Friday, May 31, 2013

Goodbye May '13!

All right. Gonna try something different here for the next couple of months. Bear with me on the learning curve.

I think on the final day of any given month, I’m going to list my accomplishments.

On the first day of the following month, I’m going to list my goals.

Hopefully, after a month or two, I’ll see the two lists converge.

Or maybe not.

It’ll be an experiment.

A work in progress.

So … here goes.

In May 2013, I …

* Lifted weights 11 times

* Rode my exercise bike 14 times

* Jogged twice (really, walk/ran a half-mile each time)

* Read the final two books of my PJF project

* Finished the mammoth Making of the Atomic Bomb

* Went to my semi-annual Confession

* Served as an EMHC twice

* Saw Little One bridge up to Junior Girl Scouts

There. That’s all I can recall off the top of my head. Not a bad list of month accomplishments, to be sure, but it’s all the same, if you know what I mean. Maybe in June I need to mix it up a bit.

We’ll see.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Beyond the Tempoflux ...

SF author Jack Vance died a few days ago at an almost relativistic age of 96.

Didn’t read much of his stuff … maybe I should have. What I did read I more or less liked, though he was hit and miss, at least in my unacceptably narrow sample size.

Trullion: Alastor 2262 – solid A (read sometime in the mid-90s)

The Languages of Pao – solid A (read a few months before I started this blog)

The Brave Free Men – a surprisingly disappointing D (read a few weeks after Pao)


Big Planet – reviewed here.

An “alien” idea in Big Planet – the “Tempofluxion Dogma” – inspired me to write a four-part posting contrasting said idea with my rough, child-like understanding of Kant’s philosophy, here, here, here, and here.

Rest in peace, big man.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Shin Splints

So I’ve been working out in my garage for half a month now (since May 12 to be exact). My exercise bike is out there. My bench is out there. My dumbbells and bars, straight and curled, are there. I have a clock but no radio yet. I usually workout out at 6 a.m. and am done a half-hour later, so I won’t be blasting any metal yet. Yet.

I’ve got it in my head to run a 5K. My town sponsors one every April. That’s about eleven months away. Should be enough time to train. The last 5K I ran was in 2003. The last time I ran anything longer than ten yards was around the same time. The decade that has flown by has seen me battle atrial fibrillation, pulmonary vein stenosis, and a steadily enlarging waistline. Running not only winds me, it scares me.

This morning I did my first “run” in ten years. I got up and got dressed and got out the door by 6:30 am. Ten minutes later I was done. Outside was a weird mixture of cool and humid, banks of fog giving only one-block visibility. I did a variation of 100 paces walking, 100 paces jogging. Did this about a dozen times over half-a-mile. Got back, slightly winded but otherwise okay (read: alive).

Thought I’d have a euphoric high to carry over into my early morning at work, but, no. Just a somewhat non-centered fatigue, probably due to my body still rebelling against 6 am wakeup workouts. Then, around noon, I noticed my shins really started to ache. Shin splints. Hadn’t felt what they felt like in years.

Tonight I’m gonna soak in the tub – I know, I know, what else is new – but pay special attention to my calves. Not sure what I’m going do. Maybe an Epsom salt soak. Maybe some baking powder (hey, it works!). Definitely some stretching tonight, Rodney Yee yoga stretches, so they’re loosened up for the six or seven hours of sleep I’ll get.

Tomorrow morning – back with the weights.

Friday morning – going for a 200 pace walk/jog mixture.

Pray for me.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Memorial Day Weekend '13

’Twas okay.

First two days rained hard and cold. We stayed home, didn’t do much but whatever was necessary. Ran errands. Took the Little One with me to Confession. Mom took both girls out to Color Me Mine, an arts-n-crafts place for pre-tweens. Did some laundry. Blah blah blah.

Watched Jesse James Saturday night, an old flick DVR’d from TCM. Not the best Western I ever saw; certainly not the most historically accurate. Only thing worthwhile was something I read on the IMDB – a horse was (possibly purposefully) killed doing a stunt-jump off a 75-foot cliff. I saw it during the film and while the height didn’t seem that high, the poor thing landed nearly on its back. Cringe-inducing. It was one of the things which led to major reforms of the way animals are treated in films.

Sunday and Monday were absolutely beautiful – sunny, blue skies, warm, no humidity. Woke up at 7 on Sunday, went to the garage, lifted some weights and rode the bike. I’m starting my third week of workouts in the garage. Hopefully, it’ll take as a habit. Afterwards, I took the girls to mass while the wife stayed home and packed us all up. We left around 11 to drive down the Jersey shore, to visit with the girls’ grandfather, my father-in-law.

Very windy and cool, too cool to swim, at the beach. The girls had a blast on the playground. Me, I read in the shade. Later on we took two cars out to drive to a restaurant in Neptune, NJ. My father-in-law pointed out that one of my headlights was out, of which I was unaware. We had a fun evening. The girls were quite entertaining. The food was good. I had crab cakes and a Sam Adams Summer Ale.

On the way home I was pulled over by the 5-0.

He was a very young trooper, and extremely apologetic. Yes, he stopped me for having a headlight out. And gave me a $54 ticket. “I’m very sorry sir,” he said, “but my hands are tied. I have to report this.”

Yeah, right.

My $54 contribution to the post-Sandy Jersey shore, stronger than ever.

Anyway, we took the girls out for ice cream, then went back to my father-in-law’s apartment to sleep – five of us in a two-bedroom apartment. Cramped but uneventful.

Next morning we brought chairs and flags to local Memorial Day parade. The girls wore their stars-n-stripes outfits. For some reason, the marchers in this parade (as well as the passengers in the fire trucks and ambulances) toss out candies to the spectators. My girls were in heaven. Their haul was probably close to a hundred pieces of candy each.

The wife, the girls, and their grandpa went down to the beach to lay on the sand. I stayed at the apartment for six hours … utterly and seriously relaxing. Read/listened to 95 pages of Anathem (I doubled my reading goal for the weekend) among other books. Did those blog entries from yesterday. Drank some soda and ate some chips watching some really, really bad Syfy. I was in paradise, and that ain’t no exaggeration.

They got back around 5 and we packed everything up quickly, expecting bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Parkway – but it was smooth sailing. Not sure why, but we got back home by 6:30. Unloaded the car, showered all the beach out of the girls’ hair, had a nice healthy dinner. A great way to end an okay Memorial Day weekend.

Monday, May 27, 2013

How I Spent My 3-Day Weekend

Not quite, but almost ...

Memorial Day 2013

Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.  But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.”  Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise.” Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.”  Jesus told her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life; whoever believes in Me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

- John 11:21-26

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Good for the Soul

Confession is, that is. Went their earlier today. Undoubtedly, it is the second greatest sacrament left to us by Our Lord.

Anyway, took Little One with me. Partly at her mother’s request, partly mine. Seems she got into a tad of trouble a few weeks ago which ultimately resulted from exercising some poor moral judgment. At age eight, this is her third time in the penalty box, so to speak. But this is the first time she’s going to cleanse her soul for the sake of cleansing her soul, and not as a pre-cleaning for some other ecclesiastical ritual.

We arrived at the empty church right on time. After coaching her on the formalities of the Confessional (which may or may not have been necessary), I went in first. Ten minutes later I came out and an older gentleman sitting right behind her rose to go in. In the quiet of the church I shook my head at him, smiling, and pointed to my daughter. She left the pew and went inside. I sat down where she was sitting, right in front of the man.

“What! Even angels need to go to confession?” he said with good-natured mock disbelief.

Enough to melt the heart of the hardest-of-hearted fathers, let alone me, supremely proud of my little Little One.


We all have five senses, right? Sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. Everybody knows that.

Don’t they?

Don’t we have more, if you think about it?

The five traditional senses were first identified by Aristotle roughly 2,350 years ago. Many things Aristotle taught have been perceived as writ in stone. Many things he was dead wrong on, such as inertia (bodies in motion). It took an intellect like Thomas Aquinas’s to “Christianize” Aristotle’s thought. But much of what the ancient Greek philosopher taught, such as the fact we have five senses, persist to this day.

In fact, we have much more than five senses.

What other senses might we have (assuming we stick to reality, and not anything extra- or super-real)?

What other things, beside light, odor, taste, touch, and sound, can we sense?

Consider the following:

Body and limb position
Relative temperature
Fullness of the stomach (satiation)
Need to urinate/defecate
Blood carbon dioxide levels

Most researchers who’ve, er, researched this come up with a range of sense-items, usually from 9 to 20 and containing many listed above.

Just something interesting I came across surfing the web at lunch at work yesterday.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Took the Plunge

Began reading/listening to Neal Stephenson’s Anathem two nights ago. If you visit my blog regularly, you know I have a recent thing for reading a big book along with an audio CD. Did it for The Lord of the Rings, Atlas Shrugged, and The Killer Angels. I enjoy it because I can enjoy the book better: it slows me down, focuses me on the action, exposition and dialogue, and keeps out distractions.

My latest manufactured dilemma was what book to read/listen to next. Anathem? Master and Commander? Watership Down? The Robots of Dawn? The Grapes of Wrath? Great Expectations?

So I decided on this one, Anathem being the book with the longest life on my shelf.

However, I’ve been made aware of vague warnings about the book … overlong passages, pages, and chapters with no real connection to the plot … weak ending with little payoff … possible anti-faith stance. As a veteran of Cryptonomicon, I am aware of this, and that experience is probably what’s kept me from the book for the past three years (I got it as a Christmas present in 2010).

Since I have an open mind, I am taking the plunge anyway!

A few online reviewers told me that the book really doesn’t start rolling until page 200 or so. The first night of reading/listening, I put away 21 pages, and it was quite boring. Had trouble concentrating being thrown headlong into this brave new world. Which is fine, I do it every time I crack open a new SF book, but this was just plain dull. Dull and glacially-paced. Could I stick with it for nine more days, until that magic page 200?

Well, turns out I don’t have to. The next night’s reading picked up. Some interesting ideas were thrown in (ie, the question of whether two closed systems, such as parallel universes, could have synchronous time measurement/correspondence … foreshadowing?). I started to get some of the jargon down (there’s a hundred-term glossary at the back of the book). Sparring dialogue. A much better experience, twenty pages further in.

So … I think every 100 pages or so I’ll report in about the book (my version clocks in at 980 pages). What I like, what I dislike, what’s going on with plot, characters, etc. Might be a worthwhile exercise in itself, and gives me a regular topic to blog on.

Want to get to page one hundred by the end of the holiday weekend …

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mystery Restaurant

Not wanting to cook for the little ones on such a brutally and prematurely hot and humid day, I announce that we were going to a “Mystery Restaurant.” The response this elicits from my children, ages four and eight, is similar to the response you’ll see from me when the officials from the Powerball Lottery hand me that giant cardboard check with all those zeros.

Anyway, Mystery Restaurant is a rare event. Mystery Restaurant with said restaurant being Pizza Hut is Halley’s Comet-rare. In other words, this is the first time I’ve had both the girls there in their short lives.

It may never happen again.

Patch (the four-year-old) is instantly overwhelmed. Won’t stop hugging me, squeezing me, climbing all over me in excited anticipation. In all fairness to her, she is a Pizza Connoisseur. And Little One (eight) regularly gets coupons to Pizza Hut as part of her monthly reading rewards from school. So we get a booth and scan the menus.

1. After the waiter leaves with our orders, Patch whisper-yells, “He’s weird!”

2. Despite being warned not to play with the lid on her cup, Patch does and immediately spills red fruit punch down her dress.

3. Returning from the bathroom, Patch’s arm and half her dress are wet. I never do get a firm answer to my question, “Did you fall into the toilet?”

4. In a low voice I have to threaten my four-year-old not to let the waiter know she was “sad because the food wasn’t there” when she got back.

5. Each of her pizza sstuffers has to be dissected to remove all trace of pepperoni.

6. An amazing amount of grease, sauce, and crumbs coats her fingers, palms, wrists, lower dress, lips, mouth, chin, cheeks, and one eyelid. This necessitates a second trip to the bathroom.

Little One, for her part, does a much better job. Twice her younger sister’s age, I don’t have to worry about her making a mess. No, with her the damage is much more subtle, and much more intense. A whole ’nother level, one I’m still trying to get used to.

Case in point: She makes a very funny popping noise with her mouth; the visual of it continues to crack me up. After doing it while awaiting our food, I make the passing remark, “Oh, we need to video that before you get too old to do it.” Oh no. Now she latches on to the idea that she MUST record it right now, on MY cell phone. She’s played around with my phone before, messing with the settings so much that I banned her from touching it. Especially since I was unable to figure out how to undue her changes. So I put my foot down, and now have to deal with a pouting pre-adolescent for a half-hour.

Then, on the way out, she spots one of those stuffed animal vending machines. Put in $3 and you keep moving that claw thing around until it scoops up an adorable cutsie wootsie kitty or puppy. Of which they each have a couple dozen at home. Now the guilt trip really kicks in and she’s good at it. But I’m still better, and I hustle them both in the car before Little One can get Patch emotionally invested in a potential stuffed animal.

So – that’s my Mystery Restaurant experience.

Let’s see … Halley’s Comet … doesn’t that come by every 76 years or so? 1910 … 1986 … hmmm … 2062, next time it’ll be by.

Might be the next time I take them out to Pizza Hut.

A Perfect Oxymoron

“Militant Kumbaya”

It’s forcibly forcing your opponents to peaceably get along.

“Love everybody or we’ll beat the hell out of you!!!”

Spotted a form of it in an article on the political group “No Labels” and took it to its logical conclusion …

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Riverworld and Other Stories

© 1984 by Philip Jose Farmer

All right – here it is. My first PJF book I hated.

Well … there are qualifications to that statement.

First, it’s properly an anthology, eleven stories in all, stories ranging in length from 83 to 5 pages. While I offered a few As and Bs, I easily graded five of them with the dreaded – and rare – Hopper F.


Well, a combination of subject matter and execution, I suppose. Two tales featured less-than-respectful representations of Christ. One got an F for “blasphemous / depressing,” another for “blasphemous / yuck.” A third story got an F for just “yuck”, being a hyper-sexualized take on life in an old folks’ home. Another F was awarded to a story because I had no idea what happened, why it happened, why it was even written, and for wasting a half-hour of my life. The fifth F was just an excuse to be obscene. Vulgar, obnoxious, disgusting and – boringly obscene.

However … there were a couple of stories I liked. Not a lot, not like, say, the ones in Asimov’s Bicentennial Man, but a lot in relation to this anthology as a whole. There was a mid-sized attempt at an off-kilter revision of a Sherlock Holmes tale which felt properly paced and logically solid, though I am admittedly not a “mystery” connoisseur. But it made me want to investigate Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective work, so that’s something. Another mystery about a missing Mexican and stereotypical bad guys threw out an “obvious” clue right on page 3 which I immediately noted but could not pull out the significance – until the very head-slapping end. The final story involved colorfully ugly characters being stalked by something down in the sewers that would gross out Stephen King. Ugly, cynical and depressing, but well-done for what it attempts to do.

Overall, though, the entire thing was quite distasteful for me. A bad way to end my Philip Jose Farmer experiment, the thirteenth book out of thirteen I read since January. Kinda like going on a pleasant week-long vacation out in the mountains only to come home and find your toilet overflowed.

Riverworld and Other Stories: Won’t re-read it and won’t keep it in my “library.”

Overall Grade: D

“Riverworld” – F

“JC on the Dude Ranch” – F

“The Volcano” – B

“The Henry Miller Dawn Patrol” – F

“The Problem of the Sore Bridge” – A

“Brass and Gold” – B

“The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod” – F

“The Voice of the Sonar” – B-

“Monolog” – F

“The Leaser of Two Evils” – D

“The Phantom of the Sewers” – A

N.B. In a couple of days I’ll write a lengthy post detailing my experience with one SF writer over 5 months. Not quite sure at the moment how it will skew, but I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out. And I’m even thinking about repeating the experiment, maybe next year, with another author. Hmmm. Heinlein? Wolfe? Someone prolific but who I’ve read very little (Anthony? Norton?). We’ll see. Already I’m excited!

Conspiracy Theorists

Read this joke in a combox yesterday … very funny:


Two JFK conspiracy theorists leave an Oliver Stone speaking engagement and their car accidentally drives off a cliff. They fly up to heaven and soon enough come face to face with God. The first conspiracy theorist says, “God, who really killed President Kennedy?”

God looks down upon them and sighs. “My children,” He says, “how much time and effort did you waste on such speculation? Time and effort you could have spent with your loved ones, time and effort you could have spent getting to know Me better, time and effort you could have done My work on earth. But since I love you, and you are My children, I will answer your question. Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, shot and killed President John F. Kennedy.”

There’s a pause as the two conspiracy theorists consider this.

Then the first one leans over and whispers to the other, “See – it goes higher than we thought!”

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ray Manzarek

Ray Manzarek died the other day, living an extraordinarily long lifespan for a rock musician (74 years). Don’t know him? He was the bespectacled, long-haired keyboardist for the Doors. He gave them their definitive sound, the carnivalesque tones you hear immediately in the song “Light My Fire.” Manzarek also molded the music by playing baselines on his keyboards, as, for some reason or another, the band had no bassist. Usually they were simple bass runs, but it all worked.

I was very much into the Doors as a rebellious kid … between 1987 and 1990 mostly, though Santa got me the Morrison bio No One Here Gets Out Alive in 1985. Of course I listened to other groups at the time and was in the thick of things trying to get a grip on playing my electric guitar, writing songs, and helping get my band off the ground. But in those pre-CD days, I wore out a cassette of 13 and a homemade cassette of their tunes I recorded off the radio. A few years back I borrowed Morrison Hotel from the library, but aside from that I hadn’t really listened to them in over twenty years.

Manzarek was the geeky Shaggy to Morrison’s dangerous coolth, though he never saw himself that way, at least in the handful of interviews I heard him speak, most around the time of Stone’s The Doors release in ’91. Yin to Jim’s Yang (wow, can that be interpreted in a lot of uncharitable ways!). Yet I’m sad in a way. If Ray Harryhausen’s death a few weeks ago hit me like a beloved uncle’s, Ray Manzarek’s feels like, oh, my wife’s second cousin, a man who I respected but didn’t spend a lot of time with.

Anyway, rest in peace. You made a lot of people happy with your music.

Hopper’s choice selection of Doors tunes:

Waiting for the Sun
Riders on the Storm
Soul Kitchen
Unknown Soldier
Wild Child
Love Me Two Times
Moonlight Drive
Five to One
Strange Days

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Helmet Song #10

Been lifting the iron all week long, first thing in the morning in my garage. What an awesome way to start the day! Gives me a ton of positive energy going into the afternoon and dissuades me from “self-medicating” in the evening time.

When you lift, of course, you need to lift to heavy music. This song in particular got stuck in my head this week. (Only video I could find online of it … music begins at 1:44 for some reason.)

By the way, back in the day, my band fiddled around with “Unsung” during some very informal practices.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Alien Pluralities

I remember reading a book as a pre-teen, sometime in the late-70s I guess, and being fascinated with the way the alien race referred to a plurality of things. (For the record, I think the book was one of the Edgar Rice Burrough’s Venus novels, though I can’t remember anything specific.) For instance, a flying pterodactyl thingie was called, let’s say, an anaga. Two or more of them, a flock of flying pterodactyl thingies, would be called, to the aliens, kanaga. Simply put a “k” in front of the noun (or a “ka” if the noun began with a consonant) and you had a plurality of them.

Strangely, this observation often pops into my head. Once a month, I’d guess. (I really need to find out if it was a Burrough’s book.)

Yesterday, at lunch, I was browsing some article on ancient civilizations, and came across a list of words. Many, though not all of them, had that tilde in them. You know, that sideways squiggle that, in Spanish, makes the “ny” sound you hear in “canyon.” The list was something like this –





First thought in my head: why not make this tilde symbol stand for some alien sound and have it turn an alien word plural? Where would you put it in the word? At the beginning? End? After the first syllable? Let’s see using that word anaga again –





Hmmm. Not sure, but I think I’m digging option #3 best, with #4 a close second.

Somewhere inside me a science fiction writer its struggling to break free.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Baseball Proposition

So last night, making dinner while the little ones are showering, I put on the Yankee game. It’s the top of the 1st, the Mariners are at bat. Twelve minutes later, the score is 7-0, Seattle. I shake my head. I though the Yankees were still good, despite all the injuries. Oh well.

I serve dinner and clean up, blow dry hair, supervise the brushing and flossing of teeth, read bedtime stories, and get them to bed by 8:15. I read my latest PJF for a little while, then turn on the tube again.

This time it’s the Mets. They’re playing St. Louis. Some quick bad pitching and poor fielding results in 2 runs for the Cardinals. I shut it off after a few minutes.

I have a proposition for New York baseball.

I may even send a certified letter to the Yankees’ and Mets’ front offices.

Here’s my suggestion:

Pay me to stop watching the games.

Since your offense plummets to around .087 and your opponent’s surges to somewhere around .823 whenever I’m in front of the teevee, why not give me an incentive to not watch? How can that possibly hurt you?

I’m easy. I figure, as an experiment, for the rest of the year, why not pay me … oh … say, $100 per game not watched. Since there’s around 125 games left in the season, that’ll only cost you each $12,500. It’s a win-win. I make an extra 25K, and you guys can actually start winning games! (Since the Yanks aren’t really that bad, I’m willing to drop my fee down to $50 a game for them.)

I figure me not watching is good for 40 wins a season.

That means this year even the Mets will have a chance at the playoffs.


How sad! The locally-famous Seaside Heights rollercoaster / victim of hurricane Sandy was finally dismantled and removed from the sea a few days ago. I couldn’t bear to follow the story, though.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not a beach person. In fact, I pretty much hate the beach. But I had some very fond memories at Seaside Heights –

Beginning The Silmarillion there at age twelve; writing a story (“The Planet of the Grapes”) that same vacation; winning two Billy Joel albums on a boardwalk spinning wheel; going down dozens of times in my late teens and early twenties with friends, drinking, smoking, having an awesome time thanks to youthful immortality; spontaneously driving down there with my buddy in the pouring rain, stalking a deserted boardwalk, buying a pink hat for my girlfriend; playing miniature golf atop the boardwalk stores, feeling the ocean breeze on my face and the camaraderie of good friends (as well as the ubiquitous Budweiser and Marlboros); reading Dean Koontz on the sand next to my bikini-clad girlfriend; that awesome boardwalk pizza!

And, of course, riding that rollercoaster a hundred times, from age ten to twenty-five. It never grew old.

Haven’t been down there in almost twenty years.

So sad.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

I am a Brain in a Vat

And there ain’t much use arguing that

Just add some spice

To make the broth nice

If you don’t mind all the saturated fat.

What it means, I don’t know … but they piped it into my brain at 8:57 this morning.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Find X

Cracks me up every time I see it ...

Sunday, May 12, 2013


SCENE: The Impala, driving back from early morning Mother’s Day shopping, with egg wraps, cards, and a hydrangea.

LITTLE ONE: (age 8) Hey Daddy?

ME: What?

LITTLE ONE: Knock knock.

ME: Who’s there?

LITTLE ONE: The Interrupting Cow.

ME: The Interrupting–


ME: (silence)

LITTLE ONE: (cackling wildly) Oh, that never gets old!

Friday, May 10, 2013

One Day I Shall Have You Again 2.0

1989 Gibson Les Paul
... my main guitar during the “Hello Cleveland tour”, 1991

Thursday, May 9, 2013

540 Days

Today marks my eighteenth month anniversary at the new job. Though I generally like it and the people I work with, today was exceptionally trying: “every day there’s something.” And you just can’t prepare for it. I am the poster boy for On-the-Job-Training.

That being said, I’m celebrating by drinking an ice cold Foster’s in the cold, dank dungeon I call the writing office.

Might even write something, too.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ray Harryhausen 1920-2013

Ah! It’s like a member of my family died!

Ray Harryhausen passed away yesterday at age 92.

Some of the most cherished memories I have as a small child were because of this man’s work. Can I address him by his first name? Ray was the stop-motion guru for all those science fiction and fantasy movies from the 50s, 60s and 70s. I’ve seen them all, countless times as a kid. Remember the week-long themed 4:30 movies on channel 7? I lived for Harryhausen Week. As a middle-aged man I actually own a handful and DVR them whenever TCM spotlights one. And I try to pass on this example of movie magic to my children. Well, really only Little One, as at eight she’s approaching the proper age; Patch is still a bit too young. I hope with a sincere hope that the CGI she’s so used to, sees so much of even on her Disney and Nick TV shows, has not spoiled the stop-motion, often-black-and-white awesomeness found in this man’s movies.

Where to start? Impossible! Yet, here goes:

My absolute favorite Harryhausen science fiction movie is Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. Did a parody-review, off to the left on the blog home page there, but I really do love the flick. And all it really boils down to are machines flying around, yet his technique imbues personality in them. Menacing, malicious, and destructive personality. The spinning underbelly, the organic motion of the death ray nozzles. Combine that with their terrible whining whirr, and they are perhaps one of the baddest alien invaders ever.

My absolute favorite Harryhausen fantasy flick is Jason and the Argonauts. Contains one of the greatest creep-out chills of my youth: when Hercules and Hylas break into the house-sized treasure chest and the Titan perched upon it – frozen in a rusted bronze crouch – creakingly turns its emotionless impartial face downwards upon them, echoing through the valley and turning this eight-year-old’s blood cold. The epic battle between the hundred-foot statue and the Argonauts that follow … the capture of the harpies … the skeleton swordplay … the Hydra … this movie alone merits its own blog post or – better yet – its own book!

I think It Came from Beneath the Sea was the first Harryhausen movie I watched. This was the one with the giant octopus – or, rather, pentapus, since budgetary constraints allowed only the filming of a model with five arms. The black-and-white eerie beach scenes (where the cop gets killed off-screen) as well as those arms unfurling along San Francisco’s bayside streets, squashing all those fleeing folks have stayed with me through the years. This movie is also the last movie I saw on VCR. I remember renting it from a library when Little One was a baby, a year before our tube teevee skewed perpetually pink. We bought a flat screen, and chucked the VCR out to the curb.

The movie I watched the most, I think, is Mysterious Island. That’s the one where the Civil War soldiers escape a prison camp via balloon and are swept off-course to an island filled with giant critters: crabs, chickens, bees. Remember the scene where the hero and heroine are being walled into a room-sized honeycomb cell? Captain Nemo makes a cameo in the last part of the film, but by then all of Ray’s animorphs had left the screen, along with most of my attention.

Perhaps the most perfect Harryhausen film was 20 Million Miles to Earth. Recently watched it with Little One. Love this film. Awesome spaceship returning from Venus (how utterly anti-Apollo that ship was!). Heebie jeebies from that egg-like gelatinous thing, which soon hatches the Monster, the Ymir. Then, it’s a fast-paced race to get it, before it gets us … and it’s growing at an exponential rate!

Man, there were others. All those Sinbad movies, as well as Clash of the Titans, his last, which I saw as a teen. There’s H. G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon. There’s The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, where the bronto-tyrannosaurus cross meets its demise at Coney Island. That one I saw on TCM about five years ago and – how creepy is it when the monster makes its first appearance between snowy gaps in the glacier? Then there’s the one with the cowboys and the dinosaurs, The Valley of Gwangi. Not my personal favorite, but you have to admit – the scene where the dinosaur(s) are lassoed and corralled by the cowboys is a cinematic / technologic marvel. How the heck did he do that, pre-computers and pre-blue screen?

While we were awaiting Little One’s birth, the house all freshly painted, clean, everything in its place, I borrowed Ray’s new book from the library – his life story, the story of his films. Plenty of photos and movie stills. Lots of insights (such as how he managed to get that malevolent whirr for the Flying Saucers). Couldn’t put it down. Think I’ll have to go buy that book now.

Ray Harryhausen, 1920-2013. Rest in peace.


A brief chronological filmography, with my rating –

The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) – B+

It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955) – A

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) – A+

20 Million Miles to Earth (1957) – A+

The Sinbad movies, three of ’em (1958-77) – B+

The Mysterious Island (1961) – A

Jason and the Argonauts (1963) – A+

The First Men in the Moon (1964) – B

The Valley of Gwangi (1969) – B

Clash of the Titans (1981) – B+

My loving parody review of Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, here.

A reflection on introducing Ray to my first-born, here.

Some more thoughts on his work here.

Monday, May 6, 2013

To Your Scattered Bodies Go

© 1971 by Philip Jose Farmer

Perhaps the most important and pressing question we will ever ask is, what happens when we die? Surprisingly, at least in my experience, this is a question that is rarely addressed in science fiction, the third-best suited genre to speculate on such a topic (the other two being theology and philosophy).

Anyway, To Your Scattered Bodies Go is Philip Jose Farmer’s attempt to wrestle that conundrum.

He does a good job. I liked it better than the past couple of his books I’ve read.

Our protagonist is Richard Burton, recently deceased, well, as of the first paragraph of the novel. Now it’s not the rheumy, alcoholic thespian with that awesome Welsh voice. It’s the 19th century explorer, militarist, traveler, imposter, writer, translator, adventurer, anti-Victorian chronicler of the erotic in non-Victorian cultures. A fascinating man and one of the best examples of a man of his time. It’s worth your time to google him; like T. E. Lawrence, imagine what our world could do with a hundred men like him!

Burton awakens afloat in the aether in a hairless, brand-new adult-sized body of 25 – quite different from the gout-riddled overweight one he’s had up to his 69th year. To his left is another such body, suspended inanimate. To his right, another, below and above him others. In fact, rows and rows vertical and horizontal, a veritable matrix of bodies floating in free-fall. Then – that’s it, he realizes, he’s freely falling. And somehow survives his landing on the banks of a river.

It’s The River, and this is Riverworld, a valley of lush plains on both shores of the great River, bounded by impenetrable mountains on either side. The River, it’s later determined, is millions of miles in length. And all along its banks are the Resurrected, men and women (and children, and – at least one alien) reborn into this world in these new bodies, but with the memories of a lifetime on earth.

What would you do in Burton’s place?

Of course: build a boat and find the source of the River.

Farmer takes ample time fleshing out the rules of the game – how the newly-resurrected get food, clothing, shelter, form groups and later weapons for protection (from other groups, for man is a warlike being) – but keeps everything moving at a nice clip. A nice mixture of famous personages and intriguing new characters are thrown together, such as …

Peter Jairus Frigate, an 20th century mid-Westerner (note those initials again)

Alice Hargreaves, known simply as “Alice” to Lewis Carroll

Monat Grrautut, an alien whose satellite’s “death ray” destroyed most of mankind in 2008

Hermann Goering, Hitler’s prime henchman and leader of the German Luftwaffe

“Kazz,” a Neanderthal

and many more representing various cultures and eras from this earth.

Who designed Riverworld? Why? And why were the Resurrected resurrected? How long do the Resurrected have in this world? What should they do? What should they believe?

Interesting hints are tossed out halfway to two-thirds in to the novel, but when PJF reveals his, er, Great Reveal, truth be told, I was a bit disappointed. However, like any good novelist with an eye for a good story (and guaranteed publication with a good series), he leaves plenty of openings for it to go one way or the other, plenty of plot to be traveled in follow-up works. I won’t spoil the Reveal, except to say that being a good science fiction writer, he’s not writing Biblical prophecy here.

I liked the setting, I liked the characters, I sort of liked Who was behind it all. I didn’t like how man’s-inhumanity-to-man was such a big part of it, though. Call me an idealist, but I’d like to believe that in the next world all that would be left behind. But maybe Farmer might not have a problem with that statement …

Grade: A-minus.

Two Quotes

that somehow resonated with me through this past weekend of reading:

“No matter what you do with the rest of your life, nothing will be as important to the future of the World as your work on this Project right now.”

- The Making of the Atomic Bomb, chapter 13 “The New World,” pg. 408, by Richard Rhodes.

“Know a man’s faith, and you knew at least half the man. Know his wife, and you knew the other half.”

- To Your Scattered Bodies Go, page 183 of my Berkely paperback, by Philip Jose Farmer.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Tube Action

Last night the wife, suffering from severe allergic reactions to the kilotons of tree pollen smog that envelops the upper part of my state this month, went to bed very early. This left me, at 8 pm, with nothing to do. Rather, a desire to do nothing.

Didn’t want to read; already put away nearly sixty pages in my PJF paperback, and didn’t feel like cracking the A-bomb tome. What to do, what to do?

Then it dawned on me: the DVR player!

Once or twice a month I scroll through the channel guide at length, recording a relatively rare this and that. Since January, I’ve accumulated about ten or twelve movies and documentaries that seem to hold some interest for me. What better time than now, I thought, with three uninterrupted hours, to watch a couple and free up some space on the old DVR?

First thing I watched was The Red Badge of Courage, a black-and-white 1951 cinematic treatment of the Stephen Crane classic. Directed by the legendary John Huston. Originally, from what I’ve read, it clocked in at two hours and contained some of Huston’s greatest pyrotechnical treatments of war. He even hinted that it may have been his greatest accomplishment. However, skirmishing between the famed director and studio mogul Samuel Goldwyn (I think it was him), along with some negative prescreening audience reactions, led to the studio putting a hatchet to the film, editing it down to 75 minutes, and inserting narration taken straight from the Crane novel.

All in all, I still liked it. I have a inkling that Huston’s original version would have become as classic as the source material. But I still liked the studio version. The warfare seemed authentic, the acting was passable, the writing decent enough. Two scenes stand out: the hair-raising death of the “Tall Soldier,” Jim Conklin, thirty-five minutes in, and some heartful banter between a victorious Union soldier and a captured Reb. I’d grade the flick a solid B-plus, possibly an A-minus.

Then I watched a Mythbusters episode. About ten years ago, when it first came out, the wife and I (me particularly) were especially enamored with the show. But, though it never jumped the shark before, we just kinda started watching other things.

Anyway, this episode concerned whether Jimmy Hoffa’s body might be at the ten-yard line of Giants Stadium. Since they couldn’t dig up the field, they did the next best thing: they buried a pig carcass beneath the concrete sidewalk by their warehouse. Waited a certain amount of time, then used one of those ground-MRI thingies to search for signs of the dead pig. Interesting but inconclusive (and slightly gross-out) stuff.

There was also a test about Jamie allowing himself to be bit by a daddy longlegs (which didn’t look like the daddy longlegs in my childhood basement at all) to test its poison potency. Needless to say, I deleted the episode before it got to this point.

My final viewing of the night was some special called “Myths and Monsters of Modern America.” I think. Don’t remember the title and haven’t seen it before or since I DVR’d it. Anyway – jackpot! Real creepy stuff.

The first thirty minutes focused on this dude who allegedly shot a sasquatch, then buried it (good move, Fish Kid!). When he was convinced by bigfoot investigators to go back and prove it, the ground had frozen and snow covered. What I found creepy, though, was the backstory of one of the main investigators.

Seems that when this guy was a teenager, mid-eighties, he and a buddy would go hiking deep into the dark woods. They’d make camp and head back home the next day. Well, this time, sitting around the campfire, pitch blackness all about them, they hear a crashing thud. Elk? Moose? It’s quiet, and they’re a bit unnerved. Then a large rock is lobbed into their small camp and lands a few feet away. Now they’re more than a bit unnerved. Is their a psycho hiker out there? Suddenly a second large rock is heaved at them. Terrified, they high-tail it out of there, heading downhill on a small path. This guy remembers he has a gun in his backpack. Stops to take it out and looks over his shoulder –

And sees a dark, hulking humanoid form silhouetted against the nighttime sky, a few yards behind him.

The man says he never knew fear – heart-stopping, time-stopping fear – until that moment.

Needless to say, the re-enactment was dead-on. None of the silly CGI stuff. This was spooky!

Unfortunately for me, it was time to go to bed.

Fortunately for me, I live in a safe, locked house, miles away from any suspected Sasquatch habitats.

Unfortunately for me, I had a crazy bad nightmare a few hours later.

More on that, maybe, tomorrow …

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Happy Star Wars Day!

May the 4th be with you!

Friday, May 3, 2013

My Weekend Plan

Involves –

A hammock

A six-pack of Corona in a bucket of ice

A transistor radio

My two current reads

Refreshed yet, just thinking about it?

Woe unto any insect that wants to mess with me. I’m relaxin’, dammit!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Fish Kid

LITTLE ONE (age 8): Hey Daddy, say, “I’m so happy – I got an A on my test today!”

ME: (falsetto) I’m so happy – I got an A on my test today!

LITTLE ONE: Yeah, good for you, Fish Kid.

Man, I’m in for a looooong two or three decades of abuse from these children …

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Making of the Atomic Bomb musings

At Simon’s suggestion Peierls had written to Lindemann on June 2. Together at Oxford later in June they approached Lindemann in person. “I do not know him sufficiently well to translate his grunts correctly,” Peierls reported of the meeting.

- The Making of the Atomic Bomb, by Richard Rhodes, chapter 11, page 339.

Peierls’s observation just jumped out at me; I knew I had to blog about it. I could’ve used that phrase a dozen times about the teachers, professors, and managers I’ve known over the years. Indeed, there are probably many who could have used it describing me – still to this day.

By the way, don’t know much about Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, other than what little I’ve read so far in the book (I’m almost half-way through it). But he immediately strikes me as a direct ancestor, a straight-line predecessor, of Dr. Sheldon Cooper, if Sheldon was a self-hating Jew with decidedly left-of-center political viewpoints.

By the way, part two, the book is really starting to get interesting. We all know about the Manhattan Project, America’s (and Britain’s, to a smaller extent) effort to build the first atomic bomb. Did you also know we were racing the Germans? Yes? But did you also know – Japan had their own research into nuclear weapons? Don’t hear much about that.

The extent of the German and Japanese attempts, however, are not known to me at this point. But perhaps a follow-up post in two or three weeks might be warranted on these very intriguing facts.