Reading, Writing: End of April Update

As noted in earlier posts, the Late Unpleasantness at our school has somehow unlocked whatever it was that was keeping me from writing fiction, as the recent flash fiction-alanche here demonstrates. (No claims to quality, here, just noting simple existence.) Today, after I impose on my long-suffering wife to do a final proofreading, I’ll be submitting a story for publication, a 4,200 word trifle. What’s not a trifle: overcoming my self-defeating self criticism long enough to hit ‘send’.

Wish me luck. Further notices as events warrant.

Moving from the ridiculous to the comparatively sublime, or at least from the whimsical to the mundane, writing up some basic marketing and business planning docs for a startup. This project also entails doing market research and honing a product idea to a scary-looking point. In other words, using the skills I’m institutionally certified to possess in order to eventually make money happen. What a concept!

It’s been surprisingly fun so far. Wish me luck, and even say a prayer or two if so inclined, please. Again, further notices as events warrant.

Next up, while I’m sleeping better than I was during Holy Week and Easter Week when all this gender theory nonsense was coming down at school, I still have some tossing and turning time to read in bed. But as I don’t want lights on in case they keep my beloved from sleeping, I’m stuck with choosing among the hundred plus books on my Kindle. Just as I read Honor at Stake late on night because it was there (it’s pretty fun – check it out), I’ve now begun A. Merritt’s The Metal Monster for similar reasons. The Prologue of this work is the proximate cause of the flash fiction trifle Prolegomenon to Any Future Old School SF&F Adventure recently posted here.

Or some purpler shade of purple.

Merritt’s prose pushes right past purple to solferino. But that’s cool – ultimately, writing is writing, and style or convention is far less important than having something to say and saying it well. I like Moby Dick and Last of the Mohicans not despite but because they are so over the top by modern standards. And I am indebted to Merritt for the word impedimenta, a fine, evocative and colorful term.

What the heck, here’s an extensive sample: sunset in Tibet, from the first chapter of The Metal Monster.

Then a silence fell upon us. Suddenly the sun dipped down behind the flank of the stone giant guarding the valley’s western gate; the whole vale swiftly darkened—a flood of crystal-clear shadows poured within it. It was the prelude to that miracle of unearthly beauty seen nowhere else on this earth—the sunset of Tibet.

We turned expectant eyes to the west. A little, cool breeze raced down from the watching steeps like a messenger, whispered to the nodding poppies, sighed and was gone. The poppies were still. High overhead a homing kite whistled, mellowly.

As if it were a signal there sprang out in the pale azure of the western sky row upon row of cirrus cloudlets, rank upon rank of them, thrusting their heads into the path of the setting sun. They changed from mottled silver into faint rose, deepened to crimson.

“The dragons of the sky drink the blood of the sunset,” said Chiu-Ming.

As though a gigantic globe of crystal had dropped upon the heavens, their blue turned swiftly to a clear and glowing amber—then as abruptly shifted to a luminous violet A soft green light pulsed through the valley.

Under it, like hills ensorcelled, the rocky walls about it seemed to flatten. They glowed and all at once pressed forward like gigantic slices of palest emerald jade, translucent, illumined, as though by a circlet of little suns shining behind them.

The light faded, robes of deepest amethyst dropped around the mountain’s mighty shoulders. And then from every snow and glacier-crowned peak, from minaret and pinnacle and towering turret, leaped forth a confusion of soft peacock flames, a host of irised prismatic gleamings, an ordered chaos of rainbows.

Great and small, interlacing and shifting, they ringed the valley with an incredible glory—as if some god of light itself had touched the eternal rocks and bidden radiant souls stand forth.

Through the darkening sky swept a rosy pencil of living light; that utterly strange, pure beam whose coming never fails to clutch the throat of the beholder with the hand of ecstasy, the ray which the Tibetans name the Ting-Pa. For a moment this rosy finger pointed to the east, then arched itself, divided slowly into six shining, rosy bands; began to creep downward toward the eastern horizon where a nebulous, pulsing splendor arose to meet it.

And as we watched I heard a gasp from Drake. And it was echoed by my own.

For the six beams were swaying, moving with ever swifter motion from side to side in ever-widening sweep, as though the hidden orb from which they sprang were swaying like a pendulum.

Faster and faster the six high-flung beams swayed—and then broke—broke as though a gigantic, unseen hand had reached up and snapped them!

An instant the severed ends ribboned aimlessly, then bent, turned down and darted earthward into the welter of clustered summits at the north and swiftly were gone, while down upon the valley fell night.

Wow.

The other many, many books I’m supposedly reading have been a bit back-burnered (Again! Alas!) because dead tree editions are not easily readable in bed late at night, and daylight hours are pretty much filled up at the moment.

Finally, our massive Easter Octave Pizza Party was fun. My Fitbit said I walked over 7 miles that day – that would be mostly walking around in the hundred square yards comprising the kitchen, patio and pizza oven. My feet were a little tired by the end. Made 14 pizzas, 4 roast chickens and a few pounds of steak in the brick oven, in addition to a vat of guacamole and a double batch of ciabatta rolls in the kitchen. Moderation and I don’t see eye to eye.

Happy Easter Season!

Great Books: A Paean and Cautionary Tale

As mentioned previously here, and as spelled out in more, and more current, detail at Rotten Chestnuts, college education has been made into a cesspool of idiocy, bad ideas and evil intent. I do not exaggerate: Just as I would have gladly let my children wander the street all day unsupervised than send them to the public schools of Fichte, William Torrey Harris, Dewey and Freire, I would rather they work as ditch diggers and sleep in hovels than attend any of our fine institutes of “higher education” except, maybe, to get job training in a technical RAD field.

Image result for old books

There are a few minor exceptions, of course: St. John’s College, where my beloved and I went to school, which, despite its name, is vehemently secular (and, as such, under tremendous pressure to conform, which pressure they are likely to yield to as they lack any dogmatic reason to resist). SJC graduate under 200 students a year; the UC system awards degrees to over 40,000.

Then there are the religious schools. Thomas Aquinas College, which two of our sons have attended, has about 400 students total, graduates maybe 75 a year. The Cal State system has just under half a million students and awards nearly 100,000 degrees a year.

And on and on. For every little college trying to get kids to look at real, substantive and lasting ideas and hone their minds trying to understand and discuss them, there is some giant university doing the opposite, cranking out 10, 100, or 1,000 times the graduates in Conformity Studies, who get their participation trophy for vomiting back whatever the professor wanted to hear. It ain’t pretty out there.

All good cults provide, first of all, a hermeneutic under which all opponents can be summarily dismissed. ‘They’ just don’t understand! They are unenlightened! They are eeeeeevil! They are trying to ruin it for you! They are on the wrong side of History! Thus, the non-RAD fields inculcate into their victims the absolutely essential idea of diagnosis: you don’t listen to what opponents say, you merely diagnose the disorder that would cause them to disagree with you. The diagnosis then supplies what ‘they’ really mean, removing from the enlightened the onerous task of actually trying to understand what an opponent is actually saying.

Once the them versus us dichotomy is firmly in place, the student is introduced into the gnostic mysteries that explain all things, without the bother of any actual thought. Thought, after all, might – barely – lead the student to have certain reservations or quibbles, and with such glorious goals – the goals of mindless fanatics are always so, so, glorious – almost within reach, such quibbles and reservations must be quashed with extreme prejudice.

The success of this project is awe-inspiring. To see how such success is not only possible but all but inevitable, contemplate the ramifications of Pournelle’s Iron Law. If I want to, for example, share my love of Dante with a bunch of ignorant, foolish 18 year olds, I will gladly leave as much of the admin portion of my job as possible to those who seem to want to do that sort of stuff. Over time, those people are sorting the resumes, manning the hiring committees, sitting on the tenure committees, constructing the school’s long-term goals and plans – in other words, my love of my subject and of teaching results in people who love running things having ultimate control of the institution. Soon, and very soon, nobody gets hired except those who pass the purity test of those people on the hiring committee; nobody get tenure except those who are with the program; new departments get set up to employ the otherwise unemployable products of this bureaucracy, with the goal of producing more like-minded (using ‘mind’ loosely) product. Eventually, You Are Here. We got ‘here’ about 30 years ago by my reckoning. Now, the holdovers from the previous regimes and those few who slipped through the cracks are aging out. It’s Studies Nazis all the way down. Your average chemistry professor, say, is cowed into silence if he hasn’t already taken an industry job.

The solution is two-fold, and it ain’t pretty: somehow, the colleges and universities must – must – be burnt to the ground, and the earth where they stood salted. There is no reform at this point. Funding must be withdrawn; all classes must be videotaped and posted where everyone can see them; all Studies fields must be challenged, mocked, belittled, scorned at every opportunity. And that’s not enough. Things may get – unpleasant. The option of standing by and watching has passed.

Then, we – you – must raise your children outside the K-12 system, which also must be burned to the ground. The education schools that produce the automata that staff K-12 schools are so, so Woke. You can educate your kids better than any certified teacher. Hell, your pet rock could. Yes, yes, you don’t know calculus too good – get over it. Samwise Gamgee is your goal. If your child is in that tiny percentage called to be real scholars, there are those little schools out there. If that’s what he wants and you have raised him well, he can do it. Same goes for job training, even the high-end stuff like medicine and engineering. If he really wants it, he can do it.

What about the Great Books? I love them and have even read them, some of them many times, some of them very poorly, but I’ve given them a shot. That experience, ongoing, creates in me a sort of humble pride or prideful humility: having measured myself against truly great minds, I am painfully aware that I am a second-rate intellect. There’s so much more work for me to do, and I won’t live long enough to do it. On the other hand, I am an intellectual, however second rate I may be. I do know how to think, how to read a book, how to reason and use logic, how to write a coherent sentence (not that I always do, but you get it). I have context.

That’s why when I hear a moronic marketing slogan like ‘everything’s a social construct, man’ I see a not very subtle transmogrification of a bad idea that’s at least 3,000 years old, and was already an old idea when Aristotle mocked it. The basic idea stated in a more intelligible form: there is no such thing as objective reality. All any of us have is subjective experiences. For each of us, reality is a creation of our own minds. The marketing spin is to introduce the idea of ‘collective’ or ‘society’ as the creator of the subjective universe. Having read all those books, and an inadequate but not insubstantial selection of history, I can see that this appeal to ‘the masses’ or ‘society’ is a painful ruse: ‘advanced’ societies, ones which are ‘woke’ as the kids say these days, are lead by Vanguards, whose consciousness is the society doing the constructing. But wait, there’s more! The Vanguards themselves are created and managed by leaders, world-historic individuals who are even more woke! Actual history (not the god that is not a god capital ‘H’ History) shows us those guys are not avuncular and kindly men like people imagine the Bern to be, but have always been guys like Pol Pot, Mao, Lenin, Stalin, Che – you know, sociopathic mass murderers. That the most blood-thirty and brutal ‘leaders’ rise to the top under Marxism is not an accident, but is required by the logic of the Marxist system itself – but you’d need to have honed your mind on some real thought to understand why that is so. The woke of today have been very successfully immunized against that!

Thus, the ‘society’ doing the ‘constructing’ is going to be one sociopath and his sycophants. The rest of you jokers? Useful idiots.

Well, this ramble got out of hand. So much for the Great Books, which are a good idea but not a panacea. If you children were raised to be Samwise Gamgee, a rooted, level-headed person well aware of his own limitations and intimately familiar with the lore and traditions of his people, which people, lore and traditions he loves with whole heart – well, THEN the Great Books would be an immense value to them. But all one needs to do is look at the Enlightment, many of the scholars of which knew the Great Books quite well, to see how such knowledge can be misused, perverted and ignored. For someone unconcerned with being modern, someone who hasn’t accepted the contrary-to-fact dogma of Progress, Locke and Rousseau, for example, are often quite idiotic. In Dr. Johnson’s famous assessment, they are both good and original. Where they are good, they are not original, and where they are original, they are not good. But if you have absorbed the chronological snobbery ubiquitous in today’s schools, you just know those two jokers are 2,000 years smarter than Aristotle!

But, alas! It would be a minor miracle if the products of our current K-12 system, especially if they had the misfortune of being good at it, could get anything out of the Great Books except a knowing, dismissive sneer.

Miracles do happen. And reading hard books is still far better than the predigested vomit served in schools today.

Rustic High Table for the Pizza Oven

Sunny and about 90F today, so spent hours cleaning up around the pizza oven, trimming back the overhanging olive tree, cleaning up the piles of junk lying on the ground, leveling the dirt (a pile had formed during the excavation for the footings for the oven, and sort of never got dealt with). THEN decided it was high time I made a high table to go next to the oven as a working surface.

A friend from church gave me this:

Casualty of a bathroom remodel.

Figured I cut cut the sink hole portion off, and still have maybe a 42″ x 20″ table top. So I hit the scrapwood pile, and found some old fence posts and runners, and had at them:

Sized and notched.

Put them together so:

A bit too much on the dirty side of rustic…
Definitely need to run some sandpaper over this…

Added a little shelf. Then worked to get the area where it’s going to be level enough. Then positioned the table and tried to put the top on it.

Sanded it down some, added little slats to make a shelf and add stability. It’s pretty sturdy at this stage.

It was heavy. Too heavy, it seems, to support the end with the sink hole, which decided to break off and shatter on the ground just as I was positioning the top.

Oh, well. I was planning to cut that part off anyway.
Position relative to the pizza oven. Made it almost as tall as the oven floor, so that swinging stuff from the table to the oven and visa versa should not require adjusting height – a good thing when what you’re swinging tends to be very, very hot.

A that point, decided that having spent 6+ hours total working outside in the heat today, that I’d get out the diamond blade and angle grinder and clean up that edge first thing tomorrow. And clean up the mess. Ya know?

It will be cute, I think.

Easter Tuesday Update

1 The front yard mini orchard makes me smile:

Figs are doing nicely. Plus, fig trees are very beautiful and peaceful.
Our two little apricot trees are doing well. Lots of fruit setting.
A few cherries on our 3-in-one cherry tree. These are Bings, I think.

Some pears are setting on our 4-in-0ne pear tree. Something is attacking the leaves, leaving unsightly spots on them. Must check into that, and get some netting for all the trees so we don’t end up with fat, happy squirrels and other vermin and no fruit for us.

The pomegranate is just now starting to blossom. That little bush is irrepressible: for the three years we’ve had it, I’ve ended up trimming away most of it a couple times a year, just to keep it a manageable size. Doesn’t matter: it began the spring as a collection of bare sticks about diaphragm high, and is now is as tall as I am and wider than it is tall.

The citrus tree is likewise going to town. I trimmed it so much this winter I was afraid I’d damaged it. Nope. It’s an unsightly thicket already a couple months later and – this is new – has quite a few blossoms on it. This is the tree grown from a seed by our late son Andrew, who, when he was very little, asked what would happen if he planted a seed he got out of a piece of fruit he was eating. We said: plant it and find out. The seed grew and progressed, from a little pot in a window box to a larger pot on the patio, to a half wine barrel. At one point, I had to basically cut it in half – it was getting so tall and stringy in its barrel. It has produced maybe 4 pieces of fruit in its 15 or so year life.

Needs some serious trimming/shaping, but it’s blooming, so I’ll probably have to wait until fall. B y which time it should really be a mess.

Three years ago, we positioned it in a spot set aside for it out front behind the brickwork I made. It was MUCH happier in the ground than in a pot, and immediately took off. Again, I have to trim it ruthlessly a couple times a year – it wants to be a big tree, we need it to stay a little tree. And, finally, this year, while far from covered in blossoms like many citrus trees this time of year, it does have quite a few! Maybe we get fruit this year.

2 Radio silence from our little school, at least as far as gender theory goes. I am learning to embrace the hatiest hater label. Maybe I’ll get it put on t-shirt. At least I’m sleeping a little more. I don’t know how my wife can take it. At least school is out this week.

I alternate between being ashamed I did such a poor job defending our position and the realization that it probably mattered little: once the mob has decided you’re a bigoted hater, it’s not like you’re going to get much of a hearing. After the fact, one thinks of many things one could have said. For example: Freud, the rest of the story:

When Ziggy first started analyzing people, his customers were, naturally, people who could pay for it. Thus, the parade of identified patients were largely the children of wealth and status.

In this parade, Freud found a number of patients who claimed they were being or had been sexually molested. Thus, he came to one of the great turning points in modern psychology. He could believe the patients (his records show that he initially did!) and go to bat for them – and find himself accusing the people who were paying his bills, the people to whose parties and teas he was being invited, of being monsters or, at least, of having monstrous things happening under their noses. It would have most likely ended his career, or at least put it on a less immediately gratifying trajectory.

Or he could ‘discover’ in a flash of Hegelian enlightenment that these patients were merely fantasizing or hallucinating because they were sexually repressed or suffering under an Oedipus complex or just in general obsessed with sex in the deepest darkest corners of their minds. That way, he could refocus what would be really uncomfortable attention from the family and friends of the patient back onto the patient’s own problems. He could still get invited to all the cool parties, build his practice with their help, and get paid.

So, for decades afterward, any number of abused children, when sent to Freudian analysts, were systematically convinced that they were deluding themselves, that their memories were mere fantasy, and that they needed to focus on their own twisted minds. Mom and dad were largely off the hook – the patient may have issues with them, but, alas! we’re all slaves to sexual repression, so what else could one expect?

When this gaslighting was finally exposed, largely in the 60s and 70s, Freudian teachings and theory were of course excoriated from all the pulpits of academia, and his name became an insult and cautionary tale. Just kidding! Nope, his theories had proven far too useful for deflecting and misdirection, so we continue to use his language and understanding to this day.

Similarly, up until that fateful day in 2013, when ‘gender dysphoria’ was slipped into the DSM in the dark of night, responsible therapists, when presented with a child who claimed to be of the opposite sex, would gently poke around a little, to see what else was going on it the kids life. Were they being bullied? Were the boys pestering them for sex? Were daddy and mommy getting along and being kind to them? Did they understand that puberty was hard and confusing, but that people do get through it OK? Those therapists, had they received their training prior to the complete convergence of their field in academia, were aware that 1) the vast majority of kids presenting as dysphoric resolve their issues in favor of their actual sex if given time and support, and 2) that cases where that doesn’t happen tend to very miserable – all the usual problem: addiction, depression, suicide, etc. occur with much higher frequency and severity.

In other words, specifically, the post 2013 words, such careful and compassionate therapists were the hatiest haters and bigots imaginable! They dared to ask questions that might just point back to the ruined lives of these kids, ruined by divorce, abuse, and rootlessness. Under the new theory, even asking questions was hate and bigotry. Just like the victims of Freud, the new heroes of gender theory get to bear their pain alone, while having everyone around them explain everything away – and, desperately seeking relief and reinforced by the adults around them, the kids will embrace it!

But I said nothing of the sort.

3 Had a glorious Easter, which we will continue to celebrate right on through next Sunday, when we will have a huge backyard pizza party for the RCIA team, members of our Teams of Our Lady team, and the Feasts & Faith crowd. If everybody and their familes show up (unlikely), there would be a couple hundred people. I’ going to plan on like 75, spread out over the afternoon and evening. Got the trampoline cleaned and ready to go, will put up the hammock and hammock swing and kiddie toys, and basically have out backyard ready. Should be fun.

On a related note, I am making pastrami, which I have done a number of times before. Goes well with the ciabatta I will be whipping up for the pizza party. My previous efforts have run from pretty good to outstanding. This time, I splurged and bought 13 lbs of prime brisket from Costco, about 10.5 lbs after trimming, which I had to cut into three pieces in order to brine it. Decided to cook up the smallest piece after three days brining and one day of rinse (you let it sit in cold water for a day after you’ve brined it to leach out some of the salt, otherwise it tends to be too salty), as a test.

Very disappointing. Taste and texture were way off. I used a very simple rub, which just didn’t cut it, and the taste was bland. Crumbly, over-fatty when sliced. Let’s hope that another 4-5 days of brining and a better rub improve the other two.

4 Starting to do a little work for a potential start up, of which of course I am free to say nothing. Looks like it could be fun, at least. Wish me luck.

He is Risen! della Francesca’s Resurrection Fresco

The Resurrection, by Piero della Francesca, a fresco from the 1460s found in the Palazzo della Residenza, the City Hall, as it were, in the town of SansepolcroTuscany, Italy. As is so often the case, in person it is far more impressive and moving than any reproduction. This fresco has made a strong impressions on many people, including many non-Catholics and even atheists. Huxley wrote about it. This is Christ in triumph, but also Christ in judgement, which makes it an image well-suited to our current crazy years. It was commissioned not for a church or chapel, but for the place where city government was conducted. The village elders would pray before it prior to conducting business, to remind themselves that they would be judged by Christ, who died and rose that they might be saved. Look at the face della Francesca gave to Christ: A merciful yet just judge.

Piero della Francesca – http://www.artchive.com/artchive/P/piero/resurrex.jpg.html

This fresco shows an amazing degree of sophistication: 2 vanishing points, one for the soldiers, one for Christ, so that the eye can contemplate them both separately and together. The near-hyperrealism of the guards on the one hand stands against the utter disregard for gravity and anatomy other. There are three legs between four guards; the guard in the front right is leaning on air; more subtly, the guards in the middle have assumed anatomically and physically impossible positions. While there are technical accounts of why this is so, the simple reason is that della Francesca was painting the Resurrection, not a bunch of mercenary guards. Stuffing in the right number of legs and giving them all proper postures and things to lean on just didn’t figure into it.

This masterpiece narrowly survived destruction in World War II when British artillery officer Tony Clarke defied orders to shell the town. He had never seen the fresco, but had read Huxly’s description, and had seen the destruction of Monte Cassino. He didn’t want to go down in History as the dude who wantonly and needlessly destroyed a priceless work of art. The grateful villagers (Sansepolcro is hardly more than a village even today) named a street after Clarke. (1)

The della Francesca brough the image below to mind: Gerard David’s image of the Judgement of Cambyses. commissioned in 1488 for the City Hall of Bruges. In this diptych, we see on the left Cyrus’s son Cambyses condemning the corrupt judge Sisamnes, who on the right is shown suffering his sentence: being flayed alive. His skin was then used to cover the judgement seat, occupied next by his successor: his own son.

David Diptych The Judgment of Cambyses.jpg
By Gerard David – Image from Web Gallery of Art(WGA has given permission for use of images on Wikipedia.), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6101730
Appalling detail.

Dante puts traitors to benefactors in the lowest circle of Hell. This would include those who are entrusted with the public good and abuse that trust. On this most holy of days, we rejoice that a good, merciful and just judge awaits us, but are warned to not presume on his mercy. We pray for those who reject His authority, and fervently throw ourselves on his mercy and beg mercy on everyone we know.

Mercy is there for the asking, but God is too polite to force His mercy on us if we won’t ask for it.

  1. One of the weird things that came out of the two world wars: in my (very light – I welcome correction here) reading, wanton destruction for the sake of revenge was just as much, if not more, prevalent on the British side than the Nazi side (one gets the impression the Americans were merely clueless, but I’m hardly an authority). Understandable, since the Germans bombed London to terrorize the English. Given the horror of those attacks and British character, that did not go over well. I think many in England would have reduced all of Germany to ash if they could. They came close in some places. Meanwhile, there are numerous stories about Nazi officers doing what they could to prevent wanton destruction: not burning Paris against orders, not putting anything important enough to destroy in the ancient heart of Florence, for two examples. Not defending Naziism (isn’t it insane that I think it necessary to state that?) but individual Nazis were just human beings like us, and could behave as evilly or beautifully as anybody else. We prevent ourselves from learning from this cautionary tale by blanket vilification: those people were not like us! They were evil! Nope, they were for the most part just regular folks who fell to social pressures, a misplaced sense of duty and a eagerness to believe a story whereby their troubles were all somebody else’s fault. Kind of exactly like most people today.

Prolegomenon to Any Future Old-School SF&F Adventure

An honest and fair reader is due an account of how the following manuscript came into my possession, so that he might properly judge the frankly fantastical story to be discovered therein, the veracity of which I, myself, am now reluctantly convinced despite my initial incredulity.

Having heard through the popular press of the now-infamous Horatio G. Bloomincracker, doctor of botany and prodigious collector of curious tribal artifacts, of his sudden disappearance 15 years ago and his unexpected re-emergence from the darkest India jungles, of the curious artifacts found in his possession and his simultaneous appointment to a chair at Oxford and a cell at Bedlam, and the subsequent and possibly related reduction of much of the Midlands to a smoldering crater, it was with some not mild trepidation that I received an invitation to meet the great man.

Image result for victorian gentleman cartoon

I am of some reputation as a botanist myself, as the reader is no doubt aware. Having traveled the world in an ongoing if so far futile attempt to obtain specimens of the legendary Walking tree of Dahomey, I am more acquainted than most scholars with the various lands and peoples of this fair globe. Thus, there is a logic to Dr. Bloomincracker’s decision to unburden himself to me. Such is my fate: to share his burden, and to make known his travails, as a cautionary tale to all of humanity.

Bedlam was chosen for the fateful meeting, as Oxford was all booked up. I was shown to a large and not unpleasant anteroom with a lovely view of the lawn and the howling psychotics that peopled it, not so unlike similar facilities at Oxford. I had heard Dr. Bloomincracker’s health had been failing, which would hardly surprise any reader who knew the tale.

The great man entered the room on the arm of the Dean of Divinity, a Reverend Schoppinvax, who steered him into a chair facing mine. After the briefest of introduction, the good Reverend made his departure as if his hair were on fire.

Dr. Bloomincracker appeared before me as a glorious ruin. A man who in his youth had first made his name as a bear wrestler was now withered and hunched, although not yet 50 years of age. His once thick black hair was reduced to a motley of grey thatch and bare, splotched pate; his once imposing frame a twisted hulk; his fine broad forehead as lined as a map of Khartoum; his expressive lips and strong chin now hidden behind a wooly mustache and a goat’s beard. His attire had suffered in a similar manner: what had been once proper morning dress was now a wrinkled, grease stained mockery.

His notorious blue eyes, rumored to have had a dramatic effect on both truculent natives and the weaker sex, were now watery and reddened, and focused, it seemed, at two different distances behind, above and to the right of my face.

Without further ceremony, he reached into his waistcoat and produced a bundle of withered banana leaves, upon which were scribbled, perhaps in Sanskrit but certainly in wax pencil, something utterly inscrutable.

“Read this!” he demanded. A look of confusion must have passed over my face, but the good doctor did not seem to notice. Instead, he again stuck a hand into his waistcoat and produced a small package wrapped in a scrap of cloth.

“Would you like to see the Artifact?” He thrust the package at me without waiting for the answer. I took it gingerly in hand, and unwrapped it as the doctor fidgeted eagerly.

The cloth disgorged into my palm a small metallic oblong about the size of a robin’s egg. On each side was carved a squatting frog-god, on one side with eyes and mouth gaping, on the other with them closed. The remaining surface was curiously graven everywhere with indecipherable runes. A blood red and unshaped gem was savagely afixed to one end. I was struck with fear: it looked for all the world like a trinket one might pick up at a country fair, albeit from a country with very poorly developed aesthetics. I felt a sudden urge to toss the Artifact out the window, but feared I might harm one of the psychotic with which the lawn below was thick.

Before I could speak, the good doctor began telling me the tale that follows.

Insomnia Book Review: Honor at Stake

Woke up about 3:30 in the morning today, started to get up, but then forced myself to stay in bed and read. Fired up the Kindle, tried Rousseau’s Emile – tedium – and some Everlasting Man, which I read for maybe half and hour, and then started losing interest (I’ve read it many times, just didn’t work at 4:00 a.m.)

So I tab through the stuff on my Kindle and discover, contrary to all my customary reading practices, a vampire romance novel: Declan Finn’s Honor at Stake. I don’t remember when or why I ordered this book, but, what the heck, I can’t sleep anyway, so…

It was a lot of fun, definitely more than $2.99 worth of fun – and remember, I’m about a million miles from the target audience. Yard Sale of the Mind says: check it out!

I’m going to have to keep the review vague, as there are a couple nice reveals early on that saying much might spoil, and I liked them a lot, so I’m holding back. The book is about a couple of very different and seemingly star-crossed lovers who take a long time to realize that’s what they are. And vampires. Lots and lots of vampires.

Finn wisely starts right in on the action, then introduces us to the main characters, who we get to know through how they act under pressure. His major characters are very well fleshed out, attractive and sympathetic, and his minor characters are well and quickly sketched. It’s a fairly short novel – I read it in under a day – and does not drag. Finn also has a nice touch with dialogue.

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Finn also deftly works in the Catholic elements alway present in all the traditional vampire stories – holy water, crucifixes, rosaries, priests – so that Catholics can be delighted and amused, while there’s nothing anyone sympathetic to the roots of the genre could complain about. Vampires and their hunters treat the signs and sacramentals of the Church seriously. He also works in a few more or less original twists around the Church that are also fun. There is a Swiss Guard Vampire Ninja squad, for example, and firehoses shooting holy water. It’s cool.

The love affair smolders, often quite intensely, but never bursts into anything above very light PG level stuff – for which I, for one, am grateful as a reader.

Fun read, check it out.