Thursday, December 17, 2015


I instantly disliked Harlan Ellison when I first met him, two weeks ago. He struck me as the type of guy I've run into over the years who is smart as a whip and lives on his wits. The type of guy who picks fights in bars—or anywhere—because he knows he can cow most opponents without having to throw a punch. He does this because he's learned he can take a punch if necessary, and can handle getting the crap kicked out of him if it comes to that, without letting go of his quick, cocky mouth. Being relatively slow-witted myself, and nonviolent as default, I try to avoid guys like this.

I'm pretty good at spotting them in a crowd, as they tend to be smaller than average in stature. That's the first clue. If they're louder than those around them, their voices penetrating and persistent, eyes assertive, roaming...the aversion I feel is proof positive. Mere awareness of their presence at, say, a party, sullies the convivial ambience I'd anticipated. Thus my introduction to Harlan Ellison, by way of the cover photo on the book I bought two weeks ago. I did not look closely at the photo when I clicked the download button. It was the title that sold me: The Beast That Shouted Love to the Heart of the World

Saturday, December 12, 2015

BOOKER - David McClain

Should you happen to be looking around this Christmas season for something to give that child you know or are raising, whose penchant for pulling the wings off flies and torturing the family pets has you worried he or she might grow up to become a serial killer or a Fox TV commentator, here's an idea:
Let Booker talk to the rascal, shape the kid up a tad, take the little wing-plucker into his world. Booker's story starts out kinda scary. He's the runt of a litter of four Jack Russell Terrier mix pups. Their mother, who lost her human family, gives birth to them on a snowy day under the porch of a farmer who doesn't want them and who takes them out into the woods and abandons them.

Before long a raptor swoops down and flies off with his sister in its talons. Soon afterward Booker is on his own, fleeing a pack of coyotes while his mother and two brothers stay back and try to fight them. Starving, cold, and alone, he's rescued in the nick of time by “Linda,” who finds him lying near death beside a busy highway. She takes him home to Almosta Ranch, feeds him, introduces him to the three dogs who will become his best friends—Shepherd, Mollie and Sassy—and persuades her reluctant husband to break his own rule of accepting no more strays.
Seems like a happy ending. Compared with Booker's life up to now, it is. But more trouble lies ahead, for Booker as well as for Linda and her husband (Mom and Dad) and for the many other critters at Almosta Ranch, all of whom, by the way, speak English amongst themselves.
Natural, I suppose, to expect a novel a dog narrates to be a tad cutesy for a budding sociopath. Instead, I would say Booker—the book and the voice—is charming. Many believe empathy can only be learned, that instinct alone isn't enough to embrace the Golden Rule. I'm not among them. From my own experience it took a marriage of nature and nurture. I remember killing ants on the sidewalk, focusing sun rays on them with a magnifying glass until they burst into flame. After boasting about my prowess with this technique to my mother one day, she casually asked, “Why would you kill ants? Aren't they your little friends?” I had never thought of the tiny insects in quite that way, as my friends, nor have I ever since. But somehow my mother's comment broke through the fantasy I'd been entertaining. I never burned another ant. They might not have become my friends, but from that point on I felt differently about them. I no longer saw them merely as specks that moved. Now they were earnest little living creatures, maybe even friendly if not particularly friends of mine. In my young mind they now had feelings, too.
Booker's story can have a similar effect on youngsters, I believe. Reading it, or having it read to them, in his voice, seeing his world through his eyes, it would take a pretty hard case not to identify with the little dog and his four-legged friends. Hard to imagine anyone, especially a child, intentionally mistreating a pet after living awhile in Booker's head. It might also be good to know that while Booker's story is fiction, he is most definitely not imaginary. Here's author David McClain:
While this book is a work of fiction, it is based on very real characters. Booker is a very real dog and is, in fact, the Barn Dog of Almosta ranch, a job he takes very seriously. While I have taken liberties with his personal history before he came to the ranch, the scenario I depict is a very possible one and is one that, sadly plays out every day across rural America.
Here's author McClain again on “talking” animals:
Something you will notice as you read the story is that I have given the animals the power of speech. Of course we all know that animals do not have a spoken language in real life, but make no mistake about it, animals do have a language. Their language, while not verbal, is instead based mainly on posture and body language and they are every bit as capable as humans in communicating not only with each other, but with us humans if we but take the trouble to learn their speech.
I came upon Booker while looking for a present for a special friend's 9th birthday. Evan doesn't need to learn about empathy. He's already sensitive to others' feelings, and he's a smart young man. But he also loves a good story. I have no doubt he will love Booker. I cannot imagine anyone but a monster who wouldn't.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


My laughter when I first read the opening scene of A Canticle for Leibowitz was of the near-maniacal kind that might accompany an epiphany. I was in the Army at the time, stationed in Germany during the Cold War. Madness hummed always somewhere in the air. We drank. Our humor tended toward the cruelly ironic. A particularly irreverent friend had recommended Canticle as a particularly funny book.

I was already primed to appreciate the ghastly irony of the second scene that made me laugh, the one where we learn of the sacred relic, the scrap of paper containing a grocery list in the handwriting of the now St. Leibowitz, found in ruins by survivors of a nuclear holocaust. My outburst at this revelation was less raucous than the first.
By now Walter M. Miller Jr.'s drollery had completely captivated me. His writing at the very start--the dot on the horizon that wriggles in the shimmering heat waves as it grows, drawing relentlessly nearer--was the snare that closed around my ankle and tugged me through a narrative so complex and esoteric that without its unceasing crafty brilliance I'd surely have broken free and fled in utter befuddlement.