Time Capsule

This records my personal memories, thoughts, and other miscellany.

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Location: Colorado, United States

My wife Sue and I are retired and have lived in the same house for over 30 years. Our local family consists of son Mason, daughter Katrina, son-in-law Dan, granddaughter Natalia, and grandson Joel, all living in the same metropolitan area where we live.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Grandpa Bragging Time

It's time again to brag about Natalia, age 10. She has a beautiful singing voice and has performed in her school talent shows and at assisted living centers in this area, as well as participating in an amateur performance group for several months. Last summer, she sent an audition CD to the Colorado Eagles Hockey Team (Central Hockey League), offering to sing the National Anthem at one of their games. Three days ago, she got a call, inviting her to sing at the second game of the second playoff round, at the Budweiser Events Center, north of Loveland, Colorado. That game was last night, and all the family attended the event.

She was amazing! Just before the game, she and the color guard walked out into the rink, before a sell-out crowd of over 5000. The arena lights were turned out, spotlights were on her and the flag, and she sang The Star-Spangled Banner a capella (no music accompaniment). The cheers for her high note near the end of the song were as loud as any I've heard at sports events, and she received many compliments throughout the evening.

We're just a little bit proud of her!

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Recent Science Fiction

I’ve been reading science fiction for over 45 years, and it’s still one of my favorite genres. Obviously, I’ve seen a lot of development of SF writing in that time, with some changes in direction being better than others, in my opinion.

In the past two weeks, I’ve read three science fiction books by authors I had not read in the past. It was an interesting experience, with a wide range of reactions.

The first book I read was Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo, published in 2001. [I find the publication date of a science fiction book to be important information. If I know the book was written in the mid-1900’s, I take that fact into account as I read the science, political, and sociological passages in the book. If the book was published within the past couple of years, I anticipate a different view of the world and its impact on the future described in the book.] I enjoyed the beginning of Ship of Fools, although I had difficulty identifying with or caring about any of the characters. I didn’t get to know enough about any of them or understand their motivations to any depth. They were sort of like cardboard cut-outs on stands; I never saw them as really alive. Throughout the book, I kept waiting for things to happen, to connect, to develop. There were several creative surprises, but they didn’t seem to lead anywhere – they just dead-ended. I was really having to force myself to continue reading past the middle of the book. I kept expecting the author to tie things together, to create some interesting conclusion. But, he never did. The book just stopped on the last page, with no ending. Very disappointing. It seems to have been just a set-up for future installments, although the ending was neither a partial conclusion nor a cliff-hanger that would entice me to read the sequel. I see absolutely no reason to read another book by this author. I’ll donate the book to the public library, although I almost feel guilty foisting it off on someone else.

The second book I read was Slow River by Nicola Griffith, published in 1995. For some reason, I had not run into her writings until now, and the book is already 11 years old. {At my age, anything printed in the last half of the 20th century seems new.} This book was great. The writing was excellent; the characters were real; the events and action made sense; and even though a sequel could easily be added (perhaps it was), there was a very satisfying conclusion. Some passages might not appeal to some people (read: rated R for sexual imagery), but they were very reasonably integrated with, and integral to, the story. This story reminded me of Burning Chrome by William Gibson and Montezuma Strip by Alan Dean Foster. These stories take place in the dark side of life in the future – similar to the setting of the movie Matrix, but not quite over the edge (as Matrix is, in my opinion). Some of these types of stories get a little too far out for me, but these three books I found intriguing and thought-provoking. It takes a good author to write a story of this type that will keep my interest. I will definitely look for other books by Nicola Griffith.

Finally, I just finished reading Old Man’s War by John Scalzi, published in 2005. Wow, that’s my kind of book. I’m a sucker for old-fashioned space opera stories, and this essentially fits that category. It’s not as action-packed with detailed spaceship battles and political intrigue as some of my other favorite authors’ books are, but it has an excellent balance of action, description, dialog, and creative ideas. I laughed out loud several times in the opening chapter. The protagonist is a 75-year-old man who is just entering the military service in space. Well, that premise certainly got my attention, given my age. What caused me to laugh were some great lines that I thought must have been written by someone my age or older, regarding what it’s like to be this age. I didn’t learn until after I read the book that the author is certainly nowhere near my age; how can a fellow as young as he is understand so well what it’s like to be my age? The book was terrific – very believable characters, some very intriguing creative ideas, some excellent social commentary (and not overdone), good description of action scenes, and believable events (within the context of the story). He set up the expectation for a sequel (which I also have bought), but had a very satisfying conclusion. I’m very happy I purchased both this book and the sequel at the same time; I’m looking forward to continuing the story, and if the second book is as good as the first, I’ll be watching for other books by Scalzi.

These are the three science fiction books I’ve read most recently. Perhaps I’ll soon feel inspired to write some comments about some other contemporary SF writers that I am enjoying. For a while, after the 1970’s or maybe 1980’s I was not impressed by the SF being published, for the most part, with some notable exceptions. Also, I was a bit turned off by the fact that many (or most) great SF writers of that time began spending their creative energy on fantasy stories, because that genre had become very popular. I enjoy some fantasy from time to time, but I prefer really good science fiction, like the last two books I described, above. Fortunately, there seems to be a good number of excellent science fiction writers plying their trade these days – especially writing the kind of stories I enjoy reading.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

April Fool's Memories

We visited the Cavaliere family yesterday. Katrina and Dan had volunteered to fix lunch for all of us, since Natalia had been invited to attend a friend’s birthday party in the afternoon. I had seen a couple of April Fool’s website pages in the morning, and I was thinking as we drove to the Cavaliere home that Natalia and Joel would probably be trying to pull April Fool’s jokes on us while we were there. As Sue and I walked into their house, we saw that Natalia had one arm in a sling, and Joel had an Ace bandage on one of his wrists. Natalia explained how they had been riding their bikes in their cul-de-sac, had run into each other, and had gone to the doctor, as a result. She had a dislocated elbow and a bad cut, and Joel had a sprained wrist. As Sue and I were sympathizing with them, they suddenly shouted, “April Fools”! They had completely sucked us in. It was hilarious. They planned to pull the same stunt on their Uncle Mason, when he arrived. Mason is not a gullible person, especially around Natalia and Joel. Mason soon arrived and Natalia went through the routine, barely able to keep from grinning or laughing, and the rest of us worked hard to contain ourselves. I couldn’t believe Mason bought it hook, line, and sinker. He nearly fell over, when the kids yelled, “April Fools”! They had done such a good job of fooling us that they didn’t even try anything else all day.

Katrina and Dan also had planned a funny April Fool’s lunch. When we sat down to eat, they had a “birthday cake” on the table, with candles lit. However, the “cake” was actually a meatloaf with mashed potato “icing.” It was very funny, and it was delicious. At the end of the meal, Natalia asked whether we could have some of the special dessert they had fixed. She said their cat Cheddar had gotten involved with the preparation of the dessert, but wouldn’t explain what she meant by that. Katrina brought out a large foil baking pan and removed the cover. Inside was what appeared to be a cat’s litter box with appropriate cat messes. The “litter” was Grape-Nuts cereal, and the “messes” were chocolate cookies shaped appropriately. The color, shape, size, and overall appearance of the cookies, especially with “litter” clinging to them was unbelievable! It looked exactly like a cat’s litter box that needed cleaning. We practically had to force ourselves to pick up a cookie and bite into it (I don’t believe Mason ever quite managed it). Of course, they were excellent, but the idea was difficult to overcome. It was indeed a hilarious and good April Fool’s lunch.

Last Thursday, Natalia and Joel had an early-release day at school, while Katrina and Dan had their regular school schedule. So, we picked up the kids and spent a couple of hours with them. The four of us were talking about April Fool’s Day, and Sue and I described for them what we used to experience on that day when we were in high school. Our school system in those days did not have the Spring Break that our local school systems do today. But, the school administration knew that April Fool’s Day would be chaotic at school, so they essentially set aside the day, each year, as a fun day. We reported to our first class, took roll, and then adjourned to the auditorium. The time until noon was spent watching and heckling any kids who wanted to get on stage and “perform.” There were actually a few serious performances of one kind or another, but the “acts” were mostly improvised on-the-spot and were either hilarious or really stupid. I believe some of the teachers may have even joined in with something now and then. After lunch, we again took roll, and returned to the auditorium. I think we may have been released early on that day. It was the only day that we were allowed to bring water guns to school, and to use them, without having them confiscated. One year, I had purchased some practical joke items from a mail order catalog and amused myself and some other fellows by putting “itching powder” down the shirt of a friend and blowing “sneezing powder” into the air, both while we were in the auditorium. I also freely shared my “hot pepper” chewing gum, which I had wrapped with genuine Wrigley’s chewing gum labels. During the lunch hour, we (as upper classmen) typically “drug main” by the carloads. On April Fool’s Day, the parade of cars included loads of water balloons, which we tried to toss into each other’s vehicles. All-in-all, it was a crazy, fun day, and I believe the school administration was very smart to conduct it in that manner.