Saturday, July 30, 2011

Serendipity: John Fowles, Wormholes

I have never really wanted to be a novelist. For me the word carries a load of bad connotations--like author and literature and reviewer, only worse. It suggests something factitious as well as fictitious, insipidly entertaining; train-journeyish. One can't imagine a "novelist" 's ever saying what he actually means or feels--one can hardly even imagine his meaning or feeling.

These words have had connotations because they suggest that in some way writing and being a writer aren't central human activities.

I've always wanted to write (in this order) poems, philosophy, and only then novels. I wouldn't even put the whole category of activity--writing--first on my list of ambitions. My first ambition has always been to alter the society I live in; that is, to affect other lives. I think I begin to agree with Marx-Lenin: writing is a very second-rate way of bringing about a revolution. But I recognize that all I am capable of is writing. I am a writer. Not a doer.

Society, existing among other human beings, challenges me, so I have to choose my weapon. I choose writing; but the thing that comes first is that I am challenged.

--John Fowles --
from Wormholes

Wormholes is a collection of John Fowles' non-fiction writings: "essays, literary criticism, commentaries, autobiographical statements, memoirs, and musings." The quotation is the very first lines of the work. It's quite a surprise to read that one of the premiere English novelists (or so I regard him) "never really wanted to be a novelist." He's a revolutionary who doesn't believe the pen is mightier than the sword, yet found that his best weapon is the pen.

Are his novels really the response to challenges from society?

Some novels by John Fowles: The French Lieutenant's Woman, The Magus, The Collector, The Ebony Tower, and Daniel Martin.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Something to think about


That we pursue something passionately does not always mean that we really want it or have a special aptitude for it. Often, the thing we pursue most passionately is but a substitute for the one thing we really want and cannot have. It is usually safe to predict that the fulfillment of an excessively cherished desire is not likely to still our nagging anxiety.

In every passionate pursuit, the pursuit counts more than the object pursued.

-- Eric Hoffer --
from The Passionate State of Mind

Well, one part that I can agree with is that even getting what we want doesn't satisfy us for long.

Do we often go after substitutes instead of what we really want?

Is the chase more important than the capture or the acquisition? Or, possibly another way to ask: Is the journey more important than the destination?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Joseph Wood Krutch: Baja California

Joseph Wood Krutch's Baja California and the Geography of Hope is a very unusual book, in that it's hard to explain just what it is. It's a Sierra Club Publication (copyright 1969), and my copy is a large format paperback book. It's getting rather decrepit, so one of these days I'm going to search for a hard back copy.

It has text by Krutch, some of which comes from other works by him, photos by Eliot Porter, and lines of poetry by Octavio Paz, translated by Muriel Rukeyser. The color photographs are taken in Baja California. I don't know if Paz's poetry is specifically about Baja, but they do seem to be about a desert landscape, so they are appropriate. I'm doing a search now for the book from which Paz's poetry was taken to see if I can learn more. Krutch's text varies: some of the commentaries are about Baja while some seem more to be inspired by Baja than specifically about Baja California.

I am going to make several posts about the book over the next few weeks. Rather than attempting to tell you about the book, I'm going to let Krutch speak for himself. He does a far better job than I ever could. Baja California and the Geography of Hope is part travelogue, part philosophical musings, part societal commentary, and part . . .?

"I can understand how an astronomer may conclude that God is a mathematician. The planets seem to know where they are going and what they are about. Theirs is a formal, unvarying dance which moves in accord with an abstract scheme of delightful regularity; and the mathematical physicist seems to have discovered that the microcosm is, despite the disturbing presence of certain principles suggesting indeterminacy, a good deal like its big brother the system of heavenly bodies. But the world of living things exhibits no such co-operation of part with part, no such subordination of the unit to the whole. The God who planned the well-working machines which function as atom and solar system seems to have had no part in arranging the curiously inefficient society of plants and animals in which everything works against everything else; and the struggle between, let us say, the mouse which would continue its species and the owl which would feed its young goes on inconclusively millennium after millennium."

-- Joseph Wood Krutch --

Los huesos son relampagos
en la noche del cuerpo.
Oh mundo, todo es noche
y la vida es relampago.

Our bones are lightning
in the night of the flesh.
O world, all is night,
life is the lightning.

-- Octavio Paz --

There is much talk today about disturbing the balance of nature or the web of nature or ecological networks, while others use system theory when they talk about the environment. Are these really out there in the environment, in nature, or are these abstract constructs applied by us? I wonder if we lose anything by using these models.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Edgar Allan Poe: "The Black Cat"

"For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not--and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrified--have tortured--have destroyed. me. Yet I will attempt to expound them. To me, they have presented little but Horror--to many they will seem less terrible than baroques. Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the common-place-- some intellect more calm, more logical, and far less excitable than my own, which will perceive, in the circumstances I detail with awe, nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects."

This is the opening paragraph of one of my favorite Poe tales, "The Black Cat." This tale can be read in a variety of ways. Most often it is printed in a collection of supernatural horror stories. It can also be seen as the ravings of a madman. Another way, and my favorite, is as a story told by a sane man who has concocted a mix of fact and fiction, designed to convince the reader that the teller is mad and therefore should not be executed by reason of insanity.

"The Black Cat" is one of a group of tales by Poe that I call "1st person confessionals." It's been awhile since I read all of Poe's stories, so there may be some that I have missed, but for now, I put four stories in that category: "The Black Cat," "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Tell-tale Heart," and "The Imp of the Perverse." (See my post on May 17, 2009 for some comments on this story and Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground).

1. All four are told in the 1st person.
2. All four are murderers.
3. All four are now revealing the whole story.
4. All four were driven by uncontrollable forces to commit their crimes.

The problem is that these are first person narratives. They cannot be evaluated in the same way as a third person narrative. The third person narrator can be trusted since the third person narrator is outside the story and, therefore, has no reason to deceive or mislead the reader. The first person narrator, however, is inside the story, may be involved in the events, and therefore may have solid reasons for deceiving the reader or listener. The reader must evaluate the story in the same way any person's story would be judged--on the basis of what is known about the teller, the teller's possible motivation, and the likelihood of the story itself. How likely or unlikely are these events? Can these events by verified by other sources?

To begin, what is your reaction to the first paragraph of the story which I just quoted? How does it strike you? Notice that the teller contradicts himself throughout. First, he calls the story "wild" and then immediately afterwards, calls it "homely." It's as if he can't make up his mind as to how he wishes to present the tale so that it would be most convincing: is it "wild," a "Horror," "terrible," a "Phantasm"? Or "homely," "mere household events," "common-place," "an ordinary succession of very natural causes and events"? How could the reader avoid being sympathetic to the teller who is so completely confused by this inexplicable series of events?

What do we know about the teller? He obligingly fills in a bit of his background: "From my infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions. I was especially fond of animals, and was indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets. With these I spent most of my time, and never was so happy as when feeding and caressing them. This peculiarity of character grew with my growth, and, in my manhood, I derived from it one of my principal sources of pleasure. " He was lucky in his choice of a spouse for he tells us that "I married early and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not uncongenial with my own."

What happened to turn this genial, kindly, docile, and humane person into the monster that he reveals later in the story? "The Fiend Intemperance --through which my general temperament and character . . . experienced a radical alteration for the worse. I grew, day by day, more moody, more irritable, more regardless of the feelings of others. I suffered myself to use intemperate language to my wife. At length, I even offered her personal violence. My pets, of course, were made to feel the change in my disposition. I not only neglected, but ill-used them." It was the "Fiend Intemperance"-- a demon outside him that controlled him. He is not responsible.

He now proceeds to tell the reader the events that lead him to his cell, and the gallows in the morning. His story regarding the mutilation of his first cat doesn't sound reasonable. He is very drunk when he comes home and decides to cut out the cat's eye. Cutting out an eye requires considerable coordination. Could someone drunk really do that? Gouge or stab the eye perhaps, if he got lucky, but, imagine holding a struggling cat in one hand while very drunk and trying to cut out an eye? Not too likely I should think. He may have done it, but I don't think he was drunk when he did it. And, of course, we have only his word for this. Who else could confirm that this happened?

The second and most ridiculous? unbelievable? impossible? unlikely? series of events takes place when the house burns down. In the morning, most of the house is destroyed except for the wall behind the bed, where appeared "as if graven in bas relief upon the white surface, the figure of a gigantic cat. The impression was given with an accuracy truly marvelous. There was a rope about the animal's neck." How can this be explained?

It's simple. He relates that he had killed Plato, the cat, by tying a rope around its neck and hanging it in the garden. When the house caught fire, people had rushed into the garden and attempted to waken him by taking the hanging corpse of the cat and throwing it through the window. It then struck the newly plastered wall with such force that it was covered by dripping plaster.

Is it really plausible that one would kill a cat by hanging it from a tree? And, is it really likely that someone would cut down the corpse of a cat hanging from a tree and throw it through the bedroom window in hope of awaking the occupants when the house was on fire? Or, is it more likely he had killed the cat and had plastered it in the wall to see if that was possible, as perhaps an experiment of some sort?

The third series of unlikely events culminates in the death and burial of his wife. He asks his wife to accompany him on some household errand (never explained) downstairs into the basement, where he is nearly tripped up by the second cat. Enraged he raises his axe (which he conveniently just happens to carrying--perhaps for that household errand?) to kill the cat, but his wife interferes and enraged, he kills his wife instead. Fortunately for him, there was a false wall in the basement which he could easily remove and place his wife's corpse in the opening. There he buries her and plasters up the wall. Again, I have some serious doubts about his tale of what happened.

I think Poe has created a fascinating narrative in which a sane man attempts to convince the reader that he is mad, and at the same time provides, through inconsistencies, evidence of his sanity. As for the mysterious events about the cat, well, what witnesses are there to corroborate his story? His wife?

Friday, July 22, 2011



Here are two poems that I discovered while slowly working my way through a collection of poetry. In fact the two are on the same page.

The first poem is not really that memorable, except for its title and one line. It's a lament for what we lose as the years pass by. If someone wishes to provide a translation for the title, I will add it to the post and, of course, credit the source.

Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam*

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for awhile, and then closes
Within a dream.

-- Ernest Dowson --

After rereading it, several times, I think I may take back what I said above. This seems to be one of those quiet poems that slowly and subtly work their magic. That magic line, of course, became the title of a very decent film, and if I'm not mistaken, the theme song from the film was high on the pop charts at that time. It's been a long time since I watched the film, but I feel that the film did capture the poem--that sense of loss--but conveying that ironically by referring to two symbols not usually associated with loss: wine and roses.

The second stanza would be my favorite.

*The following translation of the title and comment are from Steven Pentz, who is the author and owner of the very classy blog First Known When Lost, the address of which is posted following his comment. You can also log on directly by going to the blog list in the column on the right side of this page.

"Fred: the title of Dowson's poem comes from Horace's Odes (I,iv,15). One translation is: "the short span of our life forbids us to indulge in long-term hope." Disclaimer: I did NOT figure this out for myself -- I found it in the edition of Dowson's Collected Poems edited by R.K.R. Thornton (pages 224-225).

A contemporary bit of wisdom, which unfortunately by now has become a time-worn and hackneyed cliche, has something to do with taking time to smell the roses. Here's a poem which presents the same idea, but adds something to it.


What is this life, if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like stars at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

-- William Henry Davis --

Today we are more likely to be staring at the lifeless flat screen of a TV set, or a computer monitor, or a mobile phone. Our life is filled with electronic bits and not with our organic brothers and sisters, or even with granite or marble (unless shaved and smoothed).

Both poems are from The World's Best Poems
Mark Van Doren and Garibaldi M. Lapolla, ed.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XLIII

This quatrain is the fifth in a series of six linked quatrains that refer to the grape or to wine, and specifically to its superiority to reason and logic.

First Edition: Quatrain XLIII

The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The subtle Alchemist that in a Trice
Life's leaden Metal into Gold transmute.

Second Edition: Quatrain LXI

The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The sovereign Alchemist that in a trice
Life's leaden metal into Gold transmute:

Fifth Edition: Quatrain LIX

The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The sovereign Alchemist that in a trice
Life's leaden metal into Gold transmute:

There are minimal differences among the three editions. Several nouns go from upper case to lower case in the second and the fifth editions. "Subtle" in the first edition changes to "sovereign" in the second and fifth editions which makes the Grape more of a ruler and supreme. Gold itself was often referred to as the Sovereign Metal. The most significant difference occurs at the end of the fourth line: in the first edition, the quatrain ended with a period, while the second and fifth editions end in a colon. The period indicates that the thought is complete within that quatrain, whereas the colon in the second and fifth indicate that the thought is not complete yet. The colon often tells the reader that what follows the colon will either extend the thought of or provide an explanation for or an example of the idea immediately prior to the colon.

I've read comments that state that the "two-and-seventy sects" refer to all the world's religions. The only point that's not clear is whether Islam is included. Alchemy was the forerunner of chemistry (I suspect some might dispute this), and it's focus was the transmutation of metals into gold. This was to be accomplished by employing the Philosopher's Stone which would change anything it came into contact with into gold. It's not quite clear just what the Philosopher's Stone was supposed to be, probably because no one ever found or created it.

Again, the narrator puts forth the theme that religious disputations are a waste of time, and that one would be wiser and happier drinking wine. Wine's "Logic absolute" is superior to the contending religious groups, for it is impossible to debate anything with one who has imbibed a considerable amount of alcohol.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


This seems strangely familiar. It's probably as true today as it was over five hundred years ago and no doubt as true as it has been throughout human history.

"I should readily excuse in our people the having no other pattern and rule of perfection than their own manners and customs; for it is a common fault, not of the vulgar only, but of almost all men, to aim at and abide in the manner of life to which they are born. . . But I complain of their special lack of discernment in allowing themselves to be so cheated and blinded by the authority of present usage, that they are capable of changing; their opinions and judgements every month, if custom so pleases, and that they form such diverse judgements about themselves. When they wore the busk of the doublet between the breasts, they maintained by vigorous arguments that it was in its proper place. Some years later, lo, it has dropped down to between the thighs; they jeer at the former fashion, declare it unbecoming and unbearable. The present style of dressing makes them incontinently condemn the earlier style, with so great a determination and so universal an accord, that you would say that it is some sort of mania that turns their understanding about. Because our changing is so sudden and so swift in this respect, that the inventive powers of all the tailors in the world could not supply enough novelties, it is inevitable that the despised styles should often come again into fashion, and the others themselves soon after fall into disrepute; and that the same judgement may, in the course of fifteen or twenty years, adopt two or three, not simply different, but quite contrary, opinions with an incredible inconsistency and fickleness. There is no one of us so keen of wit that he does not allow himself to be fooled by this contradiction, and his inner as well as his outer eyes to be unconsciously dazzled."

Michel de Montaigne
from Chapter XLIX Of Ancient Customs
The Essays of Montaigne

I would disagree with Montaigne only about the length of time involved. It may have been a few years when he wrote this, but today, fashions change every year, or less. And it's equally true in politics, as well as for celebrities, songs, books . . .

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Joseph Wood Krutch and the Boogum Tree

The boogum tree is one of the oddest trees on the planet and is found mainly in Baja California. Following are some comments by Joseph Wood Krutch about the boogum.

"One finds the boogum wild only in Lower California. If I had not seen it with my own eyes, I should not believe it, for it is far more improbable looking as a tree than the giraffe is as an animal. Whether it was christened by some admirer of Lewis Carroll or whether some accident of convergence is responsible for the fact that even the gravest botanical treatises call it by a name which occurs elsewhere only in The Hunting of the Snark, I do not know. In any event, the name is gloriously appropriate because the boogum tree looks far more like something out of Alice or the Snark than like any real tree.

Speaking of the strawberry, Dr. William Butler, a worthy who was one of Shakespeare's contemporaries, made the sage remark, 'Doubtless God could have made a better berry but doubtless God never did.' Doubtless he could have also made a queerer tree than the boogum, but if He did I have never heard of it.

What one sees when one undertakes to contemplate it is an inverted, green-backed cone, six or eight feet high and with the proportions of a carrot. The general effect is rather like a huge taproot that has for some reason grown up into the air instead of down into the earth. From this cone scattered twigs a few inches long project foolishly in all directions. At some seasons a few futile leaves dangle from these twigs, though they were bare when I saw them. Only another Lewis Carroll word will do to describe it; like the borogoves in Alice, it is "mimsy"--which, as Humpty-Dumpty explains, means both flimsy and miserable.

So inelegant a solution of a problem is seldom achieved or at least seldom persisted in by Nature, who may not be infallible but who has buried most of her mistakes in geologic time, where this one ought to have been forgotten along with some of the equally inadvisable animals who had their regrettable day. The essayist Charles D. Stewart once analyzed the orthodox tree "as an invention," but he did not mention this one which, so far from being a credit to the inventor, looks like one of those unbelievable triumphs of no ingenuity exhibited by the patent office in hopes of raising a smile. To see three of these vegetable monstrosities together--and three together I have seen, one like a chunky carrot, the other two foolishly elongated--is to suspect that some of nature's journeymen had made trees and not made them well, they imitated an organism so abominably. If the time ever comes when the desert no longer seems to me at all strange, I know how I shall remind myself that it is. I shall imagine a mouse-that-never-drinks [the kangaroo rat] resting in the conical shade of a boogum tree."

Joseph Wood Krutch
from Baja California and the Geography of Hope

I have seen a boogum tree. It was shortly after I arrived in Tucson to attend the University of Arizona. I was walking about the campus and came across a small desert garden with several types of cacti and mesquite trees. There was also some thing else there which I knew had to be a boogum. I had never seen one before, but I had read a description of the tree. Nothing else would dare look like that.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Combination Plate 19

Warning: I will discuss significant plot elements and endings.

Ken Grimwood: Replay, an SF novel

Edith Wharton: A Son at the Front, a novel

Anthony Trollope: The Last Chronicle of Barset, a novel

Fred Saberhagen: Changeling Earth, an SF novel

Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines, a nonreview

Ken Grimwood's Replay has to be one of the most unusual time-traveling novels I've read. It's the answer to the commonly asked question--"What would you do if you could go back in time and do it all over again, knowing what you know now?" It's also closest to Audrey
Niffenegger's novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, for in both works the time travelers have no control over their movements. However, where the time traveling seemed to be completely random events in Niffenegger's book, there is a very strict pattern in Grimwood's novel.

Jeff Winston, a successful forty-three year old business has a heart attack at the office and dies at 1:06 PM on October 18, 1988. He knows that he is having an heart attack and dying. When he regains consciousness, he decides he hadn't died after all. But . . .

Confused, he sees the date on the cover of a news magazine--May 6, 1963. Winston discovers that he has returned to his 18 year-old self. His body is that of an eighteen year old, but he retains all of his memories. He now has a chance to do it again, knowing now what will come.

He uses his knowledge as one might predict. He bets on sporting events and political races and the stock market. He becomes a very rich man. However, he also remembers his heart attack at the relatively early age of forty-three. This he feels he can change also, with a healthy diet and regular exercise and the best medical care he can afford, and he now can afford the best. Shortly before the day that he had first suffered the heart attack, he gets a complete medical checkup and it told by the doctor that he is in excellent health. However, he again suffers an heart attack at the same age as his first trip and dies.

He again regains consciousness and finds himself back in 1963, but, a short time later than his first trip. He hadn't gone back quite as far this time. And, this was to be the pattern. He would die at age forty-three and return to an earlier stage in his life, but always a bit later than his previous reincarnation. The result is quite startling: each time he suffers an heart attack and goes back into the past, the period becomes shorter and shorter, and unless there is some change, he can see that at some point there will weeks, then days, then hours between his death and his resurrection.

Eventually he meets two others who share his situation--a young woman and a man--both of whom are quite different. During one of his trips, he attempts to change historical events by letting others know, and this has results completely unforeseen by him.

It's an interesting story, with no SF or Fantasy elements present, except of course for the strange form of time travel which allows him to live his life, or that period of it, again, and again, and again. . .each time with a chance to answer the question: "What would you do if you could do it over again?


Edith Wharton: A Son at the Front

This novel is quite different from most of Edith Wharton's works. It is set, for the most part, in Paris, and not in New York. The novel begins just days before the beginning of World War I. The focus is less on the actual fighting and more upon the war's effects on those who are part of what is called the Home Front. These are the people who will not see combat directly but will be affected by the war regardless.

John Campton is an American painter who has lived for many years in Paris. He is divorced and his wife has remarried. His wife got custody of their son, George. Now, John and his son are going to take a trip, and then George will leave for the US and his new job. It may be the last time he will see his son for a long time.

However, just as George arrives in Paris, WWI breaks out. Since George was born in France, he has dual US/French citizenship. Within a day of the outbreak of hostilities, France orders a callup of all eligible males which includes George.

While John can't prevent his son from being drafted, he does his utmost to keep George out of combat. Ironically, he finds his greatest and most influential ally to be Anderson Brant, his wife's second husband, whom he dislikes intensely.

While the novel focuses on the Comptons, their story is embedded in a tapestry that depicts life in Paris during the War--those who sacrifice their time and energy and wealth in support of France and its soldiers and also those who use the situation to profit from it.

This is not one of Wharton's best novels. The war dominates the plot, which leads to a weak story line, with little of the subtlety and complexity of characterization and plot that typifies most of Wharton's works.

Anthony Trollope: The Last Chronicle of Barset

This the sixth and final novel in the Barchester series. It's also, I think, the longest in the series, comprising 700+ pages of small print. This is understandable as Trollope attempts to finish the series. In this work are most of the major characters that were featured in the earlier five novels: the Grantlys, Mr. Harding and his daughters and their husbands, Frank Gresham, the Thornes, Johnny Eames, Lily Dale, and Augustus Crosbie, along with the Crawleys and the Proudies, and various others.

The featured families are the Grantlys and the Crawleys. Josiah Crawley, the poverty-stricken, inordinately proud and insanely obstinate curate of Hogglestock, is at one of the centers of the novel, along with Johnny Eames and Lily Dale.

Crawley has been accused of stealing a twenty pound check (the equivalent in purchasing power today of $1900+). The repercussions of this go far beyond his own possible imprisonment, for his daughter Grace is all but engaged to Henry Grantly, the son of Archdeacon Grantly. The archdeacon is appalled at the thought of his family being connected to the daughter of a thief and has threatened to cut off his stipend and disinherit him by leaving his estate to his oldest son.

Mrs. Proudie, the domineering wife of Bishop Proudie, decides to get involved (this is not unusual for her as she considers herself to be the moral and social leader of the community) and harasses Bishop Proudie to assume more ecclesiastical powers than he has and remove Crawley even before his civil trial. She comes to a fitting end, and only those who regret having no one to hate in the novel will miss her. The narrator does try to point out her virtues, but as the narrator admits, it's probably to late to attempt any sort of rehabilitation in the mind of the reader.

The second thread is that of Johnny Eames' courtship of Lily Dale. In a previous novel, he had just reached the point of proposing to Lily when Augustus Crosbie appears and in a whirlwind courtship gets her to fall in love with him. However, within a week of their announced engagement, Crosbie breaks it off for an engagement to a heiress (Lily will bring no money to the union, and Crosbie needs money to finance his career). Lily, regardless of Crosbie's treatment of her, decides she is in love with him and will be true to his memory for the rest of her life.

In the Last Chronicle, Johnny hasn't given up hope and continues his courtship. Then Augustus reappears (his wife has conveniently died shortly after their marriage). He says he is still in love with Lily, now realizes his mistake, and wants to know if there's any hope for him.

The major problem with the work is its predictability. Trollope has already told us in a previous novel the outcome of the Johnny Eames--Lily Dale courtship. Since goodness usually wins out, Crawley will be vindicated; the only question is how he got the check and why he thought it was his. He thought he got it from his friend, the Dean, but the Dean insists he never gave him the check.

Once the problem of the theft is resolved, then the young lovers, Henry and Grace, will be able join their lives in eternal wedded bliss. Since the young lovers in Trollope
always overcome the obstacles, they will be united at the end, and therefore, the problem of the theft will be resolved some way.

Overall, It's a massive work and requires a decent set of notes and what is especially needed is a listing of the characters and the roles they played in the previous novels. While the novel probably can be read without the others, I would strongly recommend reading the others to get the full flavor of the work. As a concluding work for the series, I would say that it's successful.


Fred Saberhagen: Changeling Earth, an SF novel

This is not one of Saberhagen's best novels. It was first published in 1973 and according to my edition, it has had ten printings. So, it has a very good publishing history. It's an action-oriented tale set in the far future, after a catastrophic war between the East and the West.

Being set so far in the future, little details remain of the war, but the conflict goes on, between two factions, the Empire of the East, and small groups of rebels. The weapons are medieval, and some combatants, wizards, etc., have magic powers--dark magic and white magic--as well as the ability to call up spirits in times of need. There is even a magic talisman that both sides recognize as being powerful in some unknown way.

The Empire of the East has the talisman, but shortly after the beginning of the novel, a small band of rebels infiltrate a guarded compound and steal the talisman with the aid of a slave who is the maid to the consort of one of the high ranking officials in the Empire. The remainder of the story is of the pursuit of the rebels by the forces of the Empire, and the struggle by those holding the talisman to gain a sanctuary somewhere in the North, a place where the source of the white magic is to be found.

Once the sanctuary is gained, the rebels discover that all is not as it seems. The war between the East and the West had actually been directed by AIs on each side of the conflict. Both AIs had launched powerful electro-magnetic beams at each other, and in the collision, demons appeared. Were they created by the collision or released by the collision? That wasn't clear, but they were there and they influenced the course of the war. Those who developed powers on both sides called for a truce and together worked to subdue the most powerful demons. They were successful. But now, one of the wizards of the East decided he was strong enough to call up and control them.

The novel then is the story of the last battle between the East and the West, that had been in hiatus for so many thousands of years.


Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines

This will be something different. I will briefly discuss why I stopped watching this film.

I had enjoyed the first one in the series starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as the bad guy. His style of acting fits perfectly the humorless and inhuman nature of the android or robot. There was a plot and a bit of character development and plenty of action. It was enjoyable to turn one's brain to Low and just go along with the story. The special effects were excellent also.

Making the Terminator almost unstoppable added to the fun as one could watch the thing being slowly chopped to pieces as its programming, which did not allow for failure, carried it on to its final destruction. M
ore satisfaction, I think, is provided by the slow demolition of the creature than by simply blowing it up.

I also watched the second Terminator film, when Arnold returns as a good Terminator who is programmed to protect rather than destroy. I didn't enjoy this one as much as it was all action, all car and truck chases, all gun battles, and all explosions and fire and so on. The plot or story emerged only at the end when they attempted to stop the development of the AI that turned on humanity.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I started up the DVD of Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines. I soon found out. T1 began when Arnold appears nude and wanders a short distance until he finds a human with clothes. OK, that makes sense. T3 begins the same way, only the nude terminator is a female, attractive naturally. The terminator then wanders out into the street to find a female whom she presumably kills and takes her car and clothing. What is confusing is that the terminator appears in a clothing store and could simply have taken clothing from the store before wandering out.

Once in the car, the terminator begins a search for its targets, the same way T1 began. Then before anything else happens, we are presented with a car chase. It's at that point I decided I wasn't in the mood for another all action, all gunfight, all car chase, all explosion film. I suppose that I will be told that I gave up too soon, that there really was a decent plot or story line that went beyond a race to save some of the targets before the terminator got them all.

I guess it's a prejudice of mine. A film really can't be all that interesting if the director has to begin with a car chase scene. I also gave up on the last of The Lethal Weapon series, which also had a car chase scene in the first few minutes. I have developed several rules now: first, regardless of how good the first in a series is, the rest get weaker the further they get from the original film, and secondly, a good indication of the film's weakness in plot and storyline is how soon the car chase scene is inserted after the opening credits.

Progress Report: 2011 New Year's Resolution

I made a New Year's Resolution to reduce the number of books in my TBR bookcase by reading two a month. Well, I've reached the half way point, and I should have read twelve books by now. As you can see by the sidebar, I've read only eight books. This doesn't bode well for the project.

However, I still hope that I will be able to catch up by the end of the year. These are the next four I plan on reading. The next one is definitely Kim Stanley Robinson's Pacific Edge. That's the second of the three works in his California Troika. I'm not sure of the order for the rest.

Kim Stanley Robinson: Pacific Edge
Conrad/Ford: The Inheritors
Solzhenitsyn: We Never Make Mistakes
Thomas Mann: The Transposed Heads


Here's an old favorite that I haven't read in years. And, now that I've just encountered my 73rd birthday, it's becoming a bit more personal.

With Rue My Heart Is Laden

With rue my heart is laden
For golden friends I had.
For many a rose-lipt maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.

By brooks too broad for leaping
The lightfoot boys are laid;
The rose-lipt girls are sleeping
In fields where roses fade.

And another which I hadn't read before but which also seems to fit a melancholy mode.

Far In A Western Brookland

Far in a western brookland
That bred me long ago
The poplars stand and tremble
By ponds I used to know.

There, in the windless nighttime,
The wanderer, marveling why,
Halts on the bridge to hearken
How soft the poplars sight.

He hears: long since forgotten
In fields where I was known,
Here I lie down in London
And turn to rest alone.

There by the starlit fences,
The wanderer halts and hears
My soul that lingers sighing
About the glimmering weirs.

Both poems are by Alfred E. Houseman (1856--1936). They seem more appropriate for a late gloomy fall day, rather than a blistering hot day in summer.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


I think I would vote for him.

Montaigne quotes King Seleucus: "'he who knows the weight of a sceptre would not stoop to pick it up if he found it lying on the ground.'

Montaigne then goes on to say: "he [King Seleucus] said it thinking of the heavy and painful duties which are incumbent on a good king. Surely it is no small matter to have to govern others, when so many difficulties present themselves in governing ourselves. In this matter of commanding, which seems so delightsome, I am strongly of the opinion, --in view of the frailty of man's judgement and the difficulty of choice among novel and doubtful things, --that it is much easier and pleasanter to follow than to lead, and this it is great peace for the mind to have simply to pursue a beaten track and to be responsible for oneself alone.'"

Michel de Montaigne
Chapter XLII, Of the Inequality Between Us
The Essays of Montaigne
trans. George B. Ives

Who would be the ideal candidate? I would choose one who didn't want the job, but who would do his or her best, and then try to get out as quickly as possible.

Friday, July 1, 2011


This is something new I've decided to try out. Some might call it blog clutter, but I prefer "Serendipity," which one source defines as "Good luck in making unexpected and fortunate discoveries." What this means here is that during my reading, I frequently come across poems, comments, quotations, even an occasional fact or two that I find interesting, and so I will post them here, more or less regularly.

My first Serendipity entry is a poem by Alexander Pope:

Ode on Solitude

Happy the man whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air
In his own ground.

Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

Bless'd who can unconcern'dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day;

Sound sleep by night: study and ease
Together mix'd; sweet recreation;
And innocence, which most does please,
With Meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown,
Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lie.

-- Alexander Pope --

He's not asking for too much, is he? Just the simple things in life, the basic necessities.