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Friday, February 26, 2016

U.S.S. Midway: Containment Holding Tanks & Worms

While touring the brig aboard the U.S.S. Midway, I noticed a number of pipes running along the walls and ceiling. One was labeled Waste, another Soil, another Photo Lab. 

Speaking with a docent later in the Engine room, he confirmed that the lines carried chemicals and other undesirable substances to holding tanks. The Soil stood for sewage, which would end up in Containment Holding Tanks (CHT), where it would be treated, before being dumped when the ship reached port. He said he served aboard the USS Peleliu, named for another WWII battle. For a time, he had overseen the CHT department. 

He claimed that the CHTs were filled with worms, and as they filled with sewage, the worms went to town. As they fed on the waste matter, they grew in size and length. When the ship arrived in port and dumped the sewage that the worms had treated, the worms gradually shrank. If they didn't receive enough new sewage to feed on, the crew in charge of the CHTs had to give them some kind of nourishment to sustain them. 

I asked the man what kind of worms they used in the CHTs, but he didn't know. Later, I searched out the matter online, but didn't find any references to the subject. My wife uses Earthworms in the compost bin to clean up some of the waste our household generates. It would be interesting to know what kind of worms they used aboard Naval vessels to clean up other types of waste.

Then again, another docent listened to our conversation, and twice he broke in with a smile to suggest that the next time we toured the Midway, we should wear tall boots. At the time, I wondered what he meant. But on reflection...

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

U.S.S. Midway: Personal Space & the Forecastle

Recently, my wife and I visited the U.S.S. Midway, a retired aircraft carrier named for the famous Battle of Midway waged six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor. As we waited to board, two Japanese tourists cut in line to join up with other members of their group. They didn't ask us to move aside. They didn't tap us on the shoulder. The man simply barged past us, and the woman pressed against my back with her purse until I looked back and moved aside. Then the two lagged behind to take a photograph together. Then they walked closely behind us, the woman pressing her purse against my back, as we navigated the rest of the line.

Touring any old ship involves navigating through narrow hallways, and for some reason, the Japanese group seemed locked onto us. If we bypassed a given room to get away from them, so did they. If we stuck around an area to wait them out, they stuck around with us. The woman who had pressed into my back with her purse did so twice more during this time. Finally, we grabbed a bench in the vessel's forecastle (also known as the fo'c's'le), listened to the spiel on our audio guide twice, and waited them out. 

After the group left, my wife and I walked along the mammoth chains, each link weighing in at 140 pounds, and imagined them whizzing past us at 45-50 miles per hour when they dropped their twenty ton anchors into the sea. After that, we occasionally saw the group, but they never clung to us like roadies fawning over rockstars (or fans over favorite authors) again.

I thought it odd that the Japanese tourists seemingly had no regard for our personal space. Perhaps it's a cultural thing. I also thought it strange that people would travel all the way from Japan, and spend some of their limited vacation time to visit a naval vessel named for a battle that proved decisive in their nation losing World War II. It might have been interesting to ask them about that, had they not crowded us so, and given us some indication that they spoke English.

Dragon Dave

Monday, February 22, 2016

Herman Melville & Ron Howard on the Realities of the Seafaring Life

In Herman Melville's first novel Typee, his protagonist Tommo sees the last remaining chicken on board as significant. All the fruits, vegetables, eggs, and meat are gone. All that remains is a single, solitary chicken. So when the captain orders the cook to prepare chicken for his next meal, Tommo knows that the ship will finally head to the nearest port, where they can gain fresh provisions.

After all, life can grow pretty bland, when all you have to eat are rock-hard ship's biscuits.

That's not the only hardship that Melville's protagonist Tommo faced. In the sequel Omoo, when Tommo ships out from Nuku Hiva aboard another vessel, he finds sleeping belowdecks rather challenging. No matter how hard the crews attempt to scrub the interior clean, every night the rats crawl from their hiding places, and scurry over the sleeping sailors. As if this isn't enough, at some point each night, the air fills with cockroaches. 

These insects swarm through the interior of the vessel, making the night just one more trial to be endured, instead of a refuge for respite and rejuvenation. Tommo doesn't know how long the sailors have shared their living space with such pests. All he knows is that people are getting sick and dying.

While I watched director Ron Howard's movie "In the Heart of the Sea," one thing that surprised me was the aftermath of the whale attack on the Essex. I expected the whale to harass and damage the ship, and figured the sailors would endure a harrowing time until another ship came to their aid. Instead, amid the rich whale-hunting waters of the Pacific Ocean, a great white whale destroys the small harpooners' boats, and then rams into the Essex with enough rip a great gash into its side. As water rushes into the ship, the whale continues to pound the ship. Masts break, the ovens crack open, and the fires ignite the whale oil stored in wooden barrels. Perhaps the Essex was as old, and as infested as Tommo's ship in Omoo. But whether the Essex was slowly rotting away, as in Melville's novel, or whether the wooden vessel met or exceeded factory specifications, all the determination and ingenuity of her crew can not extinguish the fires, or prevent the ship from sinking beneath the waves.

Another thing that surprised me in Ron Howard's movie was how the surviving crew slowly starves to death. Here they are, surrounded by all the fish in the sea, and they can't feed themselves. Today vacations pay good money to have sailors take them out sport-fishing. They capture big fish and even sharks, which they then cook up for their next meal. You would think nineteenth century sailors would be even more adept at fishing. Yet Melville never shows the sailors fishing in either Typee or Omoo. All the men care about are the stored beef and other meat they've brought with them, even if it looks and tastes rather yucky (a scientific term), despite their best efforts to preserve it. Oh yes, and they also care about all the alcohol they've stored aboard. This is supposedly under lock and key, but a few enterprising individuals prove adept at accessing, sharing with their friends, and lending everyone that little extra buzz to help them get through the day. In any case, in Ron Howard's movie, the crew of the Essex sail day after day, using the stars as their guide, hoping a ship will find them, or they will find an island where they can gain food to fill their empty stomachs.

While it's not mentioned in "In the Heart of the Sea," the sailors could have tried to reach Nuku Hiva, or another of the Marquesas Islands, where Melville (and his character Tommo) spend time living among the natives. But first mate Owen Chase had heard stories about cannibals who would devour any visitors to their shores. So he and Captain Pollard opt for the longer voyage to South America. As the sailors die of starvation, the survivors consume the deceased to preserve their strength. Later, when landfall proved beyond reach, they draw lots, and eat those who draw the short straw. Thus, in their efforts to avoid falling prey to cannibals, they become cannibals themselves, and fall prey to each other.

In Typee, Melville's character Tommo faces a similar conundrum. He can either starve on the barren mountaintop of Nuku Hiva, or he can descend into the more remote sections of the island. He has heard stories of the cannibalism practiced by the tribes that inhabit these areas. Yet he risks that fate, and discovers that such stories were overblown. In fact, the natives treat him as an honored guest. So greatly do they regard him that they do not wish him to leave. Rather than viewing him as their next meal, they invite him to become a valued member of their society.

But then, life often overturns our expectations. Sometimes, it is better to brave the dangers we fear most. Otherwise, we risk becoming those things we fear most.

Dragon Dave

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Elusive Airboy

The Airboy series produced by Eclipse Comics in the 1980s was a revival of comics produced during the 1940s and '50s, when the idea of people flying in planes and protecting U.S. sovereignty thrilled a generation of young boys. The Eclipse series featured the son of the WWII hero, Davy Nelson, who flew the same plane as his father in fifty fabulous issues and a number of specials. This plane, named Birdie, had a mind of its own, and sometimes performed transport and combat maneuvers without the aid of a human pilot. The stories featured other Sci-fi elements such as zombies, intelligent rats, and robots. I started reading the series at issue 50, enjoyed it, and then sought more issues out in the discount rack. Visits to other comic book shops helped fill out the series, and gradually, the number of issues I possessed exceeded the number I needed to procure.

For more than a year, I collected issues of Airboy when I could find them. I read some, but saved most for when I filled the series and could read it in sequential order. I also found a hardcover book containing reprints of significant issues from the original 1940s & '50s, and devoured those stories in a few evenings. Eventually, I filled in the missing issues until I only needed one: Issue 5. And there, the collection remained incomplete, for a long time.

Last weekend, I visited the comic shop. Along with other series I was looking to fill, what should I find but Issue 5? And they only wanted a dollar for it, not six dollars the one place I had seen it elsewhere. Price is important to me, as I'm not purchasing these comics for resale value, but merely for my reading enjoyment. I could have purchased a trade paperback containing Issue 5 for fifteen dollars long ago, had I not set my heart on getting the original issue, along with the editor's preface, advertisements, and letter column. But now I've got the last missing issue. Hooray!

As you can see, Issue 5 features Valkyrie on the cover. She was a German villainess in the original series, who at times turned to good and aided Davy's father, and other times returned to her villainous ways. She returned for this sequel series, and as I recall, befriended the new Airboy. Don't ask me how she retained her youthful appearance: as I recall, that was another Sci-fi element that attracted me to the series. I look forward to discovering the answer to that, and much more, as I delve into the series now and read them in chronological order. You know, interspersing those Airboy issues with all the other series I collect, including Star Wars, Star Trek, and Conan The Barbarian.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to read Issue 1 for at least the third time. Maybe, if you're lucky, I'll tell you about it sometime.

Dragon Dave  

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Intriguing Airboy

Last year, a guest at a dinner part asked what comics I collected. I found this a surprisingly difficult question to answer. My immediate answer was "Cheap ones," which was mostly true, but does neither me nor my hobby any credit. The fact is that a visit to Stan Lee's Comikaze in Los Angeles reminded me how much I had enjoyed collecting and reading comics earlier in my life, so after the convention I investigated my local comic book stores. I quickly discovered that I could secure missing issues from series I had collected cheaply or expensively. Some sellers sold their copies for a dollar. Others wanted five or ten dollars for the same issue. As the issues I had picked up over the years probably weren't worth that much, I opted for the less expensive copies. After all, what I was buying were images and words printed on pieces of old, stapled-together newsprint. How much would you justify spending on something like that?

Besides, I was interested in the stories, and building a larger, cohesive story out of unconnected individual ones, some of which ended on cliffhangers. I wanted to know how the cliffhangers ended. I also wanted to learn the crucial events that set up the scenarios depicted in the issues already in my collection. 

While I initially began by trying to fill out series I had previously collected, I found other books that intrigued me. One good story led to another, and soon I was collecting all sorts of books that I had not previously heard of, nor had any interest in. A perfect example of that is Airboy. A publisher named Eclipse produced the series in the 1980s. The title and covers suggested no reason why I should desire it. It offered no visible links in subject matter, characters, or authors to Conan the Barbarian, Star Wars, Star Trek, or any of the other Sci-Fi/Media titles I had ever collected in the past. But when I found a few issues of the comic in the twenty-five cent boxes of a local comic store, I found myself picking up one and flicking through it. The story looked interesting. Should I buy it? 

When the barrier to entry is so low, what did I have to lose by investigating the series?

As I read that issue, what I found was a series that excited and intrigued me. It made me want to know more about the central character and his world. What stories have you discovered recently, that surprised you by making you a rabid fan of the author, the characters, and the new world you discovered in its pages?

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Smoking Hot Hair Dryers

Last Saturday, our hair dryer unexpectedly cycled down to a lower speed while my wife was using it. We let it rest awhile, and it came back on at its regular speed. The next day, it did this again. Both times, we noticed a slight burning smell. So my wife decided it was time to buy another hair dryer.

Bideford, England

One thing I like about England is all the picturesque villages and towns. Big retail stores exist, but as a rule they are set outside of towns, and there's nothing like the concentration on brick-and-mortar stores that there is in the United States. People evaluate products online, order them, and have them delivered to their home far more often. Imagine buying a big screen TV, a dishwasher, or a refrigerator online. In America, that's virtually unthinkable. In England, I get the sense that preserving the natural beauty of their landscape is more important to the individual than "kicking the tires" of everything they buy.

Or perhaps the average citizen buys less than we do. Perhaps theirs is a less consumer-driven culture?

In any case, my wife noted the danger signs, and got online. In a few minutes, she had located the manufacturer and the model number she desired, and figured out what online supplier to purchase the product from. Purchasing the same model was important to her, as we drilled holes into the wall for the housing, and we didn't want to have to drill more holes. Plus, we've enjoyed this particular hairdryer. It hangs on the wall, so it doesn't take up counter-space. It also features a nightlight in the handle, which proves a valuable safety feature at night.

Oh, one other interesting fact: we've only ever seen this product online. As much as we like visiting superstores, and keeping brick-and-mortar stores in business, we've never seen a wall-mounted hair dryer for sale in a store. We only got the idea to buy one because we kept seeing them in hotels. So here was one case where we didn't have a choice of buying in the store or online. If we wanted it, we had to buy it online.

It was a good thing my wife acted when she did. On Monday, the hair dryer stopped working, and dark smoke wafted up, accompanied by a strong smell of burning. So we unplugged it and used our travel model. Two hours later, a box arrived on our porch. Although it hadn't been scheduled for delivery until the following day, the post office had delivered it a day early. The day after we ordered it!

Even more amazing, the Post Office delivered it on a holiday, when they supposedly aren't working!

Our new hair dryer,
only available online,
and delivered precisely on time.

In a few minutes, my wife unscrewed the old holder, and then screwed back in the new one. The only noticeable difference between this one and the last is that the nightlight is white, not green, which makes for an even stronger nightlight. 

As beautiful as I find much of England, I'm not ready to give up the ease and convenience of America's shopping centers just yet. But it's nice sometimes to be reminded that you can get most everything you need online, and in some cases, get it precisely when you need it. 

Dragon Dave

Monday, February 15, 2016

Herman Melville & Ron Howard Go Whaling

In his new movie, "In the Heart of the Sea," director Ron Howard takes us aboard the Essex, an American whaling vessel in 1820. In so doing, he introduces us to George Pollard, a young captain anxious to prove himself; Owen Chase, a first mate who believes he should captain the vessel; and several members of their hard-working crew. Perhaps most notable of these would be young Thomas Nickerson, a boy who dreams of harpooning whales when he grows up. But all these sailors have good reasons to serve aboard the Essex, whether it is to earn the captaincy of another vessel, to better their station in society, or to contribute to the financial wellbeing of their families.

The only question is this: will they have a successful voyage? A good captain, one who knows how to read the signs, to know where to go and when, can return to port regularly with enough whale oil to provide the officers, crew and shipping company with a reasonable profit. A poor captain, one incapable of getting the best out of his crew, and making the right decisions with regard to their destinations, can sail around the world and never catch enough whales to make their voyages financially feasible. 

Author Herman Melville knew something of this. In his first novel Typee, based on his own whaling experience, the protagonist Tommo has heard stories of whaling ships that never return to their home port. They catch the occasional whale, dock in a foreign port to trade what little oil they harvested for food and supplies, then they sail off again, in the hopes of catching the big break that will fill their holds with barrels of oil. The crew grow old and die aboard such vessels, without ever seeing home again, because the captain knows if he returns home with little or nothing he will lose his commission and his livelihood. So Tommo flees the ship on the island Nuku Hiva when he is granted a few hours shore leave. He hopes to live a few months among the natives, then return to the island port, and sign up with another ship that will take him back home.

Unlike in Herman Melville's novel, the crew of the Essex seem a cohesive, hard-working lot. The main tension aboard the vessel is between Captain Pollard, who comes from a prestigious family of sea captains for his first voyage, and first mate Owen Chase, who has experience, but no familial connections. The two battle over each decision, and blame each other for their failures. Still, the two men and their crew manage to capture a whale, and then everyone (excepting the captain) gets down to the hard work of gleaning every usable portion of the whale for oil.

The sailors haul up the whale, dig into it, scoop out its innards, and then render the contents of the buckets into oil in the ovens on deck. They work long and hard into the night, and when all the men have harvested everything they can access, they send in young Thomas Nickerson, a cabin boy who fears the confined spaces inside the whale, and discovers that the smell of a whale's insides make him violently ill. Yet everyone works together for the good of all, as catching a whale is a mixture of smarts, skill, intuition, and most of all luck, and then don't know when, or if, they'll catch another.

Perhaps this was the problem with the whaling vessel Melville served aboard. For in Omoo, the sequel to Typee, Melville's protagonist Tommo leaves Nuku Hiva aboard another whaling vessel. There he discovers a dysfunctional captain and crew. The captain is afraid to mix with his sailors, and the first mate cannot climb below decks without risking getting beaten up. When the captain grows ill, the ship docks in Tahiti. There the crew refuse to ship out again when the captain returns to health. So the vast majority of the crew remain behind on Tahiti, without money, food, or any resources beyond the clothing and other articles they brought with them in their wooden trunks. If they wish to return home, or gain employment on another vessel, they must convince the captains of those ships that they are not trouble-makers, and will not instigate a mutiny when they grow displeased with conditions aboard ship.

Today, most countries view whaling as one of the great evils that society perpetrated in the past. But back in the early nineteenth century, people regarded whale oil as a necessity to light their homes and power their societies. In every era, people will always attempt to fill a perceived need. But, as Herman Melville and Ron Howard demonstrate, life is an adventure, and only those who give their best, and work effectively with others, can achieve anything worthwhile. And even then--even then--you still need a little luck, in order to achieve success.

Dragon Dave

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Memorable Day: On Car Dealerships & Wells Cathedral

Yesterday, my wife and I spent three hours at the car dealership, waiting for our car to be serviced. Some might get irritable and angry, confined in one place for so long. But the dealership really put a lot of thought into the atmosphere of the waiting area. They offered complimentary bottles of water, free coffee and hot chocolate, and constantly made popcorn and chocolate chip cookies. The upholstered chairs are comfortable, and some have little desks attached to the arms. Plus, if you get bored, there are TVs on the wall, and books, magazines, and newspapers to read.

Plus, they have a little shop, where you can buy anything from jewelry to car parts.

I brought my sketching kit with me, and worked on a sketch of Wells Cathedral. We visited the Cathedral our last full day in England last year. It was a rainy morning, and after wandering around the shops, we sat in the sanctuary for an hour. There we sketched the interior, while a choir of asian school children practiced.

I don't know what they were singing. I only know they weren't singing in English. Yet it was pleasant to listen to them while we sketched. As we were leaving, a film crew was fitting a few alterations to the cathedral, to cover up the modern heating vents with faux stonework. Later, my wife did some research, and discovered that they were filming "The Huntsman: Winter's War," which will be released later this year.

Interestingly, Chris Hemsworth, who plays the Huntsman, played First Mate Owen Chase in Ron Howard's movie "In the Heart of the Sea."

I've never really considered the sketch of Wells Cathedral as anything but practice. The interior is to detailed, and my penciling too loose, to be anything more. But I enjoyed working with my Prismacolors, doing a little coloring, while we waited, and enjoyed our drinks and cookies. Then I read a few chapters of a Conan the Barbarian novel in the time remaining. It made for a pleasant afternoon, and a memorable day.

What did you do yesterday? What did you read? Was it a memorable day for you?

Dragon Dave

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Weekend Round-up: On Honor & Fear

This week, I made two visits to the dentist. I'd been worried about them, and hence put them off. But they turned out to not be as bad as I'd anticipated, which was a nice discovery.

I read three books, which I wrote about on Jane Lindskold's blog. This is what I wrote:

The First Book of Swords by Fred Saberhagen. Didn’t made much of an impact 20+ years ago. Found it a far richer read this time. The ending made me wonder if Saberhagen originally planned a larger novel, but the publishers opted to split it into two or three.
The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie. Proof that SF/Fantasy authors like Saberhagen don’t have a monopoly on mythological contexts.
Problem at Polensa Bay by Agatha Christie. Stories featuring Poirot, Pyne, and Quin. Most of these Christie originally wrote (and published) for one character. Then later she rewrote the stories in a different form, and republished them. Only this time, instead of characters swapping swords of power, she swapped detectives. Interesting way to recycle, and keep the pounds rolling in.
Additionally, I read an Ultimate Spider-Man graphic novel, and lots of comics. I really enjoy the comics, most of which are different titles, authors, and artists. I think, because they're so visual, and because the stories cover such a wide spectrum of genres, that it helps my creativity. In any case, it's been a good week for the writing, and I think the two are related.
My wife and I finished off the week watching "The Last Stand." It's one of the first movies Arnold Schwarzenegger made after he stepped down as California's governor. It's one of my favorites. He plays a small town sheriff, who decides to block a Mexican drug lord fleeing FBI custody from escaping over the US/Mexico border. At the end, when the sheriff catches him, the drug lord tries to buy him off. The sheriff tells him "My honor is not for sale." It's a good way to leave the week, I think, musing on what one's honor means, and what we do to protect what we stand for.
Oh, and also remembering that sometimes, the things you put off, and worry about, aren't really half as bad as you had feared.
Dragon Dave
Two Earlier Entries on "The Last Stand"

Monday, February 8, 2016

Herman Melville & Ron Howard Go To Sea

In 2010, I attended Readercon, a science fiction and fantasy convention held each year in Massachusetts. Afterward, my wife and I spent a week touring the state, and soaking up the local history. One of the towns we visited boasted a Herman Melville room in its public library. There, amid many relics of the America's whaling history, I saw copies of all the books Herman Melville had written.

Herman Melville? I thought he just wrote Moby Dick?

The memory of that visit stuck with me, and last year I finally decided to do a little follow up. I read Melville's first novel Typee, in which a young man finds life aboard a whaling vessel more than he bargained for. So one day, when he is granted shore leave on Nuku Hiva, one of the Marquesas Islands, he flees the town along the shore. He climbs into the nearby hills, and hides from the search parties the captain sends out to bring him back to the ship.

Once he reaches the top of the mountain, which forms the center of the island, he finds himself amid barren surroundings. All he has is the remnants of the ship's biscuits he hid away in his clothing, along with the tobacco he had brought to trade with the natives. Unfortunately, it rained heavily during his climb, and much of the biscuits have seeped into his clothes, or merged with the tobacco. It's an unsavory mess, which doesn't last him long. 

The man has to make a choice: remain atop the mountain, where nothing grows, or climb back down a little, and ply the natives for food. Those nearby, in the remote area of the island, who are less likely to hand him over to the captain, have a reputation for cannabalism. But what choice does he have? If he doesn't eat, he will die. Better to risk being eaten, than to slowly starve to death.

In director Ron Howard's recent movie "In the Heart of the Sea," Herman Melville begs an old man to tell him about his time serving aboard the Essex. This ship had a terrible history, in which the ship and crew were attacked by a great white whale. So harrowing was their encounter that none of the survivors have dared speak of their trials. But Melville assures the man that, while he wants to hear the truth of the man's story, he will not publish a nonfiction account of the Essex. Instead, he will use the man's factual account to write a novel. He's particularly keen on the title Moby Dick.

So the old man tells his story. Like Melville, who also served aboard a whaling vessel, the Essex left Massachusetts, and sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in search of whales. After awhile, the captain realized they couldn't find enough whales to secure the needed oil. So they sailed around the tip of South America, and there, in the vast Pacific Ocean, they found a rich hunting ground. This was an area that Melville knew well, as the whaling ship he had served aboard also traveled to the Pacific, which is how he visited the Marquesas Islands, and so was able to utilize that experience in his novel. 

Typee and its sequel Omoo make clear how difficult it was to catch and harvest whales. Of those who sailed aboard such vessels, only a few actually got into the small boats and tried to harpoon the whales. Those who did so often suffered injuries, loss of limbs, or died in the process. In neither novel does Herman Melville actually describe what it was like to capture, kill, and harvest a whale. In fact, the most glaring aspect of both novels is the the poorly-run nature of the ships he served aboard. So it makes sense, even if it is a little ironic, that despite serving aboard a whaling ship, Melville still felt he needed to study the history of the Essex, and learn all he could of their experiences.

What? Study history? Seek out first hand experiences? Really, is that necessary? I thought fiction writers just thought stuff up?

Dragon Dave 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Herman Melville & Janet Evanovich

In the previous post, I shared with you the three novels I finished last week. These were:

1) Omoo by Herman Melville,
2) Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich, and
3) Nova Classic: Volume 1 by Marv Wolfman.

Of the two literary novels on my list, the one that seems best suited to the values society prizes at the moment is last year's Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich. 

As women make up a larger percentage of readers than men, Tricky Twenty-Two seems ideally suited to today's market. This novel, as with all in the Stephanie Plum series, plays on the romantic triangle of heroine Stephanie Plum, her cop-boyfriend Joe Morelli, and her rich, handsome mentor Ranger with a mysterious past. It also offers up bucket-loads of humor. Yet, as the overall plot is structured around Stephanie's career as a bounty hunter, the books are shelved in the mystery section. According to a recent survey, conducted by the Sisters of Crime organization, sixty-eight percent of mystery readers are female. So it makes perfect sense that Janet Evanovich's novels about bounty hunter Stephanie Plum have sold so well, and made the author a household name.

I suspect it would be impossible to count how many books have been bestsellers throughout the centuries. Many of those celebrated authors are no longer known to contemporary readers. Some of those books may be available in print or online to varying degrees. Even more are most likely lost to history. Stories designed to slot into a desired category don't necessarily survive the passage of time. Will Janet Evanovich's books survive, to take their place alongside those of Herman Melville, Jane Austen, or H. G. Wells? Would Herman Melville's novels still survive, had later critics not revisited Moby Dick, and decided it was one of the most important novels of the nineteenth century? 

Who cares? And does that even matter? Janet Evanovich sells lots and lots of novels, whereas Herman Melville was forced to stop writing for a living, after Moby Dick failed to catch on with the readers of his day. One thing's for sure. As long as Janet Evanovich continues writing those entertaining Stephanie Plum novels, I'll keep reading them. But I'll also keep reading other novels, by authors long since gone, to remind me that great stories can be about contemporary tastes, demographics, and values.

To peruse the full list of what I've read this year, see the sidebar feature to your right labeled Books I Enjoyed in 2016.

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Recent Reads & an Appearance by Stan Lee

Every Thursday on her blog, American Fantasy author Jane Lindskold hosts a conversation with a reader from New Zealand. Then, every Friday, she shares what books she's been reading lately. Last week's conversation covered how readers often judge older stories by contemporary values, and criticize such works if they fail to live up to current standards. On Friday, I shared with Jane Lindskold the novels I had read that week in her Comments section. Given their discussion, I thought it would be fun to judge these novels as critics might if they had been written today. 

1) Omoo by Herman Melville. (Published 1847) No strong female characters. Whaling Industry Employees stereotyped as layabouts and scoundrels. Assessment: Must be rewritten for today's diversity-conscious readers.

2) Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich. (Published 2015) Stephanie seems more capable than ever before. Her mother reveals herself as a kick-ass heroine. Morelli portrayed as weak and fragile. Conclusion: suitable for today's readers.

3) Nova Classic: Volume 1 by Marv Wolfman. (A graphic novel, made up of comics published in the 1970s). Early adventures of Nova, who gained his powers from the Nova Corps on Xandar, as shown in the recent movie "Guardians of the Galaxy." Bronze Age superhero fare in the tradition of Stan Lee's early Spider-Man stories. Sadly lacking in strong female superheroes, naked people, or characters with TV sets for heads. Warning: Reading Volume 1 could lead you to purchase Volume 2.

With regard to Nova, my remark regarding a lack of naked people, or characters with TV sets as heads, was intended as tongue-in-cheek. One of the books Jane Lindskold listed in her weekly reads was a graphic novel compilation of issues of Saga, a Science Fiction comic book series geared to adults. I read the first issue, and a few later ones, and didn't feel attracted to the story, let alone such outrageous character types. But others find value in  it. Not only is the series successful, but the first graphic novel compilation of Saga issues won the prestigious Hugo award in the Best Graphic Story category. 

Regular readers may remember my posts on Sam Alexander, the newest Human to bear the mantle of Nova on Earth. Sam is a fun character, created by author Jeph Loeb, and subsequent writers have preserved the young boy's charm. His adventures tug at the heart, as he seeks to defend Earth, find his father (a retired Nova who has gone missing), and keep up his grades in school. These stories, while original in themselves, build upon the stories contained in Nova Classic: Volume 1, in which Marv Wolfman introduced readers to High School student Richard Rider. 

When a dying Nova Corps agent arrives in Earth orbit, he transfers his powers to Richard. Like his successor, Richard would fight to defend his fellow Humans from super villains, preserve a family struggling financially, and keep up his grades. Unlike Sam, he had close friends, and when those friends were threatened, he used his powers to come to their aid. Also unlike Sam, Marv Wolfman created new villains to fight his new superhero. There's even one episode where Richard flies to the Marvel Comics office in New York, and tries to convince actual writers, artists, and production staff to portray his real life adventures in their comics. Who should ultimate axe this brilliant idea? No one other than Marvel's sunny Editor-in-Chief Stan Lee!

With its preponderance of male heroes, villains, and supporting characters, Nova Classic may not represent contemporary readers' hunger for strong, female characters. But it's a lot of fun, and shines a light on life in the 1970s. Unlike Saga, it features no nude characters, or people with TV sets for heads. But hey, it features special appearances by Marv Wolfman and Stan-the-Man Lee. And really, what could be better than that?

Dragon Dave

Related Dragon Cache entries
Falling in Love with a New Nova: Part 1
Falling in Love with a New Nova: Part 2

Related Internet Links
Jane Lindskold's blog

Monday, February 1, 2016

Pride And Prejudice And H G Wells: Part 2

In H. G. Wells' novel, Love and Mr Lewisham, our protagonist unexpectedly reunites with Miss Henderson in London. Although Mr Lewisham is still smarting from the blows to his academic hopes, he has landed in a school for science teachers. While his prospects have fallen, he still holds high hopes for the future. Yet he finds himself as deeply attracted to her as before. While she begs him not to pursue her, he cannot restrain himself. She eventually relents, and lets him into her life. They spend their dates walking along the streets of London, or enjoying the parks. 

Mr Lewisham and Miss Henderson wandered along
the Serpentine arm-in-arm, over sixty years before
WOTAN took over the Post Office tower
in the Doctor Who story "The War Machines."

As their romance builds, his scholastic endeavors suffer. Eventually he gives in to his feelings and marries her. What little money he has saved quickly slips from his bank account. 

Of all his early novels, H. G. Wells reputedly worked hardest on Love and Mr Lewisham. He wished to tackle a serious subject, and he touches upon some notable social trends in England at the turn of the twentieth century. Despite Mr Lewisham's academic capabilities, one wonders if he could have achieved the goals he sought, without money and family to properly back him. His rejection of religion, and his steadfast belief in the superiority of science and socialism to guide mankind surprise him by acting more as impediments to his career than the pluses he had anticipated. Yet Mr Lewisham and Miss Henderson clearly love each other, despite never having been properly introduced. They thrill to the fact that they have found each other, even if, in doing so, they have violated society's expectations. 

As he demonstrated in his classic science fiction novels, H. G. Wells clearly had his eyes on the power of science and socialism to transform the world for the better. Yet I can't help but think that, like Mr Darcy, H. G. Wells felt society needed to be ordered and regulated by properly appointed gatekeepers, who would moderate social interaction between young people. Mr Lewisham and Miss Henderson might have waited forever to be properly introduced by people such as the master of his school, or her relations. Had Mr Lewisham honored the social contract, he might have entered and graduated from the universities and programs to which he had sought admittance. Even if he had ended up at the school for science teachers in London, he could easily have fallen in love and married Miss Heydinger, one of the female students there who admired him, and shared his interests in promoting science and socialism. 

After he fails to graduate,
Mr Lewishaw confesses that he is secretly married,
and says good-bye to Miss Heydinger,
on a quiet bench in Battersea Park.

His pursuit of Miss Henderson cost Mr Lewisham a respectable academic future. Consequently, he lost any hopes of earning more than a pittance for the rest of his life. Still, like Mr Darcy in Pride And Prejudice, who won Elizabeth Bennett's hand after rescuing her family from disgrace, Mr Lewisham earned his wife's enduring love. I have little doubt that, if you approached Mr Darcy or Mr Lewisham, and questioned either on this topic, both would tell you that the adoration of a faithful wife is one of the most precious treasures a man can possess.

That is, at least in Mr Darcy's case, assuming that you and he had previously been properly introduced.

Dragon Dave