Friday, March 28, 2008

Madness, cold weather, books, and a birthday

So ... My tournament bracket was trashed after day one. I lost two final four teams the first weekend... but I still have the probable National Champion (along with 75% of everyone else) as North Carolina. After watching the 'Heels demolish Washington State last night, I believe that this team might be able to make the NBA playoffs.

Baseball played in the cold has long been part of March for me. After coaching high school baseball for many years, I took the test and have been umpiring for the last 3 years. It's not any warmer, in fact, sometimes it can be a lot colder, especially when the score is 21-1 and the wind chill is 25 degrees.

Watching the weather last night on the news, it turns out that we had 20 days in February with below average temperatures, and are on our way to 20 days in March with below average temperatures, making this the coldest winter in many years in this area. However, to the global warming naysayers, the average temperature this winter is still ABOVE average for this area... so go figure.

Books this month include:
- Legend, Duma Key, and The Postman, which I have already blogged about.
- The Mauritius Command by Patrick O'Brian. Another excellent story in this series about Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin. Centered on a minor campaign in the Indian Ocean, Aubrey has risen to the rank of Commander, and seems well on his way to an Admiralty. I look forward to future installments.
- The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly. Fast becoming my favorite hard-boiled detective, Harry Bosch is still trying to get past the whole Dollmaker incident... which is certainly dying a very hard death. Excellent stuff.
- Revenge of the Wrought Iron Flamingos by Donna Andrews. What can I say? A bit of fluffy, humourous mystery is always welcome. In the same vein as Joanna Flukes, Janet Evanovich (although far less raunchy that Evanovich), and Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody; Meg Lanslow seems to attract trouble and somehow with the aid of multiple friends and family members, manages to solve the crime/mystery. I'll be reading through this series and post updates.
- finishing up The Mummy Case by Elizabeth Peters, The Solace of Empty Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich, and Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke.

Oh yeah. I'm 49 today. Woohoo. Inching ever closer to the big Five-Oh. I guess I'm in pretty good shape for a guy my age.... but man, getting old really does stink. Heh!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I Love March!

It follows February.
And of course, we have


A tradition that has developed within my own lifetime, the month of March is set aside for college basketball fans. Conference tourneys, Selection Sunday, and of course the Big Dance itself, basketball lovers LOVE this time of year.

This year (as in the last couple of years) my favorite team, The University of Missouri Tigers, will not be dancing. But a highly successful football season, and optimism in baseball sort of make up for it. Not having a favorite makes it much easier to watch and enjoy the whole process.

Final Four predictions: North Carolina (led by Missouri product Tyler Hansbrough), Texas, Georgetown (in over Kansas, the local favorite, but as an MU fan I would rather lose an eye than see the Jayhawks in the Final 4), and Duke (tough call over UCLA, but Duke has something to prove this year and UCLA is wildly inconsistent).

#14 Georgia over #3 Xavier; Georgia is hot, blitzing through the SEC conference tourney (yes the SEC IS weak this year, but still...), and I don't like Xavier's schedule.
#11 St. Joseph's over #6 Oklahoma; Oklahoma hasn't impressed me this year, and St, Joseph's is playing well. I have St. Joseph's all the way to the elite 8.
#12 Temple over #5 Michigan State; Playing Temple is like playingthe game in sticky molasses. Defense and rebounding win most games. Temple and Georgetown have long standing traditions of being very tough teams to beat because of defense and rebounding.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Passing of a Giant

In dedication to one of the greatest science fiction authors of all time, a giant in the field of speculative fiction

Arthur C. Clarke
(16 Dec 1917-19 Mar 2008)

here's my top 10 fiction books of all time. In no particular order at all

1) The Caine Mutiny by Hermann Wouk. Published in 1951, this was a Pulitzer Prize winning World War II novel that featured one of the most dislikeable anti-heros of all time, the notorious Captain Queeg (played to a T by Humphrey Bogart in the movie made from the book). The great thing about Queeg (at least for me) is not only do we find his dislikeable traits in others, we find them in ourselves, and thus Wouk has created the perfect character. I've probably read this entire novel 20 times, and parts of it (the trial scene is spectacular) another 20 times.

2) Starship Troopers by Robert H. Heinlein. This isn't considered to be Heinlein's best by many, Stranger in a Strange Land perhaps being the frontrunner for this giant author in the science fiction genre. But for me ST was it and remains it. The Puppet Masters comes close...

3) Flowers For Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Classic and timeless. This story ought to be required reading for everyone.

4) A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. Charles Wallace and Meg. Tesseracts, witches and whiches, IT, this book has so much symbolism... and a fantastic story to boot.

5) The Legion of Space by Jack Williamson. Pulp fiction at it's finest. Williamson uses the theme from the Three Musketeers combined with Shakespeare's Falstaff... my favorite character is Giles Habibula, the hard drinking, always complaining, man of many talents and always a strength when the chips are down. Written in 1934, this novel easily stands the test of time... my 9 year old recently read it and loved it. Nuff said I think.

6) The Stand by Stephen King. Pretty much set the standard by which modern post-apocalyptic fiction is measured. Published in 1977, King had some strong precursors to his magnum opus.... Alas Babylon, On the Beach, Earth Abides; King carried the genre to a new level with a classic story of good vs. evil set in a believable post-apocalyptic world.

7) Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. Another of my sons favorites. He keeps asking about the sequels and I keep telling him he's welcome to read them, but don't expect the same type of story that is so appealing to juvenile readers.

8) Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I'm not sure that I need to say much about this classic. Hobbits, dwarves, elves, wizards...

9) A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute. On the Beach is regarded by most as his best work, but I like this World War II war story set in southeast Asia and Australia.

And of course I will have to list my favorite from the dedication author. Arthur Clarke has written so many classic books and stories, it will be difficult to pick just one favorite, especially since I haven't read his work for many years (something I intend to remedy over the next year). So here it is:

10) The City and the Stars by Arthur C. Clarke. A rewrite of of one of his first novels, Against the Fall of Night, I probably read this when I was 14 or 15 years old. It stuck with me as an example of serious (ands eriously good) science fiction, science fiction against which I measured everything else that I read later.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Postman vs. Dies The Fire

Anyone who has read this blog knows that I am a fan of apocalyptic fiction. This weekend I finished a book that I'm very surprised to not have read many years ago. David Brin's The Postman is a well known, perhaps classic, example of the post-apocalytic genre. Published in 1985, it may well have been one of the last "world ends in nuclear disaster" novels written.

Dies the Fire is the first book in a series written by S.M. Stirling with more or less the same premise. However since Stirling is writing in the 2000's, he needs a different catastrophe to wipe out most of humanity, and settles for a mysterious "event" that somehow makes combustion and electricity no longer work. An interesting premise for a post-apocalyptic world.... and Stirling does a marvelous job in describing the consequences and ramifications of a world without power...

But anyway, as I was reading Brin's book I was struck by the similarities:

- Brin centered his world on western Oregon, specifically the Willamette Valley. Stirling centered his world on western Oregon, again, specifically the Willamette Valley.

- Brin's bad guys are leftover military survivalists who are attacking the peace-loving folk who are just trying to get back on their feet. Stirling's bad guys (in the first trilogy anyway... there is a second trilogy being written in the same world) are led by a history professor who sets himself up as a medieval warlord, partnered with some gang lords who manage to escape the big cities, and... guess what, are attacking the peace-loving farmers who are just trying to get back on their feet. It takes Stirling three books for the good guys to defeat the bad guys and his second series has new bad guys... ultra-religious ones this time with a great acronym of a name, CUT, which stand for Church Universal and Triumphant.

- One of Brin's heroes, George Powhaten, is an aging Buddhist. One of Stirling's heroes is a Wiccan named Juniper MacKenzie.

I really like Stirling's books, his characters, and his political/religious takes. But WOW, after reading The Postman, I found his settings and characterizations eerily reminiscent of Brin's world. Do I think this is a bad thing? Not at all. Authors don't come up with ideas in a vacuum after all, and most authors are avid readers. It's possible that Stirling read Brin's book, really liked the setting (although Brin's rainy and cold northwest coast is not that appealing), mixed it with some of his own ideas and experiences, and produced a similar yet strikingly different work of fiction. You have to wonder, though, is it something about Oregon State University, or the city of Corvallis...

I think I'll put Corvallis on my "to visit" list of cities.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Old News

It's old news now... Yes I'm changing jobs. I'm leaving my teaching position at St. Joseph Central High School, where I've taught for 4 years. A number of factors enter into the equation as to why... but suffice it to say that it is something that we've considered for several years.

Central has provided me with a world of experience that I'm thankful to have had. Collaboration, education, exposure to different ideas and cultures, all will aid me in my quest to be and become a better teacher, parent, and educator.

So Thank You Central. As the school year begins to wind down, I will find myself caught up in a rapid sequence of testing, finishing up curriculum, preparing to transfer possessions, selling and buying a house, and physically moving about 500 miles, not mention all of the summer activities that will not disappear simply because we are moving. So, to all the teachers, administrators, parents and students who have all combined to make my experience a positive one.... Thank You again.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Stephen King...still going strong

Stephen King's first novel, Carrie, was published in 1973. Duma Key, was released in February of 2008. That makes 35 years of successful writing. My interest has waxed and waned over those years. I count a couple of his books as top 20 favorites (I used to have a top 10 list, but found it to be not enough)... The Stand and Salem's Lot.

King suffered a terrible accident 9 or so years ago (he was struck by a van while walking near his home). His writing has changed a bit since the accident and he admits to venting some of his anger and frustration through his writing. Duma Key is an obvious parallel to the trauma that King went through. The hero, Edgar Freemantle, suffers a horrific industrial accident leaving him minus an arm along with brain, hip, and rib injuries that guarantee years of painful rehab, not to mention costing him his marriage. Yet Edgar persists with the help of a daughter and some faithful friends. The injuries have tapped his latent artistic talent, and King weaves Edgar's recovery into a creepy (yet not gory) tale reminescent of The Shining or The Dead Zone. No spoilers here however... read it for yourself!

After I finished the book, I felt that this was perhaps one of Kings better works. I connected to the characters in several ways, and after all that's basicly what successful literature does. And yes I DO think what King writes is literature. Despite whatever Harold Bloom says about him. I once recommended The Stand to my father-in-law who was a well-known psychology professor... his reaction was similar to Bloom's. I guess it takes all kinds. Time will tell if this book remains as one of his better works in my estimation.

Anyway, I think I'll give The Cell a go next. It's received good reviews, and being a high school teacher, I can definitely get on board with cell phone carrying zombies :-).

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


When I was growing up I read a lot of science fiction, Robert Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, Isaac Asimov etc. A common theme throughout these stories, written mostly in the 50's but buttressed by the 60's cartoons like the Jetsons, was that sometime in the near future (as near as 1960 in some cases) we would discover or implement a clean unlimited power source and all of our lives would be better. Robot housecleaners, flying cars, longer lifespans, you name it, science fiction promised to deliver.

Well. Here we are. I'm 48, living in 2008. Time is passing all too swiftly. And no flying cars.

To be sure, we have instant communications all over the world using handheld devices the size of a cigarette package. This device can also act as a camera, GPS, PDA, internet and email access device, music repository and player and can also slice tomatoes and make a good tomato bisque.

We have computers that have more calculating and video power in one small book sized machine than all of the computers in the world in 1950. And that are so affordable that many families have more than one.

We have The Internet, an amazing repository of ideas and information. Research and communicating ideas in any field has never been easier or more accessible. Games, entertainment, video, sound.... are all unimaginably further advanced than science fiction authors in the 1950's speculated.

But no flying cars. In fact, far from flying cars, 2008 models of automobiles aren't really that far removed from 1950's. A time traveller from 1955 would have no trouble identifying a car, a train, a bus, an airplane, and an experienced 1950's driver would probably quickly adapt to driving in 2008.

So what happened?

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Ah like a lion, out like a lamb?

Well, I guess, as we're expecting severe thunderstorms this afternoon, and 2-4 inches of snow tonight. Sigh. Winter will not ease its grip so easily, although we are enjoying temperatures in the 70's right now.

Finished David Gemmell's Legend late last night. The legend refers to Druss the Axman, an aging warrior who goes out with one final heroic lost cause battle against overwhelming odds (something like 500,000 to 10,000). Gemmell (who died in 2006) cited a fascination with the Battle of the Alamo as inspiration for this book.

I enjoyed the book, racing through it in one day, but was a little disappointed by the contrived ending. No spoilers here however, you'll have to read it, and I think it is well worth the time.

Changed the name of this blog, as it appears that many of my posts will have to with books and reading. I'll list my progress towards a 100 books in 2008 in a later post, but suffice it to say that I'm somewhat behind pace right now. As a teacher I have more time to read in the summer months, so can afford to be a little behind come May and June.