It's 2018...but I don't see hover cars, colonies on Mars, or any of the other super-sweet stuff we were supposed to have by now. So I'm a little disappointed.
But we do have self-driving cars on the horizon, so at least there's still a chance we will all be enslaved by machines in the near future. Maybe Skynet will still become aware and try to kill us all. Or maybe we'll be enslaved by machines and get plugged into the matrix.
I had planned to post this just after Christmas while I had a few days to recuperate from the trip, but I just didn't have the time to put it all together. So here it is a week or two late. Beginning with the second eBook I started and finished on my Christmas vacation...
Speaking of Christmas, here's the present I received from my amazingly talented daughter, Emeli. It's hanging on my wall in my new cubicle at work (I'll have to show the new less-sweatshoppy digs one of these days).
I did a little reading while I was on my Christmas vacation, finishing one ebook that I'd been reading forever, a physical book that I'd been reading for a week or so before the vacation, and a couple of other books that I read in their entirety on the trip.
Didn't Get Frazzled
When the author of Didn't Get Frazzled, David Z Hirsch (a pseudonym), contacted me, I was still trying to get through Last Burial Night (mentioned below) and had lost most of my enthusiasm for ebooks. This request was a little different from many of the authors' requests I receive - Didn't Get Frazzled was published at least a year before I was approached, so either the outstanding quality of my book reviews has become common knowledge, or there's some random algorithm out there that keeps putting me on the radar of authors selling their books through Amazon. Either way I finally had a chance to read this ebook while on vacation and am happy to report that it was an enjoyable and enlightening read.
When I was approached by Dave (as he will henceforth be known) and offered a chance to read and review Didn't Get Frazzled a few months ago, his initial request contained these comments:
I have noticed from your Amazon reviews that you enjoy humorous novels. I have written a novel that you may enjoy called Didn't Get Frazzled, described as "unflaggingly funny" by Kirkus Reviews and "the best fictional portrayal of med school since ER" by BlueInk Review (starred review).
*INDIES Book of the Year Award Finalist (humor category) and 2017 International Book Awards Readers' Favorite Bronze Medal Winner in the Fiction - Humor/Comedy genre*
There are several comedic moments in Didn't Get Frazzled, but none that made me guffaw embarrassingly in front of anyone else, so I don't know that I would classify this as a "humorous" novel. I can think of many other complimentary adjectives to use, but I wouldn't put "funny" at the top of the list.
I don't know if the following excerpt is more "funny" or "touching," but I enjoyed it either way.
Rotating next through the pediatric emergency service, I met Santa Claus. Turns out, off-season Santa worked as a pediatrician. He called himself Dr. Joseph Goldberger, trimmed the beard, traded in the red coat for a button-down shirt and goofy tie, and covered it with a white jacket, pockets stuffed with pens and lollipops. He fooled none of us. How the press never knew I have no idea, but the man himself put little effort into concealing the obvious."
"Now, Olivia, are you going to be a good little girl?" Dr. Goldberger rested his hand on Olivia's diminutive shoulder.
The doctor angled toward her and continued in a stage whisper, "You don't want coal in your stocking, do you?"
Olivia's eyes lit up. She gasped in an adorably unsubtle way that only a young child can bestow. "Mommy, is he --" She mouthed the name.
Olivia's mommy embraced her daughter's excitement. "I don't know, honey. I guess you'd better be a good girl just in case."
Wide-eyed, the little girl covered her mouth, and for the rest of the visit, Dr. Goldberger treated what I presumed to be the best behaved three-year-old in the history of emergency medicine.
Didn't Get Frazzled was, for me anyway, an eye-opener about the rigors of becoming a doctor for those of us not in the medical profession. I've been aware of all the extra schooling required of those training for medical careers, but I wasn't really aware of how much more is involved than just endless, rigorous schooling. The massive time commitments of med students to accompany more experienced medical practitioners (not always full-MDs, surprisingly) as they perform their rounds, surgeries, examinations, etc is impressive. I thought the effort to get a B.S. was plenty - I can't imagine putting in all the extra time it takes to become an M.D. The book concludes with the protagonist's graduation from medical school, but does briefly mention the post-school requirements for becoming an M.D.
Here's an excerpt that provides a glimpse into the life of a med student, Seth, Didn't Get Frazzled's primary protagonist.
I remember when I realized how things had changed for me, how warped things had become. Halfway through anatomy last year, I walked into the lab and noticed this treasure chest of spare limbs. I remember thinking, 'Oh cool, we're starting extremities today.' Almost an hour passed before it hit me: 'Holy crap, there is a bin piled up with dead body parts.' Like something you might see on Halloween except actual, once-living limbs, severed from torsos. And what had I done? I ran over and searched for the best specimen -- not too fat, not too thin -- the optimal sinewy consistency to dissect out the vessels, muscles, and nerves. I rummaged through the bin as if I were selecting the perfect melon."
"At least you recognized the problem."
"Did I though? I decided to share my revelation with the group, and when I did, they all blew it off. 'Yeah, so, we're surrounded by dead bodies, what do a few extra limbs matter?' I didn't have an answer for that, because they were right. Once you've shifted your expectations that far over to the macabre, what real difference does a heap of severed limbs in a chest make? None. We were all long past being horrified. So you may be right. It's too late for me."
In addition to laying out the rigors of medical training for non-doctors like me, the book is also an interesting look into how difficult it is to maintain a social life, romantic or even platonic - with anyone who isn't going through these same experiences with you.
Here's a really brief moment near the end of Seth's relationship.
"I strained not to lash back at her. She liked to call me bitter. This was her new thing. My new thing was to view her as selfish and duplicitous, but at least I only insinuated it. April and I glared at each other from across the table. I had a feeling this might be our last night together."
I was never a big fan of ER, so I don't know if there was a lot of funny or medical school related storylines in its many episodes, but as I read Didn't Get Frazzled I often pictured the characters in a medical show I did watch: Scrubs. Many times I found myself hearkening back to the difficulties those young doctors-to-be struggled through, as I read Didn't Get Frazzled. But above all else, this is a book full of great stories (with names changes to protect the actual participants, no doubt). Here's a scene between the young doctor-in-training, Seth, and a veteran Nurse, Donna, that is a good example of the kind of doctor Seth is on the way to becoming.
"Donna, what's going on?"
"That lady out there is crazy. She thinks we're all partying it up in here when all we've been doing is working our asses off to help their children. You know, her son's up next, but I have half a mind to skip her the rest of the afternoon."
On another day, I might have let it go and waited out the last half-hour of my shift, but the thought of even one more suffering child consumed me with an impulsive fury.
"You wouldn't be skipping her -- you'd be skipping her son."
Donna swung toward me, her fiery eyes blazing into mine. "I know that, but who's going to go out there and talk to her?"
"I'm up for a new patient."
She placed her arms on her hips. "You really think she's going to let some white-boy medical student talk sense into her?"
Donna twisted her lips until she released a belly laugh. "Okay, Seth, you go right ahead." She passed me the clipboard.
I skimmed the page. Travon Taylor, chief complaint: sore throat. Donna tugged me by the arm and pointed though the glass at a woman shifting from one leg to the other while glaring at the TV. Near her, a five-year-old boy slumped at an odd angle in a chair.
"Good luck. Be sure the door locks behind you."
I passed her the clipboard and stepped through the waiting area until I faced the boy's mother. She ignored me.
"Hello, Mrs. Taylor. I'm Seth Levine, a medical student." I said this with as much effervescence as I would conjure, but she kept her gaze fixed on the TV screen, even when she responded.
"Oh great, another completely useless person who can't help me."
"Well, I'm a medical student, so I'm more of a mostly useless person who will at least try to help you."
That got her attention. Followed by a sneer. She stared back at the TV. I squatted until eye-level with her son.
"Hi, Travon. I'm Seth. How are you feeling?"
"My throat hurts." A glob of saliva dribbled out of his mouth.
"Tra-von, you wipe your mouth. See, he keep on drooling. How do I know he don't have no stroke? You people stay back in there and don't do nothing. I been here for hours, and I ain't heard nothing from nobody."
Now that I had her attention again, I stood to face her. "That sounds very frustrating."
"Frustrating! Are you touched in the head? You damn right it's frustrating. My child'll be dead before a doctor see him. Will you be happy then?"
"I wouldn't be happy."
Mrs. Taylor scanned the other moms in the crowd, but no one collaborated this time. I decided to keep talking before anyone did.
"Let me go see how long the wait is."
"Fine, you do that. You go back in there and leave the rest of us out here with our sick children who don't nobody wanna help.""
[jumping ahead a couple of pages...]
"The three of us joked around like old friends until Dr. Goldberger returned with a prescription. Mrs. Taylor thanked him and gave me a bear hug. Travon shared his infectious spittle with me one last time, and the two of them exited the room. Before I could do the same, Dr. Goldberger closed the door, trapping both of us inside. I stood motionless, drawing up the last of my emotional reserves to prepare for whatever he had in store.
"Excellent work today."
I smiled. "Thank you."
He rubbed his white beard and stared at me while I anticipated an "except" or "however" to temper his compliment. "Do you know why I said you did excellent work today?""
"Because, um, I knew the bacterial causes of otitis media?"
He shook his head in cheerful bemusement. "I expected you to know that. You're nearing the end of your pediatrics block, you should know all the facts by now, but even if you didn't, you could always learn them later. No, you did excellent work today because you helped that little boy, more than anyone else here. I made the diagnosis and prescribed the antibiotic, but that was the easy part. Calming the mother down so we could provide proper care for her son -- that was the hard part.
"From what the nurses told me, she was so agitated and upset she may have left before her son got the care he needed. You kept her here and you kept her calm, and you did it with empathy. This is something we can't teach, something that's either a part of you or it isn't. And the most impressive part is you didn't get frazzled. Many people would have become angry or defensive. They would have taken her abusive behavior personally or been more concerned with themselves instead of having the wherewithal to do what was needed to help that little boy." He laid his hand on my shoulder. "You did a good thing today."
I wanted to respond, but the words lodged in my throat. A stinging fire flashed into my eyes. I used all my remaining strength not to cry in front of my attending.
"That's a skill which takes years to perfect, and many never do. You're well on your way, Seth. You're going to be an excellent physician.""
"Yeah, that was me, Mr. Didn't-get-frazzled. "
Warning: Didn't Get Frazzled is not a book for children. There is no shortage of profanity or sexual content, which makes me a little sad. I would have loved to share this book with my own kids, one of whom has expressed an interest in the psychiatric medical field (the training for which does get a mention in the book). But until they're adults and have brains that are no longer being mis-shaped by the world around them, Didn't Get Frazzled won't be a book I feel comfortable sharing with either of them.
Above all else, let me assure you this is a well-written book. The author is not only grammatically proficient, he knows how to tell a coherent story with a real beginning, middle, and end. He also does good job of developing the book's protagonist, Seth; you'll feel very well acquainted with Seth by the book's end. Many of the other characters in the book are a little less-developed and sometimes confusingly vague, but they serve their primary purpose of fleshing out the story, even if they dissipate and are forgotten as they move off stage. Also, unlike Last Burial Night (below), I have many, many unused quotes from Didn't Get Frazzled that I found thought-provoking and share-worthy.
The Sea People
For those of you familiar withe Change/Emberverse novels of SM Stirling, you will notice a couple of differences in The Sea People from the previous books in the series: 1) None of the action in the story takes place in the mainland United States/Montival-proper. At least not in the same time/universe. And 2) One of the primary characters in the story, Pip (there are six or seven real primary characters), was created by an author other than Steve Stirling. Pip is from The Change anthology of guest-authored stories set in the Emberverse universe (barely mentioned last year during my year of failures to talk about what I was reading). 1
Pip, the borrowed Australian princess, is a great character. She dresses like Alex from A Clockwork Orange (the movie version of him, anyway - I don't remember if the book version of the character had the same wardrobe) has and interesting assortment of armaments - a heavy-headed cane (another Alex reference), a wrist rocket slingshot, and a set of large knives, and her speech patterns and observations of the various Montivalian faux-Irish/Scotsmen's attire, accents, and customs is well done from a non-American perspective. Which is interesting, because Steve Stirling is an American, so the well-roundedness of her character must have come through a lot of research. I think there was even usage of droogs (another A Clockwork Orange shout out) a couple of times in the story, but I didn't note it and can't find it now.
Here are a couple of Pip's scenes (not the most descriptive, but the best I could find, flipping through the book).
Deor jerked upright from where he had been leaning against the wall that separated them from Wilde's chambers.
"What?" Thora said.
Pip and Toa waited wordless, Deor looked shaken, his narrow clever race staring and beaded with more sweat than the cool spring night could account for.
"Something has been unsheathed," he said. "A weapon, malignant as Tyrfing. Quickly! We must stop it. The time of testing approaches."
Pip ghosted to the door and looked out through a narrow crack, holding a hand out with fingers spread to check the others until she'd made sure of the way, they didn't have any lights on inside, so the opening would be darkness within darkness, and her eyes perceived the dimly lit hallway as bright. A tall horse-faced man was shambling out of Wilde's rooms.
Weapon? she thought. What weapon?
Then there was a glint of steel in his right hand, held down by the side of his leg. She blinked in surprise, yes, that was an inconspicuous location but surely she should have seen it at once? It wasn't as if she was a virgin with respect to matters concerning sharp, pointy-stabby things.
"Man with a knife, heading downstairs," Pip murmured.
"You follow him, l'll take this side," Toa said, climbing out the window above the alley, tossing his shovel onto something that made a dull thug
This one's a little less Pip-ish, but shows a a glimpse of the cross-dimensional weirdness of the story.
Catapults and crossbows she understood intuitively, but apparently it had translated.
Thora tucked the weapon into the belt over her shirtwaist, and checked that it was ready to her hand under the loose thigh-length jacket that completed the outfit. Pip made certain that she could get to her kukris quickly, and pulled a few more ball-bearings out into the palm of her hand.
Constance Hawberk had been looking at them with growing puzzlement. "Thank . . . you again, all of you. And you, Miss Balwyn. I've never met anyone like you, but I'm glad I did."
"You're very welcome. Just doing my bit," Pip said, feeling a little guilty as they filed out into the corridor.
"Now for Wilde," Deor said as the door closed and locked behind them and something heavy was drawn up against it. "Vance isn't important anymore - and Wilde is another step towards Prince John."
"Why couldn't I hit the bastard?" Toa said plaintively.
Deor shrugged with a wry smile. "Because we are in a story, my friend, a story about things that once happened. Happened in another place that no amount of physical travel could find, or inconceivably long ago, or both. And the . . . forgive me, l must use a term from my art . . . the narrative structure of this story had Vance using this-"
He moved the knife slightly.
"-to kill the young lady and her lather. When we disrupted that, it pushed back to restore events to the original . . . plot."
Toa looked slightly alarmed. "This . . . you-know-who bugger . . . he was doing it?"
"Not directly," Deor said. "Not yet. For that Power to do so would rip the fabric of this story apart, and this story is very important to It; one source of Its strength. No, what has happened here is that we have . . . written ourselves is the only way l can put it . . . into the story and are turning it towards our own purposes, a little at least. And the story itself is fighting us. Events try to reshape themselves towards the original ending"
As I briefly mentioned above, much of this story takes place in multiple alternate universes (jumping across different centuries, but always in a bizzare version of the US of A) filled with creepy monsters - some unbelievable and magical and many just monstrously evil. I'm not entirely sure if these alternate universes are supposed to be real (similar to the Long Earth books by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter or Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves) or if they're just some weird drug-induced dream sequence in Prince John's head...I suspect the former, though. Either way, the departure from real-world (okay, I admit that the basic premise of the change makes the whole series a departure from the "real world") could possibly make the book less-readable for some. I read everything, so the quality of the author's writing is more important to me than the setting/mechanics of the author's imagined unverse. Steve Stirling is definitely a skilled writer with a head full of knowledge that lends weight to his words - a lifelong student of history in general and specifically military history. His battle scenes are very detailed and a pleasure to read. Here's an excerpt from one of the great naval battles in the book.
Naysmith stiffened. "What the devil?" she said, looking at the latex message from the kite-observer and then through her own glass. "They're not opening out into line! They're all heading straight for us! That's suicide."
She turned to the signaler. "Flanking ships advance. Captain Edwards, take in sail. lf they're willing to stick their heads into a sack, we'll oblige them."
Sea-Leopard heeled under the recoil of her broadside of twenty-four-pounder catapults. The roundshot slashed out, invisible except as blurred streaks, and the Korean warship coming in on the port quarter seemed to stagger in the water. Orlaith could hear the crunching sound of the cast-steel globes racking into the timbers of the enemy ship. Splinters flew skyward amid screams. At least it wasn't napalm shell or firebolt; two more of the enemy ships burned like torches not far behind them and sent the black slanting pillars of their funeral pyres into the sky, but this one was too close to risk setting it afire. Pumps were jetting water over the Sea Leopard's decks anyway, and down the thin sheet metal that guarded the wooden hull. Special squads waited with the foam-gear that could extinguish chemical fire.
More screams of pain and mortal terror came from the waist of the Korean craft, where several of the heavy metal balls smashed through the gunwales and went through ranks of men kneeling behind them. Men too tightly packed to dodge even if they'd had time.
What flew skyward from those impacts wasn't splinters, except from a few of the polearms the soldiers carried. It was parts of men, and if you looked closely you could see that they splashed as much as breaking.
"For what we are about to receive . . ." some Christian with a sense of humor said.
The metallic twangs from the enemy ship were fewer in number; six, she thought. And subtly different, probably because the engineering tradition behind their design was. Natural law set the limits for what the students of the mechanic arts could do, but styles differed from nation to nation within those bounds. The massive fabric of the ship shuddered a bit, and something flashed by overhead too fast to see. Bits fell - severed ends of rope, and a block-and-tackle that caught in the netting overhead. Shouts sounded harsh as orders were barked and the topmen cleared the rigging above, with their clasp knives in their teeth.
Then the frigate's broadside cut loose again, she could see in her mind the crews longing up and down at the handles of the cocking mechanisms below, and the grunts as the shot were levered into the troughs. The enemy ship was only a few hundred yards away now, within long bowshot, and there was an explosion of spray and splinters as the heavy metal struck at the waterline. The bow jerked down as water flooded in, rammed home by the forward momentum of the ship. Then the thick stay-lines that held the foremast in place and transmitted the force of the wind to the hull snapped, writhing across the deck like thigh-thick whips with bone-cracking force.
The tall mast was a composite, smaller timbers fitted and bound together with shrunk-on hoops, not a single trunk like the Sea Leopard's Sitka spruce sparage. It was nearly as strong, but when it failed . . . as its writhing bend showed it was about to do . . .
"Duck!" Orlaith shouted crisply, petty officers were echoing it all the way down the hundreds of feet of deck.
She suited action to words by knocking down her visor and going to one knee with her shield up.
The enemy ship's mast shattered like one of the fabled bombs of the ancient world. The huge strain on the length of it turned into energy in motion as splinters and chunks scythed outward.
If I wasn't so distracted by the good stuff on TV, the silly games on my tablet and computer, the web sites I'm forever trying to update, the Android class I was taking that I just finished mid-December, and all the other demands on my time, I would have easily finished this book in a day, maybe two, instead of dragging it out over a couple of weeks.
Last Burial Night
I started reading Last Burial Night in August of 2017. The author, Osaze Ehigiator, hadn't yet released the book on Amazon and was hoping to get some positive spin for his book's release. I was reading another physical book at the time I started Last Burial Night, Thrawn or maybe The Lincoln Myth, so I didn't jump right into reading it. Also, as I've mentioned a time or two, I'm not a huge fan of the eBook medium, so reading Last Burial Night wasn't really a priority. Any time that I'm reading and enjoying a real book, it's not likely I'll spend much time reading an eBook. And the biggest factor for the long time it took to finish reading Last Burial Night - it just wasn't that well-written. I think I finished reading four physical books and at least one other eBook since I began reading Last Burial Night. So it pretty much required me being on a vacation without any of the books on my reading shelf to get all the way though it.
Last Burial Night is a difficult story to define. Even the actual time/location of the events in the story is kind of indefinable. I couldn't tell if the author was creating a completely fictitious universe to play in (though one with no significant differences in technology from our present-day universe) or if only the characters and events of the story were intended to be fictitious. I just couldn't tell. Everything seemed to be intentionally vague. I did see clues throughout the text that I made assumptions based upon, but they were really just guesses. Among the many confusing clues are references to Jews, Gentiles, India, Africa, English, the Fifth Amendment, and the "Savanna South and the Eastern Jungle". Sometimes I think the setting is somehow America. other times it sounds like Africa or some island nation (Madagascar?) near Africa. I just couldn't tell.
Our province enjoyed a culture of excess before the storm. We were the only true superpower, considering wealth, power, and influence. We coughed, and the entire world quivered. We had conquered space, land, and ocean.
Maximo's real name was Erick Gomez. AL D Loco named him Maximo because of his huge body frame and fierce look. He had African, Latino, and Native American blood - super mixed genes. He was also from a family of bootleggers and had some outlaws in his blood, just like my granddad
As for dominant themes in the story, discrimination/race relations figured big in the story, but I was never sure what race any of the characters actually were. Again, there were clues, but no answers.
According to them, mountaineers - often called "M" for short - blame us for all their troubles because of the expulsion of their fathers from their God-given promised land.
I think it's better to judge people by class than skin color. But when the majority from any particular group behaves...
Those are simple facts," I said. "It applies to all ethnicities. No hoodlum gets respect, no matter his ethnicity. That's class and economics, not race."
Many people don't want to hear it from a person or group they consider as oppressors and especially not from the so-called 'winning race.' A few of my mom's friends don't like their children or anyone around them using it, period. They say it reminds them of plantation history, which is still very recent in their recollections. Same reason they don't order plantation salad in restaurants."
They also said you guys can't jump either, but you jump higher than a kangaroo.
The most interesting aspect of the story, for me, anyway, was the asteroid making en route to impact the Earth. I was expecting more of a Lucifer's Hammer type story (or Deep Impact, if you're a movie person) - complete with all the running around and panicking as the time to impact ticks down, followed by the details on how the survivors manage to survive in the madness that follows. Sadly, the event that should have been the focus of the story was little more than a plot mechanism to get the central character into his own little Hunger Games/Maze Runner type survival situation. And that might have been enough to carry the story, if not for the bigger flaws in the novel.
Bigger flaw #1: The dialogue between characters never sounds real. The word usage is all wrong, the tone of the dialogue goes from too formal to Napoleon Dynamite (there are several occurrences of "Dang"). There are way too many examples of seventeen year-old Drew explaining everything from botany, animal physiology, and jungle survival skills to the other, older, characters. And there's often just unending streams of dialogue with no clear indication of who's speaking or what's happening beyond the endless speaking. The stage is never set.
Bigger flaw #2: Grammatical and typographical errors abound.
The odd grammar is more prevalent than the small number of typographical errors I saw. Verb tenses jump back and forth between present and past - sometimes within the same sentence. All these oddities led me to believe that the author doesn't speak English as his first language. For me, the irregular writing/grammar was the biggest distraction and made the story almost unreadable.
Bigger flaw #3: The characters - even Drew, the star of the story - are two-dimensional. There's no real effort to get inside the heads of any of them or to explain who they are.
I noted a million things about the book that took me out of the story and made it very difficult to finish, but there weren't really any examples of things that I really found interesting. So I guess...the gist of all this rambling that you probably shouldn't plunk down any of your hard-earned cash for this book. At least not if you enjoy well-written/edited prose.
The Rooster Bar
Jon Grisham books are hard to sum up. Not because they are overly complex or incomprehensible, but mainly, I guess, because I don't want to give anything away. I could share excerpts from the story, but none really stand out much more than any other. They're all good. This is a typical John Grisham story; complete with lawyers, FBI agents, deep-pocketed crooks, and, of course, at least one agenda item of the left - the perils of being an immigrant.
I picked my copy of The Rooster Bar from the Science Fiction Book Club because it was a couple of bucks cheaper than Costco and because they seemed to have turned over a new leaf in regard to miniaturizing their books. Big mistake. The last several Sci-Fi genre books I've purchased from the SFBC have all been full-sized, but The Rooster Bar was scaled down to about 3/4 of the normal size (as were all the SFBC books in the old days).
One thing that was a little different in this John Grisham novel - and often amusing - was the email correspondence between the drop-out law school students and the loan officers servicing their school loans.
Todd said, "I guess we need to stay away from the criminal courts."
"Oh, yes. Those days are over. No more hustling the poor and oppressed."
"What about our pending cases? We can't just drop these people."
Mark said, "That's exactly what we'll do. We can't close these cases because we can't risk going back to court. Again, those days are over. Starting now, don't take any phone calls from a client or
anyone else for that matter. Let's use prepaid cell phones to keep in touch and ignore all other calls."
Zola said, "I'm already carrying two phones. Now a third?"
"Yes, and we have to monitor all of them to see who's looking for us," Mark said.
"And my days as a hospital vulture are over?" she asked and managed a smile.
"You weren't very good at it," Todd said.
"Thanks. I hated every minute of it."
A manager walked over and said, "Hey, Todd, you're on tonight. We're shorthanded and need you now."
"Be there in a sec," Todd said and waved the guy off. When he was gone, Todd asked, "So, gang, what's next?"
"We go after Swift Bank," Mark said.
"And dig a deeper hole," Zola replied, but it was not a question.
MORGANA NASH AT NowAssist sent Mark an e-mail that read,
Dear Mark: I have just been informed by the administration at Foggy Bottom Law School that you have been placed on withdrawal status. I called the law school and was informed that you have not been to class this semester. This is very troubling.
Please contact me immediately.
Last installment Jan. 13, 2014: $32,500; total principal/interest: $266,000.
Sincerely, Morgana Nash, Public Sector Representative
Late that night, and after several more beers, Mark responded,
Dear Ms. Nash: Last week my therapist had me admitted to a private psychiatric hospital in rural Maryland. I'm not supposed to use the Internet but these clowns around here are not too sharp. Would you please stop hounding me? According to one shrink here I'm borderline suicidal. A bit more abuse from you and I could go over the edge. Please, please, leave me alone!!
LOVE, Mark Frazier
Rex Wagner of Scholar Support Partners e-mailed Todd:
Dear Mr. Lucero: I have been informed by your law school that you are now officially considered "Withdrawn." I called the law school and was told that you have not attended a single class this semester, your last before graduation. Why would any sane student drop out of law school during his last semester? If you are not in school I can only assume you are working somewhere, probably in a bar. Employment of any nature while not enrolled in school triggers either the need for a repayment plan or, in the absence of one, default. Default, as I'm sure you know, means a lawsuit filed against you by the Department of Education. Please contact me immediately.
Last installment; $32,500, Jan. 13, 2014; total due: $195,000
Sincerely, Rex Wagner, Senior Loan Counselor
While Mark was typing his response to Morgana Nash, Todd fired off one to his loan counselor.
Dear SS Counselor Wagner; You hit the nail on the head with that sanity question. Nothing is sane about my world these days, most especially my insurmountable debts. 0kay, the fix is in. Jig's up. I dropped out because I hate the law school, hate the law, etc. I'm currently earning about $200 a week, cash, tending bar. So let's say that's $800 a month, tax-free because I haven't filled out those forms yet. To maintain my impoverished lifestyle, I need about $500 a month for food, rent, things like that. And you should see where I'm living and what I'm eating. Analyzing these figures, I suppose I could agree to a repayment plan of something like $200 a month, beginning in six months. I know you'll hit the "Interest" button as soon as possible and kick in the 5 percent per annum. Five percent of $195,000 is about $9,750 a year. Let's just round it to $10,000 in interest. Under my proposed repayment scheme, I can swing about a fourth of that each year. You loan sharks will then add the interest in arrears to the ballooning principal, and hit that with another 5 percent per year. The math gets a bit bewildering, but my spreadsheet says that in ten years I will owe almost $400,000. And this does not include all the little secret fees and add-ons and other illegalitles that SSP has been caught padding onto the student loans it handles. (I've read the lawsuits and, boy, would I love to file one myself. You and your company should be ashamed - piling hidden fees onto the backs of students already drowning in debt.)
So, are you willing to accept my offer of $200 a month? Beginning in six months, of course.
Your pal, Todd Lucero
Evidently, Mr. Wagner was working late, or, as Todd imaqined, was sitting in his recliner, in nothing but his boxers, watching porn and monitoring his e-mails. Within minutes he replied.
Dear Todd: The answer is no. Your offer is ridiculous. I find it hard to believe that a person as clever as you will spend the next ten years mixing drinks. There are plenty of good jobs out there, law related and otherwise, and if you'll get off your butt you can find one. Then we can have a serious conversation about repayment.
Sincerely, Rex Wagner. Senior Loan Counselor
To which Todd immediately replied,
Dear SS: Great. I withdraw my offer. T.L.
Zola's correspondence was slightly more professional. Tildy Carver at LoanAid wrote,
Dear Zola Maal; I have been informed that you have withdrawn from law school. Such a dramatic action presents several issues and we must discuss them at once. Please call or e-mail me as soon as possible.
Tildy Carver, Senior Loan Adviser
Last installment, January 13, 2014: $32,500; total principal and interest: $191,000
Zola was almost asleep. She responded,
Dear Ms. Carver: After the suicide of my friend in January, I found it impossible to continue with my studies. So I decided to take a gap semester instead, with the possible plan of resuming law school in a year or so. I will contact you later.
Sincerely, Zola Maal
I don't know how many of John Grisham's Fictional books have been based on actual events, but the actual story he read that led to this novel's creation is identified in the Author's Note.
As usual, I played fast and loose with reality, especially the legal stuff. Laws, courthouses, procedures, statutes, firms, judges and their courtrooms, lawyers and their habits, all have been fictionalized at will to suit the story.
Mark Twain said he moved entire states and cities to fit his narrative. Such is the license given to novelists, or simply assumed by them.
Alan Swanson guided me through the streets of D.C. Bobby Moak, a tort specialist with an encyclopedic knowledge of the law, once again reviewed the manuscript. Jennifer Hulvey at the University of Virgina School of Law walked me through the complex world of student lending. Thanks to all. They are not to be blamed for my mistakes.
The question all writers hate is: "Where do you get your ideas?" With this story the answer is simple. I read an article in the September 2014 edition of The Atlantic titled "The Law School Scam." It's a fine investigative piece by Paul Campos. By the end of it, I was inspired and knew I had my next novel.
Thank you, Mr. Campos.
I wasn't familiar with the events from the September 2014 story in The Atlantic, so, for me, this book wasn't just a fictionalized re-telling of those events. Even if it had been a familiar story to me, I'm still all-in for new John Grisham books because of the way he develops and humanizes his characters, suspensfully lays out the twists and turns of the story, and then wraps everything up in a neat little bow by the story's conclusion - sure, a sequel could be written, but there's no need for it. We know how the story ends and that's good enough.
More Douglas Adams Dr Who fun
I received an email from Barnes and Noble soon after finishing City of Death about another James Goss-polished Douglas Adams Dr Who script-turned-novel to be published in March. This one features characters familiar to anyone who has read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the nefarious Krikkitmen. Here's what I know - this was apparently a "long-lost" story that was never turned into a Dr Who episode, featuring the Doctor and the same companion from City of Death, Romana. It is based on extensive notes and what sounds like a rough outlie for a story found in Douglas's archive.
Here's the description from the email - or possible the web site. As I mentioned, it sounds an awful lot like a familiar scene in THHGTTG...
Intergalactic war? That's just not cricket ... or is it?
The Doctor promised Romana the end of the universe, so she's less than impressed when what she gets is a cricket match. But play is soon interrupted by eleven figures in white uniforms and peaked skull helmets, wielding bat-shaped weapons that fire lethal bolts of light into the screaming crowd.
The Krikkitmen are back.
Millions of years ago, the people of Krikkit learned they were not alone in the universe, and promptly launched a xenophobic crusade to wipe out all other life-forms. After a long and bloody conflict, the Time Lords imprisoned Krikkit within an envelope of Slow Time, a prison that could only be opened with the Wicket Gate key, a device that resembles - to human eyes, at least - an oversized set of cricket stumps...
From Earth to Gallifrey, from Bethselamin to Devalin, from Krikkit to Mareeve II to the far edge of infinity, the Doctor and Romana are tugged into a pan-galactic conga with fate as they rush to stop the Krikkitmen gaining all five pieces of the key. If they fail, the entire cosmos faces a fiery retribution that will leave nothing but ashes...
I plan on buying this one before it hits the discount rack, in anticipation of James Goss doing another stellar job of penning a book with Douglas Adams's voice. I wish Goss had been chosen to continue the Hitchhiker's series, instead of Eoin Colfer.
1 Those of you lucky enough to have read the books in the original Thieves' World anthology will be familiar with the shared-universe concept of The Change. I really need to go into depth about Thieves' World and my favorite character, Shadowspawn, one of these days...
I finished reading Mark Geragos's analysis on the legal profession - and the very-heavy imbalance in favor of prosecutors - a few weeks ago. It's not a lengthy book and was very easy to read, so it should have only taken me a couple of days, but my reading time seems to become more and more constrained by other commitments every day. Mistrial was published in 2013, but I only heard about it a few months ago on one of the Adam Carolla podcasts1 (advertising for the release of the audio-version).
While there are a ton of celebrity names dropped in the book - Mark Geragos has represented a lot of the rich and famous - there are also heartbreaking cases that never made it anywhere near the front page. Will Lynch's case is one of these.
Pat: In late May 2010, our receptionist, Aja Matelyan, buzzed me in my office and said there was a phone call from a prospective client that I should take. His name was Will Lynch. It was unusual for Aja to ask me to speak to a potential client directly - usually our calls are screened by our young associates in order to weed out the cases that we are not going to take. But she was insistent I talk to this guy, and I knew she had good instincts, so I picked up the phone and asked Mr. Lynch how I could help him.
"The police are at my house and I am hiding in the back bedroom. What should I do?"
"Well, that depends. What exactly did you do?"
"I think I may have killed a priest!"
Two years later we were sitting in a courtroom in San jose, prepared to go to trial in the case of the People of California v. Will Lynch. Lynch was charged with beating up a Catholic priest living at a retirement home for Jesuit priests near San Jose. The priest had not died from the beating, as Will had originally thought, but he was injured enough that the Santa Clara County D.A. decided to charge Will with two felonies, one for assault and one for elder abuse (the jury would also be given the option to vote for lesser charges, i.e., they could choose to vote for either or both counts as a misdemeanor). As we prepared for trial, we knew that if the evidence just focused on the day of the assault, we would lose. Instead, we had to somehow bring up events that had occurred almost forty years before.
In 1976, seven-year-old Will and his five-year-old brother went with their parents on a camping trip with several other families, in a park in the mountains surrounding the Silicon Valley. The families had met through a loosely affiliated religious organization, and they had invited a priest to come along and say Mass on Sunday morning. The priest's name was Father Jerold Lindner.
WARNING: Click here to see the horrific details of Will's abuse. They are explicit and gut-wrenching - You have been warned
One night, Lindner lured Will into his tent, which was set well apart from the rest of the camp. Once Will was in the tent, Lindner proceeded to force his penis into Will's mouth while choking Will around the neck with both hands. Lindner then turned him around and began to anally rape him, at which point Will passed out. When Will woke up, Lindner cleaned him up and told Will that if he ever told anyone, he would kill his parents and peel the skin off his sister. Will left the tent too terrified to speak to anyone about what had happened.
The next night was even worse. Lindner had gotten Will's brother into his tent and made Will join them. He then forced the two young children to have oral intercourse with each other. While Will was performing oral sex on his brother, Lindner sodomized him again. The feeling of helplessness that Will had when his brother looked at him with terror in his eyes was something Will had nightmares about his entire life.
After that camping trip, Will's life changed dramatically. The happy, outgoing young boy became sullen and withdrawn. By the time he was twelve, he was experimenting with drugs and sex. He was rebelling against any authority figures, whether it was teachers, police officers, or his parents. Finally, when Will was twenty-seven years old, his brother told his parents, who were horrified and guilt-ridden, about what had happened. After an initial angry reaction at his brother, Will decided to face it and go after Lindner. He called all the local police and sheriff" s offices, as well as a number of district attorney's offices in Northern California, to tell them the story and see if they could arrest Lindner or at least investigate him to see if he was still harming children. His persistence was met with the same reaction from every agency: there was nothing they could do because the statute of limitations had run out on Lindner's rape of the two boys.
Will then hired a lawyer and sued Lindner and the Catholic Church. The Church, which knew much more about Lindner than they let on, settled quickly. But Will wanted more than just money. As part of the settlement he wanted the church to promise to take Lindner away from children (he was teaching at a high school); he wanted Lindner to acknowledge what he had done, ad wanted to know where Lindner was living at all times. None of these terms were met.
...[details of beating omitted - they were never denied and don't have any real bearing on the case]...
Several months later Will was arrested and he called us. From the very beginning, he said that he was not going to deny that he beat up the priest. He also said he was not going to plea bargain; he wanted to go to trial. He wanted to expose Lindner and the Jesuit center where he was living. We explained to him that the likely outcome of admitting his guilt on the witness stand in front of the jury was that he would go to jail. He said he understood that but was willing to risk it if it meant he could use the publicity surrounding the trial to make sure the community knew who Lindner was and what he had done.
The publicity part proved to be a huge success. At every court appearance, Will had twenty to thirty supporters, some of whom were victims of Lindner, stationed at the entrance to the courthouse. They carried large signs with Lindner's picture and name on them in huge letters, next to the words "rapist" and "child molester." The press had a field day with the supporters, repeatedly photographing and videotaping them and planting Lindner's name and face all over the news. By the time the trial started, Lindner was afraid to show his face in public.
Leading up to trial, the D.A., the judge, and even the press were trying to get us to reveal what our defense was, but we refused to reveal it. The reason we refused to reveal it was simple: we had no defense. We were going to go to trial, admit Will committed the crime, and then hope for jury nullification. A jury nullifies a case when the jurors choose to ignore the law and the court's instructions and decide to vote not guilty based on their own sense of justice. The problem with jury nullification is that under the law, its existence is not to be acknowledged. The lawyers are not allowed to argue it, and the court cannot tell the jury it has the right to do it. If the jurors ask about it, the court is to tell them that it goes against their oath as jurors. In short, we were going to trial with a client who was going to admit to the crime, and the only defense we had was one we could not mention.
Then it got worse. Two weeks before the trial started, the judge ruled that we would be limited in how much of Will's story we could tell. The judge ruled that Will could testify that Lindner molested him, but he could not discuss any details about what happened during the camping trip; nor would Will be allowed to talk about what had happened in his life since that trip. The jury was not going to get to hear the story that was our only chance at jury nullification. Our best hope now was to convince the jury that the priest's injuries were minor and thus they should vote for a misdemeanor assault instead of a felony assault charge. That would lessen the amount of time Will would have to spend in jail.
But just when it seemed that the case had gone from difficult to impossible, we were rescued - by the prosecuting attorney. All attorneys make mistakes during trials, but rarely do they make enormous strategic blunders. The Santa Clara County D.A.'s Office didn't make just one incredible blunder, it made two, both of them in the opening statement. The D.A. began by telling the jury that the victim in the case, Father Lindner, was going to lie. He was going to commit, perjury by denying that he had ever sexually molested Lynch. The prosecutor then went on to say that she believed Will had been molested and in a particularly horrific manner. Apparently she believed that telling the jury this was a clever way to get out in front of the issue and attempt to soften the blow. Instead, it solved one of our biggest problems. Since the judge had limited Will's testimony so drastically, to the point where he could say only that he was molested, we felt there was a real chance some of the jurors might believe that this was a minor incident, perhaps even a misunderstanding, since Lindner was never arrested. The prosecution's verifying that it was a horrible assault solved that problem for us. It also allowed us to repeatedly jump on the prosecution for putting on a case where they they were going to allow their star witness to-commit perjury. On one hand, they were saying they had to prosecute Will because the rule of law must be followed no matter what, but on the other they were going to allow their witness to break the law by committing perjury and that was okay. It made them look silly.
That was only the warm-up act. At the end of the opening statement, the prosecutor showed a ten-minute video interview of Will that had been done the week before by a local media outlet; The video showed an emotional Will going into detail about the rape as well as its aftermath and how it had changed his life. The video was gut-wrenching (at least one juror was spotted wiping away tears), but showing it did something important for our defense--it opened the door for us to go into all of Will's past, including his efforts to have Lindner arrested. After the video was shown, we immediately went into chambers with the judge and pointed this out to him. The prosecutor looked stunned, as if she had never even considered this possibility. The judge admitted he was mystified as to why the prosecution would do this, and then he ruled that we could now tell the full story.
A trial that was bizarre to begin with took another unexpected turn on the second day of testimony. On the first day, the prosecution called Lindner to the stand, where he testified for forty-five minutes on how badly he had been beaten. Then, as the court was about to finish for the day, the prosecution asked Lindner a final question:
"Did you molest Will Lynch?"
As the prosecutor had predicted, Lindner had now lied under oath, and done it in front of the Santa Clara County D.A.'s Office.
The next morning, before Lindner got back on the stand, an attorney showed up and told the court that he represented Lindner and that Lindner was not going forward with his testimony. The attorney told the court that he felt that his client was being set up for perjury charges and that he was going to take the Fifth Amendment the rest of the way. All hell broke loose, with the judge eventually deciding that Lindner could take the Fifth, but that the judge would tell the jury that all his previous testimony would be stricken (i.e., they would be told to ignore it as if it did not happen). They would also not be told why Lindner had suddenly disappeared. We were livid, screaming that Lindner had gotten to testify to what the prosecution wanted out, and now we would not get to cross-examine him. We asked for a mistrial, which the judge denied.
Pat: Eventually the case got to the closing arguments. Since I could not mention jury nullification, I had to come up with creative ways to suggest to the jury that they could do whatever they wanted to do, and there was nothing the prosecution or the court could do about it. On numerous occasions I got close to the edge and the prosecutor objected and the judge admonished me. But I was sure that after everything they had heard, this jury wanted to nullify - I just wasn't sure they knew that they could.
On the second day of jury deliberations we found out exactly what they knew about nullification. The jury sent a note to the judge asking, "What are the rules of law of jury nullification and what exactly is it?" This jury question set oi? another round of heated arguments. We kept arguing with the judge that he had to tell them that although they might not have the right to nullify, they had the power to, which is exactly the phrase used in a Supreme Court decision. The judge disagreed and eventually sent back an answer to the jury that was almost word for word what the prosecution had proposed. In essence, the judge's response told the jury that they could not nullify and it would be against their juror oath to do so, suggesting they could get in legal trouble if they did.
We were devastated. It felt like we had won the case only to have it taken away from us by what we believed was an incorrect ruling by the judge. A few hours later the jury announced that they had reached a verdict. It was obvious to us that the judge's answer had pushed the jurors to convict Will of something. Apparently the D.A.'s office felt the same way: a lineup of twelve to fourteen district attorneys strode through the courtroom single file and took seats right next to the jury box, from which to hear the verdict and take a victory lap.
They left disappointed. The jury found Will not guilty on both felony counts and on the misdemeanor elder abuse case. On the misdemeanor simple assault, which is what we had admitted he was guilty of, the jury had hung 8-4 in favor of guilt. Despite the judge's warning, four jurors had voted to nullify anyway. In post-trial conversations, a number of the jurors admitted they wanted to nullify but were scared by the judge's order.
Will was stunned and ecstatic. He had made preparations to be taken to jail after the verdict and was now adjusting to the fact that he was not going to be a convicted felon. In the midst of the post-trial celebration, we were talking with Will's mother when she said, "This is the first time since he was a seven-year-old boy that I have seen him smile like this. This has given him his life back."
Mark Peterson is one of the more notoriously hated people Mark Geragos has defended in court. And Mark's inside knowledge of the facts of the case paint a much different picture of the case than what was shown in the media.
Every day in America, approximately forty-five people are murdered. Elderly women, middle-aged businessmen, teenage girls, even small children are killed by both accident and sometimes in brutally horrific manners. We mourn for the victims and seek justice for the killers, most of whom are captured and ultimately convicted. Other than from the direct participants in each case, very few cases attract attention or are even noticed by outside observers. So how do you explain that a nice-looking, likable salesman from Modesto, California, would end up becoming the most hated man in America after being accused of murdering his wife? What made this case so different from the thousands of other murders every year in the United States? How is it possible that this unknown middle-class kid with no prior criminal history would become a national obsession? Why would a person consider the day of this man's being sentenced to death to be a happier one than the day she gave birth to her child?
For years we have struggled with those questions, and we have yet to come up with a definitive answer. In retrospect, it seems that it was a number of factors that converged to create the storm that was the Scott Peterson saga. One of those factors was certainly the charisma and appeal of the victim, Scott's wife, Laci. By all accounts, Laci was a firecracker, a beautiful young woman with a radiant smile and a fiery personality to match. Her charisma shone through in the numerous pictures of her, many of which also showed a cute, rounded pregnant belly. It was unfathomable looking at those pictures to think that anyone would want to hurt her.
But there was more to the equation than just Laci's beautiful persona. As we came to learn during our representation of Scott, he had become a symbol for a lot of women who had been cheated on or lied to by a husband or boyfriend. We began to notice that the people who would argue most vociferously for Scott's guilt were women between the ages of eighteen and fifty. They could quote every rumor and false story circulated in the media, no matter how far-fetched, and would insist that these stories proved he was obviously guilty. When we would explain how these stories were wrong and that the facts were actually much different, the response was strikingly familiar: "Oh well, I hate him anyway. He reminds me of my ex-boyfriend."
This was clearly part of the equation. Scott became a symbol for every wronged woman who wanted to see her ex rot in hell.
There are a lot more Scott Peterson case details in the book and a lot more analysis on the media's role in pre-convicting - and removing any chance for many to receive a fair trial - based on innuendo and groundless speculation.
Mark Geragos is a pragmatic guy - he's not emotions-driven or religiously/politically dogmatic. He does lean left, but not so far that it makes a clear thinking person's skin crawl. But if you're interested in a non-fictional commentary on the inner-workings of the legal profession, I'd say this book is well worth your time. Even if you're just a rubbernecker who just wants to read about Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson, or the OJ Simpson trial, there will be something for you here.
Doctor Who, City of Death by James Goss, Douglas Adams & David Fisher2
Douglas Adams was unique. His writing is a perfect blend of humor and introspection, without compromising the sanctity of the forms of language. Most of his output may have been goofball fiction, but he scrutinized every word and the grammatical form of every sentence before allowing them onto the printed page - which is one of the reasons his output was so meager during his time as a published author.
So whenever I see a book with his name alongside another author's name, I assume the publisher is using the Legend of Douglas Adams to pass off another author's shoddy writing. Thus, I have avoided most of the books utilizing these crass marketing attempts. I didn't avoid the not-great And Another Thing..., which extended the Hitchhiker's timeline just a little bit further. How could I not? I'd read another sequel if one appeared solely based on my love for the characters and the original material.
Sadly, it appears I never offered a post-reading opinion of And Another Thing...3, so I don't have a detailed list of reasons why I was so unimpressed with Eoin Colfer's attempt to prolong the HHGTTG series. My vague recollections just lead me to believe that it lacked the heart of DNA's treatment of the material, but there could have been more than that. I'll have to read it again to find out (I re-read the previous four 4 HHGTTG books before reading And Another Thing...)and then neglected to praise them here.
So, as I was saying before I went off on that last tangent, City of Death was written by an author other than Douglas Adams and was based on a Doctor Who script written by DNA (that actually did air on the BBC many times). So the novel-form of the book is definitely not Douglas's (a script is a much different beast than a novel, so that leaves a lot of room for a second author to really screw up the prose). Surprisingly, as I read through the first few chapters of the book, it read a lot like something Douglas Adams would have written. Not just the characters, but even the clever turns of phrase that Douglas was so good with. It sounds as if, based on the commentary in the Afterword, that the script may have been very-verbosely Douglas Adams amazingness. I can't really say, not having read the script myself. But if you're a fan of Douglas Adams and leery of reading yet another attributed work by the non-author, lay those fears to rest with City of Death. It's a keeper.
There are other aspects of City of Death that I also appreciated (beyond the cleverness of the writing/story). Mainly, the vivid descriptions of a France that probably no longer exists or will ever again exist in this world of extreme-immigration. This book takes place in a Paris that feels almost other-worldly quaint. A Paris that I would love to pay a prolonged visit to. But I suspect the reality of present-day France will never live up to this vision of France, so I'll content myself to visiting Paris on the written page.
Each car was a little tin sculpture, eschewing efficiency for sweeping lines, fussy details and cheery colours. Every road was blocked as though the cars had poured onto them in a tearing hurry to go somewhere and then decided 'but where, where is better than here?' before settling happily in for the long haul.
The leafy pavements were a delightful muddle of trees, dogs, cobbles and footworn steps that wound up to other streets, to cathedrals, or simply to a door with a cat cleaning itself slowly in the sun. The Doctor told Romana that they'd arrived at that blissful point between the invention of drains and wheelie luggage, so the streets of Paris would be at their best, and for once, he wasn't even fibbing slightly.
All in all, she was enjoying their holiday enormously. They dashed down the Champs-Elysees, for once running somewhere without deadly robots in pursuit. They considered taking in an exhibition ('Three million years of human history' said the over-dramatic poster. 'Poppycock,' said the Doctor). They stopped off at a bookshop, looking for Ernest Hemingway (the Doctor was evasive whether it was a book by him or the actual author). There was a poetry reading going on outside. Seemingly recognised by the owner, the Doctor couldn't resist a pressing invitation to give a performance of a Betelgeuse love song to rather polite applause. 'Don't drink the wine,' hissed the Doctor as drinks were passed around in unusual metal goblets which turned out to be tuna tins.
Finally they found themselves climbing the steps to Montmartre. The domes of the Sacre-Coeur smiled down on an impossibly quaint square filled with impossibly quaint cafes. Somehow they picked one and Romana found herself, for the first time in her life, forming the thought 'Quick bite to eat and then a spot of shopping later?'
The Doctor was in a similarly joyous mood.
'It's taken years off you,' Romana confided. 'You barely look 750.'
He'd settled down in a quiet corner of the cafe, banging his legs up onto a chair and leaning far far back in his own. As a waiter wandered past, the Doctor murmured something which the waiter could not possibly have heard, and yet he came back automatically with a carafe of red wine, two glasses and some bread. Ignoring the wine, the Doctor pulled the book he'd just bought from his pocket, cut the leaves with a butter knife and flicked idly through it.
'Any good?' asked Romana, doing the French crossword.
'Not bad, bit boring in the middle.' The Doctor put the book back into his pocket and peered vaguely at Romana's crossword. He suggested a couple of answers, and, when they turned out to be wrong, helped himself to bread, and made a loud harrumph. The Doctor often made this noise. Usually it was the prelude to a pronouncement of doom, or to a confession about a small rewiring disaster. But, just this once, it was the terribly happy harrumph of a truly contented man.
The Doctor had the look of a man contemplating a nap. The cafe itself, like much of Paris, felt like an old friend who hadn't bothered tidying up when you'd popped round. Warm, welcoming and a slight smell of wet dog in the air.
The Doctor waved away the returning waiter, unfolded a hat and placed it over his face. Seeing him like this, Romana could barely believe that, when they'd first met, she'd found him a little intimidating. Also, worrying. It was still a bit frightening to realise that the fate of the universe was quite often in the hands of a man with no formal qualifications. Well, none worth counting. The Doctor tried out a gentle snore, seemed satisfied with the results, and produced another one.
Romana smiled and poured herself a glass of wine. She'd heard so much about wine. She wondered what it would be like.
Interestingly, I only really became a fan of the Doctor Who TV series after seeing David Tenant as the doctor on BBC America. The doctor and companion of City of Death are completely unfamiliar to me (though the character of the doctor himself has remained oddly familiar even as the mantle has passed from one actor to the next over the years). I ddidn't even know if Romana was an actual companion (which I later did a few minutes' research to confirm she was). It's such an odd show that it's hard to explain why I find it enjoyable. Some of the doctor's companions have definitely been instrumental in keeping my interest piqued - especially Jenna Colman and Karen Gillan. The current companion is meh. Less than meh, actually. Oh, and the Countess (as described in the book) didn't match the actress cast as the countess in the TV episode at all in my mind - I pictured more of an Alison Doody type (from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade). Someone impossibly gorgeous and nordic-looking.
Back to the book, here's the aforementioned Afterword, in which many things are explained about how this book came to be and Douglas Adams's involvement.
ON THE SEMIOTIC THICKNESS
OF A PERFORMED TEXT
WHILE SHAKESPEARE PLAYS
CROQUET, ROMANA SAYS JUMP
City of Death is possibly the most authored and least authoritative story in the history of Doctor Who. Just as this book was never meant to be written by me, the original script was certainly never meant to be written by Douglas Adams.
Originally commissioned from David Fisher, A Gamble with Time told a rip-roaring story about a suave Count and Countess who were rigging the tables at a casino in order to fund their time-travel experiments. Taking place in the 1920s and the 1970s, the story featured a very, very limited use of location filming in Paris.
Despite the perilous state of England's and Doctor Who's finances in the late 1970s, Producer Graham Williams and Production Unit Manager John Nathan-Turner managed to wrangle the budget in such a way as to give them rather more time on location than Fisher's script allowed for. Which meant asking for a new draft from him in a hurry. As David Fisher was in the middle of an interesting divorce at the time, he wasn't really in any position to oblige.
So suddenly and famously, Douglas Adams, Doctor Who's script editor at the time, dragged himself round to Graham Williams's house on a Thursday, sat in front of a typewriter and the two talked incessantly while Douglas typed. Sometimes the director Michael Hayes popped by to make coffee, read what had been written and satisfy himself that by Monday there would be a script for him to start work on.
There was, and what a script. There are about three people in the world who don't like City of Death, and they're steadily being hunted down. Thanks to ITV going on strike during its broadcast, City of Death remains pretty much the most-watched Doctor Who story of all time. Thanks to repeats, there was almost nothing else on during 1979, so it's a blessing that it's one of the best Doctor Who stories ever. I was four at the time, and even I can remember it. I had no idea what I was watching, but it kept me fascinated between Basil Brush and The Generation Game.
The thing is, what everyone was watching (over and over again) was the final, finished programme. This book is mainly based on the rehearsal scripts. The rehearsal scripts were written by Douglas Adams with ideas by Graham Williams from an idea by David Fisher. What was transmitted was slightly different. Some scenes were left out entirely in the edit, or emphases shifted around. Actors Tom Baker, Lalla Ward and Julian Glover especially took a delight in working on their lines, honing each one to a fine point. The resulting differences are surprising.
For example, whole academic papers have been written on the Doctor's approach to sexuality based on the line 'You're a beautiful woman, probably.' The original line as written was 'You're a beautiful woman. He was probably trying to summon up the courage to invite you out to dinner.'
Another famous example is that instead of the script's 'Shall we take the lift or jump?' from the Eiffel Tower, on television Romana suggests 'Shall we take the lift or fly?', a rather more poetic notion that is, curiously more fully explored in Douglas Adams's Life, the Universe and Everything and So Long and Thanks for All the Fish.
There are many other examples of this glorious refining (originally, the Doctor and Romana go looking for macaroni cheese). Many have been retained, and in other places, I've kept to the original, just because it's interesting. After all, the idea of Shakespeare playing croquet is marvellous.
The transmitted version of City of Death makes a lot of Paris, especially in Part Four. As Adams himself admitted, by that point in the long weekend, he was feeling quite tired. The script for Part Four is a lot shorter and the stage directions frequently suggest that a lot of running around would be quite helpful.
So, this script is heavily based on those rehearsal scripts, with borrowings from the final televised production where it helps. You'll be saddened to hear that the scripts don't contain an excised subplot. They do contain several deleted, or heavily edited scenes. Of course, I've included all of them. Douglas Adams's marvellously funny stage directions have been retained wherever possible. ('Romana picks up a vase and breaks it over the Countess's head. She goes down like a sack of turnips.' 'It should be perfectly clear that Tancredi is something out of a cuckoo clock.' 'Le Patron shrugs unconcernedly. He picks up the broken bottle neck from the table, looks at it for a moment and then slings it in the bin.') The original scripts also include a pleasing amount more fighting, with swords, fists, feet and lots of guns. That's obviously all back in. I've given the Countess a slightly bigger gun at one point, but that's about the only change. Unless I'm lying.
Along with all that come any extra amounts of detail the script offers. For example, Douglas Adams retains the Countess's first name as Heidi, from A Gamble with Time. This is, of course, a goldmine.
The afterword continues for many more pages, but you get the gist. Highlighted Douglas Adams references have been added by me...because I want you to read those sections, if nothing else.
There are also DaVinci Code references in the story. I don't know if Douglas Adams was lying the ground work for Dan Brown, if the whole "Clues hidden in Art" trope was already common by 1979, or if the novelization's author just inserted them in Douglas's voice. Either way, good fun.
The Wonderfully Crowded World of Disney
We went to Disneyland again in November - a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving - and also during the first week of December. Both times, we went on a non-Friday weekday. November was uncomfortably crowded, but the December trip was very nearly as bad as the disastrous Christmas day trip we took a couple of years ago. The wife and I managed to go on one ride (we could have done more, but the super-long lines didn't make it seem worth the trouble): the Haunted Mansion4. I really wanted to go on Pirates, but the line was completely insane. The daughter was there with a friend in a wheelchair (recovering from leg surgery), so she was ushered to the front of every line and went on just about every ride she wanted to - some of them multiple times.
We're going to test another rumored no-crowd holiday theory next month. I'll report on that soon.
Here are a few Christmassy photos of the land of Disney from the November and December trips.
I'm not a big TMZ/pop culture guy, so I wasn't real familiar Mark Geragos before he briefly represented my uncle during his government-railroading trial way back in 2006 (that's a whole 'nother story of the U.S. government's rampant abuse of power). Mark Geragos also does a podcast with Adam Carolla that comes out weekly called Reasonable Doubt that is mostly just Mark and Adam blathering on about non-legal topics, but does occasionally provide some insights into the legal profession and horribleness of lawyers as well as the colorblind atrocities perpetrated by too many cops.
This confusing author-attribution is explained pretty well in the excerpt of the afterword that I share.
I'm trying to do better. I've missed a few recent books and the details or impressions from many of the books I really want to talk about have faded from my ever-weakening mind, but I'm getting to the two most recent books I've read, so that's a start.
I'm over the Nightmare Before Christmas themed stuff that takes over the Haunted Mansion in October through December. There are a couple of worthy additions - tiny-footed Sally is one - to the ride, but most of them detract heavily from the classic Haunted Mansion fun.
Since I mentioned little Gracie V in the last post, here's more Grace-goodness for you...
I finally picked up Grace Vanderwaal's new CD, Just the Beginning, this weekend (about a week after it was available). Opening up the CD and dismantling the contents to put them in my CD binder, I was reminded of the joy I used to receive from the CDs and, yes, cassettes I purchased in my youth. It contained not only a full album of very enjoyable music and a picture-imprinted CD, it also came with CD liner notes full of pictures, credits, and fun art that people sent to Grace (the only thing missing was the lyrics). Amazing. Believe it or not, even cassette cases contained liner notes for a while way back in the old days. Unless you got them from Columbia House - and then all bets were off. But enough of my old man reminiscing...
To be honest, I preferred the songs on the Grace Vanderwaal EP that preceded this album - most of them were more raw and not so over-produced (which is to be expected, since the music was all written by Grace herself). This album continues to move a little further down the over-production road. After listening to the album on endless-repeat while I finished working on a project for an Android development class I'm taking (almost endless - I did stop eventually), I think I've decided that my favorite song is Talk Good. I can't listen to it without laughing a little. And smiling throughout. It sounds more like the songs on Perfectly Imperfect (through the music part of this song is, admittedly, almost as equally-overproduced).
Give it a listen (it's not on Youtube yet, but will surely be soon).
I've also read a bunch of mean comments about Grace, saying she's trying to act too much like an adult, that she's being forced to give up her childhood, etc. And while the childhood comments may have some merit (touring at thirteen has got to be really weird for a kid), she's definitely still just a goofy kid.
Exhibit #1 for the defense, Grace Wants Strawberries
Just a Crush is a perfect example of a song Grace obviously didn't write and that - to me - sounds weird coming from a 13 year-old girl.
You're looking at me
I'm looking at you
This is never gonna sort itself out
I don't know what will do
'Cause you're talking 'bout a marriage
And a life together
But oh honey I'm not looking for anything like
What you're searching for, oh
You're, you're just a crush
I hope you understand
What I'm trying to tell you
I don't wanna be confusing
Consider me one of the dudes
And yes it would be nice
To hold hands once in a while
But you're over here
Planning like wild
Yes, you're talking 'bout a marriage
And a life together
Honey I'm not looking for anything like
What you're searching for, oh
Or maybe these are the sort of conversations going on amongst 8th grade kids these days. What do I know? I'm old. Either way, you should buy this album today. You can thank me later.