Archive for July, 2008

Alan Garner – The Owl Service

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

I bought a couple of cartons of books from Forest J. Ackerman’s Garage Mahal garage sale. Forey was moving and getting rid of his books. I bought some lots where there was at least one book that I was interested in. The other books were an odd mixture of whatever was on hand.

Since I’ve been reading during my commute, I have been trying to find books to read. I have read most of the books that I own and I don’t want to spend much on new books if possible. I’ve been looking in eBay for odd lots, but so far nothing looks good.

Most of the odd books in the Ackerman lots had titles like “Book 3 of the Magic Ring of the Dragon Wizard” or some such garbage. I don’t want to even try to read these. I will be creating a site where I will trade books or send out books at a minimal cost for mailing.

One book that I tried to read was The Owl Service by Alan Garner. This is a book about magic in Wales. It has lots of talk and nothing much happens. The text is well written, even beautiful in some passages, but it never grabbed me. I am not the intended audience. I like fantasy, but I need a little tension in the plot, but not this endless examination of the internal reactions of uninteresting people.

This is the first book on my commute that I decided that it was a waste of time to finish. Life is too short.

Anyone want it? I’ll send it out media mail for $1 (payment through paypal). It would be better to wait as I will put together a box and weigh it, soon.

Signed Murray Leinster

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

I sometimes think that I am channeling Murray Leinster’s ghost. Will Jenkins, A.K.A. Murray Leinster was one of the most prolific short story writers of the Golden Age of Science Fiction. He wrote what I consider to be the quintessential Science Fiction story: First Contact. This book, Sideways in Time, has what has to be the most anthologized SF story of all time – A Logic Named Joe, which is probably the first modern story of artificial intelligence.

Here’s an eBay auction for a signed version of one of his books. Only 82 bucks, but money is tight and that’s a lot for a book.

Murray Leinster Sidewise in Time Signed First in Dj – eBay (item 230274477997 end time Aug-02-08 13:19:15 PDT)

Nine Legendary SF Authors Speak

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

This, via SFSignal, is a video of 9 great SF writers. It dates from the late 1960s to the late 1970s and has some of my favorite writers explaining why SF is important.

A nice quote from Asimov:

To those of us who remember the golden age, we are now living in a Sciencefictional world, and one which Campbell’s Science Fiction did significantly succeed in creating.

It is unfortunate that, even in 30 to 40 years ago, these writers are speaking as though Science Fiction has completed its function in society. They speak about fulfilling a promise, as though Spec-fic is done deal and the future is now.


Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

Raised in the mountains and wild ravines,
I have become the herald of hymns that are sung.
I have no articulate voice, but still my voice is melodious.

I found this quite by accident. It is a riddle from the Planudean anthology of problems and riddles, Chapter 7, #65. I don’t have the answer. I have a guess at what it might be.

Please leave your guesses in the comments.

Keith Laumer – A Plague of Demons

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

PLAGUE-3 Keith Laumer wrote intense often humorous Science Fiction in the 1960s and 70s. He was prolific and I remember him mostly as a good Short Story writer as he appeared frequently in the SF magazines of the 1960s. I can remember reading several of his Retief Stories in Astounding and Analog.

A Plague of Demons was published in 1964 in IF Magazine and then as Berkley Medallion Paperback in 1965. I remember that the Berkley Medallion books cost 50 cents, which was more than the 35 cent Ace books, but they were higher quality and more adult in content so I preferred them.

The book appeared when Ian Fleming’s James Bond books were popular, and A Plague of Demons is a SF version of a spy thriller. Set in a futuristic world, an agent discovers that men are disappearing from the battlefields of earth and have been doing so since at least World War I. In some of the battles as many as 20% of the armies are missing in action. The agent stumbles upon an alien plot to steal human brains and use them as computers in mechanized battle wagons on distant planets. He enters into an underworld of espionage where no one will believe him except a retarded young man who can see the aliens.

The agent is eventually caught and his brain placed in a war machine, but he "wakes up" and finds that he must battle the aliens as a secret agent in their own army.

This was fast paced and action packed. Some of it is a little over the top and the main character is stock Science Fiction hero (Male, White, 30 and extremely intelligent – nothing wrong with that – I was 30 once). The book is nicely partitioned into two parts marked by a cliff hanger where the magazine would have serialized it. It is a good read and I finished in one and a half days thanks to a problem on the TZ bridge this morning.

There are a few nice sciencefictional ideas, but nothing that original. 1) Using brains of humans, cats and dogs to control machinery. 2) a secret society started by Benjamin Franklin that has been responsible for the survival of the United States. 3) Aliens among us that only children, dogs, cats, and people with a certain kind of brain damage can see. 4) Relentless alien hive minds that sweep across the galaxies conquering everything in their way.

In spite of being a great book to spend a few hours with, it had no real redeeming value and all the action and excitement is little more than empty calories. Some images were very familiar and I may have read it before, but the plot, although interesting, is very forgettable. The characters do not stick with you and the conflict is almost purely physical.  The cover, on the other hand, is very good. It was from a period when publishers put real art on the cover of Science Fiction books. Today they just put cartoons on covers, it seems.

Health and Diet

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

I’ve been talking to John B. about vitamins, diet and health. This is usually a personal issue and I’ve learned over the years not to nag people about what they eat.

It has reached the point where the food supply is toxic enough to think twice before eating. It goes without question that meals from fast food chains are usually little more than salty grease laced with bovine growth hormones. Beef, pork and poultry from the supermarket is not much better.

I am a person who likes to eat and it is difficult to decide what I should do.

I have not eaten beef since February. This was a huge leap for me because I like steak and I enjoy things like pastrami or roast beef for lunch. I made the decision out of sympathy to the poorly treated cattle as much to the toxicity of the meat. I must say that I feel better, I have lost weight, and I save the life of at least one steer per year.

We have fish three times a week (USA or Canadian only, preferably wild caught), organic free range chicken once or twice a week and pasta with organic sauce the rest of the time.

I eat nothing fried. I don’t use salt, butter, or oil. (I have a buttered bagel in the morning, but I might give this up). I don’t buy white bread. I don’t buy anything with corn sweetener.

I love milk, but I drink only fat free, hormone free, organic milk. This costs only a few pennies more and I don’t need the milk fat in my diet.

We have vegetables with every meal (except the pasta). I have a yam or occasionally a potato with the vegetables. Yams have lots of natural vitamins and are easy to digest. Potatoes have less in the way of vitamins, but make a meal taste better.

I have a glass or two of red wine with my evening meal.

I no longer have cookies, cake or pie for desert. If I need a late night snack, I eat a bowl of organic whole grain cereal.

I have lost a steady pound or two a month for the last six months. My cholesterol is low.

As far as supplements go, I am not a huge believer in vitamins. I take a multivitamin in the morning, but I am getting a good supply of vitamins from my meals and I expect most of the vitamin tablet winds up flushed down the drain.

I take Co-enzyme Q10 because I am on an anti-cholesterol drug and the Q10 offsets the muscle weakness that sometimes results. The cholesterol drugs lower Q10 so it is important to take Q10 to replace the depletion.

I take Omega-3 fish oil supplement. This is one supplement that everyone agrees helps in many ways, most especially in reducing coronary heart disease.

The most controversial thing that I do is take a full 325mg of enteric coated aspirin every morning. The benefits of aspirin go up with the dose. Aspirin thins the blood, lowers risk of stroke and heart attack, and reduces risk of colon cancer. It may delay or prevent arthritis and Alzheimer’s. Doctors recommend a low dose of aspirin because aspirin’s benefits are offset by the reduction of the ability of the blood to clot and may result in dangerous ulcers or bleeding. I will cut back it there is ever a problem, but for now, I don’t have a problem with bleeding and I don’t have an ulcer.

NASA is 50 today.

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

GOOGLE has a nice NASA banner today reminding us that NASA is 50.

Neither the Democrats nor Republicans seem to be interested in funding NASA anymore. I guess astronauts don’t vote. That is too bad. America is in need of something to make it special again. Right now we are drowning in the economic muck created by gutless politicians.

NASA – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

MP3 – MP4 – MP5

Monday, July 28th, 2008

e. Jim has been discussing buying a new MP3/video player and I have been thinking about this, too. It is a tough choice and I will probably wait until prices come down.

The choices are:

1) PDA – like a Dell Axim or a Palm.

2) iPod – the new ones do video.

3) iTunes – iPhone without the phone. It does everything, including wifi for Internet browsing.

4) Chinese MP5 player – very cheap and going to get cheaper.


I tried to get my Dell Axim x50v to be useful for anything, but it is a permanent boat anchor. For video  you will need at least 4 gigs of storage. You need at least a gig to store a long book on MP3. The AXIM has a megabytes and won’t even play most videos.

The iPods can be had for about $100 in the lower memory configurations if you shop the refurbs at’s store. This is a the solution that works best, but is still pricey.

iTunes is a good choice, but I think they are going to be a round of price cuts yet on Apple products, so hold off until January.

The Chinese MP5 players look good, but there are scam artists. You have to be careful that you get all the memory that you pay for. They cost about $75 shipped from China with a touch screen. The MP5 is a misnomer. There are only MP3 or Mpeg-4 players. The MP5 means that it plays a much larger variety of formats. There aren’t really MP5 files.

Here is the eBay Link to a 4 GB 3" touch screen MP5 player. It is from a Hong Kong shipper and I can’t guarantee that you’ll actually get it, but it does look tempting.


Leigh Brackett – The Long Tomorrow

Monday, July 28th, 2008

brackettI have been accused of not including women writers in my lists of favorites, but I always include Andre Norton and lately, Leigh Bracket.

Leigh Brackett, known as The Queen Of Outer Space, has written some great SF over the years. Her collaboration with Ray Bradbury, Lorelei of the Red Mist, is one of my favorite SF stories of the Golden Era.

Leigh Brackett might be better known as a principle screen writer on the classic movie The Big Sleep. She filled the pulps in the 40s and 50s with space opera and produced some very good stuff. She was definitely not a hack and produced well written stories with depth in spite of the lurid covers on the magazines.

I picked up an old Ballantine Books paperback edition of The Long Tomorrow to read on the bus. (The cover was not that interesting so I put up a cover for another story from a 1955 Planet Stories.) The writing is easy and clear. The characters are well rounded and compelling. The plot – well it is a 1950s post-apocalypse story. The "life after the bomb" stories were popular, yet done to death in the 1950s. We all worried about Russia dropping the bomb in the 1950s. I remember the weekly air raid drills where we all sat in the hall and put our heads between our knees – like we would have survived a nuclear attack. My uncle had a bomb shelter in his house stocked with dry food and a chemical toilet.

About half way through, I realized that I had read this before. I started to recognize plot points, but I did not remember how it comes out. I am enjoying this read. It has been long enough that this is really a first read. The plot is about a post-apocalyptic agrarian society. It is against the law to have towns with more than 200 buildings and 1,000 people. Technology has returned to a primitive state where an occasional steam engine is as complicated as it gets. Two boys find a radio that had been hidden by a traveling trader. They become obsessed with finding a mythical Bartorstown where freedom of thought and knowledge still exists and its secret denizens prepare for the day when technology will return.

There are adventures as the boys set out on their quest. I have read 190 pages of the 258 page paperback. I will finish it on the way home tonight. (I am averaging 2.5 books a week since I started taking the bus.) It is a good page-turner of a story and I would recommend it, in spite of its overused theme. Brackett is a good writer and this is one of her best books.


Monday, July 28th, 2008

A Drabble is a story of exactly 100 words. I have read about this kind of thing, but I have enough trouble making an understandable story in 4,000 words, so I have never entered – until now.

It seems I will do anything to avoid work. The problem with 100 words is that you can do it in two or three minutes. Of course that’s also a problem because 101 words or 99 words is just as easy to write. Getting exactly 100 words takes five times as long as the original writing.

I sent them two and I am deleting the link in my bookmarks so that I will not be tempted to send more.


The Twelfth Sam’s Dot Drabble Contest is now underway – closes midnight July 31. Theme is ETs on FacePlace.

Election Polls Badge

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Click for has these neat badges for blogs. If you remember, 4 years ago I made several posts about and I found that these two sites really helped in understanding what was going on in the election.

It looks like a landslide today, but this tightens up quite a bit by November. If the Democrats take the senate, house and white house, will there be changes? Probably not anything substantive, and that’s the tragedy. It is good, however, to change the crooks in charge every few years.

Codex Sinaiticus

Friday, July 25th, 2008

This is an interesting site. It is dedicated to the oldest version of the New Testament known to exist.

Christianity as an organized religion was put together around the year 360 and this bible dates from this period. The text is different from modern versions because the text was being revised and corrected considerably in this period. I am particularly interested in the Book of Mark and this version does not have the resurrection story that was added around this time. The book ends with the discovery of the empty tomb.

I have read where modern Christians tend to think the English translations of the Bible are the real Gospel and that God intended that the Bible should be read only in English so that ignorant people don’t get confused.

The translations of this Greek version (some of which was translated from Aramaic and Hebrew into Greek) will be added to the site as they are available. The result will be different from modern Bibles by a long shot.

My opinion is that the book of Mark is not the word of God, but the word of Mark, who never met Jesus, but perhaps was the nephew of Peter. In any case all of the gospel is second or third hand stories recorded hundreds of years after the fact. The Codex Sinaiticus at least gives a clearer view of the text that had only been around for 200 years at the time it was transcribed and had not had as much time to be tweaked.

Handwritten well over 1600 years ago, the manuscript contains the Christian Bible in Greek, including the oldest complete copy of the New Testament.

Codex Sinaiticus

John Brunner – Catch a Falling Star

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Bad Cell Phoine Picture of Catch a Falling Star I used Brunner’s Shockwave Rider as required reading in a course I taught in Artificial Intelligence. In 1975 Brunner was able to predict the WWW, if not in specific details, in attitude. The book describes a world wide interactive information network. He was the first person to describe a "worm" or self replicating computer program that is able become part of the network and change its behavior. 

15 to 20 years before writing Shockwave Rider, Brunner was producing a large number of books and short stories. He always was prolific and wrote sometimes four books a year. Many of these were short novels, about 60,000 words or less, that appeared in Ace Doubles. I collect Ace Doubles and I must have 20 Brunner titles.

Unfortunately, these are not always a good read. Brunner often writes in a very dry style, almost as if he is affecting an accent. His characters have little depth and the best that you can do is follow his complex plots and hope to understand motivations. The better books were written in the second half of his career, but many later novels were rewrites of his early works with extra material added with a new title.

I grabbed a book from my unread pile after I finished Louis L’Amour’s The Man From the Broken Hills, a very typical, but forgettable book from L’Amour’s Sackett series. The Man From the Broken Hills took only two days, three and a half 50 minute bus rides, to finish.

Catch a Falling Star is a rewrite of his earlier (1959) The Hundredth Millennium, which I might have read since the plot of Catch a Falling Star seems familiar. It is short, about 70,000 words, by today’s standards. Brunner notes that The Hundredth Millennium was shorter still.

The story is about a man, 100,000 years in the future, who discovers that a star will destroy the Earth in about 288 years. He sets out to find out who can help him avoid this catastrophe, but since it will happen after they have died, no one cares. Brunner’s characters wander through a strange world where people live with genetically engineered plants and animals that provide for their every need. There are History Trees that have the racial memories of men going back thousands of years. These trees have all of mankind’s memories, but seduce those that enter them and when people come out they are obsessed with some period of time.

Brunner’s amazing imagination drags us along from incident to incident, but the characters mostly just worry about the future and don’t interact emotionally on any level. Their names are odd and hard to remember and I found myself wondering which character was speaking many times. They all talk and act pretty much the same.

I have about 25 pages to go so I do not yet know if the main character Creohan (or is it Chalyth?) finds a way to divert the star. I suspect that they will use the history tree to discover an artifact from the past or contact descendants of those that traveled to the stars. Perhaps they will just give up and the decadent cultures left on Earth will die a well deserved death.

As you see, I am not thrilled with the book. Brunner did so much better in his books Stand on Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up. I read his Squares of the City in the late 1960s, which was a book based on a famous chess game. Each character corresponds to a piece in the game and every plot point reflects a move. It was fascinating as it had the game moves in the book and I could follow the plot on a chess board.

Catch a Falling Star is mostly a quick rewrite of a mediocre novel making it a longer mediocre novel. I was disappointed.


Thursday, July 24th, 2008

It’s raining heavy this morning. I slipped on the wet terrazzo floor in the lobby of office building where I work. I hit hard. Nothing is broken, but boy am I sore. The longer I sit in this chair, the more my back hurts. It is going to be a long day.

I did not spill my coffee. Years of training in office arts has taught me that the coffee cup comes first. I held on to it and kept it upright the whole way down.