What Happened? I’ll Tell You What Happened (2017Sep12)


New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to the reporters at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, March 10, 2015. Clinton conceded that she should have used a government email to conduct business as secretary of state, saying her decision was simply a matter of “convenience.” (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017                                          11:07 AM

What Happened? I’ll Tell You What Happened   (2017Sep12)

Hillary Clinton’s new book, “What Happened”, has been getting a multitude of similar reviews—all of which summarize her reasoning and smugly find it lacking, for a bunch of self-assured reasons. It makes me crazy to see this reek of misogyny continuing on, as if the election were still in progress.

We all know exactly ‘What Happened’. Hillary Clinton offered the country an intelligent, reasonable choice—and we, in our collective wisdom (or lack of) chose Donald Trump—an idiot we would be hard pressed to find the equal of. It is not Hillary who has to explain herself. ‘We have met the enemy—and he is us.’

The GOP blamed Obama for eight years of struggle to recover our employment rate—forgetting that Bush made the crater Obama then crawled out of. Did Hillary fail to recognize the spasms of rage and resentment being stoked by Republicans, Alt-righters, and Russians? Did she keep her head in an environment where quiet common sense had gone out of fashion? Yes. Does her being a minority of one mean that she should have acted like a carnival barker—that she was the one making mistake after mistake? Sadly, no—that was us.

The media, especially social media, whipped us all into paroxysms of hysteria over the 2016 presidential race—and only in such a fact-free, reason-free, top-of-your-voice environment could we have been turned around enough to have voted in a TV con-man with his hand out, groping for pussy. But hey—that’s What Happened.

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Logos and the Summer Reading List (2016Jul05)


Tuesday, July 05, 2016                                             1:03 PM

Kindle Purchases as of July 5, 2016:

Title    Author

Super Extra Grande                                                         Yoss

Infomocracy: A Novel                                                    Malka Older

Mechanical Failure (Epic Failure Book 1)                 Joe Zieja

Illuminae (The Illuminae Files)                                   Amie Kaufman

Porgy                                                                                 Dubose Heyward

Shakespeare’s Sonnets                                                     William Shakespeare

Wandering Stars                                                              Sholem Aleichem

The Noise of Time: A novel                                           Julian Barnes

Into Everywhere                                                              Paul McAuley

Something Coming Through                                         Paul McAuley

Little Machines                                                                Paul McAuley

Insistence of Vision: Stories                                          David Brin

The Technician (A Novel of Polity)                             Neal Asher

Dark Intelligence (Transformations)                           Neal Asher

Not Alone                                                                          Craig A. Falconer

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories                     Ken Liu

Ruined (TCG Edition)                                                     Lynn Nottage

As Good as New: A Tor.Com Original                        Charlie Jane Anders

Six Months, Three Days: A Tor.Com Original           Charlie Jane Anders

The Fermi Paradox is Our Business Model                Charlie Jane Anders

Hello World                                                                     Peter Cawdron

This Long Vigil (A Short Story)                                     Rhett C Bruno

Saturn Run                                                                        John Sandford

Against a Dark Background                                           Iain M. Banks

Excession                                                                           Iain M. Banks

The State of the Art                                                          Iain M. Banks

Use of Weapons (A Culture Novel Book 3)                Iain M. Banks

The Player of Games (A Culture Novel Book 2)       Iain M. Banks

Been There, Run That                                                     Koplovitz

Apex: Nexus Trilogy Book 3 (Nexus Arc)                   Ramez Naam

The Artificial Kid                                                            Bruce Sterling

Seeds of a New Birth (Kindred Series Book 1)           Orrin Jason Bradford

The End of All Things (Old Man’s War Book 6)       John Scalzi

The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth’s Past)      Cixin Liu

Among Others (Hugo Award -Best Novel) Jo Walton

101 Great American Poems(Dover Thrift Eds)         Am.Poetry&Lit Project

Armada: A novel                                                              Ernest Cline

The Golden Transcendence (Golden Age Book 3)    John C. Wright

The Phoenix Exultant: (Golden Age, Book 2)            John C. Wright

The Golden Age                                                               John C. Wright

Idempotency                                                                    Joshua Wright

To Stand or Fall: The End of All Things #4                John Scalzi

Can Long Endure: The End of All Things #3              John Scalzi

This Hollow Union: The End of All Things #2          John Scalzi

The Life of the Mind: The End of All Things #1        John Scalzi

Mysterium                                                                        Robert Charles Wilson

A Bridge of Years                                                             Robert Charles Wilson

Pandora’s Brain                                                                Calum Chace

Schild’s Ladder                                                                 Greg Egan

The Girl With All the Gifts                                            M. R. Carey

The Turing Exception (Singularity Series Book 4)    William Hertling

The Last Firewall (Singularity Series Book 3)            William Hertling

A.I. Apocalypse (Singularity Series Book 2)              William Hertling

Avogadro Corp: TS.. (Singularity Series Book 1)       William Hertling

Nexus (The Nexus Trilogy Book 1)                              Ramez Naam

Crux (The Nexus Trilogy Book 2)                                 Ramez Naam

Cards of Grief                                                                   Jane Yolen

The Alien Chronicles (The Future Chronicles)          Hugh Howey

The Essence of Aptitude (CorpusChronicles Bk1)    Esha Bajaj

The Defeatist                                                                     Sophie Bowns

The Fold: A Novel                                                           Peter Clines

(R)evolution (Phoenix Horizon Book 1)                    PJ Manney

Curse 5.0 (Short Stories by Liu Cixin Book 7)            Cixin Liu

The Water Knife                                                              Paolo Bacigalupi

Taking Care of Gods (Short Stories Book 10)             Cixin Liu

The Wandering Earth (Short Stories Book 2)            Cixin Liu

The Three-Body Problem(Remem.of Earth’sPast)   Cixin Liu

Seveneves: A Novel                                                         Neal Stephenson

Vessel                                                                                 Andrew J. Morgan

H2O                                                                                    Irving Belateche

The book of the courtier                                                Baldassarre Castiglione

The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci Complete      da Vinci

Godless Nerdistry: Or How to be a Bag of Chem      Dale DeBakcsy

Consider Phlebas (A Culture Novel Book 1)              Iain M. Banks

Fear the Sky (The Fear Saga Book 1)                            Stephen Moss

The Lost Starship (Lost Starship Series Book 1)         Vaughn Heppner

Stars & Empire 2: 10 More Galactic Tales                 Jay Allan

Stars & Empire: 10 Galactic Tales                                Jay Allan

Fluency (Confluence Book 1)                                        Jennifer Foehner Wells

The Road to Hope                                                           Crissi Langwell

Edge of Eternity (The Century Trilogy, Book 3)       Ken Follett

Robogenesis: A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries)     Daniel H. Wilson

A Burnable Book: A Novel                                            Bruce Holsinger

Wool Omnibus Edition (Wool 1 – 5) (Silo series)    Hugh Howey

Wool: The Graphic Novel #1 (Silo Saga)                    Hugh Howey

YES                                                                                     Leonard Chance

The Fault in Our Stars                                                     John Green

The Divergent Series Complete Collection: D,I,A     Veronica Roth

The Nostalgist: A Tor.Com Original                            Daniel H. Wilson

Electric Blues (Arty Book 1)                                         Shaun O. McCoy

Ride of the Late Rain (Vergassy Chronicles Bk 1)    James Young

The Pattern Ship (The Pattern Universe Book 1)      Tobias Roote

After Shock: (Lucy Guardino FBI Thrillers Bk 4)     CJ Lyons

The Forgotten Land                                                         Keith McArdle

The First                                                                            Kipjo Ewers

The Princess and the Goblin (Illustrated)   George MacDonald

The Water Babies [with Biographical Intro]             Charles Kingsley

The Shriver Rpt:A Woman’s Nation Pushes Back    Maria Shriver

Wicked Sci-Fi Pulp -From1954 The Real Stuff Ill   Philip K. Dick

10 Lost Vintage Sci-Fi Short-Story Masterpieces      Chet Dembeck

Linked List of over 350 Free SciFi Classics                Morris Rosenthal

Distraction                                                                        Bruce Sterling

Vege Press-Cooker-50 Recipes for Busy People      Maria Holmes

The Seventh Science Fiction MEGAPACK Robert Silverberg

The First Science Fiction MEGAPACK                       Robert Silverberg

The Second Science Fiction Megapack                       Robert Silverberg

The Third Science Fiction MEGAPACK                     Fritz Leiber

The Fourth Science Fiction MEGAPACK                   Isaac Asimov

The Fifth Science Fiction MEGAPACK                      Gardner Dozois

The Sixth Science Fiction MEGAPACK                      Johnston McCulley

Weird Science Fiction Tales: 101 Vol. 8 (civitas)     Various

Weird Science Fiction Tales: 101 Vol. 7 (civitas)     Various

Weird Science Fiction Tales: 101 Vol. 6 (civitas)     Various

Weird Science Fiction Tales: 101 Vol. 5 (civitas)     Various

Weird Science Fiction Tales: 101 Vol. 4 (civitas)     Various

Weird Science Fiction Tales: 101 Vol. 3 (civitas)     Various

Weird Science Fiction Tales: 101 Vol. 2 (civitas)     Various

Weird Science Fiction Tales: 101 Vol. 1 (civitas)     Various

The Edmond Hamilton MEGAPACK 16 Tales         Edmond Hamilton

The H. Beam Piper Megapack: 33 Stories                 H. Beam Piper

The Works of Alan E. Nourse  [Illustrated]               Alan E. Nourse

Over the last two and a half years I have read some books—not as many as I would have back in my ‘bookworm prime’, but I still enjoy reading better than almost anything else. The above list is not exact—in the sense that I have not read every book—or every word in every book—just most of them. (Let he who reads every book he buys cast the first stone.) Also, a few of these listed are just Kindle duplicates of books I read long ago, and subsequently re-read as e-books. But by and large my reading list for the past coupla years is fairly represented above.

I could not tell you what most of these books are about. I read them and forget them, as far as details go—if I retain the main concepts and story arcs, I figure I’m doing well. My memory does not work well—I often have trouble, during a big book, keeping things straight as I read—remembering stuff afterwards is a bonus for me. I can re-read a book and get a few chapters in before the sense of familiarity starts to come to me—I’m often disappointed to do that, because the more I read, the more I remember, until I give it up and go looking for a new book. Memory is weird stuff—especially when it’s as dysfunctional as mine.

You’ll notice I mostly read Sci-Fi books. Science Fiction isn’t exactly educational in the strictest sense of the word—that word ‘Fiction’ tells you why. But Sci-Fi does have the advantage of letting science-educated people play with the concepts they were taught—and there is great value in that.

Real math and science are very complex, they’re taught in school (often by uninspired teachers to unwilling students) and they tend to be thought of as rote data. But the sciences are a living thing, growing and changing with every day—and Science Fiction provides a safe space for playing with scientific concepts and ideas, clarifying their meanings and highlighting their possibilities. It can be a thrilling peek at the future or a dire warning to the present—but my favorite aspect of Science Fiction is that it can conjure fantasies about what the human race can become.

And Science Fiction has a strange habit of deciding, every once in a while, to become Fact. It is not so strange that speculation on the future can become prediction—even fortune-tellers get it right sometimes, and Sci-Fi writers have the extra advantage of not talking in general terms, but of extrapolating aspects of real science into stories about where that science might lead. Star Trek once speculated on the idea of hand-held communicators and, lo and behold, we now have I-phones (an actual improvement, since I-phones can do much more than allow conversations between two people). Arthur C. Clarke once wrote a story about a geo-synchronous satellite used for communications—and thus his name appears on the first patent for a communications satellite. I could go on—the historic connection between science and Science Fiction is long and full of anecdotes.

Science Fiction can also lead to greater interest in Science. Among the print books left off the above list are some biographies. Recently, I have read “Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel” (2006) by Rebecca Goldstein and “Joseph Henry: The Rise of an American Scientist” (1997) by Albert E. Moyer (which I’m still reading). I’ve also recently read “Henry James: A Life” (1985) by Leon Edel and “Beethoven: The Man Revealed” (2014) by John Suchet. I’ve read James, but truthfully I was intrigued to read his biography when I read, in Henry’s bio, that he was a tutor of the young Henry James in 19th-century Albany, NY. The Beethoven bio was a gift from friends who knew I liked classical music and reading.

So I do have other interests—Sci-Fi is simply my favorite genre. Biographies are great, too—but, being works of intense research, it gets tricky finding someone who can dig up the info and also write well. Biographies can be fun—some historical figures have whole bookshelves of biography written about them—I’ve read three different biographies of Einstein, for example, and learned as much from their differences as I did from their explicit writing.

Sarah Vowell, Barbara Tuchman, Jared Diamond, and Laura Hillenbrand are some of my favorite writers of general history. I’ve also read some lackluster histories by other authors, but I have found that, with biography and historical non-fiction, the lack of literary talent can be balanced out by one’s interest in the subject. I have read some terribly boring books, simply because I was fascinated with the subject matter. Plus, they help me appreciate the really good writers.

In the Gospel of John we are told “the Word was with God and the Word was God”, the word ‘Word’ having been translated from the ancient greek ‘Logos’, which means  “a ground”, “a plea”, “an opinion”, “an expectation”, “word”, “speech”, “account”, “to reason”—later becoming a philosophical term meaning ” a principle of order and knowledge”. Thus Logos has always held a fascination for modern writers and thinkers. The interface between words and meaning is a slippery one. Semiotics become complex. But the struggle between what we mean and what we say (or write) goes on—words may be amorphous, but they’re the best tools we have. And so, this summer, go and get your words on.

Old Books   (2016Mar13)


Sunday, March 13, 2016                                          3:13 AM

I used to burrow through the complete works of old authors—it was so comfortable in the worlds they created—a slower, more intimate and more gentle place than the present.

Just take a look at this:

“THE FOURTH CHAPTER

A MESSAGE FROM AFRICA

THAT Winter was a very cold one. And one night in December, when they were all sitting round the warm fire in the kitchen, and the Doctor was reading aloud to them out of books he had written himself in animal-language, the owl, Too-Too, suddenly said, “Sh! What’s that noise outside?”

They all listened; and presently they heard the sound of some one running. Then the door flew open and the monkey, Chee-Chee, ran in, badly out of breath.

“Doctor!” he cried, “I’ve just had a message from a cousin of mine in Africa. There is a terrible sickness among the monkeys out there. They are all catching it—and they are dying in hundreds. They have heard of you, and beg you to come to Africa to stop the sickness.”

“Who brought the message?” asked the Doctor, taking off his spectacles and laying down his book.

“A swallow,” said Chee-Chee. “She is outside on the rain-butt.”

“Bring her in by the fire,” said the Doctor. “She must be perished with the cold. The swallows flew South six weeks ago!”

So the swallow was brought in, all huddled and shivering; and although she was a little afraid at first, she soon got warmed up and sat on the edge of the mantelpiece and began to talk.”

– from: “The Story of Doctor Dolittle” by Hugh Lofting

Isn’t that delightful? Could you imagine a cozier scene? There were many things I didn’t care for in the Doctor Dolittle books—but I was hooked on the sense of contentment that radiated from each tale’s beginning and end—there were adventures—sure—but they were always bracketed by scenes of tea or a pipe-smoke, in an easy chair by a warm fireplace. It speaks perhaps more to my need for quiet and contentment than to any great skill of Mr Lofting as an author.

Or how about this fragment from an introduction to another great children’s book:

“This country is not Fairyland. What is it? ‘Tis the land of Fancy, and is of that pleasant kind that, when you tire of it—whisk!—you clap the leaves of this book together and ’tis gone, and you are ready for everyday life, with no harm done.

And now I lift the curtain that hangs between here and No-man’s-land. Will you come with me, sweet Reader? I thank you. Give me your hand.”

– from the introduction to: “The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood” by Howard Pyle

It seemed to me that no one could read such a preface without settling more deeply into their armchair and opening their mind to the verdant clearings about olde Nottingham Wood, busy with bold yeomen, rubicund friars, and good fellows who robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.

Or try this—from the introduction to a book so bound up in chivalry and honor and nobility that even the words have straight backs and stiff upper lips:

“Then to proceed forth in this said book, the which I direct unto all noble princes, lords and ladies, gentlemen or gentlewomen, that desire to read or hear read of the noble and joyous history of the great conqueror and excellent king, King Arthur, sometime king of this noble realm, then called Britain; I, William Caxton, simple person, present this book following,”

– from Will Caxton’s preface to: “Le Morte D’Arthur” (Sir Thomas Malory’s Book of King Arthur and of his Noble Knights of the Round Table)

How happy I was to find, later on, that even the adult fare of long ago was couched in intimate, trusting honesty:

“This little work was finished in the year 1803, and intended for immediate publication. It was disposed of to a bookseller, it was even advertised, and why the business proceeded no farther, the author has never been able to learn. That any bookseller should think it worth-while to purchase what he did not think it worth-while to publish seems extraordinary. But with this, neither the author nor the public have any other concern than as some observation is necessary upon those parts of the work which thirteen years have made comparatively obsolete. The public are entreated to bear in mind that thirteen years have passed since it was finished, many more since it was begun, and that during that period, places, manners, books, and opinions have undergone considerable changes.”

– Advertisement by the Authoress, To “Northanger Abbey” [by Jane Austen]

One of my favorite features of these older writers was their complete lack of concern with the length of their sentences—or with how long they took to make a point:

“Chapter I.

Treats of a Place Where Oliver Twist was born, and of the Circumstances Attending his Birth.

Among other public buildings in a certain town which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, it boasts of one which is common to most towns, great or small, to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born, on a day and date which I need not take upon myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events, the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.”

– from:  “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens

Even in sophistication, we find cynicism and the weight of experience translated into the subtlest of sentiments:

“The Memoires of Barry Lyndon, Esq.

Chapter I. My Pedigree and Family–Undergo the Influence of the Tender Passion

Since the days of Adam, there has been hardly a mischief done in this world but a woman has been at the bottom of it. Ever since ours was a family (and that must be very NEAR Adam’s time,—so old, noble, and illustrious are the Barrys, as everybody knows) women have played a mighty part with the destinies of our race.

I presume that there is no gentleman in Europe that has not heard of the house of Barry of Barryogue, of the kingdom of Ireland, than which a more famous name is not to be found in Gwillim or D’Hozier; and though, as a man of the world, I have learned to despise heartily the claims of some PRETENDERS to high birth who have no more genealogy than the lacquey who cleans my boots, and though I laugh to utter scorn the boasting of many of my countrymen, who are all for descending from kings of Ireland, and talk of a domain no bigger than would feed a pig as if it were a principality; yet truth compels me to assert that my family was the noblest of the island, and, perhaps, of the universal world; while their possessions, now insignificant and torn from us by war, by treachery, by the loss of time, by ancestral extravagance, by adhesion to the old faith and monarch, were formerly prodigious, and embraced many counties, at a time when Ireland was vastly more prosperous than now. I would assume the Irish crown over my coat-of-arms, but that there are so many silly pretenders to that distinction who bear it and render it common.”

– from: “Barry Lyndon” By William Makepeace Thackeray

I could read this syrup all day—it often made me despair of having been born too late—into a world that has no time or patience for such graceful effusion.

And I couldn’t just pick up such books and start reading them, like a magazine or a newspaper—these books were fine wines—they had to be set up for, settled in for, and my mind had to be quiet enough for their delicate traceries to take hold of my imagination—they were too quiet to break through to a mind caught up in 20th century busyness.

However, once well started, great books became another world, so distinct and real that I would hurry through whatever obstacles stood between me and a return to those pages—and once back there, I was not easily drawn back into consciousness of the world around me. I didn’t study these works as ‘classic literature’—I didn’t attend to the structure, plot, or characterizations—I simply consumed the story, swept up in a vicarious universe. I couldn’t even remember what I’d read—not in the way of a student—they were movies that played in my mind—my involvement was total.

Well, things aren’t quite like that anymore. Like many of my former pursuits, my reading has been rendered difficult, brief, and harder to get lost in. Plus, there isn’t much left, unless I start re-reading those same books (not a terrible idea). But reading remains my favorite thing to do—I’m a bookworm, tried and true. Give me a choice between a good book and a good time in real life—and I’ll retire to find my reading glasses and a comfortable chair.

All that being said, I made two videos today—the first is a brief improv, but the second is an interesting collection of seven short works by the baroque German composer, Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), who was self-taught and became a musician against his parents’ wishes—two things I admire in any person.

 

 

Goodnight for now…

Pulps and Piano (2015Jul27)


Monday, July 27, 2015                                             9:29 PM

After my exciting trip to play a fancy concert grand at WestConn, I’ve had some more-intimate experiences with the freshly-tuned piano in my living room, which I’d like to share with you here:

[The following two book reviews were posted to Amazon on July 27th, 2015]:

Book Review: “Armada” by Ernest Cline

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I’ve just finished reading “Armada” by Ernest Cline. There’s a new-ish school of fiction that suits science-fiction specifically, which I think of as the jump-the-shark approach. Scalzi’s “Redshirts” is a good example—the premise is based on the old insider-joke about Star Trek (the original TV series): the away-team member who wears a red shirt is the character that will be sacrificed to add suspense to the episode. In the Scalzi book, the hero finds himself thrust into what he considered a fictional setting—eventually discovering that his fate is being controlled by some outside ‘programming director’ who has misunderstood the exact role that Star Trek plays in our entertainment, and in our reality.

The hilarious “Galaxy Quest” (1999), again, posits a Star-Trek-like classic TV series which an alien race have mistaken for historical non-fiction and subsequently built themselves a real starship, complete with transporter and a parroting computer-voice. They come to Earth to ask the aging star of the series to be a real captain on their starship—mayhem and comedy ensues. It’s great fun—I’m a fan of jump-the-shark, when it is done with wit and competence.

Ernest Cline’s “Armada” takes a page from “The Last Starfighter” (1984) in which an ordinary teenager obsessively plays a video game that simulates space battle, only to discover that the machine is a testing device to locate talented recruits for real ‘starfighters’ struggling to defend the galaxy from evil. But Cline goes beyond jump-the-shark to ‘multiply-referential jump-the-shark’, including a backstory that involves most sci-fi movies and video games of the past forty years being both training devices for potential warriors and orientation for the whole planet’s population—preparing them to find out that much of popular science-fiction is, in fact, non-fiction.

In doing this, Cline gives the reader a survey of popular science fiction and gaming culture from the premiere of the first Star Wars through to the near-future setting of the story. He pre-empts criticism of recycled plot-lines by cataloging the many ways in which his character’s story reflects the plot premises of the many films, games and stories from which he borrows.

Such ingenuousness gives the story great humor and zip—the protagonist’s interior monologue is not unlike our own interior critique of the story we’re reading. And in the age of remakes, one can hardly criticize Cline for re-doing the concept of Last Starfighter—that movie is thirty years old, familiar only to old farts like myself—and the pixel-screened arcade game of that old classic is as a stone spear-head in comparison to today’s MMO-game-players and the globally interactive worlds they now inhabit.

My disappointment stems from my inability to become absorbed in the story. While much ingenuity is displayed in the references to pop culture and other attempts to add a sense of realism to a highly coincidence-crammed story, the story itself never lingers long enough to give any one scene or character as much depth as is needed to balance out the fantastical aspects of the book. Worse, not a single turn of plot manages to rise above the cliché. While I hesitate to spoil the story, I can assure you that you will not be surprised. Amused, perhaps, but hardly surprised—or engaged.

This style of storytelling comes close to reproducing the suspense and excitement of an action movie—and as with action movies, death can be a stumbling block. Deaths, whether of individuals or of whole populations, are seen through the lens of ‘the mission’, rather than engaged with as dramatic events, as in a ‘chick flick’—and such insularity against this most deeply human aspect of any story has caused many an action thriller to fall flat. The audience is unable to ‘will its suspension of disbelief’ in the face of too much superficiality.

Conversely, young readers and sci-fi newcomers will no doubt find this a much fresher experience than I did—over the decades I’ve become a really tough audience. When the cultural references become central to the story, there is an unavoidable difference in the reaction of older readers, like me, who may find it all too familiar, and younger readers who experience a sort of ‘revelation’ from the massive download of new ideas and connections. Forty years of sci-fi cultural remixing may blow the minds of today’s teens, but it’s just old, familiar memories to someone with gray hair.

Cline’s previous novel, “Ready Player One”, was likewise criticized for a lack of dimension in a NY Times book review, while USA Today wrote, “[it] undoubtedly qualifies Cline as the hottest geek on the planet right now”. So there you have it—“Armada” is another Cline book that may act as a dividing line between we sci-fi ‘grandpa’s and the younger audience coming on. I still give it five stars, just because it is head and shoulders above a lot of what’s out there.

Book Review: “Idempotency” by Joshua Wright

20150727XD-IdempotencyByJoshuaWright

“Idempotency” takes a difficult computer term as its title because the ‘tech’ in this techno-thriller is an imagined method for allowing a person’s mind to be led through a simulation of an alternate life and to return from the virtual experience without losing one’s sense of their original self. It is a concept almost as thorny as the actual definition of the word.

Fortunately, the plot manages to simplify all of that into a cyberpunk-like tale of suspense, cyber-hacking, secrecy, and madness. There is still some imbalance, as in the fact that the supposed protagonist turns out to be more of a victim, while several other extraneous characters fight over his fate. There is also a great deal of vagueness as to who’s hacking who—or who’s spoofing who. The near-future society-building is sprawling but diffuse—dystopian vistas are suggested but never fully drawn, leaving the background of events somewhat muddied.

I found the writing slightly opaque—but I can’t honestly say whether that is a failing of the author’s or my own. Sometimes, stuff just goes over my head. In my experience, science fiction writers and readers have to find their intellectual level—and there are some writers who are simply beyond my ken. Then again, I found the ‘villain’, an unstable, bitter fundamentalist, to be almost over-the-top simplistic—and unbearably grating—insanity-level religious extremism makes me crazy in real life, so much so that I find it hard to take even in a fictional character.

There’s originality here, though not a lot of it. Bottom line—I finished the book. These days, that’s a winner, just for that—but it didn’t inspire me to sing its praises. Still, the young Mr. Wright is just getting started—I look forward to his next effort.

A Taste For The Real (2015Mar30)


Monday, March 30, 2015                                                    6:49 PM

I watched TV all day. I got caught up in “Muhammed Ali’s Greatest Fight” (2013) about the Supreme Court justices, and their clerks, at work on the decision whether to uphold Ali’s conviction for draft evasion—a conviction they ultimately reversed in a dramatic series of events (if we take the movie at face value). I felt it to be a stirring illustration of a point in time when reasonable men were confronted by their own prejudices and confused by the tug-of-war between the ‘traditions’ of racism and its incompatibility with even-handed protection of constitutional rights.

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Then I saw a PBS documentary about the author/illustrator of “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” (1939), “Virginia Lee Burton: A Sense of Place”. This tells the story of the life and art of a “Renaissance woman”, innovative children’s book author/illustrator, textile designer, painter, and sculptor in granite, marble and wood. The film goes to places on Cape Ann that inspired ‘Jinnee’, including her home and studio, Folly Cove, Gloucester Harbor and the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

Her designs of her children’s books reflected her efforts to compete with her sons’ fascination with comic books—one of the film’s commentators remarked that her books were the first examples of the graphic novel. She also founded Folly Cove Designs, a textile collective prominent during the Craft Art Revival era, employing many locals who went on to become accomplished craftspeople in their own right—the collective’s works were retailed in major stores and exhibited by several museums. When Virginia Lee Burton died in 1968, the remaining members of Folly Cove Designs decided to shut its doors.

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Then I watched “The Valiant Hours” (1960), an American docudrama about William F. Halsey, Jr., and his efforts in fighting against Admiral Yamamoto and his Japanese Navy in the Guadalcanal campaign of World War II. This film was the sole product of James Cagney’s production company, and Cagney gives a great performance as Halsey. The story is a nail-biting bit of head-to-head between the US and the Japanese in the Pacific, with Guadalcanal becoming the high-water mark for Japanese conquest and the beginning of the turning of the tide of that war. Told from the point of view of an admiral who spends most of the battles sitting at his desk drinking coffee, the film is careful to annotate the fates of those regular marines with whom Halsey meets during his personal visit to the island.

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That visit impacted the morale of the tired, struggling soldiers who felt on their last legs before Halsey even took over for poor Woolsey (whose only mistake, says Halsey in one scene, was in ‘getting there first’). Japanese intelligence even credited the strengthening of resistance among American forces to that visit. Moreover, it was in an attempt to bolster his own troops in the same way that Yamamoto was later shot down by American flyers in transit. The film is a wonderful tough-guy cameo of both the Admiral and of the War in the Pacific.

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It occurred to me during all of this that I had, in some sense, outgrown fiction. Earlier in life, I’d been puzzled by people who never read novels or watched movies or TV, preferring to read only non-fiction. It seemed a draconian approach to information-gathering, since much of fictional art has a lot to say, both about the people and times of the story, and about the story-teller.

And I don’t think that my recent change in taste is a concession to that point of view—but the information to be gathered from fiction has reached a point of diminishing returns for me—I’m familiar with the rough outlines of social, economic, and military history, with the cultural oddities to be found in Dicken’s London, Cervantes’ Spain, Michener’s America, and Clancy’s Cold-War, with the habits and jargon of Berkeley’s Broadway, Ford’s Old West, and an endless list of other times, places, and peoples.

Further, while this information source dries up for me, the settings, plotlines, conflicts, and dramatic devices become ever more familiar. I find that large swathes of popular culture are not only intended for the young, but are utterly predictable and unsurprising to an older audience. More importantly, the vicarious experience becomes problematical when the characters are concerned with something as jejune as first love or first career-step or becoming new parents. I can’t place myself in the action when the action concerns a teenager, or a twenty-something, or even a thirty-something.

The ultimate effect of most new movies that appear on my VOD menu is to make me depressed about how old I am, when I’m not in full critic mode, questioning the decisions made by the directors, the writers, or the actors. So I find myself, after the end of an interesting, fact-based program, desperate to find something of equal interest—something that treats with real life, rather than a diversion meant to make me laugh, feel desire, or dream of the future.

But there is a silver lining. The occasional excellent movie will be appreciated that much more—they do still make them, though they’re few and far between. Meanwhile, my health has improved to the point where I can read almost as much as I used to—and books have much better ‘pickings’ than cable TV when it comes to jaded, over-experienced audience-members like myself.

Thoughts On Print’s Twilight (2014May23)


Friday, May 23, 2014                  1:58 PM

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My friend, Chris K., has brought up the grinding of gears that ensue when retail leviathan Amazon’s standards-and-future-goals butt heads with the last, great publishing houses’ standards-and-traditions. There’s a temptation to mention ‘buggy-whips’ and move on—but literacy is still a goal more than a condition in many parts of the world—and the question of how digital texts will impact that is only one of the many things that are being politely ignored by a First World culture that doesn’t dare appear as anti-progress, particularly against digital innovation.

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Reference books once wore a solemnity that stemmed from their careful accrual of methods, measurements, calculations, and organization of information that reaches back to Ptolemy, Archimedes, and Euclid. The precise science of modern astronomy still owes its huge record of observations of the night sky mostly to centuries and millennia of serious observation and record-keeping.

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The supertanker that chugs along mid-Pacific without any qualms over its exact location and bearing—these are supplied digitally, i.e. magically. What few people realize is that large reference-tables of important navigational values are built in to the ultra-post-modern instruments on the bridge. Without those tables of constant-values, a computer would have no better idea of its position than a human navigator without charts and table-books and chronometers.

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Having lost our hero-worship of literal ‘history’, we now have historians who look at certain people, places, and events from different points of perspective. We now recognize that history is as much a matter of missing documents and contradictory documents and accounts, as it is a matter of what we actually have on paper. Nonetheless, we treasure our Founding Documents, creating a whole sub-topic of document preservation and examination, within the library sciences (or is it archaeology?) Now that we are apparently just going to watch as printed matter becomes obsolete, without any battle-cry to preserve any real value in books, one wonders whether this makes our archival treasures more valuable or more trivial.

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Yes, we are losing something great by doing something new—but I still listen to broadcast radio, so what do I know? I was just yesterday bemoaning the disappearance of that great stationers shop in Brewster—it was a palace of office supplies.

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But my old industry, direct mail marketing , and the shopping-catalog boom were already threatening their existence before e-commerce really started. I remember it was newsworthy and remarkable when Sharper Image debuted the first store without a building—making big bucks in retail without paying rent—well, for the storefront, at least.

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Catalogs and third-party deliverers, like FedEx and UPS, created the ‘virtual mall’ before cyberspace opened its ‘e-doors’, if you will. Now that newspapers are passé (excepting The Gray Lady, of course) and e-books have a strong beachhead—now that education is focused as much on using digital tools as on using one’s mind (perhaps more so) we must let the grand tradition of bibliophilia sink or swim on its own virtue.

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Remember, there was once a paradigm wherein only the nobility were offered literacy, when artisan monks illuminated home-cured vellum with sometimes crushed-gem-based pigments, gold-leaf, and the great wellspring of imagination such labors bestowed upon them. Such treasures were one of a kind—Bibles might be copied, and perhaps a few other books, but many books of that era were unique treasures—as indicated by the practice of chaining them to the wall.

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That grandeur was lost when Gutenberg, et. al. began printing with movable type—mass-publication, relative to the copyists it replaced. Aside from ‘Domesday Books’ and other governmental and commercial records-keeping, there was really only one book—the Bible. The sudden ability to hand out copies to every churchgoer denied the priests, etc. of the power of interpretation—prior to Gutenberg, the Bible was what your Priest told you it was, it said what he said it said—case closed. On top of which, the Latin Scriptures were being made accessible by translations into common speech—which many church leaders felt was a sacrilegious degradation of the Word of God. That is why printing presses were illegal for about a hundred years after they were brought into common use. And printing is still a bone of contention between the authorities and the public, in some cases, even in America.

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The latest instance of this friction is, oddly enough, a digital publication by one Robert Snowden—and it must be noted that the sheer weight of his information, printed on paper, would have circumscribed it’s distribution without the existence of the Internet. So the benefits of digital text do exist—and they are tremendous. But it is hard for me to accept that something I have loved so faithfully all of my life, books, may become obsolete. As is usually the case, we will find out what we really lost, and how much, only after we’ve reached a point of no return.

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In the meantime, it should be remembered that self-publishing is a wonderful thing for a writer—it remains to be seen if its value holds true for the reader.

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‘Twice Daily’ ? — Sure, Let’s See You Do It…


When I was younger, I heard about some of the details of organ transplants—that the recipient had to take pills for the rest of his or her life to keep the body from rejecting the organ. As a healthy young man I thought, how awful—I’d just as soon pass on the whole thing. Imagine having to remember to take pills every day. And what if there was an apocalypse, huh? No more pills factories—bye-bye, little post-apocalyptic transplant patient! It would hardly be living at all, I thought.

I don’t know if I took my morning pills. A handful of pills in the morning, a different handful at night, continue ad naseum until you reach a fog of backward spiraling memories of having taken pills, pills, pills. Result: I have no idea if I took my morning pills—and they’re the important ones, though oddly enough I’m not referring to the prescription morning pills, but the OTC remedies for 24-hr acid suppression pills and anti-squirts pills (alas, I blush to admit!) The lack of them often prompts me to the realization that morning pills remain untaken, one way or another.

But you know how it is—fourteen hours of sleep, ten hours of relative consciousness—the metabolism of a coma victim, most days. So that morning problem lags behind, lurking ever nearby. And if I err on the side of caution, I get sick from doubling up on all those meds—it’s either be sure, or endure.

I amazed myself earlier with a passable read-through of a piano transcription of the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony—made it all the way to the end (which, if not a first, is certainly a second-time achievement). I’m always surprised by the amount of playing I can do when I stay relaxed.

Strangely, staying relaxed while playing the piano takes focus—not a tense focus, but a floatation type of focus, noticing ‘rigidity-creep’ and willing the muscles to be slack, or at least slacker, and maintaining a posture that is most supportive for my exertions, reducing the amount of muscle required to keep me upright and redirecting that power towards the arms.

And while that may sound very alert, it is only possible if one is quiet and not agitated. I do best upon waking in the morning, or from a nap. I pretend that I don’t care what goes on around me—I am in the living room, after all—but the simple truth is that silence is the best canvas to paint music on. So, half asleep, in a silent room, without the camcorder watching, I can do wonders. Too bad their nature makes them impossible to reproduce in front of other people, or even a camera lens—if people could only hear some of the stuff I get up to when I’m really on my game—oh, well. It’s good to have a private life—one has got to hold something back—and for a chatter-box like myself, being physically unable to display my best is the best (and only) way I can hold anything back—so that works out, if I look at it that way.

‘Twas ever thus’, as my dad used to say—I could draw a crowd while sketching in my pad in the old days—and an audience was an exciting addition to my sketches al fresco, especially at school, where cool points were counted. But my best drawing only ever happened in complete solitude—without interruption. Nor can I sparkle in conversation with the sort of easy erudition I can voice at the keyboard—like now, fr’instance—I could never sling this verbiage orally. It is only possible because I am alone and comfortable—and when I am not, nothing is possible. I have poor social skills, to put it mildly.

But peace of mind is vital. Whenever I’m worried, it gets in the way of my piano playing—being open enough to play and feel the music means being open to stray thoughts and when I’m worried, a whole flock will rush in. Sometimes it’s so bad I forget I’m playing the piano—weird, huh? You’d think a person would forget their troubles at the piano—but it’s just the opposite. But there’s a silver lining to the ‘peace of mind’ conundrum—when I read a good book I lose all awareness of my surroundings; I grow deaf to even loud noises; I am enthralled.

I couldn’t be more inside the story—I am a very good reader. To be a ‘good’ reader is a vague term—I’m specifically very good at vicarious experience. And as I look back at a lifetime’s book-worming, I’d say that my vicarious experience very likely exceeds both my conscious experience and my subconscious experience, i.e. I’ve spent more time lost in a book than I’ve spent not reading a book, or sleeping. Other people may talk about vicarious experience, but none who haven’t travelled in the world of books can ever truly understand its meaning.

I’ve often had occasion, upon being asked how my day went, for stopping myself from describing the adventures of the character in my book, and remembering to answer, “Just read a book, is all.” Here’s a good one—have you ever been reading about someone speeding through a dark woods and felt your eyes squint up at the danger of being poked by ‘twigs’? Have you ever eventually noticed a cramp in your arm from swinging a long-sword for so long in a ‘battle’? Then I hail you brother, or sister, in the Fellowship of the reaDing.