitary gate stands before me. My eyes fall upon, oddly enough, a gripsack with some bread and fruit, unattended on a table. I snatch it but I’m more thinking “weapon.” Or a horse as I note riding gear and posts afar, but in the fiery commotion all those beasts must be at the shorelines.

Surprise yet not surprise at my immediate and unmolested freedom. Post haste we trot down the spiraling stone stalactica down a hilly-hill from the keep, as fast as my throbbing left leg will allow. I know I’m not long for travel so I hope to catch as much distance tween self and town as possible before finding some shelter to recuperate –

And then I see the Traod …

’Twas if I enter another netherworld or another damned dimension. Sounds of warfare dissolve into soft velvet as I stop and sway, entranced, at the sight before me. Animals … sheep and goats, and a stray mutt. When, down the wet-dry sands toward that deja-delighted inland river, the fisherman, returning, nets full and fat, sails puffed and men’s hands straining with oar against the swift current. Pulling the crafts up the sandbar, up to the yellow-grass foot paths, where the animals mull, where It stands.

Was it the Traod? Its left hand holds the banner, too far for fogged eyes to discern. Its right hand held chest high, points out over the bubbling and babbling waters, as It did when It stilled the ways so long ago and so far away.

I feel exposed, ashamed. I can not meet It now, not yet, not in this condition. I scan the closest horizon, I search my surroundings and pray you O gut pull me in the right direction. To the right, the uncrossable river … though certainly a more desirable path beyond. Indeed, strong, high walls of rock and graitte sheltered small glokun huts, interposed here and there within the cleft, and narrow spindizzy paths leading ever upward and ever farther away from the keep. Indeed I trett a man heading thisaways, garbed twinly to me in worn grey trousers and canvas of foods, and the whistling tune carries across the waters, hundreds of yards over the winds which toil ceaselessly to make the fishermen’s lives earned.

To my left lay the single-stoned path to where It still stayed, still transfixed over Its gathered audience, the grimy salt-stained calloused men and the lambs, and though I know the rightward crossing to be the safest for me, in my condition, I have but no choice but cross paths again with the Traod.

Beyond It the gentle pathway grows harsh and veinous, veering crazily but now in an uphill direction, at a greater degree of angleage. Towering pyramids of rock, insane formations that should not be, straddle the path, but I see through them to trees and fields, and lazy, civilized buildings, steepled and rooved and flowered with gardens. Perhaps that’s my destination. But then the insanity stalking me, the siege and the slaughter, crowds out thoughts of pastoral peace. Such is to be short-lived, without Traod.

I tear the bandage round my head and it falls to the ground. Flexing my aching hands, I decide it best to leave their clavings on, as well as those on my shoulder, chest, and leg.

Fool that I am! Wretched fool and wretched sinner! Blood stained hands and mind stained with dark and evil thoughts! Why can’t I remember? Why can I only see a piece here or a piece there? Why is that town down the road calling to me, achingly? Why do I know this man before me, why is he calling me to It?

Suddenly I realize I have no need for bandages. Or rather, I will not, after a piece.

One boot in front of the other. An arrow slices the air before me, or around me, or just past me; it whistles hypersonically and I feel the air suck out of me. I rise afoot, unscathed, and continue, one boot in front of the other.

It turns to me. The fishermen, the oldest first, turn to me, some masked of quizzical disbelief, others with placid lucidity. The animals cease their bleating, and I cease mine.

It turns to me, and I see recognition in Its eyes, followed by a softening compassion. Then, a metalled hand to my cheek, and I collapse into a ball of blackness.

Monday, September 27, 2010


A lot going on today …

Massive clean-up after the weekend of partying. The wife bought a 200-pound armoire that needs slight repainting and jockeying around the living room for correct positioning. Then, the furniture needs to be re-routed. Then, of course, it’s time to rotate the carpet, for after six years certain patches are beginning to wear under the constant traffic and abuse by toddlers and their leavin’s. Sometimes when we’re alone the carpet cries to me that it wants to go back home to Iran.

The kitchen is a disaster area and there’s nothing but junk food floating around (leftover pizza, cake, chips, soda, beer). The wife is coming down with a cold; I myself am achy and fatigued. God, I felt healthier when I was a drinker. It’s been raining nonstop here all day, and looks to continue for the next several.

Tuesday is Little One’s real birthday, so we need to get everything all ship-shape then for her nuclear family party. That’ll be explosive! (I’ve reminded myself of a quote from one of those long-ago Hollywood producers – Louis B. Mayer? – “Boys, don’t mess with the atom bomb – it’s dynamite!”) And then Friday is her school party over at Bounce U. Eighteen crazed six and seven year olds with cake and pizza flooding their veins. Oh, and the wife may not be able to make it due to a change in her business schedule.

I don’t like cursing, really I don’t, but if that happens, Holy S***! I’m drinking! Or at least swallowing those last oxycodon pills I got stashed somewhere –

Just kidding, of course.

Hey, I’m 110 pages into Gerald Posner’s Case Closed. Yes, it’s about the JFK thing 47 years ago. But Posner is convinced that LHO was the Lone Gunman. You know what? I generally believe so, too, and I’ll tell you why. Every Lone Gunman book I’ve read (three, once I’m done with this one) makes reasonable, clear, concise, dispassionate sense. Every conspiracy book that I’ve read always requires a leap of faith and sometimes a downright suspension of belief. When I read a conspiracy book it’s as if there’s a zebra-striped ref blowing a whistle and throwing up a yellow flag every couple of pages or so. But, truth be told, I like reading them because, well, I like suspending my belief.

OK – wasted enough time down here. I gotta get back upstairs. See you later. Tomorrow, no doubt. I think I may write a bit about my experience at Home Depot earlier today. Plus, I finished the Heinlein book, so I want to review that.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Let’s Build Cars After Lunch Break!

This video’s been making the rounds past few days, and I found it kinda interesting. In a sad, head-shaking kinda way. But in the spirit of full disclosure, I admit I did participate in similar behavior: one summer when I was but a kid at his first “real” job, and one summer two decades ago when I thought I was a rock-n-roller. But these guys … sheesh!

There’s also the whole political financial aspect of the exposé, which I think is a bit exaggerated, but reasonable nonetheless.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Colbert is Funny

… but I can’t quite tell who he’s mocking here – the Republicans, the Democrats, our elected officials of every stripe, conservatives in particular, Fox News hosts, me, you, poor migrant workers, himself …

Probably a little bit of everyone I just mentioned.

Still, though, it’s funny, particularly the looks on some of the stone-faced way-too-important faces glaring down from the stands at him. Hey, pals, you work for us. Never forget that.

Friday, September 24, 2010

King Solomon's Mines

Last summer I came across a three-book-in-one compendium of 19th-century adventure writer H. Rider Haggard’s “lost worlds” stories. I read She right off the bat and was pleasantly surprised with a fast, immensely captivating read. I know that sounds goofy, but it’s the truth. I just finished the second novel, King Solomon’s Mines, and I am of the same opinion: page-turning and enchanting.

Which is surprising, because though I am a science fiction buff, I never really was a “Lost World” buff. These types of novels throw a bunch of Victorian adventurers and/or scientists (usually the men are a composite of both) into a foreign country and to some fabled land never-before traversed by the White Man. Some devolve into mildly amusing travelogues, others into a generic dinosaur-and-caveman hunts. Whatever the case, they all have their genesis in the works of H. Rider Haggard. King Solomon’s Mines is the first Lost World novel, written in a couple of weeks on a dare.

It begins with a chance meeting: Sir Henry and his faithful friend Captain Good, on a quest to find the former’s lost brother, with Allan Quartermain, world-weary hunter and adventurer and possessor of a strange map. It’s soon determined that this map indeed seems to describe the very path taken by Sir Henry’s sibling two years prior. The map describes a northward journey through south central Africa, through an impassable desert some eighty leagues wide to an ancient road. The road leads through a unique mountain formation, and what lies beyond – perhaps the famed diamond mines of old King Solomon!

We’re led by the hand through some very tense scenes. The heat of thirst in the desert, and the growling of a shriveled stomach when there’s literally no thing around to eat, we vicariously experience with gritty realism. But we know our heroes won’t succumb to such a mundane demise – no, their 19th century wills simply won’t allow that. They push through, and encounter the Kukuanas – an African tribe that are to the Zulus what the Green Berets are to the Berkeley Student Union of Conscientious Objectors.

More tension ensues. The Kukuanas are led by a vicious tyrant, name of Twyla, with an ageless, gnarled witch, name of Gagoul, at his side. At the monthly full moon the witch hunts are held – and we participate, against our will, with Allan, Sir Henry, and Good. Gagoul’s “children” sniff out the Kukuanas and hapless victims are plucked out, seemingly at random, for instant death by spear and club.

But it is not a grim novel. It’s an optimistic one. There’s that relaxed, confident prose of the Victorian storyteller. The voice of a man who could do anything he set his mind to – and verily expected nothing less of himself. King Solomon’s Mines is wordy without being boring, humanly humorous, and downright optimistic.

Humorous, you say? Yes, very. Particularly in the character of Captain Good. Haggard is good enough a writer (pun intended) to not simply allow the Captain to be a comedic foil; our good man does become an unlikely candidate for romance late in the novel. (Though I have to say Good is better for a laugh than as a convincing romeo.) Upon first encountering the stern, dangerous Kukuanas, Quartermain convinces them that he and his compatriots are lords from the stars. The deciding factor is Captain Good: caught without his pants and with one side of his beard shaved off, and combined with his monocle and removable spare teeth, he has the same effect on the African warriors as C3PO did with the Ewoks. Poor Good is forced to spend the remainder of the novel with half a beard and pantless, for his “beautiful white legs” simply mesmerize the Kukuana warriors.

Thrown in with the tension and the comedic relief are some scenes I won’t soon forget. There’s the quick but gruesome death of a caravan boy by an enraged elephant, and the bone-crunching comeuppance to the witch Gagoul.

Though I don’t think such a novel can be written today, I don’t think it a racist novel. Some modernists may or may not have portrayed it as such; I haven’t bothered to confirm this but I can imagine it in my mind. I disagree. The Kukuanas are, ultimately, a noble race, despite the yoke of savagery foisted upon them. Rider describes them, I believe, with a benign accuracy that is acceptable to us “enlightened” 21st century readers.

I was surprised at how prolific Haggard was over a career that spanned something like forty years. Dozens and dozens of books, some sequels, most some permutation of the Lost World theme. The third and last book in my omnibus is Allan Quartermain, of which I have no idea what it’s about. I plan on reading it next summer. I give King Solomon’s Mines a B +; I liked it but I still liked She a little bit better. So I’m curious to see how this whole thing pans out. The H. Rider Haggard compendium goes back on the bookshelf.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

31 Attempts

I just read in a Victor David Hanson column at National Review today, here, that there have been 31 major terrorist operations against the United States foiled since 9/11.

9/11/01 was 3,300 days ago. So this figure averages to one terrorist operation every three-and-a-half months.

Let’s say we just foiled one on the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. That would mean the previous attempt was foiled around Memorial Day. And the one prior to that was averted on Valentine’s Day. The attack before that one was Halloween last year.

And so on, and so on, and so on.

I am reminded of a quote I read a long time ago from a member of another terrorist organization, the IRA. This man said something to the effect that they only have to be lucky once. The British government had to be lucky every single time.

That is the situation the American people find themselves in dealing with Islamic fundamentalist terror groups.

Are you satisfied with facing a terror plot every three-and-a-half months? Is this acceptable? Apparently it is to our leaders in Washington.

So be prepared for breaking news concerning the arrests of young, bearded Muslim males somewhere in the United States around Christmas time, 106.5 days hence. Assuming the current trend continues …

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Now from each van
The brazen instruments of death discharge
Horrible flames, and turbid streaming clouds
Of smoke sulphureous; intermixed with these
Large globous irons fly, of dreadful hiss,
Singeing the air, and from long distance bring
Surprising slaughter; on each side they fly
By chains connexed, and with destructive sweep
Behead whole troops at once; the hairy scalps
Are whirled aloof, while numerous trunks bestrow
Th’ ensanguined field; with latent mischief stored
Show’rs of grenadoes rain, by sudden burst
Disploding murd’rous bowels, fragments of steel,
And stones, and glass, and nitrous grain adust.
A thousand ways at once the shivered orbs
Fly diverse, working torment and foul rout
With deadly bruise, and gashes furrowed deep.
Of pain impatient, the high-prancing steeds
Disdain the curb, and, flinging to and fro,
Spurn their dismounted riders; they expire
Indignant, by unhostile wounds destroyed.
Thus through each army death in various shapes
Prevailed; here mangled limbs, here brains and gore
Lie clotted; lifeless some: with anguish these
Gnashing, and loud laments invoking aid,
Unpitied and unheard; the louder din
Of guns, and trumpets’ clang, and solemn sound
Of drums, o’ercame their groans.

From Blenhiem [War Poetry], 1705, by John Philips


Doesn’t this get your blood flowing – no pun intended? The imagery – the din – the fear and excitement and terror and horror of War, capital-w. May this be the closest you and I come to it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Resident Evil: Extinction


Okay. I watched Resident Evil: Extinction with my buddy last night and was pleasantly surprised. Kinda like a cross between The Road Warrior and Dawn of the Dead, with hefty heapings of the Weyland-Yutani Corporation sprinkled in. You know, that eeeevil company from the Alien franchise. Particularly during all the scenes of the creepy labs populated with the sterile evility of the scientists from the Alien: Resurrection movie.

So while there wasn’t anything on the flatscreen you didn’t see before, it was unique in the way it mixed all together. I enjoyed it. I went in expecting a gore fest, and it was – but not as bad as I thought it would be. The special effects were pretty decent but not nauseating. The plot was (almost) solid, the pacing well (no shaky cam), the dialogue (generally) believable. A corny line here and there, usually spoken by Milla, but that’s forgivable.

I had a problem with the baddie being a truly Eeeeeeevil scientist of a cartoonishly-exponentiated degree. I’d have rewritten the ending to have him get a most deserved and terribly ironic comeuppance, but the screenwriters have him morph into a ridiculous tentacle monster. I guess it’s to stay faithful to the video game that legions of teenage boys would be familiar with; I don’t know, I haven’t played a video game since Quake in 1997. Still, though, it moved, and even Tentacle Thing got a decent bowl of just desserts.

The best thing about the Resident Evil movies, of course, is Milla Jovovich. Ah, Milla! Sure she isn’t what you’d exactly call a thespian, but who ever looked better slaughtering zombies in a torn red dress? I think you stole my heart when I first saw you in The Fifth Element oh so many years ago. Now we need CGI to smooth out your face, but you’re still beautiful – all right, I’m going to stop here right now before embarrassing myself any further …

Grade: B+. What can I say? I liked it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Birthday Weekend

Just a short note today. My clock is all outta whack. Went to bed early Saturday, 10:30, woke up at 4 am. Napped Sunday from 10:30 to noon. Muscle-achy from working out for the first time in a few weeks, especially my flabby abs. Head-achy from eating really clean on Saturday and really dirty on Sunday. Why does eating right and exercising have to be so g.d. hard?

Overall, though, it was a good birthday weekend. Friday we all went out to Outhouse Steakback. We used to go there all the time when we was newlyweds, renting an apartment, and had money. Not so much lately. Plus, I like a good steak every once in a while. Was really thirsting for an ice-cold 20-ounce mug of brew. I mean, it was one of the few times I’ve had a real strong hankering for a beer in a long time. Mouth-watering, it was, just staring at the one the wife had. But I’ve been dry since my heart troubles, 19 months ago, and want to stay that way.

My parents gave me some birthday money, so I went online to my used book store hook up and ordered a half-dozen hard-to-find titles for a coupla bucks. Some were non-bloggable items, but there are a few that I can’t wait to dig into:

The Philosopher’s Stone by Colin Wilson. If it’s half-as-good as The Mind Parasites, which I read twice this past July, it’ll be worth it. Creepy philosophical goodness.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Medieval conspiracy theory. Read this book while down at Rutgers 20-plus years ago. Hooked me for about two solid weeks, to the detriment of my random and generalized studies.

The Year of the Cloud. Vaguely recall reading this as a youngling. Something about all the water on planet earth gelling up or something. I think. I guess.

The Illuminatus! Trilogy. Okay, avoided this famous ultra-everything-is-a-conspiracy trio of books for the longest time. But I’ve been craving weirdness lately. Must be a nutritional deficiency.

Oh, Mr. Mailman! Bring me a book …

My girls gave me a gift card for B&N. I might get some music. Been listening to a lot of Rush lately, so maybe I’ll pick up a pair of their older CDs. Or maybe some vintage 1950s SF flick on DVD, to watch with the Little One. Or maybe a Hitchcock movie – the wife and I love watching a Hitch movie during the Halloween season. Last year it was Strangers on a Train. I dunno. The spirit will have to move me on this.

Anyway, I’m off to get some shut-eye. Wish me luck.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Time Out of Joint

About five years ago I went on a Philip K. Dick kick. I read The Man in the High Castle, Ubik, an omnibus of short stories including “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” and “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?”, and one of his essays insisting that our current fixed time was AD 70 and the Roman Empire still existed in the shadows. I even read a biography of PKD – I Am Alive and You Are Dead.

My general opinion: a good writer with an easy-going everyman style, but what draws him into first-rate-itude is his fascination on the sometimes deceptive layers of reality and the meanings we place upon it.

Time Out of Joint has been staring balefully at me from the To-Read Shelf for over two years. I gave it the Old College Try six, maybe nine, months ago, but only got three chapters in. This time I decided to make it all the way through, and, surprise, I finished the whole darn thing in three days.

Did I like it? You bet.

The novel starts off pure Americana. It’s the fifties, a dozen years after the end of World War II. Ah, the fifties! When a man could support his family by working in a grocery store! When men and women smoked like immortal gods! When people spoke their minds without fear of repercussion and a man’s word was his bond. When you let a stranger into your home simply because he says his car broke down and he needs to use a phone.

We open with Vic Nielson and his family: his wife Margo, his son Sammy, and his brother-in-law Ragle, a Pacific War vet. They all live in some unnamed city I assumed to be San Francisco. Nosy but affable young neighbors Bill and June Black stop over frequently for dinner, cards or bowling. Vic is the aforementioned grocer; Margo raises Sammy; Bill works for the town water department; Junie tries to keep out of trouble.

Ragle has an odd occupation: he’s involved with some daily newspaper puzzle where you have to “Guess Where The Little Green Man Will Appear.” Though details are sketchy, apparently the newspaper gives cryptic clues which participants have to translate into numbers to discover where on the provided grid the little fella is hiding. He’s so successful at it he’s able to support himself with the winnings and has achieved a modicum of local fame.

But he’s dissatisfied. Something is gnawing at him, some desire to just run away and disappear. Not only that, but there are strange matters afoot. For one, an ice cream stand he’s at one day simply dematerializes. Now, was that a hallucination, or is it meaningful in some way? Later Ragle discovers a phone book with non-existent exchanges for non-existent towns. And not only Ragle – Vic seems to have memories of things that are not there. Kinda like déjà vu, but for physical things, not things you thought you did in a past life. Like the movie Signs, a child’s radio starts picking up strange bits of communication.

The mystery leisurely unwinds, picking up speed exponentially as the novel progresses. Then, suddenly, eighty percent in, it splits wide open, and we’re in a different world of sorts. Not to give too much away, but quite literally no one is who they are – some consciously, some unconsciously.

Perhaps the best way to describe the novel, a way I realized with about twenty pages left, is that it’s kind of a Truman Show meets Gravity’s Rainbow with a Dickian twist. I found the ultimate explanation of everything a little unsatisfying in certain respects (which I can’t say without giving the whole darn thing away), but suffice it to say it hinges on the word lunatic. The mystery aspect of Time Out of Joint was satisfying; it was one of those things where, looking back with hindsight, you suddenly understand everyone’s motivation, so weird behavior is naturally explained away.

While not Dick’s best work, I’d still give it a solid B, maybe a borderline B / B-minus. It’s a quick read, so that negates that “minus” in my mind. And remember, too, that a PKD book automatically gets a half-grade bump, so what we’re really talking about here is giving Time Out of Joint a B-plus.

Now get out there and start doubting your reality!

Saturday, September 18, 2010



Umbopa understood English, though he rarely spoke it.

“It is a far journey, Incubu,” he put in, and I translated his remark.

“Yes,” answered Sir Henry, “it is far. But there is no journey upon this earth that a man may not make if he sets his heart to it. There is nothing, Umbopa, that he cannot do, there are no mountains he may not climb, there are no deserts he cannot cross, save a mountain and a desert of which you are spared the knowledge, if love leads him, and he holds his life in his hand counting it as nothing, ready to keep it or to lose it as Providence may order.”

- King Solomon’s Mines, by H. Rider Haggard, chapter V.


(i) Umbopa is my name in Zulu.

(ii) Sir Henry is the greatest mentor I never had.

(iii) One of these statements is false, one is true, and the third unprovable.

Regularly scheduled programming to resume tomorrow.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Cutting Strings

I’m dealing with a new-found sadness lately. It has to do with the Little One, and with cutting strings.

Strings in this case is the physical location where I release my immediate parental control over her, and leave her to her own maturing decisions and the protection of another authority. In this case, the school.

For 182 times last year I walked her from my front door to the door going in to her kindergarten class. I stayed with her, rain or shine, until that door opened and she and her friends marched in to class. Now, it’s different.

We’re lucky to have her attend a very, very good public school. That’s not an oxymoron. The principal really knows his stuff. He’s dedicated to the children, to their education and their safety. He stresses this every time he comes in front of us parents. He has demonstrated this commitment often in his actions over the past year.

Two weeks ago I dropped Little One off in front of her first grade class room. The children line up and wait for the door to open, just like in kindergarten. But the principal came strolling up behind all us parents and said, “Beat it!” With a smile he assured us that the kids would be alright, and that after the next day, we were to drop them off and immediately leave.

Part of his job is training parents, too.

So the next week I walked Little One to the door, kissed her, turned around, waved, and walked away. That’s when the sadness began.

I think she may have been nervous that first time. For maybe about a minute. Then, she started asserting herself.

Beginning the past Monday, every day we part farther and farther away from that first grade door. Our normal walk to school is three blocks, then to a crossing guard, then fifty yards up the street, then a turn onto the school yard and a hundred yard walk to her door.

Monday I said goodbye just before that final turn. She waved, gripped her backpack straps, and bopped out of sight, never turning her head to me. Tuesday was the same.

Wednesday, we hugged and slapped five immediately after the crossing guard brought us across the busy intersection. Yesterday, I let her go right before reaching the crossing guard.

But that’s as far back as I’ll go.

At least until … fifth grade.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


© 1975, by Gary K. Wolf

I’m gonna drop any pretense of being an objective reviewer. I’m gonna let you know, right now at the outset, that I am an unabashed geekboy fan of this book, ever since I first read it thirty-plus years ago. I may even regress to a pre-adolescent boy for this post, laying in the grass in the summer sun with this book in my hands.

Killerbowl is my all-time favorite SF book as a kid!

Now, as an adult re-reading it for the first time in decades, I am happy to say it still holds up. Indeed, it offers valuable tips for any writer, and for me especially, as I am in the thick and thin of trying to get a novel and a bunch of short stories published.

As you may have guessed from the title – or that iconic (to me) front jacket drawing – it’s about a futuristic, twisted version of football.

Remember, this was published in 1975. This was the era of Rollerball. I recall reading the book by William Harrison, and was disappointed to realize that “Roller Ball Murder” was just one single short story of about a dozen in the collection. Later, I remember reading an anthology of short stories about futuristic sports, but forgot the title. In fact, the only story I remember was a life-size game of pinball where men rolled about inside the balls and vats of acid lay at the bottom of trapdoors. Futuristic pinball, yeah; it was the 70s.

If you have even a passing interest in both science fiction and football, you simply have to get this book. Go to one of those online used book sites and buy it.

[possible minor spoilers …]

The story takes place 35 years in the future, which, hey, just happens to be now. Things are different in Wolf’s world, though I understand how he could honestly have extrapolated them out from his vantage point in the early 70s. Gasoline vehicles are outlawed, so everyone bicycles. All kinds of drugs are legal, but tobacco is frowned upon. There’s been a major war in Brazil.

Some things are not different. Football is an entertainment – and moneymaking – juggernaut. Especially even more so for IBC, the International Broadcasting Company. But it’s not football as we know it. Whatever happened to the NFL – if there even was an NFL in this world – we don’t know; but now 80 percent of households tune in on a weekly basis to watch the SFL, the Street Football League. Big, big money.

Football is quite different from the game we see every Sunday. For starters, it’s not played on a field. It’s played in an abandoned section of the hosting city, two dozen square blocks or more. Nothing within the perimeter is out of bounds. Rushers regularly dart into empty stores and apartment buildings. It’s not uncommon to tackle a man on a window ledge.

The game lasts twenty-four hours, midnight to midnight. Quarters are five-and-a-half hours long with half-hour breaks between. Scores resemble more those found at the end of a basketball game, like 120-103, than an NFL score.

All the players function as both offense and defense. Oh, and all the players are armed. Mostly with short clubs and knives, but the occasional bolo or spear makes an appearance. There is also the hidden safety, who carries a rifle and is given one single bullet at the start of every game. The hidden safety often camps out in the upper floors of highrises. He is the only player who is allowed to be off-sides, so he can be anywhere. Hidden safeties are usually recruited from military special forces or death row.

Thus, an important quarterback stat is LPR, which stands for Lost Player Ratio.

Each team has a mediman, a uniformed medic, who technically isn’t part of the game. He can’t carry the ball or tackle an opponent. His job is to treat, much like a field medic in, say, Viet Nam, any player injured during play. The first thing the mediman does is red-flag the downed man; once a player has that red flag on him, he can’t be attacked further.

The novel takes place between Superbowls XX and XXI. As a side note, I’ve always wondered about two things: one, how did Wolf get permission to use the word “Superbowl” – surely that’s a word that’s trademarked to infinity; and two, what had happened in this world that something like two dozen Superbowls vanished in that 35-year gap?

Our hero is T.K. Mann, quarterback of the San Francisco Prospectors. A thirteen-year vet who also wears the number 13 on his jersey, he’s looking for revenge after taking an agonizing beating in XX by Harv Matision and the New England Minutemen. Odd, isn’t it, how on-the-mark Wolf is envisioning New England dominating football. Anyway, Matision is an upstart hothead, kinda like a psychotic cross between Terrell Owens and Clubber Lang. IBC doesn’t need to tinker with this hate-hate relationship for ratings, but as Matision is the future of the sport, they’re firmly in his camp.

But that’s not to say that IBC is immune from wanting to do more for profits. This is the 70s, so corporations had higher doses of Perceived Evil Quotient than they do now. (There are also two Senators featured in the story; the democrat, naturally, is the good senator while the republican is the eeevil one, in IBC’s pocket. But I nitpick …) They lobby for expanding the league from 32 to 64 teams. They want the hidden safety to have four bullets per game instead of one. But that’s not enough. They also want to put a ringer on each team, a player who has secretly had an electronic device implanted in his head to receive tips and instructions from the IBC booth to make the game spicier. And make the outcomes more favorable from a ratings and profits point of view.

Illegal and immoral, but the über-materialistic president of IBC is going full-force ahead. He even has someone murdered to keep these hidden ringers secret.

Mann and Matision are manipulated – on and off the field – for that inevitable rematch in Superbowl XXI. But Mann is tipped off to IBC’s nefarious plot by members of EBS, an organization devoted to Ending Blood Sports. At first dismissive, he realizes the terrible truth when something particularly awful happens to him at the hands of the network. Pretty soon Mann learns he is to be killed by Matision at the conclusion of the championship game.

How can you stay away from a book like this? I’m amazed it hasn’t been filmed, except for the possibility that it could just be a legitimately unfilmable story.

It’s a quick read at around 50,000 page-turning words. I recall my dad putting the book away in an evening way back when pre-teen me had the book home from the library. Anyway, Killerbowl is not just a unique, tight and tidy, gripping story. There are a couple of things about this book that are very enlightening from a technical point of view.

This was the first book I read written in the present tense. A surreal experience for young me. It’s a rare form of narrative technique; perhaps five percent of the books I read are in first-person. But it brings an immediacy, an over-arching sense of action to the plot, and it helps personalize the story. I’m surprised more literature isn’t written in this style.

Structurally, Killerbowl consists of 160 pages of two or three page vignettes or scenes, taking place throughout the year 2010. Every dozen or so pages, we’re submerged in the heat and action of Superbowl XXI, the game itself. So, if you imagine the novel consisting of scenes a to z, with a being Mann’s beating in XX and z being the climactic XXI, the novel can be diagrammed as

z1, a, b, c, z2, d, e, f, g, z3, h, i, z4, j, k, l, etc, etc.

That’s the type of chronology the book follows. Useful, because it serves to get you hooked on two levels: You gotta find out how XXI ends, and you gotta find out what happens between XX and XXI. One serves to fuel the other and vice versa. It’s that snake eating itself thing.

Each two or three page scene functions perfectly. You writers have long heard the rule to cut anything that does not serve to push the story forward or develop character. Well, each scene does one or the other. The sport is fully fleshed out in a number of varying ways: Mann talking up a female fan, quoted sections from Prospector’s coach Herb Carrera’s book on football, IBC memos, man-on-the-street interviews, even a report from a psychology journal on the “healthiness” of a nation hooked on Street Football. Other scenes develop Mann’s character – he drives a forbidden Porsche; he leases the farmland of his deceased parents from a hostile, oppressive government – and, to a lesser extent, Matision’s.

There’s a Superbowl XXI pseudo-appendix consisting of the rosters of the two Superbowl teams, an exposition on their strengths and weaknesses, and a street map of the game. I wish there was a final standings column. For some reason I always wanted to know the names of the other teams. While re-reading the book, I noted Wolf mentions eight:

San Francisco Prospectors
New England Minutemen
Chicago Hawks
Fort Worth Devils
Honolulu Sharks
Mobile Greys
Juneau Midnights
Seattle (name of team not given)

I give Killerbowl a rare A+, but, like I said at the beginning, I can’t be objective with this book. But I think I did as best I could.

For those out of the loop, Gary Wolf’s fourth book was a little work called Who Framed Roger Rabbit? A few years later it was made into that smash movie, and though I saw it back in the theaters way back then, I didn’t make the authorial connection until about ten years ago.

For those still interested, I reviewed Wolf’s The Resurrectionist, here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bad Spider vs. Helpful Spider

[courtesy of the Little One ...]

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


About a year ago I came across an old Ron Goulart book, The Hellhound Project, and immediately started it with much internal fanfare. As I blogged about here, I was kinda disappointed with it, especially since I fondly remember his novels when I worked my way through the Science Fiction shelves at my local library as a kid.

I found Hawkshaw in the used book section at B&N early this summer, and since I keep an open mind when it comes to my SF, I picked it up and threw it in the queue.

Verdict: I liked it; I really did.

However, about a hundred pages in, I found myself wrestling with how to review the book. Somehow a straight summary followed by my non-professional opinion did not seem adequate to what I felt needed conveyance. Then, on the exercise bike, Hawkshaw in hand, it came to me.

This is begging to be a movie. In an alternate universe, it was made into one sometime around 1973 or 74.

It’s visual, it’s fast-paced, it’s perfect for pioneering shaky-cam work during the surprisingly frequent action scenes. I also found myself reminded of that cinematic technique, first seen on the tube in early-80s cop dramas, where the camera follows the main characters through a crowded room, picking up snippets of conversation here and there then refocuses back on the heroes. As I read the book, all these visual cues jumbled about in my mind.

Hawkshaw is perfect fodder for a first-time director enamored with Luc Besson and Terry Gilliam, and who writes dialogue like David Mamet. If I could hop into that parallel universe, I fully expect to see a colorful, bizarre, overstimulated, perfectly-paced 89-minute flick, populated with wisecracking, pre-Tarantino Tarantino characters with a generous streak of Mel Brooks humor.

It starts off somewhat slow, I must admit, but from the halfway point to the end comes more and more genuine laughs. Example:

“Look up there.” The rental agent ignored Noah’s card, pointed upward.
“Your sign? Very handsome. Ronald Crosby, Car Rentals.”
“My name is Roald Cosby,” corrected the freckled man. “No n, no r. But that’s not the point …”

What a detail! I love it! It’s a little piece of ephemera that brings life to a character who’s only supposed to be alive for a page or two. Those two sentences convey more than a five-hundred word paragraph about poor Mr. Cosby, the living-breathing literary device.

Or how about this –

Rudy studied the plan of the ambush of Noah. “Say, Len. I only just noticed the little circle you have drawn here to represent me is twice as large as the circles for Ned or you. Is that one of your satirical jabs at my weight problem?”

Of course it isn’t, but the fact that hapless, girth-challenged, would-be tough guy Rudy brings it up is, well, funny. Funny that I laughed out loud.

The politics are petrified in the early-70s, but that’s okay. We’re in the futuristic late-90s. Everything’s in robotic overdrive. It’s a reporter-chasing-the-big-story story, only this one has werewolves, underground hippies, biological warfare, conservative revolutionaries led by the second coming of George Washington, an American Pope, the New Jersey mafia, cannibals, pornographers, Uncle Kidnapper the clown, mate swap conventioneers. And, of course, there’s always the sneaking suspicion that no one is who they seem to be, and there are a couple of really neat twists.

All in 149 pages. Can’t beat that!

So, I liked Hawkshaw and I didn’t like The Hellhound Project. Now to track down Spacehawk Inc, Crackpot, and Talent for the Invisible

Monday, September 13, 2010

Patch is Two!

Busy weekend, so I don’t have much blog posts pre-written on the horizon. Lots of ideas, though, which is always a good thing, I suppose.

September is birthday month over at clan LE. Patch, me, and the Little One, in that order. Sunday was Patch’s second birthday, and she thoroughly enjoyed it.


Weather kept us indoors, but that was fine since the second birthday party is traditionally are more laid-back and low-key affair than the first one. It did get crazy and loud, though, but everybody had a good time. Two cakes, great sandwiches, the Giants winning after deciding to play some football in the second half. I played “Tequila” on my acoustic guitar and a half-dozen little ones danced and bopped. All caught on video, ready if one of them makes it to the top twelve on American Idol season twenty-six.

While Sunday was all-Patch all-day, Saturday was the Little One’s. Soccer Day opening ceremonies at an ungodly 8 am in the morning. Legions of soccer moms and dads (which we are now, officially) garbed in requisite middle-class uniforms: sunglasses and styrofoam cups of coffee. I played a mental game to see which was more representative – Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. I think it ran something like 462 to 731. Legalized yuppie crack, I can say snobbily, being a non-coffee-drinker.

I came home, did bills and balanced the checkbook (yay!), then we all headed down the street for Little One’s first soccer game. It was a blow-out loss, 4-0, but she enjoyed herself, cheering heartily from the sidelines and even taking the ball up from her backfield to the opposing team’s goal before losing possession. Forgive the terminology, I, like her, still have no idea how soccer’s played. But it was fun. I don’t think she even remembers her team lost.

Tonight I’m going to see a playwright do a Q&A at a local library. Might be productive, should be entertaining.

I’ve also been reading like all crazy, usually from ten to midnight when the house is sleeping. I lined up my unread SF paperbacks on the shelf in order from shortest to lengthiest, and started reading the quickies first. I’ve read something like seven books for September so far. I have three reviews on deck, each partially written.

There’s also a hazy sketch of me talking to Socrates that I’m trying to work out to get on paper. These internal dialogues usually happen in the shower. Some people sing in the shower, I mentally run through Socratic dialogues. So look for that, it might be interesting if I can figure out how to make it not too embarrassingly dumb.

Hey – I have jury duty coming up! That should be a fun post. My wife served about three years ago. I’d like to do it, really I would, but really can’t, given our precarious economic situation. I’m torn what book I should bring to read – and hold on my lap if I’m questioned. The Bible? A Tom Clancy novel? Something by Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity? A UFO book? Something on the JFK assassination, like Jim Marrs’ book, which gives credence to every single conspiracy theory, no matter how fringe or outlandish? Any suggestions? I could use them.

All right. Back tomorrow, bright and early!

Sunday, September 12, 2010


A little less than a year ago I came across a twofer book by E. C. Tubb. Twofer means, in this case, that the book consists of two 150-page novels. Just flip the book over when you’re done, and read the second one. I thought it unique, something I’ve never come across before.

I read the first book, The Winds of Gath, last December. Here’s the review in case you’re interested. The author is a prolific man name of Tubb, who’s still alive well into his nineties and still writing. The book I bought is the first two episodes of Earl Dumarest’s quest to find the lost world of Earth in a populous, multi-planeted universe.

The only reason I’m reading the book is because my deceased father did, thirty-five years or so ago. Well, since the Dumarest saga has 34 novels (and counting), he was probably reading the seventh or eighth installment. Coming across this in a used book store last year, I had to pick it up to see what the deal was.

It is what it is. It’s solid SF entertainment. In my review of the first book, I noted it was like a good 22-minute episode of your favorite teevee show. It’s not going to improve you in any way. You won’t be on your deathbed bewailing the fact you hadn’t read more Dumarest novels. But it’s good, escapist science fiction. Derai took me four hours to read, and for those four hours, I forgot all my troubles.

Now, I liked Derai better than I liked The Winds of Gath. I didn’t grade that first book, but this one I’d give a solid B. It follows the same formula as the first one, but the details are a little different. All right, a lot. Whereas Gath was kind of Mad Max amidst palace machinations, Derai gave off a definite John Normanesque Gorian warrior stuck in a Danielle Steele romance.

Okay, I’m exaggerating, but the plot does hinge on romance. Derai is a young telepathic woman on the run; Dumarest is paid to bring her back home. And thus, like every book in this series, he gets involved in local planetary intrigue and backstabbing. There’s not one but two knifefights. Before long Dumarest is negotiating pangs of conscience as he trods dangerously among sinister men and agencies to save Derai.

Themes originating in the first book are continued, most importantly, the Cyclan empire, a hive-mind like group of Machiavellian Spocks who operate on a far-seeing ruthless logic quite different from ours. New in this book, very neat, are plants which provide the next-best-thing to immortality: a symbiotic relationship whereas you’re swallowed up in a pod, used for meat, but given in exchange the equivalent of a thousand years of pleasure. Also of note were nuclear-mutated beeswarms which prove thrillingly (and somewhat grossly) dangerous.

The first three-quarters were good and page-turning. The end lost a bit of steam, I thought, as suddenly we’re all off rocketing to another planet. But there’s a massive free-for-all fight at the end for redemption, of the type where there can only be a certain amount of winners. Then, the bad guy is unmasked, nefarious plots are brought to light, justice is done, the innocent victims are tenderly buried.

And Dumarest is left to continue his search for his lost homeworld, Earth.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 Related Thoughts

- Do you remember all the flags that decorated the houses, businesses, and government buildings for the couple of weeks after the attacks? On the block where I was living at the time, there must’ve been 500 of them, easily. It was an awesome and incredible demonstration. We tried to buy a flag, but every single store in our area which would have sold flags was sold out. So, the wife and I cut out an 8 x 12 inch American flag from a newspaper and taped it onto our living room window, which faced the street.

- Never forget: 2,977 Americans were killed by 19 Islamic Fundamentalist Terrorists nine years ago. They were not “lost.” They did not “perish.” They were civilians, and they were murdered. Sometimes I think our politicians have forgotten this, or do not have the courage to speak it. Most likely the latter.

- I fear we may have to experience another successful attack before we take the War on Islamic Fundamentalist Terror seriously. Oh wait – there have been. And dozens of plots broken up midstream. What will it take for our leaders realize what is ultimately at stake?

- The video of the cheering, gun-firing Palestinians rejoicing to the news that the World Trade Center was destroyed still makes my blood boil, even now, just thinking about it. Monsters.

- That mosque shouldn’t be built two blocks from Ground Zero. It’s a sensitivity issue, not one of religious freedom.

- If the backers get all their paperwork in order and proceed to break ground, protests should begin en masse, and God bless the construction companies who will refuse to partake in the project.

- The korans should not be burned by the kookie pastor in Florida.

- Bigot P. Z. Myers regularly desecrates the Eucharist on youtube. Yet there are no fatwas issued by the Vatican on this disgusting man. Nor are there violent protests or effigies burned. Just sayin’.

- Obama noted in his Friday press conference – well, he made sure to emphasize – that September 11 is also a Day of Service. There are two things I plan on doing today that will hopefully lead to this incompetent ideologue and his party from getting re-elected this November and in 2012. That will fulfill my duties for Day of Service.

- Did I hear correctly that the President had a teleprompter at yesterday’s rare press conference?

- Shame on New York, shame on the Presidency, and shame on us if we do not have towers built on that spot by the tenth anniversary of the attacks.

I blogged a bit about September 11, 2001, here.

Here is the Pope’s prayer at Ground Zero from two years ago.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Words I Hate VIII



Is it me, or are certain elements trying to normalize the slang word “sucks”?

There’s some dude belligerently shouting at me on the radio that my marketing “sucks.” Then there’s a suave smooth voice notifying me that the economy “sucks” right now, so I should get me a franchise business.

Gosh, I’m gonna sound like my grandparents now, but, please. There’s a time and a place for everything. We may have given up on television, but let’s keep the radio airwaves somewhat child-safe, if not the least in the words we use to sell our products.

You stay classy, San Diego …

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Birdman of Radon Cave

I must admit one thought dominated my mind after watching the Birdman movie a few days ago. What would I do if I was sentenced to spend the rest of my life in solitary confinement?

Unlike a lot of people I know, my wife especially, the thought does not scare me. It is not a version of my personal, private hell. My personal, private hell would be me condemned to a lifetime of cocktail party mingling where I was severely evaluated on every performance, perhaps to determine how much food or water or sleep I would get afterwards. Uck, I’m shuddering already.

The Birdman’s plight appeals to the inner monk in me, I suppose. The follow-up question is, what would I do with a whole life’s time in a ten-by-ten foot cell?

No doubt it would be something intellectual. I’m not well-known or regarded around these parts as hands-on. Even given 3,360 hours (seven months awake in solitary) I don’t think I’d be able to transform a wood crate into a birdcage. But that’s just me.

I often gripe in these electronic pages how I wish I had more time for this and that. How I’d like to re-read this, or study that. Well, this mental exercise puts you on the spot. What would you do with all that time?

How much time we talking about? You’re awake 16 hours a day (the 17th, say, is for exercise). Let’s subtract an hour a day for eating, washing, etc. That’s 15 hours a day, or 5,475 hours a year.

Remember my post on the Rule of 10,000? In solitary confinement, you’d master any given subject, on average, in about 22 months.

(Say, Lawrence was in the desert for 22 months. Coincidence?)

The Birdman worked with his little wingèd friends, I’m guestimating, about thirty years. That’s 164,250 hours, or almost 16 and a half 10,000-hour periods. No wonder he became the foremost authority on the planet concerning canaries.

Me, I guess from an actuarial standpoint I’ll be around for another forty-five years. 246,375 hours, or 24 and a half 10,000-hour periods.

What would I master?

Hmmmm. It would be tough. If you think about it, Birdman was really the anti-Hopper. In the time he took from finding little sparrowling to writing his Encyclopedia of Bird Diseases, I would probably read two thousand SF paperbacks and two thousand hardcover books covering a thousand various topics. That’s a real diffusion of focus, and that’s the curse of Hopperhood.

So, allow me a year – that’s 5,475 hours, remember – to overcome Hopperism.

After that, I’d consider this list …

1. Reconcile quantum physics with general relativity

2. Solve the Riemann hypothesis predicting the distribution of prime numbers

3. Master Aquinian philosophy and theology and apply it to today’s society

4. Completely map out the human consciousness a la Husserl and his phenomenology

5. Memorize the Catholic Bible verse-by-verse and understand it spiritually, metaphysically, historically, anthropologically, symbolically, and as literature

6. As a corollary to #5, master Latin, ancient Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic

7. Compose a dozen symphonies synthesizing the ideas and motifs of Sibelius, Dvorak, Brahms, and Wagner (good luck with that!) and striving beyond them

8. Study the art and science of English poetry – Shakespeare, Donne, Byron, Keats, Shelly, Tennyson, Browning, et al, and after at least a decade, try my own hand at it

But instead of all that, I’d probably just

1. Write a hundred science fiction novels. One of ’em has to be publishable!

Heck, after 246,000 hours of writing, one of ’em better be the next Moby Dick!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Birdman of Alcatraz

I watched the 1962 Burt Lancaster flick Birdman of Alcatraz the other day. Really enjoyed it; at least the first hour-and-forty-five-minutes, which should have been called Birdman of Leavenworth. When Burt gets to Alcatraz for the film’s final hour, he’s denied birds of any kind, and the film kinda meanders to a conclusion, eventually.

The Lancaster character, Robert Stroud, is a mean, single-minded S. O. B., incarcerated for murder. Denied a chance to see his beloved mother, he kills the guard responsible, his second murder. A reprieve from none other than Woodrow Wilson, obtained from the tireless drive of Stroud’s mom, spares him an appointment with the hangman. But he is to spend the remainder of his life in solitary confinement.

Eventually Stroud winds up in Leavenworth penitentiary. One night, during his solitary one-hour daily stroll out of his cell, he comes upon a new-born sparrow. An odd look crosses his face as he watches it for what seems an eternity. Finally, he takes it back to his cell and, in a touching but by no means corny scene, he nurses the frail creature to health. Before long he has a whole menagerie in his cramped quarters. He orders birdseed from the outside. He makes birdcages out of wooden crates with only his hands as tools – seven months to complete the first one.

But it doesn’t end there. After a plague kills his birds, he scours everything in his cell and starts over. When sickness again visits, he fights back, studying everything he can with encyclopedias and books from the prison library. Through painstaking trial and error, he develops a cure for this particular bird disease.

We follow this oddball story as Stroud publishes articles and journals, wins contests in bird enthusiast magazines, and becomes one of the foremost experts on all things canary in the world. Self-taught in avian anatomy, physiology, histology, and pathology, he eventually publishes a landmark book entitled Stroud’s Encyclopedia of Bird Diseases.

Oh, and over the course of these three decades, he manages to became a human being.

Not much of an authority on Burt Lancaster. Seen him in From Here to Eternity, The Professionals and The Killers, all of which I liked, and remember him as Doctor Moreau from that awful movie in the 70s. There was always something hollow or muted about him as an actor, in my admittedly purely recreational study of the subject. I can’t see him legitimately letting go if a role called for it. But here, in this role, I think he was dead perfect. Very, very convincing portraying an unlikable man who becomes somewhat admirable in what he was able to accomplish and do with a life initially thrown away.

Like Lawrence of Arabia, another movie based on a book, Birdman highly idealizes its subject almost to the point of pure fantasy. While Stroud did do the things he’s depicted of doing with birds, not so with his fellow man and his own self-actualization. Most likely he was not the stoic and tireless fighter for justice, first manifested in his care for helpless birds, later for his attempts to reform the penal system while at Alcatraz. There is legitimate criticism that Stroud the real man was a nasty predatory piece of work who never quite completed the character arc to noble soul, let alone a normally-functioning one. He was never allowed to see the movie of his life and died the day before the John F. Kennedy assassination.

But that would be a tale not worth bringing to the big screen. As it is, I don’t mind my biopics transfused with a little inspiration. Birdman of Alcatraz is a good movie, in that respect, and I recommend at least a once-see.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The High Crusade

© 1960 by Poul Anderson

While it has the feel of a short story extended way too long, The High Crusade actually boasts a unique idea: the meeting of the medieval and futuristic worlds. Michael Flynn did it in his superbly moving Eifelheim; in that work the aliens come down to feudal Germany. Here, Poul Anderson literally takes a town in England gearing up for the Crusades and sends it light-years across the galaxy to another planet.

Not quite knowing what to expect, I found myself somewhat in a huff over the treatment of my beloved medievals within the first couple of pages. Without exception they were depicted as bumbling, savage oafs blinded by superstitious devotions to a foolhardy religion. Try getting through the first couple chapters of the Summa Theologiae, Mr. Poul Anderson, my indignant ego grumpily growled.

Then, I got it.

It’s a comedy. And a kind-hearted one at that. One that loves its cast of oafs.

A spaceship lands just outside of Ansby, England, a town swept up with Crusade fever. These aliens are the conquerin’ kind, and it turns out that’s unfortunate for them – they’re no match for Sir Roger and his 13th-century war machine. Before we know it, these “ignorant” medieval warriors have figured out the ship’s controls and weaponry and are in the process of taking over half the galaxy.

There are lots of little SF flourishes, little details here and there, that come as second nature to a master as Anderson. My favorite was an alien race called the Pr?*tans – the ? stands for a whistle and the * for a grunt. Try saying that out loud. Further,

The Pr?*tan was in a box which maintained the heat and poisonous air he needed, and talked through a loud-speaker with an accent worse than my own. I never even tried to know his personal name or rank, for these involved concepts more subtle to the human mind than the books of Maimonides. I thought of him as Tertiary Eggmaster of the Northwest Hive, and privately I named him Ethelbert. … Ethelbert’s tentacled shape, dimly seen through glass, labored with formal courtesies …

There’s a short prologue and epilogue; the novel takes the form of a written document read by an unidentified member of a spacefaring race. Who these people are, revealed in the final paragraphs, is a nice twist which I didn’t see coming. I had guessed wrong.

The High Crusade is a pleasant read, a page-turner; perhaps better suited for young adults though older ones can enjoy the humor and fast-pace of the novel.

I grade it an easy B+.

Monday, September 6, 2010

On Air Request


Hey Hopper, let’s hear some of that hot funky blues guitar!

- Hercules M., Anytown, USA

Dear Hercules,

Sorry! Blogger does not support uploaded .wav files. Perhaps later in the week I can find time to do a quick recording now that I have video capabilities on my PC.

Stay posted!

LE, a.k.a.. the Recovering Hopper


Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Almost a hundred years ago an Englishman spent twenty-two months in the desert. He commandeered a simple mission given to him by his masters, united dozens of bickering native tribes, defeated a well-armed and well-positioned enemy force, survived intense and humiliating torture, severely disciplined his body, grew overtly egotistical and, perhaps, megalomaniacal, became famous throughout the West, returned to his homeland a stranger in a strange land, wrote a book, and was killed in a motorcycle accident.

The book Thomas Edward Lawrence wrote is called The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and describes his efforts in Arabia during the First World War.

In 1917, England thought it would be in her wartime interest to align and promote an Arab uprising in the Middle East against the German-allied Turkish empire. Lawrence was one of a handful of British soldiers working in the Arab Intelligence division at Cairo tasked with making contact with potential leaders of such a revolt across the Red Sea.

Ostensibly, the revolt was led by King Hussein; however, the king spent most of the war holed up in Mecca and left the fighting to his four children: Ali, Abdullah, Feisal, and Zeid. Eventually Lawrence zeroed in on Feisal, determining him to be the supremely important physical presence necessary for the Revolt. Seven Pillars details their efforts defeating the Turkish army from Mecca and Medina up the coast of Arabia, taking the strategic port of Akaba, liberating the Holy Land, and, finally, conquering Damascus, a city which had spent the last four hundred years under Turkish rule.

On a continuum with strict objective truthfulness on one side and fanciful, self-serving subjectivity on the other, Seven Pillars lies somewhere in the muddled middle. Precisely where is highly debatable and the subject of many a book on Lawrence’s life. As a non-partisan non-specialist in the man and his times, I don’t feel cheated or intellectually comprised placing it in the exact center of this continuum. I could tell when he’s boasting, I think, but I also believe he tells the uncomfortable truth at certain times when it might serve him best to gloss it over.

Seven Pillars is, by my unofficial calculation:

- 5 percent groundbreaking theory in guerilla warfare
- 5 percent Lawrence’s ascetical disciplines
- 10 percent World War I Arabian politics
- 10 percent Bedouin anthropology
- 70 percent camel-jumping from one watering hole to the next and all the minutiae that such traveling entails

It was a difficult read, for a couple of superficial reasons. Specifically:

There’s just too many names: You may know Feisal, King Hussein, Auda, Daud and Farraj from the movie. But there are at least three Abdullas, a handful of Alis, a Nasir, Nasib, Nesib, Zeid, Zaal, Nuri, Maulaud, Hamid, the nefarious Abd el Kader, a bunch of Pashas, a Sharraf, a Sherif, Eshref, a few Mohammeds, a Hamza, Fauzan, Gasim, Rahail, Aziz, Dakhil, Mirzuk, Trad, Khalid, ad infinitum.

There’s a whole group of Englishmen to keep track of, too: Allenby, Clayton, Murray, Vickery, Lewis, Stokes, Rolls, Bols, Dawnay, Wood, Joyce, Campbell, Bartholomew, Young, Wilson, plus about fifty in the Appendix who I don’t even think make an obligatory cameo in the text.

Then there are the numerous tribes, each with their own prejudices and neuroses: the Beni Sakhr, Beni Hassan, Serahin, Howeitat, Harith, the Abu Tayi, the Druses, the Zaagi … just to name the ones I consciously remembered at the book’s conclusion.

Too many towns: You all know Jerusalem, Damascus, Medina, and Mecca. You may be aware of Beersheba, Jericho, Amman, Akaba, and, maybe, Deraa. After completing this book, you’ll be in possession of (for at least a hour or two) the locations, populations, and politics of: Rabegh, Jidda, Yenbo, Wejh, Mudawara, Rumm, Semna, Maan, Faraifra, Shobek, Guweira, Aba el Lissan, Jurf, Muaggar, Tafas, Kiswe, Azrak, Amruh, and Zerga, and about twenty or thirty other locales I’ve already forgotten.

To make it all much more fun Lawrence never subscribes to a consistency in spelling (claiming that this is fair, since the Arabic language has only three or four vowels, and he wants to stress dialect). I see his point, but I was more than a little frustrated, and often had to thumb back to previously-read chapters to see if he was talking about who or what I thought he was.

My suggestion: Keep the variations in spelling throughout the text, but include a massive, Tolkien-ish glossary of people, places, and things in the back of future editions of the book. Petty problems solved!

But aside from that, is the book worth reading?



There are, perhaps, a half-dozen scenes which will stick with me for the rest of my life. The book is, after all, a book about war, and war often is, at its worst, hell on earth. Some of the descriptions of desolation and destruction, and the acts of desperate men, are truly horrifying. I pray that neither you nor me nor our children will ever have to face such situations.

For example, according to Lawrence, the Turks set fire to captured Arab wounded who could not move on their own. Why? Why the extreme barbarity? I don’t know – and I don’t think Lawrence answers it, but he does tell us that, in mercy, the Arabs would shoot their own to spare them this torture at the hands of their enemy. One of the truly wrenching scenes occurs when it falls to Lawrence to dispatch a certain wounded Arab.

Seven Pillars does indeed transport you into an entirely different world, and I imagine some readers might not mind all the strange and evocative names and places proliferate in the book. Would that I had the time and energy, a second reading of this work could easily be better than the first go-through. In fact, now that I’m thinking of it, one should really only approach Lawrence’s book with the intention of two or three readings.

Sometime after finishing the book, I came across a suggestion that, possibly, it might be viewed as something greater than a memoir of a long-ago forgotten war. Might it be viewed as a philosophical novel, a cousin to Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra? Intriguing, very intriguing. I’m not sure I can agree wholeheartedly, but a second reading with a mind seeking the abstract as opposed to the grim desert realities, might yield a different conclusion.

But the best reason to read through these pages is Lawrence himself. A fascinating man, he who is put on display for us. How much is romanticized and idealized, and how much is dirty and gutter is, as I mentioned earlier, up for debate. I think Lawrence would see no problem at all mixing the romantic with the filthy; in his arguably twisted ascetical personality the two might be inextricably intertwined. I think that may be a point a lot of biographers and debunkers may miss.

It is undeniable, though, that the man rose from humble beginnings, followed his own star, and allowed himself be used by Fate, by powers that normally never even deign to notice our little ant selves as we live out our little ant lives. Lawrence demanded notice, demanded more than pawnhood on a chessboard; he wanted to be a piece, a piece which moved independent of the will of the chess master. Am I making any sense here?

Perhaps this little bit of silliness will make it clear. With a hundred men like Lawrence, I – even I – could conquer the globe. I believe that with every bit of my being. After reading The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, I wonder if you won’t, too.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

On the Short Horizon

Hi. Very busy today – and the rest of the weekend. Only have about an hour at the PC today. Already did the family finances, the errands with the little ones, the lunch fiesta. So now a few moments to update my legions of followers. And by legions, I mean the dozen or so who stop by here on a daily basis.

Carnival tonight. Down the Jersey shore. Obviously, more for my daughters than me. They’ve been going on rides now for four years; it’s kinda a rite of passage for us for the close of summer. Last year I went on the ferris wheel with Little One and nearly had a panic attack. Weird. I used to go on all the rides as a kid, up until my thirties.

My mother is taking my wife and Little One to Broadway on Sunday to see Mary Poppins. I’ll be watching Patch for about six or seven hours. During her nap, I got a bunch of writing to do and work on my website.

I have two book reviews coming up: Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence, and The High Crusade by Poul Anderson. Both very, very different books, but both good reads, in their own way.

Excited to begin Derai by E. C. Tubb. It’s a book that hearkens back to the reads of my youth, sort of. Real, authentic, hairy chest late-Sixties-early-Seventies SF.

On Monday we’re taking Little One to the park down the street – it’s time to take the training wheels off the bicycle! Just before her sixth birthday. Should be exciting. We’re making sure she wears a long-sleeve shirt, jeans, and her helmet, though. Should also be lots of tears and inner ego conflict.

I’m also getting really fat, and my body is starting to shift in weird ways. I caught a glimpse of myself in a full-length mirror at a store earlier today, and I didn’t like what I saw. So I gotta revamp my diet and get consistent with the exercise bike. The sixty-thousand dollar question is: How? And by that, I mean: I know what to do, but I just don’t do it. At least on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour basis.

Fit Church, laundry, grocery shopping, and a barbecue or two in there, and you have my Labor Day weekend.

Enjoy yours!

Friday, September 3, 2010

More Milestones


Goodbye, Summer 2010!

Hello, First Grade!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Book of Skulls

© 1972 by Robert Silverberg

An intriguing premise; one at, first glance, seems more horror than science fiction. Since I’m a moderate fan of Silverberg’s, having read about a half-dozen selections from his prolific output, I decided this was too good to pass up.

I recommend The Book of Skulls, with reservations.

First, the set-up: Immortality! The lure of immortality. Who would not want to skip that inconvenient, inevitable crossroads of fear and unknown called Death? Who feels one-hundred percent confident he has the courage to face it? Or half that?

But how about this intellectual teaser – what would you do if you were immortal? What would you do, see, study, experience, master, if you would live forever without having to taste death? One character actually takes the plunge, cerebrally, detailng timelines to each and every thing he’d do, see, study, experience, and master. Perhaps I might, too, in a future post.

Now, the story: A college kid finds an old and forgotten manuscript in the university library. He translates it, revealing a shadowy monastery in the Arizonan desert that offers the gift of immortality. But, as always, there’s a catch. Supplicants must come in groups of four. Eternal life will be granted to two, while immediate death is the penalty (reward?) for the others. Via backstory exposition, a little bit of detective work is done, and the monastery is located.

We follow our collegiate philologist and his three dorm mates on their cross-country trip to Arizona over spring break. Actually, we follow four stereotypes: the wealthy WASP, the corn-fed Nebraskan, the New York Jew, and the Boston Catholic, who, natch, happens to be a flaming homosexual. The cardboard cut-out stereotyping, coupled with dialogue and imagery straight out of that most navel-gazed and overly-self-inflated decade known as the Sixties, initially turned me off. But since the book was relatively short and direct, I stuck with it.

Silverberg does something different, though. Each chapter (there are forty-two of them) is told from the viewpoint of a different character. By rotating the narrative point of view between our four protagonists, we get to know and understand them deep down, so they grow past their initial pigeon-holed personae. Not all characters are likeable, nor did I like the ones I think I was supposed to like. But I liked the literary device, and I think it worked for the story.

From the very first page burning questions sprung up in my mind. First, does the “monastery” actually exist, and do the “monks” offer immortality, or is it some sort of trap? Second, how is this immortality earned, attained or bestowed? Mystically, scientifically, or fantastically? Third, if eternal life is offered, who of the four buddies lives and who dies? Fourth, does something like a “monkey’s paw” – a terrible and ironic fate – befall the two chosen ones?

The desire to see these questions answered, plus the short chapters of shifting point-of-views, plus the simple, linear direction of the novel, made it a quick and fun read. I put the whole thing away in about four hours, including a half-hour at the town pool and a half-hour at my daughter’s friend’s birthday party.

The major downside to the novel is, well, the constant obsession with sex. Yes, it was written during that false and destructive period of “free” love, and yes the protagonists are all horny college kids. But every page? And with one character gay, and another – of course – a latent homosexual, there’s lots and lots of the Love Which Won’t Shut Up. The late-sixties-isms were abundant: LBJ, Nixon, and Viet Nam all got honorable mentions. And there’s lots of drug use, couched in all those dated hippie terms.

All things considered, I’d grade The Book of Skulls a solid B. Definitely worth a read, because its strong points modestly outweigh its weaknesses.


I got to thinking what Silverberg books I’ve read over the years. He’s been around for nearly half-a-century, and may still even be writing. I read him as a kid, as a teen, and in my twenties and thirties. So here’s a quick list, with off-the-top-o’-my-head grades:

Conquerors from the Darkness – A+ . One of the all-time favorites from my youth.

Lord Valentine’s Castle – B

The Face of the Waters – A-

Hot Sky at Midnight – C

A Time of Changes – A . Unique story, unique alien culture: individuality is squashed to the point where it’s even taboo to say the word “I”. A little difficult because it demands the reader’s full attention, but it’s worth it.

The New Springtime – B+

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mob Dentist


“Would we have ever met if I became a dentist?”

“Probably not.”

“Well, I guess it’s a good thing I’m scared of needles.”

“Knowing your luck, you’d chip some lawyer’s tooth and get sued for $50 million.”

“It’d wreck me.”

“Your practice would be a subsidiary of Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe.”

“Forget that. I’d have to become a mob dentist.”

“A mob dentist?”


“These things exist?”

“Yeah. Mob dentist. Like that really, really bad David Duchovny movie.”

“David Duchovny played a mob dentist in a movie?”

“No. He was a mob doctor. He was a regular doctor, a surgeon I think. Got involved with drugs, lost his license. So now he treats mobsters when they get shot and stuff.”

“So …”

“So I’d be forced to treat gangsters. You know, when Big Sal gets a toothache, or Tony Guns needs a root canal.”

“Because Big Sal and Tony Guns wouldn’t want the police getting wind of their dental treatments.”

“Well …”

“You just thought that since there are mob lawyers and mob doctors that there’d be mob dentists.”

“Wait – somebody’s gotta put braces on Carmine Jr’s teeth!”

“That’s why there are mob accountants.”

“Mob accountants moonlight in under-the-table orthodontics?”

“No. Mob accountants help Big Sal and Tony Guns get their W2s and all their payroll stubs from legitimate businesses the mob muscles in on and then draw what appear to be legitimate salaries to pay legitimate dentists.”

“So, there are mob doctors and mob accountants, but no mob dentists.”

“Fraid not.”

“Damn. I guess I’d have to scrape gums with Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe sticking their hands in my pockets every time I bill an insurance company.”

“Fraid so.”

“Hmmm. Good thing I’m scared of needles.”