Saturday, June 18, 2011

New book

Well, this book club has been quiet for a long while. I'm here now to shout that it's not dead.

Let's read another book together.

How about Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars?

Project Gutenberg E-text

Librivox Audiobook

I'm excited about the new Andrew Stanton directed John Carter movie and am concerned about my geek credibility because I've never read a Burroughs novel.

We start June 26th. Even if that "we" is just me.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

How about a new book?

Is there anyone out there?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Big Picture Perusals

Without giving away stuff at the end, I'd like to say just some overriding perspective things about the book. To me, these things definitely demonstrate a Christian worldview with redemption.

1. The fact that both Crane and Diana were basically rescued from dumpsters (figuratively) as little children. Ozzie obviously is a gambler, but when it comes to the central issues of life, he acts as a Christian man. The outcasts of society eventually become "players". What these outcasts need is good guidance. Ozzie gives it.

2. The obvious picture created by Arky’s "phase change" idea combined with the climax of the book being Good Friday and Easter. Water (lake) and baptism. Death and resurrection.

3. The pursuit of a “fountain of youth” (Ponce De LEON) by inhabiting other people's bodies shows the utter corruption in futility of the search for eternal life down here through new age guru techniques.

What saith the rest of you?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Shake the world.

Alright, by today, everyone should be at least starting Book 3, which starts with Chapter 28. Things have gotten pretty dark in the book and the tension keeps building. But, right now, I'm not going to write about Last Call. I need to take the measure of this virtual book club.

A few questions:

1) Does anyone really need three more weeks to finish Last Call? I have to confess that I read ahead and have finished it. Once you get to Book 3, it's hard to not want the release that a conclusion brings. I couldn't not keep reading. Also, with apologies to those who feel that they can't find enough time to read, I have to suggest, in general, that we need to read faster to keep up the momentum here.

2) Should this makeshift book club continue? I vote that it does. I guess all I really need is one other person to agree that it should continue and it will. If no one cares to continue, I'll try to accept defeat as gracefully as I can.

3) How should we choose books in the future? I don't want to be a dictator here. We could have each member nominate a book, then have everyone vote on what we should read, with the added condition that you can't vote for your own nominee. The proposed book with the most votes would be the book that we read. Or we could just do the simple and maybe best way of letting someone different be the dictator for the month. One person chooses the book for the month and everyone else reads that book. No argument. Then, the person who chose the book is the primary one responsible for guiding 'conversation' on the blog, but everyone is supposed to contribute.

I guess that's it for now.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

don't read if you're not up to 21

Can we move on to talking about stuff up to 21?

Why does Dondi Snayheever: Mr. Terminal Response do what he does?

And why does Al shoot who he shoots and not someone else?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Jack High and the Joker.

Book One's title, happily enough, was The People in Doom Town. I suppose that the primary inhabitants of "Doom Town" are Crane, swallowed up in a stupor of despair, and Mavranos, chasing away his cancer with each long swallow of Coors Light. Book One culminates with the two discovering some sort of accidental purpose and submitting themselves to the guidance of a Wise Man, Ozzie, who does what he can to buy them luck and read the times.

Book Two's title is, simply, Mistigris, and Powers provides us with the encyclopedia entry. Poker with the Joker added. The joker, you all know, is a wild card, and, certainly, in Book Two, things get even crazier, spiraling further out of control. Powers never loses control. Even when the plot becomes dense with new threads that weave near each other, sometimes joining, sometimes overlapping, and sometimes dangling apart. Everything is tightly constructed, especially when it appears to be a jumbled mess.

For good ye are and bad, and like to coins,
Some true, some light, but every one of you
Stamp'd with the image of the King....
-Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Idylls of the King

While not quite knights of the round table, what we're dealing with here in book two are those who are "stamp'd with the image of the King." The current king is no Arthur, but he is still the king. It's understandable that those surrounding the throne are either ignorant, crazed, or downright evil.

Is everyone caught up through Chapter 21 by this point? Leave a comment here letting me know if you're reading faster, slower, or not at all.

Here's the current cast of misfits:

Georges Leon: the King, has a host of bodies, male and female
Vaughan Trumbill: chief servant to the king

Scott Crane: our hero?
Archimedes Mavranos: out to save himself
Oliver "Ozzie" Crane: the Wise Man
Diana Ryan: Scott's sister/bride
Scat and Oliver (Bitin Dog): Diana's children

Dondi Snayheever: Mr. Terminal Response

Al Funo: a contract killer without a contract (and quite the ladies man)

Ray-Joe Pogue: a wannabe contender
Nardie Dinh: a second moon, Pogue's sister

By the end of Chapter 21, most of these characters and their individual stories have finally come together, with some dramatic consequences, but I won't write anymore in case there are a few of you still way behind.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Well I'm trying to catch up. I guess the one thing that struck me most in the first 12 chapters is the utter chaos, disorder, and lack of rootedness of the characters in the world they inhabit up to this point.

One can view all daily events as chance and fate and full of turmoil or conversely one can view all daily events as guided by a Providential Hand and in some sense orderly, or ordered, even if still shrouded in mystery and yet unclear.

The lack of control over the extraordinary events that are taking place to the characters is something I can identify with. I am curious how much more chaotic things will get, or if in the end we will see a prevailing order, and rest, for our poor chap Crane.

I also enjoy the liberal references to Scotch and smoking. Laphroiag anyone?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Supplementary Reading

As token leader of this ragtag book club, I feel okay handing out additional reading.

Read Chesterton's essay The Nightmare.
That is, I fancy, the true doctrine on the subject of Tales of Terror and such things, which unless a man of letters do well and truly believe, without doubt he will end by blowing his brains out or by writing badly. Man, the central pillar of the world must be upright and straight; around him all the trees and beasts and elements and devils may crook and curl like smoke if they choose. All really imaginative literature is only the contrast between the weird curves of Nature and the straightness of the soul. Man may behold what ugliness he likes if he is sure that he will not worship it; but there are some so weak that they will worship a thing only because it is ugly. These must be chained to the beautiful. It is not always wrong even to go, like Dante, to the brink of the lowest promontory and look down at hell. It is when you look up at hell that a serious miscalculation has probably been made.

I got a full house and four people died.

Here's an interesting link, written by one of Powers's former Clarion students.

Playing Poker With Tarot Cards

Assumption uses the minor arcana of a Tarot deck, which means that you'll be dealing with Knights in addition to the standard Kings, Queens and Jacks (Pages). It's possible for you to use regular playing cards for this game by adding doctored Jacks from an identical deck for your knights. In fact, Powers was too superstitious to mess with a Tarot deck, so he used a modified playing card deck to figure out the hands he'd need to use in the novel.

I participated in an Assumption game once; we set it up as a joke to spook Tim at Clarion the week he was leading the writing workshop. His wife Serena saw us playing with the tarot cards, shook her head and said to Tim, "See, if you put it in a book, the kids are going to try it."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

All In

I read 12 chapters on the way to Reno and I feel like I'm supposed to meet Crane in the lounge. Needless to say, I'm not getting out of bed until I can make a good omen out of the dots on the ceiling.

The first thing that struck me about the book is how Powers gets so close to the gambling culture.  I guess every good author must research his material.  But how can a person, any person, be saturated in a subject (of questionable morals) and not be consumed.  I kept thinking about how a cop goes deep under cover in a gang in order to work a sting.

Other than that, it's an interesting read.  Much different than my usual fair.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Connecting the dots.

Last Call is full of allusions (and direct referencing) to classical myths, medieval legends, and Biblical narrative. Here's one instance of that last one.

from Chapter 2:
Doctors in white coats were scurrying around the wheeled cart they slid him onto, but before they could move him in through the emergency room doors, Leon reached out and grabbed Abrams's sleeve. "Do you know if they've found Scotty yet?" Wherever the boy was, he was still psychically opened, still unlinked.
"No, Georges," Abrams said nervously, "but I wouldn't have heard--I left the house the minute I got your call."
"Find out," Leon said as one of the doctors broke weak grip and began to push the gurney away, "and let me know! Find him!"
That I, too, may go and worship, he thought bitterly.

This is a direct quote of Matthew 2:8,
And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.

The neat thing about allusions is that you won't get them if you don't recognize them. If you don't recognize one, you won't even know you're missing it. When you do recognize one, it makes you feel good about yourself (!) and, more importantly, the intertextual connections make the story stronger than it would have been without the allusion being recognized. I'm sure that there are plenty that I'm missing throughout the book, but I caught this one.

We get the reference and we understand that Leon is as evil as Herod ever was and that this boy is as important to him as Jesus was to Herod, as a competitor to be used or killed. Leon shares Herod's mindset.

from Chapter 7:
"So I got me a deck of cards," Ozzie went on, "and I started shuffling and drawing them to see where to go, and it led me straight to Lakewood, where I found you in that boat. And I walked across the parking lot to that boat slow, with my hand on my old .45 that I had in those days, because I knew I wasn't the only one who'd be tracking you. There's always some King Herod around. [emphasis mine] And I drove to Dr. Malk's in a highly circuitous fashion."

What was implicit in Chapter 1 is stated explicitly here in Chapter 7.

What's more important than this explicit labeling of Leon as Herod is the further implication that Oliver Crane is a Wise Man, following the Star he has discerned to find a new Child King; a young boy who poses a threat to the present corrupt power (who, more than incidentally, has gained his power through usurpation instead of having it properly bestowed on him).

In all of this, Powers establishes Scott Crane as a potentially powerful Messiah without ever resorting to tired fantasy tropes about prophecies handed down and a young man learning his worth as this Saviour, earning it every bit along the way. Powers lets us know through allusion and reference (instead of hammering us over the head with it) that are all firmly grounded in the events of the story. Powers works with and subverts our received notions of fantasy kings and salvation, by establishing Crane as an accidental agent in all of this, one who will eventually choose his own way, but whose path was set down long before he was aware of it. Both fated and free.

(for some thoughts on another 20th century master's use of similar material, written in an entirely different style, listen to Kreeft

Seriously, though, I know that there are tons of allusions that I'm not getting. Have you even thought about the name Crane?

Check this out:
"Greek and Roman myth tended to portray the dance of cranes as a love of joy and a celebration of life. The crane was usually considered to be a bird of Apollo the sun god as a herald of Spring and light. Apollo is said to have disguised himself as a crane when on visits to the mortal world."

Sound relevant? Yup. Did you even think about the name? Probably not. I only started looking it up on a whim. And, as most of you know, I'd already read the book a couple of years ago and never thought about the name once back then. I'm not boasting about anything. I'm only pointing out that there is a depth of meaning ironically laying right on the surface of the words we're reading! And we're barely seeing any of it.

With a jolt.

Mark wrote,

Chapter 1 really begins the book with a jolt. You realize first hand that mixed emotions and intentions are being thought of, but you really don’t know what yet.
It is interesting to see how everyone reacts to what Leon tries to do to Scott. His mother is horrified by whatever Leon is trying to do her son, and from what she says in the book, Leon has already done it their other son. Scotty, on the other hand, is a bit confused by all that is going on, and is in a state of shock when the card is embedded in is right eye. We have no idea what, or how the brother reacts to it.
I look forward to talking about the chapters to come and seeing what plan Leon, Scotty, the mother, and the brother fit in to.
Thanks for the recommendation Mr. Owens.

Five book stud

Michael wrote,

Okay guys, this is five book stud. Either you're in or you're out. I just purchased three more copies from Amazon, the lowest going for $.16. But the shipping is now $3.99. So, Matt, Simeon and Mark or someone else, next Sunday you got ta get serious.

If we begin to see the smoke of the glory cloud rising straight up, we'll have some idea that were supposed to back out of the game and fold, but otherwise, let's play.

I'll ask a starting question… John, what is the principle behind assumption in tarot cards? Is it basically a form of demonic propagation and reproduction? Or is it very mechanical with percentages and numbers and that sort of thing? In other words, is this manipulative world really somewhat organic or is it more by the numbers?

Ozzie seems to have a sense that is quite organic.


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