Dream of Mexico

So on Travel Thursday Encore last week, I wrote about one time in Mexico City where I did some spy training. . . part two coming up tomorrow. I’ve also been watching a Netflix show about several large cities around the world and their problems, with Mexico City the latest one.
And now, to my shock, I wanna go play tourist. . .
Mexico City, skyscraper, Torre Latinamericana
Similarly, I was huge into archaeology as a kid, thanks to that darned Indiana Jones. But even before that I found it fascinating, as I was looking through my mom’s photos and found myself at Monte Alban when I was about eight. Traveling throughout Mexico throughout the years, I’ve been to just about every site. . . except I always miss Tula!
Then in college I made the mistake of taking a field archaeology class. So it turns out I suck at both digging and examining what the digging uncovered. I was pretty good at finding sites, but that’s another story.
So that was that as far as a career, but I still love visiting sites. Just a couple of years ago I was in Jordan for my third time photographing Petra, and spent two days shooting everything, not just the famous part. Also whiled a day away at Jerash, a site hardly anyone has ever heard of.
Flash forward to thirty years later, or more like a couple of months ago, when I’m watching a Great Courses series on Mexican archaeology (if you have a Los Angeles city or county library card, you can watch them for free on Hoopla and Kanopy). As well as the series on South American archaeology, I find myself wanting to get back into that, especially finding sites. At the end of the Mexico series the professor, who is awesome, talked about wanting to look for evidence of a South American connection with the western coast of Mexico, and since that’s where my dad lives, it would be really easy for me to nip down there for some scouting. . . were some archaeology department disposed to pay my way, of course.


Travel Thursday Encore: Or as Michael Jordan calls it, the Louie, part 4

More Art edition

“When photography came into being, realism in painting pretty much died.”
“But photography doesn’t have to realistic either.”
Never letting an opportunity to tease her slip by, I tried, “Pascal once said, a long time ago, ‘How vain painting is, exciting admiration by its resemblance to things of which we do not admire the originals.’”
“Sounds like he was talking about Van Gogh.”
“It was long before the Earless Wonder.”
“He still had one ear.”
“Good thing he didn’t fall in love again. Imagine what body part he’d send his third love.”
“Overdoing it as usual,” she sighed. “Anyway, this Pascal dude missed the point. Admiring a painting that depicts a place we know but don’t like seems absurd and pretentious at first, but only if we imagine that painters do nothing but reproduce exactly what they see.”
I grinned, liking it so far, but she’d never believe it, so I let her ramble on.
“If that were true, then all we could admire in a painting would be the technical skills involved in the reproduction of an object.”
“I just thought of something.”
“I might have seen those five-legged creatures at the British Museum.”
“Moving on. . .” she sighed. (That’s two.)
“Cythera was a mythical island associated with the Goddess of Love,” I told her as she went glum again. She’d been hoping to reestablish superiority in the paintings, but I was already ahead of her.
“I didn’t know you were an expert on mythology as well,” she grumbled.
“You think I’m not going to know something about the goddess I worship?”
“That’s true,” she brightened. “I am the current priestess, right?”
“At least for today,” I bright-sided while flexing my biceps, knowing the blow would be coming. It did, but luckily she only had superhuman strength in bed.
We continued looking at The Embarkation for Cythera. To be completely honest, there was nothing in it to suggest it was a masterpiece. Except for the sky, the colors were very dark; all you could see was a large number of people heading away from the viewer toward the distant sea.
“Now that you know what it’s about,” I gave her a wicked grin, “what do you think they’re doing? Are they about to go to the island, and who wouldn’t, seeing it’s run by the goddess of love, or are they being forced to leave the island? If you look carefully, you can see they’re a bit sad.”
She looked closely for a bit longer, then turned to answer and found a stranger there. Looking around, she saw me walking toward the next gallery, but I saw the Mona Lisa was in that direction and made a rapid U-turn.
“I don’t know,” she admitted when she finally caught up with me. “which is it?”
“I don’t know either.” I interrupted her growing grin with, “Nobody knows. Watteau died of tuberculosis when he was 37, and he didn’t tell anyone.”
“Then why did you ask me?” she growled, nettled.
“No reason in particular,” I said lightly, walking along regardless of her slow pace. “You ready to stop this little competition?”
She startled, then was about to make things worse by saying, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” but luckily refrained.
I nodded, as if agreeing with that course of action. “Can you be satisfied with being the second most-intelligent person in this country? After all, I’ll be gone soon, and you’ll be back to being number one. The sad thought is that you’ll leave too, and then where will this country be?”
She stared at me for a while, then burst into laughter, causing me to do the same. The guard there this time was obviously immune to her blandishments–or just too plain old to bother anymore–and ordered us out of the hall.
“Gladly. Let’s get the hell out of here. I’ve seen enough of Reuben and almost the Mona Lisa to last me a lifetime anyway. . .”


Travel Thursday Encore: Or as Michael Jordan calls it, the Louie, part 2

Archaeology edition.

Not wanting to face another embarrassment for a while, she led me toward the archaeology stuff. She knew I was far more expert at such things, but at least they weren’t open to as much interpretation as art.
She hoped.
We found ourselves in the Near Eastern Gallery after a while of wandering. It was rather dark in there, but when we approached a black stela in the middle of the hall, I recognized it instantly. I quickly left her behind and moved to it, the joy evident in my movements.
When she joined me again, she read the French explanation next to it. “Code of Hammurabi.” Then she looked up at the phallic-shaped piece of black basalt and said, “Not much to look at, is it?”
“I’m surprised you aren’t more excited to see it, considering how much of a feminist you are.”
Again she had her mouth open to speak, then decided not to provoke me and get the lecture over with. She moved her hands into position as if holding a pen and pad. “Go ahead; I’m all ears.”
Since I am always aware of my surroundings, I knew that at the moment we were alone and thus allowed my hand to land on the shapely hip encased in the blue dress. “Not ALL ears.”
She grinned and shook her head, but didn’t say what she obviously wanted to say.
“Hammurabi was an eighteenth century B.C. king of Babylonia–he’s the bearded one standing here with the god of justice–who wrote this code, which is one of the most significant legal documents in history. According to this code, women had many of the same rights as men: own property, have their own businesses, and work as scribes, which was a big thing back then, not like today when writers are treated like a lower life-form. It also stated that the strong should not subjugate the weak and gave protection to widows and orphans.”
The brunette grinned yet again. “Is that all, professor?”
I gave her a dark look, then continued at full speed so as to overwhelm her. “Most of the other laws were pretty harsh, although technically they weren’t laws at all. It was more the literary expression of his social responsibilities and his awareness of the disparity between the way things are and the way he wants them to be.”
Her eyes became either dreamy or bored, so after a quick pause for breath I kept going.
“The stela itself is written in cuneiform, in the Semitic language, covering 49 lines of writing. On the front is a prologue, 65 laws that are easily read–” She leaned forward. “–if you know cuneiform, of course.” She blushed and moved back to her original position. “There are another 40 laws on the front that are almost illegible.”
This time she saw my pause for breath and quickly got a word in. “If you can’t read them, how do you know what they say?”
I glared at her. “Next time raise your hand like a good girl.” She actually turned and looked around before remembering we weren’t in a classroom, but by that time I had continued. “This is not the only copy of the laws; others were found later in Nippur and Nineveh. On the back are 183 other laws and the epilogue.”
She suddenly looked intrigued. “Can you read this?”
Which made her completely lose interest, typical model.


Book Reviews: Planes, Jazz, Chickens, Smartphones

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird
One of the most amazing planes in history gets yet another huge tribute. It’s comprehensive, but also has spots of boredom.
Right away there’s some photos of prototypes that led to the Blackbird, as well as shots of Area 51. Those were cool. Another good entry was the page of tail photos; my fave is the shark.
But it takes a huge fan to get through this; even I needed to take some breaks and refocus. There’s only so many angles of a plane that can be shot, so after a while it feels repetitive. Not putting this book down in any way, since it’s really comprehensive, merely stating it should be taken in small doses.

Jazz in Available Light: Illuminating the Jazz Greats from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s
As you would expect with this title, there’s a LOT of black and white photos of men—and two women—with instruments, along with some biographic material on each. They’re mostly grainy and dark, and if this was strictly a photography book it wouldn’t be very impressive. As history, however, it works better.
My most enjoyable chapter was on jazz violins. Also the drummers. But it takes someone who is a lot more of a jazz fan than I to appreciate this to its fullest.

Can Your Smartphone Change the World?
I’m sure people assumed this would be some kinda holistic manual when they saw the title. It’s so much more. What we have instead is the story of a young lady, Erinne Paisley, in western Canada who went viral with her prom dress and used the publicity to make the world better. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s from one of my favorite cities, Victoria.)
She’ll probably blush and deny it if she reads this, but even though the circumstances were different, I’m putting her in the same rarified air as her idol Malala, who is in my top ten of the most amazing and inspirational people in the world. There’s a mention of another on my list, Queen Rania; it’s almost like she was writing this book specifically to get me to love it.
There’s pop quizzes which really aren’t, rather call to actions. More importantly, there’s plenty of advice on how you can make a difference through social media.
In what’s already a thin book there’s a lot of photos, but I think in this case it benefits from being to the point rather than including any padding.
In the end, a phone is just a tool, no different than a pencil, a car, or even a gun. Whether it’s good or bad completely depends on how it’s used. What I like the most about this book is its relentless optimism. Sure, doing what she did and what she suggests is much harder than it sounds, but like the old saying goes, if you don’t play, you can’t win.

A Little History of Archaeology
If I have a favorite archaeology writer, it’s gotta be Brian Fagan, longtime prof at UCSB (University of California, Santa Barbara). Pretty sure I’ve read all of his books, and that’s saying a lot.
In this entry, Fagan is even more subtlety humorous than usual. I love his note that Layard is the only archaeologist to find two palaces in the same day. Even though I’ve been studying archaeology for nearly 40 years, there’s some names in here I’ve never come across. Others I vaguely remember, or saw the name but didn’t follow up. He’s given me a lot of stuff to research (aka more things to do when I should be working).
I’ve read a lot of books like these—some by Dr. Fagan as well—introductions to archaeological sites all over the world, written for the general public. This does that too, but it goes further in depth, especially with the personalities. I like it.

For Cluck’s Sake!
Probably not everything you ever wanted to know about chickens, but close.
It starts with a funny intro where the author gives her chicken résumé, as it were. The first photo shows an angry-looking hen, staring at the camera like it’s spoiling for a fight; actually pretty scary. The second photo shows two chickens next to each other, and the pattern in their feathers is quite mesmerizing. The third photo is of a bird with feathers on its legs; it just looks. . . wrong. But you get the gist.
A pea comb is mentioned, but not explained.
Amid all the facts there are quotes that are not about the feathered fowl, but the main noun has been changed to chicken, which more often than not fails. Thankfully the fun facts are indeed fun.
Chicks come out born ready, so to speak.
The egg did come first.
Chickens are smarter than four-year-old humans when thinking long-term.
There’s a literal pecking order; doesn’t say if this is where the phrase originated, but it figures to be.
Plenty of fun or funny stuff, but some uninteresting ones as well.

Fingerprints and Phantoms
Subtitled: True Tales of Law Enforcement Encounters with the Paranormal and the Strange
Told in a folksy downhome style, this is a collection of stories purported to be encounters with ghosts and such, although many lack any. Much of the first chapter has nothing more than “feelings” backing up the title. I’d hoped it would get better in that respect, but in the first third or so the most we get is a haunted hotel elevator.
The best chapter was the one about the shape-shifting dogs of South El Lay. It also seems to be the only unexplained phenomenon that didn’t happen in Utah.
One story involving a Halloween-laden murder might have been creepy due to the surroundings, but also had no paranormal trappings to it. So why is it in here? Similarly there’s a story about a woman who died for no apparent reason—at the time; autopsy findings are not mentioned—on a sidewalk after a shopping trip that cost the most famous three-digit number around. That superstition is the most ghostly thing in the story. It feels like cheating; it annoys me.
It isn’t till the end that the author mentions this is more of a book on folklore than actual paranormal. I will agree that his intention was not to prove ghosts exist, but after reading the title and subtitle, it seems disingenuous.

Greek Gods and Heroes: Meet 40 Mythical Immortals
A primer on the most famous Greek myths, though there’s bound to be a few annoyed at not being included. Purportedly a children’s book, but the vocabulary and literary content seems at youngest for teenagers, so I’m not including it in a children’s book blog.
The icons look 8-bit, perhaps on purpose, and they’re used in the table of contents, rather than names, which is awesome. Pandora is the closest to human, but even she looks weird, probably because she has practically no nose. Aphrodite is of course blonde, as is Apollo, who looks like a vain surfer dude.
The first is Gaia, showing the page format: a brief description, several other info boxes, a large graphic representation, and so on.
Always happy when I can learn some things too. For example, Themis, who isn’t as well known, was Zeus’ second wife, before Hera (good luck remembering the first!). She was the Fates’ mommy as well as the Goddess of Justice; she was the Delphi oracle before Apollo took it over.
Hera sure got the worst role of any goddess.
“Artemis rarely kills wild animals.” Oh, that’s nice. “She prefers to attack those women who disagree with her or who insult her mother.” And so much for nice. . .
I did not know Sisyphus was the father of Odysseus.
But again, I simply can’t call this a children’s book, as it goes too far into explanations that should have been much simpler for kids. This is probably better for teens, and a lot of adults will like it.
After all this, Orpheus is still my fave.

Music Legends
A purported children’s book about the greatest stars in rock and roll history. . . supposedly. More on that coming up.
Right away there’s Elvis, who’s described as having “devilish swiveling hips.” Can’t wait for a kid to ask Mom what that means.
More than anything, I have to question the inclusion of some of these, especially with Rush not chosen. At least I’ve heard of most of them, but Blur? This book definitely skews British and Euro. Daft Punk? Well, the author is French. . . I think that after he ran out of icons, he chose his favorites. It’s just that some of these are so ridiculous it brings the whole book down.
Like the similar entry on Greek gods, this one just doesn’t feel like the children’s book it claims to be.

Literary Handyman
A monthly column called The Writer’s Toolbox gets collected and transformed into the Literary Handyman. Actually, the title’s kinda clever, if you stop to think about it.
There’s a moment that made me love this book: the author’s talking about how writing is a solitary endeavor, “just you and your computer. . . or typewriter. . . or clay tablet. . .” Nice.
There’s advice that’s for the most part common sense, though I’m sure most beginning writers don’t think of this stuff. (Warning: on the cover it says “for beginners,” so don’t expect anything in depth if you’ve got some years under your. . . fingers.) The important parts for me were the droplets of humor sprinkled throughout, transforming what might otherwise had been a dry read into something more memorable. It is important to remember that these were originally in a once a week or month format; it’s a lot different reading them all at once.


Travel Thursday: Putting the Machu in Picchu

A few days in the Inca fortress with a former model who would really wish I’d forget that part of her life. . . and before you ask how I knew what she was thinking, let’s just say she didn’t hide her journal nearly as well as she thought. . .

It’s hard enough getting up at five in the morning under any circumstances, but since it was four times zones away from my usual, I was basically getting up at one, an hour I might just be getting to bed. And it was highly recommended that I wake up, since it wouldn’t do to walk unconsciously in this place, with the thin air and uneven terrain. The dark didn’t help either.
On the other hand, I didn’t have to worry about where to step and gasping for oxygen during the first part, which was riding in the back of a truck up to the site. Speaking the local language–or as local as possible here, not knowing Quechua–helped in getting an invite to join the workers who opened up the site, so I could get some sunrise shots. Of course, it didn’t hurt having top-notch archaeology credentials, a letter from the country’s top government cultural official, and a friendly attitude, but, whatever.
I’d shown up in the back room of the hotel, where the workers who got the archaeological site ready for the tourists had their incredibly early breakfasts. A little schmoozing over hot chocolate and I’d earned myself a ride. If all worked out, I’d be meeting that German girl from the train for breakfast at opening time, once I’d gotten all the sunrise shots I could handle.
Not quite. Katarina showed up, perky for bright and early, just as everyone was loading into the truck.
“Three hours is too much apart after meeting you,” she informed me cutely, though I knew she was just being cruel.
I turned to the guys waiting in the truck, but even the driver was grinning as they gawked at her. She gave her trademark smile as she put a boot on the fender, and the truck almost overtipped from the rush of guys fighting to help her up. Her power of attraction was no matter of shame or embarrassment to her.
Making sure everyone, including her, knew what was up, I put my hands on her ass and pushed, making for a cute squeal as she flew into the crowd. Perhaps one–or possibly two, with her body–got an accidental feel, but she didn’t complain, because they behaved themselves and she was laughing too hard.
Now though, on the road through the darkness, she started pet peeving. “I could have afforded to stay at the hotel right next to the site,” she grumbled as her ass left the truck bed again. Of course that wasn’t the problem; it was the landing she didn’t like.
“It’s not a question of money,” I explained yet again (after asking if she wanted me to massage her tender area; she said she wouldn’t feel it through the denim). “Those assholes think they can charge whatever they want, and there’s no place in the world worth $900 a night, no matter where it is. Nor the $25 buffet either, but I will let them know I won’t be recommending them in my new book.”
“You’re writing a book?” She looked puzzled, then groaned and slapped her forehead. “Sheesh!”
One of the workers smiled and handed over a can of insect repellent, which made me laugh. But after that it got a little boring, since there was nothing to look at, the dawn not making an appearance yet, thankfully for my camera. It may have been only nine miles up to the site, but it was a zigzag nine miles up the mountain. I couldn’t write, more due to motion sickness than darkness, so while trying not to fall asleep, I decided to try memorizing the photography notes running through my head. But that didn’t work too well either.
“I always seem to forget in which word the extra C goes.”
She commiserated, “I know what you mean. I keep putting both words with double Cs, so I know I got at least one right.”
I was too smart to point out that she’d always get one wrong too, or would get the same effect by just having one C in each. No point in wasting time, or precious thin oxygen, on that. Besides, she was too busy smirking at me. I knew she was still being a Teutonic tease, so I pretended to ignore her. . .
Until she put her lips on mine.
At the exact moment the truck hit another bump, or pothole. And while she remarked that she was amazed she hadn’t chipped a tooth with the contact, she didn’t notice me checking my nose for breaks.
“You’re weird,” I sighed, a bit nasally.
She took that in stride. “That’s why you love me so much.”
“That doesn’t say much for either you or me.”
“Mmm-hmm. Now tell me a quote about love, right now.”
“Love is like flushing yourself down the toilet: a nice cool ride with a lot of crap at the end.”
“Oh, that’s fucking perfect!” Then she saw the guys around her grinning, and didn’t have to wonder which word they’d understood. She gave them a big fake grin, secure in the knowledge that she could handle any of them if they got difficult, or I could.
“I can sit and wait,” she told herself quietly. “I’m good at that.”
I grinned, but left it alone.
“The hard part is holding a thought, with all this bouncing.”
“I’ll skip the blonde joke, then.”
“Speaking of unusual restraint!”
I smiled and let her have that one, then jumped–not due to the truck this time–when she shrieked in his ear. “WHAT?”
“Did you see the unicorn?” she asked excitedly.
“Right there, by the side of the road!” She tried to look back, but it was too dark. “You didn’t see it?”
“Of course not,” I snorted. “And considering all the stories you told me about your one-night stands while traveling, neither should you.”
It took her a moment to catch my drift. “Ha-ha. You really didn’t see it?”
“Not even a horse or a llama.”
“Unicorns exist,” she said quietly. “I know this. . . it’s a certainty. As certain as. . . as certain as I am that you want me, that the moment we get back to the hotel. . .” She grinned, having teased me enough for the now.
I smiled, but didn’t say anything.
“You do want me, right?”
“Either you’re really insecure, have a truly horrible memory, or you’re begging for some kind of compliment. None suit you.”
She didn’t seem disappointed her game hadn’t worked. “I’ll stop wasting your time then,” she smirked, then suddenly flew off the seat. “I’d better shut up before I bite my tongue,” she giggled as she landed.
“That’s a switch, biting your own tongue.”
The blonde stuck said appendage out at him, but another jolt caused her to bite exactly that, making her grimace and me laugh.
The next few moments were spent quietly, with her no doubt checking her tongue for damage, but we both enjoyed the silence. . . well, at least I did. Not that it was a perfect silence, for despite it being under her breath and very noisy in the back of the truck, I could hear her, as if she were trying to memorize a script, repeating, “We came upon permanence, the rock that abides. . . the city upraised like a cup in our fingers.”
“Neruda, huh?”
“You’d better know that.” She looked smug.
“And did you know he wrote that about this very place?”
I checked my watch, but figured I’d wait to write down the time and place of the very first occurrence of the German babe being rendered completely speechless. I remembered reading the poem to her on the train, where after beautiful descriptions of the ruins Neruda–or rather the poem’s narrator–promised to give voice to those long-dead humble builders who’d been forced into slavery to make these amazing buildings in this austerely beautiful landscape. Before this, Neruda had been all about the examination of his private life, but with this poem he became a public voice for those who couldn’t speak for themselves.
Which of course made him a hero to easily impressionable romantic European girls, who’d already been to Italy to see where Shelly was cremated. . .

Tune in next week, where we finally get to the site and have photographic adventures!


Travel Thursday Snapshots: Amman

Exactly one year ago today I landed in the capital of Jordan for about the fourth or fifth time in my life, can’t remember. (I say exactly, but time zones and stuff.)
With only half a day remaining after settling in, I thought about hanging out at the entrance to the Royal Palaces on the off chance of running into the amazing Queen Rania, a lady I hold in as much esteem as Valerie Kondos-Field (Gymnastics coach at UCLA) and Katherine Heigl. But before I left the hotel I saw on her Twitter that she was in Norway, so that’s that. I suppose I can’t blame her for wanting to get away from a possibly crazed fan. Maybe the king will want to talk Star Trek. . .?
Did you know that Amman was the original Philadelphia? Now you can impress with your knowledge of trivia at the next party. There’s still a lot more brotherly love in this city than the current one, as I saw plenty of times once I finally ventured outside and made my way past a ton of embassies, arriving downtown just in time for dinner, which with my stomach was not an easy thing to find. After that I took a taxi up to the Citadel, as there was no way these knees were going to make it up that hill, especially so early in the trip when I should seriously be conserving my limited energy. I spent some minutes getting every conceivable angle of the Temple of Hercules, as well as the Hand of Hercules (a little creepy), before settling in to shoot the sunset.
Feeling the first pull of jetlag, I dropped off the hill and found a taxi to take me back to my hotel, figuring I’d have time right before I left the country to peruse the amphitheater and all the museums, which other than maps are pretty much my crack.
Perhaps it was the excitement I always get at the beginning of a trip, or else my internal clock set itself perfectly when I went to sleep around 10PM local time, but the next morning my brain was perfectly tuned to the time zone and I was smiling as I had a quick breakfast of oranges, grapes, and even pineapple (!) before heading off south, ultimate destination Petra, followed by Wadi Rum and Aqaba.

Book Reviews: Star Trek/Green Lantern and Sherlock Holmes Graphics

“Promise me you’ll always make me laugh.”
“That sounds like a marriage proposal.”
She threw her arms around my neck. “See? Exactly what I mean!”

The Courier
A bike messenger in a futuristic West Coast city. . . sound familiar already? Yep. But luckily it goes off in a different direction than Dark Angel and Heinlein’s Friday. For one thing, Kris Ballard hides her girl-ness. For another, while she’s doing well, she’s not a kick-ass fighting machine; she’s winging it and barely surviving, which makes it more exciting as everyone underestimates her. So even though the premise is the same, the execution isn’t.
As one would expect, the plot centers on something she’s delivering, and when things go wonky everyone’s after her. About halfway through the story comes into focus, involving much more than just futuristic Earth, and of course corporate shenanigans, not so much espionage as infighting between factions of one up and coming company who wants to play with the big boys. There’s also an anti-corp group involved, I suppose you can call them the Resistance.
There wasn’t anything great about the writing, but I did like the main character, as well as the world-building. The idea of one vast city stretching from San Diego to Los Angeles has been mentioned before, but what’s new here is levels, with the lowest being the poorer sections, where people can go their entire lives without ever seeing the sun. As for Kris, she’s feisty yet vulnerable when no one else is around to see. It’s hard for her to trust anyone, considering her family history, but as you get to know her she’s thoroughly likeable and you end up rooting for her.

Sherlock Holmes: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution
This is most likely the most famous non-Doyle Sherlock story, now brought to you in graphic novel form.
An old Watson is telling a Sherlock story many years after to Miss Dobson, who likes being called charming. Everyone in the story has died—except for Watson—so he can tell it now.
It’s claimed that Watson made up 2 of the canon stories, about Holmes’ death and return, having to do with Moriarty. He gets Sherlock to go to Vienna so Freud can cure him of his cocaine addiction, so they’re in the right place at the right time to prevent, or at least postpone, the first world war.
I find myself enjoying this bare-bones version more than the original novel; Meyer always liked going overboard with the clichés. And there’s a few pieces from the movie that were not in the book, but the reader doesn’t need to know anything about those versions to get the full gist of this. As for the artwork, the drawing of Holmes seems to be based on Rathborne or Brett, certainly not Cumberbatch. And Watson also looks like the older versions, more stout than Freeman’s slight figure. The graphics are more brightly colored than I expected for this kind of story, but it works perfectly. Definitely a must for Sherlock fans, and good enough for those who aren’t.

Star Trek/Green Lantern: The Spectrum War
Some catastrophe happens in the Green Lantern universe, sending those characters into the Star Trek universe, where they again fight their evil nemesis with the help of the Enterprise crew. That’s the best I can tell you, as I’m not at all familiar with the Green Lantern stories.
All the Star Trek characters are drawn remarkably similar to their real-life counterparts; I know that’s how it’s supposed to be, but even more so here. Even non-regulars like General Chang look exactly right, and thankfully he’s not spouting hammy Shakespeare when he shows up.
The plot was a bit difficult to get through, as this is really a Green Lantern story set in the Star Trek universe, though there are a few moments that would not have happened anywhere else, especially the outcome of the final battle.
Here’s a twist that I’ll bet no one thought they would ever hear: Vulcan zombies!

The Adventures of Basil and Moebius Volume 3
A British dandy who fancies himself the next Indiana Jones and a former SAS guy are forced to serve an ancient alien by going around the world collecting artifacts for him, though they don’t know why he wants them. The story starts in Hong Kong but goes off to many other places, including London, before the final showdown in Crete. Both the Mossad and a secret cult are after them, with no one knowing the endgame, as you would expect.
I love that it’s the old Chinese professor who comes up with the perfect word everyone’s groping for to describe Basil’s mom: “Cougar?” There are other female characters more appropriate to this kind of story, particularly Sophi, who’s a wannabe Lara Croft, especially in the way she dresses. Isabella the assassin babe is actually more fun, and exquisitely drawn, until she meets her untimely death in a most gruesome way; I hate when that happens, and even more that Basil didn’t try to help her.
The one thing that could have been done better was the exposition, which happened in the form of clunky info drops. There isn’t much opportunity in individual comic books to tell the whole story, but there’s room for improvement.
Extra credit: if you go to their website you can see a short film about these characters, with Zach Levi from Chuck playing Moebius!


Book Reviews: All Kinds of Genres

Secret Kindness Agents
Like the previous book I read in this category, this is a fascinating account of how given the right incentive and drive you can get teenagers to do something that will benefit not just them, but those around them. Written by their teacher, who came up with most of the objectives and plans, but it’s especially intriguing when the kids come up with the ideas themselves. Wish it had been longer, but what there is here is gold. 5/5

The Cana Mystery
In a previous review I mentioned that the very next book I picked up–electronically–also involved Saint Malachy’s Prophesy of the Popes; this is it. It concerns the Jars of Cana, which supposedly–being an atheist, I haven’t read much of the Bible–is where Jesus turned water into wine. Everyone’s looking for a message hidden in them, of course.
As usual in these stories, the rich powerful bad guys will do anything they can to get their way, so there’s a lot of killing, especially innocents, which never fails to annoy me. From an archaeology story it becomes a chase story, through numerous places in Egypt before ending up in Malta.
There was one part I particularly enjoyed: having studied the Battle of Milvian Bridge, it was intriguing to read a more personal–though of course fictional–account of the behind-the-scenes that led up to Constantine marching into Rome, rather than the cut-and-dried military history. Particularly captivating was Maxentius, the unpopular ruler of Rome at the time, being told that the enemy of Rome would fall in the battle; it never occurred to him that HE might be the enemy of Rome.
All in all, a good but not great thriller to wile away some hours. 3.5/5

A Spacious Life
I try to not have expectations, but I couldn’t help think this wasn’t going to be for me. . . or else I was setting myself up for a happy surprise. Thankfully the latter happened. Stories from an attractive lady growing up in Australia while trying to become a better person through Buddhism. I assume she is showing these examples of what worked for her in building such a spiritual life in order for the reader to do the same, but a lot of them seem difficult for the ordinary Joe to attain. . . which I guess is a roundabout way of saying this woman is pretty special. The greatest thing about this book is her sense of humor, especially when self-deprecating; the best way to put it is she entertains me as she’s enlightening me, even if I can never hope to attain her spirituality. 4/5

Star Trek: Shadow of the Machine
There are some things to like here, but not that many. I expected this to be like the episode “Family” from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and in a lot of ways it is, as all three threads–Kirk, Spock, Sulu–dealt with family. I wish I could say what made me not like this as much as I thought I would, but I can’t seem to put my finger on it; perhaps I am comparing it too much to the STTNG episode. The most intriguing parts were Kirk’s family in Iowa. 3/5


Travel Thursday: Pain and Pleasure in Paestum, part 2

After a quick breakfast–I barely refrained from her suggestion that I eat it off her; it was cereal, after all–I was off to the site, this time with a promise that she’d come see me after lunch. I told her I’d spend the morning looking for a temple of love, just as she’d asked, and that seemed to make her happy, at least for now.
So I walked out and headed south toward the site, skipping the seaside, since it was late enough in the morning to have its fill of tourists. On the other hand, a nice ocean breeze would hit the spot, since it was a hot muggy day, the kind that made you want to shoot yourself in the head. . . just to get some air in.
Today I planned to concentrate on the art, the painted tombs, since that would be the easiest clue as to a temple of love or such. To my chagrin, I didn’t know much about them, and hadn’t studied at all on the Lucanian period, the time of all but one of the aforementioned painted tombs. And this wasn’t the place to study them, having no books and not about to sit in this mugginess while reading a laptop with a satellite link.
There was a long, sandy beach nearby, though, with hopefully that possible cool breeze coming from the ocean. . . nah, couldn’t risk the laptop on the sand.
Finally I decided to concentrate on the one Greek mural, which a water girl like Blanca was sure to appreciate. It was called the Tomb of the Diver, and despite the small hike in this paella-like weather, I figured it would be worth the trip. Of course it wouldn’t be with the others, I groused as I walked, and it had to be in a necropolis, an ancient cemetery the likes I always hated to go into. On the other hand, at least I wasn’t going at night! Then I wondered if the ancient Greeks knew about vampires. . . and shuddered in the humidity.
Still, I knew better, just kidding with my always silly and overactive imagination. According to the latest theory, the tomb was actually the sanc¬tuary of Hera, at the mouth of the river Sele. I wasn’t quite so sure yet, because Hera’s house was an ancient myth that a lot of people wanted to be true, especially since the legend also had it as being founded by Jason and the Argonauts, the original wrong-way drivers. . . or was that Odysseus’ crew? Ancient dates always confused me. . .
But, whatever, I sighed. Archaeologists were just as notorious as everyone else for being pigheaded. . . excluding myself, of course, but then I wasn’t a full-blown archaeologist either.
And when I got there I realized I’d blown it, though immediately blaming the weather for my lack of concentration: the frescos were no longer on site! Instead they were at the local National Museum, which I really should have known, or at least realized the possibility. Shaking my head at my stupidity, but covering up by taking photos of the small structure, I thought my body might have overheated beyond repair from this morning’s activities.
Somehow I had to find a way to blame this on her. . .
Or I could simply take her to the museum to look at the murals, put the pressure on her to come up with something worthwhile, especially since she was likely to take a dim view at the futuristic interior of that building.
Heading off at a slow slog back to the main site, I used the wide angle to take some shots of the entire region, though stopping each time, not trusting the landscape without my eyes. It was hard to figure now, but from what I’d read of this place, after the usual deforestation for ship building, had become a marshland, as always bringing malaria along for the ride. Not that I would prefer marsh, of course, but I simply couldn’t picture how different the place had to be to make it worth building such an important ancient city.
Stopping on a hill to overlook the area–and take a better photo–I studied the walls, looking prehistoric around the site, except where the whole place was cut by that damned highway. Once again I wondered if I could get permission to go into even one of the towers, just for some photos if nothing else. Problem was, most of the site was on private land, which pissed off the archaeologist in me, but the rest of me knew better than to worry about it and walked on, though still in an abstract mood, trying to picture how the place must have looked in its great days. It was hard to believe these were the only remaining Greek temples north of Sicily, and then it was only the malaria-bearing mosquitoes that kept people from destroying these too. On the other hand, it was just as astounding to imagine that, due to the place being so utterly uninhabitable so that staying overnight with the biting bugs meant certain death, a thick forest grew around the buildings and hid them like Mayan temples in the Yucatan jungle, all the way to the eighteenth century, and weren’t seen again till the crew building that damned road stumbled across them. . .
Another pause for a look, and photo. In a way it seemed amazing: a huge, seemingly empty area, with just a few buildings in the distance, and some very tiny-looking excavation pits on the end closest to the beach. There were the remains of the amphitheater, but I really couldn’t tell it had been such. Everything else was underneath the ground, but damn how beautiful it must have been. . .
Finally I decided it was too much to spend my life on and was done with it. . . which was made a lot easier when I headed back to Blanca’s place and found lunch ready.
“I’ve been out there plenty of times,” she la-de-da’ed as I approached, “but always hunting flowers, hardly noticing the ruins. Thank you for broadening my horizons.”
“Anything for you, dear,” I replied in the same tone of voice, which made her laugh. “Now return the favor and tell me about the famous roses.”
Pleased, she murmured, “I’m very impressed when you ask me for advice or such.”
I kissed her on the forehead.
Sighing with pleasure, she launched into her story. “The famous Paestum rose has been celebrated as far back as the poet Virgil. . . you remember him, right?”
“Not personally, but I’ve read his stuff. Want a critique?”
“Not now, dear, keep it historical rather than literary. In front of the Neptune temple–I’m sure you know which one that is–there’s supposed to be clumps of flowering roses, sketched and painted and mentioned by your favorite German, Goethe. . .” She waited for a reaction, looked disappointed when she didn’t get it. “One guy named Seume came down on foot from Lipsia for them, only to find them all torn out by visitors.”
“The German author who walked for nine months to Sicily?”
Sigh. “Is it sad that you no longer surprise me?”
“It’s sad you couldn’t make that sound more convincing.”