Introducing Four Stars

More Soviet Science Fiction

More Soviet Science Fiction

I have two things to babble about in this entry.  The first is brought to you by Planetary Defense Command.  Relax, it is not scary! PDC is a science fiction review blog.  It contains reviews on novels, computer games, etc. The concept is that the ratings for the items reviewed are given # of four stars.  This removes the 1-5 rating style we are all so comfortable using.  In doing so, the “3″ or “average” is mercilessly ripped away from us and we are forced to choose Good or Bad.  There are only four possible ratings – so 1 and 2 are dung and bad, respectively.  3 and 4 are Good and Great respectively.

How do I feel about this? I do appreciate it.  I don’t think I could rate novels using this, however.  because I think some novels are entertaining and edible, just not delicacies or fine dining.  Some you eat on your Jarolina china, others you toss on the Corningware.  It doesn’t mean you don’t eat or the thing is inedible, it just is not anything beyond any expectations. Three stars. I do not like the term “average” because that is flexible and relative.  Three stars on my blog basically means edible fare. Eat it, be sated, move onward.

Interestingly, if I look at the numbers, I have a nice bell curve distribution going on. Most items are rated three stars.  I only have 1 one star.  Two stars 36 and five stars 39.  So, maybe, in some way, on my blog three stars is actually “average.”  Regardless, this was good enough to run on the brain back-burner last night, thanks to PDC.

Second topic:  Introductions!

Lately, I’ve been reading really well-written introductions. I have a friend who despises introductions and purposely skips them.  In my own writing, I have to stop myself from making a Preface, Introduction, Preamble, Second Introduction, Foreword, and Overview in every document.  Nevertheless, I admit most of the time introductions are these boring “supposedly necessary” elements in the front of the book that do nothing to enhance anyone’s learning or fun.

However, the Introduction in Orbit 1 by Damon Knight is fun and engaging. The introduction in More Soviet Science Fiction by Isaac Asimov is interesting and valuable.  The introduction to Alternate Gerrolds by Mike Resnick is witty, intelligent, and fun.  I usually do not recommend introductions, but lately, I have found myself wanting to have people read the introductions – and not caring if they go ahead and finish the actual book!

As a subpoint, I’d like to mention that I think outside of (obviously) non-fiction, Science Fiction/Fantasy has the most introductions.  I rarely find introductions in other genres.  Classics always have introductions – some academic giving us a bio of the author followed by some droll interpretation of a few elements of the novel.  The introductions in books of Classics are particularly tedious and boring.

All of this led me to wonder about the “elements of a worthy Introduction.”  I need to think on this a bit more to see if there are common elements which are accepted as necessary for a worthwhile introduction.  Let me know if you want to suggest some.

Second Gunn

The Girl Hunters - Mickey Spillane; Signet

The Girl Hunters – Mickey Spillane; Signet

After my review (other blog) of This Fortress World, it was suggested that I read further works by the same author (James E. Gunn).  I agree! Well, what I read was:  go get more books to read.  So, I did, obviously.  I only found two books by Gunn at the cruddy, dusty, nasty bookstore in town.  The one was in such condition that I could not even buy it (kind of did not think it would stay intact for one more last reading).  So I bought Station in Space.  Also not in glorious condition, but it will last long enough for me to read it.

While at the store, I bought a stack of Perry Rhodans – because they were $1 and are one of the only stores to even have any.  Also, got one Mickey Spillane (The Girl Hunters) and one The Executioner (#34).  Yes, all glorious pulp!

I have a TED Talk from November 2013 that someone recommended to me, as well as the corresponding NPR interview.  Well, I do not really follow these things, but I do like knowledge and information and ideas.  Plus, if someone earnestly recommends something for my perusal, I will make the effort to follow through.

My next fun item for today will be to play with CDs and MP3s.  I have some organizing and “housekeeping” to do with them. Still have not officially decided what novel to read next. I should read a John Bellairs’ Lewis Barnavelt book.  Something quick and tasty before choosing another big-kid novel.

Charlotte Prizes

There is a bookstore in Charlotte, NC that I go to whenever I am in town.  It has a decent selection of paperbacks at pretty decent prices.  They have the largest mystery section I know of.  They also sell a bunch of new books and what looks like the full catalog of the Dover Thrift Paperbacks.  Anyway, I had some credit on file there, so I actually spent less than I intended.

Here are my prizes for surviving traffic on the I-485:

  • SF The Best of the Best – edited by Judith Merril
  • The Katmandu Contract – Nick Carter
  • The Toff Goes to Market – John Creasey
  • Might As Well Be Dead – Rex Stout
  • The Days of Glory – Brian M. Stableford
  • Utopia – Thomas More (I think this is my third or forth copy.  Why can’t I keep this book?)
  • Invaders of Space – Murray Leinster
  • The Palace of Love – Jack Vance
  • The Fourth Galaxy Reader – ed. H. L. Gold
  • Fade to Blonde – Max Phillips – (Hard Case Crime #002)

I also “splurged” and bought some The Executioner novels. Pulp. Fun pulp on sale.

Baseball Cards and Critical Theory

April is always an insane month in my household.  Two birthdays, springtime, Lent/Easter season, Baseball Season, Earth Day, etc.  I suspect it may be busier than December.  Anyway, Yay Baseball Season Is Here!  This season I purchased a bunch of 2014 cards.  I need about 20 for the complete 2014 Topps series one base set.  I collect them for the fun. But also for the brief thrill of finding the “specials.”  All baseball cards are special, though, in my world.  Well, you can find the superstar cards all over the internet (Jeter, Cabrera, Trout, et al.) but here are three I selected for their amusement value – enjoy!

Yunel Escobar – 2014 Topps

Coco Crisp – 2014 Topps Opening Day

Mark DeRosa – 2014 Topps

I also have a few fantasy teams *ahem!*   By “a few” I mean: 2 on MLB.com, 1 on Yahoo!, 1 on Fox Sports.  And I play “Beat the Streak” via MLB & Dunkin Donuts.  I love the start of the baseball season; so exciting!  Lately, I’ve been rooting for teams that are not known for their huge fan base (so, not the Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox).  This season I decided to be a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays, Miami Marlins, and the Houston Astros.  Man, I better get used to a lot of losing games! It’s okay – I love baseball.

It is not all fun and games.  I have not been able to read as much “fun” because I have been reading and re-reading non-fiction “work” stuff.  Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, Jean Baudrillard, Slavoj Zizek, Paul Virilio.  Anyway, after I burn my eyeballs out on this stuff, I do not really feel happy and breezy.  I long for the moments wherein I can curl up with aliens, laser guns, magic swords, and griffons.

 I actually have managed to read a science fiction novel – I have to find the time to post a review on it.  Also, I watched The Grand Budapest Hotel. I think the next movie will be either the latest Muppets movie or Captain America.  It is sunny, springtime fun-time.  If I want dismal and pondersome – I can keep reading my critical theory friends.

Spartan Books and Kafka

I signed up for the #Spartan30 for April 2014.  This month it is 30 pushups each day.  Honestly, this is not a challenge. In many kung fu classes many more push ups, in a variety of styles, is accomplished. So why did I sign up for this? I don’t have a great answer, other than maybe to encourage my household. And you. You sign up too.

I have another Amazon.com order somewhere in the delivery system.  Who even has it – UPS? USPS? FedEx? Who knows; the companies bounce deliveries back and forth all the time nowadays.  Do you want to read the list?

  • Now Wait For Last Year – PKD
  • The Cat Who Came for Breakfast – Lilian Jackson Braun
  • Brass Man – Neal Asher
  • Lockdown – Alexander Gordon Smith
  • The Eternal Prison – Jeff Somers
  • The Terminal State – Jeff Somers
  • Fatal Error – F. Paul Wilson
  • Degrees of Freedom – Simon Morden
  • The Burglar on the Prowl – Lawrence Block
  • Killing Ground – “Don Pendleton”
  • Water Sleeps – Glen Cook

In other news:  Kafka. In 2012, I re-read The Trial.  Because I read those sorts of books.  Anyway, I said I would get through the rest of Kafka (again). I have read these works already, but I thought, maybe, with aging they might get better?  I only gave The Trial two stars. I harp on that a lot. Finally, I dredged out The Castle and started re-reading it.  I do not have a lot of motivation for this and it is slow going.  However, I actually also dragged out a composition notebook to take a couple notes, too.  Because I want to end this Kafka thing. I don’t know; this is all so tedious.  But I am relentless.

The thing is, like that article from The Atlantic that I talked about awhile ago, I do think Kafka is overrated and people who find “depth” and “awesome” in his works are really just not thinking clearly. I guess.  But I am not one to just flippantly say whatever and walk away.  I thought Kafka was overrated years ago when I read these works the first time.  Here I am reading them again to double-check that assessment. I do not think I was wrong.

Chapter One: Arrival

pg. 6 – “You don’t know the Castle,” the landlord said softly.

pg. 9 – “There is no difference between the peasants and the Castle,” said the Teacher.

Main character K. is trying to “access” the Castle.  He is told by many characters that he is ignorant.  He is frustrated because he is thwarted in his attempts to access the Castle.  And here is where literary people babble about the “meaning/symbolism” of the Castle. And how this can represent the mysterious regime of dystopia, etc.  They must be reading a different book?  Those two quotes tell me this:  K. has already attained the “Castle.”  It is not a building, but rather the entire locale. The peasants are, themselves, a castle…the Castle. Solved. Done. He has already attained it, so continually trying to attain it is absurd. And shows his ignorance.

Chapter One: Arrival

pg. 5 – K. listened intently.  So the Castle had appointed him land surveyor.  On one hand, this was unfavorable, for it showed that the Castle had all necessary information about him, had assessed the opposing forces, and was taking up the struggle with a smile.  On the other hand, it was favorable, for it proved to his mind that they underestimated him and that he would enjoy greater freedom than he could have hoped for at the beginning. And if they thought they could keep him terrified all the time simply by acknowledging his surveyorship – though this was certainly a superior move on their part – then they were mistaken, for he felt only a slight shudder, that was all.

This could be one of the most important paragraphs in the book – and I feel like almost all readers miss it? Or mis-read it?

I read it and understand this:  K. is not a land-surveyor.  The “Castle” has “called his bluff.”  K. arrives in the village and calls himself a land surveyor that is working for the Castle.  He isn’t; this is a lie/bluff.  The Castle craftily decides to call this bluff by totally agreeing with K.  “Sure, you’re the land surveyor, then.”  Okay. And K. believes in doing this that the Castle is actually underestimating him, though he appreciates this crafty move on their part.

But when I read other people’s comments on this book – they seem to think that K. is actually a land surveyor from parts distant who has come to the village as such and was actually hired by the Castle from parts distant.  I could be completely incorrect – but I really do not think that I am.  Still, I hate existentialism, so maybe I am too thick-skulled to understand this Kafka-esque stuff.

I would gladly discuss this – please, educate me.  But only one friend of mine has read this novel. And they lost their copy and live in a different hemisphere. So I have no one to discuss this with.

New New Pile or 10/22 Target

So, since two Books-a-Million locations in my “city” closed, along with one Barnes & Noble, I was left no other recourse to bandage my pain but to place a large and comfort-filled order on Amazon.com.  So, I ordered a stack of puffy, new stuff from Amazon – no vintage, no “my grandparents might have read this story,” no this is high-class literature.

Because they closed bookstores. And now, basically, if I do want a new book (i.e. not pre-read) I have to order from Amazon.  And if I want anything newly released, well, if they don’t sell it at Target, I have to order it from Amazon.  I live in the Wasteland…..

  • Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie
  • King of Thorns – Mark Lawrence – because I read Book 1
  • Words of Radiance – Brandon Sanderson – because this beast has to be in hardcover and its cheap now.
  • Shift – Hugh Howey – because my household read Omnibus 1
  • Revelations – J. A. Souders – because my household read Book 1
  • The Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss – because my household is supposed to read Book 1
  • Ex Heroes – Peter Clines – because I own Book 3

. . . . . but mainly, because I needed the comfort after I realized I would have to drive over 1.5 hours away if I want to go to a bookstore.

Also, I am almost finished with Divergent – which was read so my household can view the movie, which I believe is released today.  I think I would rather see the Muppets.  The last movie that I saw was Lego Movie.  Actually, I’m a child…. LOL

Alternatively, if all of these admittedly puffy-fluffy new young adult, fantasy, science fiction freshly pressed novels are wretched, they will still be of value – as long as somewhere we can find .22LR ammo.  Either way, I have my summer-reading fully stocked.

Clearwater: Truth and Fear

Nick Castellanos batting vs. Phillies

Well, I was nearing the end of my current read… and then I ended up quite suddenly in Clearwater, Florida.  That’s a good thing, of course, because that meant SPRING TRAINING.  So, I got to see two ballgames at Bright House Field in Clearwater (Home of the Philadelphia Phillies).  The first game was versus Detroit and the next was versus Pittsburgh.  Of course I was decked out in my Bucs gear for the second game.

Bright House Field is a really good stadium.  It was a sellout for the Pirates’ game – 8,000+ fans came and sat in the lovely 81° weather.  It was magnificent.  Beautiful. Charming.  Wonderful. I had a great time.

Pedro Alvarez on 1B, A. J. Burnett pitching

I finally finished my book when I got back home and I wrote a review for it. (The Insidious Dr. Fu Manchu).  Now, I am in the middle of selecting another book to read – lots to choose from.  I am rather torn between reading something vintage and reading something current (my line of demarcation is usually 1960).

I am also making great progress with Plum Blossom Fist. A form that does not befriend me and resists all my wooing efforts. It isn’t a traditional hung gar form – and it feels that way.  Its like putting on clothing that isn’t your own.

Truth and Fear – Peter Higgins, 2014

The biggest news I have is this month (March) Peter Higgins’ second novel is being released. I AM VERY EXCITED I WANT TO OWN IT AND READ IT RIGHT NOW I CANNOT WAIT.  I loved the first novel Wolfhound Century and have been waiting *forever* for the next in the series. Truth and Fear !!!!