Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Obit watch: September 21, 2017.

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Lillian Ross, one of the old-time New Yorker writers. She was 99.

I didn’t grow up reading her work, but I was passingly familiar with her from her book Picture. Ms. Ross followed John Huston while he was making “The Red Badge of Courage” and wrote about the production. Which, oddly enough, turned out to be deeply troubled.

Julie Salamon cites Picture as a major influence for her own classic book, The Devil’s Candy: The Anatomy Of A Hollywood Fiasco. It’s kind of interesting to contemplate these two books. Neither Ms. Ross (as far as I know) or Ms. Salamon (who explicitly states this in her forward) intended to write books about troubled movies. Both of them just simply wanted to document the process of making a Hollywood film: what was it like to do this in the 1950s, and what was it like in the 1980s? It’s odd that both movies turned out the way they did. And it’s interesting that nobody else has tried doing this in the last 25 years.

Bernie Casey, NFL wide receiver (for the San Francisco 49ers and the LA Rams) turned actor (“I’m Gonna Git You Sucka”).

For Mr. Casey, who also published books of poetry, the arts always came first. He considered football a steppingstone, but many viewed him as an athlete.
“It was just a gig,” he told The Washington Post in 1977 about football. “But it limits the way people perceive you. That can be frustrating. People have tremendous combinations of talents. A man can be a deep-sea diver and also make china.”

Obit watch: September 18, 2017.

Monday, September 18th, 2017

I don’t know exactly why this surprises me, but for the historical record: NYT obit for Jerry Pournelle.

The obit is actually pretty respectful (if a week late) and covers his work as a computer columnist almost as much as it does his SF writing.

Obit watch: September 11, 2017.

Monday, September 11th, 2017

Don Ohlmeyer, legendary “Monday Night Football” producer, and later NBC executive.

In 1998, Mr. Ohlmeyer feuded with Norm Macdonald, the sardonic comedian and anchor of the “Weekend Update” news segment on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” Mr. Ohlmeyer called Mr. Macdonald increasingly unfunny and ordered Lorne Michaels, the executive producer of the series, to remove him from the segment immediately.

“The Last Tycoon”, Amazon’s series based on the unfinished novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Interestingly, a few days ago Amazon also cancelled “Z: The Beginning of Everything”, a series based on the life of Zelda Fitzgerald. “Z” had actually already been renewed and was apparently in pre-production for the second season when Amazon pulled the plug.

Is there just not a great demand for Scott Fitzgerald any longer? Or were these just not very good series?

Obit watch: September 9, 2017.

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

Dr. Jerry Pournelle, noted SF writer and longtime computer columnist for Byte magazine back in the day.

Official website. Lawrence. Borepatch.

I don’t have a lot to add here. I never met Dr. Pournelle, and I don’t think I’ve read any of his solo SF. I’m spotty on his collaborations with Larry Niven, though the ones I have read I think are better than Niven’s solo work.

I enjoyed his Byte column, though at the time some of his recurring tropes did kind of grate on my nerves. (See also: Gregg Easterbroook.)

(For the younger set, and/or those who may not know: the Internet Archive has a large digital collection of Byte.)

I’m very fond of Oath of Fealty. And I believe Lucifer’s Hammer has been a huge influence on a lot of people (including me, somewhat),

The only other thing I have to say is: I’m ordering a copy of The Survival of Freedom, as my personal tribute to the good doctor.

Also among the dead: Don Williams, noted country musician.

Troy Gentry, also a country musician with Montgomery Gentry, was killed in a helicopter crash yesterday.

And finally, Rick Stevens, not a country musician, but a funk-soul one. He sang with the group Tower of Power, and did the lead vocal on “You’re Still a Young Man” from the 1972 album “Bump City”.

Then he got into heroin and other drugs. Over about a two-day period in 1976, he killed three men. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, but California declared the death penalty unconstitutional and he was resentenced to life. He was paroled in 2012 and started working again.

In January 2013 his old band brought him onstage at the Oakland club Yoshi’s to sing his signature song.
“When he got back onstage with Tower of Power for the first time in 40 years,” Mr. Maloney said, “he felt like he was levitating. That’s what he told me.”

While he was in prison, he became a Christian. He also did counseling and mentoring for other inmates, and formed prison bands.

He remained remorseful for the deadly events of 1976, which he said occurred during a time in his life when he was going from one drug high to another and not thinking clearly — “a jackass in a jumpsuit,” he would describe himself years later. When he began performing again after his release from prison he was realistic about his past.
“I know a lot of people won’t forget,” he said in a 2013 interview. “I won’t forget.”

Not exactly an obit, but:

Leslie Van Houten, who was convicted along with other members of Charles Manson’s cult in the 1969 killings of Leno and Rosemary LaBianca, was granted parole Wednesday by a panel of state commissioners in Chino.

Her parole still has to be approved by the governor. Jerry Brown rejected her bid for parole last year.

Random jumbled notes: August 6, 2017.

Wednesday, September 6th, 2017

I had no idea Tillman Fertitta could command that kind of money. (Also: the Rockets are worth more than the Clippers? And $85 million to $2.2 billion over 24 years? That’s an APR of about 14.5%, if I ran the numbers right. Anyone want to check me? ETA: Actually, I think I left a “0” off when I was doing the calculation the first time: it looks more like a 26% APR. ETA again: No, I was right the first time. I haven’t had enough coffee this morning.)

Speaking of return on investment, here’s a stock tip from WCD: sell this one short.

Over the past decade, the DNA laboratory in the office of […] chief medical examiner emerged as a pioneer in analyzing the most complicated evidence from crime scenes. It developed two techniques, which went beyond standard practice at the F.B.I. and other public labs, for making identifications from DNA samples that were tiny or that contained a mix of more than one person’s genetic material.

Now these DNA analysis methods are under the microscope, with scientists questioning their validity. In court testimony, a former lab official said she was fired for criticizing one method, and a former member of the […] Commission on Forensic Science said he had been wrong when he approved their use. The first expert witness allowed by a judge to examine the software source code behind one technique recently concluded that its accuracy “should be seriously questioned.”

A coalition of defense lawyers is asking the […] inspector general’s office — the designated watchdog for the state’s crime labs — to launch an inquiry into the use of the disputed analysis methods in thousands of criminal cases. While the inspector general has no jurisdiction over the court system, any finding of flaws with the DNA analysis could prompt an avalanche of litigation. Previous convictions could be revisited if the flawed evidence can be shown to have made a difference in the outcome.

“Oh, man, you’re not writing about the APD crime lab again, are you?” Actually, I’m not: this time, it’s the New York City DNA lab.

I still really would like to read an “explain like I’m five” piece from someone who really knows DNA and DNA testing. On the one hand, nobody (myself included) wants innocent people to go to jail. On the other hand, it increasingly seems to me like a lot of these issues resolve around subtle and sometimes disputed interpretations of statistics and statistical data.

This also points up something that I keep thinking about, and deserves a longer essay: how do we, and how should we, validate scientific investigative techniques used in criminal prosecution? It isn’t just DNA: how did comparative bullet-lead analysis ever become accepted? Or bite-mark analysis?

And what do we currently think we know, that ain’t necessarily so? Is there statistical evidence that supports the use of drug dogs, or is it possible that this is a “Clever Hans” phenomena? Has anybody ever done a controlled study?

The great Cardinals scandal of 2015 was only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to high-tech sports cheating. (I know there’s a lot of biology and chemistry involved, but for some reason I don’t think of doping as “high-tech”.)

I’ve got a vague idea for a book series about a white hat computer security expert who specializes in investigating technological sports cheating: hacking other teams databases, abusing smart watches, maybe drone surveillance of practices, tapping into sideline radio communications…sort of a Myron Bolitar meets hacker riff. If anybody wants to take this idea, feel free.

Bad writer! No cookie!

Monday, August 28th, 2017

Fan fiction isn’t my cup of tea. If you enjoy it, more power to you. And I don’t like making fun of other writers for being supposedly “bad”: it feels kind of like throwing rocks from inside my glass house.

But I ran across a discussion of this work of fan fiction while looking into something else (I’ll get into that “something else” later) and thought it was worth mentioning here. Especially for all you “The Eye of Aragon” fans.

“My Immortal” by “XXXbloodyrists666XXX” is a work of Harry Potter fan fiction. With vampires.

… the story centers on a 17-year-old female vampire, a non-canonical character, and her relationships with the characters of the Harry Potter series, most notably her romantic relationship with Draco Malfoy.


The protagonist of the story is Ebony (occasionally Enoby, Evony, or Egogy) Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way, a seventeen-year-old vampire who attends Hogwarts (located in England instead of originally Scotland) as a member of Slytherin House. Hogwarts is depicted as being divided between two cliques, the goths and the preps. Ebony and all the sympathetic characters are part of the goth clique while the members of the prep clique are portrayed unsympathetically. Many of the main characters of Harry Potter are given “goffik” [sic] makeovers, moved to the Slytherin House, and renamed.

And it gets crazier from there. Draco Malfoy is bisexual, Harry Potter is a vampire, “there is also an unexplained cameo by a gothic Marty McFly, with the DeLorean time machine able to transform into an iPod.”

Also, the author can’t spell:

A third plot point sees Professor McGonagall (often referred to as “McGoogle” or “McGoggles”) and Severus Snape (often called “Snap”, or “Snope” at times) attempting to rape or harm the protagonists. Yet another plot point follow Remus Lupin and Snape being bisexuals who spy on Ebony, at one point resulting in a moment shortly after Draco’s “death” where they are sitting on their broomsticks with “Loopin masticating [sic]” to Ebony bathing.

This was originally published in 44 chapters to The author claims that chapters 39 and 40 were actually written by someone who hacked into their account. And the author also apparently had a falling-out of sorts with “their editor” somewhere around chapter 12. (Personally, the most amazing part to me is that the author had an editor.)

“My Immortal” is no longer on, though copies are still circulating. I haven’t found one yet. If I do, I am tempted to give it a shot. The 44 chapters total to about 22,000 words, so it shouldn’t take too long to struggle through.

But what’s the rest of the story? How did this come to my attention, and why am I interested? Well, there are rumors floating around – based on supposed similarities in the writing – that “XXXbloodyrists666XXX” is actually Lani Sarem, author of the “New York Times bestseller” Handbook for Mortals.


Quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore (#4 in a series).

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

I ran across this one at Half-Price a few weeks ago. It was a little more expensive than I would have liked, but not signed Capstick level. I vacillated on it, but ended up pulling the trigger because:

  1. It is the only copy of this book I’ve ever seen.
  2. It was published by a small press, so it probably isn’t that common.
  3. It was still cheap relative to Amazon asking prices.
  4. I’d actually read about the subject, and the book itself, in Bill James’s Popular Crime. This is a case (kind of like guns) where I paid as much for the story behind the book as the book itself.

He Made It Safe to Murder: The Life of Moman Pruiett by Howard K. Berry.

Who was Moman Pruiett? Like Earl Rogers, Pruiett is one of those forgotten titans of the law. As a criminal lawyer, he operated mostly out of Texas and (what became) Oklahoma, and later Florida, around the turn of the last century. Out of 342 murder cases he acted as the defense attorney for, he won outright acquittals in 304. 37 of his clients were convicted of lesser crimes than murder. The only client of his who was actually sentenced to death received a presidential commutation of his sentence.

How did Moman Pruiett do this? Well, he wasn’t just a criminal lawyer: he was a criminal lawyer. The young Pruiett had two felony convictions on his record and spent three years in prison. In spite of that, he read for the law and somehow managed to gain admission to the bar at the age of 22. It was a different time back then.

Even after being admitted, Pruiett didn’t have a lot of respect for the law: he suborned perjury, manipulated juries (in one case retold by Bill James, Pruiett figured out who the jury foreman was going to be and had the defendant’s sister seduce and move in with the man), kidnapped witnesses, played poker with judges (and, per James, “accepted acquittals to settle debts”) and generally just did whatever he needed to – legal or not – to get his clients off.

There’s an online article that partially retails one of the most famous Pruiett stores. Since this is already running long, I’ll put a jump here.


Obit watch take 2.

Thursday, August 24th, 2017

To quote John “Daring Fireball” Gruber: “Finally.

NYT obit for Brian Aldiss.

Obit watch: August 23, 2017.

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

Leo Hershkowitz is another one of those people I hadn’t heard of until the NYT published his obituary. And he’s also another one of those people I would have liked to have coffee with, though our politics might not have been in alignment.

Mr. Hershkowitz was a historian and an archivist. Over the years, he rescued a lot of municipal documents that were just going to be thrown away:

Among the treasures he discovered were the city’s financial records for the funeral of Abraham Lincoln — held at City Hall on April 19, 1865 — including the undertaker’s bill for $1,000 and another bill, for $20, from James Ayliffe of Trinity Church for composing a funeral dirge and playing the church’s chimes…
And, from bundles of papers earmarked for disposal by the city comptroller’s office, he saved coroner’s records from the late 18th and early 19th centuries that recorded infanticides, suicides, drownings — and the killing of Alexander Hamilton by Aaron Burr in a duel across the Hudson in Weehawken, N.J.

He also wrote a book called Tweed’s New York: Another Look in which he argued:

Rather than portraying him as corrupt, Professor Hershkowitz determined that Tweed had been the victim of illicit machinations at his embezzlement trial; that he had shown more vision about the city’s growth than some reformers; and that he had been prosecuted to deflect attention from Republican corruption in Washington. Indeed, he said, the trial prosecutors arranged with Gov. Samuel J. Tilden of New York to handpick a judge who was prejudiced against Tweed.

(As the Times notes, the thesis that Boss Tweed was framed by evil Republicans trying to cover up their own corruption was not met with universal approval by other historians.)

He was 92.

And by the way, paper of record, where’s your damn Brian Aldiss obit?

TMQ Watch: August 22, 2017.

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

“The Year Without A Tuesday Morning Quarterback” was one of Rankin-Bass’s lesser holiday specials.

Then a year ago this time, I took a year off to complete my next book.

Oh. Is that what it was? (By the way, Gregg Easterbrook has a new book coming out.)

But now, he’s back. And so is the editorial “we”. Not to be confused with the editorial wee, though we plan to purchase one or more of those really nice Toto smart toilets when we win the lottery.

Welcome back to TMQ Watch. After the jump, this week’s TMQ


Obit watch take 2.

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Noted British science fiction author and SF historian Brian Aldiss has passed away.

Aldis was one of Britain’s most respected science-fiction writers, author and editor of more than 100 books, including novels, non-fiction and poetry. His 1969 short story Supertoys Last All Summer Long inspired Steven Spielberg’s 2001 film AI: Artificial Intelligence.

Oddly, we were just discussing Mr. Aldiss at dinner Saturday night, though I don’t think any of us were aware of his passing: the discussion was more about his book Trillion Year Spree (a mammoth history of SF) and the possibility of it being updated.

(Hattip: Pat Cadigan on the Twitter.)

You know what the problem with fiction is?

Friday, August 18th, 2017

It has to be believable.

22 years ago, four people were beaten to death in a hotel in Huzhou, Zhejiang Province, China. The police believe that two men committed the crime: they had checked into the hotel intending to rob other occupants and were caught by another guest. They apparently beat that guest to death, along with the hotel owners and the owner’s grandson.

This became a cold case until earlier this year, when the police were able to do more sophisticated DNA analysis. They eventually narrowed the pool of suspects down to two men, a Mr. Wang and Liu Yongbiao. Both have been arrested, and Mr. Liu has apparently confessed.

The twist? Mr. Liu went on to become a moderately successful Chinese mystery writer.

In the preface to his 2010 novel “The Guilty Secret,” the Chinese author Liu Yongbiao expressed his desire to write a suspense-filled detective story about an alluring female writer who dodges arrest despite committing a string of murders.
“I came up with the idea after reading some detective novels and watching crime shows and movies,” Mr. Liu wrote at the time. “The working title is: ‘The Beautiful Writer Who Killed.’”

(As far as I can tell, “The Guilty Secret” is not available in a US edition.)

You put that into a novel these days, people will just roll their eyes and say, “Yeah. Right.”