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Friday, October 2, 2015

Charles Kingsley on Loving the Rose of Torridge

In Charles Kingsley's epic novel Westward Ho!, young Amyas Leigh is drawn to a local beauty named Rose. But he's only a young teen, with so many plans he wants to accomplish. Chief among those is going out to sea. Eventually he becomes a sailor, and the sea faring life turns out to be everything that he had dreamed. Yet every night he stands on watch, or walks the deck of his ship, he stares out across the ocean waves, and up at the starry sky. Always, his thoughts return to Rose. He meditates on her beauty. His admiration for her virtues increases. When he returns to Bideford after his first tour at sea, he has one plan: to win Rose's heart, and marry her.

Where Amyas is burly, strong, and boisterous, his brother Frank is slim, elegant, and refined. Frank has toured Europe, tutoring the children of aristocrats, and even served in the royal court. You could not imagine more dissimilar brothers. You might think that such different people wouldn't get along. Yet when he learns the celebration the townspeople of Bideford are planning to welcome Amyas back from his first tour out at sea, he begs permission to leave the royal court and return home to the family farm outside Bideford.

There, despite all the wealthy beauties he has known in London, he too falls head-over-heels in love with Rose. 

A house on a hill overlooking Bideford

Mrs. Leigh is a quiet, trusting woman, whom both brothers adore. When Amyas and Frank discover that each wishes to win the same woman, suddenly each views the other as an enemy. They take to fighting. Then they notice the pain they are causing their mother. So they decide to sit down and talk the situation through. 

Neither Amyas and Frank wishes to cause the other pain. Yet there is only one Rose, whom they both love! Despite Amyas' wealth of experience, and Frank's impressive education, neither can decide who has the best claim to Rose's affections. So they travel down to Bideford, to discuss the situation with their friends.

There they discover that their friends adore Rose too. They also desire her! Perhaps this should not surprise Amyas and Frank so. Such is her famed beauty, that she has gained a certain celebrity status. She is known as the Rose of Torridge, named after the gleaming waters of the river that passes through Bideford, and gives the town its link to the sea. 

The Rose of Torridge,
A restaurant along the riverfront in Bideford.

It was one thing to debate who had the better claim to Rose's affections, when Amyas and Frank imagined that they were her only two suitors. But as they learn how strongly each of their friends admire her, they realize they can not cause all their friends the pain of losing her. So instead of each insisting upon claiming his own happiness, they form the Society of the Rose, swearing together that none of them shall possess her, until each should, for whatever reason, relinquish his devotion to her.  

It's hard to imagine people making such a sacrifice for their family and friends. Most writers probably wouldn't even attempt to make the reader believe that their protagonists could be so admirable. But then, Westward Ho! is an unusual novel. And Charles Kingsley, a priest who consistently preached and wrote of the need for better living and working conditions among the English poor, seems a very unusual author. 

Dragon Dave

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Falling in Love with a New Nova: Part 2

Jesse Alexander once lived an extraordinary life as a member of the interstellar Nova Corps. Those days are long behind him now. But he gave them up to marry the woman he loved, and raise a family. So he should be happy and fulfilled, right?


In time, Jesse's wife gives him two children, a son named Sam, and a younger daughter named Kaelynn. As they grow up, he tells them stories of his former life in the Nova Corps. But his simple life in Carefree, Arizona, working as a janitor at the local high school, leaves him depressed. Although he loves his wife and children, he looks to alcohol to fill the void in his life. This leaves Sam, now attending high school, to clean up after him, finish the janitorial duties, and help him get back home, where he can sleep off his drunkenness. 

Sadly, this doesn't leave Sam with a positive impression of his father. It also makes things hard on him at school, as stories about his father's drunkenness, and Sam's need to occasionally clean the toilets, lead the bullies to pick on him. Sam begins to believe his father's adventures in the Nova Corps were just tall tales, nothing more. Then one night, his father disappears, and Sam finds a black helmet in the garage. When he puts it on, it grants him incredible powers. Soon two members of the Guardians of the Galaxy show up--green-skinned Gamora, and Rocket Raccoon--and they train him in his new powers. From there, Sam Alexander begins his triple-life: trying to be a normal high school student, helping his mother keep the family afloat without his father's salary, and saving the Earth, again and again, from all kinds of despicable intergalactic villains.

After reading Issue 1, we abandoned the discount racks, threw caution (and fiscal wisdom?) to the interstellar winds, and dived in, picking up any remaining issues we could lay my hands on at normal retail prices. In short order, we had procured nearly all the issues of this 31 issue run. Now we've been reading through Nova's journeys again, this time in order. I've just read issue 28 again (for the third or fourth time), the one that coincides with the Black Vortex storyline. Sam has gotten hold of the Black Vortex, and he needs to keep its location a secret, until his superhero friends contact him to tell him where he should transport it. So naturally, he takes it home, and drapes a sheet over it in his bedroom. 

It's not long before one of the parties trying to gain possession of the Black Vortex is the Collector, who tried to procure one of the immensely powerful infinity stones in the recent Guardians of the Galaxy movie. In Nova issue 28 he drops by Earth, and offers Sam's mother gold, jewels, and unimaginable riches, if only she will sell him this precious artifact. 

So it's back into space for Sam, as he tries to hide the Black Vortex from those who yearn for the power it could grant them. His efforts are valiant, but he fails to keep the Black Vortex from one particular villain, who intends to use it to use it to kill his enemies, and destroy entire worlds. Still, at least he resists temptation, and doesn't let it transform him into an ultimate version of himself. As he puts it, every gift comes with a price, and he already has enough power. It's up to him to use the power he already has to do the most good he can.

I've tried to parcel them out, and limit them to no more than one issue per day, because...well, because I don't want my adventures with Sam to end. Other writers picked up Sam's story after Jeph Loeb's five issue run, and they kept me just as interested in Sam's everyday life, and his superhero adventures for twenty-six additional issues. Like most Marvel titles, Nova ceased publication this summer to make way for the huge Secret Wars crossover event, as well as all the associated spinoff titles. After reading issue 28, some big questions remain. Will Sam find his father? Will he be able to return Jesse to Earth? What will happen to his family after such a joyous reunion? Could he continued his own career as Nova, and a probationary member of the Avengers, assuming that occurs? I hope the last three issues will address some of those questions. To learn the rest of the answers, and to keep experiencing the thrills, adventure, and happiness this series has given me, I suspect I will have to submit to the temptation of the immensely powerful Nova series on an ongoing, monthly basis, once Marvel's Secret Wars crossover event finishes, and Nova restarts in November.

But then, as Sam would say, every gift comes with a price, right?

Dragon Dave

Monday, September 28, 2015

Falling in Love with a New Nova: Part 1

Awhile back, I told you about my journey across San Diego to complete the missing chapters in Sam Humphries' Black Vortex saga. This journey was sparked because my wife and I were reading Humphries' Legendary Star Lord series, and the Black Vortex storyline spun out from that title. The Black Vortex was an ancient artifact that could imbue any person with extraordinary powers. Once it is discovered, many super heroes and villains learn of its power, and succumb to the temptation to amplify their abilities. Some of the heroes who end up permanently changed by the Black Vortex include members of the X-Men and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Thus, the Black Vortex saga continued through Legendary Star Lord, Guardians of the Galaxy, and several other titles. We had already picked up a few of these other titles in the discount box of our local comic book store. One of the issues we needed to complete the Black Vortex story was Nova Issue 28. 

My wife and I grew acquainted with the former Nova, Richard Rider, when we read some of the 1970s The Man Called Nova series, written by Marv Wolfman. After the last surviving member of the intergalactic Nova Corps bequeaths his helmet to Richard, this ordinary human teenager gains extraordinary powers. He uses them to defeat villains, team up with other superheroes, and save the Earth numerous times. 

After reading the recent Nova issue 28, and completing Sam Humphries' Black Vortex 13 issue story, I found myself intrigued by this new Nova, a young boy from Earth named Sam Alexander. So I gradually began assembling a collection from the discount racks of local comic book stores. Unlike most series, this time I didn't wait until I had nearly every issue to start reading. I dived right in, on whatever issue I picked up. Even though I was reading them out of order, I was gaining an understanding of Sam's life, and the scope of his adventures. So after awhile, I had to go out and pick up Issue 1. Even if it wasn't available in the discount section.

In Nova issue 1, written by Jeph Loeb, we meet an agent of the Nova Corps. His name is Jesse Alexander. He fights alongside people from other races who have pledged their lives in service to others. One thing he shares with his band of brothers is bravery.

He risks certain death, time and time again, for his fellow Nova officers. Unlike them, however, Jesse has, in one way, betrayed his calling. He's fallen in love with a woman, and married her. So after one particular battle, their ship takes them as close to Earth as they're likely to get, and the team drops him off, so Jesse can be a husband to the wife he loves, and a father to the child she's expecting.

Imagine leaving behind a high-flying life of sailing through interstellar space, saving people, civilizations and worlds again and again, to return home to live a normal existence as a husband and father. No matter how much Jesse loves his wife, that sacrifice will take its toll on him. I'll talk about that, how that effects young Sam's view of his father, and how I've fallen in love with this new Nova in the next post.

Dragon Dave

Friday, September 25, 2015

Getting Wacky Again

Occasionally, a friend from elementary school would invite me to spend the weekend with him. My parents generally granted such invitations, provided the friend's family went to church on Sunday mornings. While staying with one friend, his family stopped by a store, and he introduced me to a pack of trading cards he collected. They were called Wacky Packages, and the cards sported stickers with fun takes on existing products. I loved the humor and imagery, and soon was using all my spending money to buy packs wherever I found them.

One store that always had them for sale was a little local market near my grandparents' house. So every time I went to visit my grandparents, I visited the store, which I called the Wacky Store, and added more stickers to my collection. I have no idea if I ever assembled a complete collection. That wasn't the point. I merely collected them because they made me smile and laugh. My grandfather was also a collector, and his chief love was collecting stamps. During one summer vacation, I spent several days in his den, working beside him on my collection. While he busied himself with arranging his stamps in books, I ordered all my Wacky cards into neat rows and columns, and then affixed the stickers to a poster board. This I taped to the wall of my room when I returned home, and for many years gained great pleasure in looking up at that poster board, and enjoying the wit and whimsy of the authors and artists who had created my beloved Wacky stickers.

Wash'n Fly
Little Towels Ghosts Use to Wash their Sheets
Approved by Gravediggers
Scares Dirt Away!
Fightens as it Whitens!

After awhile, my stickers began curling off the poster board, and you can only use so much tape to keep stickers on a board before the poster begins to look tacky, and in need of retirement. By then, Wacky Packs had long disappeared from market shelves, and I went on to spending my money on and collecting other things (such as, surprise surprise, books). Little sign of this once great collection of mine exists today, beyond this lone sticker affixed to the cover of my Sonatina Album for the Piano. But stories about how I collected Wacky Packages stuck to my family history, and were repeatedly recalled amongst family members. Unsurprisingly, these stories generated smiles and laughter among those who recounted them, as well as those who listened.

Imagine my surprise when, on a recent trip to the store, I saw a box of these:

Unlike those packs of yore, which probably cost me fifteen cents or a quarter, these new Wacky Packages, produced by Topps, and dated 2015, cost a dollar. As the package stated that it contained four cards, this meant each Wacky Sticker was now a quarter. Given how much we spend on such luxury items as books, DVDs, and comics, and considering the not insignificant sums we spend on travel to such exotic locales as Florida, Hawaii, and England, I pointed these out to my wife, but hesitated to pick up a pack. But my wife, who has long heard such tales recounted by myself and other family members, didn't hesitate. She immediately announced that we must pick up two: one for me, and one for her. 

2 Musketeers
Make Do with Two
33% Less Secure
Includes Pink Slip
Hey, it's a tough economy...

Hair Strand Bugs
No Trans Gnats
Flea Free

Bake Like Ape-Rofessional!
Great Fur Cookies. Fur Cakes. Fur Pies.

Hairy Margarine

Finally, a fast food that's GOOD for you!
onions not included

(Packages straight from John's body, fresh to your plate).

Doubtless many will not appreciate the humor of these new Wacky Packages. But the stories they tell still resonate with me. The 2 Musketeers bar speaks to current issues in the economy. The Pik-Nits and Chimperial remind me of my great love for the Planet of the Apes movies, as well as the original novel by Pierre Boulle. The Long John's Liver seems tailor-made for me, as my mother often served me liver when I was growing up, and my favorite fish restaurant today remains Long John Silver's. 

In addition to awakening a host of pleasant memories about the food and household products from my youth, the Wacky stickers also remind me of the great stories I've read recently. The Pik-Nits reminds me of a scene from False Dawn by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, in which Thea, despite her fear of proximity and being touched, finally allows Evan to cut her hair after it has grown so long, thick, and straggly that she finds it impossible to run a comb through it without breaking off the teeth. And the old sticker, as I look at it (and smile), reminds me of Death Warmed Over, the humorous horror/detective novel by Kevin J. Anderson. I can definitely picture Dan Shambles, the famous zombie private investigator, using a product like Wash'n Fly to clean his clothes and trench coat. (Or perhaps he would use it to wash any linens his girlfriend needs, as she was murdered before the events depicted in the novel, and now works as a ghost-receptionist in his office).

Despite all the fun these new Wacky Packages have given me, I think I'm going to have to be careful about how often I visit that store. After all, it's not like I need to be spending money on yet another hobby. 

Celebrating National Talk Like A Pirate Day
at Long John Silver's

And hey, it's not like I'm all that wacky a guy. Right?

Dragon Dave

Monday, September 21, 2015

Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Grand Adventure

Three decades ago, I joined the Science Fiction Book Club. This is one of the novels they sent me.

I have no idea why I chose this novel as one of my four selections. The other books I chose were collections, and the author of each would become important to me in the decades to come. That's not to say that I've ever regarded False Dawn, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, as unimportant. But I never read any of her other novels until recently. And unlike the other novelists--Roger Zelazny, Anne McCaffrey, and Harry Harrison--Chelsea Quinn Yarbro never wrote any follow-ups to this story.

This has been a big reading month for me, at least in terms of the books I've finished. (Some books, such as Westward Ho! by Charles Kingsley, are longer, and necessarily take longer to finish). Nor have I finished False Dawn: I've only gotten fifty pages in thus far, about a quarter of the book's length. As you can probably tell by the cover, it's a tough, gritty novel, which paints a decimated future akin to those depicted in the Mad Max films. In this future world, genetic engineering has cause mutations that have destroyed governments (at least in the United States), agriculture, and the human race. It follows two protagonists: Thea, a woman who was raped by one of the roving motor cycle gangs, and Evan, a man who once ruled the motorcycle gangs, and seemed intent on killing mutants like Thea.

Instead of giving us the history of the characters and this future world, Yarbro makes us assemble a picture of this devastated world from sparse clues. Thea understandably can't stand being touched by a man, yet she builds crossbows and wields them with deadly accuracy. Evan carries his weight as her companion, despite having lost an arm, and does most of the cooking for them. Both are touched by the effects of genetic engineering. Thea has nictating membranes, a translucent or transparent eyelid that protects and moistens the eyes while maintaining visibility. The motorcycle gang that kicked Evan out might have cut off his arm with a power saw, but his arm and hand gradually grows back as the weeks of their journey pass. Both these mutations are thoughtful, perhaps even desirable adaptations to the human body, which have their presence in existing animals, reptiles, and birds. But other humans aren't so lucky. They're called the Untouchables, and even the motorcycle gangs avoid them. Many regard these Untouchables as lepers, but they're really people who bear undesirable mutations, and end up looking like their molecules got reassembled incorrectly in one of the transporters in Star Trek

The plot of False Dawn unfolds as a great land-journey. Unlike Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin in JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, Thea and Evan are not setting out to destroy a magical talisman. They simply wish to survive. They've heard of a place of sanctuary near Gold Lake, the largest of a series of lakes in Plumas County, California. They unite in Chico, shortly after Thea shoots a dying rape victim to prevent her from being eaten alive by wild dogs. They follow a route of power lines, across terrain so difficult to traverse it prevents the wild dogs and the motorcycle gangs from following them. Then skirt what would be the scenic cliffs above Feather River Canyon, were the land not so blighted. We're only gradually learning about Thea and Evan, and both have reasons to pull back from each other. Yet necessity drives them to travel together, on foot, through the Northern California wilderness. What will occur when they reach Gold Lake? Will they choose to stay together? Will they find the community they seek? Evan after all this time, I seem to remember how the novel ends. But my memory has played me false before, so I read ahead, wondering what will happen next, and learning more about Thea, Evan, and this future world with each new page.

This grand adventure I'm sharing with Thea, Evan, and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro was prompted by charting out the birthdays of authors I've read in the past few years. Ironically, Yarbro shares her birthday, September 15, with Agatha Christie. Unlike Christie, it's doubtful that I'll ever create a blog dedicated wholly to Yarbro. But then, you rarely know what stories will become significant to you in the future. I read Agatha Christie in my youth, yet her stories gradually grew more important to me as time rolled on. With False Dawn, even though the story falls outside (Far outside!) the realm of the stories I usually inhabit, I kept that novel, while getting rid of many others, because I wanted to read it again. And now I am! I'm returning to that grand adventure Chelsea Quinn Yarbro took me on three decades ago.

I couldn't be happier.

Dragon Dave