Saturday, December 26, 2009

red planet

Old school SciFi. Red Planet is a great story written for boys, back in 1949, 60 years ago! Robert A. Heinlein is one of my favorites when it comes to this kind of SF; he writes stories that could happen today, if only a few things were different. He imagines a future that isn't so different from his own, and seems gleeful in his speculation of what that future may hold. It certainly seems to hold his dreams.

Red Planet isn't so different from a western. In fact, I'd say that's just what it is: a flag waving, American-style freedom loving, government by- and for-the-people, rebel yell against oppression. You know... with Martians.

The edition I read is also Heinlein's original manuscript. In the introduction, William H. Patterson Jr. describes how Heinlein's editor, Alice Dalgliesh, struck out whole segments and ideas that she considered too racy or inappropriate for print at the time, and that's how the story was originally published by Charles Scribner's Sons. There are even copies of the original manuscript at the back, with Dalgliesh's mark-ups.

Fun, short, adolescent, and painfully out of date, but very interesting as background reading for the later Stranger in a Strange Land, which uses the same Martian back story.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

why we run

Why We Run: A Natural History was loaned to me by my brother-in-law Lino, a marathoner currently training for the Boston Marathon. I was telling him about a Radiolab program on stress and how it explained how stress is a left over biological reaction to bad things in one's life, like being chased by a lion. The adrenaline rush which would help our forbears spring away, is just stomach pains and ulcers now. The drop-and-run reflex that voids the bowels of pursued animals is both a lightening of the load for flight, and a potential diversion. It also signals a shutting down of non-critical systems (digestion) to allow for more energy to flow into flight and preservation. And it why we feel weak in the bowel when nervous or under stress. Lots of stuff shuts down when we're stressed, including growth and normal repairs. That's why stress is so bad for us.

So I'm blabbering, the same way I am now, telling him all this and he's interested (I think) and we chat about it a little and that's that. A few months later I'm telling him another story that I heard about how humans function, based on studies of animal models, and he tells me about this book he's just read: Why We Run. He told me it gets a little scientific at points, but otherwise it's good. The author is a runner who compares people to animals to figure out how man evolved to be able to run, and possibly why. Sounds like my kind of book.

Benrt Heinrich is a scientist, and an author, but maybe a runner first. Or maybe he's a naturalist first, because running to him just seems natural. As a biologist he studies nature, unlocking it's secrets to better understand us, and why we are the way we are. Humans are just animals, but why we've evolved to be this way is mostly lost to history. Heinrich helps us to rediscover our lost animal, and how the body machine works; how it evolved for very specific tasks, like running, and how we can reconnect with our natural selves by expressing this natural behavior.

The writing is fun, thoughtful and interesting. The mix of science and autobiography, woven through with ultramarathon race preparations, informed by his studies, make for a exciting (yeah, I said it) read. If you're not interested in science, nature or running, I don't think this book is for you. But if you are interested in one or more of those things, this is an easy to read, well written jog. By the time we got to end of the race, I felt like I was running along with him, offering encouragement and hoping he would make it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

feile na marbh

The fire of autumn,
Raging against lapis skies,
Drains to brown under ashen mist
-- And dies.

The trees slough their reptile skins,
Leaving only tatters and bits.
Clinging; twisting in desperate throes
-- Then fly.

Only the bones remain,
Stripped bare to rub and crack.
Consecrated offerings for Samhain,
Scoured by gray winds.

Quiet now but for the rustle
Of dead skin and broken bone.
Frost and Decay worry and wrestle,
Devour the remains and spit the seeds.

The pines stand in vigil silence
Aside their sleeping brothers,
Brandishing green standards of defiance;
Sentinels in forlorn fields of bone.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

the alchemyst

So my son and I have been cranking through some books together. The latest was The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, by Michael Scott. I guess you could say we're on a fantasy kick. We started out reading the Harry Potter series, then read The Lord of the Rings, which we started with The Hobbit. When we finished, he asked me to read The Silmarillion.

So okay, he's hooked. And he's hard-core.

So then we read The Chronicles of Narnia, and when we finished that he was looking for a follow-up. He was very specific: it needed to have multiple books, be fantasy based, and be good. So its back to the living room library. He says no to The Summer Tree, Eragon, and Artemis Fowl. The first two series I read, and I thought they were good. I didn't read Artemis Fowl. So we tried The Alchemyst, and its pretty good.

First things first: this is not the Nicolas Flamel mentioned as a minor character in the Harry Potter books. Both JK Rowling and Michael Scott have had their way with this real person from the 1300s, but The Alchemyst isn't a spin-off of Harry Potter.

The story was fun, fast moving, and pulled in lots of myths and legends. Which have been updated for today's savvy young reader. Reinventing mythology is dear to my own heart, and I've dabbled in it myself with poetry. So readers will recognize characters and it was delightful how they were woven into this story. Scott's writing is easy to read, and rarely were we able to read just a single chapter before bed. I've just picked up the next book, The Magician, which we just started. So far so good!

Saturday, December 5, 2009


In the Eleventh Teaching: The Vision of Krishna’s Totality, Krishna favors our hero Arjuna by granting his request to see Krishna as he really is. Krishna in this form is terrifying, and Arjuna is of course shaken. Within the roiling apparition of this multi-bodied, limbed and mouthed form, Arjuna glimpses his enemies, grinding between the flaming teeth of Krishna. Which Krishna points out is a vision of the future. These very enemies wait on the field of battle that day, while Arjuna speaks with Krishna, who is disguised as Arjuna's charioteer. As their chariot stands between the lines of combatants, Krishna explains (stanzas 32-35):

"even without you
all these foes
arrayed in hostile ranks
will cease to exist…

They are already
killed by me…

Kill them
without wavering;
fight, and you will conquer
your foes in battle!"

Friday, December 4, 2009

book re^marks

This sweet thing, dear friends is a bookmark/notebook. It is three sheets of thin, fine paper, folded and stapled in the middle to create a very slim notebook for note taking whilst reading. Better than margin notes if you're working on a research project for example, or just don't want to mark up your books, or worse, a loaned book. That's 8 pages for your jots and scribbles, and words that need looking up if you don't have your dictionary handy. Who knows, maybe you're cramming for your physics mid-term, and you sketch out a 3:00 AM, caffeine induced, cold fusion generator. Could happen.

This fun little gift, thoughtfully given by Alyson to support my crazy bookmarker habit, is made by The Sherwood Press. They've got some pretty cool stuff for the geek in you.

Come on; its an astronaut for Pete's sake.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

makin bookmark

The nice folks at Makin Library Media gave me this bookmark when I stopped at their trade show booth at the New England Library Association conference. Makin does all kinds of stuff for preschool through high school facilities, from books and media, to classroom curricula to full on school library set ups.

Their current adverting media has this flower theme, their booth was decorated this way, etc. I didn't see any READ posters when I was there, but apparently, they'll give you one if you ask. That's sweet, but it won't fit in my book.

These aren't "The" READ posters we've all seen, as far as I know, but as I said, I didn't see any. "The" READ posters are an American Library Association product if I'm not mistaken.

Best, this one is.