Monday, May 31, 2010

Walt Whitman: May 31, 1819--March 26, 1892

From "Song Of Myself," Stanza 32:

This stanza incorporates the range of responses that I have toward Whitman's poetry: some parts I agree with, some I don't, and some I don't understand.

His brief description of the stallion at the end of this stanza is one of the finest I can remember reading. I see the stallion before me as I read--"Eyes full of sparkling wickedness . . ."


I think I could turn and live with animals, they're so placid and self-contain'd,
I stand and look at them long and long.

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God,
Not one is dissatisfied, not one is demented with the mania of owning things,
No one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago,
Not one is respectable or unhappy over the whole earth.

So they show their relations to me and I accept them,
They bring me tokens of myself, they evince them plainly in their possession.

I wonder where they get those tokens,
Did I pass that way huge times ago and negligently drop them?

Myself moving forward then and now and forever,
Gathering and showing more always and with velocity,
Infinite and omnigenous, and the like of these among them,
Not too exclusive toward the reachers of my remembrancers,
Picking out here one that I love, and now go with him on brotherly terms.

A gigantic beauty of a stallion, fresh and responsive to my caresses
Head high in the forehead, wide between the ears,
Limbs glossy and supple, tail dusting the ground,
Eyes full of sparkling wickedness, ears finely cut, flexibly moving.

His nostrils dilate as my heels embrace him,
His well-built limbs tremble with pleasure as we race around and return.
I but use you a minute, then I resign you, stallion,
Why do I need your paces when I myself out-gallop them?
Even as I stand or sit passing faster than you.

Any thoughts?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Something to think about

Going To The Dogs

My granddad, viewing earth's worn cogs,
Said things were going to the dogs;
His granddad in his house of logs,
Said things were going to the dogs;
His granddad in the Flemish bogs,
Said things were going to the dogs;
His granddad in his old skin togs,
Said things were going to the dogs;
There's one thing that I have to state--
The dogs have had a good long wait.

-- Anon --

Any thoughts?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Simon J. Ortiz: May 27. 1941--

"Simon J. Ortiz (born on May 27, 1941 in Albuquerque, New Mexico is a Native American writer of the Acoma Pueblo tribe, and one of the key figures in the second wave of what has been called the Native American Renasssance. He is one of the most respected and widely read Native American poets.

Ortiz, a full-blooded Acoma Pueblo, is a member of the Eagle or "Dyaamih" Clan. He was raised in the Acoma village of McCartys (or "Deetzeyaamah"), and spoke only Keresan at home. His father, both a railroad worker and a woodcarver, was an elder in the clan who was charged with keeping the religious knowledge and customs of the pueblo." (above quotation from the Wikipedia entry on Ortiz)

I thought I would post two of his poems today: the first is about Ortiz with his father and the second is Ortiz with his own son.

My Father's Son

Wanting to say things,
I miss my father tonight.
His voice, the slight catch,
the depth, from his thin chest,
the tremble of emotion
in something he has just said
to his Son, his song:

We planted corn one Spring at Aacqu--
we planted several times
but this one particular time
I remember the soft damp sand
in my hand.

My father had stopped at one point
to show me an overturned furrow,
the plowshare had unearthed
the burrow nest of a mouse
in the soft moist sand.

Very gently, he scooped tiny pink animals
into the palm of his hand
and told me to touch them.
We took them to the edge
of the field and put them in the shade
of a sand moist clod.

I remember the very softness
of cool and warm sand and tiny alive
mice and my father saying things.


I take him outside
under the trees,
have him stand on the ground.
We listen to the crickets,
cicadas, millions years old sound.
Ants come by us.
I tell them,
"This is he, my son.
This boy is looking at you.
I am speaking for him."

The crickets, cicadas,
the ants, the millions of years
are watching us,
hearing us.
My son murmurs infant words,
speaking, small laughter
bubbles from him.
Tree leaves tremble.
They listen to this boy
speaking for me.

I wonder what Ortiz's father was saying and what Ortiz's son was saying for him.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Something to think about

We are all citizens of one world, we are all of one blood. To hate a man because he was born in another country, because he speaks a different language, or because he takes a different view on this subject or that, is a great folly. Desist, I implore you, for we are all equally human . . . Let us have but one end in view, the welfare of humanity.

-- Johann Amos Comenius (1592-1670)--

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Combination Plate 14

I will be bringing up significant plot elements and episodes as well as revealing some of the endings.

George Eliot, "The Lifted Veil," a short story

Craig Johnson, The Cold Dish, a novel, mystery

Iron Man, a film, superhero genre

Cherie Priest, Boneshaker, an SF novel

George Eliot
"The Lifted Veil"
a short story

I've read a number of Eliot's novels, but few of her short stories, so I can't judge "The Lifted Veil" in comparison to others by her. But, this short story certainly is quite different from the novels I've read. It might almost be classified as SF if it had been written a century or so later. As it was published in 1859, it might certainly be the first or one of the first stories to incorporate certain elements that are frequently found in SF or fantasy.

The plot is rather typical. The narrator is Latimer, the weakly second son of a wealthy landowner. His older brother Alfred, on the contrary, is tall, strong, and athletic. He is, naturally, his father's favorite and the heir presumptive to the family fortune and estate. Moreover, Alfred is engaged to Bertha, the neighborhood charmer, with whom Latimer also is hopelessly in love.

Latimer is sent to Geneva to finish his education, and while he is there, he has several visions of events that occur shortly afterwards. He has become a clairvoyant, or able to see in the future. One of his visions is of Bertha. She is speaking to him, and it is clear that it is years in the future for she appears to be much older. What she tells him makes it obvious that they have been married for years now, and that she has always hated him.

At this time, he also begins to be able to gain impressions of what others are thinking at that time. What he learns about many others depresses him, for he now sees others as full of hypocrisy, selfishness, and deceit. But, there is one person he can not read--Bertha. For some inexplicable reason, she remains a blank wall.

Shortly before the wedding, Alfred is thrown from his horse and is killed instantly. Latimer and his father slowly become attached to one another. Perhaps the father is encouraged in this when he sees that Bertha seemingly is now attached to Latimer, after a suitable mourning period, of course. As his vision had foretold, Latimer and Bertha marry. The effect of his visions and his telepathic powers turns Latimer almost into a recluse.

Why does Latimer marry Bertha when he knows how it will eventually turn out? He hopes that she really does love him at first, and it is only over time that her dislike develops. In addition, she is the one person he can not read; therefore, there is a silence not found with others when she is in the room.

Eliot also includes a brief incident involving phrenology, which she was apparently interested in at one time. Near the end of the story, is a truly bizarre scene depicting the effects of a blood transfusion on a dead woman which could have come straight from Edgar Allan Poe. As Poe died some ten years before this story was published, it is doubtful that Eliot influenced Poe.

Overall Rating: a fascinating story that includes the earliest mention of telepathy and precognition as common ongoing events and not just as one-time-only episode in a highly dramatic scene. I've only read the story once, and my suspicion is that I'm missing a lot. "The Lifted Veil" is definitely worth a second reading.


Craig Johnson
The Cold Dish, a mystery novel, first in a series
Setting: Absaroka County, Wyoming
Time: contemporary
The Detective: Sheriff Walt Longmire
Mystery type: Police Procedural

Perhaps this might better be called a sheriff procedural since Walt Longmire is not the typical hard-bitten, cynical, streetwise cop so popular today. He's within a year of retirement and only wants a quiet period before he hangs up his badge and gun for good. Naturally, he's not going to get his wish.

Longmire might be called an accidental sheriff. He ended up in the Marines during the Vietnam conflict, and the needs of the service put him in the military police. After his discharge, he returned home and, having lost interest in his pre-Vietnam plans, put in for the deputy opening in the sheriff's office. Longmire and the sheriff got along, and he became the favored son when the sheriff retired. He has been winning elections since then. Now it was his turn to pass on.

Normally I feel that domestic dramas involving the law enforcement officers in mysteries should be kept to a minimum, for I can always find other works that focus on those issues if I'm in the mood for that type of work. A mystery should focus on the mystery. In this novel, domestic issues play a significant role. Walt's wife had died a short time ago, and he is still mourning her. It has reached the point when friends and relatives were shaking their heads and suggesting that "he get out a bit more." He does, and while the relationship turns tragic, he has "gotten out a bit more."

Longmire, as I said earlier, is just hoping for a quiet end to his term. So, when he gets a call about a body found outside of town, he doesn't bother to check it out himself, but sends Vic, his chief deputy, out there. It is probably a sheep. She calls back; it isn't a sheep. It's a two-legged critter that's spread out on the ground.

He goes, reluctantly, and when he sees who it is, he knows this is going to be messy. The victim is Cody Pritchard, and he has a record. Several years ago, he and three others raped a young Cheyenne girl who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and was slightly retarded. Longmire had arrested the four, and they were tried, convicted, and given suspended sentences. None of them went to prison for the rape.

Was this a revenge killing by one or more of her Cheyenne relatives or friends, or was this the result of something else Pritchard was involved in? Then, a second one of the four was found dead. That answered the question. It looked as though someone, a bit more than two years later, had started taking revenge.

The novel moves on from that point, rather as one would expect. It's not very complex, but Johnson tells the story well. Longmire is a rather casual, easy-going fellow, much as one would expect from a sheriff who's been in the job for almost 25 years. He knows the people, and they know him.

Johnson has also created an interesting supporting cast for Longmire, and I hope they return in subsequent novels. First is Ruby, the lovable? office tyrant, who takes no nonsense from anyone, especially from Longmire. She ran the sheriff's office before he got there and probably will run it for his successor.

His chief deputy is Vic (Victoria) Morretti, from South Philly where her father, uncles, and brothers were cops. Her husband, however, was a field engineer for a mining company and had gotten transferred out here. She reluctantly left and applied for a position with Longmire when a deputy position came open. She's the streetwise, cynical, tough cop in the story.

Longmire's closest friend, and major problem in this case, is Henry Standing Bear. Henry had also been in Vietnam, working behind enemy lines with a special forces unit. He had been trained to kill quietly and efficiently, and he just happened to be the uncle of Melissa, the young Cheyenne girl who was the rape victim. Longmire didn't believe he was the killer, but he had to admit that Henry sat on top of the suspects list.

Overall rating: very good first novel. I like the relaxed atmosphere and the setting, far from the mean streets of the usual urban setting, or even a quiet, tame, and civilized suburban area with a murder every week. I found the second in the series, Death Without Company, and I'm looking forward to settling down some evening with this one.


Iron Man, a film
based on a superhero comic adventure

I'm no expert in the area of superheroes, at least not in the past 60 years or so. I used to read comics back then, but moved on to print tales. However, it does seem to me that there are two broad categories of superheroes. One consists of those that possess powers or abilities not given to us normal humans, Superman or Spiderman or any of the more recent heroes, the X-Men. These generally run the range from a crippled newsboy to an alien from another planet to a scientist who got in the way of an experiment. That which changes them could be the gods themselves, an alien environment, a new chemical, or radiation exposure.

The second type are those whose powers are not organic or physiological but technological. Although there are exceptions, this type of superhero is frequently a technical wizard, who is wealthy and is able to afford to hire engineers and technicians who research and develop the various gadgets. Bruce Wayne/Batman is my prime example of this type of superhero.

Tony Stark fits into the second category. He is an extremely wealthy and brilliant weapons inventor, whose lifestyle is reminiscent of Hugh Hefner. At least it was until he unwisely took a trip to do a weapon demonstration for NATO troops in Afghanistan where he is captured by insurgents. There he discovers that weapons produced by his company are getting into the wrong hands and are being used to kill American troops. He escapes and informs all that his company is getting out of the weapons business.

While a captive, he fooled the insurgents into thinking he was building his latest weapon for them, but instead he developed an armored suit that had various built-in weapons, computer guided and operated naturally. The suit reminded me of the combat suit created by Robert A. Heinlein in his novel, Starship Troopers. I haven't seen the film version, but I have read the novel, and Stark's suit certainly resembles Heinlein's creation.

Stark decides to develop the suit for the forces of good and decency which will make them superior to anything the enemy can throw against them. It means the end of war. However, as his chief foe points out in the last climatic struggle, Stark wanted to create something that would ensure peace and instead created the most deadly personal weapon yet known.

The only real surprise in the film was Stark's public announcement at the end of the film when he revealed himself to be Iron Man. Usually the character tries very hard to keep his identity as the superhero a secret--Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman . . .

Overall Rating: I'd give it three stars on a five star scale. The special effects, animation, etc. were competently handled, although the struggle at the end between the two suits looked a bit catoonish to me. Will I see the sequel, Iron Man 2, which has recently appeared in the theatres. Maybe--If I'm browsing the DVDs and I don't have anything at home to view, I may take it out.


Cherie Priest
Boneshaker, an SF novel
Time: 19th century

The reader must not be too insistent upon historical accuracy in this novel. Priest herself admits that she's taken considerable liberties with US history, including a Civil War that has lasted for over 20 years and an Alaskan gold rush that begins several decades early. It's probably best to think of this as an alternate history novel and read on.

Shortly after the start of the Civil War, gold is discovered in Alaska. Russia, which had been thinking of unloading the frozen wasteland, now has second thoughts. Gold? Russia then offers a large bonus for anyone who can build a machine that can break through the frozen ground and get at the gold. Leviticus Blue invents such a device and decides to try it out in Seattle before bringing it north.

Something goes wrong and it destroys downtown Seattle. What is worse, its digging has uncovered and released a toxic gas which kills immediately if exposed to a sufficient quantity. If it doesn't kill immediately, it turns the victims into zombies, hungry for human flesh. Naturally, those bitten by a zombie soon becomes a zombie also.

The stricken part of Seattle is quickly walled off to prevent the gas, which is heavier than air, and the zombies from escaping. Leviticus Blue is presumed dead. His wife, pregnant at that time, escapes to the outskirts of Seattle, changes her name, and attempts to lead a normal and quiet life. Her son Zeke, however, is determined to clear his father's name and heads for the walled part of Seattle. Briar Wilkes (Wilkes is the name she adopted) goes after him.

I almost gave up on the novel for the pacing in the first half was extremely slow. Moreover, I thought her editors should have done a better job in tackling the wordiness of the first part. Since it was a book group selection, I decided to skim through the novel so at least I could participate in the discussion. However, about half way through, I found that I had stopped skimming and was actually reading it.

As usual, the group reactions varied from those who thought there was no pacing problem at all, to those who liked the first part but weren't that happy with the second part, to me who had problems with the first part but found the second half much more readable.

What most bothered me about the work was the revelation of an important bit of information at the end. This was known by Briar, who was the major POV character, and though the reader was in her head numerous times, she did not reveal her secret until the end. I thought this was cheating on the author's part. While this was important, it wasn't significant enough to ruin the story for me. It was just a letdown at the end.

The story ended somewhat ambiguously as it was never very clear whether Briar and her son Zeke would remain behind the walls or would go back to where they were living or even leave the Seattle area completely, as had been hinted at earlier in the novel. The fate of several of the characters was unknown at the end. This leads me to suspect a sequel should be expected some time in the future.

Overall Rating: a decent read. Will I read the sequel if one appears? Possibly.

Something to think about

Something to think about:

If I had my life to live over again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once a week; for perhaps the part of my brain now atrophied would thus have kept active through use.

The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.

-- Charles Darwin --

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Emily Dickinson: Dec. 10, 1830--May 15, 1886

It is a tradition among haiku poets to write a death-song, one that offers their last reflection on life here just before they die. Emily Dickson, while she didn't write a death-song, as far as I know, did write several hundred poems about death during her lifetime. I thought it only appropriate to provide one on this day.

Because I could not stop for Death —
He kindly stopped for me —
The Carriage held but just Ourselves —
And Immortality.

We slowly drove — He knew no haste —
And I had put away
My labor — and my leisure too,
For His Civility.

We passed the School where Children strove
At Recess — in the Ring —
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain —
We passed the Setting Sun —

Or rather — He passed Us-
The Dews drew quivering and chill —
For only Gossamer, my Gown —
My Tippet — only Tulle —

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground —
The roof was scarcely visible —
The Cornice — in the Ground

Since then — ‘tis Centuries — and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity —

-- Emily Dickinson --

Death here is personified as a kindly gentleman who clearly is not depicted as a fearsome monster, one to be feared. Her attitude is quite the opposite of Dylan Thomas' as it appears in his "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night."

"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light."

While I haven't read all of her poems about death, none of those that I have read come close to expressing anything similar to Thomas' rage. Death in her poems is just another part of life or a a necessary change.

Comments, anyone?

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XXVI

As usual, I'm using the first edition as the base for the discussion.

First Edition: Quatrain XXVI

Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise
To talk; one thing is certain, that Life flies:
One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

Second Edition: Quatrain XXVIII

Another Voice, when I am sleeping, cries,
"The Flower should open with the Morning skies."
And a retreating Whisper, as I wake--
"The flower that once has blown for ever dies."

Fifth Edition: LXIII

Oh, threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain--This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

The different editions, I think, vary more than any other I've seen so far. Only the last line --"The Flower that once has blown for ever dies"-- is the same for all three editions.

In the first edition, old Khayyam tells us what he thinks. We should ignore "the Wise" and remember that the only certain truth is that there is only one short life. Beyond that, all we get are lies, or, at best, speculations or theories passed off as absolute truth. I wonder what the reaction of the hundreds? or thousands? of commentators on the numerous holy books in various religions would have to say here.

The opening line echoes Quatrain IX when he says "But come with old Khayyam and leave the Lot." Here, he asks us to leave the past and strike out with him to enjoy the present, another hint that life is short and we should enjoy it while we are here.

The second edition is considerably different, not only in the words used but also in the attribution of the ideas that are expressed. In the first edition, it is old Khayyam who tells us, but now the narrator is not the one who utters the ideas but is the passive receiver instead. Because FitzGerald rearranged the sequence as well as introduced new quatrains in the later editions, the references to previous quatrains vary from edition to edition. In the first edition, "the Wise" refers back to the "Saints and Sages" and "the foolish Prophets" of Quatrain XXV, whereas that "Another Voice" in the second edition links us back to the Muezzin in Quatrain XXVII who tells us that our "Reward is neither Here nor There." The point is the same, though: there is only one short life.

The fifth edition, to me anyway, seems somewhat closer to the first edition than does the second. While Khayyam's name has been dropped, the ideas expressed are the narrator's and not some other Voice's. The reference to "threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise" in the first line of the fifth edition mutes the attack on "Saints and Sages" and focuses instead on what is being said, rather than on who says it. Perhaps Khayyam or FitzGerald himself was criticized for dismissing the wise words of "Saints and Sages." It's just a guess, for I have no information regarding this, except for a vague reference once that Khayyam was almost considered heretical.

Moreover, the second line in the fifth edition is very similar to the second line of the first edition with a significant substitution of "this life" in the fifth edition for "that life" in the first version. The "this" suggests perhaps another life which may or may not be equally short. The third and fourth lines are almost identical in the first and fifth editions. Again, the overall theme is that we know for certain only that we have one short life.

My preference? I would go with the first edition and then the fifth, with the second edition coming in a distant third. Since FitzGerald's final version almost restores the first version, it seems that he also was dissatisfied with the second.


I missed the actual revision of  the First Edition's Quatrain XXVI in the Second Edition.  It is not Quatrain XXVIII but Quatrain LXVI, and it is identical to Quatrain LXIII in the Fifth Edition. Whatever I had to say about the quatrain in the Fifth Edition applies also to the quatrain in the Second Edition.  (I hope I haven't confused everybody here-- if so, please leave a question.)

Comments, anyone?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Something to think about

The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery--even if mixed with fear--that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds--it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.

-- Albert Einstein --

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Gregory Benford: Sailing Bright Eternity, Galactic Center Book 6

Warning: I will discuss important plot elements and the resolution of the conflict between the Naturals and the Mechs.
Greg Benford's Sailing Bright Eternity is the sixth and final book in his mind-bending "Galactic Center" series, which began during the late 1990s in our solar system out on the rim of the galaxy and ended over 35,000 years later on the edge of a massive black hole, the Eater, at the center of the galaxy. I consider this series to be one of the greatest multi-volume SF works ever written.

Greg Benford is a physicist and astronomer, and he makes superb use of his knowledge as he takes what he knows and expands on it and does not allow it to set limits on his imagination. He has also created one of the most engaging characters in SF--Nigel Walmsley, the Brit who joined NASA in the 1990s and somehow managed to be around some 35,000 years later, thus being present at the beginning of humanity's role in the conflict with the mechs and also in at the resolution.

The story picks up where it ended in the previous book, Furious Gulf, with Toby, who has become separated from his father and the rest of the Bishop family. He has encountered a crusty old man who occupies what appears to be some sort of galactic library and who claims to be from the mythical planet Earth. He is of the Brit family, he jokingly tells Toby. It is Nigel Walmsley, whom we haven't heard of since the second novel, who then, as any old timer who hasn't had anybody to talk to for awhile, proceeds to fill Toby in on his part in the war against the mechs, a period which covers roughly 35, 000 years. Fortunately, for Toby, and for the reader also, Walmsley spent most of the time in deep sleep, so it's really not that long. In addition, Benford has kindly provided a Timeline for the Galactic series at the end of the novel.

As Walmsley finishes his tale, the mechs, once again, appear and attack. Walmsley and Toby are separated and we follow Toby as he flees the mechs and searches the Wedge for his family and friends. The Wedge is an habitat created long ago as a refuge for Naturals fleeing the mechs; it has various "pockets," with varying environments. Naturals are those life forms in the galaxy who evolved in the Darwinian mode whereas the mechs were initially created by a Natural species as a weapon of war (Fred Saberhagen has a similar entity in his "Berserker" series.)

What Toby doesn't realize is that the mechs don't want him dead, just yet. They are looking for his grandfather, Abraham (a great name for the founder of a family/tribe) . The mechs have recently learned, as have some of the humans, that there is a secret weapon that could destroy the mechs if it ever could be constructed. The instructions for the weapon are encoded in human DNA, that part called "junk" DNA that doesn't seem to play any role in human development. To get the information, DNA from three closely related humans is required. In this case, the mechs have decided on getting the instructions from Abraham, Killeen, and Todd. Therefore, the mechs keep prodding Todd on in hopes that he will meet up with his grandfather, whom everybody mistakenly had thought had died long ago.

At one point during his wanderings, Toby fashions a raft, deciding that that it would be easier to float down a large river than to try to make his way by foot along the bank. He eventually comes to a town built on the the river that seems quite strange. The prosperity of the town depends on the river and the mighty boats that move up and down that river carrying passengers and cargo. The inhabitants seem to have created a way of living possibly based on some historical setting.

Toby eventually gets a job on one of these boats, the Natchez, because of his recent experience coming down the river. At one point, Toby begins to have some thoughts about the river that seemed somewhat familiar to me.

"Under Mr. Preston he [Toby] was coming to see that the face of the wedded water and metal was a wondrous book, one in a dead language to him before but now speaking cherished secrets. Every fresh point they rounded told a new tale. Not one page was empty. A passenger might be charmed by a churning dimple on its skin, but to a true riverman that was an italicized shout, announcing a wreak or reef of wrenching space-time Vortex about to break through from the undercrust of timestone.

Passengers went oooh and aahhh at the pretty pictures the silver river painted for them without reading a single word of the dark text it truly was."

What's interesting is to compare this with a passage from Mark Twain's From Old Times on the Mississippi:

"It turned out to be true. The face of the water in time became a wonderful book--a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day. Throughout the long twelve hundred miles there was never a page that was devoid of interest, never one that you could leave unread without loss, never one that you could want to skip, thinking you could find higher enjoyment in some other thing. . . The passenger who could not read it was charmed with a peculiar sort of faint dimple on it surface . . . but to the pilot that was an italicized passage; indeed it was more than that, it was a legend of the largest capitals with a strong of shouting exclamation-point at the end of it, for it meant that a wreck or a rock was buried there that could tear the life out of the strongest vessel that every floated. . . In truth the passenger who could not read this book saw nothing but all manner of pretty pictures in it, painted by the sun and shaded by the clouds, whereas to the trained eye these were not pictures at all, but the grimmest and most dead-earnest of reading matter."

Again the mechs attack, and again Toby is forced to flee. After various adventures he does meet up with Killeen and Abraham. The Mantis, a mech who has long been the major foe of the Bishops, appears and is able to get the all-important DNA samples. The mechs now can decipher the DNA and study the weapon to determine just how dangerous it really is.

Yet, something is still missing, for there are gaps in the coding. Upon the threat of torture, Abraham reveals the code, which had been handed down through numerous generations in the Bishop family. He sings the code, which is actually a song, "a passage from the most hallowed of the musics the Bishops carried in their sensorium store. They had played it on the long marches together, knew its lines by heart. . . The highest of arts, the Mose Art."

The Mantis says, "I see the connection. The unused sites in the Bishop DNA--that is the key. The notes of this piece, arrayed in harmonics, yield the solution. I relay this to the Exalteds now."

Now the long search has ended: the Exalteds (higher-order mechs) had the information and could now begin to develop a defense against this weapon, whatever it was.

However, as smart as the mechs are, they can't come close to the deviousness of the Natural species. The humans are, in realty, bait. They never were expected to build this "weapon" and use it against the mechs. This is all part of the ruse designed to fool the mechs. The coding in the DNA and the aria is not a set of instructions for a super-weapon or even a revelation of some serious weakness in the mechs--it itself is the weapon. It is a virus, much like a computer virus, that attacks and ultimately destroys the memory and logic sections of the mechs. As a further example of the Natural's deviousness, the virus includes a directive that impels any mech infested with the virus to transmit the virus to any mech within reach.

The long war is over.

Now comes the hard part--persuading the few surviving mechs to join with the Naturals, for the universe will come to an end in a few billion years. The mechs must be convinced that they and the Naturals have a common goal here--to find out how to prevent this from happening or at least learn how to survive, until the next universe forms. Cooperation between them would seem to be absolutely necessary at this point.

I have already mentioned Benford's incorporation of some material from Mark Twain into his narrative. This isn't the only example for he skillfully and seamlessly interweaves some of the most common SF themes and plot devices into a coherent narrative structure frequently without the reader realizing what Benford has accomplished.

In the first novel, Benford confronts us with a situation that has already been found in numerous novels and films: a large asteroid is headed for earth and Walmsley is one of the two astronauts selected to destroy it. Yet, even in this situation that has almost become a cliche, Benford adds a twist that makes it a new and highly significant event. In the second novel, Across the Sea of Stars, the mechs' first attack on Earth reminds me of similar tactics used by the aliens in John Wyndham's Out of the Deeps (aka The Kraken Wakes).

Other situations and events in the Galactic Center series bring to mind Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama and also his landmark short story, "The Sentinel." And, along with the incoming asteroid, Benford somehow manages to insert Bigfoot (aka Yeti) into the narrative as well as a religious cult that has gained sufficient political power to prohibit certain types of research and prevent the publication of research results that conflict with their religious beliefs (must be fiction, couldn't happen here in the USA).

The overarching plot structure of Benford's Galactic Center series is reminiscent of EE (Doc) Smith's Lensmen novels, which, like Benford's, consists of six works. In both works, the humans, although in the forefront of the fighting, are really weapons wielded by a superior race--Smith's Arisians and Benford's Higher-ups. And, the enemy forces also are controlled by superior beings--Smith's Eddorians and Benford's Exalteds. The identity of the leaders of the opposing forces aren't known to the humans at the beginning of the conflict. It's only as the conflict gains in intensity do hints and clues emerge which tell the humans that there are others involved in the struggle. Again, it's only in the final volume of both works that the ultimate leaders of both sides come out of hiding and reveal themselves. This is especially true of the first publication of Smith's series for he later revised the first volume to give the readers complete knowledge and novels' characters some knowledge of the Arisians and Eddorians and their struggle for control of the universe.

As I said earlier, I consider this to be one of the greatest SF series ever written, and I hope that I've been able to provide some convincing reasons why I believe this. Perhaps some time, someone reading this might be inspired to at least take a look at the first novel in the series.

The first novel in the Galactic Center series is In the Ocean of Night, in which we are introduced to Nigel Walmsley, who spends almost as much time and energy fighting NASA bureaucrats as he does the mechs. It is, therefore, fitting that these should be the last words of Sailing Bright Eternity, the final volume of this magnificent series:

"All was now quite modern and different around there and most of the ancient names on the graves mean nothing to anybody. There are Cards aplenty and Bishops and even a few Dodgers.

Nearby, old markers relate the names in a language now dispersed or dead. Killeen Bishop. Nearby, slightly less worn, Toby Bishop. These graves are unusually large, suggesting to archeologists that these were from the Hunker Down Era.

Always slightly distanced, alone and apart, Nigel Walmsley is buried on a separate knoll, in full view of the ocean of night."