Judging books by their covers, 2

Continuing the previous post's somewhat trendy trend:

Details: "Fire and Ice: Outrider", by Richard Harding -- currently selling new for a thrify $118.76 on the 'zon, even.

What is there to work with: Fonzie, portrayed by the bastard son of Peter Weller and Nicholas Cage, stands around in a field of polyethylene tanks leaking sunset into the sky. He has a large knife, a spare large knife, a small knife, and no knees.

Therefore the plot must be: Unable to sell functioning water tanks to farmers, Fonzie must resort to knife sales. Brandishing his entire stock of three, he shows up on the doorsteps of unsuspecting citizens to stand boredly askance, hoping someone will show enough interest in his knives that he can break out the extra special gift -- a free set of steak knifes.

Hit the jump for more, believe it or not, it gets better.


Details: "Ben Bova presents Phylum Monsters" by Hayford Peirce. Oh, yes. It's spelled "Peirce". My spellchecker hates it, too. Phylum, by the by, is the taxonomic rank that resides between "class" and "kingdom" in the taxonomic heirarchy. Likelihood of this being in any way relevant to the plot -- slim to none.

What we have to work with: Narcoleptic alcoholic butler holding a kidney takes a tipple in a room with a backwards computer with no screen, a yellow machine from Starfleet that has an LED desk lamp attached and probably goes "ping", while a hovering volleyball projects a hologram of a snoozing Doctor Zaius into the air in front of a pennant of the DNA double helix. There are SO MANY science fiction concepts crammed into this image. There's no possible way this could end badly.

Therefore the plot must be: Unable to maintain a train of thought while writing the sequel to the prequel to the third sequel of Planet of the Apes, Jeeves takes a brief respite in the DNA room. Sipping his chardonnay and gripping an authentic replica of a human internal organ, he hopes that turning his screen to the ether and listening to the dulcet tones of the yellow machine box will clear his mind and allow him to figure out the final character arc of Doctor Zaius, last seen sleeping in an extremely yellow room with inexplicable giant hairs growing from his left shoulder. Will Jeeves complete the screenplay in time? Will the studios buy it? Will Zaius ever wake up? Did Hayford Peirce spell his name wrong on the first book he ever published, and has had to live with it ever since? Is Ben Bova glad no one's spelled his name wrong? I imagine so!

There're still more to come (alas). Stay tuned!

Judging books by their covers, 1

I need to quit spontaneously spending money on things I don't need. Case in point: I recently bought a bunch (and by "a bunch", I mean 300) old science fiction novels, second hand, in differing states of disrepair. Some of them are recognisable, most of them aren't. Most of them are actually components of series' of novels, never with their appropriate predecessors and successors, thus making them largely pointless to read. I'm impressed, though, by the cover art on some of the "pulpier" novels, so I'm going to feature (read: mock) it here. In fact, the artwork reminds me to plug Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw's old Cowboy Comics, which are still hilarious. I've included Amazon links where I'm able to, in case you feel the need to support the authors and cover artists by buying their splendid work.

I'm going to present these in the following scenario:

  1. What's the book?
  2. What's on the cover?
  3. What conclusions can I draw about the plot based on the image on the cover?

The logical follow up point would be "and how accurate were those conclusions?", but quite frankly, the likelihood of having time (or willpower) to read these books is insignificantly low.

The books!

Details: "Nowhere Man" by Jerry Oster, 1989

What is there to work with: Either a ninja, or a man in a wetsuit. He's armed with a 9mm. He looks depressed. The novel is a humdinger.

Therefore the plot must be: A manic-depressive scuba-diving ninja floats on his back in a pool of red custard, contemplatedly scratching his cheek with his 9mm. Nothing happens, though, because he is Nowhere Man, a superhero so ineffectual that even non-sequitir situations fail to create drama.


Details: "Lord Tedric: Black Knight of the Iron Sphere" by Gordon Eklund, 1955

What is there to work with: Captain Beardy Leatherpants slapping a sword-wielding child, while a pink bikini-wearing Viking crossdresser approaches with a stick, hoping to offset Captain Beardy Leatherpants already questionable balance.

Therefore the plot must be: Looks like a family drama. Mother is a crossdresser. Son, genetically inheriting father's bad balance, tries to protect a stain he's made on the carpet, all the while hoping his dumbass transvestite mother doesn't just walk into dad's sword, as (s)he's clearly paying no attention to her inner GPS.


Details: "Warrior's Blood", by Richard S. McEnroe, 1955

What there is to work with: Luke Skywalker, now inexplicably portrayed by Scott Bakula, leans italic-style into the background to dodge a flying sun pellet. Mistress McFaintyFaint, dressed in yellow and wearing a convenient dream catcher to hold the ensemble together does her best to keep her left thigh from collapsing.

Conclusion: It's the story of an interstellar chiropractor, travelling from planet to planet curing ailments and encouraging people to engage in fitness routines. He also sells fetching white leotards and pale yellow dresses, neither of which are designed to fit particularly well. When not performing chiropracty, Doctor Skywalker flies around space in his shoe-shaped-ship, leaving behind gigantic exhaust plumes of orange debris, which dissipate into neon space signs that advertise his business. Back pain? FOLLOW THAT NEBULA.

There will be more. (Unfortunately.)

Bill Bryson: What the hell?

I’ve just finished reading Bill Bryson’s “Mother Tongue”, a reasonably amusing edutainment book exploring the history, complexity and potential future of the English language. All in all, it’s a suitably entertaining read, but I find it’s somewhat flawed by the small issue that factually, it’s probably wildly innacurate. I base this assumption on the various passages devoted to the Australian dialect of the English language, most of which are fundamentally, well, wrong. While I’d like nothing less than to simply reproduce these passages verbatim for your own edification, I have a moral aversion to plagiarism, and shall instead address the various “examples” of Australian speech/grammar/spelling, and then we’ll discuss whether or not anyone ever actually uses them.

Another temptation I shall avoid is the urge to address Mr. Bryson’s quoting from “Lets Talk Strine”, a comedic parody of a book written in 1965 by this bloke, and not representing anything realistic whatsoever about the way anyone did, does, or likely ever will speak.

Anyhow, the actual examples that annoy me:

“Tucker”. This word means “food”. It’s commonly used as part of the term “bush tucker”, and by Australia’s version of rednecks. It’s very quickly disappearing from the language. (And good riddance, say I.)

“Slygrogging.” I have never ever heard this word spoken, nor have I read it prior to seeing it in this book. Apparently (and somewhat evidently, I admit), it defines the act of sneaking out to have a drink. Where I come from, we call that “sneaking out to have a drink”.

“Nong.” A nong is an idiot. No one has used this word since 1987.

“Don’t come the raw prawn with me.” Oh, god. How I both love and loathe this phrase. This alleged common element of Australian parlance, along with various others (”technicolour yawn” for vomit, as cited in this very book is another) survive thrivingly on tea towels and in useless Australian language phrase books. No one ever says them.

Furthermore, the next paragraph in the book proposes a few additional facts that are entirely debatable:

“In Australia, people eat cookies, not biscuits.” No, we don’t. We eat biscuits. Americans eat cookies. If you want to be thoroughly pedantic, we eat cookies when we buy them from Subway.

“They spell many words the American way - labor rather than labour, for instance.” To hell we do. If I’d have spelled the word “labor” in school, I’d have been sorely reprimanded for it, and rightly so. The Australian Labor Party is a vestige of some idiot’s idea of modernising the image of the political party (well, as modernised as it could get in 1912), and is the only time we spell the word without the “u”. As a rule, we follow British spelling conventions, not American conventions. No “-ize” endings, no “-or” endings. And no nukular.

It’s inconsistencies like these that make me doubt the other “facts” presented in the book, particularly when I’m unable to verify them myself and am forced to take them at face value.

I also dislike the easy-to-digest approach when it’s used to present incorrect information, because, frankly, people are more likely to remember rubbish when it’s presented in an amusing format.

I’ve had my whinge. You can all go home now.