Adam West: RIP

(Sorry about no post yesterday.  I just wasn’t feeling well and went to bed early.)

Well, I learned today that Adam West has lost his fight with Leukemia and headed for that Bat Cave in the sky.

West was one of a number of iconic actors that filled my childhood.  The cast of Batman, the cast of Star Trek, John Steed and Emma Peel, Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin, Daniel Boone and Taramingo, a few others.  So many of them are gone now.

When the Batman TV show was on the air I was young.  I didn’t get the camp and humor.  I didn’t have the experience to see how utterly ridiculous the series was.  To me it was real, superhero drama.

As I got older, and caught the show in reruns, that view changed of course.  I still loved it.  Not everything has to be treated with utmost seriousness and we’re allowed to let our hair down and have a little fun sometimes.

I’ve seen a lot of folk turn up their noses at the 60’s Batman series but a good argument can be made that without that show we would never have what came after, not the 80’s Michael Keaton Batman, not Not Chris Nolan’s, and not the Batman of the current DCU.  Nor would we have had some of the best small-screen Batman stories ever:  the continuity that started with Batman The Animated Adventures and continued through Justice League Unlimited (with a side trip into Batman Beyond).

In  addition to the 60’s TV show, West also gave us a less campy, albeit still quite juvenile presentation of Batman in the various 70’s cartoons.

Another memory I have of Adam West was a Thanksgiving special presentation of Mystery Science Theater 3000 dubbed “Turkey Day” where Adam West served as a guest host.  If I remember correctly he part of a “wrapper” around the usual MST3K format, introducing and doing little bits around commercial breaks.  The movie in question that I specifically remember was “Zombie Nightmare” which also featured Adam West as Capt. Tom Churchman.  A really bad movie (well?  It was on MST3K so that follows) but I found it interesting in that it was a return to the pre-Romero idea of Zombies–someone brought back from the dead using Voodoo with enormous strength and being nearly impossible to re-kill. (As opposed to shambling hordes that aren’t all that hard to rekill, just numerous.)

Looking at West’s IMDB page it looks like he had fairly steady work if not a lot of it, at least a couple of roles each year since the production of Batman, many of them in Batman related projects, including various animated series and in many cases playing “himself”.

So it is with sadness that I bid farewell to the Caped Crusader, who showed me that no matter how dark things look now, the good guys will win Next Week.

Same Bat-Time.  Same Bat-Channel.

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Blaming the customer

Lately I’ve been seeing some posts “blaming” millennials for this or that business tanking.  However, that’s not now it works.  Once upon a time companies made money making bustles.  Then fashions changed and look, nary a bustle manufacturer in sight.  Oh, there are a few out there, mainly folk supporting period re-enactors, but it’s a small niche rather than a common fashion.

Robert Heinlein’s first published story “Lifeline” explored this issue.  In the story a man invented a means of determining just how long a person would live.  The idea was that people were continuous in four-dimensional space time and he could send a signal along that line which would echo back from the point of their death which could be read and would tell exactly how far in the future that would be.

Insurance companies, particularly life insurance, immediately objected.  This machine made them obsolete.  Worse, a person could simply not buy life insurance until shortly before the machine said they would die then buy large policies which would then pay out with little in the way of premiums paid into it.  They’d have to shut down business or go bankrupt. (There is in fact, an analogy here with certain issues related to health insurance.)

In the story the insurance companies, and others, sued to have the invention suppressed.  However, the court was having none of it, to wit:

There has grown in the minds of certain groups in this country the idea that just because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with guaranteeing such a profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is supported by neither statute or common law. Neither corporations or individuals have the right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.

The story is rather fanciful, as science fiction stories often are, and the technology is unlikely to ever actually be developed, but it describes issues that businesses, and individuals, must deal with every day in a changing world.

As one person, tired of millennials being blamed for businesses failing put it:

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Look, some of what this person says may be short sighted and based on rather limited experience, but he’s got a point.

If you are not producing a product that people want at a price they are willing to pay, then that’s on you.  Doesn’t matter if you were successful last year, or last week.  Fashions change.  Technology changes.  Alternatives for whatever benefit people got from your product become available.  New competitors arise selling at a lower price.  Whatever.

And it doesn’t matter what you’re “selling”, whether it’s widgets of some kind, a particular skill you have, or “sweat of your brow” labor.  The fact that you were able to sell it before at a certain price is no guarantee that you will be able to sell it at that price today.

In the end, it’s on you.  It does no good to complain about the buyers not wanting your product, or not wanting to pay your prices.   It does no good to complain that someone out there is selling a cheaper version of your product.  It’s on you.

It’s on you to find a way to make your product more attractive.  It’s on you to make your product more competitive on price.  Or it’s on you to find a new product that people are willing to pay for.

So stop whining about people not buying your product and go look for something they will buy.

Football?

I am not a sports fan.  I never have been.  At best, as a spectator I liked sports that were “pretty”–gymnastics, figure skating, that’s pretty much it.

However I am a writer and stories can go in odd directions.

In a current work in progress, my main character is returning to college.  A young woman who is one of the main supporting characters has a brother who is on the football team.  Oh, and her boyfriend is also on the football team.  Only I come to realize as I get well into the story that the college I was basing this on doesn’t have a football team.

“But that’s okay,” my muse says.  “Because you see…” (but that would be telling).

So, instead of football just being an “oh, he plays football” kind of thing, a “tag” for a character, it’s now become a significant part of the story.  Other characters get involved and…

I don’t know anything about football.

“I insist that this is how the story goes,” my muse sais.

I.  Don’t.  Know.  Anything.  About.  Football.

“So learn,” My muse says. “And be quick about it.”

So…here we are.

So we start with what are all these people running around on the field?  What do they call that guy over there as opposed to that one way over there.

Fortunately, in this day of the internet, there is help.  To start with, a friend points me at the Football for Dummies (USA Edition) Cheat Sheet.  Yay!  I now know what the player positions are called, have a rough idea of their roll and an idea of where they typically start.

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Normally, I wouldn’t care about any of this.  I don’t think I’m going to become any kind of football fan.  But you go where the story takes you and if you’re at all serious it behooves you to try to get it right.

So this was an unexpected direction my story is taking me.  What unexpected directions have yours taken you?

Feeding the Active Writer: Pork Mole

The use of chocolate in savory meat dishes strikes many people in the US as odd, but the results can be quite tasty.  Now, I’ve seen recipes that involve lots of individual ingredients, chopping tomatoes, peppers and onions, and the like but I never have time for all that.  So this is the quick and easy version I’ve come up with:

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Ingredients (this is for at least as week’s worth, you can cut it in half easily enough)

  • 2 16-20 oz jars of salsa.  I like a medium to hot salsa but as you prefer.
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder.
  • 1 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbsp dried cilantro
  • 8-10 lb pork–whatever’s cheap.  Either boneless or bone-in.  If bone in, you’ll want to b e near the upper end of that and remember you’ll have to fish the bones out of the result.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the first four ingredients.  Place the pork in a 5-6 quart slow cooker.  Pour the salsa mix over it.

Cook on low 10-12 hours.  Stir.  The pork should break into fibers on stirring.  If it does not, remove any large chunks and pull apart with two forks then return the pulled pork to the crock.  Fish out any bones if you used bone-in pork.

For those who are not doing low-carb this goes well over rice or as a sandwich filling.  Or it’s tasty as is.

Enjoy:

 

 

 

On this day: The Turning point of the Pacific Theater of WWII.

Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto said “In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success.” That proved prophetic as the turning point of the Pacific Theater of WWII happened almost 6 months to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Going into the battle of Midway, the Japanese were suffering from losses from the Battle of Coral Sea.  This battle was ostensibly a Japanese victory but a costly one.  In contrast, the US was able to get repairs to the Yorktown sufficient to get her into action in record time.

In addition, thanks to code-breaking efforts, American forces knew where, and approximately when, the Japanese were planning to attack and could muster their forces to be ready.

Preliminaries of the battle occurred on June 3 when a PBY discovered a Japanese patrol force and a squadron of B-17’s was launched to intercept.  The only damage caused by this attack was a torpedo launched from a PBY striking a Japanese tanker.

The next morning, June 4, the Japanese launched an air attack against Midway Island.   Midway launched its aircraft, bombers flying off unescorted to attack the carriers while the fighters remained behind to defend the island.  The fighters, consisting of 7 F4F Wildcats and 21 obsolete F2A Brewster Buffaloes. suffered massive losses, losing three of the Wildcats and 13 of the Buffaloes with the remainder so heavily damaged that only two remained airworthy.

The base, while damaged, remained usable as a refueling and staging area to continue to attack the Japanese fleet.

The bomber attack on the fleet was repelled with heavy losses at the cost to the Japanese of only two fighters.  However, one of the bombers, a B-26, severely damaged made a steep dive toward the carrier Akagi from which it never pulled out.  It nearly crashed into the bridge and this near-thing may have been a factor in Japanese admiral Nagumo’s mixed decisions to follow.

Nagumo ordered his torpedo armed reserve planes re-armed with general purpose bombs to use against land targets in order to make a second strike at Midway.  However, while this was going on he received word of a sighting of American naval forces.  He reversed his order for re-arming and switched back to torpedoes, causing further delays.  Incomplete information, including the lack of knowledge of whether the sighted forces included carriers, when combined with a doctrine that called for launching full strikes and not piecemeal forces led to further hesitation.

The hesitation probably did not really matter.  American aviation was already on the way.

Mixed communications and navigational errors led to some forces completely missing the targets.  Ten Wildcats from the Hornet ran out of fuel and had to ditch.

The first carrier force to meet the Japanese was a flight of TBD Desvastators led by John C. Waldron.  Lacking any fighter escort, all of them were shot down, along with 10 of the 14 Devastators from the Enterprise, and 10 of the 12 from the Yorktown without inflicting any damage on the Japanese.  Part of this abysmal showing likely stemmed from defective torpedoes, a problem that would yet take some time for the Navy to recognize, let alone correct.

However, American forces gained several benefits from the nominally failed attack by the torpedo bombers.  Dealing with this attack on their own ships meant the Japanese were unable for a time to launch an attack of their own.  Their Combat Air Patrol was out of position to respond to later attacks.  And many of their planes were low on fuel and ammunition and so were put temporarily out of action.

While Waldron and the others were being chopped up by Japanese fighters, a flight of SBD Dauntless dive bombers was also searching for the carriers.  Low on fuel they continued their search, finally spotting a destroyer steaming to rejoin the carrier forces.

The dive bombers found the Japanese carriers and attacked.  The Japanese fighters, out of place, many on the decks of the ships with fuel lines stretched to them.  Two squadrons attacked the Japanese carrier Kaga achieving several hits, including one killing the captain and most of the senior officers and starting several fires on the ship.

Others attacked the Akagi, scoring only one direct hit but a devastating one that penetrated to the hangar deck among armed and fueled aircraft causing secondary explosions.  Another missed to the rear, exploding under the ship close enough to damage both the rudder and the flight deck.

Still others hit the Soryu getting multiple hits and causing fires among the refueling operations on the deck.

Both the Kaga and the Soryu were ablaze.  The Akagi took longer for the fires to spread out of control, but eventually they did.

The remaining Japanese carrier, the Hiryu, launched a counterattack.  They followed the retreating American aircraft back and struck the first carrier they encountered, the Yorktown, hastily patched together after Coral Sea.

While American defenders inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese, they managed to get several hits on the Yorktown, blowing a hole through the flight deck and extinguishing her boilers.  Admiral Fletcher had to transfer his flag to the heavy cruiser Astoria.

The crew on the Yorktown were able to make emergency repairs, patching the flight deck and getting three boilers into action so that the Yorktown was able to resume air operations.  Indeed, their repair actions had been so effective that the second wave of Japanese attackers on their arrival thought it was a second, undamaged carrier.

This second wave managed to get two torpedoes into the Yorktown, killing her power and causing a 23 degree list to port.

While the Japanese, thinking they had taken out two carriers, rearmed in the thought that they could scrape together enough force to finish what they thought was the one remaining American carrier, the Enterprise launched a final strike of 24 dive bombers, her own and those from the Yorktown left “orphaned” by the Yorktown’s damage.

That was pretty much the end of the main battle.  There were a few skirmishes.  A Japanese submarine managed to get close enough to finish off the damaged Yorktown and sink the destroyer USS Hammann.

In the end, the Japanese lost four carriers and a heavy cruiser, as well as sustained damage to other ships and had 3057 dead.  The US lost one carrier and a destroyer with a total of 307 Americans killed.

Some historians have argued that the battle could have easily gone the other way.  American reconnaissance located the Japanese carriers long before the Japanese discovered the Americans.  This put the Japanese on the defensive almost from the beginning.  Had the Japanese instead been the first to discover their opponents, that might well have turned around and it would have been American Carriers on the bottom of the Pacific with Japanese sailing away victorious.  While the US would almost certainly have still won the war in the end–the American industrial base and the coming of the Atomic Bomb made that a near certainty–the war would very likely have been longer and bloodier.

 

Blast from the past: My first published story

This was not the first story I sold but, due to the vagueries of publishing schedules it was the first story to see print.  There are certainly things I would change were I writing it today.  For one thing, I use entirely too much passive voice in this piece.  I am of mixed feelings of the very long and detailed description of starting a fire in the opening scenes.  On the whole, I think it was excessive and could stand to be pared back a lot.  On the other hand, it’s deliberate pace helps set up the conclusion.

Jilka and the Evil Wizard was intended as a short, comic piece.  And that’s really the only way I could get away with that ending.  It’s basically the punch line for a joke.  Today, I’d never try to get away with anything so . . . so.  Still, even today after twenty years I still find it a fun read and get a giggle out of it.

So here it is.  Enjoy!

JILKA AND THE EVIL WIZARD

by

David L. Burkhead

Originally Published in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Fantasy Magazine, Winter 1991
© 1991 All rights reserved

“Damn,” Jilka said.  That was the second time her firestarter spell had failed.

She tried once more.  She spread her hands over the small pile of brush, focused her mind on the image of the proper mystic sigil, spoke the word of command, and rapidly snapped downward with both middle fingers and thumbs, leaving the other fingers extended.  The brush sputtered a bit.  A small light glowed, then nothing.  The brush remained cold.

“Damn and damn,” Jilka said. “I guess it will have to be the old fashioned way.”

She rummaged in her pack for a moment, coming out with a cottonwood board.  A row of holes had been drilled partway through the board along one edge.  Notches had been cut from the edge of the board to he centers of the holes.  Beside the board, she laid a wooden stake, about a foot long and as big around as her thumb, a stone with a small hole drilled about halfway through it, and a two-foot-long bow strung with rough cord.

Jilka took a handful of the lightest, driest, smallest pieces of the brush and rolled it between her palms.  When it was thoroughly fluffed to her satisfaction, she placed the bundle so that it was half covered by the board and under one of the notches.  She rubbed the pointed end of the stake along the side of her nose for a moment then placed it, pointed end up, in the hole with the notch that opened on the brush.  Next she wrapped the string of the bow twice and placed the stone over it.  Holding the stone and applying pressure with the stake to it, she ran the bow back and forth, whirling the stake rapidly in the hole.  Soon smoke began pouring out of the hole in the cottonwood branch.  When it was smoking to Jilka’s satisfaction, she removed the stake and dumped the black powder that had formed in the hole into the bundle of brush.  A few seconds blowing and it was aflame.  It was then the work of but a moment to transfer it to the larger pile of brush and Jilka had her campfire.

She dug further into her pack to find her rations.  Dried meat and fruit was to be her dinner, rounded out with some tubers that she had found that would go well roasted.

Once the tubers were roasting, spitted on a long branch above the fire, and Jilka was gnawing on tough, dried meat, she had time to brood.

“Master Carolus?” she told the winds, “why did you release me as a journeyman?  I can’t even do a simple firestarter spell right.  I’m not ready.”

She sighed.  Master Carolus could do the firestarter spell with a thought, and she could not manage it with all three parts:  thought, word, and deed.  Those were the three parts to any spell:  thought, the focusing on the mystic sigils that channeled energy into a spell; word, speaking the words of power; and deed, the gestures that directed and focused the spell.

Journemen and apprentices usually needed all three parts to cast a spell: although often some of the spells, the simpler ones, would be so well learned that they required less.  Jilka had learned the handfire spell, the only spell she had learned, well enough not to need to speak the words of power.  Adepts could work magic with only two of the three parts, usually thought and deed, while the masters, such as Master Carolus, needed only one, usually thought.

And Jilka?  Jilka, journeyman mage of the College of the Lady, with a single exception, could not work spells with all three.

It was not that she had not tried.  Jilka had worked long hours to master the magic spells, longer than even Master Carolus had required of her.  Still, no matter what she did, the magic would not come.  She had been expecting to be discharged as unfit; that would have shamed her, but she would have understood.  But what he had done, she could not understand.  He had promoted her to journeyman from apprentice.  A journeyman mage who could not work magic.

And to make matters worse, while she had been brooding, the tubers had burned.  She did not know whether to laugh or cry.

And so it was that, still half starved, Jilka made her bed.

#

The next day, Jilka reached the village of Embron.  It had a good location, where the North road crossed a fair sized river.  Jilka had no doubt that in time it would become a city of some standing, but that was a concern for the future.  For the time being, she would find the inn and get a hot meal where she would not have to worry about balky firestarter spells or burnt tubers.

The inn was where she would have expected it to be, next to the river.  She found a quiet corner and ordered a simple meal.

It was such a shame that she would not be able to enjoy it.

“Lady?” The boy stood across the table from her.

The table was almost as tall as he was.  He peered up at her with large brown eyes, rimmed red from crying.

“Oh, no,” Jilka said softly.  Whenever anyone addressed a mage uninvited, it was always because they wanted something.  And the thing they always wanted was magic.  She would have to do something about her robes.  Her robes marked her as a mage, of course, and she could not have that.  People would always be asking her for magic charms and spells and curses removed.  Asking her, of all people, And thank the Lady that dragons were extinct of they would be asking her to exterminate them too!

“Lady?” The boy was still there.

“Yes,” Jilka said grudgingly.  Well, when she apprenticed to a sorcerer of the College of the Lady, she had taken an oath to succor those in need.  She would have to try.  And when she failed, well, there went any chance she would ever have of any kind of reputation, even if she did learn magic.  She would be the laughingstock of the profession. “What can I do for you?”

“M’ folks,” the boy said, “Th’ evil wizard took ‘em.  You’re a sorceress.  Can’t you get ‘em back?”

Jilka rubbed her hand over her face, pinching and massaging the bridge of her nose.  Evil wizard.  Why did it have to be an evil wizard?  Well, at least she would not have to worry about her reputation.

“I’ll do what I can,” she heard somebody say and was surprised to learn that it was herself.

#

Jilka looked up that the tower that the boy had brought her to.  Black, of course.  A dim, green light glowed in one of the upper windows, naturally.  She checked her preparations.  They would not work, of course, not against an evil wizard, but she had to do something.

“You stay here,” she told the boy.

“It’s been a nice life,” she said as she paused a moment at the door.

Strangely, it was unlocked.  Of course, who would barge in on an evil wizard?  Powerful mages and fools were the only two categories Jilka could think of.  Well, she was not a powerful mage, so what did that make her?

There were four guards in the lower chamber.  They stood and faced her with drawn swords.

“I am the sorceress Jilka,” she said and struck a pose.  She gestured and a ball of light appeared in her hands.  That was the one spell she had mastered.  The light was utterly harmless, useful only for finding her way around a dark room, but, hopefully, they would not know that. “Let me pass, or die,” she added for good measure.

They were not buying it.  She could see it in their eyes.  In another instant, they would be on her.  She reached into her belt pouch and grabbed a handful of the powder with which she had filled it.

“Behold the dust of sneezing! She intoned and threw the pepper into their faces.

It worked beautifully, far better than Jilka had hoped.  While they were distracted by fits of sneezing, coughing, and tearing eyes, she dashed past them and up the stairs.

The wizard’s workroom was on the top floor as Jilka had expected.  Her entry interrupted the wizard in the middle of an incantation.  A man and a woman were strapped, in wide eyed terror, onto twin tables.

“What is the meaning of this?” the wizard bellowed.

“I am Jilka, sorceress of the College of the Lady,” she said. “My powers have already laid low your guards.  I have come for the man and the woman.”

“And what do you offer in return?” The wizard fairly sneered.

“I’ll let you live,” Jilka said.

“You’ll . . . let . . . me . . . live?” The wizard howled with laughter.  “You?  A little poppet of a girl, not a true mage, scarcely even a good apprentice?  And you say you’ll let me live?” The wizard was laughing so hard that he could barely stand up.  A moment later, and he could not stand up.  He fell to he floor.

“You dare laugh at me?” Jilka shook her hands in the air and attempted to look threatening.

The wizard, if anything, laughed louder, rolling on the floor.

Jilka folded her arms in front of her, placing each hand within the other’s sleeve, and did her best to look stern.

The wizard, in his mirth, continued rolling on the floor.  He struck the charcoal brazier, dumping its contents.

The wizard’s laughter turned to screams of agony and terror as the coals ignited his robes.  Jilka stepped aside to let him pass as the flaming wizard dashed from the room and down the stairs.

“Well, what do you know?” Jilka said.

“How did you do that?” the woman on the table said in awe as Jilka bent to release her.

Jilka smiled. “Ah, lady.  You know that a magician never reveals her tricks.”

“Of course,” the woman said in reverence. “I beg pardon for forgetting.”

As the man and the woman left, Jilka inspected her new tower.

“To think, all I had hoped to do was to get a chance to use this.” She pulled a dagger from her sleeve. “But I never expected an evil wizard with a funny bone.  Who’d have thought it.”

THE END


If you enjoyed that story of one young woman faced with evil perhaps you might like one of a somewhat darker turn:

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A young mother hears the Norns. They tell her of terrible things to come. When Ulfarr wants her gift of prophesy to serve him, he takes her and steals away her children. Can the young mother escape from Ulfarr’s clutches and save her children from him? Only the Norns know.