You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Monday, October 31, 2011


Depending upon which survey you read, somewhere between 30% and 50% of Americans believe in ghosts.

That number seems high to me, and I would like to know how each survey phrased the question. If some one hated to be rude to the lingering dead and deny their existence entirely, did they waffle and say, "Well, maybe," and then get classified with the yea sayers? Were they merely ghost agnostics, wanting to leave at least a tiny rent in the veil that separates the living from the dead? After all, how can you really know?

I realize that I am about to lose potentially between a third and one half of my already scant readership here, but I have to say that on this one point at least, people who believe in ghosts simply are not very bright. Now all those same people are saying that I'm not very open-minded to shut the door on the very possibility of a spirit lingering after the body's death, but you know, fuck that. Grow up. Ghosts answer a variety of needs in peoples' lives, from comfort to punishment, but they are not real. There are many creepy aspects to deserted houses, lonely country roads, bad parts of town, and abandoned mental hospitals, but they have nothing to do with ghosts. The night you saw your grandmother, a week after her death, sitting at the foot of your bead may have seemed very real -- I know it did in my case -- but she was not a ghost.

Having said all this, I admit that the only thing that really scares me, in movies or stories, is a ghost or a haunted house. Vampires, werewolves, serial killers, monsters large and small are there for my entertainment. If one leaps out from behind a closed door I may jump out of my seat with the rest of the audience, but I would do the same thing if a CPA jumped out from behind a closed door. That is nothing more than being startled. But ghosts are uncanny. They worm their way into that part of my brain that knows better but cannot fight back the reflex reaction that raises goosebumps or makes you wish the wife would just stay in her room and not check out those noises downstairs.

I blame my parents. When I was in seventh grade they gave me the Modern Library Giant Edition Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural. The stories terrified and delighted me. They were almost all of either Victorian or Edwardian vintage, and that specific diction in a story, the sound of the Oxford Don hesitant to tell his tale for fear of being thought mad, still does it for me. Films and modern writers that attempt that exact atmosphere tend to be creaky and ineffectual. But there are endless modern variations. I find modern vampire stories silly and serial killers tedious if sometimes disgusting, but a film like Paranormal Activity can have me squirming in my seat. (At least the first one did. I just saw Paranormal Activity 3 and felt like I was hearing the same joke for the third time. Although it had its moments.)

Recently I have begun reading horror novels. The Horror Writers Association has published a list of 40 must reads in the genre, many of which I must have read in Junior High and High School. I have also taken a look at the annual Bram Stoker Award winners. It's an interesting list with some surprises. Joyce Carol Oates, no doubt, was delighted to win in 1996 for a book I've never heard of called Zombie, but how must a writer the quality of Stuart O'Nan have felt about first being nominated and then losing out to a novel by Peter Straub in 2005?

I have misgivings about the length of most of these books. How can anything be scary for 400 pages? But I am approaching this with an open mind, hoping for entertainment and the occasional creepy moment. And yes, they will find their way onto Potato Weather. I hope to use the word putrescent a great deal.


Saturday, October 29, 2011


This was my first Parker novel and I am a convert. Never a fan of police procedurals, I was seduced in the first pages by this "crime procedural."

Parker is a good criminal -- in this instance a thief. I am not sure what additional talents he may exhibit in other novels. He is not an anti-hero along the lines of Patricia Highsmith's Ripley or TV's Dexter. I did not watch Parker with the mix of disbelief, horror, and pleasure I do those other characters. Parker is simply a criminal who gets away with things because he is smarter and when necessary more brutal than those around him. Those around him are often sleazy, but that doesn't mean "they have it coming to them." Some are pathetically naive, and some a downright stupid. Parker is intelligent and anything but naive. Sleazy? Is there not something inherently sleazy about stealing $400,000 from a traveling evangelist, knowing all along that your inside man on the job will be killed or at the very least never see his share of the money?

If Parker took a bullet and died in one of these stories, I suppose the world would be an infinitesimally better place. But we, the citizens, would be denied the pleasure of watching Richard Stark, one of the late Donald Westlake's several pseudonyms, practice his impeccable craft.

As Billy Preston would say

I got a story ain't got no moral
Let the bad guy win every once and awhile

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Sandman Slim (Sandman Slim, #1)Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

How could I not read this book? William Gibson called it a "...deeply amusing, dirty-ass masterpiece." The bits I read promised a hard-boiled, noirish novel about a living human who escapes from Hell and returns to Los Angeles to kill the men who not only sent him there but murdered his girlfriend. The bastards. Jack Stark, the narrator, is a magician, as are all those he is sworn to kill. There are also angels, alchemists, a vampire-like creature who's trying to reform, men from the Department of Homeland Security, and some particularly unpleasant demons called Kissi.

I really loved this book for the first fifty pages or so, then I thought, "So what?" If everything is supernatural, nothing really matters. The pleasure in noir fiction and film lies in experiencing the lives of desperate people, on both sides of the law, trapped by the systems that will crush them. In Sandman Slim the fate of the world hangs in the balance, but big deal. The novel is a very clever, carnival spook house. But maybe that's what Gibson meant when he called is a "..deeply amusing, dirty-ass masterpiece."

Kadrey is very funny and he keeps the pace swift. Catching all his pop culture references will make you feel in with the in crowd. I was batting a hundred until I was wrong about Lawrence Tierney. Kadrey does fall prey in the extended denouement to the common fault of superhero movies -- he spends twenty pages setting up the basis for a franchise. The second book is already available.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011


When you open an account on Blogger, they immediately hit you with the pitch to "monetize" you blog. I never took it seriously, until I noticed the ongoing worldwide interest in my posting SOFT CORE NUN PORN AVAILABLE NOW! Since the day it went up, it has been the most heavily trafficked post on Potato Weather. I can only imagine the disappointed Serbian teenager or Brazilian octogenarian when he finds the unsalacious and actually quite thoughtful analysis I provide of Italian and Japanese nunsploitation films of the 1970's. But like flies to honey, everyday they come to check it out.

That's when I decided to look again at monetizing my blog. It is easy to become an Amazon Associate. Three clicks and you're signed up. From  your blog you can link to any Amazon item and if it is purchased by someone directed from your blog, you receive a whopping 4% of the transaction. I told myself I was doing it as a joke, but then again, why not knock a bit off my monthly Amazon bill.

My background in trade  led me immediately to SCNPAN! and I built links to the titles I discussed and even added some higher-priced box sets. Good merchandizing, I thought. Get those price points as high as possible. I also added copies and supporting material of all the books I reviewed, and eventually got around to plush toys and t-shits related to my postings.

This was all about a year ago. My total balance with Amazon stands at $1.80. They do not release the funds until you break $10.

What went wrong? Why has nobody bought the Library of America Philip K Dick box set? How have my readers resisted stocking up on the Georges Simenon romans durs available from New York Review Press after my over-the-top praise. Who wouldn't want a Chthulu plush toy for the little H. P Lovecraft fan in the family?

I was right about one thing. The nun porn sets get looked at the most. But no one buys them. Of course I think most of the people are in countries where the films would be seized by customs and I would end up on an Interpol list.

So I'm dropping the sales links. You will no longer feel pressured to buy 10 volumes of The Drifting Classroom manga series just because I think it's cool. Potato Weather is going commerce-free.

I spent my professional career as an integral part of a successful retail business, but I am no entrepreneur.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Dougal Douglas, or Douglas Dougal depending upon when and on what side of town you meet him, is a Scottish devil. He offers to let most anyone feel the nubs of his horns buried in his curly red hair. The good working-class citizens of Peckham Rye, a South London suburb where people speak with distaste of any need to "cross the river," don't know quite what to make of Dougal or his nubby horns. If he is not a devil he is certainly a rascal, a young man who cons his way into local industry as an "arts man," a position recommended by progressive minded politicians who think if only workers could expand their minds they might also be less inclined to absenteeism. Dougal takes this position at two competing firms, hence the name change, and sets about his "human research" that assures he seldom darkens either of his offices. Instead he makes friends all over Peckham, which means, in effect, he sets about ruining several peoples' lives.

When Spark published her novel in 1960, Peckham Rye was a shining example of British pettiness and tedium. During the next decades it would become one of the highest crime districts in London, and hints of violence among discontented youth run throughout the novel. For her characters the sophisticated city across the river was equally a lure and a object of distrust. They like their quiet life in Peckham Rye, which retains some of its pre-suburban village character. They are sitting ducks for Dougal's freewheeling, mayhem-inducing charades. By the time the Scotsman feels its time to leave, he has left broken hearts, cancelled weddings, and crimes of passion in his wake.

Spark tells her story in an economical 140 pages.

I like to think that in the picture below she is writing the scene that involves murder by corkscrew.


Sunday, October 16, 2011


This was my first Lew Archer book, as it was its author's. MacDonald is considered the heir of hard-boiled detective novels after Hammet and Chandler. Perhaps because this one was written in 1949, it seems especially close to its predecessors. Southern California. Wealthy people. Creepy people. Beautiful people. Corruptible people. Losers from the word go. They are all here and they all play their roles.

MacDonald is credited with bringing more psychological depth to the genre. I didn't see a lot of that here but it is his first novel. I admit an innate prejudice against detective fiction. I like crime novels -- Patricia Highsmith, Georges Simenon, James Ellroy, recently Richard Stark. Crime novels can take you in unexpected directions and leave you slack-jawed when they are over. Detectives, whether they are Miss Marple, Richard Marlowe, or Lew Archer, will take some serious beatings but figure things out in the end. (Actually I doubt Miss Marple every took any serious beatings.)

Detectives suffer betrayals, but it's all part of the job. They go home to more cigarettes and rye. (I should have left Miss Marple out of this.)

In a good crime novel, the world shifts under your feet and settles into a place you feared it belonged the whole time.

Paul Newman played Lew Archer, renamed Harper, in the 1966 film version.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Now the parasytes are working their way into public office. Their leader, a woman who was pregnant when she was taken over, has given birth. Her nanny is alarmed to see that she silences her child's cries by squeezing its head, and she carries it around in a bag like a loaf of bread. And there is one unexpected killing. A primary lesson of all Japanese horror manga seems to be: do not get too attached to any one character. Everyone's life is up for grabs.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011


Try not to take this personally.

In the year 2050, invaders from another galaxy enter our solar system and take over Jupiter and Earth. They have come to make contact with intelligent species like themselves, which unfortunately does not include the human race. On earth they are interested in only whales and dolphins. Human beings they put in the same category as beavers and muskrats. By plowing under the surface of the planet, they cause most earth life to starve. I suppose the invaders are meanwhile in the oceans partying down with whales and dolphins. Humans that have already begun populating the moon and the eight other planets the invaders leave to their own resources. We are like squirrels: just part of the landscape unless we become a nuisance and require an exterminator.

Progress on the eight worlds has been speeded along by transmissions that appear to come from Ophiuchi, a star seventeen light years away. Even though most of the information is unintelligible, mankind now has sophisticated technologies such as cloning, advanced space travel, and these really nifty suits that fit you like a skintight mirror and allow you to exist for thirty hours in a vacuum.

Lilo is a geneticist condemned to death for unlicensed experimentation. She is freed by Boss Tweed, ex-president and now among the wealthiest men in the universe. (Why the historical reference here I never understood.) Tweed finances the Free Earth movement, a fool's errand that hopes to expel the Invaders. Lilo is smart and spunky. She has been killed three times trying to escape and is now living as her third or fourth clone. She finally goes off on Tweed's sponsored expedition to Poseidon, Jupiter's crummiest moon. From here on out there are so many plots and so many agendas that the book turns into the wild adventure that has earned it classic status. The characters are smart and capable of facing each challenge thrown their way. Varley's settings, whether they are the manmade caverns on Poseidon or Tweed's absurd Disney-like environments, stay true to their own logic and give each episode its own feel.

There has also been a disturbing new transmission from Ophuichi. It is garbled like all the rest, but it is unmistakably a bill, and there are some serious late charges.

Here is an actual photograph of Ophiuchi. It's one of those brighter dots.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: SON OF MAN by Robert Silverberg

A few pages into this book, I groaned. I picked it up because I was reading Robert Silverberg books. I barely glanced at the cover to get a sense of what it was going to be about. On the first page, Clay, a man of our time, which in the case of the book would be around 1970, finds himself caught in a time flux and deposited in some future world, a verdant paradise possibly a million years in the future. Soon he meets Hanmer, one of the current human specimens, a soft spoken, somewhat androgynous young man with green skin and red eyes. Hanmer will be Clay's guide.

That's when I groaned. I seldom like books that involve a stranger trotted around a wondrous new world and shown wonders. Dante set a high literary standard for this format around the beginning of the 14th century. Utopian novels employ this method, and they are a drag. In science fiction from about the same tame as Silverberg's novel there is Theodore Sturgeon'sVenus Plus X, a silly and tedious book. Nothing much can happen in these stories, if they are stories. They read like account of visits to futuristic theme parks that prompt from their authors inflated language suited to the wonders on view. Silverberg is an author who can describe some pretty outlandish worlds and make them totally believable. For Son of Man he slips into highfalutin language that he imagines does justice to the mystic and ecstatic rituals Clay experiences. It doesn't. It just sounds strained.

Few books I have ever read spend such time on the state of their protagonist's genitals. Everyone is naked in this world. Hanmer and his five friends, known as Skimmers, not only look androgynous but change gender at will. Clay's frequent erections, whether prompted by sexual arousal by a Skimmer in his/her female mode or at times simply by something in the air, are mighty things. Except for one gender-bending encounter that must have much more titillating and shocking in 1971 that it is today, Clay finds himself mounting not only the Skimmers but in some cases the primordial ooze he drags himself through and even wet sand on a beach. (Think about the last one.) There is much engulfing and thrusting described, although at times Clay ejaculates more spontaneously. We also learn how the varying atmospheric conditions affect his penis and testicles. Silverberg was a hardworking, full-time writer who in addition to SF wrote dirty books for long forgotten paperback publishers like Nightstand Editions. That industry was done in by home video and the internet, but if you were around in the seventies you probably encountered these kinds of publications and you will recognize their language in Son of Man. Where else would you come across the word "encunted"? (It doesn't make it through spell check but it is in Wiktionary.)

But I digress. No, I take that back. Clay's erections are a central feature of the book. His other experiences involve body-dissolving trips to the edge of the universe, time spent as a giant carrot, and struggles alone through the "Unpleasant Zones," areas with names like Heavy, Slow, Dark, Cold, Empty. The Skimmers, who are not unlike H.G. Wells' Eloi minus the inconvenience of the Morlocks, live a carefree existence, their only duty being certain rituals that keep the world humming along. Sound boring? It is. But to Silverberg's credit, and his love of monstrosities, Clay meets along his journey some pretty interesting throwbacks to earlier human forms that range from spheres who live in mobile cages, to pimply, stinky goat men, to ravenous dinosaurs -- each of them some evolutionary adaptation to an era of earth's history.

The conclusion is a cosmic experience, at the Well of First Things. (Endemic to this kind of book is an absolute lack of humor, and yet much in Son of Man could be transferred to a Douglas Adams book with little rewriting.) In addition to a prolonged ejaculation this climactic eperience involves an immersion in the full panoply of humanity and a quasi-religious experience in which Clay takes on all the sorrows, fears, and boredom of everything from his Skimmer friends to Neanderthals and the spheroid thing in the cage, Why he feels compelled or even has the right to do this is not clear, except that he is Clay, he is one special dude.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: THORNS by Robert Silverberg

Duncan Chalk begins every working day climbing the iron rungs that form a switchback trail to his desk perched forty feet above the floor. Duncan Chalk weighs over 600 pounds. "Pain," he explains to his minions, "is instructive."

Chalk should add that it is also profitable. He runs a media empire that ranges from carnival attractions to the most exclusive resorts in the solar system. His broadcast speciality is programming that allows the audience to watch other people go through hard times, or simply to suffer in general. Actually, none of this is made particularly clear by Silverberg, but given that the novel dates from 1967, he rates "fortune teller" status for his prescient view of what the future viewing public will want to watch. 

Chalk, through a process that is also not made clear, feeds off the misery he markets. And he needs a new attraction. Fortunately for him. an astronaut named Burris has recently returned from a disastrous encounter with the inhabitants of the planet Manjipoor. (Yes, it sounds like an Indian restaurant.) The Manjipoorians, for what seems to be no better reason than idle curiosity, performed operations on Burris that killed two of his shipmates and left him a grotesque deformity. Then there is Lona, a young woman who is mother to 100 children. She donated eggs for what turned out to be fantastically successful experiment. He anonymous participation was blown by the press, and she became more famous than our own, beloved Octomom. Months later, her unwanted celebrity a thing of the past, he lives in seclusion with severe post-partum depression. 

Chalk decides these two should get together, have a very public romance, followed by an inevitable public breakup, a scenario that will delight both him and his millions of consumers. I know none of this makes any sense, but Silverberg pulls it off. Every character, from Burris and Lona to Chalk's lowliest minions are well-developed individuals. The settings, that range from shopping malls for the vulgar masses to resorts that only the most fabulously wealthy humans can afford, are more believable today than they would have been to Silverberg's readers forty years ago. The resorts are like Steven Wynn wet dreams.

Thorns is consistently entertaining but I am not sure that it has a point. Our absurdly mismatched lovebirds learn some hard lessons, Chalk receives a spectacular comeuppance, and I suppose the ending in more or less positive. It's a great ride with just a bit of a letdown at the end.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


7 Billion Needles, Volume 27 Billion Needles, Volume 2 by Nobuaki Tadano
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a not very exciting follow up to Volume 1. Hikaru and some of her friends return to the island on which she was raised. Hikaru wants to visit her father's grave. He died in a suspicious accident after he let down the islanders' dreams of wealth by misinterpreting granite for some substance known as "black ore." (Googling "black ore" comes up with references to its uselessness, although there are directions for making earrings from it.)

Hikaru cannot shed her alien inhabitant, since he has not finished repairing her body after blowing it to bits when he crash landed on earth. Maelstrom, the bad alien, shows up on the island even though he was apparently killed at the end of Volume 1. There are lots of flashbacks and dream sequences and another battle to the death at the end. But Tadano has a surprise ending that bodes well for Volume 3.

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Saturday, October 1, 2011


The End of EternityThe End of Eternity by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Granted it's a classic, but also, let's face it, it's a drag. This is the only Asimov novel I have read, and it doesn't make me want to dive right in to the Foundation books or anything else. The ideas are intriguing, the writing is pedestrian, the characters are a bore.

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