Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April is in the Bag

As April prepares to spend eternity in the record books …

Hello Spring!

Let’s have a month of sunny, humidity-free, 70 degree weather!

All month long!

(Me and the girls wanna read some books out on the deck …)


At the risk of offending any past, present, or future readers (which I hope will not take offense!), I felt it important to firmly state my core beliefs in a short little post. Partly to get things straight between my own ears, and partly to make a public statement.


First and foremost, I believe in the teachings of the Catholic Church.

This took me some time. Twenty-five years, in fact, before I had my first “conversion,” and it’s been slowly solidifying over the past two decades since. My three-week hospitalization in 2009 did for my faith what Guthian inflation did for the early universe, to throw out a physics reference and prove I don’t hate Science. I am living proof there are no atheists (or agnostics) in foxholes.

I feel it prudential to mention here a well-quoted remark by Fulton Sheen: “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

Second, and this flows directly from the first, evil cannot be done that good may come of it.

Thus, for me, abortion is wrong. Torture, no matter what euphemism it goes by, is wrong. The death penalty is wrong. Gay “marriage” is wrong. War that does not meet “just war” criteria (you can look it up easily) is wrong. We cannot do evil that good may arise. The ends do not justify the means.

This tends to leave me without a political party. However, though I will never vote for a Democrat, I will vote for a Republican, conditionally.

Third, aside from the Catholic Church, there is no “truth” out there. I’m thinking here about our daily non-spiritual lives. Specifically, every outlet you get your information from comes at you from a slant. There are two points here. A) Every information outlet has an ideological outlook that wants to get you all hopped up hoppin’ mad because B) every one of these outlets wants to make a buck. That’s it. From your children’s college to Fox News to talk radio to the New York Times. That’s it. Tune it out.

Fourth, Life is a puzzle or a riddle to be solved. How theologically sound this is, I don’t know. It’s a belief I’ve adopted years ago and just hold to be true. Subjective, yes, but something that feels right to me. Perhaps it dates back to my pre-adolescence, when I would read with pounding pulse of Newton and Einstein and Bohr solving the mysteries of the universe, detailed in my beloved physics book. It certainly contributes a great deal to my everyday frustration. I’ve tried changing this core metaphor, but I always fall back into it, like a comfortable pair of slippers.

Fifth, the most pleasurable and productive pastime one can do by oneself is … reading! I can experience life way, way back in the past or centuries into the future. I can experience war in all its terror. I can travel to other continents and cultures, other worlds. I can become intimate with a historical figure and learn every detail or his or her life. I can understand – in theory – machines without having to turn a wrench and contemplate the coolness of higher math without deforming an eraser. Well, sort of. You get the drift. But the best part of it is, when I start reading words sentences paragraphs chapters, all the troubles of the little riddle of my life … dissipate.

Sixth, the greatest book ever written – the Bible aside, of course (see Belief #1) – is Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. That’s above debate. What the third greatest book may be … well, that’s anyone’s guess and I suppose there’d be at least a million answers to that question. Though I’d be willing to venture a half-dozen or so.

Seventh, I will never ever be able to decide, once and for all time, via some sort of objective criterion, who is a better guitarist: Jimmy Page or Jimi Hendrix.

There. My core beliefs.


Monday, April 29, 2013

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead

Is what he said, and then he said it again – actually, several times – for emphasis:

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

He looked like Clay Shaw as portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones in Oliver Stone’s biopic, JFK. Hard to pin down an age to him; a round sixty seems to fit, though he carried himself like an ex-athlete, still muscled beneath his suit. An air of confidence sat upon his shoulders, and he spoke at the volume of one who is well accustomed to it. A quarter of a million cigarettes had passed those vocal cords, and his bottomless Texas twang could sand the paint off my house.

The bride had asked him what time his flight was the next morning. Eight a.m., he replied, swinging that perpetually-filled glass of red wine around in the air. She sympathized that maybe he could get some sleep on the plane.

“I’ll sleep when I’d dead,” he exclaimed.

“I ain’t got time for people who tell me they ain’t got time,” he boomed, catching both the eye of me and my wife, next on line. “I say to people, what are you doing between one a.m. and two a.m. Sleeping! they’ll say. Well, I say, I ain’t got time for that. I’ll sleep when I’m dead!”

“So, what do you have to show for it,” the bride asked, half-expecting a rags-to-riches millionaire success story. After all, there were quite a few successful men and women at the wedding. “What are you doing now?”

He laugh-coughed. “Well, not much at the moment. Oh, I did this and that, here and there. I been with Neil Young for a little bit – ”

Neil Young! That caught my attention, but he left no opening for verbal exchange.

“Then I moved on, did a little bit more of one thing, then another – but I’ll sleep when I’m dead!”

The children were antsy and the party was wrapping up. The wife and I interjected, said our goodbyes to the bride, followed the rest of the guests out the door of the winery.

“He sounds like he’s been smoking a pack a day since he was a baby,” I said to my wife later that night.

“No wonder he can’t sleep,” she said.

Sunday, April 28, 2013


Well …

1,196 miles driven

21 hours on the road

$127.45 spent on gasoline

$129.10 spent on food

42 pages read.

But especially noteworthy …

Drank my first bottle of bluberry beer:

Fell in love with an excellent blend of three reds:

And walked my sister down the aisle for her wedding, here:

All in all, a great, whirlwind 72 hours.

Need today to rest, ’cuz I got a lot of work to do this week at the job.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Off the Net

Hi. The family and I will be traveling down to North Carolina today for a friend’s wedding tomorrow. Then back on the road heading north Saturday.

Needless to say, (but I’ll say it anyway), Hopper won’t have any Internet access. Though as always, he will be mentally chewing on ideas and reading from a handful of books. An update of any unusual or extraordinary observations on Sunday, when new posting(s) will commence.

Drive safely!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Long Warpath

© 1981 by Philip Jose Farmer

Bottom line: yer average PJF tale – fast, action-packed, creative if grounded.

Verdict: I liked it. Nothing earthshattering, but I couldn’t put it down. Finished it in three hours.

Fade from black: the spinning earth; when we come to the southwestern United States, telescope downward. As we do, we see a landscape riddled and blackened from nuclear war. Then, the words “Centuries Later …”

Fade in upon our hero horseback on the trail. A young kid, name of Benoni, stars in his eyes and a whistle on his lips. Starstruck and in love, though another has his eye on her, too. Joel. The two scuffle, amusing the elders on the drive, and justice is meted out quite strictly.

Benoni and Joel are youths of the people of Fiinicks, in the land of Eyzonuh. They’re “unblooded” – never killed a man – and soon they’re set upon as they sleep, blindfolded, and, with a dozen other young men, are whisked out into the desert, naked, weaponless, to go on their first warpath. The object is to return with a scalp. Some do, many don’t. Many never return.

And thus, twenty pages in, the adventure starts.

[minor spoilers]

From years of experience and preparation, Benoni is able to live off the land. He fashions a tool, a weapon. He kills small game. Clothes himself. Strengthens himself. Comes upon some Navaho, gets ready to strike for his first scalp after a day of tracking them, when –

Joel is bound and tied, captive among Benoni’s prey!

What to do, what to do.

Needless to say, as our hero does the right thing – and is promptly betrayed by the ungrateful Joel.

Then the long warpath really begins.

We follow Benoni, left for dead, slowly regains health and vitality. He sets about ruthlessly to avenge himself upon his nemesis. He heads westward (following a secret mission sub-plot he’s been given) … crosses the Msibi, the Great River … befriends a black man from a different people … and encounters the Kaywo, a Roman-ish culture set squat in the center of what was once the eastern United States. The great nation is at war with Skego, and has its eye on the west …

Now Farmer really kicks it in to overdrive. Benoni and his friend enlist as mercenaries in the great army of Kaywo – and immediately encounter Joel again! Through a series of fortunate and unfortunate events both deus ex machina and not so much so, Benoni earns his way up the ladder of power in Kaywo, eventually catching the eye of the beautiful, intelligent, and dangerous queen. A ship from the stars, buried under centuries of dirt, is found, and the rush of armies is on to be the first to gain its treasures (hence the title The Cache of the anthology). Benoni negotiates the battlefield and the politics to please the queen, save his people, deliver a can of comeuppance to Joel, and, make his way back home as, perhaps, the greatest champion of the Long Warpath.

Grade: B+

A side observation: I loved how fragments of our society leaked forward post-apocalyptic into this world. Quite obviously in the place titles (Fiinicks = Phoenix, Eyzonuh = Arizona, Msibi = Mississippi, plus quite a few others). The Lost Books and the Found Books – scripture of some sort, though never too deeply elaborated upon – interested me even more so than Benoni. And the ships from the stars, though piloted by large, hairy creatures, made me wonder whether the nuclear apocalypse wasn’t some sort of alien invasion gone wrong instead of man flexing his self-destructive muscle. Oh well …

Monday, April 22, 2013

Gun to My Head

Let’s face it, a lot of literature sucks. And of that big set of suckage, there’s a subset labeled: Highly Respected Literature. You know, stuff “they” make you read in high school and college. Stuff “they” tell you is Worthy Truth and Beauty.

But it’s still a subset of suckage.

Wanna have some fun with some examples?


How much money would I have to be paid to re-read the following:

(Yes, unfortunately, I was forced to read them a first time.)

1. The Mummy by Anne Rice


Not that bad a read, just tiresome, but I had to see how it ended.

2. Walden by Henry David Thoreau


Ach! Seethes with self-righteous smugness! Blah! Blech!

Besides, I’d survive about 2.2 hours out in a cabin in the woods by myself.

3. Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger


Angst! Angsty-angst! Angst to the teen-aged-n-th degree!

This book did little to alleviate my sense of isolation as a kid. It did a lot to turn me off from literature, though.

4. Beloved by Toni Morrison

$1,000,000.00 !!!

Not kidding! See here if you absolutely, positively must.

I’d go as low as $500,000.00, but you’d probably have to put a gun to my head at the same time.

But in actuality I can’t complain, and I’m not. Four books out of something like eight hundred means there have been 796 pleasurable reads. That’s a .995 winning percentage. I’ll take it, even if you throw the occasional college lit biscuit.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

Off to the library for four hours of peace and quiet – reward for watching the girls the majority of the week.

My goal is to start work on my third novel. I have four story ideas, though none are outlined. Need to choose one, and start the process. Might have to resort to eenie-meenie-minie-moe.

During breaks I intend to thumb through one of these books, too.

Tonight it’s my twelfth wedding anniversary. Where does the time go? I’m bringing home a steak; I guess we’ll be officially celebrating next week, details of which I’ll post later on.

Oh, and one last point: played Monopoly with Little One, and man did she go and Trump me, all the way into bankruptcy.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Nom de Guerre

I’ve discovered a new nom de guerre! More than a nickname, more than an alias! A new identity! Batman to Bruce Wayne, Superman to Clark Kent, Spidey to Peter Parker, Locutus to Jean-Luc Picard. Minus the whole pure amoral evil on that last one, of course.

What is this name?

Guy Dangerous.

Truth be told, it’s one of the characters in one of my daughter’s iPad games. That’s about all I know, except when I heard it, I also heard a voice stating:

This is the new you.

Now, it’s not a legal name change thing. It’s not, hey, call me Guy Dangerous when you pass my cubicle at work. I’m not going to start answering the phone, “Dangerous here.”

It’s my nom de guerre.

When I post something inflammatory online, I will use the handle “Guy Dangerous.” When I finish an automated telephone poll, I’ll firmly state that “Guy Dangerous” is the owner of this opinion. When I order takeout from the Chinese restaurant and they ask for a name, I’ll tell ’em it’s for “Guy Dangerous.”

I’ll even cut an index card in half, paint it black, and write “Guy Dangerous” on it if they require proof.

That’ll learn ’em.

Ah …

On second thought …

Maybe no to the whole Guy Dangerous thing.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Wanted: A New Hobby

Let me tell you, with the week I had, I need a new way to relax. A new way to take my mind off things. A new hobby.

Very difficult week at work. Lotsa complaining, lotsa unhappy campers. Screamers, whiners, backbiters. Plus the wife’s been busy at her work, too, clocking late nights these past three-four days, including tomorrow. That leaves me with child care duty, and the little ones, normally well-behaved, have been seriously testing me. I’m in a fit-into-your-suit diet mode for a wedding next week, so I don’t have that avenue of beer / fast food / junk food to relax my aching brain.

Then there’s the news: the whole Boston thing and this Gosnell trial. The terror attack has me mesmerized for some reason. Gotta hear every latest detail that’s come in. A strange and disturbing personality trait that’s just surfaced that I need to suppress. Not good to get fixated on things that you can’t change. And the media only fuels the fire. One reason I gave up talk radio and try not to follow politics anymore.

This despicable, murderous, nonhuman monster Kermit Gosnell – and his loathsome accomplices in the media who conspired to keep this trial out of the public spotlight – also infuriates me. I can’t read about it; the stories literally will break your heart and haunt you for a long, long time to come. Since the birth of my first child almost nine years ago, something clicked and I grew from noncommittally prolife to officially prolife. After Gosnell, I might have to upgrade to proactively prolife.

So – I need something to take my mind off things.

I’d break out the old telescope and scan the skies if my nighttime sky didn’t look like pea soup. I live fifteen miles from NYC.

Hmmm ….

I got it!

Bird watching!

Let’s see, a trip to the hardware store … buy a birdfeeder … buy some birdseed … dig out my old binoculars …

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Rastignac the Devil

© 1954 by Philip Jose Farmer

Another excellent long short story by PJF. Though it lacks the fifteenth-round KO of “They Twinkled Like Jewels,” this one opens up a much more interesting universe to us, one even more so than that of the World of Tiers.

In a nutshell: coupla centuries hence, persecuted Frenchmen sail for the stars and eventually land on a habitable planet. Also habiting about are a race a rather largish alligatorish humanoids and rather blood-thirsty amphibianish humanoids. Someway somehow interspecies interbreeding works (don’t ask me how that’s even desirable) and there are five broad groups vying for control of the whole darn thing.

Everyone on this world wears a “Skin.” A Skin is a pillow-sized membrane that straddles your back and attaches itself to you via needle-thingies, resulting in a sort of symbiotic relationship. The Skins aren’t intelligent; however they link up with the Master Skins that each species grows and guards. The Master Skins communicate with the Skins which control the population in various ways. Everything from creating ecstasy in your mind and body to killing you, if necessary, with a lethal shock. Aside from this controlling feature, though, Skins are vastly preferred and desired by the people – everyone wears one. Why? Well, you always know what the person next to you is thinking, feeling. You are never alone. You are always cared for. You are Loved.

The most disgusting thing you can call someone on this world is a devil. A “devil” means one who does not wear a Skin.

The long short story ran about 75 pages in my paperback. We follow the philosopher-anarchist Rastignac as he escapes his prison cell with the help of his rag-tag gang, espouse his Philosophy of Violence in a world of Lotus-eaters, kill and maim to little effect, plot to rescue a visitor from Earth – and escape the planet in the Earthman’s space ship – and, along the way, discover the method to de-Skin a world.

Good story, great characters, excellent setting. This is one that should’ve been a novel.

When you read it, though, see if you are like me and could figure out how to land that KO punch on the last page.

Grade: A-minus.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Lavalite World

© 1977 by Philip Jose Farmer

When last we saw our hero and heroine, ominous perils poised to crush them on the Lavalite World. Literally. Crush. Y’see, the Lavalite World is a planet, created by the evil albeit petty Lord Urthona, that exists in a continuous state of flux. Hills shrink, mountains move, rivers reroute, the earth ripples – at the pace of about a foot a minute. Because of this even the trees are mobile. And often deadly, armed with bladders that shoot poison darts. Carnivores of all shape and size roam the shifting landscape. Huge birds of prey own the air. And to top it all off, our hero and heroine, Kickaha and Anana, have an uneasy truce with the three men trapped on this world with them: Lords Red Orc and Urthona, and Urthona’s hired killer henchman, McKay. The only thing that keeps the truce, uneasy or otherwise, is Kickaha’s laser beamer quickly fading on energy.

There is a way off this world, back to the World of Tiers, where Kickaha wants to go and which Kickaha deeply loves (along with Anana, it must be stated at this point in the quadrilogy). That way is to locate Urthona’s palace, avoid any lethal traps entering it, and, once inside, figure out how to gate back to wherever home is. Problem is, the castle, like the Lavalite World itself, is in constant motion. Hovering anywhere from a few feet to half-a-mile above the surface, it moves about the small planet at a speed of about a kilometer per hour. (I found this metric reference odd since the rest of the novel incorporates British measurements.)

That’s the setup. But all-too-soon Orc, Urthona, and McKay make a play for the laser beamer – and the world shifts, a tidal wave of water pours down two valleys that weren’t there before – our hero and heroine are separated. Then the book devolves into –

Two anthropological studies.

First, Kickaha is captured by a native tribe, faces dire repercussions, proves his worth to the chieftain, and becomes the tribal pseudo-leader. All in sixty or seventy pages. Then, Anana is captured by a native tribe, faces dire repercussions, proves her worth to the chieftain, and becomes the tribal pseudo-leader. Except Urthona and McKay are with her. Over the next sixty or seventy pages her group has its adventures, eventually hooking up with Orc. Finally, three-quarters through the novel, Kickaha and Anana reunite during a big tribal smack-down, and see Urthona’s castle floating in the distance – a mile up in the air! Oh, and somehow they’re transported to the Lavalite World’s moon, due to crash back down on the surface in 21 days.

Will they survive When-Lavalite-Worlds-Collide? Will they enter Urthona’s airborne castle unscathed? Will they ever make it home?


Like the other four books in the series, The Lavalite World wasn’t a bad read. It just wasn’t a great read. Glad to have it all behind me, so I can move on to more interesting PJF material.

Grade: B.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

They Twinkled Like Jewels

© 1954 by Philip Jose Farmer

Creepy. Creepy. Creepy. Creeeeeeeeepy.

A much needed shot of adrenaline after my ten-week tour of Farmer’s The World of Tiers series. This mid-length short story (25 pages) packed more punch than the entire previous five PJF books combined. And when I say it was creepy, I’m talking old, classic Stephen King creepy (I immediately placed “They Twinkled Like Jewels” in King’s masterpiece, Night Shift, as I read it). Images of wasps and caterpillars and old albino men whose eyes you never quite see behind their red-tinted glasses. Shivers.

Grade: A+

Monday, April 15, 2013

Ulysses Redux

Today is my father’s birthday. Had he still been alive, he’d be seventy.

I searched my mind and memory for a poem to post tonight, and, truth be told, came up short. Nothing I could think of seemed to encapsulate the essence of this man, at least the way I remembered him. It seems to me whenever I try to think of my father it appears I examine him looking through a telescope the wrong way.

So I thought it best then to post a section of my favorite poem, “Ulysses,” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. I posted the climax of the work elsewhere on this blog; here let me post a passage that I’d like to think would have resonated with my father:

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life. Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge, like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

To my father – the man who, whether he knew or not, introduced me to the Science Fiction novel: Brian Aldiss, Alan Dean Foster, Lin Carter, D.D. Chapman and Delores Lehman Tarzan, and, quite possibly, Isaac Asimov …

Saturday, April 13, 2013

One Day I Shall Have You Again

1969 Gibson SG ... my first real guitar, 1986-1989


Okay, so I figured it out. Being super-anal about all things on the printed page (at least, books that I like to read), I like to have an agenda for my reading. A compass to steer by. An action plan. A chart. Literary cartography.

When I don’t, I feel lost.

I’ve felt lost these past couple of weeks.

Currently, I’m finishing up my Philip Jose Farmer phase. I’m nearing the end of my tenth paperback of his, and have three more to go. That should take me up to Memorial Day. And as I wrote earlier here, I’m looking for some topic to focus on for my summer reading. Last year, it was WW II. The year before, it was Shakespeare.

After long consideration, I’ve settled on a topic that both interests me immensely and simultaneously horrifies and repulses me.

Hmmm. What could it be?

The atomic bomb; specifically the Manhattan Project.

I have two thick book on the shelves behind me that I’ve been anticipating reading for a long time: The Making of the Atomic Bomb and The Decision to Drop the Atomic Bomb. Neither book is a quick read. Probably each will take a month. Which gives me time to seek out a third book on the Project to fill out the third month of summer.

Maybe not your cup of tea, but it appeals to the unrealized physicist in me. And it ties in with my mid-life desire of late to read up on War.

Since I always read two books at once, the other topic of reading will be the new-found appeal of listening to an audio CD while reading along with the book. Once PJF is done, I plan of reading/listening to Anathem by Neal Stephenson, to be followed up by Great Expectations by Dickens. Again, real long, slow reads. To date in 2013 I’ve read sixteen books. Over the summer, I’m going to kick it into low gear and add four, maybe five to that total.

Yay! Hopper’s happy again!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Mr. Opalardiqu

May I present Little One’s second piece of fiction to be posted here at the Hopper:

“I’m ready, so throw the ball!” Juan shouted to Jake who was pitcher. “Okay, okay, I’m doing it, Juan!” Jake cried as he swung the ball directly at Juan. Juan batted it and – everybody heard only one thing: shattering glass.

Juan backed away slowly but – oh no! – from inside the house somebody cursed and said, “Hey you!” Juan froze. An old man came out on a cane. “Was it you who did that?” The old man pointed a bony finger at Juan and then the window. “Y-y-yesss,” Juan told him ever so quietly. “I’m going to walk you home,” the old man said to him. “All the rest of you go home. NOW!” As everybody left, the old man said, “Where are your parents? Are they home? I need to have a chat with them!” He grinned. “My name is Harold Opalardiqu. You could call me Harold.” “Um, well, my mom is home, I guess. And, uh, I live on – ” “I know where you live!” the old man told him grimly. “Creepy,” said Juan under his breath.

When the two boys got to Juan’s house his mom came out. “Hey Juan – why is Mr. Opalard here?” she asked. “Mr. Harold Opalardiqu you mean, right? Anyway, your son has done something – ” “What!” Juan’s mom interrupted. “Mom!” Juan groaned. “As I was saying, your son has batted a baseball through my window,” Harold told Juan’s mom. “What?! Juan?” Mom screamed at Juan. “But it was an accident!” Juan insisted. “Please tell me how you will punish him later!” Harold told her. “No. I have made my decision!” Mom said quickly. “Wow she’s quick!” Harold told Juan. “I’m going to ground him for a month and – how much does your window cost?” Mom asked. “Hmmmm, oh yeah, $500!” Harold told her with a chuckle. “That’s how much is coming out of your bank account. We’ll give you the money later. I hope you have enough money!” Mom told Juan absently. “Mom, Harold, I learned something today: NEVER play baseball by a house! I’m sorry Harold,” Juan said. “Apology accepted!” Harold told Juan.

My grade: A+ + + + !!!

Of course, I admit my bias.

Still, not bad for an eight-year-old, right? Punctuation still needs a little work, as her teacher told her, much to my daughter’s disdain. “Punctuation!” she spat. “Punctuation you worry about on the second draft,” I told her. “This is the first draft – and it’s perfect!”

And is it me, or do you want to know much, much more about the mysterious, erratic, and somewhat sadistic Mr. Harold Opalardiqu?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Or rather, why I don’t waste my time with it:

Image I’ve seen lately on some websites and such I frequent.

In all honesty, Facebook’s good for two things, I figure –

1. Mass-mailing the family important news and events

2. Getting in touch with long-lost friends from the past

It’s #2 that makes it most worthwhile for me.

[Disclaimer: I check the damn thing twice a day on average.]

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Ex Spiritu

Spiritus ubi vult spirat, et vocem ejus audis, sed nescis unde veniat, aut quo vadat: sic est omnis qui natus est ex spiritu.

The wind breathes where it will, and thou canst hear the sound of it, but knowest nothing of the way it came or the way it goes; so it is, when a man is born by the breath of the Spirit.

John 3:8

Monday, April 8, 2013

World Series of Audio Lit

Well, it’s not that dramatic. But I’m having a hard time deciding my next major read.

First I gotta finish my PJF experiment. Which means I have about 3.5 medium-sized Philip Jose Farmer novels to plow throw. Maybe another month at the rate I’m going. Then, since I finished Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels a week or two ago, I want to mosey on into a western or two I have on the shelf behind me.

So … around Memorial Day, I want to start a long, luxorious, and completely absorbing, overwhelming adventure in an audio CD, one I can read along with.

I have two choices that I am on the fence on.

The hometown favorites, and the team with the best regular season record, is –

Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

The upstart contenders, their first series championship in thirty years, is –

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens

Now, though they’re really different, they both have their pros and cons for me. For the Stephenson book, every single review I’ve read indicates to me that it is a phenomenal trip into a completely new world, where science, religion, and mysticism are blended and an entirely knew culture arises. Oh, and there’s some sort of crazy apocalypse facing this brave new world.

Dickens is an exact, one hundred eighty-degree twist. Never liked him as a student, but – lo! - Great Literature is Great, capital-G great, because it draws you in … especially when you’re not a student! Dickens was always a foe to me in my school days. Cheated on Tale of Two Cities thirty years ago. Re-read it a decade ago and was floored. Similar thing for Great Expectations, which I’ll go in to, if and when I re-read it.

So, that’s my dilemma.

And now I ask you:

Who will win?

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Finally got around to seeing Spielberg’s Lincoln last night. Some quick thoughts, as I’m a bit too busy today for a full-fledged review –

- Should’ve been titled The Thirteenth Amendment as the film’s main focus is not the 16th president per se, not his political career or his private life, not the Civil War, but the several weeks at the beginning of 1865 where Lincoln fights to get the amendment banning slavery passed.

- The movie itself rates a B+; Daniel Day-Lewis rates an easy A+. The Oscars judged correctly.

- The man who plays Ulysses S. Grant is absolutely 100 percent miscast.

- Man, how painful must it have been for the producer, the director, the screenwriter, heck, most of the creative staff on the film, to have to refer to the Republicans as the good guys and the Democrats as the baddies. But a tip of the hat to them for doing so.

- The two-and-a-half hour run time feels like half that; even better, I wanted it to keep going on and on.

- In addition to Day-Lewis, Sally Field was painfully great; James Spader was funny and brilliantly scummy; Bruce McGill as Stanton should’ve been given more screen time; David Strathairn as Seward less. Just my humble opinion; I guess that’s why Spielberg’s Spielberg and I’m me.

Overall, a good experience. Probably’ll pick it up for keeps somewhere down the road.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Clean Up Clean Up

Oh dear. My back is killing me.

So are: my calves, quads, hams, shoulder, and neck muscles. In fact, my entire muscular system is in rebellion against me.

Why? you ask.


It’s all I’ve been doing these past two days.

Yesterday was dress-down Friday at work. Which means it’s annual clean up day in my office. I was personally involved with moving a dozen of my transfiles, each of which weighs a hefty fifty pounds or so. (A guess; maybe more, maybe less.) Plus, I helped with my workmates’ stuff, too.

I was careful not to lift with my back but lift with my legs. So far, so good. In fact, since the wife and I have a child-free weekend (little ones with the grandparents), we went out for fish tacos and cervezas.

This morning my father-in-law came over and we systematically cleaned our garage, the first time it’s been attempted since the garage sale last April and the first time it’s been thoroughly cleaned since sometime around 2009.

We worked for three hours hauling everything out, made two trips to the recycling center / dump, made a pile of stuff going out curbside Tuesday morning, and put all the keepers back inside in an orderly fashion. We didn’t take a BEFORE pic, but just envision that teenage kid who throws everything in his closet until the door has to remain shut to avoid death by avalanche.

Here’s the AFTER pic:

Not bad, right?

The wife volunteered to get us hungry men some sandwiches. On the way back, she rushes outside where we’re sitting exclaiming: “I’ve found a dresser for you! Someone’s getting rid of a dresser in their driveway and we need to get it now!”

We take two cars to the spot a few blocks away and manage to return with a beautiful, seemingly brand-new light wood dresser for me. (The dresser I currently use is the one I first used as a kindergartener … and it’s in worse physical condition than me …) Unfortunately, it weighs like a hundred pounds, so my father-in-law and me struggle with it – and our cardiovascular systems – to get it in the house and up the stairs to the second storey bedroom.

So, needless to say, I’m quite fatigued. Quaffing a beer now, awaiting dinner and perhaps viewing Lincoln later on tonight.

Hopefully I’ll be able to get out of bed tomorrow. We now have an old dresser to throw out and a bedroom to clean …

Friday, April 5, 2013

Behind the Walls of Terra

© 1970 by Philip Jose Farmer

Okay. First thing’s first. I’ve discovered Philip Jose Farmer’s favorite word in the English language:


I’ve noticed it appears once in every book he’s written that I’ve read. And I have an eye – an inner ear – for these sorts of things. In this instance, “brobdingnagian” appears on page 184 of my 1977 Ace paperback.

Anyway, Behind the Walls of Terra is book four of the “World of Tiers” quintilogy. For this one, we follow Kickaha and the Lord (shouldn’t it be “Lady”?) Anana, who’s fallen deeply in love with him, a common mortal, to Earth. Thus, for the first time since the first twenty pages of book one, we’re back on semi-familiar ground. Specifically, the gate to our world from the fantastical Tier World – or wherever the heck in the multiverse Kickaha was dispatching all those Bellers at the end of A Private Cosmos – throws our heroes into 1970 Los Angeles.

Reason being is Kickaha is in hot pursuit determined to kill the final Beller. A Beller, for those not in the know, is a completely alien entity capable of taking over one’s mind. Sort of like a pod person, of sorts. Sorta. Anyway, it’s the existential threat to the Lords who rule over the pocket universes in this little series Farmer’s been helming.

Problem is, this is not the original universe. Our world, our Earth, is but the mere creation of the most magnificent and maleficent Lord of them all, Red Orc, who rules our planet behind the scenes, like a mad Grand Chessmaster. How will Kickaha elude this all-powerful being who knows our protagonist’s presence as of page one? Will Kickaha find the Beller, and find an end to the crisis? Will he find his friends from the previous books, lost or captive somewhere on our little blue gem?

Seems the set-up for an interesting page-turner.


It’s not.

Well, it started out pretty decent, early on. I had a vibe that this could be the best book of the series. Then a series of misfortunate authorial choices took place. The book went from an interesting, wry A to a somewhat tedious and “how many pages left” B-minus.

Let me tell you why, in a paragraph.

Red Orc, the master Grand Chessmaster, turns out to be a stereotypical inept “Mugsy” gangster from 1920s Chicago. Not really, but that’s how he comes across. He has a mansion in Beverly Hills and a group of “Gang-that-couldn’t-shoot-straight” henchman. And he’s in the process of being out-muscled by another Lord, name of Urthona. The way Kickaha out-hustles, out-maneuvers, and out-punches these all-powerful beings had me thinking I was watching Kirk and Spock in that Trek episode, “A Piece of the Action.”

Throw in Farmer’s fascination with these maze-like and utterly confusing gates that transport you here, there, and everywhere, and a completely obscure denouement for a really non-threatening Beller, and you have a recipe for a big let-down. But, perhaps it’s me. I’ll grant that. Perhaps a second reading is required to do it justice. No doubt had I come across these books during the Golden Age of Science Fiction (when a boy is ten, eleven, or twelve years old), no doubt I would have read them several times over a couple of years to complete satisfaction.

For me, the best part were the hippies.

Grade: B-minus.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

True Heirs After 45 Years

Read this earlier this morning on Mark Shea’s blog, and the logically pure obviousness and truth of it overwhelmed me: 45 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. The true heirs of his life and work are – those who tirelessly, peacefully, and prayerfully labor in the prolife cause.

Still reeling from that.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


One of my all-time favorite classes was my Introductory to Astronomy class (taken in two parts over two semesters), way, way back during my first stint in college in the mid-to-late-80s. I couldn’t believe I was actually getting credit to learn this stuff, stuff I’d been a huge fan of, a voracious reader of, a devoted disciple of, since as earliest as I can remember. Be it reading science fiction as a pre-teen, thumbing through our Colliers and Funk and Wagnall’s Encyclopedias, or carrying around my beloved physics book like an additional appendage, I loved reading about it all. Stars, planets, satellites, asteroids and meteorites, nebulae and galaxies, black holes, electromagnetic radiation, the chemistry of stars, relativity, space travel – you named it, I eagerly consumed it.

Now, a year or two out of high school, I was officially studying it.

Needless to say, I aced both classes with ease. Which is not to say they were extremely difficult classes and I was a genius. No, I just was so familiar with so much of it, having seen it all countless times before.

One thing the classes did do for me was flush out my knowledge. I remember spending a rainy afternoon in the darkened auditorium going deeply into the zones and belts of Jupiter. Heavenly! A few weeks later the mechanics of stellar evolution – the life and death of stars – was finally explained to me by a human voice.

There was a chart I’d seen before (in my beloved physics book, for example), a diagram called the Hertzsprung-Russell Chart. It’s a graph of stars plotted along two axes, luminosity and temperature. Most stars fall on the chart in such a way that it forms a diagonal swish. This is known as the “Main Sequence.” Some stars are clustered in groups above and below it. The diagram is used to explain the life cycle of stars.

Curiously, stars are labeled, going rightward from the axis intersection, as Type O, B, A, F, G, K, M, R, N, S. Type O stars are brilliantly whitish-blue and superhot. Temperatures cool and colors dim as you progress to the right; M stars are relatively warm and dull red. Don’t remember what R N S stand for, except they are often found in parentheses. The sun, a mid-sized star of moderate temperature, yellow in coloration, is a G star. Each letter is further subdivided into tenths; the sun is, specifically, a G2 star.

Though we were all thinking it, it was the professor himself who revealed to us the mnemonic for remembering this strange sequence of letters for stellar classification.

Now, a word about my professor. He must’ve been around forty, ancient in my still-teen-aged eyes. Dressed in the shabby chic of the intelligentsia: a cross between Indiana Jones and a sidewalk hobo. He had a big, shaggy beard and a slight slouch due to a pot belly. A bemused tone to his voice as if he were perpetually recalling an inside joke relating to whatever topic he was speaking about. He was a decent enough guy, though in a class of a hundred or so I obviously did not get to know him. But I had a good idea what he was doing twenty years prior.

Anyway, according to my astronomy professor, the most common mnemonic to remember stellar class is:

Oh, Be A Fine Girl Kiss Me.

Then he adds:

Right Now Sweetie.

Then, that bemused chuckle. Did you know there’s another way to remember this weird bunch of letters? Yes, it’s one he and his friends and classmates came up with way back when.

It goes:

Old Beer And Fat Guys Kill Me.

Then he adds:

Richard Nixon Says.

An inadvertent chuckle racks his body like slapped jello. Nervous laughter permeates the hall. Me, I guess I laugh because everyone else seems to want to … or, more likely, thinks they should. Not quite sure I get the joke, or whatever the source of the amusement is. This is at the start of my collegiate liberal indoctrination, so I’m viscerally aware of all the leftist antagonism towards Nixon at this point.

Bottom line, it was a weird moment in a long and strange college career, one I’ve never forgotten all these years. I don’t begrudge the professor his little slip, because honestly I have no idea what it’s supposed to me. And it’s doubtless a fraction of a fraction of what today’s high schoolers must face in the Big (and probably Unnecesary) Leagues. But that in itself is a source of another post.

Me, I still use the first mnemonic.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

So It Is Written

So It Shall Be Done …

Finally finished our family’s three-day marathon viewing of The Ten Commandments, which has now become our Easter tradition (three years running now).

The girls were enraptured through the whole thing.

I am pleased.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Resurrection Day

Well, we had a great Easter Sunday. Probably the best one since 2003 (that was the year I made my first confession in nearly twenty-five years). It was a low-key affair, but the girls were so well-behaved, the company was so fun, the conversation so enjoyable, the food so delicious, the wine so fulfilling … it just led to a great time.

The morning started with the little ones searching for their Easter eggs and baskets. The wife made us all some eggs and toast, and we sat about watching the first forty-five minutes of Ben Hur (TCM was showing a marathon of religious flicks). I’ve seen the movie a half-dozen times, and the beginning, featuring the Star of Bethlehem, and the scene where Christ ministers to a thirsting Judah Ben-Hur – and silences the centurion with but a glance into the man’s heart – are my favorites. The girls enjoyed the Nativity, too.

Anyway, time for a mid-morning bath, and I took a long, luxorious one putting some mileage on Behind the Walls of Terra.

We all showered and got into our Sunday bests. My father-in-law arrived by 11, and we met my parents and my grandmother at the church a half-hour later. Mass was both enjoyable and reverant, mostly. The sermon was inspiring and informative (about how Pope Francis is rejuvenating the Church).

Afterwards, we all met at a restaurant for a three-hour late lunch / early dinner. I had mussels followed by veggie penne pasta, chased down with two glasses of a nice Pinot Noir. A slice of chocolate caramel cake finished me off. We said goodbye to my parents and grandmother and headed home. My father-in-law got the girls – of all things! – an electronic talking parrot! Good for some laughs. (Then I had to hide the batteries…)

We finished the day watching The Ten Commandments with Chuck Heston, DVR’d from ABC the night before. The girls, particularly Little One, absolutely love the flick, and it’s become a sort of tradition with us – this is the third year in a row we’re watching it for Easter. Should just go out an buy the DVD, I guess.

Well, hope your Resurrection Day was as blessed as mine … I didn’t want it to end!