A Perspective on Peter F. Hamilton

In a previous life, Peter F. Hamilton was a masonry expert and built formidable cathedrals in Europe throughout the middle ages.

Which brings up side-topic numero uno: I do not believe in reincarnation. Purely for mathematical reasons. If a life dies, subtracting one life from the total lives possible, and then inhabits another life, adding one life back into the total lives possible, then the sum population growth is always NONE. But, we know that’s not true, don’t we?

Back to our main subject: Peter F. Hamilton.

He began publishing science fiction in the early nineties with some short stories sold in the British market. Then he started releasing his Greg Mandel trilogy, a series of mysteries to be solved by a near-future psychic private investigator in a dystopian England. (I have read all of these and they are quite good.)

However, it was in 1996 that he electrified the world with his classic, “The Night’s Dawn Trilogy.”

I first picked up “The Reality Dysfunction — Part 1: Emergence” in the late nineties because I thought the cover artwork was cool! I still think that. Did you notice that “Part 1” bit back there? Yeah, originally this trilogy was published in the US as a six-part epic, breaking the three main novels in half. I don’t know what the marketing thoughts were: either make more money, or just cynicism that American audiences couldn’t handle a 1,300 page novel, so it needed to be split.

The full trilogy is now published as designed. They are “The Reality Dysfunction,” “The Neutronium Alchemist,” and “The Naked God.” Total word count estimated at 1.2 million!

Full disclosure: I have never been able to complete it. I don’t fault Mr. Hamilton for that. It’s all on me and my personal beliefs.

The plot is that humans expand into space with extraordinary tech. I really love those parts! At some point, someone accidentally opens a door to a void space full of immortal souls of humans who had died and now were psychotic due to their imprisonment in that void. They broke out and began to inhabit humans bodies and wreaking havoc everywhere. I don’t know if technology beats spirituality because I never got but halfway through the first volume.

Side Topic numero dos: I don’t believe in immortal souls. When we die, we simply cease to exist. I do believe in spirit beings. I hate demon possession, which is what this trilogy deals with. Anyway, I hate most of this subject. So, no wonder I didn’t finish it. I hear it’s quite good. Maybe I’ll be able to put aside my prejudices one day and give it another go.

Back to subject.

In 2004, he released “Pandora’s Star,” a novel placed in a new universe called the Commonwealth. I ate this book alive, and it screamed all the way down. The only thing that punked me a bit is he dropped the dreaded c-word-nuclear-bomb just once. But, the context of it is reasonably clear, and he hasn’t done it since, which gives me delight.

“Judas Unchained” was the sequel and OUTstanding! Followed by the “Void Trilogy” set in the same universe, but a blocked off section of it. His latest duology “The Abyss Beyond Dreams” and “The Night Without Stars” goes back and destroys this void, and ultimately saves planets full of beings.

I just finished it, and that is why you are getting this Perspective.

Parental Advisories:

Profanity: Yes. F-bombs are sprinkled around. Oddly, in his latest offering, “crud” and “crudding” takes most – though not all – of the f-bombs place.

Violence: Yes. Explosions, shootings, alien blue blood, etc. Nothing too grisly, and the author doesn’t glory in it.

Sex and Nudity: Yes. And this is what sets Mr. Hamilton off from the pack of SF/F writers. His characters actually enjoy intimacy and giving each other pleasure, so sex is rarely abusive or instinctual.

Side topic numero tres: between the “Void” Trilogy and this latest duology, Mr. Hamilton wrote a very good murder mystery in the near future in England that involved aliens and colonization of another planet and the dangers therein. This was a standalone novel titled “The Great North Road,” and I liked it a lot. Most people didn’t. Would you like to know why? Well, I’ll tell you anyway. It doesn’t have hardly any of Hamilton’s trademark sex scenes.

SF/F writers hate writing sex scenes for a number of reasons. First, they often view sex through the prism of evolution, and so usually write it as animal instinct instead of what it really is. Secondly, if they write it, their characters are flawed to the point that sex is merely scratching an itch because they are incapable of real intimacy. Third, writing sex scenes is HARD (sic, pun intended). Either go the intimacy route, or write porn, or ignore the subject completely. Hamilton goes the intimacy route and it works!

I know, it’s crazy, but people really like his books for the sex. There are other reasons to like them, though.

Mr. Hamilton is a courageous SF/F writer for many reasons. First of all, he never went to college, doesn’t know a lot about science, mostly shrugged at English classes in school, and just started writing! He doesn’t fit the mold of most SF/F writers. He is a born prodigy meant to write!

Secondly, his subject matter seems mostly to be the collision of spirituality with scientific exploration. Even the Void series and the latest duology have at their core a belief in the immortality of the human soul, clashing with humans trying to keep from getting annihilated through high-concept scientific means. At no time does he deride the spirituality; he simply shows it as an important presence. The fact that many humans have accepted “uploading” of their personalities into a network of similar beings that can be “downloaded” into a grown clone is basically stating a spiritual concept of the soul in scientific terms.

Thirdly, if you have read 600 pages of a Hamilton novel, be assured you are only about two-thirds of the way through. They are humongous volumes! They even invented a word for it when another author writes a “doorstop” or “brick” like these: they call it a Hamiltonian epic, named after you know who. Why so big? Three reasons: dozens of fully fleshed out characters; detailed descriptions of the physical environment; and an intricate plot that will take a while to unravel.

Would any of these be recommended for children? Not likely. Of course, every parent can read them and then decide for their kids. But, don’t discard everything Peter F. Hamilton writes. He is aware of the adult nature of his books, and has kids he would like to write for. So, since 2014 he has also been writing a children’s fantasy series called the “Book of the Realms.” Check those out; you might like them.

I have my personal favorite of Hamilton’s books, and it surprises most people because it is a standalone that just didn’t ripple the pond much. “The Fallen Dragon” encapsulates many of his ideas into one longish work that is complete within itself. Oddly enough, it closely resembles the “Night’s Dawn Trilogy,” the one I never finished.

I have one regret. I currently only own the latest duology in hardcover. In fact, here is a picture of my entire collection of the beloved Peter F. Hamilton’s work.

Jpeg

Pathetic, huh? Hey wait! What’s that thing on the left doing in there? Sorry, Mr. H! (Actually, the two seem to have a lot of respect for each other, so I doubt either one minds that gaff too much. It is actually my two current favorite SF/F authors. [Pssst. Don’t tell Mr. Hamilton I own lots more of that other guys novels. I was at least that smart.])

I wish my bookshelf was full of his books, but I just didn’t think of keeping them at the time.

Here’s why that might be important: “Night Without Stars” ends in such a fully satisfying manner that incorporates many of the characters from the Commonwealth Universe into its conclusion. I don’t know how much more of these Mr. Hamilton will write, but I got this sick feeling in my gut that we were saying goodbye to them all.

Sure wish I’d kept those volumes. There might be room on my bookcase, if — um, someone, er, might like to donate to the cause? Fixed income, and hardcovers are rare in the US. Mailing address available upon request. Hint, hint, know-what-I-mean?

Mr. Hamilton has been nominated for many awards, but only won two. A short story got the BSFA award in 2001, and in 2015 “The Great North Road” won a French award for best foreign SF novel (leave it to the French to award a sexless book, because to our romantic cousins sex likely only means it’s about nine PM on any given day, ho-hum).

Do I think he will win lots of awards? I don’t know, and am not even sure he cares about that. To me, he is such a pure writer that he’d probably rather be writing than attending ceremonies. Too, his whole purpose is the story. He’s not trying to make any political or sociological point of relevance about the human condition. He’s more interested in saying things fun than saying things conforming to someone else’s idea of “important.” I would rather like it if he got a lifetime achievement award somewhere down the road.

Awards or not, Peter F. Hamilton remains the UK’s biggest selling SF author, and his popularity in the USA is growing.

One final side topic for the road: He has a website with a blog, but his last entry there is dated mid-June of 2015. If you wish to interact with him, he seems to prefer Facebook.

So, because Mr. Hamilton writes bricks that include spirituality, he must have been a bricklayer (masonry) in his former life, building European Cathedrals!

See how my twisted mind works?

Mr. Hamilton, consider yourself perspectivized.

13 January 2017

VA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Grateful Dead

Introduction: If you’ve read my home page, you have seen this caveat about my Universe: “your zombies . . . are not allowed unless they are FUN!” I hate zombie stories, really I do. Yet, I wondered about a zombie who relentlessly followed people with his arms out, and all he really wanted was a hug. This amusing idea spun itself out into the following story. All but one of the names used herein are part of the zombie-verse in some way. Clarissa is the only exception. I had fun writing this, and it will probably be the only zombie story I’ll ever write. Besides, I am the God of my Universe, so I can do what I want. You, however, will have to be “dead-set” on fun if you want to talk zombies in here. Enjoy!

The Grateful Dead

By Vonne Anton

(about 1,500 words)

The best day of my life was the day after I died.

Before then, I had a job at a rescue shelter. But the only ones who I think understood me were the dogs. I like to think that. Maybe they just liked the kibbles I kept in my pocket.

I once overheard my co-workers talking, wondering what was going on in my head, what made me tick, and stuff like that, but only Clarissa cared enough to actually ask me what I was thinking.

I told her I was playing a computer game I have at home in my head.

“Cool,” she said and smiled. She’s the nicest person I’ve ever known. And so pretty! I never told her that.

It was frustrating not being able to connect with people. Sometimes I wanted to scream at them.

Then yesterday a dog bit me. Just a little nip. I’m sure it didn’t mean any harm, but its eyes were glassy dark lasers and its fur was riding up its back. I showed it kibbles, then threw them behind it, so it would take off and I could go get my hand bandaged.

Clarissa saw me go for the restroom with my hand up, trying not to drip blood on the floor, so she came in and bandaged it for me.

While she was disinfecting the wound, she asked, “What happened, Rob?”

“#17,” I think I said. Even said the word ‘hashtag’ instead of ‘number.’ I don’t know why I did that. Mom says I’m special that way. I suspect she’s special that way instead.

“The Ridgeback? Roady?”

I nodded. Her brows were crackling down and I didn’t want to disturb her concentration while she fumbled with sticky tape.

“You need to fill out a report,” she said.

“Don’t want Roady down,” I said.

Her brows crackled again. “Do you mean you don’t want Roady to be put down?”

I nodded. “Virus tester. Needs time.”

“Why did he bite you? Were you bothering him?”

I shook my head. “Kibbles?”

Clarissa said, “Well, I’ll mention the incident to Mrs. Millan, just in case. Sick or dangerous animals could hurt others worse than this.”

She left and headed upstairs to the manager’s office before I thanked her, so I peed instead.

Later Clarissa came over and said, “We checked Roady out. He is definitely sick. The manager wants me to take you to the doctor to make sure you’re okay.”

“What?” I asked.

“Not sure. Not rabies.” She knew what I meant. Clarissa is really smart that way sometimes.

By the time we got to the doctor my hand was numb. He drew blood for testing and rebandaged the nip area.

By the time Clarissa dropped me home I wanted to throw up, so I did.

Then I must have passed out and slept all night.

#

My cell phone woke me up today.

It took forever to get to it because I was so stiff! My arms and legs didn’t want to work.

I didn’t get there in time, but they left a message. It took a long time to retrieve it because my fingers were inflexible.

“Mr. Robert Matheson? This is Nurse Romero at Doctor Davis’ office. Please call us back immediately. It’s about your blood test results. If we don’t hear from you in two hours, we’re going to send someone to get you. This is very important, Mr. Matheson. Click.”

I didn’t want a doctor. My limbs were stiff, but I felt fine. In fact, I felt great!

My thinking wasn’t cloudy. Words rolled in my mind on a finely tuned conveyor belt, spitting them out through my mouth like bullets. I felt an overwhelming sense of completeness, and an ardent desire to hug someone.

That doctor must have cured me of Asperger’s.

I was a little hungry, but that could wait. I needed to find Clarissa and tell her how I really felt about her!

It took a bit to get out of my apartment door before I lurched into the hallway. One of my neighbors was coming out of their place and recognized me.

I smiled, raised my board-straight arm and waved. “Hello, Dyrk, how’s it going?” I think I said.

Dyrk rushed back into his apartment, slamming and bolting the door.

Whaddup widdat?

Oh well, not everyone could always be as friendly as me. God, I felt good! No confusion, no disorientation! Just clear, cold thoughts of true love, and oh yes, a mission!

I punched the ‘down’ button to call the elevator and noticed my reflection in the chrome surrounding it. There was some blood streaking down my face from my eyes, ears, and nose. My chin was engulfed in the red stuff from my mouth.

It wasn’t anything serious enough to worry about.

The elevator dinged, the doors opened, and there stood nice Mrs. Campbell, carrying some groceries.

I reached out my arms to help her, but she screamed and dropped her groceries. She shoved me away and fled out of the elevator. I have no idea what got into her.

I quickly stepped into the vacant elevator and punched the button for the first floor. While it lurched me down, I studied the vegetables and cans on the floor of the elevator. I was hungry but not for that stuff.

There sure were a lot of people running around and yelling in the foyer of my apartment building, so I don’t think they noticed me walking through and out the door.

It was the same on the sidewalk. People veering around, a car was crashed, people screaming and cursing and running. Some were even whacking others who were just trying to walk like me. The noise was off-putting.

I hoped there wasn’t another terrorist attack somewhere. Just the idea of those made me mad enough to go after the bad guys myself. That made me laugh. A dog rescue worker doing something like that. Maybe I was a superhero now.

It was about three miles to the shelter where Clarissa would be. I didn’t have a car, and didn’t know how to drive. But, oddly enough, I always knew exactly where I was and how to get where I was going. Mom said I was special that way. I think she’s right!

So, off I went. The stiff-legged, wobbly gait wouldn’t ease up, but if I waved my arms around I was able to make all three of those miles. True love will enable a man to do anything. Being the Dog Rescuer with superhuman strength doesn’t hurt either.

The front glass doors crashed and splintered into shards when I went through them. Somehow, I’d forgotten to open them.

“Oops,” I said, embarrassed, and smiled at the receptionist.

His name was Sam. He gawked at me for a second and then threw his headset off and ran for the back of the building. Probably scared him by breaking the glass. It was just an accident.

I really wanted Clarissa.

The odor of workmates poking their heads out of their little cubicles to stare my way and then run off screaming was palpable. They never really liked me anyway.

“Where’s Clarissa?” I called. Something was wrong with my mouth. Strange that I hadn’t noticed it when I spoke to Dyrk earlier. I’d probably missed it because of the euphoria I felt!

“Clarissa?” I called again, listening closely. It sounded like I said, “Kkkrrssaahh.” I would have to work on that.

Finally the love of my life poked her head out and saw me.

“Rob?” she asked.

There were no other sounds. Maybe I was alone, at last, with the sweetest woman I’d ever met.

“Yes, it’s me,” I smiled. Sounded like, “Aaahhssitzzzuumm.”

She carefully came out and faced me, not twenty feet away. “Are you in pain?” she asked. “What’s wrong?”

I shrugged, not understanding, nor caring.

“You’re grimacing at me. You’ve got blood all over your face. Your clothes are torn. One shoe is gone. What’s wrong, Rob? Tell me.”

It sounded like she was getting scared. I had to put her at ease.

I raised my arms in front and out a bit, smiled again, and asked, “Hug?” It even sounded a little bit like that.

“Do you want a hug?” she asked, trying to understand.

I didn’t want to confuse her with garbled words, so I just smiled wider and nodded with as much enthusiasm as my body allowed. Then I staggered toward her.

“You look like you’re in pain,” she whispered as my arms folded around her soft, warm torso, drawing her close, cradling her.

My life’s ambitions were fulfilled. I was completely blissful with the love of my life in my arms.

My stomach growled. She tensed.

And well, her brain was so tantalizingly close!

THE END

Author’s Afterword: There’s a young man I’ve had the privilege to have for a friend named Ashton (No, not the world famous author of Paternus and zombie actor, Dyrk Ashton). No, Ashton is this young man’s first name. He is now 16 years old, and we’ve been friends for just over two years. Ashton is moderately autistic. He does not suffer from autism because he is perfectly happy with the way he thinks. His family might get wonky sometimes, but he’s okay. We became friends when I simply sat next to him at a religious class and asked him what he liked to do. Computer games have since figured prominently in our interactions. He is hyper spatially aware at all times, and his Mom takes him wherever she goes in the city of Phoenix because she knows that she will never get lost if he’s with her. Yet, relationships are difficult for Ashton, and people often find him aloof and disinterested. I think I’m the only person outside his family that he hugs. This story does not intend to liken autism to the living dead. However, it does intend to liken people’s perception of autism to their perception of the living dead. Nothing could be further from the truth. What Rob here says about Roady is true for our autistic family and friends. The two simple words, “Needs time.” Please give it to them, along with love. They will warm to you, and you will be a better person for having such an unusual and delightful friend. Not all autistic people are always sweet inside once you get to know them. Rob’s last statement is a reminder that they are as human as the rest of us. 

Copyright 6 January 2017 by Vonne Anton, Author

Review: Rogue One

Rogue One Review

THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW IS SOLELY FOR PARENTAL AWARENESS! THEREFORE,

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CARRIES A CRITICAL SPOILER!

Hello Parents! There is probably not a kid on the planet that doesn’t want to see this Star Wars installment. But there is something important you need to be ready to deal with. I will not describe the story for you, as too many other people have already done that. This is simply so parents know what to expect.

There is no real profanity, nor sexuality. But it earns it’s PG-13 rating for this:

Violence! Lots of it! If it wasn’t blaster type fire that leaves a little smoking hole, there would be gore all over the place. But there’s not. This is a WAR story! Therefore, expect a lot of explosions and blaster fire. THAT IS NOT THE CRITICAL SPOILER!

THIS IS:

At the end, all the good guys die. That’s right. Die. This is a suicide mission. None of the heroes you will root for will survive. At all. Do yourself a favor and . . .

GET THE KIDS READY FOR THAT.

It is an excellent adult movie. Probably as good or better than “Empire,” if you can believe it. It is highly recommended for everyone who has been waiting for the real Stars Wars story telling and excellent dialogue. The plot intricacies will be beyond many young one’s abilities to follow. The opening scenes are from various places in the galaxy and seem only tangentially connected, but all of them come home at the end. Adults will love this movie.

Kids will have a tough time with it.

My job’s done here. Out.

Vonne Anton

21 December 2016

An Ode to Lois McMaster Bujold

An Ode for Lois McMaster Bujold

(Sung to the tune of “Me and Mrs. Jones.”)

Me and Missuz B’Jold
We got a thang g-owen-o-on
We both know that I’m wrong
Cuz her reps too strong
To let her go now

Lois McMaster Bujold has won many awards for her novels. And I just don’t get it. Now, I know her Vorkosigan Saga series is a fan favorite, and a Hugo or Nebula gets tossed her way occasionally, but for some reason I can’t stay focused when reading her works. Three different works have all collided with my apathy, and the resulting impotence lingers far too long.

I have tried to read her books three times now
Somehow my mind wanders away each time
Love to know, love to know why I drift
While the awards keep piling up for her

There is something inherently wrong with me that I cannot stay focused when reading her books. It must be me. It’s got to be some deficiency in me. We are like two magnets fixed to repel each other.

Me and Missuz B’Jold
We got a thang g-owen-o-on
We both know that I’m wrong
Cuz her reps too strong
To let her go now

I’ll start reading page one, and within five paragraphs my mind wanders to other things. I used to think perhaps I was just too busy, had too much going on, to concentrate. But that’s evidently not true, because last night I picked up another novel and got hooked and have stayed hooked with no problem. Yet, a case can be made for her that she could be the next Grand Master.

I’ve gotta be extra careful
That I stay focused for this paragraph
Because these characters matter to all
And no, and no, not I

I’ve spent four days trying to read “Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen,” and have gotten no further than page 5. Yet, I blew through 33 pages of that other novel by that other writer that I started in frustration before going to sleep. I’m excited about continuing that other novel by a different author, but stare – flummoxed – at Bujold’s lastest offering, sitting on my coffee table like a lead brick.

Me and Missuz B’Jold
We got a thang g-owen-o-on
We both know that I’m wrong
Cuz her reps too strong
To let her go now

Twice I’ve stopped due to lack of inertia; once I stopped for the same reason plus the DREADED C-word showed up. The book better be excellent for me to endure that word. But my general malaise toward her works cancel “excellent” out of my vocabulary. There’s really not many options.

Well it’s time for me to be leaving
It hurts so much, it hurts so much inside
Now she’ll go her way and I’ll go mine
Tomorrow we’ll meet
The same page, the same line

If anyone has any suggestions to help me appreciate Missuz B’Jold’s works more, please don’t hesitate to declare them. I WANT to like her works, and feel inadequate because I cannot.

Me and Missuz B’Jold
We got a thang g-owen-o-on
We both know that I’m wrong
Cuz her reps too strong
To let her go now

See? I couldn’t even write this exasperated blog post without being distracted by a song in the background.

By the way, who the hell is Owen?

Apologies to the writers of “Me and Mrs. Jones”: Cary Grant Gilbert, Kenneth Gamble, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Apologies also to the wondrous  Billy Paul, who recorded it, and died this past year. Apologies also to Michael Buble, who covered it a few years ago.

Primarily apologies to Lois McMaster Bujold, who evidently deserves better from me.

8 December 2016

VA

Vonne’s Shelf: Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

Revenger

by Alastair Reynolds

“Aye, it be a daaarrrk and stooorrrmy night!” Paladin said, clutching its sword menacingly. Paladin was a battered robot wheeling about the stage on one wheel and one peg leg. It sounded like “screech, stomp, screech, stomp.”

“That is the lamest intro to anything I have ever heard!” someone bellowed from the seated audience.

Paladin squinted into the dark theatre, which is quite a trick since it didn’t have eyes; although, to its credit, it was wearing an eyepatch to sell the squinting thing. “Who be that, then, that daaarrres to call me a liaaarrr?” The robot brandished its sword-like thing in one articulated appendage. The sword was really just a three-foot piece of wood and a small crosspiece at the hilt. It hadn’t even been cut to a pointed tip. So, actually, Paladin brandished a blunt piece of wood.

“Stop it, already, you’re no pirate!” the voice hooted from the crowd.

“Aaarrrgh,” threatened the droid. “Methinks I’ll be showing you some paaarrriting!”

“Squawk!” something . . . um, squawked from nearby. This confused everyone, so no one knew what to say.

“Um, Revenger?” someone in the front row whispered. From the back, they seemed to be wearing a robe that cowled their features, looking like a robed and shadowed MST3K character.

“Right!” Paladin caught the drift, almost. “I means ‘rrriiight!’ Now, landlubbers . . . ”

“Space,” that same stage manager whispered loudly.

“Er . . . maties!”

“Coves,” hissed the front row cuer.

“Aaarrrgh!” Paladin roared. “This heeerrre paaarrrit language be haaarrrd!”

“Squawk!”

“What the hell?” Paladin growled. “Somebody shut that thing up befooorrre I haves to skewer the . . . squawky thing. I mean, squaaawwwky thing!”

“Jeez!” the heckler in the audience said. “This is the worst review ever!”

Paladin squinted again, stubbing its wooden sword toward the voice, a silent warning.

“Ignore the heckler,” the shadowy blob whispered.

“As I was saaayyying,” Paladin continued. “This heeerrre tale is a paaarrriting tale . . .”

“Squawk!”

“I swear to God I’m going to kill that thing!” Paladin roared, swiping its eyepatch up. There was, as expected, no eye underneath to patch.

“Review,” hissed the front row.

“Right. Okaaayyy. This tale be called ‘Revengeeerrr,’ and it be a daaarrring tale of danger, excitement, quoins apleeennnty, bauwwwbles and ghooosties that’ll give even seasoned coves a deep case of the shivery! Theeerrre be maidens in distress, and . . . ”

“Hardly!” laughed the heckler. “These girls don’t need help! Dude, they got it going ON!”

“One mooorrre outburst from you, diiirrrty cove, and I’ll make ye walk the plaaannnk!”

“You can’t do that!”

“Just ye wait and see,” Paladin squinted at his anonymous adversary. “Anyway, these two laaasssies get into big adventuuurrre in the Empty, beyooonnd the Congregation, out among the bauwwwbles. The eeevvvil Captain Bosa Sennen, flying the daaarrrk flag of the Nightjammeeerrr, she be capturing one o’them giiirrrls and fooorrrces heeerrr to . . . ”

“Would you PLEASE stop all that hokey, fake pirate talk!”

Paladin swung its sword, er, board at the voice. “I spent a lot of quoins and time to learn Paaarrrit language and . . . ”

“Squawk!”

Anyone who had not wandered out from sheer boredom at this point, suddenly found a healthy reason to be elsewhere, so the ruckus included falling chairs, punches, ouches, doors flung open, shoving, and one inappropriate horse neigh (which has nothing to do with anything and was surprising to everyone).

That left only the Pirate Droid Paladin, the heckler, the cowled stage director, a sprinking of gold flakes flitting around, and one other droid standing behind the heckler.

The heckler sat, frozen in place, one hand full of popcorn poised to dock with its mouth, staring at all the Empty that was just created inside the theatre. The heckler finished the docking maneuver, and then stood to look at the rest.

The Pirate Droid Paladin leaned on its sword’s blunt end on the stage, idly snapping its eyepatch against its domed head. Pull, “snap!” pull, “snap!” pull, . . .

The stage director sat in the front row, holding its head in its hands, shaking back and forth with frustration at this failed review of an important book by an important author.

The gold flakes flitted around, but oddly slow and halting, like it wasn’t sure what it was.

The other droid standing behind the heckler, three feet tall, silver with blue trimmings, domed swivelling head, simply mourned “Blooooooooo.” It had a parrot sitting on its head.

And Vonne got it.

Vonne, the heckler, asked Paladin, “What do you think you are, again?”

The droid muttered, “A paaarrrite, dammit!”

“Squawk!”

Vonne nodded. “Every time you say pirate in that stupid accent, this parrot thinks you’re calling it. It’s answering. Now stop it, please. And, please, get on with the review. I’ll leave you alone as long as you don’t talk stupid paaarrrit-ese.”

“Squawk!”

Paladin sighed, then looked at the stage manager. Have you ever seen a robot shrug? It’s weird. Those little gold flakes seemed like an unqualified and slightly annoying dust devil.

“Parental,” the stage manager cued.

“Right! So,” Paladin began, pedantically boring and board, er, bored. “This is a story heavily influenced by Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s basically pirates in space. It occurs at some distant time in the future. Many of the planets of the Solar System simply don’t exist anymore, but there are tens of thousands of small artificial worlds orbiting the Sun. Most of these artificial worlds are rubble, but there are many dozens of engineered worlds that probably at one time were asteroids, or bits of shattered planets.

“Because this is so far into the future, it is unlikely humans ever got away from their own System. The ravages of broken civilizations have left strange baubles floating among the debris. These baubles are ripe for mining by various adventurers who want to strike it rich. They are full of odd technologies that either descended from past human civilizations, or perhaps even created by a couple of alien civilizations who have passed through. One of these alien civilizations still plays a major role as bankers for humans, controlling the flow of quoins (and hopefully you are smart enough to make that connection).

“The story centers on two sisters. One, Adrana, is old enough to qualify to be an adult and make her own decisions. The other, Arafura, is 17. She is the voice of the story, and is familiarly known as Fura Ness (Ness being the last name). They escape from their overbearing father and ultimately board a scavenger ship that has missions to crack baubles and mine their jubbly (treasures).

“The bad paaarrrr — um, pirate is on a separate ship called the Nightjammer. At one point, this bad pirate, Bosa Sennen, overwhelms the ship the girls are on and takes Adrana for herself to pilot her own Nightjammer. Fura is left behind.

“Now, the way into the baubles is by ‘reading the bones.’ This means there are skulls that can communicate over vast distances in an unknown way, but it takes a young mind to ‘jack’ into them and understand the directions. Older one’s brains lose their elasticity and cannot do it. Both of the Ness girls have this ability, which is why Bosa took one of them captive. She needs a new Bone Reader.

“Fura embarks on a rescue operation to retrieve her sister and bring down the murderess Bosa Sessen. She signs on with a young and inexperienced salvage crew to be their Bone Reader. Ultimately, she leads them to a particularly nasty bauble named ‘Fang’ that holds many lucrative secrets, and will set the stage to, perhaps, rescue her older sister and end Bosa Sessen’s reign of terror.”

“Parental!” hissed the cowled stage manager, adamantly.

“Yes,” Paladin acknowledged. “There’s a couple of bits of interesting tech here. Something called catchcloth that makes up the sails that enable these space ships to catch various solar winds to maneuver around the solar system. Most catch photons, but the kind the WIndjammer uses catch electromagnetic winds, allowing it to be completely black and camouflaged.

“Another is lookstones. These are basically spyglasses that can look through solid matter and see things any other visual tool would be unable to see.”

“What about weapons?” the heckler called while munching popcorn. “How cool are they?”

“The Ghostie tech is particularly exciting,” Paladin began, “but very rare because . . . ”

“Stop it!” bellowed Vonne from the audience. “I want to hear about weapons. What kind of cool weaponry do space pirates normally use?”

“Um. . . that would be crossbows.”

“Crossbows?”

“Yes, but it’s cooler than it sounds.”

“Oh? How does it work?”

Paladin paused, thinking. “These crossbows are . . . um, . . . er, they shoot arrows really fast.”

Vonne stood, scattering popcorn everywhere. “That’s it?!?”

“Well, yes, but they are really, really fast.” Paladin’s pause ground to a full and complete stop; and if a robot could sigh, it would have.

“That’s it, I’m out of here!” Vonne declared and began scooting for the door.

The stage director hissed.

Paladin stood straighter, brandished its wood, waving it wildly above its head (which sounds vaguely obscene).

The little droid behind Vonne moved in closer, articulated arms unfolding from his carapace, pincer joints sparkling blue lightning, but very, very, threatening blue lightning. He intoned, “Blup, blip, bloop, brew!”

Vonne stopped, staring at the little droid with a parrot on top. “Artoo?”

“Bleep, bloop,” R2 confirmed.

Vonne stared, caught between Paladin with a wooden furring strip sword, and Artoo with a built in defibrillator hardly ever used for healing. “How did you get mixed up with this bunch?” He asked.

“Pooo-re-et,” Artoo said.

“Squawk!” echoed in the theatre.

Paladin spoke, “You are being directed, Anton, to sit and listen to the Parental Reviews and the rest of this review.”

“Ah, yes, about that. What if I don’t? What?” Vonne asked, “Are you going to whack me with your cheap piece of wood, or make sweet Artoo here give me a tingle? Doesn’t sound very piratey to me.”

“Sit!” intoned the stage director, not even rising from his own seat to sound magnificent, stately, commanding, god-ish.

Vonne sat.

Paladin continued, “There’s no mooorrre of the stooorrry I can reveal, cove, because that would be spoileeerrrs, and they be not peeerrrmitted!”

“Oh, god, the paaarrrit speak again,” Vonne muttered.

“Squawk!

“Paaarrrents,” Paladin cried. “There be no vulgaaarrrities in this story. There be no baaarrreness or sex in this story. Aye, but there be a wee bit of violence, lad, or else how could this be a proper paaarrrite story!”

“Squawk!”

“A wee bit?” Vonne rose again. “Bloody hand to hand combat isn’t a wee bit!”

“Aaarrrgh, but it be in space and all!” Paladin retooorrrted.

“Decapitation? Skewering in various ways? That’s not a wee bit!”

“Alright,” Paladin conceded. “Let’s compromise around, say, a wee-bit-squared, shall we?”

Vonne was adamant. “Is this a YA novel, or not?!”

Paladin hedged, quirking eyebrows it doesn’t have over the eye patch it doesn’t need. “For a young-ish audience. How be that, then?”

“I guess . . .” Vonne allowed, nodding.

“But!” Paladin brightened, brandishing its wood. “Wasn’t it fun?!?”

“Yeah, yeah, true. It is a blast,” Vonne agreed. “So, you recommend it, then?”

‘Of course,” Paladin said. “Because – as everyone knows – whens you wants fun, it helps to be paaarrrites!” It began cavorting around the stage, in spite of its wheel and peg leg, singing. This sounded like “screech, stomp, ‘Rum,’ screech, stop, ‘Rum.’

“Squawk!”

“That’s it!” Vonne yelled. “You aren’t pirates!”

Paladin stopped cavorting, and raised its wooden sword. Artoo moved closer behind Vonne, threatening with crackling electricity and blooping, “Bloop!”

“Methinks,” Paladin sneered. “It be time ye waaalllked the plaaannnk, Anton!”

“Oh?” Vonne asked. “Artoo isn’t going to make that happen because he’s too nice. In fact, R2 is so nice, he gets to be called a “he,” while you’re stuck in “it-“dom. And you can’t make me because you have a peg leg and one wheel and I’ll be long gone before you even get here.”

The stage manager rose, turned, and released his cowl, revealing his face and his true identity. “Oh,” he said, making a mystical hand wave. “These are not the droids you’re looking for.”

“Obi?”

“How can I be of service to . . . ” the golden sprite said, taking off it’s Ghostie helmet, which had obscured his identity. “Er, should I call you Lord or Lady?” C3-PO asked, a cocked golden head floated above an invisible suit of armor. The joint areas were exposed, which made up the golden sprite that had been jerking around the auditorium.

“Um, Vonne?”

“As a protocol droid, I am able to converse in thousands of languages, many digital, including paaarrrit-ese.”

“Squawk!”

“So,” C3-PO continued. “I have been ordered to assist you to walk the plank. Please come with me now, Vonne.” C3-PO reached out an invisible hand and grabbed the heckler’s arm.

“But, but, you still can’t make me walk the plank,” Vonne said.

“Oh?” Paladin asked. “Why be that then?”

“Because,” Vonne answered, “On this WordPress website, I never got around to installing the Plank plugin. There is no plank.”

“Oh, Vonne,” C3-PO responded, pulling on his arm. “Remember those digital languages I know?”

“Aha!” Paladin roared. “We win, coves, because we be paaarrrits!”

“Squawk!” the parrot and Vonne screamed in unison.

26 November 2016

VA

Friends We Don’t Know We Have

Yesterday, my spouse and I were leaving Costco, which meant walking by their Food Court. Neither one of us felt good, and was simply trying to support each other so we made it through the day together. We were talking, so I was not looking when I heard this:

“Sir? Can you help me, please?” I turned to my right and saw the speaker, a white woman approximately 60 years old, sitting on a bench, with a man – presumably her husband – slouched against her. I got the impression she had barely managed to get him to the bench on time.

“Can anyone call 911?!” she shouted.

My phone appeared in my hand and the buttons were punched.

“Please call 911,” she pleaded.

I stepped closer to them, and said as calmly as possible, “It’s done.” I was waiting for an answer.

The man began to slump further, almost sliding off the bench, and the woman was desperately trying to hang on to him. He was bigger than me, but if I grabbed him it might stabilize the situation. I snuggled up close, trying to prop him with one hand while preparing to speak to the 911 operator.

Someone said, “Let’s get him to lay down.”

Just as I heard the words, “911, please state the nature of your emergency,” the man began to slip onto the floor. I handed my phone to my spouse and said, “Handle it.” While they tried to explain what was going on I had my hands full of a big man falling into my embrace, his wife continuing to clutch at him.

“Don’t let him fall!” she cried.

“I’ve got him. No one’s going to fall,” I said, giving him a bear hug and easing him to the floor where he would lay for the next several minutes.

“Grab him by the head!”

“Don’t worry, he’s safe,” I said. Now he was stretched out on the floor, with my hands cradling his head.

The floor of Costco is cold cement. I didn’t know what was happening. Epileptic seizure, diabetic faint, heart attack, stroke? Whatever it was, his head wasn’t going to touch the hard, cold floor on my watch. His eyes were open, frightened. We locked gazes and I smiled in what I hope was a reassuring manner.

A crowd was gathering. Two Costco employees, other well-meaning people, mostly women.

I heard through the hubbub and frantic speech, “Medical . . . can I help?” A woman’s voice.

I looked up. A nice, young, dark woman wearing a hajib. “Yes,” I said. “Are you a doctor?”

“I’m a medical student. Can I help, please?”

The man’s wife and several others were babbling to her and over her, none of it making sense to me. The man gasped, and I looked down. We locked gazes again and he calmed.

Lots of thoughts ran through my head. Mostly, how much medical training has she actually received? One year, two, how much did she know? The answer: A hell of a lot more than I did. I kept the man’s gaze because it seemed to keep him calm and hoped his wife was telling the nice lady what was happening.

Then another voice called from my right. “I’m a paramedic. Let me in.” A white man approximately 60 years old crouched beside me and rested his hand on the man’s chest, gauging something. Heartbeat? Respiration?

“Do you know where you are?” he asked the man on the floor.

And the patient uttered his first words, still looking at me. “Yeth, Cothco.” Slurred speech. His face seemed slack on the left side. A stroke, then.

The paramedic began directing my spouse things to tell 911, who were still on the line.

I found out later that 911 didn’t understand where this Costco was by its major cross streets. They needed a physical address, which we didn’t know. But, one of the employees gathered at the scene dictated the street address, giving time for the paramedic to quickly evaluate the situation and provide more instructions.

“What’s your wife’s name?” the paramedic asked him. The man answered, but I couldn’t understand it. I was too busy just keeping him calm.

Things got quieter suddenly. Not because there wasn’t a lot of activity and people fretting anxious words. No, quieter because this man and I were definitely connecting and it felt like there was only the two of us here now.

I was saying things like, “You’ll be okay.”

He grimaced, uttering a swear word, and said, “Embarrathed. Thorry.”

“Don’t be. These things happen sometimes. We’ve got you. Try to see how many friends you have that you didn’t know about until now. The medical team is on the way. You’ll be fine.”

Someone brandished a blanket, and said, “Here, put this under his head.” And it was so. I no longer needed to cradle his head.

The EMT’s siren could be heard. I’m not sure if it was some kind of walky-talky squawk, or over the store intercom, but someone said, “Direct them to the Food Court immediately.”

“See? They’re here. Rest now. Just lay there and relax. We’ve got you. You’re safe.”

The man closed his eyes and sighed in relief.

The paramedic said, “I’ll stay here until the emergency response team arrives.”

I nodded, and my spouse and I moved out of the way. The wife said, “Thank you so much.”

My spouse acknowledged it by saying, “No problem. Hope he’s okay.”

I was no longer looking at anyone. No, I was looking for someone. Only she wasn’t there anymore. What happened to her? Where had she gone? More importantly, why had she gone?

We left, allowing room for more experienced people to do their jobs. I do not know the woman and her husband, nor even know their names. They don’t know us either. I’m fine with that. Anonymity feels right. We don’t need affirmation of our humanity. I am glad my spouse was there for support and teamwork.

My feelings were – oddly not for the stroke patient – but for that medical student in the hajib who had offered help. The paramedic had arrived a moment later, and she had disappeared. Why? Did someone reject her because of her religion? Her race? Had an older white guy paramedic just taking over cause her to just leave? What was she thinking right now? Was she thinking we didn’t care about her, wouldn’t listen to her, and didn’t want her help? She would be wrong on all those counts, at least on my part.

Then my feelings went to despair. Why was I worrying about her more than the stroke victim? He was getting experienced help. But who was comforting her?

Why was this bothering me?

Answer: Because of the stressful, fearful, and hate ridden climate in this country right now. It was changing me. It was affecting me. I am now hyper concerned for those who might seem “Other.” I had not worried much about that before.

I am not aware of any biases within myself. It doesn’t mean they aren’t there. It just means I don’t think along those lines and may be unaware of how my surroundings have influenced me.

But I do know this: All of this panicking about these fears is not helping us be better people. It is really getting in the way of our humanity and our acceptance of other humans. And I’m wearied by it.

So, to the nice medical student in the hajib: Thank you. Thank you for caring. Thank you for overcoming your fear. Thank you for just being you. I don’t know you, but I am grateful people like you are around me. You are a friend I didn’t know I had. A friend that none of those at Costco knew they had. Thank you.

Oh, and thank you, strange white man paramedic.

23 November 2016

VA

Broken Gnus: James Bond Diagnosed With Multiple Personality Disorder

That’s right; I’m reviewing all things Bondy!

But wait, you might declare, Bond ain’t SF! Um, actually, yes he is. Think about it: gadgets, outer space stuff, rockets, cool transformer cars, and schemes to destroy the planet. That’s SF, folks!

I’m going to – like a fine laser beam – focus on comparing the books with the movies with the actors with the angles with the times with the . . . you’re right, I lost focus. More of a microwave oven beam. Beam-ish? I promise to drink lots of Jim Beam while writing this. But let’s see where all this rambling takes us, shall we? I guarantee some of your expectations will prove to be little more than myth, and others mythters.

In undertaking this endeavor, I felt it obsequious (you’ll want to look that word up) to stick to the Bond created by Ian Fleming, and not venture into the dozens of novels or short stories that several authors have written post-Fleming. Yes, we will stay focused on the REAL James Bond, as his creator meant him to be, at least, until we can’t anymore because, after all, that would be insane!

The Bond that Mr. Fleming wrote about had dark hair and blue eyes, was a little over six feet tall. That means Daniel Craig was a mistake because he’s blond. But let’s not discard Mr. Craig over that because that would be blond profiling and would be wrong.

To illustrate this, consider four Bond tropes:

  • His drink of choice, the famous “vodka martini – shaken, not stirred.” In reality, Bond drank everything. Beer, champagne, wine, vodka neat, whiskey; you name it, he’d drink it. The classic drink is a myth. Oh yes, he did order it once in the books, but that’s it. The main point to Bond’s character is that he was a working alcoholic. I actually tried one of his vodka quirks. On one occasion he ordered it neat, and then shook some black pepper into it for flavor. It tasted like raw vodka with pepper in it. Not all that. Craig drinks all of them, and doesn’t care how you feel about Heineken.
  • Cars, the famous Aston Martin DB-5. Actually, he only drove this once. As a spy, he often reported into the “Stations” set up in various countries by the Foreign Office. These stations were small offices with a managing officer and another spy-flunky used for menial work and to have a token good guy get killed. Think Star Trek Redshirt Guy, only with a suit and a strange accent. When Bond reported into these stations, he would drive whatever pool car they had available. Once it was the famous Aston Martin. His personal car was a big V-12 Bentley Town car. It was not bullet proof, but was a hefty chunk of steel. It didn’t have any gadgetry, or rockets, but it did know how to get north of 100 mph when required. Craig has even driven a FORD, fergodsakes!
  • Weapons, the Walter PPK handgun. In reality, he did like this gun, but had to be forced to use it in Dr. No because all the service agents were being upgraded to it. In the four books that preceded this one, he used a Beretta 318, which he dearly loved, as this is the weapon he had used during his military service. He didn’t even have a gun often, but could turn anything available into a weapon. While we’re on this subject, let’s look at his “License to Kill,” which is what the Double-0 designated. What this meant was that, if the job required it, he was officially approved by the British government to assassinate whomever the mission designated. The government might disavow any involvement, but he would get a private commendation or medal. Craig presents himself as an assassin more than the others did.
  • Girls! Did Bond actually get all the girls? Only the ones he wanted to get. In Moonraker, the “Bond Girl” (with the unfortunate moniker of Dr. Holly Goodhead) was engaged to an English bobby policeman. So she was off limits as far as he was concerned. Not because she was engaged, but because she was engaged to a cop, or fellow officer, in his mind. His moral scruples went only as far as his country was concerned. In the course of the novel, both get all their clothes flensed off their bodies by being in the rocket chamber when it lifted off, but they found overalls to wear to protect her reputation. Craig is the only Bond who doesn’t necessarily even want the girl.

And while we’re on this subject, let’s talk about sex and nudity. In the novels, he managed to get naked in every one, even if alone in the shower or sleeping in the nude. Many of the Bond girls were naked also. The famous Honey Ryder in Dr. No (played in a white bikini by Ursula Andress) was originally completely naked and seemed unaware that she was naked when first meeting Bond. She was kind of like Eve, the innocent diver woman, unaware of her nudity. It was From Russia, With Love that brought full blown sex into the literary narrative. In that novel, the sex is fairly explicit, even having the Girl – Tatiana Romanova – nude, spreading her legs and inviting him to join her.

In short, an interesting point is that all of these would have been rated R for sex, nudity, and violence if they attempted to stay true to the novels. There was a lot of creative monkeying around with the stories to get the PG or PG-13 rating they ended up with.

But the monkeying around didn’t stop there. Scenes were chopped out of one movie, and found themselves bewilderingly in another movie. For instance, in For Your Eyes Only, Bond and the girl, Melina Havelock, are dragged through the ocean over coral and sharks and both are mostly clothed. But this didn’t happen in the novel. No, it happened in Live and Let Die, and Bond was wearing boxers, while Solitaire (Jane Seymour in the movie) was completely nude. Since this was Roger Moore’s first Bond role, he looked bewildered. Jane Seymour just looked pretty. Both were clothed.

See? We ended up getting into the movies anyway!

Worst monkeying of all goes to The Spy Who Loved Me. This novel is written in the first person by the Bond Girl – Vivienne Michel – who is trying to get a hotel business up and running in Virginia when gangsters take over. Bond checks in as a guest on his way home from Thunderball, saves the girl, kills the mob, etc. The movie version of this involves an encryption devise, a Russian spy named Triple X (the gorgeous Barbara Bach), and preventing a nuclear strike. The book and the novel have nothing to do with each other except a title. NOTHING! As far as movies go, this was the first one to become more overtly sexual in nature.

One of the highlights from all of these is the accidental ways Bond escapes serious injury. In the novels, almost every one ends up with him being in the hospital convalescing from his injuries. He gets burned, beaten, shot, beaten, stabbed, beaten, strangled, did I mention beaten? Apparently Bond was not such a great fighter.

The very first Bond book was Casino Royale. The very first Bond film was . . . drum roll, please . . . Casino Royale! Didn’t see that coming, did you? Most people think Dr. No was the first movie made, but no. An episode of the dramatic anthology series Climax!, which was a one-hour presentation of various stories, 1954’s Casino Royale was the first screen adaptation of a James Bond novel and stars Barry Nelson as 007 and Peter Lorre as Le Chiffre. Peter Lorre set the standard for Bond villains, evil, charming, slimy, etc. Barry Nel – WHO?

In fact, Casino Royale has been made THREE times, more than any other Bond movie. In 1967, David Niven played an aged, retired Bond in a spoof. Orson Welles, Ursula Andress, Woody Allen and the great Peter Sellers were along for the ride, with Peter Sellers playing Evelyn Tremble aka James Bond, 007 (yes, two Bonds for the price of one!). This satire begins psychedelically and ends outrageously psychedelically, almost defying explanation or coherence. This also set the standard for many Bond movies: to start out with a coherent mission and end in a messy mud puddle of incoherence.

By the way, the only other Bond movie that has been remade (to date) is Thunderball. After many years away from the role because he had said he would NEVER play Bond again, Sean Connery reprised the role in a Warner Bros production called Never Say Never Again, making the joke on him. It was a more updated version of Thunderball with Kim Basinger as Domino Largo. It should be noted that Klaus Maria Brandauer plays the deliriously great villain, Maximilian Largo. This is worth it just for him.

Let’s list the actors to play Bond, and rank them! Yes, yes, I know, you will disagree. Good for you! America, free speech, and all that.

Barry Nelson, Sean Connery, David Niven, Peter Sellers, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig have all contributed to the legend that is James Bond, 007. Nine of them!

Barry Nelson’s Casino Royale Bond was okay, but weak on action. After all, it was the dull 50’s and everything came in either black or white, so they chose both colors to make this one. David Niven and Peter Sellers were great, but that wasn’t a real Bond movie, but a satire. So, we’ll take those three out of contention, largely because most people don’t know anything about them.

Connery seems to be the quintessential Bond, but honestly, that’s only because he is the original one that people remember. He had too many accidental wins to get the real Bond feel. He looked like the real Bond, and could be as calculating, but mostly took advantage of sudden and fortuitous events to ultimately win the day.

George Lazenby wasn’t bad at all. In fact, I think On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a MUST see Bond film. His opening line is a hoot. Then, in both the novel and the film, gets married but loses his wife to an assassination. This pivotal event affects the character like no other, revealing more personal details than ever presented earlier.

Roger Moore played him far too silly.

Timothy Dalton was a serious Bond, and more of a spy. Actually, he was pretty good, but he failed to elicit enough humor, which Bond did have.

Pierce Brosnan was also good, and I liked that his Bond wasn’t afraid to hit a woman, because the real Bond did it often. But he was far too polished. Bond could dress up nice, but most people understood he could get rough in a hurry. Brosnan just looks so dang neat!

Daniel Craig’s Bond is the closest. He doesn’t look like him, but his sardonic humor and thug-like attitude is pure Bond. Too, Craig gets it that Bond used women, used weapons, and used anyone and anything at hand. However, too much of Craig is personal vendettas.

And – SHOCK – the films with Craig are just awful. There, I said it. Someone had to. It’s not his fault, but the Director and Producers seem to want to make some sort of art house films, and that is not what Bond is. I recently watched Spectre, and have no idea what that was about. It ended in a chaotic mess. Dramatic music, loud action, incomprehensible dialogue. Life is short and I want my 2-1/2 hours back.

So, ranking in order: Brosnan (neatness will be overlooked), Craig, Connery, Dalton, Lazenby, and Moore. The hardest ones are Connery, Dalton, and Lazenby. You could rearrange all three of them and I’d likely say, “Mmm, I see your point.” Connery gets third place just because – he is James Bond, after all, right? Most of you are mad I didn’t list him first.

Actors take a love/hate attitude toward playing the character. They all want to, because their egos tell them only THEY can invest something new and different into the iconic role. Then they all don’t want to anymore, because – really – this character is far too big for all of them, let alone one. It ends up claiming their careers, and they want to branch out as actors. Go back over that list of actors. You can probably name something different they did, but I’ll bet their names conjure up their role as Bond first. Bond makes careers and then breaks careers.

You know why? Because Bond has a multiple personality disorder. He’s nuts, dangerous, and doesn’t make much sense.

That’s what I like about him.

21 November 2016

VA

Making Medicare Healthier

So, there it is.

A new President-Elect who doesn’t like the ACA. Actually, what he said in his acceptance speech was, “We’re going to get rid of Obamacare and replace it with something better!” Mysterious, isn’t it? What did he mean by that? Replace it? With what? Something better? Better for whom?

First of all, let’s get some “Definitions and Explanations” out of the way. Then you’ll be treated to something “Personal” about yours truly. You’ll hear an “Opinion” of mine. You’ll learn a “Fact” you might not be aware of, in the form of a contrast between two very close nations. And, finally, you’ll hear a “Simple Fix,” along with some adjunct “Consequences.”

DEFINITIONS AND EXPLANATIONS

Medicare is available to anyone over 65 (retirement age), or disabled. It’s basically an 80/20 proposition wherein the guvmint pays 80% of medical costs, while the citizen pays 20%. For a long time it did not include medications, which were becoming increasingly expensive, so a change was required.

Back in the early 20-aughts, there was this unlikely President with the unlikely moniker of G-Dubya who addressed that shortcoming. That’s known as Medicare Part D, and for a small-ish extra deduction, the citizen got prescription meds at a better price. Though Insurance companies were always trolling under the surface of Medicare, they stepped boldly into Part D and the citizen had to pick a plan.

This led to an outcry for national health care, and President Obama tried to get that past Congress and a bevy of lobbyists. Originally, it was called the Affordable Health Care Act (or, AHCA). It would be underwritten by Insurance companies, but there would be a “public option” for the citizen to choose the guvmint, and the guvmint would be the arbiter of how expensive the Insurance companies could charge and expect to get a meaningful piece of that pie. Unfortunately, the Insurance Lobby didn’t like that idea, so they refused to underwrite any of it while that public option was on the table. President Obama caved and removed this “single-payer health care system;” the Insurance Lobby got on board; chaos reigned among the citizenry because there were now too many bewildering options. Oh, and the deduction from Medicare income got bigger.

Somewhere along the line, the acronym for this was reduced to ACA (Affordable Care Act). Why they took the word “Health” out of it is a mystery, but there it is. Actually, in time the truth would come out. By putting the citizenry’s health care under the auspices of the Insurance companies, there are now conflicts about what will be covered, co-pays, formulary’s, etc, that allow the Insurance companies to play doctor. It was never really an Affordable Health Care Act because it was really an Affordable Health Insurance Act. The difference between “Care” and “Insurance” is significant. The citizens had no choice, because it became a crime punishable by a fine to not have insurance.

As time went on, it’s even lost its “Affordable” status, as Insurance companies are deserting segments of the population, and/or raising their premiums. In Arizona, Maricopa County — where Phoenix is — now has only two choices. In Pinal County to our south, they have NO choices. Senators McCain and Flakes are trying to enact an exception to the law that exempts such citizens from being punished.

So, now it is basically merely an “Act,” in so many, many ways.

PERSONAL REVEAL

I am disabled. I depend on this “Act” for some semblance of care. I have skin in this game. So, there it is.

OPINION

Any wealthy, progressive nation should assume responsibility to keep its citizenry healthy. America is wealthy, though “progressive” is in doubt at the moment. Many nations far less wealthy than the USofA provide for their citizen’s health.

You may have a different opinion, and that is fine. Go build your own website, meditate, then blog about your opinion over there. Invite me to have a look. Free speech and all that. So, there it is.

FACT

This will surprise many! According to a report dated 4 June 2009, published by the Denver Post, Americans spent 17% of their income on health care and only 85% of the population actually had coverage. Meanwhile, in Canada, they spent 10% of their income on health care in the form of a tax, and 100% of the population was covered. I tried to compile more current results, but the deeper you get into this, the more complicated it becomes; mainly because the Canadian tax is diluted across many expenses that have nothing to do with healthcare, and determining exactly how much of it goes to health care is like counting cards in a casino. They probably won’t throw you out of the country for that, though. After all, it’s Canada. So, for simplicity’s sake, we’ll go with this easier contrast.

Think about that fact. 17% versus 10%. 85% coverage versus 100% coverage. Add to it the reality that many Americans run both the southern and northern border for cheaper medications, and it won’t take long to figure out we are suckers. So, there it is.

SIMPLE FIX

Currently, President-Elect Trump and Speaker of the House Ryan are thinking about dissolving Medicare and replacing it with something called Privatization Insurance. In other words, the guvmint will give us a check that can be used to buy private insurance, even though it won’t cover the whole cost.

Currently, if you have Medicare now, you are not going to lose it. At least, that’s what we’re told. The Privatization Insurance will be for those going on Medicare in the future. What form this could actually take is unclear – mainly because lobbyists, congress folk, a new prez who doesn’t want to dissolve Medicare – all still will get a crack at it.

There is a much easier solution. Considering we already have the infrastructure called Medicare, it would be easier to expand it to all citizens. All of us can accept a – oh, compare the contrast under FACT and pick something between 10 and 17 percent – 13 or 14% health care tax. Everyone pays it, and health care is provided to all the citizens. Yes, the richer will pay more, but will have the joy and personal satisfaction of knowing they are helping their fellow citizens be healthier. (Sound naïve? Sure. But, this is exactly how Canadians view it. A healthier population helps those richer ones to become even richer due to improved working conditions.)

FIVE CONSEQUENCES

  • Insurance companies will get out of the doctor business and remain in the car, property, home, economic, and life business. There will be masses of lay-offs from this industry. However, the guvmint will need masses of extra staff that are already trained to do this, so virtually no-one needs to be unemployed.
  • The guvmint will need to establish qualifications for whom or what “approved health care providers” are, and regulate them.
  • The guvmint will need to regulate the pharmaceutical companies regarding how much profit they will allow the drug companies to make selling their drugs to the guvmint.
  • The expansion of the guvmint program, and regulating the medical industry, will drive fiscal conservatives stark, raving ga-ga.
  • Insurance Lobbyists will be invited to leave politicians alone, which will mean no more money mysteriously shifting from pocket to pocket. Now this one really IS naïve.

And there you have it. A simplified universal health care plan that would work, but no self-serving bureaucrat would ever let it become a reality. I think Bernie Sanders would have loved it.

So, there it is.

VA

14 November 2016

Review: Paternus by Dyrk Ashton

Paternus

by Dyrk Ashton

Guest Reviewer: Beelzebub, Lord of the Flies

Welcome, welcome, come on in! Have a seat! Pardon the flies; someone dropped a load in here earlier, and you know how much them flies likes them some dung, eh?

I’m Beelzebub, and Vonne has hired me to be the guest reviewer today. I’m more generous than Vonne is, because . . . you guessed it! Hot, fresh pizza in the back, and I brought one of my slav…er, Orc Gentleman’s Orc, to pour Dos Equis Amber into cold frosty mugs for you! It’ll stay nice until this review is over, which won’t take long.

In Paternus, the author hired all these gods, demons, succubi (is that the correct plural of succubus? I don’t know. I’m not a writer. I’m an artist. Yep, I can draw flies! Badabing! I’ll be here all weekend, thank you!), anyway all these demigods, uber-gods, even vampires and werewolves to tear the place up. I think me, Trump, and Clinton were the only ones not hired. The other two are busy, and Dyrk still hasn’t forgiven me for arranging those Jay Leno skits for him. Crybaby.

Basically, there’s a supernatural civil war on, kind of an immortal family feud, and a couple of people get caught up in it, and dragged along for the party. These two people are just twentysomething humans, or are they? Maybe not! You’ll see. The action gets hot and heavy in the last two thirds of the story, so if you like chases, battles, miraculous escapes, battles, intrigue, battles, shocking reveals, and did I mention battles? Then you will love this! Good versus evil on an epic scale, as you’ve never seen before!

A few things to be warned about: first, this is book one of a trilogy, so don’t expect everything to be tied up in neat packages for you. There are plenty of loose ends in this epic that should keep you interested for some time. And …

Please stop swatting the flies. I’m their Lord and they start whining at me to save them, droning on and on. Just leave them alone. Remember, I am their Lord? Don’t make me come down there and save them. You won’t like it. Thank you.

Second, this is not a novel for kids. How many here are parents? Oh, lots. Great! Vonne says I have to give parental advisories. Here they are:

Profanity: Yep. Check that one. Lots, but not pervasive f-bombs. However, if you were experiencing what these two humaniforms are going through, you’d probably be swearing yourself into a slapfest from your mother, too.

Sex/Nudity: Some. One masturbatory scene, and a bizarre memory that will be discussed under “Themes.”

Violence: Gobs of gore! Decapitations, dismemberments, entrails, ichor, enough blood to fill my Hades-sized very, very hot-tub. Splatters and brain bits everywhere; even the gobs are covered in gore.

Themes: Occult, spiritism, all kinds of evil in many forms. That one memory alluded to earlier under “Sex/Nudity” is one of the characters remembering being sodomized by their parents when young.

So, not for children, huh?

Speaking of children, will the Mexicans here please raise their hands? Ah, there you are! Great to see you! Okay, all you other people can stop sacrificing your children to me. White kids just taste like lard; black ones like catfish — whaddup wi’dat, anyway? —  asian ones just make me feel hungry again in two hours. But you Mexican ones! OMG — well, more like OYG (Oh, Your God) — I loves me some Mexican food! Keep it up, people! That’s some fine eating, right there!

There are three giant problems I have with this story. First, no mention of the Big Guy, Your God. We are led to believe Peter is the Father, but even he references God as someone else, so I’m a bit confused on that point. But, it’s a trilogy, so we’ll see.

Second, that sodomy scene: normally kids that are abused like this are not balanced, reasonable human beings. They are seriously messed up. But, this memory belongs to the most balanced, reasonable character in the milieu. That just doesn’t jibe. I hope it’s not just gratuitous sicko; can’t see how the author will make it relevant in the two installments to follow, but Dyrk’s got oodles of imagination, so we’ll see.

And third, no mention of me anywhere. I know! Go figure! Well, I do get a shout out in the Bible – one from Jesus himself – yet Dyrk isn’t mentioned anywhere in that perennial bestseller. Take that, Baldy! It’s a trilogy, so maybe cut me in on a little of that action later. Deal?

Oh, Vonne wanted me to read you this notice about the author, Dyrk Ashton, It says:

“When I first stepped into social media to enter the SF/F fray, one of the first people to follow my lunacy was Dyrk Ashton. He is generous, warm-hearted, friendly, and very funny. I have never met him personally, but hope to one day. Upon seeing him, I will give him a big hug … then shine his bald head … and give him a wedgie. That’s how we roll. With affection and gratitude, Vonne Anton.”

There you go, folks. That’s it! BTW, Dyrk self-published and is self-promoting this novel, so give the guy some love by buying this and reading it to your children so that they never sleep, won’t go near their closets, and grow up frightened and warped burdens on society, freeloading on death row. Meanwhile, be amazed at the depth and breadth of the author’s research. It is astonishing!

Go get some pizza and beer, everybody! Oh, wait … What? . . . oh my. Um, well we can strain the flies out of the beer; and be careful of the pizza. Those might not be black olives. “Shoo fly, shoo! Shoo fly, don’t bother them! You too, review reader pest, shoo!”

BZB for VA

5 November 2016

Review: Death’s End by Cixin Liu

Death’s End

By Cixin Liu

Translated by Ken Liu

So, there’s this trilogy by a renowned Chinese SF writer named Cixin Liu, who probably doesn’t have enough room in his home for all the awards he’s won.

The first volume, The Three-Body Problem, won the Hugo in 2015 for Best Novel. It was basically about a strange star-system with inhabitants, called Trisolarans because they have three suns, of intimidating technology who hear Earth shouts for attention. They provide that attention by sending two fleets to overwhelm Earth and take it for themselves. They, at light speed, send out unfolded particles called Sophons that are basically computers to spy on Earth and prevent humans from developing further technology that might make us more dangerous. It was very good, and deserved the Hugo it won.

The second volume, Dark Forest, was released the same year and wasn’t nominated for any awards. Dark forest is a strategy that emerging species wisely practice. It doesn’t announce itself to the galaxy, but continues to build technology until there is the inevitable confrontation. The idea is to stay isolated and unknown for as long as possible. It was okay, but had some pretty silly premises and downright bad science on occasion. It didn’t really deserve any awards, but did deserve reading.

This third and final volume, Death’s End, is an epic tome! 600 pages of dense action and info-dumps to bring the whole thing to a conclusion, literally at the end of the universe. Normally, I can read a book like this in a week. This one took a month. Yeah, like that.

So, now is REVIEW TIME! (Can’t you hear the trumpets blaring?) We will begin with short parental advisories; then a summary of this with as few spoilers as possible; some faults and praises, which probably will involve some spoilage; and finally, my take on its award potential.

Parental Advisories:

Language/ Profanity: Perhaps 2 f-bombs, and that’s it.

Sex / Nudity: None.

Violence: Some and it can be gory in a couple of places. However, the author treats this with the shock any normal human SHOULD have, and does not glorify it, nor wallow in it.

Suggestion: If you have a bright young one who wants to tackle this, it is probably okay without you reading it first. However, many of the concepts are difficult to envision, and that might be good for them to try and discern. It certainly will be educational. And quite boring in places, so tenacity will be required.

Summary:

Part One of this book takes place during the same time as Dark Forest, but from a different angle. That one was about the Wallfacer Project to deter the impending invasion. This begins during that time, but with another scheme called the Staircase Program that is acting separately. This program has the objective of meeting the invading fleets and planting a spy amongst them. It seems to fail, but is quite interesting in its practical application for accelerating space ships quickly through the Solar System.

Part Two follows the successor to Luo Ji as Wallfacer as the fleet nears. She is supposed to send a signal into the galaxy with the invader’s coordinates, insuring that their own home star will be destroyed if they attack. She fails. However, out at the edge of the Solar System, two human-crewed space ships send out the signal, and the Trisolaran’s sun is hit with a photoid, destroying their System. Unfortunately, this transmission endangers Earth also, because it generally provides triangulation for more powerful aliens to find Earth and destroy it also. The Trisolarans flee in terror, having lost their own world and unwilling to face the consequences to our world.

Part Three is unraveling three fairy tales that the spy sent humans, giving clues of how to defend themselves. No one really understands the symbolism throughout them. Humans embark on two more projects: The Bunker project, which involves building space cities behind the gas giant planets, to provide shields if the Sun is destroyed by the unknown super-aliens. And the Black Domain Plan, which involves slowing the speed of light around the Solar System, so it appears to not exist. Neither one will ultimately work. Another option was attaining FTL drive by space curvature technology, but the dangers make it unrealistic, and so this research is outlawed.

Part Four explores those space cities, touring many of them to show off the variety that is possible, the population, and even why Earth is relatively empty of people now because most folks are afraid of the dark forest strike they believe may be coming. One of those cities has clandestinely continued working on FTL drive, and has to stand down or be destroyed.

Part Five opens with the dark forest strike being sent Earthward. It enters the Solar System appearing to be a small slip of paper. However, it defies the known laws of physics, and humans try hard to figure out what is going on. Too late. We learn that the protagonist’s ship has been outfitted with a proscribed FTL space curvature engines, and is the only ship that can escape.

Part Six follows the main character as she escapes the System and heads out into the galaxy, skipping ahead through hibernation until the Universe’s entropy collapses. How will they be saved? Sorry, that’s just too much spoilage. Those fairy tales are clearly explained, which is pretty great!

Faults and Praises (with spoilers, so get lost now if you don’t want them):

Fault: The science in this is front and center, which makes the bad science jump out at you and go, “Boo!” Once again, we see people firing rifles and pistols in weightlessness without any recoil or spinning backward, but if a man uses a cane in weightlessness, it keeps sending him into the air.

Praise: The science in this is AWESOME! The author will spend quite a lot of time trying to explain four dimensions to three dimensional people, then describing two dimensions also! It is quite evocative.

Fault: The author will spend QUITE A LOT of pages explaining all that dimensional stuff. BORING! Give us one good example, not five bad ones.

Praise: The scale of this story is EPIC! There are so many cool extrapolations of ideas that this book is rapid-fire one after the other.

Fault: The scale of this story is SO EPIC that it is hard to contain. There is enough here for five novels, let alone one. It’s overwhelming.

Praise: The difficult decisions the protagonist is faced with are enormous. The fate of humanity literally weighs in the balance.

Fault: The protagonist is uneven in how she deals with these decisions. Ultimately, she fails more times than succeeds.

Praise: Doesn’t matter. A few humans will survive and she will be one of them.

Fault: When explaining all those dimensional things, we are told that what a shuttle has already done is quite improbable if not impossible. Then it does it AGAIN! What? Two tries to go from four dimensions to three and nail your target? Sorry. Not happening.

Another Fault: At the end of Part Two, we have detailed the efforts of two space ships at the edge of the Solar System to explore those dimensions. They decide to leave the System because the Earth is doomed. Some don’t want to go, so they construct and ark and send it inward to Earth. That ark disappears from the novel completely. We have to assume from then on that they arrived at Earth, simply to explain how Earth suddenly knows about four-dimensional qualities. No message is sent to explain it, so they must have arrived. It’s just not mentioned.

Another Fault: Those two ships appear in the final act in other parts of the galaxy, and somehow they know about and have built curved space FTL propulsion. They were gone from the Solar System before that was addressed. How?!? Where would they find the ability to do research, testing, and development of the exact same method of FTL that Earth developed?

In other words, if I had enough Vaseline I could probably slide a locomotive through the plot holes in this novel. I’ve only listed three of them. There are more. However, it is gratifying that the author ties up many loose ends. There were just too many to tie up.

At the end Ken Liu, the highly esteemed author and translator of this, praises Cixin Liu as a genius. I have to agree with him. The man is a genius. He could use a genius editor who will keep him in check, making wiser uses for Liu’s genius. It’s interesting that Ken Liu began the work with footnotes to help western readers understand some nuances of Chinese language. Then we hear nothing from him until the last 100 pages, when the footnotes return. There are about 350 pages of this that needed footnotes, but doesn’t get them. Though Ken Liu will never say, nor should he, I suspect the tedium of this work wore him down. He’s got his own stuff to do. He was probably paid a handsome fee, and you don’t piss in your bosses Cheerios, so kudos.

The tone remains strictly isolationist. The dark forest strike drives everyone to retreat inside themselves. This is a negative way to approach the world and the galaxy. Think about what is going on in the UK with their Brexit vote, due largely to fear. Think about what is going on in America with the presidential election, being campaigned on a platform of fear from both candidates. It’s messy, stupid, and is, overall, unproductive. With China’s history, this tone is unsurprising from a Chinese author, but should be rejected by reasonable people with hopes, dreams, and ideals.

Award Worthiness:

It’s epic. No doubt about that. It should, at least, be nominated for the Hugo for this year. But those plot holes are pretty devastating. Granted, there is a great hullabaloo about diversity in SF/F right now, and it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the SFWA or the Nebula folks will respond to that by giving Cixin Liu another award. But, does it stand up to The Medusa Chronicles by Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds? I don’t think so. Nominated, probably. Win, not so much.

24 October 2016

Vonne Anton