Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Misadventures of Jack and Jill

grandmother hubbard, to keep food in her cupbord
and pay the rent
on her shoe
sent little jill moffet and her cousin jack
to find some work to do

young jack horner found a secure corner
with jill in the royal kitchen
it was really quite modern
-- it had 'running water'
their job was, 'run', do the fetch'n

the the royal well was up a hill
at a distance of about one mile
a precarious climb, took lots of time

but the water in the moat was vile

said jack to jill, 'to climb that hill
with the well, we must move faster'

but jill nudged jack, he nudged her back,
they broke into a peal of laughter

so into the slop the bucket did drop
and came up black as a blotter

now, with time to kill, and their bucket of swill,
to pass off as kitchen water
they sat on the wall, but had a great fall
and the pail came splashing after
all the kings horses and all the kings men
went up the hill with the bucket again
they too, fell down, broke the king's crown
and the king came screaming after

jill and jack were given the sack

and meanwhile
back at their shoe...
old mother hubbard went to the cupboard
to open a tin of stew

but her little dog laughed, 'old woman, you're daft!
the cupboard
you'll find so bare!
why, even the spoon, with an amorous dish has eloped to las vegas, so there!
'the cat was ask'n
for the fiddle for busk'n
and since, he hasn't been seen
he said his first act is
in london -- must practice
he hopes to play for the queen'

said hubbard, 'well, now, we've still got our cow'

'you forget so soon! the bean
and the commodities trader, who wiped jack clean
he turned around and made a killing
he sold it to NASA for many a shilling
who sent it into orbit in search of the moon'
laughed the dog, 'funnier than loony toons!'

finally jack and jill returned to their shoe
with their severance pay, and feeling quite blue

'oh granny dear, we sadly fear,
our royal job we've lost!'

'you naughty kids! you've lost your lids!
do you know how much food costs?
I'll whip you both soundly and send you to bed
and feed you broth...'

'not me!' jack said

and out he did hurry to the neighbour, mary
and jill came running after
now teacher mary, could be quite contrary
-- intolerant of laughter

contrary mary had a lamb,
his fleece was white as snow
he accompanied her to her class, and he helped her garden grow

'teacher mary, quite contrary,
what grows upon your land?'

'what grows? I wouldn't know
you'll have to ask the lamb'

', lamb?'

'(call me sam)
er -- that bean you bought with your cow'

'the magic bean? it hasn't been seen
since the day we had that row!'

'it's really quite grand, it
grew where it landed
look out back, you'll see it right now!'

jack looked up, couldn't see the top
and turned to say to jill,
'shall we climb? i think it's time
it would be quite a thrill

then, who (diddle diddle) should arrive with his fiddle?
but the cat, who was looking quite ill

'pussy cat, pussy cat,
where have you been?'

'i've been to london
to play for the queen.'

'pussy cat, pussy cat,
how much did you earn there?'

'hardly enough to cover the bus fair'

'but why (diddle diddle) did they pay you so little?
their budget is over the moon!'

'...and her corgis laughed
and gave me a fright...'

'...and why are you home so soon?'

'a diller a euro, a ten 'o clock bureau-
crat said i must be out by noon

plus, old king cole, being a merry old soul,
already employs fiddlers, three
they play for their supper of white bread and butter
but the rest they do for free

but you, master jack, why are you back
so soon from the royal court?'

'alas,' said jill, 'they said, "you will
bake a pie", but jack miss-heard
instead of "berries" numbering four and twenty
jack thought that they said "bird"
(what he heard as "bird",
was a reference to his brain
but hear the rest, it's quite insane)
so off he went to catch the winged critters
to bake inside the pie

bought the lard for a song and sixpence
and a pocket full of rye

but when the pie was open
jack's birds began to sing
songs of euros and sixpence
and all that sort of thing

so both of us were unceremoniously ejected
from the royal kitchen
and demoted to the job of royal water fetch'n'

now the little cat laughed to hear such a tail
that his spirits went over the moon
he no longer looked ill, so jack and jill
said, 'c'mon, let's have some fun'
teacher mary,
being quite contrary
warned, jack, 'be nimble, jack be quick
when jumping over my bean pole stick'

so doing, jack and jill went up the beans talk
and the cat came climbing after
and so did the lamb, whose name was sam
while mary was none the dafter

they reached the top, and had to stop
the beanstalk went no higher
said jack to jill, the cat and sam
'what now? you know, i am no flyer'

said sam, 'let's eat. i've found a treat --
these beans, along the way
in kurdistan, i understand,
they eat the beans this way.'

so, little jill moffet, used a leaf for a tuffet,
sat, eating the kurdish way
while little jack horner found a leafy corner
and frightened the spiders away

but the beans they ate made them flatulate
so strongly, it propelled them upward
so did they begin, from the gas within,
to fly, though they felt awkward
up-up they went, by gas they were sent
with beans for rocket fuel
up to a home, where the giants roam
and other things most cruel
they came to a road, and down it they strode
across the cloudy floor
at mile post two jack buckled his shoe

at mile post four they came to a door

its height was six (in meters). 'oh styx!
my watch says eight, let's lay this this straight'
said the cat. 'it's much too late to be home by ten.'
so they knocked at the door, and a big fat hen
invited them into the kitchen, and then
jack asked, 'pray tell, who your master?'

'a tinker, a tailor, a soldier, a sailor,
a rich man, a poor man and a beggar man,'
was her clucking answer.

'a greedy lot are they; can you take me away?
I've had it up to here!'
she took a look out the window and shook,
and with a cackle, said, 'oh dear!'

to the window ran jack, jill, sam and the cat
outside were seven bearded men
tall they were, yes, but almost as fat
they saw fear in the eyes of the hen

'hi ho, hi ho, and a fi fie fo fum
to home from our various occupations we've come
we've dillied and dallied throughout the day
done crosswords and twittled our thumbs'

at the sight of the men, jack grabbed the hen
and into the great oven they hid
on the count of four, they shut the door
it's just as well that they did

announced the tinker,
'dear tailor, brave soldier, swaggering sailor,
gentle rich man,
humble poor man,
fine beggar-man,
amongst us there dwells a thief.'

spake the tailor, 'you stinker!
though crafty, you're no thinker.
your occupation as a tinker
makes you suspect of giving us grief!

Said the poor man, 'you pig!
your a racist and a prig!
I say, it's the bigwig:
what's made him rich beyond belief?'

cried the rich man, 'I'm all a flutter!
who pays the rent?
buys bread and butter?
who, but for me,
you'd be still in the gutter?'

'not you,' did the beggar-man utter.
'it's our gold laying hen who's brought us relief.

'our gold laying hen, she's fled for the hill,
go now, you lot, you may catch her still!'
he looked towards the oven and winked.
the other six strode to their horses and rode;
said the beggar-man, 'in here, I think.'

said the beggar-man to jack and sam,
don't worry yourselves, just a beggar I am
a beggar I was, a beggar I'll be
life in the gutter is no hardship for me
I'd just as soon they learned their lesson
for me, outdoor life will be a bless'n

said jack to the man, 'how flustered I am!
this story's all wrong!'
'and I,' said the lamb
'feel much the same.
I recognise that but for your size
you're the 7 dwarves of snow white fame!'

spake the beggar-man,
'you're not to blame.
you guessed 7 dwarves,
we're one and the same
but if you think that we're a sight
you should see the size of snow white!

'now, off you go, and take the hen
and return to where your journey began
and take this harp, it sings by itself.'
he gave them the instrument
from off the shelf

off they went the way they came
they reached the edge, but it looked the same
no beanstalk, no beans, no rocket fuel
said the lamb, 'what a world most cruel!'
little jill moffet, sat on her tuffet
thinking of words to say

along came a spider in a hang glider
and said, 'you folks going my way?'
they all hitched on and glided down
but the contraption began to totter
jack fell down and bunged his crown
and the hen came flapping after

jack came to, and wondered who
had brought him to his chamber
he wasn't dead, but in his bed
wrapped in vinegar and brown paper

in walked hubbard, 'there's food in the cupboard!
that hen that followed you home
was so big and fat that it filled the pot
it'll do till it's nine days old!'

... sad for the hen, and their prospects for gold
but not all was lost, for, so I am told
the cat still goes busk'n and for many a shilling
plays duets with the harp -- they make a killing!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Review of Florian Armas' Io Deceneus

We know the main character only as Deceneus. Even then, he's not quite sure of that name, nor in what sense he's “Deceneus”. There was one of that name much earlier in the history of that planet, and a belief in another yet to come. It all comes together in the course of the story.

Not that we really need a name for him; the narrative point of view is from inside his head, but it's not just a simple first person POV – it's a stream of consciousness where each two-person dialogue becomes a three-way conversation, his own thoughts interjected as the third party. It makes for a unique reading experience, though it may take some getting used to. But I like literary experiments like that.

We begin the ride on Earth, where his name isn't Deceneus, nor is there anything about him that would suggest he's to be a hero of an other-worldly scenario – except, perhaps, the dream described in the prologue. We find him wallowing in alcohol and self-pity, having recently lost his job.

Later we learn that dreams are the way that “gates” and similar beings test those who might be suitable recruits for time travel. Deceneus nick-names his “gate”, “Houston”, after NASA's Houston – as in “Houston, we have a problem”. And, there's no shortage of problems, which “Houston” has to mother him through in order to make him ready for his first contract.

Apart from the “gates”, there are many other intelligent creatures inhabiting the universe. Most of them far surpass humans in brain capacity (a refreshing change from most SF I've read), so much so that humans and other similar races are seen as experiments, or even game pieces in the “game that's not a game” (you'll come across that phrase). The “game” involves making adjustments in timelines to affect the future welfare and/or extinction of whole races. Some beings treat it as a big game, while others are more concerned about the welfare of the “small brain” races. Among the more advanced beings are the “Factions”, the ones playing the leading roles in the “game that's not a game”.

The most superior being of all is the Universe itself, who makes His presence known in our galaxy though what's know as the “Black Eye”, the giant black hole at the centre of our galaxy.

Sometime during the formation of humanity, a mistake or accident occurred that resulted in humanity becoming an unusually ambitious and warlike race. It also made them suitable candidates to be sent to other times and places to interact with local populations to manupilate their history, as in our story.

Thus, our main character accepts a contract with a “Faction” for whom Houston is acting as an agent. After receiving intensive Samurai training and gaining other skills, he is downloaded into a human-like body on a planet sometime in our distant past, that's inhabited by at least four different human-like races, as a member of one of those races. The local population has reached a level of sophistication approximating our 19th century. He has also had the local language downloaded into his brain, as well as an inner “encyclopedia” of local knowledge. Then, he's placed at just the right place at the right time to enter society as a hero. Of course, to complicate things, there's another Faction already at work there with a conflicting agenda.

That last paragraph is a vast oversimplification: he actually makes several arrivals on the planet, involving a lot of trial and error. One of those arrivals is to the even more distant past, when the local population is in their stone age. Though that story is brushed over very quickly, he spends quite a number of years of their time teaching them basic civilisation skills and saving them from extinction. Actually, they did become extinct because of a wrong choice on his part, but Houston enables an alternative time-line, and they're saved. All that is a part of the preliminary learning experience.

The book is full of creative applications of time-and-space theories and ideas about alternate time-lines. One more device I should mention is the “SAT-mine”, a giant spherical force field that has the potential of totally erasing ones existence, adjusting the time-line so as to totally exclude that person, and any effect they might have had on anything; so they were never born. They are meant to be a deterrent against destroying the fabric of space and time, but too often they're used against those altering the time-line in ways disagreeable to certain very powerful forces; which Deceneus is in constant danger of doing. If he were erased, an entire race of beings on that planet would also cease to exist because, remember, it was he who saved them from extinction back during the stone age. Deceneus still wants to save the local “small brain” races from extinction, which puts him in conflict with the Factions.

So, that's the premise and the setting of the story. Because of Florian's narrative style, it took some effort to read through parts of it without taking a rest now and then, and a few of the stretches, ones involving local politics, were so long that I began to wonder if they were going anywhere; but they were necessary to the story, which was so superb and worth the effort that I'm giving it five stars.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Land of Bad Elves: a review of M.B. Mooney's The Living Stone

Unlike Middle Earth, the elves are the evil empire. The human lands of Erelon have been ruled for many years now by the elves of Kyrus. They've tried to wipe out traditional monotheism, and have imposed their own ways on human society. However, there are pockets of those who have held on to their belief in El. Among them are those led by one known as the Prophet.

Caleb De'Ador had been missing since he was 15, captured by the elf authorities and taken to Kryus, the centre of the elven empire. The high ranking elf that was in charge of him happened to be sympathetic towards the human nation, realising the injustice of his own kind. He had Caleb trained as a Bladeguard, something like a Samurai. Caleb returns to Erelon, intending to seek the Living Stone, which would confirm him into the ancient order of the Sohan-el. They are the true Samurai-like defenders of the faith that are now only a legend, and of which the order of the Bladeguard are a copy. To become a Sohan-el, a trained swordsman who has taken the oath must seek the living stone, an iron rock with a tree growing out of it, and lay his hand on it. If he is found worthy, the rock will released an unforged sword, the symbol of his office. The Sohan-el haven't been around for hundreds of years. As a Sohan-el, he can begin to lead humanity to stand up and fight for their freedom, and restore their glory as nations under El.

On his return to Erelon, Caleb finds that the Prophet, his uncle, has been imprisoned by the elves in a strong fortress-like prison. A local gangster introduces him to Aden, a child of the streets, who is the only one known to have escaped this prison. He offers to help under one condition, that he be allowed to accompany Caleb and the Prophet on their journeys. Caleb reluctantly agrees, and they bust the Prophet out.

Meanwhile, in the mountains to the West, a door to the underworld has opened, which happens once in 527 years. A legion of demics (a sort of small orc or troll) pour forth, led by a giant horned Demilord named Thoros. They once roamed freely on the face of the earth until they were imprisoned in the underworld by the Sohan-el. Every 527 years, when the door opens, a limited number of them escape with the goal of finding the key to the underworld, so that they can reopen the door and let the rest of them out. They begin their journey to the northern city of Ketan, devouring every living thing in their path. The demics eat human flesh, but the demilord eats their souls -- reminiscent of William Hodgeson's The Night Lands. From the first town, only Eshlyn and her infant son survive. She must make it to the walled city of Ketan, warning everyone she meets on the way, urging them to join her. The infant is a descendant of the ancient human dynasty that once ruled in Ketan. Now, Ketan is a backwater, ruled by a corrupt high elf who was sent there as punishment.

Ketan is also the destination of Caleb, Aden and the Prophet, along with a growing group of companions. The Living Stone is somewhere in the mountains just beyond.

Mooney keeps the action going from both sides, Eshlyn's struggle to persuade townsfolk of the dangers only a day or so behind her; Caleb and company's journeys, barely a step ahead of elven authorities. The characterisation is good. Caleb is impulsive and sometimes insists on performing heroic acts even when they could endanger their mission. The Prophet isn't a Gandalf nor a Professor Dumbledore. While he knows how to hear the voice of El, he hasn't been a good father figure, and he regrets that. There are also good elves, such as Caleb's mentor in Kyrus, and the First General of Ketan, who must work around elven corruption. There are also good humans, as well as those who probably deserved to be eaten by the demics. Of course, there's a lot of samurai style action and swordplay, as well as good strategy. Mooney has invented his own profanity, words like “crit” and “break”, for which I'm sure, if we lived in Erelon, our mothers would wash our mouths out with soap.

It's a good read, and Mooney sets us up for the sequel.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Review: Somewhither, by John C. Wright

After reading the preview of the first chapter on Wright's blog page, I couldn't wait for this book to come out. Now, I can't wait for book two.

In the first chapter, Ilya goes to his dad with a question that must be answered, expecting the usual brush off response. He's one of those dads that seems aloof, non communicative, but demanding of obedience, with high expectations of a top notch highly disciplined fighting machine at the end of a program of rigorous training that he puts his sons through. Training for what...? That's part of his dad's secretive nature. But hidden somewhere in that dense forest of hardwood is actually a fatherly heart that cares. So, Ilya expects a brush off response, and he appear to be getting just that. He probes for more, while his dad probes him in return for the intent of the question. Then, suddenly, his dad springs to his feet, barks out a series of orders, inducts him into the order of the Knights Templar and Ilya's childhood is over. That's not a spoiler, I hope. It's only the first chapter.

I also can't wait for the last book in the series, because I want to see his dad's response to the long tale that Ilya is going to report to him.

In the course of the story, Ilya makes other discoveries about himself. I like stories where there are hidden facts about oneself that are to be discovered, like Harry Potter finding out who he really is, and Frodo realising that that old ring that's been sitting in the top drawer of the desk all this time is, in fact ... -- well, you get the picture. There are some pretty amazing things to be discovered about Ilya as well.

The premise of this story is the answer to the question Ilya went to ask his dad in the first chapter, "How many universes are there?" Some proponents of the Many Worlds Interpretation say there's one for every atomic particle that ever made a wrong turn. According to Wright, there's one for every time God changed the course of history by whatever act he did, whether it be bringing the world wide flood, confusing the languages, delivering the children of Israel from Egypt (I could go on, but some of them could be construed as spoilers) -- there's always a world that splits off in which that didn't happen.

I finished the book, thinking it was awfully short. I went to the Amazon Kindle page so as to check the size of the book, and to my surprise, it was 590 pages!

Anyway, although I did grimace at some of Ilya's boyish ways and his occasional thickheadedness, it was a page turner (or in my case, a screen swiper). Like I said, I'm waiting for the next one...

Click on the cover image above to get to the Amazon page.
Hello again.

I've been away from this blog for too long, and now I've decided to make a new half-way-through-the-year's resolution to get back on it, and try to be more regular. I do have a number of things that could have been going on it, such as some book reviews, which I'll post in a minute.

But first, let me announce that Pepe is now a free download, in return for signing up for a newsletter. Here's where you go to sign up. Just click on the cover image:

...or here: