Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Daniel Sherrier: "RIP: Vol. 1: Choices After Death", a prototype of a miniseries, a bit like "Ghost Story"

Author: Daniel Sherrier
Title:Rip: Vol 1: Choices After Death
Publication: Sherrierbooks: 2013, near Richmond, VA; ISBN 978-1494237226 226 pages, paper
Amazon link is here.

Daniel Sherrier is a fiction writer living in central Virginia, more or less near Richmond, perhaps.  That’s where sci-fi director Richard Kelly (“The Box”, “Southland Tales”, “Donnie Darko” comes from – well, actually the Tidewater area familiar to me). It seems that both geography, cultural background and content would give Sherrier and Kelly a reason to collaborate.  Let me add the aside, the last story in my new “Do Ask, Do Tell III” book (Feb. 27, 2014), called “The Ocelot the Way He Is” is set in Virginia, more or less the Piedmont, near the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  There are stories that the CIA has major secret facilities not only at Langley, but in Tidewater (“The Shop”), and south of Charlottesville in a house near IS 29 (the town is Faber, as in  Courtney Brown’s “Cosmic Voyage: A Scientific Discovery of Extraterrestrials Visiting Earth”, Dutton, 1994).

Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. The book itself comprises four “novellas” (“Touch”, “Alone”, “The Crazy Line”, and “Point B”.  There is an “interlude” which is a short story called “Strength”, involving a wild eagle (no relation to my own “ocelot”).  Each novella has several “Acts” and sometimes a “teaser”.

Now, this structure for the book suggests a television mini-series, of course, structured tightly to fit into television with commercial breaks.  I presume Mr. Sherrier has fashioned teleplays from this material.  But the concept is interesting in another sense.  The novelettes and intervening story are connected, with the same characters, more or less like a complete novel in parts,  yet they can stand alone.  I experimented with this idea in a novel in the 1980’s, and I’ll be covering that effort soon on my Wordpress “Bill’s Media Reviews” blog.  Calling the middle short story (more or less like a middle section in a musical composition) an “interlude”  is interesting.  My 1969 mammoth novel manuscript “The Proles” calls its Chapter 4, where I recount my own experience in Army Basic Combat Training, and “Interlude”, because of what precedes and then follows it.  I’ll come back to that soon in this other blog. 
Now for novel itself.  Rip Cooper is a late-teen bookworm and introvert, having grown up in a small Piedmont (I presume) town (There is no Sidwick county, but there is a Sedgwick county in Kansas and Colorado), apparently in a possibly haunted house.  Already I think of the movie “Beautiful Creatures” with the young teen hero Ethan Wate played by Alden Ehrenreich (Movies blog, Feb. 19, 2013).  Rip’s personality is rather like Ethan’s.  (I knew a chess player, almost a master, named Rip Smith back in the 1960’s.)  Rip gets challenged to prove he isn’t a candyass by showing he can stand up to ghosts.  He probably has been too close to Fort Eustis (Tidewater Virginia, Richard Kelly country again).  He works as a professional photographer, and has the gift of seeing and hearing ghosts that don’t show up in photo negatives (or in cell phone photos for that matter).  Now, taking pictures of people in public – in places like bars and discos – is usually legal, but getting troubling because of tagging and Facebook and the like.  Ghosts don’t have that problem, or online reputation sundering.

There’s an issue here of the science of life after death.  It seems that some people get half a second chance (rather like a half-pawn advantage in chess) by being ghosts for a while, before their eternal fate is decided.  And somehow some people become angels, but not all ghosts and not all angels are good people.  In fact, that’s the reason for being a ghost for a while. 

During the last year of my own mother’s life, one of her caregivers believed in ghosts as part of a spiritual process, and claimed to have heard my later father in the house.  I do hear sounds at night. Are the animals, floorboards settling, or something else.

So Rip becomes ghost killer, not quite following the script of “Ghostbusters”.  When ghosts get shot, thrown off buildings or hit by cars, they don’t show the same damage from mechanics that real people do.
Rip does form a tag team, particularly with his ex-best-friend’s ex- girl-friend.  Interesting things happen.  Ghosts can be dyslexic it seems, catching the ire of English teachers.   And they may have powers, being able to teleport the way Clark Kent in Smallville does.

I’m reminded, of course, of Peter Straub’s mammoth 1979 novel “Ghost Story,” in which the protagonist, Donald Wanderlay, and cohorts rediscover a supernatural sin of drowning a woman in the trunk of a car to cover up a crime.  That sets off all kinds of supernatural creatures and the story of the girl, Alma Mobley as one name, becomes a memorable middle section of the book. That became a film from Universal and director John Irvin in 1981, and I saw it, but the film seems miniature compared to the book.

Daniel Sherrier also has a book “Earths In Space, Vol. 1: Where Are the Little Green Men?”  The idea seems to be that there are other planets populated with people.  That would require spawning of life through meteorites traveling between solar systems. (I think of the character A-lan in Dan Fry’s “To Men of Earth”.)  If you ever had seen a non-ghost with powers (like Clark Kent’s), then you’ve seen an extraterrestrial (not an alien) and proof of pan-spermia.  Maybe I have.  Maybe we are all extraterrestrials. 
I reviewed the book from a complimentary sample.  

Sunday, March 09, 2014

"When I Grow Up, I Want to Be a Firefighter: Will's Amazing Day": Children's series has meaning for adults

Authors: Mark Shyres, Debbie Hefke

Title: “When I Grow Up I Want to Be a Firefighter: Will’s Amazing Day
Publication: Wigu Publishing, Laguna Beach, CA, 2014, ISBN 978-1-939973-11-5, 54 pages, paper, heavily illustrated

Series: “When I Grow Up I Want to Be …” has other entries: “in the U.S. Army, in the U.S. Navy, in the U.S. Air Force, s Teacher, a Race Car Driver, a Nurse, a Veterinarian, a Good Person, a World Traveler, a Police Officer, Green”.
Amazon link

First, note that this booklet is part of a trademarked series for children.  I must say right off, I wonder what’s in the “Good Person” book.  As for the title of the series, I remember a coworker, back in 1972, asked me, “Bill what do you want to do when you grow up … when I grow up, I’ll sit back and contemplate.” 
I generally don’t review children’s books, although I get emails offering samples (as I do for almost everything imaginable – there are a lot of particular agendas out there).  I did decide to do this one because there are some very adult points behind the subject.

Children’s books are indeed a specialized genre.  Some literary agents don’t work with this area.  When one writes for children, one is teaching them what they should grasp at a particular age.  Sometimes you don’t mention potential complications that can drive then away.  So it’s a little bit like talking about Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.  You can’t tell the full truth all at once.  This is a little bit like a children’s story in a church service. All parents have to deal with these stages.

The book does cover a lot at a child’s level.  As the book opens, Will is afraid of fire and apprehensive about a class field trip to a fire station.  (I can remember, as a child, that one of the most frightening stories could be that someone “fell into the fire.”)  The fire captain says he is more concerned about someone’s getting hurt than he is of the fire itself, and that is how he can do this job. 

The booklet presents the fact that there are female firefighters. It also shows that fire personnel sometimes live and sleep in the fire station in dormitory style while on duty.  It does say that men and women have separate quarters.
Here is where the adult stuff comes to play.  I’ve written a lot about gays in the military, and the perception during many years of debate (leading to “don’t ask don’t tell”) that the privacy of other persons of the same gender would be compromised in situations of living together in situations of forced intimacy.  There was also the more subtle overflowing idea of “unit cohesion”.  Over time, as a younger generation populated the military and as overseas militaries (like Israel’s) seemed to have little trouble when they lifted bans, concerns over “privacy” and “cohesion” faded.  In fact, back in the 1970s, when ordinances banning civilian employment discrimination based on sexual orientation started to be circulated, there were screams from some quarters about forced intimacy in firehouses, in the days when almost all firefighters had to be men.  I remember a particularly vociferous ad about this point in the New York Daily News around 1977.  The issue still is controversial within the Boy Scouts, which has recently lifted its ban for members but not leaders.
There’s a more subtle issue, from the grown up world, not only adults but older teens.  That is, firefighting is inherently dangerous work.  That’s even more the case with wildfires.  Of course, serving the military means “risking” sacrifice, too.  But firefighting can risk especially painful and gruesome injuries as part of the job.  That has an impact of loved ones and on marriages, which need to survive disability and deformity. The culture in which I grew up in the 1950s emphasized that men needed to be open to taking these kinds of risks to protect women and children.  That idea is still prevalent with lower income people today.  Most of us who are more privileged depend on others to take risks or deal with 24-hour hardship that we don’t see.  Imagine expecting an electric utility lineman to restore power after a blizzard or ice storm. In the past, that sort of concern has fed ideologies like Maoism. 
A few others remarks.  I chuckled that the main character was named “Will”, since that’s the name of a conspicuous but likeable gay young adult character in the soap “Days of our Lives” – no doubt a coincidence.
There are other series of children’s books, like “If You Give …”.   In his series “”, the first film, “It’s Free”, producer-actor Reid Ewing has some fun with “It You Give a Mouse a Cookie” on his visit to a public library.  (See my Movie Reviews blog, May 13, 2013.)  It isn’t hard to imagine the political metaphors  -- for adults (especially libertarians) – that follow.
There is a documentary by Myers Video, “A Day in the Life of a Firefighter”.

I do have a copy of the “Fun with Dick and Jane” First Grade classic (July 20, 2007).  

Sunday, March 02, 2014

NatGeo, SciAm educate us about black holes and multiple universes in heavily illustrated articles: the afterlife could be real even for agnostics

The March 2014 print issue of National Geographic is important to mention for a detailed article by Michael Finkel, impressive art work by Mark A. Garlick, “The Truth About Black Holes: Star Eater”. 

Albert Einstein had, at one time, thought that something like a black hole would not exist. Now, we know that our galaxy and probably most or all galaxies have large black holes in the center, areas where gravity is so strong that light cannot escape. 

At the center of the sphere there is a mathematical point of infinite density called “the singularity”.  It is possible that sometimes singularities “explode” with a big-bang to create a new universe.  Could this happen at the center of the Milky Way and obliterate our existence?  Conceivably it has happened in the Universe a few times.  It seems to be rare, and an act of intentional creation.
The article imagines what happens as one goes into a black hole.  Nothing, because time stops.  But one microinstant later you are “spaghettified”.  But the stoppage of time raises an intriguing idea: at death, maybe our sense of time stops, and we remain conscious of our last moments (which could be horrible for some people) or of our entire lives, with every day easily retrievable. 

Back in February 2012, Michael Mayer had authored a piece in Scientific American, “The Quantum Universe: Is Space Digital?”  He had proposed that information associated with consciousness (and free will, capable of moral accountability) gets transferred on “light sheets” to black hole surfaces.  There could be an issue of how long it takes that sheet to reach the center of a galaxy (at “c” as the limit).  But there’s also a problem in that the larger the black hole sphere, the less adequate the surface would he in holding all possible information, relative to the volume.  (That’s pretty easy to prove with calculus.)  Also, because of Hawking radiation, black holes can “evaporate” or sublime (like snow in the sun when the air temperature is below freezing) so stored consciousness could be lost.  Maybe this supports the need for reincarnation.  Or maybe absolutely eternal life is still relative.  Maybe the Mormon idea that we advance toward becoming “gods” through eternal marriage could even make some sense, cosmologically.