GOOD ADVICE FOR ELSEWHEN TRAVELERS

Time travel, the ultimate addiction. The day I realized the big window in my bedroom was a wormhole, I started day tripping all ever. It started out a day like any other. Coffee. Making sure the dogs had biscuits. Wash those few dishes in the sink. Clean out the drying rack. Look at the sky, wonder if it’s going to clear. Wondering why it matters so much anyhow. It’s just another day, right?

Then the whirly twirly thing in the venetian blinds. A vortex! Trying to figure out how to get to it. Why don’t they put them at floor level? I’m supposed to leap over my dresser? I’m 66, not 14! Give me a break, or more to the point, let’s not give me a break, like a hip. If I’m going anywhere, I want two of them, even if they don’t work well.  Wondering if Medicare will cover illnesses and accidents in other times. Wishing I had a clue how to designate when and where I want to travel … oh and when I would like to return, please.

It turns out (surprise!) the vortex knows. Just focus your mind on when, where and how long you want to be wherever. The vortex takes care of the rest, like an exceptionally good travel agent but much cheaper. The danger is going through the vortex with your brain muddled. You can wind up some strange places … not places a tourist wants to be.

Garry caught this picture of me on my way home from traveling to a favorite spot in Arthurian England. Good catch Gar!

Garry caught this picture of me on my way home from traveling to a favorite spot in Arthurian England. Good catch Gar!

Also, you don’t have to jump or climb into the vortex. Just stand as close as you can and reach into it mentally. Cool beans, right? Like, wow, what a trip. Whatever was the best hallucinogenic drug you ever took? This is better. This is what we were looking for.

If you are one of the lucky ones who’ve had a vortex appear for you, I’d like to offer you some practical advice:

  • Don’t drink, smoke dope, or take other mind-bending substances before you travel elsewhen.
  • Avoid the 14th century. It’s too depressing. Also, you need vaccinations for defunct diseases making it difficult to explain to your doctor.
  • If you have a cool doctor, let him or her in on the secret. Some can be bribed with an excursion of their own. And it’s a good bet you’ll eventually need medical support.
  • Wear appropriate clothing. Layer. Sometimes the seasons aren’t predictable. A small carry-on piece of luggage in a natural fiber such as canvas makes a good investment.
  • Take your camera. Take extra memory chips and backup batteries. You aren’t going to be recharging anything.
  • Leave the cell phone home. A ringing cell at the wrong moment can produce unexpected — and unpleasant — results.
  • Tell your mate what’s going on. Nothing upsets a relationship more than your appearing out of nowhere. Why not take your other half along for a couple of rides? Maybe he or she will love it too!
  • Try to land on or near the ground in an open area. Arriving mid-air or inside a wall produces bad trips. Sometimes death. Be clear in your mind so the vortex can read you. Wherever you are going, do a little research. Google Earth and history books can be very helpful in giving you good visualization capabilities.
  • Try not to lose yourself in time. If you overdo it, you can forget who you are supposed to be, who your children are, your friends, family. Everything. Maybe that’s not so bad for some, but most of us want to go home eventually.
  • Don’t tell everything to everybody. You want to keep the press out of it. Far out of it.
  • The future is scarier than the past. Spend time in known history before you venture forward. You’ll be glad you did.

This is the most fun you’ll ever have. Take lots of notes, pictures and have a blast. Talk to people Don’t worry about language barriers. The vortex won’t send you anywhere without the appropriate language skills in your brain. You won’t remember them when you get home, but they will always be there when you need them.

Vortexes don’t last forever. Make the most of your opportunity while it’s available. Enjoy your travels, my friends. Welcome to TIMING OUT of life! It’s the best ride you’ll ever take.

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HE LEFT THIS SILVER BULLET

The young man was confused. His horse edgy, restless. So much noise. He’d seen horseless carriages, but this was crazy. Those things were fast, going every which way. How many directions in a small town not much bigger than those with which the Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian Companion Tonto were familiar.

Different trees. No cactus. Churches the same. But so many? Why would a small town need so many churches? You’d think one or two would be enough.

UU Church Uxbridge

Silver whinnied. Lone released his neck rein so he could graze. Soft, green grass. Not coarse prairie grass. He needed to figure out how he’d wound up here. He thought back, trying to reconstruct events. He and Tonto had pitched camp by the Arkansas River, not far from Wichita. Built a fire. Then they heard something. Told Tonto to stay put, he’d check it out.

A weird noise. Sucking, whirring … like a tiny tornado. But not loud. A purr rather than a roar. He’d thrown a saddle on Silver, gone to investigate. In the middle of nowhere, a vortex hovered in the air. He’d ridden closer to get a better look. Whoosh!

Lone had experienced strange things in his 31 years, but this was the weirdest. He’d been transported somewhere else. Some time else, too, if those … vehicles? were any indication. Those wires couldn’t be telegraph wires. Too many. Too thick. Electricity? He’d heard you could get it in San Francisco. Out east too.

“Well,” thought Lone. “I’ve got my gun, ammunition, silver bullets. Silver. There must be work for me here. There’s always a job for The Lone Ranger.”

He looked around. He was on a green lawn surrounded by white churches. A few statues. Likely a village common. Not west of the Mississippi. This looked like pictures he’d seen of New England. He must be there.

It was all connected to the odd disturbance in the air. A doorway? Through … time? Space? Lone was an educated man. He read books. He’d heard of things like “time travel.” He’d never believed it. Why him? Only one possible explanation. The town was in trouble. They needed him.

He hadn’t seen anyone on horseback or driving a buggy. Just those noisy things. He had to figure out why he was here. Across the street, next to another big white church stood a brick building. A library. Well, where better to start collecting information? Librarians always know what’s going on in town.

75-LibraryGA-NK-6He dismounted, suddenly aware of his mask and gun. No one was wearing a gunbelt. It didn’t mean they weren’t carrying firearms. “Maybe they hide them here,” he thought.

“Look,” cried some teenage kids, “It’s the Lone Ranger! And Silver! Hey, where’s Tonto? Whatcha doin’, huh? Cool horse!”

“Okay,” muttered Lone to himself. “They know who I am. Now, I have to figure out who they are, where I am and what I need to do to get home.

He dismounted to lead Silver across the road. He’d ask the librarian. Then, he could start unraveling the mystery. He wished Tonto was here. It would be good to share this adventure with his friend.

He looked around. “Hi yo Silver,” he added softly. “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS – ALL YOU ZOMBIES, ROBERT HEINLEIN

all you zombiesTime travel makes my brain go “eek.” This is not a criticism. It’s 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 structures 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.

 

BEST BOOK EVER ON TIME TRAVEL AND THE KENNEDY ASSASSINATION: 11/22/63, STEPHEN KING

Don’t let the headline fool you. It’s about a lot more than either time travel, the Kennedy Assassination or any other single thing. It’s about life, loss, change and human relationships. What makes it so brilliant is that all of these elements are bundled together into a book that will make you laugh and cry and think. And remember.

11/22/63 by Stephen King is so good it took my breath away. I’m not a Stephen King fan all the time, although several of his books and stories are among my favorite works of American fiction. I never have a problem with his writing. It goes from good to amazing, but his usual genre (horror) is not among my favorites.

11-22-63 king

This book is not horror. Although small sections of the book touch on it, they merely graze the edge of familiar King territory. He never dives into it. This is science fiction, as good an example of science fiction time travel as I’ve ever read and I’ve read pretty much every book in the genre. To say I’m a time travel junkie would not overstate it.

Stephen King does the genre proud. Beyond that, this book is beautiful. It is not merely well-written. It is eloquent, poetic, lyrical. I do not say this lightly. My husband, who is usually not a King fan — with the exception of his stories about baseball and the Red Sox – was dubious when I handed him the book and said “Read it. You’ll love it, I promise!”

Typically, he makes faces and argues with me, but this time, he listened and read the book. Once he began, he couldn’t put it down. He read portions of it out loud because he felt they were so perfect they deserved to be read aloud, like poetry.

The plot is simple to describe, though enormously rich and complex in the telling. A writer determines to go back in time and prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. His attempt and travels in time produce many repercussions both for him personally and for our world. The “Butterfly Effect” has never been better illustrated.

Whether or not you usually like Stephen King, if you are a reader of science fiction and/or time travel, you owe yourself a trip through this wonderful book. Like many authors, King dodges the technical issues of time travel via the tried-and-true “hole in the time-space continuum” ploy to move his characters to a particular time and place. King does it well and makes it an interesting part of the journey.

Many, if not most readers apparently agree that this is the best book King has written in many long years, perhaps the best since “The Stand” and in my opinion, better. Granted that this is a subjective statement, but I guarantee if you read this book, you will not be disappointed.

This is a master story-teller at the peak of his abilities: Stephen King with emotion, poetry, depth, beauty, intelligence and finally, without taking any cheap or easy ways out of the complexities he creates. An amazing book. If you are any kind of science fiction reader, it’s a must-read. And if you’re a history buff, it’s interesting alternate history.

Following The Leader — Bellwether, by Connie Willis

Connie Willis_1996_BellwetherBellwether was the first full-length novel by Connie Willis I read after finishing her Cambridge Time Travel series. One of the rare book that grabbed me from page one … really, from sentence one … in the process of rereading it I realized that this isn’t a science fiction book. It’s just a very good book. A very funny book.

bellwether

Not merely was I highly entertained by the story, but I learned a lot about chaos theory, fads, sheep, and the meaning of “bellwether,” a term I’d heard and used — and misused — for years but never understood. Neither its literal meaning or social implications.

It was the bellwether and sheep connection I had never got. What do I know about sheep? And why would I care? It turns out, sheep and people have an unnerving amount in common.

A bellwether is the leader of the sheep, the ewe who the flock follows. There’s no discernible reason a bellwether is the leader of the flock. She just is. There is something about her that other sheep sense, but is invisible to us. Regardless, whatever the bellweather does, all the other sheep do too. They will follow her mindlessly, blindly. Moreover, the flock is unaware they are following the bellwether. They just do it.

The book is laugh out loud funny. Erudite, witty, and replete with trivia guaranteed to upgrade your anecdotal abilities.

Bellwether carries a not-so-subtle message that’s a little disturbing. The parallels between humans and a flock of sheep — the running theme of the story — explains much of human behavior and not in a flattering way.

Connie Willis

It explains a lot of events throughout history that never made sense. Even after you understand what happened and (sort of) why … they still don’t make sense. Everything just happened. Because someone copied someone else and the rest of the sheep followed.

Human life, history and relationships are not logical or reasonable. They happen. Human society is the epitome of chaos and the only predictable thing is unpredictability.

I found Bellwether wonderfully original, insightful, amusing and thought-provoking.

And hilarious. I can’t imagine what more anyone could want from a book than to be entertained, amused and enlightened. I recommend it both in its printed and audio versions. Both are delightful and memorable. This is a book you will read and remember. Then, just because … read it again.

Aside

Serendipitous random post finder now available!

Courtesy of the fabulous Rarasaur, I now have a Serendipitous random post finder, which, when clicked will give you a totally random virtual time travel experience!

Give it a try! You’ll find it right above the search (Seek) box on the left side of this page.

It’s very cool and fun. The one in this post works if you click on the caption, but the one on the menu works by clicking the button which is oodles more fun. Try it. Then drop by Rarasaur and get your own :-)

Daily Prompt: Procrastination – It is Earlier When You Think

Procrastination? It’s not procrastination. Uh uh. It’s enjoying the freedom of unharnessed time. For long time-faceyears, I too was scheduled. Always short of time, but never late. Never missed a deadline. Always left the house early in case I encountered traffic. I used up my time making sure to have enough time.

But time is all in our heads. There’s always time and there’s always no time at all. I put off what isn’t critical, do what must be done now, and the rest? I’ll have another cup of coffee and a Danish, please.

I call and change appointments when I don’t feel like going. If traffic piles up? I’m late. I say “Oops, sorry. Hit some traffic.” The world keeps spinning. No one takes out a pistol and shoots me. Yet.

In the immortal words of Robert Heinlein’s Time Travel Corps from All You Zombies –

Never Do Yesterday What Should Be Done Tomorrow

If At Last You Do Succeed, Never Try Again

A Stitch in Time Saves Nine Billion

A Paradox May be Paradoctored

It is Earlier When You Think

Ancestors Are Just People

Even Jove Nods.

Priorities are important. I’ll get my leaky valve fixed. In time. I’ll get that book review written. Tomorrow. I’ll process some more of the pictures we took yesterday … later. After coffee. After I read, write and think a while.

There will be time. For the important stuff. Maybe there won’t be time for other things and, well … they just won’t get done. Because my hurrying days are done.

On the non-existence of time

TimeTravelMy husband and I got to arguing about whether changing a single event could change — even derail — the course of history.

I think it’s possible. A small change at the just the right time could alter the outcome of something much bigger. If Queen Victoria had ordered her staff to clean up the drains of Windsor Castle — long-known as a breeding ground for typhoid — Albert would not have died when he did … and Victoria would have been a different woman and queen. And possibly, British imperialism might have followed a different course. How much would have changed? Not everything … but not nothing, either.

If Lincoln had not been assassinated, maybe some of the worst of the post Civil War divisions and hatred might have been averted. If King George had said “Fine. They can vote as British citizens. As long as they pay their taxes.” If the captain of the Titanic had slowed down and spotted the iceberg before hitting it.

nasa time machine

In our personal lives we see where had we chosen differently, many things down the line would be changed. In world history too, there are intersections. Moments when events collide, paths cross, times when history could march left, right or reverse direction.

Garry doesn’t agree. He thinks whatever happened was inevitable. With or without Prince Albert, the world was marching towards disaster. Had Lincoln lived, served his second term, he thinks the racial divisions and hatred in this country would have been unchanged. Maybe delayed by a few years, but no more than that.

TIME_MACHINEASSY_1We could have argued until dawn but other than sheer speculation, there’s no way to know. For this kind of speculation, we have science fiction and its peculiar sub-genre — alternate history. Unless, of course, we find a wormhole in time and step through.

I’m fascinated by time travel. I believe the history of everything would be completely changed had cell phones been invented earlier. If I were a time traveler, I’d give the world mobile communications technology around the time when the Greek city states were getting organized. Then I’d go back to my now and watch history unravel.

Time doesn’t exist. It’s a concept, not a thing. Which is why we can’t travel back to it. It isn’t a place. Time is a construct. It’s how we keep track of events, personally and globally. You can’t go back to a time and place in the past because it isn’t there. The future isn’t there either. Only the present exists and it’s a moving target.

delorean time machineWhich brings me back to our argument. Garry was right. By definition what happened is what had to happen The proof? It can never be changed. Everything that has ever happened was the only thing that could have happened. I can argue the other side, too. Arguments in which no one can possibly win are my favorites.

And that’s why I love time travel. Because it’s impossible.

Traveling slowly through time

Without a machine or a wormhole we travel through time every day of our lives.

When I was perhaps ten, I read about Halley’s Comet. I learned it would be visible in the heavens on my 39th birthday.

“Wow” I said. “I’ll be so old and I will see the comet on my birthday … when I am thirty-nine.” I couldn’t imagine ever being so old … or seeing Halley’s Comet.

96-Halleyscomet-1986

When my 39th birthday rolled around, I was living in Jerusalem. On my birthday, as I had planned when I was 10 years old, we went out into the Judean desert and saw the comet. It was Rosh Chodesh, the new moon which has special significance in Judaism. One of our group was Orthodox (the rest of us were not) and he had a lot of praying to do before we went to see the comet.

The Jerusalem Post had published the exact times when the comet would be visible and where on the horizon to look. Sure enough, there it was, low on the horizon over Bethlehem. It turned out, when we got back to the house, we could see it perfectly from our balcony. When we knew where to look, it was easy to locate. halleys-comet-1986

That was 27 years ago. I remember knowing the comet was coming and I planned to see it on my 39th birthday. I did see it on that birthday, in a different country on the other side of the world. Now, in my 66th year, I remember the knowing, the seeing. I have the perspective of a child, a woman, and the grandmother. I have traveled through time. Slowly. Without a machine, without a wormhole.

It is no less time traveling than in a science fiction story … just a great deal slower.

Life is a trip through time. Mine, yours, everyone’s. We won’t bump into our younger or older self, but we carry each of these selves. They are as real and alive as the memories we keep.

Retrocausality: All You Zombies, Robert Heinlein

SnapIt-137

Time travel makes my brain go “eek.” This is not a criticism. It’s 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.

One story by Robert Heinlein which I read long decades ago in a compilation of his classic short stories remains on the top of the heap of such tales. It took me a while to find it. It is called “All You Zombies.”

In this strange endless and 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.

The 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.

And then …. a mysterious stranger kidnaps her baby. Jane is a man and childless. Depressed, lost, he becomes a drunk and a drifter and eventually, meets a young woman in a bar, who he makes pregnant during a brief affair. It gets even more complicated with the involvement of the Time Corps and a bartender all moving forward and backward in time. Find it, read it, and get your own brain in a twist!

Suffice to say that all the characters are one. The story is a paradox, completely impossible yet so logical you can neither reject nor accept it. And, my brain goes “Eek!!” Jane is everyone and everyone is Jane. She is her complete family: tree, trunk, branches, 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 logic combined with the impossibility of the sequence where the same person is mother, father and child forever living in an infinite loop — the snake eating its tail — is delicious and mind-blowing.

You can get it for your Kindle from Amazon for $1.25 right now, click here. OR … probably you can find it as part of an anthology of Heinlein short stories, but I don’t know exactly which anthology. I’m sure you can find it somewhere, though. It’s a classic and if you read it, you will not forget it. I promise.

I have read many hundreds of time travel books and stories over more than 50 years of loving science fiction. But this one, this  particular story, has stuck fast in my brain as probably the most perfect paradox as the past, present and future all roll in on themselves.

The Far Arena, by Richard Ben Sapir – Roman Ways In Modern Days

The Far Arena by Richard Ben Sapir

FarArena

I just 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 as a book club editor. It fell to me to do the write-up for it in the monthly publication that went to book club members.

A large part of my job was to read books. Talk about great jobs, that was the best of 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 very large 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 and maybe brag a little.

The Far Arena is classified as science fiction. It is, sort of, but not in any traditional sense. It doesn’t fall into any of the usual sci fi categories. Time travel? Not exactly, but it has a time travel-ish feel to it.

The 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 he is in the hospital, he asks about the slaves who serve him. He is referring of course to the to nurses and other workers who attend 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, but 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 like to argue the point? Not me.

That is paraphrasing, of course, but is captures the gist 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 and unique book. It stands apart from the thousands of 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 a pretty sight.

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” … making locating copies of his books more challenging. However you can get your hands on one – beg, steal or borrow — it’s a must-read,even if science fiction is not a genre you normally seek out. Whether “A Far Arena” is science fiction or plain fiction is a matter of opinion. I think it sits just on the edge where genres meet. (Question: When genres meet, do they have coffee together? Just wondering.)

You might check to see if your local library has a copy. I scored a good copy in hard-cover from a second-hand seller on Amazon for $8.50 plus shipping, not bad considering the book’s been out of print for 30+ years.

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.

You can hunt down used copies. They are available on Amazon (I just bought one  as a gift) and more come up periodically. Sometimes you get lucky and find one of these rare books at yard sales or the Salvation Army. Then you get the book for literally pennies and you  have fun hunting it down, too. On the average, you’ll find it’s less expensive than most new paperbacks and more than worth the price.

Those halcyon days of yore or whatever

Now that my high school reunion has passed and I’m no longer besieged by nostalgia from a half century ago, I feel safe in saying it. I haven’t any idea in what world my classmates were living, but I’m sure it wasn’t the same one I inhabited.

I understand that time can cast a gentler light, a rosy glow over events that took place in one’s youth … but there’s a difference between a rosy glow and a full revision.

For months, I have been bombarded by email from people with whom I attended high school. They are sure they remember me. They recall the fun stuff we did together. After giving it careful consideration, I have concluded they are deranged, on drugs, or senile. Whatever it is they think they remember, it didn’t happen.

Who are these people? Why do they keep talking about relationships that never existed? These people were not my friends. I remember them. They didn’t like me. They either ignored me, made fun of me, or conscientiously ostracized me. I belonged to no cliques, no fun groups. I wasn’t invited to parties. I was not popular.

I had a few friends, but these people who are so happily remembering me? They weren’t among the few people I counted as friends.

Did someone — me or them — slip through a wormhole into an alternate reality? That must be it.

High school was not a good time for me. Neither was junior high school or elementary school, for that matter. Even amongst the unpopular kids, I was unpopular. By the time I had survived junior high, I’d learned how to be invisible. Attending a really huge school helped. It was so big and over-crowded if you kept your head down, no one would notice you.

I was a klutzy kid with no athletic prowess, I avoided the humiliation of the athletically challenged by claiming I didn’t know how to swim. Every semester, I showed up at swimming class.

“You again?” said the coach. “Just keep out-of-the-way,” It was a win-win for me. I got an hour a day of private swim time alone in the deep end of the pool and completely avoided gym class. I believe I was technically on the swim team, but I never actually swam in an event. I was a bench warmer. That was fine. I liked the water, but I wasn’t going to win any medals.

All I had to do was get acceptable grades, not fail math courses after which I could go to college. I heard from other survivors that in college I might meet people who I’d like and might like me. That sounded too good to be true, but I had it on good authority. It turned out to be true so I guess making it through high school alive was worth it.

This was not the first time I’ve had to fend off a reunion. I dodged the 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th. I think there was a 40th too. But like a bad penny, it keeps coming back to haunt me. On the up side, we are now all so old, there is very little likelihood of any more such grand events.

I have repeatedly gone over this in my mind. I know with absolute certainty that high school wasn’t a fun time. It wasn’t only not fun for me. It wasn’t fun for most of us. We were young, hormonal, lost, unsure where we were going or how we would get there. Everyone felt ugly or deformed. Many of us had dreadful home lives that we hid from everyone else.

Yet now those years have become one long golden memory. At the reunion I did not attend, they actually got together to sing the school song. Never once in the years I attended did we ever actually sing the school song. It was a joke. We used to make fun of it because it was so dumb. Now, it’s a warm fuzzy memory. Bizarre.

My husband says this is typical of reunions. He says that when he went to his reunion — he actually attended one — people were reminiscing about the great times they had together, none of which he could remember nor could he recall the people claiming to have been there with him.

He says people need to pretend that they had a great time. It makes them feel better.

Not me. Even after fifty years I can’t think of a single reason to revisit a time and place I would just as soon have skipped in the first place. Oh, and to put this in perspective, our high school prom was cancelled due to no one but me and my date signing up for it. So exactly how terrific was the experience really?

Does pretending the past was perfect when it wasn’t even close make you feel better about your life? It doesn’t work for me. But maybe I’m the one with a problem. What do you think?

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When comes the revolution, it will start at the motor vehicle bureau

Four years ago, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decided they could save a few bucks if they stopped reminding people to renew their drivers licenses. We are all supposed to remember what year our license expires. Since drivers licenses are good for five years, pretty much no one remembers, thus no one can renew on-line: an expired license can only be renewed in person. Because anyone who has an expired license needs an eye test.

It doesn’t matter if it’s one day or 3 years 364 days. If the license has expired, you must come to the RMV in person to get an eye test. According to the RMV, there is a direct, if somewhat obscure and mystical connection between an expired license and failing eyesight.

Note: After 4 years, you have to start over as if you never had a license at all, including written and road tests.

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To save us even more money, the Commonwealth decided to close down all the kiosk RMV (Registry of Motor Vehicle) mini offices at malls where you could get simple tasks completed quickly and conveniently. But that was not enough. They then closed more than half the local RMV branches, keeping only the main offices open.

Between one thing and another, the result is a guaranteed daily pile-up of disgruntled Massachusetts motorists at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Garry discovered his license had expired and came home upset. I tried to renew it on-line, but though it had expired less than two weeks earlier, he had to renew in person because he needed an eye test. This makes sense to someone. A punitive eye test. It is your punishment for not noticing that your license was expiring.

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He wondered if he could defer it. No one ever wants to go to the RMV, but there’s no reprieve. Driving around with an expired license is not an option. Should something happen, even a minor fender bender, you would end up getting hit with a fine that would make your head spin.

We headed up to Worcester, which according to the RMV office locater was the nearest branch. That turned out to be untrue, but we needed to get it done and had barely enough time. Away we went. It was a trip backwards in time.

I remember saying if revolution comes to this country, it will start at the motor vehicle bureau where frustrated, tired, aggravated citizens get bounced from place to place in pursuit of accomplishing a simple goal in a reasonable length of time. That we were at the RMV at all was because some moron thought sending a postcard to licensed drivers every 5 years was costing too much money. I’d like to see a cost analysis on this brilliant piece of legislation.

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There used to be dozens of queues at the RMV. In the bad old days, you waited on whichever line you thought was the right one until you got to the front, discovered you had waiting on the wrong line, were directed to some other place to start over.

After several hours of bouncing from line to line, with the queues getting longer and angrier as the day wore on, at 5 o’clock sharp, they’d close and tell you to come back another day. The new method eliminates lines. Not a queue in sight. The Powers That Be have used chaos theory and a non-linear approach to eliminate lines and logic simultaneously. It’s a new world, a science fiction world, a completely incomprehensible world.

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To get you oriented, everyone starts on a single information line where you get a little deli counter paper ticket. On it is printed a 3-digit number preceded by a letter. We were I-256.

There are letter codes A, B, C, D, F, G, I and Z. I do not know what any of them mean or if they mean anything. I don’t know why those letters were chosen as opposed to other letters. It’s all part of the non-linear thing. In the front lobby, there is a single, rather small illuminated sign that flashes the next number up. There is no order to what combinations of numbers and letter might be next.

Any combination can be called any time to any window. There were about 24 queues, though not all were open. If you got lucky, you could hear a sotto voce announcement I’m sure Garry couldn’t hear at all and I could only hear parts of and only sometimes. There were words to the effect that “We are now serving A-132 at window 14″ and that number would flash on the screen. Sometimes they would flash the number for a couple of minutes, sometimes for just a few seconds.

They might be serving Z-542 at window 2, followed by D-234 at window 17. Everyone hovered near the screen because the noise level precluded being able to hear anything. When finally your number was up, you had to dash madly to whatever line you were called, which could be a long run (in my case, hobble) to the other side of the building. No way to know how soon you would be waiting. You didn’t dare leave, not even to go the bathroom.

Garry was baffled. I said that the RMV had eliminated bourgeois linearity and gone to a non-linear chaos-based formula.

“What?” he said.

“Completely random,” I assured him. We were both having flashbacks to the near riots of the 1960s as the lines in the motor vehicle bureau would stretch into the street and around the block. There were just as many people waiting now as then, but there were no lines, just folks sitting on hard benches with dull, blank faces or milling around wondering what happened to order and logic, and why don’t they simply send a postcard reminding you to renew your license? It took three and a half hours.

I took some pictures. Security concluded I was a terrorist. It had been a bad week for Boston and even on a good week, bureaucrats always assume anyone with a camera has evil intentions. I took the pictures quickly, so by the time they told me to put the camera away because “this is a State building!” (what that had to do with anything I don’t know), my camera was out of sight and I was standing around looking bored, annoyed and out of sorts like everyone else.

Finally, they called us. Garry got a new picture which is nominally less horrible than the one he had for the past 10 years. He passed his eye test, signed an autograph for the lady who served us (who became much less rude helpful after recognizing Garry), and we finally got out of there.

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I took pictures of the flag being raised again because it was exactly a week since the bombings at the Marathon which was also weird.

So I ask you: are they really saving money? Or is this just another way to make our lives more difficult?

Because I don’t believe for a moment that the savings are not more than offset by needing many more people working at the RMV instead of the rest of us being able to renew our licenses on our computers at home.

Just saying.

A happy slave to books

Half a dozen times during every month of the year, I see the sun rise and hear the birds sing the morning in. It’s not insomnia. I am in the thrall of a good book and I just can’t stop reading. I’ve been a book junkie since I was a very young child and its an addiction I have no interest in breaking. It has been my inspiration and my refuge, my world away from reality, my alternate universe of choice.

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It’s my all time favorite drug. It’s not illegal, although it has cost me a lot of sleep and a fair bit of money.

I read. Constantly. I read on my Kindle, I listen to audiobooks. I read regular books. I often read several books at the same time: an audiobook by day, a print or Kindle edition at night in the delicious comfort of my bed.

I’m addicted to books and not just a single genre. I read straight history, with a particular passion for the 14th century, perhaps because it seems to have been the turning point of western civilization, the rise of central government, the creation of free peasantry and what we now call the middle class.

There was the Black Death, the schism the created two popes … one in Avignon and the other in Rome … which for the Christian world was calamitous. There was endless war, brigands who roamed the countryside, burning, raping, despoiling and destroying what pitiful remnants of communities that survived other simultaneous catastrophes. Inflation rendered money worthless. Many regions were effectively depopulated leaving no one to tend fields and grow crops … and famine followed. The 20th century, with all its horrors, could never top the 14th. I find that strangely comforting.

I read thrillers and mysteries and police procedurals. I read courtroom dramas … lawyers, district attorneys, victims, criminals and trials. Then, when the world is more  real than I am willing to bear, I read science fiction and fantasy, immersing myself in places that could never be, in futures that might be, and vicariously pursue magic and sorcery. Books are my escape. Take away everything else, but leave the books so if I cannot physically fly away, I can escape in spirit.

Ever since I got my first Kindle, I feel like I’ve been given ultimate freedom. I’ve spent my live traveling with trunks full of books. Now, I can bring a whole library with me to the dentist’s waiting room. And since I got my amazing Bamboosa Lap Log, I have achieved electronic reading Heaven.

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I am, for the moment, discovering new favorite authors. All of my previous favorite writers seem to be in that never-never land between the last book and th next in the series. Since they are still creating and waiting has never been something at which I excel, I put these months to good use and seek out more authors to feed my hunger for books, to try to discover a new world, a new voice, a new piece of time to explore. In case you are looking for something to read, here’s an updated bunch of my favorite authors and books. Please feel free to tell me about your favorites because they may very well become mine, too! It’s through readers’ suggestions that I’ve discovered most of the authors I love best. I count on you!

Bamboosa with closed Kindle HD in its hard case.

Bamboosa Lap Log with closed Kindle HD in a hard case.

Barbara Tuchman is my favorite writer of history, though by no means the only history author I love. Most of her books are wonderful, but my two favorites are A Distant Mirror and The Guns of August. David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin are rapidly overtaking her, however … especially Ms. Goodwin who writes very serious history, but also some wonderful memories of growing up in Boston with the Red Sox. I always have a special place in my heart for local kids who made good!

Don’t miss the Hollows Rachel Morgan books by Kim Harrison. I think it’s the finest of the all urban fantasy series. If you haven’t discovered Jim Butcher‘s Harry Dresden series – a gumshoe who can throw a mean spell, but takes a loaded gun, just in case — dive in. Check our The Iron Druid series from Kevin Hearne.

Lap Log with Kindle HD (7") open and on.

Lap Log with Kindle HD (7″) open and on.

Connie Willis‘ time travel books including The Doomsday Book, Blackout, All Clear, and To Say Nothing of the Dog are among the best books of this genre ever written. Her humorous short stories and novels, from Bellwether to All Seated On the Ground are among the funniest, smartest books and stories I’ve ever read.

And, speaking of time travel, Stephen King‘s 11-22-63 is exceptional. It is not a horror story, but true science fiction. The prose is sometimes so beautiful that it brings tears to your eyes.

In the sometimes grim and gory world of fantasy, take a look at Ben Aaronovitch‘s Peter Grant series, Richard Kadrey whose Sandman Slim keeps me fascinated and also awake at night. Mike Carey’s Felix Castor in a world filled with the dead and demons.

Recently, I discovered Carol Berg. I completed the final of her various series last night … and am now holding my breath in anticipation of her next book.

I love just about everything written by James Lee Burke. If Faulkner had written detective stories, he’d be James Lee Burke. His Dave Robicheaux series is a long running favorite, but his other books are great too.

I’ve read all of John Grishoms books, almost all of Richard North Patterson‘s novels, and most of Nelson Demille.

The writing of Anne Golon wrote (and is still writing) an amazing series of historical novels about a fictional woman named Angelique. They take place during the time of Louis XIV. This series was one of the significant influences on my life,. Angelique lived a life she chose and never accepted defeat. Her story piques my interest in history and she also inspired me to a personal courage I might not have found without her. The English language versions of the books are long out of print (though you can occasionally find them on Ebay and book search sites) but recent ones — Anne Golon is well into her 80s — are available in French and maybe some other languages too, but sadly, not English.

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I cannot close this without referencing two authors that have given me great joy, the incomparable Douglas Adams, and Jasper Fforde whose world I long to enter. I still mourn Douglas Adams. He should have had many more years. Douglas, you died way too soon. Jasper Fforde writes with a similar wonderful lunacy in a fantasy world where fiction is real and reality isn’t.

This doesn’t even begin to cover everything. It would take me days to begin to remember everything … and way more pages than anyone would have patience to read … but this is a tickle for you. Maybe you too are searching for something to fresh to read, a new world to discover. These are some of my favorite places … I’d love to hear about yours!

There are so many way to keep yourself up at night … and I recommend them all. Books are still, page for page, the best entertainment of all because no one can do special effects like you can with your own brain.

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Redshirts, by John Scalzi: A Book Review

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas | [John Scalzi]The story within a story (or play within a play), where fictional characters interact with people in the real world is not new or unique. Shakespeare used it and as Scalzi himself bears witness, there have been a lot of movies, plays, books, and so on that have used one or another variations on this theme. I don’t have a problem with that. In fact, I enjoyed his willingness to explore a classic form and was curious to see where he would go with it. I also appreciated his acknowledging the other authors and script writers who have used some version of it.

The first portion of the story was fun. The characters gradually realize they are part of a  TV series. This isn’t a spoiler; the book’s title refers to the red-shirted characters on Star Trek who were always killed before the first commercial break. In Redshirts, after discovering they are characters in cable sci fi series, the characters slide into the real world. Even though it was obvious from the beginning what was happening, it didn’t matter because what the author was doing was less important than how he did it. John Scalzi has a unique and quirky perspective that make his books interesting and highly entertaining. At least for the first half of the book, Redshirts was no exception.

Then the codas began. The codas are rather like alternate endings, but also like an extra piece of story, tangentially related to the main storyline. It’s an interesting idea that didn’t really work. At least, it didn’t work for me.

The first coda explores the mind of a writer in the throes of writer’s block and was mildly interesting. Not exactly gripping, but not bad. When the first coda drew to a close and the second began, I realized I was restless and finding it difficult to stay focused. The final coda felt like a postscript and held little interest. Worse, the book felt like a writing exercise. Interesting in a technical way if you happen to be a writer, I nonetheless found myself muttering “Okay already, I got it. You made your point.”

I listened through to the end, though I kept drifting and had to remind myself to pay attention as the book plodded to its conclusion.

Less would have been more. The basic idea was good — cute and clever. In its audiobook version, it was helped along by a skilled narrator. But there wasn’t enough plot to go the distance, like a movie that runs out of script 20 minutes before it runs out of film. The story was too thin to support its length. The first half could easily have stood on its own as a novella.

By the end, I had lost track of the characters and plot. Too many endings, characters appearing and disappearing with blinding speed. A score card might have helped but ultimately, I didn’t care.

I’ve read worse books … but John Scalzi has written much better.

It’s that damned wormhole again …

2013 is the 50th anniversary of my high school graduation. That’s five zero. Half a century.

After so many years, one might suppose my memories would be fuzzy enough that I could delude myself into believing I had fun in those opening years of the 1960s.

This has come up because a few of the people with whom I apparently attended high school want to have a reunion. Not the entire graduating class of more than 1200 people. This is a smaller sub-group of people who claim to actually know me and want to see me again. They say they remember me and all the neat stuff we did together.

I think they are deranged. Whatever they think they remember, as far as I can tell, didn’t happen. I do not want to go to the party.  I said no when I was contacted by phone, but they keep sending me invitations by email … endless variations of the same thing. Lists of names I don’t recognize. I know I’m not young, but I’m not senile either. Who ARE these people?

I am considering the possibility I slipped through a wormhole and am in an alternate reality, which would explain how come they know me, but I don’t know them. Yeah, that’s probably it.

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I was not a popular high school student. Even amongst the unpopular students, I was unpopular. Fortunately, by the time I had survived junior high, now known as “middle school” but back in those good old days, referred to simply as Hell, I had learned to be invisible. Attending a really huge school helped. It was so big and crowded, you could slither through all three years (10th, 11th and 12th grades) and if you kept your head down, no one would know your name. I only got attacked by junior thuglets once (not bad considering what an oddball I was) and participated in group activities only if dragged screaming and kicking, usually because someone needed an accompanist and I played the piano.

A klutzy young thing, I avoided the traditional humiliation of the athletically challenged by claiming I didn’t know how to swim. When I showed up, the swimming coach would say “You again? Just keep out-of-the-way,” and thus I got an hour a day of private swim time alone in the deep end of our Olympic-sized pool. I think I was on the swimming team, but I didn’t actually ever swim in an event. I was a bench sitter. And, apparently, the only girl in high school who didn’t care if my hair got wet.

So all I had to do was get decent grades, try not fail my math courses, and then I could go to college where I heard I might actually meet people who I’d like and might like me too. It turned out to be true, so surviving high school was probably worth it. But now, like a malevolent spirit,  fellow graduates of Jamaica High School want me to come to their party. They even think I should pay for the privilege.

If I could remember any of them, I might consider it. No, that’s a lie. You’d have to drug me then drag my unconscious carcass there before I regained consciousness.

High school wasn’t a fun time. Not for me. Fifty years later I can’t think of a single reason to revisit an experience I would as soon have skipped in the first place.

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