Tsundoku, and the Ace Science Fiction Specials

If I had a word tattooed on my forehead, it would likely be this one:

I think I've mentioned before that I tend to buy more books than I have time to read.  When you've been doing that for forty years, your TBR pile tends to get, umm, large.

The oldest book in that TBR pile (which is actually multiple piles, and shelves, and boxes) is one of the old Ace Science Fiction Specials, Bruce McAllister's Humanity Prime:

I actually took this with me to Army Basic Training in 1972, with the intention of reading it in my spare time.   HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!  Spare time in Basic Training?  What a charmingly naive concept.  In the years since then, it's floated around wherever I've lived, sometimes in handy reach, sometimes in an accessible but inconvenient spot, and sometimes unfindable for years at a stretch.  (Current status: unfindable.)

I think one of the reasons I never quite got around to actually reading the book is that it reminds me of a sad moment in science fiction history.  Humanity Prime was the first Ace Science Fiction Special to not have a cover by Leo & Diane Dillon.

The Ace Science Fiction Specials were edited by Terry Carr at Ace Books.  Carr was the junior SF editor at Ace, under the senior SF editor Don Wollheim.  Wollheim discovered science fiction in the 1930, while Carr was a generation younger, becoming active in SF fandom in the 50's.  Ace Books' SF line, while having some gems, was mostly oriented towards a more pulpish, action-adventure style of plotting and writing.  (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

In the 1960's, SF began going through a period of experimentation and horizon-expanding, as a new generation of writers, dissatisfied with the pulp traditions and styles of most SF, tried to write new works of greater depth and style.  (The "new" generation included some established writers like Robert Silverberg and John Brunner, known for rapidly-written slam-bang SF stories and novels, who chose to stretch their abilities in new directions.)

Terry Carr was more open to this new style of SF, and he was able to get Wollheim and their bosses at Ace to approve a "Special" line of Ace books, giving these new and upcoming writers a venue for their books.  A significant number of the Ace Science Fiction Specials that Carr brought out have gone on to be regarded as classics of the SF genre.  (Left Hand of Darkness by Le Guin, Pavane by Keith Roberts, Past Master by Lafferty among them.  Many other titles in the line were nominated for or won Hugo and Nebula awards.)

The Specials were distinguished from Ace's regular line of books by having distinctively styled covers, done by Leo & Diane Dillon.  The Dillons' paintings were done in styles more reminiscent of other media (stained glass, batik fabric patterns), "artistic" as opposed to the pulp-style "illustration" of most paperback covers.  Here are some of my favorites:

The bad news was: The Ace Science Fiction Specials didn't sell as well as hoped.  The books, and their covers, were getting great respect and admiration, and occasional awards, within the SF field, but not from the buying public.  Ace Books decided (I'm not sure from what level, Wollheim or someone higher) that the covers were just too unusual; the public didn't recognize them as science fiction.  So the Dillons were dropped as the cover artists for further Specials.

The Davis Meltzer cover for Humanity Prime is not a bad cover.  But it's not a great cover, either.  I'm still a bit wistful that we never got to see what the Dillons might have done with this book or the others in the Specials line.  And I think that regret may be part of why, in all the years since I first bought it, I've never actually read the book behind that first non-Dillon cover.  To me, a cover by the Dillons was an integral part of an Ace Science Fiction Special.


Best Pet Ever

The "Why Dinosaurs Are The Ultimate Childhood Companion" post over at Tor.com brought to mind The Enormous Egg by Oliver Butterworth, a 1956 middle-grade book about a farmboy raising a triceratops that hatches from an oversized egg laid by a very startled hen.   I wanted my own triceratops, dammit! This is one of the great illustrations by Louis Darling:

I may make that my computer's next wallpaper.


This and That -- links, etc.

Some interestings things I've seen around the Internet:

Doc Savage Fantasy Covers -- These have apparently been around for a few years, but I hadn't seen them before.  Kev Wilson mashed up real Doc Savage paperback covers to produce "what-if" adventures mixing doc with  some classic (and some not so classic) characters.  Such as this one:

Ju-Jutsu Suffragettes -- kicking ass for equality

Terminator Typist -- past and future meet

Over the years I've seen lots of exterior photos of Gaudi's famous La Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, but today's the first time I've seen one of the inside ceiling.  Striking and strange.

Nazi Bunnies of Buchenwald -- the Wisconsin Historical Society, of all websites, relates the boggling story of how the Nazi SS raised well-fed, well-housed Angora rabbits at Aushwitz and other concentration camps, simultaneous with starving and working to death thousands of human prisoners.

Tobor On Television -- Way back in my misspent youth, I spent many a Saturday morning watching the weekly "Creature Feature",  showing (mostly bad) horror and science fiction movies.  One I had fond memories of was Tobor the Great, wherein a young boy fought bad guys with his 9-foot tall robot.  I always remembered Tobor as pretty cool-looking, better than Robbie or Gort; looking at pictures of Tobor again some fifty years on, ehh, not so much.  What I didn't know until now was that there was an attempt to spin-off Tobor into a television series, HERE COMES TOBOR; the unsold pilot is available for viewing on archive.org.  (Also on YouTube.)

Stephen King Reviews Joyce Carol Oates' THE ACCURSED -- Here's a snippet of the review:
Annabel Slade (lovely, modest, corseted) is abducted by a demon lover named Axson Mayte in full view of a standing-room-only church congregation mere seconds after her marriage to dashing Dabney Bayard. She’s spirited away to the Bog Kingdom, a terrible wasteland where she is subjected to the Unspeakable (van Dyck loves that word) and then made to clean the filthy lower levels of the castle with her fellow abductees, who have been reduced to the state of half-human zombies. She escapes and returns home, dirty and barely sane, just in time to die giving birth to something both Unspeakable and Ambiguous (perhaps a snake, perhaps an infant with its innards on the outards).

I don't know about you, but reading that (and it's only about a small part of the sprawling novel) makes me sad that Edward Gorey isn't still alive to produce illustrations for Oates' novel.
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Five Hundred

This is the 500th post to UNDULANT FEVER since I began on June 30th, 2004.  A bit over one post per week, on average.

I didn't start keeping track of statistics for the blog until 2008.  Judging from those stats, the best way to increase pageviews for your blog is to write about teapots.  "Two-Fer Teapots" , from 2010, has the second-most pageviews (273).  Other posts about teapot-based ceramic competitions also have high pageviews.

I could probably increase pageviews more by adding keywords to posts, and just by talking it up more out in the real world.  A few posts, like my "Shots In The Dark" and "Lunatics, Imbeciles, and Saboteurs" have been linked to a few times by other blogs.  Most posts get ten or twenty page views, then taper off.  I find myself and my opinions fascinating, but not so much by most people, apparently.

But I've been writing things like this blog long before blogs existed.  I started publishing fanzines and personalzines back in the 1970's, on that old-fashioned "paper" stuff.  (The title UNDULANT FEVER was originally used for a paper personalzine.)  It's a place to leave a record of my life and thoughts.  So it's not a habit I'm likely to break anytime soon.


The Arm: Two Steps Back

Over the months since my accident and breaking the heck out of my right arm and bunging up the shoulder, I've been slowly improving following surgery, recuperation and physical therapy.  Slow, but continuous improvement.

The last several days, however, I've been feeling intermittent scraping and grating sensations in that shoulder, accompanied by renewed pain.  Not as bad as the intial injury, or right after the surgery, but definitely a major step back from where I'd gotten to in recovery.

I'm babying the arm, and even thinking about putting the sling back on, to see if it'll recover by itself.  But I have a tendency to catastrophize the future, and my true worry is that the prosthetic joint may have started to break loose or that the shoulder bones (which got compressed together pretty badly in the accident) have moved into a position where they're rubbing together.  I've tried to move up my next appointment with the orthopedic doctor at Mayo, in mid-April, but his schedule is booked solid; his secretary said she'll try and move me into any opening that becomes available.

Worst-case scenario: I end up having surgery again, possibly a complete re-do of the joint-replacement procedure, putting me back to where I was right after the first surgery.  But I won't know for sure until I get new x-rays and an evaluation.  I'll keep nudging the doctor to try and squeeze me in sooner.  (Because, y'know, the uncertainty is just one more bit of worry on top of worry.)



A Simple Breakfast, and A Useful App

Diced fruit (strawberries & mangos), a shotglass (1 oz.) of half-&-half, a bit of sugar.  About 200 calories.

I've been trying to eat a little healthier.  One of the annoying side effects of breaking the arm is that I get a lot less exercise when I stay at home.  (My job usually called for about 3 to 5 miles worth of walking per shift.)  So I gained about eight pounds in the first month after the accident.  Since extra pounds had already been slowly creeping up on me even before the accident, that meant I got back up into the 190's.  Ideally, I'd like to be about 165 pounds.

Those height-&-weight charts say my ideal weight should be about 155, but on the rare occasion when I've gotten down to that weight, I look gaunt, I don't feel great, and I'm hungry all the time.  (True story: The last time I got down to 155, I was still working as a letter carrier, and several of my customers expressed concern that I had cancer.)

Getting down to 165 is do-able (I've done it before), I look good and feel good, and with a bit of time management and planning I can usually stay within a few pounds of that goal for a considerable time.  I've managed, even with the arm restricting my exercise, to drop back down to 187 since the end of February, about a 5 pound loss.

The main tool I've been using to monitor my eating habits and activity is an Android app called Noom.  No, I don't know what "Noom" is supposed to mean, other than being "moon" spelled backwards.

I've used earlier versions of Noom before with some success, tempered by problems with the application.  An earlier version kept freezing up in mid-action, and a later version presented itself in ways that annoyed me.  One example was that they used sports-similes to judge food amounts: "golf ball size", "tennis ball size", etc.  Hey, there are people who have so little interest in sports that they have only the vaguest idea how big a baseball or softball is.  (I'm the only person I know of who flunked grade school P.E.  Yes, I really did.  I was the original "does not play well with others" kid.)

The newest update, which I downloaded onto my smartphone last month, seems to have fixed most of those problems.  Operates smoothly, and you can now choose between measuring by simile or by actual measurements.

One of the things I like about Noom, compared to other diet or fitness planners, is that they use an estimation system for food calories and value.  Other planners I tried had huge databases of specific foods and brands, and it was easy to get lost and spend lots of time finding and entering  those specific choices. 

Noom's first-level food choices divides food into three major categories, "Green" for healthy foods, "Yellow" for okay foods, and "Red" for foods that should be avoided or minimalized.  Each of those wide categories has two to three dozen subcategories, broken down into more specific but not too-specific choices (egg whites are "Green", whole eggs are "Yellow", bacon is "Red").  Clicking on one of those subcategories gives you various amounts to choose from for what your meal contained and calorie counts ranging from 25 for a tiny "Green" portion to 600 calories for a large "Red" portion.  I find this system a lot easier and quicker to use than other planners' more detailed breakdowns.

But it can get even quicker and easier.  When you've familiarized yourself with a bunch of portion sizes and calorie counts for various foods, you can go straight to a "Dial A Menu" feature that lets you enter the general category, portion size and calorie count in a single click.

Noom also has features to track exercise and weight, and provides daily tasks and advice to help keep you on track and motivated.

I use the free version, which I find sufficient.  The paid version ($9.99 per month, yikes!) features extra individualized coaching and guidance.  Android-only, though they're supposed to be working on an iPhone version.



The Arm: Latest Update

Saw my orthopedic doctor at Mayo again yesterday.  Got permission to start the next phase of physical therapy, with resistance training and stronger therapist-assisted stretching.  Also got a limited work release, allowing me to work up to two hours at a stretch, twice a day for the time being; the other limitations are not to use that arm for more than 20 pounds, and to avoid repetitive hammering motions.

That's good news, but it's not likely I'll be called back to work within those limitations; they really need me able to work an 8-hour stretch (or 12-hour shifts on weekends) to get me back onto the schedule.  So I'll probably remain off work until those limitations are removed.  Next appointment is in mid-April, when they'll evaluate again.

This is assuming I get back to that job at all.  I spoke to the head of the Security department, my boss, a few weeks ago.  He was of the opinion that if I wasn't able to recover 100% of my arm's strength and range of motion, he couldn't see authorizing my return to work.

I'm not in agreement with that.  Right now, every individual task that I routinely did at work before is something I feel I could do now (although some things, like locking and unlocking deadbolts located high up on doors, I'd have to do left-handed).  It's more an issue of stamina and pain levels.

On an aural-simile pain-scale, my default level of discomfort is currently like having a mosquito whining around your head; bothersome but ignorable.  If I use the arm much for a few hours, you get past discomfort into actual pain; then it's like fingernails scraping across a chalkboard.  (That's where that 2-hour limitation comes in.)  If I try and push myself further, you get into some pretty harsh pain territory, like working next to a woodchipper without earplugs.  At that point, you cannot think straight; that pain is a wet blanket over your brain, and you're not much use in either a domestic or workplace setting.  And the further I push myself, the longer it takes to recover.

mosquito whine
fingernails on chalkboard

But I am improving, getting able to use the arm more and for longer periods.  (The process is just a lot slower than I wanted, or expected.)  So I feel that even if I don't recover the full range of motion for my right arm (and it looks like 85% is about the best I can hope for, barring having the surgery re-done), I'll still be able to perform everything I need to do at work.  I'm hoping my boss' attitude will turn out to have a flexible range of motion itself.  My intention has always been to stay in that job until I'm eligible for my full Social Security in about another six years. 

Photo credits:
mosquito: US Department oif Agriculture (via Wikimedia Commons)
fingernails on chalkboard: from tvtropes.org
woodchipper: from the movie Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil

Never Too Many Cat Photos. Never, I Say.

Latest photo of Tyr, who's transformed from the mostly-white kitten we got at the end of 2011 into the darkest Siamese we've ever had.  Suggestions that he has gone over to the Dark Side will be far too appropriate.


The Postal Service, and The Lie That Will Not Die

The Motley Fool financial site has a good rundown on "How The Postal Service Is Being Gutted" .   I hope most people here already know about the poison-pill legislation passed by Congress (and pushed by pro-privatization lobbyists) in 2006, requiring the USPS to pre-fund their pension benefits seventy-five years in advance, for hypothetical employees not only not hired yet, but for employees not even born yet.  The Fool article also goes into other factors and efforts by big-bankroll financial predators and lobbyists meant to push the Postal Service into privatization and/or dissolution.

But in the comments, I see, yet again, numerous people insisting, against all evidence and numbers, that the Postal Service is "wasting taxpayers' money".  The Postal Reorganization Act of 1971 reformed USPS into a "quasi-governmental" organization with the ability to operate (within Congressional limitations) as a business and with a mandate to be self-funding.  They've operated under that mandate for more than FORTY YEARS, and yet there are still numerous people utterly convinced that "my tax money" pays for mail delivery.

What's up with these people?  Even when provided with facts and numbers, they literally refuse to believe otherwise. You can't convince them, you can't educate them, you can't change their minds. What benefit do they get out of believing a lie, denying a truth?  They will not let this lie die.

Well, this blog post won't convince them either.  I'm just venting my frustration.  This shit just gets old.  Very, very old.  In this case it's literally an old lie. 


When Bad Things Happen To Bad People

Yesterday, in local news, Maricopa County Sheriff and full-time bad example Joe Arpaio, tripped and fell on a downtown sidewalk, breaking his arm and ending up in the hospital since.

Some online comments have implied (or flat-out stated) that he's a wuss for not manning up, gritting his teeth, and walking out of the hospital already.  And for having an oxygen cannula in his nose while laid up in the hospital.  And for speaking slowly in several videos released by the Sheriff's department.

I find myself in the distasteful position of having to defend Joe Arpaio, just a few days after signing a petition to recall him.

When my own arm got broken back in December, it was some of the most agonizing pain I've ever felt.  "Agony" gets used inappropriately a lot, but not this time.  I was very, very grateful for the existence of morphine.  I may have been "cognizant" while on morphine, but I certainly wasn't at my quickest or most perceptive.

I'm 20 years younger than Arpaio, and I was in hospital for four days.  Part of that was post-surgical recovery for the prosthetic joint that replaced the shattered upper humerus.  So far, it doesn't look like surgery is planned for Arpaio, but I'm not surprised they keep someone his age in a few extra days to make sure he won't have any complications.

I also had an oxygen cannula in my nose for most of those four days.  That's a safeguard against respiratory problems that might occur.

So I'm afraid I have to cut the old piece of crap some slack in this instance.

(Dammit, my innate humanity betrays me again!)

Ideally, one might hope that the injury, and the painful recovery ahead, leads to Arpaio deciding to resign and finally retire to his Fountain Hills home.

But I don't think that will happen.  I think that Arpaio has to stay in office until he dies, because when he dies I think enough evidence of deep corruption and abuse in the MCSO will finally come out that it will become clear Joe Arpaio was on the wrong side of his jail's fence for his entire career as Sheriff.

Update, 3/4/2013:  I posted a slightly different version of the above post as a comment to the Phoenix New Times article about Arpaio's hospitalization.  One self-styled "JoeArpaioFan" responded:
"If you have no love for Arpaio I hope next time you break your neck."
Well, that certainly teaches me a lesson about expressing any sympathy for an old man who's been seriously hurt.  I think this is the first comment I've ever written that made someone wish for my death.


Richard E. Geis, 1927-2013

cover to SFR #39; I think the artist is Alicia Austin

Over on Trufen, Andrew Porter reported Richard E. Geis' had died last month, on February 4th.  Geis was an important figure in science fiction fanzine fandom, especially in the 1960's and 1970's.  He was also an important figure in my own life, even if we never met.

I cut my fannish eyeteeth on Dick Geis' artificial vagina.  (Now there's a sentence you won't see written very often!)

Geis' SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW (aka, at times, as THE ALIEN CRITIC), in 1968, was the first "real" fanzine I'd seen.  (I'd seen a few samples of comics fanzines prior, mostly ad-based.)  It was an eye-opener.  Not just for the discussion and *ahem* vigorous dialogues about science fiction, but because he was the first person I'd encountered in my entire life who was willing to write openly and un-self-censored about sexual matters like masturbation (including with the aforementioned artificial vagina) and writing porn for a living.

(No, literally, at age 16, he was the first person I'd seen do that, and he did it in a public forum.  Get back on my lawn, kids, and I'll tell you how desperate teenagers were in the 1950's and 60's for ANY kind of sexual facts or information, and how unavailable it was.  But you won't believe me.)

That openness has been a big influence on my own life and writings.  I'm nowhere near as open and uninhibited at the typewriter as Geis was, but I'm open enough to occasionally make people uncomfortable.  Overall, I think that's a good thing.

I'll quote part of  Porter's Trufen post regarding Geis.:
"Richard E. Geis was one of the finest fan writers and fanzine
publishers SF fandom ever produced. His own writings, primarily in
his schizophrenic "Alter-Ego" editorial role in his numerous
fanzines, which were notoriously wont to change their names in mid-
publication, are famous in the field. They gained him numerous Hugo
Award nominations and many wins. His fanzines, which became focal
point fanzines attracting numerous contributions from the finest
writers, professional and fannish, and artists, also gained him
numerous Hugo nominations and wins.

"Geis was a Fan Writer Hugo nominee in 1970 and 1971, and every year
from 1973 to 1986, winning Best Fan Writer Hugos in 1982 and 1983.
His fanzines were Hugo nominees from 1968 to 1971, and 1974 to 1983.
His "Science Fiction Review" won the Fanzine Hugo in 1969, 1970, 1977
and 1979. "The Alien Critic" won the Fanzine Hugo in 1974 (tied with
Andrew Porter's "Algol"), and in 1975. Altogether, he received 30
nominations for the Hugo award, winning eight times."
The Wikipedia entry for Richard Geis is here.