Friday, September 30, 2016

Requiem for an Action-Packed Month

Well, the Hopper Birthday Month is over. Three birthdays in twelve days – Patch, then me, then Little One. Extended family parties, friend parties, and dinners with just the four of us. A whirlwind of eating, gift giving, surprises, and lots and lots of driving.

I am exhausted.

September is really for the girls. I get one evening, which is how I like it. A low-key affair, for a guy who likes to keep his affairs low-key. We had some homemade lasagna on my birthday, and the little ones bought me a scented pumpkin spice candle. O the little joys in life. My wife bought me much-needed business casual clothes – button-up shirts, khakis, t-shirts, cool-weather gear, the works. Quite necessary and much appreciated.

My parents and my in-laws gave me what I crave, though: Book money.

A few days ago I went on my favorite online bookseller sites and perused my wishlists. After nearly an hour of deliberation, here is what I selected for my Fall reading agenda:

The classic Shelby Foote Civil War trilogy, The Civil War: A Narrative

Fort Sumter to Perryville (1958)

Fredericksburg to Meridian (1963)

Red River to Appomattox (1974)

Plus a book on Zen philosophy and one on the Catholic theology of the Blessed Virgin Mary. A nice, eclectic selection, all in all.

What? No science fiction?

Well … I did toy with purchasing a PKD or two, in light of the neat little “trip” I took reading Palmer Eldritch a few weeks’ back. But, no. Here at home, in the dungeon where I keep the writing desk, I have towers and towers of unread and unfinished science fiction paperbacks. There are probably two dozen I could / should place in the On-Deck circle. A lot are under 200 pages, which means I could probably put away one a week, even with the hectic schedule I have with the night classes and the girls’ extracurricular activities. So, I plan on diving into the Civil War once the postman brings them to my door, and toss in a classic SF from the basement every now and then. I’d like to put a half-dozen of those classic golden oldies to rest before year’s end.

(By the way, the two PKD’s I almost bought were Deus Irae, co-written with Roger Zelazny, and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer.)

The tax prep classes are coming along nicely. It really snowballs, though, and there are endless rules and regulations to keep in mind. Some you need to memorize, even if they say you don’t, and others you just need to be aware of, and know where to find ’em if they come up doing a return. So far I’ve had 15 hours of class time, the same amount in homework, a two-hour online training session, and two quizzes. My average’s a 95, but the only grade that counts is the final exam, held the Monday after Thanksgiving.

Health-wise, aside from my little fast last week, I’m back to my normal ways. Going to take the little ones out for a slice of pizza after this posts, if you must know.

There’s been a strong – and I mean strong – urge to create this month. Dunno if it’s a response to all the ephemera going on. Possibly it’s a reaction to the Tegmark book on deep physics I’ve been reading. Ping-pongs between a fairly in-depth outline for a fantasy / SF novel I’ve been planning for years and a discourse into answering the question, “How would a non-human entity experience reality” sketched out over a map of human consciousness. Stuff I have absolutely no qualifications for, but stuff that intrigues me nonetheless.

Maybe I should morph both pong-pings into one, eh?

Not much on deck for October but to keep plugging away at life. Supposed to be a rainy, yucky weekend, so we plan on doing a lot of epic movie watching. Er, that is, watching a lot of movie epics. Going to the library to pick up a bunch of flicks. Also some trivia books on esoteric subject matter. Nothing Hopper enjoys more than thumbing through weird left-field stuff on cold rainy days, huddled on the couch with a blanket and the little ones at his feet, enraptured by some classics of the golden age of cinema.

Friday, September 23, 2016

44-Hour Fast

On a whim I went on a fast Wednesday night.

I’ve fasted a few times before, for religious and health reasons, going back twenty years or more. The last time I did was a while back, though, sometime during the summer of 2010. And none of these half-dozen fasts lasted longer than 24 hours. Usually breakfast-to-breakfast affairs.

So on Wednesday, after a very healthy dinner at 7:45 pm of mixed veggies and vinaigrette chicken, I decided to forgo the regular dessert after the little ones scampered off to bed. (In this case, dessert was a strawberry shortcake bar.) Three hours later, with no real decision to do so except, “Hmm, maybe I should fast – it’s been awhile,” I went to bed on a fairly empty stomach.

Thursday I woke feeling fairly normal. Not really hungry, as I can and sometimes do skip breakfast without any problem. Normally I don’t, and eat either my apple-oatmeal-cinnamon combo if I’m trending healthy or a bowl of sugary cereal if I’m not. But yesterday morning I abstained from food, and got the girls off to school and myself off to work with nothing out of the ordinary.

Work that day was low key, and I did experience a twinge of hunger every now and then, especially as lunch time rolled around, and it felt weird to read at my desk without a sandwich and a bottle of Diet Coke as companions. But there was no real headache, which usually signals sugar withdrawal for me, and no real hunger. Maybe 5-10 percent discomfort factor for both.

Important Note: I drank tons of water yesterday. I think close to a hundred ounces, based on how many times I refilled my water jug at work. No doubt this helped immensely. Also I took a “security banana” with me, kinda like a piece of fruit with the message: IN CASE OF EMERGENCY, PEEL ME! But I didn’t need it.

Last night I had a three-hour tax prep class. I was a bit worried that I might have a problem. I debated bringing the security banana with me but left it at home. Traffic stressed me out a bit, maybe jacked that headache up to a 15 percent level, but the class itself went by swiftly and relatively painlessly. I don’t eat in class but drink my bottle of water, so behaviorally I faced no difficulties.

Sometime during the day – again, this was kind of a spur-of-the-moment, non-thought-out thing – I decided not to break my fast that evening. The fact that I had the class right when I would be hitting the 24-hour mark probably influenced me. I like to do things in round numbers.

Got home around 9:30 to chatty children and a chatty wife. Fatigued from a long day, stressful not in itself but due to my self-imposed fast. I was achy, tired, hungry (my hunger too had jumped to 15 percent by now – not a consistent hunger, but a pang every now and then if I allowed my thoughts to dwell on food). Just wanted to read a bit in absolute quiet and then go to bed.

I finally hit the sack at 11, after a last minute decision to put out the trash and clean two fish bowls. My fasting tally at this point: about 27.5 hours without food, 19.5 hours of them awake.

Slept through the night without incident. BUT – woke up at 6:30 – 34 hours or so in – with a terrible headache. A headache of a type I’ve never really had before. So, in other words, it was nothing like a hangover. No, this headache was a fuzzy painful thing muffling my brain, making it hard to concentrate, hard to think, making everything – even just standing around and waiting – unbearable.
My discomfort level escalated to 50 percent.

But the kicker was – I had no hunger. My body was slightly achy, my head was abysmal, but I was not hungry. So, I rolled the dice, figuring that it all might clear up during the day (another calm one forecasted; this is my slow week at work). So I skipped breakfast for the second day in a row. Got the kids off to school and got to work a half-hour early.

With my security banana, I must add.

Now, yesterday I muddled through at perhaps 75 percent energy levels with 10-15 percent discomfort levels, mostly headachy-stuff and the occasional twinge of hunger. Today, in comparison, was horrible.

The morning was somewhat bearable, but I discovered extreme difficulty focusing on simple tasks, like entering data into a spreadsheet, having to go much slower than normal to ensure I was inputting hours and dollars on the correct lines. Not a great feeling when you do payroll.

Worked through lunch (couldn’t concentrate to read!), and then, around 2 o’clock, 42 hours in, I started watching the clock. I realized I wanted to leave soon, go home early (I made my hours for the week), and get some food. Not because I was hungry, but because after my “lunch break” my energy level dropped down to 50 percent and my discomfort level jumped from around 25 percent to 50 percent, then ratcheted up to 75 percent when I left at 3:30. All centered squarely on my brain.

During the day I experienced a whitish coating on my tongue – a common symptom of fasting – and an unpleasant metallic taste in my mouth. Is my body detoxing heavy metals? I wondered. Another common symptom of fasting is bad breath. Couldn’t tell if I had it myself, but I did notice nobody really hung out and chatted with me. I got paranoid that my breath reeked and my body odor turned funky – were toxins being expelled through my skin? – though in fairness to myself I prepared for these symptoms with liberal uses of mouthwash and a very thorough and soapy morning shower.

I felt better in the car and the commute home was no challenge. I did not pick up Patch from aftercare immediately. I went home, 44 hours in to the fast, and prepared to deliciously break it – with the most deliciously bland meal I could think of, having read many places that the break-fast meal needs to be very, very easy on the stomach:

I cut up my security banana over a piping hot four-ounces of steel-cut oats with generous heapings of cinnamon.

As I write this, seven hours after breaking the longest fast of my life, my headache has finally subsided. I continued to drink water all day and night, and had a veggie burrito – sans cheese and sour cream and meat – with the wife for dinner. I feel fine, and very tired.

Curious to know, not that I ever can, how my body healed during the fast. What percentage of the toxins stored in my body – from the environment, from processed foods, from sugar – were released? I did miss eleven meals/snacks, so my digestive system did have quite the vacation. Did that help? Did it help my pancreas, my liver, my kidneys, even my stomach? Did it help my brain, my heart, my bloodstream? I have to think yes, yes it did, the trial was worth it.

Will I do it again?


Longer next time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


We were trapped in the Arctic, ice-enlocked, beginningless time mocking our memories. The cold, the storm, the specter of death skulking close beyond upon the blue-illumined floes. My companions – forgive me, for I’ve forgotten their names – nameless friends and I played endless games of word and trivia, to pass the time and …


was the word I scratch-etched into the rotting easel, passionately arguing to my captive crowd that such a word existed and, not only existed, but whose very definition lay captured in chains in that rotting memory of mine.

Pointless games of word and trivia, to pass the time and …

to keep at bay fears of starvation, and what drives naturally flow from such fears.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

fragment of a dream I had, 5:30-5:45 a.m., Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Book Review: The Barbarian of World's End

© 1977 by Lin Carter


This is the book I found sequestered (by my father, I presume) in a drawer in the hutch in the dining room, along with four other unrelated novels. I read them all back then, nearly forty years ago, and re-read three of them over the past couple of years. I found this entry in Carter’s “Gondwane” epic cycle a month ago on a used book store’s shelf, and read it quickly in short ten and twenty minute bursts over the past five days.



I confess a love-hate relationship to Carter’s bare-bones-yet-overdriven writing and creating style. Full-blown worlds exposited to the reader with precious little background. Or rationale, for that matter. But on a certain level, a level best frequented by ten-year-old SF and fantasy book buffs, it just kinda almost works. Works better for those ten-year-olds, that is, than a man nearing his sixth decade (Good God, did I just write that?!).

I’ve read a couple of Carter’s books over the past few years, and enjoyed his space opera books over his sword & sorcery tales. Or perhaps I was just in a better frame of mind whilst reading the SF-oriented ones. Dunno, but it’s more than possible. Barbarian at World’s End was re-read strictly for pure nostalgic value, and while some nostalgia pleased me immensely *, overall I found the book lacking. **

Here’s the key reason I searched this out and re-read it:

Way, way back in 1978, sneaking the book and surreptitiously investigating it beneath the dining room table, I was perplexed – and fascinated – by the “anthropological” angle to the book, one I must not have perceived in all the other SF and fantasy novels I was devouring. This manifested itself in Carter’s use of footnotes – footnotes! In a sword & sorcery paperback! – and my young mind did not know how to process this. Footnotes spouting details about the peoples, geography, and monsters of World’s End. Are these peoples / places / monsters real? Were they real? Does Mr. Carter think they were real? How does he know these truths?

I don’t remember if I finished the book or not, but I did read at least half of it, and recall those footnotes most. (Though after reading it a second time four decades later, there were far fewer such notation as I seemed to have recalled.)

Overall, though, this time round I came away unimpressed. Perhaps the story had run out of steam by this, the fourth book in the series. Perhaps Carter’s enthusiasm – probably the driving force behind his writing – waned by this point. The story was episodic with way too much “told and not shown.”

However, there were flashes of brilliance. Take this excerpt, for example:

The city had originally been built by wandering tribes of Ruxmen, fled from their homeland so as to be able to practice their religion unmolested. That religion was the worship of Rux, one of the less popular and more controversial divinities of the old Vemenoid Pantheon.

They had built the city of the red Uskodian granite and decorated it with the rich amber-yellow marbles quarried from the Rlambar foothills. But now everything in the city of Ruxor was of gleaming, sleek, sparkling white stone.

Including the Ruxorians. For they were still there, with their cattle and housepets and windowboxes and walled gardens and tree-lined streets: all transformed to the same white stone in the same mysterious moment.

It had come out of the depths of space, according to the Annals of Arzenia, that weird and terrifying beam of purple light which had originated, according to some accounts, in the Constellation of the Mantichore.

For one eternal instant in time, the space ray had bathed red-and-golden Ruxor in its uncanny purple radiance: then it flashed on to strike, perhaps, another distant world.

Whatever the nature of the weird purple light, it struck everything in Ruxor to stone in the same instant.

… And no one knew how or why it happened.

As well as some brief (intentional?) flashes of humor:

“they were attacked from all sides by furious, squalling bands of little bowlegged no-noses”

“Here roamed immense flocks of lumbering cattle called nerds. For a time the Ximchaks reverted to the ways of their nomadic forebears, and hunted the nerd herds day and night … Decimating the nerd herds, the Ximchaks passed on. For the three weeks it took them to traverse the Ongish plains, they ate heavily, although monotonously, of nerd steaks, nerd cutlet, nerd stew, spiced nerd, pickled nerd, minced nerd, and nerd soup.”

Which brought me to the insight that had Carter truly developed this semi-hidden sense of humor, he could have beat Terry Pratchett and his Discworld novels to the punch by several years. But perhaps Carter’s love of the genre congenitally forbade him from delving too deep into satire and parody.

I can’t grade it any higher than a borderline C+ / B -, but I will tell you one thing – I will probably read another Lin Carter, most likely a gnarled and aged lean-and-mean science fiction tale found on a dusty bookshelf, and maybe more than just one, over the next forty or fifty years.

* What pleased me most, mostly, were the names. Ganelon Silverman, the eponymous hero. Also the name of the barbarian tribe – the “Ximchak Horde” – and some of the warrior’s names, such as Wolf Turgo and Black Unggo, names that nestled firmly in the valleys and recesses deep within the medial temporal lobe of my brain, marinating unknowingly over those long five decades of existence.

** Two of those five books I found in that drawer, A Small Armageddon by Mordecai Roshwald and Red Tide, by D.D. Chapman and Delores Lehman Tarzan, I also re-read and had similar ambiguous feelings. Barbarian fall directly between Armageddon (which I liked) and Red Tide (which I found terribly disappointing).

Friday, September 16, 2016

Happy Birthday Patch!

You’re the best, and get better every day!

(Note: Picture taken approximately six and a half years ago. Patch is now an eight-year-old third grader and a veteran of the bloody soccer fields of northern New Jersey.)


Had a tough week, ergo the dearth of posts. (I actually originally typed “death of posts,” and chuckled out loud.)

The wife flew out for three days on a business trip to Ohio, so my mother came in to help rustle with the young ’uns. I also started my tax prep class on Monday and had the second one last night. Six hours total, plus commuting time. Plus three and a half hours homework. Add to that a seven-hour Payroll Law seminar I attended for work on Wednesday. Shake and stir with a soccer practice, last minute requests for playdates, and a very mercurial pre-teen.

I am exhausted.

But – today launches the Birthday Bonanza at Chez Hoppèré, the special stretch of twelve days where three birthdays are celebrated – Patch’s, Little One’s, and, well, mine. Today is Patch’s eighth, and to celebrate, per her request, we’re going out to the Longhorn Steakhouse (Patch likes her red meat) and will be returning home for strawberry-chocolate cake and the opening of presents.

I do have some stuff on deck to post here, but that stuff tends to be in spare and sparse outline and bullet-point form. A review of the latest paperback read. Some lifestyle musings. Some literary dilemmas. A political screed I may or may not banish to the aether via the DELETE key. A cinematic quandary. A meditation on midlife. And on and on.

So do check back. I want to stick to a two- or three-post-per-week schedule, as my extremely jealous schedule allows. I enjoy doing this, and plan on plugging at it for the indefinite future.

As for now – well, some saucy ribs and an ice cold quart of root beer awaits!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Never Forget

And never let up bringing it to the bastards who did this until they are wiped from the face of the earth.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Book Review: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

© 1964 by Philip K. Dick

More than once have I cried out in these electronic pages the exclamation, “Hollywood, make a movie out of this book!”

I cry it now yet again on the occasion of completing The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

PKD is always a treat to read. Things are never what they seem, initially, when you travel the first few chapters of one of his works. That is the best thing about them, to me, and when the mystery unfolds and you see the implications geometrically exponentially warping outward in three dimensions from the few and simple set of criteria postulated, well, that to me’s the second best thing. Or maybe it’s better than the first best thing. Either way, the reader’s a winner.

It’s been a while since I opened one of Dick’s books. I went through a phase in the second half of 2005 where I read The Man in the High Castle, Ubik, The Collected Short Stories, and an unauthorized biography of the man. Later I read VALIS, The Broken Bubble, Time Out of Joint, and took a swing at The Exegesis (which deserves to be bought and studied with compass and protractor). When I spent a week in Paris I contemplated buying one of his paperbacks in French.

Anyway, all this is mentioned, I suppose, to establish my bona fides. Whether it does or doesn’t, I dunno. I claim no expertise; I am merely a town crier crying out when I’ve read a decent book. Or thundering commands at Hollywood. TTSOPE is such a good read, engendering the best compliment any book can suffer: I didn’t want it to end.

The action takes place in the far-flung future of the 21st century. Large swathes of Solar System real estate have been colonized (due in part to extreme global warming on the home world), often at the muzzle of a UN gun. To help overcome despair at being forced onto desolate worlds, a drug known as CAN-D spreads planet to planet, enabling disenfranchised earthlings to hallucinate that they are part of some bizarre Ken and Barbie perfect world (known in the book as “Perky Pat”).

Meanwhile, infamous Palmer Eldritch has just been rescued on Pluto, returning from the Proxima Centauri system after making a First Contact of sorts. It’s revealed that he has brought back with him CHEW-Z, a drug to rival CAN-D. Eldritch’s drug enters the market and both he and his product come to blows with Leo Bulero, the CAN-D kingpin.

It is at this point where things twist strange, and what you think is real may not, in truth (and what is truth?), be real (and what is real?)

Bulero somehow finds himself on CHEW-Z, finding himself in an entirely new universe, one constructed by Palmer Eldritch. The laws of physics or evolution do not hold. Nor do the laws of sanity, as Leo begins to doubt his own. He soon realizes that he can never quite tell where or when his drug trip ends, if end it ever does.

Now – do we have a dream within a dream? Or are things much weirder? Does the story end with Leo taking CHEW-Z, or is this anything/everything from an alien invasion, a forced march into group consciousness, or the birth of a new religion? Or bits and pieces, the best or worst, of each, combined with other scenarios and possibilities that may have escaped my distracted mind whilst reading the novel? And who – or what – exactly is Palmer Eldritch, and is he the same being who left Earth before experiencing the Proxima system?

With so much at stake, and so much up in the air, and with so much invested in the troubled characters, I felt the lean feel of the book (188 pages in the version I read) somewhat inadequate in its lean-and-mean-ness. But after reflecting upon it a few days, I think it’s the perfect length, and it answers and non-answers everything perfectly.

And the more I think about it, the more the underlying sense of horror coalesces and magnifies. Think the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, directed by Philip Kaufman, and you’ll see where I’m heading.

Grade: solid-A.

NB. The “three stigmata” are Palmer’s artificial mechanical arm, his artificial black-slit eyes, and his artificial metallic jawbone. I forget what the books says about them (they are mentioned quite frequently, and often bystanders will suddenly manifest one or more stigmata), but Wikipedia tells me they represent “alienation, blurred reality, and despair.” Seems about right.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Book Score

Stopped off at the library this afternoon with Patch so she could pick up some weekend reads and I could check out their Book Sale nook. In less than three minutes, no kidding, and for fifty cents each, I scored these two novels:

The Arthur C. Clarke book I’ll read mid-September, right after I put away this classic from my youth:

The other book, The Terror, I know little about. The only Dan Simmons book I read was the phenomenal Hyperion, way back in the year 2000, when I was commuting in to NYC daily on the train. Book – and author – was so good I literally became intimidated to read anything further. But I liked the back blurb, and the fact that it’s a mix of historical fiction and horror, so I picked it up and will schedule it for my Halloween read.

Note: PKD review on deck. Outlined, just need to put it into sentence/paragraph form …

Saturday, September 3, 2016

PKD's Cat Joke

“I felt,” Barney said, “about him a presence of the deity. It was there.” Especially in that one moment, he thought, when Eldritch shoved me, tried to make me try.

“Of course,” Anne agreed. “I thought you understood about that’ He’s here inside each of us and in a higher life form such as we’re talking about He would certainly be even more manifest. But – let me tell you my cat joke. It’s very short and simple. A hostess is giving a dinner party and she’s got a lovely five-pound T-bone steak sitting on the sideboard in the kitchen waiting to be cooked while she chats with the guests in the living room – has a few drinks and whatnot. But then she excuses herself to go into the kitchen to cook the steak – and it’s gone. And there’s the family cat, in the corner, sedately washing it’s face.”

“The cat got the steak,” Barney said.

“Did it? The guests are called in; they argue about it. The steak is gone, all give pounds of it; there sits the cat, looking well-fed and cheerful. ‘Weigh the cat,’ someone says. They’ve had a few drinks; it looks like a good idea. So they go into the bathroom and weight the cat on the scale. It reads exactly five pounds. They all perceive this reading and one guest says, ‘Okay, that’s it. There’s the steak.’ They’re satisfied that they know what happened, now; they’ve got empirical proof. Then a qualm comes to one of them and he says, puzzled, ‘But where’s the cat?’ ”

“I heard that joke before,” Barney said. “And anyhow I don’t see its application.”

Anne said, “That joke poses the finest distillation of the problem of ontology ever invented. If you ponder it long enough – ”

“Hell,” he said angrily, “it’s five pounds of cat; it’s nonsense – there’s no steak if the scale shows five pounds.”

“Remember the wine and the wafer,” Anne said quietly.

He stared at her. The idea, for a moment, seemed to come through.

“Yes,” she said. “The cat was not the steak. But – the cat might be a manifestation which the steak was taking at that moment. The key word happens to be is. Don’t tell us, Barney, that whatever entered Palmer Eldritch is God, because you don’t know that much about Him; no one can. But that living entity from intersystem space may, like us, be shaped in His image. A way He selected of showing Himself to us. If the map is not the territory, the pot is not the potter. So don’t talk ontology, Barney; don’t say is.” She smiled at him hopefully, to see if he understood.

- The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, chapter thirteen, by Philip K. Dick.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

Review of this bizarre little book on deck ...