Friday, July 31, 2015

Project Update II

Now July has just about come to a close. The sand piles up in the lower chamber of the hourglass, quicker than I would have expected. But, paradoxically, that I expected. Is it really July 31st already? Have I been working at this project now for nearly 90 days? Do I really have a day less than seven weeks before my self-imposed deadline arrives?

Yes, yes, and yes.

July was busy, but it was productive. Just not productive in the areas I planned. Mainly the month was spent preparing my first manuscript for self-publication. What I originally imagined would take a week or ten days wound up taking nearly five weeks. In 31 days I devoted something like 48 hours to fine-tuning it.

I wrote the first draft in 2005, then edited it (to what I thought was perfection) in 2010. I realized this version would not do if I wanted to offer a superior product to a paying audience. So I went line by line and rewrote it. Took out embarrassing stuff. Corrected typos. Made all the names match. Buttressed the logical framework. Got rid of those pesky passive verbs and substituted colorful action ones. Formatted it. Spellchecked it. Printed it all out to do a final eyeball of it in August.

The bottom-line: Like all authors and their first novels, I will never be 100% happy with it. I could probably re-edit it again and replace five to ten percent of the verbiage. But it is as best as I can do it, right now, all things considered. I am happy with it. I am proud of it. I think others will enjoy it, and come back for more.

I did spend a couple hours this month on a few other self-publishing related activities. Three hours working at the beginning of July on my business plan. An hour getting together a special article I plan on giving away free for those who subscribe to the email list on my yet-to-be-created author website. An hour researching the website end of it, my main focus of August’s work. All told, I put in 54 hours towards self-publishing in July. Not bad considering I am still applying to 9-5 jobs, have a daily honey-do list, and watch two children. And by watch children, I mean: feed, entertain, exercise, discipline, and referee an almost-seven and almost-eleven year old, fourteen hours a day.

Speaking of exercise, I walked a little over 20 miles this month (mostly during the hottest parts of the day) and lifted 42 sets of iron (two different groups of six exercises performed three times a week). While I do feel it is keeping depression and negativity at bay, it is also taking a toll … physical exhaustion. Tomorrow we are heading down to Hilton Head, South Carolina, to visit my in-laws for a week, and I don’t believe I will do any exercising down there, except for, perhaps, swimming. So a week off for recovery should do wonders.
Still reading very motivational stuff of a very secretive nature. Perhaps a post on all down the road a bit, for those interested. So busy that I only put away two fiction books (Red Storm Rising, Deathworld 2), plus a thousand-line play from antiquity, Prometheus Bound, by Aeschylus, at Nietzsche’s behest. Still nose deep in a quartet of nonfiction works, each of which touches this self-publishing project – more specifically, me, my mental outlook, and future material.
Throw in Fourth of July fireworks, a day trip to the lake, my cousin’s wedding last week, and it’s been quite a hectic month. Even more so for the Missus, who in the capacity of her new position has been working 16-hour days for the last two weeks. We’re becoming strangers to each other, so, again, next week’s vacation is just in time. We did manage to watch two quality flicks together (the suspenseful American Sniper and the suspension-of-disbelief-required Imitation Game).
My main tasks for August:
(1) Figure out how exactly to offer my book. The format (Kindle, Nook, iBook, POD), what’s involved with any upfront money and time, what needs to be provided, what needs to be processed (copyright registration, ISBN registration). Need to design a cover. Need to create a catchier, more exciting title (the book’s working title was never upgraded).
(2) Need to create my Author Website. Lots of research needed. I know a fair amount already, but I am a little gun shy here, when it comes to $ commitment. The website itself is about 50 percent completed in terms of my vision and pages I’ve actually written.
So that should keep me busy. If I spent 54 hours on the business in July, I’m thinking each of the above should take at least that much.
Wish me luck!
And check back! I intend to read Olaf Stapledon’s groundbreaking Star Maker over vacation, so will have a review of that, as well as the obligatory What I Did on My Summer Vacation essay, and hopefully it will be extremely weird and enlightening as only a vacation with the Hopper can be …

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Book Review: Deathworld 2

© 1964 by Harry Harrison

Spent a couple of days reading this sequel by Harry Harrison out in the sticks of Pennsylvania, the same place where I read the original Deathworld a few weeks ago. Though my parents’ home out there doesn’t really hint in any way of worlds of death (it’s bucolic, peaceful, restful), I’ll probably save Deathworld 3, the concluding mini-novel in Harrison’s paperback trilogy, for the next time I head out there, maybe next month, Thanksgiving at the latest.

Like its predecessor, Deathworld 2 is a page-turning actioner with a lot of SF elements tossed in. However, ninety-nine percent of the action takes place not on Pyrrus, the “death world” of the first novel, but on an unnamed “death world.” Our stranded hero, Jason dinAlt, must fight tooth and claw for daily survival and somehow get his carcass off that planet before it, er, visits death upon him.

Being a page-turning actioner, the hoopla and excitement launches immediately by the third page. Jason is kidnapped by a pseudo-Calvinist mercenary to be tried for alleged “crimes” that occurred at the start of the original Deathworld. Attempting escape, Jason crash lands the merc’s starship on that nameless second world of death, populated by a semi-Stone Age culture that fortunately has the primitive use and understanding of twentieth-century technology. Some tribes worship the god Elektro (they have rudimentary electricity), others the combustion engine, still others basic chemistry (these, for example, use spheres of poison gas as weapons). But the entire planetary culture is one of master-slave relationship, where all life is short, cheap, and brutal, and one only advances by murdering one’s master and assuming his place.

The novel is remarkably similar to the ingenious L. Sprague de Camp novel, Lest Darkness Fall, which I read years ago and reviewed here (my fourth review ever, written way back in April of 2008). That being said, L. Sprague basically broke the mold; there’s not much another author can do to add twists and turns in the basic plot. Which is, guy from the future has knowledge of technology his masters want/need to rule, he bargains with said rulers, other rulers want to kill him, and he must outwit all other rulers plus contenders to the throne to try to stay alive and get out of the current time/place he’s stuck in.

So Jason works his way up the planetary chain of bigwigs, eventually outwits them all, keeps that pseudo-Calvinist mercenary at bay (a truly thorn-in-the-side character), gets beat up a heckuva lot, comes dangerously close to death’s door thanks to an unfortunately-placed spear, and exercises some brainpower to get rescued in the last couple of pages.

Bottom line: It ain’t Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, or Heinlein, or even Zelazny on a good day. But it is entertaining, and a quick read at that.

Grade: B.

Note: Deathworld 3 has to return to Pyrrus, and something big has to happen, something that resolves the whole “death world” thing, allowing mankind and the native life of Pyrrus to live in peace. Or at least, under détente.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Messin' with Sasquatch

Patch and Little One posing with the Big Guy in downtown Milford, PA, while visiting my parents for a few days this past week.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Been reading a lot these past couple of weeks about swamis, yogis, rishis and rajas, and in all this research I’ve started to notice synchronisms, for lack of a better term. Little things seemingly unrelated to the new knowledge I am acquiring, on first glance, but on further reflection, quite significant.

For example, take the song “Bargain” by The Who.

When I was a sophomore in high school, about a hundred years ago, I went through a huge Who phase. Thanks to an uncle and a stash of forgotten 8-track cassettes (wow, that’s a sentence that really makes one feel old …) I listened to most of their late-60s-to-mid-70s output while working out in my grandparent’s basement. One of my favorite albums was Who’s Next, the first album by the group, it has been said, where they actually rehearsed before hitting the recording studio.

Here are the lyrics to the second song on the album, “Bargain”:

I’d gladly lose me to find you
I’d gladly give up all I had
To find you I’d suffer anything and be glad

I’d pay any price just to get you
I’d work all my life and I will
To win you I’d stand naked, stoned and stabbed

I’d call that a bargain
The best I ever had
The best I ever had

I’d gladly lose me to find you
I’d gladly give up all I got
To catch you I’m gonna run and never stop

I’d pay any price just to win you
Surrender my good life for bad
To find you I’m gonna drown an unsung man

I’d call that a bargain
The best I ever had
The best I ever had

I sit looking ’round
I look at my face in the mirror
I know I’m worth nothing without you
And like one and one don’t make two
One and one make one
And I’m for that free ride to me
I’m looking for you

I’d gladly lose me to find you
I’d gladly give up all I got
To catch you I’m gonna run and never stop

I’d pay any price just to win you
Surrender my good life for bad
To find you I’m gonna drown an unsung man

I’d call that a bargain
The best I ever had
The best I ever had

Now, for thirty years I gave no thought to the meaning of the lyrics. In fact, I’ve hardly thought about the song at all, maybe once or twice a year should I hear it while, channel surfing on the radio. So it was kind of odd that I just came across this little tidbit just the other day, in light of all this reading I’ve been doing about Vedas and Upanishads and Gitas and whatnot.

The song “Bargain” is not about the lengths some dude will go to get some chick.

The song is about the quest for God.


That struck me quite significant. A small significance, mind you, but I love anything that makes me see something in a different light, see new meanings in old things, new wine in old wineskins type stuff, things that give me little bumps all up and down my arms, no matter how big or small.

Here’s the youtube clip of the song:

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Make Your Life Your Art

A refreshing thought, courtesy of Friedrich Nietzsche:

“ … I am convinced that art is the highest task and the real metaphysical activity of this life …”

 - from the 1872 Introduction to The Birth of Tragedy

“ … art – and not morality – is established as the real metaphysical activity of man; in the book itself the suggestive proposition that the existence of the world is only justified as an aesthetic phenomenon recurs several times.”

- from section 5 of the “new” 1886 Introduction to The Birth of Tragedy

“For this above all must be clear to us, as a cause of both humiliation and exultation, that the whole comedy of art is not in any way performed for our benefit, for our improvement and edification, and that we are to an even lesser extent the real creators of that world of art: but we may assume that we are already images and artistic projections for the true creator of that world and have our greatest dignity in our meaning as works of art – for only as an aesthetic phenomenon are existence and the world justified to eternity.”

- from chapter 5 of The Birth of Tragedy

Now, I’m not a Nietzschean scholar by any stretch of the imagination. But I am sensing a thread in this work, his first published book, written as a philologist and not a philosopher. Several of them, actually. The seeds of his philosophy seem to be here, especially in this thought: we have our greatest dignity in our meaning as works of art.

I like that. It coincides nicely with the direction I have been heading these past couple of weeks.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Newton's Gift

His particular gift was the power of holding continuously in his mind a purely mental problem until he had seen straight through it. I fancy his pre-eminence is due to his muscles of intuition being the strongest and most enduring with which a man has ever been gifted. Anyone who has ever attempted pure scientific or philosophical thought knows how one can hold a problem momentarily in one’s mind and apply all one’s powers of concentration to piercing through it, and how it will dissolve and escape and you will find that what you are surveying is a blank. I believe that Newton could hold a problem in his mind for hours and days and weeks until it surrendered to him its secret. Then being a supreme mathematical technician he could dress it up, how you will, for purposes of exposition, but it was his intuition which was pre-eminently extraordinary – “so happy in his conjectures,” said de Morgan, “as to seem to know more than he could possibly have any means of proving.”

– from “Newton, the Man,” The World of Mathematics, by John Maynard Keynes

Sounds to me like this man was the one-in-ten-millionth man able to harness the benefits of NZT without an actual pill.

Now ... how would one go about lowering those odds, if one was to go about it intentionally? 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Book Review: Red Storm Rising

© 1986 by Tom Clancy

My first Clancy review!

If you know me or have come to know me through my writings here, you know that I go through phases. Particularly in the books I read. In any given year, I’ll go through three, four, five or more phases. A phase could pertain to a solitary writer’s work or a specific topic or field, broad or narrow. For example, I’ve gone through phases reading only Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Philip Jose Farmer. These are usually multi-year phases. Subjects I’ve devoured somewhat recently are the broad topics of the Civil War and World War II, and narrow ones such as the Voynich Manuscript or the Shroud of Turin.

All this is a slightly long-winded way of saying that I went through a lengthy Clancy phase, eight or nine many-hundred-page books, mostly from ’94 to ’96, with two or three books afterwards ending around Rainbow Six when I got married a few years later.

The first Tom Clancy book I read was The Sum of All Fears. At this time I was more into music than writing (and even reading!), though I was aware of Clancy’s work via the big screen adaptations (The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games). I was aware of the notorious, surprising and sometimes suspiciously intricate detail the man packed into every page of every hefty tome. This fact alone intrigued me very much way back then, and, bored on a bright fall day in 1994, I stopped at the local library and picked up Sum to experience and evaluate this facet of his work first hand.

A strange and wonderful thing happened very quickly: I was floored! Amazed and astounded! An entirely new world opened up before, and not only that, but an entirely different way of looking at the world! A textbook epiphany, I suppose it could be called. Up to this time in my life I had never had such an explicit turn in outlook solely from a book (with the obvious and undeniably earth-shattering first complete read through of the Bible leading to my conversion in 1992, but the Bible supposed to do that to you, right?).

And what was that revelation Tom Clancy gave me?

The United States military is not evil. It is not behind every nefarious, traitorous, mustache-twisting deed in Fact and Fiction. Or, contra Hollywood, the military is not developing dinosaurs or monsters as the perfect kill weapon, only to loose them upon the population via incompetence. The military is not shooting amoebas up into space, only to have them come down as ravenous man-eating blobs. The military is not salivating to drop nukes on any American city that has an outbreak of some strange, potentially lethal disease.

No, according to Clancy, the United States military is good. A force for good in an evil world. Confident, competent, righteous and assured. They may suffer setbacks, and usually do, tennis match style back-and-forth more than a single major defeat they must rebound from, and you can rest assured they will rescue the damsels in distress, redeem any members in need of redemption, outwit the opponent, cleverly apply brain and brawn to the crisis at hand. And a great Tom Clancy-ism is that the bad guys always get their comeuppance, often at the hands of their supposed allies as the evil scoundrels devour themselves like packs of wolves trying to escape justice.

I’m being a bit playful here. A Clancy novel isn’t entirely black-and-white. Close, but there are shades of gray. There are turncoats and spies. People fail at times. But if you had the ability to transform John Wayne and Gary Cooper into 1980/1990s military techno-thrillers, they’d be sitting on the front rack in the bookstores alphabetically under C.

Red Storm Rising is as good an example as any of all this. I had read this novel during that 90s phase and spotted it at a book sale in October 2013, shortly after Clancy had died, and picked it up. It appealed to me when I first read it for two reasons: First, it was his only novel (up to that point) that did not feature his ubiquitous hero, Jack Ryan; and second, it promised to depict, well, World War III, as it might have occurred in the mid-80s, with the Soviet Union as the aggressor.

Since I devoured the book twenty years ago, and have read something like six hundred books since, I didn’t remember much of it. I did remember that I sped through it, unable to put it down, and thought it a worthwhile read. A few images stuck with me: fighters zooming over the German front, complex and elaborate scenes of sub-hunting, and a twist ending that tied everything up in the last five or ten pages.  

Turns out I remembered correctly.

[some spoilers]

An act of terrorism results in a Soviet Union desperate for oil. A corrupt Politburo (I know, a redundancy) sees war as the only way to prevent economic collapse and remain in power, so it initiates a false flag operation to justify invading Germany in the hopes of comprising NATO so they can snatch those poorly defended Arab oil fields. Intelligence personnel in the US military start noticing strange things about Soviet movements, and something as innocuous as the execution of four Russian colonels for not having their troops properly trained set off alarm bells. But before NATO leadership can be persuaded, Soviet forces seize Iceland, to use as a base to harass supply convoys crossing the Atlantic from America, and steamroll into West Germany.

Thus, the 725-page paperback edition of World War III. We have a Navy weatherman and a group of marines eluding the Russian invasion force on Iceland, making contact with their superiors, trying to survive the occupation and perhaps give American forces an edge in retaking the island. We have a sub commander and his friend, now helming a frigate cuz he drove his destroyer onto a sandbar, doing the whole cat-and-mouse thing hunting and being hunted by Soviet submarines. And we have brash, brazen, and brilliant General Alekseyev, an anti-hero of sorts, leading Operation Red Storm in Germany, handicapped by the self-defeating politics of communism lest he drive all of NATO into the Atlantic. But in the end, America (I mean, NATO), saves the day, and Alekseyev kinda turns good guy, delivering the Politburo to its comeuppance in a very neat ending that caught me by surprise.

It’s a long book and does take some effort to get through. The sub hunting scenes, tense and exciting at first, gradually become tiresome (there must be twenty-five or thirty such scenes in the novel). Tons of acronyms and much military jargon, so you can’t daydream as you read or else you’ll have no idea what ASW or MAU or SACEUR or DIA stands for and will have to flip back pages or you’ll drive yourself crazy. As in all Clancy books, characterization is kinda weak and one-dimensional, but you don’t read a Tom Clancy book for the characters.

You read it for the ASW and the MAU and the SACEUR and the DIA …

Grade: B+

PS – A neat little factoid about the novel was that Tom Clancy had worked out some of the battles, particularly the taking and retaking of Iceland, playing a friend’s war game. Don’t know much more about that, like whether it was a computerized game (this was the early 80s) or some type of a roll-playing game. Also, I don’t know if this makes Clancy cooler or nerdier. Possibly both.