Monday, July 27, 2009

...In which the blogger engages in some lit-crit

Sadly, it’s taken me almost nine months from the death of polymath author Michael Crichton to finally figure out the best way to read his many books. This knowledge will not be wasted, because I understand the last of his unpublished works will not be released until sometime late next year, so there will still be several opportunities to test this method.

Now, I have been a fan of Crichton's since "The Andromeda Strain" circa 1970 or so. Like countless air travelers, I bought "Jurassic Park" to help pass the time on a cross-country flight—then stayed up until 2:30 the night before reading it cover-to-cover, mostly in the bathroom so as not to disturb anyone. We even own a Spanish translation of Jurassic Park.

Crichton owns a few prime inches on my paperback bookshelf, even one or two hardcover volumes to boot, and a couple video adaptations of his various titles sit on the video shelf; and who could count the many lost hours spent watching "E.R."

But come on.

See if this method works for you:

1. Open any random M.C. book to the approximate mid-point, (excluding any faux end matter).

2. Go two full chapters further and begin reading.

3. Ta-Daaa!

This should be approximately the point where the McGuffin begins to come apart:
  • The natural world reasserts itself in the face of human arrogance
  • The hubristic industrialist finally is shown the folly of his ways
  • The plucky-world-weary-academic-with-integrity survives, tossing a parting "I-told-you-so" over his shoulder before departing the scene of ruination with the winsome, tautly-muscled-plain-until-she-took-off-her-glasses-and-let-her-hair-down-grad student-who-dazzled-all-her-undergrad-instructors-with-her-insightful brilliance to try and recover the pieces of their upended lives in quiet anonymity (until the need for a sequel arises).

This method spares you from having to wade through all the pointless character introductions, including:

  1. The long-suffering staffer(s) of above-mentioned industrialist.
  2. The possibly duplicitous personal assistant, with whom the industrialist (always a he) may have had an intimate relationship sometime in the past
  3. Several generic scientists/technicians who only serve to introduce factoids necessary to support the McGuffin. Many of them will die anyway in the shit storm that follows, but their amorality for accepting this line of work makes it okay...see "Storm Troopers, Imperial."
  4. The mysterious consortium of impatient investors—usually foreign—who have already sunk millions/billions/trillions of dollars/yen/euro into the project and are anxious to see some results. They mostly serve for the lawsuits that flesh out the epilogue.
  5. The somewhat sleazy competitors nipping at their heels, generally heading down the wrong track to discovering the true nature of the McGuffin.
  6. The morally questionable facilitator, that non-traditional specialist who has the requisite esoteric knowledge necessary for the McGuffin to proceed. His fate (always a he) will preceed and foreshadow that of the industrialist. Note: His employment by the industrialist in pursuit of the McGuffin is distasteful, but ultimately unavoidable—a necessary evil.
  7. The Cassandra, to whom if they had only listened…the rest of the book would have been obviated.
  8. The short-lived generic staffer of the mysterious corporation. In the parlance, this person would be called a ‘red-shirt,’ for the anonymous character on "Star Trek" who beams down to the planet only to die before the first commercial break. The death of the generic staffer results from an unintended consequence of the McGuffin, and serves to tantalize us with its appalling, previously unthought-of gruesomeness, and uniqueness in the annals of literature. Death often occurs at the local hospital/clinic/vet, which—because the mysterious corporation must, of necessity, be located in a remote location—is generally primitive/inaccessible/understaffed. However, this allows for the introduction of—
  9. The plucky, insightful, resourceful local, who came here to get away from their previous life as an Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporter/Nobel-prize winning research scientist/Head of the Mayo Clinic/Adviser to the President. He/She will slowly begin putting the pieces together, only to run afoul of (6) above.

Skipping all this unnecessary verbiage allows you to get straight to the good stuff—the literary equivalent of pushing your Brussels spouts aside and diving straight into Crichton’s gooey six-layer chocolate cake of worlds run amok, of nemesis smiting hubris, of an unforgiving and vengeful mother nature giving man a big old smackdown into his rightful place for his deluded Promethean ambitions.

Crichton's works, beneath their slick glosses of technological familiarity, are ultimately nothing more than formulaic technophobic morality plays, made digestible by virtue of Crichton's ability to stay just far enough out in front of the crowd to show us something we haven't seen before. The hero embodies virtue; the villain, vice. Everyone else simply enables the kabuki-like duet of good-and-evil.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Johnny's Garden

There's a place I can get to
Where I'm safe from the city blues
And it's green and it's quiet
Only trouble was I had to buy it

And I'll do anything I got to do
Cut my hair and shine my shoes
And keep on singin' the blues
If I can stay here in Johnny's garden

As the swift bird flies over the grasses
Dipping now and then, to take his breakfast
Thus I come and go and I travel
But I can watch that bird and then ravel

And I'll do anything I got to do
Cut my hair and shine my shoes
And keep on singin' the blues
If I can stay here in Johnny's garden

With his love and his carin'
He puts his life into beauty sharin'
And his children are his flowers
And they give me peace in quiet hours

And I'll do anything I got to do
Cut my hair and shine my shoes
And keep on singin' the blues
If I can stay here in Johnny's garden

--Stephen Stills

Sunday, July 05, 2009


About a week ago, we noticed that egg production was WAAAY down...just two or three a day, from nine laying hens, and it was affecting both the buffs and the Americaunas equally. We suspected a number of possible variables, as both breeds seem sensitive to minor changes. In no particular order, we considered the new feed we had recently introduced, some minor changes in their living environment, and the possibility of rancid cracked corn, which we hadn't been turning over very quickly.

However, one afternoon Mary was working in the backyard when a ruckus arose from inside the henhouse. When she went to investigate, she was rather surprised to find a large and very well-fed black snake curled up (like he owned the joint) in the small space behind the twin nesting boxes.

Apparently, for the last while, this resourceful snake has had himself his very own vending machine, where he simply waits for an egg to appear, and he merrily gobbles it up. (The presence of really disgusting snake feces in the henhouse litter lends credence to this theory. Apparently a hungry snake can process a whole lot of eggs in short order; they're not like piglets or anything, leaving rosary-bead bulges along his physiology...)

Mary left the snake alone until I got home to see this spectacle. Appropriately begloved, we extricated the sated and dopey snake from his little hidey-hole, and stuffed him in a large sack. We drove him down our lane and released him a reasonable distance away from the henhouse in the hopes that he would forget this cushy little gig in favor of the usual routine of hunting wiley adversaries in the wild.

Egg production is slowly creeping back upwards, and so far, the snake has not reappeared. However, the last few nights the dogs have repeatedly gone on high alert, bolting from the house in furies of barking and snarling, and the musky funk of fox has wafted strong on the breeze...

Never a dull moment.

More about Sunday morning breakfast:

A week or two ago I mentioned fresh elderflower fritters for a Sunday morning breakfast. I think we may have topped that today:

Freshly picked red raspberries, dusted with powdered sugar.
Fresh whipped cream, straight from the dairy without any intervention, just lightly sweetened.
Fresh baked shortcake, made from scratch without a recipe, featuring homemade butter and a crunchy granulated sugar topping.
Split the warm shortcake, add a layer of berries in the middle, shortcake on top, and whipped cream over it all. A cup of coffee made with freshly ground locally roasted coffee. If nothing else, the deep red of the berries against the white of the cream and the shortcake looked very 'Fourth-Of-July.'