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The Hollywood History of the World (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 08 July 2018 08:40

eorge MacDonald Fraser of Flashman fame produced this fine little historian’s guide to movies in 1988 and happily revised in 1996 (which means Braveheart made it into the book (and, as a Scot, he slams it)).

Has it really been that long since that awful movie?

Regardless, this is a review of books, not movies. And this book, The Hollywood History of the World, is every bit as grand and wide-screen as the art it reviews (the pages measure 9”x9”). But Fraser sticks to his historical roots, moving chronologically (per history, not Hollywood) forward, from ancient times to the present. And in this, he looks at our movies and the history they tell our masses.

What is very interesting are the photographs supplied, comparing the actual protagonist of history and his backlot doppelganger. Some are spot on (Ben Kingsley as Gandhi) and some not so good. Yet even more importantly, there is the review of the actual story on the reels and in the books, a frank assessment of truth (oh, so fleeting these days). As mentioned earlier, everyone’s darling, Braveheart, gets ripped for historical inaccuracies galore. Sure, you might like it, but if you knew anything about history, you wouldn’t. And I don’t. For those reasons (after that movie came out, I went to the library (that quaint old place) and actually looked up William Wallace. Was this the same guy?)

So, yes, this is a great old book. It’s a shame Frasier has since passed away – I’d to have loved reading his cranky Scot’s prose as he ripped 300 (and that god-awful sequel they did).

As it was said in The Great Waldo Pepper, “Historians provide accuracy. Artists supply truth.”

A truth, I suppose. Or possibly an alternative fact.

What a world we’re in.


A Man called Ove (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 01 July 2018 00:00

think I’ve already got one of my “Books of the year” for 2018, even through my current read, Reamde, is pretty good too. This one was so wonderful that I was tearing up (and dabbing at my eyes with paper napkins) while reading in the beanhouse with my wife.

So Ove is about a “man called”, a quiet fellow from an odd family (with a loving yet distant father, to whom Ove picks up a number of idiosyncrasies (being silent, being observant, being judgmental, and being a cranky old coot)). Ove has just been marginalized (i.e. downsized (i.e. fired)) from the job he’s had for decades. And as you read further, you realize that this is just the latest in a string of horrible life events for the man. But that doesn’t explain why Ove is Ove. He’s just… Ove.

His life has been solitary and angry and cold for years. He doesn’t respond to others well, not the obese kid next door, not the crazy pregnant Iranian woman across the street, not even to Cat Annoyance, the feline that skulks around his property (and, to Ove’s annoyance, doesn’t respect his ownership of said). But that’s fine. Ove can keep these others at bay until he’s decided just how he’ll conclude his life (which is no longer worth living).

These other people, these cats, this world, just need to respect his privacy and stay clear.

And, of course, they don’t.

And as this wonderful story unfolds, we find out more and more about the people around Ove, and about him. And suddenly, in this barren frosted ground, humanity begins to blossom. Idiosyncrasies become blessings, interruptions become miracles. And, beyond any expectation from the opener, the world becomes a far better place for having this angry, short-tempered old man in it.

It was a wonderful book. The tale unfolds like a beautiful flower. I can’t say enough good about it here.

Read it.


A Compendium of Model Railroad Operations (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 24 June 2018 00:00

kay, for people who’ve never listened to my hobby-babble, model train operations means running your model train layout (your own or a club’s) like a real railroad. I’ve been doing this for years and have been blogging about it endlessly HERE. So this, like anything else; stamp collecting, slot cars, whatever, is total geekdom stuff.

But, oh yeah, it’s cool.

This book goes into how railroads work. What positions should you simulate. What do trains do. How do they make money. And how do they avoid crashing into one another. It’s actually a fascinating subject (trust me on this, or come out to our train come someday and watch us do it). But enough of this: to the book itself.

I found it quite interesting. It’s already got me thinking about how our club forwards freight. Right now, we use a computer program to do it (takes a couple of hours). This book didn’t come out and say how to do it better but it got me to thinking and we’ve got a new system bouncing around right now, getting closer to trying. And that’s good. But then again, I suggested to another layout owner how he could improve his session and he politely asked me to keep paperwork out of his hair, so there’s that too. Not everyone’s a convert.

On the plus side of this book, it’s pretty inclusive. It covers a lot of things about railroading that you didn’t know about (like B&O-style signaling). It also does a fairly good job given newbies (those people who have a round-the-Christmas-tree loop of track and are looking for something more) some practical steps on going further.

Now, on the negative side, that’s fine. But the book did go off the rails (had to use that pun) in a number of spots. Those B&O signals, that was a page and a half of space which probably could have been used better elsewhere. Me, I wanted to find out more about warrants (which we use at the club). The question I had, the “Do not foul ahead of” option, was brushed off. And as far as how waybills work, yes, while they spent dozens of pages detailing all the famous systems in model railroad history, I don’t remember a newbie-level example of a waybill and a lading slip, and how they really work. Same with string diagrams. Same with how Time Table and Train order really work (their fictional account was more filled with artistic license that actual solid examples). So, in the long view, I’m not sure what the target for this book was – it wasn’t basic enough to school an isolated newbie to get started with his first basic sequential operations scheme (was that even covered?). But for the railheads, most of this was pretty basic (with the exception of that “Do not foul” thing, which I’m still swimming in countering definitions over).

But great pictures and interesting information, all around. The good thing about this book is that, if you are a railroader and sitting on the fence about whether to op or not, this might push you into the greener pastures.


Last Updated on Sunday, 17 June 2018 19:28
Terminal (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 17 June 2018 00:00

he big conversation these days is the settlement of Mars and how everyone would go (well, now, if you ask them). And this story centers on how they will go. In this case, it’s in Jalopies – single person pods that will feed you, entertain you, and keep you somewhat sane on that long voyage across space to Terminal, the new city being built on Mars. For once you’ll arrive you’ll be a citizen, your Jalopy will be scrapped for the city, and you’ll join the others in this hardscrabble existence.

But that’s the thing. Jalopies are cheap – you can sign up to go on a street corner. And a lot of people are going who have medical conditions, people who won’t make it to Mars – why not? You’ll still get the materials there, right?

And so Terminal is a drifting story of this drifting fleet, of Haziq (a fellow who left his wife and family behind) and Mei (a woman suffering some sort of bone degeneration) as well as a lot of other people chattering back and forth across their radios, monitored (even voyeured) from Earth. Don’t expect technical details or a hard conclusion or anything from this story. It is more a drifting tale of people coming to terms with themselves in this great human migration, of individuals and dreams and frailties. I rather liked it – it didn’t have any powerful much, no gotcha ending. It just drifted along (like the Jalopies) towards an eventual conclusion.

I found it in The Best Science Fiction of the Year which I think was for 2016. You still should be able to get it, or possibly find the story on its own someplace. Good luck, Space Cowboy.



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