THE FAR ARENA – AVAILABLE ON KINDLE AND AUDIBLE.COM

The Far Arena by Richard Ben Sapir

A couple of years ago, I bought a used copy of this long out-of-print book. I had 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.

I wanted to let you know this great book is finally available on Kindle and as an Audiobook from Audible.com. It’s about time!

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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.

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 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 most other books I’ve read. 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 past to 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 used to be challenging, but this one is now available both as Kindle and \from Audible.com — and you can both at a much reduced price if you buy them together from Amazon.

I’m delighted it is finally available and hope you’ll take advantage of the opportunity to read or listen to this gem!

This story would make a wonderful movie. I can see it all in my mind’s eye. It’s exceptionally well written, highly literate and well-researched, Convincing. All those things and a great, gripping story too.

LET’S DO THE TIME WARP AGAIN

This blog isn’t about The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s about how to solve the problem of how the Cheeto Benito can be removed from office.

The solution involves warped time.

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There has been endless discussion since Nov 8th 2016 of how Scrotus gets removed. Does he get impeached? Can we invoke the 25th amendment? Will he just say, “Oh fuck it, I quit.”? Will aliens land on the White House lawn, lift him out of the Oval Office on a tractor beam, load him into the ship, say to the world “You’re Welcome. You owe us one.” And then leave?

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The thing is that we don’t need any of those scenarios, although you have to admit that last one would be way cool.

The solution, is time. Specifically, warped time. That and the fact that we have term limits. A president can only serve two terms of four years each. That adds up to eight years. At least that’s what my calculator says.

Time being relative, we all accept the same common time frame. A second is a second long because the Bureau of Weights and Standards says so. It could have been a little longer. It could have been a little shorter. But that’s the length they decided. I am sure it was for very sound scientific reasons relating to the length of our day and other astrological stuff. I’m frankly too lazy to Google it.

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So, we all agree that a second is a second and none of us are traveling the speed of light, so we don’t have to worry about  Einsteiny  relativistic kinds of things.

The other thing we all agree on — literally most of the planet — is that the First 100 Days of this administration feels like 10 YEARS. You hear it everywhere. From all over. We share this same warped time perception, which makes it real.

That means he’s been in office for 10 years! He is TWO YEARS PAST HIS TERM LIMIT!

He needs to vacate the premises immediately! Somebody has to get in there and take over! And whoever does it, is owed two years back pay.

MEET THE EXORCIST: FELIX CASTOR – MIKE CAREY

When I first wrote about these books, Mike Carey was not famous in the book world, though he was very well-known as a screen writer and graphic novelist. Since then, he’s had a couple of big best sellers. And he has promised he will come back and finish this series with at least one more volume. I can hardly wait!

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 Photographed by Charlie Hopkinson © 2005

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. 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.

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?

The books are available on Amazon and from other booksellers, and as audiobooks from Audible.com.


LUCIFER BEGINS A NEW SEASON TONIGHT ON FOX TV

I would like to mention for those of us who follow Mike Carey’s amazing tales of Lucifer in his graphic novels, that story has been made into a television show. It initially got lousy reviews. Those of us who watched it, loved it.

Apparently the reviewers did what they so frequently do: they either didn’t watch the show at all, or based their reviews on what they thought we were supposed to like. After the show was on for a while and it was one of the top shows of the season, they changed their opinions. Duh.

Lucifer as a graphic novel character comes from a group of writers. I like Carey’s interpretation because I love the way Carey writes. His graphic novels are far more novel-like I expected. Amazing graphics, too.

These are not merely comic books in fancy covers. These are a different kind of entertainment. The books are worth reading and the television show, when it is on (it has short seasons, so grab it when its running), starts tonight on Fox — Monday night at 9 (EDT). If you get American television, you will like it.

WARP DRIVES AND TACHYON WAVES

Garry and I binge watched the entire “Star Trek: Next Generation.” On Netflix. We had missed the show’s initial run. 1987 through 1994 were busy years full of work, moving houses, digging into careers. Getting married. Moving again. Watching TV wasn’t a priority back then.

BBC America showed the series last year, but not in order. When Netflix gave us the opportunity to catch up, we did, viewing two, three, four episodes each night.

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There’s a lot of tech talk on the Enterprise. No problem. Pass the warp drive. I’ll have a side of tachyon particles. I understand their science as well as I understand anything. Which is to say, not at all. I understand the engines on the Enterprise as well as I understand my toaster oven.

Tachyon energy is crucial to all kinds of weaponry and fuel. They are part of what powers the warp engines on the Enterprise. The warp engines are what lets the Enterprise be the Enterprise, travel at speeds faster than light … fast enough to explore the universe. Slither through wormholes. Travel through time.

For your information, a tachyon particle moves faster than light. The complementary particle types are luxon (particles which move at the speed of light) and bradyon (particles which move slower than light). If you live in the Star Trek universe, tachyon particles are as common as dirt. Or electricity.

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Effectively, life and everything in it is a giant mystery to me, yet I feel as if I understand it. When they talk about it, I nod because I get it. I’ve been listening to this mumbo jumbo for so many years, it has achieved a pseudo-reality. Because when I look closely, there’s nothing there. I understand the technology of the 24th century exactly as well (and as much) as I understand the technology of the 21st.

How many of you know how the stuff you use works? Some of you do, but most of us know how to use our devices and gadgets, but have no idea why or how it works. I know how software is designed, how code is written and compiled. I used to know a little coding. In the end, though, I have no idea why code does anything. Why, when you compile a program, does it work? It’s just text. Why does it do what it does?

Why does anything work? Tachyon particles, warp drives, internal combustion engines, electricity, cell phones, WiFi. It’s all the same.

Magic.

And now, back to the Enterprise, already in progress.

READY FOR THE APOCALYPSE?

I used to be worried but I wore out. Now, I’m waiting for the post-apocalyptic world I have been reading about for years.

I have been worried about everything. The environment. Health care. Social security. War, guns, and bombs, and any number of other catastrophes. Yet, here I am, in a world I thought impossible.

This piece of real estate that might solve all our problems.

WELCOME TO THE LAST SAFE PLACE ON EARTH!


The above-ground home is 2,000 square feet. But if you use the keypad entry to the basement, you’ll find 2,300 more square feet that was a former launch control center and has been converted with dining and entertainment space and two bedroom suites – complete with marble bathrooms. It has 10-foot tall ceilings, simulated daylight — and what we all need in our post-apocalyptic home — an open floor plan.

Another view of the house.

Aerial shot of the property.

Views from the property.

Your own personal runway.

Great media room!

Basement entrance. Good solid construction.

Inside the basement house. it’s a whole new world!

Comfy bathroom.

Stairway to the silo.

Tunnel to the silo. This could use a little work. Maybe some paneling?

Inside the missile silo is a 9-story structure, currently empty. Consider it would be perfect for underground condos. Bring your friends on board and recycle that air!

It used to be selling for a mere $1.7 million. If it hasn’t sold by now, maybe we could make a deal?

HOW HARRY POTTER CHANGED THE WORLD

Read! by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


In an introduction to the 8th movie, celebrated author of the seven Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling, talked about the 13 year adventure from the time the first Harry Potter book was published until the time the 8th movie was finished. In case you did not know, the 7th book was long and made into two movies. They probably should have made books five and six into two movies each, but I digress.

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The really remarkable thing about the series was not that it made eight movies, turned Daniel Radcliffe into one of the richest people in England and Rowling into a Billionaire. It is not that Radcliffe and his costars, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, are now the most famous wizards of all time, or even that a wonderful theme park was opened in Florida to celebrate the worldwide phenomenon. The remarkable thing is that it got generations of people to read. They were not reading because they were assigned these books. They were all reading because they wanted to do it.

The movie adventures came as a result of a global desire to read about Harry Potter.  It was not just hitting the New York Times bestseller list. It was rocketing through the roof.  Books were flying off the shelves like Harry in a game of Quidditch. If you don’t know that reference, than you missed out on something most of the world knows.

When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was finally published, almost exactly ten years after the first book was published, I wisely put a copy in reserve so I would not have to stand in line for the midnight release or miss out on getting a copy.

When I went to pick up my copy the following day I said to the clerk, “It must have been crazy here last night with all the kids screaming and pushing their way through.”

“The kids were not the problem,” she told me, “It was all the 20-year-olds pushing and shouting.”

It was the earliest generations of little wizards that were standing in line. Just imagine, some of them had waited half of their lives to find out what happened to the “Chosen One.” Many stayed up all night, not playing video games, but reading.

Yes, people all over the world were reading about Harry Potter, the boy wizard.

Nothing has captivated the reading public in that way since and perhaps nothing ever will again. It was the perfect mix of magic and wonder. And as Harry grew to be an adult, the stories grew to be more serious and complex. As Harry grew up, so did the reading public with him. No series had ever brought along a generation of readers from youth to adulthood merely through the pages of books.

It was the power of the books and the opinions of the followers of the boy wizard that the movies had to live up to. That is why movies five and six disappointed so many Potter fans. The books had spun the imaginations of readers into a marvelous vision of what these stories were and the movies had to cut much of the story to keep the length manageable. Reading had already painted the picture, but the movie screen did not display the scenes painted on the canvas of the mind.

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Thus book seven became movies seven and eight. There was no way to turn the long book into a two-hour and 25 minute movie. The only smart thing to do was exactly what the public was demanding. Film the entire book.

When book seven hit the shelves it sold 15 million copies in the first 24 hours. It has been translated into 120 languages. I bet you did not know there were that many languages. In its first week out, not only was it number one, but the other six books were in the top 20 best sellers. Everyone was loving to read the most fascinating series ever.

What about now? What about the next generation of readers? Will there be a next generation of readers? If you read the Potter series, then you know the joy of a good book. Many of us know the joy of many good books. If I had not already run up my word count with my joy of Harry Potter, I might list some of the great reads I have encountered in life.

There is nothing like a good book. It would be highly unfortunate for future generations if they did not know that. Harry Potter proves it, not just by the sales numbers but by the reaction of the reading public to the movies. Yes, they wanted the boy wizard to come to life, but they already knew what he should look like and what was happening at all the locations in the story.

Radcliffe may have come to be the Potter we saw as we read the books, but our imaginations took us to worlds only the mind can take us. Movie makers knew by book seven, they had to try to deliver something they could not, movies that matched the stories that already played out in our minds.

Teach your children or your grandchildren or your little brother or sister to read. It is not just about learning the words, it is about engaging the mind. They will find that a good book holds more excitement and wonder than a You Tube video or X-Box game. It is better than Instagram, Snapchat, facebook live. The pictures that books generate in the mind are the best pictures of all time.

ALTERNATIVE FACTS AND ACCELERATED REALITY – BY TOM CURLEY

Time speeds up and slows down. Einstein pointed out that you can slow down time if you go fast. Really, really fast. Close to the speed of light kind of fast.

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He also pointed out that time slows down when you are doing something really, really boring. And it speeds up if you are doing something really, really fun.

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The rides at Disney World never last long enough. Except for “It’s A Small World”. That one lasts forever. And further makes my point.

“God, will this frigging ride ever end?” forums.wdwmagic.com

We seem to be experiencing a new time-related phenomenon. I hear the same thing from everybody lately. It’s a common theme on all the late night talk shows, cable news shows, and the press. That is:


“I can’t believe he’s only been in office for a month.”

“I can’t believe it’s only been what? Two months?”

“I can’t believe it’s not butter”
(OK, I’ve used that joke before, but it was just begging me to use it again).

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We are all, as a culture, experiencing a Cognitive Time Shift.  Days seem like weeks. Months seem like years. And it all started when our “Commandeer In Chief” started running for President.

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Why is this happening? How is he doing this?

I think the answer lies with how our culture, and more importantly, how our brains, process information. In this case, “Presidential Scandals.”

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Anytime there is a Presidential Scandal/Gaffe/Faux Pas, it takes a while for it to play out. Some scandals last a few news cycles. Others can last for years.

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What happens when a Presidential scandal is continuous? Ongoing? When there’s a daily crisis? When gaffes happen every day and you’ve lost count of the number of faux pas?  We can’t begin to process the current scandal because it gets replaced with a new one the next day.

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Our brains resolve this by just assuming that we’ve spent the correct amount of time on each scandal. That’s why yesterday’s scandal seems like it happened a week ago.  SCROTUS is fast-forwarding us through time. Trump Time.

Don’t believe me? Quick. What was the big scandal last week? Don’t look it up. Yeah, I can’t remember it either.

We now live in a world of alternative facts and accelerated reality.