Review of “Earth vs. The Flying Saucers” (1956)

trailer from You tube

This is another of our Saturday pizza and bad movie offerings. We watched the flick with Svengoolie. This flick was a super serious, if a bit improbable, good ol’ rendition of those horrible critters from Outer Space who want our earth, donchya know.

 Plot:

Dr. Russell Marvin (Hugh Marlowe) is riding back to work at Project Skyhook while his new bride, Carol (Joan Taylor), drives. Marvin makes notes into a reel-to-reel tape recorder. (Kids, ask your grandparents.) From his dictation, the viewer gathers Project Skyhook involves a series of three-stage rockets launched to place satellites in orbit to monitor things like cosmic rays. They’ve launched ten. They’re on their way to send off number eleven.

While he’s talking, a strange sound arises. Out their back window, the viewer can see a flying saucer hovering, a central cylinder with a revolving discus. The craft flies over the roof of the car and appears in the front windshield, making the strange noise, then takes off and disappears.

 Astoundingly, Russell and Joan talk themselves out of believing they’ve seen anything and continue on to work. They’ve got a rocket to shoot off.

Joan is transcribing the tape Russell made in the car. Wait—the strange  noise is on the tape. They don’t have time to study it now; they have to head for the bunker and set off a rocket.

Arriving at Skyhook shortly after Russell and Joan is General John Hanley (Morris Ankrun). They thought he was in Panama. He wants Russell to halt the missile launch. Russ says that’s not possible. These things are on a schedule.

 Number eleven goes off without a hitch.

The General is also Carol’s father. Carol and Russell break the news they’re married. The General is happy, and Carol invites him to dinner. Here, the General breaks the news. That wasn’t a meteor that crashed in Panama but a satellite. All the satellites have crashed. They exploded in space. This puzzles Russ. They carry no explosives.

“It’s as if someone or something is shooting them down,” he says.

“No gun in the world could shoot that high,” the General says.

Hmmm…

The next day when the aliens land—on a restricted military base—they’re met with force, and one of them dies. In turn, they wipe out every soldier who attacks them with a single ray gun. To make matters interesting, they kidnap General Hanley. The aliens are surprised by their reception. Didn’t Russell Marvin receive their message?

Oh… the tape… the strange noise. Maybe there’s a message that recorded too fast for humans to hear?

Thoughts:

Their ships look like the Jupiter II, a stationary cylinder surrounded by a revolving disk. They also have a sort of retractable elevator that emerges from the bottom through which the occupants can enter and exit the ship. Weapons also appear from the bottom.

 The aliens themselves are not seen until near the end of the film. They march around in metal suits, including featureless headgear. They claim to be escapees from a dying solar system.

The aliens have a universal translator built into their helmets. Carol tests it out by reciting Shakespeare:

“The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven…”

Another universal translator, looking like an oversized white silk rose, descends spinning from the ceiling of the aliens’ oddly spacious spacecraft.

In the ensuing war, saucers slice through the Washington Monument, take a chunk out of what I think is the Capitol Building, and—really—land on the White House lawn. Stock footage is used, some depicting actual tragedies, like a crash at an airshow in the 1940s. Other, show the launch of Viking rockets—so much for those three-stage rockets Skyhook promised.

 Ray Harryhausen created the stop-action motion in the film. Earth vs. the Flying Saucers was one of the inspirations for the Mars Attacks! (1996). The movie won the 1957 Golden Reel Award from Motion Picture Sound Editors (USA) for Best Sound Editing in a Feature Film.

While slow at times and improbable at others, this movie was a lot of fun.

This is available for rent or to buy. There is an original black-and-white version on YouTube, but the alignment is off and a good chunk of the sides are cut off the screen. The colorized version is available here.




Title: Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956)

Directed by
Fred F. Sears

Writing Credits (WGA)
Bernard Gordon…(screenplay) &
George Worthing Yates…(screenplay)
Curt Siodmak…(screen story)
Donald E. Keyhoe…(supported by “Flying Saucers from Outer Space” by) (as Major Donald E. Keyhoe)

Cast (in credits order)
Hugh Marlowe…Dr. Russell A. Marvin
Joan Taylor…Carol Marvin
Donald Curtis…Maj. Huglin
Morris Ankrum…Brig. Gen. John Hanley
John Zaremba…Prof. Kanter

Released: 1956
Length: 1 hour, 23 minutes

Spring Clean #4 Five More Books

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Spring cleaning continues with the fourth donation run set for next Tuesday of the following five books. It’s my way of saying goodbye to books I read a while ago. Most of them I loved.

Why We Left Islam: Former Muslims Speak Out (2008) compiled and edited by Susan Crimp and Joel Richardson

This is pretty much as advertised, a collection of stories of people who have left Islam. The first entry is by Parvin Darabi, an Iranian-American activist whose sister, Homa, died by suicide, burning herself to death publically in 1994 in Tehran as a protest against the Iranian regime. Her last words before pouring gasoline on herself and setting herself ablaze are reported to have been: “Death to tyranny! Long live liberty! Long live Iran!”

The story is ghastly. Darabi wrote her own book about her sister’s life and death, Rage Against the Veil.

This is not an easy book to read. And it’s hard not to wonder if the editors don’t have an agenda as they as both Christian, an element they’re coy about. The worst of the atrocities seem to arise when religion of any stripe is given governmental power. These stories deserve to be heard.

My feelings about this book are mixed. One person who has suffered because of their religious views is one person too many. At the same time, vilifying one religion in favor of MY religion which would, of course, never do anything like that, is hypocrisy of the lowest order.

Bio: Susan Crimp I could find little about this editor. The jacket blurb states she “is a respected journalist and author specializing in Middle East affairs.” The contributor notes say she is the author of eight books, including a biography of Rose Kennedy and one of Mother Teresa, Touched by a Saint.

Joel Richardson uses a pseudonym because “of threats against his life and the life of his family due to public and private dialogues with Muslims who wished to leave Islam.” He calls himself “an independent religious scholar who has lived and worked in the Middle East.”

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Are We Alone? Philosophical Implication of the Discovery of Extraterrestrial Life (1995) by Paul Davies

This was based on a series of lectures given initially at the University of Milan in November 1993.

Davies discusses with a lot of facts and figures and a healthy dose of speculation what the odds are of extraterrestrial life. A thornier problem, of course, than whether intelligent beings are out there is whether we’ll ever be able to communicate, much less meet them.

The author takes the reader through the history of SETI, cosmology, and the nature of consciousness. It is an interesting read.

Bio: Paul Charles William Davies (b. 1946) is an English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, educator, and writer.

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Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness (2005) by Daniel C. Dennett is a collection of essays based on lectures the author gave in Paris in 2005. The essays explore different models approaching investigation the nature of consciousness. The author cautions they should be read in order: “The Zombic Hunch,” “A Third-Person Approach to Consciousness,” “Explaining the ‘Magic’ of Consciousness,” “Are Qualia What Make Life Worth Living?,” “What RoboMary Knows,” “Are We Explaining Consciousness Yet?,” “A Fantasy Echo Theory of Consciousness,” and “Consciousness: How Much is That in Real Money?”

Some sixteen years after I read this book, my feelings remain mixed. I remember feeling anger after I finished it, as if Dennett has told the reader we humans are just blithering idiots but he’s the only one of us smart enough to figure it out. On the other hand, rereading bits of it now, I have to admit much of what he says makes sense.

I doubt most of us humans are blithering idiots, or it we are, how tiresome for someone of Dennett’s intellect.

The book is a sequel Dennett’s 1991 work, the modestly titled Consciousness Explained.

Bio: According to his Tufts University page, Daniel C. Dennett (b. 1942) is the Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy. His books include Breaking the Spell (2006), Freedom Evolves (2003), and Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995), (an excellent book I read somewhere in the beginning of time). Dennett has also published many scholarly publications.

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Good natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals (1996) by Frans de Waal

The main argument is that morality as humans know it has its roots in biology and evolution. While he stops short of calling non-human primates moral—in the sense of understanding right and wrong in abstract and language to pass that understanding on—DeWaal sees rudiments of fellow-feeling among some primates. Specifically he notes a sense of expectations as to how others ought to behave, with respect to things like food-sharing, for example. He sees the idea of “morality” as representing a continuum across various species (our own included) without clear dividing lines. That is, empathy and reciprocity are present in greater or lesser degrees in different species of primates, not simply absent or present.

De Waal obviously enjoys the work. This is an enjoyable, informative book.

Bio: Frans de Waal (b. 1948) is a Dutch primatologist and ethologist. According to Wikipedia, he is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Primate Behavior in the Department of Psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, director of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory, and author of numerous books.

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Why is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality (1997) by Jared Diamond

The author sidesteps the obvious answer to the question of the title and takes a different route by explaining just how odd we humans are in our behavior with respect how the birds and the bees do it. His tone is light but not salacious. “If your dog had your brain and could speak,” Diamond starts his first chapter, “and you asked it what it thought about your sex life, you might be surprised by its response.”

The rest of the short book (146 pages of text) discusses why human sexuality works for humans and not for animals.

Bio: Jared Diamond (b. 1937) is a Professor of Geographer at University of California, Los Angeles. According to his personal website (Jared Diamond), he began his scientific career in physiology and expanded into evolutionary biology and biogeography. He’s probably best known for his book Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997), for which he was awarded a Pulitzer. He is also active in the climate change movement.


Three Book Recommendations and How They Worked

Short Wave is a popular science (as opposed to a scholarly science) podcast put out by NPR I listen to occasionally. It covers a wide range of topics in 10-15 minute segments that are light, often funny, and usually quite informative. Veering off their usual foray into the natural world, the hosts on December 22 recommended science fiction for the “beginner.” I’m hardly a beginner in science fiction, but I tend to read older stuff. I figured a sample of some newer fare for a change couldn’t hurt.

The three books the hosts recommended were praised by the others. Most had won or were nominated for Hugo or Nebula awards, so they couldn’t be lightweights.

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The first was The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, a pseudonym for American author Sarah Monette.

Maia is a young man of mixed elvish (the main population) and goblin heritage, being brought up in obscurity by a brutal guardian. One day word comes that the emperor (his father) and all his half-brothers have been killed in a horrific airship disaster. He is now emperor and has to navigate learning to become a ruler of a vast sprawling empire. Whom can he trust? Who will do him harm? What about his half-sisters and the widows and children of his half-brothers he never knew?

I found this to be an engaging and enjoyable book. There is some magic and some science involved. According to Wikipedia, it received the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel and was nominated for Nebula, Hugo, and World Best Fantasy Awards.

But it is not science fiction. It is fantasy. One could quibble about what kind of fantasy (high fantasy, grim-dark, and so on), but it is unquestionably fantasy with magic operating rather than science.

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The second book they recommended is On Fragile Waves by E. Lily Yu.

This is a lyrical, heartbreaking story, told from the point of view of a child refugee, Firuzeh, from Afghanistan on her way to Australia. Atay (Dad) and Abay (Mom) tell her and her brother stories. More important are the stories Firuzah tells herself and others. These bring comfort and hope. Firuzeh is haunted by the ghost of a girl who drowned during a storm at sea. They swore to never leave each other.

The author abandons a lot of conventional punctuation in the book, but following conversations is not hard. The violence in Kabul is abstract; the reader doesn’t know exactly what happened, but it is enough to make the family flee. We know there was physical violence, and the family also received threats.

This was a great book, but it was difficult for me to read emotionally.

Again, this is not science fiction. If I had to pick a label, I’d call it magical realism.

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The third (and final) book they recommended was a novella: This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone.

Two adversaries, Red for the Commandant and Blue for Garden, fight a time war “upbraid” and “downbraid,” slaughtering millions and destroying empires or sometimes whole planets as they see fit. One day, Red finds a letter telling her: “burn before reading.” Thus begins an exchange that can be encoded in the rings of trees, in bees, in the entrails of animals, or in any number of creative patterns. At first, the messages are taunting, then curious, then the two agents—both the best in their field—fall in love.

I enjoyed watching two main characters tease, taunt, and then get sappy all over each other.

According to Wikipedia, the book won the BSFA Award for Best Shorter Fiction, the Nebula Award for Best Novella of 2019, and the 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novella.

Because it is set in a world where time travel is apparently routine, this has a greater claim to being a science fiction work than either of the other two books. My quibble (of course, I have to quibble…) is that the time travel element is never explored. With a couple of exceptions, the two main characters might as well have been taking buses downtown or uptown. Primarily, this is a love story set in a time war. Having two main characters who are female and remorseless killers (ick…) doesn’t change that.

If I had to pick a favorite of the three books, it might be On Fragile Waves. But then again, I also liked The Goblin Emperor. Overall, I enjoyed these books and am glad to have read them. I just didn’t get much science fiction reading in.

Spring Clean #3 Five More Books

another expert pic from the author


The spring cleaning continues. I say goodbye to five more books. They’ll be donated to the local library on Tuesday. As before, there is no theme with these books. They were arranged alphabetically and they’re going to the library alphabetically.

Title: Gods, Graves, and Scholars: The Story of Archaeology
First published: 1951, rev. 1967

This is an early survey of the archeology of the ancient world, focusing on the ancient Aegean, Egypt, Mesopotamia, and the Americas. The author focuses on writings from the early explorers and excavators. There is one section of black and white plates with some iconic pics.

The info is dated, but it’s written with a scene of adventure and admiration that makes the reading fun.


Bio: C. W. Ceram (1915-1972), pseudonym of Kurt W. Marek, a German writer and journalist specializing in ancient cultures, particularly ancient Egypt. According to Wikipedia, Marek wrote Nazi propaganda, but the entry offers no citation for this claim. His New York Times obituary claims he was drafted, fought in Norway and Italy, and taken prisoner by US forces in Italy. He lived for a while in the United States.

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Title: Why Things Are the Way They Are (1998)
First published: 1998

This is a discussion of material physics intended for the general reader. The topics include crystals, particles and waves, the atom, etc. Chandrasekhar uses mathematics, but they’re not overtaxing. I can say this with confidence because I read the book, and my head did not explode. At the same time, I would not exactly call it a breeze. It does take a bit of effort. I found the reading rewarding and interesting.


Bio: B. S. Chandrasekhar (b. 1928) is a physicist and another author I had trouble finding much bio info on. The blurb on the back of the book says he was educated in Nanjangud, Bangalore, Delhi, and Oxford. He conducts research and teaches in universities in the US, England, India, Switzerland, and Germany. Though given what his age must be now as opposed to when the blurb was written, I imagine he’s slowed down a bit.

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Title: They Wrote on Clay
First published: 1938, rev.1966

Although dated and imbued with orientalism (“Dissonant to Western ears is the music of this modern oriental orchestra”), this book nevertheless describes what it was like to uncover for the first time in millennia the clay cuneiform tablets of ancient Mesopotamian civilizations and read familiar stories. Black and white photographs dot the pages.


Bio: Edward Chiera (1885-1933) was an Italian-American Assyriologist, linguist, archaeologist. He is primarily remembered for the recovery of cuneiform tablets during a series of digs at Khorsabad during the 1920s. According to his obituary in the Chicago University Press, he passed away at the age of 48 after a prolonged illness.



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Title: Breaking the Maya Code
First published: 1992

This examines both the history of decipherment with respect to cuneiform, hieroglyphic, and Linear B, and the specific story of Mayan glyphs and the author’s work in the field. While the book is not a technical manual, it breaks down in detail how glyphs work and includes some Mayan language, grammar with showing translations. The author discusses some work of colleagues and students, not all of whom he agrees with. Nevertheless, he presents disagreements respectfully. This is not an easy or light book to get through, but I enjoyed it and remain grateful to the author.


Bio: Michael D. Coe (1929-2019) was Charles J. MacCurdy Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Yale University. He was an American archaeologist, anthropologist, epigrapher, and author, primarily known for his research in pre-Columbian Mesoamerican studies, particularly for his work on the Maya civilization, where he is regarded as one of the foremost Mayanist scholars of the latter 20th century. During the Korean War, Coe worked for the CIA as a part of the front organization Western Enterprises in Taiwan created to subvert Mao’s China. He wrote many scientific papers across a broad range of archaeological, anthropological, and ethnohistorical topics. He also popular works for the non-specialist audience, such as The Maya (1966) and Breaking the Maya Code (1992). He also co-authored the book Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs (1962, sixth edition, 2008) with Rex Koontz.

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Title: The Mind of the Bible-Believer
First published: 1988

One of the reasons I’m posting this on Friday and not Thursday is that I started rereading so much of this book. The author’s thesis is that the Bible is a mind-control tool that evangelical Christianity uses it for political advantage. The author and many others (like Senator McClosky) were instrumental in the collapse of televangelist Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential bid, not by any dirty underhand smear campaign but by repeating Robertson’s own words.

The author became a born-again Christian as an adult and remained a practicing Christian for three years. He even enrolled in a (Protestant) seminary, where, as he describes it, he had a sudden and complete loss of faith. He woke up, said morning prayers when a thought he describes as “extraneous” occurred to him, “The door to paradise stands open, and now I’m going to close it.” He associated this with a work by Kafka. “In that moment,” he writes, “the entire Christian indoctrination collapsed like a house of cards.”

In conclusion on Robertson, he writes:

…I expect Robertson to fade from view. … When someone does come along who can overcome the fragmentation and disagreement on issues that now substantially neutralize the Religious Right as a force in national politics—and it will take a few years for that to occur—he will not particularly resemble Robertson or any other current Religious Right leader.

This was written around 1988. Pretty damn scary.

 One is not likely to call this a joy to read. It is densely written, with footnotes that take up half a page at times. The author often quotes source material at length. Yet, for those willing to forge ahead, there are poignant moments and insights.


Bio: Edmund D. Cohen Unfortunately, I can find little bio info on this author. According to the book blurb, he has a Ph.D. in psychology. Later, he earned a J.D. from National Law Center at George Washington University.

Review “Frogs” (1972)

from YouTube


This is an “eco-horror” film from 1972 with a message: the critters of the world have had their fill of pollutin’ humans, and it’s payback time. The dearly beloved and I watched it as our Saturday bad movie and pizza offering. The $7.99 bottle of cab from Costco grew on me.

Plot:

The movie opens with wildlife photographer Pickett Smith (Sam Elliott) canoeing through a swamp, snapping pics of the local wildlife—lizards, an alligator, and a FROG (cue the title). He also takes pictures of evidence of pollution—garbage floating in the water, runoff from pipes.

As Pickett makes his way over the broader lake with his expensive camera gear in his canoe, Clint Crockett (Adam Roarke) takes a sip from his beer can and makes a too-fast turn in his speedboat, capsizing the canoe. Crockett’s sister, Karen (Joan Van Ark), berates him and laughs when Pickett pulls a sloshed Clint into the water.

The Crockett siblings can’t recover any of his equipment, but they can offer him a shower and clean clothes at the old family mansion. A family tradition is to celebrate several birthdays, including Grandpa Jason’s (Ray Milland), along with the Fourth of July, which will fall on the next day, as one big party. Grandpa’s children and grandchildren come, despite Grandpa being a miserable old coot, because there’s going to be an inheritance someday… soon.

For some reason, a lot of frogs come around. They make an awful racket. The Crockett women complain they can’t sleep. Jason invites Pickett to explore the island (because, of course, they’re on a private island…). He has a request, though. He sent “his man” Grover out to spray to control the frogs. Could Pickett keep an eye out for him?

Pickett later finds Grover dead in a bit of water, with snakes slithering over him, his face swollen and blotched. The family guesses something is up when Pickett returns in Grover’s Jeep without Grover and asks to speak privately to Grandpa Jason.

Thoughts:

The frogs aren’t particularly menacing by themselves, but they’re the ones in charge. Before any of the progressively gruesome attacks, they hop around ribbiting to their hearts’ content. They’re marshaling the troops. Why would cottonmouths or tarantulas listen to frogs? Good question.

The frogs assault windows.

“That’s not normal,” Pickett tells Grandpa Jason.

As is de rigueur in these films, the phone dies and remains dead, despite reassurances it should be fixed soon.

Grandpa Jason is the embodiment of evil: He’s not only rich, he’s “ugly rich.” (“We have every right to be ugly rich,” says sister Iris Martindale (Hollis Irving). “We pay enough in taxes.”) He displays more hunting trophies than any the room has a right to hold. He sprays for pest control. And he’s stubborn. Long after the danger is evident and multiple gory deaths have occurred with some people still missing, he refuses to leave. He’s going to sleep like a baby.

Iris’ son Kenneth (Nicholas Cortland) has a black girlfriend, Bella Garrington (Judy Pace). No one says anything about her race, but she tells the black maid, Maybelle (Mae Mercer), that she’s “Maybelle too,’ ‘cuz I guess the writers couldn’t come up with another name for a black woman from the South…?

Eden State Park in Florida was used as a location for the swamp scenes. The Wesley House, also located within the park, was used as the Crockett family mansion. According to IMDB, “many of the 500 Florida frogs and 100 giant South American toads” purchased (good lord, hate to ask where…) for the film escaped. Presumably, their descendants are happily hopping around the great state of Florida without ordering attacks on humans.

Frogs was nominated for the Grand Prize in 1973 at the Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival (France).

The characters are not people as much as plot points. The grotesque and bizarre deaths border satire. Given all this, I rather liked this film. It is silly but entertaining.

With respect ot kiddies: There is no sex, but a lot of death by bizarre means, although the gore is minimal.

The movie can be watched here: Frogs 1972 Horror 4th of July – YouTube





Title: Frogs (1972)

Directed by
George McCowan

Writing Credits
Robert Hutchison…(screenplay) &
Robert Blees…(screenplay)
Robert Hutchison…(story)

Cast (in credits order)
Ray Milland…Jason Crockett
Sam Elliott…Pickett Smith
Joan Van Ark…Karen Crockett
Adam Roarke…Clint Crockett
Judy Pace…Bella Garrington
Lynn Borden…Jenny Crockett

Released: 1972
Length: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Rated: PG

Spring clean: Five more books

This is the second group of books to be donated. I ‘ll miss some of them more than others, of course. I hope they all find happy homes. There is no theme. The books are arranged by alphabetic order on the shelf, so they’ll be going to donation in alphabetical order.

This is sort of my way of saying goodbye to all these books. I won’t be reading any of these again. It’s time to get rid of some of them.

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Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt is a children’s novel originally published in 1975. Ten-year-old protagonist Winifred (“Winnie”) Foster’s family lives outside the village of Treegap. Winnie runs away into the woods where she meets a man by a spring who at first tells her his age is 104, then tells her, no, he’s seventeen. She wants a drink from the spring. He prevents her and tells her how drinking from the spring made his family immortal.

Bio: Natalie Babbitt (1932-2016) was an author and illustrator of children’s books. Among the picture books she wrote and illustrated are Nellie: A Cat on Her Own (1989) Bub; or, The Very Best Thing (1994), and Elsie Times Eight (2001). She was originally from Dayton, Ohio, but spent much of her adult life in Connecticut, where she passed away.

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Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball is the result of the author’s search into his family history to discover his ancestors were large slaveholders and slave traders. Using estate records, he finds and interviews the descendants of those who were enslaved, among others, even traveling to Africa to interview the descendants of those who ran the slave trade there.

Bio: Edward Ball (b. 1958) is a native of Savannah, Georgia. He earned a B.A. from Brown University and an M.A. from the University of Iowa. In addition to Slaves in the Family, he’s written The Sweet Hell Inside (2001), The Genetic Strand (2007), and The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures (2013).


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The Line Between: Stories by Peter S. Beagle (b. 1939) is a collection of short stories by this author of The Last Unicorn. The line between is, in the author’s words,“the invisible boundary between conscious and not, between reality and fantasy, between here (whatever ‘here’ is) and there (whatever ‘there’ might be)”

The stories are:

“Gordon, the Self-Made Cat”
“Two Hearts” (the sequel to The Last Unicorn)
Four Fables
“El Regalo”
“Quarry”
“Salt Wine”
“Mr. Sigerson”
“A Dance for Emilia”

Bio: Peter S. Beagle is an American writer and screenwriter, particularly of fantasy. His best-known work is The Last Unicorn (1968). Other works include A Fine and Private Place (1960) and Lila the Werewolf (1974).

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Evolution and the Myth of Creationism: A Basic Guide to the Facts in the Evolution Debate by Tim M. Berra is a primer on the basics of what evolution is and a description of some creationist arguments against it. Since the latter change and the book was published in 1990, it may be dated in some respects, but it still is good in explaining the basics of evolution with a lot of pictures.

Bio: According to his profile at Ohio State University, where he is Professor Emeritus of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, Tim Berra (b. 1943) has written more than eighty-five scientific publications and nine books, including Evolution and the Myth of Creationism (1990), A Natural History of Australia (1998), Freshwater Fish Distribution (2007), Charles Darwin: The Concise Story of an Extraordinary Man (2009), Darwin & His Children: His Other Legacy (2013) and Bourbon: What the Educated Drinker Should Know (2019).


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The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014 ed. Deborah Blum is a collection of some twenty-six science and nature articles written over the calendar year 2013 and pulled from periodicals as diverse as National Geographic, Audubon, and The Atlantic. The article authors include scientists like E.O. Wilson (“The Rebirth of Gorongos”), science writers like Robin Marantz Henig (“A Life-or-Death Situation”), and novelists Barbara Kingsolver (“Where it Begins”).

The writing is often beautiful, heartbreakingly so, as is Pippa Goldschmidts’ “What our Telescopes Couldn’t See.” Much of it deals with important issues, particularly climate change, but overall, the articles in the book are incredibly pessimistic. “We’ll all going to die!” they seem to be screaming.

Indeed, one is actually titled “Learning to Die in the Anthropocene.” In it, author Roy Scranton, an Iraq war veteran, draws on his war experience and the philosophy used then as well as from study. In addressing the current climate crisis, he writes:

The biggest problem we face is a philosophical one: understanding that this civilization is already dead. The soon we confront this problem, and the sooner we realize there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, the sooner we can get down to the hard work of adapting with mortal humility to our new reality.

Yeah, cheery. And this is long before Covid.

Bio: Editor Deborah Blum (b. 1954) is a science journalist who grew up with an entomologist for a father and a freelance writer for a mother. Among the books she’s written are The Ghost Hunters (2006) and The Poisoner’s Handbook (2010).

Review of “Curse of the Fly” (1965)

trailer from YouTube

This is the second sequel to the 1958 classic The Fly. No original cast members appear, but the movie carries over concepts and the family name.

Plot:

The first thing the viewer sees is window glass breaking. A dark-haired woman (Carole Gray) crawls out the window wearing nothing more than her underwear. While the credits resolve from white globs (annoying), she runs behind trees on the grounds of what appears to be a large estate or… something. Once she gets through the gates, the camera focuses on a sign reading “Fournier Mental Hospital.”

Driving along in his car is Martin Delambre (George Baker). The woman appears ahead of him, running down the road…in her underwear. He stops to do the gentlemanly thing. He gives her a sweater.
 
After learning Delambre is headed for Montreal, the woman says Montreal is exactly where she wants to go. She introduces herself as Patricia Stanley. Her parents are deceased, and she has no family, friends, or money. She tells Delambre she worked for a writer. Because her boss’s husband—well—started paying her unwanted attention, she had to leave quickly. (Again, in her underwear?) He offers to help her go back for her things, but she quickly declines.

Has Martin picked up an ax murderer? Some psycho who will kill him in his sleep? Yeah, so you might think. While Pat is contemplating looking for a job, Martin calls home and and asks his butler, Tai (Burt Kwouk), to tell his father the new equipment will be ready in a week.

Delambre senior (Brian Donlevy) is not in the next room but in London with Martin’s brother, Albert (Michael Graham). Tai contacts them by shortwave radio. Albert scolds his father for not telling Martin the truth—he’s suffering from radiation burns after teleporting there from home. He also reminds his father about the accidents: “Judith, Samuels, and Dill.”

Meanwhile, back in Montreal, romance blossoms between Pat and Martin. It’s been a week, and she hasn’t started looking for a job. He has to cut one date short, though, when he is suddenly seized with belly pains. He assures her he’s not ill and refuses to go to a doctor. Later, the viewer sees him badly scarred, a syringe lying next to his bed.

So, they’re both hiding important secrets. What to do? Why—get married and bring the girl home to Papa, of course. Those crazy kids.

Thoughts:

In addition to The Fly, this movie borrows a little from Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Gaslight, and a handful of horror movies and books.

The Delambre clan, still living down the horror and scandal that occurred in Montreal some unspecified time earlier, have staked themselves out an estate in the wilds of Quebec that resembles a tropical mad scientist lair, including rattan chairs and birds in cages.

Before the nervous breakdown that sent her to the mental hospital, Pat was a concert pianist. She’s delighted to see a grand piano at her new home. Interestingly enough, Martin’s first wife also played piano…and she still does, if not as well as she used to. Oh, did Martin forget to mention her? Yeah, um…

It is fun to watch a steely Mrs. Danvers sort of housemaid in Wan (Yvette Rees–who is as Asian her name sounds) freeze out the poor new Mrs. Delambre. Pat seems confused at first. But she’s not an idiot. Even drugged, she understands someone is playing with her head. It takes her a while to figure out why.

On a side note, the call signs used when parties communicate between Quebec and London via shortwave are in the proper form for Canada and Great Britain. My dearly beloved looked them up; the one used for Great Britain has never been assigned. People accused someone using the Canadian sign used in the movie of selling bad ham gear, something that isn’t done.

Despite the exploitation (Really. Running away in your chonis? Couldn’t you have signed yourself out?) and the lack of ethics on the part of the Dealmbres, this was an entertaining film. Citizen Kane, it isn’t, but I enjoyed it.

I couldn’t find an English-language version of this as a free download,  pero esta es la versión en español gratis with English subtitles:

Curse of the Fly (1965) – Español Latino – Película Completa – YouTube

Title: The Curse of the Fly (1965)

Directed by
Don Sharp

Writing Credits
Harry Spalding…(written by)
George Langelaan…(concept and characters) (uncredited)

Cast (in credits order)
Brian Donlevy…Henri Delambre
George Baker…Martin Delambre
Carole Gray…Patricia Stanley
Yvette Rees…Wan
Burt Kwouk…Tai

Released: 1965
Length: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Spring Cleaning Begins Part I

I’ve decided to close my amazon seller account down and gradually donate the one hundred twenty books left to the local library, five books a week until they’re gone. I’ll leave a short (for me) write-up before I donate the books as a way of saying goodbye. These are all books I read and, for the most part, loved over the years. It’s just that, well, I have a few books, and I don’t need them. I won’t reread most of them. Finding them a happy home is the next best thing.

There’s no theme; the books are arranged alphabetically, so I could find them easily when the odd order came in.

Author’s own expert image.

The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism by Karen Armstrong examines the rise of what the author calls “militant piety popularly known as fundamentalism” within every major religious tradition. This is despite the popular notion in the early and mid-20th century in western countries that religion would soon come to have no bearing on public life. She takes a long historical perspective, beginning with the late 15-century expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain, and continues with a preface written barely a month after the 9/11 attacks.

Her approach is neither forgiving nor damning but one that seeks understanding. Fundamentalism is not going away, she says. We should try to understand it.

another expert image of the author’s

The Spiral Staircase: My Climb out of Darkness by Karen Armstrong is a memoir and sequel to the author’s first book, Through the Narrow Gate. The earlier book describes her seven years in a convent. She draws the present title from T.S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday,” which she quotes in full at the beginning of her text. While she discusses her time as a nun, most of the book depicts events after she leaves the convent and begins to rebuild her life.

Armstrong is seldom angry with anyone, despite suffering what is obviously abuse and neglect, particularly in the area of an undiagnosed medical condition. When she is angry, she is justified.

This is a deeply heartfelt memoir.

author’s own picture
first page of text, author’s own image

Ancient Astronomers by Anthony Aveni is a wonderfully illustrated hardback surveying astronomy in ancient and traditional societies, including Mesopotamia and Oceania. This is written for the interested layperson with no technical background.

I’m going to miss this book and its pretty pics. I hope it finds a good home.

The book is part of the Smithsonian Exploring the Ancient World Series.

author’s own pic and fingers holding the cover down.

Behind the Crystal Ball: Magic, Science, and the Occult from Antiquity through the New Age by Anthony Aveni examines the role magic plays in society, from ancient ties to the present. His interest is not in debunking but in understanding what practitioners seek with it. The book is divided into chronological sections with a summary at the end of each section. If it sends chills because it sounds like a textbook, let me ease your mind. Few textbooks cover topics like hepatoscopy, Kabbalah, clairvoyance, alchemy, and spiritualism all in one volume.

It is a fun but not light read.

author’s own pic

Conversing with the Planets: How Science and Myth Invented the Cosmos by Anthony Aveni is about the social function of astrology in pre-modern societies. As with his study of magic, the point is not to debunk it, but to ask, what are people seeking when they study astrology? In his preface to the revised edition, Aveni states, “People used astrologers in those days the way we use psychologists or counselors today—to weigh the balance, to help make choices, to move us off the dime so that we can make a decision about our lives.”

There is a certain subtle logic to it as Aveni discusses with respect to things like the phases of Venus—not with one’s love life or lottery numbers, but with things like seasons. Naked eyes astronomy was important, if not life-sustaining, to agrarian peoples.

Like the previous volume, it is a fun but not light read.

Bios:

Karen Armstrong (b. 1944) is a British author. At seventeen, in 1962, just as the Vatican II Council was getting underway, she entered a convent, an experience she wrote about in her book, Through the Narrow Gate (1981). She left the convent in 1969. She earned a degree in English literature from St. Anne’s College, Oxford, and taught at a girls’ school before becoming an author and a presenter of television documentaries.

Anthony Aveni (b. 1938) is an American anthropologist who trained as an astronomer. He is professor emeritus at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY. He specializes in archaeoastronomy, particularly that of ancient Latin America. He has written or edited some thirty-five books.

Final note: I’m going to miss these books. I enjoyed reading them years ago, but I’m not going to re-read them. I’ve had my amazon seller account since August of 2018, sold about seventy book and made about seventy dollars. In short, I contributed to Jeff Bezos sending himself and a few select friends into the edge of space. The local library can probably do something more constructive with whatever money they can glean from these books, and most importantly, the books will probably find happy homes.

Review of “Return of the Fly” (1959)

trailer from YouTube

This is the black-and-white sequel to last week’s movie The Fly. We borrowed it too from our local library—and in the same collection, no less. Here, Philippe, the now-adult son of the unfortunate Andre Delambre from the first film, can’t leave well enough alone.

Plot:

The film opens with the funeral of Helene Delambre, the widow of Andre and the mother of Philippe (Brett Halsey). The voiceover is spoken by François Delambre (Vincent Price), Andre’s brother. A pushy reporter (Jack Daly) asks insulting questions about Andre Delambre’s death. Infuriated, Philippe grabs the man, but further violence is deterred by Inspector Beauchamp (John Sutton), who tells the reporter to cease such tactics.

“Inspector Beauchamp, you were part of that big cover-up, weren’t you? This is going to make nice reading, I promise you!” the report threatens and stomps off.

Later, in the car, Philippe asks his uncle François, “Why was Mother accused?”

François is reluctant, but after his nephew’s insistence, asks the driver to take them to the old foundry, Delambre Frères, and shows him the old lab. He explains to him his father’s work and the accident that made him half-human, half-fly, which led to his tragic, horrific death.

Philippe has been doing some research in the same field as his father. In fact, he has a lab set up in his grandfather’s mansion, which he plans to share with a prospective assistant, Alan Hinds (David Frankham). He also has a sweetheart, Cecile (Danielle De Metz), the daughter of the live-in maid.

Francois tells Philippe he will not help him with his experiments. He’s concerned about his nephew’s safety, and the business is nearly broke. After Philippe threatens to sell his interest, François agrees to stay and observe. He’s not pleased this former employee, Hinds, is now working with his nephew. Neither man knows Hinds’ secrets. To begin with, Hinds is not his real name. Returning to England might earn him a hanging, but that doesn’t mean he can’t do business in Montreal—with the right people.

Thoughts:

This is, in many ways, a rare bird, a sequel that surpasses the original. Like Andre and Helene in the original, Philippe is sympathetic. When we meet him, he is burying his mother. He’s also got a touch of youthful arrogance: His father was careless. He’ll be careful. At the same time, he wants to carry on his father’s work to vindicate it.

The viewer is aware of the Hinds’ intrigue—and ruthlessness—long before the characters are. They find out when lives are in peril. Philippe (understandably) can’t stand flies.

The movie wouldn’t be complete without some gore. A guinea pig suffers under an oppressive heel. They must have been fresh out of cats. Philippe, the victim of industrial espionage and a cruel trick, takes his vengeance out on those who hurt sought to destroy him.

While I enjoyed much of this film, I did not like (or believe) the forced, artificial ending. Nevertheless, this flick is worth a watch, but I would caution against having young children watch it because of the animal killing depicted. I didn’t particularly care for it myself.

Unfortunately, I could not find it available for free download.

Title: Return of the Fly (1959)

Directed by
Edward Bernds…(as Edward L. Bernds)

Writing Credits
Edward Bernds…(screenplay) (as Edward L. Bernds)
George Langelaan…(short story “The Fly”)

Cast (in credits order)
Vincent Price…Francois Delambre
Brett Halsey…Philippe Delambre
David Frankham…Ronald Holmes, alias Alan Hinds
John Sutton…Insp. Beecham
Dan Seymour…Max Barthold
Danielle De Metz…Cecile Bonnard

Released: 1959
Length: 1 hour, 20 minutes


Review of “The Fly” (1958)

from YouTube

We borrowed this week’s Saturday night pizza and bad movie offering from the library.

Plot:

This 1958 color horror film is based on a short story by George Langelaan, first published in June 1957 in Playboy—yes, that Playboy. I guess someone read the articles.

The movie opens with Gaston (an uncredited Torben Meyer), night watchman at Delambre Frères Electronics in Montreal, making his rounds. An alarm bell rings, and the sounds of a hydraulic press working follow, neither of which Gaston expects from a factory closed for the day. He hurries to the press. A well-heeled woman (Patricia Owens) sees him and flees. To his horror, he realizes blood is running down the sides of the press, and human remains lie to one side of it.

The scene then cuts to a ringing phone on a desk. A man (Vincent Price) answers it. He’s delighted to hear from Helene.

Calling him is the well-heeled woman who ran from the press. “Francois, I’ve killed Andre. I need your help.”

“Now look, I love you both,” he tells her, “but it’s late.”

He starts to take it a bit more seriously when she says, “Call the police and come quickly.”

He does as she asks. Things take an even graver turn when Gaston calls him to report a murder. Francois calls an acquaintance, Inspector Charas (Herbert Marshall), at the club where they’re both members.

Helene Delambre is polite and calm, talking to Inspector Charas as she admits to killing her husband Andre (David Hedison). She declines to tell him why she did such a thing but offers him coffee. However, the killing was not murder, for it was in accordance with Andre’s last wishes.

The Inspector asks to see Andre Delambre’s home laboratory only to find it in shambles. He arranges for a nurse for Helene. Helene nearly melts down when the nurse swats a fly. Once she knows it’s only a regular fly, she is relieved.

Thoughts:

Helene finally reveals what is bothering her and how she came to kill her beloved husband, telling her story in flashback. Her scientist husband, Andre, built a matter transporter machine. Everything goes wells; a plate they received as a wedding present transfers from one box to another in a separate room. However, the legend “Made in Japan” is reversed. Later, Delambre thinks he has solved the problem and (the bastard) entices the family cat, Dandelo, into the box with the saucer of milk. The saucer comes out fine. All that’s left of the cat is haunting little meow.

Who gets to explain to their son Phillipe (Charles Herbert) that Dandelo isn’t coming back?

What makes this all the more poignant is Francois’ declarations to the Inspector that his brother Andre and sister-in-law believe in the sanctity of life. They wouldn’t hurt anything, not even a fly.

Without laying too great a burden on the film, I will say that the idea of the sanctity of life arises–not in the sense of exacting a karmic debt, but posing a question about preserving life in the face of unbearable suffering.

The special effects are hokey from the vantage point of 2021 (nearly *GULP* 2022), but the flashing lights/neon/black routine while the transporter is up and running is impressive. I imagine watching that light show in a dark theater would be all the more so.

The acting, particularly of Vincent Price and Patricia Owens, is engaging and believable. I think the story itself would be more compelling if told linearly rather than in flashback. Nevertheless, this film is full of striking scenes, such as the multiple images of Helene’s screaming to simulate the Fly’s compound eye.

According to the IMDB, The Fly was nominated for a Hugo Best Dramatic Presentation in 1959. The screenplay was written by James Clavell, who also wrote the screenplay for The Great Escape (1963), the 1975 novel Shogun, and many other things. The author of the original story the movie was based on, George Langelaan, wrote a memoir, The Masks of War (1959), describing his time as a spy for the Allies. He parachuted into occupied France to make contact with the resistance but was captured, imprisoned, sentenced to death. He escaped and returned to England and later participated in the D-Day invasion. He received the French Croix de Guerre.

The Fly was remade in 1986. Both films have strengths and weaknesses. I like this for what it is.

I could not immediately find a copy of this available for download for free.


Title: The Fly (1958)

Directed by
Kurt Neumann

Writing Credits
James Clavell…(screenplay)
George Langelaan…(based on a story by)

Cast (in credits order)
David Hedison…Andre Delambre (as Al Hedison)
Patricia Owens…Helene Delambre
Vincent Price…François Delambre
Herbert Marshall…Insp. Charas
Kathleen Freeman…Emma

Released: 1958
Length: 1 hour, 34 minutes