Book Report: The Twilight Zone Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin (2018)

Book coverI bought this book when I saw a conservative blog I read (I forget which, but I hope it’s not the hoity-toity Ace of Spades HQ Sunday Morning Book Thread since OregonMuse posts my books) mention it and say that it was anti-Trump or something. To be honest, it’s not particularly anti-Trump: It does not mention him by name, which is refreshing in a book you’ve been told is a sucker punch hit job. It does say that The Twilight Zone told uncomfortable truths/stories (which is kind of like the Resistance, amiwrong?), but you see that sort of thing in a lot of books touting shows, both current and historical. A couple of entries have phrases of dubious provenance but that are clearly meant to refer to These Dark Times, such as mentioning jackboots returning in the 21st century and whatnot. But overall, not something that Michael Moore or–what’s that guy that was a “comedian” and then “Senator” from the state that elected that wrestler who wore feathers as governor?–would have written.

But I got it because I remember a little of the show and thought it might be interesting.

I’ll be honest; at the outset of reading this book, I could only remember one episode of the show (“A Stop At Willoughby”, which I saw sometime in adulthood, I think). As I read it, I also remember seeing “The Shelter” at some point in my youth, probably in the 1980s when another Republican was in office, and the fear of nuclear war led to great art like The Day After and Testament (not the band) as well as a whole genre of post-apocalyptic movies.

But this book is a bit of nostalgia trip in taking me back to my youth, when this program was syndicated and available for watching (although apparently I didn’t watch or remember too much) along with a lot of other old black and white programs. The book itself is entries for individual actors, actresses, producers, directors, musical composers, and other people associated with the series along with the individual episodes, themes, lots, and other markers from the series. So when running through the actors who played in this program, it listed other things they appeared in, including series like Combat!, Black Sheep Squadron, and other things that hit syndication while I was coming of television watching age and beyond. Notable actors who played in epidodes of The Twilight Zone include William Shatner, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, and others that I know mostly from other works. Still, it was a varied bunch, and their connections to old television shows that I sort of remember remind me of a time. You know.

Secondly, the list of programs that I don’t recognize humbles me a bit. I mean, many of the anthology series (Playhouse this and sponsor Theatre that) were done live, so recordings do not exist. Other shows, like Peter Gunn and so on, I recognize the names but don’t think I’ve seen. I didn’t see them on television in the day, and I’m not sure they’re easy to find on television (or other media) today. There was a whole world of television that came on before I was self aware and that I’ve never seen. Likewise, the movie credits indicate a wide world of films, including war films and detective movies, that I’ve never heard of and have never seen.

So the book rather inspired me to look for some of these things to view. And, of course, to watch the television program itself which I see is available on Blu-ray for less than $60. So I might think about that, too.

I’d say “I hope I can get some use out of this on trivia nights,” but trivia nights’ trivia tends to be more recent than this program these days.

But I enjoyed the book. And I paid full price for it and don’t regret it, which says something.

Book Report: Virtue and Happiness by Epictetus / Calligraphy by Claude Mediavilla (2003)

Book coverAs you might recall, gentle reader, I bought this book at ABC Books last month because I thought it said Epicurus. I’ve already read Epictetus’s Discourses. This book is derived from a subset of the Discourses called the Manual or the Handbook or the Enchiridion (depending on who’s talking about it and the translation, I gather).

The producer of this book is a calligrapher living in Paris who presents epigrams from Epictetus, formatted like poems, with Greek versions of the same or derivatives calligraphied up on the facing page. As such, the author presents it more as a calligraphy/art book than anything else. His afterword section describes his life and technicque in greater detail than the preface described Epictetus.

Still, it was a quick breeze to read (and adding to my woefully behind annual reading count this year), and it does present some of the wisdom of Epictetus in a koan, Tao Te Ching kind of fashion.

But as to calligraphy as an art form in itself, I’m not sold.

Book Report: Of Reading Books by John Livingston Lowes (1929)

Book coverWow, Brian J., you might ask. Didn’t you used to read books? I know I ask myself that question frequently. But my reading time was curtailed the first quarter of this year. First, I didn’t have a lot of time to read a small “carry” book that I took out with me to various locations where I’d have a half hour or hour to kill. I’ve not been going to martial arts classes enough this year so far, and when I do, it’s been on days where I’ve not had to get there for my children’s classes, where I would wait for mine to begin thirty or forty five minutes later. And instead of sitting on a bench in church on Sunday mornings during the Sunday School hour, I’ve been schlepping my laptop to a local coffee shop to try to bang out the beginnings of a novel. Also, as you might recall, I’ve been working my way through some Shakespeare, and the book that I’ve picked up in the middle of Measure for Measure is long, too. So I’ve not been adding to my annual to-read list very much this year.

However, this month I have determined that the schlepping of the laptop is a lot of work compared to the actual throughput I get in writing (currently, I’m on page two of the novel, as it takes me ten minutes to get to the coffee shop, a couple minutes to eat a pastry or several, and then I have to pack up twenty minutes later to return to church to pick up my family), so I decided to return to my perch at church to do some reading.

I started with this volume that I got in December. Because it’s short, and it’s about reading books. How meta.

At any rate, the author gave this particular speech at two separate commencements to the graduating class of 1929. It’s broken into three parts. The first talks about reading at the university, and how so much of the university is designed to teach the students marketable skills and not so much about the classics and the love of learning. The second talks about how it’s important to learn to love reading when you’re young, as the things you read then you will read with relish and zeal that you lose a bit as you get older. The habit, built then, will lead to a lifetime of reading which might lack the zeal of the young but brings its own pleasure. In III, he explains the benefit of being well read, where it will lead you to make synthetic connections between things that you might not otherwise get, and that only broad reading gives you this chance to make those connections between the things you read and encounter.

The book is very literate, chock full of allusions and quotations (without sourcing) that he expected a college graduate to get in 1929, many but not all of which I recognized in spite of a twenty-some year old degree in English and philosophy and continued reading since then (he quotes Miranda from The Tempest which is fresh in my mind).

But his address really just illustrates that what goes around comes around. You find contemporary thinkers worrying about the university not teaching young people to think or read the classics and only teaching them skills for commerce. Of course, William Wordsworth talked about too much getting and spending, too, even before Lowes.

The commencement addresses were given to college students of the late 1920s, which were more hoity toity than you get today after the GI Bill and government loan programs made it available to everyone. And they hit the workforce and the real world months before the stock market crash that launched the Great Depression. So history has made itself a double-effect narrator that makes us cringe a bit for those students.

So worth an hour or so of your time if you’re into books or history, I suppose. Or if you have to start furiously padding your annual list of books read.

Book Report: Voyage from Yesteryear by James P. Hogan (1982)

Book coverAs you might recall, gentle reader, I am a pretty big fan of James P. Hogan (see also the reviews for The Multiplex Man, Paths to Otherware, The Legend That Was Earth, and Martian Knightlife). However, do not let the stretches of time between those book reports diminish my claim. That I apparently haven’t read something by Hogan since 2009 more indicates how time flies when you get older.

The exposition of this book: In the near future (nearer to us than to readers in 1983), international relations are tense (the Soviet Union is still around, and the Chinese/Japanese alliance (?!) is a rising power). An international space probe is launched to a habitable planet around Alpha Centauri. At the last minute, the building blocks of human life are added with the thought that the robots and computers on the probe can build habitation and factories and whatnot that will then build human children to live on the distant planet to ensure humanity survives in case of a cataclysm on Earth. A major war erupts, and an American civilization rebuilds first and sends a generation ship to the new planet, Chiron, to enlist the residents there in the predicted war against the Eastern Asians, who send their own ship four years after the Americans. In the twenty-year journey, the Americans on the Mayflower II have developed their own politics and expectations of their first encounter with the Chironians, and they’re stumped when confronted with the libertarian utopia that has evolved in the forty years when the society with its abundant technologies build itself from scratch.

That’s the setup, and the bulk of the book describes the interaction and adjustment or lack thereof of the individuals and institutions to the Chironian way of life. About halfway through the book, I thought perhaps the book would take a twist akin to a book I’d read some time before — Code of the Lifemaker. Which, as it turns out, is Hogan’s next book. But this book did not take the turn I expected, and it was straight forward and earnest throughout.

Thematically, the book deals with how a society might build structure itself if the base understanding of life and the universe was one of abundance instead of scarcity. How would they organize politically? How would they make their lives meaningful? The book goes into some alternative science premises that Hogan used a lot. As I was reading, I was thinking the Chironian society was like something I’d seen before in The Probability Broach by L. Neil Smith.

Overall, the sweeping themes and meta nature–with political subplots and chapters on quantum physics (with which I’ve tried to grapple with on numerous occasions recently) bogged down my reading of the book. I would have enjoyed it with fewer characters and sidelines, but that’s probably because my attention span has shortened over time.

Also, I think Hogan’s hopeful thesis about how people raised in abundance and without the death-focused strictures that I assume he associated with Christianity and old timey religions would behave. Forty years later, our Western society’s generations raised since this book came out, have proven to be quite petty instead of interested in all being little Howard Roarks and Dagny Taggarts.

Still, an interesting concept and a breath of fresh extraterrestrial air amid the Shakespeare comedies I have been reading this year.

Book Report: The Cotswolds by Robin Whiteman and Rob Talbot (1987)

Book coverLike the book on Raphael, I hoped to read this book during football games. I picked it up last fall after reading two books with Cotswold/Catswald in the title (Cotswold Mistress and The Catswald Portal). But, as I mentioned in the report on the book on Raphael, I didn’t end up watching a lot of football last autumn, so this book, too, got pushed off but now serves as an interlude between the Shakespeare plays I’m working on.

The book suffers from a similar malady to the Raphael book: A high prose to image ratio, and that the captions beside each image go beyond what you’re looking at in the picture itself. An image of a cottage or a landscape with a distant mill in it will mention the region’s history and role in the wool trade in the Middle Ages (hint: almost whatever the village, it was probably involved).

That said, I really enjoyed the book. The sense of old one gets from European cities definitely trumps the 200 years, maybe, you get out here in the Middle Western and Western parts of the United States. Combining this book with the travelogue of Kim du Toit, who spent part of last year in England, and I might someday be tempted to leave the relative safety of the middle of this country for England. I’d better hurry while there’s still an England, though.

At any rate, a cool book. A step up from the normal tourist takeaway books I read about different regions or the coffeetable photography books about San Francisco or New York.

Book Report: The Library of Great Masters: Raphael translated by Paul Blanchard (1991)

Book coverAs you know, gentle reader, I sometimes like to page through books of poetry, art, or photography whil I watch a sporting event such as a football game or a baseball game, where I can browse a small chunk, watch a play, peruse a bit, watch a play, and then ingest a bit more during commercials. But, Brian J., you did not do that much this past football season! What gives? Well, gentle reader, this was not a good year for the Green Bay Packers, as you know, so I did not stick with football games for the full three hours. Also, some of the books I picked out had pretty high text-to-image ratios and required a bit more attention than I could muster during football games.

This is one such volume. It’s a collection of paintings done by Raphael accompanied by a biography. The text did not lend itself to easy perusal for a couple of reasons. For one, it’s a pretty detailed art history piece, where we learn about with whom Raphael worked in his youth and the influence that myriad Italian Renaissance painters had on him and in which of his works. As I have no idea who any of these guys were, I did not get much from that. Secondly, the book talked about paintings whose images were pages away, so by the time I got to the painting, I’d forgotten what I’d read about it.

So I couldn’t read it during a football game. So I read it as part of my breaks from the volume of William Shakespeare that I am reading currently. The book still had the same drawbacks to reading at length, but I got through it.

I want to flip through these books to get a sense of what the author’s work looked like and maybe so I can say something intelligent about it. I’m not sure I could tell a Raphael from another Renaissance painter, but I can tell one from a Rembrandt, although this book says Raphael used chiaroscuro as well–but to be honest, Rembrandt used the effect better. Also, although they must have been getting better by the time the cinquecento rolled around, the proportions of the bodies are still a little off. You look at some of the shoulders on the people relative to their necks and heads, and you have to wonder how their eyesight was.

At any rate, I’ve learned the difference between the quattrocento and the cinquecento from this book, so I’ve got that going for me. For those of you who don’t watch football and thus are not exposed to Renaissance art, that’s the 1400s and roughly 1500-1530 in Italian art.

Worth a browse, but probably better if this is not your first exposure to Renaissance art.

Musing on Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

I’ve started to read the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, and instead of writing one book report at the end, since this could take years, I’ve decided to post my thoughts on each play as I finish it. Of course, it will still only count as one book on my annual reading count in 2020 because I’m silly that way.

This play brings a number of the Shakespearean tropes into high relief, and we can see how he swapped the parts into his plays. The high level plot is that a duke likes a lady who is in mourning for her brother’s loss, and she’s not into the duke. A young lady is separated from her brother in a shipwreck, falls in love with the duke, and dresses like a man to be his embassy to the woman the duke loves. The woman falls in love with the lady posing as a man. We’ve got a subplot about a relative of the lady and his friends who trick a servant into thinking the lady is in love with him; and the brother lost in the shipwreck shows up just in time to take the sister’s place as the woman’s husband.

I mean, it’s an amusing scramble, but you can see the shipwreck motif; the woman dressing as a man as helping the man she loves pitch woo to another; and so on. I’m pretty sure if I studied more deeply into sixteenth and seventeenth century drama, I’d really see how often these same themes were mashed up. What, I’m not already that big of a student of this era? Hey, man, I’m a reader, not an academic.

It does make me want to break up the comedies with a tragedy or two, but one of the things I do is read books in the order in which they’re presented. I don’t read the last page first, and I don’t read the prophets before the chronicles of the kings. Which is why it often takes me a long time to get through things.

Book Report: Naked Blade, Naked Gun by “Axel Kilgore” (1983)

Book coverI was surprised to see I owned another in this series, which I now recognize (last year, I read Slave of the Warmonger, the seventh book in the series). I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since I bought them together along with a pile of Executioner novels in Clever in 2013. This volume is the 13th; the series itself only ran 18 volumes in the early 1980s (according to Fantastic Fiction).

This book is a bit more amateur than Slave of the Warmonger. The dialog is clunky, and there are extraneous bits of activity and interactions that don’t add to the story.

In this book, The Mercenary is reuniting with his gal when he recognizes a killer from Vietnam and pursues him through the airport, but the fellow escapes when the Mercenary is waylaid by airport security. His girlfriend, a reporter, is doing a piece on cults, so The Mercenary tags along and finds a cult that is killing experts on the cult. However, the cult is really a front for a KGB operation that’s kidnapping scientists, and the head man of the Russians is posing as a Christian preaching the evils of cults. Along the way, there are action set pieces and places where this hard-core killing machine acts very, very dumb to further the plot.

So this is probably my last foray into this series. I’m sad to learn (also via Fantastic Fiction) that this is the same author behind The Survivalist series, which I’d hoped to snag a few of somewhere. But you don’t tend to see them at book sales. Which is just as well, since I’m nowhere near finished with that stack of Executioner books that I picked up along with this book back in 2013.

Book Report: The Joy of Not Working by Ernie J. Zelinkski (1997)

Book coverThis book joins The Ruins and the complete works of Horace Algernon Blackwood as a volume that goes from my to-read shelves to my “read” shelves (which, you can see now, is all a lie) without me finishing it. I mean, sometimes I pick up a book and read a bit of it only to decide I don’t want to read this right now, and I put it back on my to-read shelves. Few are the books where I decide I will never want to finish reading this. This book is in rare company.

This book was written after the author ran a series of seminars and workshops on what aging members of the World War II generation should do as they retired and suddenly did not have a job to define them. So, somewhere in it, perhaps there are lessons in identity and establishing multiple facets of one’s own identity to account for a time when a job will not tell you and other people who you are.

But it’s hidden among a bunch of meandering and repetitive prose. I made it 56 pages, which is further than the two bookmarks I found in the book (a snippet of the job want ads from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and a return address label). The book itself is only 203 pages, including big sidebar cartoons and quotes about employment and leisure. I carried it to a number of my reading locations, and I had to force myself to open it. Sometimes, I found staring at a cinderblock wall more rewarding than reading the book. I came to a list of things that might indicate your life was not in balance and you might have the wrong job, and I applied them to the time I spent reading this book. So I’m done with it forever.

Perhaps the message was on-point in 1997, but we’ve got a couple self-actualizing generations that have sought meaning outside work (or meaningful work instead of careers) since then. So many of the lessons aren’t applicable to more modern readers. Or they’re covered in the contemporary mindfulness movement, often more concisely.

I see it’s been updated for the 21st century; I hope the later edition has been significantly been rewritten. But I’m not risking it.

Book Report: Killer Mine by Mickey Spillane (1965)

Book coverAs you know, I just bought this book a couple weeks ago. As it so often happens in the Nogglestead library, I pick up the most recent book I bought to read, and things like The Buddhist Tradition in China languish on my shelves for decades.

I started reading Mike Hammer books in high school, probably spurred by the Stacy Keach television portrayal (and the fact that I read detective novels a lot in high school), but I haven’t seen many Mickey Spillane books at book sales in the past couple of decades, so my reading of them are pretty sparse since the dawn of the new century (see Black Alley, a Mike Hammer novel, in 2003 and Dead Street, a non-Mike Hammer novel completed by Max Allan Collins, that I read last year).

Like More Good Old Stuff, this book is old school hard-boiled stuff. The book is from the middle 1960s, but it reads like 40s fiction.

“Killer Mine” deals with a cop returning to his old, rough neighborhood where some of the local hoods he grew up with are getting bumped off. The brass put him in undercover, placing him as the pretend wooer of a policewoman who still lives in the neighborhood. As he does some legwork and starts to win over the population who distrust police, he closes in on the killer. Who was obvious to a modern, sophisticated reader of detective fiction. As a matter of fact, I wondered how the detective would take 150 pages to discover what I knew from very early. Then, on page 75, he confronts the killer, and I thought, “Whoa! Now there is some twist to account for the other half of the book!” But, no, this single volume is two novellas.

The second, “Man Alone”, I had read before. I don’t remember much except they call the protagonist “The Killer Cop.” A cop beats a framed payoff from an organized crime figure and then the murder of the organized crime figure and sets out to find who framed him. Again, the answer is obvious to modern readers who’ve been dealing with these sorts of twists for decades after this was written.

But we’re not in a Mickey Spillane book for a novel twist at this point. Instead, we’re in it for the gritty, hardboiled writing style, which you get here for sure, but as I have grown older, I find it less compelling than, say, John D. MacDonald or Raymond Chandler–or even Ross MacDonald. It’s certainly above most men’s paperback fiction in consistency and punchiness, but not the top tier. Which, I’m sure, Spillane would have accepted as long as people bought his books.

Book Report: More Good Old Stuff by John D. MacDonald (1984)

Book coverThis is the second big collection of MacDonald’s pulp-era short stories. I’ve read the first, I think, sometime in the distant past. I thought I read it in the recent past, but I was thinking of End of the Tiger, which I read in 2015.

Unlike that collection, this one is a collection of pulpy crime stories that appeared in various magazines in the 1940s and 1950s. MacDonald says in his forward that he’s updated them a bit to make them more contemporary (to 1984). However, by now, they’re quite dated, but less so to someone who was sentient in 1984.

The book includes:

  • “Deadly Damsel”, a story about a woman who kills husbands, and what happens when she meets a grifter in Florida.
  • “State Police Report That…”, wherein an escaped convict is tripped up by a surprising twist.
  • “Death for Sale”, wherein a prisoner of World War II hunts a French traitor to New Orleans.
  • “A Corpse In His Dreams”, a successful investigative journalist returns to his hometown, haunted by the death of his girlfriend in a car accident he survived.
  • “I Accuse Myself”, a man recovering from emergency brain surgery remembers the murder.
  • “A Place to Live”, a city employee takes on the city machine with a story of corruption and finds the odds stacked against him.
  • “Neighborly Interest”, a trio of kidnappers hide out in a nondescript house and are tripped up by a small detail.
  • “The Night Is Over”, a grieving man hits bottom and is unwittingly enticed into a scheme by a con man and blackmailer, only to find himself trapped.
  • “Secret Stain”, a hard man plays both ends of an organized crime group against each other for his own reasons.
  • “Even Up the Odds”, a drunkard gets into a scrap with the local connected bully.
  • “Verdict”, a hard man is sent out of town to eliminate a crusading police chief but finds more than he expected.
  • “The High Gray Walls of Hate”, an ex-con looks to even the score with those who framed him.
  • “Unmarried Widow”, a woman finds an out-of-work journalist in a bar, and mistakes him for someone named Jerry. The journalist finds that some hard men are after her, and he tries to find out why. The gimmick where a mad woman calls the protagonist by another name, you might remember, was used in the film Quigly Down Under. I did.
  • “You Remember Jeanie”, a former cop hits bottom after his girl is killed in a bar, and he continues to frequent the bar for vengeance.

Overall, a pleasing book to read, and it’s the first book I’ve read this year (!). I might revisit the MacDonald stuff for fun some day, especially if I get to live to 200 and they stop making paper books so I have to reread what I have.

Book Report: The Tao of Meow by “Waldo Japussy” and Carl Japikse (1990)

Book coverI closed out my annual reading with this volume. After all, I’ve read books on the various Tao this year (Tao Te Ching, The Tao of Elvis). I’ve read books purportedly by cats (I Could Pee On This) and books about magical cats (The Catswold Portal, No One Noticed The Cat). So this book fit right into my annual reading selections.

The schtick is that the author’s cat wrote 81 poems just like Lao Tzu, and each talks a little about the way. And about being a cat. In the first couple dozen poems, I wondered if the author was really trying to walk a fine line between amusing and actually trying to convey serious elements of Taoism in the book, but it hits one of the poems–I forget which one–where the author basically says that this is a humor book and not to be taken too heavily.

It’s a bit of a stretch to get a full 81 poems out of the conceit, and the results are uneven. Some are thoughtful, some are amusing, and some are sort of pro forma. But I enjoyed it enough for what it is.

Now that 2017 is over, perhaps my cat book binge can be over, and I can start focusing on ferrets or pot-bellied pigs as pets, detectives, and philosophers in 2018.

Book Report: Derelict by LJ Cohen (2014)

Book coverI bought this book on the last day of the local GAME Expo in October. You’ll have to take my word for it, as I did not post a picture of the things I bought on that trip. I bought it from the author, who traipsed all the way from Boston to sit at a table in Springfield, Missouri, to sell her books. I was her last sale of the day, as she was heading out to catch a plane home as we got to the game / science fiction convention on Sunday afternoon.

At any rate, this is like, what, three in a row of self-published books that are pretty good? (Obsidian Son and The Leftovers being the others.) I’m a little afraid of delving into more self-published stuff for fear of ruining the streak.

This young adult book centers on four teens on a remote outpost. Ro, the daughter of the chief engineer of the station, is good with computers and whatnot; Jem and Barre are the children of the doctors of the station, and Jem is a good engineering student while Barre seemingly wastes his talents on music; and Micah, son of a disgraced Senator, who is trying to perfect a strain of a plant-based drug called Bitterweed to break the current cartel’s hold on the supply. Ro hopes to get to the university, and she hopes to revive a derelict crashed space transport as a project to show she’s competent. But the teens find guns in the hold with forged diplomatic seals on them and uncover a plot by the engineer and the senator to traffic the goods. A plot that requires Ro to awaken the ship’s AI and make the ship space-worthy. When she does, the confused space AI takes off from the asteroid in a panic, leaving the four teens scrambling to survive and return home even as they’re hunted by the government and the people who want their wares.

It’s pretty good. It meanders a bit, especially towards the end, but I might just get impatient with books that clock in at almost 400 pages. Also, the derelict of the title is treated as ancient, but I believe the book says it crashed forty years ago. That seems a little recent for how ancient it’s portrayed. Even today, we have almost 100 year old ships sailing the seas and some of our airplanes are forty and fifty years old. Perhaps the author is trying to convey the youngsters’ perspective here.

So I enjoyed the read, and if I catch the author at another fair, convention, or festival, I might pick up some of the later books in the series (I believe she brought four titles to Springfield, but was sold out of one of them). But I don’t think I’ll hop on the Internet and order them to catch up. That is just not my way.

Book Report: The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan W. Watts (1951, ?)

Book coverThe title of this book certainly fits into the philsophy kinds of books that I might like to pick up. Its size (short and paperback) meant it would make a good carry book for me. It did. As I was reading it at the dojo, a very well-read teenager there recognized Watts’ name. After I finished it, I saw a Facebook image with a Watts quote on it. So his influence continues, some thirty-five years after his death.

At any rate, this book was originally published in 1951, so it’s steeped in the Existentialist zeitgeist, but it’s not really an Existentialist book. Watt was at one time a clergyman, but he switched over to Buddhism as a relatively early American adopter (and he knew Shunryu Suzuki). So this is a bit of a spoiler alert. I detected some of the Buddhist themes in the work along with some response and comment on other philosophers’ work, but not so much by name.

It’s a popular bit of philsophical musings. That is, it grapples with some of the main themes in life instead of being a comment on a particular school of thought. The gist of it is that life is changing and fluid at all times, and the more you try to crystallize it into something specific, you lose it. That is, defining a word takes something away from the thing being defined. Also, the early traces of the Mindfulness movement are here, he posits that only the present is real and the past and future are not. So we get into the real nub of Buddhist theory of consciousness, which ultimately doesn’t seem to work: The “consciousness” in the “present” is not the same thing as it was in the past nor is it the same thing that will experience the “present” different from this one. If you accept a certain evolution of the person, the being, the soul, you can sort of think this is right, but the Buddhist thought says, no, literally, the consciousness who came to my blog is not the same one that right now is finishing the third paragraph of this book report.

So there are lessons one can take away from the book, which are basically the things you find in Mindfulness listicles all over the Web. Try to improve your mindset and adaptability to changing circumstances; let go of the past; don’t worry about the future; enjoy the present as it is. But unlike a listicle (and contemporary Mindfulness books written by the listicle authors), the book has depth in exploring some ontology and epistemology.

So a good read, and apparently still relevant if contemporary high school kids, albeit precocious ones, talk about the author.

Book Report: The Master Mind of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1928, 1962)

Book coverTechnically, the copy of this book that I read is the third book in a three-novel omnibus edition called 3 Martian Novels; however, the other two are Thuvia, Maid of Mars and The Chessmen of Mars, both of which I read earlier this year when I read the omnibus John Carter of Mars. I know my book reading accounting system is arbitrary: In my annual tabulation, the five volume omnibus is a single book, but the one novel that I read in this collection is one book instead of a third of a book, which is why my annual reading is currently at 83 instead of 87.33. But I’m accountable to no governing authority on this enumeration, so I’ll do what I want.

Where was I? Oh, yes. In this book, we have another Earthman, a WWI soldier who dies in combat, transported to Mars. He ends up in the employ of a great scientist who has learned how to transplant just about anything–including brains from one body to another. The scientist, a supremely rational being, maps out a plan where he and the Earthman will swap each others’ brains into new bodies every thousand years or so, essentially conferring immortality upon each. The plan goes awry when the Earthman meets the mind of a sweet young Martian woman whose brain has been swapped with into the body of an aged despot, and the Earthman vows to put things aright.

It’s a pretty quick little yarn; John Carter makes the obligatory appearance at the end, but Burroughs has already learned by book 4 of the series that after elevating the main character to the pinnacle of power (John Carter became the jeddak of all jeddaks in the third book) that it would be wise to focus on other, more approachable characters whose struggles would still be acute and adventurous, in the series. So many series keep heaping power, fame, and whatnot on the series characters so that they’ve continually have to find ever more powerful struggles and villains to fight, and the characters end up caricatures or so powerful that the reader cannot identify with the protagonists.

Bully on Burroughs for avoiding this trap.

Also note that my estimation of this book is probably higher because I haven’t read five or six in the series in a row. Mixing the series books in with other books helps keep them fresh, hides some of the formula, and helps each stand alone instead of being instantly comparable to the last one read. So I should take that to heart, although I’ll probably still read omnibus editions as a single book. Except maybe the Detective Book Club books.

Book Report: A Christmas Promise by Thomas Kinkade and Katherine Spencer (2004)

Book coverThis book represents my annual Christmas book, and it’s the one I bought most recently (” target=”_new”>October, in fact). Although I’ve bought a couple more such books this year, they’ve hidden amongst my to-read shelves, whereas this book was still relatively front and center.

At any rate, apparently, this is the fifth of the Cape Light books; I read one from ten years later last year (All Is Bright from 2014), and I didn’t care for it. As a matter of fact, I said:

So although I undoubtedly have destiny that includes one or more Kinkade paintings, I doubt I’ll revisit this series.

Well, fortunately, I forgot that particular New Year’s Resolution, as this book was better.

A pastor visiting Cape Light while he recovers from malaria collides with a pregnant woman on the run and under an assumed name on a snowy evening. He helps her out, and they start to have feelings for each other, as she hides out in a boarding house and integrates into the friendly community until a private investigator hired by her vindictive ex-husband shows up. Side plots include one daughter of a wealthy widow wanting to marry and another daughter dealing with the lingering effects of a miscarriage and her husband’s attention paid to a needy boy at a local shelter.

Overall, a pleasant book to read. A nice bit of fiction without major crimes involved, but enough intrigue with the woman on the run story to keep a genre-fan like me engaged. Which might be what the other Cape Light book I read lacked. It has its unanswered questions: What, exactly, is the promise in the title? How did the detective find her? It rather quickly covers the whole holiday period with big gaps, and then it drills into conflicts that might have been resolved within those intervening weeks, but do not. That’s a flaw I see in some television programs, too.

Now, back to the genre fiction for me.

Book Report: Vietnam Fallout The Executioner #113 (1988)

Book coverIt’s been almost six months since I’ve read a Bolan book (Death Has A Name in July), and this book is 17 books later in the series. Thicker than the old Bolan books (a transition I noted in the previously mentioned review), this one might be a touch better, but it’s still a bit dissatisfying overall.

Within this volume, Bolan is in New York when an ambassador from Vietnam who is making back channel overtures for normalization of relations with the United States is assassinated. Bolan is riding with a cop who happened to be an old war buddy, and they pursue the assassins. The friend is cut down, which sends Bolan on a search for vengeance that leads him to Vietnam. Although this book kinda treats this like it’s a fresh return for Bolan, we who read the books instead of write them for hire recognize that he has already been back in a book entitled Return to Vietnam.

Once in Vietnam, Bolan engages in a rehash of Heart of Darkness–or maybe Apocalypse Now, the original rehash of Heart of Darkness set in Vietnam, albeit during the actual war. As he follows that plot line, he engages in some questionable decisions that seem to go against the marrow of the character for future plot twists. And then the book reaches its shoot-out climax, and Bolan wins.

The first part of the book, in New York, has a different feel from the second half. One wonders if two incomplete manuscripts were grafted together to make one longer book. Or, one fears, maybe the remainder of these books will be like this. Which would be awful, since one has a lot of these later books from scattered places in the 400 or 500 book canon.

Book Report: The Wards of Iasos Book 1: The Leftovers by J. Christopher Wilson (2016)

Book coverI mentioned in September that this local author was stalking me, appearing at different cons and festivals I attended until I bought his book (to recap: I saw his table at Library Con 2017, but didn’t buy the book because he was on a panel at the time–and I’d already bought a bunch there anyway; I saw him at the Mini Maker Faire; and I saw him at a street fair in Hollister, where I finally bought this book). Well, I hadn’t gotten to it, but I saw him at the First Lego League competition in his home element–the middle school in the system where he teaches. So he was stalking me to make sure I read his book. Although, to be honest, he is an inefficient, ineffective stalker, as he did not even notice me leaning against the wall in the corridor as he ushered teams into the auditorium.

Still, it prompted me to pick up his book. Also, note that I’ve been reading a bit of fantasy lately. See also Jules Verne (all right, not exactly fantasy, but bear with me), Obsidian Son, The Catswold Portal, and John Carter of Mars (which is an omnibus of five novels). Does back in late summer count as “lately”? I dunno. But there you go. What was I saying? Oh, yes, a book report.

You know what? This book is pretty good. I’ve lucked out with the self-published fiction this autumn. The aforementioned Obsidian Son was also pretty good.

But this book differs from that, so let’s talk about this book. It’s targeted to younger adults and is high fantasy. The book deals with a collection of outcast students at the mandatory academy for youth in the nation of Iasos. Each comes from a broken home or has been cast aside by his or her parents. We have a large half-Orc cleric type, a half-goat warrior maiden, a scarred magician who wears a hood, a young barbarian, and an empathetic thief. The house leader/teacher is a battle-weary dwarf who takes the group under his wing to teach them how to work as a team and whatnot.

The book starts running through some threads that will continue in later books, and the adventures in this book come to a head when the group travels outside the academy’s sanctuary. They encounter some mercenaries sent by a foreign power to destabilize the country, and the young charges want to fight to liberate a small, illegal community oppressed by the mercenaries. After the mercenaries kill one of the wards, a reckoning comes that sees the wards fight together for the first time.

The author’s bio says he’s a Dungeons and Dragons player, and you can see a little of that in the descriptions, particularly of the locations. The narrative stops, and we get a couple paragraphs or pages of descriptions of the building. One almost wants to check the east wall for secret doors. Also, I’m tempted to try to identify influences for the work–I remember the old Advanced Dungeons and Dragons cartoon had the smallest, youngest kid be the Barbarian, although in the cartoon, the boy was not primitive. Looking at the cover, I can’t wonder if the artist was not influenced by the Teen Titans–one of the characters looks like Raven, and the Behemoth (the half-Orc knock off with the splotches of lighter color) kinda looks like Cyborg. But it’s unfair to the author that I’m looking for these influences where they might not exist.

At any rate, that’s two for two on the self-published books I’ve read this autumn. I expect I’ll get the next installment when it comes out because otherwise I’ll see this author at all the local cons and whatnot, and he’ll not let me rest until I do.

Book Report: The Best of Jules Verne by Jules Verne (1978)

Book coverI picked up this book because I know the chicks dig Jules Verne.

Well, maybe it’s only one, and maybe she is fictional. But still.

I probably picked this up because I’ve been doing the omnibus thing this year. I’ve shortchanged my annual numbers by reading books containing multiple books all year long (Three Novels by Damon Knight; Selected Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe; John Carter of Mars). So why not another three-in-one? Besides, this book is sort of like picking up a split–I have a Reader’s Digest edition of A Journey to the Center of the Earth which I can move over to the read shelves as this volume contains that novel.

At any rate, my dear Clara, this volume contains three of Verne’s works, and we could spend many evenings by candelight discussing whether they are, in fact, the best. Before I did so, I would have to read a bunch more of what he wrote to argue intelligently, as these are the three books I’ve read.

The three books contained with are:

  • Around the World in 80 Days, the story of a reclusive and mysterious Englishman, Phineas Fogg, who makes a bet at his gentleman’s club that he can travel around the world in 80 days. He takes his new valet along for the ride and rescues a beautiful young Pharisee from sacrifice in India. A bank robbery right before he leaves London puts a detective on his tail who’s out to thwart him until an arrest warrant catches up with him.

    Of the book, this is the best–its protagonist is aloof, but the new valet, Passepartoute, is accessible, so we are rooting for them to complete their adventure in spite of the setbacks and adventures they encounter along the way. We even feel sympathetic to the detective who’s only doing his job. And the adventures involve exotic places and peoples. The other two novels included falter in comparison.

  • The Clipper of the Clouds, also published as Robur the Conqueror, starts with a duel scene. A Yankee and an Englishman argue over whether mysterious trumpet sounds coming from the sky played “Yankee Doodle” or “Rule Britannia”. The rest of the first chapter details mysterious sounds and trumpets heard from the sky around the world and the arguments as to what it might be. Then, we’re at a meeting of the lighter than air travel society, proposing to build a giant blimp or dirgible, when a stranger says that heavier than air craft ar the way to go. A ruckus and riot ensues, and the two most powerful men in the society disappear–they’ve been kidnapped by Robur, who has essentially a boat with rotary wings on the masts in addition to sails. So it can fly! He then, for reasons of his own, take the two men around the world and to different locales. Their adventures are a bit underwhelming, and then they return. I guess Verne did a sequel to this book, but I’m certainly not compelled to read it.
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth details a professor who finds a several-hundred-year-old coded note from an explorer who was censured and considered a heretic. The note contains the location of a secret cave that leads to the center of the earth. So the scientist enlists his nephew for a trip to Iceland, they take on a stoic Icelandic guide, a load of food, and they descend. They spend months walking through caves and having dry misadventures–running low on water, getting lost–until they find a giant underworld sea, which they build a raft and ride on for weeks, and then they find dinosaurs and evidence of humanoids under the earth before they trigger a volcanic eruption and ride it to the surface.

The second and third books in the volume have a whiff of the hard science fiction about them, where the draw is the science and the speculation, but not so much the story. Which is not what I read books for–not fiction, anyway.

So I was not, ultimately, impressed with them. Not for their lack of imagination, but rather by the execution where the speculation drove the books more than the stories based on the speculation.

I’m not sure what Clara would think of that.

The book also contains an interview with Jules Verne from The Strand magazine called “Jules Verne at Home”. This is a very nice bit capturing Verne and his wife at their estate, giving some insight into the popular author at the tail end of his career.

Book Report: Rogue Warrior: Seal Force Alpha by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman (1998)

Book coverLet’s get it right out of the way: In my book report for They Call Me Mercenary #7: Slave of the Warmonger, I dinged that volume for misspelling the name of the Browning Hi-Power.

Welp, this book:

On his thigh, I could see the butt of an old SAS-type Browning High Power pistol peeking through the ballistic nylon restraining strap.

So consider this volume officially dinged.

As with any of the Rogue Warrior novels, you know what you’re getting: A crassly composed, often vulgar voice describing a pretty tight military/suspense story. This book deals with the specialist SEAL team destroying a clandestine Chinese weapons ship only to discover that the tangos had their hands on a particularly Top Secret electronics weapon called Big Brother–which means someone in Washington has been working with the ChiComs. So Marcinko and crew have to stop a plot (dealing with the disputed Senkaku islands–here in the future, in 2017, we know all about those still-disputed islands, don’t we?).

It’s fast-paced and fun reading (if you can tolerate the voice, which is strangely part of the charm for me). Apparently, these books are still getting written and put out, and I have to wonder how they will evolve–in 1998, the main character has open disdain for the Clinton administration, for example–as history has unfolded. Sadly, they could just about recycle a number of the post-Cold War plots since the same hotspots from 1998 remain places of suspense in 2017.

Check out the foresight as to the hot things to come:

No, Dick–what you sometimes gotta do is take the Oriental approach. Use the discipline of Mindfulness. Let everything be everything, and in equal degrees of being.

In 2017, all the cool listicle and life-hack sites talk about mindfulness (as does this blog, as I end up reading a bunch of that stuff to relax).

As I have said or alluded, these books are scarily timely even after 20 years.