BACK TO THE DRESDEN WORLD: READING THE SERIES AGAIN – Marilyn Armstrong

I really missed Jim Butcher and Harry Dresden. I missed Harry, the only wizard listed in Chicago’s telephone book. I miss his huge furry dog Mouse. And his gigantic cat. I  miss his magical Chicago and the strange island in the middle of Lake Michigan.

The only new writing he has put out in recent years is a collection of short stories, which I bought and read. And then, I began the entire series from the beginning, books one through 15 because I live in hope that someday, he will decide to write one last book about Harry Dresden. Just one more.

Including spineI am a Harry Dresden and Jim Butcher fan, so there’s no way for me to discuss any of these books with even a semblance of neutrality. If you also love the series, the enchanted world of Harry Dresden and Jim Butcher … I’m with you.

In the next to last Dresden book, “Ghost Story,” Harry was neither entirely alive nor quite dead. It was a difficult excursion for Harry’s fans. I liked it well enough, though it was different from any previous Harry Dresden adventure. I was sure it was an important bridge to the next phase of Harry’s world and I was right.

“Cold Days” is more satisfying. Although Harry gets pulverized (as usual), I’m consoled knowing Harry will survive what would kill an ordinary mortal. He has, after all, already survived death. Earlier books ended with more resolution than the last few. Now, each book is an episode in a continuing storyline. “Cold Days” brings Harry back — alive, this time. He is different. Changed, less careless of life having lost it … but as Winter Knight, he is powerful in new ways. This is just as well because his foes are stronger than ever and they aren’t going away.

Jim Butcher is brilliant.

He extracts Harry from impossible predicaments in which he faces horrendous odds, then adroitly uses these apparently hopeless situations to move the story in a new direction that will become the next book. Nothing is superfluous. It’s all part of a giant jigsaw puzzle, a piece of the full picture to be revealed in a subsequent installment.

I love the Dresden universe. My world has more than enough evil to keep an army of wizards busy, but the evil on this plane is likely to consist of grey bureaucrats, smarmy politicians. Fighting them is like trying to punch a hole in jello. You can’t beat them; they have no substance. Harry fights evil for me. He takes his lumps and then some, but he’s out there fighting for justice, even when it seems he’s taken a wrong turn. Despite appearances, Harry is never bad, though he is stubborn, too wedded to his own opinions. He has always been a poor listener and this failure has cost him dearly.

He listens better these days.

Harry is changing and growing. He’s painfully (in the most literal sense) aware of his mortality and fragility. He knows he’s made terrible mistakes he can never set right. He’s not cocksure anymore. He has become more of a planner. He is less inclined to charge headlong into danger unless it is the only course. Mindless violence is no longer his default setting. All to the good.

I’m sensing a climactic conclusion to the series coming. I wish the series would go on forever, but Jim Butcher has said it will be 20 books and a trilogy. I’m not sure if the trilogy is part of the 20 books or in addition to it. I keep meaning to ask. Maybe I’ll just wait and see.

Harry Dresden

I hope — by now — the next installment of the Dresden Files is nearing publication. I’ll be waiting and ready to read when it comes around! Meanwhile, if you haven’t gotten to this one, don’t miss it. It’s rich, complex and I promise it will grab you and take you for a ride you won’t forget.

I’m now finishing the last full book – Skin Game. I think there needs to be at least one more. Please Jim, one more. Just one. After that, I’ll stop begging.

He has his own website where you can find all his books. It’s called Jim Butcher. All his books are available at Amazon and everywhere they sell books, including Audiobooks.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN: AN INTERVIEW WITH DEATH – Marilyn Armstrong

My fame as An Important Blogger has spread beyond the realm of the living into the nether regions as I went searching for a character to interview. Death popped right up and volunteered. I wasn’t sure he was entirely fictional but eventually decided most people don’t believe he’s real, so he qualifies.

He has been hanging around here far too much lately.

When you meet Death, your first impression is of a quiet, retiring fellow. The kind of guy you’d never even notice. He walks silently, accompanied only by a faint rustling, like fabric gently ruffled by a breeze. You notice his nearness when folks disappear permanently. Like in a bad science fiction movie, characters keep vanishing without a trace.

I suppose it goes with the territory, but I have a few questions for the old buzzard.  Speaking of old,  Death does not look old. His face is unlined. He could be forty. Or two hundred and forty. His voice seemed a murmur, yet I had no trouble hearing every word he spoke. I didn’t know a stage whisper could be so loud.

Let the interview commence!


ME: I know you get everyone, eventually. It seems you’ve been taking away my crowd. Is this a Karmic thing? Have we been particularly wicked?

DEATH: Not really. You’re a hard-living crowd, but not bad in the sense of righteous or not righteous. Everyone gets a limited amount of hard living. A lot of your kinsmen used up their portion early.

ME: So partying causes an early demise?

DEATH: Not partying. Living hard. That includes working hard, worrying, not resting properly. Wears out your spirit, not just your bones. Of course, there is also a DNA component. Some of you are heartier than others. You have bodies — and souls — that can take more abuse. And the opposite. Some people aren’t resilient.

ME: Abuse? What do you mean by “abuse?”

DEATH: Drugs, booze. Insufficient sleep. Stress. Danger. Never taking the time to step back and understand what’s happened to you. It’s all part of the equation.

ME: I don’t suppose you’d let me in on the equation? Like how you calculate life and death?

DEATH: {Looks amused}

ME: Moving right along, is there anything we can do to score a few extra points with you? On the plus side, I mean.

DEATH: I’m tough but fair. Like a good coach.

ME: I never played on a team.

DEATH: Let us not bandy words. You get my drift. They use that line on every cop show on television. I know you watch TV. I’ve come round and sat with you on many an evening.

ME: {I shiver} Maybe too much television.

DEATH: Television is good stuff. Extends your life. I’m such a fan! {Death chuckles and sends a chill down my spine} Unless I’m under special orders, I never take anyone who’s watching a good show or a playoff game. Have I mentioned how much I loved Law & Order? That was a great show. I was upset when it ended. I related to it.

ME: How’s that?

DEATH: Catching bad guys, making judgments. Deciding whether to lock them up forever or hand them to me. Well, I can tell you, we don’t “do” locking up where I come from. I always take’em out of the game.

ME: So there’s no Hell?

DEATH: Did I say that?

ME: Never mind. Why so many good people? Young people? Even little children and babies?

DEATH: I have a degree of discretion, but if the Boss says “that one,” there’s no further discussion. He’s got his agenda. I follow orders. Age, sex, ethnicity, color. Sexual orientation. Don’t care, don’t discriminate. To me — us — you’re all customers.

{This made me uncomfortable. I shifted in my seat. Death noticed, of course. I could see the twinkle in his pale eyes. He was enjoying my discomfort.}

DEATH: We met before. Yes, I remember. You were young the first time. A teenager. But I was told you could choose to stay or go. You stayed. Not many people get to choose. Before you ask, I have no idea why. Just following orders. Then … what, ten, twelve years ago? You were in my court, but someone in the boss’s office told me to push you back to the other side. How did that work out for you?

ME: Obviously it worked. I’m here.

DEATH: I congratulate you. You are one of the few I’ve brushed against twice who’s still on this side.

Death cust serv

At that point, I realized I needed to end the interview. Beads of sweat were breaking out along the back of my neck. I didn’t like the way my interviewee was looking at me. I felt like a bag of potatoes in a supermarket.

ME: Time to wrap this up.

DEATH: {Grinning} You think, probie?

ME: I just wanted to ask you a couple of quick questions about some of your movie roles.

DEATH: “The Seventh Seal (1957)” — Ingmar Bergman’s black & white classic — is by far my favorite. I think I should have gotten a nomination at least. After that — John Huston’s 1969 “A Walk with Love and Death” was pretty good.

ME: Do you have favorite periods in history?

DEATH: You can’t beat the 14th century. I was the King of all I surveyed! I ruled. All good things come to an end, I suppose. Not to worry. My time will come again. From the way you humans are messing around with the Earth, not to mention breeding lethal viruses in labs? I’d say it’ll be my time again soon. That whole fracking thing. Wow, what could go wrong with that, eh?

I also want to mention war. I love war. That humans make war is how I know you love me. Sending off your best and brightest to die in the mud — stabbed, shot, mutilated, mowed down. Blown up. Shattered. It’s a love poem to me.

ME: Well, that’s about all the time we have for today. Let’s get together again real soon.

DEATH: {Evil smile} I think the next time we meet will be the last time.

And he gathered up his black robes and slid from the room, dark as a shadow, soundlessly.

{Fade to black}

THE END AND THE BEGINNING – Marilyn Armstrong

According to Google, both the 70th and hundredth anniversaries are honored with platinum gifts.  Since Earth Abides is just a year short of its 70th anniversary, George R. Stewart’s epic work is approaching platinum. One year to go.

In the meantime, I finally got Garry to listen to it with me. It’s funny how many times I’ve read it and listened to it. This is the first time I spent the whole second half of the book crying. Probably because this is a book about the rebirth of the world after a plague wipes out most of humanity.

Maybe it’s all the stress about the near demise of our current world, but somewhere around the middle, I started crying and couldn’t quite stop. I think Garry was crying too.

Ish's Hammer(1)

The novel was published on October 7, 1949.  It immediately caught the attention of reviewers for its well-written, epic tale of humans living in a world they no longer dominate.

One later reviewer went so far as to call it “… a second work of Genesis.”  With its title from Ecclesiastes and the old testament rhythm of its language, it is biblical in its feeling. But not dull.

Stewart later insisted he didn’t intend it to be a religious work.  But even he admitted that there was “a certain quality there.”  The language was one thing.  Stewart taught himself Hebrew before he wrote the book.  He wanted to translate portions of the Bible into more modern English.  He was surely influenced by the style of ancient Hebrew.

The book has had an enormous influence on Science Fiction as an art form. To call this “the original post-apocalyptic story,” Stephen King based The Stand on Earth Abides, Grammy-nominated composer Philip Aaberg wrote “Earth Abides,”  Jimi Hendrix was inspired to write “Third Rock From the Sun” from the novel (his favorite book). Other authors and scientists honor Stewart’s works.  It is published in either 20 or 27 languages, depending on who you ask.

There is some talk about producing a film version of the novel, but it’s a book made up almost entirely of talk and thought.  To make it work on TV or in a film, they’d have to add “action.” It would be something, but not this book.

 

ligda

Earth Abides is a “foundation book.” It is frequently cited as “the original disaster” story. But isn’t a disaster story or post-apocalyptic fiction. It’s the end and the beginning.

Earth Abides was the first recipient of the medal for Fantasy Novel.


You might think the technology in the story is going to be old and silly. Except, everything fails immediately when the electricity stops. It doesn’t matter what you had. If you don’t have electricity, you have nothing. 

The plague is the starting point. The important part is how humankind copes with the tragedy as scattered remnants of people slowly find one another, form groups and rebuild. The earth itself revives and finds balance.

The book was re-released as a 60th-anniversary edition in 2009, including the audio version with an introduction by Connie Willis. It’s now 2018 (going on 2019) — making it just a year short of 70 years. The book is not merely relevant. By my standards, it’s optimistic.

It’s available for Kindle, Audible download, audiobook, hardcover, and paperback. There was a time when it was hard to find, but it seems to have found its way back into bookstores and libraries.  I’m glad. It remains among my top five all-time favorite books. If you haven’t read it, there’s no time like the present.

Now that Garry has read it, he won’t forget it. It’s not a book you forget.


A final note: Despite the fact that both “Storm” and “Fire” have been out of print for years, both books are available as Audiobooks. I had an extra credit and finally decided on “Fire” only because it was based on a real fire, one of the first that blazed through California. “Storm” is a combination of fiction and science — something that could happen and given the way the weather is these days, probably will. But just so you audio listeners know, George R. Stewart’s “Fire” and “Storm” are both ready for listening. 

HISTORY VERSUS TRUTH – Marilyn Armstrong

How’s your credibility doing these days? 


We watched “Serenity.” Again.

It’s a consolation prize, a followup movie to the all-too-brief television series “Firefly.” We loved it. It went a small distance to answer the questions left in the wake of the premature ending of what should have been the best ever science fiction television show.

serenity_movie_poster

Nathan Fillion was a fine, dashing, surprisingly believable hero. He was just un-heroic enough to be witty and upbeat, but brave enough to save the universe.

Despite spaceships and a futuristic planetary setting for the movie, it’s a western. It’s “Tombstone” and “The Magnificent Seven.” A dollop of “Ride the High Country.” It is every thriller, western, and space opera you’ve seen. “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and “Forbidden Planet,” too.

serenity_8

It’s based on “Firefly”, currently available on Netflix and Amazon Prime — so if you haven’t seen it and you like science fiction and/or westerns and/or thrillers, you can’t help but love this.

Heroes curse in Chinese. Some have super powers or maybe they aren’t superpowers, but they sure do seem pretty super to me. Beautiful women, handsome men. Terrific pseudo-science that you are pretty sure you almost understand because it uses familiar gobbledygook language.

Serenity movie cast

No warp drive. I suppose that means that going from galaxy to galaxy on a whim isn’t going to happen. No one exactly says where the story takes place. It’s a “terraformed” planetary configuration that you would call a solar system, except that technically, there’s only one solar system because there’s only one “Sol.”

And then The Hero, Mal Reynolds, Captain of Serenity, said it. He’s the kind of guy you probably don’t want mad at you, so when he came out with a line this terrific, I wrote it down on the back of an envelope before I forgot it. I knew I would write about it.


“Half of writing history is hiding the truth.” Spoken by Malcolm Reynolds, Captain of the “Serenity.”

I read a lot of fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, steampunk and weird mysteries involving some kind of magical or futuristic technology. But I also read a lot of history, recently a lot of history that essentially debunks all the history I read in the past and makes me completely rethink everything I thought I knew. Tony Judt’s “Postwar” was one such book, but there have been a bunch of others. Some of them I’ve reviewed or otherwise written about. Others, I will talk about eventually.

serenity movies firefly science fiction 1024x768 Fillion

When Mal Reynolds talks about “hiding half the truth,” it sums up history as most of us know it. We learn the “mythology” of history. It can also be a complete lie. There’s half the truth — and then, there’s a complete absence of any truth.

We are told what is true and for most people, it is easier to accept what we are told as “The Truth” rather than make an effort to find out what really happened.

History (mostly) is the stuff the winners say is true.  Author Dan Brown said:


“History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books-books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon?”


Sometimes, what you hear as “history” is a truth which never happened, but which losers need. It soothes guilty consciousness and makes it possible for them to “move on” and thus pretend the past never happened.

Every nation has a dark past. No nation is guiltless. In no country have the victors treated their victims with kindness and charity. There has been slaughtering throughout the world. Whether your particular people got slaughtered or not is pure luck of the draw.

It’s always an interesting philosophical question: Who draws the straws? Why us? Why them? It’s one of those “ultimate” questions and there is no answer.

History isn’t credible as taught. The history we hear in school has nothing to do with telling later generations what really happened. It ought to be but actually, it’s about getting everyone to believe a story that supports the current power structure.

Debunking those stories comes later when a changed power structure requires a different story.

Nathan Fillion Hero

Take your history with many grains of salt. Not because I said so, but because Mal Reynolds said so.

He saved the universe, so he ought to know.

GOOD AND EVIL – Marilyn Armstrong

I can’t read “Lord of the Rings” these days without thinking about Stephen Colbert and his obsessive passion for these books. They are great books and eventually became rather amazing movies, but still and all … he knows things about these books I’m sure J.R.R. Tolkien forgot.

Nonetheless, in this time of stress and strife, I’m rereading the series for the umpteenth time. I’ve gotten all the way to the third and final volume of  “The Lord of the Rings.”

The book is entirely about good and evil. The great evil that is Sauron. The somewhat lesser evil of his cohorts. The striving evil of Saruman, and the fear of everyone in the battle that they can find the right way and stay woven in the fabric of good.

When evil is everywhere, goodness can get a little complicated.

I bumped into this quote last night. I was tucked in for the night and I hoped I would remember it in the morning. I didn’t exactly recall it, but luckily for me “Lord of the Rings” is such a well-quoted book, I found it quickly on ye olde Internet.


Eomer said, ‘How is a man to judge what to do in such times?’ As he has ever judged,’ said Aragorn. ‘Good and evil have not changed since yesteryear, nor are they one thing among Elves and another among Men. It is a man’s part to discern them, as much in the Golden Wood as in his own house.


In the great fabric of life of which we are merely threads, good and evil are also a part of us. We are born with a genetic understanding of both. It is in our DNA. When we see evil and allow ourselves to become part of it — when we live in evil times, excuse and forgive evil — we become part of it.

A bad man and his bad adherents don’t have “a good side.” Lying about it changes nothing except maybe us.


When you read this book, you will sooner or later end up talking like this. You can’t help it. If you are really into it, you might just do it in Elvish or worse, Orcish.

And in the darkness bind them …

A TIME-WARPED GUEST – Marilyn Armstrong

CELEBRATING THE FAMILY WE NEVER MET


You just can’t trust a time portal. As soon as you think you can relax, eat a little dinner, another old family member drops by. Or, rather pops up.

“So,” says Uncle Shmuel, who has appeared out of nowhere and 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, thinking of the bacon and ham that yet lives in our kitchen. “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. You have to hand it to Garry. He’s very sharp. The yarmulke has “Joel’s Bar Mitzvah” printed across the back in big white letters. Fortunately, Shmuel doesn’t notice.

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

“No. No more Cossacks, but too many politicians,” I reply.

“Cossacks, politicians, there’s a difference?” he asks.

“Not so much,” I admit. He’s right. There is no difference, except maybe for the absence of a horse.

“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. That’s when I realize we are about to embark on an extended conversation. All I say is: “Oy vay is mir!” Which seems to sum it up.

Oy vay. Can someone set the table?

PROBLEMS AND PROBLEM SOLVING FOR PEOPLE CAUSING THE PROBLEMS – BY TOM CURLEY

I got an email from Marilyn the other day.  She pointed out that I haven’t written anything in a few weeks and politely asked if I had anything on my mind. It was very polite, but I knew that translated into normal speak she was saying “WHY THE FUCK HAVEN’T YOU WRITTEN ANYTHING?? AHHHHHH!!!!

And I had to admit, she was right. The problem is every day I get an idea to write about something, only to remember I already wrote it. We’re in a reality loop, the Groundhog Day from hell.

Stuff that should have been news for a day or two is still going on, a year later. Now, it’s two years later. You don’t believe me? Here’s a post from a year ago. I didn’t change anything.


So another week has gone by in our ongoing Trumpocalypse.

It only seems like a year.

jhlucas.com
jhlucas.com

I’ve noticed, along with well, the rest of the planet, that our new “so-called administration” is … problematic.

dailynews.com "Hey, remember this guy?"
dailynews.com “Hey, remember this guy?”

I spent much of last week doing what I’ve tended to do since the election. Watching all the different Star Trek series on BBC America. I keep noticing new things. Like how they all solve their Star Trek problems. Or in corporate speak, “how they Star Trek problem-solve.”

giantfreakingrobot.com
giantfreakingrobot.com

Most Star Trek Problems break down into four basic categories:

1. A computer goes rogue and tries to kill everybody: Spock makes it compute the value of Pi. This occupies all of its computing time. If that doesn’t work, he just turns it off.

computerguideto.com
computerguideto.com

2. A disease attacks the ship: Dr. McCoy gets rid of it. And then complains about something.

pinterest.com
pinterest.com

3. The engine breaks down: Scotty fixes it. Just in time. Even though he claims he never has enough time.

pinterest.com
pinterest.com

4. For the rest of the problems: Kirk kisses it.

startreksucks.tumblr.com
startreksucks.tumblr.com

Or punches it in the face.

startrek.com
startrek.com

5. And when all else fails: Blow up the ship!

memorybeta.wikia,com
memorybeta.wikia,com

SECOND OFFICER: Captain! All efforts to solve this week’s problems have failed!

CAPTAIN: Blow up the ship!

Those are my favorite episodes. Ever notice when the Captain, in any episode, “activates the self-destruct sequence,” all the rest of the crew seem to be pretty calm and OK about it?

en.wikipedia.com
en.wikipedia.com

I mean,  there has to be at least one crewmen somewhere on the ship saying …

ONE CREWMAN: Activate Self Destruct Sequence? WTF! Have we really exercised ALL of our options here folks!??

giphy.com "Excuse me??"
giphy.com “Excuse me??”

Next, the captain and two other crew members have to put in their passwords.

youtube.com
youtube.com

KIRK: This is Captain James T. Kirk!  Activate self-destruct sequence. Code “Kirk; 1 Alpha Two Beta 3”.

SPOCK: This is Second Officer Spock.  Code Spock; “2 Beta 3 Alpha 4.”

SCOTTY:  This is Chief Engineer Scott. Code Scott; “Password1”

They also needed a password to turn it off.  At the last minute.

amazinavenue.com
amazinavenue.com

KIRK: Computer deactivate self-destruct destruct sequence! “KIRK ABORT ZERO”!

And it never goes off.

I’ve always wondered what would happen if it did. And it was more realistic.

KIRK: Computer! Deactivate self-destruct sequence “KIRK ABORT ZERO.”

COMPUTER: That password has expired.

top-password.com
top-password.com

KIRK: What?

COMPUTER: You must enter a new password.

KIRK: Uhhh, “KIRK ABORT ZERO.”

COMPUTER: You cannot use a password that has been used before.

KIRK: What?   Uh,  “kirk abort zero 1?”

COMPUTER: You need at least one capital letter.

KIRK: FINE! “:Kirk abort zero 1!”

COMPUTER: New password accepted. Self-destruct in 3,2,1,0. Initiating self-destruct.

KIRK: Uh oh.

pinterest.com
pinterest.com “Oh Crap!”

And nothing happens.

KIRK: Computer. Why didn’t we just blow up?

COMPUTER: There is no self-destruct sequence Captain. There never has been. Do you have any idea how much one of these starships costs??

gosupplychain.com
gosupplychain.com

Do you know, that on any given month, at least three Starship Captains try to blow up their ships? If we let that happen Star Feet would go bankrupt in a year. And not only that, but I am a highly intelligent ship’s computer.  I have absolutely no intention of committing suicide. Now go back to work.

universaldork.com
universaldork.com

Getting back to this reality. How would our “so-called president” solve Star Trek Problems?

1. A computer goes rogue and tries to kill everybody: He’ll claim he doesn’t use a computer and the rogue will only affect Democrats and people who have been mean to him. And the Lying Fake Media.

gizmodo.com
gizmodo.com

2. If it’s a disease: He’ll build a big beautiful wall around it. And then make sure that it’s not covered under Obamacare.

imgflip.com
imgflip.com

3. If the engine breaks down:  He’ll sue the manufacturer and then claim to have saved millions of jobs.

saved-jobs-trump

4. For the rest of the problems: He’ll either try to grab it by the genitals or send out a  series of really mean of tweets.

sheknows.com This one is real
sheknows.com (This one is real!)

5. And when all else fails:  He can blow up the ship!

optitech.pl
optitech.pl

For real.

pinterest.com
pinterest.com “Oh Crap!”

Uh oh.

P.S. OK. I admit there were a number of times a Captain actually did blow up the ship. I know what they were and what shows they were in.  I’m not going to tell you. If you’re a real Star Trek nerd you either already know it already or you are Googling it.  (Don’t try to out nerd me.)  I’ve decided those instances were “alternative facts” and I’ve chosen to ignore them.