Week 868: I assumed the ratings would be far higher

The Odyssey Seekers: America’s Great Travelers

Odyssey seekersMy sister’s new book, The Odyssey Seekers: America’s Great Travelers is now available as a Kindle edition on the Amazon store.

Copy/pasting from the description:

In the first half of the 20th century, America could boast of a number of outstanding travel adventurers and writers. Superstars of their time, these men brought the earth’s most exotic countries to an enthusiastic public that demanded information and pictures about the world. They inspired an entire generation to travel in search of their own romance and adventure.

The Odyssey Seekers: America’s Great Travelers relates the stories of four of these men:

Harry Franck extolled the virtue of penniless travel by tramping around the world in 1904. He stowed away on ships and trains, and found odd jobs as a human nutcracker in Egypt, a clown in Ceylon, and a tennis ball chaser in British India to help pay the way. He walked through the jungles of Burma to Thailand—an unheard-of feat for the time. He continued with a four-year trip walking from Mexico, through Central America, and down the Andes to Argentina. In the 1920s, he walked through every province of China. In his more than twenty books, Franck’s vivid descriptions—underscored by a Yankee sense of humor and acute observations of everyday life of the common man—are often quoted by today’s researchers.

E. Alexander Powell introduced his readers of his thirty-one travel books to kings, sultans, and empresses. In the 1920s, he collaborated with movie producer Samuel Goldwyn on one of the first Hollywood “adventure” films in Southeast Asia. He wowed his audiences back home with stories of his narrow escape from death by a Dyak-poisoned dart in Borneo and his capture by Bedouins while crossing the Arabian Desert. Fulfilling one of many childhood dreams, Powell retraced the steps of famed explorer Henry Stanley across Africa.

Richard Halliburton influenced a generation of Americans to take off and explore the world. Each of his seven books became synonymous with youth, travel, and romance, and his lectures attracted men and women by the thousands who waited in long lines for hours to hear him speak. Halliburton was famous for such exploits as swimming the Panama Canal, sleeping on top of the Great Pyramid at Giza, diving into the sacred Mayan well at Chichen Itzá, and riding an elephant across the Alps in the manner of the Carthaginian general Hannibal.

Lowell Thomas introduced the story of “Lawrence of Arabia” to the world and became one of America’s most distinguished broadcast journalists. His listeners and readers of his more than fifty books traveled vicariously through him as he became one of the first Americans to visit some of the world’s most forbidden countries: Arabia, Afghanistan, and Tibet.

Fans of eccentrics and travel writing (especially the intersection of the two) should check it out!

Running The Numbers: 2009 in Books

What I read in 2009:

  1. The Architecture of Diplomacy: Building America’s Embassies by Jane C. Loeffler
  2. Bohemian Paris: Culture, Politics, and the Boundaries of Bourgeois Life, 1830-1930 by Jerrold Seigel
  3. The Call Of The Weird by Louis Theroux
  4. Empire Falls by Richard Russo
  5. Full Service Bank: How BCCI Stole Billions Around the World by James Ring Adams, Douglas Frantz
  6. Rats: Observations On The History And Habitat Of The City’s Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan
  7. Refried Elvis: The Rise of the Mexican Counterculture by Eric Zolov
  8. Riding Rockets: The Outrageous Tales of a Space Shuttle Astronaut by Mike Mullane
  9. Skeletons On The Zahara by Dean King
  10. The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America by David Hajdu

Running The Numbers I: 2008 in Books

What I read in 2008:

  1. 1912: Wilson, Roosevelt, Taft and Debs — The Election that Changed the Country by James Chace
  2. An Eye at the Top of the World by Pete Takeda
  3. Flicker by Theodore Roszak
  4. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon by Crystal Zevon
  5. Japrocksampler: How the Post-War Japanese Blew Their Minds on Rock ‘n’ Roll by Julian Cope
  6. Led Zeppelin’s “Led Zeppelin IV” (33 1/3 series) by Erik Davis
  7. Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
  8. R.E.M.’s Murmur (33 1/3) by J. Niimi
  9. Serge Gainsbourg: A Fistful of Gitanes by Sylvie Simmons
  10. The First World War by John Keegan
  11. The Formula by Steve Shagan
  12. The Other End by John Shirley
  13. The Prankster and the Conspiracy: The Story of Kerry Thornley and How He Met Oswald and Inspired the Counterculture by Adam Gorightly
  14. The Road to Ubar: Finding the Atlantis of the Sands by Nicholas Clapp
  15. Three Days to Never by Tim Powers
  16. Throbbing Gristle’s Twenty Jazz Funk Greats (33 1/3) by Drew Daniel
  17. Tommy Dorsey: Livin’ in a Great Big Way by Peter J. Levinson
  18. Washington Station: My Life as a KGB Spy in America by Yuri Shvets

A Bite of Stars, A Slug of Time, and Thou

newworlds_1958-04.jpgFreaky Trigger is podcasting ResonanceFM’s A Bite of Stars, A Slug of Time, and Thou, an astoundingly great show on pulp and avant-garde science fiction short stories from 1935 to 1975. Recommended for anyone who’s annoyed at how SF is equated these days with only television and movies.

The second season is already in progress and ends in November, but the entire run of shows is available and worth grabbing.

If you need one show to sample, start with episode #10 on J. G. Ballard’s “Track 12.” An early 1958 short story of his from New Worlds that’s one part Poe and one part sonic weaponry. The followup discussion touches on electroacoustic music, Iannis Xenakis, microsonics, and Ballard of course.

ResonanceFM desperately needs to archive/podcast more of its shows.

R.I.P. Robert Asprin


On May 22, 2008, Bob passed away quietly in his home in New Orleans, LA. He had been in good spirits and working on several new projects, and was set to be the Guest of Honor at a major science fiction convention that very weekend. He is survived by his mother, his sister, his daughter and his son, and his cat, Princess, not to mention countless friends and fans and numerous legendary fictional characters.

He will be greatly missed.

Indeed. I stopped reading the Myth books somewhere around book eight or nine, but they were (and still are) among my favorite things to read when I’m ill – especially those old Starblaze editions with the goofy Foglio art. I ran across them the same year that The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy was impacting and quickly absorbed the lot into the nerd zeitgeist I was developing for myself at age fifteen (Steve Jackson’s micro games, Apple II assembly language, Tempest/Missile Command, and Raiders Of The Lost Ark being the other big cornerstones)

The Enigma Of Arthur C. Clarke

clarke_2001.jpgI was five or six years old when I saw 2001 for the first time at a revival showing at the Orange Cinedome in 1971. It’s the first movie I remember seeing in a theater and thirty-seven years down the line that experience of seeing it stands out more in my emotional memory than things like my first visit to the Grand Canyon or even the launch of Apollo 17. Stendhal syndrome may not be soley limited to Florentine art and 2001 is my proof positive of that. Having said that, I’m going to commit an unspeakable act of criticism…

Arthur C. Clarke basically only wrote one story and then spent the rest of his writing career revising, modifying, and re-editing that story as science, society, and the simple passage of time evolved. It’s a process that wouldn’t be unknown to any of the characters in his books – mostly scientists, learned people, assorted technocrats and polymaths, all of whom have the sufficient time and resources to argue, complain, and otherwise deal with the big questions.

That one story was Clarke’s first sale: Rescue Party from 1946. In it, a galactic federation of ETs learn that the Sun is about to go Nova – threatening an intelligent species that lives on the third planet. A ship is dispatched to make contact and “if there was any trouble the rescue would be by force and the explanations could come later.” Along the way there are alien hive minds, planetary tourism, misidentification of what’s information and what isn’t, hell even a black monolith. And as with many of his storys, Clarke throws in a punch line at the end.

The evolution of humanity is much too important of a task to be left to mere humans and if asteroid impacts, heat death of the sun, or well-placed prehistoric artifacts won’t accomplish this then direct alien interference will do just nicely in order to become a citizen of the universe. Shades of a space-age Rudyard Kipling with aliens as Imperial Britain and the solar system as colonial India. The Overlords in Childhood’s End have a pretty advanced case of White ET’s Burden and I can’t help but wonder at how non-coincidental it was that Clarke lived most of his life in Sri Lanka. And if we’re going to play the intelligence relativism card, just how appropriate is it for the humans in The Deep Range to harvest an intelligent species (whales) for food?

Clarke’s famous third law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” could be semantically interpreted as “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from god” and there’s a lot of that going around in his stories: the revivification of Frank Poole in 3001, the clones of Imperial Earth, most of Childhood’s End, the Chrislam sect in The Hammer Of God. Maybe advanced technology requires an advanced form of mysticism to keep it in check? Maybe it’s the other way around? Maybe it’s both? Clarke’s later stories do consider the blowback effects of unchecked technocracy, but you’re never really sure. Maybe he’s leaving that up to us to figure out.

It’s that open-endedness that’s kept me a fan of his work. And honestly, I’d much rather live in a world created by people who avidly read Clarke than I would one created by fans of Heinlein, Asimov, or really anyone else. These days it’s much more radical to be an optimist.

Favorite Clarke book? It’s really not any of his novels (the 2001 story benefits much more as a movie when Kubrick is on board) but his short stories. Two to check out are “I Remember Babylon” – a PKDesque story in which Clarke (as himself!) encounters a Soviet agent who thanks him for creating geosynchronous satellites. The satellites are used to beam junk television around the world, only with propaganda embedded within. Second is “Patent Pending” – scientists create a machine that can record and playback human experience. Can’t afford a meal at an expensive restaurant? Purchase the experience at a much lower price. If you’ve seen Brainstorm and/or Strange Days, you know what’s coming next…

I think there’s only three members of SF’s golden age left now. Ray Bradbury, Fred Pohl, and Jack Vance.

You light the candles and I’ll get the robes… Witches rule!

I suppose I should say something about the Harry Potter finale and the alteration to the Earth’s rotation that results from moving 15 million books around, but I’m a Potter agnostic. Got nothing against the series and honestly, I’m all for anything that gets kids to read and drives fundies stir crazy.

I suppose it was only a matter of time until we learned the answer to What Would Jack Chick Do? Ladies, gentlemen, witches, warlocks, Illuminati, Discordians, Sub-Geniuses, Servants Of Cthulhu and other Enlightened Folk… Look out for “The Nervous Witch.”