This Thursday, June 2nd, sees the publication of Craig Johnson's seventh Walt Longmire novel, Hell is Empty. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but I'll be first in line at the bookstore to find out one way or another.
Walt is the sheriff of Absaroka County in Wyoming, which is a lot like Alaska, a whole lot of empty space, except with roads. His best friend is Henry Standing Bear, aka the Cheyenne Nation, an Indian (certainly not a Native American) who talks without contractions, which makes him sound a little like Data. Walt is three years a widower, with a grown daughter whose phone calls he lives for, and is starting to think about retirement.
As The Cold Dish, the first novel in the series, opens, a young man is found dead, shot with great accuracy from a great distance with a Sharps rifle. This particular young man, all agree, is no great loss, as he was one of four who had raped a young Indian woman with FAS and didn't serve near enough time for it. Then the second body shows up and Walt has to call in Omar, the guy with the Nieman Marcus helicopter, for help.
I just love a book with a Nieman Marcus helicopter in it, don't you?
The Cold Dish is filled with a wealth of detail about Western history, Indian culture and gun lore (Ever wonder where the term "sharpshooter" came from?) and wonderful descriptions of the landscape, but the true gift is in the characters, including a lot of good-looking, smart-mouthed women and a lot of good-looking, smart-mouthed men who like them. Vic the ex-pat Philadelphia deputy. Lucian the one-legged ex-sheriff. Dorothy who slings the usual at the Busy Bee Cafe. Vonnie the high plains entrepreneur and love interest. Wheelchair-bound Lonnie Little Bird trying to stay sober so his granddaughter can visit him, um-hmmm, yes it is so.
Even the characters with walk-on parts are whole people, like Jules Belden, the guy in the drunk tank whose beatdown Walt ably avenges, and that near-giant Brandon White Buffalo who makes lovely sandwiches. Hands down my favorite is retired bartender Al Munro who shows up at the second crime scene dressed in floral print swimming trunks, on a mule, martini in hand. It's snowing at the time. The dialogue in these novels is so good you feel privileged to eavesdrop in, sort of John Wayne channeling Samuel Johnson, only better read and more articulate.
Note: Somebody must have told Craig that Chopper Jim took a Walt Longmire novel along on his recent plane ride to California, because Craig got in touch to malign my characters' taste in reading. And then he sent me this.
Pretty sure Jim would vote for Walt if he lived in Absaroka County. If he wasn't running against him.
If you like the flavor of modern western novels and want more, try also Robert Greer's Spoon, an updating of the Shane story. Then read Monte Walsh, what I consider to be one of the few perfect novels, by Jack Schaefer, the guy who wrote Shane. Then read Molly Gloss' The Hearts of Horses for a look through a female cowboy's eyes. It's almost a sequel to Monte Walsh, which I did not consider possible. All of these novels share a similar rhythm to their language, as if they are told to us from the back of a horse heading into the sunset. They'll make you nostalgic for a horse you never rode yourself.
Update on June 3rd--Here's the trailer for a pretty good adaptation of Monte Walsh starring Tom Selleck. Worth seeing.
[More about my trip to Turkey, whether you want to hear about it or not] On the way to Gocek, our guide, the wonderful Serra, pulled off the highway near Kalkan. A switchbacky dirt road took us up the side of a mountain. We went around a corner and beheld this. It’s a Roman aqueduct…
They say there are more Greek and Roman ruins in Turkey than there are in Italy and Greece. I just got back from Turkey and I believe it, but what is even more marvelous is that the ruins are so accessible. If we had stuff like that over here, it would be sequestered behind a…
When I saw this statue of Artemis at the museum at Ephesus in Turkey, I was put immediately in mind of some of the hats I’ve seen on stage the two times I’ve attended Beach Blanket Babylon in San Francisco. I mean, let’s face it, Artemis is wearing her temple on her head. This is…
When I gave you the recipe for Kate’s Fry Bread, I made mention of nagoonberry jam for one topping. Some of you wanted to know what a nagoonberry was, so photo above of is this berry of kings in the wild. It is a secretive little fruit, hiding its light in the deepest, darkest recesses…
A while back I taught a science-fiction-as-lit workshop at the Kenai Public Library. Part of the pre-class assignment was to read H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy, watch the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Measure of a Man," and come prepared to discuss the definition of sentience. Everyone had an opinion and the discussion was high, wide and handsome.
Little Fuzzy and the two sequels, Fuzzy Sapiens and Fuzzies and Other People are seminal texts in the science fiction canon, as well as thumpin' good reads. In the far future on the distant planet of Zarathustra, miner Jack Holloway comes home from a hard day's work finding sunstones to discover a visitor in his shower stall, a two-foot high biped covered with gold fur who is unlike any other of the native fauna on Zarathustra. As soon becomes evident Little Fuzzy is sentient as well. This leads to consternation at the Chartered Zarathustra Company, as the Company got their charter on the planet because it was adjudged to hold no sentient life and if Little Fuzzy is found to be sentient the Company will lose their charter. There is mayhem and kidnapping and murder and the Federation Space Navy gets involved and it all winds up in a frontier courtroom in a legal battle over the definition of sentience. Piper's style is so natural and colloquial that it feels like he's telling a story about what's going on next door, with an understated humor that keeps you chuckling all the way through.
The three books have been reprinted in an omnibus edition called The Complete Fuzzy, and you should definitely read them. But wait, there's more.
Tomorrow, John Scalzi publishes Fuzzy Nation, what he calls a "reboot" of the first novel. "I took the original plot and characters of Little Fuzzy and wrote an entirely new story from and with them," he writes on his blog. Why? "Because I am a huge fan of the original novel and of H. Beam Piper’s work. It’s a good story and he’s a very good story teller; Little Fuzzy wasn’t nominated for a Hugo on accident, you know. And while the original novel is still, as they say, a “cracking good tale,” I thought there was an opportunity to revisit the story and put a new spin on it to make it approachable to people who had not read the original or did not know about Piper, and also to give fans of the original the fun of seeing some old friends in new settings."
You'll remember Scalzi's Old Man's War? Another thumpin' good read? I can't wait to see what he does with Fuzzies. I'll be getting my copy tomorrow, and I will be unavailable for communication for a while thereafter.
Just for fun, here's the devastating scene from "The Measure of a Man" when Riker damn near sends Data on a one-way trip to the Daystrom Institute, and the following scene where Guinan (Whoppi Goldberg in her best role ever) shows Picard what's really going on. One of the best scenes in TNG, and one of the best sf scenes ever.
And here's the scene where Picard proves indisputably that Data is not a toaster.
[repost from 2008] Okay, let’s have this conversation. Sandy, one of the Danamaniacs managers, just forwarded me an email from a fan which read, in part: “I love the Kate Shugak and Liam Campbell books. I just hope that Ms. Stabenow takes into consideration that some things are best left to a person’s imagination… having…
The Sun was just barely below the horizon; north of me I could see its first rays touching the topmost antenna of the power station, miles away on Pride Peak. It was very still and very beautiful. Overhead old Jupiter was in half phase, bulging and orange and grand. To the west of it Io was just coming out of shadow; it passed from black to cherry red to orange as I watched.
The story behind the “1984” Mac ad. Click here to read the full story. It’s a fascinating one, especially if you remember rising slowly to your feet that day at halftime, jaw dropped, watching it.
Photographs by Carl Batreall of Chugach State Park, edited into a video montage. Fabulous. [Some of which I saw originally in this month’s copy of Alaska magazine. You should subscribe, too.] The Chugach State Park is one of the most scenic parks in the world, with a wildlife population that would have had Pliny the…