Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Camera Eye


Boy do I feel old …

Geddy Lee just turned sixty – 60! – two days ago. I’ve been listening to his music since the man was in his late twenties.

Unlike us, however, the music never gets old.

Putting “Tom Sawyer” aside, “The Camera Eye” is the first song I really really got into all those years ago.

(For the inexplicable non-Rush fan who may be reading this, fast forward to the guitar solo at 9:18 and be converted.)




Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Cyclops


© 1986 by Clive Cussler


When I was a kid, oh, about twelve years old, tail-end of the 70s, my family rented a bungalow down in Lavalette, one town away from famous Seaside Heights at the Jersey shore. I had a great time, as has been documented elsewhere on this blog. One thing that stands out is that I read the Ainulindalë. Another is that I read Clive Cussler’s Raise the Titanic.

Let me state flat out right now that I loved Raise the Titanic. As a pre-teen, I probably didn’t understand half of it (such as the geopolitical espionage angle of the story), but I sure as heck loved the engineering feat of raising the Titanic.

I read it again sometime in the mid-90s. Still held up. On that basis, I picked up Cussler’s Atlantis, sometime around the turn of the century. Liked that one, too. So much so it was one of those rare books I take and throw at a friend with the imperative: “Read this!” I even turned my stepfather on to Cussler and, by extension, Dirk Pitt, who we’ll get to in a moment.

So now I just finished my third Clive Cussler potboiler, Cyclops. Why, you ask, if I enjoy the man’s work as much as I’ve claimed to in the preceding paragraphs, why have I only read three books in thirty-plus years? Good question: dunno. Other stuff got in the way, perhaps. School, relationships, music, work, science fiction, etc. Point is, whenever I pick up one of this guy’s books, I enjoy the read.

And what a fast read it was: nearly five hundred pages in five days. Were I to read at that pace every book I opened! Pages turned and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Now, I realized then and realize now that the book won’t make a difference one way or another in my life, and I will probably forget the mechanics of the plot in a few weeks. That’s not why you read Clive Cussler. You read it because it does what it’s supposed to do – pull you into its roller-coaster world and not release you until it’s all over.

Cyclops takes its name from the US naval ship that sunk under mysterious circumstances in … the Bermuda Triangle! Hey, I just read about that a week or so ago (maybe that’s what influenced me to pluck this book from my Unread Shelf). Seriously, read about the ship; it’s all there: leadership hubris, an overloaded vessel, a perfect storm, and – a complete vanishing.

Anyway, Cussler’s take is all that, plus more. The Cyclops is transporting famed treasure (think along the lines of Vasco da Gama, Ponce de Leon, and / or a feminine version of an early-seventies ELO album title) when it goes to the bottom. A billionaire industrialist with a serious weakness for blimps disappears searching for it, and this starts a chain of events that somehow involves the intersection of a secret moonbase, the space shuttle “Gettysburg” (great name, by the way), a very nasty bad guy and his torture room on an island off the coast of Cuba, and the assassination of Fidel and Raul Castro from a highly unlikey source.

(Thought experiment, which I hope many in our government have thought about: how would you destroy a city nuclear-bomb-wise, without using a nuclear bomb? Don’t worry – Mr. Cussler has thought it out, though I have to pat myself on the back for figuring it out ahead of time … though I had help living in a post-Timothy McVeigh world.)

Cussler’s hero, and the hero of nearly two dozen of his books, is Dirk Pitt, a 20th and 21st century adventurer that Haggard and Doyle might be proud of. He can throw a punch as well as rig an engine, read a map, or spew out ancient maritime legend. McGuyverish in a pinch – a talent in demand every couple of chapters – Pitt is single-minded in his goal, whatever it may be. He works ostensibly for the government agency NUMA, the National Underwater and Marine Agency, but spends most of his time saving the President’s – and / or the world’s – behind in various ways, depending on each novel’s theme. A colorful cast of characters always follow him, including his boss / mentor / father figure Admiral Sandecker and buddy Al Giordano. And he beds just as many chicks as that guy across the pond, some dude by the name of Bond, I think.

I liked it. It’s good to read a book like this every now and then, especially as you’re trying to slog through hefty nonfiction tomes or “classic” novels you feel may improve or change you as a human being. It’s escapism, but it’s good escapism.

Grade: A.


[Note: I have another Cussler book that been sitting on deck for nearly a year now, involving the fabled lost Library of Alexandria. Now that seems like a great read – Maybe I’ll get to it before the new year …]

Monday, July 29, 2013

Fighting Something


Hi. For about the past week or so I’ve been fighting something low-grade attacking my system. Not sure what it is exactly. Symptoms: fatigue, light-headedness to dizziness, occasional unpleasantness in the bathroom. Flu? The symptoms seem to come and go. Not nauseous, either. So, I’m not sure what’s going on save that I have very little energy to bang something out right now for the Hopper.

That being said, let me bang something out right now for the Hopper.

I am finishing up Clive Cussler’s Cyclops; should put it away tonight. I’m looking to start a re-read of Watership Down in a couple of days, so my short-short-term goal was to read five short SF paperbacks before that. Well, I did read Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and Omnivore, but Cyclops itself is about two-to-three short SF paperbacks in itself. So I will consider that goal attained. For the next two days I picked out a half-dozen short stories from a compendium of “Weird” and “Eerie” tales. Should be interesting reading and, hopefully, blogging.

Bonus – funniest thing I heard this week … Jay Leno: In his economy speech President Obama said we've all been distracted by phony scandals. He prefers we be distracted by his phony recovery.

Ouch but true.

Wish me well and see you tomorrow.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Sharknado 2


So we watched half of the abominably too-bad-its-good Syfy movie Sharknado last night before falling asleep. Fortunately, the DVR was also recording it, so the wife and I will be able to rest easy knowing exactly how the shark tornado was thwarted and the city of Los Angeles saved.

Even better, Syfy was periodically showing tweets from viewers with suggestions for the title of Sharknado 2. Some were good, some were bad, some were pretty punny. I don’t do the tweet twitter thing, but I came up with two ideas, original at least to the halfway point of the flick:

Sharknado 2: Sharktopusnado

Sharknado 2: The Sharkening

What do you think, eh? Pretty funny, or is this just a case of me laughing at myself?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Twain of Arc


You know Mark Twain? Did you know he wrote a “biography” of Joan of Arc?

I didn’t until recently. The last time I read Twain was in high school over twenty-five years ago. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. Think that’s the only one of his I read. Never read Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn.

So he’s been on my radar recently, especially this book on Joan of Arc. Why Joan of Arc? Well, it so happens to be Little One’s favorite saint. At least from the children’s compendium of saints book we’ve been reading through (alternating with a book on Greek mythology).

And wouldn’t you know it, but I found it in the used book section of B&N – for $2.25. I’ve said it before on this blog (see here, for instance), but so much great literature is so undervalued in today’s culture.

Aiming to get to Twain sometime in the fall.

Tebow!


It seems Tebow has signed with the New England Patriots as a backup QB for Tom Brady.

Now, I don’t know how good or bad Tim Tebow is, nor am I a big Tebow fan.  But seeing how the Jets treated him last year, I would absolutely love – love! – for Belichick to start him for both regular season games against the perpetually imploding Jets. 

Wouldn’t that make the ratings skyrocket?  Put both of ’em on Monday night, I say!

And I bet the Pats would win both games.  By a combined score of 48-17.  (Both Jets touchdowns will have been scored by the Jets defense, by the way.)

Friday, July 26, 2013

Man in Quest of Power



Shameless

Loathsome

Indecent

Narcissistic

Repellent

Egomaniacal

Creepy

Immoral

Contemptible

Pathetic

Pitiable

 

Who does this list of adjective refer to? 

Hint: By day he’s a Democratic candidate for Mayor of New York City.  By night he terrorizes young women on social media under the nom de guerre of – Carlos Danger!

Now I understand the prerogative to denounce the behavior and not the individual.  But I’ll make a deal with you, Carlos.  Stop wallowing in the behavior, passing it off as normal or unremarkable or harmless, and I’ll rescind this post.  Oh, and even better: drop out of mayoral race and anonymously – that’s the key word, anonymously, work in a hospice or a home for the elderly or an orphanage.  Serve.  Truly serve, and maybe save yourself.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Omnivore




© 1968 by Piers Anthony


I now know more than I ever wanted to know about fungi.

Thank you, Piers Anthony.

All kidding aside, Omnivore was a surprisingly good SF read. Got off to a slow start (who are these lumberjack dudes punching each other somewhere on earth – isn’t this a science fiction novel?) but quickly picked up. Actually, the novel turned out to be commendably economical, a nice blend of flashback and foreboding.

[All life on earth can be divided into three kingdoms – Animal, Plant, and … care to guess the what the third kingdom is?]

“Subble” is an android – or a heavily reprogrammed entity living in the shell of a human body, hard to tell which exactly – who works as a special agent for the government. Super-smart, super-strong, super-tenacious-D, but his memory is wiped after every mission. To keep him sharp. His current mission is to interview three surviving members of an exploratory voyage to the planet Nacre.

[If any one of the millions of species in the fungal world were to become intelligent, they’d be feeding on us in like point-oh-two seconds.]

Each interview, intense in its own different way, is followed by a vivid flashback of what happened on Nacre, a world where fungoid life has run amuck. And what happened is, intelligent life had been discovered. What is revealed over the course of the novel is a truly unique and fascinating alien creature, and by alien, I mean alien – a being whose evolutionary development has led to a completely different way of perceiving its environment which in turn has led to a different type of intelligence or consciousness, or something like that. Now I ask you, science fiction reader – what could be more interesting than that? Furthermore: different organics / different perception / different intelligence + survival of the fittest = the possible end of mankind … especially since Agent Subble is convinced at least one of the creatures has returned with the explorers to Earth!

[Did you know that fungi reproduce through the spread of millions and millions of microscopic spores? Thought experiment: what would happen if a dominant alien fungus were to set foot on this planet and suddenly find itself in a very amorous mood …]

Omnivore is only the second Piers Anthony book I’ve read (the first being the mediocre and disappointing Firefly fifteen years ago) and I have to admit I’m pleasantly impressed. You all know how Hal Clement is the undisputed master of “hard” SF, science fiction grounded firmly, minutely, in concrete, realistic science. Well, what Clement did for physics and chemistry in his stories, Anthony has done for biology in this one. He spends a lot of time musing about the herbivore / omnivore / carnivore relationship, especially as a hinge to understand the new otherly-intelligent life discovered on Nacre. Heck, it almost made me want to take a college botany class. Very impressed, too, with story structure and a satisfactory denouement. I might have to forgive him for Firefly and keep my eye out for more of his stuff.

Grade: A-minus.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Splinter of the Mind's Eye




© 1978 by Alan Dean Foster


What a phenomenon the very first Star Wars movie was when I was a kid. It revolutionized everything. The year before Logan’s Run had wowed my friends and I, and I vividly recall buying the source novel from the Bookmobile the summer of third grade. Then Star Wars happened and Logan’s Run became instantly obsolete.

I first saw it in the movies with my parents; I think I watched it again later that summer with my buddy. Somehow I had the novelization and carried that around with me wherever I went. One hot summer day my grandfather, who watched me and my brother during the day, had business at the local DMV. I brought the book with me, perched on a window ledge, and put away half the book while he went from line to line over the course of the afternoon. George Lucas’s name was splashed all over the cover, but I found out years later that it was ghost-written by Alan Dean Foster.

A year went by. Battlestar Galactica – the original series, that is – premiered on my birthday. Star Wars fever was still in the air. Christmas brought a rash of action figures and the toy spaceships. One weekend I spread newspapers on the dining room table, got out the airplane glue and paints, and built me a model of Darth Vader’s TIE fighter. And I remember seeing for the first time that semi-famous cover of –

Splinter of the Mind’s Eye.

What is this? little eleven-year-old me wondered, ignorant of the ways of film marketing and sequel production. It wasn’t Star Wars, but there was Luke, Leia, and Vader there on the cover. I remember reading the synopsis on the back. I also remember holding it in my hands a long time. I wanted to buy it (or ask my parents to buy it for me) but something held me back. Something didn’t feel right.

Turns out I put it back on the shelf. I spotted the book off and on throughout the years, like an vague acquaintance, a friend of a friend whose name I couldn’t quite recall, in various used book stores and on various library shelves.

Thirty-five years would go by before I finally picked it up. By then I had seen all six Star Wars movies countless times. Bought some as video tapes and DVDs. I’d read eight, nine or ten Foster books, original stories and more movie tie-ins. (His Alien novelization was hugely influential to young Me.) And even though Star Wars doesn’t really excite me much nowadays (Phantom Menace began my disillusionment; Clone Wars cemented it), I figured Splinter of the Mind’s Eye would give me a couple of hours of reckless youthful reading enjoyment.

It did.

I read it in two long sittings this past weekend, and, I have to say, I liked it. Was it great literature? No. Was it great science fiction? No. But it did what I expect a good read to do: pull me in to the story and keep me turning the pages until it’s over.

[spoilers!]

The plot is pretty direct. Luke and Leia are piloting separate X-wings into the Circarpousian star system to convince the main planet’s government to join the rebellion. C3PO and R2D2 are with them. Suddenly, engine trouble forces Leia to crash on Mimban, a relatively unexplored and unsettled jungle world, and Luke follows. Their ships irreparable, the two set out to explore their surroundings and find a way off. Mimban, by the way, is a stand-in for what would later become Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back, and Foster had plenty of practice with such a world from writing this novel. Anyway, they stumble across a secret Imperial mining facility, infiltrate it, learn of a mythical gemstone with the power to vastly amp up one’s command of The Force, are discovered and imprisoned, escape, and race Lord Vader to the temple that houses said gem, the “splinter of the mind’s eye.” Events take them underground, which reminded me so much of this novel I was swamped with déjà vu. The story ends abruptly following the requisite and climactic light saber duel – only this time, Vader loses an arm!

Since this was written before The Empire Strikes Back, it was not canon that Luke and Leia were brother and sister. So there’s an awkward and uncomfortable sexual vibe every time Luke is described as stealing randy glances at the princess. Also, no Han Solo or Chewie. Not much grandiose special effects to envision, either; save for the first couple of pages (the crash landings on Mimban), all the action takes place either in the jungle, the mining town, or the temple. There are some monsters, and I envisioned a pre-asteroid monster type thing which later made an appearance in Empire. All-in-all, it’s a pared-down low-budget semi-sequel to the original movie.

Which is what it was supposed to be. Foster created the story to be filmable as a low-budget semi-sequel to Star Wars had the original movie bombed. Since it didn’t, Lucas’s plans for a more expansion, epic sequel were put into play. And Splinter of the Mind’s Eye became a footnote, albeit an important one: the first of a long, long list of “original” novels in the Star Wars universe.

I enjoyed it, for what it was worth. Grade: B+


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

World Lit Only By Fire


Did you know that, according to the Catholic Church, sex is evil? Or that Jesus and his apostles never mentioned the word saint?! Or that the Gospels contradict each other?!? Or that no other religion has had as bloody a history as early Christianity; case in point: Charlemagne beheading 4,500 pagans in one morning for the crime of failing to convert?!?!

(Really: no other religion? Can’t think of any? Really?)

Such are the contentions of William Manchester’s A World Lit Only By Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance. I picked it up at the library in audio CD form (thank God I didn’t spend any money on it) to listen in the car to and from work as a relief to the constant barrage of negativity of talk radio. I listened to only the first CD. I won’t listen to any others as I’m going to return it for something more worthy of my time.

Basically, Manchester’s thesis on the Medieval world can be summed up as:

Christianity – kinda, sorta, almost good, I guess, despite all its myriad inconsistencies and hypocrisies;

Paganism – much, much better!

No thanks.

If you still need further convincing, go to amazon.com and type in the title. Then look at all the one-star reviews. I am in 100% agreement with them all after listening to 40 minutes of this amateur garbage. One howler I saw there but did not have the fortune to hear firsthand was –

Did you know that the Church burned Copernicus at the stake?!?!?


Monday, July 22, 2013

Warlock




© 1958 by Oakley Hall


Let me say right off the bat that this classic Western was a hard one to grade. I’d give it either a C-plus or an A-minus, depending on what factors I choose to weigh. I did enjoy reading it. Though it took me a lot longer than I thought it would (about three weeks at an average reading time of 30 minutes a night), I loved every minute spent reading about the ill-fated town of Warlock and its struggle with law and lawlessness. Yet it left me quite unsettled in an unsatisfying way afterward.

Perhaps a synopsis should be the first order of business.

The relatively young desert town of Warlock – named after one of the mines which burrow into the surrounding mountains along the Mexican border – is having a sheriff problem. They don’t last. Whether they’re run out of town or shot dead in the street, being the law in Warlock is about as hazardous as fighting the Apaches was a decade earlier. The town is effectively run by Abe McQuown and his gang, a shifting group of no-goods most adept at rustling, holding up stage coaches, drinking, carousing, and shooting up the local businesses.

The Citizens Committee has decided this must come to a stop.

So they do what any 1880s Arizona town did: hire themselves a gunslinger. In this case, it’s a famous – or infamous – hired gun name of Clay Blaisedell. A “man among men,” as it’s noted more than once in the novel. Blaisedell accepts the job and by page 30 we’re having our first showdown in the Lucky Slipper saloon.

But Blaisedell, strangely enough, is not really the protagonist of the story. The novel fields a huge supporting cast, a half-dozen of which share the spotlight as the novel moves, chapter-wise, from one point of view to another. There’s Blaisedell’s friend and partner from way back, Tom Morgan, himself much more obviously of a checkered past than the new marshal. There’s Bud Gannon, a young man who enlists somewhat suicidally as a deputy after his gunfighter wannabe younger brother, Billy Gannon, is killed in the “Gunfight at the Acme Corral.” There’s Miss Jessie, the Angel of Warlock, who tends to injured miners in the town’s makeshift hospital. There’s Kate Dollar, a woman of mystery recently come into town on the stage, looking for revenge, revenge best served in the death of Clay Blaisedell. And there’s a shopkeeper named Henry Goodpasture, whose journal entries serve as background exposition so we’re always aware of the implications of what’s been transpiring.

The bad guys are also front and center, and they range from the somewhat amiable and amusing Curly Burne to the dangerous back-shooter Jack Cade to the distasteful Dad McQuown, Abe’s paralytic father. There is also Tom McDonald, owner of the mine and cruel taskmaster over the miners (he specializes in cutting their earnings retroactively right before pay day). All in all, there are probably a good two to three dozen characters in the novel if you thrown in the townsfolk and politicians.

Most of the bases are tagged in the novel. We have stage coach robberies, showdowns in the mud of Main Street, lynch mobs, drunken judges, bluffing, the U.S. Cavalry, stand-offs, death threats, saloons being burnt to the ground, a lamed horse, laudanum, the prostitute with a heart of gold (well, at least she wants to go good by novel’s end), badges being thrown down in the dirt, gold-plated six shooters, the businessmen from East getting their comeuppance. We also have a miners strike, a court room trial, lots of soul-searching and lectures on jurisprudence, 1880-style territorial governance politics, a senile general, and the world’s most awkward courtship.

All that being said, you could further say I’d liked all that. That’s all well and good.

Here’s what left me unsatisfied:

The theme of the novel, I suppose, for lack of a better term. After reading ten or twelve Westerns over the past two years, a notion is forming in my mind. If you allow me a cinematical analogy, those of writer Louis L’Amour (and perhaps, to a lesser extent, Zane Grey) seem to me like the John Wayne Westerns that have all become classics over the years. Hall’s novel Warlock, on the other hand, struck me as something that might have been filmed in the 70s. In other words, it came off very anti-tradition, in the sense that it set out to turn all those Western-isms upside down. Now, I don’t expect every Western I read to be Shane and I wasn’t expecting this novel to be akin to it either, but I do want something uplifting, even if it’s something found in the final paragraph on the final page.

Hall keeps the plot moving along unconventional lines, and after a while I felt he was just trying to keep the reader off-kilter rather than satisfy him with effective closure of a scene or a particular area of tension or a plot line. He’s a forerunner of George R. R. Martin, whose Song of Ice and Fire books (seen on teevee as Game of Thrones) continually and endlessly subject characters to emotional and physical brutality and abuse only to … subject them to more emotional and physical brutality and abuse.

Every hero is flawed to a greater or much greater extent. True, there are no completely good guys in real life or real literature, but I spent half the novel seeking one character I could sorta admire, and when I discovered I couldn’t, spent the second half hoping one would redeem himself or herself at the end. And, yeah, maybe one does, kinda, but then we’re informed in a coda that the character was quickly murdered in cold blood off-screen. Depressing.

Another analogy that keeps coming to me comes from my interest in Thomas Aquinas (no segues necessary here on the Hopper). A big part of the saint’s philosophy deals with Act and Potency … actuality and potentiality. You’ve heard it before: the acorn in potential becomes the tree in action. Well, I couldn’t help thinking as I finished Warlock that the novel had so much potential that was squandered in act. The potential payoffs in the novel – primarily in the main possible payoff, that of a showdown between Blaisedell and McQuown – are never satisfactorily consummated. They never come to fruition. The story, like the town of Warlock and its future, simply goes on, as is stated somewhere in the novel.

So that’s why I’m torn evaluating the book. In setup, I have to give it an A-minus. But in execution, I just can’t give it anything higher than a C-plus.

For what it’s worth.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Crazy Plan


I have a plan. A plan so crazy, so improbably, so incredibly unanticipateable that – it just might work!

Last night I finished Warlock, the Oakley Hall 1958 classic Western clocking in at 471 pages. Took my three whole weeks to read it. I also just made the decision to read / listen to Watership Down, itself no slouch in the length department, beginning August 1.

The question is …

Can I read five lean and mean, no-nonsense no-frills sci fi paperbacks in ten days?

Hmm?

Possible candidates:

Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster

Omnivore by Piers Anthony

Red Tide by D. D. Chapman

False Dawn by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

A Dark Traveling by Roger Zelazny

Nightwings by Robert Silverberg

The World of Ptavvs by Larry Niven

The children are away this week, vacationing in PA with my folks. An uncommon feat like the alignment of the planets that one must always be prepared to take advantage. Is this a message?

You bet.

First up:

The Star Wars sequel that Wasn’t To Be.

Lemony Snicket


So after spending six hours with a semi-sick Little One yesterday I am now an authority on all things Lemony Snickett.

First I took her on errands: post office, dry cleaners, recylcing center. And during this, leading up to our trip to the library, she regaled me with the plotlines from Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, a series of grim books consumed rabidly by pre-tweens. Black comedies. Kinda like an Addams Family for the 21st century. And Little One knew every character, relationship, backstory, plot twist. What struck me most disturbing – and “disturbing” really means “interesting” – is the gruesome manner in which family members are, uh, dispatched.

The books follow a trio of sibling orphans – Violet (the “inventor”), Klaus (the “reader”, whose name Little One enunciates as “claws”), and Sunny (an infant known as the “biter”). At the start their wealthy, mysterious parents are killed in a fire. They’re sent to live with their closest relative: the evil, crazy, weird, maniacal, greedy Count Olaf:


Count Olaf wants that inheritance, and he’ll stop at nothing to get it – including murder. Each book details his nefarious schemes, usually culminating in the death of a family member who takes the orphans in and the children’s unmasking of Olaf as the perpetrator.

Yeah, it disturbed me at first (see end of paragraph 2, above), but Little One is really into it … for the weird humor of it. And it is weirdly humorous. At the library she insisted we rent the Jim Carrey 2004 movie version, which I did. Once home, she insisted I sit down and watch it with her, which I did. Afterwards, she told me it was an awesome flick – did I agree? I did.

Though she seems just a tad bit too young for the target market for these books, I’m okay with it. If these books had been around in the 70s I’d have read ’em all. And it’s not like I’m warped, right?

Right?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Watership Down Redux


I think I’m gonna re-read Watership Down, starting August 1. Give it the re-read-while-listening-to-the-audio-CD-book treatment. Should take me the entire month, I would think.

Watership Down was one of the handful of books I read as a kid that overwhelmed me. I read it the first time right around the time the animated movie came out; I don’t recall whether I read it or watched it first. But I remember this – it was probably the first true adult novel I read. Yeah, I had read a bunch of Asimovs and Heinleins and Bradburys up to that point, but this was different, and I knew it was different as I was reading it.

This was the first book I recognized to be written on multiple levels. Sure, there was the adventure story of the rabbits trying to find a new warren. Much like Homer’s Odyssey, which was on the periphery of my consciousness at that time (a lot of Greek mythology in grade school). But there was also the whole lepusian mythos: Frith, El-ahrairah, and the quasi-biblical narratives linking the two. And my much younger self could somewhat vaguely slightly puzzle out the geopolitical analogs in the tale: Efrafa as Soviet Russia, Cowslip’s warren as a society appeasing evil/death (Chamberlain England?). I struggled with the whole thing, and enjoyed it fantastically.

I read it that first summer – must’ve been in middle school, between seventh and eighth grades. Fond memories reading it in the backyard blades of grass in the bright sun. Lugging the heavy tome around with me on my bike here and there. Pondering the helpful glossary of rabbit terms at the back of the book. Loved it. Read it again a few years later, though of this second time I can’t recall any details. Was it in high school? College? Just after college? Not sure.

Remember picking it up at a mall sometime in the late 80s – the Stupid Me phase. Leather jacket, cigarettes, gleeful beer drinking. I forgot the book on the counter of a convenience store buying a pack of Marlboros.

So … in thirteen days I’ll crack it again, first time in perhaps 30 years.

Should be awesome!


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Songs from the Wood


I’ve dug Jethro Tull off and on throughout the years. They were the first live band I ever saw, way back in 1984 at the Brendan Byrne Arena in the Meadowlands. I got into them a few years earlier, sometime in middle school – my friend had two of their records, Songs from the Wood and Heavy Horses. We used to listen to them while we played D&D, washing bags of Doritos down with Pepsi in his basement. Yeah, we were ladykillers back then.

My uncle had Aqualung on vinyl; he recorded it on to cassette for me one summer. But my interest in Tull faded as I got into bands such as The Who, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, and Black Sabbath. As I’ve written about earlier somewhere here on the Hopper, I didn’t quite take to all the “contemporary” Kajagoogoo music of the time: Duran Duran, Culture Club, all those lightweight groups MTV was foisting upon us. Me, I just wanted guitar, the heavier the better.

Ten years ago, on a whim, I picked up a Jethro Tull best-of CD and fondly reminisced on all those tunes from days long gone. In short order I bought Minstrel in the Gallery, Broadsword and the Beast and War Child. I listened to them constantly while rewriting my two novels a few years ago. Every now and then I throw a Tull CD on and dig on it.

Why do I like them? Well, Ian Anderson, to my not untrained ears, has the second-best set of vocal chords I’ve ever heard in action. The timbre of his voice coupled with his accent is pitch-perfect. Now, I know in real life he’s accused of being somewhat of an snobbish egomaniac; a woman I knew 20 years ago met him at a party and said he was insufferably so. You can tell from the lyrics and his singing style. But I forgive him this, because a) I’ve never personally met him, and b) recall what I said about timbre and accent.

Anyway, I enjoy best the songs that highlight Ian’s crisp acoustic guitar, his flute, and his tremolo-style vocals. Hey, the eponymous song from, er, Songs from the Wood, is an excellent example. Want to hear it? Good! (Just imagine you’re a chubby nerdy twelve-year old thumbing through your Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual, and you just walked 4 minutes in Young Hopper’s shoes.)




Want another? Okay – how about “Mother Goose”



Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hypnotizing


I turned on the iPad the other day, clicked on the Bing app, and this is what pops up in the search line:


how can I hypnotize my sister quickly


Little One, I had to laugh, oh my Little One. Hypnotism is her latest thing (she’s gonna be nine years old in September). She’s on her second young adult novel in a row about it, though from snippets I overhear and small conversations we’ve had, she’s been interested in it the whole school year. I tried to find a nonfiction book on hypnotism aimed at a 3rd or 4th grade level, but so far have been unsuccessful.

But what gets me, what r e a l l y gets me, is that adverb attached to her search:


quickly


Patchie! You better keep alert! If Little One starts dangling a swaying pocket watch in front of you – Runnnnnnnnnnnnn!


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bad Joke


Question:


What do you call a small category?


Answer:


A kittygory!


* * *

* * *


Okay, really really bad. What's worse is that I'm having quite the technical difficulties with Blogger. Starting sometime late last week, I suddenly lost the ability to edit my entry with the wysiwyg-thingie, and have to enter it in html with all the annoying tags and whatnot. Very trial by error, mostly error. As a result, it takes even longer to post the darn blog entry than it took to write it. Oh, and now I can't post pictures or video.

What could be wrong? I dunno. Gotta troubleshoot it. Try posting on another PC, like my wife's laptop or our iPad. Maybe I need to upgrade IE on my model-T PC; the version I used up to last Friday with no problem was IE 8, now I see Microsoft is up to IE 10. But I haven't the time or patience today to do any of that right now. Perhaps later in the week. I'll try to post at least something - even if a really bad joke - every day until I can get things up and running again.

Thanks for stoppin' by ... please check back tomorrow!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Identity Crisis


There are so many things I want to be when I grow up …


… science fiction writer

… guitarist and songwriter

… theoretical mathematician

… cutting edge particle physicist

… doctor / dentist / anesthesiologist

… Dominican / Benedictine / Jesuit / contemplative

… professor of English literature


I’ve dabbled in most to varying degrees, but never with wholehearted conviction. As a result, the job I do to pay the bills, where I spend perhaps fifty or sixty hours each week, is one that is completely meaningless to me.

Kids, don’t let this happen to you!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Race God Must Be Appeased


21st-century America no longer worships the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. No, 21st-century America worships of pantheon of Pagan gods. In the thought of Mark Shea, a catholic apologist and blogger way more perceptive in these matters than myself, these gods are called Mars, Venus, and Moloch. You know, the gods of war, sex, and abortion.

Jay Nordlinger, columnist over at the National Review, believes America’s primary pagan god is Race. The Race God interjects himself in everything from politics to pop culture to economics and academics and – you name it. He is there. And in all things – even things barely remotely racial in nature – the Race God Must Be Appeased.

More and more do I believe this is true.

I write this in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial. I was not close to it; nor did I follow it on a daily basis. But I was aware of the media’s smearing and assassinating of Zimmerman’s character … in other words, doing the bidding of the Race God. Guilty or no, I don’t hold with that. Nor do I think it fair that they consistently pictured Trayvon Martin as an angelic pre-teen via the pictures they would air, as opposed to the wanna-be thug more recent photos revealed him to be, or at least aspire to. The media unfairly convicted George Zimmerman of cold-blooded racially-motivated murder days after the initial incident, and months before yesterday’s verdict of Not Guilty.

Truth be told, I expected him to be convicted of some degree of manslaughter. This despite the initial police investigation finding him to have acted in accordance with justifiable self-defense. So I was honestly surprised to hear the result of the trial late last night. Not happy or pleased – a young man is dead and another young man’s life is ruined – but surprised that six jurors were able to rise above the demands of the Race God. They alone had access to all the factual evidence admitted into Zimmerman’s trial, were ringside to hear the examination and cross-examination of witnesses and experts, and they arrived at a Not Guilty verdict.

Now I hear rumors of Sharpton, true Apostle of the Race God, agitating at the bidding of his true master. Obama and Holder are contemplating charging Zimmerman on a federal level of violating Martin’s “civil rights,” if in fact they have not done so already. Obama the post-racial healer – remember that? They are all but servants of the Race God –

And the Race God Must Be Appeased.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

2011 Honda Pilot


Well, we’re the proud new owners of a Certified Pre-Owned 2011 Honda Pilot.

The wife landed a plum new job after much hustling, networking, negotiating and interviewing. Part of her compensation is a monthly stipend towards a vehicle. Another part is a signing bonus. Both of which we took to the dealership and, three hours later, drove out of there with a vehicle similar to the one below:



Everyone was professional, pleasant, and more than accomodating. Of course, I have a little bit of pull there. :)

That being said, the rest of the weekend will be (hopefully) calm and uneventful. Might drive down the Jersey shore to see my father-in-law, that’s still up in the air. Putting mileage on my book Wizard (up to page 285 out of 471) and borrowed another book, this one a mathematical thing. Try to squeeze in two entries for tomorrow, depending on what’s on the agenda. Safe driving!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Suscipe



Suscipe, Domine,

universam meam libertatem.

Accipe memoriam, intellectum, atque voluntatem omnem.

Quidquid habeo vel possideo mihi largitus es;

id tibi totum restituo, ac tuae prorsus voluntati trado gubernandum.

Amorem tui solum cum gratia tua mihi dones,

et dives sum satis, nec aliud quidquam ultra posco.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

At Last


Last Movie Watched: Escape from New York

Last Teevee Show Watched: some random Mike and Molly episode

Last Music Listened To: Dvorak, Symphony No. 8 and 9

OK, Last Non-Pretentious Music Listened To: Led Zeppelin, The Song Remains the Same (live)

Last Fiction Book Read: The Wolf is My Brother

Last Non-Fiction Book Read: The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Last Meal Ate: roast beef sandwich, chips, and a diet Coke for lunch

Last Drink: bottle of Sam Adams Summer Ale

Last Ticket: Driving on the Shoulder (hey, this goes back to 2008!)

Last Major Home Repair: Painting Patch’s room

Last Major Home Repair Before That: Painting Little One’s room (2004)

Last Website Visited: www.recoveringhopper.com

Last State Visited: New York

Farthest State Visited: California

Warmest State Visited: South Carolina (Puerto Rico if territories count)



Update:

Last Drink: Fosters oil can


Note: Writer 1, Writer’s Block 0


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Freedom of Speech


“I may not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” – attributed to Voltaire, c. 1770.

“I may not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it, er, unless you say the n-word, or speak out about gay “marriage,” or, uh, criticize any policy of President Obama, or, mmm, say anything that may somehow hurt the feelings of someone or some group on the Left, even if you couldn’t possibly predict those hurt feelings, and, uh, hmmm, er … ” – attributed to 21st-century America.

[Oh, by the way, how soon until quotation marks around the word marriage, when said word is placed immediately after the word gay, becomes labeled “hate speech”?]


Monday, July 8, 2013

Tails and Legs


Abraham Lincoln once famously asked during a courtroom trial,

“If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?”

Well?

The answer is … 4. Calling something what it isn’t doesn’t make it what it isn’t.

Bonus question:

What current-event hot-button topic of debate today does this witticism apply to?

See also: triangulophobia.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Hopper Unsupervised


All right. The wife took the little ones on vacation with her, down to her folks in South Carolina, eight days ago. I stayed because we’re banking my vacation time (which I don’t have enough of, anyway) and there was plenty for me to do around the house. They’re due back later this afternoon.

What does Hopper do without spousal supervision?

Well, it turns out I’m pretty tame. Should hope so, at my age. I did do a lot of productive work. I clocked an extra 9 hours of OT at the job this past week. Ka-ching, money in the bank. Uh, money already spent, that is. Around the house I was a whirlwind, too. With the help of my folks, we renovated Patch’s bedroom. That required me cleaning it out and slapping five coats of primer and pink paint on the walls. That’s about five hours labor there. Add to it mowing the front and back yards, hitting the grocery store twice, hauling furniture out of and into the garage, and keeping the entire house clean while the ladies were away, and you’re talking about a grand total of about 20 hours additional work I did while they were away swimming and whatnot.

How did I ever survive?

I think it was by watching really bad teevee.

Yeah, even working me like a dog, I still had two or three hours a night to waste on teevee. Bear in mind I also made heavy inroads into the two books I’ve been reading. I’m up to page 175 of Warlock and 118 of New History of India. But I have to shake my head at how, when no ones around, I turn to teevee.

Would that I was stronger! But as a naked Harvey Keitel shrieks in Bad Lieutenant: “I’m weak, Lord! I’m too f***in weak!”

What did I watch?

The good, the bad, and the ugly. And I’m not referencing Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti western.

Taken 2. Liam Neeson yet again whupping a** on some Eurotrash baddies. This time he’s fighting the Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World, whose son he killed in the original flick. Good, stupid entertainment, completely unbelievable yet so enjoyable I had no idea eighty-five minutes could zoom by so fast. An okay movie if you’re into this sort of thing, and like the majority of sequels, far inferior to the original. Grade: C+

Super 8. Saw this in the movies with the wife two years ago. A good Spielbergian film focusing on what Spielberg does best: monsters, mystery, and bad childhoods. Could have been better, though off the top of my head I’m not sure how. Kinda like the right side of my brain wants it to be better than the left side is willing to allow. Still, better than the majority of stuff you see on the big screen, and better than anything you’ll see on Syfy (pronounced “siffy” per Leonard Hofstadter). Grade: B+

America’s Book of Secrets: Bigfoot. Okay. Here’s where it gets embarrassing. Here’s where I lose my pride. Yes, I watched this junk. Now – let me explain. Normally I like junk like this. As I’ve written about elsewhere on this blog, I don’t really believe in bigfoot – but I want to. How it delighted me so as a child! Anyhoo, this show was absolute garbage. This “book of secrets” stuff panders to the conspiracy mindset who sees anything and everything as an admission – or non-admission, thus an admission – of governmental conspiracy. The episode’s premise was that the existence of sasquatch is kept secret by the government because – like the spotted owl – it would wreck the forestry-related economy of the Pacific Northwest. Yeah, right. As if this government we currently have were interested in a booming economy … Grade: C –

Mystery Quest: Alcatraz. At least, I think it was one of those “Mystery Quest” shows; not sure. Good background history on the island penitentiary, informative in an interesting way. Side note: I was there, a side trip on our honeymoon, and my wife snapped a photo of forlorn me sitting in Al Capone’s cell. Anyway, good stuff, especially on the 1963 escape attempt which Clint Eastwood based his 1979 flick on. Then it took the dumb road by bringing in psychics and ghost hunters to spend the night on the Rock and I lost all interest. Grade: C –

Land of the Lost. Incredible waste of time, energy, talent, focus, purpose, and creativity. See yesterday’s entry for this lament for Time Never to be Regained. Grade: F+

Escape from New York. Incredibly classic! What an impression this made on 13-year old me when I first saw it way back in the summer of 81! Deserves a blog post all in itself. Snake Plissken, the epitome of coolth. My generation’s Marlon Brando from The Wild One. Great characters, great set-up, great plot, great action. Poor Donald Pleasance! Movie never gets old or tired, even though I hadn’t seen it in at least ten year or fifteen years. Grade: A+

So, if you average these movies / shows up you get just below a C +.

And if you throw in the trio of Met games I watched, you flunk.

On deck tonight, with the wife at home: skittersssssssssssssssss!!!!!!!!!!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Land of the Lost


Don’t ask me why, but I just watched the entire Land of the Lost movie. You know, the 2009 “parody” re-make starring Will Ferrell. Back then it was pretty much panned by all respected critics and bombed gloriously at the box office. Despite being a huge fan of the 70s serious as a kid (and haven’t seen the old shows since), despite a huge upswell of nostalgia for it, the wife forbade me from wasting money on it in the theaters or renting it from the video store. (When there were video stores, that is.)

Honey, you were right.

Now I am depressed. I have wasted 120 minutes of my life never to be retrieved. As I am (hopefully) at the mid-point of my sojourn on this planet, more and more certain am I that that every minute counts. Thank God my children are still away on vacation with the wife, or I’d feel guilty about, er, putting this crapfest before them.

Time is too short, I keep reminding myself, for post-2003 Will Ferrell. Time is too short.

Triangulaphobia



Friday, July 5, 2013

Catholics For Obama


Sad but true ...


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Obamacare



Yes, this directly affects me at my job. Me, because it is my job, and my 165 other co-workers, because it is their health care and their pay. We’re an over-50-employee company, and have been struggling to figure out just what the hell we have to do to stay compliant with a law. A law that very few people are completely versed in throughout the entire country.

We have very good insurance brokers who have been helping us through this irritating and stressful process. Me, I’m not an expert. I’m the man-on-the-ground for the company, and I do what I’m told. So far the only firm recommendation was to keep part-timers below 30 hours per week. Make it below 28 hours to assure compliance and avoid gray area fees, fines, and penalties. So that kid struggling to make a few bucks, that mom working a second job, well, thanks to Obamacare, we can’t give you the extra hours you want to work. Get a third job, if you can find one.

So this year-long delay, this naked pandering to business in the hopes of winning another election cycle by any-means-necessary, is actually good for me. For now. But not for those part-timers.

This president is a disaster to this country’s economy.

And I still think we need to dismantle this monstrosity before it goes into effect January 1, 2014.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

July Agenda


So, what does Hopper want to accomplish this July?

Hmmmm.

Definitely need to resume my workouts. Been doing so for six weeks, stopped, now finding it hard to restart. Working lots of OT at work and eating very poorly to manage stress. Both bad for workout scheduling, though one is good for us financially. But – hey, I find time to watch teevee, right? I can find time to hop on the exercise bike for 20 minutes or throw some weights around for the same amount of time.

Definitely need to research the self-publishing thing. That’s a pretty vague, indefinable goal, no? So it doesn’t get accomplished. How about this: Two hours researching website that will help me self-publish. There. Tangible. Alls I need is a computer, an internet connection, and someplace to write or type notes. Doable.

What else?

I’ve been pulled quite strongly to overhaul my eating. Funny when you’re tuned into something – all of a sudden, it’s everywhere. I’ve been hearing people talk about eating right, in person and on the tube, I’ve walked down a library aisle and suddenly spot an “Eat Right!” book on a reshelving tray, I accidentally click on an article about nutrition on the web. Must be God swinging a mystical 2 x 4 at my head. So … let me post something in the next couple of days … say, four simple things to do to overhaul one’s eating habits, in a replace this with this format. Then, I’ll do it, and see what happens.

Wanna finish repainting Patch’s bedroom, and get her new furniture assembled.

Wanna clean up a disaster area of our basement.

(That should be enough domestic goals!)

So, those are my July Month Goals:

1. Resume daily workouts

2. Research self-publishing for 2 hours

3. Change four nutritional habits for the better

4. Finish Patch’s room

5. Clean the basement

My definition of success in this area is 80% - four out of five. We’ll see in 29 days …

Monday, July 1, 2013

Shark!




Little One at the Charleston Aquarium.

(Not in pic: Patch, C, and Nana, all down there.  Me, I be stuck up here
in NJ punching the clock to pay the bills ...)