Saturday, May 31, 2008

Never Say Never

Hydrox Redux: Cookie Duels Oreo, Again - WSJ.com: "Hydrox, the defunct chocolate-sandwich wafer, is returning for one more rematch with its nemesis, the Oreo.

Bowing to more than 1,300 phone inquiries, an online petition with more than 1,000 signatures and Internet chat sites lamenting the demise of the snack, Kellogg Co. has decided to temporarily relaunch Hydrox, the left-for-dead cookie."

Hat tip to Pop Culture Junk Mail.

A Couple of Tunes

I thought maybe a couple of songs might change things up a little, so I put them over on the right. You whippersnappers will be appalled. Some of you older folks might recognize the tunes, though.

Life Imitates Art

What the CIA Learned From Get Smart: "Maxwell Smart always 'missed it by that much,' but some of those dopey spy shows of the '60s were right on the money. 'Many of the devices first seen in movies and on TV actually came about,' says Robert Wallace, former head of the CIA's covert skunk works, the Office of Technical Services. 'Remember the Cone of Silence? We built shielded enclosures that did the same thing."

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Arkansas Crime Wave

Thanks to Jeff Meyerson for the link.

Stolen soda machine's tracks lead back to owner - NewsFlash - gulflive.com: "HUGHES, Ark. (AP) — Police didn't have to look too hard to figure out the source of a soda vending machine found in a front yard — they just followed the tracks.

Deputies from the St. Francis County sheriff's office spotted a Pepsi machine on Thursday in the yard of a home in Hughes. A set of dolly tracks in front of the machine led back to a liquor store less than a mile away that had reported it missing."

Johnny Guitar -- Roy Chanslor

Roy Chanslor had a long and interesting career in Hollywood, but he's probably best known for two western movies made from his novel. One of them was Johnny Guitar. Quick, what was the other one? Don't know? Cat Ballou. The novel was The Ballad of Cat Ballou, which in the movie becomes the song sung by Stubby Kaye and Nat King Cole.

I'd wanted to read Johnny Guitar for a good while, but copies were too hard to come by and too expensive. Not long ago, though, one appeared on eBay and I snapped it up. The book's dedicated to Joan Crawford, and as you can see from the page I've reproduced here, she was ready to star in the movie from the beginning. She'd obviously seen the novel before even the hardcover was published, since the movie came out only a few months after the novel.

I'd hoped the novel would have something of the goofy charm of the movie. No such luck. It's basically a sappy love story, so whoever wrote the screenplay (there's some dispute, I believe) and the director (Nicolas Ray) deserve a lot of credit (if that's the word) for what the movie became. I'm not going to do a point-by-point comparison, but it might be fun if someone had the energy. The book has its moments, but they're few and far between. Given the choice, you should watch the movie.

Caged Heat

Barry Awards Nominees

BEST NOVEL (Published in the U.S. in 2007)

SOUL PATCH, Reed Farrel Coleman (Bleak House)

THE UNQUIET, John Connolly (Atria)

DOWN RIVER, John Hart (St Martin’s Minotaur)

DIRTY MARTINI, J.A. Konrath (Hyperion)

WHAT THE DEAD KNOW, Laura Lippman (Morrow)

RED CAT, Peter Spiegelman (Knopf)

BEST FIRST NOVEL

(Published in the U.S. in 2007)

MISSING WITNESS, Gordon Campbell (Morrow)

BIG CITY, BAD BLOOD, Sean Chercover (Morrow)

IN THE WOODS, Tana French (Viking)

THE SPELLMAN FILES, Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster)

THE COLLABORATOR OF BETHLEHEM, Matt Beynon Rees (Soho Press)

THE BLADE ITSELF, Marcus Sakey (St. Martin’s Minotaur)

BEST BRITISH CRIME NOVEL (published in the U.K. in 2007, not necessarily written by a British writer nor set in the U.K. )

A QUIET BELIEF IN ANGELS, R.J. Ellory (Orion)

PIG ISLAND, Mo Hayder (Bantam Press)

ONE UNDER, Graham Hurley (Orion)

THE DEATH LIST, Paul Johnston (Mira)

THE 50/50 KILLER, Steve Mosby (Orion)

DAMNATION FALLS, Edward Wright (Orion)

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL

QUEENPIN, Megan Abbott (Simon & Schuster)

BLACK WIDOW AGENCY, Felicia Donovan (Midnight Ink)

CHOKE POINT, Jay MacLarty (Pocket)

THE MARK, Jason Pinter (Mira)

WASH THIS BLOOD CLEAN FROM MY HAND, Fred Vargas (Penguin)

WHO IS CONRAD HIRST?, Kevin Wignall (Simon & Schuster)

BEST THRILLER

NO TIME FOR GOODBYE, Linwood Barclay (Bantam)

THE CLEANER, Brett Battles (Delacorte)

THE WATCHMAN, Robert Crais (Simon & Schuster)

VOLK’S GAME, Brent Ghelfi (Henry Holt)

SILENCE, Thomas Perry (Harcourt)

MIDNIGHT RAMBLER, Jim Swain (Ballantine)

Hat tip to Sarah Weinman.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Pimpin' for The Man

Advance Praise for Joe Lansdale's LEATHER MAIDEN, due out AUGUST 5:

Leather Maiden is gripping, ferocious, and very funny. If you have not yet sampled Joe Lansdale’s singular, twisted brand of genius, this is a good place to start.”—George Pelecanos, author of The Turnaround

“If Mark Twain had written for the Grand Guignol he'd have come up with something like this. Like all Lansdale's books, Leather Maiden walks a delicate line between grotesquerie and moral outrage all the while managing to be funnier than anything I've read all year.”—Scott Phillips, author of Cottonwood

“Not since Dexter's The Paperboy has a novel blown me to hell and back. A stunning game of blackmail, murder, manipulation propel Joe into a league that includes one . . . himself. This is the novel of the year, the essence of what mystery aspires to be. It is truly jaw dropping.”—Ken Bruen, author of Priest

My own review is here.

If You're Going to be in Houston Tomorrow. . . .

Downtown library celebrates reopening with festivities | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle: "Houston Public Central Library celebrates its reopening after two years of renovations with a free weekend celebration.

Following the dedication ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday, the library will offer tours of the building at 500 McKinney, which promises great views of the city from its four public floors.

There also will be music, crafts, food, multicultural dance performances, hands-on technology demonstrations and author appearances until 6 p.m. Saturday and 1-5 p.m. Sunday. Musical performers will include Jose Luis Orozco, noon Saturday; Trout Fishing in America, 2 p.m. Saturday; and Grupo Kache, 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

The library doors open and plaza festivities begin at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Saturday author appearances

• 1 p.m.: Bill Crider (Mike Gonzo And The UFO Terror, Of All Sad Words), third floor

• 1:30 p.m.: Ellen Hopkins (Crank, Identical), fourth floor

• 3 p.m.: Anita Bunkley (Suite Embrace, Between Goodbyes), third floor

• 4 p.m. Katherine Center (The Bright Side of Disaster), third floor"

Once Again, Texas Leads the Way

Thanks to Doc Quatermass for the tip.

"HOUSTON (AP) -- City officials are apparently willing to dig deep to defend the police department's ban on beards.


The Houston City Council on Wednesday unanimously authorized spending up to $150,000 to defend the city in a lawsuit challenging the no-facial hair policy.

'The lawsuit is pending and we have to defend ourselves,' Councilman Ron Green said. 'But we're basically saying we want new police officers, but we don't want police officers with beards.'"

Poetry

Over at the Good Girls Kill for Money Club, Tasha Alexander shares a poem she wrote when she was six years old. I was reminded of another poem, one I read when I was teaching high school in Corsicana, Texas, about 45 years ago. I was visiting a grade school teacher who showed me the following verse written by one of her students:

There was an old man
Who lived in a can.
When it rained
He had a pain
And when it poured
He growed a gourd.

Say what you will about the grammar, but I've remembered that poem far longer than many others, probably hundreds of them, that I've read in the years since. I don't know what happened to the kid who wrote it, and I don't think I never knew his name, but there's the poem, still with me after so long a time. If that's not literature, what is?

Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster

Thanks to Doc Quatermass for the tip.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Forgotten Books: THE HOT-SHOT -- Fletcher Flora

"My old man was a bum, and my old lady was a slob, and chances are I'd be a slob and a bum both if it wasn't for this God-damn crazy game."

So says Skimmer, the narrator of The Hot-Shot in the book's opening paragraph. This is sort of a crime novel, and in a way it's sort of like Revenge, the book I mentioned last week. It's narrated by a sociopath who thinks he's a fine person and who uses others any way he can to further his own ends. The difference is that he's a basketball player, a guy who discovers more or less by accident that he has a remarkable talent for the game.

And another difference is that Flora, in a move that amuses me now as much as it did when I first read the novel, pretty much steals the voice of Skimmer directly from Holden Caulfield, a neat trick if you can do it, and Flora pulls it off.

The book's only 127 pages long, but it has the tiniest print I've ever seen in a paperback. Avon did this a couple of times, including once in a Henry Kane novel. Don't let the print stop you, though. This one is black-hearted fun.

Patti Abbott will have a list of other folks blogging about forgotten books today.

Harvey Korman, R. I. P.

Actor Harvey Korman, star of 'The Carol Burnett Show' and other films, dies in Los Angeles at 81: "LOS ANGELES - A UCLA Medical Center spokeswoman says actor Harvey Korman has died. Hospital spokeswoman Roxanne Moster said Korman died Thursday but she released no details.

The Emmy-winning star of such TV programs as 'The Carol Burnett Show' and films such as 'Blazing Saddles,' was 81."

Hold Tight -- Harlan Coben

I'm thinking Harlan Coben has created his own sub-genre: Suburban Noir. All those nice houses. All those nice people. Doomed, every one of them. At least that's the way it's seemed in Coben's most recent novels. In this one, a couple of things trigger off the chain of events: a kid's suicide and a teacher's offhand but cruel remark about a student. No need to say much more about the plot because that's the main thing the book has going for it, and I don't want to spoil things. Sure it's a goofy plot, but that's what the willing suspension of disbelief comes in. It'll help you swallow a couple of pretty large coincidences, too.

Hester Crimstein, from the Myron Bolitar novels, has a nice part in this one, too. If I ever commit a crime, I want to call Hester right off the bat. Little Pocahontas gets a mention, too, but nothing more than that. There aren't a lot of laughs to be had.

Since the days when he was writing the Myron Bolitar books, Harlan Coben has come a long way as far as sales. He's probably one of the best-selling writers around by now, with big sales in plenty of foreign countries as well as the U.S. More power to him.

Bond Gadets

Bond gadgets: Never say they will never work - tech - 28 May 2008 - New Scientist Tech: "Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, was born 100 years ago today. But while his hero's Cold War concerns may have dated, some of Bond's gadgets have not.

Some movies and stories used existing technologies such as jetpacks (Dr No), autogyros (You Only Live Twice) and GPS-capable phones (Casino Royale). But many of Bond's toys were way ahead of their time – and only now are we beginning to catch up."

Happy Birthday, Max Brand!

"It's the birthday of the novelist who wrote under the name Max Brand, Frederick Faust, (books by this author) born in Seattle, Washington (1892). He was the most prolific fiction writer in American history. He published more than 200 novels in his lifetime, and for decades after his death, his unpublished novels continued to appear in paperback. He wrote thrillers, love stories, and melodramas, but he specialized in the Western, even though he knew almost nothing about frontier life. He's best known for his novel Destry Rides Again (1930).

During the Great Depression, he was one of the best-paid pulp fiction writers in America, earning five cents a word. He managed to make about $100,000 a year at that rate, finishing a full-length novel every week."

Once Again, Texas (and Houston) Leads the Way

Best Cities to Live, Work and Play - Kiplinger.com: "Our approach this year to picking the ten best cities in which to live and work was simple: Look for places with strong economies and abundant jobs, then demand reasonable living costs and plenty of fun things to do. When we ran the numbers, some of the names that popped up made us do a double take at first. So we hit the road to meet movers, shakers and regular folks, experience the ambience and take in the sights."

The Wasp Woman

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Utah Phillips & Oakley Hall, R. I. P.



I've already run an Oakley Hall obit, but some things bear repeating.

The Cruelest Month


by David Laurence Wilson

Oakley Hall 7/1/1920 - 5/12/2008
Bruce “Utah” Phillips 9/15/1935 - 5/23/2008



May was a cruel month this year, four weeks to count heads and mourn the missing. California lost two unique storytellers and Nevada County lost two of its most notable citizens, novelist Oakley Hall and folksinger “Utah” Phillips.

I’d known Oakley Hall for nearly forty years, and he’d been active in his trade until recently, returning to an earlier dalliance with crime fiction by writing a mystery series starring Ambrose Bierce. Really, he’d lost nothing from his pitch.

As the years added up Oakley was defined by his novel Warlock, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1958. Warlock is a long and elegant story about the west, an acknowledged American classic. In 1983 I had a chance to contribute to the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Frontier and Western Fiction. I wrote: While the novel is about specifics -- about gunfighters and provisional governments -- it is also about frontier populations and their myths.” True, though Hall was not particularly comfortable with such literary soul-searching.

We shared a San Diego childhood, though decades apart. He was my teacher, as well as the teacher of many others, creating the writing programs at the University of California, Irvine and Squaw Valley.

Months ago I asked him if you could really teach writing, if it wasn’t just a twist of genetics that turned well-mannered innocents towards print.

“You can learn to write,” he said, “So I guess someone else can teach it.”

Oakley, whose first serious novel was about construction workers, did have his challenges within the academic world. While taking classes from him I was also typing a manuscript for another faculty member, a New Yorker whose book dropped a sentence or a word every page until there was just one word left.

Manning the oars in a forward-looking Writing Program, with all the excitement of postmodern story-telling and typographic tricks, Hall wondered where his own fiction fit in. He truly found his way when he returned to period western settings. He stuck with three acts, value for money. He was a master in all senses of the word.

* * * * *

It was easy to be a friend of the gregarious Bruce “Utah” Phillips, who died last week of congestive heart failure at the age of 73. It’s tempting to think that the two great pulses of Phillips’ life, bumming and folk music, were simply the best excuse he could find to be around other people.

A natural storyteller, he was equally comfortable on a stage or around a campfire. An imposing and colorful figure, Phillips was big and he looked big, a broad face and a broader beard. He was comfortable in suspenders or bib overalls.

He was the most accommodating of superstars, curious and unpretentious but a star for sure. He enjoyed his late but welcome roots in Nevada City, his house scarcely a mile from the National Hotel. You’d see him at the benefits, where often he’d M.C. He liked to watch the local parades and baseball games. Phillips fit Nevada City and the town fit him.

Nor was Phillips a stranger in Downieville. Occasionally he’d have a gig or a wedding to officiate, until he was told that it would be best for his ticker to avoid the higher elevations.

One time, a few years back, he was walking down the highway in front of my house, a sight-see-er or a seeker. On my street homes are found by pointing so I went out to offer a direction. Instead we spent about 15 minutes discussing B. Traven, the mysterious author of The Treasure of Sierra Madre. He told a long story about Traven and he admitted, as he took off, that he had mostly made it up on the spot.

He was convincing. It was as if he channeled the voices of an earlier generation of American folksingers and social activists, Woody Guthrie and Joe Hill. He was a walking library of music and stories. After his shows you should have received college credit, along with your ticket stubs.

Though his first recording was not until 1973, he was the steady conscience in a musical genre with no shortage of opinions. He sparked the local community like no one else. He was the real deal.

There’s a chance he might be best known for “Moose Turd Pie”, from that first recording. The pie story is like Abbott and Costello’s”Who’s On First”, the final punctuation for a “shaggy dog” story that evolved over generations. Undoubtedly more people have laughed at that one than are willing to admit to it. Others will crack up at the phrase, “Good, Though!”, the punchline and title of the album.

Phillips’ storytelling skewed to the road, tales of freight trains, skid rows, soup kitchens and depression-era labor unions. He was a lifelong member of the “Wobblies”, the Industrial Workers of the World. His politics was from the ground up and he was an optimist. He believed that every once and a while you can wash enough politics out of the system to come up with real solutions. In 1968 he ran for the U.S. Senate for the Peace and Freedom Party. In Grass Valley he was among those who organized the Hospitality House homeless shelter.

When you’re on the outside, the words “bum”, “tramp” and “hobo” sound about the same. Phillips could explain the specific variations. He ran away from home and rode the rails in the early 50s. He fought in the Korean War and began writing songs.

The last time I saw Phillips he was practicing yoyo tricks at the Kate Wolf Festival, in Laytonville. He was performing, mingling with the campers, telling a story about the last time he hopped a freight. It hadn’t been that long ago, he beamed. Then he played another favorite, “Hallelujah I’m A Bum”, a classic from 1897.

In 1999 his recording with Ani DiFranco, “Fellow Worker”, was nominated for a Grammy Award and in 2005, he got the deluxe treatment with a four cd set, “Starlight on the Rails: A Songbook”. He had a nationally syndicated radio program, Loafer’s Glory: The Hobo Jungle of the Mind”, available for listening at the Nevada County Library.

A lot of people have fond memories of Utah Phillips and his kind and ageless wit. He leaves behind a big shadow and many friends.

Hey, I Believe Him

Thanks to Walter Satterthwait for the link.

Odd News - Nude maid accused of really cleaning up: "TAMPA — A nude maid is accused of really cleaning up at a Florida man's home. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said a 50-year-old man hired the maid from the Internet on Friday to clean his Tampa home.

Authorities said the woman arrived at the home in a one-piece, light colored dress. She took off the dress and cleaned the house for $100-per-hour. Sheriff's office spokeswoman Debbie Carter said the man told deputies he left the maid alone in the bedroom to clean."

Wanna Hear Something Really Scary?

Snake takes wee nip - Local News - Cairns, QLD, Australia: "A ROADSIDE toilet stop ended in pain, embarrassment and almost death for a tourist when a highly venomous snake bit the end of his penis.

The deadly brown snake slithered between his legs and lunged at his manhood as he crouched on a roadside near Laura, 300km northwest of Cairns, about a month ago."

An Idea Whose Time Has Come (Again)

Robert Rodriguez shops prison series
It is the year of the imprisoned women drama series.

Director Robert Rodriguez is shopping around "Women in Chains!" a violent drama set at a woman's prison starring his fiancee, Rose McGowan.

The spec script, penned by Josh Miller and Mark Fortin, has been sent to a number of networks, including NBC and FX.

McGowan is set play one of five chained women at the center of the show, which Rodriguez is expected to direct. The two first worked together on last year's "Planet Terror," Rodriguez's homage to 1970s exploitation flicks.

The new show also is rumored to be fashioned with a 1970s exploitation sensibility, with such staples like mud wrestling. Details about the plot were first leaked to AintItCool.com earlier this week.

Women behind bars has become a running theme of late. "Chains!" comes on the heels of HBO's deal to do an American version of the British female prison drama "Bad Girls" with Alan Ball, Nancy Oliver and Raelle Tucker.

Our Tax Dollars at Work

Top Stories: Springs bus service gets $382,000 in anti-terrorism grants | security, bus, ramblin : Gazette.com: "Colorado Springs-based Ramblin Express, which shuttles gamblers to mountain-town casinos, including Cripple Creek, has received $382,000 in anti-terrorism grants.

The most recent grant, for $184,415, was announced this month as part of the Department of Homeland Security's $844 million Infrastructure Protection Activities program."

Once Again, Texas Leads the Way

SunHerald.com : Minor leaguer traded for 10 baseball bats in Texas: "McALLEN, Texas --
During three years in the low minors, John Odom never really made a name for himself until he got traded for a bunch of bats.

'I don't really care,' he said Friday. 'It'll make a better story if I make it to the big leagues.'

For now, Odom is headed to the Laredo Broncos of the United League. They got him Tuesday from the Calgary Vipers of the Golden Baseball League for a most unlikely price: 10 Prairie Sticks Maple Bats, double-dipped black, 34-inch, C243 style."

Geezers Rule! (Neil Diamond Edition)

How old geezer Neil Diamond came to be the new king of pop - Telegraph: "He's hot. He's happening. He's here again. After 48 years in the business, most of them spent vainly waving for the rocknoscenti's attention, Neil Diamond has become the biggest act on the planet. He tops the album charts in both Britain and America, and next month will play the hallowed 'Living Legends' slot at Glastonbury.

Living? Not so long ago, the question appeared debatable. Oh, Neil could still haul himself on stage, greet the fans and dole out the audible fondue, but his show had passed away. All that remained were the poignant echoes of a powdered and sequinned, 67-year-old schmaltzeteer heading into a comfortable old age. Then something strange happened. Neil became so unhip, he became hip again. Terrible and complete would be his vengeance."

Lynn Monroe's Latest Catalog

It's the Cain Corgis. Don't miss these covers, and while you're there, don't miss the articles on Charles Williams, Herbert Castle, and make-believe paperbacks. Or the list of other books for sale. You'll want to look at his previous lists, too. Wonderful covers all over the place.

Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

Walk Hard is a parody of the rock bio genre, and a very funny one. It takes specific things from certain other movies, and you’ll pick up on those immediately. The story arc’s familiar from those and a dozen (or a hundred) others. You get the encounters with the other rising stars (including a hilarious Elvis), the drugs, the fall(s) from grace, the comeback(s), the life on the road (groupies!). All the while, Dewey, who was in at the birth of rock and roll, moves through the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, adapting his style to the changing times. Some of the song parodies are dead on target, and I laughed at them as much as at the rest of the movie. The Conway Twitty-style duet (“Hello, Darlene”) carries the double entendre of Twitty’s songs to the logical extreme. Walk Hard won’t tax your brain, but it might tickle your funny bone. It did mine, but then I also laughed at Talladega Nights.

It Conquered the World

Happy Birthday, Ian Fleming!

The Writers Almanac: "It's the birthday of the man who created James Bond, novelist Ian Fleming, (books by this author) born in London, England (1908). He wanted to be a diplomat, but he failed the Foreign Office examination and decided to go into journalism. He worked for the Reuters News Service in London, Moscow, and Berlin, and then during World War II, he served as the assistant to the British director of naval intelligence.

After the war, he bought a house in Jamaica, where he spent his time fishing and gambling and bird watching. He started to get bored, so he decided to try writing a novel about a secret agent. He named the agent James Bond after the author of a bird-watching book. Fleming said, 'James Bond is ... the feverish dreams of the author of what he might have been — bang, bang, bang, kiss, kiss, that sort of stuff. It's what you would expect of an adolescent mind — which I happen to possess.'"

Croc Update (German Edition)

I'm reminded of my famous story "It's a Croc," which is about a croc in the sewers of Innsbruck, Austria. Thanks to Jeff Meyerson for the link.

German city hunts for crocodile | Metro.co.uk: "City officials in Germany say they've called in an expert to lead the hunt for a crocodile spotted in a local river.

Hildesheim city spokesman Horst Richter says two municipal employees got a five-minute glimpse of the reptile Monday on a backwater of the Innerste river. The animal, about 2 1/2 feet long, then disappeared into the brush.

Richter said Tuesday the employees' account was credible because one of them was an avid reptile enthusiast."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Anywhere I Lay My Head

I've listened to Scarlett Johansson's new CD on Rhapsody a couple of times now. I find it haunting, and I've figured out why. The production has turned the songs of Tom Waits and the voice of ScarJo and created the American equivalent of an Enya CD. Yes, Enya is exactly what this CD reminds me of. Those of you who are horrified by that thought (I'd link to Ray Banks here, but he's made that next to impossible for me) will certainly be even more horrified by the result. As for me, I kind of like it, particularly "Fannin Street" (hey, I drive on Fannin Street every now and then) and "Falling Down." ScarJo doesn't have the voice that Enya does, but she doesn't need it with the heavy echo and the layered production here. She can carry a tune, and that's all that's required.

Some Literary Birthdays Today

From The Writer's Alamanc:

"It's the birthday of hard-boiled detective novelist Dashiell Hammett, (books by this author) born in St. Mary's County Maryland (1894). He's the author of The Maltese Falcon (1930) and The Thin Man (1932), both of which were made into classic movies.


It's the birthday of best-selling mystery novelist Tony Hillerman, (books by this author) born in Sacred Heart, Oklahoma (1925). Most of his books take place in the American Southwest, including People of Darkness (1980), A Thief of Time (1988), and The Sinister Pig (2003).

It's the birthday of novelist John Barth, (books by this author) born in Cambridge, Maryland (1930). He's known for writing innovative fiction in novels like The Sot-Weed Factor (1960), Chimera (1972), and Letters (1979).

It's the birthday of novelist Herman Wouk, born in New York City (1915). His novels include The Caine Mutiny (1951), The Winds of War (1971), The Hope (1994), and The Glory (1995)."

Drat

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Crystal skulls 'are modern fakes': "Two of the best known crystal skulls - artefacts once thought to be the work of ancient American civilisations - are modern fakes, a scientific study shows."

Mortal Sin -- Paul Levine

I always enjoy the novels of Paul Levine. This one’s part of his Jack Lassiter series, and it’s dedicated to John D. MacDonald, “whose tough love for an embattled Florida inspires us still.” From that, you might be able to guess that the book’s about the developers vs. the environment, and it is, but it also has some nice courtroom stuff (Lassiter’s an ex-Miami Dolphin turned lawyer), humor, CSI-type forensics (though written long before the hit TV series), violence, and lots of action. Maybe too much action, since I’m not especially fond of long, drawn-out climaxes, even if they do feature threshing machines, car chases, car crashes, helicopters, burning cane fields, flying bullets, and whatever else I’m forgetting. Aside from that quibble, though, the book’s a lot of fun, and it does have some great gator material. Along the way, Levine manages to work in references to Dave Barry, Carl Hiassen, and Edna Buchanan, all of whom blurbed the book for him. I love stuff like that. Lassiter drinks some Plymouth Gin at one point. I liked that, too.

Once Again, Texas Leads the Way

FBI investigates Continental pilot's encounter with 'rocket' | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle: "A Continental Airlines pilot reported being startled by what he described as a rocket that shot past his cockpit window Monday when the plane was about eight miles north of George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force are investigating the incident, which occurred about 10:30 a.m.

'We don't know for sure what the object was. But we think it might be somebody doing model rocketing,' said Roland Herwig, an FAA spokesman. 'The pilot saw the rocket and some people saw the rocket's trail (of smoke).'"

The Alligator People (A Personal Favorite)

Borders Sells On-Line

Thanks to Jeff Meyerson for the link.

iWon News - Borders returns to Web retailing after 7 years: "DETROIT (AP) - Borders Group is jumping back into online retailing with a Web site designed to evoke the feeling of browsing at a neighborhood bookstore, down to the popular shelves of staff picks that are familiar to its customers nationwide.

But after seven years paired with Amazon.com, analysts say it will be a challenge for the new Borders.com to step out of the shadow of the Web retailing giant.

'It's not the intent that we're going to out-Amazon Amazon at what they do,' Borders Group Inc. (BGP) (BGP) President and CEO George Jones said earlier this year. 'What we think is that we can still have a great, compelling offering.'"

Monday, May 26, 2008

Happy Birthday, Gatorland!

Photo gallery at the link.

MyFox Orlando | Gatorland Marks 60th Anniversary: "ORLANDO, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) -- Central Florida's iconic Gatorland celebrates its 60th anniversary this Memorial Day weekend. The attraction marked the occasion with the opening of a new gift shop and admissions complex.

Located between Orlando and Kissimmee on the South Orange Blossom Trail, the roadside attraction first opened in 1949. Founded by the late Owen Godwin in 1949, and still privately owned by his family today."

Why You Shouldn't Get Married Outside in Arkansas

Bride, groom shot at outdoor wedding in Arkansas: "LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - An apparent stranger shot the bride, groom and two other people at an outdoor wedding in rural Arkansas, then was arrested after being chased by outraged guests, a sheriff's official said Sunday.

The wedding was just ending Saturday when the suspect approached with a 9 mm pistol and opened fire, Pope County sheriff's Lt. Aaron DuVall said. No one else was hurt.

About 50 people, including children, had attended the ceremony along Piney Creek north of Dover at a spot the lieutenant said was popular for picnicking and swimming. Dover is 64 miles northwest of Little Rock.

The suspect 'was not associated with the wedding at all,' DuVall said. 'No one knew him.'"

Yet Another List I'm Not On

I have no comment on this list other than to say that I, for one, will not be reading the first book mentioned, even though it's already #1 on the NYT list.

10 new books for summer reading | Chron.com - Houston Chronicle: "With gas at $4 a gallon, journeys of the mind look mighty attractive this summer. Forget that road trip to Vermont. Here are 10 new books - none costing anything like what you'd spend filling up the Suburban - that seem particularly promising. I perused advance reading copies and pre-publication reviews, scrutinized publishers' catalogs and talked with Houston-area booksellers to put together the list."

Once Again, Texas (A&M) Leads the Way

Aggie finds healthy fatty acid in brisket: "Texas A&M researchers have found that favorite of barbecue lovers is high in a monounsaturated fatty acid that can aid in production of good cholesterol."

The 20 Worst Chick Flicks of All Time | Movie Crunch

The 20 Worst Chick Flicks of All Time | Movie Crunch: "In honor of all the men who are going to be dragged kicking and screaming to the Sex and the City movie at the end of this month, we decided to look back at some of the worst movies in the genre.

While I’m sure some would disagree, not all chick flicks are bad, but what about those sappy messes that even women can’t stomach? Take a look at some of the offenders on our list of the 20 worst chick flicks of all time."

Memorial Day

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.


Take up our quarrel with the foe:

To you from failing hands we throw

The torch; be yours to hold it high.

If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.
-- John McRae

The story of the poem's composition and publication is here.

The Incredibly Strange Creatures . . .

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Blood Marks and Texas Wind

Ed Gorman has a few kind words about books by me and James Reasoner.

New from Hard Case Crime

For some reason, the latest Hard Case release reminds me of this post from a couple of days ago.

And by the way, this is post #6000 on this blog.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

This is a movie, not a film. Its purpose isn't to give you deep insights into the human condition or to probe the
psyches of its characters. It's here to thrill, surprise, and delight, and for me it succeeds on every level.

I suspect that most of the people who see the movie won't understand why I enjoyed it so much, but that's because they haven't had the same experiences I've had, didn't grow up when I did. Sure, they may have seen a Republic serial on DVD, but they don't know what it was like to be a kid and walk to the Palace Theater on Saturday afternoon where I'd sit through the western double feature with half the rowdy kids in town yelling and whistling and clapping, all the while anticipating the serial, which often got a bigger reception than the features. Because there's a little of that kid left in me, I tend to watch the Indiana Jones movies a bit differently from the whippersnappers, I think. Roger Ebert said something like "this isn't a Saturday afternoon serial. It's what those serials would have been if they could have." Exactly.

Be that as it may, I had a wonderful time at Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The plot? Who cares? It doesn't matter. What matters is the action, the laughs, the fun. The Nasca Lines! Karen Allen! A bullwhip! Quicksand! (Okay, so it's not quicksand. Same difference.) And, of course, Harrison Ford! He might not be a great actor, but he's great in this role. Geezers rule. Don't believe me? You will after you see the movie. Shia LaBeouf? Gimme a break. He tries to come across like Marlon Brando in The Wild One, but instead he's Fonzie after the shark. If George Lucas thinks he can continue the series with LaBeouf, he's nuts. LaBeouf can't carry Harrison Ford's fedora.

Where does The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull rank in the Indiana Jones cycle? I'd say it's considerably better than The Temple of Doom and as good as The Last Crusade. Probably nobody will agree, but it's my blog, after all.

Dick Martin, R. I. P.

The Associated Press: TV's 'Laugh-in' comic Dick Martin dies at 86: "LOS ANGELES (AP) — Dick Martin, the zany half of the comedy team whose 'Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In' took television by storm in the 1960s, making stars of Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin and creating such national catch-phrases as 'Sock it to me!' has died. He was 86.

Martin, who went on to become one of television's busiest directors after splitting with Dan Rowan in the late 1970s, died Saturday night of respiratory complications at a hospital in Santa Monica, family spokesman Barry Greenberg said.

'He had had some pretty severe respiratory problems for many years, and he had pretty much stopped breathing a week ago,' Greenberg said.

Martin had lost the use of one of his lungs as a teenager, and needed supplemental oxygen for most of the day in his later years."

It would be impossible for me to explain the impact of Laugh In to anybody who wasn't around when it first came on the air. So I won't even try.

I lived in Brownwood, Texas, for a number of years. Rowan and Martin appeared there for some reason, and though I wasn't living there at the time, people were still talking about them. The place must have made an impression (not a good one) on Rowan and Martin, because they joked about the place and that performance for years afterward.

Will the Persecution Never End?

The Moment Very | Paris Hilton � - T Magazine - New York Times Blog: "One day in the distant future, the children of our children’s children will look back upon the ‘aughts’ for retro inspiration and stumble upon the sartorial black hole that is Paris Hilton. Her egregious crimes against fashion are too numerous to list here, . . ."

Thanks to Jeff Meyerson for the link.

The Astro-Zombies