Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Science Fiction Reading Plan

Part One (which should take me up to my launch date).

Okay, since I am working diligently on self-publishing my two novels and have set a goal for this fall (for the first one) and Christmas (for the second), I have realized I am wasting a dozen hours a week.


By reading.  Since both my novels are firmly entrenched in the science fiction genre, and likewise the trio I have unwritten yet on tap, what the heck am I doing reading

Medieval History
Conspiracy-theory stuff
Baseball stuff

I realized that in the past year I've only read a handful of true science fiction (a Clarke, a pair of Silverbergs, and a classic or two or three).  Now, I appreciate the value in being a well-rounded reader and writer, but I think I have been neglecting my chosen field a tad bit too much.

So I went down to the shelf behind my writing desk and plucked a half-dozen shamefully neglected paperbacks and stacked them right next to the Dell monitor.  They are:

The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C.M. Morn kith
Tom O'Bedlam by Robert Silverberg
Hammer's Slammers by David Drake
The Deathworld Trilogy by Harry Harrison
Dorsai! by Gordon R. Dickson
The World at the End of Time by Frederik Pohl

Heavy on the testosterone, yes.  Heavy on the science fiction, double yes.

I intend to read all of them in my down time, one after the other.  Absorb them into the bloodstream and brainstream, and simultaneously recharge my energies and realign my voyage, navigating to these bejeweled stars.

Part Two comes this Fall ...

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Book Review: The Big Sky

 © 1947 by A. B. Guthrie Jr.

The blurb above the title on the cover of my copy of this classic Western declares it to be, in all caps, “the towering novel of one unforgettable hero on America’s wild frontier.”

Well, yes and no.

It is undoubtedly a towering novel.  But after 367 heavy-on-description low-on-spoken word pages, I am convinced that the unforgettable part of this story was the wild frontier.  The hero, Boone Caudill, not so much.

But more about Boone in a bit.

The Big Sky is a gorgeous love letter to the untamed American frontier – the frontier west of the Mississippi and west beyond the Rockies, in the quarter-century before the Civil War.  Places like the Snake River, Flathead Post, Fort MacKenzie.  The French and the British.  The Blackfeet, Crows, Sioux, Assiniboines (those’re the “Rock” Indians), the Ree, the Peigan.  The struggle to keep one’s belly fed and one’s scalp intact, all while trying to outwit a thousand enemies and Mother Nature herself, all integral and essential to the rough and unforgiving crucible of the western American frontier.

Boone Caudill is the focus of the story, though I am forced to admit he is not the ideal voice to tell it.  True, he is the epitome of early 19th century frontiersman, a mountain man’s mountain man, a White man who turns his back on White ways, stronger than the Indians who prey upon and them come to fear and respect him, a man who knows what he wants and wants what he knows, lives on the meat of his kills, tougher than the winds and the snows and the rains.

Taciturn by nature, Boone’s desire to avoid communication and interaction – save for other similar-minded mountain men – is frustrating.  In retrospect, I suppose I must compliment Guthrie for writing around this and bringing a two-dimensional character into the third dimension.  He does this by introducing two much more likeable (and normal, at least by wimpy 21st century standards of manliness) companions, Dick Summers and Jim Deakins.  Dick is an older, wiser master who apprentices Boone and Jim, and Jim is an easygoing, light-hearted and humanizing influence on the force of nature that Boone becomes.

Divided into a half-dozen or so fifty-page chunks of vignette, The Big Sky spans thirteen winters of rugged frontier life.  We’re introduced to Boone as a tough lad of nineteen, beating his drunken and abusive pap and hitting the road in fear of the repercussions.  Silent and brooding, he meets up with Jim Deakins, a genial fellow with the misfortune of transporting a dead body from one state to another by cart.  Jim takes an inexplicable liking to Boone, and saves his hide after the latter is swindled out of his possessions, framed for robbery, scourged by the local sheriff, and sentenced to hard labor.

The two take on with a Frenchman, Jourdannais, who has schemes of taking his boat, men, trading supplies – and a young Indian princess, Teal Eye – up the Missouri into uncharted Blackfeet territory to make a killing.  In profits, that is.  There they meet master hunter Dick Summers, who teaches the boys how to hunt, track, and live off the land.  A terrible fate falls upon the voyage, and the three begin a dozen years of mountain life.

Boone fights Indians, woos Teal Eye, guides men across the snowy Rockies with tragic and near-tragic results, survives against all odds, and succumbs to some awful moral mistakes at the end that will haunt him the rest of his life.

The novel contains some of the vivid nature writing I’ve read since Tolkien and Zane Grey, though obviously more grounded in historical reality than Tolkien and not as sugar-sweet as Grey.  Me, I’ll never hike the passes of the Rockies, navigate the Missouri and her tributaries, or even trap a rabbit for my dinner.  But thanks to Mr. Guthrie and The Big Sky, I feel certain that I already have.

Grade: B+

Friday, May 15, 2015

Interesting Developments

Imagine a chess board: 64 black and white squares, half occupied at the beginning of the game.  Two opponents face each other, planning, strategizing, weighing risks and calculating costs, sizing each other up.  Hands move across the board, one at a time after long moments, and pieces are moved and removed, one at a time.

A nice metaphor for life, for me, is similar to this.  Instead of two opponents, there is but One.  Instead of 32 pieces, there are 7,125,000,000.  The board is the entire surface of the earth, and, sometimes and often, beyond and below it.  But there is a hand that moves, and moves us, many times in our lives, many more times than we sometimes realize.  And more frequently than we care to realize, the hand moves each one of us and pays special attention to us at special times in our lives.

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety and Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.

- Omar Khayyam

Something quite interesting happened to me yesterday.  I was laid off from my job.  Department cutbacks, consolidations, blah blah blah.

But in light of the previous post of last week, it is exactly what I need at this stage of the game.

Friday, May 8, 2015



After writing here at the Recovering Hopper for a little over seven years, it is time for me to recalibrate.
Originally, the purpose of the blog was to help me establish the daily writing habit.
It did.
In that regard the blog was smashingly successful.
2,500+ blog posts. 
In the past seven years I have completed two novels, one novella, and a whole bunch of short stories.  Some of those short stories were sent out for publication; all were rejected.  But no matter.  I don’t consider any of them failures.  They just haven’t been published yet.
I have also outlined three other science fiction novels and began my fourth.  Additionally, I have extensive notes and an outline on a work of nonfiction that excites me to no end. 
All in good time.
But now it is time for me to refocus my energies. 
It is time to shift priorities.
Recently, I came into some information that has lit a fire under me.  I have long been miserable in my work life and have hinted at it here and there in my postings.  It has been adversely affecting me for a long, long time. 
So now, no more.
We only have one life to live.  (Is that the name of a soap opera?)  We’re granted a finite set amount of years, days, hours, and at some point, they will run out. 
It should not be spent – not one minute of it – in servitude.  Or behind bars in that prison that’s firmly established between the ears.
We all have unique talents and abilities, and the responsibility to make a real, tangible difference in the world.
I’m no longer satisfied living at a level less than my best.
I feel like a new man, and it feels good.
I am now putting one foot forward.
After that, I will put the second one in front.
And on and on, ad infinitum, until I have successfully made the transition to earning a thriving living through my writing.
Whatever it takes.
And after that – who knows?

Thank you all for stopping by over the years.
Thank you all of you who commented.  I appreciated and enjoyed it.
I hope I have provided you with some entertainment and information.

I feel like Cortez burning his ships on the shores of the New World.  Scary but very, very exciting.  Feel truly alive for the first time since I can’t remember when.
Recovering Hopper will stay up, and I do plan to contribute to it with periodic updates, observations, stories, quotes, or other assorted weirdities.  Probably on a once weekly frequency, kind of like a “gut check” type thing to help keep me honest.  Not that I think I will need it (see: recent new information I came into), but it never hurts to publicly – or semi-anonymously, as the case may be – make your promises echo and reverberate.

So, vaya con Dios, my friends! 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Why I Love Physics

One reason, at least ...

Historically, the very first hints of string theory came in 1968, when two young researchers at CERN, Gabriel Veneziano and Mahiko Suzuki, were each looking for mathematical functions that could be used to describe the behavior of strongly interacting particles.  They each, independently, noticed that a function written down in the nineteenth century by Leonhard Euler, and called the Euler beta function, might fit the bill.  This turns out to be the mathematics underpinning string theory; but it was Nambu who turned the mathematics into physics.

- Footnote found on page 154 of John Gribben’s The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry, and the Theory of Everything

Oh to be those young researchers!  Imagine them poring through Euler’s voluminous works, or any of the voluminous works of the ten or twenty top mathematicians of that era, all the while visualizing real-world outcomes from those esoteric – magical! – formulas and functions.  What did they feel when they realized that a half-blind court mathematician wrote down an equation that would, a hundred and fifty years later, describe the behavior of sub- sub-atomic entities?

The nerd in me is shivering with awe.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Nationals 1, Mets 0

We all went on our first visit to Citi Field out in Queens last night to watch the Met game.  The first two innings had lots of offense, including Juan Lagares being thrown out at the plate, but the remainder of the game ended up a defensive struggle, with the first-place Mets finishing on the losing end. 

All in all, though, despite the low-50s cold and the wind (we started off literally in the highest row of the stadium with a hundred-foot view of the parking lot over our shoulders), it was a great game and a great time.  Crowd very enthusiastic and the wife and little ones – no Mets fans by any stretch of the imagination – enjoyed themselves.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Time Capsule

What an awesome dream I had last night!

Though it has mostly faded by now, the main parts were so emotionally loaded and dynamically vivid that this is one I won’t forget for a long time, if at all.

In the dream, I revisit the backyard of my childhood home.  In real life, my brother and I buried a small box – maybe a quarter of the size of an average shoebox – containing some game pieces, a few toy soldiers, and a note, where our swingset used to be.  In the dream, I am back nearly forty years later to dig it up, particularly interested in what the note says.

The people who are in the dream with me, back to my dreamland childhood backyard, are skeptical.  I spot a tree that was but a sapling when I was kid.  “There’s a medal embedded in there, put there by me!” I say, and, sure enough, there is some sort of religious medallion peeking through years of bark.  We commence the dig.

Well, it turns out I’m in it for the long haul.  I excavate a hole six feet down and discover the box, much larger in my dream.  In it are Stratego pieces and page after page of cryptic, handwritten (possibly coded) notes.  What a find!  Soon the entire backyard is crisscrossed with World War I-like trenches, and every twist and bend finds another time capsule I’ve buried.  Some contain jewels, others toys from my youth.  I have an intense feeling that Answers to Big Questions have to be buried somewhere back here, so I keep on digging.  Fortunately, in dreamland, the dirt is light and I don’t tire at all.

Then I discover something funny.  Just beyond six feet down is a layer of bricks.  Puzzling.  What’s underneath it?  A 1950s-style fallout shelter or a tomb are the two immediate thoughts I dream.  These bricks prove very tough to break through with my shovel.  Fortunately, there are some heavy duty yellow backhoe thingies parked around, and in no time the bricks are pulled up, revealing remarkably preserved 2x4s.  Prying one up, suddenly –

Sunlight comes beaming up from the ground.

Hmm.  I run out to the front yard, run around to a side street, and see that my childhood home and backyard are tilted at a 45-degree angle, kinda like bleachers in a baseball stadium.  The sunlight is leaking up from the ground that way.

While doing so, I come across a famous actor – can’t recall who it is now.  It seems his family owned the house in the late 80s, after we sold it and while he was still a kid.  He buried treasure in the backyard too, and has that same nagging feeling that Answers to Big Questions are buried there.  He’s got quite a lot more financial resources to back him up, being successful in Hollywood and all, than I do.  But we recognize each other as brothers in the faith, and vow to let each one know if anything significant is discovered.

Then the dream morphed into where I’m looking at a poster of my old band, advertising a gig down the shore.  From there, it segues into that apocalyptic desert wasteland I’ve been dreaming about of old …

But man, that backyard dream was soooooooo realistic, I didn’t want it to end!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Science and Consensus

“Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

“There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it’s science, it isn’t consensus. Period.”
 . . .

“… Finally, I would remind you to notice where the claim of consensus is invoked. Consensus is invoked only in situations where the science is not solid enough. Nobody says the consensus of scientists agrees that E = mc². Nobody says the consensus is that the sun is 93 million miles away. It would never occur to anyone to speak that way.”

- excerpted from a speech by Michael Crichton, given at the California Institute of Technology on January 17, 2003