Saturday, July 31, 2010


Summer Reading

While on our vacation excursion into the hinterland of Minnesota and Wisconsin, we happened upon quite a few bookstores. Darn. Hence, our car was more heavily laden coming home.

Don't ask how many books we bought. It's embarrassing. Our home looks like a cross between Giles' library on Buffy and an audition for Hoarders. (We're not that bad. Yet.)

One amazing bookstore that we found was in Duluth, of all places. It's on the main street that runs west to east and is in an old church. The entire inside of the church, from narthex to nave to choir loft is full of bookcases carefully loaded alphabetically with rare and remarkable books, grouped within the bays and ranges by topic, authors and genre. In addition, there are many antiques that make the place have a very musty, comfortable feel to it. Definitely worth another visit.

The most significant thing about this particular vacation, however, was that I actually had time to read and relax. I used to be a voracious reader, but with life taking some twists and turns, and raising a family and working several jobs, opportunities to read and the ability to keep my eyes open when I had such opportunities meant I rarely could finish a book in a week.

But on this vacation, Donna deliberately scheduled day after day where we simply relaxed. We read in deck chairs at the beach, on our cabin 's deck, and in grassy parks. It was wonderful.

My reading choices were very diverse. If you've seen our collection, you will understand our dilemma of deciding what to read. But I almost randomly picked some recent acquisitions and set about digesting the tomes.

First, The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, a writer for the journal Science. The book is about how each of the elements in the periodic table were discovered, and anecdotes about their discoverers. It's very interesting, but it tends to paint science in a very bad light, with infighting, politics, and egos getting in the way of good science. Scientists are human, after all. The most off-putting thing about the book is Kean's attitude. He comes across as a know-it-all, and virtually sneers at those foolish scientists who delved into alchemy, cold fusion and “pseudoscience” while nevertheless making major chemical breakthroughs.

Next, John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany. Donna's been after me to read this for years, and I simply haven't been motivated to read the whole thing. She said it is on her top ten favourites, and I couldn't figure it out. I keep picking it up and reading a few pages, but it never has grabbed me. So, I set my sights on finishing the damn thing. And you know what? It's great. I still say the movie (Simon Birch) was very good, even though it cherrypicked scenes from the story and called it quits by about a quarter of the way through the book. Irving's book is a brilliant work of writing, and even qualifies as a fantasy/SF novel.

Next, Phoenix Without Ashes, by Harlan Ellison and Ed Bryant. The best part of this book is Ellison's epilogue, in which he tells the true story of how Hollywood ruined his story idea and created probably the worst science fiction TV series in history. Boy, was Starlost bad. So bad, that Ellison insisted his name be removed from the credits.

I also read Science Was Wrong by Stanton Friedman and Kathleen Marden. Interestingly, this book wasn't in the UFO/paranormal section, where the rest of Stan's books are located. It's found in “science,” which is appropriate, since it's about controversies in science, such as global warming, AIDS, aviation and genetic manipulation, but there's one chapter on UFOs and one on parapsychology thrown in for good measure. Of note is that Friedman's version of the cold fusion story is a bit more objective than Kean's, which is mostly ridicule.

I also read a smattering of books by Kevin Randle, Stan's – uh – friend and colleague in the Roswell UFO crash dialogue. Randle's book Crash is just out, listing and describing most of the known UFO crash stories, of which there are dozens. As with most compilations of things, the book doesn't include several UFO crash cases of which I'm familiar, including the Clan Lake and Etzikom cases, although there are sections on the Shag Harbour incident and a recent non-UFO crash event for which Randle asked my opinion and gave me a nice shout-out.

Randle is also an SF author (yes, he really does have more than 100 books published), and I got his set of The Exploration Chronicles from him at the 2009 MUFON Conference in Denver. The set of four books is composed of: Signals, Starship, FTL and The Gate, chronicling the progress of human space exploration and development. The series spans many generations and years of human progress, if one can describe it as such. It's actually very pessimistic and paints humanity in a dismal light, with constant battles between scientists and nearsighted politicians and bureaucrats. It's a wonder that we make it off the planet at all. It seems very realistic and possible.

Something that struck me while reading the series is that Randle is a UFO investigator and believes strongly that alien civilizations are out there and may be visiting us. Yet his SF series about human exploration of space and contact with aliens, while good reading and very plausible, portrays our venture into the universe as an extension of our progress in the 20th Century. Talk about depressing.

Meanwhile, SF authors like Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, who painted vivid tales of interstellar voyages, human/alien interaction and fantastic trips through time and space, were UFO debunkers, seemingly unable to even consider the potential of possible alien contact with humans today.

That seems odd.
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