RICHARD BEN SAPIR – THE FAR ARENA

The Far Arena by Richard Ben Sapir

FarArena

I recently bought a used copy of this long out-of-print book. I first read it when it was released in 1978. I was working at Doubleday and it fell to me to do the write-up for it in the monthly publication that was sent to book club members.

A large part of my job was reading books. Talk about great jobs, that was the best. I’m not sure I ever fully recovered from my Doubleday years. Not merely was I paid to read and write about books, but I received (as did all the editors and graphic artists in the department) new copies of every book we worked on. We all had huge personal libraries. We also had 2 hour lunches and wonderful co-workers. I looked forward to work the way most folks anticipate the weekend. It was that good. I realize this is a digression, but I wanted to put this in context. Maybe brag a little.

The Far Arena is classified as science fiction. It is, but not in the traditional sense. It doesn’t fall into any genre except perhaps speculative fiction, a catch-all term for odd books. Time travel? Sort of. But without the machinery.

gladiators2The story in brief: A Roman gladiator is flash frozen in the arctic ice. He is accidentally discovered by a team drilling for oil and subsequently defrosted and brought back to life. What follows is his story as a Roman married to a Hebrew slave, and his perceptions of the modern world from the point of view of a man whose world disappeared 1600 years ago. His observations on modern society are priceless.

For example, while in the hospital, he asks about the slaves who serve him. He is referring to the to nurses and other workers who attend to his needs. His new friends explain that they aren’t slaves, that they work for wages and are free to leave, or be dismissed by their employers. He thinks this is a fantastic idea.

“You mean they do everything you tell them to do, but when they get old and can no longer work, you don’t have to take care of them? What a great idea! Slaves without responsibility.”

“They aren’t slaves,” insist his modern friends.

“They are treated like slaves, they act like slaves. They are slaves,” he responds. Who would argue the point? Not me.

That is paraphrasing, of course, but it’s the spirit of the dialogue. I have never looked at the world quite the same way since I read this book. Modern workers have all the freedom of slaves, but no assurance that anyone will care for them when they are no longer able to work. That’s a pretty good deal from the owners’ … I mean employers’ … point-of-view.

This is a brilliant, unique book. It stands apart from all the books I’ve read over the years. All other time travel stories are about modern people visiting the past. This is the only book I can think of where a man from the past offers a view of the modern world and it’s not pretty.

Richard Ben Sapir wrote other books that are unusual and worth reading. I especially liked The Body. But The Far Arena stands head and shoulders above the rest. He only wrote a few novels. His world was really comic books, or what are now called “graphic novels.” Finding copies of Ben Sapir’s books is challenging. If you can buy or borrow one, it’s a must-read, even if science fiction is not normally your favorite genre.

It would make a great movie. I can see it all in my mind’s eye. I recommend you read it if you can. You can find copies around occasionally and although he was not a prolific writer, he wrote a few other novels, all of which are very good and have unique stories.

Did I mention that it’s exceptionally well written? Highly literate? Well-researched? Convincing? All those things and a great, gripping story too.

Happy hunting and hopefully, happy reading!

WALDO AND MAGIC, INC., ROBERT HEINLEIN

waldo and magic incI’m astonished how many people have read these two novellas and miss the point. Some readers apparently can’t see any connection between the two stories. They think these novellas are in a single volume by a fluke or “to fill up space.” Either they didn’t really read them or they are conceptually challenged, unable to make a logical leap between two related ideas without a flow chart.

The point is that technology is a based on our belief it will work. As long as we believe in it, it functions. If or when we stop believing, it won’t. It’s all magic.

When we lose faith in technology, magic jumps in and becomes the new technology. The difference between one and the other is functionally negligible. The stories’ plots are irrelevant. It’s the concept that counts.

I read these books about 50 years ago. I haven’t read them since, but remember them. Meanwhile, I can’t remember the plot of whatever book I read last week. These were original concepts when first introduced in the 1940s, was still original 25 years later when I read it. Probably still original today, more than 60 years after the stories were first published.

The best science fiction is concept-driven rather than character or plot-driven. These two have stuck with me for a lifetime. Both novellas are based on a unified concept: We believe in what works — and what works is what we believe.

Nothing is certain anymore. Nothing. Chaos is king and magic is loose in the world.

Available on Kindle, in paperback and from Audible.com.

TIME WHORES AND THEIR DAMNED GAMES

Back to Life – After an especially long and exhausting drive or flight, a grueling week at work, or a mind-numbing exam period — what’s the one thing you do to feel human again?


TimeTravelIt’s all the fault of the damned Chrono-Guard. They keep messing around with my life’s timeline. Good grief, how in the world can I be back in school? What malevolent fate has done this to me? I served my time. I even got a damned degree, against all odds.

I’m sure everyone who knew me was betting against me (ha! gotcha that time!), but I graduated in what had to be the world’s most insipid ceremony. I don’t remember who spoke.

It was probably one of our professors. An especially hoary old one who’d been gathering moss for fifty odd years … though with the way Those People are bending time, it could easily have been 250 years. Maybe old Broadus could write so authoritatively about Alexander Hamilton because he used to hang out with him. Maybe he was the one who shot him!

Exams? Again? For the past 40 years — or however many — it’s hard to figure given the confusion about when was when and the non-linearity of the past, I’ve had a repeating nightmare in which I find myself in a classroom, ready to take a final exam. Not only am I stark naked (which no one seems to notice) but I realize I’ve never attended that class and have no idea what subject is being tested. I always wake up sweating and screaming.

Those dreams are not a bad summary of my collegiate experience, minus the nudity, of course. I’m pretty sure if I’d shown up for a final naked, someone would have noticed. The professor at least. They were a horny lot.

I think what I need to feel human again is to convince the Chrono-Guard I do not want to work for them. I do not want to do any more time traveling. Ever. Leave me alone and get out of my head once and for all.

What’s the one thing that would make me feel better?

GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE! Put my life back in order. How will I know when — or if — to send birthday cards if I don’t even know what century I’m living in? Eh? Did you ever consider that, you time whores?

I hate the Chrono-Guard. I really do.

A MAGICAL WALK IN A WOODS

The Ray Bradbury Noun List Twist

My list? A shiny scroll, vacuum taffy, a cake, a tool box, armor, a rainbow turtle, a bottle, a bottle of Allergone, a laser. I shall use the first seven of these nine items, with modifying adjectives to make them part of the narrative. It’s a magical adventure in the woods … or at least the beginning of one …


sun and misty woodsIt’s misty in the forest. I was hanging loose, on my recliner with the laptop. The ballgame was playing on the television, I mentally drifting, lazily thinking about supper. What I would cook. When.

Then I drifted into a trance. Just a light trance — which brought me to the forest. I didn’t do it on purpose exactly, but sometimes the magic gets loose and does its own thing.

Not sure how far from home I am. For all I know, I could be in my back yard. Can’t see farther than the trees and mist blocking my view.

I’m here for a reason, but what?

I’ve brought stuff with me. The most interesting item is a shiny scroll. Not mine. I just found it in my hand. I’m sure it’s magical. Without a power source, it’s glowing. I bet when I open it will contain instructions, or at least an explanation.

I’ve brought some favorite goodies — a half pound of vacuum-packed salt water taffy and a boxed 7-layer cake. I would have brought water, but it’s bulky and heavy. There’s usually water in the woods anyhow. In fact, I can hear water, probably a stream no more than a couple of hundred feet away. I will head towards it in just a moment.

I bought my spelling toolbox. I grabbed it as I left home. It’s my version of a magician’s top hat. I can keep putting stuff in, but it never gets unwieldy or too full.

small bottleI’m wearing armor too, just to be on the safe side. It attaches itself to me as soon as I begin a magical adventure. It knows. An old hobbit buddy of mine gave it to me when he went to the Grey Havens. It’s almost weightless, far stronger than Kevlar. Mithril. You can’t buy it anymore, not even on Amazon.

I packed my rainbow porcelain turtle. I keep it full of useful spells. I never know what I’ll need … or when. And my little golden bottle. It looks empty. but it really contains a tiny genie who can slip silently into any crevice, no matter how small.

Now, I think I’ll follow the sound of that water. When I get there, I’ll have a little something to drink, a bit of cake or taffy. Open the scroll, see what I’ll be doing for the next bit of time.

Magic is rich with the unexpected.

FOREVER KNIGHT – A VAMPIRE COP IN TORONTO

I discovered Forever Knight when it was in reruns on the Sci Fi channel. It was showing around 2 in the morning. Garry was working the dawn patrol and had already left for work by the time the show came on. I was working from home, allowing me to sometimes see my husband before he was off to work … and indulge my taste for weird TV shows you can only see in the middle of the night.

forever_knight_2009

I became an addict. I needed my knightly fix. They were showing season two when I found the show. I didn’t see the first season until I bought the DVDs (used) on Amazon. We watched them last winter when the ice and snow locked us into the house. It proved a good antidote to cabin fever.

How cool can a cop show be? This one is extremely cool. A vampire, repenting of his formerly evil ways, joins the Toronto police department. How does he get around the whole “vampires can’t be in the sun” business? Not to mention they “only drink blood” thing?

He has this big old American car with a huge trunk in which he can hide in a “sun” emergency. Drinks cow’s blood. Works the night shift. Invents a massive allergy to the sun to explain his inability to work days.

Nick Knight is more than 800 years old. A vampire working homicide. He is trying (with the help of Natalie, a lovely young coroner) to regain his humanity. Knight is not his name, of course. He was an actual knight in the 13th century when he became a vampire.

forever-knight-season1-cast1

The show ran from 1992 to 1996, though the pilot ran in 1989. The DVDs divide into three seasons and no, I don’t understand how they count seasons. There are 22 shows in the first season, 26 in the second, 22 in the third for a total of 70 episodes.

The original broadcast channel in North America was CBS — May 5,1992 to May 17, 1996. The show also ran in Germany, England and Australia (I don’t know if it was ever shown in Canada). It has been rerun in several places since including the Sci Fi channel here. The DVD sets originated in the US and Germany. The sets are different in length, and how they were edited. The German versions are longer and sexier. Mine came in boxes that say made in USA, but the DVDs were pressed in Germany. This link (in Wikipedia) gives a full list of episodes.

A cop show with a vampire as the lead detective? It isn’t just a guilty pleasure. It’s a good show and ahead of its time. And last, but not least, it’s witty and clever.

Geraint Wyn Davies plays Detective Nick Knight. He also co-wrote and directed many of the shows. Nigel Bennett is Lucien LaCroix, Knight’s maker and the weirdest overnight DJ in radio history. Deborah Duchêne plays Janette DuCharme, Nick’s sexy vampire “sister” and sometimes lover. Catherine Disher is Natalie Lambert, the police coroner and Nick’s sort-of love interest.

foreverknight3_nick

The acting is good. The scripts are coherent, thematic, often with a moral twist and some interesting philosophical speculations. And who would have guessed Toronto was crawling with vampires? Fortunately most of the show’s undead are surprisingly circumspect showing far more restraint than they have shown in their pasts, which are seen in flashback.

During the show’s final season, when the producers, director and cast knew they were not being renewed, they methodically kill off the entire cast. That third season is memorable. Fascinating. Unavailable.

Forever Knight Season 1 and Forever Knight Season 2 can be purchased via Amazon Instant Video. Season 3 is not — for the moment — available anywhere I know of. Netflix has some part of it on DVD, but I don’t have a DVD plan and they won’t let me search to find out which seasons they’ve got. I’m betting they rent it DVD by DVD. There are 5 or 6 DVDs per season with 5 or 6 episodes on each disc. I suspect they don’t have all three seasons.

They may have to call me to get the final season because I own all three seasons, having bought the last known copy of season three. It was used and I’d been looking for it for years. I thought it was too expensive and was reluctant to pay the money but eventually realized it was now or never. When there’s only one of something, you don’t have a lot of bargaining power.

As Garry and I have been watching our way through the series, I think it may have been a bargain after all. It’s a lot of entertainment … a lot of bang for the bucks.

Forever_Knight__Nick_x_Janette_by_Lioncourt87

It’s fun. Well-written. Original, Unique. Sexy. Creative. It won’t gross you out with gallons of blood and gore but I love it when Nick’s eyes glow orange or green, depending on circumstance. I like the music and Toronto is a lovely city.

I recommend Forever Knight, though I’m not sure what you can do about season three. You might have to come to my house and watch it with us.

ALL YOU ZOMBIES, ROBERT HEINLEIN

all you zombiesTime travel makes my brain go “eek.” This is a compliment. Not many things make my brain do back flips and somersaults. Time travel is an impossible concept I cannot understand because it is inherently incomprehensible. Therefore, I love it.

This review contains spoilers, so if you’ve never read this, you might want to stop now and be surprised by the story.

I first read this story by Robert Heinlein long ago as part of a compilation of his classic short stories. After all these years, it remains on the top of the heap of time travel tales. I couldn’t remember its title, so it took me a while to find it. It is called “All You Zombies.”

In a strange infinite loop, a baby girl is mysteriously dropped off at an orphanage in Cleveland in 1945. “Jane” grows up lonely and dejected, not knowing who her parents are, until one day in 1963 she is strangely attracted to a drifter. She has a brief passionate relationship with him and becomes pregnant.

RobertHeinleinThe stranger disappears.

During a weird and complicated birthing, Jane’s doctors discover she actually has two complete sets of sex organs. With her life on the line, the doctors change her from female to male. Jane is now a man. Then …. a mysterious stranger kidnaps her baby leaving Jane a man and childless.

Depressed, lost, he becomes a drunk and a drifter. He eventually, meets a young woman in a bar, who he impregnates during a brief affair. The story contains even more complexities, involving the Time Corps and a bartender. Throughout, everything continues moving forward and backward in time.

Read it, and get your own brain in a twist.

The story is a paradox, impossible yet structured with its own internal logic that you can neither reject nor accept. At which point, my brain goes “Eek!!” Jane is everyone. Everyone is Jane. She is her family: tree, trunk, branches and roots. I found this amazing diagram of the story. I do not know where it originated and I would love to credit whoever drew it in the first place. Tree of lives The circular logic combined with the impossibility of the sequence where the same person is mother, father and child forever in an infinite loop — the snake eating its tail — is deliciously mind-blowing. You can get it for your Kindle from Amazon for $1.25, or as part of an anthology of Heinlein short stories. There are several listed on Amazon, new and used.

Heinlein did much of his most creative writing in these early short stories. His later novels are better known today, especially Stranger In a Strange Land. The short stories have gotten a bit lost in time but are well worth your time. Most were written for the science fiction fanzines – newsprint magazines that were the primary outlets for sci fi until the genre broke into mainstream literature in the 1960s. Not only Heinlein, but all the classic great science fiction authors started their careers writing for the fanzines.

I’ve read many hundreds of time travel books and stories over more than 50 years of loving science fiction. But this one, this story, has stuck firmly in my brain as the most perfect paradox where the past, present and future come together in a perfect conundrum.

All You Zombies is my favorite for good reason. It’s unforgettable. I promise you will never forget it either.

THE GREEN HILLS OF EARTH

Longing for Gravity

You are on a mission to Mars. Because of the length of the journey, you will never be able to return to Earth. What about our blue planet will you miss the most? (Thank you for the wonderful prompt suggestion, K. Renae P.!)


Mars. Different sky. Only two seasons — cool and hot. A few flowers, but not like those I’ve known and loved. Something resembling trees, but not Earth trees. No grass anywhere, though the pink sands are beautiful in their own way.

I certainly don’t miss full gravity. I feel light and springy and my arthritis and other joint problems are gone. I don’t miss my friends because all of them came on this journey too. It seemed a better choice than crumbling into decrepit old age on earth.

72-Canal-0514_034

I miss trees and grass, even crab grass. Autumn leaves. The crisp snap of air on an October morning. Blue skies. Oceans with tides and waves. Breezes that rustle the treetops. Wildflowers in open fields. Dandelions, violets, spiderwort. Earth plants only grow in hothouses here and that’s not the same. I certainly don’t miss ice and snow!

It’s a new world. Different. But I can make a home here.

OY VAY! GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER?

Modern Families


300-shmuel my uncle“So,” says Uncle Shmuel, who having appeared out of nowhere, now miraculously speaks vernacular American English — albeit with a heavy Yiddish accent, “Nice place you got here. I see you keep your animals in your house. That one there sounds like a pig but looks like a dog.”

“They are our pets, Uncle Shmuel. The oinker is Nan. She just makes that sound. She’s kind of old. I think that’s the dog equivalent of ‘oy’.”

“Pets, shmets. Animals. In the house. What’s next? Toilets? Never mind, your life, your choice. Oy.”

“Can I give you something to eat? Tea? Coffee? Cake? If we don’t have it, I can go out and buy some.”

“Are you Kosher?”

“Uh, no. Not Kosher,” and I shiver, remembering the many pork chops that have passed across our dishes. “Oh, wait, here’s my husband. Uncle Shmuel, I’d like you to meet my husband Garry.”

Shmuel looks shrewdly at Garry, then at me “He doesn’t look Jewish.”

Garry’s eyes twinkle. “But really I am,” he says and deftly pulls a yarmulke out of his pocket. It say “Joel’s Bar Mitzvah” across the back in big white letters, Fortunately, Shmuel doesn’t notice.

“So,” Shmuel continues after a pregnant pause, “You have problems with the Cossacks?”

“No Cossacks, but lots of politicians,” I reply.

“Cossacks, politicians, there’s a difference?”

“Not so much,” I admit.

“And for a living you do what?”

“We’re retired. But before that, I was a writer. Garry was a reporter. On television.”

“What’s a television?”

I look at Shmuel, realize we are about to embark on an extended conversation, so all I say is: “Oy vay is mir!” Which seems to sum it up.

Oy vay. Can someone set the table?

MASS DEMONSTRATIONS TO PROTEST NON-HUMAN UNION

Mutants and Hybrids

If you were one part human, two parts something else — another animal, a plant, an inanimate object — what would the other two parts be?


WEDNESDAY, MAY 28, 2014 – DATELINE WASHINGTON D.C.

Those who recall the furor over Gay marriage should probably have expected the hysteria over the legalized joining of humans with their favorite technology, animal, mineral or plant.

As millions of teenagers race to fuse with their cell phones, nerds with their computers, aviators with fighter planes, animal rights activists with their favorite vanishing species (leading some to wonder if this will not signal the death knell for many species) and tree huggers with large forests, fundamentalist Christian groups — never imagining the far-reaching implications of this law — scramble to get out of church and on the street.

GodIsFunny

“Clearly,” stated the Reverend Righteous P. Indignation, spokesman for the Church of the Ridiculous Assumption, “This is not what God had in mind. Although the Bible does not specifically mention marriage — or fusion — with non-human things, this can’t be right in His eyes.” Indignation’s statement was greeted by catcalls, neighing, bleats, beeps and a goodly amount of shrill ringing.

Many, mirroring the human yearning for the freedom of flight have chosen to become two-thirds bird. Racing enthusiasts have become mostly horse, often with the rear end as the dominant segment while their bookies have chosen chainsaws and jack hammers.

While corporations hustle to reinvent themselves in light of a weirdly altered target audience, communications providers from television to Hollywood try to reconfigure everything from seating in stadiums to snacks at movie kiosks.

The potential impact on major sports has not yet been calculated. Some prefer to be a ball and others a bat, so to speak. Simultaneously, the IRS is — at long last — revising the tax code before everyone gallops, flies, beeps, whirs and chirps him or herself forever out of reach of tax collection.

Only Walmart, ever sanguine, merely widened the aisles in their super-stores.

“We never care what customers look like,” said a spokesman. “If they look or behave like sheep or cattle, as long as they pay at the register, everyone is welcome at Wally World.”

MacDonald’s had no comment.

JIM BUTCHER: COLD DAYS

skin game jim butcherJim Butcher’s new Harry Dresden adventure will be out in a few days. It’s been a long wait, but it’s nearly over. Thought it might be a good time to remember the last book — which was one of my favorites and which I just reread to remind myself of what came before, the better to enjoy the new book: The Skin Game.


It was a long wait between books last time too. All I could do was wait, which I did with the proverbial bated breath. I love Harry Dresden’s world and with Harry, Chicago’s resident wizard. Look him up. He’s in the Yellow Pages. I read Cold Days on Kindle then listened to the audiobook.

James Marsters is a great narrator, the voice of Harry Dresden. One of the books used a different narrator and fans were seriously upset. I wasn’t as bothered as some others, but I prefer Marsters. Moving to this from Ghost Story where Harry was neither alive nor dead was rough for Harry fans. In Cold Days, Harry is back, in the flesh. Less careless of life having lost it … but as Winter Knight, he is powerful in new ways. Just as well because his foes are stronger than ever and aren’t going away

Cold Days is satisfying. Harry gets pulverized, attracting violence like iron shavings to a magnet. I am consoled knowing Harry will survive what would kill an ordinary mortal. He has already survived death itself. Earlier books ended with more resolution than these last few books. Now, each book is an episode in a continuing story line heading toward a Dresdenesque apocalypse.

Jim Butcher extracts Harry from impossible predicaments in which he faces overwhelming odds, then adroitly weaves these events into the storyline, taking Harry and the series into the next book. He wastes nothing. No phenomenon is accidental. Everything is part of a giant jigsaw puzzle, a piece of a picture to be finally revealed.

My world has more than enough evil to keep an army of wizards busy, but the evil in my reality consists largely of grey bureaucrats, corporate executives and smarmy politicians. Fighting them is like trying to punch a hole in jello. You can’t beat them; they have no substance. In Jim Butcher’s world, the bad guys are solid, big, and seriously bad-ass. Harry fights evil for me. He takes his lumps and then some, but he’s out there battling for justice and good, even when it seems he’s taken the wrong turn.

Despite appearances, Harry is never bad. He is stubborn, overly wedded to his own opinions. He does not heed advice which has cost him dearly. He persists in believing he knows best, not only for himself, but for friends and is taken aback when friends object. Sooner or later, he will get the point. He is changing. He is painfully aware of his mortality and fragility. He knows he’s made terrible mistakes he can never set right. He’s become more a planner, less inclined to charge headlong into danger unless it is the only possible course. Mindless violence is no longer his default setting.

This is good. There are six more books to come. Time to work out the unfinished relationships. Harry’s awesome world is my metaphysical escape from the life’s woes. Harry’s woes are much  more entertaining than mine. Maybe in my next incarnation I will have magic.

Including spine

Don’t miss this installment — and don’t  read the new book until you’ve read at least a few of the earlier episode (all of them is better!). It’s rich, complex and I promise it will grab you and take you for a ride you won’t forget.

The Dresden Files:

TIMING OUT TO ELSEWHEN

Now that home time machines are readily available, we can all start our days with a trip to another time and place, known to many of us as ELSEWHEN. It’s better than a second cup of coffee! Today started out a day like any other. Coffee. Make sure dogs get biscuits. Wash a few dishes in the sink. Just as I’m finishing up, my new machine blinks on and a vortex (also know as a wormhole) appears in the window. Time to travel!

75-vortex_24

Setting up the machine is simple because it knows. All I have to do is focus on when, where and how long I want to be elsewhen and the machine does the rest. Radio Shack has come a long way. On the down side, if it glitches, I won’t be able to cash in on my warranty. It gives me pause.

Be aware: it’s dangerous traveling in time with a chemically muddled brain. You can wind up some weird places that are definitely not for tourists.

For those of us who are not particularly agile, you needn’t jump or climb into a vortex. Just stand close to it, then reach out mentally. Cool, huh?

If you are time traveling for the first time, here’s are some tips:

  • Don’t drink, smoke dope (even if you have a prescription!), or take any mind-altering substance before you travel elsewhen.
  • Skip the 14th century. The plague is depressing and you need vaccinations.
  • Wear appropriate clothing. A piece of hand luggage in a natural fiber (like canvas) is a sound investment.
  • Take a camera, extra memory chips and backup batteries.
  • Leave the cell phone home. A ringing cell can have unpleasant consequences.
  • Tell your family and/or friends where (and when) you are going to be away and when you will be back. If you need to be retrieved, it’s important to have backup.
  • Take a friend with you if your machine supports multiple travelers.
  •  Make sure to land on the ground in an open area. Google Earth and history books can be helpful in giving you good visualization capabilities. You don’t want to start your excursion with a broken hip or ankle.
  • Make your first trips close to now until you feel comfortable with the technology.
  • DON’T TRY TO FIX THE PAST. Very bad idea. Really terrible idea.
  • The future is scary. I avoid it and you should too. Whatever happened in the past, stays in the past (unless something went terribly awry). This is not true of the future.

Take lots of notes, pictures and have a blast. Talk to people Don’t worry about language barriers. The machine won’t send you anywhere without giving you appropriate language skills. You won’t remember them when you get home, but they will always be there when you need them.

Time machines don’t last forever, even the most expensive ones. They all have much the same life span as a cell phone … a year or two, max. Make the most of it while you can. Enjoy your travels and welcome to TIMING OUT of life!

It’s the best ride you’ll ever take.


PICK YOUR GADGET

REASON TO BELIEVE IN WHAT?

Reason to Believe

In Reason to Believe, Bruce Springsteen sings, “At the end of every hard-earned day / people find some reason to believe.” What is your reason to believe?


Believe in what? God? Fate? Myself? The wheel of Karma? The repetitions of history?

All of us believe in many things. If we look at our beliefs individually, many are contradictory, a form of doublethink. Humans have an amazing capacity to accept paradox. In this arena, superstitious atheists can contend with traditionally religious physicists for the top spot in the race for cognitive dissonance.

UU Church 44

I the end, I’m reasonably sure I believe in something but I don’t know what. Nor do I believe in the same thing every day or every hour. I can passionately endorse multiple paradoxical concepts simultaneously without it ruffling my psychic feathers.

I don’t know if the something in which I sometimes believe is sentient, tied to the magic of the Earth — or is the Earth. (Note: If it’s the Earth, whatever powers it has or represents, I bet it’s pissed to a fare-thee-well.)

Why do I believe at all?

Call me lazy. It’s much simpler to believe in something — a deity, a high power, magic, whatever — than to ascribe everything to random chance. When good things happen, I don’t know which makes me feel sillier — thanking a God in whom I believe on alternate Thursdays or expressing gratitude to “fate” which is the same thing by another name.

I follow the course of least resistance. I would like to believe, as do my dogs, that whatever is wrong, a yummy treat will make it all better. Maybe I believe science is magic and the only reason it works is because we believe it will and if we lose faith, everything will stop.

Thank you, Robert Heinlein.

OUR FINAL CHANCE: TODAY IS EARTH DAY

After months in a cryo-tube, they finally woke me. What a headache! Sheesh. And holy moly, I really had to go to the bathroom, after which I needed not so much a shower as a sandblasting. That cryo gunk is sticky and it gets into places you just wouldn’t … well, maybe you would … believe.

Then there was food. Never in my entire life have I wanted to eat a starship, including the wings. Talk about an appetite. And it wasn’t just me. Everyone had just been wakened and I’m sure we all felt the same way: hollow.

A little piece of T.S. Eliot was spinning in my head:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.
I vaguely remembered more of the poem.
This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

I sure did hope that was not a prediction for our explorations to come. Because given what bad shape the earth was in, we needed more than a merely decent place. We needed a fertile planet on which crops could grow. Where the battered human race could remember itself, its better self. We hadn’t been better than cockroaches in a long, long time.

Finally after eating for what seemed an eternity, we donned our lime green suits — the lightweight ones for worlds that were not inherently hostile, merely unknown — and they opened the doors and we emerged. Into paradise.

It was breathtaking. The colors were a bit odd with that pink sky and pale blue clouds. And the plants were all kinds of colors, like a flower garden. Hell, the whole planet was a garden. So we named it “Eden” which I thought was a mistake. We got kicked out of Eden once already. But hey, what do I know? I don’t make the Big Decisions. Way above my pay grade. You might say I was just along for the ride.

Before we reboarded the ship, I had a little thought. I dawdled. Picked up the litter we’d left behind. I found a big piece of cardboard. Must have been a box of some sort, but it would make a pretty good sign. I found a piece of wood to attach it to. I had a nail gun in my tool kit as well as a big marking pen — fortunately it hadn’t dried out and worked in the lower gravity of this new planet. New to us, but home to so much life. As Earth had once been before we stripped her of everything but our trash.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I planted my sign near where we’d landed. I was sure future expeditions would land in more or less the same spot. Then I wrote my message. In my best handwriting. Using huge letters so no one could miss it — or mistake its meaning.

WAITING FOR YOUTH TO OVERTAKE ME

Only Sixteen

Tell us all about the person you were when you were sixteen. If you haven’t yet hit sixteen yet, tell us about the person you want to be at sixteen. 

- – – – -

75-Kaity-HP-1

Like Merlin in some old Arthurian tales, I am living backwards in time.

Right now, I’m entirely too old and most days, including today, I feel at least 100 years old.

And I’m pretty sure I was never truly sixteen and definitely never Sweet Sixteen. I wasn’t that kind of kid. I was old when I was young, so my reasoning is that as I get older, I will finally be young, like I should have been first time ’round.

Life’s been getting up my nose recently anyhow, so I’m fully prepared for youth — at long last.

It could happen, right?

So what do I want to be when I finally slide into youth? I want to be healthy. No drama, no teenage angst. I will be smart. I will find other smart kids to hang with. I will laugh at the bullies as the losers they are. I will enjoy the freedom of being young with all original body parts working properly for however long it lasts. Magic? Sure, why not.

Going backwards in time has got to give one a few advantages. Life and Karma owe me that much.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE COSTUME, ISN’T IT?

Despite my passion for masked heroes, I always preferred Superman to Batman. There were a couple of reasons. Superman was genuinely super. Invulnerable. And moreover, HE COULD FLY!

Never underestimate a guy who can fly at supersonic speeds. A boyfriend like that could prove most useful on a day-to-day basis. I mean really. Hey, Supe, can you give me a hand moving to that new apartment ?

Me Not Super

Hey, Supe … the roof leaks … could you take a look at it? And that big boulder in the backyard is ruining my plans for the new garage. You think you might relocate it for me? And if you have some extra time, maybe you could build a foundation for the garage while you are at it? It will just take a couple of minutes …

Marilyn again

So, I’m a Superman kind of gal.

Above and beyond those delightful and useful powers, I loved that no one recognizes him when he wears his glasses. As a long-time eyeglass wearer, I tried it myself.

“Garry,” I say to get his attention. I then whip my glasses off, stare meaningfully into his eyes and ask “Who am I?”

He laughs. So I do it again, but he just laughs harder. I persist and try this on friends, relatives and near total strangers, but alas, no one thinks I’m Wonderwoman or Supergirl.

Do you think I need a costume? Is my white hair too much of a give-away?

If I get myself a costume — a really good costume with a cape and everything — do you think maybe I could fly? Because that’s what it’s all about. Flying. And becoming invulnerable. That would be good too.

MEET FELIX CASTOR, EXORCIST BY MIKE CAREY

The Devil You Know | Mike CareyThere’s a rumor going around on Amazon that Mike Carey is going to publish another Felix Castor book. I hope it’s true. I’ll line up to be among the first to buy a copy. I love this series.

I discovered Mike Carey because I reviewed a Jim Butcher book and someone suggested I’d like the Felix Castor series by Mike Carey. I’d never heard of Mike Carey, but I was out of new authors to read at the time and I was ready to try anything that sounded good. I got what I hoped for plus a whole lot more.

Mike Carey is not merely a good writer. He is what I would term hyper-literate. He uses words like a rapier. His prose is beautifully crafted, often lyrical, yet never treacly or sappy. He is crisp.

He actually uses words I have to look up because I don’t recognize them. It has been decades since I learned a new word. Sometimes I don’t know the word because it’s British slang with which I’m just not familiar, but sometimes, it’s a word I’ve never seen before.

He does not repeat himself. He never uses the same descriptive passage more than once, nor does he — as many popular authors do — copy and paste sections from one book to another to (I presume) save writing time. Mike Carey doesn’t use short cuts.

The result is a style that is richly descriptive, a delicious combination of gritty street slang banging head-on into literary English. Guttersnipe meets Jane Austen in the streets of Liverpool. It gives the narrative a rare and rich texture.

What’s it all about? Felix (Fix) Castor is an exorcist. He sees the dead and the undead. They see him. He is no wizard who magics his problems away with the wave of a hand or wand. He can send the dead away when they linger and cast out demons who possess humans.

Where do the dead go after he sends them away?  He’s not sure, an issue that looms successively larger as the series progresses. His weapon is music in the form of a tin whistle, a thin armament in the face of some of the perils he faces. He has a few allies — human, formerly human plus one demon in recovery.

The series consists of five books, each building on the previous one to form what is essentially a single story in five parts. Best to read the series in order. All the books are now available on paperback, for Kindle and as an Audible download.

In order, the books are:

  1. The Devil You Know
  2. Vicious Circle 
  3. Dead Men’s Boots
  4. Thicker Than Water
  5. The Naming of Beasts.

None of the books are exactly a lightweight romp through a sunny meadow, but the first three books are much lighter in tone  … and funnier — Carey has a sharp, ironic sense of humor– than the final two, which are pretty intense.

Mike Carey (writer)

Mike Carey (author) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fix Castor works hard for short money, is rarely appreciated by the people he helps, has more than enough of his personal demons, not to mention some very real, otherworldly demons who are seriously out to get him.

It’s a unique series, unlike any other I’ve read. I wish there had been more of them, though I suspect the author is done with this series.

There are so many surprises in this series. The characters constantly surprised me by growing and changing, developing in unexpected ways and not doing the obvious. Characters make unique choices and don’t take the obvious or easy way out.

Mike Carey can be very funny. His subtle and elegant humor contains no belly laughs, but irony pervades his prose. None of the books are traditionally funny nor are the situations humorous or light-hearted, but the author’s writing style is wonderfully cynical. The stories, pun intended, are dead serious. Darkness notwithstanding, you can count on Mike Carey’s plays on words and twists of phrase to keep the dread from becoming too heavy to handle.

The plots are gripping and creepy. Any or all of the books would make great horror movies. I’m surprised no one has grabbed them yet. Maybe they will. Sooner or later, someone is bound to notice, right?