From my Keeper Shelf — The Impossible Virgin


When I was young (alas, quite a long time ago) my mom would take us to the library every two weeks. There is no way I can express how important this was in my journey toward being a teacher and a writer. We didn’t have much money, but we had a wealth of information at hand, in the form of borrowed books. As I made the transition from young adult fiction to things written for an adult audience, mom was a valuable guide, because she was quite a good reader herself. One day, she handed me a book with a title that was a bit unusual: The Impossible Virgin. I’m sure I said something like, “Really, Mom?” She assured me that she had read it and that I would like it. OMG, was she right. I really loved that book.

Peter O’Donnell wrote an entire series of books featuring a better than James Bond heroine, Modesty Blaise, and The Impossible Virgin was my introduction to the series, although it is actually book five of thirteen books. The books generally followed a pattern, a bit like a James Bond movie of that era, wherein there is some action sequence at the beginning, then some exposition to get the reader up to speed on the characters, plus plenty of mid-level action before a dramatic series of events that leads to a climax with a very short denoument. Each book is decorated with highly eccentric characters, both the villains and the “guests” that Modesty and her friend Willie Garvin are helping with whatever dastardly doings drive the action.

(Some spoilers follow at this point.)

The Impossible Virgin centers around Modesty’s guy friend, a doctor named Giles Pennyfeather. He gets involved with some bad guys over in Africa, and Modesty helps him out. Later, Giles and Modesty are abducted by the baddies, and friend Willie is thrown out of a plane without a parachute. Giles ends up injured by a gorilla, so he has to walk Modesty through performing an emergency appendectomy  on one of the minor characters, and all that happens before the big climax, which involves a battle with quarterstaffs and a heck of a lot of wasps.

Most of the books in this series are really good, and I have all of them. Some books spend very little time with me, as they are forgettable, but The Impossible Virgin, along with others in the series, including Modesty Blaise, Sabre-Tooth, and I Lucifer are on my keeper shelf, and I have re-read them from time to time.

Modesty Blaise was the subject of a truly horrible movie, so bad that I try to forget that it was ever made, and a really good short film still available on DVD by Quentin Tarrantino, entitled My Name Is Modesty.

Mr. O’Donnell also wrote some nifty “romantic suspense” novels as Madeline Brent, and those are memorable as well.

Jackie— a brief review and commentary


We recently ordered up the DVD version of Jackie, starring Natalie Portman. Like many baby boomers, I remember the Kennedy assassination and its aftermath. Yes, I was just a child, but I still exactly where I was when I first heard the news, and I do remember that funeral procession as it appeared on our black and white television.

The film version of those events, entitled simply Jackie, is not especially linear, as the story line has a journalist coming to the Kennedy home in Massachusetts, to interview the former first lady about that terrible day and its aftermath. The story is actually a series of flashbacks. Featured in several of those is the famous television film of Jackie leading a tour of the White House, and the filmmakers carefully recreated a number of well documented events, including the arrival at Love Field and the motorcade (which was, of course, interrupted by the assassination.)

Other scenes give viewers a fictionalized but probably accurate glimpse of the horrors of that day. These include Jackie cleaning the blood from her face on Air Force One, and her removing the bloodstained pink wool suit, washing her hair, and Kennedy’s blood flows down her back. Although only seconds long, the shooting is also amazingly accurately depicted, and this is no fuzzy 8mm film— the assassination is high def and horrifying. The film also answers some questions that I’ve had, such as why Jackie tried to get out of the car, and why she didn’t change clothes before disembarking from the plane in Washington. The costumes, the sets, the cars, and the blending of old footage with new footage is really top notch. The cast does a very good job, especially Portman, who may not look all that much like Mrs. Kennedy, but she clearly worked hard on getting the accent and mannerisms down. Before it was over, I began to forget that this wasn’t the real Jackie Kennedy on the screen.

All-in-all, this film does a really good job of adding insight for viewers already familiar with the story. Perhaps more importantly, however, it gives younger generations a chance to see exactly what price is paid when a leader such as JFK dies at the hands of an assassin. Jackie is historically accurate, as well as being emotionally gut wrenching.

Half Way Home— by Hugh Howey


This is apparently one of this author’s early works. I really enjoyed Howey’s Beacon 23, so I went back to the well looking for another space based novel and chose this one. The premise is really good and the resulting novel is entertaining, but a bit troubling, too.

Our protagonist, Porter, is part of a 500 person colonizing venture, wherein the genetically engineered people are to land on a promising planet, having absorbed all sorts of knowledge relating to some colonial speciality while in a gestation tank. When he awakens, Porter quickly learns that he and his fellow travelers awakened far too soon, on a hostile planet, and the mother ship tried to self-destruct, thus killing off 450 or so of the original colonists. Porter isn’t programed for leadership, indeed, he’s not fully educated because of the early awakening. As the action of the story moves forward, he is ultimately thrust into that role, by circumstance as well as a plot-line that seems to owe a bit to “Lord of the Flies.”

At times, this book is really fabulous, especially the survival struggles of the characters and the world building that the author does as he sets his stage and moves his players through the plot. There is quite a bit of bloodshed, as would be the case when some largely untrained humans try to survive on a hostile planet. Unfortunately, at times he goes off on odd tangents that don’t further the plot at all.

That said, this work is a worthy read, and I am glad I got a chance to go along for the ride. Half Way Home is an interesting, if not perfect, science fiction yarn. I read it via Amazon’s Kindle program for free, but there is a paperback available as well.

Memorial Day

P1010347

As a southerner, we didn’t celebrate Memorial Day the way that folks in the north did, but over time, the concept which began as “Decoration Day” has grown on us. It’s not that we didn’t remember our fallen, because I remember that my uncle’s army photo was on a desk in my grandmother’s living room, and a certificate from the government, signed by President Lyndon Johnson, honoring his death, was framed and on the wall. As a child, I remember playing in the cemetery, while my grandmother tended the grave. Now, my grandparents are buried at the same site, in a small churchyard near Buford, Georgia, where they lived at the time.

My uncle was just 20 when he was killed in action, in Dortmund, on April 12, 1945, just a few days short of the end of military action in Europe. He was in the 9th Army, 75th Infantry, 290th Regiment, Company K. Because my grandparents had a detailed grave marker installed when they buried him, I was able to find some information about his unit’s activities during the big war. There is one site, in particular, that gives quite a bit of information about this group of soldiers, which the site owner calls “Bulgebusters.” Rather than repeat all that, I’ll simply say that he was among a group of soldiers tasked with clearing out remaining pockets of remaining German forces in the industrial area of northern Germany. His platoon encountered heavy enemy fire from machine guns and mortars, so the C.O. ordered them to retreat and A.L. was killed by machine gun fire. According to the account of a survivor, there were five other soldiers in his group, another soldier died, two were wounded, and two returned safely. The military does not supply such details, of course, but my grandparents took out ads in military publications asking for information, and there were a few letters from other soldiers who were part of the same regiment, and they were quite specific as to where, when, and how my uncle died.

As Memorial Day is an annual event, there are usually some canned “news stories” about how we should all remember the fallen heroes who have kept America free, and those are entirely appropriate. But, many families do not have a name, a face, or a grave to remember. I never met A.L. Dodd, but his face is quite familiar, because that original black and white photo is in my living room, still in its antique frame. He’s smiling in the picture, which seems odd, because current military pictures usually depict the subject in a “tough” stance. In his letters home, A.L. spoke of the scenery, saying that spring was coming, and he was sure the lands they were traveling through would be beautiful. These citizen soldiers were effective, for they defeated one of the most evil regimes in all of recorded history, but they were real people, too.

AL Dodd marker

Travelers— the Netflix series

TravelersWe gave DirecTV the old “heave ho” five years ago, when we moved. At the time, we were carrying two large house payments, so utilizing our internet and Netflix services and forgoing the bill for a television service was a temporary measure to save a few bucks each month. Here we are, five years later, with the previous house sold, but during our financial mini-crisis, we learned how little we actually used the TV service, so we never signed on again. When I went back to grad school, I got Amazon Student (a great deal, by the way) so we still have Amazon Prime, and we look at Amazon videos from time to time, but YouTube and Netflix are the primary means of powering the big screen in our living room.

There is a problem with Netflix, however, and that is the way it “recommends” movies and shows. Our suggestions seem to be crap most of the time. So, every once in a while, I look up an article which purports to list “the best ???” on Netflix right now. And, thus we found a Netflix series called “Travelers.”

The premise of this science fiction series is a really good idea: In the distant, dark, future, people figure out how to send the consciousness of an agent (a traveler) back into the body of a person who is about to die. Since the time and manner of death are often documented, these folks from the future have to select a proper host and zip into the body just in time to thwart the death, and are then able to take over the host’s body and join with other “travelers” to perform various missions that are supposed to make the future a better place to be. Each traveler must deal with the situation his or her host is in, as well as managing to complete assigned missions, and hopefully not be seen as an imposter. This premise yields some suspenseful plots as well as quite a lot of dramatic irony, as the viewer knows that the person inside the host is not the person who was about to die.

We’ve not finished season one (the only season available as of this writing) but if the rest of the episodes are as good as the ones we have seen, we are certainly going to enjoy following along with these futuristic Travelers. If you are a Netflix subscriber and like suspense and/or science fiction, do check out this original series.

And, if you are a student or know someone who is, don’t forget the great deals available via Amazon Student:  Join Prime Student FREE Two-Day Shipping for College Students

Adding to the List

That’s the “to be read”list, of course. As I’ve been going through this blog and updating some links, killing off a few out of date posts, and generally trying to do some cyber housekeeping, I’ve run across some sequels that I want to read.

First up, Evergreen, which had some rights to the story of Honor Harrington, David Weber’s amazing space opera, has closed up shop, but there is a second comic book version of the story available. Here’s the cover (and a link to buy if you are so inclined.) While I’m not much of a graphic novel fan, I love Honor Harrington stories, especially those toward the beginning of the saga, which these comics depict.


 

And, the also amazing, but not so famous, Kennedy Hudner has added to his space opera, as Alarm of War is up to Volume III, entitled Desperate Measures. I’ve enjoyed the other books in the series, so I am looking forward to this one. Again, here’s some cover art with a link.


And, if you are like me and you read a lot of digital books and haven’t checked into Amazon’s Kindle programs, do take a look at this:

Join Amazon Kindle Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial

Star Trek and Philosophy: The Wrath of Kant— a brief review

Okay, I am a sucker for a good title, and this book has a good title and a good cover. Win-win! And it is about Star Trek, which I like quite a lot. But it is rather deep at times, so I wouldn’t rate it five stars, but fans of Trek who have some knowledge of philosophy might award it a solid four, perhaps.

What is between the covers is a collection of essays edited by Jason T. Eberl and Kevin S. Decker. These essays use Star Trek’s various television shows and movies to explore philosophical issues, and it helps quite a lot if the reader is familiar with all forms of Trek. Since I never watched all of DS9 or Enterprise, I was sometimes a bit lost.

The first essay is a nifty one, as it is based upon a Next Generation episode, “Darmok.” Both the essay and the episode dealt with the difficulty of translating a totally alien language. Throughout most of the Trek episodes there was a “universal translator” which was a bit like Google Translate, but it depended upon languages having some commonalities. Of course, communication via such means can go astray quite easily, but what about an alien species that doesn’t communicate the way we do? The issues would be far beyond going from English to Chinese, and I understand that can be difficult.

As the essays in this book are by different authors, the tone and topics vary quite a lot. For me, it was a book to nibble at, but not a cover to cover read. I’ve always viewed Star Trek as more intellectual than Star Wars, but this book takes it to an even higher plane. For fans of all things Trek, there are some really delicious ideas to examine in this collection, so if that describes you, go for it!

Blood on The Tracks— a quick review

This is the first entry in the Sydney Parnell mystery series. I’m a fan of mystery stories, but prefer that there be something that makes the character(s) or setting stand apart from the other umpty dozen mystery novels published at the same time. Blood on the Tracks has both! The main character is a railway detective, which made me think historical, but nope, this is a contemporary novel, set in the western part of the U.S., during winter. Our heroine is also a veteran, and she is dealing with lots of baggage from her former occupation. And there’s a dog.

The plot is reasonably suspenseful, the characters fairly well drawn, and the author kept me turning the pages, despite quite a few plot twists and turns. Fans of mystery novels, military fiction, and dogs should like Blood on the Tracks. I did.

By Pamela/Pilar Posted in writing

Winter’s Bone— review and commentary

Winter's BoneAs the film Winter’s Bone is based upon a novel, let me be clear— I am discussing the film, not the book. Hubby and I watched it via Amazon Prime, due to seeing it listed as one of the best films available via streaming, and it stars a young (pre Hunger Games) Jennifer Lawrence. I knew little else about it, other than the brief description on Amazon.

Honestly, it is a haunting movie, but is isn’t a horror story. This film is a polar opposite of a action adventure. Not that it isn’t interesting, because it is, but this is a window into a world that will be foreign to many of us, but maybe not as foreign as we’d like, because drug users, abusers, and dealers are an ever growing aspect of modern America.

Basically, the story follows the efforts of seventeen-year-old Ree Dolly (Lawrence) to find her missing father, after a bail bondsman informs her that if her dad doesn’t show up for his trial, the family home is forfeit. The setting is in the Ozark Mountains, within the past few years, based on the cars. The father manufactures meth, and this is apparently no secret. Jessup Dolly hasn’t been around for a while, and there is little to eat, for the family or their animals. Ree is also burdened with younger siblings who rely upon her, because the mother is a mentally ill mute. As Ree goes from person to person, asking for news of her father, the viewer learns much about the poverty and other issues that inhabitants of this community endure.

When I was a youngster, I remember reading Oliver Twist and thinking that if one more bad thing happened to that kid, I was going to return the book to the library, unfinished. More misfortunes did befall young Oliver, so I didn’t finish the novel. A few years later I saw the musical Oliver on school field trip, so I did finally learn what happened to the characters. And while Winter’s Bone has little in common with Oliver Twist, the relentless despair with only a small germ of hope is similar.

As I do hope readers of Visions and Revisions will take a look at the film, I’m avoiding spoilers. Certainly, Jennifer Lawrence is amazing in this film, but the rest of the cast is excellent, too. The filmmaker did a fabulous job of showing the situation but not telling the viewer what to believe.

I have to agree that Winter’s Bone is an excellent film, and it brings a simple yet sophisticated treatment to the problems associated with the drug culture in rural America.