Friday, February 27, 2015

Leonard Nimoy: March 26, 1931--Feb. 27, 2015 RIP

                                                              R. I. P.

Leonard Nimoy died this morning of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  Like many others, no doubt.  I shall always remember him as Mr. Spock.  I saw him once in a play in Chicago, A Visit to a Small Planet, and while the character was nothing like Spock  (he was played by Jerry Lewis in the film version), he was still Spock to me, and perhaps to many others in the audience.

I still can't hear anybody say "fascinating" without thinking of Mr. Spock.     

I also saw him when he joined the cast of Mission Impossible, as Paris, the master of disguise.  It made no difference.  He was still a Vulcan. And, the director?, somebody? played on that also.  In one episode of MI, Nimoy was in the lobby of a large hotel.  He glances over to a stairway leading up to the next floor, and a puzzled look appears on his face.  The camera pans over to the stairs, and we see William Shatner climbing the stairs.  Then Shatner looks around and sees Nimoy, and he too looks puzzled, as if he should know him but can't quite place him.

Fortunately we have him on film, and it's been many years since I last watched Star Trek.  Perhaps now would be a good time to resurrect some happy memories.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Loren Eiseley: Coyote Country


If you should go, soft-footed and  alert,
Down the long slope of shale
Into a tumbled land of scarp and butte
Beyond the pale
Of the herding men, where water is under stone,
You would be in coyote country.  It is the place
Where tumbleweed is blown
Four ways at once, and your neighbors are not seen
Except as loping shapes
Or tangible dust.
Once, if you're lucky, something may pause and lift
One paw and two grey ears
In a moment's trust
That is gone like wind.

Coyote PhotoThis is the road.  Go down
Over the harsh way.  If you dare, go down
Into the waste, where lonely and apart
The road runs north.  Somewhere here is my heart,
If anywhere, I spy
Nothing at all--and you in turn may try
The thistle and subtle stones,
Or you may go
Southward tonight--be certain you will not know
More of  me than is found
In two poised ears
Or feet gone without sound.
-- Loren Eiseley --
All the Night Wings

I don't know where Loren Eiseley spent most of his time--out in the field or behind a desk or in a classroom--but I think I know where his heart was. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XLI, Second Edition

This quatrain, first appeared in the Second Edition, and remained in all subsequent editions.

Second Edition:  Quatrain XLI

For has not such a Story from of Old
Down Man's successive generations roll'd
   Of such a clod of saturated Earth
Cast by the Maker into Human mould? 

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain XXXVIII

And has not such a Story from of Old
Down Man's successive generations roll'd
   Of such a clod of saturated Earth
Cast by the Maker into Human mould? 

FitzGerald introduced only one change in the quatrain: he substituted "And" for "For."

This quatrain refers obliquely back to previous quatrains that refer to the Potter and his pots.  The story "from of Old" of course refers to Genesis in which God creates Adam out of clay.  What I find interesting is that humans were, supposedly,  created in the likeness of God while the Poet says that this clod of earth was cast "into Human mould."

I suspect that FitzGerald added this quatrain to make more explicit the identification between God and the Potter and its creations and humanity.  While it seemed fairly clear in the First Edition, it was never stated explicitly, and perhaps FitzGerald felt it needed a clearer exposition for some readers.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Two very, very different films

Snowpiercer, an SF Film

Into Great Silence, a documentary

Several nights ago, I watched two very different films.  One was Snowpiercer, directed by the South Korean director  Bong Joon-ho.  It's a post-catastrophe or post-apocalypse film that reflects current events.

In an attempt to deal with global warning, a chemical is interjected into the upper atmosphere.  It, of course, goes wrong (otherwise there would be no film), and, instead, sends earth off into a planet-wide ice age, killing off everything.  The only survivors are the lucky ones who managed to get aboard a long, powerful, and self-sufficient supertrain created by the mysterious and wealthy Wilford.  Obsessed with trains, Wilford uses his wealth to create a world-wide railway system for his train. 

It's now seventeen years later, and a strict brutal class/caste system has evolved.  The train is a linear depiction of this system, with the train tailenders at the back living in a few overcrowded and rundown cars, on rations barely above the starvation level.   any grumbling is met with a lecture about how ungrateful they are to be allowed to live.  They are at the back end and others at the front because that's the way it is and they should know their place.  This is the natural order of things.   Sound familiar?

As we move forward, the conditions improve until we reach just behind the Eternal Engine where the rich live idle lives with a variety of rich foods, clothing, and drugs, with no concern for the less fortunate at the train's back end. At the front is the Eternal Engine compartment, occupied only by Wilford, who is seen almost as a deity at this point and visited by only a few.

However, yet another revolution by the ungrateful powerless poor is brewing.  Curtis, one of those trapped in the rear of the train, leads the poor and dispossessed through the train which provides numerous fight scenes, violence, and a high body count. 

The number of interesting characters among the rebels and the ruling elite is one of this film's strong points.

One point made by the film perhaps explains the behavior of the very rich and powerful today.  They seem unconcerned about the dangers brought about by global warming at this point, and spend millions of dollars fighting legislation that is designed to reduce the threat if that legislation reduces either their power or their profits.   The film suggests that they believe that, while global warming or any severe climate change may cause problems, they are rich enough and powerful enough to ensure their own comfortable survival. 

Into Great Silence

Fortunately that wasn't the only film I watched that  night and doubly fortunate that I watched Into Great Silence, a documentary about life in a Carthusian monastery, the Grande Chartreuse monestery in the Chartreuse Mountains of France, afterwards.   The non-stop action in Snowpiercer would have kept me awake for a long time.  Into Great Silence was the exact opposite-- almost a silent film, with only one instance of the monks engaging in conversation and that at a permitted time.  The only other examples of the human voice was the chanting during ceremonies and a formulized question-and-answer dialogue when a novice took his temporary vows.  Oh yes, one other bit of talk occurred when the monk, whose job it was to feed the monastery cats, called them for dinner.  He talked a little to them and noted that one was the big boss. 

Philip Groning, the director, had contacted the monastery in 1984, requesting permission to do the documentary.  They responded that they weren't ready yet.  Finally, 16 years later Groning was told they were ready. 

The film is a visual documentary:  there is no narrative voice explaining what is being filmed.  The viewer is forced to guess.  Groning shot the film in natural light so the viewer sees the monastery and its inhabitants going about their daily routine without any artificial lighting.

The monastery does have electricity, but its use seems to be limited to when it is absolutely necessary; for example during night time services, small lights are placed by the music stands so they can see the music.  Clearly it replaces candles.  The Carthusians do not have tonsures, but instead get all of their hair cut off regularly.  (Reminded me of my time in basic training in the USAF)  They use electric hair clippers instead of hand clippers. 

The monks were shown going about their daily lives of prayer, work, meditation, and rituals without commentary.  They never spoke, except for the examples noted above, and seemingly spent most of the day silently and solitary, at least outwardly so. 

The combination of the silence and the beautiful photography both inside the monastery and outside made this an extraordinary film.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Some Great Books Read in 2014

The following are books that I really enjoyed reading during the past year, and, if granted time, there's a good chance I will read them again. 

Anthony Powell: A Dance to the Music of Time, Movements 1 and 2.
--We start with Nick Jenkins as a school boy just after WWI and follow him and his friends and acquaintances up to just before the outbreak of WWII.  A fascinating look at English life between the two world wars.
--Movements 3 and 4 will probably cover WWII and after.  I've got them and they're just waiting for some free time. 
--Link to post

 Adrian McKinty:  The Cold Cold Ground and I Hear the Sirens in the Streets
--the first two of McKinty's four mysteries set in the Time of the Troubles in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  Books 3 and 4 are on my TBR list.  It's 1981, and Sean Duffy is one of the few Roman Catholics in the predominantly Protestant police force in Belfast and is viewed with suspicion by both Catholics and Protestants.  Complex plots and local color set against a background of a city at war with itself in an undeclared civil war make this a must read series.

M John Harrison:  Light, Nova Swing, and Empty Space: A Haunting,  the Kefahuchi trilogy
--a space adventure that ranges from the late 20th century to the 25th century.  Strange things happen, and some of them never get explained, especially those involving aliens.
--The three novels  are relatively independent of each other, but I would recommend reading them in the published order.
--Humans in space, in Harrison's trilogy (in fact in most of his novels), encounter aliens that are truly alien, not just humans in Halloween costumes, as are so many in other works involving aliens.  Some are harmless, some helpful, some dangerous (some deliberately and some ??), and many inexplicable.
If you're looking for something different, try this series.

Michael Stanley:  Death of the Mantis and Deadly Harvest.
--Books 3 and 4 of the cases of Detective "Kubu" of the Botswana Police. Good mysteries, good plots, interesting characters, and fascinating lore about the people of Botswana and southern Africa in general.  Waiting now for Book 5.  The novels are independent of each other, so they can be read out of order.  If you can read only one, then choose Death of the Mantis

Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House
--the best haunted house novel I have ever read.  
--see post on Oct. 31, 2010, made the first time I read it.  The post also contains some comments about the 1963 film.

Gregory Benford: Anomalies
--a great collection of short stories, covering a wide variety of topics: adventures involving time travel, black holes, cryogenics, high tech warfare, a mix of science and religion, and several cosmological theories.
Link to a number of posts about the stories.

David Brin:  Existence
--Brin's most recent novel.  A new look at the First Contact theme and its possible threats.
--he uses multiple narrators to provide a variety of viewpoints responding to the first contact.
--link to post

Loren Eiseley:  The Night Country
--I joined the Time Reading Program after seeing an ad about the program which featured one paragraph from another of his books.  After reading that one, The Immense Journey, I searched for everything and anything written by him.
--See link to various posts about this work.

Kobo Abe':  The Face of Another
--a man whose face is terribly scarred from an industrial accident creates a lifelike mask, that seems to take on a life of its own when he wears it.
The following link leads to posts about the novel and the film

Franz Werfel:  Star of the Unborn
--little known and mostly ignored SF novel about a man who dies and is resurrected 100.000 years in the future and presented as a wedding gift.
--fascinating picture of future humans and their culture
--stuffy and somewhat pompous narrator adds to the fun.  He reminds me of the narrator in Thomas Mann's Dr. Faustus.
--link to posts about the novel

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Russell Hoban: Feb 4, 1925 -- December 13, 2011

"The Slickman A4 Quotation Event takes place on 4th February each year, to commemorate Russell Hoban's birth in 1925. Each year his readers from around the world share their favourite quotations from his books by leaving them in public places, invariably written on yellow A4 paper (the sort he used). Fans also post photos of their quotations on this site, and these are gathered under"  (from the Official  Russell Hoban Web Site)

Since I won't be going anyplace appropriate to drop off a quotation, I decided to leave one here instead.

   "My desk is a clutter of stones written upon and not; seashells, acorns and oak leaves, china mermaids from long-gone aquaria, postcards of medieval carven lions, clockwork frogs and photographs of distant moments.  It's a good desk, there's a lot of action even when I'm not there.  Propped up amongst the stones and clutter are two books open at colour plates of Vermeer's Head of a Young Girl; there are also a postcard of it stuck on the edge of the monitor screen and a large print over the fireplace.  Night and day in all weathers she looks out at me from her hereness and her goneness.  Even the ageing of the painting seems organic to it;  one can see in the reproductions how the reticulation of fine cracks in the paint follows lovingly from light into shadow the curve of her cheek, the softness of her mouth, the glisten of her eyes, the fineness of brow and nose, the delicacy of her chin."

The  quotation is from The Medusa Frequency and purports to be a description of the narrator's desk.  I wonder if the description might also resemble Hoban's own desk. I once saw a photo of his office, and clutter might a close and accurate adjective;  some of the items mentioned seem familiar, as if I had encountered them in one or more of his novels.

If you haven't read anything by Russell Hoban, yet, then I would encourage you to pick one up.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Harper Lee--Great News

Harper Lee to Publish Sequel to 'To Kill a Mockingbird'

"To Kill a Mockingbird  will not be Harper Lee's only published book after all.  Publisher Harper announced Tuesday that "Go Set a Watchman," a novel the Pulitzer Prize-winning author completed in the 1950s and put aside, will be released July 14. Rediscovered last fall, "Go Set a Watchman" is essentially a sequel to  To Kill a Mockingbird," although it was finished earlier. The 304-page book will be Lee's second, and the first new work in more than 50 years."

Link to complete article: