Simply Plotting… in a Strange New Millieu.

Where is all of this about Black Death and Cumans and Nestorian heretics and Tanais and Marco Polo and The Great Schism… coming from…? Where could anyone ever see a common thread in any of that? Did this suddenly become some sort of history class?

Three words for you: plot lines.

Oops! Guess that was two. Words.

Various plot lines.

Believable fiction must be based somewhere in fact. The fiction that I like best is when I cannot tell where the facts end… and the fiction begins….

Such as… where religious dogma ends… and real life begins….

When you can never tell whether what you are experiencing is real… or not….
What you sincerely believe… is truth… or not….
Do you DARE… question…?
Do you DARE… simply accept…?
How do you know what is what… and what is wrong…?
How can you have the Courage… to remain Faithful… when the world around you is out of control…? Telling you convincingly that you are DEAD WRONG!!!

We’ve only begun to scratch the surface, gentle friends and gentle readers….
Grab some padding for your seat. I have a feeling this is about to become a bumpy ride!

Current Reads: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

I really didn’t plan to read this novel next. I was planning to read either A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess or Foundation by Isaac Asimov.

But… I picked up The Unbearable Lightness of Being… because I was struggling with The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams and Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I was almost completely turned off by both of them… but felt compelled to read them… because they are supposed to be the be the best examples of authors who write Science Fiction satire. Actually, I think Asimov does a much better job personally.

I read the first chapter of The Unbearable Lightness of Being… and I was amazed…. One of the most amazing compositions I’ve read in quite a while. REALLY drew me in. Because… Kundera is clearly not constrained by the current disease of Political Correctness that is constricting… stifling… creative thought in America and Western Europe….

Kundera starts out with a very interesting concept: the idea of eternal return, which he ascribes to Nietzsche. And then… he justifies his premise by stating that a war fought between two African Kingdoms in the XIVth Century carries no meaning… has NO effect… in modern civilization! Has he not read Joseph Conrad? None of the Existentialist Writers? Does the man have no idea of the “Burden of White Guilt”?

And… then he goes on to state that the heroes of the French Revolution… are only heroes… because the massacres that they committed against the Nobles… as justified as they WERE… are only acceptable… because they aren’t repeated…. Constantly….

Kundera… is a Czech…. He was raised a communist…. And… he is SCHOOLING America… and Western Europe… on morality… and ethics… and political correctness….

How come THIS Eastern European author understands the fallacies of Political Correctness… and Communism… which can only really exist as a Fascist Regime… and our leaders don’t…?

Because he’s lived it. Because… he was one of the masses. And… he found Kool-aid to be an eye-opening energy drink….

A truly Dystopian society is constructed of many diverse pieces-parts….

Recent Reads: Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut.

Finally! I finished!

To be honest… I was apprehensive. Because I was so-o-o-o disappointed by Cat’s Cradle. Vonnegut is supposed to be the epitome of black humor and satire from the Science Fiction perspective…. And… I found Cat’s Cradle lame and vapid….

But… I did find some parts of this novel entertaining. A lot of it was repetitive. Which is fine. I really didn’t find much Science. At least Douglas Adams comes up with some interesting Science bits that are intellectually interesting enough to be entertaining….

Vonnegut offers some teasers, but rarely ever gets around to explaining anything in detail. Such as… if the entire city of Dresden was in ruins, how were they so easily able to get the door of the Slaughterhouse basement open? That seems rather mysterious… and even magical… or miraculous….

Deedlee-balls. Had to look that up. Didn’t know what they were.

He does a very good job with names. But… this is a satire… so meaningful names is OK.

Lot of mockery of the American Ideal. Social Satire. Historical perspective.

Most of the humor in the Vonnegut (and Adams) that I’ve read so far… seems to be aimed at justifying the superiority of his religious and political philosophies. Over Christianity. Over Conservatism. Of Peace at all costs… over War at any cost….

I get that the humor is supposed to be very intellectual: atheism is superior, and therefore mocking and ridiculing Christianity is always funny and entertaining…. Progressive Liberals are smarter than Conservatives… because… well… because the writer believes he is smarter than anyone who may disagree….

As I have stated before… I am Southern, Christian and Conservative…. I’m not offended…. Because… I can’t get to the point where I’m capable of suspending disbelief.

My issue is simply this: I cannot suspend disbelief. When the writer goes to so much trouble to make his attacks on Christianity so clear… and his mocking ridicule of Christianity so clear… his belief in the superiority of Atheism or Secular Humanism so clear… the humor escapes me… when he so clearly injects Straw Man arguments. When he so clearly doesn’t understand his subject of ridicule.

As for War… maybe allowing Hitler to control Europe would have been a better idea. Maybe allowing Stalin… and Putin… unfettered control of the Northern Hemisphere would have been a better idea. Maybe allowing Saddam Hussein to slaughter Kurds and Shi’ites at will would have been a better idea. Maybe allowing the Alewites to slaughter the Christians and Sunni is the right thing to do. Maybe allowing the Chinese to control Asia and Iran to destroy Israel is the best way for the world to move forward… safely….

And… maybe not.

But… mischaracterizing something that I understand well… and ridiculing things you don’t know about… don’t lead me to believe you are intellectually superior…. Just proves to me that you’re a blind bigot….

Maybe some of these Science Fiction Satirists would do a better job… and even be funnier… if they were capable of criticizing things they know… rather than ridiculing what they cannot comprehend… because they think it’s low hanging fruit….

Vonnegut’s writing is rather sparse. Terse, I suppose. Leaves a lot to the imagination.

Vonnegut is not constrained by convention: he does a lot of things that the writing books say that authors shouldn’t do. Like skipping around in time. All over the place. That is essentially a synopsis of the plot.

He also writes in the third person omnipotent perspective… inserts the author into the text at various points… but never explains how the author comes to his omnipotence…. Unless… perhaps… he time-travels, too. As perhaps the other novelist he created in the book, Kilgore Trout, seems to do. Seems like a parody of himself. And one of the more interesting parts of the story. As is his liaison with Montana Wildhack, the XXX movie actress, in the Human Zoo on Tralfamadore. Every man’s dream. A reality. Somewhere in Space-Time. Unfortunately for me… I had already anticipated what kind of actress she was… so the reveal lost its thunder.

Same with the death of his morbidly obese wife, Valencia, whom he married for money. And… like I say… I was distracted by some of the details he missed: people who die of carbon monoxide poisoning are pink, not blue…. I understand the color symbolism: blue and ivory. Purple. But… details are details. Inaccurate details make it difficult for people who know the truth to suspend disbelief.

Interesting that he compares himself to Jesus Christ. Then explains that he did. Adds a different dimension to the symbolism…. Again… he does it through the plot of a Kilgore Trout novel.

Recent Reads: Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

I read Cat’s Cradle by Vonnegut because I was looking for inspiration composing my own tome of Science Fiction satire.

I must admit that have relatively rarely felt so disappointed in a book that by all reports is considered to be the very apex of wit and black humor. At least… I learned what the references to a “karass” in Jo Walton’s novel Among Others were all about… other than suggesting that she read a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy as a sex-starved adolescent…. (Among Others was awarded the 2011 Nebula and 2012 Hugo Awards for Best Novel… and I really didn’t care for it either….) I just found the fare trite and… boring…. I suppose if you don’t have any idea what Ice-IX really is… maybe what he wrote was enough…. Some of the Bokononism was entertaining…. Making fun of my religion doesn’t really bother me. But… the sexy stuff… really wasn’t…. Didn’t go far enough to actually be funny. And I find that to be a fatal flaw in satire…. To stop half way….

Trivialization of Science so superficially makes it difficult for me to suspend disbelief. I get hung up on criticizing the irrelativity… the innanity… the incoherence… of the misrepresentation of Science…. The lost opportunity…. To inform… To educate….

Maybe Slaughterhouse Five will be better. I hope so. Vonnegut has such a great reputation as a satirist. I would really love to love his writing. At least he has really short chapters. That’s a good thing.

Decided to read The Restaurant at the End of the Galaxy by Douglas Adams first. I enjoyed The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but really think it was a knee-slapper either….

I wonder why avoid Atheists and Secular Humanist seem afraid to satirize their own beliefs…? Seems like it would be easier… and immensely more authentic… to actually criticize things you know about… rather than driveling about things you don’t…. Should be able to find many more subtle… and profound… objects… or subjects… for criticism in things one knows reasonably well… I would think….

But… maybe some cows are held too sacred to slaughter….

Maybe I should take a dose of my own medicine….

Looking Good… and Smelling Good: Advice for Spring….

Spring is such a magical time….

Always has been….

And… I have some fond remembrances….

Looking good. And… smelling good….

I remember sitting on those cement benches by the Coke machines at West Jones High School…. Between classes, of course….

Watching the yellow jackets swarm the trash cans….
Wondering….

Watching the yellow jackets buzz the beautiful women strutting around on those brilliant Spring days….
Wondering….

Ever wonder why yellow jackets are always crawling into people’s coke cans…?

Ever wonder why yellow jackets have such great tastes…? Why they always seem to buzz the beautiful girls…? The ones who are so carefully made up…? Strutting their stuff…?
Leaving the boys… and the girls of lower social stature… who expend less time and effort looking good… alone…?

I also remember synthesizing isoamyl acetate in Organic Chemistry my sophomore year at the University of Southern Mississippi… back in the day… and thinking… this stuff REALLY smells like bananas! Or… Juicy Fruit…. But… that’s another story…. And it brings me back…. To….

Science….

Hornets (and Yellow Jackets are hornets, not wasps) are attracted to sugar for food…. They borrow into over-ripe fruit… where the bruises are…. And Coke cans….

And… isoamyl acetate…. Essence of Banana… is their attack pheromone….

And… it’s in a ton of cosmetics and eau de cologne and everything else….

And… swatting at hornets… makes them spray it on warm targets….

So… I guess my mother was right about that one….

Anyway… a word of advice… and a word of caution… from the Rock Man in Harry Nillson’s “The Point”…. “Don’t go messin’ with the bees….” Or the hornets…. Or the yellow jackets….

If you don’t want to attract bees and hornets… don’t try to smell like a flower….

Especially if you plan to go hiking in the mountains of China or Japan in the Late Spring or Summer…. About a hundred people die in each place a year from giant hornet attacks…. Many of which could probably be prevented…. By not wearing isoamyl acetate in cosmetics….

Recent Reads: The Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee

I really haven’t trashed anything I’ve read recently… and I’m not about to start now….

Quite frankly… this is one of the most interesting and entertaining books that I’ve read in a while…. And I’ve read some good ones and re-read some of my faves….

Many it was the mood or the stage of life… or something else… but this book just struck me a thoroughly entertaining….

One aspect is the historicity…. van Gulik points out the good, the bad, and the ugly…. He put appropriate points from the actual Chinese Penal Code in the notes at the end. He points out critical details that are necessary to understand some of the workings of the milieu… such as the interesting observation that Magistrates… or Detectives… or Judges… were the highest… and essentially the only officer within their district…. They were overworked…. And… they required the assistance of “Men of the Greenwood”…. Wayfaring officers of the peace who had in the not-too-distant past walked on the other side of the law…. Similar to Robin Hood…. Or Wyatt Earp… Bat Masterson… and the Father of the Fast Draw himself… Wild Bill Hickok….

Some of the conclusions… require suspension of disbelief… if you have a medical… or forensic mind…. But even the most outlandish of those… were pilfered by none other than Sherlock Holmes… whose author was knighted physician….

Some of the aspects of “Justice” are outlandish to the Western Mind….

A suspect is not innocent until proven guilty…. But… no suspect can be punished without a signed confession…. Torture… even extreme torture… may be used to obtain a confession…. But the Judge… and his accomplishes… may receive the same punishment they mete out if they are proved to be wrong…. Some of the punishments… and interrogation procedures… are gruesome…. And some of the quaint superstitions… and the beliefs of the time… lead to quite entertaining results….

A historical note…. Judge Dee lived during the T’ang Dynasty… during the rule of Emperor Wu…. The only female emperor in the long history of China…. Apparently… the original story went into a very roundabout… essentially pornographic interlude about the sexual prowess of Emperor Wu… involving the Chief Priest… after her second Imperial Husband died… and she ascended the Throne… rather than simply serving as Regent for her underage son…. In the end, she allowed the Dynasty she sought to establish to return to the T’ang…. She was ruthless…. And efficient…. And by all accounts… effective as a ruler….

The Judge Dee in this work is much more human… and much less of a superhero… than portrayed on the big screen…. All of the martial arts prowess belong to his deputies…. Again… like Wyatt Earp… he never killed anyone with his own hands….

Recent Reads: Monkey

Finished reading Monkey: Folk Novel of China by Wu Ch’êng-Ên, translated by Arthur Waley a few days ago.

This book is an abridgement and translation of the Classic Chinese Novel: A Journey to the West….

I think it’s a rather older translation. And… it was abridged for Western tastes….

Thus… Waley did an amazing job! Excellent story. Moves along at a rollicking pace. Not too difficult to pick up some nuance…. A very entertaining Picaresque… that evolves into a fast-paced tale of redemption….

Clearly… the purpose is to display the redemptive Everyman theme that is inherent in Pure Land Buddhism…. Salvation is not hard….

This story mocks other religions… especially Taoism… which is esoteric by its nature….

And… the heroes are presented flaws and all…. In fact, much of the humor is due to the impetuous “sins” of the Pilgrims who accompany the Bodhisattva on the Journey to the West to retrieve Buddhist Scripture in order to save China….

In this story… the Bodhisattva is a whiny wimp… who constantly requires intervention from his four traveling companions… all of whom have sinned and fallen short… and thus need redemption….

In Pure Land Buddhism… the West… which is the area of India in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains where Siddhārtha or Gautama Buddha was born… represents Heaven…. The Four Pilgrims or Disciples are all monsters… who have fallen from grace….

I think a lot of details were left out of story… and many of the names, which to Western minds would likely seem redundant and confusing… were omitted or replaced by the profession of the character…. Many of the allusions have no Western equivalent… so the more you know about Ancient China and Buddhism and Asian Culture, the more meaningful many of the details will be to you…. Many of the characters come straight out of Chinese and Buddhist Mythology… though many of the references have various alternative tellings….

All-in-all… I found Monkey to be an amazingly entertaining and informative tale…. And a brisk read….

One other comment…. Novels were considered beneath the dignity of the Literati in the Ancient Orient…. The author of novels typically typically wrote those works under pen names…. This work is EXTREMELY well written…. In a later period in Japan… indigenous Japanese literature… and prose in particular… were the purview of women…. That was because fiction was considered beneath educated men, who wrote in Chinese… in a derivative Chinoisesque style…. Women were discouraged from studying Chinese… and women were accorded the freedom to create works of fiction without ridicule…. Women also wrote in a style that suited them…. Meaning that the stories were catty… and romantic… and even sexy…. So… needless to say… the works of the women writers of the Heian Period in Japan were… interesting….