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Friday, May 29, 2015

An Important Picture

A few Sundays ago, I decided to draw a cross in church. Then, because the flowers on the altar called to me, I decided to draw those too. 

While I drew, the priest spoke about how Christianity was different from other religions. It had its own unique identity, and those who advocate syncretism, or believe that all religions as essentially the same, rob Christianity (or any religion) of its uniqueness. 

On Mother's Day, I attended my mother's church. Her pastor shared with us his love of Church History, and studying the ancient Christian fathers, such as St. Anselm and Martin Luther. The thing I came away from the service with was his assertion that, while God is often regarded as a Father, many of the Church fathers portrayed him as a Mother. He also spoke about the special role a mother plays in a traditional marriage, and how society's attempts to modernize the household, as well as the role of women, have robbed women and mother's of dignity and fulfillment. 

Oh, and at one point, he also mentioned that he had watched "Dragonheart 3," and that the dragon in the movie wasn't very nice. So we should be more like mothers, not dragons, apparently. I can't judge, as I haven't seen the movie, but this seems strange to me. I remember liking the dragons in the first two movies, and thinking they were good role models. In any case, while I enjoyed most of his sermon, on this issue I disagree. There are good mothers, and good dragons, and yes, even good dragon-mothers. So there.

Anyway, I added to the picture while he spoke, as you can see below.

The next Sunday I added to the ground, filling it in with grass and other plants, and deepening the colors. As I drew, the priest shared with us how he had taken an icon with him during a sabbatical in Ireland. During his months there, he would look at the picture in his room, and this kept him centered. He suggested that we all need things that keep us centered, that remind us of who we are, and who we yearn to be. What those may be for any particular person will be as different and unique as we all are.

I also worked on the picture while waiting for my wife during two doctor visits. Time in the reception room flew by as I drew. And then, suddenly, it was finished.

At my mother's church, a friend's brother remarked after the service, "That sure must be an important picture you're working on." I'm not sure how important this particular picture is, either to me, or in the scheme of things. I did enjoy drawing it. Hopefully, the picture has its own unique importance and dignity, and conveys something that helps keep me centered. But I suspect that its real importance in my life was the actual drawing of it, not the final result.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

No Job For A Lady: Who Goes Home? Part 2

In "Who Goes Home?" the first episode of the British sitcom No Job For A Lady," new Labour Member of Parliament (MP) Jean Price races back from her home to meet with Sir Godfrey Eagan. Unlike her, Sir Godfrey is a long-standing MP for the Conservative Party, with extensive links in industry. While she shares a cramped office space across the street with Ken, he rents a spacious office in the Palace of Westminster. On his wall hangs a large portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, and a photo of Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher resides on his desk. He offers her a selection of refreshments, compliments her on her change of clothes, and seems amenable to pairing with her.

During her short visit home, her husband Geoff gave her several messages from her constituents, two of which concerned needed medical treatments. Back in her office, her assistant Tim reminds her of an appointment with one of them, a man who is waiting to get a hip operation. Earlier in the House of Commons lobby, she told the Whip that she would be pairing with Sir Godfrey Eagan, so she wouldn't be attending tonight's vote. She also asks him about the opportunities available to her for granting priority status to some of her constituents who are still waiting on the British health care industry for needed operations. He's okay with her pairing arrangement, but can't offer her any advice on hastening medical procedures, except to pay to get those done privately. When she reminds him that the Labour Party publicly discourages people getting healthcare from alternative providers, he reminds her that writing to your MP in the hopes of hastening a medical procedure constitutes an attempt to leap ahead of others ahead of you in line, and isn't an action the party would endorse either.

Still, she meets with the man and his wife, who review all the means they have tried to hasten her husband's hip operation. We never learn why he ended up in a wheelchair, but he's been relegated to it for two years, and would dearly like to walk again. While he's disappointed that she can offer him no encouragement, he's far from bitter, reflecting that some people he knows have waited four years before getting a hip operation. 

During my trip to Wales in 2012, a conversation with one family ventured into the British healthcare field. I don't remember the intricacies of the discussion, but the wife had clearly done her research on how Britain's National Healthcare Service (NHS) compared with healthcare systems (public and private) in other countries. She asserted that the British people pay more in taxes, but such things as healthcare are supposedly free. However, as the government holds the purse strings, and there are always calls on the public purse, NHS funding is a part of the country's annual budget that frequently suffers cuts. Like the man in the wheelchair, she and her husband seemed philosophical about it. While they knew every country's healthcare system operated differently, they supposed that the grass always looks greener in another field.

Britain's National Health Service (NHS), founded in the mid-to-late 1940s, when the country was recovering from the ravages of World War II, aims to care for all the medical needs of its citizens. Yet private insurance carriers have been available to English citizens for just as long. After Jean confirms that the man and his wife have exhausted all available options to speed his operation, she asks, under her breath, if they might possibly be members of BUPA, a private medical insurance company founded in 1947, that has grown to serve fourteen million people in two hundred countries. For the first time, the man seems appalled. He insists that he and his wife are good socialists, and that they don't believe in private medicine." Then his wife pushes him out of the House of Commons lobby.

Given our history, people in the United States have long known the importance of having a private insurance provider. But it seems as though, for every story someone tells about how their insurance company took good care of them, you hear a story about how their carrier mistreated them. I wish I knew more of the intricacies of Britain's NHS. It would also be interesting to learn how the NHS may have changed, in response to citizens' needs, since this show aired in 1990. (In his memoir A Journey, Britain's Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair devotes a chapter to discussing how he made adapting and evolving Britain's NHS a priority during his ten years in office). I find it interesting that Alex Shearer, who wrote "Who Goes Home?" and all the episodes of No Job For A Lady, suggested that some people would view waiting years for needed medical assistance as their patriotic duty. But then, our beliefs and ideals often grow more precious to us in times of adversity. To repay them for the comfort they offer us, we gladly endure more pain to uphold them, rather than "give in" to practicality.

Dragon Dave 

Monday, May 25, 2015

No Job For A Lady: Who Goes Home? Part 1

In "Who Goes Home?", the first episode of the British TV series No Job For A Lady, Jean Price finds herself a fish out of water. She's only been a Member of Parliament (MP) in the Labour Party for three days, but already she's noticed that it resembles an old boys club. Also, the hours are long, with votes being called at all hours. The latter is driven home when a two-line whip is called. She and Ken, the Labour MP with whom she shares office space, must make it out of the building they are in, across the street, and into the House of Commons in fifteen minutes. Unfortunately, the elevator in the office building is out of order, and as Jean hurries across the pavement, the heel breaks off her shoe.

By the time she makes it into the lobby, the vote has been taken. Her office buddy Ken tells her that the vote wasn't all that important, but then the party Whip appears. He disagrees with Ken, and takes a dim view of new MPs who feel such votes are unnecessary to attend.

Back in the office, Ken tries to repair her shoe. When Jean complains about the insane hours MPs are expected to keep while Parliament is in session, he suggests that she can table an Early Day Motion. This may not result in limiting the hours between her desired 9 am and 6 pm, but at least it will alert the members to the problem, and perhaps help them debate the issue.

The problem is that already Jean rarely sees her husband Geoff. Today is his birthday, and tonight a vote is scheduled for 9 pm. She asks her assistant Tim to send her husband some flowers, along with a loving note to "Yum Yum," but she'd really rather be with him. So her office-mate Ken also suggests that she try to pair with someone in the Conservative Party. This pairing arrangement means that they will agree not to attend certain sessions, so that the missing votes (one from each of the opposing political parties) will cancel each other out. Unfortunately, she's already had a run-in with the man her predecessor paired with, Sir Godfrey Eagan, who told her in no uncertain terms that he doesn't appreciate her modern, masculine attire. 

So she rushes home to change into a nice dress, hoping she can make up for her poor first impression, and convince Sir Godfrey to pair with her for tonight's vote.

Oh, and maybe she ought to change her shoes as well.

At home, she sees that Geoff has received her flowers, but he believed they were sent from a stranger named Tim who called him "Dum Dum." While she changes, he tells her that if she can't make it home for dinner, no problem. He can always invite Tim to join him.

This episode made me aware of a lot of nuances in the life of a British MP. If you're familiar with "Yes Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister," you can see it differs significantly from those two other sitcoms. While this episode only highlights Jean's duties while Parliament is in session, it served as a nice introduction to the life of a British MP, or Backbencher, which is why I thought I would share it with you.

Dragon Dave

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Scarlet Pimpernel & Doctor Who on the Reign Of Terror

Baroness Emma Orczy's description of revolutionary France in her novel The Scarlet Pimpernel brought home to me scenes from "The Reign of Terror," a six-part Doctor Who adventure. In the first episode, "A Land of Fear," the TARDIS lands in a forest. The First Doctor announces that they've reached Earth, but he doesn't know what country or year in which they've arrived.  So he, Ian, Barbara, and Susan step outside. 

Note: Ian, Barbara, and Susan look somewhat different in the TV show.

They travel to an abandoned farmhouse. While the Doctor searches upstairs, Ian, Barbara, and the Doctor's granddaughter Susan find a stock of clothes, food, and identity documents supposedly signed by Robespierre. Suddenly, they know exactly when and where on Earth they have arrived. The Doctor has brought them to France during the Reign of Terror!

Unbeknownst to them, they are not alone. Upstairs, someone knocks out the Doctor. 

Warning: Getting hit in the head by a hammer
can leave you with a nasty bump on the noggin.
Especially if it's Thor's hammer Mjolnir.

Then the Doctor's companions are surrounded by French aristocrats who use the farm house to smuggle people out of the country. By the time Ian, Barbara, and Susan convince them that they're not their enemies, a party of French guards show up. These patriots kill the French aristocrats, and decide that Ian, Barbara and Susan must also be aristocrats or sympathizers. So the Doctor's companions are marched them off to Paris, where they can expect a preemptory trial, a short stint in prison, and finally appointment with Madame Guillotine. 

"Come along captives, keep up the pace,
or we'll Exterminate, Exterminate, EXTERMINATE YOU before we reach Paris!"

Meanwhile, the fate of the Doctor remains uncertain, as the farmhouse in which he lay senseless was set ablaze by the French guards.

The Doctor Who story made me curious about the French Revolution, and the Reign of Terror in particular. The Scarlet Pimpernel built upon this interest, and made this period of history much more real to me. Orczy's short story, then play, and finally a novel about this Englishman who saves French aristocrats from certain death became a sensation in the early 20th century, and earned Baroness Emma Orczy lasting fame and fortune. Some even claim that her character served as a precursor for later heroes with secret identities such as Zorro and Batman. Dennis Spooner, who wrote the Doctor Who adventure "Reign Of Terror" is said to have been inspired by this classic story. Small wonder then that Orczy continued to write stories and novels about her famous hero throughout her career, and that I found this first installment had lost none of its page-turning enchantment in the hundred years since she wrote it.

Dragon Dave

P.S. You have to wonder what J.R.R. Tolkien would have thought of a last name like Orczy, don't you?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Baroness Emma Orczy on Knitting During the French Revolution

Due to personal interest raised by writing posts on my sister blog, Poirot and Friends, I decided to read The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emma Orczy. So I found a free ebook version on, downloaded it to my kindle, and dived in. I found it a bracing novel packed with humor, interest, drama, and excitement. Unfortunately, any internet search of the novel immediately reveals the secret identity of the hero, which drains much of the suspense from the first half, during which the protagonist Marguerite neither respects nor loves her husband, and wonders at the identity of the daring, celebrated Scarlet Pimpernel. Still, Orczy's earthy and colorful prose flows well, and the first half helps us understand the characters, as well as the world in which they live. Once Orczy has made us care about Marguerite and her husband Lord Percy, the second half roars right along, with a daring venture across a storm-wracked sea to France, where Marguerite valiantly tries to save the Scarlet Pimpernel from capture.

Oops. By that last sentence, you've probably just guessed the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel. Sorry. Really though, the best part of the novel is Marguerite's backstory, the mistakes she makes in the first half of the novel, and her transformation into a valiant heroine. It'd be interesting to read more of the series, and see how she (and Percy) develop in later novels.

The Scarlet Pimpernel is set during a particularly bloody period of the French Revolution known as the Reign of Terror. During this time, anyone suspected of sympathizing with the aristocracy was put to death. Madame Guillotine embraced people from all walks of life, including the lowliest peasant. Ironically, this sometimes included people who believed in the ideals of their glorious new republic. The Executive branch of the France's revolutionary government (the equivalent of the President of the United States, or the Prime Minister in England), the so-called Committee of Public Safety, headed by Maximilien Robespierre, knew no mercy. If any French citizen allowed an aristocrat, any member of his family, or a sympathizer (such as a loyal servant) escape to another country, it didn't matter how vigilantly they tried to prevent their escape, or how faultless their lives were in other respects. They were simply dragged off to the loving arms (and blade) of Madame Guillotine.

Baroness Emma Orczy's novel also offered an insight into the popularity of knitting during the French Revolution.

The women who drove the carts usually spent their day on the Place de la Greve, beneath the platform of the guillotine, knitting and gossiping, whilst they watched the rows of tumbrils arriving with the victims the Reign of Terror claimed every day. It was great fun to see the aristos arriving for the reception of Madame la Guillotine, and the places close by the platform were very much sought after. Bibot, during the day, had been on duty on the Place. He recognized most of the old hats, "tricotteuses," as they were called, who sat there and knitted, whilst head after head fell beneath the knife, and they themselves got quite bespattered with the blood of those cursed aristos.

PinkyKeep on knitting, you two.
Oh, and Captain Scarlet, I want that guillotine built by sunset,
or it's off with your dome!

Perhaps I can be forgiven for pointing out that this passage from Baroness Emma Orczy's novel gives an entirely different definition to the knitting term dye lot. Perhaps not. (Perhaps I'm fortunate that France no longer enlists Madame Guillotine to secure Public Safety). Still, doesn't it makes you wonder what types of hats, scarves, gloves, or clothes the women were knitting, and how they got the bloodstains out of their projects?

Dragon Dave

Monday, May 18, 2015

Oh, The Places We've Seen: Part 3

As I said in Part 2, London falls outside the itinerary for this year's trip to England. But there were many great sites we visited, and as we plan out this year's trip, I thought I'd share some of special moments with you.

Two of our favorite British sitcoms (or, if you prefer, Britcoms), are "Yes Minister" and its sequel "Yes, Prime Minister." As in the United States, the British Prime Minister lives and conducts business with politicians, civil servants, and world leaders from his home in the nation's capital. 10 Downing Street isn't like the White House: it's just a row house, connected to other row houses in Whitehall. While I didn't expect the grandeur of the White House, on our first trip to England I had hoped to get a clear view of the doorway through which James Hacker, Bernard Wooley, and James Hacker came and left. Sadly, the home of the British Prime Minister doesn't make for a very good photograph, at least not for the casual overseas visitor. 

Unless, that is, you like photos of guards with guns. Then it's awesome.

Oh yeah, show me that heavy artillery! Yes!!!

This year, we've been watching another Britcom that was recently released on DVD. It's called "No Job For A Lady," and stars Penelope Keith, best known for her role as Margot Ledbetter on "Good Neighbors" and Audrey fforbes-Hamilton on "To The Manor Born." In this series she plays Jean Price, a member of Parliament for the Labour Party. She sees herself as an ordinary woman: a woman for the people and of the people. She's not rich, nor does she readily align herself with businesses, unless she's sure the result will be to help the poor and needy. She doesn't even own a car. She rides her bicycle into London each day, chains it to the fence outside the Palace of Westminster, and goes into the House of Commons, where she meets with other politicians and the people she represents. 

"No Job for a Lady" may not be as important as "Yes, Minister" and "Yes, Prime Minister," but it shines a bright light on the life of the ordinary, lowly MP. Yes, that's right, I said lowly. As a member of the Labour Party, set before Tony Blair's big win in 1997, Jean Price serves in the Opposition. Consequently, she and her fellow Labour MPs hold little power beyond influence. Still, through grit and determination, Jean Price manages to get some good things done, while working in one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.

On our most recent visit, in November 2013, we walked the streets of London dressed in our thick jackets, with knitted hats covering our heads and gloves on our hands. Between sites of interest, we hopped on the bus, and enjoyed a few brief moments out of the cold and the wind. One day, we decided to try something different, and boarded a water taxi instead. This allowed us to see the Palace of Westminster as many other visitors and locals see it: from the River Thames. 

As for the Daleks, the water taxi ride allowed them to relive a moment of glory, when their fellows invaded London and ruled the world, in the classic Doctor Who story "The Dalek Invasion of Earth." 

Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links
Watch the trailer for "No Job for a Lady"

Thursday, May 14, 2015

An Ascension Day Sketch

Whether or not you're religious, I'm sure you'll agree that some of our most vivid stories originate from what we call scriptures. One story, which holds particular power with Christians, is that of Jesus' ascension.

I began this picture in church one Sunday, drawing the image of a white life-size plaster figure hanging on the wall high above our heads. (At least, I assume it's plaster: it's too high up to tell). Somehow, over a period of weeks, and various sermons, it transformed into this. I think the mention in the bulletin of a special Ascension Day service must have influenced the final result.

Today, wherever you are, and whatever you believe, Happy Ascension Day. May your thoughts and spirits be elevated today!

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Conjunction of Roger Zelazny & Stephen R. Donaldson

I always start the New Year full of ambition. Sadly, life has a way of whittling down my grand plans to size. Such proved the case this year, with my desire to recognize the birthday of every author I admire. In the past thirty days, I've missed out on celebrating the birthdays of Mystery authors Bernard Knight and Reginald Hill, Science Fiction and Fantasy authors Larry Niven, Terry Pratchett, Avram Davidson, Cressida Cowell, and Dan Simmons, Doctor Who story editor, writer, and novelist Terrance Dicks, and classic author Charlotte Bronte. So many great authors, all deserving of recognition, and little time for all the blogging I'd love to do. But when I glanced at my list this week, and noted two particular authors who shared the same birthday, I couldn't let such an auspicious event pass unrecognized. So today I wish to honor Roger Zelazny and Stephen R. Donaldson. Both were tremendously important in my past, and inspired my desire to write Fantasy and Science Fiction. 

The first milestone was a series of five novels, entitled The Chronicles of Amber, published in two hardcover volumes by the Science Fiction Book Club. These were some of the first novels I purchased from SFBC, and proved a powerful introduction of Zelazny's unique brand of Fantasy. Imagine waking up in a hospital, and not knowing your name. The protagonist soon realizes that the staff are holding him there, and he executes a bold escape. As he runs, reality begins to warp around him. It's as if he's traveling through different realms, where different laws of physics apply. Eventually he ends up in a place called Amber, where he walks a particular pattern in a room in a castle. To deviate from the pattern means death, and it takes great strength to complete it. But when he succeeds, his faculties and knowledge are restored. He is Corwin, a prince of Amber, the one true realm. All other realms, including that of our own Earth are but a reflection or shadow of Corwin's Amber. He stands in line to inherit the throne of Amber, and thus rule all the realms of existence. But to do so, he'll have to battle his brothers and sisters (one of whom sent him to be held hostage in that hospital) if he wishes to claim his destiny. 

Once I read that first novel, I had to read the second, the third, and the fourth and fifth in the series immediately. I still remember reading those five novels the first time, while on a family trip to San Diego in my teens. Later, Roger Zelazny would write a further five Amber novels, but this time I would be forced to wait, ever so impatiently, for each novel's publication. At least by this time, I was married, and my wife had read the earlier novels too. So it was a joy to read these later books together, and discuss the various aspects of this sequel series.

Another series I discovered as a teen was Stephen R. Donaldson's trilogy of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever. In the Bible, Jesus heals people with leprosy. It sounds like a terrible disease, and indeed people in Biblical times shunned lepers. These ailing people had to cry out "Unclean, unclean!" wherever they went, so the healthy could get out of their way, and thus limit the chances of contamination. In these three novels, Donaldson introduces us to Thomas Covenant, a man living in modern times who has contracted this ancient disease. His wife and child have left him, and no one will hire him. He has little contact with the outside world, and those around him treat him very much like the lepers of two thousand years ago. So imagine his surprise when he suffers an injury, loses consciousness, and then awakens to find himself in another land. 

Unlike Corwin, Covenant finds himself in one realm, but it is just as fantastic as any Zelazny ever dreamed up. There the people see him as a religious figure, a messiah who will deliver them from Lord Foul's despotism. He also meets a pretty girl, to whom he's attracted. Before he knows it, he's suddenly taken over by all the impulses and feelings leprosy robbed him of back on Earth. They rush in upon him, and as he believes he's living out a dream (It's simply too fantastic to be real), he gives into his feelings, and takes her. Afterward, as he travels through The Land to confront Lord Foul, the world becomes more real to him, and he grows increasing plagued by the guilt that accompanies his actions. 

Like Zelazny, Donaldson wrote a sequel series. Unlike Zelazny, he followed up his first trilogy rather quickly, so I was able to read that second series of books before I graduated from High School. But again, as with Zelazny, there came a time when my wife and I read them together. We were spending lots of time on the road, driving between visits to family. As I drove, she would read Thomas Covenant's adventures to me, and when she took over the driving duties, I assumed the role of reader. In this way, the miles passed quickly, and even bumper-to-bumper traffic was made more pleasant by following Covenant's adventures together.

Like other writers of my youth, Roger Zelazny and Stephen R. Donaldson proved important to me in numerous ways. Having enjoyed the adventures of Corwin and Covenant, I would go on to read other stories and novels by Zelazny and Donaldson, and those proved enjoyable and memorable as well. But these two series proved particularly inspiring in my youth, and entertained my wife and me early in my marriage, in a way few others did. Thus, they will always claim a special place in my heart.

Happy Birthday, Roger Zelazny and Stephen R. Donaldson. 

Dragon Dave

Monday, May 11, 2015

Building My Kim Stanley Robinson Essentials List: Book 8

One of the problems with determining how much a book means to you is that it may have been a long time since you read it. This grew abundantly clear with this book, as I tried to skim through the text and confirm my memories of Kim Stanley Robinson's story. Memory isn't like a magnetic tape, forever running through recorder heads, and always ready to be plucked off the shelf and reviewed. Instead it's like a computer hard disk drive. Its limited capacity means that memories not only get overwritten with time, but get corrupted, as our brains, like the rest of our bodies, grow decreasingly agile with age.

My Kim Stanley Robinson Essentials List

Book 8: Blue Mars

With Blue Mars, the final volume in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy, the Red Planet approaches the culmination of all that its characters have worked so hard to achieve. Terraforming allows mankind to breathe unaided on the surface, and water collects in craters and depressions, leading to the formation of lakes and rivers. The presence of surface water prompts the rapid expansion of settlements, not all of which can be controlled through a strong central government. But then, that is what life on Mars is about: the freedom to begin something new. To try something new.

To become something new.

One of my favorite characters was Nirgal. As a descendant of the original hundred settlers, he occupies a special place among the leadership. And yet, he considers himself one of the people. He joins workers cooperatives, and tries his own hand at farming. He also takes part in long distance runs, which allows him to see all the different ways in which communities function. And yet, with his strong ties to the original hundred, he also gets to take part in a journey around the solar system. He travels to Earth, where he sees how different life is in the cradle of humanity. He also ventures to other planets, such as Venus, and the outer planets and their moons, and sees how human ingenuity has allowed mankind to adapt to living in such faraway places.

Another favorite character was Zo. She was another descendant of the original hundred settlers. She's a real free-spirit, in every sense of the world. My strongest memory of her is of her flying. Remember the ancient myth of Icarus? Well, in the lesser gravity of Mars, a person really can fly with wings. She tries her hand (or her arms) at this, and revels in the sensations and freedom of flight.

Then there's Art. He wasn't one of the original settlers, but he grows involved in the political arguments and debates in Mars new government. Instead of seeking power, he facilitates the process of debate, and watches with wonder and pride as a congress forms, a constitution is written, and a government grows along radically different lines than anything that ever functioned on Earth. The Red Planet may be strongly decentralized, but the information age, with the consequent ability for people to instantly communicate with each other, a functional direct democracy develops. It's the most beautiful vision of all in this novel, perhaps even more beautiful than the physical terraforming of Mars. The internet has changed our lives so radically in the last twenty years that it seems strange to think of this global phenomenon as still being in its infancy. It makes me wonder how Earth's networking sites may facilitate positive and profound societal change as the internet evolves and matures.

Of course, the original hundred settlers have their own journeys to pursue as well. There's Ann and Sax, two people who have lived out extended lifespans, thanks to medical advancements discovered in the first volume. Ann makes it her life goal to protect Mars from unnecessary terraforming, fearing that in the process much of the planet's uniqueness may be lost. In time, Sax, who only looks ahead, comes to understand the merit in some of Ann's arguments, which in previous volumes merely seemed backward and unrealistic. I never really understood Ann before this volume, but in Blue Mars I really came to like her. Sax, a scientist blessed with a profound intellect, remained a personal favorite character of mine, and his ongoing presence in the novel kept me turning the pages, wondering what he would say or do next.

Above those special characters, and my memories of their personal journeys, stand Maya and Michel. Maya was a vivacious woman, one of the standout people among the first hundred settlers. In time she found love with Michel, considered by many of the first hundred to be an outsider, as he fulfilled the role of the mission psychiatrist. He wasn't part of the group, and yet he was. That ambiguity led him to closet himself away, to remain quiet while others talked, acted, and shone in the spotlight. But in time, he and Maya grew closer, until they enjoyed a quiet, happy life together in the twilight of their years. The gentle nature of their relationship, in which each was content merely to be with the other, if only to sit together on a park bench and chart the colors of the evening sky, became some of the most vivid memories of the novel for me. Unfortunately, as I alluded in the prologue, their minds eventually succumb to the vagaries of age, growing less supple and capable of recalling memories. Still, they remembered they loved each other.

There you have it: Blue Mars, Book 8 on my Kim Stanley Robinson Essentials List. In many ways, it seems a crime that this novel doesn't rank higher, as it seems so important and foundational to me. But then, maybe it would, if only I could remember more about it. Perhaps I'll have to wedge it into the pile of books by my bed, and read it again to refresh my memory of how truly wonderful it is. Someday soon seems unrealistic. Still, like the terraforming of Mars, and the realization of a planetary direct democracy, it's a beautiful dream.

Dragon Dave 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Oh, the Places We've Seen: Part 2

This week, I began typing up an Itinerary for this year's trip to England. Although we can change some of the lodging, all of it has finally been booked. Having this finished will help us focus our attention on the sites we really want to see, near the places we'll be staying. 

Sadly, none of those places will be in London, the capital of the United Kingdom, if not the cultural capital of the world. It's such a multicultural city, filled with so much history, culture, and life. It holds so many famous landmarks, locales used in films and movies, and places mentioned in novels. While we look toward the future, I thought I'd share one of those special moments from a previous visit there with you.

I know we've all seen Big Ben, the famous clock tower that rises above the Palace of Westminster, countless times in movies and TV shows. Still, it's a magnificent building. One of my favorite movies that prominently features Big Ben is "Shanghai Knights." Toward the end of the movie, we find Owen Wilson outside the tower, clinging to the minute hand for dear life, while inside, Jackie Chan clashes swords with the villain, Lord Rathbone. It's a great action comedy, and the interplay between Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan is terrific. So if you're interested in a fun adventure set in the past, in which our two heroes help save the British Royal Family, this movie is for you.

Another favorite Big Ben moment, nearly as great, comes from the Doctor Who season 1 episode "Aliens of London." As the Doctor and his companion Rose Tyler watch, an alien ship hurtles by overhead, crashes through the clock tower, and splashes down in the River Thames. I love all the old Doctor Who shows, such as the first Doctor adventure "The Dalek Invasion of Earth," that feature such landmarks prominently. But I've told you about those numerous times, and I haven't highlighted how great-looking and accessible the new series is. There's no wonder it's won new Doctor Who fans the world over, and this scene serves as a good example of the power it wields. 

Note: If you follow the link below to watch the scene, take an extra careful look at the clock face. You may notice a small difference there, from the one in my photograph.

The amazing thing is that London bustles with so much life, and offers up so many visual delights, that it's easy to miss something so big and tall. (Yes, I'm talking something infinitely bigger and taller than you'll find in your average Big And Tall shop). On our first visit to London, I was so mesmerized by everything around me, that my wife had to tell me to look up. More than once. "What?" I asked. "Why?" Finally, I took her suggestion and looked up. 


Recently, I saw a documentary on Amazon Prime in which someone went inside Big Ben. I've always wanted to tour the inside, although as an American, I gather that wouldn't be possible unless I was an extra-special VIP, such as Tony Stark or Reed Richards. But then, given all the destruction in the Iron Man movies, and with the recent dissolution of the Fantastic Four in comics, perhaps neither man would be granted access right now. In any case, it was neat to see how different it looks from the dramatization in "Shanghai Knights." With a quick search on Youtube, I found a short documentary, part of the Guy Fox children's series, in which a young girl goes inside the clock tower. Even though I'd already seen the interior once, when I saw it again in the Guy Fox video, I couldn't help but follow the young girl's example, as she takes in one of the most impressive achievements of mankind, and says...


Dragon Dave

Related Internet Links
Watch Shanghai Knights/Big Ben fight scene
Watch Aliens In London/Big Ben crash
Watch Guy Fox: Tour of Big Ben
Watch The Dalek Invasion of Earth: Episode 1