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.

SHARING MY WORLD – LATE APRIL 2017

Share Your World – April 24, 2017


Wanting something to quench your thirst, what would you drink?

Coffee in the morning. Sport drinks the rest of the day. I have a condition called “low sodium blood count.” I can’t drink plain water or fruit juice or soda. The ONLY stuff I can drink, other than my mandatory coffee in the morning, is stuff that’s loaded with electrolytes. It’s a real pain in my butt, but I’ve gotten used to it. What happens if I ignore this?

Well, I could die. That’s the consensus. I cheat a little. Sometimes, I have a cup of tea at night, or add a few ounces of juice to my electrolyte drink. Otherwise, I am well-behaved. It could be worse.

Complete this sentence:  Never In My Life Have I…. 

Discovered the magic wormhole that will take me to that other time zone. I have looked everywhere, but I can’t find it. I’ve recently been hoping to find one special telephone booth, but there are no telephone booths anymore.

It’s like finding a mailbox these days. You have to take anything you want to mail to the post office itself. They have a box in front of the door. Otherwise, there are no more “drop the letter in the box” places. Maybe they were the wormholes and that’s why they have been removed?

If you could be given any gift what would it be?

Someone to come and clean the house and take care of all the stuff that needs fixing!

What do you do if you can’t sleep at night? Do you count sheep, toss and turn, or get up and try to do something productive?

I look at my email. That puts me into a coma in about 15 seconds.

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. 

ALL YOU ZOMBIES, ROBERT HEINLEIN

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

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

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.”

Heinlein 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.

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. Then …. a mysterious stranger kidnaps her baby leaving Jane a man and childless.

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

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

The story is a paradox, impossible yet structured with its own internal logic that you can neither reject nor accept. At which point, my brain goes “Eek!!” Jane is everyone. Everyone is Jane. She is her family: tree, trunk, branches and roots.

I found this amazing diagram on the Heinlein Society’s web page. They have lots of other cool stuff too and if you’re a fan, take a look. You won’t be disappointed.

all-you-zombies-heinlein-time-twisterThe 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 been forgotten by many people, 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 ultimate paradox where the past, present and future come together.

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

TIME TRAVEL, PARALLEL UNIVERSES & THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT – ELLIN CURLEY

I am fascinated with the concepts of time travel, parallel universes and the Butterfly Effect. Fortunately for me, there are several TV shows today that deal with these things. One is Timeless and another is The Flash. The Flash is a Marvel comic based series in which the hero can run so fast that he can bend time. He can move both forward and backwards in time. Timeless follows a government team of time travelers who have to keep going back in time to prevent the ‘bad guy’ from messing with major past events and drastically changing the timeline.

In both of these shows, each trip back in time results in an altered present. In each, a seemingly random individual who is important to one of the main characters, is either dead in the present or was never born and no longer exists in the present timeline.

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This brings up the Butterfly Effect, a theory popular with time travel enthusiasts. The theory, mostly used in science, states that a small change can result in a large, unrelated change down the road. In everyday life, this means that unimportant decisions, like whether to go out to dinner or eat in, can lead to very different ‘storylines’ in your life.

There is both a movie and a play that depicts the parallel universes created by a minor life decision. The movie is “Sliding Doors” from 1998 and stars Gwyneth Paltrow. It tracks the different careers and love lives that the heroine would have if she a) catches a particular subway train or b) misses the train. For example, if she catches the train, she also gets home in time to catch her boyfriend in bed with another woman. If she misses the train, she also misses this tryst. Her life takes very different paths depending on that fluke of timing.

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The play was a musical called “If/Then”, starring Idina Menzel. The show follows the heroine’s parallel lives if she either chooses to go to lunch with friend ‘A’ or if she chooses to go to a play with friend ‘B’ instead.

Interestingly, in both the movie and the play, the heroine ends up with the same ‘love of her life’, just at different times in her life. Her career paths diverge but I think most people like to believe that some people are ‘destined’ to be together. The Jewish concept of ‘Beshert’ says that every soul is a half soul and that there is another person in the world who is their perfect ‘other half’. So in time travel shows, many aspects of life are allowed to be affected by chance. But we don’t seem to want to accept that chance can also change the big things in life, like true love.

TimeTravelSome time travel writers have a different theory. They talk about the fact that the past ‘resists’ change. Rather than believing in the Butterfly Effect as it relates to time travel, many believe that at least the major events in history are more predestined and less susceptible to change. It might seem easy to keep a major past event from happening, especially if small changes in the timeline can eventually result in big ones. But time writers feel that events, like WWI, the assassination of JFK, or the sinking of the Titanic, will find a way to take place no matter how hard you try to prevent it. You might want to read Stephen King’s brilliant book “11/22/63” about attempting to go back in time to prevent the JFK assassination. It was also made into a mini series, but the book is much better.
I guess it is easier to accept the idea that relatively small things, like the details of an individual’s life, are changeable and not ‘meant to be’. Maybe this is because on a small scale, cause and effect is more linear and knowable. On the other hand, historians are still arguing about the multiple and interrelated causes of the Civil War.

delorean time machineMy grandfather was hit by a truck and killed when he stepped off a curb too soon at the age of 88. I used to obsess about what led him to that exact spot at that exact time. I used to imagine the tiny things he could have done differently that would have gotten him to that spot even a second earlier or later.

For about a year after that, I would imagine each time I reached a curb, that it could be my last moment on earth — if the stars were so aligned. Maybe this is the root of my love for some of these theories.

THE ANNUAL GEORGE R. STEWART-JIMMY STEWART CHRISTMAST POST

Annual George R. Stewart, Jimmy Stewart Christmas Post


If It’s a Wonderful Life can be a tradition at Christmas, why not this post from a year ago about the connections between that great film and George R. Stewart?  So here it is, with only minor editing to bring it up to date.

But it has a bonus at the end – a radio interview with one of the stars, who was – of course – doing charitable work in the Central Coast area when Tom Wilmer of local PBS station KCBX found him:

It’s A Wonderful Story


This is the time of year when most of us watch the classic Christmas movies.  A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sims, Miracle on 54th Street, A Child’s Christmas in Wales,   (An almost unknown gem, produced in Canada, starring Denholm Elliot); and, of course,  It’s a Wonderful Life.

Here in Arroyo Grande, the local theater,  owned by a man who loves movies, shows one of those classics each Christmas. The admission is a can of food or a toy, to be donated to those in need – in the spirit of the movie.  …To see such a film on the big screen, surrounded by local neighbors of all ages – to see how the children love the film – it is a reminder of what we’ve lost.  Now we watch movies on TV, but usually alone, and always less intently – a kind of digital sampling of the films.  Like a CD, we miss much when we do that.  But in the theater watching Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street  we missed nothing.  And – how long since you’ve experienced this? – the audience clapped and cheered when the judge decided that, yes, Kris Kringle was indeed Santa Claus.  It was a fine traditional twentieth century American Christmas experience.

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For most of the people I know, It’s a Wonderful Life   is the Christmas movie.  So those who are George R. Stewart fans should know about the connection between that classic film and GRS.

George R. Stewart was raised in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where his mother’s family lived.  His maternal grandfather, Andrew Wilson,  planned to be a teacher, and even helped found a school nearby (which would become the prestigious Kiski School).  But he couldn’t earn enough to support his family; so he went into the mercantile business.  He  had a hand in a hardware store there, owned by another Stewart.  That Stewart’s son was James Stewart, also born and raised in Indiana.

George and Jimmy looked alike.  With all the similarities in family history, geography, and physiology, you’d expect they were related.  But they  shared only one possible distant relative.  And they lived in different worlds, in Indiana.  The George Stewarts went to the middle-class Presbyterian church on the flats; Jimmy Stewart and his parents went to the upper-class Presbyterian church on the hill.  GRS went to a public high school out west, Jimmy to a prestigious private school in the east.

Still, the lives paralleled in remarkable ways.  GRS and his family moved to Pasadena; he went to Princeton; and after marriage moved his family to Berkeley, California.  Jimmy went to Princeton, then moved to Pasadena; and spent his life in Southern California.  GRS wrote books, two of which were filmed.  Jimmy made films, like that grand Christmas classic we all love.   GRS worked at the Disney studios for a time, an advisor to Walt himself.  Jimmy worked at many studios, creating characters and stories that touched the hearts of millions.  Ironically, GRS did not like the media, and apparently did not attend movies often, if at all.

Their paths apparently never crossed.  GRS and his family left Indiana for California in 1905, when he was 12.  That was the year James Stewart was born. Out west, nothing in their interests or their work brought them together.  Since the film we now consider a classic failed in its initial run, it is unlikely GRS would have seen it even if he did go to the movies.

Yet, in this Christmas season, we should remember there is one thing they shared; and thanks to the film, we share it with them:  The experience of life in a small American town in the early 20th century.  Like a trip to Disneyland, a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life enfolds us in such a place.  For a time, we walk the streets and meet the people of the town and the time where both boys grew up.

Please follow the rest of the story at: The Annual George R. Stewart, Jimmy Stewart Christmas Post