Review of “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century” by Timothy Snyder

I’ll say first the title is a little misleading. It should be “Against Fascism.”

This is a quick read, some 130 pages in print, apparently intended in its size and format, for the reader to carry in a pocket or purse. The twenty chapters—twenty lessons—boil down to twenty “things to do to be a pain in the ass to Fascists that could actually slow them down.” (A noble endeavor, in my humble opinion.)

Its intended audience appears to be younger people, for whom names like “Mussolini,” “Tito,” and “Francisco Franco,” if they’ve heard of them at all, are little more than names that might ring a bell from a European history book.

The book does not pretend to educate about history or current events in the broad sense, though the author references events as examples of what can go wrong. To cite one case, he describes how the Nazis used the 1933 Reichstag (Parliament Building) Fire to oust their rival Communist Party members from Parliament and clamp down civil liberties. This is an earmark of Fascism: eliminating political rivals and tightening or suspending civil liberties.

“Who set the fire that night in Berlin?” asks Snyder. “We don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that this spectacular act of terror initiated the politics of emergency.”

The Reichstag Fire crisis was more complex than portrayed in the book. Snyder knows this, of course. His point is: beware those who use crises to seize power. Not a bad one at that.

While the book is not a rigorous history lesson, the author attempts to do something perhaps more important, that is, to motivate the readers to educate themselves and take what action they can.

Typical is lesson 11:

Investigate.

Figure things out for yourself. Spend more time with long articles. Subsidize investigative journalism by subscribing to print media. Realize that some of what is on the internet is there to harm you. Learn about sites that investigate propaganda campaigns (some of which come from abroad). Take responsibility for what you communicate with others.


For the old and jaded like myself, this just reads like common sense, and I don’t need anyone to tell me what to read, dagnabbit. I do this sort of stuff all the blessed time. But Snyder isn’t talking to me.

I do have to ask whom he is talking to, though. The engaged know these things already. Will the unengaged read what he has to say?

I hope so. You wouldn’t think we’d be talking about an authoritarian/fascist resurgence in the twenty-first century, but there they are again, like mold on the bathroom ceiling that you have to keep scraping, bleaching, and painting over. If you ignore it, it will only grow, and the roof will come crashing down.

Bio:

According to his blurb, author Timothy Snyder is Housum Professor of History at Yale University and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences. He received his doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1997, where he was a British Marshall Scholar. He has held fellowships in Paris, Vienna, and Warsaw, and an Academy Scholarship at Harvard.

His most recent work is Our Malady: Lesson on Liberty from a Hospital Bed.

Title: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the  Twentieth Century
Author: Timothy Snyder
First published: 2017

Review of “Kings of the Universe” by Chris Dean

Plot:

Chancellor Dunt has called a meeting with the xenobiologist Andha to discuss a species the Imperium wiped out more than a texacycle earlier, specifically, Homo sapiens. The Imperium is the only power left. Andha doesn’t think much of Homo sapiens. They named their planet “Dirt.” Who does that? And they look like… sea sponges.

Nevertheless, Dunt is seeking Andha’s expertise. Some artifacts have recently been identified as belonging to H. sapiens. It seems they were quite the inventive bunch. Could Andha possibly figure out what these things were for? One item is of particular interest.

Thoughts:

The meeting between Dunt and Andha, although exaggerated, read like so many meetings I’ve sat through it was scary. I don’t recall many with tentacles or eyestalks, moving around, but if I closed my eyes—

After an abrupt scene change, it’s not immediately clear was part one has to do with part two. The mystery is solved up by the time the reader reaches the last line, however.

What holds the reader’s attention is this mystery: what is this object? Why is it important, if indeed, it is important?

None of the characters comes across sympathetic, as quirky and striking as they are. The description of the room where Dunt and Andha meet is brief and off-kilter enough to alert the reader they’re not in Kansas anymore.

While the ending was not a surprise, this was a fun little tale.

Bio:

According to the author’s blurb, Chris Dean travels the American West as a truck driver and adores Yellowstone, the Klamath, and anyplace the sequoias brush the sky. A Chicago native, Chris currently resides in Iowa.

This writer’s work has appeared in Bards and Sages, Page & Spine, and other places.

“Kings of the Universe” can be read here.





Title: “Kings of the Universe”
Author: Chris Dean
First published: Theme of Absence, October 2, 2020

Review of “The Judas Goat” by K.S. O’Neill

Plot:

This visitor tells the story of the Judas goat. It’s not the goat’s fault. It knows no more about radio collars than it does about God or quantum physics. It just knows that it likes to be with other goats.

The goats are invasive on the Galapagos. As bright as men are, they can’t eradicate them. The Judas goat helps.

People like to be with people, too, across the great expanse of space.

Thoughts:

Reading the story got me wondering if Judas goats were real. They are, but not exactly as depicted in the story.

The author’s take on it is more layered. Simply being around other goats brings destruction down on the whole group, but only because goats are destroying the habitat of native species.

While I can’t say I was surprised by the ending of this sad little story, it engaged me to the end. It also brought my attention to something I didn’t know about.

Bio:

Author K.S. O’Neill has had at least four other pieces published in Daily Science Fiction. In a blurb that accompanied earlier work, he said he lives with his lovely wife, the writer Joy Kennedy-O’Neill, on the Texas coast, where he teaches math at a small college.

“The Judas Goat” can be read here.


Title: The Judas Goat
Author: K.S. O’Neill
First published: Daily Science Fiction, September 28, 2020

Review of “Son of Dracula” (1943)

from IMDB

Saturday pizza and bad movie night with Svengoolie. Yum

Plot:

Katherine Caldwell (Louise Allbritton) is teased by her family and long-time beau, Frank Stanley (Robert Paige), about her interest in the metaphysical and all things occult. During a trip abroad, she met Count Alucard (Lon Chaney Jr.) and has invited him to visit her family home of Dark Oak Plantation in Louisiana.

When the day of his arrival comes, his baggage—including two extremely heavy, long boxes—appears on the train, but there is nary a sign of the Count. Katherine asks the servants to put the Count’s things in the guesthouse. She throws a successful reception for the Count, despite the no-show guest of honor. Katherine herself is dismayed. As Frank consoles her, she tells him that whatever she does, it’s all for him.

Later that evening, her father, the Colonel (George Irving), dies of a heart attack. Count Alucard arrives at the door. The servant informs him of the death in the family and that “the family is not receiving.”

The Count roars: “Announce me!”

Upon the reading of the will—not the one that’s been in lawyer’s office, but a more recent one—it’s learned rather than splitting everything, Katherine will inherit Dark Oaks, and her sister Claire (Evelyn Ankers) will inherit everything else. Katherine won’t have to worry about paying the servants because they took off the night the Colonel died, and the Count arrived.

By the way, isn’t that Count hanging around a lot? He and Katherine call on the justice of the peace in the middle of the night. When a distraught Frank visits them, he demands that Katherine annul the marriage. The Count begins to choke him and hurls him into a corner. Frank pulls out a gun and shoots him repeatedly, while Katherine hides behind him. The Count is unfazed. Katherine falls to the ground, dead.

Thoughts:

What does Count Alucard have to do with the Count Dracula the movie title? He kept the same rank, and spelled the name backward. Apparently, he’s deep undercover.

Lon Chaney Jr. plays a menacing vampire. When Frank or various town dignitaries come to check on Katherine’s welfare, he tells them he’s now master of Dark Oaks in tones that brook no argument. He’ll bully anyone, not just servants.

The special effects might strike the 2020 viewer as hokey, but for 1943, they were striking. A bat transforms into Alucard on screen. Alucard dissolves into mist and back again, once even interrupting a conversation the learned Hungarian Professor Lazlo (J. Edward Bromberg) is having describing the abilities and vulnerabilities of vampires. Whip out that pocket cross, Professor!

In many ways, this is an abbreviated retelling of the novel Dracula set in Louisiana of the 1940s without all those interminable letters and diaries. The eeriness of the bayou with its moss-draped trees adds a sinister atmosphere (even if it’s a sound stage) as effectively as any Transylvanian woodland.

Everyone is concerned for Katherine, or Kay as her friends call her. She seems to have come under undue influence of this… Count. Who is he? The Hungarian consulate knows nothing of him. He’s an imposter. But is Kay as innocent as she looks? Frank turns himself into the police for killing her. She’s later seen alive. The authorities then find her quite dead, in a coffin in a mausoleum. Frank’s goose appears to be cooked. Or maybe he’s nuts. He seems to talk to himself in two voices in his jail cell.

Two of the actors who played servants were a brother and sister of Hattie McDaniel, the first black actress to win an Academy Award. (Gone with the Wind). Brother Sam was the lucky servant who opened the door to Count Alucard and sister Ettie was Sarah, a maid to Doctor Harry Brewster (Frank Craven). There just weren’t a lot of roles open to black actors in the 40s.

And hey, there was a war going on. The movie ends with a request to buy war bonds.

While there were some silly things in this movie, and some ooppsies (a hall mirror catches the vampire’s reflection!), this was an enjoyable telling of the tale.



Title: Son of Dracula (1943)

Directed by
Robert Siodmak

Writing Credits
Eric Taylor…(screenplay)
Curt Siodmak…(original story) (as Curtis Siodmak)

Cast (in credits order)
Robert Paige…Frank Stanley
Louise Allbritton…Katherine Caldwell
Evelyn Ankers…Claire Caldwell
Frank Craven…Doctor Harry Brewster
J. Edward Bromberg…Professor Lazlo

Released: November 5, 1943
Length: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Review of “To Many Happy Returns” by Christopher Cosmos

Image by Sandy Miller from Pixabay

Plot:

Helen lives alone in a small town and hears ghosts all the time. The ghosts are everywhere. She’s sure there are more ghosts than living people. Helping the ghosts move on has become her job.

She and three other people have formed a group. They an LLC and t-shirts that read “Michigamua Paranormal Society.” The townspeople call them “ghost-hunters” and snicker, but that’s not what they are.

One day, her phone rings. She knows it’s the call she’s been expecting. Is she up for this? This isn’t a job.

Thoughts:

The ending is not a surprise, but the t-shirts and the LLC are nice touches.

Offsetting this is the mood of the piece: sad and dreamy. After recounting some of the odd places she’s found ghosts—“an out-of-order tanning salon, a family restaurant, some of the too-many churches”—Helen asks, “Why are there so many there, at the high school?”

The author paints a picture of departed loved ones all around us, just beyond our ability to see and hear. A few sensitive people can reach them. At the same time, something keeps the departed from reaching their final destination. They need help to move on. This makes for a lot of tension and sadness beneath the workaday world.

A sense of isolation also runs through the piece. Everyone is on their own. They may cooperate with other people, but only for mutual benefit for the moment.

Having said all that, I have to admit that I didn’t quite get on the train with Helen. I understood what she was doing—and by the end, understood why—but felt I was watching her rather than I was with her.

This is not a bad story. I wish I’d made a better connection to it.

Bio:

According to his blurb, author Christopher Cosmos was raised in the Midwest and attended the University of Michigan as the recipient of a Chick Evans Scholarship. He’s an author and Black List-screenwriter whose debut novel, Once We Were Here, is set to be published by Arcade and Simon & Schuster on October 28th, 2020. The book is currently available for pre-order, and more information can be found at http://www.christophercosmos.com.

“To Many Happy Returns” can be read here.



Title: “To Many Happy Returns”
Author: Christopher Cosmos
First published: Theme of Absence, September 25, 2020

Review of “The Snow Creature” (1954)

Image by Wolfgang Eckert from Pixabay

As hot as it’s been lately, it was nice to see some snow, even it was artificial and older than I am. A late entry in to Saturday pizza and bad movie review:

Plot:

Botanist Frank Parrish (Paul Langton) and photographer Peter Wells (Leslie Denison) leave for an expedition to the Himalaya region to explore and document the little-known plant life of the area. They hire ten Sherpas who are, Frank Parrish assures the viewer in narration, “much like human mules under the weight of our heavy supplies.” One of the human mules, Subra (Teru Shimada), even speaks English. Just before he leaves with the expedition, he exchanges an affectionate good-bye with his wife Tara and gives her a good-luck token.

As the men climb higher, the terrain gets rougher. Wells fights the weather with a little nip from a hip flask. As it turns out, one of the essential pieces of equipment is a case of booze to make sure his flask stays full. That can’t be light carrying. At least he shares a nip with Subra.

While she’s out gathering firewood, Tara is kidnapped by a large creature (Lock Martin: uncredited and unverified per IMDB) who looks rather like a werewolf, or perhaps fuzzy mummy. Subra’s brother (Rollin Moriyama) and a few men from the village head up the mountain to find him and let him know what’s happened.

When Subra approaches Parrish and Wells about his wife’s kidnapping, they discount his story of the yeti. Besides, theirs isn’t a hunting party. They’re studying plants.

Under cover of darkness, Subra seizes the company’s firearms. He also relieves the personal weapons of Parrish and Wells of their bullets.

Subra’s mama didn’t raise no fool.

The scientific expedition becomes a hunting party. All they find of Tara is the necklace that Subra gave her before they parted.

The yeti is tracked to a series of caves (whose mysterious lighting is never explained). Understandably, Subra wants to kill the yeti with its mate and child. Parrish has other ideas. They could make a fortune. He apparently didn’t see the end of King Kong.

After some wrangling, they manage to get the yeti into a deep-freezer-sized refrigerator unit and bring him to Los Angles, where (oh, irony) there seems to be an immigration snag. Is the yeti a snow-man or an animal? Is he here legally? While the immigration department sorts the matter out, the yeti must stay locked in his refrigerator in the warehouse with other contraband.

What could possibly go wrong?

Thoughts:

In many ways, this movie is King Kong. A group goes out to explore some exotic locale and brings back an unknown creature which they then exhibit to disastrous results. (Really? A botanical mission to the Himalayas?) Instead of the South Pacific, this movie looks to the Himalayas, which would have been in the public imagination because of the 1953 ascension of Everest by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay.

The viewer never sees the yeti in full light. Nevertheless, one would be hard-pressed to see it as a snow-man, abominable or otherwise. The immigration people don’t bother trying to talk to him to decide whether he’s human. Guess their interpreter is out to lunch.

The Westerners treat the Sherpas’ concern for Tara with disdain and dismiss the idea of the yeti as a boogeyman until they think about making money from it. Back at the police station at the city of Shekar at the foot of the mountain range, Subra apologizes abjectly for his (understandable) mutiny. Parrish and Wells decline to press charges but express no condolences on the loss of his wife. Cold bastards. But hey, they’re gonna be rich.

A rather striking aspect of the movie is that the Sherpas speak Japanese. At the police station in Shekar, Inspector Karma (Robert Kino) picks up the phone and barks, “Hai!” Nor is his the only “Hai!” in the movie. The dialogue is recognizably Japanese, even to a non-speaker such as myself. My guess is the producers chose the language because several actors were native Japanese. It might have been convenient for them, but I found it jarring as a viewer.

Overall, while the movie had its entertaining moments, I don’t think I’d watch this one again.



Title: The Snow Creature 1954
Directed by
W. Lee Wilder

Writing Credits
Myles Wilder…(story and screenplay)

Cast (in credits order)
Paul Langton…Dr. Frank Parrish
Leslie Denison…Peter Wells
Teru Shimada…Subra
Rollin Moriyama…Leva
Robert Kino…Insp. Karma

Released: November 1954
Length: I hour, 9 minutes

Review of “Intergalactic Negotiations” by Joshua Fagan

Image by Shabinh from Pixabay

Plot:

The reader isn’t told what the narrator’s title or job is. He (?) is a scientist with a whiteboard and a lab coat who has had training in diplomacy and experience in negotiating agreements with extraterrestrial species. The first rule of diplomacy, as a professor told him, is to know what the other party wants—better than they do. Once you know what they want, you can drive a hard bargain.

The professor’s advice had served him well over the years. That is, until the Plumarans came along. They’d taken specialized objects from other planets. No one could speak their language or had a clue where they came from. Now they were destroying historic landmarks—the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower—until they got what they came to earth for.

Thoughts:

This is sparsely told. The reader learns little about the narrator. Aside from the whiteboard, there’s almost no scene-setting. All we know about the Plumarans—aside from their lousy temper, of course—is that they have tentacles. The scarcity of details matters little because it’s all a lead-up to a single punchline at the end of the story.

There’s always the risk of such a thing falling flat, but not here. This is cute. While War and Peace may not feel threatened, at least this gets a high chuckle rating.

This was cute.


The story can be read here.

Bio:

According to his blurb, Joshua Fagan started writing science fiction because he was tired of waiting for the future. His favorite stories mix the futuristic and the mundane, the world to come with the world that is. He also appreciates a nice dollop of humor in his sci-fi, because the future isn’t going to be less weird than the present. When he’s not writing interstellar strangeness, he travels the world and eats too much seafood. His work has been published in a variety of publications, including 365 Tomorrows and Plum Tree Tavern. This is his second published story in Daily Science Fiction.


Title: “Intergalactic Negotiations”
Author: Joshua Fagan
First published: Daily Science Fiction, September 21, 2020

Review of “Night of the Lepus” (1972)

Image from IMDB

Saturday pizza and bad movie night lived up to its name. On the bright side, we’ve been buying enough pizza that we scored a freebie! It tastes better if it’s free, I think. We watched this gem with Svengoolie.

Plot:

Arizona rancher Cole Hillman’s (Rory Calhoun) land is plagued with rabbits. The rabbit overpopulation resulted from getting rid of the coyotes. The last straw is the day Cole’s horse breaks a leg by stumbling into a rabbit hole, and he has to shoot him. Just the same, Cole doesn’t want to resort to poison because of the impact it would have on the environment.

He turns to his friend, the administrator of the local college, Elgin Clark (DeForest Kelley, who has just retired from a five-year mission abroad—but I digress.) Clark, in turn, recommends two zoologists the college has recently hired, a married couple, Roy and Gerry Bennett (Stuart Whitman and Janet Leigh). With them is their daughter, Amanda (Melanie Fullerton), who seems to be about ten years old.

Once they have their experimental rabbits in hand, Gerry explains they plan to make “Jack more like Jill and Jill more like Jack” so there won’t be so many juniors. Amanda sees one rabbit as a pet, though, and swaps him for a control rabbit, then takes him out of the lab. Romeo (bad name for an androgynous rabbit) decides he prefers rabbits to intrusive humans and takes off.

The ranchers find tracks near the watering hole that mystifies them. They appear to come from animals that must weigh at least one hundred and fifty pounds. (And intermediate stage? Because the animals who show up later would easily weigh ten times that, I would hazard a guess, based on my in-depth understanding and knowledge of such things)

Later, a delivery man’s car breaks down. He’s attacked and killed by rabbits that tower over those made by Volkswagen.

Thoughts:

As one who grew up in the 70s (yes, by the gods, I’m ancient), I couldn’t watch this movie without hearing Tim the Enchanter saying, “I warned you! But did you listen to me? Oh, no, you knew it all, didn’t you? Oh, it’s just a harmless little bunny, isn’t it? Well, it’s always the same, I always–”

It wasn’t entirely clear to me why trying to make the rabbits sterile—or at least less apt to multiply like rabbits—would make them bulk up in just a few generations to thousands of times in size. That’s an oopsie. Grandma was a harmless little bunny, and the grandkids are charging down Main Street like city buses. And they’re headed for the produce warehouse!

The rabbits do a lot of stampeding. The attack cattle, horses, and humans, including children, though here the viewer sees only the bloody aftermath and not the actual attack. Though they are pretty bloody, Svengoolie assured his audience what appeared to blood on the bunnies was actually ketchup.

Clearly, there’s an environmental message in the movie, as well as an argument for understanding the balance of nature. There’s also a lesson in keeping your car in good repair with emergency equipment nearby. Too many vehicles break down or get stuck in the dirt. Giant killer rabbits are not the first thing that comes to mind when a car breaks down, of course. Of course, there’s also the lesson in keeping an eye on your daughter. Just the same, it wasn’t preachy. The characters are not depicted as evil or foolish but rather simply out of their depth. No one even bawls out little Amanda.

This movie is based on an absurdist science fiction book, The Year of the Angry Rabbit, by Australian author Russell Braddon.

It’s silly and hard to take seriously, but it was fun watching the bunnies leap off “cliffs” to swoop down on their prey and storm down the streets of model towns. One scene shows them sitting down to a banquet.

“Lepus,” as the movie tells the viewer, is a Latin word for rabbit. Doesn’t that make it all sound official?




Title: Night of the Lepus (1972)

Directed by
William F. Claxton

Writing Credits
Don Holliday…(screenplay) and
Gene R. Kearney…(screenplay)
Russell Braddon…(novel)

Cast (in credits order)
Stuart Whitman…Roy Bennett
Janet Leigh…Gerry Bennett
Rory Calhoun…Cole Hillman
DeForest Kelley…Elgin Clark (he’s not a doctor)
Paul Fix…Sheriff Cody

Released: October 4, 1972
Length: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Rating: PG

Review of “The Keeper of the Pit and the Kon” by Joachim Heijndermans

Image by Daniel Kern from Pixabay

Plot:

The Keeper of the Pit is the boss, and the Kon, the employee. They don’t communicate well. Quite literally, they don’t speak the same language. The Keeper determines when the Pit is lit. This sets fire to a Ring around the city to help keep winter’s chill away and to keep people from freezing. However, it also draws invaders. The only way to defend against the invaders is with smoke, which confuses them and drives them away.

It’s already freezing. The Keeper is thinking about lighting the Pit. The Kon points to the clouds and utters a word the Keeper doesn’t understand. Yeah, yeah, whatever. The Keeper orders the Pit lit.

Thoughts:

The Keeper reminded me of more than one boss I’ve had, but aside from that—

At issue are communication and paying attention. If the Keeper had been honest about not being able to speak the Kon language (referred to as “Under”) when he applied for the position, he would not have gotten it. He could have tried to learn on the job, but, well, that takes work and means getting into long, drawn-out conversations. Because he doesn’t understand what the Kon is trying to tell him or understand what’s going on, they’re all screwed.

(At this point, the boss would say, “Why didn’t you tell me?”)

This is a cute little story. The punchline is in the final line of the story, but it doesn’t come out of left field. The reader sees the underlying problem from the beginning. At the same time, it takes a while to figure out who is who, and what they are they doing. Just the same, I like this.


Bio:

According to his blurb, Joachim Heijndermans writes, draws, and paints nearly every waking hour. Originally from the Netherlands, he’s been all over the world, boring people by spouting random trivia. His work has appeared in such publications as Metaphorosis, Hinnom Magazine, Every Day Fiction, Asymmetry Fiction, Kraxon Magazine, Gathering Storm Magazine, and Ahoy Comics. This is at least his third story in Theme of Absence. He’s currently in the midst of completing his first children’s book. You can check out his other work at http://www.joachimheijndermans.com, or follow him on Twitter: @jheijndermans

The story can be read here.

Title: “The Keeper of the Pit and the Kon”
Author: Joachim Heijndermans
First published: Theme of Absence, September 11, 2020

Review of “Screen Time” by Koji A. Dae

Image by Barbara Jackson from Pixabay

Plot:

Grace is buying her three-year-old son a tablet, just a basic device. The clerk advises buying a more complicated machine. Her son is a digital native, right? Grace herself uses an older tablet that Stephen bought for her fifty years before, with a cracked case. But it’s one her arthritic hands can cope with.

The clerk proves to be right. Grace’s son is quickly bored with the tablet.

Thoughts:

This little tale revolves around the idea generations who were born into digital devices, and those who watched digital devices develop are two different types of people. The expanse between them cannot quite be crossed. It is an added dimension to the eternal generational divide.

In the pre-computer/word processing era, it was customary in engineering to use block print lettering on specification drawings or anything handwritten, for example. This was done for ease of reading. How many of the digital natives know this, much less are capable of block lettering? There would be no need.

However, digital devices, by their nature, can add a gulf between humans. And we’ll always need to be with each other. That, I think, is the statement this sad little piece makes.

Bio:

According to her blurb, author Koji A. Dae is a queer American living in Bulgaria with she/her pronouns and anxious depression. She has flash pieces published in several anthologies, Short Edition, and Bards & Sages Quarterly. Her first poetry collection, Scars that Never Bled, an exploration of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein through poetry, will be released in August. When not writing, Koji is mothering, dancing, or riding her bicycle. You can find out more about her at kojidae.ink.

“Screen Time” can be read here.


Title:” Screen Time”
Author: Koji A. Dae
First published: Daily Science Fiction, August 30, 2020