Category Archives: books

Peter Straub’s “Ghost Story” gives an example of what I am doing in a current novel manuscript

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One of the issues for a novelist, in doing a large work, is point of view. Many novels are written in third person from the viewpoint of an “omniscient observer”, who knows everything, and who can pull the puppet strings at will. Movies often show plot points from the private viewpoints of multiple characters, before the payoff at the end. In life, though, an individual knows what he knows (a tautology). You can expand this concept to “family”, but we know that doesn’t always work. *

I’ve had this issue in my own writing more recently. Earlier novels were always from the single viewpoint (almost) of “Bill” (with occasional interruptions, like with dream sequences, to show what others may know). In “TR II” I started telling the same sorties from the viewpoints of others (April 29).

There’s a well known horror novel that shows how established authors tackle this problem. I won’t even get into Steven King right now (although I liked “Dreamcatcher” particularly). The novel in question is the 1979 epic “Ghost Story” by Peter Straub, and author about my own age, so he wrote this novel when he was in his 30s.

I recommend reading the detailed plot synopsis on Wikipedia  if you haven’t read the novel. A major part of the setup is the four elderly men in the “Chowder Society” telling each other ghost stories. This method of plot development allows the transmission of various narratives from the viewpoints of multiple characters, with the idea that the plot threads can be interconnected. In fact, toward the end of the novel, we find out a horrifying connection, a crime that had been stuffed in a trunk and buried in a lake. But the narratives on their own are fascinating. Early in the novel Sears tells about his experience as a teacher and running into the consequences of possible intra-familial sexual abuse in the story of Fenny Bate. But the novel offers an extended middle section with the story of Anna Mobley, who had been the lover of one of the member’s twin brother, who also had been in a teaching position. The entire Mobley sequences was embedded in a “novel” by one of the authors of the Ghost Stories.

The idea that there are interlinked narratives with varying degrees of “truth” relative to the base timeline of a novel is well developed in “Ghost Stories”. Straub deals with the idea that people make up stories of narratives of things they might have done or might have a propensity to do. This issue caused a major issue when I had a substitute teaching job myself (link ). The 1981 film directed by John Irvin (Universal Pictures) cut a lot of the detail from the novel and was not particularly effective. I saw it in Dallas. I think this could make a good TV series, but would it be “brought up to date” technologically?

(Published Monday, May 19, 2014 at 4:30 PM EDT)

I “almost” see a fibbie (?) remote viewing center for ET’s; books and films on aliens; remembering Dan Fry and Understanding

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Yesterday, I was returning from Lynchburg, VA on US-29, and got curious about checking the “Monroe Institute” that is mentioned in the 1996 book “Cosmic Voyage: A Scientific Discovery of Extraterrestrials Visiting Earth”, by Courtney Brown, published by Dutton.

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The books describes a process called “remote viewing” with astral projection, which is accomplished by a variety of spiritual disciplines and meditation. It goes on to describe the idea that there was a civilization on Mars billions of years ago, before a tragedy (the planet lost its magnetic field and most of its atmosphere). They seemed to have some powers that we don’t have. I have some more detailed comments on my own DADT site here.

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Brown suggested in 1996 that the federal government and some private interests had set up a property called the Monroe Institute at Faber, VA. Now, it happens that country road 632, about 15 miles south of the Charlottesville bypass, is called Faber Road, and it leads to a baseball field and some unusual, secluded homes and estates. For all I know, there could be an “intentional community” there. However, I checked Google Maps, much more modern today than it was a decade ago, and found that the address given by the web site is actually on the west side of US 29 (on Roberts Mountain) and not on 632. The site has some photographs of the property, which you can view here. I’ll try looking for it again another time. It appears to be a private facility where you pay for extended stays (but that is how intentional communities, like Twin Oaks and Acorn, maybe 40 miles to the east (but still in the Piedmont) from there, work). It might be more like Lama Foundation in New Mexico (which I visited in 1980 and 1984 – origin of “Be Here Now” by Ram Das) but I’ll have to look into it further.

If in fact, humankind (and maybe all of life, or at least animal life) was seeded from Mars (or Venus before runaway greenhouse effect a billion years ago) or from any other solar system some light years away, it raises another question. If a person like “Clark Kent” really did exist, would he have all the legal rights of personhood? What it his DNA gave full human functionality and appearance (perhaps superior functionality in some areas) but could not produce a child when mated with a human? (Or perhaps he produces a “Rosemary’s Baby”.) Would Clark legally be human? Would he be protected by the law? The next time you see a teenager disappear (dematerialize) and reappear instantly in another location, ask yourself.

The “dadt” link above also reviews a book “The Day After Roswell” (1997, Pocket Books), by Philip Corso, who claims that the Cold War was really a guise for building a defense against aliens, like in the 1996 film “Independence Day” where a president Bill Pullman (a David Lynch actor) plays hero. Don’t forget that Paramount made a TV film of “Roswell” in 1994. And Minnesota-based director Timothy B. Johnson (whom I met in 2000 while living in Minneapolis) directed “Six Days in Roswell”.

In 1975, while living in New York City, I learned about an organization founded by Dan Fry, “Understanding”. I found out about it from a pamphlet at a vendor on 86th St as I left a movie theater. I visited the area in Arizona of Travis Walton’s abduction (Robert Liebeman’s film “Fire in the Sky” for Paramount in 1993) near the Mogollon Rim in Arizona, and met a journalist who totally believed the story. I tracked down the “saucer city” at Tonopah just off I-10 40 miles west of Phoenix and met the Fry’s. This was December, 1975, when it was unusually cold for low desert Arizona. I would attend conventions at Understanding in October 1976, 1977, April 1978, and (in Upton CA), the fall of 1979. The 1978 convention was called “Man in Space”. I remember a speaker who warned that one coke of coffee could destroy one’s psychic abilities. We believe we saw a real UFO at night in the 1978 convention.

The Understanding property seems to have disappeared; there is a cotton plantation there now.

Daniel Fry’s life and works are presented on a website in his memory, here.

His best known book (self-published) is “To Men of Earth”. (based on “The White Sands Incident”).  Fry claims that while he was in the military and stationed in New Mexico, he was abducted in the desert and introduced to a young man named “Alan” who would then appear on Earth and function like a regular person. “Alan” met messenger. Fry would get fake documents for him, and help him get a job. This could make an interesting film if someone wanted to try making it. It’s a little more subtle than “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (both versions).

Another book was “Atoms, Galaxies and Understanding”. Fry claimed that the results from the first 1976 Viking lander on Mars might really have indicated life.

I helped sponsor a unit of Understanding in New York City. In early May, 1976, about 40 people came to a meeting in my small apartment in the Cast Iron Building “between the Villages”. One member was transsexual (female to male) and claimed to have been abducted somewhere near Harriman Park NY (40 miles N of Manhattan off the Thruway) in the mid 1970s.

Published: Tuesday, May 6, 2014, at 10 PM EDT.  The third picture is a bizarre strip mine for sand east of US 29 near Faber.

Books about gays in the military, and the history of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

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In view of the content of my own books, it’s useful to survey the major books on gays in the military, including the history of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which was effectively passed into law at the end of 1993 and officially repealed in 2011.

The basic reference was by journalist Randy Shilts, “Conduct Unbecoming: Gays and Lesbians in the U.S. Military”, originally published by St. Martins in 1993, and reissued, slightly updated, in paper by Fawcett Columbine in 1994.  Really, this is a history of gays in the US military, all the way back to the Revolutionary War, up to the beginning of DADT.  A critical time came in 1981, just before President Reagan took office, when the Pentagon came up with the notorious “123 words” (“Homosexuality is incompatible with military service” and the following litany or word salad), and a uniform absolute ban on gays in all the services, technically including the Coast Guard and Surgeon General corps.  Shilts also gave a history of the Vietnam era, when the Army had to try to stop men from claiming homosexuality to get out of the draft.  Shilts included a case of a man thrown out of a civilian college in Illinois in 1995 (officially “flunking out”), getting drafted and discharged again.

There was also a “book” by the Rand Corporation, the official study commissioned by Les Aspen in the Clinton Administration, “Sexual Orientation and U.S. Military Personnel Policy”.  The book surveyed many other countries, including Canada, Britain and particularly Israel, before concluding that “sexual orientation was not germane to assessing fitness for military service” and recommending a “code of military professional conduct.”

But the really interesting books were the autobiographies by the individual gay and lesbian soldiers who had to deal with the ban

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The best of all of these books was “Honor Bound: A Gay Naval Midshipman Fights to Serve his Country”, by Joseph Steffan, from Villard (Random House) in 1992.  I actually bought this book at a signing party at Lambda Rising in Washington in September of that year and met the author, I read it in one night and couldn’t put it down.  It woke me up.  Steffan was about to graduate third in his class in 1987 when, in a bizarre set of circumstances, he was outed, and did tell the honor board and cadre that he was gay, and was denied graduation.  He had many accomplishments, such as signing the National Anthem at the Army-Navy game in Philadelphia.  He did a summer cruise on a submarine without incident, and was apparently quite skilled at chess.  There was a great line in the book: “Personal honor is an absolute. You either have or do not have honor”.  For all its importance, I’m surprised that this book is no longer in print and seems to be available only from resellers.

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Marc Wolinsky and Kevin Sherrill authored “Gays in the Military: Joseph Steffan vs. The United States”, Princeton University Press, supplements Steffan’s book with all the legal papers.

Mary Anne Humphrey authored an anthology of cases “My Country: My Right to Serve” (Harper Collins), again, pre-DADT.

James Hollobaugh, in “Torn Allegiances” (1993, Alsyon) told the story of his life as an ROTC cadet.  Discharged after outing himself, he was pursued for recoupment of scholarship monies. One of the most harrowing passages, though, occurs in civilian life when he gets lost in a blizzard in the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina (yes, it gets cold there).

Soldier of the Year: The Story of a Gay American Patriot”, by Jose Zuniga, 1995, Pocket Books, is the story of the Sixth Army Soldier of the Year who enlisted at Fort Bliss in 1989.

Serving in Silence” is the story of Grethe Cammermeyer, to be covered in another posting.

Rob Graham’s “Military Secret”, published in Dallas, was a first-person account of Desert Storm.

One of my favorite later books is Reichen Lehmkuhl’s “Here’s What We;ll Say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force“., from Carroll Graf.  By clever manipulation, Reichen survived his four years at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and graduated.

Of special interest as Scott Peck’s “All American Boy” (Scribner, 1995).  Peck was the gay son of a Marine Corps general who opposed lifting the ban and who hosted a radio talk show about gay rights on Sunday nights in 1993.  He one time had a discussion with Frank Kameny on his program about security clearances for gays.

There were books by men in civilian fields similar to the military. There was Frank Buttino’s “A Special Agent: Gay and Inside the FBI”.  Mr. Buttino describes his meeting with the closety J. Edgar Hoover, and his own relationship with a gay sailor, who never was discharged and served without incident.

There are a couple of books by gay atheletes:  “The Dave Kopay Story”, and then Esear Tualo’s “Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man in the NFL”.  There is also Mark Tewksbury “Inside Out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock”, by a Canadian Olympic swimmer (sorry, that means “all that body shaving”).  And there is Greg Louganis, “Breaking the Surface.”

My own “Do Ask, Do Tell: A Gay Conservative Lashes Back” (1997) inverts the usual story, where I was thrown out of a civilian college (William and Mary) for admitting homosexuality in 1961, then took the draft physical three times and eventually was drafted in 1968 and “served” two years without incident.  But Shilts relates a somewhat similar incident at one point.

We should mention John Barrett’s “Hero of Flight 93; Mark Bingham: A Man Who Fought Back on September 11

Regarding the history of the Repeal, I recommend Aaron Belkin and the Palm Center (at UC Santa Barbrara), “How We Won: Progressive Lessons from the Repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’” on Kindle.  Previously Belkin had authored “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: Debating the Gay Ban in the Military” (2003).  I met with Dr. Belkin at his office in Santa Barbara in February 2002.   Another book of important is Nathaniel Frank’s “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America”  (2009). Vincent Cianni will publish a photographic book “Gays in the Military” April 30, 2014.

Big threats to electric power grid covered in several books and academic papers, not much in movies yet

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A number of books and professional papers in the past few years have discussed the dangerous and possibly existential threat to the electric power grid for North America and most of the developed world, from both natural and hostile sources. I would expect major films (not just typical overdone “disaster movies”) to explore this possibility in the future.

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Civilization, and the whole concept of the rule of law, has evolved with technology and now could not function if electricity to a large percentage of the country or to a major area were lost for many weeks, months or years.  But this is indeed possible.

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Concern about this idea has risen in recent weeks, since the Wall Street Journal drew attention to a physical rifle attack on the Metcalf substation in the Silicon Valley in California in April, 2013, which actually caused very little disruption to companies and homes in the area.

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There are two major fiction works that present the grid vulnerability.  One of these is “Gridlock”, by Byron L. Dorgan (former senator from North Dakota) and David Hagberg, from Forge.  Dorgan envisions a major conspiracy theory, involving Russian and Middle Eastern enemies, who (with the help of a psychopathic young hacker in the Netherlands) can take out the grid with cyber attacks in stages, demanding ransom.  But the incident starts with shooting a power station, and then the electrocution of a repair person by manipulating the way the line is energized by a computer virus. The link is here  and the visitor can follow the labels to other books that take up related issues.

The older fiction is “One Second After”, by William Forstchen (2009, from Doberty) with a foreword by Newt Gingrich and an afterword by Bill Sanders.  The novel follows one family in the North Carolina Blue Ridge when, one April afternoon, the lights go out suddenly for the whole country, as a result of three simultaneous electromagnetic pulse (EMP) explosions from nuclear weapons launched from a commercial ship in the Gulf of Mexico to high altitude.  I wondered, would Norad find and would the Air Force intercept these missiles?    Civilization in rural areas returns to the 19h Century, but almost everyone in large cities perishes within a year.

The major non-fiction book is “A Nation Forsaken: The Escalating Threat of an American Catastrophe” by F. Michael Maloof. From WND Books.

Maloof covers all the major possibilities, including EMP from missiles, but also explains how a coordinated EMP attack could occur on the ground from smaller, non-nuclear “magnetic flux compression generators”, a possibility pointed out in a Popular Science article in 2001, originating with New Scientist, link here.

Maloof also covers the possibility of a solar flare, followed by coronal mass ejections that could arrive at Earth two or three days later.

The National Academy of Sciences has published two important works, “Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System”, in 2012, as well as “Severe Space Weather Events: Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts”.

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Oak Ridge National Laboratory has published “Geogmagnetic Storms and their Impact on the U.S. Power Grid”.

On October 27, 2013, National Geographic Channel aired the docudrama “American Blackout” about how the US would recover in ten days from a total cyber attack on the power grid.

On Feb. 21, 2010, CNN aired a similar film, “Cyber Shockwave,” enacting a cyber crisis with officials discussing what they would do in a manner similar to war games that the media used to stage for nuclear crises in the past (even the Cuban Missile Crisis).

There have been a few B-moves on the solar flare issue, like “Air Collision“,  “Solar Strike”, “Solar Crisis” and “Solar Attack” that aren’t very effective or credible.

But “Perfect Disaster: Solar Storm” from the Discovery Channel is pretty scary.

I have heard rumors that Warner Brothers has looked at “One Second After”, and Dorgan probably has the connections to get “Gridlock” considered by studio agents.

(Initial publication: Saturday, February 15, 2014 at about 11:45 AM EST).