Writer, Broadcaster

Tag: Lord of the Rings

The Great Bookshelf Tour: Fourth Stop

Welcome to the fourth stop on the Great Bookshelf Tour of 2020, which I hope you find a bit of a distraction during these unusual times.

First up on today’s tour we have the books of illustrious Prince Edward Island based author Susan Rodgers. Susan Rodgers, you should know, is my sister, younger than me by one year, one month, and three days. I call her Sam because her initials are Susan Ann Mahoney, or at least they were before she married that Rodgers guy.

I could write an entire book about her, and our fabulous childhood together, including that incident where she heroically defended me from a pack of bullies who had stolen my mittens, and the time we got trapped on a cliff-face together (she made it off first), and so on, but that’s not what this tour is about. This tour is about books, and if you want books, Susan has written something like eighteen of them. I’ve lost count. My wife and I once marched into a bookstore and bought all of them, back when there were only nine. There, we’re done, we’ve supported her, we thought. Then she promptly wrote nine more. We’ve yet to pick those up. But we will. Maybe. Someday. Anyway, if you like angsty books about love and relationships and music and Prince Edward Island, you will LOVE Susan’s Drifters series (and related books).

Sitting in front of Susan’s books is one of my favourite books, Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace, by Gordon MacKenzie. A few things about this book. It was a thoughtful gift from a friend, which makes it special. I love everything about the design of this book, the illustrations in particular. If you look inside you will see that it is positively littered with the craziest drawings and sketches, all speaking to the nature of the content. I’ve long wanted to produce a book myself in this style. The book is about creativity and leadership, and it has many sage notions about all of that. There isn’t a much in the way of information online about MacKenzie himself. He’s a bit of an enigmatic figure, but video of him does exist. The books is based on a talk he used to give, which you can see online (and when you do, you’ll see just how much of the book is based on the talk). Curiously, despite the cult status of this book, hardly anybody has viewed MacKenzie’s online talk (145 views as of today). Something else I love about the book: it was originally self-published before Viking (Penguin) picked it up.

Next up, Robert J. Sawyer‘s Rollback. Rob has written even more books than my sister, and has known great success. I’ve known Rob since before he published his first novel, Golden Fleece (which I understand wasn’t actually the first one he wrote). I met Rob working on an episode of Ideas for CBC Radio. He was a guest contributor and I was the tech. He told me about his upcoming publication and that he wanted to be a professional science fiction writer. Little did he know that it was actually ME who was going to be the professional science fiction writer! Unfortunately, I turned out to be a lazy slug of mediocre ability, whereas he is a juggernaut with a big brain and actual talent. Which explains why he’s written so many successful books and I’ve written two, one of which COULD be considered successful if you fudge the criteria for success a bit.

Fast forward a few years (ahem; that would be a Sawyer pun there, if you know the man’s oeuvre). I decided to make a radio show featuring science fiction called Faster Than Light. I asked Rob if he would host it, and he agreed to. The pilot was wildly successful, but the network didn’t pick it up as a series, the Director of Programming at the time telling the Acting Head of Radio Drama that “if we put a show like that on the air, we’ll never get it off.” Oh well.

Fast forward a few more years. Rob writes Rollback. Some of the novel involves the CBC. Rob asked me to read the third draft of the novel to fact check the CBC bits. I did, and was surprised to discover that not only was the main character based on my profession at the time (a CBC Recording Engineer), but I was actually a character in the novel! So you can see that this is kind of a special book for me, beyond being an excellent story, well told, of a man restored to youth, and the impact on those around him.

And sitting beside Rollback up there is another Sawyer novel, Hominids, the first in his well-regarded Neanderthal Parallax series. I’ve actually read many of Rob’s excellent books, though not all of them are on this bookshelf (I do have other bookshelves in the house, and at the office), and I heartily recommend them all.

One day when I was about twelve I had just finished reading a good book and was looking for another of comparable quality, so I asked my father if he could recommend one. He led me downstairs to one of his bookshelves and picked out Cappy Ricks or the Subjugation of Matt Peasley by Peter B. Kyne, published in way back in 1916. What a yarn! I loved this tale of a crusty yet loveable shipping/lumber magnate and the feisty young sailor Matt Peasley he puts to work and torments on one of his boats. I’ve read it many times since. Kyne, incidentally, also wrote The Valley of the Giants (upon which the movie is based), among many other books.

Moving on we have another ancient tome called Lud-in-the-Mist, by Hope Mirrlees, first published in 1926. It was recommended by fellow writer Dale Sproule (former editor of the magazine TransVersions, with Sally McBride) and I’m so glad he brought it to my attention. It’s an adult fantasy about fairies that as many observers have pointed out pre-dates Lord of the Rings by many years, and quite possibly influenced such magnificent works as John Crowley’s Little, Big and Susanna Clarke‘s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, both of which I also loved.

Hmm. Lots to write about on this shelf! Next up we have another book by a friend, this time Thrice Burned, the second novel in Angela Misri‘s excellent Portia Adams mystery series, which I reviewed on this very blog, favourably, I might add. And beyond her a medical thriller by yet another friend, Stockholm Syndrome, by Melissa Yuan-Innes, writing as Melissa Yi. This is one of Melissa’s Dr. Hope Sze‘s books, selected as one of the best crime books of the year by CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter‘s Mystery panel.

And finally, kinda hard to make out there at the far right, we have The Lost Millennium, by Floren Diacu. This is a fascinating book, exploring the premise that history might be off by oh, say, one thousand years. That what we think of as the dark ages might be dark because they actually never happened! Whether this is true (spoiler alert: it’s probably not) this terrific little book provides great insight into how history is actually recorded and conveyed to the rest of us. It’s nowhere near as straightforward as you might think.

Other Stops on the Tour

Ten Most Influential People Who Never Lived

So there’s this book called  The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived.

Who are the ten most influential people who never lived in your opinion?

Here’s mine:

1. Captain James Tiberius Kirk

Not to be confused with the man who played him.  My childhood was suffused with Kirk and Star Trek, well before the Star Trek phenomenon took over the world (to my eternal dismay).

Kirk was a hero, a leader of men and women, and a champion of limitless human potential.  My first real introduction to Star Trek was through books, not television.  Science fiction writer James Blish turned each episode into a short story in a series of books in the seventies.  I devoured them. I still own every one.  And one cannot talk of Captain Kirk in the context of inspirational imaginary characters without pointing out that Kirk himself was allegedly inspired by yet another imaginary character: Horatio Hornblower.

2. Johnny Sokko

My favourite TV show when I was six

I grew up in Summerside, Prince Edward Island.  When I was six years old we had access to all of three television channels.  Saturday mornings at eight one of those channels played a show called “Johnny Sokko and his Giant Robot,” about a boy who discovers a wristband that allows him to control a giant robot with which to fight evil.  Can you imagine?  Your very own giant robot with which to fight evil!  I can honestly say that were it not for this show I would never have been inspired later in life to build my own giant robot with which to, um, fight evil and, ah… never mind.

3. Hawkeye Pierce

“Let’s go join the nurses,” suggests MASH surgeon Trapper John to fellow surgeon Hawkeye, who  replies: “Yeah… make them into one big nurse.”

No one ever laughed at Hawkeye’s jokes, but that didn’t stop him from cracking them.  Humour allowed Hawkeye to cope amid the insanity of war.  He got away with a lot because he was the best at what he did, and he had the coolest nickname on this list.

4. The Man With No Name

Clint Eastwood’s cooler than thou cowboy in Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti western trilogy may in fact have had a name: an undertaker in a Fistful of Dollars calls him Joe, and he is referred to in the credits by that name.  It has been suggested that the appeal of The Man With No Name is that he can do things that none of the rest of us can.  I know I certainly wouldn’t mind a piece of the poise that “Joe” exhibits on screen .  (Although as cool as The Man With No Name is in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, it’s really Eli Wallach’s character Tuco who steals the show.)

5. Merlin

Merlin advised Kings, shaping world events from the shadows.  Though he appeared to age normally, he experienced life backwards, from death to birth instead of the other way around (try wrapping your head around that one).  My knowledge of Merlin is mostly gleaned from the novels of Mary Stewart and T.H. White, as well as the brilliant portrayal of Merlin by actor Nicol Williamson in John Boorman’s superlative film Excalibur.

6. Bugs Bunny

Rivaled only by Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name for sheer, unadulterated cool, but arguably more human, and infinitely funnier.  To an adversary who happens to be a bull: “What a nin-cow-poop!  What a gulli-bull!”  But the real appeal of Bugs Bunny to me is the meta-cartooning genius so often displayed by his creators: Bugs Bunny as cartoonist/God messing with a thoroughly irritated Daffy Duck, just to cite one classic example.

7. Gully Foyle

In Alfred Bester’s seminal science fiction classic The Stars My Destination (or perhaps more properly Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright, the original title of the novel) Gully Foyle illustrates the heights any of us might achieve if only we were properly motivated.  There’s a lot of great science fiction being written today, but damn I miss the sheer frenetic vitality of books like this.

8. Hobbes

The tiger, not the philosopher. Hobbes is Calvin’s best friend, there when Calvin needs him and more than willing to go along with Calvin’s every crazy scheme.  Who doesn’t need a Hobbes in their life?  Words fail me.

A certain wizard

9. Gandalf

I hung on just about every word in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring’s chiefly to find out more about Gandalf.  Who was he, really?  What was he?  Where did he come from?  We never really find out, though I suppose there might have been more information on him in the Silmarillion… alas, I never could wade my way through that one.

10. Hoopoe

In my teens and twenties I read just about everything written by James Michener.  His book The Drifters inspired me to spend the better part of a year in France and Europe.  Another book of Michener’s, The Source, prompted me to question my every assumption concerning religion.  And in that book it was The Psalm of the Hoopoe Bird, the story of Hoopoe, the ancient Israeli engineer who so resembled the Hoopoe Bird , that touched me the most.

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