Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, July 6, 2020


Openers:  I will maintain to my dying day that T never deserved to be handed Jayne Wynn.  I am perhaps the only man in the world she ever met who didn't want her, not even on the rocks, neat.  So by the particular way my life seems to fall out, I should have been the guy to wind up with her.  But if I did, it wa only for lack of trying.

I never wanted to hold the Earth in the palm of my hand, either; so I got the chance.  Naturally, how else could it have happened?

-- James Blish, The Frozen Year  (1957)

This was Blish's fourth published novel, following more than fifteen years toiling in the pulp fields producing both pedestrian and classic science fiction works.  First published in 1940, Blish published in the minor magazines for a decade, then began his Cities in Flight sequence with two stories in Astounding Science Fiction in 1950.  Here, the science fiction community learned, was a writer to be reckoned with.  The saga, eventually published in four novels, involved giant cities launched into space by way of an antigravity device called the "spindizzy."  The scope and concept of the series was breathtaking, combining political theory with history.  In 1952, Blish reworked and early story to produce "Surface Tension," a story about man's reach to the stars in which humans modified themselves to survive on distant planets, in this case becoming microscopic beings who lived on the surface of shallow water in a hostile planet.  This, and the three further stories in the "Pantropy" sequence explored the author's interest in microbiology to great acclaim.  In 1953, Blish published "A Case of Conscience," later expanded into the Hugo-winning novel of the same name.  Here, a planet of intelligent reptilians live in a world of ultimate morality without ever having a religion; a Jesuit priest battles his own theological argument -- can perfection be achieved without God?  This was the first of a "thematic" series called After Some Knowledge, which included a historical novel about Roger Bacon and a fantasy book in which the demons of Hell are released.  Blish also fictionalized all the episodes in the original Star Trek television series in a series of twelve collections (the last completed by his widow, J. A. Lawrence) and contributed the first original Star Trek novel.  His Star Trek writings made him financially secure.

Blish was also a perceptive critic, one of the first in the science fiction field.  His two books of criticism -- The Issue at Hand and More Issues at Hand -- insisted that science fiction be judged by literary standards and that sloppy writing and editing should not be allowed.

A great fan of the writings of James Branch Cabell, Bish also edited several issues of Kalki, the magazine of the Cabell Society.  Blish also edited the professional science fiction magazine Vanguard, which despite a stellar roster of authors (A. Bertram Chandler, James E. Gunn, Raymond F. Jones, Richard Wilson, and C. M. Kornbluth, as well as an article by L. Sprague de Camp and a review column by Lester del Rey) sank into oblivion after a single issue in 1958.

Blish also coined the term "gas giant" when he reworked an early story for a later anthology appearance.

The title of The Frozen Year "refers to the International Geophysical Year aka/IGY.  Blish plays it for laughs in the first half and then does a one eighty and gets serious.  What both sections have in common is shots at the media that hit home then as well as now.  IGY ran from July 1, 1957-December 31, 1958.  It was a worldwide study of the Earth."  (from a 2014 review by "Vintage 45")
And, according to the back cover copy of the first edition, "[i} has biting and social reflections to make on pubic relations, the inner workings of large foundations -- and demonstrates the surprising and wonderful ways in which human beings react to the unexpected."  The novel is a perfect playground for the acerbic Blish.

The IGY was an interesting experiment that i little talked about today.  In the middle of the Cold War when international tensions were high and scientific exchange between the East and West was at a low web, sixty-seven countries (the notable exception being China because, well, China) joined in the international scientific project that encompassed eleven earth sciences:  aurora and airglow, cosmic rays, geomagnetism, gravity, ionospheric physics, precision mapping of longitude and latitude, meteorology, oceanography, seismology, and solar activity.  Although political tensions remained, the free exchange of scientific ideas helped shape the world we live in today.  Both the Soviet Union and the United States launched artificial satellites during this time frame.  The Van Allen belts were discovered, as well as the solar radiation that could harm space flight.  Tectonic plate theory was advanced with the mapping of mid-ocean submarine ranges.  The IGY directly led to the Antarctic Treaty.  World Data Centers were established.  Important information about climate change, such as the decrease in snow fall and ice in antarctica,  was given (though probably not fully understood in those halcyon days of yore).  All in all, the IGY was a rousing success.

And the IGY was documented (of sorts) in Walt Kelly's Pogo comics strip -- resulting in the book G. O. Fizzicle Pogo.  I'll admit there was not much scientific progress in Kelly's strip, but for Pogophiles (like me) this was icing on the cake.


  •  Lawrence Block, editor, Manhattan Noir (2006).  An early entry in the Akashic Books City Noir series of anthologies.  This one has original stories by Charles Ardai, Carol Lea Benjamin, Lawrence Block, Thomas H. Cook, Jeffery Deaver, Jim Fusilli, Robert Knightly, Jon Lutz, Luz Martinez, Maan Meyers, Martin Myers (who was also one half of "Mann Myers"), S. J. Rozan, Justin Scott, S. J. Sullivan, and Xu Xi.  A great line-up.  Block's anthologies are always worthwhile.

Beachin' During a Pandemic:  One of the benefits of living on the Gulf of Mexico is the beach.  Here on the Emerald Coast with its pure green water and white sands, as the gentle waves lick the shore, we find our moment of zen.  Fully aware of the dangers of the pandemic, we practice all the recommended preventative measures.  We go early in the morning, weekdays with my daughter Christina, and weekends we add our grandson Jack and our other daughter Jessamyn and her girls; when we are joined by Amy's puppy Nugget, we go to a designated dog beach.  There are few people at the beach early in the morning and we can safely socially distance.  This past Friday and Saturday we did not beach because of the possibility of holiday crowds; Kitty and I celebrated the Fourth by staying in, watching Netflix, and each having a small bowl of potato chips.  Yesterday, we decided to go beaching at eight in the morning at a beach near Fort Picken.

I'm glad we did.  For the first half hour we were entertained by a pod of dolphins just off shore.  There were at least five of them just offshore (it's hard to get and accurate count from the beach), including at least one calf.  They were frolicking, jumping out of the water, spinning about, and seemingly just enjoying a delphinadean holiday.  A fisherman warned us that he had seen some "spinner" sharks close to the shore further up; they were following some "garfish" which were following some minnows; he told us that them spinner sharks weren't big but they could give you a bite, like a dog.  We had no idea what he called spinner sharks (and actually none about what he called garfish), or whether he was accurately reporting what he saw.  So the girls and Jack went down the shore on a shark hunt and, yep, there were three small sand sharks following a group of minnows; no sign of anything resembling a gar, though.  While we were there birds -- gulls, terns, pelicans, and others -- were searching for breakfast along the shore and -- with the exception of the pelicans -- were dipping down now and then for a taste of minnow.  I was fascinated by one bird (I don't know what it was) -- small, white, flapping its wings like crazy and being buffeted by the gentle breeze -- that reminded me of Woodstock from Peanuts with ts erratic, weaving flight; this, too, enjoyed a minnow feast.

There were just a few people there:   one couple scuba diving. the old fisherman with his warning, and later a family with a young boy and a slightly older sister enjoying the water and a pig-tailed teenager searching the shore for shells.  Others were far off in the distance.  The water was warm and Jack (who will turn eight later this month) had a great time trying out his boogie board.  He put it right at the edge of shore, stand on it, waiting for the waves to come in and lift the board slightly, moving it while he tried (and failed) to maintain his balance.  Usually there are any number of sandpipers racing down the beach, as well as sand crabs studiously digging their holes and throwing sand out as they expand the hole, today we saw none.

The beach and the Gulf gives us time to center ourselves with its quiet beauty and the unceasing motion of the waves.  It is relaxing and I find it comforting to reflect on the awesome power that is hidden just under the surface.  Here I can concentrate on the beauty and the wonder that surrounds us, giving me a type of peace that can also be found anywhere in nature, whether the desert, the mountains, the woods, or in small corners of a city where nature has not given up the ghost.

Bitchin' During a Pandumbic:  The yahoos remain out in force believing we are out to take their rights away by insisting on face masks, social distancing, and exercising caution.  I mean, the damned go'ment can tell me what to do; this is Amur'ca and I have rights!  Since much of the country began to open up the yahoos have been doing everything except showing us their lobotomy scars.  If the bars are open that means there is no danger, right?  So let's crowd in and have a good time breathing on each other.  The same goes for crowded beaches, restaurants, large cookouts, stores, Spring Break, parties, and whatnot.  This whole Covid-19 is probably just a pinko, left, commie, socialist, radical Democratic plot the deep state dreamed up to take away the power that God gave Donald Trump when the American people chose him to be president by giving him three million votes less than his opponent.  Dammit, this is our heritage and our freedom we're talking about!

So kids are deliberately having Covid parties where the first to catch the disease wins.  The president is sponsoring fireworks (derned pretty!) and Mount Rushmore for a crowd where social distancing is not observed and masks are optional.  And then there's this:

Why am I not surprised it was a Florida Woman?

Much of this stupidity stems from Donald Trump, throwing raw meat to his base.  Trump's handling of the coronavirus crisis has already caused tens of thousands of deaths and a looming economic crises that will dwarf anything we have seen in the past.  His insistence on opening the economy prematurely was born of political arrogance or just mere stupidity.  We are heading for a second wave of infections that will likely be devastating and Trump and his merry band of yahoos will have no one to blame but themselves.  But we know they won't blame themselves, don't we?

Just a couple of final thoughts from the internet on this topic.  The first is from Dr. Emily Porter, M.D.:  "Wear a mask.  That is, unless you want to be intubated by a gynecology intern July 1 who did her last semester of med school via Zoom."*  And then there's this from Bette Midler who recently tweeted:  "Trump finally wore a facemask & said he felt like #LoneRanger, but the Lone Ranger's mask had two eye holes in it, while Trump's mask had only one asshole in it."**

* Hat tip to Jonco's Bits & Pieces blog.
** Hat tip to TYWKIWDBI.

Shout Out to Isaac Newton:  On this week in 1687 (July 5, to be precise), Isaac Newton published the first edition of his Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) which changed the world forever.

I'm not going to explain the book and its significance.  Go to the Wikipedia page and marvel in the scope and reach of this man's reasoning:

Speaking of Genius:   Today is the 135th anniversary of Louis Pasteur's successful human testing of his rabies vaccine.  It was a potentially dangerous and foolhardy thing to do, but regulations were scant and Pasteur had a strong belief in his vaccine which he had used to prevent rabies in dogs.  The patient was nine-year-old Joseph Meister, who had been bitten by a rabid dog.  The vaccine came from the spinal tissue of rabid rabbits and Meister became the first person to be successfully treated for the fatal infection.

Meister (1876-1940) went on to become a caretaker at the Pasteur Institute until his death.  He committed suicide eight days after the German army began their occupation of Paris.  A popular and unverified story had Meister committing suicide rather than letting the Germans enter Pasteur's crypt, although what suicide would do to prevent that is debatable.  More likely he took his own life from guilt for sending his family away, fearing that he sent them to their death.  Ironically, his family was safe and returned to Paris the same day he killed himself.

Florida Man:

  •  An unidentified Palm Bay Florida Man, 42, got a start head-start on the holiday by blowing his hand off with fireworks on July 3.  I'd say 42 ws too old to be doing stupid things, but this is Florida after all.
  • Florida Man Nachum Gross, 72, knows social distancing.  He is charged with battery on a person over 65 for pushing a man trying to get on an elevator off the elevator.  According to his attorney, "In this world of COVID...every human being right now is a loaded weapon...[Gross} was completely within his rights to defend himself and defend his wife."  I'm not sure if I'm in favor of the idea that myself and every one else a loaded weapon and I certainly don't want others to have that opinion.
  • In an on-going case, Florida Man and Flagler County Sheriff's deputy Deorius Varnes has been suspended and is being held with no bail while charges are being investigated.  Varnes allegedly made over 50 threatening phone call to an unnamed 67-year-old battery victim.  It all began in February when Varnes responded to a battery call. The victim had been watching television with tow neighbors when an argument began over race relations.  The argument got physical and one of the neighbors,Paul Troutman, 42, was arrested.  The victim then began to get anonymous calls from a blocked number asking him not to press charges and to consider the effect this would have on Troutman's child.  The calls continued -- 53 of them, all from a blocked number -- and became threatening and using racial slurs.  The calls were eventually traced  to a phone belonging to Varnes.  The victim and the Flagler Seriff are due to meet next week to discuss the case.
  • According to The Root three days ago, "Gov. Florida Man Continues to Be a Goddamn Idiot, Has No Plans to Do Anything as COVID-19 Cases Continue to Rise."
  • 36-year-old Manatee County Florida Woman Jennifer Lazar was having sex with a homeless man behind a Walgreens Pharmacy when she was arrested for drug possession.   It seems the man wasn't allowed in Lazar's home so they decided to have sex behind the Walgreens.  It is not known what alerted police to the scene -- the noise, the scurrying of frightened rats, or a security camera.  If you are having sex behind a Walgreens there are two things you should remember.  One, don't carry drugs while you are doing it; and, two, what happens behind a Walgreens does not stay behind a Walgreens.
  • And from a few weeks ago, a 'bath salts" drug is suspected in a Miami face-eating attack.  Florida Man Rudy Eugene was shot and killed after refusing to stop eating parts of another man's face.  Eugen only responded to police pleas with "growls."  The victim, a homeless man, was rushed to the hospital in critical condition; he will need months of treatment to restore his face and will most liley be permanently disfigured.  Eugene's girlfriend believes that he was drugged unknowingly, or, perhaps, "someone put a Vodou curse on him."  The girlfriend, who is not Haitian (Eugene is) stated that she never believed in Vodou.  until now.

Happy Birthday:  To the Dalai Lama, who turns 85 today.  Here's a quote:  "No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that's the real disaster."

Good News & Stuff:

Today's Poem:
Jenny Kissed Me

Jenny kissed me when we met,
Jumping from the chair she sat in,
Time, you thief, who love to get
Sweets into your list, put that in!
Say I/m weary, say I'm sad,
Say that health and wealth have missed me,
Say I/m growing old, but add,
Jenny kissed me.

-- Leigh Hunt (1784-1859)

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Longest yet, I think. Yes, Florida does have the good and the bad. You must sometimes wish you were in Maryland but probably not often.