Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Genie

By Robby Charters

©1997



He had called me out of the blue, and told me he had something important to give me. I hadn't seen him since school days, and now, we were sitting across the table from each other at a rather nice café.
After a sumptuous meal that was thankfully on him, we were all talked out about who of our mutual friends had gone where, who had married who, and when's the last time we saw who-ever, and we were sipping our coffee. He still hadn't broached the subject. It was almost like he was avoiding it.
I finally bit. 'So, what is thing you were talking about?'
He pause, looking at me, almost sheepishly. Then, without saying a word, he reached into the carry case next to him, and pulled out what looked like an ancient brass lamp, and set it on the table between us.
'What is it?' I asked.
'It's been in the family for a while,' he replied.
'An heirloom?'
'You could call it that.'
'And you said you're giving it to me?'
'Yes.'
'You sure? I mean, this could fetch a very good price in an antique shop, or in someone's collection.'
'Things like this, you don't sell,' he said. 'You'll find out soon enough why.'
'But how?'
Now, he paused, and with a slight grin, said, 'Some day, when you have the whole day free, just take it and rub it real good.'
He laughed, sort of nervously. I also laughed, thinking, this has got to be a joke.
He said, 'Really.'
'Of course,' I said, beginning to feel as awkward as he was feeling. I tried to jog my memory for any private jokes we could have had that could explain this gesture.
'You will do it, won't you? I mean, some time, when you've got time, rub it real good.' Now he looked serious. I was beginning to really wonder about him.
'What will happen?'
'You'll find out. You won't believe me if I told you, but just do it.'
'Look, really,' I said, 'This is such a valuable artifact, and we haven't seen each other in such a long time. I can't take this from you, really.'
'No, please.' He put his hand on mine as I held the lamp and looked at me with impassioned eyes.
'Well, okay,' I said.
Finally walking away from the restaurant, I felt disturbed. He obviously seemed well off, and otherwise quite stable. Was he suddenly cracking up under some immense pressure or other?
I got home, and found a nice place to set the lamp, and, to tell you the truth, forgot about it.

I write in my spare time, and have a few pieces that I'm sending around to various publishers and literary agents – so far with limited success. My normal job at that time was as a clerk at a brokerage firm. Those two things kept me quite occupied, so I quite forgot about my lunch with my old classmate.
At times, I allowed my literary interests to run away with me, and when doing work on a real involving piece, it's hard to get my mind off of that when I should be concentrating on my other work. That's sort of what led to my losing my job all of a sudden – well, that and some other financial setbacks that affected the whole firm, which if I were more alert, I could have helped to prevent. Quite a few of us were made redundant, and I was largely held to blame.
This was quite an upset for me. I was now without a job, and with bad prospects of getting another one of this sort, what with the references they were likely to give.
I gave myself over to my writing. In fact, I buried myself in it.

I was shaken to my senses by the arrival of yet another rejection letter, along with the bills for the rent, water, phone, and a statement from the bank showing an ever dwindling account balance.
My savings were getting low.
I just wasn't in the mood to write that day. In fact, I had the whole day ahead of me with nothing to do.
Alone in the house, pacing back and forth across the room, I was in one of my moods, doing weird things on impulse, like shouting, or picking something up, like the toy gun that my young nephew forgot on his last visit, shooting some of the dishes in the china cabinet, and then blowing the imaginary smoke from the barrel.
My eyes lit on the lamp, and remembered my fiends instructions, when I have the whole day free, to rub it well.
Without really thinking about it, with an air of drama, I grabbed the lamp and began rubbing it vigorously.
I was just in the process of saying, 'A good day to you Mr. Genie,' when there, right in front of me stood a real genie.
'And a good day to you too, Mr. O'Brien,' he answered back. 'I am at your service for this day only. Ask for what you wish, and I will accommodate you – within reason of course.'
The only way I can describe him is to say that he looked like the cross between a story-book genie, and an angelic being, and a tooth fairy. Apart from that, there's no way to even remotely describe him.
Needless to say, I was in a state of shock. My throat was dry, and I reeled backwards until I collapsed on the settee.
The genie bent over me. Contrary to what the storybooks say, I felt no inclination to pinch myself to see if I were awake. The image before me was so real, and yet so other-worldly, that there was no question of my being awake or asleep. Real dreams don't affect one like this.
'What is it you wish me to do for you?' asked the genie.
'– I need a drink –' was all I could manage.
Instantly there was a glass of water in his hand which he gently brought to my lips.
That water was the most refreshing water I have ever tasted. It wasn't bottled water from the newsagent's, and it wasn't from the taps. Its effect was to bring me into a more stable frame of mind.
Finally, as though the genie were a visitor who had dropped in for a chat, I indicated for the genie to sit in the armchair. He did so.
'So, what brings you to my humble abode?' I asked.
'You rubbed the lamp, just as your most excellent friend from school days asked you to do, so I am here at your bequest.'
'So, are you my servant for always?'
'Oh! By no means! Only for today. Ask me anything within reason, and I will see about accomplishing it.'
'Within reason?'
'Well,' he said, 'For instance, we don't want the local economy to go spinning into hyper-inflation, now, do we!'
'Oh!' I said, not expecting such technical expertise from a genie. 'So if I asked for a Swiss bank account containing about ten billion US dollars, would that be going beyond the reasonable limit?'
The genie thought awhile.
'My sources tell me,' he said finally, 'that there is such a bank account that once belonged to a close relative to the Czar, who died without leaving any heir, or anyone to transact his business matters. Is it your wish to obtain the said account?'
'By all means, yes!'
'Right then,' he said. 'Some papers relating to the said account with your name on them have just been dropped on the desk of the one who will handle this matter. You will be notified tomorrow, when my service has terminated.'
'When your service is – terminated?'
'As I said, I'm only at your service for one day – twenty four hours.'
'That's right,' I said, remembering he had said that already.
I began considering the position in which I found myself. I had a genie for the day. I had just wished for, and been granted (so he said) a bank account containing ten billion US dollars. That is quite a sum, capable of buying anything that can be bought with money. What more could I wish for?
Then I said, 'Why don't we solve the world hunger problem?'
'That,' said the genie, 'Is beyond what I'm authorised to do. World hunger, national turmoil and things like that must be solved without help from the likes of me. They require resources that have already been entrusted to mankind. I'm only authorised to grant selfish desires.'
That sounded so noble, and yet, I was taken by surprise by the word 'selfish.'
As if to answer my thoughts, he said, 'Oh, before the day's out, you may be in a less selfish frame of mind, and with your ten billion dollar bank account, you'll be in a good position to start getting that job done yourself.'
However, the prospect of using my bank account to solve such problems wasn't quite as exciting as that of using the genie's special powers.
Finally, I said, 'I haven't had anything to eat yet. How about a meal fit for a king?'
'Which king?'
'Does it matter?'
'Well, yes. The British monarchy eats one way, the king of Thailand eats a different diet, various African kings...'
'Okay, okay,' I interrupted. 'I'll go British.'
'Fine. How about the exact same menu that the queen is scheduled to have for brunch today?'
'Okay!'
I won't go into detail about what I had, but it was some of the finest food I ever tasted, and yet in such small portions that I had to ask for seconds. That was granted of course. I realised afterwards that it's quite likely that royals eat to mind their weight. It's just that I didn't feel like doing that just then.
Leaning back in my chair, I tried to think of what else I could wish for that my ten billion dollars wouldn't buy.
'I'd like to see the Orion nebula from up close. Could you arrange that?' I asked finally.
'Yes. I could confine you in a bubble of artificial atmosphere, and take you there.'
The next thing I knew, I was suspended in something like a transparent sphere, and we were moving at breath-taking speed through the universe.
I can only say here that it was better than a planetarium show, or even a film show with special computerised effects. The nebula looked even more awesome in real life than in any of the photographs I've ever seen. We even came close to being right inside it.
After that, I asked to see a black hole, which the genie consented to do from a safe distance so as not to be sucked in. Then, we went to view a quasar. That was even more awesome. I can therefore tell you many things about quasars, black holes and nebulae that astronomers don't even know. I've even left some astronomers quite amazed at some of the things I knew that they had only just begun to discover. However, they still won't believe I met a real genie.
All this, of course, took quite a long time. By then, I was hungry again.
'How about taking me to the finest café on the French Riviera?'
So he did.
We sat and I enjoyed another great meal. I tried to ask the genie more about himself. I began to notice that he had such an impersonal attitude.
'You must enjoy going to all these places,' I said.
'It's a job.'
'I mean, all that universe up there!'
'Oh, it's marvellous, but I see it everyday.'
There didn't seem to be much that would impress him.
'Why don't you help yourself to a sandwich?' I offered.
'To tell you the truth,' he began, 'For me to attempt to enjoy myself with any of these would be the same as you trying to gain the same enjoyment from day-dreaming about something you wished for.'
'Then how do you enjoy yourself?'
'Where I live, things aren't like this.'
'But don't you live inside the lamp?'
'Oh! Goodness no! I only appear when someone rubs the lamp as you did, and then, only once in their lifetime! No, I spend most of my days in our world.'
I had been trying to think of some more wishes on which to spend the rest of the allotted genie-time.
'Take me to your world,' I said.
'Now, that will be a difficult one,' he said, now rubbing his eyebrows. 'It's so different there that I don't think you'll cope.'
'Try me,' I said defiantly.
'I can take you only as far as my sitting room.'
'Okay, let's go.'
Immediately, we were at a place which I can only describe in sketchy detail. It wasn't really like a room, yet there was furniture – a few pieces anyway. The remarkable thing was, everything was alive! Even the furniture! Everything greeted the genie as we entered.
The genie greeted each piece and then introduced me to the easy chair, to the coffee table, and to what looked like a huge video monitor, and to some other objects, including some books and magazines on the coffee table. They all greeted me heartily, as though I were a guest in their house.
I noted that the genie, himself, began to change his composure ever so slightly from one of detachment to warmth – at least tofwards the objects in the room.
The genie invited me to sit down, and the chair confirmed the invitation.
At first it had looked something like an overstuffed armchair. When I sat in it, however, it conformed to the exact shape I needed at that moment, and then began massaging me! For several days, I had been having back pains, but the chair began rubbing me in the exact spot I was hurting. For as long as I was there, sitting in that chair, I was always in the position I needed to be in, not because I changed position, but the chair itself moved me around to the position I needed. At times, it even threw me up a foot in the air, so that I would land in a way that would soothe whatever part of me hit the chair first.
I turned to the genie, and said, 'I wish for one of these chairs.'
'I'm sorry. I cannot give away my friends.'
Then, he handed me a tray full of some of the most delicious pastries I have ever seen.
'Oh, I couldn't. I just ate,' I protested.
'But you mustn't offend these dear cakes,' said the genie.
'Yes,' said one of the cakes. 'You must eat at least one of us!'
I was shocked! Eat something that talks to me?
'You must understand,' said the genie, 'these cakes live to be eaten. Their crowning moment is when they are chewed up and go gliding down a person's throat.'
'But – these are living things! They'll die!'
'Ah yes, you being from the world underneath, where concepts of life and death have become distorted and therefore obsessed with extending life for as long as you can hold on to it. These cakes, however, live and long for the moment for which they were made, and that is to give enjoyment to the one chosen to partake of them.'
'They don't want to live a long life?'
'On the contrary. The saddest food I've ever met was a steak and kidney pie that had lived over a week, and therefore grown stale and lost its ability to bring joy to the eater by its freshness. It was a miserable thing! It even made me weep. It's hope revived somewhat, however, when I went to feed it to the dog. At least the dog could still enjoy it so that made the poor dear pie happy once again.'
I was still hesitant. This was foreign to anything I had ever conceived of.
The chair and the coffee table joined in to induce me to eat. 'Oh! Do have at least one piece! You'll make them ever so happy!'
The back of the chair pushed me forward towards the tray. The coffee table stretched and moved the tray closer to my reach.
'The fact that you're from the other world makes it even more a privilege,' said the genie. 'Don't let them down!'
Feeling quite on the spot, I finally reached for a piece; whereupon a cheer rose up from the entire tray and a squeal of utter delight came from the bun I selected.
The noises emitting from the chocolate éclair I picked up certainly didn't help things as far as I was concerned. I finally took the first bite fully expecting a cry of pain. Instead, came a cry of joy. I could even hear the piece I had bitten off laughing and shouting inside my mouth as I chewed. Every chew produced more cries of delight, until finally its laughter faded down my throat.
I had to admit that it was certainly a delicious éclair. By time I had finished that, the revulsion had been replaced by a sort of curious enjoyment. Next, I picked up a cream-puff. More squeals of delight, but this time, slightly different. Each cake not only had its own flavour, but also a personality of its own.
I ate several pieces. It was becoming rather fun – like feeding animals at the zoo, but in reverse.
Being somewhat satisfied, my attention turned to some of the other things. The genie was still there, but standing around with that sort of detached air about him – except that he interacted with the furniture and the cakes, and had a more jovial spirit about him as though he were among his own.
The books and magazines intrigued me. I picked up a book – a sort of special interest tome one finds on coffee tables – and it opened all by itself. It was about mushrooms of all sorts, except they were obviously not mushrooms you would find on the earth. The book told me so. There were no words in the book, but the book spoke to me, and the illustrations were all moving pictures.
I have never been interested in mushrooms, and would never have even bothered to look at any book on the subject on the earth, but this was a totally new experience.
The pages turned by themselves at the exact moment I would have turned them myself, and the voice of the book would say things like, 'Here we have a field mushroom. They usually keep to themselves, but they're really quite pleasant once you get to know them. They go best in a salad, as they get along quite well with the lettuce. In fact, given the right ingredients, such as cheese and an oil and vinegar dressing, this mushroom readily merges its personality with the rest to make one very pleasant dish, and is generally quite talkative and erudite on many subjects. On the next page, we see a tree mushroom. As you can see, they become emotionally attached to the tree on which they grow, and only consent to be picked if you promise to serve them up with fruit of some sort. The tree, of course, enjoys the company of the mushroom...'
I could actually hear the tree and the mushrooms in the illustration conversing with one another.
At one point, I forgot myself and asked a question which the book readily answered. Later, I asked a question which was a little bit out of the range of that volume, and a magazine on the coffee table suddenly opened up. The book said, 'The Weekly Journal of Botanical Science should answer that question for you.' At that, I became engrossed in what that had to say.
After a while, my attention drifted to the thing that looked like a video monitor. Noticing my attention, the thing spoke:
'Anything you care to see?'
'What do you show?' I asked.
'Just anything you like!'
'Well – I've always wanted to see the Episode Seven of Star Wars.'
'Oh! Come now! Of course I could show you that, but then, you can see that any time you please! After all, you're coming into ten billion dollars, are you not? Why, you could buy yourself a whole cinema!'
I was taken aback that the video monitor knew all about my situation.
'Then what can you show me that I couldn't see myself?'
'Do you want fantasy, or real life?' asked the video monitor.
'Fantasy,' I answered. I do enjoy the fantasy genre.
However, I was unprepared for what immediately came on the screen. It was, in fact, some of the fantasies I actually entertained.
The first scene was inside of a publishing house, in a particular room that I always conceived was where manuscripts are reviewed and either rejected or accepted. At the desk was a teenage girl chewing gum and casually leafing through a pile of manuscripts and synopsis. She'd pick up one, and glance at the title and author, and usually say something like, 'This guy's a bore,' or 'Him again!' or simply heave a sigh, throwing the manuscript into the reject pile.
As she was doing that with yet another manuscript, a superior walked slowly to her desk. Just as the girl dropped the manuscript onto the reject pile, the superior grabbed it, saying, 'Come now! You're hardly reading these at all!'
The superior looked at the manuscript. It happened to be one of mine. He read the first paragraph.
'Now this guy can write!' he told the girl. 'How many of these has he sent you?'
'Only about ten,' said the girl.
'And you've never once sent anything by this obviously tallented writer to my desk?' He then proceeded to give her a sound brow beating, and then fired her. That left me with a feeling of gratification.
Walking into the other room with my manuscript, the superior said to his colleagues, 'I've just uncovered a gold-mine! Here, look at this!'
The rest of that scene was that of all the office personnel looking over one another's shoulders reading my manuscript with comments like, 'This guy can write!' and 'Why haven't we heard of this guy before?'
The scene changed, and I saw two old school friends walking into a book shop. There, facing them on a book rack was a book with my name on the cover.
'Hey! Look at that!' said one of the two, as the cover of the book caught his eye.
'That isn't the same Boz O'Brien we knew, is it?' said the other.
One of them picked the book up and looked at the back cover. There, on the back was my picture in a dignified pose flashing a toothy smile.
'I can't believe it!' he said.
'And I didn't think the guy would amount to anything!' said the other.
The first one had opened randomly to a section I was particularly proud of having composed.
'I never though he had it in him!' he was saying.
'Some people are late bloomers, I guess,' said the other.
Walking to the cashier, each with a copy of my book, one of them was saying, 'Whatever – he's obviously out-bloomed the rest of us!'
The scene changed again, and there was an old school teacher telling how he had greatly underestimated me. Other scenes showed me appearing on talk-shows along side well known rock-and-role stars and actors, who were gawking in my presence. In yet others, well know politicians were talking about me, and how they should call me in for consultation on issues I had addressed in my book.
Needless to say, I was immensely enjoying the show. The very things I had visualised were happening right here before my eyes. My sense of justice was being gratified. It was as though things I felt were true all along were being confirmed, including that maxim, 'Truth is stranger than fiction.' The phrase, 'Too good to be true,' was obviously an antiquated proverb fit only for the literary dustbins.
Just for further verification, I asked the video, 'This is all in the future, right?'
'Oh! Dear me! You did say you wanted fantasy, didn't you?'
That was my first clue.
'Well – I guess I did.'
'Would you like me to switch to 'real world' mode?'
'I guess,' I said hesitantly.
'Before I can go into any other 'real world' images, it's necessary to go back through the fantasies we've pictured, and replace them with their corresponding realistic images,' said the video. 'We'll begin with the last one we viewed.'
Immediately, I saw a repeat of the last image, which was one the scenes with the politicians and heads of state. However, instead of praising me and deciding they must call me for consultation, they were saying things like, 'It's that Boz O'Brien again. He thinks he knows our job better than we do,' and, 'If I could round up all of these crack pots, like this O'Brien guy, and force them to take my job for one day, then they'd see for themselves whether this is an easy job or not.'
When it came to the talk shows, instead of me stealing the show with my sage wisdom, the other guests, which included rock-and-roll stars and actors were grilling me on what they considered quaint or politically incorrect ideas. Since public debate is not my strong point – I have many a time lost an argument with my boss by my inability to properly defend myself on the spot, only to realise later what I really ought to have said – I was being made to look like a total fool on the TV screen.
On the other hand, since the fantasies had followed a progressive sequence, each new 'real' image I now saw brought a sense of relief that at least the previous humiliation couldn't possibly happen. For instance, being humiliated on national television, at least meant that the politicians would certainly not give me even a second thought. The next few scenes rendered any appearance on television also out of the question.
The two old class mates walking into the book shop, this time took a look at my book, and said:
'That Boz's book?'
'Looks like it.'
'I always thought writing was his strong point.'
'Yeah, but I never cared for the subjects he chose.'
'Doesn't look like he did much better on this one either.'
They both walked off without buying a copy.
Then came the scene that even put the stops on that one. This time, it was a couple of level headed editors sitting in an office reviewing several manuscripts.
'It seems like everyone's trying to write about the same old thing.'
'Yeah. Plenty of talent. In fact, too much talent. I just wish that either more of them would launch out in something more out of the ordinary, or else we would have the guts to go ahead on one of the really way out ones.'
'You mean like this one?' picking up my manuscript.
'Yeah – well – good writer and all that, but...'
'I know. Just a little bit out of touch some how.'
Again, my manuscript ended up in the reject pile.
By now I felt like a deflated balloon. Now, up came a new scene.
This time, I saw my entrance with the genie into the sitting room where I was presently. Everything happened just as I remembered it, except, instead of looking out from inside of my head, I was looking at me from the outside. Other than that, there was no change from what I clearly remembered happening, apart from the feeling one usually gets when looking at a video of one's self, a sort of embarrassment.
After a while, something began to disturb me about the scene. It suddenly reminded me of a young child on his birthday, absorbed only in his own enjoyment. My host, the genie was standing up to one side as I sat in his chair, taking him for granted as a child would his parents or teacher. The pastries with their personalities clamoured for my interaction while I acted like a child feeding animals at the zoo. Finally, there was me, indulging in the video showing of my fantasies, with the look of one easily giving in to flattery. All through this scene, I did my best to convince myself that this impression wasn't really accurate – that it was just the impression one always gets when looking at videos of oneself.
However, I could make no such rationalisation about the scenes that followed.
Now, I saw some of my present friends saying things like, 'He just stays cooped up in his house writing his books,' 'What is he anyway? Too good for our society?' and, 'Whatever can he find to write about if he never gets out and around!'
Some of the scenes where from the period before I lost my job. Fellow employees were saying, 'He's got good ideas, but I think he doesn't even know how to relate to people,' and, 'I think he's been a bit out of touch lately – living in a dream world.'
Suddenly, things started to make sense – though not the sense I wanted it to make. A definite pattern was beginning to show. Now, I felt sick.
Just then, the video monitor said, 'That's probably enough for now, wouldn't you say?'
He was right.
The chair said, 'Sit back and relax a bit.'
I realised I had been sitting on the edge for the past few minutes, and my back was getting tired. I sat back, and immediately my back began to feel better. But the rest of me didn't.
After a few moments, it suddenly occurred to me to say, 'Thank you – er – chair.'
'Oh! Don't mention it. You know I thoroughly enjoy doing this.'
'Yeah, but – well, I appreciate it just the same.'
'Thank you. I'm glad you told me that.' I could sense a note of genuine appreciation in the chair's voice. I started feeling better.
I noticed the genie still standing off to one side with his hands behind his back, looking off in a different direction.
'Genie,' I said, 'You've been standing up all this time. You should sit down.'
'Well, yes, come to think of it...'
I began to stand up.
'No! No, no!' said the genie. 'There's room for two of us there, isn't there, chair?'
'Why of course there is!'
The chair suddenly began to widen to become something like a settee, and the genie took a seat opposite me.
'You know, Genie,' I began again, 'I really appreciate you bringing me here to your own home. I mean, I'm sure this isn't the usual thing for a genie to do, and –'
The genie looked at me in a way he hadn't all day, no longer with that detached look. That warmed me further inside.
'Oh! Don't mention it. Why – here, there's still more of these buns left!'
He handed me the tray, and again the pastries began to squeal with delight at the prospect of being eaten.
I picked one, but this time, I held it for just a second or two, noticing the joy radiating from the apple tart.
'You look delicious!' I said.
'Oh! I hope I am! I hope I am!'
I put it in my mouth, and began to enjoy the fact that I was giving the apple tart its ultimate fulfilment in life.
The genie helped himself to a few, and I had a few more. Now, we were talking about things that probably weren't very important, but we enjoyed talking. I was eating the pastries, but not as a child in a zoo, but the pastries and myself were mutually enjoying one anther. All this seemed to be refilling that same part of me that had been drained completely empty from watching the scenes on the video monitor – only now it was something more solid.
Suddenly, I thought about the time. I looked at my watch.
'Oh dear! Isn't our twenty four hours up?'
'Oh! Don't worry about time!' said the genie. 'I'm just beginning to enjoy this!'
'But you said I could be with you only one day!'
'That is, I'm only legally required to serve you for twenty-four hours. If you and I both want to do something beyond that, that's up to us, isn't it!'
I laughed with delight.
'I know,' he said. 'Why don't we go pick some mushrooms!'
I told him I thought that was a lovely idea.
I cannot begin to describe the beauty of the countryside we encountered. It far surpassed any landscape I had ever seen on the earth. We picked several kinds of mushrooms, including field mushrooms, which the genie proposed making into a salad when we got back; and some tree mushrooms, whom we promised we would serve up with fruit, which we did. We enjoyed one another thoroughly; had wonderful conversations with the salad on a number of erudite topics, as we ate it; listened to the tree mushrooms' fond memories of their trees (they also compared notes with the fruit); and we topped that off with the remaining pastries. The video monitor then showed us some other types of shows which I won't even try to describe here. All in all, the genie, the chair, the coffee table and books, the video monitor, our food and myself all had a wonderful time.
At one point, an idea popped into my head. I turned to the video monitor and asked, 'I don't suppose you could show Back to the Future Four could you?'
'I suppose I could,' he said.
I wondered how he would pull it off, as any further sequels of that film would have to explain why 2015 has come and gone, and flying cars still weren't a reality.
The film opened sort of like a documentary about the history of hover-cars. The inventor, it seemed, was searching for a way to help his young brother who had been crippled in an accident. His search for a way to give him mobility was what led to hover technology, which was later applied to motor vehicles and skateboards.
The film showed the scene of the accident, a white Rolls Royce, a black pick-up truck, an ambulance nearby, with paramedics surrounding the young boy. Others were assisting Marty McFly, who had injured his hand, and was looking suitably horrified at what had just happened. Suddenly the action sped into reverse. The boy flew back into the car, the black pick-up up-righted itself and sped backwards, while the white Rolls Royce glided backwards into the side road. Finally, there was Marty McFly at the wheel of his new car, and Needles, in the other car, challenging him to a road race. Again in forward motion, the action proceeded, but as it did at the end of Back to the Future III, in which the accident didn't happen.
I don't know if the film will ever be made or not, but I won't give any spoilers – just in case.
By the end of the film I was getting tired. After all, I had been up for well over twenty four hours – although the chair had helped to offset quite a lot of the fatigue. The genie took me home by the scenic route, and showed me other parts of the universe that not even astronomers know about.
Finally, we ended up in my kitchen. It was late at night.
'You know, I'd offer you a cup of tea if I thought you'd enjoy it,' I said.
'Actually, I would,' said the genie.
'But – I thought you...'
'Come! Back there on the French Riviera, there wasn't much to enjoy. Here, I'll heat the water and you get the cups.'
I got the cups, and also the biscuit tin.
'I'm afraid these biscuits don't talk, but..'
'Oh! Never mind,' he interrupted. 'You and me can do enough talking for all of us. That's what eating is for, really, isn't it!'
Suddenly, I was beginning to see that there indeed wasn't so much to be enjoyed at the French Riviera cafe, or in the queen's brunch. In fact, there wasn't much to be enjoyed in anything I had been so concerned about in the last – I don't know how long.
We had our tea and biscuits, and the genie finally departed. I went to bed and slept soundly.
The next morning, I was awakened by a phone call.
'Hello?'
'Is this Mr. O'Brien?'
'Yes?'
'This is the Banque of Commerce and Fidelity in Zurich. I've been trying to get a hold of you since yesterday. It seems that the late Count Zorrokoff ...'
'Oh – that. Listen, could you call me much later? I'm really tired right now.'
I hung up and went back to sleep.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Farmer Giles of Ham Farmer Giles of Ham by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A hero on his own terms

Lovers of Tolkien's books on Middle Earth could do well to take a break and relax with a story that he told to his children at bedtime. This story takes place in the "Middle Kingdom" of old England, when the Island was divided between various small kingdoms, dragons and giants ruled the north, and choices of a weapon ranged from enchanted swords to a blunderbuss. Oh yes -- and dogs could talk, though their vocabulary was generally restricted to the vernacular.

Farmer Giles is a humble farmer who just wants to get on with business at hand, which is to bring in the crops, keep the larder well stocked and get a good sleep at night. His night time peace is broken when his dog, Garm, begins barking and babbling on about a giant that has stepped on his prize cow. So, Giles loads his blunderbuss and goes out to see what's going on...

And what's a blunderbuss?

"A blunderbuss is a kind of big fat gun with a mouth that opens wide like the end of a horn, and it goes off with a terrible bang, and sometimes it hits what you are aiming at." That's a quote from the second version, based on what Tolkien's daughter remembers of her bed time story. This edition contains both versions, as well as an unfinished sequel -- the first few paragraphs and some sketchy notes on how the story would have gone from there.

Back to the giant. The farmer falls over backwards as soon as the giants head appears over the hill, the gun goes off, and a piece of scrap metal from the barrel hits the giant on the nose. Being near-sighted, and having no clue that there are people living in these parts, he thinks it's a stinging fly, so he turns around and goes back home. Garm, the farmer's dog, runs through town announcing that his master has single handedly driven away the giant, and Giles becomes the hero.

That's just the beginning. Next is the story of the dragon, where Giles again becomes the unwilling hero. But hero he is, so he's a hero on his own terms, much to the chagrin of the king and the knights of the realm. Tolkien, a storyteller on his own terms, brings it to a delightfully satisfying "happily ever after".

Among my favourite characters is the dog, Garm. He's exactly what I imagine a dog would be if dogs could talk. The old mare and the dragon are also well cast. In all, it's a great read.

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Israel had twins, their names were Christianity and Islam...

...perhaps not in the sense that we normally think; they were born 600 years apart. The elder twin, Christianity wasn't called by that name at first. It was the local street urchins and the bullies who began calling him that as a taunt. They kept it up for so long that soon he was calling himself that, and the name stuck.
At first, Christianity took after his mother, which meant he reflected the two divine attributes, Justice and Mercy -- also known as Holiness and Love. In fact, he reflected them so well that the mother became jealous, and he began to find it difficult to live in the same house with her. This was also due to the fact that Israel's husband had called, dressed as a beggar; and she, failing to recognise Him, had turned him away. However the son had recognised him, and they stayed in communication. He promised the child that one day, they would all be reunited.
As time went on, the son could no longer stand to live in the same house as his mother, and left home. About that time, the house was seized and the mother also had to leave. They became a broken family.
Cut off from his mother's influence, Christianity began to emphasise the divine attribute of Love and Mercy, neglecting that of Justice and Holiness -- receiving only the new and rejecting the old. He also began to emulate the neighbourhood boys in other ways, and was soon unrecognisable as the son of his mother.
This was truly sad, as the child had been destined to reign as a prince alongside his mother, a queen, and his father, King Messiah. This would bring perfect balance to the universe, however it couldn't happen, because the child who was to be prince was away from home, and his character was becoming increasingly unbalanced. Even as it was, the mantel of “Prince of the Universe” was still on the child, and as such, his imbalance also affected the universe.
What happened next was not the original plan of Him who was to reign as King, but it was as though nature were correcting the imbalance. He allowed it to happen, knowing that it would bring about his purpose in the end, and in the mean time, there would be a semblance of balance in the universe. So, because of the imbalance in the cosmos, a twin was born. Just as the older twin was the son of Abraham through faith, the younger was also a son, through Ishmael. That twin's name was Islam.
Everything that the elder twin rejected, the younger twin embraced. The elder child had clung to mercy at the expense of justice, so the younger twin clung to justice, but rejected mercy. The elder twin had become careless in describing the Holy Trinity, giving the impression that he believed in three gods instead of One God manifested as three persons. The younger twin responded with, “That's polytheism! There is only one God,” and rejected the Trinity. The elder child had begun to describe the doctrine of the Incarnation and Virgin Birth in a pagan sort of way, as though God had intimate relations with Mary to give birth to Messiah, thus His title, the “Son of God”. The younger brother was repulsed by this idea, and retorted, “No! God cannot have children!”
Never-the-less, the younger twin did believe in the Messiah, even acknowledging that He was the Word of God, not realising that that's what the term, “Son of God” really meant in the first place. But he didn't believe in the crucifixion and the resurrection, because those were the ultimate expressions of Mercy. In essence, he had rejected Mercy because his elder brother had so distorted it by divorcing it from Justice. However, his own understanding of Justice was likewise distorted.
It was truly a broken family, and all nature wept. The mother, having fled from her home and living wherever she could, was tormented and persecuted by both of her children – when they weren't too busy fighting each other.
Then, one day the first child had an awakening. He began to realise what a horrible son he had been, and began, by degrees, returning to his mother. The mother's heart also began to open to her son. The son asked her, “Please, remind me of the truths I've neglected this past 2000 years, like Justice the Fear of the Lord.”
As the mother began to open up to her child, her eyes also opened to King Messiah, whom she had once turned away from her door when he came dressed as a beggar. He had been communicating with the elder twin from a distance all along, but the child had not been very good at remembering all that he told him, and didn't know how to mix the new with the old. But now that the King was revealing Himself more directly, the elder son also began to think more clearly and understand the will of the King, and the divine attributes of Justice and Mercy.
Another thing began to happen: the more the older child embraced the more balanced view, his twin began to fade away as his soul began to merge with that of his older brother. Soon, they were no longer two separate twins, but one child. Only a shell of the younger twin's body remained, sort of like a zombie that continued to put up a fight until it disintegrated. There were also other zombies, clones of the mother and elder child that had spawned when the reunion came. For a short time, all the zombies joined forces in an attempt to devour the Queen and the Prince, trying to bring about a zombie apocalypse. That was short-lived, and soon total harmony was restored in the universe as King Messiah reigned with the Queen and the Prince for the rest of eternity.

Image: By William Fraser [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, December 17, 2015


Subtitled: Deep Healing Needed

HEAL NOT LIGHTLY, as the title suggests, is a book about healing – not light healing that might be applied with antiseptic cream, or a sticky-plaster or band-aid, but a deep one, that might require the skill of a surgeon. More often than not, problems between ethnic groups fit into the latter category. This book takes a look under the surface of what have been called “The Troubles” of Northern Ireland, and Harry Smith finds a few areas requiring the deeper sort of healing.

One of these is the Ulster Covenant, which was the response of the Protestants of Northern Ireland in 1912 to the proposed Home Rule Bill that had been submitted to the British Parliament, and looked like was going to become law. This would have placed all of Ireland, North and South, under an autonomous parliament in Dublin.

This was good news to the Irish Catholic community, whose experience of British rule had been quite turbulent and often traumatic. However, the Protestants community in Ireland didn't share the same historical perspective. There were other issues.

Among the biggest was that such a parliament would have a Catholic majority. The Protestant community who had migrated to Ireland in large numbers during the times of Queen Elizabeth I, James I, and William of Orange to serve as their political pawns, would suddenly find themselves in the minority. It was rightly believed that the Dublin government would be heavily influenced by the Catholic Church. A common slogan was, “Home rule is Rome rule”. If that seems far-fetched, remember that religious freedom was not taken for granted in Europe then as it is now. Also, those were the days before the Vatican II council, which liberalised the Catholic Church's position towards non-Catholics (however, even now, there are many Protestants who regard these changes as strictly cosmetic).

So, many Protestants feared the worst. The Protestants of Northern Ireland, primarily under the leadership of the Presbyterian, Church of Ireland and the Methodist churches, banded together and signed a document called the Ulster Covenant. In this, they swore not to submit to Home Rule, and in the event that it was forced on them, to resist, taking up arms if necessary. Some prominent Ulster Protestants signed it with their blood. This covenant has been the basis of Northern Irish identity ever since.

The first chapter of the book contains numerous statements in the press by various church leaders, politicians, editors and others regarding the danger that was eminent, and the necessity of every Protestant who values his history and his freedom as a British subject. Just reading them gives one a sense of the atmosphere that prevailed. In all, around 250,000 men signed the covenant – with a similar number of women signing a supporting document.

Harry Smith also goes into some more background, relating how former Moderators of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland utilised the Scottish National Covenant of 1638 to unite people politically and spiritually against the Home Rule Bill.

The Scottish National Covenant was a vow of solidarity, which established Scotland as a Christian nation under God with their Presbyterian values, in their resistance to attempts at control by the Church of England. In effect, it was a reminder to God whose side He was on. It was even said that in the same way that God had once regarded the Israelites as His chosen people, whom He had now rejected under the New Covenant, He now regarded the Scottish nation. In other words, Supersessionism, or Replacement Theology was a cornerstone of Covenant terminology.

Then, we read details of how, during the times of James I and William of Orange, Scottish Protestants were offered land in Ireland from which Irish Catholics had been forcibly removed. They regarded this as their divine mandate, and that later became the basis of the Ulster Covenant.

So, whose side was God on? Reading all the press statements in the first chapter compels one to consider that a covenant may have seemed like a good idea at the time. In fact, one would have been considered a traitor – an enemy of God – for opposing it. But was it really a good idea? The song by Bob Dylan, “With God on Our Side” comes to mind.

Harry Smith believes that the Ulster Covenant is now one of the biggest hindrance to peace in Northern Ireland.

But, you ask, didn't the Good Friday Agreement bring peace? There still exist huge fences crossing whole sections of Belfast, which are referred to as the “peace wall”. They are, in fact, proof that there isn't peace, otherwise, why would we need walls to separate us? That actually fits with the same passage in Jeremiah 8:11 from which Harry Smith took the title: "They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace."

God showed Harry Smith that it is like a log-jam that holds back the flow of His Spirit - like the river mentioned in Ezekiel chapter 47, which brought healing to the land. Repentance at Church government and personal levels are essential for the removal of this log-jam so as to release the river of God.

To achieve peace in Northern Ireland, Protestants in Northern Ireland must renounce the Ulster Covenant, and the Nationalist community must renounce the Sinn Fein Covenant (that was signed a few years later); let go of our political agendas, and trust God to direct the future according to His plan.

There are also chapters on intercessory prayer, a helpful exposition on the basis for believers' authority, and many practical guidelines on how to seek God's plan for a city or a nation, with particular emphasis on Ireland. Even if it were just for those aspects, it's a worthwhile read.

If you're interested in ethnic reconciliation and want to understand more clearly, what you're up against, definitely, get this book.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Subtitled: Humanity Can't Be Trusted

It's classical science fiction. I read it in 1969 when I was about 13 years old, but re-reading it now, I realise how much of it was away over my head. Not only has my head changed since then, but so have the times. Yet, the message comes out very clear in a way that only became popular later on: Humanity can't be trusted.

Robert Fairlie is an expert in languages, ancient and modern. He has been asked to help with a project for what he thought was the Smithsonian Institution. Instead, on disembarking at the air terminal, he's picked up and driven to a top secret facility in the New Mexico desert.

I suppose you guessed it -- it's a pre-Neil Armstrong we've-landed-on-the-moon story. On the moon, they made a shocking discovery: someone's been there already. Thousands of years ago, actually. There are the ruins of what was a space port and evidence that it was destroyed in an attack. Enough relics are found to enable scientists to recreate one of their space ships, but no one understands how they work, or where they're from. There's documentation, but in a totally unknown language. Also, voice recordings that play back on a strange machine they happened to find in one piece. That's why Robert Fairlie and other linguists were drafted.

Deciphering a language with no known references is nearly impossible. Almost ready to give up, Robert tries one more idea that has been plaguing him. Some of the syntax of the language reminded him of ancient Sumerian. He follows that lead, and sure enough...

The ancient astronauts are the ancestors of humanity -- Earth humanity, that is. Humans didn't start on Earth. What's more, they locate the original planet of humanity. Now able to read the how-to manuals, they get the ship into working order. The bulk of the narrative is the trip to a planet across the galaxy. Of course, Robert Fairlie has to go along, as someone has to talk to the people there.

One question remains, which is why the project seems so urgent. Who destroyed the base on the moon? Who was the enemy even more advanced and high tech than the ancestors of the Sumerians?

Before it became a Hollywood scriptwriter's cliche, Edmond Hamilton characterised DeWitt as the military heavyweight who's going to run roughshod over any obstacle to American interests. Christensen is the more level headed scientist who knows that there are more important things at stake. If it seems like an old and dusty scenario, give him the benefit. It was a much more fresh and daring thing way to express when Edmond Hamilton wrote it in 1960. When I first read it, America was still the good guy, playing the hero in Vietnam, "with God on our side". Military men were always depicted as knights in shining armour. Think John Wayne. Contrary to one of the other reviews I've read on the Amazon review page, it wasn't a tired cliche when Hamilton wrote it.

As it is, Hamilton presented a very well narrated story of human imperialism then and now. Who destroyed the base on the moon? Someone who knew that humanity couldn't be trusted.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Review of Iranaeus' The Proof Of The Apostolic Preaching

Subtitled: Towards a much more simple and basic theology
Find it hard to get your head around Calvinism, Armenianism, Original Sin, Predestination and other focal points of Augustinian theology? Try simplifying things by shifting your focus to much earlier in history -- the time of Irenaeus.

Mind you, St. Augustine was a deserving of the honour of sainthood. His dedication and devotion to God are exemplary, and his testimony of his conversion is a great inspiration. The story of his mother's dedication and unceasing prayer is especially inspiring.

But his Bible teaching....?

St. Augustine lived in the fourth century, was heavily influenced by his Greek style education -- though he never learned the Greek language. In other words, he based his theology on the Latin scriptures (with all their translation errors), and used his Greek style reasoning to interpret it. Many of the doctrines that he passed down to us, we are hard put to find in the writings of earlier Church Fathers.

St. Irenaeus, on the other hand, lived in the second century. He was well versed in the Greek scriptures in their original (or closer to the original) texts, but interpreted it in the Hebraic style rather than Greek. In fact, he was the pupil of St. Polycarp, who was the pupil of St.John.

A great piece of work is St. Irenaeus' THE PROOF OF THE APOSTOLIC PREACHING. He goes systematically through what the early believers had received directly from the Apostles. Free will vs determinism wasn't even a question yet. Original Sin isn't mentioned, nor alluded to. Instead, the emphasis is on death and resurrection. Sin -- or disobedience -- resulted in death. Jesus came to bring life, and the resurrection.

Overall, you'll be edified by a challenge to walk the life of faith, worded in the simple language of the earliest believers.

You can read it for free at www.tertullian.org/fathers/irenaeus_02_proof.htm
Or download a copy here: www.ccel.org/ccel/irenaeus/demonstr.html

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review of John C. Wright's City Beyond Time

Subtitled: Time and Space Gymnastics

John C. Wright is one of the best I know at spinning a yarn out of the fabric of space and time. This is a set of short stories that are all based on universe of Metachronopolis.

Metachronopolis is the city at the end of time. It's where time travellers live, referred to as "time wardens". They're the ones who keep things organised -- well, at least they're supposed to. Like police in many parts of today's world, a lot of them are corrupt and self seeking.

They're not the only ones there. Just about every famous personality in history is also there. The time wardens are capable of showing up an instant before a person's death, and replacing them with a dead clone of themselves. It happens in a split second, so no one sees it happening. In other words, that wasn't John F. Kennedy's body you saw being rushed to the hospital on that momentous day in 1963, but his clone.

In each tale, Wright does a different acrobatic stunt, each with an unexpected twist on time travel. They're all stand alone stories, but the last sort of ties the whole concept together by showing us what it's really all about. A Christian that John Wright is, there's a profound lesson in each one.

A must read...