Sunday, May 30, 2021

Laugh it up, fuzzball!

I like to think I have a pretty good sense of humor. Lotta things amuse me, from smiles to laugh-out-loud. Back when I went to movies, I was often that guy in the theater hooting like a loon when nobody else was.

Humor is, of course, subjective. The best of it teeters on a razor’s edge, a hair either way, it falls mirthlessly into the void. Did not reach far enough, or went too far.

The really funny stuff is always at some one’s or some thing’s expense. Every joke has a butt, the laugh comes from some kind if pratfall, albeit not always a slapstick version. Clever word play, the unexpected twist that catches you flat-footed, the creaky bridge not quite too far. They will do the trick

Malapropisms, spoonerisms, puns, three guys walk into a bar, the roads to knee-slappers are myriad.

Sometimes, the choice is to laugh or cry, and the humor will be exceedingly dark — almost everything can be grist for the laugh mill, stomach-turners only those hip-deep in bloody trenches will understand.

You have to make room for that wide swath.

For me, the best jokes about kinds of people come from those who are are one. Doctors tell the best doctor jokes, lawyers the best lawyer jokes; being a member of a group gives you a certain leeway outsiders don’t have.

That said? I spent a few minutes this morning deleting comments and memes in my social media feeds, snoozing some of the posters, kicking others out.

For me, there are some limits. Not just that it is not funny, but that it is egregiously cruel, it punches too far down, or it is simply too tone-deaf from someone who cannot read the room. That if you are someone who really thinks *that* is funny? There is a psychosis evident I don’t want to be around.


Thursday, May 27, 2021

Sink the Bismarck!

 Odd bits from the memory vault:

The Bismarck was one of a pair of fast German warships that sailed in WWII, launched in 1939, and a fierce killing machine. Not to spoil it, but it eventually got sunk.

In 1960, there was a movie made, and the singer and songwriter Johnny Horton and Tillman Francis, respectively, wrote a long, somewhat turgid, song about the vessel. 

A country song about a German battleship. That’s one you don’t hear every day.

Sink the Bismarck

Johnny Horton, Tillman Franks, 1960

In May of nineteen forty-one the war had just begun

The Germans had the biggest ship, they had the biggest guns

The Bismarck was the fastest ship that ever sailed the sea

On her deck were guns as big as steers and shells as big as trees

Out of the cold and foggy night came the British ship, the Hood

And every British seaman, he knew and understood

They had to sink the Bismarck, the terror of the sea

Stop those guns as big as steers and those shells as big as trees

We'll find the German battleship that's makin' such a fuss

We gotta sink the Bismarck cause the world depends on us

Hit the decks a-runnin' boys and spin those guns around

When we find the Bismarck we gotta cut her down

The Hood found the Bismarck on that fatal day

The Bismarck started firin' fifteen miles away

"We gotta sink the Bismarck" was the battle sound

But when the smoke had cleared away, the mighty Hood went down

For six long days and weary nights they tried to find her trail

Churchill told the people "put every ship a-sail

'Cause somewhere on that ocean I know she's gotta be

We gotta sink the Bismarck to the bottom of the sea"

We'll find that German battleship that's makin' such a fuss

We gotta sink the Bismarck 'cause the world depends on us

Hit the decks a-runnin' boys and spin those guns around

When we find the Bismarck we gotta cut her down

The fog was gone the seventh day and they saw the mornin' sun

Ten hours away from homeland the Bismarck made its run

The admiral of the British fleet said "turn those bows around

We found that German battleship and we're gonna cut her down"

The British guns were aimed and the shells were comin' fast

The first shell hit the Bismarck, they knew she couldn't last

That mighty German battleship is just a memory

"Sink the Bismarck" was the battle cry that shook the seven seas

We found that German battleship been makin' such a fuss

We had to sink the Bismarck 'cause the world depends on us

We hit the deck a-runnin' and we spun those guns around

Yeah, we found the mighty Bismarck and prepared to cut her down

We found that German battleship been makin' such a fuss

We had to sink the Bismarck 'cause the world depends on us

We hit the deck a-runnin' and we spun those guns around

We found the mighty Bismarck and then we cut her down

Not to be outdone, the satirical duo Homer and Jethro, wrote a respone: 

 We didn’t sink the Bismarck

We didn’t sink the Bismarck

Way back in nineteen-forty-two or maybe forty-three,

I sailed with Captain Tuna, the chicken of the sea.

We didn't sink the Bismarck, no matter what they say,

For when we seen the German ships, we sailed the other way.

We seen torpedos comin' and we saw a periscope.

We were full of fightin' spirit and our souls were full o' hope.

The captain yelled, "Now hear this!" He really flipped his lid.

We haven't yet begun to fight. What's more, we never did.


Oh, we didn't sink the Bismarck and we didn't fight at all.

We spent our time in Norfolk and we really had a ball,

Chasin' after women while our ship was overhauled,

A-livin' it up on grapefruit juice and sickbay alcohol.


Then they made me a frogman on the demolition team.

I sunk a battleship, a cruiser, and a submarine.

I blew up ammunition dumps. I did my best to please.

I did it all before the Navy sent me overseas.


Tony, our Italian cook, was a-settin' on the deck,

And we were a-peelin' 'taters. We must 'a' peeled a peck.

The captain yelled, "Hey, Tony! Is that a U-boat I see?"

Tony says, "It's not-a my boat; it's-a no belong to me."


Oh, we didn't sink the Bismarck and we didn't fight at all.

We spent our time in Norfolk and we really had a ball,

Chasin' after women while our ship was overhauled,

A-livin' it up on grapefruit juice and sickbay alcohol.


And now the war is over and our story can be told

About our captain's fightin' and the young ones and the old.

We stayed in San Francisco , away from the battle scenes.

We spent our time on Treasure Island a-fightin' the Marines.


Oh, we didn't sink the Bismarck and we didn't fight at all.

We spent our time in Norfolk and we really had a ball,

Chasin' after women while our ship was overhauled,

A-livin' it up on grapefruit juice and sickbay alcohol.

Sunday, May 23, 2021



I have been writing novels for more than forty years. Up to sixty-some-odd titles, most of them mid-list science fiction or fantasy, many of them in shared universes, some of those bestsellers. Never had one top the New York Times List, but a couple in the top five, one that made it to #2.

Over the years, I have had reviews; some of them loved me, some hated me, and I learned a couple things early on: 1) You won’t please everybody, no matter what you do, so best please yourself. 2) Don’t ask people you know what they think of your book after it is published, when it is too late to be helpful. Because they might tell you, and you might not like what they say.

Of all the reviews, there is one that I loved more than any other, and it wasn’t in a magazine or newspaper.

My first novel came out when my son was fourteen. So I gave him a copy. After a while, I asked: So, what did you think?

He looked at me, held his hand out in front of himself, palm down, and waggled it, “Well,” he said, deadpan, “it ain’t no Dune.”

Thursday, May 20, 2021


 A beautiful display of Indonesian tactical goloks, (three steel sharps and four aluminum trainers,) by master knifesmith Chuck Pippin. These have hybrid handles and ambidextrous leather sheathes, also by Chuck.



I have an app that lets me check my internet provider’s speeds to the house. Downloads are faster than uploads, but both are supposed to be more than enough for computers, phones, TV, streaming, tablets, etc.

Things seemed a little slow, so I ran the app, and lo! according to it, the download speed to my modem/router was about 4% of what it theoretically supposed to deliver.

I know nobody ever gets the theoretical max, but, oh, my.

So the app said, Hmm. You aren’t getting what you paid for. Let’s restart your system see if that fixes it, hey?

Go for it.

Nope. But then the app said, Ah. You need to upgrade your device. We will send you a new one, no charge, and instructions to DIY, how’s that?

My immediate thought was the Skywalker quote, a bad feeling, but now and again, I like to think I can do this stuff, and really, How Hard can It Be?

Send it.

They did.

The instructions in the box were, um … terse. And puzzling. Unhook the old device, download and light up our installation app, and follow the instructions.

Um … so you disconnect your internet, then download an app vis your just-fucking-disconnected internet? Am I missing a step here?

Downloaded it before I unhooked the old router.

I took pictures of all the wiring, unplugged the old device, plugged everything into the new one, used my phone’s hotspot, switched everything back on, and, son-of-a-bitch, ten minutes later it came online and presto! worked!

Could hardly believe it.

Of course, when I rechecked the speed, it wasn’t what I was paying for, but it was at 50% instead of 4%.

Progress, such that it is …

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Loudest Sound in the World


My paternal grandfather was always known in the family as “Perry,” and for much of his life, was a petroleum engineer working the oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico off the Louisiana or Texas coasts.

 He was gone a lot. 

My grandmother was home alone, and the subject of having a gun came up.

Perry had a Browning .22 rifle and a shotgun he left at home, but Grandma apparently wanted a handgun. 

He didn’t think this was a good idea, but, according to him, she insisted.

My brother and I knew about the revolver because, as prepubes, we would stay at her house for a week or two each summer, and snoopy little brats that we were, quickly found the gun in her bedside drawer.

We had BB guns, and had learned how to shoot — rifles, shotguns, .22 pistols, so we knew the safety rules. 

This was a big clunky thing of blue steel and walnut, a Colt Police Positive, in .38 Special. (We thought at the time that Perry had brought it home from the war, but he had been too young for WW1, being born around 1903, and, we also learned later, an essential worker in WW2, so he never served in the military.)

Revolver was loaded with six wadcutters so old the brass was green.

I was no expert, but the firing pin looked odd to me. 

Later, when I was older, I asked Perry about this, and he laughed. He had filled the pin down, he said, so that the gun would not fire.

Really? Why?

Well, he never expected Ruth would ever have need of it. And sometimes he would finish a job on the rigs and wind up driving home in the wee hours, and he was worried that she might hear him come in and shoot him.  

Gun sat in the drawer for thirty-some years, he said, and so far as he knew, she had never touched it.

He laughed, and young and foolish as I was, so did I.

Later, I was horrified. 

What if Grandma ever had needed it? 

Aside from Perry’s perfidy, the lesson I learned about guns was simple: Never assume it will go bang if you haven’t tested it yourself.

The loudest sound in the world is “click,” when you are expecting “bang.”

Monday, May 10, 2021

Ch-ch-changes …


Over the course of a long career, artists will sometimes go through serious changes. 

Not all — John Wayne was still mostly playing the same character at the end of his days as you saw in Stagecoach. 

Others went from dramatic leading men to comedy roles —  Leslie Nielson was a star in Forbidden Planet, and Airplane! Bill Murray did, and is still doing, dramatic roles way past his SNL days.

Happens with painters, singers, and writers.

Look at Picasso’s portrait of his mother, done when he was sixteen, then at his Blue Period.

Had occasion to think about Piers Anthony recently, and here is another writer whose oeuvre shifted along the way.

I suspect most people who know him do so for a series of fluffy, pun-based fantasy novels in his Xanth universe. 

There are what? forty-some of these books, many of them bestsellers, that feature magic and dragons and stuff, and often, a long, rambling, afterward that ranges from his sister taking an extra turn on the tricycle as a child, to a plumber who overcharged him for a repair.

People who came to know of him through Xanth might consider him a frivolous-fantasy guy with so-so chops.  

They would be wrong.

Early on, he was one of the best science fiction writers in the biz, and his story, “In the Barn,” done for Ellison’s Again Dangerous Visions, was, at the time, such a gut-punch horror of a tale that there were people who had to put it down, unable to finish reading it.

He shifted to fluffy-fantasy for a couple reasons: It was easier to write, and he made a hell of a lot more money.

Can’t blame him for either, but it wasn’t because he lacked talent or skill.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Memory Vault - Eight Years on - Tom Clancy

Tom Clancy
(AP photo)

You will probably have heard the news by now, but writer Tom Clancy died last night.

He was 66. Cause of death, about which they were, for some reason, being cagey, was heart failure. He was a long-time smoker, had heart surgery a few years earlier, and all of the conspiracy theories about him being assassinated were pure horse-hockey.

Some personal reflections:

I worked for Clancy, though I didn't really know him. We "met" back when I was on AOL, probably in the early 90's, during a discussion about snubnosed revolvers. There was a line in one of his books to the effect that such weapons were useless past a few feet. Since he was something of a gun-nut, with a shooting range in his basement, I was surprised to hear this. I pointed out that even a so-so handgunner such as myself could keep them all on the silhouette at fifty yards all day with a .38 Special snubbie, but he didn't believe it. 

I was sorry I never got a chance to go to his range and show him. I was but a small fish in his well-stocked pond.

Of course, my time in the trenches on the Net Force novels starting in the late 1990's was considerably more important than the pros and cons of short-barreled revolvers. There were ten of these books, which I wrote, (and later co-wrote, with Larry Segriff,) near-future stories in which I got to pretend I was a techno-thriller author. I had fun with them, especially the first few, working under the aegis of Marty Greenberg and Steve Pieczenik. I never tried to write like Clancy, but put my own spin on things, such that it was.

There was also a YA series, but I had nothing to do with that one.

Early on, I came up with a device that, for all intents and purposes, was the iPhone; I got to introduce the art of pentjak silat to a large audience; and play with virtual reality in holodeck-like computer scenarios. Got classical guitar into a couple, all kinds of boomware, some gun fun facts, and how to beat somebody up real good using a cane.

I dabbled in politics, military stuff, and secret federal agencies. It sure beat working for a living.

One of the novels came out of a Google search in which I plugged in the search term "Death ray." That got me to HAARP, extremely-low-frequency stuff. In the novel, I had the evil scientist driving people crazy using the ELF. That guy who went bananas at the Navy yard recently thought that was what was happening to him, but I don't think he got it from me–it's a common delusion among a certain strain of schizophrenics, that somebody is zapping their minds with various kinds of waves.

There was a Net Force TV miniseries, starring Scott Bakula, which I'm sure he'd like to forget, since it was maybe the worst such ever aired. Bad. Really bad ...

Working for Mr. Clancy paid a lot of bills around here, and allowed me to tuck some away for retirement, plus it put my name on the New York Times Bestseller list ten times, (including a couple when I wasn't getting cover credit.) 

He was not the nicest guy, according to those who knew him, (and his ex-first-wife,) but a big part of my retirement account came from that association.

Adíos, Tom. 

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Seriously, now …

Back in the mid-1980's, my then-collaborator dragged me kicking and screaming into writing animation for the tube. I was a 
book guy, not interested in television, but he convinced me it would be 1) Fun 2) Interesting and 3) Lucrative, and on balance, it turned out he was more or less right.

I took the big metal bird to L.A. and went into a meeting with a bunch of other writers, a cattle-call, wherein we were given the bible and basic information at Ruby-Spears, for a syndicated show called Centurions.

There were times when it wasn't as much fun, nor really interesting, but the money, which, by the by, is considered chump-change in LaLaLand, where animation is the salt mines of TV, was good for how much work you had to do. Scripts ranged from a couple thousand bucks on the bottom, up to three or four, sometimes more for 22-minutes–half hour show, with eight minutes for commercials. Once you got into the flow, it took all of two or three days to do one. There were a few I did in one day, and a couple-three or four grand for one afternoon in front of the word processor was more than I could make doing honest work ...

And I actually sent them in electronically, which, in 1986, was a big deal. This was before the web, and when email ran at speeds of 300 baud–about as fast as I am typing this ...

You kids today don't know how good you've got it. You have more memory in your cell phone than all of us who wrote for that show had in all our computers combined. 

That first meeting was hilarious. They had mock-ups of the toys, kind of like G.I. Joe, in their spiffy sci fi costumes, with guns, and helicopter attachments and the like. Jake, Ace, and Max were the heroes. The funny sidekick was a female orangutan,

There we were, grown-ups, listening as the showrunners, babbled on about which way Jake's chest-mounted Gatling gun rotated. This was not amusing, this was a matter of gravity, serious stuff here. Nothing funny about it, thank you.

Come again, was that clockwise on Jake's cannon? Thanks, I'll make a note of that ...

It was funny, and I'm not now, nor have I ever been known for controlling my laughter. 

I sat across from another writer, Michael Cassutt, who went on to bigger and better things in live TV, and he was grinning at me, doing that thing my little brother used to do at the supper table when my father was irritated at us, trying to make me laugh. He didn't have far to go to achieve that.

If I laughed at supper as a kid when I was told to sit still and be quiet, I was gonna get whacked; and if I laughed at that TV meeting, I wasn't gonna get the work, and having been tempted by the Hollywood Satan, I wanted that money. I had to look away and bite my lip. 

It is a fond memory. 

These days, I will sometimes pick up on a media conversation wherein people are speaking with great gravity and seriousness about a comic book character’s quirk — What is Thor’s favorite drink? How many push-ups can Captain America do? Does Wonder Woman get PMS? and find myself remembering Jake’s rotating chest-cannon.

Yeah, the important things in life …

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Be Here Now


Somewhen, about the time the Beatles broke up, we read Be Here Now, a new-age book of Eastern religion, written by Baba Ram Dass.

Ram Dass, formerly known as Richard Alpert, was a psychologist, a budding spiritual leader, and who, with his colleague, Timothy Leary, had experimented with psychedelic drugs, notably LSD, which was still legal at the time.

He went off to India to study.

His book was a mish-mash of Eastern religion, a rock skipping over a mostly Hindu sea, with elements of Buddhist thought and other odd bits, and a revelation to westerners who had never heard of such things. 

It had a purple cover, was square, opened from bottom to top, and looked to be printed on paper-bag stock. It was full of drawings, odd multiple-sized types, and it offered an eye-opener for seekers who had watched our favorite rock group go from weed and acid to the Maharishi.

It became the hippie bible, and the core of further reading and study at our house. 

It is hard to convey what a magic thing this was at the time, a gateway to a world view most of us had never known about.

Ram Dass went on to teach for the remainder of his life, writing much more, in-depth books. We saw him speak once, even got to ask a question, and he has remained a touchstone to this day.

The phrase on the accompanying picture was one of his from a later work, and while it is one of those what-does-that-mean? pop New Age kind of things, it has a certain, comforting resonance: “We’re all just walking each other home.”

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Cognitive Dissonance

Now and again, you hear about some rich actor or jock or musician whose financial manager has ripped them off. Bled away a big chunk of assets, spent the loot, and too bad.

How could that happen? people wonder. 

Well, two things come to mind: 

1) You hire a financial manager because you don’t have the time or wherewithal to do it yourself.

The skills and talent that made you wealthy don’t necessarily make you money-savvy. Consider a 22-year-old rock guitarist who grew up poor, dropped out of school at sixteen, suddenly finds himself at the top of the charts sitting on a couple million bucks of royalties. Smart enough to know what he doesn’t know, so he hires somebody who does.

Not experienced enough to know how to watch the guy who manages his money. 

The corollary is 2) You trust the wrong people. You have a friend who has somebody he likes and trusts, you trust your buddy, so that is who you pick.

Maybe the financial guy has never stepped crooked before, been doing it twenty years, but the temptation gets too strong. Rich, dumb rock star on a generous allowance? He won’t notice the odd hundred grand here or there. And the longer he gets away with it, the easier it becomes.

Doesn’t have to be a kid who gets fleeced. Leonard Cohen was living in a Buddhist monastery and got cleaned out, had to go back on the road in his seventies.

Now, I told you that so I could tell you this:

Trust is a tricky thing. We want to believe that people we like are trustworthy, and we don’t look too closely because we really want that.

We want to be loved. We want friends, real and good. We spend our lives looking for family, for our tribe, and for some of us, those number but a few.

The truth, it is said, waits for eyes unclouded by longing.

Maybe your friend was, once upon a time, somebody who’d help you bury a body, but changed, and you missed it. Or maybe it was never there at all.

Why did this come into my head today? I was scrolling through the old blog, pursuant to to reactivating it, and came across posts about an old friend and writing collaborator who turned out to be not what I thought.

It was for me, a big deal, and now and then, I will revisit it. Not to pick at the scar, which is years old, but to examine how I thought and what I did, to see if they still seem valid. If my experiences since might shed a better light on it, I want to see. That does happen — something you learn gives you a new tool or method you can apply.

Hasn’t happened yet in regard to this, but I still check.

Save for one example, I will skip chapter and verse here — those who know me have heard the story, those who don’t probably won’t connect to the particulars. Came-to-realize-something, and with the difference in perspective, saw stuff that was there, but I had not wanted to see.

Some of it was downright ugly. The example:

My collaborator seldom, if ever, met a book deadline he liked. He was late, sometimes a few weeks, sometimes months, in one case, over a year.

Which, of course, reflects upon both of you in a collaboration. “He” becomes “we.”

I rarely missed a deadline, so I would hustle to get our stuff in on time. Between hassling him and doing way more than my share, I managed mostly to pull this off.

Never mentioned this to our editors. United front, one-for-all-all-for-one. Protecting my friend.

Came a time when I pitched a novel to our publisher on my own. Got back a nervous response: Well, is (your collaborator) going to be there?

No, just me.

Dead air.

Tumbleweeds ...

So, I waited a bit, then went back. What is the problem here? 

Some hemming and hawing, then it came out:

Seemed my collaborator had allowed in conversations with editors how much more work he had to do to keep me in line, that I was dragging my feet, not getting my part done, and how he’d had to step up more than once and, heroically, save me …

Motherfucker! Say what? Seriously?

Well, um .. yes.

I could not believe it. 

I felt kind of like the Star Wars fan who wrote a letter to me, castigating me for a scene I’d written. Said she: “Princess Leia would never do that to Han!”

There is a school of thought says that you don’t really see people you have known for a long time; that you overlay what is there with an idealized image you have of them, based on history, of how they were, or, more realistically, how you believed they were.

Sometimes creates quite a cognitive dissonance, the reality versus the fantasy-portrait you painted. Oh, my. 

The truth waits for eyes unclouded by longing …

Monday, May 03, 2021

Dusting off the blog …

My buddy Dan has, after being put in FB jail for speaking truth to power, has dialed down his participation on the platform.

I can understand that. If his original content is done elsewhere, he can put a link to it on FB, and those who want to know what he is up to can go and see.

I have done that from time to time, and found that my click-through readers diminish, to judge by comments, but it is a good thought. FB censorship has skewed more and more into Mussoliniland.

 Maybe Liker will come back better, but FB has gone down a bad road, no question.