Thursday, July 31, 2014

Book Review: Red Tide

© 1975 by D. D. Chapman and Deloris Lehman Tarzan

This was not a great book, but it’s great to me because of its placement in my life.

I’d imagine there’s a point in many a young lad’s life where he snoops around in his father’s desk drawers and finds something shocking.  Maybe cigarettes, maybe a dirty magazine, maybe a gun – who knows?  All I know is that I once pulled out a drawer in the hutch in our dining room and found five paperback books.

Now, it wasn’t snooping in his desk, bureau or dresser or something like that.  The dining room was a public area in my little house growing up.  But I vividly recall to this day, at least thirty-five years later, opening that drawer and seeing those books for the first time.  Nothing else was in the drawer, just five books.  I withdrew them out one by one, studying the front and back covers, leafing through the pages.  Who put them there?  Must’ve been my father.  Couldn’t have been my younger brother or my mother.  Had to have been him. 

I remember the titles still: Who Can Replace a Man? by Brian Aldiss; The Barbarian at World’s End by Lin Carter; a novelization of the George C. Scott movie Hardcore (?!?); these stand out, plus a hazy image of a Zane Grey novel with a shark on the cover (?) whose name I forgot.

And, of course, Red Tide.  See the iconic (to me, at least) image below:

I immediately snuck one and read it, then moved on to another.  Aldiss confused and terrified me.  Carter fascinated me and, had I read it a year or two later, might have ignited a passion for archaeology.  And I remember spending hot summer evenings in my top bunk bed reading the tale of an underwater oceanographic research facility cut off from a war-torn surface, with water-breathing men or something-or-other thrown in for good measure: such was Red Tide.

Though I am certain I read the whole thing, I forgot 99.9 percent of it as I entered teenagehood and life waylaid me.  By the time I could legally buy a beer, I could probably describe, if pressed, that book cover and name two characters: Mattern and Loera.  That’s it.

Fifteen years ago I stumbled across that cover (that cover! that cover!) in a used book bin in a forgotten used book store (in Massachusetts, I kinda sorta think) and picked it up without hesitation.  It leapfrogged up the two or three On-Deck books and I read it immediately.  Then, as happened nearly twenty years prior, I immediately forgot it.  Plot specifics, characters others than Mattern and Loera, setup and denouement, etc.  The one thing that did vaguely settle over my consciousness concerning the book was that it did not seem to be the same tale I read as a boy.

Earlier this summer I was rummaging through some boxes of books and – whoa! there’s fishman of the sea! – I spotted Red Tide nestled among some old college textbooks.  Should I read it again?  No memory of the last re-read, but … it’s only two hundred pages and looks to be a quickie.  So again I bumped it up on the reading list and this past weekend blew through it in two days.

Verdict: well, c.f. the first sentence of this post.

The good: The setting.  Cobb Seamount, the deep-sea underwater research facility is downright claustrophobic, cramped, nerve-wracking.  The deeper you go the heavier the air must be to breathe, going up to 200 atmospheres at the very bottom, Down Under.  The biochemistry creeped me out, things like the dangers of metabolizing hydrogen and going coprophagic if you stay down at 200 atmospheres too long, though I have no idea if this is true or not.

Also good: the setup.  A garbled radio message orders Mattern, an ex-diver and now administrator of the facility, to destroy the floating radio station above Cobb.  Now there’s no communications with the outside world, and no one knows what has happened (nuclear war? biological war?).  Soon, as happens in such closed quarters, everyone is at everyone else’s throat in no time. 

Bad: Dialogue.  People just don’t talk they way normal people do.  Maybe it’s because normal people ain’t 500 feet below the ocean waves in a possibly-post-apocalyptic world, I dunno, but I couldn’t see sensible, professional, highly-trained people speaking – and acting – this way.  Maybe the authors were trying to indicate tempers flaring due to intense stresses involved.  It just didn’t come across that way to me, a humble reader.

Also bad: the unfolding plot.  A minisub trip to another undersea complex run by a Bondian villain and decked out with extras from Airport 75.  I couldn’t stop visualizing bell bottoms and pantsuits, medallions over hairy chests and a lot of “what’s your sign, baby?”  A scientist who chucks all morality to the side to create a race of men who can breathe under water.  A lovestruck tough guy who inexplicably dons a pressure suit and descends hundreds of feet to “save” a woman who has zero interest in him.  Two scientists deciding on inexplicable spur-of-the-moment, uh, intercourse.  A bunch of trigger-happy sub captains afflicted with what seems like roid rage.  Supposedly top-notch researchers abandoning all adherence to chain of command to mutiny with a grungy crab famer.

So … a mixed bag.  But who knows?  Maybe I’ll re-read it again, this time when I’m 60, and it will be an entirely different novel.  Maybe it’s a work that changes as the reader does.  Maybe it functions as a sort of mirror to the psyche of whoever turns it’s pages.  Maybe – maybe –

Grade: C.  And that involves a huge curve because of that cover!!!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book Review: The Majipoor Chronicles

© 1981 by Robert Silverberg

The best thing about being an avid book-o-phile is when your current read sneaks up on you unexpectedly, bangs you over the head, and shang-hais you to a wondrous and fantastical, fully-fleshed out new world. 

This happened to me reading Robert Silverberg’s The Majipoor Chronicles.

Quick background: sometime in the late 80s I used to spend my weeklong summer vacations from the job at my parents’ weekend home just outside Lake George, NY.  One trip I brought Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle to read.  Whoosh!  I was magically, mystically transported to the planet Majipoor, right from page one.  I finished the first part (of five, the whole book being around 450 pages) a firm fan.  Then, something odd happened.  When I returned home I set the book aside.  A day went by, then a week, then – well, life interrupted.

So in late 2011 I stumbled upon The Majipoor Chronicles in a used book bin and, hesitating, probably from both guilt and unease at the investment that may be required, I purchased it.  It sat on the On-Deck Circle behind me for nearly three years before I cracked it open.

And read its eleven tales in five days – morning, afternoon, evening, any time I could snatch fifteen or twenty minutes to explore its pages.

What an awesome read!

Majipoor truly comes alive – and it is a wonderful world.  Dangerous, yes, amoral, often, but so lifelike and real, more real to me than, say, Australia or China or the African continent.  I loved my five day trip so much I have picked up the long-lost Lord Valentine’s Castle and plan on reading that next.

The frame of the book is a boy, Hissune, at liberty in a vast catacomb of recorded images / thoughts / lives.  He samples one – literally becoming one with the subject – and quickly becomes addicted, sampling the lives of other Majipooreans from various epochs and eras, lands, and social classes.  After eleven such delvings into quite extraordinary lives, something special happens to him at the end.

Three tales stand out to me – “In the Fifth Year of the Voyage”, “The Desert of Stolen Dreams”, and “The Soul-Painter and the Shapeshifter.”  But all contain that essential nugget to any successful short story, that ratchet of conflict, conflict you can feel deep in your solar plexus between characters as lifelike as those you sat next to at your last family gathering.  “Crime and Punishment” and “The Thief of Ni-Moya” stand out especially in this regard.  Even the two bottom-rung stories (if I was to rank all eleven) still work as vehicles to pull you in to the vast history of this world.

There are some minor bits of discomfort in terms of sexual situations, but nothing worse than what you’d see on prime-time teevee.  Other than that, I really can’t find fault with the novel.  Silverberg’s a great writer who I’ve been reading since I was ten or so (Conquerors from the Darkness) and definitely need to investigate more fully.

My tally of grades for the eleven stories came to an A-minus.  So The Majipoor Chronicles is an example where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Grade: A+

PS – Major bonus points for the five maps at the beginning of the book – perfect!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Latest Book Haul

Since I didn’t get to visit my used book shops in Pennsylvania this past Father’s Day (where Hopper and family spend the weekend with Hopper’s parents out in the boondocks), I made sure to get to them this weekend driving over there to pick up my girls from their weeklong vacation.  In two separate trips I bought six used books, all for about ten bucks.

What did I get, you’re champing at the bit to know?

Okay, I’ll tell you!

The New Springtime (1990), by Robert Silverberg

I read this book in the early 90s, my return to SF since a bright-eyed bushy-tailed young padawan.  Having spent a dozen or so years immersed in fantasy and horror, I found myself utterly captivating with this world Silverberg created – a world of intelligent apelike and insectlike creatures, balanced in some sort of outerworldly détente.  I think.  Can’t remember much of it, other than the all-consuming effect it had on me while I was reading it.  So, after a pleasant experience reading Silverberg’s Majipoor Chronicles, I picked this up without hesitation.

Dark Stars (1969), edited by Robert Silverberg

Since I so enjoyed the short stories of Silverberg’s Majipoor Chronicles, I also seized on this anthology of other classic SF writer’s works.  Looking forward to this …

Tales of Ten Worlds (1962), by Arthur C. Clarke

Purchased for reasons similar to the anthology above.  Never truly got into Clarke, though I enjoyed his Rama books and his Fountains of Paradise.  Will read this with an open mind, possibly looking for other Clarkian scribblings to check out.

Devil’s Canyon (1998), by Ralph Compton

This was kind of a stab in the dark.  I was looking for a decent Western for a while now; hadn’t really read one since last winter, and I’m still surprised at how much I enjoy them.  Staring at a bookshelf of Westerns in the store – must’ve been two hundred gnarled paperbacks – I was at a complete loss.  Had no idea which titles and authors were the worthy ones.  So, having heard of Compton’s name before, I scanned the back covers of the half-dozen that were his and selected this ’un.  We’ll see.

Technos (1972) and Veruchia (1973), by E. C. Tubb

Ah!  The Dumarest Saga!  How baffling and obsessively intriguing for ten-year-old spaceboy!  See here and here for details but in a sentence: SF paperback found in my father’s Mysterious Drawer of Books, began a dozen times but never completed, part of twenty-five or thirty book collection of rugged human Dumarest searching the habitable planets of the galaxy for clues of lost Earth.  A few years ago I read books 1 and 2.  This pair is 7 and 8 in the series if Wikipedia is correct.  Should be good, quick reads.

Talking apes, the Santa Fe trail, twenty worthy short stories, and Earl Dumarest.  All for ten dollars.  Forty, fifty hours of reading.  Can’t beat that entertainment value …

Monday, July 28, 2014

Upcoming ...

A book review of Robert Silverberg’s The Majipoor Chronicles

A book review of Red Tide by D.D. Chapman and Deloris Lehman Tarzan.

My latest score of a half-dozen used, rare, out-of-print books.

And more!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Psychopath Cage Match

So listening to this book-on-CD, The Greatest Battle, while driving to and from work, is starting to get really depressing.  Mainly because of learning how big a psycho Stalin was.  Well, I always knew he was a bonafide psycho, but how great a psycho he was is truly astounding.  Hitler gets most of the votes in the unofficial Psychopathic Insanely Evil Dictator and Demon Masquerading as a Human award, and rightly so, but if the public knew half of what the Russian despot really did, the small, wiry cretin would give the Austrian monster a run for his money.  Operation Barbarossa, the 1941 invasion of Soviet Russia by Nazi Germany, was truly a case of “why can’t they both lose.”

For instance, I learned that Stalin had 158,000 of his own men killed during that six-month campaign.  For crimes such as being captured or retreating.  158,000.  Think about that.  To put it in perspective, that’s slightly less than the combined amount of men killed in action by both the Union and Confederate armies in the entire four years of the American Civil War.  Compare this to what his brother-butcher did: Hitler had 22,000 of his own men killed on all fronts during the entire duration of World War II.

So I got to thinking that, perhaps, if there truly was justice in this world, the Higher Power would simply take Adolf and Josef, strip them down to their boxers, and toss the two animals together in a cage match to the death.  Who would win?  Hitler has the age advantage, ten years younger than his Russian counterpart.  Stalin, however, (I believe, though I am disgusted to pursue this further) has personally killed more men up close with his own hands. 

Again, truly a case of “why can’t they both lose.”

Saturday, July 26, 2014

CSI: Dream

Last night I had a crazy weird dream I was in one of those CSI: Cuttin’ Up a Cadavar shows.  Originally there was much confusion in the dream; I appeared to be a character whose memory had been wiped out, at least for the past twenty-four hours or so.  Highly strange and very, very disconcerting.  I woke up in one of those dirty, rusty, pipe-filled Saw rooms.  Like I said, unnerving to the nth degree.

Then I moved about from room to room.  I discovered I was in an abandoned school.  I glanced out a window and saw a lake.  Then I spotted activity on the far side of the lake.  Policemen.  Plain-clothes detectives.  Yellow POLICE LINE tape.  Measurements being taken, men with latex gloves poking about here and there.

There was a murder out over on the lake.

Why have I no memory of the past twenty-four hours?

Someone suddenly called my name.  A detective came over, had me hold hold then end of a tape measure for some reason.  Ah!  I was a member of the PD.  I, too, was plain-clothes. 

That’s when I knew I was in a teevee show.  Because then I heard the soundtrack!  Yeah, it swelled up as we were going to commercial break.  I was trapped in a meta-hip, self-serious, over-produced, too-cool-to-be-cynical-but-too-cynical-to-be-cool, post-modern American crime teevee show.  The reason I knew is that they took an 80s pop song and inserted it for all the double-entendre it was worth:

“Cuts Like a Knife,” by Bryan Adams

Wake me up!  Waaaaaaaake me uppppp!!!!!

* * * * *

N.B. Here’s a funnier take on the whole CSI thing …

Friday, July 25, 2014

Coming Ice Age

One of the handful of reasons I am not a believer in AGW, or whatever the heck it’s called nowadays.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Night Off

After a quite stressful day doin’ what I’m paid to do, (and doin’ it well, I might add), I am going to take the night off.  Too much shrapnel flew around the office all day to get any serious writing done, so I’m just composing this note while awaiting traffic to thin out a bit on the highway that runs past my store.

The little ladies are a state away with their grandparents; the wife is down the Jersey shore on business and then later dinner with a colleague from her previous company.  So I have a few hours of peace and quiet to myself.  What’ll I do?

Don’t know for certain … but it’ll probably involve a nice big bowl of split pea soup and pasta (nuthin’ says “90 degree Summer days!” like a nice big bowl of split pea soup) and a bottomless glass of ice tea.  Which I will consume in the air-conditioned living room with Kirk Douglas’s The Big Sky playing on the flat screen.  Why The Big Sky?  Well, I have an ancient paperback copy of the novel down in the On Deck circle since like forever and I’ve had the Kirk Douglas movie on the DVR since like forever.  So for two hours I’ll transplant myself to the Old West, where men were men and, er, not, er, wage slaves.

Anyways, after that I’ll try to finish my Majipoor Chronicles by Robert Silverberg.  Two-thirds done, itching to start something new.

And as a corollary, I need to put in, say, a half-hour or so on this idea I’ve been thinking about to actually get my life back on track.  It’s like having a slip of paper with all the answers on it while standing in a dense fog, and the breeze pulls it from your hand.  It’s still there, you can still sorta see it, vaguely, shapelessly, but it’s close, even though it’s slightly outta reach … 

Iron-clad Uncertainty

“How dare we speak of the laws of chance?  Is not chance the antithesis of all law?”

- Philosopher/mathematician Bertrand Russell, as referenced in Simon Singh’s Fermat’s Enigma, page 41 of my hardcover edition.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Pi at the River

[Warning: If you are as nerdy as me, this will absolutely blow your mind.  You have been warned.]

I’m a big fan of pie.  Apple, pumpkin, you name.  But I really love pi pie.  Pi, π, the mathematical constant.  3.14159 … I have no idea what the final TOE will be (that’s Theory of Everything”), but I have no doubt that π will be in there somewhere.  It’ll probably be the only thing in the equation I will recognize.

Anyway, just read this last night and it only cements that surety in me.  Π pops up everywhere.  Everywhere.  I am also a hundred percent sure of that, too.  And what I read last night confirms all these certainties to a degree of certitude I’m certain certainly will amaze – er, you get the picture.

Now, for the first time, π shows up in geography.  Well, if you disregard mathematical formulae as area of a circle, volume of a sphere, etc.  But how about this:

Seems some scientist a few years back took it upon himself to analyze rivers.  He noted the distance that a river would meander from its source to its mouth (where it ended up; in the sea, most likely, I’d think).  Then he took the distance from source to mouth in a direct line, as the crow flies, as they say.  He did this for hundreds of major rivers all over the globe.  What do you think the ratio of meandering distance to as-the-crow-flies distance is?

Hint:  The first three digits are 3-point-1-4.


How freaky is that!!

The ratio of a river’s actual distance to its aerial source-to-mouth distance is π!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sad But True

The most off-putting thing I heard today, in a kind of “that’s prettty funny but after a moment’s thought, that’s pretty horrific”:

“In Stalin’s world, ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ was not just a metaphor …”

 - from the audiobook version of Andrew Nagorski’s The Greatest Battle (2008)

The Soviet dictator was truly one of the vilest men to rise to power. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Johnny Winter

(1944 – 2014)

Rest in Peace, man.

Though I was never a huge fan, I was introduced to your music by my friend and lead guitarist Rich sometime in 1986 or 1987.

I play this song just about every day on my acoustic.

Twenty-Six Months Ago

Oh, to go back in time, and rest for a while …


here ...

here ...

Friday, July 18, 2014

When Gods Walked The Earth

Some humble thoughts and opinions …

I spent a remarkable fifteen days reading through the Great Books volume of Homer’s Iliad.  This version is Samuel Butler’s 1898 prose translation, and other than the use of Roman names (of deities, Ulysses instead of Odysseus, perhaps other heroes’ names), it worked for me.  Still, though, it enkindled within me an intense desire to read Alexander Pope’s much more lyrical and poetical 1715 translation.  It’s on my Acquisitions List.

The single thing that absolutely floored me was the complete alien-ness of these species of men.  These Greek and Trojan warriors are completely foreign – in every conceivable way – to 21st century homo sapiens.  The mindset, the beliefs, the actions, the culture, every single aspect of these homo homeri struck me like a twenty-five foot plunge into freezing icewater.

How different are they?  They know no fear.  Fear is not merely anathema to them, something to be overcome … it literally does not exist for them.  Instead, replacing a conception of fear is the concept of personal honor and personal courage.  Browse any self-help aisle in any American bookstore, and the titles are all about succeeding by overcoming limitations, most in the form of fear.  Homer’s warriors wouldn’t laugh at the concept; they would simply toss such a book into the fire.  No, more essential to them, the single metaphysical ingredient flowing through their veins and capillaries, is that intermeshwork of honor and courage.

Physical strength, skill, and stamina are important to a degree far beyond obese America’s ability to understand.  Indeed, a somewhat anticlimactic chapter towards the end of the Iliad involves the Greeks pausing between Hector’s death and the sacking of Troy (which, to be fair, does not occur until the “sequel,” the Odyssey) and holding chariot races, boxing matches, archery competitions, etc.  It’s like Patton stopping his forward motion after taking the Sicilian beaches to hold the President’s Fitness Award trials before beating Montgomery to Palermo.

With such men, such homo homeris, could one not conquer the entire modern globe with a thousand such men?  And just how long would that take – a decade?  Less?  Ah, there’s the subject for a novel.  After some thought, I think the answer would be Yes … and no, because you, as a homo sapien, would not be ruling for long – one of them would be, soon enough, if you catch my drift.

Nietzsche has a point, up to a point, in admiring such men.  Now, my knowledge of Nietzsche is amateurish (meaning non-professional as opposed to incompetent), and most of that knowledge is dependent on a Zarathustra reading and a whole bunch of secondary sources twelve or fourteen years ago.  So forgive a lack of further analysis here, but it seems to me Friedrich held the Greek standard as the standard of manliness as opposed to the Christian ideal.  And I can understand his point, up to a point, the whole “herd mentality” and “Christianity was a morality system designed by the weak to protect themselves from the strong” things.  I get it, though I don’t believe it ultimately holds.  Perhaps it’s my belief in an afterlife as opposed to an Eternal Recurrence, or perhaps it’s something more.

The most horrible aspect of homo homeris is that they do not have any conception of the quality of mercy.  Mercy is for the weak, and strength – in the manifested forms of personal honor, personal courage, and physical ability – strength demands no mercy be given.  Their system of justice is a complex network of socially and culturally enforced gestures and policies regarding “respect” that is ultimately based on an iron-clad might-makes-right standard.  (Gee, I hope I conveyed that idea without sounding like a tire-deflated soul-sucking post-modern literary post grad.)

And the violence!  I’m not hand-wringing here; though I have not experienced war first-hand and pray none of my family or friends do, I understand the blood and guts factor of war literature.  And the Iliad is perhaps the first and finest of “war literature.”  There are 281 deaths in Homer’s tale of the siege of Troy, and all contain some gritty gory aspect.  I’ve listened to a college professor say that it’s one of the factors that keep his young male students interested.  Beginning in Book IV with Pandarus’s death (Diomedes’ spear hits him dead center in the face, splitting his nose and severing his tongue), to the unfortunate warrior whose testicles get ripped out, to poor Corianus (Hector hit him on the jaw under the ear; the end of the spear drove out his teeth and cut his tongue in two pieces ...), the Iliad is, er, perhaps the grossest thing next to a Clive Barker book I’ve read.

Prior to reading the complete text I was convinced the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was completely and wholesomely platonic, that insinuations of anything more (meaning perverse) was just the poisonous deconstructions of post-modernism.  But reading the text first hand, uh, there does seem to be more than a drinking-buddies-rooting-for-the-same-football-team relationship there.  Achilles reaction to Patroclus’ death is very, very, very strong.  Or maybe that’s just me allowing pop culture more than the minimal amount of influence it deserves.  

Regardless of all that (nonsense or not), I truly believe every teen-aged boy should read this, for the martial aspect of the work.  Period.  I’d love to know their initial reactions to Butler’s heroic title for Apollo – “Far-Darter” – was the same as mine.  And every military cadet or prospective ROTC candidate should be required to write a thousand-word analysis of it.  I recently read, though I can’t seem to recall where, that nations based on Judeo-Christian values need governments based on Pagan values to successfully wage war.  If by “Pagan” one means “Homeric,” then how does one wrestle with the anguishing riddle of not failing to concur?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Now 4 = 3

Oh no!  Another crack in the foundations of mathematics!



a + b = c

This can be re-written as

4a – 3a + 4b – 3b = 4c – 3c

Rearrange some terms

4a + 4b – 4c = 3a + 3b – 3c

Factor out the coefficients

4 (a + b – c) = 3 (a + b – c)

Cancel out common terms on both sides

and you get

4 = 3


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

All Hail Teds!

[Picture of my eldest daughter’s teddy bear, Teds, taken by her on the iPad at some unknown time within the past two years.  Special effects care of her, too … oh the surprises we find when we see what they’ve been doing electronically!  May it always be so innocent!]

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Missing Color

I’m driving home after picking up my five-year-old daughter Patch from daycare.  Somehow or other, the subject turns to colors.  She tells me she can say most of the major colors in Spanish, and she does.  Then I ask her if she knows all the colors of the rainbow.

She names red, orange, yellow, and then gets stuck.  I ask her if she’s ever heard of Roy G. Biv.

Her nose scrunches as she considers this.  In fact, the expression on her face is one of bizarre incredulity as she says “Roy G. Biv” to herself.  Almost as bizarre as when I tried to convince her that we humans, too, are “mammals.” 

I explain that each letter of Roy G. Biv’s name stands for a color.  “Oh, I heard this!” she interjects.  To drive the point home, I recite the colors for her: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.  I start to go through the list again when –


The most angry sound I’ve ever heard from her in those five, almost six, years reverberates about the car. 


“What?!” I exclaim, frantically reciting in my head what I’ve been reciting aloud.  Where did I go wrong?  What boundary did I cross??  What kindergarten faux pas am I guilty of???



“You forgot . . . hot pink!”

Sunday, July 13, 2014


Mosquitoes are such a problem in my backyard that they nearly render my deck useless.  You can’t have dinner out there without being assaulted by the creatures, and if the girls go out to play we have to spray so much repellent on them I worry about giving them permanent DNA damage with all that chemical.  The problem is that the deck sits on slanting land three feet above one side right up to the deck on the other, and the far side has no access (it’s flush up against a stone rock wall).  Thus, fall leaves, season after season, accumulate and form fertile breeding grounds for the beasties.

On advice from a colleague at work I went to Home Depot yesterday and picked up one of those Ortho Bug-B-Gon bottles you attach to your hose.  I went outside, hooked everything up, and emptied half the bottle dousing bug city beneath the deck, along with their suburbs – the four giant bushes that straddle the perimeter of my house, each also with a blanket of decaying foliage impervious to fall raking.  Per directions on the bottle, I have to spray the rest of it seven days later for best results.

Now, I was outside in the entirety of this project for ten minutes.  TEN MINUTES!  And in the course of those TEN MINUTES, I got bitten by mosquitoes no less than THREE TIMES!


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Book a Review: Out of the Deeps

© 1953
Originally published in England as The Kraken Wakes

[mild spoilers]

Sometime around November of 1948 and lasting for a few years, the southwestern United States – particularly New Mexico – experienced what would soon become known as “green fireballs.”  Witnesses would see green balls of fire briefly streak through nighttime skies, sometimes as many as a dozen fireballs at a time.  These more-than-meteors were silent and left no physical traces on the ground.  Since many sightings occurred near sensitive military areas such as Los Alamos (and, gulp, Roswell!), the Army soon opened up an official investigation, called Project Twinkle, into the strange phenomenon.  After two years of study, Twinkle concluded the green fireballs to be natural phenomena, though exactly what type of natural phenomena it did not specify.

John Wyndham, an author non-SF geeks might know best as the mind behind The Day of the Triffids, begins his alien invasion / apocalypse with red fireballs, perhaps cashing in on all this “keep watching the skies!” craze.  Color aside, his fireballs come with two important distinctions: one, they only seem to occur over the deepest parts of the sea (the hero and his wife, on a honeymoon cruise, spot five one night), and, two, they last long enough for fighter pilots to shoot them down.  When hit, interestingly enough, they exploded in a brilliant burst of flashing pyrotechnics.

The hero of our tale, Mike Watson, is a writer who works for the “EBC,” a television network in 1950s England, along with his wife Phyllis.  The book is his first-person account, written while stranded on a sinking island, of a highly unique alien invasion – from the sea – where mankind comes perilously close to extinction. 

Despite its faults – and they are many – I kinda liked it.  I like the whole bird’s-eye view of a worldwide invasion.  Reminds me of those 1950s sci-fi flicks, ones like Earth vs the Flying Saucers in particular.  But in Earth vs the Red Fireballs, or, er, Out of the Deeps, or The Kraken Wakes, the invasion is more subtle than a Ray Harryhausen or George Pal movie.

The book, like the mysterious invader’s plans, is divided into three phases.  Phase One is the red fireball phase, slightly boring and dragged out, but an intriguing premise nonetheless, especially as the Scientific Establishment struggles to explain it and Weird Things Happen.  Our inexplicables get a lot more interesting in Phase Two, where first contact, so to speak, occurs, and by Phase Three millions and millions of humans are dying, most often, ironically enough, at the hands of their fellow man.

The problem with the bird’s-eye view of catastrophe is the danger of not feeling personally involved in the proceedings.  This happens in spades in the novel.  Only one scene do our hero and heroine actually come harrowing close to death at the hands of the invaders.  But it’s a great scene.  Occurring during “Phase Two” and thus somewhere in the middle of the book, it involves “sea tanks” – egg-shaped organic thingies that roll out of the waves onto the shore, spouting slimy sticky tentacles dragging hapless helpless victims into a massive ball of bodies, a massive ball of bodies then dragged back down into the dark depths.  Truly a nasty fate, and one in which (most) of our heroes avoid.

Phase Three involves the melting of the ice caps.  That’s how the invaders are ultimately going to get us.  Somehow the unseen aliens have the technology to melt all that thar ice, and inch by inch the sea level  rises.  After three long years humanity has devolved into violent feudal clans (which we’re used to by now, with several seasons of Walking Dead under our belts).  This was the longest, slowest part of the book, and most depressing.  A four or five page coda reveals that mankind has at last found a way to fight back.

Did I like it?

Yes and No. 

First off, I luv any type of Earth versus Alien Invasion, the bigger the better, the more unusual and different the better.  As such, Out of the Deeps qualifies instantly.  An alien invasion from the sea, in which the planet itself becomes a weapon against us.  I found their strategy to be clever and, let’s face it, how the heck do you fight against the rising tide?  Literally!  And as mentioned, I liked the “macro” feel to the book, the documentary, “you are there” style of writing, at least initially.  Though it must be said again I craved for more life-and-death hazards for our heroes to overcome.

A few of the scattered reviews I’ve read here and there on the internet express thorough disgust at Wyndham for the character of Phyllis, the wife.  Sexist!  Chauvinist!  Is this 1953, or 1853!  I didn’t see this at all.  In fact, I found her the better half of the Watsons, exuding much more wit, toughness, humor, and smarts than her blockhead hubby.  I actually chuckled out loud once or twice reading her dialogue, and enjoyed her wrangling with the chief egghead trying to save humanity.

These likes were more than balanced with negatives, though.  Mostly it was the glacial pace of the 182-page novel (it does take place over several years, probably a decade in fact).  Too many paragraphs are spent telling us what happened, instead of showing us.  It struck me as a mid-sized novella or a longish short story padded out to novel length.  Also, I found the fact that not only do we never see the alien baddies, we never even communicate with them.  Though that is not necessarily a deal breaker; some mystery is good sometimes.  Then there was outright foolish, clumsy and unsuccessful attempts at humor, and I’m thinking specifically of the caricatures of the Russian politicians on this point. 

Overall, though, a quick read, which is always a plus for me.  I have nearly a hundred paperbacks on the shelf behind me to read.

Grade: B-minus.  (Would’ve been a C if it had been over 200 pages …)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Return to In Search Of

One of my favorite childhood memories was watching the Leonard Nimoy-narrated In Search Of … Each week Mr. Nimoy would go in search of something cryptic, paranormal, historically mysterious, etc.  My favorite shows were on UFOs and giant hairy hominids, my favorite subjects as a ten-year-old.  I’ve written about the show elsewhere on the blog, most notably here.

The show ran from April of 1977 until March of 82, but for me it was the second and third seasons that I watched religiously.  A gap of thirty years followed and I rediscovered the shows on youtube.  (Yes, one of the cable channels played them in the early 2000s, and I watched a handful during a stretch of unemployment.)  Now, when I suffer insomnia or have to pay bills and balance the family checkbook, I often have Leonard’s soothingly sonorous and nicotinous narrations exploring the esoteric with me on the Dell flatscreen.

Anyway, a few days ago I was surfing the web on the iPad and came across the In Search Of page on the IMDB.  I like the IMDB for the bulletin boards – you can read up a lot of interesting facts and opinions on films and shows you really love, as well as a lot of garbage.  You have to be discriminating, as in all things Wide World Web.  So I scanned the bulletin boards for In Search Of and came across a great question: what would be some topics that the show should’ve done but didn’t?  “Lost” episodes, in other words.

A lot of people contributed interesting ideas.  Not all I’d agree with, but a good, thorough list that seemed to be pretty much comprehensive.  At least, I couldn’t think of anything to add to it off the top of my head.  So here are the “lost” episodes I found most interesting, and in my fanboy head I can even hear Leonard Nimoy already exploring the mysteries that are the


The Ark of the Covenant

Secret Societies

Spontaneous Human Combustion

The Chupacabra


The Jersey Devil

The Attempted Assassination of John Paul II

Custer’s Last Stand

The RFK Assassination

The Philadelphia Experiment

Ambrose Bierce

The Knights Templar

The Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr

Billy the Kid

Fakirs from India

Pharaoh of the Exodus

The Great Chicago Fire

The Interrupted Journey of Betty and Barney Hill

The Black Plague


The Eruption of Mount Saint Helens

The Last Days of Elvis Presley

Spring-Heeled Jack

Nicola Tesla

Charles Fort

The Lost City of Z

The Disappearance of Judge Crater

The Kecksburg UFO Incident

The Flatwoods Monster

The Book of Revelation

Now some topics, such as the last one, could not be adequately explored in a 22-minute format.  Others, such as the penultimate one, might not be meaty enough to fill 22 minutes.  But, man, I would watch an In Search Of episode of each and every one.  If nothing else but for the eerie moog synthesizer soundtrack!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Reset (in a new language)

Vezměte si, Pane, a přijímat všechny mé svobody,
moje paměť, má pochopení
a celá moje vůle,
Všechno, co mám, a zavolat mé vlastní.

Dal jsi všechno na mně.
Pro tebe, Pane, jsem vrátit.

Vše, co je na vás; s tím dělat, co chcete.
Dej mi jen svou lásku a svou milost.

To je pro mě dost.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Damned with Faint Praise

From the front cover of my current read:

Is that really the best blurb the publishers could come up with for this? 

(So far it’s an excellent book, originally published in 1953 in the UK as The Kraken Wakes…)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Then and Now

Super busy day with more than its heaping share of stress, so didn’t get any time to write. 

I did, however, find time to visit a very, very funny website during lunch.  It had twenty or so “then and now” pictures – people and families recreating a photo that they’d taken years prior.  It was such a brilliant oasis in a workhorse day that I’d thought I’d share the two funniest photos with you:

and ...

Yes, I am actually laughing out loud posting this.

Monday, July 7, 2014

80 Percent Drive-By

Well, today was a day at work where everything I got – everything, whether it was something I had to do, needed to do, or wanted to do – everything I got from coworkers above me, below me, and at my strata in the food chain, everything I got I only got 80 percent of.

Long-term projects, weekly stuff, super duper important stuff, meaningless CYA stuff, whatever came to me physically, electronically, over-the-phone, was only 80 percent of what I absolutely had to have.

Of course, my deadlines wont be extended to compensate.  I’ll just have to provide extra effort tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, to get that remaining 20 percent to complete my tasks.

Now, if this was an isolated incident, no big deal.  But today – EVERYTHING was – well, see the first paragraph.

The real killer of the 80 percent drive-by (as I’ve come to think of it), is stress, frustration and disengagement.  The mess on my desk grows geometrically as my dismay grows exponentially.  Nothing gets finished, ergo nothing gets put away.  And my incentive to start something new correspondingly falls as the piles of unfinished work upon my desk cry for completion.  Completion that will have to wait for some uncertain time in the near- or distant-future, whenever I can get that final 20 percent.

Ah, the travails and trials of a wage slave!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Bullfinch's Mythology

As a reward for working a Saturday (since I lost Friday to the holiday), I stopped by B&N on the way home and picked up a trio of paperbacks.  Seeing how I am about at the halfway point reading through Homer’s The Iliad (Samuel Butler’s 1898 prose translation), I had it in mind to score a more poetical version – Alexander Pope’s 1715 masterpiece, in particular – to supplement my reading.

No such luck, though.  I was hoping for a rare find in the used book section, but none were to be had.  Nor were there any in the new section.  Plenty of modern translations, yes.  But no Pope.

I did find a used paperback of Bullfinch’s Mythology.  I grew up with Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, so this is a rather recent interest for me.  Apparently, this was the reference source predating Hamilton’s work.  And it is a work which has, for me, an oddness about it.

This is my second time buying it.  Three or fours years back I found another Bullfinch in the used book section.  Thumbing through it to make sure it was sturdy, unmarked, and readable, I bought it.  When I got home and got around to reading it, I was shocked to see whole sections underlined, highlighted, pages folded over, notes written in the margins.  Was this the book I held in the store?  I put it on the shelf where it sat for months and months until I eventually threw it out.  An extreme rarity for me, for I almost never ever throw out a book (Tropic of Cancer was the only one I gleefully did).  But this particular book was unreadable.

So, wary of past experience, I made sure this newer used Bullfinch was acceptable.  It was.  I paid a few dollars for it and two others and drove home.  And lo and behold you know what I’m going to write next, right?  I go out to the deck – it’s a beautiful Saturday late afternoon – pull the Bullfinch out of my B&N bag, crack it open, and –

The entire first thirty pages are underlined, highlighted, all marked up with notes!

How again did I miss this?  How??  Am I forever cursed with this book called Bullfinch’s Mythology?

I think so.  I may have to spring fifteen bucks and buy it new, or else ask Santa for it in a couple of months.

Crazy.  Twilight Zone crazy.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Man Called Horse

Sometime in the mid-to-late 70s a ten-year-old Hopper sat with his younger brother and his father and watched the Richard Harris western A Man Called Horse.  If you have viewed the movie, you know the one scene that it is famous for.  If you haven’t seen it, well, stick around, I’ll get to it in a few paragraphs.

My father, God rest his soul, lacked the ability to bring a sense of appropriateness to the viewing of movies with his children.  Very much like Howard Stern’s father taking young Howard to see Barbarella in the theaters.  Similarly, my dad’s appropriateness problem also applied to movies with high sexual content, as well as movies with high violent content.  In the early 80s, for instance, my father took me and my younger brother, both of us barely teens, to see Hotdog: The Movie and Al Pacino’s Scarface.

None of this was helped by the fact that in the mid-70s our neighborhood was invaded by Cable TV.  I wrote about that a bit, here (in a reference to another shocking 70s movie, to a ten-year-old).

A Man Called Horse is a fairly decent enough Western aimed at a more mature crowd than ten-year-old Hopper.  It’s thoroughly a product of its time – 1970, I believe it was made – so it flirts with anti-Western themes and psychedelia.  Which is not to say it’s a bad movie, it’s not; it just ain’t a John Wayne type of flick.

Richard Harris, an actor I loved since watching him in Orca, seen by me and a whole bunch of my fourth-grade friends around the same time as I saw Horse, plays a refined and somewhat snobby Englishman John Morgan off on a hunting jaunt in 1835 frontier America.  Five minutes into the film Injuns ambush and kill his guides while the obtuse Englishman bathes naked in the river.  Suddenly ropes lasso round his neck and he’s dragged helpless as a babe from the water, captive of a Sioux war party.  Ignorant of the Indian language, he’s made out to be no more than a beast, a horse, dragged into his captors village to live the life of a subhuman captive.

We follow Morgan through several failed escape attempts.  Though beaten, he does not resign himself to the fate Sioux captivity has in store for him.  With the aid of a long-term prisoner, a slightly insane French trapper, our hero regains his dignity, learns the ways and the morality of the tribe, wins its respect, gains a wife, and, ultimately, becomes its chief (sorta).

Two-thirds through the movie is The Scene.  The Scene that permanently etched a groove in my brain, an image that freaked out me and my brother as children, though it now seems somewhat tame by mature Me.  In order to prove his worthiness of an Indian mate, Morgan must undergo a test of courage.  In a tent filled with the elders, a medicine man takes what looks like eagle talons and carves up the English Indian’s chest.  Then, sharp bones and inserted horizontally into his pecs.  Ropes are lowered down, fastened on these bones, and Richard Harris, in all his prosthetic-chest glory, is raised ten feet off the ground, spun around, and has a sixty-second acid trip.


That felt good, writing to get that out of my system.

 Ouch … that’s gotta hurt …

Anyway, back to the subject of appropriateness and movies.  Against my wife’s judgment, I decided to watch A Man Called Horse with Little One yesterday afternoon.  As frequent readers here know, I enjoy a special bond with my oldest where we watch movies of all stripes together.  (N.B. This special bond has to wait for Patch until she outgrows her fear of the dark.)  I let Little One know I watched this movie with my dad when I was her age, and I let her know there is a pretty gross scene in it that I never forgot.  Well, once I mentioned those two things she had to watch the movie with me in its entirety.  When the courage ritual came on screen, she really wasn’t as wide-eyed as I was at her age.   Is it because of cultural desensitization, cultural coarseness?  Or is she just made of heartier stock than me?  I guess I’ll never know (though I think both explanations are possible in equal measure).  But I’ll tell you one thing: we had a great afternoon watching a movie together.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Military Presidents

[A Fourth of July re-post, originally written in 2012, that I still find fascinating …]

Since I’ve been reading a lot of war literature these past ten months (Civil War, Mexican War, World War II, a bit of World War I), I thought it might be interesting to find out which of our presidents served in uniform this 4th of July.

Of the 43 men who attained the Oval Office (Grover Cleveland is counted as both the 22nd and 24th President, the only man to have two non-consecutive terms), how many do you think served in our military?


My first uneducated guess was probably about a quarter.  Maybe a little more.  At least twelve, maybe as much as fifteen.  Off the top of my head I could name the obvious ones: George Washington, Dwight Eisenhower, Zachary Taylor (he was obvious from my Mexican War reading).  And I knew a slew had some military experience, like Bush Sr, Kennedy, Lincoln.  That’s six.  So I upped it two, two-and-a-half times.

How did I do?


Of the 43 men who became President of the United States, 31 served in the military.  That’s 72 percent.  A lot more than my maximum guess of 35 percent.

Want a ranking?  Okay.

We’ve had three Generals of the Army become President –

George Washington
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Ulysses S. Grant

They’re followed by five Major Generals –

Andrew Jackson
William Harrison
Zachary Taylor
Rutherford B. Hayes
James Garfield (hey, he also came up with a proof for the Pythagorean theorem!)

Next comes four Brigadier Generals –

Franklin Pierce
Andrew Johnson
Chester Arthur
Benjamin Harrison

Five Colonels –

Thomas Jefferson
James Madison
James Polk
Theodore Roosevelt
Harry S Truman

Two Commanders in the Navy –

Lyndon B. Johnson
Richard Nixon

Four Majors / Lieutenant Commanders –

James Monroe
William McKinley
Gerald Ford
Millard Fillmore

Three Captains –

John Tyler
Abraham Lincoln
Ronald Reagan

Two Lieutenants and two First Lieutenants –

John F. Kennedy
Jimmy Carter
George H. Bush
George W. Bush

And, finally, one private –

James Buchanan

Isn’t that interesting?  I had no idea.  This Fourth of July, let’s remember to thank them all for their service to this wonderful, great country of ours!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

"Culture War" or ...

From a comment on a post at National Review Online earlier today:

“Christians aren’t seceding from society.  Society is trying to commit suicide and Christians are trying to keep it alive.”

Spot on!  The scales have fallen from my eyes.  Based on what I know of a 2,000 year tradition and the 400 year history of America, I think this person has it EXACTLY right.  Will have to appropriate this phraseology for further use.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Nine Sparrows and a Serpent

The altars heav’d; and from the crumbling ground          
A mighty dragon shot, of dire portent;    
From Jove himself the dreadful sign was sent.    
Straight to the tree his sanguine spires he roll’d,  
And curl’d around in many a winding fold.                 
The topmost branch a mother-bird possess’d;     
Eight callow infants fill’d the mossy nest;           
Herself the ninth: the serpent, as he hung,          
Stretch’d his black jaws, and crash’d the crying young;   
While hov’ring near, with miserable moan,                 
The drooping mother wail’d her children gone.   
The mother last, as round the nest she flew,       
Seiz’d by the beating wing, the monster slew:       
Nor long survived; to marble turn’d he stands     
A lasting prodigy on Aulis’ sands,                  
Such was the will of Jove; and hence we dare    
Trust in his omen, and support the war.  
For while around we gazed with wond’ring eyes,
And trembling sought the Powers with sacrifice, 
Full of his God, the rev’rend Calchas cried;                
“Ye Grecian warriors! lay your fears aside:        
This wondrous signal Jove himself displays,        
Of long, long labours, but eternal praise, 
As many birds as by the snake were slain,         
So many years the toils of Greece remain;                 
But wait the tenth, for Ilion’s fall decreed:”

   - The Iliad, Book II, verses 371-396 (Alexander Pope translation)

I must admit to being startlingly shocked upon confronting these lines for the first (*) time …

* Actually, second time.  I read the first third of The Iliad, in a more modern translation, twelve years ago, but lacked the wherewithal and the fortitude to persist to the end.  This time, though …

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

World Cup Mayhem

Imagine what would happen if the USA meets El Salvador in the World Cup finals? *

* Don’t know if this can happen ... don’t care. But Little One is interested, and we watched a little bit here and there, particularly in this neat, out-of-the-way pizzeria we discovered a few weeks ago.