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31 July 2014 @ 02:01 pm
little shop 001

My gosh, vegetation these days...
31 July 2014 @ 01:48 pm
mystery bout

Get back here, I'm not done with you yet.

Not Shelby Marx vs iCarly. I'm pretty sure of that.
1322897_320Wallace Beery as the great man himself.

"The Disintegration Machine"

Just so you know

From THE STRAND of January 1929, we find Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger crossing wills with a mad scientist (I know, I know.. perhaps a mad scientist in the Challenger stories is redundant.) "The Disintegration Machine" is a pleasant, minor diversion with some amusing asides and a remarkable forerunner of the "transporters" which STAR TREK made familiar to the general public almost forty years later.

It's reassuring to see that passing years have not mellowed the great man, nor did his alleged conversion to Spiritualism in the doubtful book THE LAND OF MIST make him all doe-eyed and flaccid. Nope, George Edward Challenger is still an infuriating egomaniac with only a vague idea of tact or prudence. He is the unlikely combination of a highly developed genius in a distinctly gorilla-like body, making him overbearing both intellectually and physically. I don't know how he comes up in the stories as an engaging and even likeable fellow, because in real life he would be a nightmare to deal with unless you had enough diplomatic skill to cope. (We first see him loudly threatening a lawsuit against the phone company because wrong numbers are interrupting his work. "I could hear them laughing as I made my just complaint. There is a conspiracy to annoy me," he rumbles.)

Edmond Malone, who first narrated THE LOST WORLD way back in 1912, is still on good terms with Challenger; their shared hardships and Malone's self-effacing charm have given them a sturdy bond. This time out, Malone has been sent by his editor to persuade Professor Challenger to investigate rumours of a remarkable new invention by a certain Latvian gentleman named Theodore Nemor.

"He was a short, thick man with some suggestion of deformity, though it was difficult to say where that suggestion lay. One might say that he was a hunchback without the hump. His large, soft face was like an underdone dumpling, of the same colour and moist consistency..." Well. The fellow does not make what you might call a good first impression. (Great name, though, with undertones of both "Nemo" and "No more"; Doyle always named his characters aptly.)

Unfortunately, considering his demonstrable scientific ability, Nemor has no ethical scruples to redeem him. He is placing the Nemor Disintegrator for sale to the highest bidder, from whatever nation. England has already lost out through not naming an acceptable price. As Nemor is escorting a party of Russian negotiators out when Challenger and Malone arrive, it becomes clear the European inventor has no problem with selling the Disintegrator to England's bitterest enemies (demned foreigners)

This first model of the device is unpleasantly like n electric chair. (It is stored in a large "outhouse", which word clearly has a different meaning here in the States...ahem.) Energy passing through whatever object is in that chair is reduced to its component atoms and, when the proper switch is thrown, is immediately restored to its original condition, none the worse for the experience.

Naturally, the irritable Challenger scoffs indignantly. "Even if I make so monstrous an admission as that our molecules could be dispersed by some disrupting power, why should they reassemble in exactly the same order as before?" he asks, to which Nemor explains that there is some sort of invisible framework to which the atoms return precisely somehow. (Aha, so that explains how STAR TREK does it.) But only an actual demonstration will prove anything and shortly Malone finds himself seated in that ominous chair.

I love the next moment, as Malone says, "Well, get on with it!" only to be told by a horrified, white-faced Challenger that it has already happened. For two or three minutes, the Irish reporter was a vague unseen cloud of molecules floating in the area until the machine reconstituted him. Shaken though he is, Challenger boldly sits down next. Here, I think, is where Nemor begins to seal his fate. When he brings the Professor back to full assembly, he unkindly makes a slight adjustment and Challenger returns completely hairless - the bristling, Assyrian beard and thick matted thatch of hair do not re-appear and the furious Challenger is within an inch of throttling Nemor until his normal hirsuteness is restored.

Quick discussion between the two erratic geniuses reveals that Nemor has kept no notes and has no assistants, so the only place the secret of the Disintegrator can be found is within his mind; foreign nations may lease working models, but they would never be able to duplicate them. Then Nemor goes another step too far when he gloats wickedly over how his invention could be used as an invincible war weapon. Placing the two terminals of a larger Disintegrator on either side of a battleship or a marching army would mean those men and that vessel would just evaporate and need never be restored. ("Why," he burst into laughter, "I could imagine the whole Thames valley being swept clean, and not one man, woman or child being left of all these teeming millions!")

Challenger doesn't seem moved by those sinister words, agreeing that scientists need not worry about how their discoveries are put to use. But he shortly says he feels a slight electric tingle in the machine as if it is poorly adjusted or flawed somehow. And he slyly gets Nemor to sit down in the chair....

By now, many more pastiches to Sherlock Holmes have appeared than the stories Doyle himself wrote, most of them of an extremely dodgy nature which dilutes the impact of the originals. But I think it is way past due for some whimsical soul to produce a collection of new Professor Challenger stories set in the 1920s.
31 July 2014 @ 01:29 pm
The Mummy ad

This is from 1959, so it's a bit late to demand the ad be redone, but Christopher Lee's Kharis does have eyes, and although he lacks a tongue, he doesn't speak. Just something that bugged me as a kid.

....hmm, I don't like the sound of this. Maybe I should take the laptop in to Best Buy.
30 July 2014 @ 02:01 pm
Jamais Vu

No, sorry, I feel like I've never seen this phrase before.
980911_600hmm.... looks like a Jeff Jones cover.

For some reason, I had difficulty getting through this book and (even now) a lot of it seems vague. I get the feeling that in a short time, most of the incidents will fade from memory without a trace. Now, Norvell W. Page in his day wrote some of the most compelling, flamboyant and irrational pulp adventures ever to make a reader mouth the words, "What the hell?" But come to think of it, by the time he came up with FLAME WINDS and SON OF THE BEAR-GOD, even his Spider novels had lost a lost of their creative spark and were treading water.

Like FLAME WINDS before it, SONS OF THE BEAR-GOD appeared first in 1939 in UNKNOWN (yay! UNKNOWN, one of my favorites pulps!). It's the second installment in the epic of a First Century barbarian warrior who led an adventurous life even Conan would grudgingly respect. Starting out as a gladiator in Alexandria, he wandered off across Asia, leaving huge stacks of victims everywhere in India, China and Mongolia. This huge red-bearded brute was motivated by an astrologer's prophecy that he would win three kingdoms and he fully intended to act on this.

Originally, this walking slaughterhouse was a Scythian named Amlairic, but he came quickly to be known as Wan Tengri, which means "son of the wind spirits" (for he claimed to have the spirits of the upper air as his parents). More interestingly, this itself was a translation of the name by which he was known in the arena... Prester John.

It's a legend not as well remembered today as Camelot or the Wandering Jew, but there was a time when many thousands believed in the legendary Prester John, supposed to be emperor of a vast realm filled with wonders, somewhere in the Orient. The Crusaders had hopes that, if they could somehow get a message to this Christian ruler on the other side of the Holy Land, he would come to their aid with overwhelming armies. No such luck. The story seems to have been just wishful thinking, but those of us who enjoy folklore and legend will feel a little tingle at the name and all it implied.

Norvell Page starts with the traditional legend, but he adds a twist. "Prester" is usually thought to mean "Presbyter" or priest, hence John the Priest. But Page thinks the Greek word originally meant "hurricane", referring to "the violent storms which swept the narrow seas of the Mediterranean", and that the huge carrot-top who awed the crowds at the arena was therefore known as "Hurricane John". It was only late in life, after he settled down on a throne, that his title took its priestly meaning.

What a great promise for a series, the exploits of the young Prester John as he fought his way to establish an empire in Asia. (Think about Talbot Mundy writing this.) Yet, somehow, Page disappoints with these two books. There is certainly enough action and suspense, plenty of color and spectacle, lots of magic and illusion, and some rather clever remarks. But it never really came to life for me. The writing is just too dense, too packed with unnecessary details that disrupt the flow, and the story seems to wander erratically (ah well, many of the later Spider stories suffered from this, too).

Wan Tengri himself just irks me no end. Naturally, being a footloose swordsman trying to start a life of conquest, he can be expected to be bloodthirsty, proud and ambitious; that goes with the career. But this guy is so egotistical that it passes being amusing and just wears thin. His constant bursts of gusty laughter for no perceptible reason make you wonder if there's isn't something basically wrong inside that red-haired skull. I know in real life, soldiers of fortune and would-be conquerors were horrible people, but I get enough of them when reading history. In pulp adventure, a little idealism and heroism in our protagonists is welcome.

Wan Tengri's relationship with his sidekick, a little runt of a wizard named Bourtai, is also unpleasant. The two are not friends or companions at all. Wan Tengri is basically keeping the magician (whom he calls "monkey-face") a captive for his skills at minor spells; Bourtai understandably wants to either escape from this hulk or somehow murder him if he gets a chance. Any number of times, Wan Tengri is either betrayed by Bourtai or is right on the edge of breaking the wizard's neck, and it's not good-natured chaffing, either. These guys hate each other.

My other misgiving is that Wan Tengri (or Prester John, which I prefer) is just so strong and durable and efficient with weapons that he crosses the line of human limits and takes a few more steps after that. Maybe he was really the son of Zeus or something. I grew up reading Doc Savage, Tarzan and Conan, and there were times when I just cranked my suspension of disbelief up another notch and went on the story. Wan Tengri never fights less than half a dozen swordsmen at a time, and he goes through them as if they obligingly stand there with their heads tilted back to be cut off.

Our hero suffers the sort of injuries that in real life would have ER doctors frowning and shaking their heads, but that's part of swords and sorcery fiction. It's when Wan Tengri faces a huge bear in the arena (yes, another arena) and blithely proceeds to break its back using a leather cord, that something in my imagination starts to give off smoke and I have to put the book down for a minute.

On the other hand, probably many readers will have fun with this story. It's certainly energetic and creative. "The Sons of the Bear-God" themselves turn out to be an ancient race of hairy white men who somehow were running around Asia in the dim misty past. These folk under their legendary monarch Tinsunchi worshipped the Heaven-Bear and their descendants went on to populate the islands of Japan. By historic times, the bear worshippers had been nearly wiped out and only survived in small numbers as the mysterious Ainu. (Aha! So that explains those people, eh?)

There are many other neat touches, as when Wan Tengri discovers a strange brass tube with a glass circle on each end, and finds that its magic lets him see farther than his naked eyes. Or the way the king of the bear-worshippers is protected by a metal curtain which has high voltage running through it. Obviously a bit ahead of their time, these proto-Ainu.

Prester John has some sick interesting interpretations of Christian doctrine that might not fly today. Around his neck, he wears a piece of the True Cross (another one?! That thing must have been huge!) which he touches as a defense against black magic. He has made a promise to "Christos" to deliver fifty thousand new worshippers in exchange for occasional help in building his empire. ("It was a fine thing to have a god like Christos who cared only for more worshippers and not a tittle for the loot that might come through the conquest.") Theologians, please address your concerns about his beliefs to Norvell W. Page and not Dr Hermes Reviews™
30 July 2014 @ 01:24 pm
korean propaganda (3)

Checking out some North Korean propaganda from the war, perhaps I should mention that these images are not entirely unfounded or unfair:

Honestly, every war involves massacres and atrocities and horrifying behavior from every side. We should remember this the next time the government and the military starts waving the flag and beating the drums to stir up support to go invade some country. (I guess they're planning on getting us worked up to attack Iran next?)
30 July 2014 @ 01:12 pm
a dam

I believe there is still a bridge out there somewhere that just stops in mid-air.