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8th November 2019

2:22pm: Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck (2017-73)
I saw this as a movie in high school, but somehow never got around to reading the book till now. 

I liked the movie (Burgess Meredith and Lon Chaney Jr.; what's not to like?), but (predictably) I like the book better. 

If you're one of the seventeen people who don't know, it's about a pair of men, a dreamer and a mentally disabled giant, who work ranches, in California during the Depression, to raise money for (they plan - well, _George_ plans, Lenny listens) a little farm of their own. Along the way it addresses the rough life of the ranch hands, the responsibility of a man to his dog, and the treatment of blacks in that time. In the end, all these provide backdrop for the final scene, one of the saddest I know in all of fiction.
2:14pm: Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, by M.R. James (2019-72)
I am not inclined to say a lot about this one. It's a collection of turn-of-the-(20th)-Century tales of ghosts, witches, and similar. They're all pretty good and a couple of them are quite good, notably one called "Casting the Runes". The style is rather creaky, like a less elegant Henry James, but quite readable and  even occasionally seductive.

It's a classic of the genre, I'm glad I've read it, and I'll probably never get around to reading it again.

5th November 2019

6:52am: Remember, remember...
I find myself wondering today: how would Americans respond if members of an oppressed minority attempted (and failed) to dynamite the Capitol?

Somehow, I can't see us making a beloved national holiday out of it... and that perhaps exemplifies the real cultural difference between the United States and the UK: we take everything so damn seriously, while the British have a sense of irony and even good humor about things. I'm not sure where we lost our perspective on things; perhaps it was being born in the blood of the Revolution and baptised in the blood of the Civil War.

But one way or another we've become a people who can't take things lightly, or agree to disagree and still get along and work together.

No, I'm not equating the "two sides"; far from it. Our side is right, their side is wrong, and that's all there is to it.

I think.

31st October 2019

2:41pm: The Toll, by Cherie Priest (2019-71)
There is horror, and there is terror, and there is suspense, and there is the gross-out.

And then there is dread. This is a dread-full book, set in one of those decaying Southern towns. Staywater is just outside the west side of the Okefenokee swamp, and, no, there are no talking possums here. State Road 177 runs through the town and into the swamp, where there are six bridges, unless there are seven.

There are two main characters,who more or less alternate (and some other characters who get the point of view later in the book, but it's okay).

There is Cameron, who was found as a baby at the door of a classic decaying Southern mansion. The two spinster cousins who live there (Daisy and Claire)  took him in and raised him right, according to their lights - which are very strange. Cameron is in his late teens,and is lovesick over Jess, the hostess at a bar called Thirsty's - the only bar open in Staywater, where most everything is permanently closed. But she's deeply involved with the bartender, Dave.

And there is Titus, who is driving along S.R. 177 with his newlywed wife Melanie. They're headed into the swamp when they find the seventh bridge. Titus drives out onto it, and the next thing he knows he is lying on his back in the middle of the road with the car beeping (the "the key's in the ignition and the door is open" beep), and Melanie is nowhere to be seen, and there are no footprints leading away from the road through the mud. 

Titus is out of his mind crazy looking for her, but not crazy enough, quite, to go into the swamp alone. He calls the police, and they mount a search, but (understandably) question his story and ask him not to leave town. Not that he has any plans of leaving without Melanie.

From these elements and impeccable prose, Priest weaves a want to look (know)/don't want to look (know) web around the reader. The decay of both Staywater and the swamp are palpable from the first chapter, and that atmosphere grows damper and danker with each passing page until the toll for the seventh bridge is paid once and for all.

29th October 2019

3:53pm: Blood Rites: An Invitation to Horror,ed. Marc Ciccarone (2019-70)
 This was (briefly) free on Kindle; since it was October I nabbed it. It was certainly worth the going price of $2.99; none of the stories are actively bad, most are reasonably good, and a couple made a significant impression on me. These include:

"The Candle and the Darkness", by Aric Sundquist. A small holy candle protects a mother and daughter against the Darkness of Armageddon, as long as it lasts.

"The Lullaby Man", by John McNee. A childhood bogeyman. A really creepy childhood bogey man.

"The True Worth of Orthography", by Lisa Morton. A sorcerer who does his spells by calligraphy hires a Hollywood screenwriter to help him craft some big spells. Not horror by any measure I understand, but quite good.

"Who  Is Schopenhauer?", by Bryan Oftedahl. A Kafkaesque situation with a most unpleasant twist.

"The Leaving", by Matt Moore. A town with a really scary curse.

It being an anthology, the style and quality of the writing varies, but never gets near the quasi-literate zone.

28th October 2019

7:36am: Keeping my word
Some time ago I said that I'd acknowledge Trump's successes if he ever had any. While the military (and the intelligence community he continually disparages) did the hard work, Trump made the call to take down Baghdadi, and I give him props for that. 

26th October 2019

3:58pm: End of Watch, by Stephen King (2019-69)
I was disappointed.

Oh, it's still a fine book; but the first two Bill Hodges books were straight thrillers with Very Bad People and races against time. This _is_ a thriller, with a Very Bad Person and a race against time, but it goes in a direction that, depending on your categorization, is either science fiction or fantasy (but, like the first two _not_ horror in any usual sense).

At the end of the first book, _Mr. Mercedes_, Brady Hartsfield, the Mercedes Killer, is in a coma. During the second, _Finders Keepers_, he is in a semi-vegetative state...or appears to be. But there is a none-too-subtle hint that he is out of it, and faking, and developing some new powers.

Here we learn - gradually - the extent of those powers. 

A survivor of Hartsfield's attack at City Center is quadriplegic, and cared for by her aging mom. The mom commits a painless murder-suicide, with no warning of any kind.

The nurse in charge of the neurological ward where Brady is kept also commits suicide.

And Barbara Robinson, younger sister of Hodges's friend Jerome, steps out in front of a truck in an unfamiliar neighborhood, and is saved only by a young man who pushes her mostly out of the way: she ends up with a badly broken leg, but lives.

The only connection between these events is the presence of a "Zappit Commander" game console - a console that hasn't been on the market for quite a while, having hit the market overpriced, frequently defective, and already out-of-date. Barbara tells Hodges that she was walking along playing a game and a voice convinced her she should die.

Of course, we know, and Hodges quickly figures out, that Hartsfield is somehow behind it, but how? 

And how to stop him?

And how to prove it to the reasonable and rational police?

And, to add the icing to the cake, Bill Hodges is very sick. 

There will be no easy answer.

As always, King starts with a blow to the gut and works up the tension throughout; if this book isn't quite as tense as the other two, it is only because of the strained disbelief. It isn't that the problem is psychic. King has gotten that past us readers many's the time. But King set the rules and template for Bill Hodges in the first two books, and changes them radically here. The suspenders of disbelief can handle it, but they're strained, and the stakes seem less real.

I'd like to say it's a fitting end for the trilogy, and in many ways it _is_. Bill Hodges's story ends as it should. We get closure not only with him, but with his friends and partners (though one character, Frankie Linklatter, is left in a kind of "what happened to her?" limbo). Hartsfield is stopped for good. So, yeah, it is mostly a fitting conclusion, just that one little thing that nidges at me that _wouldn't_ nidge at me in any other King story.

OK. Rant over.

23rd October 2019

2:28pm: Finders Keepers by Stephen King (2019-68)
It all began years ago when a second-rater named Morris Bellamy became obsessed with the works of a writer named John Rothstein. Rothstein appears to be an analog to Salinger: he published a few things in his youth and then went into seclusion and never published anything again. After a short stint in juvie for some mischief committed in a drunken blackout, he finds Rothstein's house and - after getting Rothstein to open his safe -kills him. In revenge for "betraying" his best-known character, Jimmy Gold, the protagonist of a trilogy in which a bad boy ends up making it big in advertising, which Morris believes Jimmy would never do.

In fact, Rothstein has written two more Runner books in which Jimmy sickens of the Golden Buck and lights out for the proverbial territories. It's all in the Moleskine notebooks in the safe.

But Gold never gets to read them. He hides the notebooks (and a bunch of money) very carefully - and then has another drunken blackout in which he commits aggravated rape. He is sentenced to life in prison.

Some years later, a young boy named Pete Saubers finds the hiding place. He reads the notebooks and becomes almost as obsessive about Rothstein as Morris. In fact, Pete is a lot like Morris - other than not being a psychopath.

Alas; Rothstein gets out on parole and is determined to regain his notebooks. He'll do _anything_ to get them back...

Of course, Bill Hodges gets involved - this is, after all, the second book of the Bill Hodges trilogy - but almost parenthetically; this is really the story of Morris and Pete. But more, it's about the lengths to which an obsessed fan will go.

Also, there are significant ties and callbacks to the first book, _Mr. Mercedes_. 

The whole is very well paced, building up to a patented Stephen King climax in which anything can happen, and many things do. The combination of the high tension with King's proletarian style works particularly well. I'm racing on to #3.

20th October 2019

1:08pm: Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King (2019-67)
 I had been meaning to check out the "Bill Hodges" trilogy for a while, so when I got a good deal on book 1, I grabbed it. About halfway through, I got hold of the others. King has lost none of his ability to _tell a story_, with interesting characters, high stakes, and a breakneck climax: but in this book there are no things-that-go-boo or jump out of closets, just one very bad human being.

In April of 2009, as the Great Recession is destroying jobs everywhere, people gather in the wee hours at the City Center (the city is never named, but it's probably in Indiana or Ohio) to be the first in to a job fair with "1000 jobs guaranteed!" There are hundreds, maybe a thousand or more, packed tightly in, when a grey Mercedes speeds into the crowd full steam, backs up, and drives off. The Mercedes is found a ways away, but the killer has left no clues to speak of, and the police (and families of the dead and wounded) are left frustrated. A perfect crime.

Flash forward nearly a year. BIll Hodges, the Police Detective who led the hunt for the Mercedes Killer - now having passed the age of mandatory retirement - lives alone, drinking beer, watching daytime television, and toying with his father's .38 special, wondering whether this is the day when he'll eat the gun. But everything changes when he receives an anonymous letter. It claims to be from the Mercedes Killer, knows things the police never released, and subtly taunts him - not to find him, but to go ahead and kill himself. I enjoyed it, he says, but I'm never going to do it again, so I won't make the inevitable mistake. Of course (because it always works that way in fiction, though probably not in real life) Hodges begins to feel a sense of purpose: he must track down the Mercedes Killer on his own; it's personal now.

And, of course, as we learn from scenes told from the Killer's point of view, he _is_ planning something much bigger.

As he proceeds, Hodges gains allies - and breaks several laws, mostly "withholding evidence" and "impersonating an officer". His old partner knows_something_ is up and begs him to come clean. But he goes about it his own way.

King sets up several resonances that play against each other, producing a sense of thematic unity often missing from thrillers. As one example, there is a lovely trinity of broken personalities - a heroine (eventually), the villain (but he's not sympathetic, no fear), and a victim (whom we learn about only after the fact). The way each deals with his or her brokenness tells character, but also comments on the other two in subtle ways.

And the ending is as tense and taut as anything King has ever produced. The book is - in my mass paperback copy - 527 pages long, but feels much shorter. It _moves_.

If you read thrillers but eschew horror, this would be a great introduction to King.

15th October 2019

3:17pm: The Flying Sorcerers, by David Gerrold and Larry Niven (2019-66)
I loved this in high school, and hadn't read it since; when I saw it on the Kindle store (my paperback having vanished in a move decades ago), I decided to see if the Suck Fairy had gotten at it.

She had ... and she hadn't. The punning names of gods, based on then-current SF/F/fandom personalities, have lost a lot of their charm. But the story is still strong and funny.

Lant is a member of the fuzzy humanoid race that inhabits a planet orbiting a double star, in a gas cloud. So the only things the inhabitants have ever seen in the sky are the two suns (Virn and Ouells, to give an idea of the level of wordplay involved) and the world's eleven moons. No fixed stars, not even any other planets.

As the story begins, a giant egg appears in the fields near Lant's village. Shoogar, the village magician, decides (reasonably enough) that the inhabitant is a rival magician and declares a duel. The "rival magician" has a "spell" that, conveniently, learns quickly to translate his language and the local tongue, and we learn that his name translates as "as a color, a shade of purple gray".

Anyway, the first part of the story is about how Shoogar pursues and finally appears to win his duel, when the stranger's "egg", with him in it, flies into the sky and explodes... ruining the village along the way. In the second part (no, it's not divided formally that way), the villagers - or those who are left - wandering and looking for a new place to live, find a rich peninsula with four villages already on it ... and Purple, as they call him, who has not only survived the explosion but become the local magician (by crushing the previous one - Dorthi - by landing on his house).

Shoogar is enraged and wants to recommence the duel. Purple wasn't even aware that there _was_ a duel, and just wants to go home - though it will require him to reinvent the industrial revolution to accomplish it...

Oh, and: Warning for those sensitive to such things: this 1970s book is told from the point of view of an alien race that treats its females worse than they are treated in some Middle-eastern countries. That's the main thing the Suck Fairy had accomplished.

13th October 2019

1:45pm: The Thing from Another World (1951)
There are so many holes in my "classic movies" list, and I just plugged one of them.

Alas: Meh. It's a guy-in-a-rubber-suit (James Arness) movie, and only a pretty good one. I guess I don't have to tell anyone the plot.

  • Relatively realistic dialogue, including people talking over each other and at cross purposes.
  • Some brilliant individual lines, of which my favorite is "An intellectual carrot...the mind boggles!"
  • Many little details got right
  • Decent acting on the part of the main characters and many of the supporting characters. I would particularly single out Douglas Spencer (Ned Scott, the reporter) and Robert Cornthwaite (Dr. Arthur Carrington, the wrongheaded devotee of soulless science).
  • Dmitri Tiomkin's score
  • Reasonable portrayal of Arctic conditions and their consequences
  • Bad - I mean really bad - science, especially with regard to radiation and biology
  • A not terribly impressive rubber suit
  • The characters mostly behave with some intelligence (modulo their conflicting motives), but the monster's escape is due to an amazingly stupid (to the point of unbelievably stupid) act of, well, stupidity.
  • Convenient storms
  • Needlessly rigid military and scientific viewpoints.
Overall verdict: a C+.
1:30pm: A Night in the Lonesome October, by Roger Zelazny, Illus. by Gahan Wilson (2019-65)
I read this when it came out a quarter-century ago. I was in the mood to read it again, it being October and all.

The story is narrated by a dog belonging to a man referred to only as "Jack". Jack keeps a rune-carved silver knife and several Things (the Thing in the Cellar, the Thing in the Wardrobe, the Things in the Mirror...) Snuff is a watchdog, and watching the Things is part of his job.

Jack is playing "the Game" against the Count, the Good Doctor (and his assistant, and his Experiment Man), Crazy Jill, Larry Talbot, and several others. Some are "openers," some are "closers", but who is which is a big secret; and indeed some who seem to be players may not be - and vice versa. The Game can only be played in the month of October, and only when the full moon falls on the 31st. In the particular year in which these events occur, it is being played somewhere outside Victorian London. To play the Game, you collect "ingredients" in various locations, while trying to keep your plans secret from the others.

Most of the others have companions also: Crazy Jill has Graymalk the Cat; the druid Owen has Cheeper the squirrel... Talbot is said to be his own best friend.

Then there's the Famous Detective (with his Companion), who knows that something is going on, but may not be quite sure [I]what[/I]. Or maybe he does.

It's a race to determine whether the door will be opened and the Elder Gods returned to Earth. Who will win is anyone's guess, as Snuff narrates the events day by day.

This may be Zelazny's last masterpiece novel. His style in it perfectly fits with Wilson's illustrations, which is to say that it's funny, but in a chortle-and-snort way, not a laugh-out-loud way. It's perfect reading for Hallowe'en time.

10th October 2019

5:03pm: The Agony House, by Cherie Priest, illus. by Tara O'Connor (2019-64)
In the summer before her senior year of high school, Denise's life is turned upside down when her mother, Sally, and new stepdad, Mike, buy an abandoned house in New Orleans, planning to fix it up into a bed-and-breakfast. For Sally and Denise, this is a move back; they were displaced to Houston after Katrina took Denise's father and grandmother.

After a few days of working on the mold and mildew (and more substantial damage, and preparing to bring the house up to code...), she gets to know future classmates Norman, a young entrepreneur who is working multiple jobs in the summer, and Terry, an ambitious ghost-hunter who records strange voices on his portable recorder in the "Agony House", so-called by Denise because it's on Argonne Street, and, well...

A series of strange accidents begin to happen around the house. And in the hard-to-get-to attic, Denise and Terry find the manuscript for a comic book from before the Comics Code. The name on the comic belongs to a writer-artist who died mysteriously in the 1950s in a house in New Orleans. It's a weird comic, and a weird thing to find, but does it hold clues to what's happening on Argonne Street? (Aw, you guessed!)

The story is scary, but not _too_ scary; this is a YA novel from Scholastic (via their Arthur A. Levine line). But it pulls no punches, and the danger becomes quite real: _something_ wants them out of the house.

Denise and her new friends race to solve the puzzle before someone gets killed. If, indeed, someone hasn't already been.

Quite aside from the story and the engaging characters, this book thrives on setting. Priest has always been good at setting, but the depiction of a slowly-recovering neighborhood in New Orleans takes things to a new level.

8th October 2019

2:26pm: Return to Bag End: The History of the Hobbit, Part 2, by John D Rateliff and JRR Tolkien (2019-63)
For (roughly) the first half of this volume, Rateliff carries his presentation of Tolkien's manuscripts/typescripts (and notes, and mini-essays commenting on aspects of the manuscripts, and notes on the mini-essays...) to the conclusion of the story, beginning where Part 1 ended (at Lake-town).

Both here and in volume 1, there are interesting differences between the 'script and what eventually was published as the First Edition of _The Hobbit_: to take a simple example, the dwarf we know as Thorin Oakenshield was for the longest name known as Gandalf, while the wizard manipulating events is named Bladorthin.

But more interesting than the variants that Tolkien wrote are those that, in the event, he did _not_ write. He intended, until quite late in the story, to have Bilbo slay Smaug; The Battle of the Five Armies was originally to be the Battle of the Anduin Vale, in which Dwarfs would play no part, and occur during Bilbo's return journey; when Tolkien finally gave the dragon-slaying to Bard (who was invented on the spot for just that purpose), he had Bard die in Smaug's fall, a decision he retconned pretty quickly.

"So what," you may ask, "takes up the rest of the volumes?" Well: there is the story of the Second Edition, and the Revised Edition of the '60s; but there are other revisions, too, which never saw print (until now). Tolkien became semi-obsessed (the way he did) with the phases of the Moon during the story, realizing that they simply didn't seem to work the way the actual Moon does unless some significant changes were made to the timeline. The dates of Bilbo's departure and return are more-or-less fixed in the published text, as is Bilbo's birthday at Lake-town and the Durin's Day discovery of the Back Door. Furthermore, the distances on the map only made things worse.

In the early '60s, he not only did a passel of calculations to figure out how to make it all work together, he began rewriting _The Hobbit_ from the beginning - not only making the necessary changes, but attempting to rewrite the story from page one to bring it more in line with the tone of _The Lord of the Rings_. Fortunately, he abandoned this shortly after beginning the revision of Chapter 3, but what he _did_ write makes fascinating reading. As someone he showed it to said, "It's very good, but it's not _The Hobbit_". As a result, very little of what he was thinking of eventually made it into the Revised Edition - mostly minor corrections. Rateliff observes that Tolkien realized that _The Hobbit_ was a very different type of book than _LR_, and stopped trying to force it into the wrong mold.

The notes are, as implied, extensive and exhaustive, ranging in length from single brief sentences to divigations lasting several pages. The mini-essays are uniformly interesting, on topics ranging from naming to Tolkien's sources to the implications of some of the choices Tolkien made (and didn't make) in writing his little masterpiece. Worth noting: Rateliff is very generous in his thanks to and acknowledgement of the work others have done in this field, especially Taum Santowski, who was to have been the author-editor of this book but died before he could do it. This has opened for me a few doors for future reading...

All in all, the _History of the Hobbit_ fascinated me from beginning to end (with the exception of a brief excursion into Tolkien's alphabets - I _do_ find those interesting, but they were out of tone for this book).

1st October 2019

2:37pm: Mr. Baggins: The History of the Hobbit Part 1, by John D. Rateliff and JRR Tolkien (2019-62)
This being the first of two closely-linked volumes, I shall keep my comments to a minimum here, reserving them for a full review of the whole when I finish reading Part 2.

Rateliff presents, with a fair plethora of apparatus (Introduction, text notes, chapter commentaries on divers topics,  notes on the commentaries, appendices...), Tolkien's various drafts for _The Hobbit_, more or less chronologically as written. There are two of Tolkien's fairly typical false starts, followed by a long period of composition which takes us up to (and beyond) the end of this volume - the Lake-town episode.

The only other comment I will offer here is that this is much less "heavy" reading than the _History of Middle-earth_ volumes.

24th September 2019

2:33pm: Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf (2019-61)
This is generally considered Woolf's first "great" novel, and I can see why: though almost nothing actually seems to happen (though in fact a great deal does), it kept me engaged all the way through, to the point where I sometimes got grumpy when I had to put it down.

It is often compared for stylistic reasons with Joyce's _Ulysses_ (which Woolf, apparently, intensely disliked), but I think a more condign and useful comparison would be to Evan S. Connell's _Mrs. Bridge_: both are about women heroically living trivial, ordinary, upper-middle-class lives in the days before modern feminism. But where Mrs. Bridge suffers from terminal _ennui_, Clarissa Dalloway is deeply engaged with the people and circumstances of her life.

The book takes place in the course of a single day (another reason for the comparisons to Joyce) in June, in London during the late 1910s or early 1920s , during which Mrs. Richard Dalloway
1) Goes out to buy flowers for a party she is holding that night;
2) Witnesses a big expensive car going by;
3) Returns home;
4) Receives an unexpected visit from an old beau just returned from India;
5) Prepares for her party; and 
6) Hosts her party.

The party is - as everything she does is, to some extent or another - calculated to forward Richard's career; indeed, the highlight of the party is an brief, unexpected visit from the Prime Minister. In the end, it is a success, though she feels somewhat let down by it.

The style is _not_ (despite the comparisons to _Ulysses_) stream-of-consciousness; it is less restricted than that. But interior and exterior worlds fade into and out of each other, and reveries of past times play an important role both in character development and, oddly, in advancing the story.. For this is not just the story of one woman's one day, but the history of several people who interact, or fail to, on that day.

The characters the book follows most, after Clarissa herself, are Peter Walsh (the aforementioned ex-beau) and Septimus Warren Smith, a shell-shocked WWI veteran. Peter has, in India, fallen in love with another man's wife. One of his reasons for returning to London is to seek a divorce; another is to seek a job, as he has not been terribly successful in India. He intends to ask Richard Dalloway for help.

During the day, both Peter and Clarissa experience reveries of the days when they were close friends in the country -- particularly at Clarissa's childhood home "Bourton" -- along with Sally Seton, whom neither has seen in years. Sally was a wild, free spirit, and there is an undercurrent suggesting that she and Clarissa may have (secretly, of course) been lovers. 

In the end, Peter and Sally (now a fine Lady with several sons) both attend Clarissa's party, where the two of them spend a great deal of time with each other - to the frustration of Clarissa, who wishes for some time with Sally but is mostly kept busy hostessing.

Septimus Warren Smith married an Italian woman, Lucrezia ("Rezia") near the end of the war. He continually hallucinates: that he is the sole possessor of the true meaning of life; that someone is after him; and that he sees and converses with his dead War buddy, Evans. Rezia convinces him to visit Sir William Bradshaw, a Harley Street specialist, who prescribes six to nine months of complete quiet in the country. Unable to face this, Septimus commits a gruesome suicide by jumping out of a window onto a pointy metal fence.

Septimus's story is entirely separate from Clarissa's, tied together only by her hearing (from Peter) of his suicide at the party (at one point, she envies him). 

All that is very bald. It is the language that makes it all work. The characters are drawn as realistically and lovingly as any characters I have ever read; and the descriptions of places, people, and actions are so clear that even a verbal thinker like me couldn't help but see them in my mind's eye.

I have no great conclusions to reach, except to say that this is a good, a very good book, and that I am glad to have read it. I look forward to reading her next book, _To the Lighthouse_.

14th September 2019

3:18pm: Them Bones, by Howard Waldrop (2019-60)
1929: Archaeologists digging in a Louisana mound discover impossible things: skeletons of horses, brass rifle cartridge casings...

(Offstage, but in 2002: In the deadly aftermath of World War III, scientists send a team back in time, hoping to prevent the war.)

Some indeterminate date in the past: Leake, the advance scout for the team, finds himself much farther back in time than was intended...

...the archaeologists fight against time as the nearby bayou starts to rise in the rain. They try to build a coffer dam...

...Leake, in the indeterminate past, becomes an adopted member of a native mound-building culture...

...the rest of the time team eventually arrives. Finding Leake missing they begin to build a fort...

...the archaeologists find what appear to be soldiers' dog tags, gathered into a necklace. They call upon Governor Huey P. Long for help against the rising water...

...Leake discovers that he is not in his own past...

...and then things get _really_ weird. 

This is Howard Waldrop, after all. The guy who gave us "The Ugly Chickens", "Save a Place in the Lifeboat for Me", "Ike at the Mike", and "...the World as We Know't". Weirdness - and especially weird time-fuckery - is what you pay for, and what you get, from Waldrop.

This is very entertaining weirdness, too, but I can see why Waldrop is happier working at short lengths. The story gets a little strained at times, as if the joke were being carried on just a little too long. Fortunately for the reader, that's about when another bizarre twist appears.

I regret, truly, missing this one back in the '80s, and I'm glad it's available for Kindle.
9:18am: Glarked from Cynthia1960
1. What would you do if you won the lottery?

Get good financial advice and make damn sure all taxes were paid correctly. Then invest in real estate well above the anticipated waterline.

2. What era do you wish you had lived in?

This one is fine by me, despite all its problems. 

3. What kind of robot would you want?

One that does the housework.  All the housework.

4. What would you outsource if you could?

See #3.

5. What superpower do you wish you had?

Either shapeshifting or teleportation, depending upon the limits placed on each.

12th September 2019

5:36pm: The God Particle by Leon Lederman with Dick Teresi (2019-58)
There is only one good reason for reading popular science books that are going-on thirty years of age: and that is for entertainment. _The God Particle_, subtitled "If the Universe is the answer, what's the question?", entertained me.

More: it told me things I didn't know, mostly about the history of science. The book is framed as a search for the indivisible particle, and it begins with Democritus of Abdera, who first came up with the idea that the universe was made of a-toms. Lederman fantasizes a dialogue in which he gives Democritus a tour of Fermilab and we are to be amazed by how amazed he isn't. 

The book moves through the usual suspects - Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Einstein - and a number of less-known folks who made their contribution to the search for the underlying structure of matter, with a wealth of amusing anecdotes (and the occasional wretched pun). In the last few chapters he brings the story up to the near-present of 1993, and describing the Standard Model as it was then, including the theoretical and experimental problems with it. The main problem was that, above certain relatively reasonable energies, the Standard Model predicted infinite quantities, which seems an absurdity on the face of it. Higgs proposed his field and its boson as a way of removing those infinities; explaining where mass comes from is a bonus.

The Higgs boson would not be confirmed until 2014, twenty-one years after Lederman (and Teresi) gave it its fanciful and misleading nickname. And, as it goes with real science, it didn't so much answer the questions as provide new ones. But for someone just seeking to understand what the Higgs thing is all about, plus a general non-mathematical introduction to the Standard Model, you could do worse than _The God Particle_.

(As a side note: Leon Lederman, Nobel laureate for his work with the neutrino, died late last year at the age of 96.)

9th September 2019

8:14am: Campaign song
#MoscowMitch is Putin's bitch,
Hoo-hah, hoo-hah.
#MoscowMitch is Putin's bitch,
Oh, hoo-hah-hey.
Steals from the poor, gives to the rich
Drives us all into a ditch.
Someone has to pay.

5th September 2019

9:55am: A sort-of farewell to LiveJournal
While I am, for now at least, going to continue to crosspost to LJ, I won't be reading there anymore; too much duplication, not enough time. Also, the Russia thing.

I think there are one or two of my friends on LJ who haven't made the leap to DreamWidth; if you're one of those, I'd like to encourage doing it, if only for the selfish reason that I'd like to continue reading your posts...

2nd September 2019

4:03pm: The Common Reader, Series 1, by Virginia Woolf (2019-57)
A collection of reviews and essays on literary topics. I don't actually have a lot to say about it.

My ideal of good criticism, for what it's worth, has two basic characteristics. The first is that it sends the reader to (or, preferably, _back_ to) the primary work with tools to get more - and especially more pleasure - from it. There is only one writer discussed here to whom I can meaningfully "go back", and that is Jane Austen; I will definitely glean more from her novels now than I did in the past. Some of the writers I haven't read, she has nudzhed me a bit more towards reading: Montaigne, Margaret Cavendish, Addison, the Brontes, Joseph Conrad, and George Eliot. 

Not all the essays are specifically about one author. "The Pastons and Chaucer" is a wonder like a James Burke "Connections" episode that ties the fortunes of a noble family to the reading of Chaucer, in complex but not tenuous ways. "The Lives of the Obscure" is a set of delightful glimpses into the lives of three persons whose memoirs are preserved in an unspecified library. "The Russian Point of View" seems to suggest that there is something at the heart of the great Russians - in this case, Dostoevski, Tolstoi, and "Tchekov" - that necessarily eludes the English (and, I presume, American) reader regardless of the quality of the translation. 

Probably my favorite essays in this series are "The Patron and the Crocus", which advises would-be writers to consider carefully for what audience their work is intended, and "How it Strikes a Contemporary", a discussion of the state of the novel circa 1920. These are witty without being catty or vicious. The latter makes an interesting case for a periodicity in fiction akin to Lewis's "Law of Undulation": that periods of experimentation (of which ca. 1920 certainly would be one) alternate with times of masterpieces, which benefit from the work done by the experimenters. 

But I oversimplify.

I mentioned two characteristics of my ideal criticism. The second is that the criticism itself should give the reader pleasure. This collection of essays gave me pleasure.

28th August 2019

2:12pm: Connections in Death, by J.D. Robb (2019-56)
In the 2060s, Lt. Eve Dallas of the NYPD Homicide squad is married to gazillionaire-ex-conman Roarke, who often assists on her cases with his insight into the criminal mind, electronic wizardry, and, well, money. They also have hot sex two or three times per book, which is frankly getting old.

In this outing,Roarke hires Rochelle Pickering to be the head of counselling at An Didean, a haven for lost children he is building. That very night Rochelle goes out with her boyfriend Winston (previously known to Dallas as Crack, a bar owner) to celebrate. When she returns, she finds her brother and roommate dead of an overdose on a living room chair.

Lyle "Pick" Pickering, an ex-member of the Bangers street gang, straightened out in prison. He's been working as a cook, and just got his two-year chip.

A quick bit of examination makes it very clear that he didn't overdose himself; he was murdered, which makes him Eve's job.When first one, then another possible source of information turns up dead, Eve has a big mess on her hands.

No problem. She'll wrap it up in plenty of time for a quiet denouement with Roarke. It's how she gets there that's the fun; these are police procedurals at heart. The future setting allows for Robb to present interesting new methods for murder (though not in this case), but humans being what they are, the motives are always recognizable. There is some future tech in the cops' (and crooks') hands, but not much that Dick Tracy wouldn't recognize: there are no magic solutions for this detective.

This (the whole series, not just this one book) is a story about second chances, some taken, more rejected. Without getting religious, Robb's stories leave lots of room for redemption of various kinds ... but some people make themselves irredeemable, at least by any means available to Eve Dallas. She stands for the dead and brings them justice, but Roarke and  her best friend are living proof that people can become better than they are. So, in a more complicated way, is Eve.

These books are not "great literature", but there's something that has kept me coming back to them for nearly fifty books now. They're competently written, entertaining, and satisfy something deep in me. I will doubtless keep buying them - as I have from the beginning: in paperback. I'm not completely obsessive, after all....

24th August 2019

9:03pm: Gravity Falls (2012-2016)
...which is, when you think about it, a long time for an animated show that lasted two seasons and 40 (really 41) episodes in total.

Twins Mabel and Mason "Dipper" Pines live in California. When they are rwelve, their parents decide to send them to visit their great-uncle ("Grunkle") Stan Pines for the summer.

Grunkle Stan is a conman who runs a seedy tourist trap called "The Mystery Shack" on the edge of a seemingly sleepy town called Gravity Falls, in the dark heart of Central/Eastern Oregon.

On their first day, Dipper finds a strange tree that leads him to a mysterious journal, with a six-fingered hand and the number 3 on the cover. Inside are notes, some of them cryptic, about strange creatures and phenomena surrounding the town. He becomes somewhat obsessed with exploring the journal and finding "The Author". He also develops a huge crush on Stan's teenaged help at the Shack, Wendy Corduroy.

Mabel has her own obsession: she wants a summer romance and her first kiss. In the first episode she is smitten by a fellow named 'Norman' - who turns out to be some gnomes (pointy hats and all) in a trenchcoat. They (all 1000 of them) want to marry Mabel and have her be their gnome  queen "for all eternity." 

She gets out of this - with Dipper's help (but Mabel sometimes rescues Dipper too), and the game is afoot. There are several continuing enemies:

- Pacifica Northwest, the only daughter of the town's one super-rich family and a major snob;
- Gideon Gleeful, a cherubic (seeming) boy evangelist who seeks ultimate power (and Mabel's hand); and
- Bill Cipher, an interdimensional creature who resembles the Eye in the Pyramid and is really, really scary.

Then, there are the various creatures and people who populate the story as it goes forward.
At that, one or two episodes might be written off as "Monster of the Week" filler that don't advance the main story ... except that they then turn out to be crucial, sometimes in surprising ways, to Mabel and Dipper's character arcs.

And that's the main thing about this series. For all its weirdness, the Pines twins are real people at every level except the obvious one (that they don't exist). So to a lesser extent are their supporting cast: Grunkle Stan, Wendy, and Soos (short for Jesus) Ramirez, the Shack's handyman. So much so that as the final episode moved towards its postclimax, I had some genuine feels and perhaps a small tear.

Thus, Dipper and Mabel provide an anchor that lets us experience the strangest things as if they were real. This is especially important as the animation is (at least by today's standards) fairly primitive. This is actually a good thing; cool effects and uncanny valleys don't interfere with our appreciation of the story.

And the final three parter? Mind blown. Seriously.
4:55pm: The Awakened Kingdom, by N.K. Jemisin (2019-55)
A pendant, of sorts, to the Inheritance trilogy.

Behold: a godling is born, and tells her story. Naturally, it begins in a sort of baby-talk; but because she _is_ a godling, she picks up language (and storytelling) fairly quickly, fortunately for us, the readers. She learns that the Three - specifically, Nahadoth and Yeine - birthed her because the universe needed a trickster-god, and Sieh, for reasons detailed in the last book, is no longer able to fill that role. But her attempts to act as a trickster backfire, causing pain but no merriment.

She decides to descend to the mortal realm to learn her nature.

Here she meets Eino, a young man of Darr, and accidentally kills some people.Her siblilng,Ia, whose nature is negation, makes it didn't happen, but Eino remembers and commands a favor to forgive her: she must place a scroll, secretly, in the pile of legislation being considered (though she doesn't know that that is what the pile is).

Ia takes her to see Eino's grandmother, Fahno, who is a retired _enulai_ - a person both able and trained both to protect godlings, and to keep them under control. Here, our young godling chooses a name: Shill. Fahno agrees to keep Shill in her home until a proper (and not retired) _enulai_ can be found.

Now, being a young man of Darr means that he has no real rights, and will be married off without his consent to seal a family alliance. But Eino rebels against this, and wants legislation allowing men to inherit. He also joins other young men in a ritual dance-fight, an imitation of one carried out by the young Darre women. Shill, who has morphed to a male body for the purpose, fights him. When the Darre version of policewomen show up, Eino hides most of the others in plain sight, displaying a power he didn't know he had.

Things get a whole lot more complicated, especially for a fairly short novella, but in the end Shill finds her nature, and Eino gets what he really needs; what those are, is a bit of a surprise, but logical given what has gone before.

The writing is - as always with Jemisin - clean and better than utilitarian. Shill is an attractive character, for a baby god, and Eino and his family are well developed if not always _likeable_. This novella is much lighter than the Trilogy proper, but I think including it in the one-volume version is not a mistake; it serves as a sort of after-dinner apertif, to cleanse the palate. And, as such things go, it does an excellent job.
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