According To Hoyt

birthday-1114056 This should be a serpent eating its tail, but I don’t feel like looking for an image, so twisty candles will have to do.

It is Heinlein’s birthday.  It is also coincidentally my oldest son’s birthday.  It is one of those things that makes me believe I’m living in a novel, as it connects me simultaneously to the past and the future. The man who molded my thought, and the man I helped mold (a little bit.  It will shock all of you that he’s a stubborn cuss, right?) both sharing the same name and born on the same date.  (Though our Robert started the being born thing on the fourth of July, he hung fire till the seventh early morning.  Go figure.  And yeah, I loved the three days hard labor.  Not.)

Lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what it means to be a writer, and…

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Jimmy Carter and The N-Word

Way back in junior high school, in the late 1970s, we read an essay written by Jimmy Carter (President James Earl Carter) in which he described picking and selling peanuts when he was a kid, and later using his earnings to buy, in his words, “nigger shacks,” to fix up and resell, apparently.
This essay, written in the first person by Carter, appeared in a publication like The Weekly Reader (I’m not sure if it was that or a different title, I don’t recall exactly — it was about 40 years ago, so the N-Word is what stands out most in my meory). Though in that time we occasionally heard the n-word in a joke, it was still a shock to read it in the words of our president.
Does anyone recall reading that article? I haven’t yet found reference to it online.

The Wall by John Hersey

The Wall by John Hersey is one of the best and most important novels I’ve read.
The story follows the lives (if you can call it life) of a dozen of the half million Jews trapped in the Warsaw ghetto during the war, their struggles to cope, to live life, to survive, as the wall is built, conditions steadily worsen in the face of hunger, disease, and Nazi “manhunts,” and fellow citizens are “deported.” Some try to persevere, some try to escape, some try to fight back, some just give up.
Though this is a fictional novel, it is based on true events, and I learned more about ghetto life, concentration camps, and underground resistance than I could in any history class. I suggest printing a map to refer to while reading (I found a good one of the ghetto in 1942-1943 online). It may take 20 or 40 pages to get used to the format (a journal with dashes in place of quotation marks), but it’s well worth it and gets more and more fascinating, poignant, profound, and enthralling. I’ll never forget some of the heroic characters, especially Rachel and Berson.
Here are a few quotations, not the best of the book, just what I had a chance to copy: “To me, it makes no difference whether I am to die at the hands of Nazis or of microbes.” – Goldflamm in The Wall by John Hersey, page 369.
“The fact that a man is a man is more important than the fact that he believes what he believes.” -The Wall by John Hersey, page 426.
“I now see that the greatest mistake we can make is to try to judge a whole man from the few things we hear him say and see him do.” Levinson in The Wall by John Hersey, page. 582.
“A romantic is usually both self-centered and boastful.” – Levinson in The Wall by John Hersey, page 621.
“There is nothing like an expensive mistake to show a man to himself.” – Berson in The Wall by John Hersey, page 625.


Health, Wealth, Love

According To Hoyt


When I was little, our unsophisticated New Year’s toasts “Health” or for reasons unknown to me “Chinchin” were raised to another level by visiting relatives.  I assume they were from Venezuela, because we did them in Spanish forever more.

And you’ll forgive me because I can’t write in Spanish, and it’s be so long I might not remember the right words, but I think it was “Salud, Dinero y amor.”

Health, wealth and love.

I used to think older people were strange and stodgy because when you asked them what they wanted in the new year, they said “health.”  Even as a very sickly child, I didn’t understand the point of that.  Okay, a part of it is that I didn’t understand why anyone would ask for health.  It either came or it didn’t and in my case it seemed a hopeless business.  But more importantly, ill-health didn’t affect anything. …

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First To The Stars by Rex Gordon

First To The Stars by Rex Gordon is a classic science fiction novel with ideas that would be used by others in later works.
I suppose many younger readers will find fault with chapter two, which contains some passages & ideas that may seem either politically incorrect or laughably corny to different readers. Here’s an example:

“You see it isn’t as easy as that,” I gently told her. “The reason you don’t get raped in situations like this is that the participants go home after a while. It isn’t that your virtue is triumphant but only that he would have to face the music. Or do I get you wrong? Is it just that you look on three years in a rocket with a man in quite another way?”
“I can see your aim is not to make it easy for me to think of it in any way.”

It is better in context, and not at all an indication of the quality of the rest of the novel. In fact by the end the daughter of the woman in this scene is a brilliant protagonist.
From the third chapter to about a third of the way through First To The Stars is similar to Poul Anderson’s brilliant Tau Zero, with the out-of-control spaceship approaching speeds that have relativistic effects on the crew. How the rocket headed for Mars achieves such a speed is explained rather vaguely with the author’s unconventional interpretation of relativity; my interpretation of his vague explanation is that there’s some sort of relativistic positive feedback: The faster they go, the difference in mass & time dilation allow even faster acceleration and so on — or something like that. At any rate the author’s descriptions of the views forward, aft, and abeam are better thought-out and more realistic than the stars flying by in Star Trek et al, allowing for blue-shift, red-shift, variations in density.
The next section of the novel concerns the crash and survival on an alien world, and is as interesting as most variations on that theme.
The last half of the novel is an excellent take on first. The scenes with the protagonist trying to communicate with aliens in their laboratory reminded me the scene in Planet of the Apes with Charlton Heston trying to communicate with ape scientist, though these are full-fledged aliens, not apes. Again, better thought out than the typical Star Trek scene where everybody speaks English.
Most of the writing is quite good, certainly better than the near hack-writing of some of the author’s contemporaries, with some philosophy mixed in reminiscent of Heinlein. Here are a few lines:

“A man isn’t just solid matter, and the Kara people know it. He’s a temporal construction, a pattern of function and behavior that exists in the four dimensions of space-time. Neither you, when you look at a man physically and spatially,or the Kara, when they look at living things as movement in time, ever see the whole truth.” Another:
“They were afraid, and because they were afraid they looked around to see some object they could be afraid of.”

My recommendation is don’t judge a book by the second chapter.


The Conspiracy Club by Jonathan Kellerman

The Conspiracy Club
by Jonathan Kellerman

The suspense builds up gradually in this psychological drama set in a hospital with a serial killer loose in the background and a mysterious old pathologist and his club of eccentric friends possibly behind anonymous mailings — clues….or taunts?….or something — to the protagonist, a psychologist who’s lover was a victim. Kept me guessing and became more and more of a page-turner up to the suspenseful conclusion. One of the best psychological thrillers I’ve read.

The Killer Thing

The Killer Thing by Kate Wilhem is ostensibly a suspense adventure about a future space soldier trying to evade a killer robot on a harsh desert planet.
But flashbacks of both the soldier’s and the robot’s past, training, and development comprise the bulk of the novel, with an effective anti-war theme (or at least anti-{the pro-war future civilization depicted}). Normally I dislike flashbacks (and dream sequences; a couple dream sequences would have gotten tedious for me if any longer), but most of these were interesting and included some of the most original and thought-provoking scenes, save for the ending which was very good.
I think The Killer Thing is the first novel by Kate Wilhem I’ve read — I’ll read more — and I can give it a measured recommendation to fans of science fiction by Robert Heinlein and Harry Harrison.