Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, May 21, 2018


Openers:  "Hold it, horse!"

Jim Hatfield snapped the command as Goldie, his great golden sorrel, shied so violently as to almost unseat his tall rider.  He glanced down, saw the raised body and head of a sidewinder that had almost fanged the horse with his vicious lateral strike.  -- Trigger Law by "Jackson Cole" (Pyramid Books, 1952)

[Cole was a house pseudonym used for the Jim Hatfield (and other) stories in Texas Rangers magazine; among the writers using this name were Tom Curry, Peter Germano, A. Leslie Scott, and Walter A. Tompkins.  A search through titles of the Jim Hatfield stories in Texas Rangers show none with the title "Trigger Law."  The story may have been retitled for book publication, or it may have been an original novel using the Hatfield character.  If the latter, the author could be D. B. Newton, who had written four Jim Hatfield magazine stories in the early fifties.  I have nothing to back up that theory, but Newton had been published by Pyramid Books around that time and he wrote the first original mass market paperback novel, Range War, Pocket Books, 1949.]

I've Been Reading:  I finished Dean Koontz's The Crooked Staircase, the third volume in his Jane Hawk series.  (The fourth book, The Forbidden Door, will be published later this year.)  As I have mentioned before, Koontz is addictive despite his faults.  This series takes a major plot point that Koontz has before, in the stand-alone Night Chills (1976); the premise remains disturbing more than 40 years later.  My FFB this week was C.M. Kornbluth's Not This August, and SF novel that predates Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle.  Kornbluth's early death robbed us of a major writer.  I also read Ace Atkins' Robert B. Parker's Old Black Magic, the latest continuation in the Spenser saga.  Atkins does Spenser better than Parker did and this fictional take on the Elizabeth Stewart Gardner Museum art heist (twenty-eight years old now) makes for fascinating reading.  (I may be prejudiced because Kitty and I toured the Gardner about a month before the robbery and the painting that most impressed me -- Rembrandt's "Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee" -- was one of the artworks stolen.)

On top of Mount TBR are Lee Goldberg's latest, a Bentley Little horror novel, Patti Abbott's latest (and most magnificent, based on what I have read so far) collection, John Connolly's Laurel and Hardy novel, and a Nameless collection from Bill Pronzini.  Happy reading days ahead, for sure.

They're Married Now:  So can we just let Harry and Meghan get on with their lives?

The Week in Trump:  More corruption, more lies, more dissembling, more crises, more ineptitude, more bloated ego.  In other words, more of the same.  I realize that both political parties have behaved badly in the past, especially when in power.  This, however, is ugliness on steroids.  Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan remain culpable for their cheerful dancing to Trump's tune.  The motto 'In God We Trust" should be replaced by "Party Over People."  Ptah!  And, Mr. President, please learn your wife's name.

And If I Wasn't Disgusted Enough:  Sweet Jesus, another school shooting!  When will we ever learn?

A Sign of the End Times?:  Beyonce bought herself a church.  To be more acccurate, she bought herself a building; the 100+ year-old New Orleans building has not been used for religious services for a while.  Jay-Z may be inspired to some preaching, though.  This follows a "Beyonce Mass" held at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco earlier this month.

Lest You Think I'm a Downer:  There was some feel-good news this week:
  • Four-year-old Lio Ortega, who suffers from brain cancer, threw out the first pitch at the Air Force Academy-University of New Mexico game this weekend.  Lio also hit a home run!  Kudos to the college athletes who made Lio's dreams come true.
  • A simple act of kindness has attracted a lot of attention.  Louis Jordan, a Houston teenager, was picking his mother up from work when he noticed a woman in a wheelchair sitting in the blazing heat at a bus top.  Remembering he had an umbrella in the trunk of his car, he retrieved it an used it to shade the lady -- for an hour and a quarter until her ride finally showed up.  This has started a great friendship.  Whenever Louis sees the woman, Michelle, at the bus stop, he and his umbrella spent time with her.  "Come to find out, she likes pork chops," Louis said of his new friend.
  • An Ohio teacher has donated a kidney to a ten-year-old student in her school.  Sometimes the best things taught are not in textbooks.
  • Anaya Ellick, a nine-year-old from Virginia, has won a national penmanship contest.  Anaya was born with no hands.  To write, she must balance between her forearms.
  • Roland Martineau, a 95-year-old decorated World War II vet, will soon be walking the stage at Leominster (MA) High School to receive his high school diploma.  Martineau always wanted to go back to earn his diploma after leaving the navy but was never able to find an opportunity to do so.
Happy Birthday: To Manly Wade Wellman (1903-1986), the gentleman from Chapel Hill.  If I had silver strings on my guitar, and if I had a guitar, I'd strum an Appalachian folk song for him, assuming I had enough musical talent to do so, which I don't.  **sigh**

A Poem to Remember:


Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed sunset shores shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.  From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridge harbor that twin-cities frame.
"Keep, oh ancient lands, your storied pomp," cries she
With silent lips.  "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to be free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost, to me,
I lift my lamp before the golden door!"

     -- Emma Lazurus

Sunday, May 20, 2018


Not the greatest interview, due not to Fritz Leiber but to the unprepared interviewer who starts off by mispronoucing Leiber's name, but but remains an interesting look at one of the greatest writers of fantasy and science fiction.  (Many would say one of the greatest writers, period.)  This interview took place about six months before Leiber's death at age 81.


Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver.

Saturday, May 19, 2018


Congratulations, Meghan and Harry!


The Chicago Defender (1905-present) is a weekly newspaper aimed at an Afro-American audience   Over its long history it has become one of the most important and influential newspaper of its kind.  The paper was a strong voice during the Jim Crow era.  It urged southern blacks to move north, contributing to the "Great Migration."  It fought segregation in the U.S. Army during World War II...

And, far less importantly, it gave the world Bungleton Green, a long-lasting "race comic."

Bungleton was created by  Defender editorial cartoonist Leslie L. Rogers, who drew the strip until 1929.  (A black artist and a black main character were certainly rarities in 1920.)  Over its 43-year long run, three other artists contributed to Bungleton Green.

Bungleton was a short, balding, needle-nosed man with a top hat and large feet.  Often he was portrayed as a scam artist whose plots seldom succeeded, but over the years Bungleton assumed many roles.  He was poor, he was rich, he somehow became a judge...a common laborer...a tycoon.  He even joined a group called the Mystic Commandos and traveled to the future, where he acquired superpowers.  He married (twice, with no mention of the first wife), had a son (Cabbage) who was replaced with a niece, and was sued several times for breach of promise.   Through many of the strips, Bungleton Green reflected the hopes and aspirations of its urban black readership; social and racial justice themes were woven into the comedy.

In a fairer world, Bungleton would have been much better known.  But if the world had been fairer, there would never had been a need for Bungleton.

Here are five of the strips from 1927.  Enjoy.

Friday, May 18, 2018


Another day, another school shooting.

Sadly, this song by Christine Lavin gets more and more relevant as time goes by.


Not This August by C. M. Kornbluth (1955, 1981)

Once upon a time there was a group of alienated young people who formed a loose group of science fiction fans that called themselves the Futurians.  Almost all of them turned professional and helped to shape the SF field as we know it.  Both core and periphery members were Frederik Pohl, Donald Wollheim, R. A. W. Lowndes, Isaac Asimov, damon knight (back when he eschewed capitalizing his initials), Richard Wilson, Dirk Wylie, John Michel, Judith Merril, Walter Kublius, Arther Saha, David Kyle, Hannes Bok, Larry Shaw, and -- perhaps the most talented of them all -- Cyril Kornbluth.  (Kornbluth did not have a middle name; he later added the initial M in honor of his wife Mary.)

Most talented? you scoff.  Admittedly that characterization can never be proved, but Kornbluth stood out among this group of proto-writers, editors, publishers, critics, and artists for his sardonic quick wit and his grasp of the fundamentals of writing.  Much of his work was hackneyed and hurried. (Reportedly, he once locked himself in a hotel room and wrote a full novel in a weekend.)  Behind all of his writing, though, there was a germ of stellar talent.

When Not This August was first published, The New York Sunday News, one ofthe largest circulation newspapers in the world at that time, published a lead editorial  about the book, praising it as having "[A] far more powerful effect on the American Reader than George Orwell's 1984."  True, the News has not the most high-brow of newspapers, but this was the only time that journal used its editorial pages to plug a novel.

The story itself rises from the Communist scare of the Fifties.  Russia and China, having conquered most of the world, are at war with the United States.  They win and (like Philip k. Dick's later The Man in the Iron Castle) split the country into two zones:  the eastern side goes to the Russians, the western to the Chinese.  At first, all seems hunky-dory.  The conquerors are respectful enough and, with a few exceptions such as the quotas everyone is expected to meet, life goes on as before.  Then things turn very dark.  There's profiteering, mass murder, and executions for the slightest infractions.  On the Soviet side, America's wealth is being stripped and shipped to Russia.  Communication is stifled and there are rumors of plague outbreaks in the cities.

In a small new York village, Billy Justin, a commercial artist turned reluctant dairy farmer with eight cows, is trying to get by the best he can but things keep interfering, mostly his agreeable good nature.  Soon he finds himself the holder of a great secret (and a great weapon) -- a rocket armed with three dozen powerful nuclear bombs.

Very few people come off well here.  Governments, their militaries, and their bureaucracies are short-sighted and fundamentally fl;awed.  Rebels are disorganized, inefficient, and working against each other.  The conquered and the collaborators seem delusional.  And the pretty new mail carrier...

Can Billy Justin save America?  Should he?

Science fiction tropes and coincidences abound in Not This August as Kornbluth lets his satirical hand run free.  Originally published in 1953, the novel was "revised" by Kornbluth's long-time friend Frederik Pohl.  I suspect the revision was very slight because Kornbluth's ironic vision shine through.  (Pohl himself developed into a major writer but, in the Fifties, Kornbluth could write rings around him.)

How far Kornbluth could go if he had not passed away so young is a question that cannot be answered.  While shoveling snow in his driveway on March 23, 1958, Kornbluth collapsed and died.  He was 34 and was being considered to become editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

A good book.  Perhaps an essential book.  recommended.