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Friday, January 30, 2015

Happy Birthday Gregory Benford

It's interesting to occasionally look back at what you've done. For a long time, I blogged extensively on author Gregory Benford. I read most of the novels he published during the first decade or so of his literary career, and mused deeply on three of them: Jupiter Project, The Stars in Shroud, and If the Stars are Gods, the latter of which he wrote with Gordon Eklund. I've always meant to go back, and make more posts on those other novels, but I never have, even though I read Against Infinity, the sequel to Jupiter Project, twice.

Against Infinity is one of my favorite novels, completely different in subject matter and style than its predecessor, yet it continues the story of protagonist Matt Bowles on Jupiter's moon Ganymede. Highly recommended. Anyway, if you missed any of those early posts on Gregory Benford, or would like to reread them, here's an easy guide to them. And if you're not inclined to read them, why not read a Benford novel in honor of the author's birthday. He turns 74 today, and he's written so many Science Fiction novels, each uniquely different in style, tone, and subject matter, that you're sure to find one you'll enjoy. 

Happy Birthday Gregory Benford! May you write many more great Science Fiction stories!

Dragon Dave

Gregory Benford                  
Posts on the novel Jupiter Project

JABOL: A Space Odyssey
Jupiter Project: Life on JABOL
Matt Bowles: Renaissance Man
Jupiter Project: A Final Word 

On his novel The Stars in Shroud
Our Need for Interdependence 
Defined By Fear 
Ling’s Courage 
Those Detestable Ofkaipan 
A Completely Different World
Those Most Precious to Us 
Sensing “The Other” 
Embracing The Different 
Religion as Social Glue
Ling’s Faith and Persistence
A New Guru
Doctor Who, Ling, & the No-Win Situation
Your Personal Altar: Part 1
Your Personal Altar: Part 2
Your Personal Altar: Part 3

Gregory Benford & Gordon Eklund
Posts on their novel If the Stars are Gods

A Beautiful Mystery
The Invisible Enemy
Dilemmas in the Darkness
A Fictional Role Model
A Defining Moment
That Which Divides
The Man in the Box
What Drives Us
If the Stars are Gods: A Final Word

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Gator's Visit to Gatorland

My wife and I have had our own alligator for nearly twenty years. He's part of the reason we grew interested in alligators and crocodiles. So when we visit a place like Gatorland in Orlando Florida, it's natural that he'd want to accompany us.

Gator enjoyed watching his cousins sunning on the warm wooden decks.

He enjoyed watching his friends swim in the rivers of the preserve.

(He took care to not fall in. Like us, he's not that much of a gator-lover).

He enjoyed looking around at the scenic beauty, and the local wildlife, even the birds (like the Egrets) that are drawn to Gatorland. Oh, and there was another form of wildlife he enjoyed watching soar above him.

He's not sure what they're called, but they looked like they were having a good time. Their raucous calls probably weren't mating rituals, but they must have communicated something significant.

And then there was the lunch, which he shared with his friends. He especially liked the corn dogs, as all gators like meat. But he also enjoyed sharing the Goldfish crackers and the Oreo cookies with his friends.

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Exploring Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld

Imagine waking up one morning on a grassy field along with a crowd of other people. Like everyone else, you are naked, and your only possession an empty tube-shaped container. Before you lies a river that divides a mountain-lined valley, and spaced along it, every mile or so, are large stone sculptures shaped like mushrooms. Oh, and one more thing: you remember your death. Vividly.

This is the situation in which Sir Richard Francis Burton finds himself in Philip Jose Farmer's novel To Your Scattered Bodies Go. This nineteenth century British explorer traveled widely, wrote prolifically, and spoke numerous languages. Given his extensive experience of other cultures and societies, he nonetheless feels a moment of panic at the thought that this must be the afterlife, and Judgment Day awaits. But then he remembers another dream he had, about waking up in a vast chamber, and discovering other naked bodies floating around him, some of them lacking skin, or with portions of their skeletons showing. Clearly some power brought all of them back to life, for some inexplicable purpose. This situation hardly resembles those described in the Biblical book of Revelations. For, just like everyone else here, despite having lived a long life, he is young again.

In this first day, he will discover that each person's canister fits into one of the many slots in the stone mushrooms. Three times each day, after electricity surges through these mushrooms, the people remove their canisters to find them filled with various food and drink items. It would seem that whoever placed them in this river valley intends to care for their basic needs. Some might view this situation as a return to Eden. Burton, given his understanding of human nature, commences a survey of available resources. He and another man, a hairy Neanderthal, gather suitable pieces of stone, and begin shaping them into stone axes. While he has no desire to hold power over others, he knows that some people will always seek to rule over or take advantage of others. And so he determines to assemble tools he can use to build a home for himself, and weapons he can use to defend himself, as well as what he has built. 

With this imaginative premise, Philip Jose Farmer ushers us into Riverworld, a planet containing every person who died after age five or so, from thousands of years BCE to the early twenty-first century, when an apocalyptic event occurred. (As proof that Humanity suffered a great cataclysm, Richard Burton meets a revived alien who landed on Earth in his future, only to find that nations soon fight over the right to the technology he has brought with him). Like a snake, this river winds its way around the planet, always surrounded by a grassy valley, and hemmed in by unscalable mountains. It's a planet of infinite possibilities, where people can begin again, and put all past mistakes behind them. In a world in which each person can remake his life in any way he or she pleases, Richard Francis Burton can feel no satisfaction in building a house or even founding a kingdom. His overwhelming ambition drives him to discover who resurrected Humanity, and why. To fulfill his quest, he vows to travel along the river and discover the beings who brought him here. For what is life without adventure, and the challenges that promise great rewards? 

To Your Scattered Bodies Go won the 1972 Hugo award for best novel, voted on by attendees of the World Science Fiction Convention. Its overwhelming popularity spurred Farmer to write numerous sequels. Eventually, Farmer invited other others to write their own stories about Riverworld. Riverworld games appeared, followed by TV programs set on this fantastic world. As yesterday marked the ninety-seventh anniversary of Philip Jose Farmer's birth, why not observe this occasion by exploring (or returning to) the fictional world for this great author is best known? In this timeless series, you may just find yourself carried away on one the greatest vicarious adventures of your life. 

That is, of this life, I mean.

Dragon Dave

Friday, January 23, 2015

Gator-Sitting at Gatorland

You've heard of babysitting, housesitting, and even dog sitting, right? There's a sport that's growing in popularity in Orlando, Florida. It's called Gator-Sitting, and you can try your hand at it at Gatorland.

After the handlers tape up the alligator's mouth, they direct you to approach the alligator cautiously. When they feel the animal is comfortable with you, they direct you to sit on the alligator. Of course, you need to ease yourself down, as you don't want to startle the gator. At least, not if you want it to remain calm, and you want to get your photograph taken with the alligator. 

While the handlers try to keep out of the photograph, they need to remain close. No matter how well trained, alligators are still wild animals, and can react violently to the presence of humans. 

Especially if they're hungry.

This young lady had not yet placed her hands on the gator's mouth when it swung its head unexpectedly. The handler shouted for her to remove her hands, and she whipped them immediately to her side. It's a good thing she had fast reflexes. Duct tape may be strong, but an alligator's jaws are stronger.

Standing beyond the fencing, we heard novice gator-sitters tell the handlers that they came from all over the world, including countries in Europe and South America. So it seems that this growing sport is prompting more and more people to visit Orlando, Florida.

This doesn't mean that everyone is enthusiastic about trying their hands at gator-sitting. This young girl only sat on the gator after a good deal of encouragement from her parents, and kept her hands firmly to herself. Thankfully, she emerged unharmed from her first attempt at gator-sitting.

Personally, I can't blame her for not smiling. 

While I like alligators and crocodiles, I have no great desire to get close to them. Well, except for this large fellow here. He seemed so cheerful and welcoming that I felt comfortable sitting on him, even without his jaws being taped. Still, I didn't linger on his back. After all, I didn't know what he was smiling about.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

David Roberts' Mischievous Illustrations

Half of the fun of the short novel, The Boy Who Kicked Pigs, comes from Tom Baker's prose. Only half, you say? Why only half? That's easy: because the other half derives from David Roberts' wonderful illustrations.

Robert having an evil thought.

When I say half, I mean half. Every time you turn the page, you'll see one of David Robert's illustrations on the left, with Tom Baker's story on the right. Each illustration enhances Tom Baker's storytelling, and helps you better visualize Robert's world.

Uh, I'm talking about Tom Baker's evil character there. Not about the world of David Roberts, the wonderful illustrator. (I suppose that could be evil too, but I hope that's not the case).

Robert finds kicking pigs infectious.
Soon he's kicking all pork-related products,
including this woman's port chops.

David Roberts' work reminds me of the late Charles Addams, from which the TV series The Addams Family and the resultant movies are derived. It's whimsical, mischievous, and the perfect fit for Tom Baker's storytelling.

Robert's evil actions draw a crowd.

A quick perusal of David Roberts' website demonstrates his range and depth as an artist. You can find his wonderful work in a number of books, some of which he's contributed to, and others entirely of his own making. They all look great, and make me want to check them out. But really, people, you must pick up a copy of The Boy Who Kicked Pigs. There's no way that I can demonstrate, in two posts, how devilishly fun this book is. I'd tell you to do whatever you have to do to get your hands on a copy--beg, borrow, or steal, if necessary--but that would only demonstrate how Tom Baker's prose and David Robert's illustrations form a completely compelling and utterly mischievous experience.

So, on the whole, best to buy a copy, I think. Don't you?

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links
David Roberts' website

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Happy Birthday Tom Baker

A view from Rye,
a village in the English county of Kent,
where Tom Baker lived for several years.

Saturday, June the 13th. And Robert Caligari is going to die today. It's a marvelous day. The place is Sandway in Kent, near Lenham, the highest village in the county. It is 7:30 in the morning. It is the sort of day that makes you glad to be alive and it is a Saturday too. To be young on a warm sunny Saturday in June is simply wonderful. And today is the day Robert Caligari is going to die.

So begins Tom Baker's short novel The Boy Who Kicked Pigs. It's a story about a young boy who proves Saint Augustine's belief that humans are born evil, cursed by Original Sin. Sadly, it's not one of those books where the central character grows and changes for the better. 

Robert grows up with a desire to harm others. One of the ways he hurts his little sister is by kicking her tin piggy bank. When, one day, his kick sends her pig careering out the window. It knocks a cop unconscious while he's driving, which results in all sort of bizarre accidents on the street. After this, Robert takes care to disguise his malicious behavior. Still, he doesn't stop hurting people. And then, one day, the day he dies, he causes mischief of truly epic proportions.

Why should I read this short book, you ask? If you're familiar with Tom Baker the actor, you doubtless remember him for his tenure as the fourth Doctor on the TV show Doctor Who. You'll remember mischievous onscreen presence. His performances brought new fans to the show, and made him a hero to Doctor Who viewers around the world. 

If you're unfamiliar with Tom Baker as an actor, you'll be captivated by his summary of Robert's life, and how he relates the evil deeds that lead to unimaginably heinous (and unspeakably hilarious) catastrophe. As you read the story, you'll imagine you're sitting in an English pub across the polished wood table from Tom Baker, and he's relating every sinfully delicious aspect of this story as you sip your pint of bitter. He'll hold you enrapt with the way he talks, his asides and anecdotes, the sparkle in his eyes, and his irrepressible grin. It's a rare gift, to tell a story of such magnitude in such an easygoing, wandering fashion, and it makes me sad that he hasn't written more stories in a similar vein. Even if the humor is dark, and Robert's fate certain, The Boy Who Kicked Pigs is a delightful readt.  And that's all to do with the masterful way Tom Baker tells his story.

Happy 81st Birthday, Tom Baker, you mischievous author you.

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links
Tom Baker's website

Monday, January 19, 2015

Happy Birthday Allen Steele

Three years ago, I attended a Science Fiction convention in which Allen Steele served as the Author Guest of Honor. I enjoyed hearing his input on panel discussions, as well as his views on contemporary society. He seemed eminently approachable, without pretension, and a real down-to-earth guy.

He told us an interesting story about meeting his writing hero Robert Heinlein. As a young man, he snuck into a private party at a Science Fiction convention. When Robert Heinlein arrived, he approached the great author only to find himself tongue-tied, and unable to tell Heinlein how much he admired his stories.

While Allen Steele signed my books, I told him about meeting SFWA Grand Master Robert Silverberg. How I had gotten tongue-tied, and felt embarrassed afterward. Thankfully, I was able to speak clearly and concisely with Allen, and told him about sections of two of his novels that had really spoken to me. He thanked me for my input, and shared with me what had motivated him to write those particular scenes. 

As I walked away, I heard something rip behind me. Somehow, my shoe had gotten wrapped in the fabric draping the signing table, and I had just torn half of the fabric away from the table. Hurriedly, I reattached it, and left the signing room. 

So much for meeting my literary heroes without (in any way) embarrassing myself.

Happy Birthday, Allen Steele! Thanks for being so approachable, for sharing with your fans, and for writing your fantastic novels!

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links
Allen Steele's website

Friday, January 16, 2015

Alligator Wrestling at Gatorland

At many zoos, you don't get to see the handlers interacting with the animals. Not so with the alligators at Gatorland in Orlando, Florida, where you can see real, live, people wrestling with alligators!

After welcoming you to the show, the handler will ask for a volunteer from the audience. He will then ask the volunteer to select a gator for him to wrestle. Then the handler will leap over the trenches surrounding the square sand pit, and pull the gator out of the water!

Naturally, the handler will respect the mouth, as not only do gators have powerful jaws, but their teeth also tend to be on the sharp side. So he'll sit on the ground, and control the gator's head, so it can't twist around and bit off his arm.

While the jaws are very strong, it takes surprising little strength to hold them shut. Shut is a good way to keep an alligator's mouth. But then, it's also a good rule for people, as we often say things without thinking, and those ill-chosen words can sometimes injure others as seriously as a gator's jaws.

Handlers at Gatorland take the time to build strong relationships with the animals in their charge. This keeps them in tune with their gator's moods, behavior, and capabilities. This relationship, based on trust and mutual respect, allows them to perform physical feats with their animals as practiced, graceful, and awe-inspiring as those of trapeze artists or ballet dancers.

But then, you reap what you sow in this life, don't you?

Dragon Dave

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Happy Birthday Robert Silverberg

Meet Joseph Master Keilloran. In The Longest Way Home, by Robert Silverberg, Joseph wakes up one night to hear muffled bangs and booms in the distance. At first, he thinks it is the rain that has been forecast. But when he looks out the window, he sees figures racing across the grounds, and fires rising the main wing of Getfen House. He tries to call his father, half a world away in Keilloran House. But his combinant can't get a signal through. And outside, he notices that the figures outside are carrying weapons.

One of the Folk, a servant named Thustin, arrives and explains that the foreman is leading most of the household staff in a revolt. They plan to kill all the Masters. She urges him to dress, and bring anything he needs with him. Then she leads him through disused sections of the house, picking up a pack of food along the way. But she is shot as they leave the grounds, and although she survives, her wound will hamper her ability to travel. She urges him to hike through the woods toward a village of Indigenes. She believes they will shelter him from the violence of the revolt.

Joseph, confused and ill-prepared, manages to elude armed patrols of Folk, mobilized and traveling in motorized transports. Not knowing who to trust, he keeps his distance from convoys of animal-drawn wagons carrying (what look like) Folkish refugees. As he stumbles through the wilderness, he meets a Noctambulo. This curious creature has two distinctly different personalities, one that operates during the day, and another that attains consciousness during the night. Although he hardly speaks Joseph's language fluently, the Noctambulo agrees to help him reach the Indigenes. Already exhausted, his reluctant muscles strained and aching, Joseph twists his leg and collapses in pain. But he forces himself to rise, and hobbles onward with the aid of a walking stick. 

Eventually he reaches the Indigenes, and indeed they take him in. But this is just the start of a great adventure for Joseph, one in which he will meet all kinds of people, confront his assumptions and beliefs about history, class, and family, and come to understand his world better. He had thought that a pleasant vacation lay in store for him, catching up with his relations on the northern continent. But the uprising, his Wanted status, his inability to communicate with his family, and the difficulty he has communicating with the Indigenes, make him realize how alone he is. He may only be fifteen years old, but whether he likes it or not--whether he wishes otherwise or not--he must become a man now. 

A journey of ten thousand miles stands between him and his home. His injury and lack of resources make the distance seem impossible to traverse. But he refuses to give in to his circumstances, even if his goal seems impossible. For he is the first born son of a Master. He has been trained since birth to succeed his father as ruler of his house and lands. Even if what he learns along the way makes him question whether he desires such a future, he is determined to return home. For he is Joseph Master Keilloran, and he will not allow others to shape his future for him.

At first, The Longest Way Home seems an innocuous book, a simple story about a boy in the process of becoming a man. No evil villains enter Joseph's journey, nor does he take part in great battles. No great technology is explored, nor does the story force us to confront troublesome aspects of contemporary society. But somewhere along the way, like turned to love with regard to this book. To me, it seems like a quietly important book. It doesn't shout its significance. It doesn't seek to revolutionize. It just sets out to entertain and enlighten, and in this it succeeds magnificently. My life may be very different from Joseph's, but I've never failed to identify with him. In fact, I've read the novel three times in the last dozen years, and each time it's caused me to reflect on my life, as well as on my future. 

I may not be Joseph Master Keilloran, but I can be the Master of my life, if I will only try, and refuse to give up. Thank you, Robert Silverberg, for writing The Longest Way Home, in addition to so many other novels and stories that teach us about ourselves. Congratulations to you on your eightieth birthday! May it be the best one yet!

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries
On his story "Nightwings"
Avluela’s Sacrifice
A Watcher’s Faith 
A Worthy Monster 
The Prince of Roum 

On the story "Road To Nightfall"
When All Hope Seems Lost

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Jeremiah & Joseph Campbell: Part 2

No one ever wants to be told that what they're doing is wrong. Especially people who believe in God. Most believers just want pastors and church leaders who encourage them and tell them that everything they do is okay. And if they desire to serve in leadership positions, they want a pastor who allows them to do whatever they want to do, however they want to do it, and never, ever tells them "No." After all, they have a personal relationship with God, right? No one in their right minds should ever tell them "No," or suggest that they do something in a slightly different way. No other person has the right to tell them "No," or that what they are doing (or want to do) is wrong. Even if it is the Pastor. 

After all, they're the People of God! They've got a relationship with God! So if God thought what they were doing was wrong, he'd tell them, wouldn't he?

Perhaps not. Instead, might he send someone like Jeremiah, an older (or younger), disheveled, and seemingly insignificant person? Not someone slick and carefree, who got you to do what he wanted with his carefree manner, nor someone who gently led you to do what he wanted because you admired him. Not someone who was talented, and always said the right things, and convinced you of the rightness of his arguments with a few well-chosen words. Not someone who made you smile and laugh and desperately want to please. A person who, while he might have a few good points, is tiresome, annoying, and continually criticizing your efforts. Someone who looks back at the way things were done in the past, and doesn't want you to modernize your practices, or revolutionize your approach.

Talk about a thankless task. Talk about a dangerous job! Certainly, we can agree that the role of the prophet was usually a profitless one for the individual. Or should I say the hero? Does someone who performs a thankless task, most likely doomed to failure, someone who nobody wants to listen to, deserve to be called a hero? Or am I describing an overly precious sentimentalist, a tiresome bore, with a maladjusted, negative view on life?

If we acknowledge that Jeremiah was a hero, someone on the level of Gilgamesh or Jason of Argonauts fame, as Joseph Campbell outlined in his book Hero with a Thousand Faces, does that mean we should be more receptive to criticism, even actively seek it out? Does that mean that we should honor those who point out (what they see as) our flaws and shortcomings, and try to modify our outlooks and beliefs accordingly? Even if they're younger than us, or conduct themselves differently than we wish they would? Even if it places a damper on what we want to do, and limits our individual freedom?

Or should we just read about heroes like Jeremiah occasionally, praise them for saying the kind of things that no one ever wants to hear, and then go back to doing whatever the heck we want?

Dragon Dave

Monday, January 12, 2015

Jeremiah & Joseph Campbell: Part 1

Recently, our pastor preached on the Book of Jeremiah. He's someone who loves reading great stories, particularly mysteries and Fantasy by early British writers such as G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, and Charles Williams. In fact, he attaches such importance to these stories that he believes that, before any pastor gets ordained, he should have a thorough understanding of how Fiction influences our lives. Still, he surprised me when he likened the prophet Jeremiah to the ancient myths, legends, and sagas concerning such heroes as Gilgamesh and Jason of the Argonauts. 

Personally, I've never really gotten Jeremiah. To me, he was just somebody who sat around and wailed a lot. "Oh, why can't you do it my way! Why can't you see things the way I see them! If only you'd listen to my words, you could have a bright future--the best of all possible futures!" And, let's face it: nobody likes a whiner.

A few years ago, I read Joseph Campbell's classic book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In it, he expounded on his philosophy of the Monomyth, or the Hero's Journey. He studied these ancient heroes of mankind, and detailed the various stages each story had in common. Thus, he wrote, these stories grew important to mankind. They were passed down orally, and later in written form, from chiseled cuneiform on stone tablets, to carefully written sentences on papyrus. 

Just like the stories detailing the classic heroes' feats, the Israelites recorded all that Jeremiah said and did. But why? I mean, no one listened to Jeremiah when he railed against the Israelites, did they? So why take the time to record and preserve his words? And how could he possibly be considered a hero? 

Jeremiah: a hero? I don't know about you, but I need to think about that a little more. 

Dragon Dave

Friday, January 9, 2015

Birdwatching at Gatorland

Humans aren't the only visitors to Gatorland. Some of them have brilliant white plumage, and a few of those even have colorful footwear. These large white birds are called Egrets, and they love nothing more than watching the alligators in their natural habitat. 

Or even interacting with them.

There are other types of birds who hang out at Gatorland, including Turkey Vultures, and this little fellow who thinks he's a penguin from Madagascar. But then, it's the holiday season, so naturally the Egrets adopt a more welcoming mood.

This Blue Crane liked nothing better than to stand in the water and survey his surroundings like royalty. If he wore jeweled slippers beneath the water, they were hidden by his reflection.

It's not just the Egrets who have to share Gatorland with their feathered friends; Macaws also reside there. The fellow on the left loved to flap his wings, even as he was clinging to the branch. I wonder if he was happy to share his domain with the Egrets.

We certainly didn't mind spending a little time with the Macaws, admiring their colorful plumage. Or at least, until their incessant chatter overwhelmed our ears.

Nor did we mind sharing our visit with the Egrets, even if they pushed their way into shots occasionally. 

At least the gators don't seem to mind the Egrets, or the rest of their feathered visitors. While they make Gatorland seem a little crowded at times, I suppose theme parks are supposed to be crowded, right?

Dragon Dave

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Happy Birthday Terry Brooks

In the beginning, there was darkness and chaos. Then J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit appeared, bringing with it a haven of light and order called Middle Earth, and there was much rejoicing. The light provided joy and gladness and order, as well as a lighted pathway through the surrounding darkness. This led to another, larger region of Middle Earth, wherein The Lord of the Rings was found. And there was much rejoicing.

And then...nothing. No matter how great the quest, no more great realms were discovered. Middle Earth was a wondrous realm, to which one could venture again and again. Joy and gladness occasioned those reunions, but frustrated nursed hopes for additional adventures. If only new paths could be found, with great discoveries awaiting them at their end, for life to again blossom with promise and hope for the future! Hope and joy could be simulated in lesser realms like Dungeons & Dragons, but such areas burned with less brilliance and vitality, lacking the structure and order brought into being by a wise creator. So hopes faded, and order struggled to fight off the ever-ravenous hordes of chaos.

Then lo, when all seemed lost, a new path was found. A path burning bright with lights, and the promise of a great new adventure. A path that led to another bright realm created by Terry Brooks called The Sword of Shannara. There more great heroes dwelt, and rose to defend their lands against a malevolent villain and his ravaging hordes. We accompanied our new dwarf, elvish, and human friends on their adventures, stood beside them as they risked their lives for others, grew with them as they overcame all the obstacles that threatened to stop and confound them...and there was great rejoicing. 

Like J.R.R. Tolkien's realm of Middle Earth, this realm of Shannara could not contain all the order, excitement, and joy it promised. So it gave birth to another realm called Landover, wherein great adventures also took place. But the realm of Shannara proved even more robust. It burst with promise, with newness of light, and its depth and richness amazed all who found their way there. The light of Shannara grew brighter, more brilliant than most weary, dispirited wanderers could have possibly imagined. In a land filled with so many interesting places, heroes, and adventures, hope could never die. Order and promise could be sustained. Rejoicing, great rejoicing, could continue unabated, undimmed, forever.

And so, oh Great Creator, we thank you for lighting new pathways amid the darkness, and illuminating the wondrous realms of Landover and Shannara. On this most special day, may your heart burn with order, enthusiasm, and hope for the future. 

Happy Birthday, Terry Brooks! Let there be much rejoicing!

Dragon Dave 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Happy Birthday Karen Haber

Meet James Ryton. His company has been awarded NASA contracts for the building of Moonbase. He's a hard-working executive who has spent his life building his business to secure his family's financial future. The difference between him and other humans is that he is a Mutant. And this causes him and his family no end of trouble.

When he was young, James listened to his fellow Mutants, and considered speaking out, and fighting for equal rights that would allow his fellow Mutants to become active members of American society. But violence and discrimination demolished to those dreams. So he invested his life in his Mutant clan, and expected his wife and children to do likewise.

Sadly, his son Michael, whom he has groomed as his successor, insists on seeing Kelly McLeod, the daughter of one of his subcontractors. She's a nice enough girl, but James worries how Michael's deepening relationship with a Normal will affect the clan. There's the Mutant heritage and culture to preserve, as well as important abilities such as telepathy and telekinesis, which he doesn't want to see diluted through such a mixed marriage. Also there's Jena to consider. She's a pretty Mutant girl, the daughter of a friend, who adores Michael. Years earlier, he and his wife negotiated with Jena's parents for their children to marry. Yet Michael insists on marrying outside the clan, to a Normal, diluting his descendants potential abilities and culture. This would separate him from the customs and practices that have held Mutant society together for hundreds of years.

No matter what James says, no matter how logically and passionately he argues, Michael, his successor, refuses to listen. And now, as James approaches fifty, the mental flares are afflicting him. Once the flares begin, they usher in headaches, loss of emotional control, and the ability to calmly reason. He has seen many brilliant Mutants, afflicted by the flares, reduced to little more than children, incapable of caring for themselves, and not knowing who or where they are. Worse, some become mental vegetables. He wonders how long he can continue to work, to preserve his family, his clan, and everything he holds dear.

His Mutant gifts gave him superhuman abilities compared to the Normals, but now he's paying the price for them. Soon he will discover more trouble brewing in his family than his firstborn's resistance to marrying within the clan. Impotence, incapacity, and loss lie in his future...

James Ryton and his son Michael are just two of the interesting characters you will meet in Karen Haber's novel The Mutant Season. It's the first in a four book series, based on a short story written by her husband Robert Silverberg. Today, Karen Haber's birthday, seems like the perfect time for you to treat yourself by checking out her Mutant novels. If you're like me, you'll soon find yourself engrossed by her Mutant and Normal characters, and her page-turning plot. Like a fine wine, my appreciation for this series has increased with time, so I've begun the year by giving myself a special treat. The Mutant Season may number two hundred and eighty-nine pages, but I gobbled them up like ice cream, and immediately headed off to my bookshelf for Mutant Prime, the next book in the series. Reason finally took hold, and urged me to slow down, not to speed through them all at once. To savor these novels, because they're just so wonderful, and when they're over, they're over, and it will take years for these terrific memories to fade, so I can discover them anew once more.

Happy Birthday Karen Haber, and thanks for writing your four Mutant novels. Now please, get back to your computer and write some more! Please please please!! 

(Or do I need to plant a subliminal suggestion in your brain that you'll find impossible to resist?)

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Ridley Scott's Ferocious Crocodiles

In Ridley Scott's latest epic "Exodus: Gods and Kings," the Biblical plagues unreel like the furious blows of a boxer, one followed rapidly by another. Instead of Moses approaching Pharaoh before each begins, and saying "Now be a good boy, and let God's people go," the plagues pummel the people of Egypt into a daze, confounding Pharoah's most learned advisors. Not until the final plague, the death of the firstborn, does Moses approach the palace to seek the Israelites' release. Pharaoh, as stunned as everyone else, can only wonder at the idea of one last, final plague. Why should he fear it? After all, he's weathered all of them up until now. And if one more comes, it will hurt the Israelites as much as it wounds the Egyptians, right?

The Gators (and Crocs) at Gatorland
come in all sizes and colors.
All are mighty.

Ridley Scott's movie offers us a new look at the events recorded in Exodus, and explores both God and Moses' roles in great depth. Yet at the center of this visually stunning masterpiece lies the Ten Plagues of Egypt, and these begin with crocodiles.

The Nile Crocodile is the second largest reptile on Earth. While its small limbs hamper its progress across land, it scythes easily through water. Propelled by their long tails, Nile Crocodiles swim en masse toward crude wooden fishing vessels, climb on board, and clamp their powerful jaws down on unsuspecting crews. The fishermen try to fight off the crocs, but they are limited to their fragile wooden boats, and they cannot escape the crocs by leaping into the water. So the Nile Crocodiles bite and chew and swallow, and blood pours into the river. Does God order the crocodile attacks on the fishing fleets, this important food source for the Egyptians? Or are other, unknown events responsible for turning the waters of the Nile red? Either way, if you were a frog, you'd want to escape the crimson water, right? 

Unfortunately for them, the frogs don't take so well to their new life out of water, and are killed not only by the Egyptians, but also by the hot, dry conditions on land. So insects arrive, to feed on the bodies, and afflict the Egyptians and their animals. Thus one plague follows another, causes another, naturally leads to another. But all are instigated by one significant if unrecorded event: The Attack of the Mighty Nile Crocodiles!

Sadly, Egypt and some Islamic countries are banning "Exodus: Gods and Kings." Those responsible don't seem to get that the point of a dramatic retelling is to highlight aspects of history and legend in unusual ways, to help modern audiences more readily accept the Biblical narrative. Conversely, many reviewers in the United States don't even get the film, most likely because it doesn't follow the modern trend of totally inverting a classic story, or turning it into an escapist, graphic-novelesque Fantasy. But I loved "Exodus: Gods and Kings," and highly recommend it to everyone. With my apologizes to the Egyptian fishermen, I particularly liked the logic and power behind the attack of the Nile Crocodiles. 

But then, I'm just a Gator-lovin' guy, I guess. As long as I'm not fishing in the Nile.

Dragon Dave

Monday, January 5, 2015

Calling All Hobbits

Thirty-five years ago, a friend loaned me his copy of The Silmarillion. The book had recently come out, and I eagerly opened the hardcover volume, looking forward to taking a great journey alongside Bilbo Baggins, his nephew Frodo, or some other Hobbit, Dwarf, or Human hero. Imagine my surprise when I discovered this was a collection of stories, highly mythological or historical in nature. Instead of easily following the narrative, I found myself lost, bewildered, and bored. I closed the book, and ultimately returned it to my friend. It remains one of the few great Science Fiction or Fantasy books that I gave up on, and never finished.

For as long as he could remember reading, Tolkien claimed he had been writing stories about different peoples, their cultures, and inventing their myths, legends, and languages. Those stories would make up The Silmarillion, which apparently cover the First and Second Ages of Middle Earth. Last Saturday marked the One Hundred and Twenty-Third anniversary of Tolkien's birth. Had he not died, J.R.R. Tolkien would be now be older than Bilbo at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings, which occurs during the Third Age of Middle Earth. It seems a fitting time for me to pick this book up again, and give it another try. 

If, like me, you've always wanted to read to learn more about Middle Earth, why not pick up The Silmarillion and read it with me? I'd appreciate hearing your feedback as I undertake the demands of this dense tome. And if you've also had problems getting through the book, perhaps we can make better sense of it together. After all, neither Bilbo nor Frodo departed Hobbiton alone. Each had his faithful friends to travel with, and help make his journey more manageable and enjoyable. I'd be honored to have another hobbit to travel alongside on this great adventure. Or even a Dwarf, or a Human hero.

Dragon Dave

Friday, January 2, 2015

Kevin J Anderson, Rebecca Moesta & Roger Zelazny on Author Word-Count Targets

Morning Worship - 12/28/14

At Science Fiction conventions, husband-and-wife authors Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta often encourage young writers to make the most of their free time, even if it only means snatching a free five or fifteen minutes to write. Personally, I find contributing anything to a sustained narrative difficult in such a short amount of time. It seems as if it takes me ten or fifteen minutes to read through what I wrote the day before before I can resume where I left off. But I often find myself exhausted creatively by the time I finish my target word count, and if I still feel in the groove, and continue onward, I later find myself so addled that I'm wrung out emotionally and intellectually for the rest of the day. 

The late, great Roger Zelazny stated this approach in slightly different terms. Instead of setting aside a single block of time to write (say, for example) 1,000 words, carve out four smaller blocks throughout the day to write 250 words each. That may only amount to a few sentences or a paragraph at each sitting, but at the end of the day, it all adds up. If you're like me, it will probably take you time to get your creative juices flowing, but hopefully that initial writing period will prompt further ideas that will aid successive writing spurts. 

With each year's beginning, I ponder how I can do things differently, how I can make my efforts more effective, and more readily achieve my goals. Chief among those, of course, is my desire to get my novels published. I'm wondering if I can use Anderson, Moesta, and Zelazny's advice to help me achieve more than I have in the past. How I go about putting that idea into practice, however, remains to be seen.

In the meantime, I have put the above writers' advice into practice in a related but different way. My wife and I have attended church infrequently of late. As an added enticement to attend, I've started bringing my sketching kit to these services. Anglican worship, with its communal readings, prayers and singing, doesn't necessarily allow for a great deal of sketching-time. But in the little time available to me in last Sunday's worship service, I did this simple sketch, and began coloring it in. I then took about fifteen more minutes later on to finish the coloring. It's not anything much, but I may add to it at a later date. Still, it's something I wouldn't have done if I hadn't taken my sketching materials and used the limited time available to me to be creative.

Hopefully, that's something I'll remember each day as I sit down to write.

Dragon Dave

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Another Year, Another Dinosaur

Pepper: I wonder what Mistress is working on.
Salt: Let's take down her knitting bag and have a look.

Salt: Mistress has been so busy lately. Maybe we should help her as a New Year's Day present.
Pepper: How? We don't know what she's making.
Salt: We're Daleks. We can figure it out if we work together.
Pepper: Oh, all right. I suppose I can help.

Pepper: These are weird shapes.
Salt: Yes, but it's pretty clear these pieces need to be stuffed.

Pepper: Are you sure you're sewing the pieces together correctly?
Salt: If I'm in error, I can always disassemble it and start again.

Salt: Alert! Alert! I've created a monster!
Pepper: Yeah, I'm not so sure he wants to be disassembled.

Pepper: Good, you're conscious again. Meet Alice the Allosaurus. I finished her for you.
Salt: Good, kind Allosaurus. You know I was just kidding about disassembling you, right?
Pepper: Don't forget you called her a monster.
Salt: Uh, I think you can stop helping now.

Salt & Pepper Dalek

Related Dragon Cache entries
When Daleks Knit
Dinosaur Knitting
Another Year, Another Dalek