Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, September 28, 2018


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.

Sunday, September 23, 2018


Jessie went in for surgery on Friday.  They told her to be at the hospital at 6:00 am and they were finished by 4:20.  The operation did not take long but the gazillion of tests they put her through took up much of the day.  She came through with flying colors.  Still waiting on test results on whether the cancer was completely excised.  She was pretty tired when she got home but was upbeat while waiting for the expected nausea to kick in.  Her house is stocked with all sorts of comfort food.  We brought over mashed potatoes and gravy, as well as Kitty's peppermint brownies.  Walt brought over his homemade chicken noodle soup.  Amy came home with a package of Peeps.  Guess which one she ate first.  Still a long haul ahead of radiation and further chemo, but we're very optimistic.

Jessie's been documenting her journey on her blog Life is a Roller Coaster (, where she gives frank updates on her condition.  We're very proud of her.  She's one tough cookie.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


Pirate, our beautiful grand-dog, passed away yesterday.  She was the sweetest dog ever.  Christina and Walt got her when they were living on the Chesapeake -- fitting, because she was a Chesapeake Bay retriever.  As a puppy she was afraid to go into the Chesapeake...until she did and suddenly realized there was a reason she was a water dog.  She loved retrieving sticks (and logs!) from the Bay.  Despite her size, she was completely convinced she was a lap dog.  She was gentle and would stick her head under your arm for cuddles.  Mark and Erin grew up with her and she had a very special place in their hearts.  As I said, Pirate was the sweetest dog ever and my heart goes out to Christina and her family.

It's become common, when a pet dies, to speak of the Rainbow Bridge.  I don't think Pirate crossed the Rainbow Bridge.  I think she clamped her mighty jaws around that sucker, ripped it from the ground, and looked around for someone to bring it to, beaming with pride because she's such a good girl.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018


I won't be blogging much for the next few days.  Slight accident.  More than slight pain.  Five hours in the emergency room.  Doctors and technicians making fun of my feet ("Wow! Those are big feet!"  "Wow! you have extraordinarily flat feet!" "Wow! What a strange bone structure!").  Ptah!  Don't they know that big feet are a sign of high intelligence, stunning looks, and virility?

See you on the other side.

Sunday, September 16, 2018


From 1922, The Regal Male Trio.  Somewhat creepy lyrics for this present day #metoo atmosphere.


Science fiction legend Robert A. Heinlein was the Guest of Honor at MidAmeriCon, the 1977 World Science Fiction Convention, held in Kansas City.

People loved Heinlein or hated him.  Perhaps, more properly, they loved his outspoken opinions or hated them. -- as you can tell by the cheers and (occasional) boos.  One thing you cannot deny, he was a powerful and popular writer who helped shape science fiction.

Give him a listen.  Noted fan and writer Wilson "Bob" Tucker performed the introduction.


The Marshall Family.

Saturday, September 15, 2018


Jackie Lomax.

MISS FURY #6 (WINTER 1944-45)

Miss Fury was the first female superhero created, written, and drawn by a woman.  The woman in question was June Tarpe Mills (1918-1988), who signed her work as Tarpe Mills to hide her sex while breaking into the comic industry.  Previously a model and a fashion illustrator, Mills had originated a number of action comic characters before she created Miss Fury, modeling the characters appearance on her own.

Miss Fury was the nom de gangbuster of socialite Martha Drake.  When she discovered that another woman was to wear the same outfit to a party that she was planning, Martha decided to wear a panther skin that he uncle had willed her.  Of course the panther skin previously had belonged to a witch doctor.  And of course, the suit gave her powers, in addition to fitting her body like a glove.  Martha never made it to the party because she had to catch an escaped murderer.  This was so cool that she decided to continue as a costumed heroine.  The newspapers first dubbed her "Black Fury," which was the name the comic strip had when it first appeared on April 6, 1941.  Soon her name and the comic book were changed to "Miss Fury."  #ablowforfeminism

Miss Fury ran until 1952 when Mills retired from comic strips.  At its heyday the strip was carried in over 100 newspapers and her image was painted on the noses of at least three American warplanes during World War II.

Despite her magic panther costume, Miss Fury seldom wore it because with every favor granted by black magic, comes two misfortunes.  This also allowed Mills to dress her heroine in the latest fashions.

Another striking innovation of the strip was Martha Drake's adoption of Darron, a toddler she had rescued in Brazil.  As a single woman she was first denied adopting Darron, but grit, persistence, and clean living won the way and she became a single mother with a young child and remained so during the run of the strip.  #anotherblowforfeminism

Some Christian groups attacked the strip but that did not diminish its popularity.

Some of the strips were reprinted in the Miss Fury comic book, which ran for eight issues during the mid-Forties.

The issue linked below reprints the story arc "The Case of General Bruno."  Miss Fury doesn't mke and appearance until later in the story, which revolves around Nazi General Bruno, the corrupt and beutiful Erika von Kampf, and Colonel Wolfram Prussia...and a plot to release the four horsemen of the Apocalypse.


Friday, September 14, 2018


Joan Baez is about to embark on her final tour.  Here's a song she first recorded in 1962, "Matty Groves" (Child Ballad #81).


Creed by James Herbert (1990)

Every once in a while I get in the mood for a James Herbert book.  Herbert !943-2013) was a best-selling British horror writer with 23 novels, one graphic novel, and two non-fiction works to his credit.  His specialty was in over the top (sometimes visceral) horror with occasional dollops of sex.  With the exception of his Rats series and his David Ash trilogy, Herbert seldom repeated himself and, in the case of these two series, Herbert kept topping himself with each book.  Stephen King praised the "raw urgency" of Herbert's first two novels, writing they "had the effect of Mike Tyson in his championship days:  no finesse, all crude power."

As his career continued, Herbert's writing smoothed and became more nuanced, although his intensity remained.  Creed, Herbert's fifteenth novel, was the first after a helter-skelter schedule of publishing a novel every year (with one exception).  From this book onward, Herbert would take at least two years to craft a new novel.

The hero of Creed is no hero, a fact the Herbert makes plain in the first paragraph.  Joe Creed is "a sleaze of the First Order" -- he is mean, selfish, belligerent, obstinate, cynical and could be considered either amoral or immoral, depending on the circumstance.  These qualities make him perfect for his profession.  Creed is a paparazzo, a photographer who makes his living photographing celebs at their worst or most embarrassing.  Creed is very good at his job.  He may be despised by his fellow paparazzi, but he has also earned their grudged respect.

Creed is divorced.  His ex hates him.  His ten-year-old son is an unpleasant, obese, and sullenly spoiled child of the Augustus Gloop ilk.  There's also a mysterious woman with the unlikely name of Callie McNally, who keeps promising to explain things but never really does.  And a horrific mass murderer/child molester/cannibal who had been executed fifty years before but somehow is still walking about.  And there's a bitchy, gay gossip columnist and his plain, sexually repressed secretary.  And there's...well, there's a whole lot of freaks, monsters, weirdos, and shapeshifters, enough to fill Universal horror movies for a couple of centuries.

We start at the private (meaning, NO PRESS ALLOWED) burial service for an aged movie star long past her prime.  Creed is lurking in a nearby crypt, cameras ready.  He gets some great shots of present and past notables, and when the service is over and the crowd departs one person remains.  He is tall, almost skeletal, dressed completely in black, and turned so that Creed cannot see his face.  While Creed watches from the crypt, the man does something highly obscene to the grave.  Of course Creed gets pictures.  Then the man turns and faces Creed.  The man's eyes are like black holes.  He is tremendously old and exudes evil.  When Creed develops the photos, the darkness in the man's eyes begin to spread across his face and then the entire photograph, leaving everything black.

And so begins Creed's reluctant and cowardly journey into supernatural danger, eventually leading to a deadly masked ball that amps up the one Edgar Allan Poe wrote about in 1842.  Throughout the journey, Creed stubbornly refuses to believe what is happening about him.

Somehow Herbert pulls this off.  He takes an unlikable protagonist, substitutes every obvious chance for humor with chills, and leaves the reader with a slew of questions, while giving us an entertaining -- albeit disquieting -- read.

This one is for hard-core horror fans.

Thursday, September 13, 2018


The Preservation Hall Jazz Band.


During his run on radio, Ellery Queen bounced from network to network starting on June 18, 1939 on CBS Radio.  He stayed there until September 22, 1940.  The show was revived for a run on NBC Radio from 1942 to 1944, then back to CBS until 1947, then back to NBC for a year until finally ending up on ABC Radio from 1947 to 1948.

"The Vanishing Magician" was Ellery's 150th radio adventure, airing on the East Coast on November 4, 1943 and on the West Coast two days later on November 6.  Sydney Smith played Ellery, Santos Ortega played Inspector Queen, Ted de Corsia played Sergeant Velie, and Marian Shockly returned from a two-month hiatus to play Ellery's secretary, Nikki Porter.  (During those two months, Nikki was played by Shockley's friend Helen Lewis; Lewis was an expert mimic and voiced Shockly so well that most did not know it was a "different" Nikki.)  Ernest Chappell was the announcer. and Charles Paul provided the organ music.  The episode was produced by Bruce Kammon and directed by Bob Steel from a script by "Ellery Queen."

For those interested in minutia, the sponsor was Bromo Seltzer.

This episode was a repeat of "The Disappearing Magician," which aired on September 15, 1940, when Hugh Marlowe was playing Ellery and Bert Parks served as announcer.

One gimmick to The Adventures of Ellery Queen had the action stop near the end and had two special guests try to solve the mystery.  The guests for the East Coast version (heard below) were
Sonia Bigman (radio editor for Time magazine) and Edward Pawley (the star of radio's Big Town); West Coast guests were radio actress Linda Watkins and B. Pemberton (of whom I know nothing).

Match wits with Ellery Queen as you meet a has-been vaudevillian who vows to disappear from a house for $25,000.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018


Arlo Guthrie.


Jim was not the luckiest person in the world.  In fact, he may well have been the unluckiest.  His house was uninsured when it burned down.  His wife ran off with another man.  He lost his job when the business went bankrupt.  He lost all his money when the stock market took a nosedive.  His dog bit him.  And the pizza delivery boy ran over his toe while backing out of his driveway.

But there was one saving grace in Jim's life.  Golf.  He loved to play golf, not that he was any good at it.  Every weekend was spent on the course.  He took lessons from the pro.  He avidly read all the golf magazines.  He watched golf tournaments, both in person and on the television.  Jim could not get enough of golf but, as I said, he was not good at the game.  He chopped and sliced to his heart's content but the ball invariably went where Jim did want it to go.  He loved golf and often wished he could at least break 100, if only once.

It was not to be.  One day, while teeing up, Jim had a heart attack and died.  Jim had often expressed the desire to be cremated when he died and his ashed spread on the seventh green, which had the most beautiful view of the course.  And so he was duly cremated and his ashes brought to the seventh green.

And as they emptied the urn, a wind came up and blew Jim out of bounds.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018


Take a moment to remember and reflect.


A classic Irish rebel song, sung this time by Leonard Cohen.


Ireland.  1815.  Irish rebel Rock Hudson, Captain Lightfoot, turns highwayman to support the cause.   Forced to flee to Dublin, he meets rebel leader Jeff Morrow and becomes his second in command.  Danger, thrills, and plots soon follow, as does romance with Jeff Morrow's daughter. the beautiful Barbara Rush.  The real-life Lord and Lady Mount Sharles have cameo roles as "English Gentleman" and English Lady."  The scenery is pretty.

Produced by Ross Hunter and directed by Douglas Sirk, Captain Lightfoot was adapted from W. R. Burnett's best selling novel by Burnett and Oscar Brodney. 


Monday, September 10, 2018


Bob Dylan covers this classic.


Openers:  "I'd ask what a nice girl like you is doing in a place like this," Gabriel told the brunette sitting at the bar with her back to him.  "But I already know exactly what you're doing."

The brunette spun, reaching for the revolver beside her glass, but Gabriel grabbed her wrists before she could raise it to draw a bead between his eyes.

-- Hunt Beyond the Frozen Fire by Christa Faust writing as "Gabriel Hunt," 2014

Whodunnit:  Who wrote the anonymous letter published in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times last week?  Like many others I suspect it came from the Vice President's office, but that could be wishful thinking on my part.  Many people point to the word "lodestar" in the piece but it is common knowledge that staffers will try to imitate the writing style or phrasing of someone they don't like in order to throw people off the track when something negative about the president or his administration is leaked.  The writer did state that the president's problem was his amorality -- an odd choice of word for a man who is erratic, irresponsible, and egotistic.  This points to a person with a strong (or perhaps, perceived) sense of morality, such as Mr. Pence.  The writer also states that this invisible cadre within the White House will continue to thwart the president's worse impulses until such time that he no longer serves as president.  Pence, it is known, believes that God has singled him out to become the President of the United States.  He is not often in the limelight, biding his time in the shadows, supporting Mr. Trump when called to, and serving as a vanilla substitue to the president when needed.  I'm sure that Pence believes, one way or another, Trump will be forced to leave the office and propel him to the presidency.  Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

This is all speculation.  What is not speculation is Trump's reaction to the op-ed.  He calls it treason while others call it free speech.  He is determined to root out and punish the writer severely,  It is all lies, all fabrication, all FAKE NEWS.  As you know, no one has done for this country and as president as Trump has over the past year and three-quarters, he can tell you that.  Everybody except those democrats and those liberals love him an know what he has done, and is doing, to for them.  Okay.  So the guy is unhinged.  That's a given.

What disturbs me is that the writer of this memo appears also deluded.  He states that he and his cronies are no liberals and that they support Trump's agenda, just not the behavior of the president's worse self.  He claims that Trump has done much for the country by rolling back regulations (which has harmed the future of the world, has deleted many of those pesky rules that try to ensure workplace safety, and has hurt the middle and lower class economically), historic tax reform (that does little to help the average person and will hurt him in the wallet in ten years or less while providing a large permanent tax break for the nation's most wealthy), and a more robust military (the verdict is out on that one).  These "patriots" are nothing more than hard-line conservatives, just waiting for Mr. Trump to be out of office so President Pence could act as a less abrasive way to promote their one-sided agenda.  Civil rights could be pushed back to pre-WWII times under a Pence theocracy.  Meanwhile the income gap grows larger and larger and the middle class is on the endangered list.

The administration calls the writer gutless.  They demand he come forward and resign.  Anyone who does not support the president fully (no matter how unhinged Trump may be) does not deserve to work for the president's administration.  Many reporters and news executives have also called for the writer to come forward so the accuracy of his article could be judged, despite the fact that what is in the article has been reported before and Trump's unstable side has been well reported.  Others are willing to cheer the writer on, glad that there is someone will to oppose Trump's more dangerous side.

The writer wants to ensure America that there are grown-ups in the White House looking out for their best interests.  I'm sorry, but there are no grown-ups in this scenario.

Stranger Than You Think:  I love science and I love the fact that we continually discover new and amazing things about our world and our universe.  To wit:

  • A ring of black holes or neutron stars has been discovered about 300 million light years away.  It may have been formed when two galaxies collided.
  • Speaking of galaxies, scientists have discovered an ancient "monster" galaxies that is producing stars at a rate 1000 times fatser than the Milky Way.  This galaxy is estimated to have formed 2 billion years after the Big Bang.
  • Saturn's hexagon-shaped jet stream at the planet's north pole has baffled scientists since it was discovered in the 1980s.  Now a matching hexagon-shaped vortex has been discovered in the same spot, only 180 miles higher in the atmosphere.  Is this a separate vortex or are the two part of the same system stretching for hundreds of miles.  What caused this strange shape?
  • Pycnandra acuminata is a South Pacific tree that oozes metal, particularly nickel, which can make up to 25% of its sap.  Normally toxic to trees, the nickel gives the sap a bluish-green color.  Scientists speculate that the toxic sap may be an unusual defense against insect predators.
  • Who knew?  Turns out there are tiny tunnels that link the human brain to the bone marrow of the human skull.  These tunnels may allow the travel of immune cells to the brain as a defense following a stoke or injury; it had previously been speculated that these immune cells travel to the brain by way of the blood stream.
  • Researcher have also recently discovered a "new" type of neuron in the human brain that has not been found in the brains of animals.  dubbed the "rosehip" neuron, this brain cell may explain why humans are different from other animals.
  • Researchers at the University of Minnesota have created a "bionic eye" through 3-D printing.  There is a good chance that this technology could soon help the blind.  Huzzah!
  • Gut bacteria could make blood shortages a thing of the past.  Scientist at the University of British Columbia have found an enzyme in gut bacteria that can strip a blood cell of its surface antigens, potentially turning all blood types into type O, the universal donor, and allowing the blood to be given to persons with other blood types.
  • And speaking of odd and unusual...

Florida Man!:  Florida Man Daryl Royal Reidel had three previous DUI convictions (and one other pending) when he was pulled over by a Monroe County deputy on suspicion of drunk driving.  Thinking quickly, Reider got out of his pickup truck, chugging his can of beer as he approached the deputy.  Beer?  What beer?  Do you see any beer?  All I see is an empty beer can, not beer.  Ha ha, you can't arrest me!

A 38-year-old Florida Man in St. Pete was not as fortunate.  He was killed in his home by an exploding vape pen.  I think this is a first.  Only in Florida, folks.

And an unnamed Florida Man was filmed punching a SUV in a road rage incident in Haileah.  the logical thing to do, I guess.

Another unnamed Florida Man's final honed plan to escape police had a tiny flaw in it.  When police stop you and 3:00 am on a Saturday morning and discover illegal drugs, what's your plan?  that's it.  RUN.  Police chased him across a nearby golf course when Florida Man jumped into a retention pool and drowned.  The human gene pool thanks him.

Speaking of...:  Here's Stephen Boros of Big Tiki & the Mai Tai's singing about Florida Man.

Empress Elisabeth:  One hundred twenty years ago on this date, the Empress Elisabeth of Austria and Queen of Hungary was assassinated.  Princess Sophie of Bavaria wanted her son the Emperor Franz Joseph to marry his cousin Helene but the Emperor fell head over heals with her younger sister Elisabeth, insisting he would marry her or none at all.  Elisabeth was beautiful, intellectual, shy...and she never returned her husband's faithful devotion.  Princess Sophie hated her.  Elisabeth was both melancholy and eccentric.  She developed a fondness for the Hungarian people, whom her husband hated.  One of her great interests was the treatment of the mentally ill, something that may be traced to the lifelong depression that followed the death of her second daughter from (possibly) typhus.  In 1889 her only son Rudolph's body was discovered with that of his mistress in what is generally presumed to be a murder-suicide -- the well-publicized Mayerling Affair.  Elisabeth sank further into melancholy.  In 1898, while walking from her hotel during a stay in Geneva, she was approached by 25-year-old anarchist Luigi Lucheni, who stabbed her with a sharpened four-inch needle which he had converted to a shiv.  Lucheni had come to Geneva to kill a sovereign and claimed it did not matter who that was.  His original intent was the kill the Duke of Orleans, the pretender to the French crown, but the Duke had left Geneva earlier.  Lucheni then read a newspaper article that revealed the Empress of Austria was staying in the city and he switched his target to the 60-year-old Elisabeth.  Despite her many emotional problems and tragic incidences in her life, Elisabeth was more remembered for her concern about the common people and her many charitable works.

Today's Poem:

Rose, harsh rose,
marred and with stint of petals,
meager flower, thin,
sparse of leaf,

more precious
than a wet rose
single on a stem --
you are caught in the drift.

Stunted, with small leaf,
you are flung on the sand,
you are lifted
in the crisp sand
that drives in the wind.

Can the spice-rose
drip such acrid fragrance
hardened in a leaf?

--  H. D. (Hilda Doolittle, 1886-1961), from Sea Garden (London:  Constable and Company Ltd., 1916)

Sunday, September 9, 2018


Craig Johnson is the author of the best-selling Walt Longmire mystery series.  The seventeenth book in that series, Depth of Winter, was released last week.


Ruthie Foster, with The Blind Boys of Alabama.

Saturday, September 8, 2018


Jesse Colin Young.


Comic book publisher Fiction House Magazines had a good thing going with various jungle adventures featuring Tarzan knock-offs -- both male and female, adult and child.  Among their jungle heroes were Sheena, Kaanga, Camilla, Fantomah, Wambi the Jungle Boy...and Tiger Girl.

Tiger Girl was created by an unknown writer and artist Robert Webb.  Looking at her, she could have been a sister to Sheena Queen of the Jungle.  Both were beautiful, courageous, blonde...Sheena wore a leopard skin outfit (just barely) and Tiger Girl wore a tiger skin outfit (also just barely).  Good Girl Art thrived among the pages from Fiction House.

Tiger Girl was originally called Princess Vishnu.  Her name and her tiger Benzali place her smack dab in India, although her adventures took place in the Congo.  Consistency was never a problem in these stories.  Tiger Girl's constant companion was the turban-wearing Abdola (who is sometimes a Sikh and sometimes a Hindu and often not categorized).  Tiger Girl was sometimes characterized as the Golden Queen of the Jungle, as opposed to Sheena who was just plain Queen of the Jungle.  She protects a wide swarth of the Congo, encompassing many tribes.  She is an expert with a whip and has a "tiger ring" which somehow gives her extra strength when she looks at it.

By the way, she started out as a redhead but by the end of her run was a pure-dee blonde.  Maybe the hot jungle sun had something to do with it.

Tiger Girl premiered in Fight Comics #32 (1944).  Appearing in every issue, she grabbed the cover illustration in issue #49 (April 1947) and held onto it until her final appearance in Fight Comics #81.  The cover of that issue shows Tiger Girl strapped upside-down to a tree while an angry tiger (presumably Benzali) leaps over her body to get at her captor.  Following her stint at Fight Comics, Tiger Girl moved to Jungle Comics for a dozen issues and to one issue of Jungle Adventures; many of these appearances were reprints.  She was never able to advance to a comic book title of her own.

In the issue linked below (her last appearance in Fight Comics) Tiger Girl does battle with an army of Arab slave traders -- the Skullbone Legion -- led by the evil Sidi Ben Hassam.

The issue also has a text story (bless those postal regulations) in which Tiger Girl saves a tribal village from a raging forest fire set by evil hunters determined to drive the natives out of their hunting grounds.  We know that anyone who picks on people under Tiger Girl's protection will get their comeuppance.

There is more to this issue than Tiger Girl.

Rip Carson of the Golden Dragon Squadron is out to stop a Red Chinese plot to use drugged American captives as suicide pilots over Korea. 

Boxing champ Kayo Kirby must show an unethical fighter that cheating and blustering are not welcome in the sport.

And teen-age Smoky Joe is on his first round-up, determined to prove that he is as good a cowboy as his late father was.

All in all, a pretty interesting issue.


Friday, September 7, 2018


Danny Dunn, Scientific Detective by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin (1975)

Jay Williams (1914-1978) wrote over 100 books, mostly for children.  He also wrote mysteries under the name "Michael Delving" and a few adult novels.  He is known for his fifteen books series about Danny Dunn, a young (most likely pre-teen), impetuous boy with a decided talent for science, written with screenwriter Raymond Abrashkin (1911-1960).  The series began in 1956.  Abrashkin died shortly after the fifth book was published and Williams insisted he remain credited on the remaining ten books in the series.  Danny Dunn, Scientific Detective was the penultimate book in the series.

Danny and his widowed mother live with Professor Euclid Bullfinch, a well-known scientific researcher and inventor, for whom Danny's mother is housekeeper.  Bullfinch serve as Danny's mentor and -- perhaps -- surrogate father.  Danny's best friends are Joe Pearson and Irene Miller.  Joe is the easy-going member of the trio, providing comic relief with his sharp wit.  Joe also knows nothing about science; his interests lie in writing, most often in humorous poems.  Irene, Danny's next door neighbor, is one of the first female characters in children's series books to be an equal to the protagonist.  Irene is interested in science and math.  Irene's intelligence and scientific knowledge is at least on a par with Danny's and may well be superior.  Irene is also plucky.  From an age of sexist stereotypes in most children's fiction, Irene is is a breath of fresh air.

Danny, as I have mentioned is impetuous.  His rash actions often propel the story.  In the end, when Danny allows his logic to overcome his first instincts, things turn out well.

The Danny Dunn series is a mixture of science fiction and adventure.  Danny's adventures (and inventions) range from the extreme (time travel, antigravity, miniaturization, weather control, invisibility) to the mundane (robotics, fossils, crime, travel).  Each book relies on a real scientific basis or scientific extrapolation.  The back and forth swaying between science fiction and adventure weakens the series which nonetheless remained very popular among its young audience.

Danny Dunn, Scientific Detective begins with Danny and his friends conducting a ghost hunt in a deserted house.  Their experiments are stopped by a police detective, Mr. Ellison.  Ellison is large, black, intelligent, and is soon aware of the unique qualities of these three youngsters.  Like Irene, Ellison runs counter to many of the stereotypes of the day.  Ellison gives Danny the idea of being a "scientific detective," using reason and logic to solve crime.

Seguing to the main plot, the manager of the town's oldest and most successful department store wants Professor Bullfinch to build a foolproof safe for the store.  Bullfinch comes up with a safe that will only open by the individual scent of the store manager and his assistant.  Shortly after the safe is installed Bullfinch travels to Washington for a conference.  While he is gone the store manager goes missing.  A few days later the safe is robbed.  A check with Washington shows that the Professor never arrived at his hotel.  Police begin to thin that the Professor may have something to do with the mysterious disappearance of the store manager and the robbery.  Danny and his friends are determined to clear Bullfinch's name and to solve the various mysteries.

After several embarrassing false starts, Danny and Irene build Bleeper, a robot bloodhound, using an old canister vacuum cleaner and Professor Bullfinch's scent detecting technology, in an attempt to find the missing store manager.  Eventually Danny's scientific detecting solves the case.

I have to mention the weakest, most execrable part of the book, being the depiction of a college student/hippie using outmoded and the jarringly passe language of a beatnik a quarter of a century earlier, you dig?  This passage made me want to throw the book down in disgust.

I didn't. 

And the book, in total, is not bad.  The Danny Dunn series has some strong, very entertaining books and this book is one of the lesser ones.

Thursday, September 6, 2018


Some songs have lasting power.  I still find myself occasionally humming this theme song from this British series which ran on CBS from 1955 to 1959.  (My cousin's husband does a fantastic version, complete with a realistic arrow twang!)

Written by Carl Sigman ("Ebb Tide," "It's All in the Game," "Pennsylvania 6-5000," "Where Do I Begin") and sung by Dick James (British music publisher and vocalist, once a member of the 1950s vocal group The Stargazers).

How often have you found yourself humming this song?

Wednesday, September 5, 2018


Although she was a New Zealander, Ngaio Marsh has been considered one of the five great British ladies of Golden Age mysteries, along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey, and Margery Allingham.  (where, I wonder, is Gladys Mitchell?)  Dame Ngaio is best known for her 32 novels featuring Detective Chief-Inspector (later Chief Superintendent) Roderick Alleyn.  As a member of the gentry (his brother had recently ascended to a baronetcy just prior to the events in the first novel in the series), Alleyn is cast as a gentleman detective, much like Elizabeth George's much later Inspector Thomas Lynley.

In his first book adventure, A Man Lay Dead (1934), Alleyn must solve a murder at a week-end house party where all seven suspects have strong alibis.  The death had occurred during a seesion of the Murder Game, a very popular pastime in Britain at the time.

The radio adaptation of A Man Lay Dead was the first of four Alleyn mystery novels presented by the BBC starting in 2001.  Alleyn was portrayed by Jeremy Clyde, who -- along with being an actor -- was one-half of the Sixties folk group Chad & Jeremy.

Enjoy matching wits with Dame Ngaio and Roderick Alleyn.


A little bit of swampgrass from Doug Kershaw.


I bought a dog from the local blacksmith.

As soon as I brought him home he made a bolt for the door.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018


Max Allan Collins with Cruisin', rocking it at Bouchercon.

UPDATE, later 9/4/18:  Cruisin' has been inducted into the Iowa rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.  Photos at


Based both on Rufus King's 1929 mystery and the play adapted from it by Charles Beahan, Murder by the Clock concerns an old woman who has a horn installed in her crypt in case she is buried alive.  She is soon murdered, strangled.  The her alcoholic nephew is murdered, also strangled.  The the horn from the crypt sounds.  The movie's tagline is "Three murders done -- but only two persons die!"  Luckily, Lt. Valcour is on the case as he matches wits with a very clever murderer.

Murder by the Clock was directed by Edward Sloman, from an adaptation by Henry Myers.  It features William "Stage" Boyd (not to be confused with William "Hopalong Cassidy" Boyd) , with Lilyan Tashman, Irving Pitchel, and Regis Toomy.


Monday, September 3, 2018




Openers:  With a serious effort James Bond bent his attention once more on the little yellow book in his hand,  On its outside the book bore a simple but pleasing legend, "Do you want your salary increased by 300 [pounds] per annum?"  Its price was one shilling.  James had just finished reading two pages of crisp paragraphs instructing him to look his boss in the face, to cultivate a dynamic personality, and to radiate an atmosphere of efficiency.  He now arrived at a subtler matter.  "There is a time for frankness, there is a time for discretion," the little yellow book informed him.  "A strong man does not always blurt out all he knows."  James let the little book close and, rraising his head, gazed out over a blue expanse of ocean.  A horrible suspicion assailed him, that he was not a strong man.  A strong man would have been in command of the present situation, not a victim to it.  For the sixtieth time that morning James rehearsed his wrongs.

 -- Despite the fact that in the opening paragraph of this story we meet Bond...James Bond, the author is Christie...Agatha Christie, and the story is "The Rajah's Emerald," written long before Ian Fleming created 007.

August Incoming:

  • [Edgar Cayce], Edgar Cayce:  Modern Prophet.  An omnibus of four books about Cayce:  Edgar Cayce on Prophecy by Mary Ellen Carter, with the editorship of Hugh Lynn Cayce, 1968; Edgar Cayce on Religion and Psychic Experience by Harmon Hartzell Bro, Ph.D., under the editorship of Hugh Lynn Cayce, 1970; Edgar Cayce on Mysteries of the Mind by Henry Reed, under the editorship of Charles Thomas Cayce, 1987; and Edgar Cayce on Reincarnation by Noel Langly, under the editorship of Hugh Lynn Cayce, 1967.  Pure bushwah, of course, but -- as I have noted before, I'm a sucker for this sort of thing.
  • Max Allan Collins, Better Dead.  A Nate Heller historical mystery.  This time Nate's working for Senator Joseph McCarthy.  There's a reason why Collins received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Private Eye Writers of America and was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America.
  • Gardner Dozois, editor, The Year's Best Science Fiction:  Eleventh Annual Collection (1994) and The Year' s Best Science Fiction:  Twenty-First Annual Collection (2004).  Dozois' annual collections have been the gold standard for years.  These include 23 stories from 1993 and 22 stories from 2003, respectively, along with comprehensive looks at the years in question.  When Dozois passed away earlier this year science fiction had lost one of its most distinguished editors.
  • Terence Flaherty, Dead Stick. An Owen Keane mystery, nominated for an Edgar Award.  (Coincidentally, my nephew's son is named Owen Keane.)
  • Gary Gygax, Dangerous Journeys:  The Anubis Murders.  Gaming tie-in fantasy/mystery.
  • W. A. Harbinson, Projekt Saucer, Book Two:  Genesis.  SF/UFO/horror novel.  It had some good reviews.
  • David Hartwell, editor, The Science Fiction Century.  Science fiction anthology with 45 stories.  Like Dozois, Hartwell had been a major influence in the field and his editorial taste was superb.
  • David Morrell, Murder as a Fine Art.  Historical mystery, the first in the series featuring Thomas de Quincy, winner of both a Macavity Award and a Nero Award.
  • Stuart Neville, Collusion.  Thriller, the second book in the Belfast series.
  • Stuart Palmer, Unhappy Hooligan.  Mystery from an author who should not be forgotten.
  • "Dell Shannon" (Elizabeth Linington), Blood Count.  The 37th Luis Mendoza police procedural.  
  • Stanley Wiater, Matthew R. Bradley, & Paul Stuve, editors, The Twilight and Other Zones:  The Dark Worlds of Richard Matheson.  A look at the man and his writings.  Did you know that he wrote some Christmas songs recorded by major artists?

Labor Day:  "Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is the creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers.  It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."  -- US Department of Labor

Organized labor has fought for better wages, reasonable working hours, and safer working conditions.  It has worked to stop child labor and to provide medical benefits to workers, as well as providing aid to workers injured on the job.  Labor has played a strong role in the fight for civil rights as well in the the promulgation of Kennedy's and Johnson's domestic programs in the Sixties.

Labor has also received a bad rap.  Corruption and greed entered many unions.  Public support waned and right-leaning forces began to chip away at labor's achievements.  This past week saw President Trump cancelling a raise for civilian federal workers, citing budgetary constraints.  (This is the same Trump whose tax plan provides a boondoggle for the nation's wealthiest.)

Neither runaway labor nor runaway management is good for the country.  What's needed is an adversarial partnership between the two, with both parties providing reasonable concessions for the greater good.  Will we see that partnership in the near future, or have the waters been too poisoned?  Time will tell.

STEMMinist:  The STEMMinist movement was founded by Dr. Caroline Ford to encourage girls and young women to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering, math, and medicine.  In January of this year, Dr. Ford started the online STEMMinist Book Club, now with over 1700 members from 25 countries.  Among the books already chosen are Inferior:  The True Power of Women and the Science That Shows It by Angela Saini, Stop Fixing Women by Caroline Fox, and Testosterone Rex:  Myths of Sex, Science and Society by Cordelia Fine.  If you have a daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, aunt, neighbor, student, friend, or co-worker who has expressed wistful interest in the sciences, you may want to suggest this book club and the support which comes with it.

Accident Prone Koala?:  Cats are supposed to have nine lives.  Koalas?  Not so much.  Unless you're a certain "large male adult" koala in Happy Valley, South Australia, who had to be rescued three separate times by Fauna Rescue of South Australia.  (You'd think after saving him three times, the Aussies would have given the koala a proper name.)  In January 2016 the koala was found at the bottom of a tree, barely responsive.  It took a week at Fauna Rescue before he could be released back in the wild.  Then in November of that year, he was hit by a car and spent more time in Fauna Rescue care before being declared fit for release.  Then this past July, Fauna Rescue was called out to South Australia Power Networks substation and there he was, the very same koala.  This time he had his head stuck in a fence.  No one is sure how he got stuck.  Indeed, some speculate that this koala is a few eucalyptus leaves shy of a tree but I'm sure there's a kinder explanation.  Perhaps he just missed his Fauna Rescue buddies and wanted to see them again.

Florida Man:  Florida Man Joseph Sireci, 47, of Port St. Lucie, was arrested for battery after giving his girlfriend a "wet willy."  

**Florida Man and Florida Justice saunter off into the sunset, hand in hand** 

Florida Lizard:  A 6-foot Asian water monitor lizard, weighing perhaps as much as 150 pounds, has been terrorizing a Florida family by staking out their back yard and by scratching at their back door.  Asian water monitors can turn aggressive and their mouths carry illness-causing bacteria, though perhaps not as fatal as those of the more familiar monitor lizard.  The lizard also has long nasty claws and is 'terrifying to look at."  The family has a four-year-old and a two-year-old child, both of whom are now forbidden to go into the back yard.  Authorities have also suggested that pets stay out of the yard.

The wily (and very fast) lizard has thus far eluded all attempts to capture it.

On This Day:  In 1777, the United States flag was flown for the first time in battle at the Battle of Cooch's Bridge, Delaware.  (Despite the flag, the Americans were routed.)   Six years later to the day, the american Revolutionary War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.

Today's Poem:


Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This city now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God!  The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

-- William Wordsworth

Sunday, September 2, 2018


Back in the late fifties through to the mid Seventies, a good number of writers served their apprenticeships writing soft-core sex novels for paperback publishers.  Many of them , including Lawrence Block, Robert Silverberg, Donald E. Westlake, John Jakes, and Evan Hunter, moved on other genres and to great acclaim and best-sellerdom.

On May 17, 2011, Block and Westlake got together at the Belmont (CA) library to talk about those early days in their career.  Here's a ten-minute segment from their discussion.



The Capital Kings, combining popular music with a gospel sensibility.

Saturday, September 1, 2018


Will Holt, from A Kurt Weill Cabaret, a stage show with Holt and Martha Schlamme.


After Charles Lindbergh made his historic flight across the Atlantic in 1927, public interest in aviation soared.  Responding to that demand, comic strip artist Hal Forrest created Tailspin Tommy the following year, the first aviation adventure comic strip to appear following Lucky Lindy's flight.  Forrest was no stranger to aviation comic strips; earlier he had created Artie the Ace, which -- although short-lived, helped Forrest to create the more popular Tailspin Tommy.

The hero of this strip was Tommy Tomkins* was raised in a small Colorado town and was mesmerized by airplanes, so much so that he earned the nickname Tailspin Tommy before he had even been in a plane.  A lucky coincidence got Tommy a job as an airplane mechanic and soon he had his pilot's license.  Along the way he gained a girlfriend, Betty Lou Barnes, and a best friend, "Skeeter" Milligan.  The three eventually became part owners in Three Points Airlines, based in Texas.  Many airborne adventures followed.

Tailspin Tommy began on April 30, 1928, appearing in four newspapers.  Syndicated by Bell Syndicate, the strip reached over 250 papers by 1931 with both daily and Sunday strips.  Tailspin Tommy hit the movie theaters in 1934 with a 12-part serial.  Another followed in 1935, and in 1939 a number of hour-long films were released.  From 1933 to 1941, ten Big Little Books were published, most of which were adapted by Gaylord DuBois.  Two other Tailspin Tommy books were published -- one by Dell and one by Grossett and Dunlop.  And a magazine, Tailspin Tommy Adventure Magazine, appeared in 1936 and lasted for two issues.  Thirty Tailspin Tommy 8-page booklets were issued to promote Big Thrill Chewing Gum.  Tommy was a hit.

At the beginning, Forrest drew the strip and Glenn Chaffin wrote the script.  In 1933, Forrest also took over the writing duties and continued producing the strip solo for the next three years.  In 1936, Forrest hired Reynold Brown to ink over Forrest's penciled artwork, improving the look of the strip greatly.  By 1940, Tailspin Tommy began to lose readers.  A change of syndicate to United Features did little to slow the downward slide and the strip ended in 1942.

United Features also published Single Series, a comic book featuring reprints of one of their comic strips in each issue.  Tailspin Tommy was featured in two of these issues, in 1940 and 1946.

In the issue linked below, Betty is aboard Mr. Duane's yacht; they are hoping to find a lost, sunken treasure.  A henchman of the villainous Guilford has sneaked aboard and had found the treasure map when Betty interrupted him.  Betty grabbed the map.  A struggle ensued and Betty and the thug fell overboard into shark-infested waters.  The ravenous beasts attacked the neer-do-well first, the set their sights on Betty.  But wait!  There in the air are Tommy and Skeeter.  Tommy brings his plane down for a water landing and rescue while Skeeter tries to shoot the sharks with a pistol.  Will they save Betty? I ask rhetorically.

Things move quickly.  Duane's ship gets stuck in the Sargasso sea, the place of lost ships.  The giant apes attack Tommy and Skeeter; one ape gets aboard their plane as it takes off.  Guilford and his crew of pirates attack, holding Tommy and company prisoner.  A giant octopus attacks.  The pirates make Betty and the other prisoners walk the plank.  Will Tommy be able to save them? I ask rhetorically.

Gosh, all ended well.  Now Tommy and Skeeter are piloting a plane with ten passengers, headed to San Francisco from Vancouver.  Betty is aboard a the stewardess.  A violent storm.  The plane loses power.  An emergency landing in an isolated and unknown valley surrounded by mountains.  A passenger goes missing.  Tommy suspects murder.  Someone sabotages the plane's engines.  The passenger list reads like a suspect list from an Agatha Christie novel.  Can Tommy, Skeeter, Betty, and the remaining passengers be rescued?  And whodunnit? I ask sincerely, because I don't know -- the comic book ends abruptly.

Enjoy this blast from the past.

* Sometimes spelled "Tompkins."