Archive for May, 2012

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Joe Occhipinti, Strangers in the Gale: Children of the Three Suns, Book 1

I must admit at the get-go that I offer no pretense of being a bona fide literary critic.  If there are any pretensions of competence remaining, the most valid one may be that I’ve spent over half a century reading in this particular genre.  And akin to the fact that owning a large number of very cheap cars in my teenage/early twenties period has given me a residual ability to diagnose car problems by ear, reading shelf upon shelf of both good and bad sci-fi and fantasy has provided a generous database to differentiate one from the other.  Again from my formative years, I recall an overused catchphrase that could apply here: “I may not know art, but I know what I like.”  And writing good science fiction is, of course, an art as well as a craft.

Strangers in the Gale is an ambitious and intriguing novel, combining two popular themes.  Rebellion of the virtuous few against an oppressive government has drawn great stories from the imaginations of a myriad of authors and screenwriters from Heinlein to Collins, while also happening to be the subject of a goodly percentage of current headlines and network news bites.  And the interaction between human inter-planetary colonists and indigenous life forms is the subject of at least as many “rollicking good tales,” albeit without as many real-time analogs.  This book evokes some of the best examples of the Niven/Pournelle colony world collaborations, combined with the sort of imaginative flash and stand-out character development epitomized by masters like Varley and Zelazney.  The interpersonal relationships of the protagonists quickly become quite complex and conflicted, which is where the best stories spring from.

Carefully avoiding a “spoiler,” it can still be said that the threads of the plot as narrated from multiple viewpoints weave together to finally provide a finish that leaves the reader eagerly awaiting the promised second installment of the trilogy when the possibilities contained in the culminating Message begin to be realized.

Kudos indeed to Mr. Occhipinti.  Chaz Walton

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There is no use trying to act like this is news to anyone.  You have already no doubt heard that Clovis Andersen, the American author of The Principles of Private Detection, the veritable bible of Precious Ramotswe, visited Botswana and stayed at the President Hotel in Gaborone.  He not only visited the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, but also collaborated with Mma Ramotswe on a very important case.  All the details are in Alexander McCall Smith’s thirteenth book in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Series, very smartly titled The Limpopo Academy Of Private Detection.

I wish I could report that Grace Makutsi and her talking shoes, now that she is married to milk toast Phuti Radiphuti, have withdrawn from detective work leaving Mma Ramotswe in peace; but I can not.  I don’t want to be mean about this; but mark my words, I see a sanitarium visit in the future of the new Mma Radiphuti.

Charlie, worthless failed apprentice of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni at the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, proves himself exceedingly ingenious and useful.  I will tell no more so the details are fresh when you read them.  I, for one, commend him.  Charles Marlin

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There are a lot of nice things about being dumb.  You never sit alone at a bar, ball park, or coffee shop.  You always have something in common with your colleagues or fellow retirees.  Some of the nicest people around are dumb.  Once you’re dumb, it doesn’t matter who’s dumber, or even who’s the dumbest.

There are of course drawbacks to being dumb, a number of which are covered by Steven M. Sears in his The Indomitable Investor: Why a Few Succeed in the Stock Market When Everyone Else Fails.  There does not seem to be a single test that detects whether greed has turned you into “dumb money,” a term Wall Street professionals use to describe outsiders.  “Dumb Money,” writes Sears, “buys stock when it should sell, and panics and sells when buying makes more sense. . . . If not for the positive effect of inflation, and corporate stock dividends, which represent more than 45 percent of historical stock gains, most investors would have sharply smaller investment portfolios.”

If your local stock broker has not successfully sheltered your investment from sharp declines and has lost capital for you, he may be the modern equivalent of the door-to-door salesman of the past.  He is shuffling and selling to make a buck for himself, sitting in his office just as dumb as you are.  Try this one on him for size, “Explain the structure and reasoning involved in the PIMCO Global Mult-Asset Fund, and what you do for me to gain the same results.”  If he gives his answer without breaking a sweat, then you know you have something in common with him.

The author thinks one step in improving financial literacy in the United States is the creation of an office of Investor Laureate and the appointment of a wise man such as John Bogle or Warren Buffett to popularize understanding Wall Street and beating back the ravenous wolves who feed on dumb money.  The idea has great merit; and if I get the opportunity, I will recommend the idea and this book to both Barack and Joe.

To Sears’ idea I would add the national certification and promotion of an Associate Arts degree in financial literacy with wide-spread classroom and internet opportunities to collect credits toward the degree.  The degree would add punch to the influence of the Investor Laureate and hopefully build a corps of investor warriors.  I would be delighted to work on my fourth degree.  Charles Marlin

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It’s Sunday evening, the weekend is lost, and I need to go in two different directions.  To avoid a total lost, I am going to breezily mention two well written page-turners not to be missed.

Fantasy writing is not something I turn to unless recommended by someone I trust, so I came as a fresh reader to Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.  The writing is joined with altered vintage photographs in a story that moves from Florida middle class to an isolated Welsh island in a break in time and realities.  It is a quick read well worth your time.

The second page-turner is a world away from Riggs’ book as it is a detailed history of a gay discrimination case argued before the Supreme Court of the United States.  Dale Carpenter makes Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas, How a Bedroom Arrest Decriminalized  Gay Americans fresh and compelling as he follows the bungling Texas officers, the unlikely and not so camera perfect victims, the politics of putting together a case before the Supreme Court, to the strange collection of judges on the highest court in our land.

It is truly a crazy way to settle an important issue in our society.  Texas will not surprise you but the arguments and politics of the case will, a great book about a case affecting every corner of your neighborhood.  Look up and you will see.  Charles Marlin

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John Deemer, Oil City businessman and friend of Venango Area Community Foundation and Bridge Builders Community Foundations, created and donated the beautiful table the BBCF Trustees used for the first time May 1st.  The table is 4’x10′, with a blond oak base and Formica top.


The table outshined the Trustees, and we thank him for his gift.  The Trustees are Joseph Keebler, Susan Williams, and Jason Woolcock for VACF; Lynn McCaslin and Norman Wimer for Forest County Community Foundation; Jerry Belloit, Bill Kaufman, and Charles Marlin for Clarion County Community Foundation; and Trent Moulin, Executive Director of BBCF.

If you are looking for me in the pictures, I am the good-looking one.  Charles Marlin

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There is a vicious campaign at Pantheon Books, Random House, Polygon, and Birlinn Ltd to destroy the growing appeal of Pimlico Terriers.  Breeders, owners, and other friends of the breed must put pressure on these corporate entities to conduct their business with integrity.

We know from Alexander McCall Smith himself the Pimlico Terrier is, “an unusual breed obtained through the judicious crossing of an Airedale with a Border Collie, and perhaps just a touch of something else about which the breeders themselves were now hazy.”  Who among us wants to dispute the authority of AMcCS?  None, so why do the covers of both books in the Corduroy Mansions Series have Smooth Fox Terriers representing the venerable Freddie de la Hay, the most famous of Pimlico Terriers.

The first book in the series is Corduroy Mansions and the second book is The Dog Who Came In From The Cold; and in both, Freddie de la Hay rescues those in peril and solves the romantic conundrums of those humans who come to him for help.  He is, at all times, a gentleman, scholar, and a philosopher.  No other breed of dogs, even those from Germany, has ever obtained the level of empathetic interaction with humans as has the Pimlico Terrier.

In the United States, the Pimlico Terrier Club, Inc. maintains a stud book and registry and hopes to introduce the breed at the Westminster Dog Show in New York City in 2016.  The loss of valuable promotion from the Corduroy Mansions Series book covers is a set back for them, so the 2016 date may be pushed forward to 2020.

Pressure on these publishing entities should begin with a calm, friendly call or perhaps a postcard.  As a retired university professor, AMcCS may be dependent upon his royalty checks; and we certainly don’t want to do any harm to him.  If friendly calls and postcards don’t effect a change in book covers, then we should escalate to Sharpie Permanent Markers if you still have a bookstore in your neighborhood.

Further, I wish to deny any negative thoughts or feelings toward Smooth Fox Terriers as a breed or to the two models used for AMcCS’s books.  I had more than one Smooth as a child and continue to admire the breed without reservation.  Charles Marlin

Post Script  For a picture of Freddie’s sister Maggy de la That please go to my post Pimlico Terrier Littermates, August 15, 2012.

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