It's been 52 years! Yippee! And many more to come.
Small House of Everything
Thursday, March 24, 2022
I'm taking some time off from the blog, probably a week. I know I've not been blogging on a regular basis because...well, life.
Here's what been happening:
Kitty had been having a hard time breathing for a while and had prescribed medication for the problem and has an appointment with her pulmonologist to try to determine exactly what the problem is. At the same time a heart scan showed pulmonary stenosis (basically, one of her valves started going wonky). Over the past three weeks, she became bloated and gained 30 pounds. On Saturday morning her breathing worsened considerably and I took her to the emergency room and she was immediately hospitalized.
The main culprit, it seems, is the new chemo medicine she had been given for her hemolytic anemia. Way, way down (and in very small type) on the list of possible side effects was breathing difficulties. Her hematologist immediately stopped the medication. In the meantime she as placed on a restricted liquid diet and given what seemed to be the world's entire supply of Lasix diuretic to reduce the fluid in her body that caused the bloating. (More fluid in the body means more difficulty in getting blood flow from the heart, eventually affecting the lungs.) Over the next five days, about ten doctors (with three different specialties) haunted her room. Her numbers improved and it looked like we were going home on Tuesday, but...well, I think we angered the gods somehow. The main hospital pulmonologist decided she need a blood transfusion before being released. Since Kitty has always been a very special person, she also has very special blood filled with very special antibodies and antigens (when we lived in Massachusetts, she was often called into Boston Children's to donate blood for pediatric cancer patients because of a special antigen her blood). This meant that the blood for a transfusion had to come from a different hospital and it had to be processed for being placed in transit. Did I mention that there was a bad storm Tuesday night and Wednesday, with high winds and tornado watches? The blood finally arrived Wednesday afternoon, over twenty-four hours later than planned.
We're home now. Kitty has a pile of appointments with various doctors, as well as home health aides and various clinics scheduled. She is exhausted and weak. Hospital beds were not designed for comfort or for sleeping (and chairs in hospital rooms are just a bit more uncomfortable for sleeping as I can testify). Dire warnings of COPD and congestive heart failure are still ringing in our ears. It appears, though, that most of her problems are eminently fixable, although it will take some time. While we get used to the new normal, my focus will be on her. Blogging will take a back seat to her (actually, it always has, but you know what I mean). With luck, I'll be back in a week or so.
Friday, March 18, 2022
I have nothing this week for Friday's Forgotten Book simply because I have not read anything this week that might qualify as "Forgotten." Instead, here's a review of Max Allan Collins' latest.
Quarry's Blood by Max Allan Collins (2022)
Max Allan Collins' hitman Quarry began to take root in 1971 when Collins was attending the University of Iowa Writers Workshop; it took some two years for Collins to finish the first book. After several years, the book was eventually accepted an published by Berkley as a paperback original, The Broker, along with a request for three follow-ups. There Quarry sat for some ten years until Collins revisited the character in Primary Target (1987). And that was it...until nearly twenty years later, when Hard Case Crime publisher Charles Ardai queried Collins about another Quarry book. The result was The Last Quarry (2006), meant to be a coda for the series in which Quarry retired. But the popularity of the character, which also led to a feature film and a television series, combined with Ardai's gentle (?) nudging for more adventures, as well as Collins' continued interest in the character, led to the reprinting and retitling of the first five novels, as well as an additional eight novels and one graphic novel -- all positioned chronologically before The Last Quarry -- and all published by Hard Case Crime. Still, The Last Quarry remained the final book in the series...until now. Quarry's Blood takes the hero to 2021 when Quarry is nearly seventy years old and long retired.
Quarry had been a sniper in Vietnam and it turned out that this was something he was really good at -- killing people, or, at least, killing Viet Cong who were out to kill him, did not bother him at all. After being released from the army, he returned home to the wife he had married shortly before being going overseas. What he found was his wife in bed with another man. The next day, he went to where the garage where the man was working under a car. Quarry kicked the jack out from under the car, crushing him. The case garnered a lot of attention: here was a genuine war hero who avenged his wife's infidelity by killing her lover. Somehow Quarry was acquitted. Sometime later, the man known as the Broker, a middle man who arranged killings, approached Quarry and got him to work for him as a hitman. Eventually Quarry and the Broker parted ways, violently, and Quarry began working for some of the Broker's intended victims, eliminating other hitmen as well as those who had paid for the hit. Quarry eventually retired to the Minnesota woods where he married the intended target of The Last Quarry and quietly ran a vacation lodge where the two lived quite happily for some fifteen years until his wife died suddenly from Covid. Quarry continued his quiet lifestyle, thankful for the decade and a half with his wife and raging internally at her death,
That's the basic back story.
The book begins back in 1981 in Biloxi, where Quarry reconnects a one-time stripper and the widow of the owner of a strip joint. Luann had taken over the club and had turned into a legitimate business -- paying the girl's a decent wage, treating them properly, allowing no prostitution, and ensuring their safety from handsy customers. Thing were going well. The Quarry found out that a hit had been ordered on Luann so he travelled to Biloxi to stop it. A lot of blood and some passionate sex later, Quarry goes back north, his business finished. For a while he kept in sporadic touch with Luann but eventually both stopped writing.
Fast forward to 2021 and there's a knock on Quarry's door. It's an attractive blonde woman in her mid-forties. Her name is Susan Breedlove and she is a writer of true crime books. In fact, she had written a well-researched book about Quarry and is now writing a sequel.
Now, here's where it gets tricky and deviates from the earlier novels. It turns out that all the earlier novels about Quarry were actually memoirs written by Quarry and published under another name, with much (or maybe not) of the actual details changed to protect Quarry's identity. The early books in the series formed the bedrock of Susan's research for the first book. She now wanted to concentrate on his later career for the sequel. Oh, and Susan was actually Quarry's unknown daughter from his liaison with Luann so many years ago. And Quarry actually owned a copy of the first book about him that Susan wrote. The reader might not be faulted for believing this final (?) book in the series was some sort of parody, but au contraire.
It seems that a hit has been put out on Quarry but the assassins underestimated the old man who was their intended victim. The Susan gets kidnapped my more hitmen in an attempt to lure Quarry to them. Things did not turn out so well for these fellows either. To determine who has it out for Quarry, he and Susan have to go back into Quarry's past scores. This leads them to a lot of unsavory places -- rough sex clubs, casinos, and pornographic publications. And a lot of violence and geriatric sex (don't knock it). Age may have mellowed Quarry but it did not dull his instincts. This Quarry may be kinder, more humorous, and (perhaps) wiser, but the hard edge for survival still exists.
Once you accept that Quarry's life is an open book(s), so to speak, and his reaction to unexpected fatherhood, you are in for an exciting and well-plotted read with a twist of an ending.
Collins is one of the very best mystery and crime writers working today. He doesn't disappoint.
Wednesday, March 16, 2022
"The Venus of Ille" by Prosper Merimee (first published in the French literary magazine Revue des Deux Mondes, May 15, 1837, as "La Venus d'Ille"; reprinted many times, including in Modern Masterpieces of Short Prose Fiction, edited by Alice Vinton Waite & Edith Mendall Taylor, 1911)
The narrator, an archaeologist, is going to Ille, a little town in the south of France where the inhabitants were as apt to speak Catalan as French. He has a letter of introduction to Monsieur de Peyrehorade, a wealthy landowner who is an expert on local sites. His Catalan guide assumes the narrator is going to view the "statue." This is the first he heard of any statue. It seems that two weeks before, the guide and another man were hired by Peyrehorade to dig up an olive tree that had died over the winter. As they dug, they hit something metal, which turned out to be a blackened life-sized bronze statue of a semi-nude woman. Incredibly detailed, the figure portrayed an exquisitely beautiful woman. After it was unearth and stood up, the statue suddenly fell, crushing the leg of the other workman. The beauty of the statue, however, began to circulate through the province.
Our narrator also learned that Peyrehorade's only son was due to married in a few days to a girl from the only family in the area richer than the Peyrehorade. The narrator was relunctant to intrude at such a time, but Peyrehorade was expecting him. Indeed the narrator was received warmly and treated like royalty. The narrator, you see, was from Paris, a seat of civilization where everyone is sophisticated and knowledgeable of the ways of the world while Peyrehorade and his neighbors were poor rustic folk who felt that a visit from a Parisian was the ultimate compliment. this city mouse-country mouse theme is repeated a number of times throughout the story.
Peyrehorade is a man of enthusiasms, especially proud of the statue, which he recognizes as that of Venus, albeit its origins are unknown. His wife is a plump woman whose only goal in life seems to have been to feed guests far more food that they could consume. The son, Alphonse, is crude and strong, a man, it turns out is far more interested in his betrothed's dowry than in her. His bride-to be is a shy, lovely, well-mannered girl of eighteen. The narrator considers the upcoming nuptials to be a grave mistake.
On examining the statue, out narrator cannot help but be fascinated by her face, which is the most beautiful he had ever seen. But there is also something else -- a distinct sense of cruelty was also there, undefined but somehow always present behind the surface.
Alphonse, ever aware of the cost of things, has a somewhat gaudy antique marriage ring to give his bride. The original ring was more than suited for a marriage ring, but someone in the past had added a number of diamonds (twelve hundred francs worth) large enough to make the wearing of it impractical, catching the gems on clothes and gloves. Until the ceremony, Alphonse was wearing the ring on his finger. He also wore a less expensive and more (suitable as a wedding ring) ring on another finger -- tht one had been given to him by a woman he had hooked up with two years earlier.
I am not the greatest expert on religious and local lore, but scheduling a wedding on a Friday is evidently a superstitious no-no. Peyrahorant deliberately named Friday as the date for his son's wedding because Friday was "Venus's day." The landowner was becoming obsessed with his statue. (Also, because the wedding was to be on Friday, no dancing was allowed.)
Come the day of the wedding, Alphonse is decked to the nines, but then he happens to see some Spaniards playing tennis on the court that Peyrahorant had donated to the town. Alphonse was the best tennis player in the area and tennis was far more important than his bride-to-be. He challenged the best playing Spaniard to a match. The Spaniard immediately garnered the first point: Alphonse misses hitting the ball because the diamond ring had snagged on his glove. Alphonse then removed the rings and placed it on one of the statue's finger. Alphonse went on to completely smoke his opponent.
Alphonse's mother then came out and saw her son sweaty and dishevelled from the game. She ordered him to get cleaned up quickly. Within five minutes they were on their way to the ceremony. At the wedding Alphonse realized that he had left the diamond ring on the statue's finger. Luckily (?) he had the other ring -- the one given him by a former lover -- that he could use. At the wedding feat Alphonse snuck out to retrieve the ring (twelve thousand francs worth of diamonds, remember?) but the statue had closed its hand, making the ring impossible to move. Alphonse was shaken and wondered if he was now wed to the statue of Venus.
The bridal chamber was on the opposite end of the hall which held our narrator's bedroom. During the night he heard heavy steps going up the stairs and to the bridal room. He assumed this was Alphonse's heavy tread. Later the same steps were heard going down the stairs. The bride's screams woke the household the next morning -- Alphonse was dead, his chest crushed by a powerful embrace...
Prosper Merimee (1803-1870) was one of the pioneers of the novella. His story "Carmen" became the basis of the famous Bezet opera. He was also well-known for the novellas "Colomba" and "Mateo Falcon." An important figure in France's Romantic movement, he was elected to the French Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Letters and to the Academie francaise. For almost twenty years, he served as Inspector-General of Historical Monuments. While there, he and one-time lover George Sand were instrumental in discovering and preserving the tapestries The Lady and the Unicorn . His scholarship and vast knowledge of history has helped preserve much of French culture. He was also noted for his many translations and criticisms of Russian literature.
"The Venus of Ille" is available to read on many internet sites.
Monday, March 14, 2022
Openers: Mike Powell gazed down at the Mojave Desert. It was an actual pleasure to look at anything -- even the blank, barren, monotonous sands below -- anything at all, as long as it wasn't his pilot's back.
For, when Powell accidently looked at his pilot, a Martian Redlander with a head that resembled a battered muff, he sighed. Two hundred years ago, the sight of a Martian would have been unbelievable to an Earthman. But it was now many decades since the first rocket ship had reached Mars and returned, like Columbus, with native exhibits.
Powell's pilot, like all Martians, had lots of hair. It protected him from the sandstorms of the red planet. But why in hell this particular Redlander refused to shave, or even get a haircut, Powell could never understand.
"Hector," he said disgustingly, "you look like a weeping willow. How about getting that rubbish at least trimmed?"
Surprisingly, the Martian turned his head completely around on what evidently was a universal-jointed vertebra. Seen from this vantage point, his face was even less attractive. A tangled wilderness of blue-black hair confronted Mike Powell. The ace cameraman shuddered.
"Soon, yah," said Hector in a squeaky voice. He bounced the plane through an air pocket and giggled with happy satisfaction.
-- "When New York Vanished" by Henry Kuttner (Startling Stories, March 1940; reprinted in 2016 in the Haffner Press edition of The Watcher at the Door: The Early Henry Kuttner, Volume Two)
This "novel-length" story was probably written by Kuttner alone and not in collaboration with his wife, C. L. Moore. The awkwardness of the first few paragraphs indicates the slap-dash approach Kuttner used for the "novels" he placed with Startling Stories. (One of these so-called Kuttner novels was actually written by Moore.) This appears to be the lesser of these novels -- all others that Kuttner published in Startling Stories have been reprinted as single books or, at least, in chapbook form. But the story was of its time and aimed at a less than critical audience -- which brings us to the major discordant note for readers of today: Mike Powell is a jerk. He is sexist, unscrupulous, and racist, but all in a "that's okay, it's 1940, after all" way. So take that as a warning if you cannot read the story as a piece of its time.
As stated above, Powell is a cameraman. In fact, he's one of the most successful news cameramen in the solar system. If there is an important (read spectacular) event going, Powell is often there first to record the event, sometimes through his own initiative and courage, and sometimes through chicanery and dirty tricks -- the latter approach may have flown well in the popular media of 1940 but is off-putting today. One target of Powell's dirty tricks is red-haired Sue Clark, a competitor from a rival news agency. (Gee, I wonder where that relationship will go in this story.) Powell's attitude toward Sue is chauvinistic, to say the least. More disturbing is his treatment of Hector, the Martian pilot and man-of-all-work. Martians "were not noted for their intelligence. They were willing enough but childish in some ways." Powell had been in Tycho City during the big quake that leveled half of that metropolis. His assistant cameraman had fallen to his death in a crevice and Powell needed someone to do all the scut work for him. He saw Hector chasing a dog through the ruins and "promptly captured the Martian," Since then Hector had been Powell's pilot, assistant, and dogsbody -- basically a master-slave relationship. If Powell's chicanery and chauvinism is off-putting, raise it to the power of ten for this white man's burden approach.
As I have said, this is a tale of its time. It should be read for what it is -- a slam-bang, gosh-wow, fast-moving sci-fi (as opposed to SF) adventure.
Powell had managed to film a test run of a top-secret new type of rocket that reportedly could change the future of space flight. While doing so he was attacked by a plane, recognizing a famous "electro-physicist on it. With the completed film safely back in his office, he sets out to confront the scientist. While meeting with the scientist, Powell gets word that burglars have set off a bomb at his employer's building, destroying many master tapes, the one Powell had just shot among them. Through the use of X-ray glasses (secretly developed by Powell's employers -- go figure), he overheard a conversation between the scientist and a large robot where it was decided that a stout denial of everything Powell has accused him of would suffice. Powell also learned that Carlin Eberle, that tycoon who had built the new rocket, was piloting it to Venus.
Venus is a water world with very little land area. The upper waters of the planet are rife with aquatic life. No one knows how deep the Venusian oceans are because there is a layer of dense vegetation just below these upper waters and no one has gotten past this tangle of weeds and survived. There is, however, stories that a race of intelligent beings inhabit these unplumbed deaths. Powell and Hector go to Venus in search of Eberle, his rocket, and a scoop. They determine that Eberle's ship had plunged into the ocean and through the vegetation into unknown waters. Powell is determine to follow...
That's as far as I have read so far -- about a quarter of the way through the novel; I should be finishing the story sometime tomorrow. So far, it is an entertaining, non-PC, romp, promising grand adventure on a planetary scale. Forget about the clunky writing and the rather disturbing characterizations -- all of a sudden, I'm a wide-eyed thirteen-year-old kid again eager to get to the next page.
And where does the vanishing New York fit into all of this? Dunno. But the story's original blurb promises it will happen: "Madness rules when the world's greatest city is catapulted into another dimension -- while civilization ponders the enigma of a lost metropolis!" There is also a nifty illustration by Alex Schomburg showing a large Forties-style in the sky, shooting a giant ray onto a panicked city. Look like New York is going to be toast unless Powell figures out a way to save it.
- John Bude, The Lake District Murder. Mystery novel. "When a body is found at an isolated garage, Inspector Meredith is drawn into a complex investigation where every clue leads to another puzzle: was this a suicide, or something more sinister? Why was the dead man planning to flee the country? And how is this connected to the shady business dealings of the garage? This classic rime novel is set amidst the stunning scenery of a small village in the Lake District." Bude was the pseudonym of Ernest Carpenter Elmore (1901-1957), who wrote -- among other novels -- 32 books featuring Inspector William Meredith; The Lake District Murder was the first in the series. It has been reprinted by The British Library as part of their Crime Classics series, with an introduction by writer/editor/critic Martin Edwards, who knows a bit about fictional murders in the Lake District.
- David Drake, [editor?], Starhunters, Volume 1: Men Hunting Things. Science fiction anthology with eleven short stories -- all reprints -- about a "futuristic blood sport." Authors include Drake, Russell Hayes, Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore, Bruce McAllister, Arthur Porges, Casey J. Prescott, Eric Frank Russell, Michael Shaara, Robert Silverberg, Clifford D. Simak, and Wilson Tucker. Some fairly neat stories here. The cover indicates "crated by David Drake," while Drake's name is listed on the title page and in the copyright notice, sans the word "editor."
- Martin H. Greenberg & Sarah J. Hoyt, editors, Something Magic This Way Comes. Fantasy anthology with 21 original stories. As with many of Greenberg's anthologies for DAW Books, this one features a number of beginning writers with stories by more established writers like Eric Flint, Esther M. Freisner, Laura Resnick, Mike Resnick, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Harry Turtledove. Probably a pleasant time-waster.
- Rich Horton, editor, The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2013. A "Year's Best" anthology with 33 stories from 2012. Authors are: Nina Allen, Kate Bachus, Elizabeth Bear, Michael Blumlein, David Ira Cleary, Alette de Bodard (with two stories), K. M. Ferebee, Emily Gilman, Maria Dahvana Headley, Naomi Kritzer, Jay Lake, Ursula Le Guin, Marissa K. Lingen, Kelly Link, Megan McCarron, Sandra McDonald, Nick Mamatas, Tamsyn Muir, Linda Nagata, Joe Pitkin, Robert Reed, Leonard Richardson, Margaret Ronald, Christopher Rowe, Sofia Samatar, Gord Sellar, Lavie Tidhar, Catherynne M. Valente, Genevieve Valentine, Robert Charles Wilson, Xia Jia, and Caroline M. Yoachim. Four stories came from Clarkesworld, three from Asimov's, and two each from Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Tor.com; the remaining stories were from individual publications. From the editor's recommended reading list ten stories were from Asimov's, eight stories from both Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Lightspeed, seven stories from Fantasy & Science Fiction, five stories from Strange Horizons, three from Analog, and two each from Eclipse Online and Tor.com.
- Jesse Russell & Ronald Cohn, USS Leutze (DD-481). Nonfiction about the Fletcher-class destroyers in the United States Navy during World War II. (The title is a bit of a misnomer: the book also covers another 30 Fletcher-Class vessels.) This was a birthday gift for Kitty, whose father served on the Leutze in World War II. In January 1945, an alarm was sounded on her sister ship, the Makin Island, a sailor on that ship who was sleeping on the deck was startled awake and immediately ran off the deck into the ocean; the Luetze was the ship that rescued the sailor and, as a result, the entire crew was treated to ice cream. A more serious incident occurred on April 6, when she was hit by a kamikaze which exploded into the Luetze's port quarter, severing her fantail and left seven crew members missing, one dead, and 30 wounded. Severely damaged, it was a miracle that she did not sink. Kitty's father worked below deck in waist-high water restoring the ship's electricity, an act that earned him the Bronze Star.
- Florida Idiot and Governor Ron DeSantis is getting a lot of flack for the "Don't Say Gay" and its homophobic intent, despite the governor swearing that the bill doesn't contain the word "gay." Even Disney has (relunctently) take action over the bill. DeSantis was also slammed for bullied high school students for wearing masks. Sadly, he remains popular with his base and is considered a top contender to the next presidential election. 😒
- An unnamed Florida Man (or Woman) has been found inside an alligator in a gator-infested canal at the Hungryland (great name!) Wildlife and Environmental Area in Indiantown on Thursday. No word on what had happened or who the victim was, leaving one to only say, "Goodbye, old chum."
- Florida Man and tow truck driver John Williams III, 50, gave a customer much more than she asked for while towing her SUV from a Putnam County parking lot. The woman alleges that Williams exposed himself and performed a sex act while talking to her. The camera in the cab of the tow truck was not angled to show any nudity, but the woman secretly recorded the act to be used as evidence. Williams was charged with a similar crime last year in Clay County but was not convicted. The charge however violates his parole for a 2017 home invasion. Williams has been in and put of Florida prisons from 1992 and 2017.
- Florida Man Eugene Bingham, 59, thinks he is Mick Jagger. At least, he claimed to be when police came to arrest him for disorderly conduct after getting into fights in two Collier County restaurants. Bingham left the Ocean Prime restaurant in Naples and officers tried to detain him at a nearby park. That's when he charged one of the officers, saying, in essence, "Don't mess with me." He was placed in the backseat of a police cruiser where he promptly threw up. alcohol may have been involved. Another restaurant owner told the officers that Bingham was kicked out his restaurant three times for being disruptive and drunk. I'm sure if he were really Mick Jagger he would have gotten some respect.
- There's just so much Florida Man (and Woman) news lately, it's had to keep up...66-year-old Florida Woman Kyong Moulton of Palm Bay was arrested stabbed two people with a steak knife and pushed an elderly woman in a feud about leaf blowing...Florida Man James Mossetty, 33, was arrested after assaulting a school crossing guard in Orlando. Why? Who knows?...Florida Man George Zimmerman, who had been declared not guilty of the murder of Trevon Martin, had his defamation lawsuit against Martin's parents was tossed out by a Tallahassee judge as being without merit. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy...Florida Man and former Seminole Country Tax Collector Joel Greenberg once again has had his sentencing once again delayed so that Greenberg can continued to aid government investigators in building a case against fellow Florida Man and waster of protoplasm Representative Matt Gaetz...Palm Coast Florida Man Andrew Atkerson, 34, was arrested for beating his nine-year-old son for purchases the boy and his younger brother had made on their iPad; Atkerson was on probation for the felony battery of his wife and has a record of 20 different charges in California and Florida dating back to 2004...29-year-old Florida Man Brandon Shelton was arrested by Volusia County Sheriff's deputies on eleven counts of possessing child pornography and on six counts of sexual activity with his wife's dog. The child porn involved children from the age of 2 to 9. Shelton is currently free on $116,000 bail...29-year-old Brandon White of Pinellas county is facing a number of charges of lewd and lascivious acts with minors. Investigators say that White used Snapchat and Instagram to contact his victims, offering them vape pens and marijuana if he could touch and smell their feet. He also asked for sex acts...Florida Man Enben Moodley, 40, allegedly grabbed a three-year old child out of a shopping cart in a Naples parking lot, after causing a scene by yelling at store cashiers. When confronted by the child's mother, Moodley put the tyke back in the cart and walked away. He was arrested later...Florida Woman and wedding crasher Gloria Ines Colwell, 52, was arrested in Brevard County after she refused to leave. Colwell evidently had filled up on food and beer before being asked to leave. When officers arrived, she continued to resist. I assume that was because there was still some food and beer there.
- And that's just the tip of the Florida iceberg.
- Inspired by woman who could smell Parkinson's on skin, doctors have developed an "e-nose" that can do the same https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/inspired-by-woman-who-could-smell-parkinsons-on-skin-e-nose-developed-by-scientists-to-do-the-same/
- Man finally received grandfather's Purple Heart awarded 75 years ago after stranger searches to find her second cousin https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/man-finally-receives-grandfathers-purple-heart-75-years-later/
- Denver's program to dispatch mental health teams instead of police has been so successful that it has been expanded 5-fold https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/denver-star-program-expands-in-2022/
- Scientists create algorithm that uses routine eye exams to determine heart attack risk -- with an accuracy of 70-80% https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/ai-identify-heart-disease-eye-sca-leeds/
- Nigerian mom designs solar-powered crib that puts an end to baby jaundice disease https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/nigerian-startup-tiny-hearts-crib-a-glow-to-fight-neonatal-jaundice-in-nigeria/
- Key building block for life discovered on planet 444 light-years away https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/planet-forming-gas-dust-ice-complex-organic-molecule/
- New cancer therapy complete destroys advanced ovarian and colorectal tumors in 6 days https://www.goodnewsnetwork.org/cancer-therapy-destroys-ovarian-and-colorectal-tumors-in-6-days/
Tuesday, March 8, 2022
"Mr. Mulliner, Private Detective" by P. G. Wodehouse (first published in The American Magazine, October 1942 as "The Smile That Wins." Also published in The Strand, February 1942 under the same title; in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, June 1952 as "Adrian Mulliner, Detective; in The Saint Detective Magazine. September 1954 as "Mr. Mulliner, Private Detective;" in Wodehouse's collections Mulliner Nights , The Week-End Wodehouse ,The Most of P. G. Wodehouse , The World of Mr. Mulliner , and Wodehouse on Crime ; as well as the anthology Panorama of Modern Literature, Contributed by 31 Great Modern Writers ; and, most likely, in a gazillion other publications...it's that good. Note: I just reread the story in the September 1954 The Saint Detective Magazine, which is why I'm using this particular title.)
I have made no secret of my great admiration for Wodehouse's writing, although many of you have probably read this story, it's high time I include one of his tales in this regular Wednesday post.
Mr. Mulliner was one of a zillion turnip-brained characters created by Wodehouse. Perhaps less well known than Jeeves and Bertie Wooster or Lord Emsworth and the Empress of Blandings, Mulliner was a long-winded pub raconteur with any number of stories about his hapless clan; some 35 short stories appeared from 1926 to 1970. Adrian Mulliner, his nephew, was a junior detective in a large private detective firm; he also appeared in Wodehouse's 1959 short story (not narrated by Mr. Mulliner this time), "From a Detective's Notebook."
We begin with a typical framing device:
"The conversation in the bar parlour of the Angler's Rest had turned to the subject of the regrettably low standard of morality among the nobility and the landed gentry.
"Miss Postlethwaite, our erudite barmaid, had brought the matter up by mentioning that in the novelette she was reading a Viscount had just thrown a family solicitor over a cliff.
" 'Because he had found out his guilty secret,' explained Miss Postlethwaite, polishing a glass a little more severely, because she was a good woman. 'It was his guilty secret the solicitor had found out, so the Viscount threw him over a cliff. I suppose, if one did but know, that sort of thing is going on all the time.'
"Mr. Mulliner nodded gravely. 'So much so,' he agreed, 'that I believe that whenever a family solicitor is found in two or more pieces at the bottom of a cliff, the first thing the Big Four at Scotland Yard do is make a round-up of all the Viscounts in the area,' "
This conversation eventually leads Mulliner to recount the tale his nephew and his quest for love.
Adrian has fallen for Lady Millicent Shipton-Belling, the daughter of the fifth Earl of Brangbottom. Alas, the Earl has an active dislike of detectives ever since that unfortunate affair with Uncle Jim in 1928. So the Earl forbids Millicent from marring Adrian. Instead, he insists she marry the financier Sir Jasper Addleton.
Adrian had suffered from dyspepsia for many years and Millicent's rejection caused a recurrence of the malady. Adrian's doctor recommended that when the attacks happen that Adrian try to smile -- smiling is something that Adrian had not done since a child, but Adrian is game. The problem is Adrian's smile is a fearsome thing. It seems to convey a message of "I know all." Such a look can be nothing but disconcerting to anyone who has something to hide.
While attending a wedding, Adrian is invited to the country estate of a kleptomaniac Baronet. It happens that the fifth Earl is also staying at the Baronet's estate. While there, Adrian solves the case of the missing soap (don't ask) and in his victory smile he happens to look at Sir Jasper. Being financier, Sir Jasper has plenty to hide and fears the jig is up. He immediately writes Adrian a check for one hundred thousand pounds. Adrian also turns his smile to Millicent's father who, at that moment, was cheating at cards.
Adrian ends up with the money, Millicent, and (of course) her father's blessing.
I often wish we could live in Wodehouse's fictional world. Despite all its complications, everything turns out just fine.
Sunday, March 6, 2022
Five Ukrainian Worship Songs for War and Peace:
And here's the Ukrainian National Anthem performed by the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Musical Director Yannick Nezet-Seguin:
Friday, March 4, 2022
Allen "Rocky" Lane (1909-1973) was born Harry Leonard Albershardt (or Albershart) was born in Indiana, raised in Michigan, and was a stage actor by the time he was 20. He began his film career in 1929 as a romantic lead at Fox film Corporation. A few years later he moved to Warner Brothers where he had an undistinguished career; of the fourteen film roles IMDb credits him while at Warner, a full dozen were uncredited, and another one had his scenes deleted before release. After a four-year hiatus, He returned to films, this time at Twentieth Century Fox, as a supporting actor. Wanting a starring role, he agreed to star in a western for Republic Pictures in 1937. Other western roles followed, including several turns as RCMP Sergeant Dave King in King of the Royal Mounted, and others. In 1946 he took over the role of Red Ryder, replacing Wild Bill Elliott, for seven films. In 1947, "Rocky Lane" became the name of his character in western films for forty films. Lane also starred as Red Ryder in the 1956-7 television series. He was also the voice of Mr. Ed, the talking horse, in the 1961-6 television series.
The January 1952 issue of his self-titled comic book has three of Rocky's adventures -- "Gunslinger for Hire," "The Decoy Desperadoes," and ""The Dangerous Errand." [And let's not forget Rocky's famous horse Black Jack!] Add to this some typically features that are meant to be funny, a text story, and some riding and roping lessons, you have a jam-packed issue!
Saddle up, partners!
Wednesday, March 2, 2022
"Santa Claus Is a White Man: A Story of the Color Line" by Jon Henrik Clarke (first published in Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life, December 1939; reprinted in American Christmas Stories, edited by Connie Willis [The Library of America Collection, 2021])
Since Christmas has past and Black History Month is over, I put my procrastination aside and read this short and somewhat savage story. It focuses on Randolph, "the happiest little colored boy in all Louisiana." His mother, a servant in a large house, has just given him a shiny quarter to do his Christmas shopping at the ten-cent store -- he was told to 'get somethin' for Daddy and somethin' for Baby and somethin' for Aunt Lil. And something for Mummy too, if any money's left." Randolph was delighted; this was the fist time in his life that he had held a quarter. In his head, he was dividing the money -- five cents each on Daddy, Baby, and Aunt Lil, and a whole ten cents on Mummy.
Ah, but this was Louisiana in the not that distant past...
On the way he spotted a group of white boys stealing apples from an outdoor fruit stand. The boys scattered when caught by the proprietor. Randolph wisely moved to the other side of the road but it was too late -- the boys had spotted him. Before he could flee, the boys had surrounded him, pushing him back every time he tried to move on. The leader of the gang, a red-headed bully, told Randolph that he had no business here: "[W]e don't allow niggers in this neighborhood." Randolph stammered that he was just going to the ten-cent store to do some Christmas shopping. He looked down the street where he had just passed a white Santa Claus who was ringing a bell; perhaps he could be rescued by that man.
The red-headed boy was a slow thinker but eventually he got there. If this boy was going to do some Christmas shopping, the he must have money on him. As Randolph pushed his hand deep into his pocket he clutched the precious quarter tightly. Then it happened, the white Santa Claus had noticed the boys and was coming his way. The man waved the boys aside and demanded to know Randolph's name. When Randolph answered, the Santa Claus mocked him, "Randolph! Dat's no name for er niggah! No niggah's got no business with er nice name like dat!" By this time Randolph was crying and begged to be let go. This angered the Santa Claus who ordered Randolph to stop crying or he'll send him to Saint Peter. The he thought for a second, changed his mind, saying, "Don't think Saint Peter would have anything t' do with a nigger."
All this had excited the small crowd of boys. One yelled out, "Let's lynch 'im." The others quickly and enthusiastically agreed. The red-headed boy "gleefully" shouted, "I'll get a rope!" and ran off on that mission. The Santa Claus noticed that Randolph's hand was tightly clenched in his pocket. He seized the boy's hand and opened it, seeing the shiny quarter. "Niggehs ain't got no business wit' money whilst white folks is starving," he said. "I'll jes keep this quarter for myself," placing the quarter in a pocket of his red suit.
By now a crowd of interested white folks had assembled around the white Santa, the gang of boys, and Randolph. The white Santa peered at Randolph and, with no pity but a sense of irksomeness, said that they really shouldn't lynch the boy; he was too small and it was too hot -- his body would rot and make the whole neighborhood smell bad. As it was, Randolph "ain't ripe enough to be lynched. Let's let him live a while...maybe we'll get 'im later." By then the red-headed boy had returned with a rope. Disappointed, he raised his rand to strike Randolph but the Santa Claus stopped him and handed him the quarter. The boy held up the quarter to the crowd and shouted, "Sure there's a Santa Claus!" the crowd laughed.
Randolph took advantage of the moment and managed to squeak his way through the crowd running as fast as he could. The red-headed boy threw a rock at him but missed. Randolph kept running until he was near his home. He was now among people he knew. His tears had dried. People looked at him and said, "Hello." He would have to tell his mother what had happened. Surely she would understand. But what would -- could -- she say about that awful Santa Claus?
This short and effective story was told with subdued rage, with no subtleties. From our twenty-first century viewpoint, it is hard to consider the tale being told otherwise. The author (1915-1998) was born John Henry Clark to an Alabama share cropper and a washer woman. His other, who died when the boy was about seven years old, wanted him to become a farmer. Instead, he hopped a freight train to New York City, where changed the form of his name and began a life of writing and activism.
Clarke was an autodidact and never graduated from high school. Yet he went to have a distinguished career in academia. where he became a professor of Black and Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College, founding that department. He was also the Carter G. Woodson Distinguished Visiting Professor of African History at Cornell. He co-founded the African Heritage Studies Association and the Black Caucus of the African Studies Association. He was a founding member of the Black Academy of Arts and Letters and the Afro-American Scholars Council. Clarke co-founded the magazine Harlem Quarterly (1949-1951), was book review editor of Negro History Bulletin (1948-1952), associate editor of Freedomways, and a feature writer for the Pittsburg Courier. He was heavily involved in the Black Panther movement in the late Sixties and railed against the systematic and racist suppression and distortion of African history by many traditional scholars. He felt that the Greek philosophers took much of their thinking from contacts with Africans.
Eventually Clarke earned a bachelor's degree in 1992 and a doctorate in 1994 from a non-accredited school.
I read this story in Connie Willis's magnificent anthology American Christmas Stories, a diverse collection of 59 tales that I heartily recommend.