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Archive for October, 2015

The Martian by Andrew Weir, soon to be a major motion picture starring Matt Damon (a man who will always look barely post-pubescent), is a man-boy novel without the killing and explosions. It is about science, engineering and manly pluck. I found it fascinating and enjoyable — being a man-boy myself. Dick McCarthy, however, pointed out that despite the intensive descriptions of electronic monitors, space suits, airlocks and the like, the Robinson Caruso of Mars almost never glances out the window and tells us what the planet actually looks like. It is sort of like writing about a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon and describing in great detail the raft’s paddles and their uses but never mentioning what you saw when, not otherwise engaged with problems and vagaries of riverine locomotion, you looked up at the variegated walls of that magnificent chasm.

Pookie says “check it out.” 

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El Dorado Hills is an almost place, almost a forest, almost a mountain, almost a city, almost a community and living here is almost a life.

Today, caesious skies above the Golden Hills filled up with rolling clouds promising cooling temperatures and a bit of rain. Too cold for swimming, I contented myself with a little Poe, some apples and a glass of cranberry juice. Later, after a nap, I pondered if I could do more to entertain myself. Unable to think of anything, I left Hans Pfaall in his balloon somewhere over the North Pole and waded into the problems of Morgaine the qujalan and Vanye her ilin, pursued by Thiye of Hjemur the Immortal Lord of Rahjemur, as they fled across Andur-Kursh in a desperate effort to close the Gates at Ivrel.

Later, HRM and I giggled and shouted our way to the orthodontist. Returning home feeling I had a satisfactory day so far, I took a second nap after which we enjoyed a dinner of spaghetti and meatballs accompanied by a bottle of Lone Buffalo Zinfandel given to us by Stevie and Norbert. I then puttered about on T&T, posted a few articles in my blogs and went to bed believing that I had accomplished more this day than I started out to do.

Unfortunately, my dreams raised a symbolic re-creation of something that I failed at in my past. I was only able to rescue part of it in my dream. After a brief period of dissatisfaction, I persuaded myself that I had done better in my dream than I had done in real life, so I woke up the next day in a good mood.

My life feels like I am swimming through a vat of maple syrup. It tastes good and the smell is delightful, but the going is slow and the blueberry pancakes are missing.

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Although reading a book a day I believe generally is a good thing but somewhat obsessive, the two I read yesterday was clearly excessive, especially since they were not that interesting.

Tad Williams: Sleeping Late on Judgement Day

Williams, one of my favorite fantasy authors (His Otherland series is one of the best in the genre), has leapt on to the bandwagon of the current rage among some readers of fantasy for amusing demon hunter stories. His Johnny Dollar series has been enjoyable. Dollar, a wisecracking angel fed up with the heavenly bureaucracy, often finds himself at odds with both his employers and the Adversary. In this issue, our hero sets out to rescue from Hell his girlfriend, a demon with the improbable name of Countess Cazmira of the Cold Hands. Anyone falling in love with a demon especially one with eternally cold hands seems to me to have a lot of unresolved issues.

Richard Stiller: Cold Warriors

Stiller who wrote two pretty good novels in the Foreworld Saga series tries his hand at a rogue CIA operatives thriller. Although it was able to capture my interest, the plot holes, incredible coincidences and poor editing were annoying. The author accurately described several obscure neighborhoods in current day San Francisco, so I assume he lives nearby or is in hiding.

Andrew Ball: The Contractors

The day before, I finished Ball’s debut novel in an another Heaven/Demon war series. It is a young reader type novel and not half bad. Here, a skinny six-foot tall alien from another dimension who looks like a fashion deprived toad, hires a bunch of totally unqualified amateur assassin magicians and sets them loose on an unsuspecting world in an effort to prevent an invasion from still another dimension by Hitler wannabes who look like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers with facial hair. And, yes people actually write this stuff —— and others read it. Some even think it is not half bad.

John Conroe: Forced Ascent

This the sixth or seventh novel in yet another Heaven/Demon war series, did not excite me as much as some of the earlier stories in the series. Most of these novels are like video games, the hero or heroine continue to acquire additional powers each time they smite their enemies. I no longer remember what actually happened in the book.

Declan Burke: Crime Always Pays

One of my favorite crime authors and current man crush writes a sequel to one of his better books, The Big O. That book ends with the face of one of the main protagonists of the sequel clamped in the jaws of a wolf. It does not get too much better from there.

Andrea Camilleri: Angelica’s Smile

Montalbano in love (or lust) but not with whom you think. And, no we do not discover Montalba is gay, although like most manly men there is the ever-present seed of doubt.

Chad Leito: The New Rome.

Leito claims he is a full-time e-book author specializing in post apocalyptic stuff. His PR photograph makes him look a bit over sixteen years old. He seems to suffer a similar problem of a lot of authors, an inability to actually finish the novel. In his case, he seems to be unable to finish more than the first two novels in whatever series he is writing. In his first series called “The Academy” he had gotten through sophomore year in a post apocalyptic university. As best as I could make out the original society collapsed because poor dental hygiene turned everyone’s gums black so they stopped smiling and sent all the kids off to this school where most of them die horrible violent deaths.

In his newest series (also only two books long) he thankfully spends only about one sentence on what it was like before. You know, there was before and now there is this. What this is, is New Rome. A replica of old Rome except New Rome is actually London. There is no indication of what current Rome is called, but Paris is still Paris. Since there is Rome, then there must be emperors, togas and gladiators. And with gladiators,then there is a big to-do about the significance of thumbs and lots of blood on the sand (Lions provided by Monsanto).

Pookie says, “Check them out.”

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I have finally ventured beyond the café about a block from my apartment that marked the limit of my world since arriving here in BKK. I travelled all the way to the health club to resume the exercise regime that had been suspended during the almost four months I spent in the US.

I left the apartment with the Little Masseuse well before six am. It was still dark. As we passed Nana Plaza, the sidewalks were filled with Ladies of the Night trolling for customers. Whether they were trolling for the last trick of the evening or the first of the new day, I have no idea. Perhaps there is something about their occupation or constitutions that allows them to work around the clock without sleeping.

You can always tell the Ladyboys from the others because they were usually so much better dressed and made up. While most of the women at that time in the morning sported looks of various degrees of dishevelment, the Ladyboys paraded about without a hair out-of-place or a wrinkle on their tight tiny dresses.

Several bars were open spilling their noise and golden light into the street where it mingled with the blue-grey light of dawn and the police sirens. I do not know why they were open at that hour. The police require bars in Bangkok to close at midnight or one o’clock in the morning. Perhaps they had closed and just now were reopening. Or, maybe they were the bars owned by the cops themselves.

Bangkok is a funny place, so much to see – so much more hidden.

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My first visit to the orthodontist with my grandson was a revelation. The waiting area was more playroom than office with its jungle motif, separate play areas and massage chairs for parents. The staff of about 20 or so seemed to have overdosed on ebullience as though they had hit the nitrous-oxide on the way to work. The staff was all women except for the man himself, the orthodontist, the chief giggler — the lord of the manor — the Caliph. I used to wonder who lived in those super large homes that line the ridges of El Dorado Hills. I now imagine they are all inhabited by happy-talking orthodontists.

El Dorado Hills is an almost place, almost a forest, almost a mountain, almost a city, almost a community and living here is almost a life.

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I miss Thailand. Although it is not what it used to be and in a sad state of decline, it still has a certain seedy electric excitement much like the Las Vegas Strip. Now don’t get me wrong, El Dorado Hills where I live now for most of the year is quite nice. Some magazine just ranked it the seventh best place in America to raise a family. But let’s face it, who wants to spend all their time someplace certified for family values. That’s like watching only G rated movies.

For example, in Bangkok each morning during the mile or so walk from my apartment to the health club I am almost guaranteed to see or experience the following: at least three offers of sexual congress, one of which will be from someone of uncertain gender; a fight between two ladies of the night complete with tearing off of clothes and pulling of hair; one person lying on the sidewalk in a coma or dead; a dozen or so rats scurrying away from my feet as I walk along; packs of soi dogs so mangy, flea ridden and rabid that should they ever chance upon a PETA meeting the participants would shoot them on sight; one or more farangs (Westerners), partly clothed and drunk, vomiting into the gutter; a rupture in the sidewalk every five feet or so that should I step on it wrong I would break an ankle or pitch into a sewer that runs underneath; several sidewalk stands purveying the latest in vibrator technology and pharmaceutical breakthroughs in male virility enhancement; other stands selling every possible mechanism for killing another human being that does not require gunpowder or dynamite; every sort of pirated good you can conceive of; food stands and sidewalk cafes selling almost every kind or food you would or would not want to eat; a hundred or so bars and go-go places including one specializing it BJ’s and another in anal sex; an equal number of massage parlors; a bazillion cars all stopped solid in the daily mother of all traffic jams and another bazillion motor bikes many carrying more than two passengers. Oh yeah, a lot of noise and air so thick with pollutants that it takes at least 10 minutes off your life for each breath you take. Now and then there is a political demonstration of some sort with the participants wearing either red or yellow shirts bitching about something I don’t understand. Police and soldiers heavily armed with about every weapon imaginable lounging around the side streets in great numbers as I pass by. All this backed by a huge unending series of monoliths containing hotels, office buildings and high-priced condominiums impassively reflecting in their mirrored sides the turmoil on the streets below.

In El Dorado Hills about the only things that change are the clouds.

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Like New York and a few other cities, Bangkok has been a treasure trove for stories about the city’s teeming underside. Even the city’s most fashionable hotel, The Oriental, has a wing dedicated to some of the world’s greatest novelists who resided there and wrote about Southeast Asia and the City astride the Chao Phraya River that sits at its center. Writers like Somerset Maugham, Graham Green, Joseph Conrad and others all have suites in the hotel named for them.

That tradition remains alive today through such well-known authors as John Burdett, Stephen Leather, Timothy Hallinan, Colin Cotterill, Jake Needham, Colin Piprell and James Eckhardt.

Books by several Thai authors who also have deeply explored life in Thailand as well as Bangkok’s urban jungle have been translated into other languages. These include, “Mad Dog and Co.” by Chart Korbjitti (translated into English by Marcel Barang, himself an author of a novel set in Bangkok as well as the non-fiction, “Twenty Best Novels of Thailand”); “The Tin Mine by Archin Panchapan; “Sightseeing” by Rattawut Laparoensap; and “Jasmine Nights” by SP Somtow.

A best seller and a good read is “The Windup Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi, a science fiction novel that delves into Bangkok’s current and future problems with flooding. It was named one of the 10 best novels of 2009

But, by far my favorite Bangkok author is Christopher G. Moore. The protagonist in a good many of his most popular books is Vincent Calvino, a half Jewish half Italian ex-lawyer who for some mysterious reason gave up practicing law in New York to become a private eye in Bangkok.

Among his many books about Bangkok and the Thai urban scene, I like best “Waiting For the Lady.” Unlike most of his other novels, it is set not in Bangkok but in Burma.

Moore’s story swirls around the Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the Chin people of Burma and a young scholar specializing in the art of the mountain tribes of Southeast Asia who along with his two longtime artist friends living in Bangkok search for a hidden hoard of Ming china.The description of the day the country’s military government released Aung San Suu Kyi after 20 years of house arrest is worth the price of the book.

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