Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, November 16, 2018

FORGOTTEN BOOK: SECRET UNDER ANTARCTICA

Secret Under Antarctica by Gordon R. Dickson (1963)


With apologies to Donovan:  First there is a kraken, then there is no kraken, then there is...

Turns out there is no kraken, but what then could have made a twenty foot slashing wound on the giant blue whale?  Thirteen-year-old Robbie Hoenig believes a kraken exists; his father, a marine zoologist, disagrees and demands proof before he will accept the existence of the mythical beast.

It's an undetermined year n the near future and Doctor Hoenig, a member of the International Department of Fisheries, Salt Water Research Division, has taken his vessel to Antarctica to research how cow blue whales "talk" to their whales calves.  To aid in the research, Hoenig uses Control Caps, devices that allow animals to be controlled (of sorts) through pleasure and fear impulses.  Robbie is allowed to come on the trip as a reward for his part in capturing Vandals who invaded a research station located off the west coast of Mexico -- which happened in the first book of this juvenile series, Secret Under the Sea.

An alarm sounded indicating that Blue Mountain Bill, a member of the whale pod that Hoenig has been studying, was in extreme stress.  Motoring out to the scene, they discovered the large wound on the whale -- the wound that Robbie was convinced had been made by a kraken.  Robbie's father calms the giant beast and treats the gaping wound with some sort of near-future medical stuff.  Returning to their vessel, the two discover that it had been burgled.  They also discover their friend Mr. Lillibulero, a small wiry Scot who is an operative of the International Bureau of Police.  Lilliburero had been tracking a group of Tropicans when he had boarded the research vessel just shortly after it had been burglarized.  Missing were a large number of Control Caps.

Just who are the Tropicans?  They are a dangerous group of fanatics led by a (genuinely) mad scientist named Brownlee Patterson Waub.  Waub's goal is to create a tropical Earth, a warm paradise from pole to pole, as well as recreating the ancient continent of Gondwanaland by bringing South America, Africa, Australia, and India to merge with Antartica to form once again a massive continent.  The specious plan does not make sense and is completely unworkable, but since when did that stop a mad scientist?  The very real first step in the plan is workable however:  to destroy the Antarctic ice shelf.

Now aware of the danger, Hoenig decides to send Robbie home by way of McMurdo Station.  Lillibulero will fly Robbie to McMurdo and then return to continue his hunt for the Tropicans.  This best laid plan went gang alay, when the Tropicans shoot down the plane.  Robbie parachutes out but does not know whether Lillibulero was able to escape on time.

Alone and stranded on Antactic ice, Robbie is chased not only by the Tropicans but by a deadly leopard seal.  He is captured, escapes, and is recaptured as he learns that Waub plans to destroy the ice shelf within twenty-four hours, potentially killing millions of people...

The stakes are high, but of course Robbie prevails.  (This is the second book of a three-book series, you know.)

Gordon R. Dickson was one of the most entertaining science fiction writers in the last half of the twentieth century.  Inducted into the Science fiction Hall of Fame shortly before his death, Dickson won three Hugo Awards, a Nebula Award, and an August Derleth Award as well as being presented with a Skylark Award for his contribution to science fiction.  He published some sixty novels and half again as many collections, along with a number of anthologies.  Dickson published well over 150 short stories.  The Robbie Hoenig trilogy were his only foray into juvenile fiction.

So what about this book?  It's dated, flawed, awkward, and predictable.  It's also entertaining as hell and well researched.  As a thirteen-year-old, Robbie makes thirteen-year-old mistakes but tries to learn from them.  Dr. Hoenig is a stereotypical concerned and dedicated scientist.  Lilliburero is a tough and eccentric hero who injects a bit of humor and warmth into the story.  And what of our mad scientist, Brownlee Patterson Waub?

According to Liliiburero, "[I]t was only a notion with him at first.  But then he started acting as if it might be true, and the' more involved he got, the bigger excuses he had to make t'justify it.  Until finally nothing would do but he must try to change the world to make it fit his own ideas."

And according to Robbie's father, "[I]t shows what can come of shutting your eyes to true facts rather than give up a belief in something you happen to wish were true."

Sounds like someone from today's headlines rather than the future.

Friday, November 9, 2018

FORGOTTEN BOOK: STAR OVER BETHLEHEM AND OTHER STORIES

Star Over Bethlehem and Other Stories by Agatha Christie Mallowan (1965)


Halloween and Election Day are both over, so it is kosher for me to post about a Christmas/Christian-themed book, although when I was a kid Christmas season never started until after Thanksgiving.  (But then, in those by-gone years, Black Friday and Cyber Monday did not exist and we did not celebrate the father if our country with mattress sales -- indeed, Washington and Lincoln had separate holidays dedicated to them.  As Bill Crider famously and repeatedly said, "I miss the old days.")

We press on to the book in question.  In order to differentiate from her murder mysteries, Ms. Christie published this one under her married name...well, second married name, something she had done only once before and that with her account of joining her husband on archaeological digs, Come Tell Me How You Live.  Because of its content, its length (a mere 79 pages), and the fact that it was not published under the Christie name, Star Over Bethelem is perhaps the author's rarest collection, although there was a trade paperback edition from Berkley Books in 1991.  The book has not been reprinted in this country during this century.  (It fared better in England; in 2008 it was released in an omnibus that contained two other rare Christie titles, The Road of Dreams and Poems.)

Star Over Bethlehem contains six stories and five poems:

  • A Greeting (poem)
  • Star Over Bethlehem (in which the virgin Mary is tested by an angel shortly after the birth of Jesus)
  • A Wreath for Christmas (poem)
  • The Naughty Donkey (in which a recalcitrant donkey sees the light in a certain Bethlehem stable)
  • Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh (poem)
  • The Water Bus (in which Mrs. Hargreaves learns that she actually likes people after an encounter with a heavenly figure)
  • In the Cool of the Evening (in which a boy finds a mutant animal [half frog/ half bird, perhaps] and makes a special friend in his garden)
  • Jenny by the Sky (poem)
  • Promotion in the Highest (in which fourteen saints walk the earth again and give modern twists to their powers)
  • The Saints of God (poem)
  • The Island (in which Mary gives comfort in times of doubt)

A slight collection, best received by Christie purists and the curious perhaps, but an interesting one.  Some of the stories are very clever, imaginative, and entertaining, and sometimes chrisite's christian message comes across as heavy-handed.  All in all, I'm glad I read it.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

VOTE!

Today is the day, my friends, when Americans get to decide what sort of country we want to be.

I think I've made it fairly obvious how I voted this year but, whether you agree with me or not, please exercise your right to vote.  I firmly believe we are stronger together -- no matter what our political stance -- and by voting we can show each other that we do have a common bond, that we all want what is best for our country, our neighbors, and our families.  The road to our future will be determined by all of us.  If you have note voted already, please do so now.

Here's a song to spur you on:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Ing3sYyQbM


Or, perhaps this one:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oj2I40_fYo


Take your pick...and vote.



Wednesday, October 31, 2018

HOKEY HALLOWEEN HORROR

Here's a couple of cheesy horror classics...overwritten and mawkish, but extremely popular back in the day.  Both were first serialized forevah.  I suggest you just read the first few pages or first few chapters just to get the flavor.

First up, Varney the Vampire, attributed to either Thomas Peckett Prest or Malcolm Rymer (most likely both) and originally published in a series of 109 weekly "penny dreadfuls" (pamphlets) from 1845 to 1847 and in book form in 1847:


http://www.archive.org/stream/varneythevampire14833gut/14833.txt


Then, Wagner the Werewolf , 1846-1847, by George W. M. Reynolds -- perhaps the first novel about a werewolf


http://gutenberg.readingroo.ms/2/7/2/0/27202/27202-h/27202-h.htm


But wait, there's more!

For a taste of old-fashioned pulp horror, mixing sadism, truly evil villains, and scantily-clad damsels here's a link to the first issue of Horror Stories magazine, January 1935:


https://archive.org/details/Horror_Stories_v01n01_1935-01_ATLPM-Urf


Enjoy.


Thursday, October 11, 2018

MICHAEL

So there was this weather thing called Michael.  Maybe you've heard of it.

It was massive and it was mean and it took a disliking to the Florida Panhandle.  Storm surges of up to 12 feet or more.  Perhaps a foot or more of water.  Winds of up to a gazillion miles an hour.  The weathermen were disappointed when it finally made landfall in Panama City because it was only a Cat 4 storm, so they said it was nearly a Cat 5 storm and they were right.  The winds were at 155 miles an hour and a Cat 5 needs winds of 157 mph.  ("Missed it by that much!")

And here we were, living on a little mile-wide sandbar on the Gulf Coast.  Jessie and the girls were inland where there has not been a flood in like forever and their house is solid -- more than 75 years of storms and nary a bit of damage.  Christina and Walt also live in a big, solid home and were not expecting much damage.  Their only worry was if the power went out.  Jack is on a feeding tube and requires electricity.  Kitty and I are both rather slow-moving and could be at risk.  (All weather forecasts showed Michael to land somewhere near our front driveway.)  So it was decided that Kitty and I would take Jack -- feeding apparatus and all and head north to wait out the storm.  Jessie and her girls were fine hunkering down in place.  Christina and Walt would wait and see what happened and might join us later.  Erin would go with us as a sort of dogsbody and help with Jack.  (Mark, BTW, was safely ensconced at college.)

Kitty got on the computer to look for a place north of us with easy highway access.  She found a spot in Dothan, Alabama.  Kitty is directionally impaired.  She booked us Tuesday and Wednesday night at a motel which shall go nameless but rhymes with Notel Nix.

Turns out Dotham and Notel Nix are north of us but are also east of us and were in the path of the storm.  We loaded up and off we went, with Kitty driving. and a very unhappy cat in a carrier between Erin and Jack.

After an hour or so, Kitty needed a caffeine fix so we stopped off at a McDonald's for a large cup of black coffee for Kitty and a caramel something-or-other drink for Erin.  Turns out when there's a big storm coming and there are a lot of mandatory and voluntary evacuations, few place are open and those that are open get slammed.  This McDonald's was live a beehive with what must have been seventy-five percent of the population of Florida waiting to get their orders.  The restaurant was running out of food and the lone person at the cash register (her name was Betty and she was very old and very befuddled) was running out of patience.  It took close to an hour to get that coffee.

Caffeined up, we headed off again.

Kitty picked Dothan because on the tiny map on our computer it looked like it was just off a major highway.  It wasn't.  Maps are funny like that.  We ended up on some long country roads with big patched of cotton fields and not much else for almost an hour.  There may have been banjo music in the background.  I expected to come across various signs, saying, "Welcome to the friendliest small town in Alabama -- 78 (or 32, or 112) days without shooting a Democrat!"

We ended up in Dothan and found the Notel Nix just before it started to rain.  Not heavy rain, mind you, just a little, almost gentle, rain that Mother Nature gave us to throw us off our guard.  (In case you're interested, Dothan, Alabama's middle name is "City of many Waffle Houses.")

About this Notel Nix:  turns out it had no amenities other than a closed swimming pool.  It room was supposed to have two queen-size beds.  It had two double beds.  There was a mini-fridge that must have been on defrost or something because when we opened it, water poured out.  There was a questionable looking microwave and a rickety television.  There was an ice bucket but no ice machine.  There were no vending machines.  There was an overflowing trash barrel on the walkway two rooms down.  No little rate-our-service cards, no local information, no complimentary pad of paper, no shampoo (but there was a tiny bar of soap), and not much of anything else.  Someone had punched a hole in the bathtub, them someone else tried (and failed) to patch it.  There were cigarette burns on the top of the tub.  And there was hot water for a shower -- sadly, there was absolutely no cold water to regulate the water temperature to something under a lobster boil.  Just above each bed were large stains on the ceiling.

The beds did have sheets, thin blankets, and thin covering blankets.  The next morning we discovered that Erin's blanket had over a dozen cigarette burns, some more than an inch and a half in diameter.  The blanket also had a dead bug...luckily not a bedbug.

So there we were.  Stuck.  Every hotel, motel, and chicken coop in the area was booked to capacity.  Being of hardy pioneer stock, we determined to muddle through.  It was only for two days, right?

In the meantime, back on the Florida Panhandle.  Christina and Walt were drafted to move a neighbor's household furniture from a large U-Haul truck to a storage facility.  I don't know why this had to be done and Christina and Walt are not sure.either.  One town over, Jessie's cats started going psycho over the incoming storm.

Back at Notel Nix, at 6:30 in the morning I went search of coffee.  Most motels offer coffee and some sort of little nibble as a "continental breakfast."  Notel Nix had no nibbles but there were two large coffee urns.  One was empty and the other had very little coffee in it.  Just as well because Notel Nix had only three very small styrofoam coffee cups.  (How small? you ask.  You know those teeny tiny coffee cups that detectives in the European police shows on Acorn Television drink out of?  That small.)

Anyway, it's still raining.  And still not much, just enough to keep the weathermen excited.  The storm doesn't come until 1:00 in the afternoon.  Trees and bushes were swaying.  The rain was coming down sideways.  It wasn't too bad since we were situated at the outer edges of the storm.

And then the lights flickered.  A little while later, they flickered again.  And again.  And again.  And at four o'clock, we lost power completely.  Losing power is not a big thing normally, but when you are in a close, breathless, small room in Alabama and the air conditioning goes off, it becomes a big thing.  We persevered.  We put chairs out on the walkway and watched the storm.  So did a lot of other guests at Notel Nix.  The other guests did not care who heard their conversations so we ended up with a lot of information and opinions we did not really need or want.  But the storm was pretty.

Turns out only our side of the road lost power.  On the other side of the road some five hotels/motels had power; all of course were booked up.  All businesses were closed (even the various Waffle Houses!) and further down the road both sides were out of power.  We went to bed about 6:30.  We locked the cat in her carrier and kept the door open in the vain hope of getting some air.  We also had a vain hope that power would be restored.  And we were fairly confident that looters and neer-do-wells would not bother with the invitation our open door signaled.

And then the alligator sauntered in...

No.  Just kidding about the alligator part.  Nothing sauntered into our room, especially not a breeze nor any sign of air.

By 1:00 a.m. we had had enough and decided to pack up and head for home.  The storm was well over and was bringing its destruction to Georgia and the Carolinas.  Have you ever tried to pack in complete darkness?  It's not fun.  But we were finally ready and a car pulled up to give us a warning.  We were under a mandatory curfew (possible looters, you know) and would either be sent back to Notel Nix (as these people were) or be arrested if caught by the police.  But we could not stay any longer without electricity (Jack's feeding tube pump, remember?) so we decided to risk becoming outlaws.  And off we went.

We saw no looters or downed trees or any sort of damage as we left Dothan.  We also saw no traffic and no lights anywhere as we drove through town.  About ten or fifteen miles outside of Dothan we began to encounter downed trees and power lines.  A lot of downed trees.  But road crews had already cleared a lane through those trees, so we just spent forty or fifty miles weaving around the trees and over the downed wires.  We saw only tow damaged buildings -- a storefront whose overhang had crumpled up and a shed which was completely destroyed.  As we got closer to home the damage was minimal.  We dropped Erin and Jack off a little after 5:00 a.m. and headed home, making the cat (and Kitty) very happy.

There's little else to say.  Please do not think I am disparaging Alabama (state motto:  At least we're not Mississippi!) or Alabamans in any way.  It's a nice state and has some pretty nice people.  I will admit that throughout the past two days I kept humming an old Tom Lehrer ditty to myself:

          I want to go back to Alabammy/Back to the arms of my dear old Mammy/Her cooking's lousy and her hands are clammy/But, what the hell, it's home...

Oh.  Did I mention that yesterday -- the day of the storm -- was Christina and Walt's twentieth anniversary?  Congratulations, you guys!

Monday, October 1, 2018

BITS & PIECES

Openers:  The persistent, oily smell of fog-gas was everywhere, even in the little pill-box.  Outside, all the world was blotted out by the thick gray mist that went slowly across the country with the breeze.  The noises that came through it were curiously muted -- fog-gas mutes all noises somewhat -- but somewhere to the right artillery was pounding something with H E shell, and there were those little spitting under-current explosions that told of tanks in action.  To the right there was a distant rolling of machine gun fire.  In between was an utter, solemn silence.

-- "Murray Leinster" (Will F. Jenkins), "Tanks" (Astounding Stories of Super Science, January, 1930.   The story tells of a near-future war (in 1932) in which the use of infantry was practically discontinued.  BTW, this was from the first issue of the classic SF magazine now known as Analog.



September Incoming:

  • "Luke Adams" (evidently Bill Crider this time), Apache Law:  Hellfire.  Volume 2 in the short-lived western series.
  • Delano Ames, Coffin for Christopher/J. B. O'Sullivan, Don't Hang Me Too High/Helen Reilly, Tell Her It's Murder.  A Detective Book Club volume of three mystery novels.  Looking forward to both the Ames and the Reilly.
  • Charlotte Armstrong, The Better To Eat You/Carroll Cox Estes,The Moon Gate/Peter Piper, The Corpse That Came Back.  Another DBC volume.  I had previously read the Armstrong, one of my favorite writers.
  • David Carkeet, Double Negative. (revised 2010 edition).  Mystery; nominated for an Edgar Award.
  • Randy Cribbs, Ghosts:  Another Summer in the Old Town.  Supernatural mystery taking place in St. Augustine, Florida.  Signed by the author.
  • Frederick C. Davis, Another Morgue Heard From/Erle Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Restless Redhead/Roy Vickers, Six Murders in the Suburbs.  Yet another DBC volume.  I previously read the Gardner.  Davis and Vickers are always interesting.
  • Doris Miles Disney, The Last Straw/Margaret Erskine, The Dead Don't Speak/Lee Roberts, The Pale Door.  One more DBC volume.  All the authors are worth reading.
  • Friedrich Durrenmatt, The Judge and His Hangman/Leslie Ford, Murder Comes to Eden/Anthony Gilbert, A Question of Murder.  Return of the DBC volume.  I've read the Durrenmatt previously (actually, I've read about all of Durrenmatt's available work) and was somewhat surprised to find him in a Detective Book Club volume.  Ford and Gilbert are reliable stand-bys.
  • Frank Gruber, The Lonesome Badger/Genevieve Holden, Sound an Alarm/Roy Vickers, Murder Will Out.  My penultimate September DBC volume.  Gruber is here in his funny, fast-paced mode.  Vickers, as I have said, is always interesting.
  • Helen McCloy, He Never Came Back/Lee Thayer, Dead Reckoning/Patricia Wentworth, The Benevent Treasure.  My final DBC purchase of the month -- at 50 cents apiece, I couldn't go wrong.  All three authors have done top flight work.
  • Chad Oliver, Giants in the Dust.  Science fiction novel.  Always thoughtful, always entertaining, Oliver was a quiet Giant in the Field too soon gone.
  • Rebecca A. Rizzo, Short & Scary Thrillers.  Horror anthology with 15 stories.


The Time Has Come, The Walrus Said, For September Outgoing:

I'm afraid the economy is headed for a steep downturn -- at least for people like me.  At the moment we are living a comfortable, low-maintenance existence.  We own the house and the car outright and have no outstanding debt, but our only income is from social security.  After years of both of us being on disability, neither Kitty nor I have had an opportunity to amass a retirement nest egg.  The George W. Bush economy and the 2008 crash hit us very hard, and much of what we had left was given to our girls to ensure each had an affordable home.  Now President Cheeto (who believes he is smart, very smart, let me tell you, he has smarts like you wouldn't believe and you will be very happy with) and his allies in Congress are set to push America into the abyss.  Trump's tariffs are just the icing on the cake:  designed, like the much vaunted tax cuts, to hurt the majority of Americans in the pocketbook.

As I said, we are comfortable. not extravagant, but lately we have been sinking -- not by much, but month to month.  Add to that, our physical health make home maintenance difficult.  Also we have far more important things to worry about:  Jessie's health, the grandkids, etc.  The simple solution is to sell the house and downsize.  So that's what we'll be doing.

A major part of downsizing is what to do with my books.  I currently have over 200 banker's boxes full of books.  (It probably would have been four times that number but I have periodically culled my collection, keeping only the ones that were most important to me.)  Books have always been important to me and have been an essential part of my life for as long as I can remember.  The most essential part of my life is, of course, my family, but my books have helped center me.  They have matured me, informed me, and molded me into the thinking person that I am.  But the time has come.

Earlier this year I greatly reduced the number of my incoming.  I am in the process of reducing my collection by 75-85%.  It's painful but necessary.

So why am I still buying books?  I don't know.  I guess I'm an addict.  I do know my incoming lists will continue to shrink month by month.

I figure it will take about three years for us to regroup and plan the future.  Kitty and I plan at least 20 more good years and there's a lot we want to do in that time.

In the meantime, blogging will likely remain light while we tackle downsizing and some of the other things that have popped up.



Missing Mint:   The same day that Pirate (a.k.a. the best dog in the world) died, Mint, one of Christina's cats, went missing.  The garage door had been left open and the cat evidently went walkabout.  Mint is an indoor cat but she sometimes made it outside but he always came back within a few hours.  Not so this time.  Turns out a neighbor one street down has a cat with very similar markings and while searching the neighborhood, Christina and Walt spied that cat and gave chase along the neighbor's lawn.   Just as Christina and Walt realized the cat was not Mint, out came the neighbor, highly incensed that these two people were trying to steal his cat.  Apologies and explanations were given, though it is doubtful the neighbor believed any of them.  (A few days later, Kitty and I gave chase to the same neighbor's cat, thinking it to be Mint.)  Mint remains missing and we fear the worst.  The development in which they live has had sightings of bears, coyotes, and foxes, as well as snakes -- all of which does not bode well for Mint.

In the meantime, Mark bought a ball python to replace Rolo, his previous python who had died several months ago.


October:  My favorite time of year, not only because 1059 years ago Edgar the Peaceful became king of England, nor because it marks the 1931 opening of the George Washington Bridge, but because October is such a cool month.  Yes it has Columbus Day, celebrating the man who brought ruin to the indigenous people of North America -- something we should not be proud of.  But it's also the month of Halloween, a celebration for the kid in all of us.  October marks the final quarter of the year with its changing weather, crisp air, and lovely foliage.  October makes me happy.

Today, October 1, is the anniversary of the first game of the modern world series (1903; the Boston Americans would beat the Pittsburgh Pirates five games to three.  Go Boston!).  Thirteen years earlier, in 1890, Yosemite National Park was established by Congress.  (Sadly our National Parks and the National Park Service have been undermined by the current administration.  The pendulum, I hope, will swing back.)  And in 1958, NASA (another vital agency that has added much to the american character) replaced the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.  On a sadder note, it's been one year since the mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 58 people and injured 851 others.

Today marks the birthdays of Henry III of England (1207), William Beckford, author of the classic Gothic novel Vathek (1760), westerns author Ernest Haycox (1899), pianoist Vladimir Horowitz (1903), notorious criminal Bonnie Parker, who went out in a hail of bullets with Clyde Barrow (1910), President Jimmy Carter (1924), A-Team's George Peppard (1928), Julie Andrews (1935), and baseball legend Rod Carew (1945).

Harking back three paragraphs, I knew little about Edgar the Peaceful, whose rule (959-975) was marked by relative political stability.  His epithet can be called into question as he is rumored to have murdered Earl Aethewald, a rival in love -- a charge that was disputed by William Henry Hudson, the author of the classic romance novel Green Mansions.  Re:  George Washington Bridge.  It surprised to find out that many people do not sing the "George Washington Bridge" song while crossing the bridge.  Go figure.


Florida Man, Florida Woman:

The headline reads, 'Man Arrested for Refusing To Identify Himself as Florida Man.  Reading the story, the man in question turns out to be a transient from North Carolina.  Hmm.  A non-Florida Man refuses to be Florida Man.  Again, go figure.

In the meantime, Florida Woman was filmed twerking on the top of a car while speeding down the highway.  The video is available on the internet.  Go look it up.

Speaking of Florida Woman and video, a Leesburg Florida Woman was upset when her three-yer-old used some profanity.  She first wanted to wash his mouth out with soap but decided to go a more "fun" route -- dunking his head in a toilet and flushing it..  And she had her older son film it!  "It was a joke between the three of us," she explained. "My sons and I horseplay rough."  Authorities are investigating the incident.

I don't know whether Florida Man or Florida Woman was responsible, but five pounds of weed was discovered in a Sarasota thrift shop donation.  No indication of what price the thrift shop put on the marijuana.

And Corey Hatzl, 30, of Palm Coast, was arrested for chasing people around a Chick-Fil-A parking lot.  And, yes, he was naked, and yelling at people to look at his penis.  When he thought someone was actually looking at his person, Homophobic Naked Florida Man would call that person gay and try to fight him.   Sadly, what happens at Chick-Fil-A does not stay at Chick-Fil-A.



Today's Poem:
DARK SHEILA


Sheila, dark Sheila, what is it that you're seeing?
What is it that you're seeing, that you're seeing in the fire?
I see a lad that loves me...And I see a lad that leaves me....
And a third lad, a Shadow Lad...(and he's the lad that grieves me)
And whatever I am seeing, There's no fearing and no fleeing...
But whatever I am seeing, it is not my heart's desire....

Sheila, dark Sheila, with whom will you be roaming?
With whom will you be roaming when the summer day has flown?
A lad there is who loved me -- but loves me now no longer,
A lad there is who left me (and oh! his love grows stronger!)
But wherever I go roaming,
You shall never find me homing, 
For wherever I go roaming,  I must wander all alone....

"Sheila, dark Sheila, will you listen to my pleading?
Will you listen to my pleading, will you recompense my pain?
For I'm the lad who loved you, the lad who so deceived you.
I left you for another girl, and oh! I fear I grieved you!
But if you'll hear my pleading
As across the moor you're speeding,
Oh! if you'll hear my pleading, I'll return to you again"

"Sheila, dark Sheila, will you harken to my calling?
Will you harken to my calling, as I call from far away?
For I'm the lad that left you (but never could forget you),
And I'm the lad that loved you from the very hour he met you!
And if you hear my calling
As the shades of night are falling
Oh! if you'll hear my calling, I'll be yours alone alway!"

But Sheila, dark Sheila, is out upon the moorland.
She's out upon the moorland where the heather meets the sky!
And the lads shall never find her, for there's walks by her side there,
A Stranger Lad, a shadow Lad, who would not be denied there....
She turned to his calling
As the shades of night were falling,
She turned to his calling...and she answered to his cry....


-- Agatha Christie, who would have been 128 this past Saturday

Friday, September 28, 2018

FORGOTTEN BOOK: THE BRIGHTFOUNT DIARIES

The Brightfount Diaries by Brian W. Aldiss (1955)


The author (1925-2017) was one of the most respected and innovative writers in the science fiction field.  Not content with just one hat, Brian W. Aldiss was also a poet, essayist, artist, editor, and critic.  Aldiss was never one to sit on his laurels.  Throughout his career he kept pushing the boundaries of language and themes, often revisiting literary and genre classics and putting a new twist on them.  His "Hothouse" series imagined a future where Earth and its moon were connected by giant plants.  Report on Probability A is credited as the first science fiction "anti-novel" (and a damned good one it is).  Barefoot in the Head envisions a Europe that has been hit by a "hallucinogenic bomb" and was touted as a prime example of the British "New Wave."  The Malacia Tapestry is a dense, baroque look at an alternate Venice.  The Hellicona Trilogy is a modern classic of world building.  The Squire Quartet and the Horatio Stubbs Trilogy are sly excursions into the literary novel.  Frankenstein Unbound, Moreau's Other Island, and Dracula Unbound are riffs on the classic horror novels, just as Jocasta is a riff on the tragedies of Sophocles.  "The Saliva Tree" is a homage to H. G. Wells by way of H. P. Lovecraft.  "Supertoys Last All Summer Long" was to be adapted by Stanley Kubrick as a film; the project was then taken on by Stephen Spielberg and filmed as A.I.  Aldiss' Brothers of the Head gives us a Siamese twin rock star (stars?) who have a third dormant head that is beginning to awake.  And so on and so on...

His work as a critic and editor is just as impressive.

Aldiss won two Hugo awards, one Nebula Award, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award.  He was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America and was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.  He was awarded an OBE for his services to literature.  Aldiss co-founded the first journal of science fiction criticism and was vice-president of the international H. G. Wells Society, as well as co-president of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group.  Aldiss served as literary editor for the Oxford Mail for many years.

As for The Brightfound Diaries (you knew I would get to this sooner or later), It is based on a series of sketches about life in a fictional book store which were published in the trade magazine The Bookseller.  (Aldiss himself worked in such a bookstore from 1947 until the middle Fifties.)  The bookstore is old and rambling, constantly undergoing renovation, and is plagued by mice.  The staff cower in fear of the occasional visit from the owner's wife.  For a while, one of the wife's cousins comes in to assist the store when one of the employees had to take time off for a medical emergency; the cousin was useless on the floor and all were relieved when she began using her wiorking hours to carry on an affair with one of the managers.  One of the employees is an intelligent woman whose biting sarcasm often goes over the customers' heads.  Another is a free spirit who is apt to say or do almost anything.  And then there's the narrator.

His name is Peter and his last name may or may not be Aldiss.  He's young and has been working in the bookstore for four years.  He has a complicated love life and an even more complicated family life, especially with his eccentric Uncle Leo and Leo's equally eccentric wife.  The book is told through Peter's diary entries from late June to Christmas day -- perhaps equally divided between Peter's work life and family life.  The dairy is full of comments by and observations about the store's customers and employees.  There's the author, celebrated in his own mind, who plans "to prune Proust -- cut it by two-thirds -- knock it into proper chronological order, etc., etc."  and there's the inevitable customer who is looking for a "recent book on sex whose title he had forgotten, but the blurb said 'Will appeal alike to the specialist and the general reader'"  In the end he paid four pounds for Howard's Early English Drug Jars.  And the customer who sold a large books about birds to the store, saying, "I'm glad to get rid of it -- it's very dull."  To which he was told, "Ah, Yawnithology!"

Aldiss's gentle and warm approach, as well as his spot-on observations, soon made his sketches the most popular part of The Bookman and brought them to the attention of publisher Charles Faber, who asked Aldiss to put them into book form.  The success of The Brightfount Diaries led Faber to ask Aldiss if he had anything else and led to the publication of his first collection, Space, Time and Nathaniel.  Thus an authorial career was born and thus a bookselling career was dropped.

The Brightfount Diaries is a quiet and witty book, reminiscent of Robertson Davies' magnificent The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks.

Highly recommended.