Works of fiction appearing here are © 2011-2018 by Jack H. Tyler, and are not to be assumed to lie in the public domain.
Any reproduction of this material is prohibited without the express written permission of the author.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Astronomer's Crypt (2016)

Supernatural horror by David Lee Summers

[Review of purchased Kindle edition] Rating: 4½ stars.

     I'm first going to tell you everything that's wrong with this book: The author uses too many commas.

     Mr. Summers' bio states that he is a working astronomer, and as the bulk of this novel is set in an observatory, I must assume that he got the atmosphere right. I live near Palomar, and can tell you that even in a daytime tour group, these domes are big, windy, cold, echoing cathedrals where every sound bounces around until direction and content are lost in transition, so high marks for setting.

     The book is unabashedly supernatural horror, so let's see what he offers.
          DRUG CARTEL THUGS: Check
          HUGE STORM: Check
          LOSS OF POWER: Check
          DISGRACED BUT CAPABLE SUPPORTING CHARACTER: Check
          LOVED ONE HELD HOSTAGE: Check
          MONSTER OF MYTH: Check
          SHADOWY VILLAIN: Check
          VENGEFUL GHOST: Check

     All are present in a single story, and all are tied together by as compelling a plot and as riveting wordcraft as it has been my pleasure to read in a good long time. If you're a horror fan, and you haven't read The Astronomer's Crypt, then there is a gaping hole in your cloak of fandom. Don't waste time arguing. Just get the book, ignore the extra commas, and enjoy the delightfully horrible thrill of your reading life!

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Dark City (1998)

ADVENTITIOUS:  Associated with something by chance rather than as an integral part; extrinsic.

          Okay, so I'm a fan of noir.  Movies like The Maltese Falcon, Strangers on a Train, and Sunset Boulevard just blow me away.  As a body of work, there aren't a huge number of them, so I make it a point not binge-watch them; I don't want to use them all up in a week, and never have any more to look forward to.  After all, they stopped making these things back in the 1950s.

          Or did they?  A little while back I was in the mood to add a noir to my playlist, so I did a little research and discovered that a 1950 movie called Dark City starring a young Charleton Heston (his first starring role, actually) had some points to recommend it, not the least being the young Charleton Heston.  Also in the cast were Dean Jagger, Jack Webb, Ed Begley, and Harry Morgan.  The leading lady was Lizbeth Scott.

          Deciding that this might be worth a look, I brought up Amazon, plugged Dark City into the search engine, performed my one-click purchase, and settled back to await its arrival.  When it arrived, I took it out of the shipping container and put it in the queue without paying much attention to it.  It's been working its way toward the top of the pile for a few weeks now, and this evening it came up.  Imagine my surprise when, far from being a Charleton Heston black-and-white film from the Golden Age, this was a full-color production from the Recent Age starring Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, and William Hurt.

          Adventitious.  I couldn't find the exact word I wanted to describe what happened here.  I'm sure there is a word for the situation that occurs when you make a real dunce mistake, and it turns out better than you could ever have imagined.  The 1998 film checks all the boxes:  A man wakes up in a hotel bathtub.  He can't remember who he is or what he's doing there.  He gets out of the tub, gets dressed, and goes into the living room to discover a dead woman, and the bloody knife that killed her.  The phone rings, and a stranger's voice tells him to get out of there, that even now, some men are coming for him.

          He takes the stranger's advice and high-tails it, being narrowly missed by a hard-boiled police detective, and another group of men from a secret society with shadowy motives.  There ensues an hour-and-forty minute chase through one of the grittiest, darkest urban areas you'll ever see in a movie.  I'm serious, this place makes Gotham City look like Itchycoo Park.

          Rufus Sewell plays the amnesiac, and the man who called him, Kiefer Sutherland, claims to be his doctor.  He is later revealed to be a psychiatrist who is working his own agenda.  Jennifer Connelly plays the wife he doesn't remember, a torch singer in a two-bit nightclub, and William Hurt is the hard-boiled cop who's after him for murdering the woman in the hotel room, and five more besides.  I refuse to spoil any of this, so I won't even hint at what the secret society's aims are, but let me make a statement you may find...  intriguing.

          As I said, this film checks all the boxes.  Dark, gritty hero: check.  Hard-boiled cop:  check.  Femme fatale:  check.  Grimy backdrop:  check.  But this one adds a new box, and one I've never encountered in a noir of any era before now.  Science-fiction:  check.  As I said, there will be no spoilers here.  Suffice to say that this one is a stunner.  It's about the mystery, it's about the chase, it's about the convoluted, interweaving plot lines, but this one has another facet.  It's about what it means to be human.

          See this film, at least if you have a love of noir and a love of sci-fi.  You won't see them together that often, and don't say Blade Runner; Decker's character is a cop, which removes him from the being a suspect aspect of the richly layered noir that really brings the grit.  I found this film to challenge me as a viewer to keep up, and to try to get ahead of our victim in the quest to learn the secret, but it has given me a level of pleasure beyond that, as now I know there is neo-noir out there that is every bit as good as the original classics.  You can bet I'll be on the lookout for more!

*          *          *

          Just a reminder to new visitors:  I am primarily an author, and the vast majority of my blogging is done on my author's page at https://blimprider.com - Pay me a visit when you have a spare moment.  I love to meet new people, and you never know what you might find there.  Maybe a thought-provoking discussion...  Maybe a new friend.  Meanwhile, get out there and live life like you mean it!

Monday, April 2, 2018

Consolidaton

"All things in moderation, including moderation!"
                         ~ OSCAR WILDE

          I have been blogging since 2011.  That's not as long as many of you, but I came into it with no particular plan, and not much knowledge on the subject, and over the course of that seven years, I set up a dozen or more blogs with several different providers.  It seemed like the way to attract specific audiences to specific subjects [Note to newbies: it doesn't work!].  Having since published several works of fiction, and having more in the pipeline, I have found it distracting, to say the least, to have to support these books on all of these different blogs, including this one, so I am taking steps to consolidate.
          The vast majority of blogging that I do at the current time is to promote my writing, my friends' writing, and offer discussions of the Craft.  I have very little interest, and even less time, to invest in chatty blogs about the by-products of life today.  I don't see much of it, in any case, preferring to spend my time at home with my stories, my family, my Xbox, and my old TV and movies.  Accordingly, nearly everything I find to blog about can be described as some form of the writing Craft, and in the future, it can all be found at


          That site is about six weeks old, and after an initial flurry of posts to raise visibility, I now try to add to it every four days, alternating between discussions of the Craft, and promotions of my work and that of other independent authors of my acquaintance.  If you have gotten this URL from another source, maybe even one of my books(!), I hope you get around for a visit, and find something to enjoy.  I endeavor to keep it interesting and possibly even insightful, and would love to welcome a book lover, or a fellow author, for a long, comfortable ride.  So come on over.  Maybe you'll find an enjoyable hangout; maybe you'll even find some friends.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Kung Fu

"Moon above water.  Sit in solitude."
~ DENG MING-DAO

          The time has come, the walrus said, to speak of many things.  In this case, I am going to come clean about my personal belief system.  I identify myself as a Taoist to myself and to anyone who asks, though someone who has spent time in a temple under the tutelage of masters might consider me a poor substitute.  I began my journey in about 1970.  I can't fix an exact date because it was gradually being assimilated.  You see, my young adulthood coincided with the Bruce Lee era, and that of all the martial arts movies that imitated him, and I found myself led to dojos of varying qualities to join the ranks of the legendary badasses.
          That was my intention from the beginning.  I was small and shy as a kid, and was bullied probably more than most, though not as bad as some I witnessed. but from my first encounter with judo back before my navy days, I set out to become someone you'd be very sorry for messing with.
          Having no money, and no caregivers who ever let me do anything from Cub Scouts to Little League, my first martial arts instructors were professional wrestlers, especially the bad guys, gents like Freddie Blassie, Mr. Moto, and the Iron Sheik.  They may have been putting on a show, but when you jump off the top of a parked car and land with your knees in a bully's guts, their view of you as a target begins to change.  That was all I ever wanted.
          Then came my naval service, from 1965-69, and being stationed at a couple of shore installations, I had money and time, and began to get some training from local gyms.  I got out in late 1969 and moved back home, initially until I could find a job and get on my feet.  But great-grandma broke her hip and became an invalid, and for the next four years of my life I became one of her caregivers.  Her daughter moved back in and we shared the duties.  I walked the neighbors' dogs and did light maintenance on the local Little League field for pocket change, and spent that pocket change on training at the All-Japan Karate Federation learning the arts from a 35th generation samurai.
          This guy was the real deal, and incorporated into the training were helpful concepts like Do without doing, The value of the cup lies in its emptiness, and similar concepts that helped my mind realize that it was a valuable part of the process.  It wasn't enough to be able to kick, punch, or throw, your mind needed to be philosophically involved in order for you to be truly effective.
          I had at last found an instructor who wasn't teaching his students just for the money.  These concepts were my first introduction to Oriental mysticism, and I was fascinated!  All this time, I had been concentrating on becoming the most dangerous S.O.B. in the valley, and he was opening my eyes to the much greater world behind it.  Of course, he wasn't a religious teacher, I had had a more or less typical Western upbringing, and in any case, he was teaching me how to fight, nothing more.  I probably would have just caught the edge of it and never gotten deep into the religious parts, but by the most incredible stroke of serendipity, ABC Television added to its fall lineup an Eastern Western called Kung Fu.  Yes, the series starring David Carradine.
           The series came under much ridicule in later years, and was featured in derogatory memes and other forms of artistic dismissal, and a good portion of this may be that Carradine himself spoke of it in very derogatory terms, but without that show to bring fullness to those lessons I was getting in my combat training, I would be very much less a man than I am today.  Carradine described the series concept as "You have this huge problem that is threatening to ruin your life.  You have no idea how to solve it, but then this bum wanders down out of hills and takes care of it for you."  That's a paraphrase of a statement he made on the DVD commentaries, and I'm sad for him that he wasn't in a position to "get" what he was doing, but I was.
          I have heard throughout my life that Carradine was trained as a dancer, and as such, the fight scenes in Kung Fu were just so much choreography for him.  Many of his contemporary actors could have produced better fight scenes, and it's well known that Bruce Lee was considered for the role, but the thing that Carrdine nailed perfectly was the incredible serenity of this peaceful warrior who was complete within himself.  The flashbacks to his life of training in the temple were always the meat of the show to me, and I later learned that most of them were designed directly around passages from the Tao teh Ching, the original and most sacred text of Taoism.  It was fascinating to me to see how this man who could kill you with barely a move came to be the way he was, and seriously, can anyone imagine Bruce Lee being calm enough to play even one of those temple scenes?  By the way, did you know that David Carradine's real name was John, that he changed it to avoid confusion with his actor father, and that throughout his youth, he was known as Jack?  I like that.  In a very real sense, I have been striving to "be" Kwai Chang Caine my entire adult life.
          That amounts to about 45 years of my life, and I flatter myself that I have a pretty good handle on it.  I read extensively, and meditate when I feel the need.  I have a wide collection of the literature, but as an American, the only film media I have access to is Kung Fu.  Christians have a thousand movies to watch, I have this, and I watch it regularly.  Even though I can quote entire passages of dialogue, that isn't the point; most Christians I know can quote vast portions of the Bible, but they still read it.
          Regular readers will have noted that I quote frequently from the works of Deng Ming-Dao.  He is a contemporary Taoist who has written a number of texts on the religion, including two of my favorites, Everyday Tao, and 365 Tao, from which the above quote is taken.  It speaks of the perfection of stillness, and the futility of actively trying to achieve it; the act of trying destroys it.  To reach those moments of sublime peace, one must empty the mind and relax the body completely.  They are rare, but oh so beautiful.
          This seems a worthy offering for a Sunday.  Most religions seek to achieve peace, and this is one way to do it.  Most religions also set aside days for contemplation, and my largely Christian audience recognizes Sunday as that day, so here is my gift to you, my Christian friends, peace and a means to seek it.  I hope you find it useful.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Inbound to Reality in 3... 2... 1...

 "Washing at dawn:  Rinse away dreams.
Protect the gods within, and clarify the inner spirit."

                                                                                 ~ DENG MING-DAO

           I have been conflicted about this writing business for a year or more.  My friends have graciously put up with my fits and starts, even the folks at writing.com, where my conflicted feelings came to a head last week, hoping, I assume, that I would find the muse and continue the adventures.  Sadly, that hasn't happened, and reconciliation with that cantankerous creature drifts farther away every day.
          I can write articles about the abstract concepts of the craft or the characters, plots, and situations in my old books, but when I get out all my materials and try to produce new copy, be it outlining or words on the page, it fades into the background cacophony of things that are of much greater interest to me.  Those things include the constantly developing strategy for my ongoing XCOM campaign, what to do with my postage-stamp yard come spring, or what old movies Mama and I might want to cuddle up in front of...  Anything but writing!
          The facts are these:  I have a trilogy in print, and a short story that proved of sufficient quality for an editor to include it in his anthology.  Whatever shadowy point I set out to prove when I began my quest for publication has been made, and I feel no further pressure nor even the slightest urge to continue on that path.  I have been wasting hours a day pretending to be a writer, and that needs to stop; it stops here.  I'm sorry.  It looks like "Me" isn't coming back.
          In the future, this will be my blog.  Forget writing.com, forget WordPress, forget FaceBook even.  This will be the face I present to the world.  Will it be profound?  Absolutely not!  I'm not that person.  Over the years I have been masquerading as a "Perfessional Awther," I have made a number of friends.  Hopefully they well see fit to maintain those friendships with my post-writing persona, and this will provide an open door for those friendships, and maybe even some new ones.
          The last question to be answered, then, is what will appear here if not writing-related content?  Hard to say.  I might do a spread on my garden, visit a historic site, post new recipes I've come up with, or make a funny beagle video, I just don't know.  I'll endeavor to make it regular, and I'll certainly try to keep it interesting, but I'm not going to burden myself with planning.  As some of my writing friends say, I'll be flying by the seat of my pants!  I hope it goes well.

~ Jack