Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Eagle


 Hokusai:  Eagle in Flight

The Eagle

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring'd with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

-- Alfred, Lord Tennyson --

While the painting by Hokusai doesn't quite exactly match Tennyson's poem, I think it does portray the spirit of the poem.  

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Favorite SF novels or short works--2016

These are those SF/F works that I read and enjoyed during 2016, and many of which I might read again, sometime down the road.


First Reads:

Kim Stanley Robinson:      Aurora
--my favorite new SF novel read during 2016
--a grim, gritty, and discouraging tale of life aboard a generation ship.
--Robinson's theme seems to be that while travel in the solar system may be possible, travel to another star to set up a colony by humans is impossible with today's technology and what seems potentially possible in the future.  
--perhaps his Red, Green, and Blue Mars trilogy presents the most we can hope for,  but who knows what future research may bring--FTL anyone?
--for my longer commentary, see

Gene Wolfe:      A Borrowed Man
--A very unique concept--writers are cloned after death and the clones are placed in libraries to be used as resource materials where they can be borrowed just like any other material in the library.
--see my longer post on this work at

Sylvain Neuvel:      Sleeping Giants
--this is the first novel I've read by him.
--a young girl falls into a sinkhole and lands in the palm of a huge metallic hand, one obviously not made by humans.
--some decades later, she becomes involved in a research project devoted to answering questions about the giant robot:  who, what, where, why.  .  .  and where's the rest of it?
--the story is told through a series of interviews conducted by an unknown, unnamed, and mysterious questioner.
--the sequel Waking Gods is the second in the series, and I will definitely read it.

Kazuo Ishiguro The Buried Giant
--a fantasy set in England shortly after the death of King Arthur
--an elderly couple set out to find their son who left after a quarrel with the father.
--on their journey, they and the reader encounters dragons, evil monks,  Sir Gawain, and a mysterious disease that affects the memory.
--for a longer commentary, see my post at

Iain M. Banks:    Consider Phlebas and The Player of Games
--two novels set in Banks' "Culture" Universe.
--diverse topics with little if any overlap between these two novels, and from what I've read this holds true for the other novels set in this universe.  Culture is not really an organized government, as such, but a union of like-minded planets and cultures.  It's purpose is to envelope all cultures but not through military means.  

Thea von Harbou:      Metropolis
--the basis for the classic SF film by the same name.
--the problem is the gap between the head (capitalists owners) and the hand (the workers).

Olaf Stapledon:          Odd John
--the life of a mutant superman, who is one of the most unpleasant "superman" I've ever read about.

Stanislaw Lem:         Solaris
--the basis for the two films of the same name
--the best novel I've ever read that portrays aliens as really alien and not humans    
   dressed up in funny suits.

M. John Harrison:     The Pastel City
--a novel set in the far future on Earth, but an Earth that no longer resembles anything we know
--so much time has passed that several alien species are no longer considered aliens
--two rival queens vie for control of Viriconium, the strangest city I've ever visited in print.

Ursula LeGuin:          The Left Hand of Darkness
--this novel is a permanent fixture on that desert island list.
--it's one I always recommend when someone asks for a recommendation
--for more information, see my post at

Wilson Tucker:          The Long Loud Silence

--this may not be the first post-holocaust novel I ever read, but it's the first one I remember.
--probably outdated today, but still it's a nostalgic favorite I go back to every once in a while.

Dan Simmons:          Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion
--two of his best works-complex plot and characters.
--it begins as the story of a war between a galactic empire and the barbarians who left the empire and
   have now returned to exact revenge.  It is much more than that, as we read on.
--for more information, see my posts at, and

John Brunner:           Stand on Zanzibar
--rather than struggle with trying give you an idea of what this complex novel is like, go to my post
  for a brief summary at

Roger Zelazny:     The Doors of His Face, The Lamps of His Mouth
--a favorite short work by Zelazny.  A man earns his living by being hired to act as bait.

Kevin Anderson and Gregory Benford:    Mammoth Dawn
--a husband and wife encounter problems while trying to bring back extinct animals, especially the
--for more information, see my post at


Friday, March 24, 2017

Li Po: "Drinking Alone in Moonlight"

I have already posted this poem, but it was a different translation.  I have heard the saying, "In vino veritas,"when means, I guess, in wine there is truth.  But enlightenment. . .?

Drinking Alone in Moonlight

If Heaven had no love for wine,
There would be no Wine Star in Heaven;
If earth had no love for wine,
There would be no city called Wine Springs..
Since Heaven and Earth love wine,
I can love wine without shaming Heaven.

They say that clear wine is a saint,
Thick wine follows the way of the sage.
I have drunk deep of saint and sage:
What need then to study the spirits and fairies?
With three cups I penetrate the Great Tao,
Take a whole jugful--I and the world are one.
Such things as I have dreamed in wine
Shall never be told to the sober.

-- Li Po --
from A Treasury of Asian Literature
John  B. Yohannan, editor

Sounds very modern to me.  Just substitute LSD or peyote or any other mind altering drug for wine.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Robert Frost: Spring Pools

Spring Pools

These pools that, though in forests, still reflect
The total sky almost without defect,
And like the flowers beside them, chill and shiver,
Will like the flowers beside them soon be gone,
And yet not out by any brook or river,
But up by roots to bring dark foliage on.

The trees that have it in their pent-up buds
To darken nature and be summer woods--
Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only recently.

--Robert Frost --

Another of Frost's enigmatic poems.  Those summer woods, celebrated by other poets and writers, are portrayed somewhat differently here for they "darken nature."  Even more ominous is Frost's warning to those trees with "their pent-up buds."
"Let them think twice before they use their powers
To blot out and drink up and sweep away
These flowery waters and these watery flowers
From snow that melted only recently."

What is dangerous about that snow that melted only recently"?  Or, is it something other than that melted snow?

As usual, his poem is characterized by a straightforward, almost conversational sentence structure and simple, everyday words, and yet he manages to hint at something behind all this deceptive simplicity.   

Now that I've finished my brief ramblings, go back and read the poem again.  That's what's important--the poem..

Friday, March 17, 2017

Basho's frog

This is probably one of Basho's most famous haiku.   I have a book titled Basho's One Hundred Frogs,  a collection of 100 different translations of this one haiku.  Surely, that must be a record of some sort.

Old pond
a frog jumps into
the sound of water.

This is my favorite translation.  I can picture myself sitting near a pond or river, with a frog nearby.  I can't see the water directly below the frog because of the bank.  The frog jumps and disappears in the sound of water.  I never do see the frog enter the water; he just jumps into the sound.  Oh, I know very well what happened, or think I do anyway.  However, maybe that frog really did jump into the sound of water. Just why this grabs me, I have no idea.  Perhaps you may have some suggestions. 

Basho: The Complete Haiku
Jane Reichhold, ed. and trans.

Following is a much more mundane (to me anyway) translation:

The quiet pond
  A frog jumps in,
    The sound of the water.

The comma provides a pause between the frog jumping in (and not "into")  and the resulting sound of water.
 tran.  Edward G. Seidensticker
from  One Hundred Frogs.
ed.  Hiroaki Sato

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Minute Observation

Nothing very profound here--just an observation by Joseph Wood Krutch on the long northern winters and various ways that some animals have found to handle them. usual it is the cats who are provided with the most perfect mechanism.  They are, to be sure, capable of a kind of short-range impatience--when, for example, food is being prepared.  They seem at time to suffer momentarily from boredom, as a wild animal perhaps never does.  But when the weather is too bad to go out, or when for any reason there is absolutely nothing to do, they can simply curl up and sleep almost endlessly, for days at a time if necessary, with perfect ease.  Even going to sleep seems to be a process entirely under their control, as voluntary as shutting the eyes is for us.  Cats are rather delicate creatures and they are subject to a good many different ailments, but I never heard of one who suffered from insomnia. 

Cats with insomnia:  sounds self-contradictory or mutually exclusive to me. 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Eric Hoffer: totalitarianism in free societies

No. 28

There is a large measure of totalitarianism even in the freest of free societies.  But in a free society totalitarianism is not imposed from without but is implanted within the individual.  There is a totalitarian regime inside everyone of us.  We are ruled  by a ruthless politburo which sets our norms and drives us from one five-year plan to another.  The autonomous individual who has to justify his existence by his own efforts is in eternal bondage to himself.  

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

If autonomous individuals are in bondage to themselves, then the non-autonomous individuals must be in bondage to outside forces.  Since there is no escape from bondage, according to Hoffer, then I would prefer to be in bondage to myself.

Aside from death, is there another option which could free us from this bondage?  Or, does this bondage really exist?   

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Favorite Fiction--2016

Some favorite works of fiction I read during 2016,


Sarah Orne Jewett:
                  The Country of Pointed Firs
                   --my first reading of her masterpiece.  Why did I take so long to get to it?
                   --this is on my must reread list.

                   A Country Doctor
                   --this one is a bit weaker than the first, but still an excellent read. and better     
                      than 90% of the other works I've read this year.

Joseph Conrad:  Suspense
 --an unfinished novel set in the Napoleonic era.
 --a traveler gets involved with a plot of Napoleon's escape from Elba.

Ray Bradbury:         Farewell Summer
--the sequel to Dandelion Wine.  The tone is different in this one.  The boy resists growing up.

Graham Greene:    The Human Factor
--a spy novel.  The unmasking of a mole in the British secret service, told from the mole's point of view.

Nathaniel Hawthorne:: The Celestial Railroad and Other Stories
--a collection of some of Hawthorne's most well-known short works.
--decided to leave this in the First Reads grouping as there were several short stories that I hadn't read before.

Kazuo Ishiguro:   The Remains of the Day
--a great novel of repression and fear of commitment, set against the backdrop of WWII.   
--his master is a Nazi sympathizer and the butler refuses to go against his master for he  is the master.


Jane Austen:
                   Lady Susan/The Watsons/Sanditon
                   Northanger Abbey
                   Mansfield Park
                   Sense and Sensibility
                   Pride and Prejudice

--as always, great reading.  This was my fifth? sixth? who knows how many readings I've had of her works over the years.  They are just as good, if not better, the fifth? time around as the first.

A. Solzhenitsyn:   One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
--the title says it all--one day in a Soviet Union era gulag in Siberia, based loosely on his time there.  I like to pair this one with Dostoyevsky's The House of the Dead, his experiences in a Siberian prison camp during the reign of the Tsars.  Forced to make a choice, I would choose life there under the Tsars.  The treatment was cruel but  much more humane than under the commissars. 

Dostoyevsky:   "The Gambler"
--Dostoyevsky's great novella depicting the downfall of an gambling addict.
--great character study of numerous Russians traveling abroad. sometimes just for travel and sometimes to avoid debt collectors back home.  Comic figures trapped within a tragic story.

Evelyn Waugh:   Brideshead Revisited
--Flashback:  an English army officer finds his unit stationed  on one of the grand   
   estates and recognizes it as the one that had a great influence on him, beginning with
   his stay at Oxford.

--there's a great BBC TV adaptation of the book.  After watching it, I went out and 
   got the book.

Herman Melville:  “Benito Cereno”
--Melville's great novella regarding the slave trade and a very naive American ship captain.

Nikos Kazantzakis:   Freedom or Death

--his powerful novel set in Greece during the time of the Greek war for independence.
--as usual his characters come off the page at you.

Oscar Wilde:   The Uncensored Picture of Dorian Gray
--This is the first and censored version of Gray's novel.  To be honest, I can not see anything that
   would be more offensive than anything in the published version.  A classic example of changing
    tastes, I will includ this among the rereads for I have read this several times.

There were a number of enjoyable works that I read during the past year, but these are the ones that stand out.  While there  appears to be a large number of first reads, equal to the rereads, one should note that Bradbury, Greene, Hawthorne, and Conrad are all favorites of mine from way back when.  These are works by them that I've never read before.

Only two of the authors in the First Reads Section are new to me:  Kazuo Ishiguro and Sarah Orne Jewett and are now on my reread list.  Coincidentally, I read two books by both.  The other book by by Ishiguro will appear on my Favorite SF novels of 2016 list.

Forgot to mention, but if you have questions about any of the authors or books, please ask.  I may not know the answer, but it's worth trying anyway.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Rubaiyat: Second Edition, Quatrain LXXXVI

A confusing quatrain:  the syntax is not clear to me.


Nay, but for the terror of his wrathful Face,
I swear I will not call Injustice Grace;
    Not one Good Fellow of the Tavern but
Would kick so poor a Coward from this place. 

Perhaps FitzGerald felt there were problems with this quatrain, for it had disappeared by the time the Fifth Edition was published.

I think the meaning is that the  "terror of his wrathful Face," what is what would prevent him from calling  "Injustice Grace."  This refers back to the theme of those pleasures that God set before us and then forbade us from tasting them under pain if eternal punishment. 

I think he refers to himself as so poor a Coward  for being afraid to stand up and say what he thinks.  Those in the Tavern understand his fear and therefore would not reject him. If this is an adequate reading, then the quatrain is a very strange one: one that suggests that it is fear of God that keeps him from speaking the truth.  Perhaps FitzGerald had similar problems with it, for it was removed by the fifth edition, if not earlier.

Any other meanings possible?  Am I missing something?

Thursday, March 2, 2017

A Minute Meditation

I realized then the truth about all love:  that it is an absolute which takes all or forfeits all.  The other feelings, compassion, tenderness and so on, exist only on the periphery and belong to the constructions of society and habit.  But she herself--austere and merciless Aphrodite--is a pagan.  It is not our brains or instincts which she picks--but our very bones.

-- Lawrence Durrell --
from Justine, Part II

I think that there are a number of examples of this in the novel:  Darley, Melissa, Justine, Nessim, Mountolive, Leila, although it is not clear just whom these characters are in love with.