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For those who have not read any of Terry Pratchett’s magnificent series of comic novels set in the highly improbable but very recognizable land of Discworld, do so right away. It will leave you eternally surprised. Meanwhile, the following excerpt from one of the novels demonstrates the fundamental notions of the great scholar of Discworld, Wen the Eternally Surprised that underly the tales of that world and  infuses the hearts of those living there — “…the only appropriate state of the mind is surprise” and “the only appropriate state of the heart is joy.”

 

“Wen the Eternally Surprised.”

“Why was he eternally surprised?” And they are told: ‘Wen considered the nature of time and understood that the universe is, instant by instant, re-created anew. Therefore, he understood, there is, in truth, no Past, only a memory of the Past. Blink your eyes, and the world you see next did not exist when you closed them. Therefore, he said, the only appropriate state of the mind is surprise. The only appropriate state of the heart is joy. The sky you see now, you have never seen before. The perfect moment is now. Be glad of it.’”
Pratchett, Terry. Thief of Time: A Novel of Discworld (p. 31). HarperCollins.

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I have just finished reading the second installment in the series of my current book crush, The Adventures of Auntie Poldi. Although the books purport to be detective stories, I, frankly, do not recall in either of the two novels of the series I have read so far who was killed or why. Nor can I claim they are great or even good literature. So, what attracts me to these books?

Perhaps it is the magnificently exuberant and shameless bit of overwriting with which the author begins his novel:

“Although in the past few months Poldi had temporarily thwarted death thanks to solving her handyman Valentino’s murder, her romantic encounter with Vito Montana (Polizia di Stato’s chief inspector in charge of homicide cases), her friendship with her neighbours Valérie and sad Signora Cocuzza, my aunts’ efforts and, last but not least, her own love of the chase, we all know the way of the world: peace reigns for a while, the worst seems to be over, the sun breaks through the clouds, the future beckons once more, your cigarette suddenly tastes good again, the air hums with life and the whole world becomes a congenial place pervaded by whispers of great things to come. A simply wonderful, wonderful, universally familiar sensation. And then, like a bolt from the blue, pow! Not that anyone has seen it coming, but the wind changes. Fate empties a bucket of excrement over your head, chuckling as it does so, and all you can think is “Wow, now I really need a drink!” And the whole shitty process starts again from scratch. So it was no wonder my aunts became alarmed when Poldi still had no running water after two weeks and Lady was murdered. No doubt about it, the wind had changed and the ice was growing steadily thinner.”
Giordano, Mario. Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna (An Auntie Poldi Adventure Book 2). HMH Books.

 

Or perhaps, it is Auntie Poldi herself, a lusty sixty-year-old German woman who had married a Sicilian immigrant to Bavaria and who after his death retired to her husband’s ancestral town on the slopes of Mt Etna there to “drink herself to death with a view of the sea.”

Poldi wears a wig, dresses usually in brightly colored caftans, enthusiastically and vigorously enjoys sex, and as the daughter of a Bavarian chief of detectives is compulsively drawn to solving crimes, photographing cute policemen in uniform and bedding dusky and hunky Sicilian detectives (well one in particular).

On the other hand, Poldi was a woman of strong opinions as well as strong appetites. As she explained to her nephew whom she had appointed to be the Watson to her Holmes:

“I’ve never been devout,” she explained later before I could query this in surprise because I knew that Poldi harbored a fundamental aversion to the Church. “I’m spiritual but not devout, know what I mean? I’ve never had much time for the Church. The mere thought of it infuriates me. The males-only organizations, the pope, the original-sin malarkey, the inhibited cult of the Virgin Mary, the false promises of redemption, the proselytism, the misogyny, the daft words of the psalms and hymns. Mind you, I’ve always liked the tunes. I always enjoyed chanting in the ashram, you know. I screwed every hippie in the temple of that Kali sect in Nevada, I’ve meditated in Buddhist monasteries, and I believe in reincarnation and karma and all that, likewise in people’s essential goodness. I don’t know if there’s a god and if he’s got something against sex and unbelievers, but I can’t help it, I’m Catholic. It’s like malaria: once you’ve got it you never get rid of it, and sooner or later you go and make peace with it.”
Giordano, Mario.Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna (An Auntie Poldi Adventure Book 2). HMH Books.

Or on even another hand, perhaps it is the authors alter ego, Poldi’s 34-year-old unmarried nephew, the narrator in the books, a self-described but inept author who works at a call center in Bavaria. He has been attempting to write the great Bavarian novel for years now but seems to have only recently gotten inspired to write the first four chapters the last of which he enthusiastically describes in a blaze of overwriting:

“I was in full flow. I was the adjective ace, the metaphor magician, the sorcerer of the subordinate clause, the expresser of emotions, the master of a host of startling but entirely plausible turns of events. The whole of my fourth chapter had been completed within a week. I was a paragon of self-discipline and inspiration, the perfect symbiosis of Germany and Italy. I was a Cyclops of the keyboard. I was Barnaba. All I lacked was a nymph, but my new Sicilian styling would soon change that.”
Giordano, Mario. Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna (An Auntie Poldi Adventure Book 2). HMH Books.

He found himself periodically called to travel to Sicily and reside in an attic room in Poldi’s house whenever the Sicilian relatives believed Poldi was skating on the thin edge of reality or whenever Poldi herself demanded his return because she felt she needed someone to beguile and complain to.

Or perhaps, it is the denizens of my beloved Sicily, like the three aunts fascinated and often shocked by, and at times participants in, Poldi’s escapades. Or her partners in crime, so to speak, sad Carmina and the local priest. Or, Poldi’s French friend, Valerie her forlorn nephew’s love interest who Poldi steadfastly refuses to allow him to meet.

“For Valérie, like Poldi, happiness possessed a simple binary structure, and the whole of human existence was suspended between two relatively distant poles. Between heaven and hell, love and ignorance, responsibility and recklessness, splendour and scuzz, the essential and the dispensable. And within this dual cosmic structure there existed only two kinds of people: the deliziosi and the spaventosi, the charming and the frightful. Rule of thumb: house guests, friends and dogs are always deliziosi, the rest are spaventosi. At least until they prove otherwise.”

“‘You see,’ Poldi told me once, ‘Valérie has understood that happiness is a simple equation. Happiness equals reality minus expectation.’”
Giordano, Mario. Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna (An Auntie Poldi Adventure Book 2). HMH Books.

 

Or perhaps, it is just that I am a child of Sicily, have lived as well as visited there many times and loved that large rocky Island whose citizens have suffered almost two thousand five hundred years of continuous occupation by a host of invaders— Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Germans, French, Spanish, Bourbons, Nazi’s, and even British and Americans. Where the inhabitants were considered so irrelevant by their foreign overlords their cities, unlike the rest of Europe, were built without defensive walls. Where the people are reticent with strangers but boisterous and generous with friends and family, where Bella Figura reigns supreme, the cuisine extraordinary, people speak in gestures and revel in the mores of their medieval culture and where “Being Sicilian is a question of heart, not genes” (Giordano, Mario. Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna, An Auntie Poldi Adventure Book 2. HMH Books.)

Whatever, the reasons for my own enjoyment of the books, Pookie says you should check them out, after all, as Auntie Poldi says: “Moderation is a sign of weakness.” (Giordano, Mario. Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna (An Auntie Poldi Adventure Book 2). HMH Books.)

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My partially completed but never to be finished novel, Dominion, can be found at, https://papajoesfables.wordpress.com/dominion-an-unfinished-and-never-published-novel/. Below is one of the draft chapters in which the main protagonist, Vince Biondi, is confronted by San Mateo County Sheriff Megs Polan.

JOEY’S MYSTERY NOVEL: “Dominion.” When Vince Meets Megs.

Chapter whatever:

Vince took into the office washroom the overnight suitcase he always kept available in his office in case he had to make a sudden short business trip or pulled an all-nighter like this one. He washed as best he could, shaved, changed his clothing and returned to his office just as Ray arrived to accompany him to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s office. Ray had obviously been called by Ike and was dressed in what for him passed for business attire, pearl button earrings, a military-style camouflage jacket, matching camouflage pants and neon green Crocs on his feet.

When they arrived at the Sheriff’s office, they were immediately ushered into the office of Sheriff Megan (Megs) Polan, former beauty queen, bodybuilding champion and a rising star in local Republican politics. Vince and Ray sat in chairs across the hygienically clean desk behind which Megs sat enthroned like a medieval duchess. Her still super toned body so filled out her tan uniform that it looked painted on. She had curly auburn hair that hung down to her shoulders and the steely blue eyes of either a stone cold killer or paranoid schizophrenic. She did not rise to greet them or speak but leaned across her desk and pushed a transparent evidence bag containing a small piece of paper towards them. As she bent forward, Vince caught a glimpse of cleavage struggling to escape the casually unbuttoned shirt. He also noticed the large black pistol riding high on her hip. Vince disconcerted that he found himself turned on, covered his embarrassment by dropping his eyes to the proffered evidence bag and studying its contents.

Inside the bag was a piece of paper torn from a small spiral bound notebook and on it, written in a shaky hand, was the message, “If anything should happen to me, call Vincent Biondi,” along with Vince’s personal mobile phone number.

“So Mr. Biondi,” Megs intoned in her surprisingly whiskey edged voice, “what can you tell me about this note and what may have happened to Mrs. Stephanie Coign last night?”

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“You have fled before, Hodder Tom, haven’t you? You have the haunted look of a man who has bolted in every direction, a man who has fought every adversary and somehow never run out of enemies, a man who has plotted himself nameless, friendless, and nearly lifeless. You already know what happens when you run. You know you cannot panic your way to freedom; you cannot worry yourself home. You must face your fears. The only way out is inward.”
Bancroft, Josiah. The Hod King (The Books of Babel). Orbit.

 

While reading the third book in Bancroft’s The Books of Babel, a series I have commented on previously (https://trenzpruca.wordpress.com/2018/06/07/not-a-book-report-because-i-am-going-to-take-a-ship-instead/) I came across the above paragraph. For some reason, it affected me like few statements have. Again I am not sure why.

As some know, I have a habit of posting in T&T (https://wordpress.com/view/josephpetrillo.wordpress.com) quotes of statements I come across that I find interesting. I got this approach from Don Neuwirth who would carry a notebook with him in which he would copy down aphorisms he read or heard that impressed him. I thought that was a good habit to get into. Since I do not keep a journal, or rather T&T is my journal, I post those I like there.

The series, classified as a Steampunk Fantasy, concerns the adventures and misadventures of a schoolteacher and his wife who travel on their honeymoon to the Tower as tourists. The Tower, a gigantic edifice juts far into the sky. Each level contains a kingdom. On the lower levels, the several kingdoms located there are each dedicated to a different attraction or vice intended to captivate the tourist — most often to their ruination and ultimate despair. At the top of the tower, far in the clouds resides a strange and secretive person called the Phoenix who develops most of the machines that keep the Tower running.

I consider the series to be one of the better fantasy efforts I have come across and perhaps the best among the steampunk slice of the genre. Goodreads describes the first book in the series as follows:

The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.

Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants in the vast market at the entrance to the Tower.

Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he’ll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.

By the third book, our newlyweds still have not gotten back together although they each have had many splendid, frightening and often painful adventures as well as few affairs.

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Among my favorite movies, a list that includes “The Princess Bride,” “The Iron Crown,” “Diva,“Fabulous Fabiola,” “Blazing Saddles,” and “The Godfather” is a little known and hard to obtain Scifi film entitled “Radioactive Dreams.” The protagonist heroes, two 19-year-olds named Phillip and Marlowe (Philip Chandler and Marlowe Hammer), had grown up in a fallout shelter after the world’s entire nuclear arsenal, except for one missile, had been unleashed. They had only 1950s detective fiction to read and swing music to listen to. They grew up wanting to become private eyes — “dancing dicks” as they put it. After leaving the cave they had lived in for 15 years and driving a 1950s muscle car convertible, they meet up with Miles Archer (a villainess played by Lisa Blount) and later with Rusty Mars (Michelle Little – a villainess who turns heroine). The movie could be described as one long music video featuring the clashing beats and rhythms of Swing/Early Rock and New Wave. It is also a detective story of sorts. Below is an interesting description of the film written by a crazed gamer.

Radioactive Dreams begins with two little boys getting whisked away by their fathers to an underground shelter right as the bombs go off. They stay there avoiding the nuclear war for 15 years with a nice supply of water and food until their fathers abandon them to the surface. After never hearing back from them they assume they’ve perished, so the now-19-year-olds dig to the surface and make their own way into a nightmarish version of 2010. They are not prepared.

The Wasteland
The film opens in black and white with a 4:3 aspect ratio, until the kids open the door to their vault and color seeps into the film as the frame widens, much like a post-apocalyptic Wizard of Oz. As they drive through the desert wasteland everything is a rusted brown and orange color, one very flat — everyone knows the post-apocalypse will not be pretty.

The Pip-Boy
In Radioactive Dreams, the very first person they meet on the outside is wearing a Pip-Boy, of sorts. What better way to listen to old music than with some giant slab of metal and wires on your wrist, after all? It’s just strange that it doesn’t work as a communicator — she has the boys stop at a still-working pay phone (?) to place a call. But everyone knows that it’s the vault dwellers that come equipped with Pip-Boys, anyway.

An Amazing, Ironic Soundtrack
Our heroes Philip and Marlowe read Raymond Chandler novels (ahem) and listen to swing music to keep busy, which makes them grow up wanting to become “dancing dicks.” Thankfully they also have the period-appropriate 1940s suits to go with it. But after listening to all those old records in their shelter they aren’t prepared for the New Wave that’s sunken into the land deeper than the radiation from the bombs. It may not be “I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire” by the Ink Spots, but you have Lisa Lee’s “Eat You Alive” during a scene with cannibals and Jill Jaxx’s “Nightmare” kicking things off.

Radioactive Dreams also features what’s perhaps the best music video in cinematic history, and it comes out of absolutely nowhere fifty minutes in. Just imagine a normal film unfolding before Sue Saad suddenly jumps into frame and starts belting out “Guilty Pleasures.” It’s wonderful.

Mutants & Cannibals
What’s a wasteland without rad-crazed individuals roaming it, looking for victims? Pretty much everyone Philip and Marlowe run across wants to kill them, eat them, steal from them or all three, and their innocence from living a literally sheltered life soon gets shattered. Guns and axes get brandished pretty much right away and they are thrust into violence before they’re ready for it.

The Tunnel Snakes
Everyone knows the Tunnel Snakes from Vault 101. That’s them, and they rule. When our Radioactive Dreams heroes get to their first settlement they run afoul of some real greaser rockabilly types blasting rock’n’roll, particularly a mean guy who dresses in leather and has plenty of hair gel. You half-expect him to be a part of this gang.

Giant Mutated Rats
It’s quite a bit bigger than the mole rats we see everywhere in the Fallout wastelands, but everyone knows the effect radiation has on the local wildlife. It’s too bad that this guy’s appearance is so brief because it’s certainly a showstopper.

VATS
The end of Radioactive Dreams, which sees our heroes fighting with all of the above and more, is punctuated by a slow-motion gunfight. No limbs are targeted but multiple enemies get blasted out of windows, so clearly some turn-based aiming was happening.

About the only thing from Radioactive Dreams that isn’t in Fallout is a big dance number for an ending scene, but hey, there’s always room for DLC, right Bethesda?

A film that’s equal parts absurd and entertaining and features about six genres crammed into it, perhaps the worst thing about Radioactive Dreams is that it’s almost completely unavailable on home video. Released on VHS by Vestron Video, the film has still never seen the light of day on DVD or Blu-ray, which is criminal. Until some wonderful company re-releases it with the love it deserves (hey, it’s the 30th anniversary!), you can find a VHS at the below link. You owe it to yourself to hunt down Radioactive Dreams any way you can.
ALEX RIVIELLO https://birthmoviesdeath.com/2015/11/10/radioactive-dreams-the-fallout-movie-you-didnt-know-existed

Here is a cite to a poorly reproduced a cut version of the film. Unfortunately, the last — and in my opinion the best — scene in the movie is severely truncated. After the mystery was solved, Phillip turns to Marlowe and asks “Well Marlowe what do we do now.” Marlowe answers, “Now we Dance.” Then for the next 10 minutes, they demonstrate Marlowe’s tap-inspired “post-nuke shuffle” to the crowds of the city. It is unfortunately cut to a scant two minutes.
https://www.onemovieboxd.pro/stream-radioactive-dreams-full-movie-watch-online-v1-47342

 

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I have just completed reading a mystery novel entitled “Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions” by Mario Giordano. Surprisingly, the author is not Sicilian. He is German. A descendant of a Sicilian laborer who had left the Island seeking work and a better life in the Colossus of the North. The novel itself is no classic work of literature. In fact, it barely makes it as light summer reading. I liked it, however, because of the kind-hearted way it plunges into the history, landscape, and foibles of the people and places that I have grown to love.

 

The main conceit of the novel lies in the author’s alter ego, a young struggling writer recording, at the behest of his Auntie Poldi, her adventures, and misadventures in Sicily. Auntie Poldi a dipsomaniac, over-sexed, bi-polar, caftan-wearing, overweight, sixty year old widow from Bavaria who, after the death of her Sicilian born husband, buys a home in a small coastal village in Sicily in the shadow of Mt Etna where she intends to “drink herself to death with a view of the sea.” Unfortunately for everyone, Auntie Poldi is also loud, pushy, nosy and her father was chief of detectives in some city in Germany. As a result, when she discovers, on the beach, the dead body of her part-time handyman, the handsome young Valentino, she drafts her dead husband’s three sisters and goes on a hunt for the murderer. Along the way, she also shags the handsome but mature local detective with the improbable name of Vito Montana.

 

Pookie says, “Check it out”

 

“[T]he worst thing that can happen to any Italian male, especially a Sicilian. Economic crises, volcanic eruptions, corrupt politicians, emigration, the Mafia, uncollected rubbish and overfishing of the Mediterranean—he can endure anything with fatalism and a bella figura. The main thing is never to present a brutta figura, a figuraccia. Bella figura is the Italian credo. The basic equipment for this includes a well-groomed, unostentatiously fashionable appearance, a pair of good shoes and the right make of sunglasses. Above all, though, bella figura means always looking good, never foolish. For an Italian this is a must, not an option, and quite indispensable. It also means you don’t embarrass your fellow men. Impatience is unacceptable and direct confrontations are taboo. You share restaurant bills with your friends, don’t put your foot in it, never receive guests in a dirty or untidy home, ask no intimate questions, address anyone with a university degree as dottore, bring some dessert with you when invited to dinner and—even at the risk of rupturing your abdomen—finish everything on your plate. You put your faith in beauty and proportionality and try to make the world a better place. Sometimes you even succeed.”
Giordano, Mario. Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions (An Auntie Poldi Adventure). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

 

Note: The Sicilian language has no future tense. It is scary to think about a culture that lacks the ability to express the future. It does have a special tense to express the remote past that has ended. Sicilians use it a lot in their conversations — Everything is in the present or the far past and there is no future.)

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Of all the mysteries and police procedurals I have read, I like those written by Reginald Hill best — especially his series featuring the cops from Mid-Yorkshire, Andy Dalziel, Peter Pascoe, Sgt. Wield, and their significant others. Alas, Mr. Hill died a few years ago leaving me bereft of my happy times with Andy, Peter, Sargt. Weild, Cap Marvel and the rest of the gang.

Here are some of Fat Andy’s witticisms from one of Hill’s last books

 

“I always said that If you ended up with life left over at the end of your money, the state would take care of you, but if you ended up with money left over at the end of your life, you were an idiot!”

“Women, eh? You can fuck ’em but you can’t fathom them.”

“Never trust a man who believes his own crap.”

“Okay, I’d spent a bit of time in a coma recently, but that’s no reason not to know what’s going off.”

“If there weren’t enough meat on young Clara to make a Christmas starter, there were plenty here for a main course with something left over for Boxing Day.”

“She laughed archly, like a cracked hurdy-gurdy playing ‘The Rustle of Spring.’”

“…she gave me a nod that would likely have broken my nose if she’d been close up, then turned to hoist herself onto a bar stool, showing off a pair of haunches a man would be proud to have the tattooing of.”

“Like me old mam used to say, there’s some folk you needn’t be kind to, but you should always try to be fair with everyone.”

“Once you feel like a prisoner, everyone looks like a guard.”

“…there’s many a good tune played on an old double bass—”

“She were a big bossy woman, used to rolling over folk who got in her way, like an anker of ale, but she must have been a bonny lass once, and she still had a gallon of jimp left in her.”
Hill, Reginald. The Price of Butcher’s Meat (Dalziel & Pascoe series Book 23). HarperCollins.

 

 

 

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