Best X-Files Episodes

In anticipation of The X-Files mini-series coming to Fox TV in January of 2016, I decided to immerse myself into a binge watch of most of the important episodes. I was most surprised by how many of the episodes in Season 9 were really good. However, Seasons 3,4,5,and 6 were when this show was turning out a great episode week after week.

Dana Scully is smart, and hot hot hot! Monica Reyes is almost as hot hot hot. The Smoking Man is one the greatest characters ever on TV, and the Lone Gunmen were fabulous. And Mulder is Mulder.Here are my favorite episodes … in order in which they were broadcast. I gave up trying to rank them. I did make myself leave out another 15 episodes, however.

1. Humbug, Production Code: 2X20 (second season, 20th episode) Wacky and Weird.

humbugMulder and Scully travel to Gibsonton, Florida, a town built and populated by circus and sideshow performers to investigate the death of Jerald Glazebrook, The Alligator Man. While searching for leads on the killer, the agents come across many bizarre characters including the local sheriff who was once known as Jim Jim, the Dog-Faced Boy, Dr Blockhead who performs human feats of endurance and The Conundrum, a tattooed jigsaw man who eats live animals. Scully finds it difficult to find a normal suspect, in a place where nothing is normal.

2. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, Production Code: 3X04 Guest Star: Peter Boyle.Sad and smart.

x-files-clyde-bruckman-carMulder and Scully are called in to assist in an investigation of a killer who is targeting fortune tellers. The investigators have very little to go on and need all the help they can get. Clyde Bruckman, an insurance salesman, knows so many details about the crimes that Scully suspects he is the killer. Mulder however believes that Clyde Bruckman has psychic abilities and is divining the information that way. Peter Boyle as Bruckman is outstanding.

3. War of the Coprophages, Production Code: 3X12 Funny and weird.

screenshot76Mulder travels to Millers Grove, Massachusetts to investigate reports of UFO sightings in the area. It turns out that the town is suffering from a cockroach invasion, and that these cockroaches have been attacking and killing people. Mulder confers with Scully by phone, she is skeptical of killer cockroaches. In each case Scully has an explanation, the exterminator was allergic to cockroaches and died of anaphylactic shock, the teenage boy was using drugs and suffered from Ekbom Syndrome, a drug induced delusion of insects invading the body causing the sufferer to try to cut them out. And the medical examiner died of an aneurysm while on the toilet. Then Mulder catches one of the cockroaches and discovers it has a metal body.

4. Jose Chung’s From Outer Space, Production Code: 3X20 Funny and weird. 

screenshot12Guest Stars: Charles Nelson Reilly and Jess Ventura.

Fabulous … this may be the best episode of all! Funny and weird like a nightmare. Renowned writer Jose Chung, doing research for his book on alien abductions, interviews Dana Scully, who relates to him the case of a teenage couple, Chrissy Giorgio and Harold Lamb, who claim to have been abducted while on a date in Klass County. The only problem is, the victims and witnesses all have different versions of the events that took place. From Chrissy’s first belief that she had been a victim of date rape, to the re-appearance of Harold with his tale of alien abduction. Jesse Ventura as a Man In Black is a great cameo, and the casting of Charles Nelson Reilly is brilliant. But the scene with Mulder in the diner eating plate after plate of slices of pie is true magic.

Feels like the best lost episode of Twin Peaks.

5. Home, Production Code: 4X03: Monumentally CREEPY and disturbing!

the-x-files-home-138888A baby is found buried alive in shallow ground and appears to have birth defects resulting from generations of inbreeding, leading Mulder and Scully to a reclusive family who have a history of inbred children. You will also never listen to Johnny Mathis again and feel comfortable. Truly great!

This episode was so disturbing FOX only aired it on network TV twice.

6. Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man, Production Code: 4X07: Important and compelling.

A Lone Gunmen episode AND a Smoking Man episode all rolled into one! william-b-daviesAn important episode in the X-Files mythology.

Frohike (one of the Lone Gunmen) pieces together and recites to Mulder and Scully what could be the possible life story of the Cigarette Smoking Man; from a young captain in the US Army recruited to assassinate President Kennedy, to becoming the mysterious man in the shadows at the height of a global conspiracy. What measures will the SM take to ensure that he remains a mystery forever?

7. Small Potatoes, Production Code: 4X20: Hilarious and sweet.

x-files-small-potatoes-mulder-scully

Five babies in the same town are all born with tails and the local OB-GYN is blamed for tampering with fertilised eggs. However, Mulder discovers the culprit to be a simple man with a genetic deformity who may have the ability to alter his appearance.

8. Unusual Suspects, Production Code: 5X01: Funny and Important.

x files - lone gunmen

Funny as hell and important to the mythos. In this flashback episode, Mulder meets a straight-laced federal employee, a sex mad AV expert and a nerdy computer hacker who become known as the Lone Gunmen. They bond together to help Susanne Modeski, a strange woman with evidence of a government conspiracy. When their plan to expose the conspiracy fails and Susanne is captured by a group of men-in-black, they soon become a paranoid group of government watchdogs.

9. The Post-Modern Prometheus, Production Code: 5X06: Sweet, odd and sad.

Mulder-Scully-3-The-Post-Modern-Prometheus-3-mulder-and-scully

Filmed in glorious black and white with a comic book feel to it, this is a modern retelling of Frankenstein as Mulder and Scully get caught up in a town where the residents live on Jerry Springer episodes and fear a two-faced monster who has been impregnating the women.

10. Bad Blood, Production Code: 5X12: Funny and scary!

Guest star: Luke Wilson.

bad-blood-3

Another episode that shows different people’s viewpoints of the same story. After Mulder chases down and kills a young man whom he believes to be a vampire, Scully realizes that his fangs are fake. The agents then return to DC, aware of the mistake they just made.

Faced with a lawsuit from the family of the man, they recount each of their sides to the story leading up to the event. Luke Wilson plays the sheriff with the hots for Scully, or maybe not, depending on who is telling the story.

11. Triangle, Production Code: 6X03. Exciting and Romantic

xfiles-triangle-screenshot

Mulder goes to the Bermuda Triangle when he learns that the Queen Anne, a British luxury liner which disappeared during WWII, has re-appeared in the middle of the Sargasso Sea. Mulder’s boat is wrecked and after floating in the water, he is hauled aboard the ship which has just been hijacked by the Nazis searching for the man who will build the atom bomb. Mulder tries to convince the crew that they have traveled into the future but evidence further suggests that it is he, who is back in the past.

Mulder plants a REAL kiss on Scully in the time warp, knowing she will not remember in the real timeline.

12. Dreamland (1) Dreamland II (2), Production Code: 6X04. Mysterious and hilarious.

Guest star: Michael McKean.

dreamland One of the best! While being detained near the famed “Dreamland” Area 51, a strange craft flies overhead and Mulder swaps bodies with an Area 51 ‘Man-in-Black’. While the other agent has fun in Mulder’s body (seducing Skinner’s secretary and putting the moves on Scully), Mulder himself finds it difficult to fit into someone else’s life, especially a shadowy one. Mulder contacts Scully about the body-swap and tries to get her the Flight Data Recorder from the UFO test flight but his alter ego uses Mulder’s FBI persona to have him arrested.

Mulder is thrown in jail at the Area 51 compound but is released when it is discovered that the flight data recorder he stole was a fake. Scully comes to her senses and realizes that the Mulder she sees isn’t who he really is and heads back to Nevada to help the real Mulder. Meanwhile, the mechanism that caused the body swap is rapidly snapping back, undoing everything in its wake and Mulder and his alter ego must race to put themselves back where they belong.

13. Rain King, Production Code:6X07. Romantic, Sweet and funny. 

Guest Star: Victoria Jackson.

rain king Mulder persuades Scully to join him in an investigation in Kroner, Kansas after being asked by the local Mayor, who believes that the drought they have been suffering from for the past nine months is caused by Daryl Moots. Following an argument with his fiancee Shelia, Daryl lost his leg in a car accident six months earlier, ever since then he has been able to make it rain at will.

They go to Rain King Inc’s office and meet Daryl’s secretary, she cannot understand why Mulder and Scully are investigating Daryl who is just trying to help people.. Mulder and Scully go to a local farm where Daryl is due to make it rain. When Daryl arrives he claims not to know how he does it, but after a little dancing around, there is a clap of thunder and it starts to pour with rain. That night Mulder is nearly killed by a cow picked up by the wind and dropped in to his hotel room. Next morning Shelia claims to be responsible for the weather. Mulder doubts that she is the one controlling the weather but does believe that she is the key to the case as suspicions focus in on the local weatherman and his unrequited love for Shelia.

14. How The Ghosts Stole Christmas, Production Code: 6X08. Funny and creepy.

Guest Stars: Edward Asner and Lily Tomlin.

As-Msr-How-The-Ghosts-Stole-Christmas-gillian-and-david-13135334-852-480

Funny and creepy at the same time.Mulder talks Scully into investigating a haunted house on Christmas Eve where several couples have met their fate on that very night. While there they encounter endless tricks and traps set by a ghostly couple who originally made a lovers suicide pact in the house. The ghosts try to convince Mulder and Scully to kill each other.

15. Arcadia, Production Code: 6X13. Hilarious!

xfiles-arcadia5

In their first official case back on the X-Files, Mulder and Scully go undercover as a married couple at a prestigious planned community where several residents have recently disappeared after failing to comply with the rules and regulations.

A great comic gem.

16. The Unnatural, Production Code: 6X20. Intriguing and thought-provoking

Great! One of the best!

xfiles-the-unnatural-david-duchovny-005It is Saturday afternoon and Mulder is in the X-files basement office leafing through New Mexico newspaper obituaries from the 1940’s looking for anomalies, much to Scully’s dismay on such a beautiful afternoon. But Mulder stumbles across a newspaper picture of agent Arthur Dales with a Negro baseball player and the alien bounty hunter.

Ripping the page from the book, Mulder leaves the office and goes to Dales’ apartment, only to discover that Dales brother, also named Arthur has taken over the apartment. But when he shows the photo to Dales, it turns out that the photo is of him not his brother. In June 1947 Dales was a police office in Roswell, assigned to protect a Negro baseball star Josh Exley from membersof the Klu Klux Klan, bent on keeping baseball white.

Exley played for a Negro team called the Roswell Greys and had hit 60 home runs in the season matching Babe Ruth’s record, and so was being scouted for the major leagues. Only Exley does not want to play for the major leagues, he is quite content to stay where he is and play baseball for the Roswell Greys. Only Dale claims this was because Exley was actually a grey alien who had fallen in love with the game of baseball and that was the reason he did not want to play in the major leagues as reporters would dig in to his background and reveal the truth. A fear shared by Exley’s fellow aliens who send the alien bounty hunter to deal with the problem in his own unique fashion.

17. Improbable, Production Code: 9ABX14. Weird and slyly funny.

Guest Star: Burt Reynolds

Mr._Burt_dances_as_Dana_Scully_and_Monica_Reyes_play_checkers

When Reyes uses numerology to connect the murders of several women to an obsessed serial killer, she and Scully become trapped with a mysterious checker-playing man who may or may not be the killer. The question then becomes who is going to be the next victim. Burt Reynolds is very effective as the checker-playing man who may (or may NOT) be Satan.

The Twelve Viewings of Christmas

Here is a diverse and fun viewing list of 12 movies and TV shows to watch during the TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS. The traditional 12 DAYS start on Christmas day and runs to Jan. 5 – Christmas to Epiphany. But, choose your own time frame, and for twelve consecutive nights here is your viewing list.

Day One: A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS

charlie brown xmasThis never gets old and never fails to charm. Just listening to the music of the great Vince Guaraldi makes it feel like Christmas.

Day Two: A MIDNIGHT CLEAR

a midnight clearAn obscure film, which should be a holiday tradition. Set in 1944 France, an American Intelligence squad locates a German Platoon in the Ardennes wishing to surrender rather than die in Germany’s final war offensive. The two groups of men, isolated from the war at present, put aside their differences and spend Christmas together before the surrender plan turns bad and both sides are forced to fight each other. Sad, but powerful.

Day Three: RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER

rudolphCome on, we all love it. The Snowman (Burl Ives) sings one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” in a show based on one of the greatest Christmas songs of all time.

Day Four: THE SANTA CLAUSE

To me, one of the better modern Christmas movies. Funny and sweet. Tim Allen is wonderful as the befuddled new Santa. 

shop around the cornerDay Five: THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER

The great pairing of Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in a quirky romantic comedy set in Budapest during Christmas season. This was the basis of the Tom Hanks / Meg Ryan remake You’ve Got Mail, which is an excellent update. If you’ve never seen it, you’ve missed one of the great Jimmy Stewart performances.

Day Six: HOW THE GRINCH STOLE CHRISTMAS

how the grinchNOT the Jim Carrey / Ron Howard-directed disaster, but the REAL Grinch narrated by Boris Karloff.

Day Seven: HOW THE GHOSTS STOLE CHRISTMAS, X-Files Episode

x-files season 6Mulder and Scully visit a rumored haunted house on Christmas Eve and get more than they bargained for. One of the all-time great episodes of a great TV show. Funny, scary and romantic at the same time.

Day Eight: THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS

nightmare_before_christmas_posterTim Burton’s ingeniously dark romantic view of the Yuletide.

Day Nine: THE BISHOP’S WIFE

bishops wifeNOT the Whitney Houston remake, but the original 1947 Cary Grant classic. Funny and irreverent while being very mainstream traditional. Grant is sparkling!

Day Ten: LOVE, ACTUALLY

love_actuallyThis follows the ups-and-downs of several characters’ lives in London in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Alternately hilarious, sad, touching, heart-breaking and joyous.

Day Eleven: IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

wonderful lifeOne of the all-time great movies, period. It is a testament to everything Christmas embodies: family, friends and the joy of life.

Day Twelve: A CHRISTMAS STORY

christmas storyTHE Christmas movie. The story of a young boy’s epic quest to get his hands on a Red Ryder BB gun provides the hilarious backdrop for a timeless tale rife with family hijinks, frozen tongues and, of course, sex-oozing leg lamps.

Movies That Are BETTER Than The Books

It is one of the pitfalls that writers have had to endure since Edison perfected the motion picture camera – movies based on their books. Most of us agree that 99.2% of the time the film version of a novel is infinitely inferior to the book. Stephen King could write a book about bad adaptations … come to think of it, he probably will.

Dean Koontz’ Watchers is one of the most charming, thrilling and entertaining best-selling books of the past 30 years and was turned into an unwatchable and offensive film. Bicentennial Man was turned into another Robin Williams embarrassment, whereas Issac Asimov’s novella is a subtle and brilliant examination on the meaning of humanity.

But every once in a while, Hollywood takes a book and turns it into a masterpiece. Some are good books that benefited from a brilliant adaptation; others are pedestrian books that were actually improved by the filmmakers; and some are just bad and boring novels that someone somehow turned into a great move.

Here is a list of movies that are MOVIES BETTER THAN THE BOOKS. And it is surprisingly longer than you would think.

GOOD BOOK / GREAT MOVIE

CHOCOLAT by Joanne Harris
Chocolat_sheetThis 1999 novel explored the lure of temptation and alternated between sweet and sinister forces of humanity and nature. The movie stays close to the spirit of the story, but is much more positive and cheerful.

LAST OF THE MOCHICANS by James Fenimore Cooper

MohicansposterAs is most fiction from that time period (1826), Cooper is virtually unreadable these days, but writers and books from the 18th and 19th century seem to benefit from Hollywood treatments. The turgid prose and stilted dialogue can be glossed over with spectacular visuals. Every one who has seen this movie knows what a great, and emotionally involving, action film it is.

MARY POPPINS by B.L. Travers

marypoppins-book_114Come on, everyone loves Disney’s Mary Poppins. Julie Andrews is magical and Dick Van Dyke has never been better than as Bert – street artist, chimney sweep and good time guy. The movie was based a popular series of English children’s novels (1935-1988) and portrayed Poppins as more stern and with a darker side than the movie version.

ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST by Ken Kesey
one_flew_over_the_cuckoo_s_nest_by_blitzcadet-d5uyo1uThe 1962 novel by Ken Kesey is a stunning work that is well written and emotionally compelling. And then director Milos Forman turned it into one of the all time great movies. There are a few differences, the most apparent is the voice of the narrator in the book, but we need a character to anchor our thoughts in the novel, whereas Forman can show us the story that develops, and allows us to become the narrator. We all become just another nut in the nuthouse. Jack Nicholson’s performance is genuinely inspired and the cast that surrounds is like a who’s who of soon-to-be 80s stars.

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION by Stephen King
shawshank

Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman

Based on the short novel “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Prison” from the book Different Seasons, this may be the best adaptation of Stephen King’s prose to cinema. While the story has its charms and contains all the elements of the plot, it is a mere shadow of the emotional depth and sheer grand story-telling that director and screen writer Frank Darabont manages to capture.

MEDIOCRE NOVEL / GREAT MOVIE

BEING THERE by Jerzey Kosinsky
being thereThe book is an ingenius portrayal of a mentally slow gardener named Chance whose only knowledge of the outside world comes from watching television. Through an series of circumstances, Chance becomes homeless and is left to his own devices to face the world. The book often reads flat and uninvolved, a technique of detached emotionless that makes sense (TV viewing results the deadening of senses and intellect ) but does not make it an enjoyable read. The film, however, as directed by Hal Ashby is a constant joy of subtle humor and ironic social commentary. Peter Sellers pulls off the role of his career with a brilliant and nuanced performance which ranks as one of the all time greatest. The fact that he did not win the Academy Award (Dustin Hoffman in Kramer vs. Kramer … and when’s the last time you had a discussion with anyone about that movie or that performance?) is a travesty. In fact, the film was not even nominated for Best Picture. (Kramer; All That Jazz; Apocalypse Now; Breaking Away and Norman Rae).

THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAI by Pierre Boulle
The_Bridge_on_the_River_Kwai_poster

This is a terse novel written by a former French resistance fighter in WWII. It is difficult book to read – completely devoid of humor and few of the characters are developed enough to either hate or love. Yet in the hands of film maker David Lean it becomes an thrilling story of epic proportions dealing with racial prejudice and nationalism.

HIGH FIDELITY by Nick Hornby
high fidelity

Hornby may be the most successful mediocre novelist of the 21st century. Three of his books (and as of this writing a fourth, A Long Way Down is in production) have become movies: Fever Pitch, About A Boy and this novel about a record store owner and his driftless life after his girlfriend dumps him. The tends to be clunky, but the movie is an intense character study given vitality by an inspired quirky performance by John Cusack.

FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AT THE WHISTLE STOP CAFE by Fanny Flagg

fried greenFlagg, a comedian, actress and perennial game show guest (Match Game; Hollywood Squares) found a second career writing cheerful comedic Americana novels. But the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes takes the basic story and super charges it with great performances by Mary Stuart Masterson and Kathy Bates.

ORDINARY PEOPLE by Judith Guest

ordinary peopleThe novel is a chore to read, meandering with emotional passages filled ironic angst. The movie, as directed by Robert Redford, is a brooding study at the fractious nature of a family in crisis and emotionally satisfying.

RAGTIME by E.L. Doctorow

ragtimeI recently tried to re-read this 1975 novel (first attempt had been while in high school in 1977 and was bewildered by the bad writing) and still found it boring and stylistic clunky. The fact that Time magazine listed it as one of the Greatest 100 English Language Novels Between 1923-2005 is more of an indictment about the lack imagination of Time’s editors than in your taste in books. Almost every book on the list is one of those boring academically approved books .. i.e. the books your college professor makes you read in college and which you never have the desire to read again. The movie, however, is devoid of Doctorow’s turgid writing and shines. Filled with great performance and emotionally charged.

HAROLD AND MAUDE by Calder Willingham

harold-and-maudeOne of the all-time great weird cult movies is based one of the all-time weird and unreadable books.

SOMEWHERE IN TIME (Bid Time Return by Richard Matheson)

somewhere in timeMatheson is one of those great writers of the 20th century whose books never make Time’s list of 100 Greatest Books because he is a popular writer of horror (gasp!) and sci-fi thrillers. Potboilers! The literati elite can’t have that! However, as many good books that Matheson has written, Bid Time Return is at the bottom of the list. It is a time-travel romance that never really seems to take off, and ultimately, becomes more annoying than anything else. The film, however, is a grand piece of movie-making, lush, romantic and satisfying.

PLANET OF THE APES by Pierre Boulle

planet-of-the-apes-classic-01Another short novel by French writer Boulle that became a classic Hollywood epic. I’ve tried to read Planet of the Apes (sometimes titled Monkey Planet) and found it bewildering. The story is told as a narrative found in a bottle which thankfully, the movie ignores that plot device. “Get your hands off me, you stinkin’ ape,” is one of the great quotable lines in cinematic history.

STARDUST by Neil Gaiman

Stardust (1)The novel is good, but a bit more dark and sinister … come on, we are talking about Neil Gaiman. The movie turned out to be a delightfully romantic and ironically hilarious fable. The movie is worth watching alone for Robert DeNiro’s enthusiastic campy turn as a lightning-gathering cross-dressing pirate.

THE SEARCHERS by Alan Le May

searchersA very typical Western novel in which a former Civil War soldier becomes driven to avenge the death of his family members by marauding Indians. But in the hands of director John Ford, and John Wayne who for once doesn’t play John Wayne and gives a deep and disturbing portrayal of a man who is close to being psychotic, this becomes an epic movie.

TERMS OF ENDEARMENT by James McMurtry

terms of endearmentA veeery middle-of-the-road novel by a good novelist is transformed into a 4 star drama / romantic comedy on the strength of all around great performances by Nicholson and Shirley McClaine.

PSYCHO by Robert Bloch

Psycho_(1960)Based on a real life story, Psycho was first published in 1959. Robert Bloch based the novel on the horrific Ed Gein, who was arrested in Plainfield, Wisconsin for murdering women and making furniture, silverware and even clothing out of body parts, in an attempt to make a “woman suit” to pretend to be his dead mother. Gein also was the inspiration for Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. Bloch’s novel was nothing more than a pedestrian thriller turned into a film classic in 1960 by Alfred Hitchcock, THE classic horror film even though there is less than 60 seconds of screen violence.

BAD BOOK / GREAT MOVIE
THE BOURNE IDENTITY / THE BOURNE SUPREMACY / THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM by Robert Ludlum.

bourneHow these densely written and over-the-top plotted Cold War novels ever became popular is still a mystery. And the fact that they were turned into a James Bond style thrill-a-minute movie franchise is almost a miracle. Ignore the books, enjoy the movies.

COOL HAND LUKE by Donn Pearce 

cool hand lukeA book that truly is impossible to read was miraculously turned into one of the most iconic movies of the 1960s, and one of Paul Newman’s all time great screen characters.

DIE HARD (Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorpe)

Die_hardThe book is really bad. The main character is a sappy ex-cop has-been who spends the entire novel whining and pining over his now-dead ex-wife and worries about his daughter stuck in the building with him and the terrorists. Thanks to screenwriters Steven E. de Souza and Jeb Stuart and director John McTiernan for shutting him up, giving him more attitude and hiring Bruce Willis to play him. The result was a superior action film, smart and funny, as well as edge-of-your-seat exciting. Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker, indeed.

DELIVERANCE by James Dickey

deliveranceDickey is one of the most over rated writers of the 20th century. Loved by literary critics and his peers (other college professors who write fiction and poetry) but ignored by everyone else, he even ruined his one great idea for a novel by trying to infuse it with a poetic sensibility that only illustrated the fact that he was a too good of a writer to just write a thriller. It was left to Hollywood to take away all the pretension and strip the story down to it’s most basic elements.

“You sure have a purty mouth,” is one of the most disturbing lines in cinematic history.

I’ve always wondered how good this novel would have been like if David Morrell had written it.

THE GODFATHER by Mario Puzo
The_Godfather_Wallpaper_by_ChellOKun

This may be the second worst written book ever to become a best-seller. We read the book in high school for the sex scenes … who can forget Sonny pushing Lucy up against the wall? But, as has been documented in abundance elsewhere, this is one of the all time classic movies.

THE GRADUATE by Charles Webb

the-graduate-poster-1o5nepbThe 1963 novel was, at best, barely readable, but somehow Mike Nichols, with his writing team Calder Willingham and Buck Henry took everything the novel had to offer, and expanded it to create one of the most iconic films of the 1960s. One reason the movie is better is one of the most perfect soundtracks ever, by Simon and Garfunkel.

THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER / PATRIOT GAMES / THE SUM OF ALL FEARS / CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER by Tom Clancy

red octoberLet’s be honest … Tom Clancy can’t write. Period. We keep a copy of Red Storm Rising next to the bed in case of insomnia. Two pages and your eyes are dropping.Clancy is a high-concept book packager where ideas are more important that creating characters and setting the mood. But they make fairly entertaining movies.

JAWS by Peter Benchley

jawsThis may be one of the worst written books ever to become a best-seller. Jaws was one of the first “high-concept” novels which now periodically hit the best seller list (every heard of The DaVinci Code?). But, a young Steven Spielberg turned the material into one of the most edge-of-the-seat movies ever. Roy Schneider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss are top notch.

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL by James Ellroy

la confidentialEllroy is an enigmatic figure. The real mystery is how his unreadable books keep getting published, and keep getting positive reviews. But, buried within all the turgid prose and literary devices (think of a hard-boiled Thomas Pynchon with none of the humor) someone in Hollywood saw a thrilling and brutal movie … and they were right.

A PLACE IN THE SUN by Theodore Dreiser

A_Place_in_the_Sun_(film)_posterDreiser is a literary darling and virtually impossible to read. However, the novel An American Tragedy, which is the basis for this movie, had all the plot elements needed for Hollywood to fashion a classic soap opera.

Top 20 Beatles Solo Songs

Since the Beatles disbanded in 1970, Paul McCartney has released the most solo music of any of the former Beatles. Paul’s output is the most varied in quality, from excellent (Ram, Band On The Run, Flaming Pie) to awful (Flowers In the Dirt, Red Rose Speedway).

John Lennon, of course, has the smallest output due to his murder, and his self-imposed “retirement” 1975-80 to rear his son Sean. John’s output is also varied, due to his erratic recording schedule and the number of songs he allowed his wife Yoko to record.

George Harrison may have the strongest catalogue album by album starting with the astonishingly great All Things Must Past. Every George LP is worth a listen.

Ringo Starr, oddly enough, had the most commercial success out of the gate, mainly because George Harrison was very hands-on with Ringo’s early LPs – producing, writing and performing on most of the songs.

I started out with a list of 62 songs and pared it down to 29. The last nine songs were the toughest to cut. They could have easily been on this list. When I couldn’t decide, I just went with personal preference. So, here it is, my list of the best solo songs by the former Beatles.

 

20 “Imagine” – John Lennon

john-lennon-peaceDocked 15 spots for several reasons. Due to being overplayed for the past 20 years to point of nausea, “Imagine” has become the “God Bless The USA” for the socialistic/progressive crowd. It’s basic message – imagine a world at peace, without the divisiveness and barriers of borders, religions and nationalities, and to consider the possibility that the focus of humanity should be living a life unattached to material possessions – is at best, naïve, particularly from a man who had all the trappings of material success the world could offer. It hasn’t aged well.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

19 “Handle With Care” – The Traveling Wilburys

Originally written by Harrison for his solo LP Cloud Nine in 1987. It was shelved and ended up as the rollicking opening track for the first Traveling Wilburys LP. Jointly sung by Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne, it becomes a fun, goofy song.

 “Everybody’s got somebody to lean on/ Put your body next to mine and dream on.”

18 “Watching The Wheels” – John Lennon

Released posthumously in 1981 after his murder, “Watching the Wheels” was the third and final single released from Lennon and Ono’s album Double Fantasy album, and reached number #10 US on the Billboard Hot 100

One of his most personal songs, Lennon addresses those who were confounded by his “househusband” years, 1975–1980, when he “retired” from the music industry to concentrate on raising his son Sean.

I tell them there’s no hurry / I’m just sitting here doing time

17 “Photograph” – Ringo Starr

ringo-starr-reuters-rtr2no0h#1 for Ringo. Written by Starr and George Harrison. A song that doubles as a love song and as commentary on the reality that Beatles were no more.

Everytime I see your face/ It reminds of the places we used to go                 

But all I’ve got is a photograph / And I realize you’re not coming back anymore.

16 “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” – Paul McCartney & Wings

The closing song from the Band On The Run LP, this is one of McCartney’s most infectious songs. The cinematic sweep of the song is propelled by the best piano playing of McCartney’s career. The grandiose ending features a full orchestra with includes mellotronorgan and horns, an almost “A Day In The Life” effect.

I didn’t think I never dreamed / That I would be around to see it all come true

15 “Mind Games” – John Lennon

Another thoughtful philosophical song with a gorgeous melody. Lennon was inspired to write the song after reading Mind Games: The Guide to Inner Space by Robert Masters and Jean Houston.

“YES is the answer.”

14 “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” George Harrison

GH2The opening track of his 1973 album Living in the Material World and George’s second #1 song. It bumped Paul McCartney & Wings‘ “My Love” from the top of the Billboard Hot 100 which was a good thing!

Opting for a simpler production sound this time around, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” features some of Harrison’s best slide-guitar work. Harrison described the song as “a prayer and personal statement between me, the Lord, and whoever likes it”.

“Give me hope / Help me cope / with this heavy load”

13 “Monkberry Moon Delight” – Paul McCartney

From Ram, this is one of the most fun songs that Paul ever recorded, Five-plus minutes of mid-tempo craziness with Paul shouting out a set of ridiculously nonsensical, stream of consciousness lyrics over some bouncy repetitive guitar and piano riffs.  No serous message here, just a master musician jammin’ on a fun song. 

“Of two youngsters concealed in a barrel, Sucking monkberry moon delight.” 

12 Working Class Hero” – John Lennon

A beautiful rumination/commentary/criticism of the difference between the social classes. Lennon at his most reflective.

“They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool.”

11 “Live and Let Die” Paul McCartney & Wings

paul-mccartney2THE epic James Bond theme song and one of McCartney’s most complex compositions. A piece of pure production overkill that works!  Watching McCartney and Wings perform this song at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C. in the 1990s ranks as one of the greatest live concert moments in my life. Paul gets the “Throw-in-an-extra-preposition-and-call-it-art Award” for the awkward lyric:

“In this ever changing world in which we live in.”

10 Isn’t It A Pity” – George Harrison

From the massive All Things Must Pass LP, “Isn’t It a Pity” was rejected by the Beatles during the January 1969  sessions that resulted in their final album, Let It Be. According to Abbey Road engineer Geoff Emerick, however, the song had been offered for inclusion on 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The most majestic of Harrison’s songs, “Isn’t A Pity” is lyrically complex and musically dream-like. Tom Petty and Eric Clapton both consider this song to be Harrison’s masterpiece.

“Isn’t it a pity / Isn’t it a shame

How we break each other’s hearts and cause each other pain”

9 “#9 Dream” – John Lennon

John LennonOne of Lennon’s most audacious songs. If McCartney had written and recorded this, it would be considered a piece of fluff. Filled with Sgt. Pepper-like flourishes it’s a weird trip into John’s subconscious mind. The female voice whispering John’s name is not Yoko, but his then-mistress May Pang. The nonsense lyrics, “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé”, came to Lennon in a dream (hence the title) and have no specific meaning.  But they are fun to sing!

“On a river of sound / Through the mirror go round and round”

Ringo8 “It Don’t Come Easy” – Ringo Starr

Reached #4 in 1971. Written by Ringo and George Harrison, this is Ringo’s signature solo song. The lyrics are a thinly veiled reflection of the lives of all four Beatles at the time. The band on this recording included Harrison and Badfinger. 

“I don’t ask for much / I only want your trust

And you know it don’t come easy”

And just for fun … listen to George’s demo of the song that he gave to Ringo.

7 “Junior’s Farm” – Paul McCartney & Wings

One of McCartney’s best rockers. Recorded in Nashville it reached #3 in 1974.  For a man world famous for his love songs, as time goes by the McCartney songs that tend to age better are his rockers. 

“At the Houses of Parliament / Ev’rybody’s talking ’bout the President,
We all chip in for a bag of cement”

6 “My Sweet Lord” – George Harrison

One of the most overt religious songs to ever hit #1 on the Billboard charts. A massive worldwide hit, this song epitomized what the public wanted in 1970-71: shimmering harmonies, lustrous acoustic guitars, a solid Ringo Starr backbeat, and an exquisite Harrison guitar solo.  The backing musicians again include the Delaney and Bonnie band and Badfinger.

The song is now as well known for the infamous copyright infringement lawsuit against Harrison that “My Sweet Lord” was direct copy of The Chiffon’s 1963 #1 hit, “He’s So Fine.” (And who are we kidding, it was!) Harrison was found guilty of “subconscious” plagiarism. The suit was settled in 1981 with Harrison buying the rights to the earlier song for $600,000. Nonetheless, “My Sweet Lord” is a gorgeous pop song. 

I really wanna be with You!”

5 “Let Me Roll It” – Paul McCartney

paulOne of McCartney’s truly great songs. Awash in echo and reverb the Lennonesque vocals are pushed back in the mix beneath the wicked guitar riff, cheesy organ and funky bass line which drive the song.

“You gave me lovin’ in the palm of my hand.”

4 “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” – John Lennon

From Lennon’s Walls & Bridges 1974 LP, this was his only #1 solo single in his lifetime. A rollicking rock n’ roll record, with Memphis-style horns blaring and Elton John on backing vocals, this is an infectious ode to having too much fun with a truly ironic lyric giving what the future held.

“Don’t need a gun to blow your mind, oh no, oh no”

3 “Maybe I’m Amazed” – Paul McCartney

McCartney wrote the song in 1969, just before The Beatles’ break-up. One of his best love songs, it was recorded at the Abbey Road studio in London with McCartney playing all the instruments: guitars, bass, piano, organ and drums. He declined to release the song as a single in 1970, but it nonetheless received a great deal of radio airplay worldwide.

A live recording from the 1976 album Wings over America was released as a single by McCartney’s band Wings in February 1977 and reached number 10 in the US on the Billboard pop charts. McCartney has said ’Maybe I’m Amazed’ was “the song I would like to be remembered for in the future”

“Maybe I’m amazed at the way I really need you”

2 “Instant Karma (We All Shine On)” – John Lennon

This song encompasses everything Lennon stood for—peace, love and understanding. It is a masterpiece of pop songwriting and production, from the slap backbeat of the drums to the pounding piano, this song is everything “Imagine” is not, a true anthem of the 60s philosophy, without the overt uncomfortable socialistic message.

“We all shine on/ Like the moon and the stars and the sun”

1 “What Is Life?” – George Harrison

all things must passHarrison wrote the song in 1969 during the Abbey Road sessions and it was released on his 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass. It became a Top 10 hit in the United States in February 1971. Harrison’s backing musicians on the recording included the entire Delaney & Bonnie Friends band as well as all the members of Badfinger.  

Built around an infectious guitar riff, the song can be seen doubly as a romantic love song and one of George’s spiritual ruminations of human existence. Lushly produced with tasteful horns, tambourines and layers of acoustic guitars strumming behind the massive guitar riff it is impossible NOT to nod your head, smile and sing along with this song,

Tell me, what is my life without your love?
And tell me, who am I without you, by my side?

Best Songs Written By a South Carolinian

South Carolina musicians run through the wide spectrum of American music – blues, jazz, country, soul, funk, and rock and roll. This is NOT a comprehensive list of great musical artists from the Palmetto state, rather it is an attempt to show the wide range of diversity and quality music that South Carolina has given to the world.  If you’re interested in reading about the roots of American popular music (and South Carolina’s role) read my book, Doin’ the Charleston. 

“Smooth,” “Push” & “3 AM” – Written by Rob Thomas (Lake City and Turbeville, SC)

Thomas is the lead singer of the band Matchbox 20. “Smooth” won a Grammy Award for both Santana and Thomas.

An Army brat, he was born at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, West Germany an army hospital. Thomas’s parents divorced while he was very young, at which point his father retired and disconnected from the family. He and his sister were raised by his mother and grandparents in Turbeville, South Carolina. When he was 12, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. He attributes the song “3AM” to this time.

“Little Darlin’” & “Stay” by Maurice Williams. (Lancaster, SC)

Maurice (with the Zodiacs)earned Rock and Roll immortality for the classic “Stay”, which was famously covered by Jackson Brown in 1977. “Little Darlin’ hit #2 in 1957 and was featured in the film American Graffiti.

“Take The Highway” & “Can’t You See” by Toy Caldwell (Spartanburg, SC)

As guitarist and main songwriter for MTB, Caldwell and the Marshall Tucker Band are stalwalts of the 1970s Southern rock movement and the greatest rock band from South Carolina … 

“FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN” by George McCorkle (Spartanburg, SC)

McCorkle, second guitarist for The Marshall Tucker Band, was a major songwriter for the Tuckers. “Fire” is one of the great Southern country rock songs of the 1970s.

“HALF OF MY MISTAKES” by Radney Foster and Bobby Houck (of the Blue Dogs, Charleston, SC)

Houck, who is part of The Blue Dogs, wrote this amazing song with Texas music legend, Radney Foster. Foster is one of the best writers/performers on the Country/Alt/Americana scene today.

“AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH” & “AIN’T NOTHING LIKE THE REAL THING” & “YOU’RE ALL I NEED TO GET BY” & “LET’S GO GET STONED” by Nicholas Ashford (Fairfax, SC) and Valarie Simpson

The husband and wife team known as Ashford & Simpson is as big a part of the Motown story as is Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross; they were one of the top songwriting units for Berry Gordy’s assembly line production. “Stoned” was their first major success as a hit for Ray Charles.

“SUMMERTIME” by George Gershwin and Dubose Heyward (Charleston, SC)

Heyward wrote the libretto for this opening song for the opera “Porgy and Bess.”  There are more than 1000 recorded versions of this song, but Billie Holiday’s version takes the cake. 

“EVERY DAY IN THE WEEK BLUES” by Pink Anderson (Laurens, SC)

After being raised in Greenville and Spartanburg, SC Anderson joined Dr. Frank Kerr of the Indian Remedy Company in 1914 to entertain the crowds while Kerr tried to sell a concoction purported to have medicinal qualities.He traveled with Leo “Chief Thundercloud” Kahdot  and his medicine show, often with the Jonesville, South Carolina based harmonica-player Arthur “Peg Leg Sam” Jackson. In May 1950, Anderson was recorded by folklorist Paul Clayton at the Virginia State Fair.

Syd Barrett, of English progressive rock band Pink Floyd, came up with the band’s name by juxtaposing the first names of Pink Anderson and North Carolina bluesman, Floyd Council.

“STILL” by Whisperin’ Bill Anderson (Columbia SC)

Major country star of the 60s, 70s and 80s. In later years Anderson hosted a game show on TNN.

“THINKIN’ PROBLEM” by David Ball (Rock Hill, SC)

A successful country singer during the 1980s, this is a bone fide honty tonk classic.

“I GOT YOU (I FEEL GOOD)” & “PAPA’S GOT A BRAND NEW BAG” & “IT’S A MAN’S MAN’S MAN’S WORLD” by James Brown (Barnwell & Beach Island, SC)

Where do you stop listing the classic songs of James Brown? A legend and a force of nature. 

“A NIGHT IN TUNISIA” & GROOVIN’ HIGH” by Dizzy Gillespie (Cheraw, SC)

A monumental talent … one of the greatest musicans of the 20th century. 

“CORNER POCKET” by Freddie Green (Charleston, SC)

Freddie Green was guitarist for the Count Basie Orchestra for 50 years … the longest job in jazz history. “Mr. Rhythm” was also a brilliant song writer and arranger, as you will hear in this Basie classic. 

“LONG BLACK TRAIN” by Josh Turner (Hannah, SC)

A major country /gospel star, whose first hit, “Long Black Train” is a genuine classic. 

“BLUES FOR LAWRENCE” & A GATHERING IN THE CLEARING” by Cat Anderson (Greenville, SC)

Anderson grew up in the Jenkins Orphanage in Charleston, SC and played in their boys brass band. He played for more than 20 years with Duke Ellington in the 1950s-70s. 

“YOU’VE GOT TO STAND FOR SOMETHING” by Aaron Tippin (Traveler’s Rest, SC)

A honky-tonky singer who had a successful run in the 1990s. 

“ONLY WANNA BE WITH YOU” & “OLD MAN & ME (WHEN I GET TO HEAVEN)& “TIME” by Darius Rucker, Mark Bryan, Dean Felber and Jim Sonnefield (Hootie and the Blowfish)

These guys need no introductions … took the music world by storm in 1990s and now a South Carolina icon …

“JAZZ BATTLE” & “LET’S GET TOGETHER” “Lina Blues” & “TILL TIMES GET BETTER” by Jabbo Smith

A legendary jazz player who never became a legend. He was another member of the Jenkins Orphanage Band from Charleston, SC and a major artist in the 1920s and 30s. 

“JAZZ ME BLUES” & “DOWN HOME BLUES” & “AT THE JUMP STEADY BALL” by Tom Delaney

Yet another musician from the Jenkins Orphanage House in Charleston. He was a prolific songwriter of “negro blues” songs in the 1920s. “Jazz Me Blues” is an American Standard. Delany also wrote the obscure and filthy “All The Girls Love Big Dick”.

BOOKS TO AVOID – Even Under Penalty of Death

NOTE: I did not list any James Patterson books since it should be obvious you need to avoid Patterson. If you enjoy Patteron’s books I order to stop reading my blog IMMEDIATELY.


 

AmericanPsychoBookAMERICAN PSYCHO by Brett Easton Ellis

Sick and badly written. A cruel and vicious book. Anyone who is in a relationship with Mr. Ellis needs to re-think their decision. There are not words strong enough to describe how bad this book is.

Cold_mountain_novel_coverCOLD MOUNTAIN by Charles Fraizer

Quite simply, one of the worst books of the past decade. It is a great example of the group think among today’s university-driven literary community and publishing industry. The book is sophomoric in style, using purple phrases with awkward flourishes that most English 101 instructors will give you a failing grade for using. It is also a great example of a major problem in today’s publishing industry – an author has a wild success with a bad book, so he is given a huge amount of money to produce an even worse book, Thirteen Moons.

finnegan's wakeFINNEGAN’S WAKE by James Joyce.

It’s a classic, right? Yes, classic shit. The last section of the novel consists of 24,212 words and two sentences. Yes, you read that correctly, two sentences and 24,000 words! Enough said.

Gravitys_rainbow_coverGRAVITY’S RAINBOW by Thomas Pynchon

The 11 members of the Pulitzer Prize committee were on the right track when they described the book as “unreadable, turgid, overwritten and obscene.”

They were actually being nice.

magus_coverTHE MAGUS by John Fowles

Self-important and full of 1960ish mysticism and oblique literary games. AWFUL!

The great actor Peter Sellers was once asked, “If you had a chance to live your life over again, what would you do differently?” Sellers answered, ” I would not read “The Magus.”

Amen, Peter.  

scarlettSCARLETT: THE SEQUEL TO MARGARET MITCHELL’S GONE WITH THE WIND by Alexandra Ripley

Granted, this was a no-win idea from the get-go. Hell, even the title is ridiculous. But the book turned out to be boring, boring, boring.

And the other “approved” book, Rhett Butler’s People fares no better.

StateOfFearSTATE OF FEAR by Michael Crichton

First of all, forget all the political yammering around this novel (by the same folks that think Tom Clancy is a good writer) and the claims for “scientific authenticity.” IT’S BAD AND BORING!

Crichton has never been on anyone’s list of good writers; his prose is clumsy and his characterizations are TV depth (hence all the successful movies and TV shows made from his writings).

ShannaraTHE SHANNARA BOOKS (almost all of them!) by Terry Brooks

Second rate recycled Tolkien. Brooks’ prose is often as unwieldy as a 200 lb sword. . What is frightening is how many have been published. As of this moment there are 20+ Shannara novels. Mr. Brooks … have mercy! Take a vacation!!!!

How bad are these books? Pauly Shore bad! Michael Bolton awful!

tough guysTOUGH GUYS DON’T DANCE by Norman Mailer

A boring, boring mess. The book is the result of a self-important (and often good) writer thinking that because he is an “important artist” he could write a better hard-boiled mystery than those two-bit hacks like Hammet, Chandler and MacDonald.

Hey Norman, you lose … by a long shot!

 


 

SCARIEST BOOKS I’ve Ever Read

(Listed in Alphabetical order)


 

1984 by George Orwell (1949)
1984 by George Orwell

This is scary because many aspects of this novel are no longer fiction.

Read the news … NOT the American media, who rarely tells you the true stories of what is happening in then world. Information insulation is another form of control. 

 
 CARRION COMFORT by Dan Simmons (1989) 

Carrion Comfort by Dan Simmons
A great vampire novel, with a twist. The vampirism featured here is psychic, not blood-letting . A small group of people have an Ability, where they can possess someone mentally and use them to do their bidding. They also use their Ability to Feed, prolonging their lives by mentally drawing sustenance from people.

The battle among the Users with the Ability for power leads for a gargantuan plot and a cast of more than two dozen characters, from Nazis to southern sheriffs, to Holocaust survivors to Hollywood moguls to CEOs of the world’s largest corporations. Riveting and compelling.

Come on HBO … how about a mini-series?????

GHOST STORY by Peter Straub (1979)

Ghost Story by Peter StraubAn old-fashioned, c-r-e-e-p-y ghost story. Four elderly New England men are haunted an event in their past … they got away with murder … or did they?

As they ask in the novel: “What was the worst thing you’ve ever done?””I won’t tell you that, but I’ll tell you the worst thing that ever happened to me… the most dreadful thing…”

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR by Jack Ketchum (1989)

The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum
Not for the faint-hearted! The Girl Next Door is a dark and twisted story told through the eyes of a preteen boy. Set in the 1950s, it is a fictionalized account of one of America’s grizzliest true crime stories. D-i-s-t-u-r-b-i-n-g.

 
 
 
I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson (1954)

The novel that got me hooked on dark fiction and dystopian novels back when I was fifteen years old.
RobeI Am Legend by Richard Mathesonrt Neville is the apparent sole survivor of a pandemic whose symptoms resemble vampirism. It is implied that the pandemic was caused by a war, and that it was spread by dust storms in the cities and an explosion in the mosquito population.

The book follows Neville’s daily life in Los Angeles as he attempts to comprehend, research, and possibly cure the disease, to which he is immune. His past is revealed through flashbacks: the disease claimed his wife and daughter, and he was forced to kill his wife after she seemingly rose from the dead as a vampire and attacked him.

Forget the most recent Hollywood version of this novel starring Will Smith … READ THE BOOK!!

THE HOT ZONE by Richard Preston (1994)

This non-fiction bio-thriller is about the origins and incidents involving viral hemorrhagic fevers, partThe Hot Zone by Richard Prestonicularly ebola-viruses and marburg-viruses. You may begin to compulsively wash your hands and stay away from EVERYONE with a cough. Stephen King called the book, “one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever read.”

And the U.S. govt. is bringing two ebola victims to America as I write this.

HOUSE OF LEAVES by Mark Z. Danielewski (2000)

House of Leaves by Mark Z. DanielewskiA young family moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane and discovers something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside!

One of the oddest, most challenging books you will read in a looong time. Bewildering and claustrophobic.

IT by Stephen King (1986)

It by Stephen KingI debated about putting The Shining in this place, but I opted for It.

King’s most epic horror story that pushes ALL the right buttons … misfit kids, bullies, disappearing children and a malevolent clown!

THE KILLER INSIDE ME by Jim Thompson (1952)

The Killer Inside Me by Jim ThompsonLou Ford, a 29-year-old deputy sheriff in a small Texas town appears to be a regular, small-town cop leading an unremarkable existence; beneath this facade, however, he is a cunning, depraved sociopath with sadistic sexual tastes. Horrific and darkly humorous.

ONE SECOND AFTER by William Fortschen (2009)
One Second After by William R. Forstchen

The scariest book I have ever read. Period.

Electromagnetic pulses can result from natural phenomena and, in much greater strength, from nuclear blasts. The result of an EMP is the destruction of unprotected electronic circuitry. With no electronics -vehicles won’t run; no phones, computers, radios, or televisions; no electricity. America descends into the Middle Ages.

In One Second After, we follow a small North Carolina mountain town quickly crumble. The lack of food and medicine leads to mass death. Cities turn against the countryside; friends and neighbors turn against each other in a desperate struggle to survive.

Read it and began your stockpiling.

SILENT SPRING by Rachel Carson (1962)

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
This book single-handedly helped ban DDT across the world, resulting in the death of millions of people due to malaria which resurfaced. This was the book that started the environmental movement and it’s scary that people still defend this.

 

 

 

CHARLESTON NOVELS TO READ (and some to avoid)

Here is a list of some of good (and not-so-good) fiction in which Charleston is one of the major settings. Obviously, there are plenty of books I am going to leave out. Since this is a list of my personal favorites (and otherwise) feel free to make your own list and send it to me!

WHAT TO READ

THE PRINCE OF TIDES & THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE by Pat Conroy.

Thprince tidese Prince of Tides  follows the story of Tom Wingo, teacher and football coach who is reluctant to help his twin sister’s psychiatrists unlock their dysfunctional family secrets. When his sister attempts suicide, Tom travels to New York to help her and bit-by-bit the psychiatrist pulls the family history out of Tom. Calling the Wingo family dysfunctional is like calling James Patterson a hack … true but an understatment

lords discipline Discipline pissed off a lot of Charleston people when it was published because it was a little too close to the truth. Charleston people like to be in charge of the mirror and tend to become defensive when someone else describes the reflection. Both books, Tides and Discipline are page-turners. Conroy is, at worst, an emotional and compelling writer.

Great Mischief / Josephine Pinckney.

great mischiefA perfectly creepy little book that unfortunately is out of print. I had to buy it used on Amazon. The year is 1895, and much of sleepy little Charleston is still lit by gas. Timothy Partridge operates a rundown apothecary shop, where things have’t really changed much since the glory days of Romeo and Juliet; drugs are still hanging from nails on the walls, such as bat wings, hummingbird feathers and strange, fiery potions. Timothy is supporting his shrewish sister Penelope and has a roguish best friend, the drunken doctor Golightly, who is always encouraging Tim to live a little, stop being such a fussbudget, One creepy stormy evening a young woman enters, dashing into the shop in an urgent, insistent plea for some solanum. Tim knows instantly there’s something “off” about the girl, but he has no idea that she’s actually a witch from hell, who will intertwine herself to his life and change it–forever.

Carrion Comfort / Dan Simmons

comfortThe War and Peace of the horror genre. One of my all time favorite books. It is December 1980, and a small circle of vampires—not the fanged blood drinkers of legend, but monstrously cruel human beings with the psychic ability to possess and dominate others—gather in Charleston for a reunion, where they score points by comparing the latest acts of extreme violence initiated on their command. It is a page-turning marvel, weaving multiple plot threads and over-the-top action sequences into a narrative of genuine, resonant power. One, Nina, is particularly proud of getting a faceless nobody to assassinate the Beatle John Lennon. But the game soon gives way to a power struggle of an even more ruthless sort. The mind controllers turn on one another, initiating a bloodbath fought with innocents snatched from their everyday lives.

Enter Charleston Sheriff Bobby Joe Gentry, nobody’s top nomination for action hero: An overweight, soft-spoken failed historian, who is baffled and angered by the sudden eruption of madness that has left Charleston littered with nine bodies in a single night. Gentry is out of his depth when his investigation begins to involve conspiracies that involve superpowers and cover-ups at the very highest levels of government power. He is soon joined by Saul Laski, an aging Jewish psychiatrist who has spent his life searching for the Nazi whose psychic powers he experienced during World War II, and Natalie Preston, a young black photographer whose own father was a victim of the massacre in Charleston. These woefully outnumbered three take on a global conspiracy, finding themselves alone in a world where any innocent can be possessed and turned into a murderous assassin without warning.

One of the creepiest characters is ‘sweet little old Charleston lady’ Melanie Fuller, one of the most evil creatures in modern literature.

Porgy / Dubose Heyward

porgy_dustjacketThe story of a crippled beggar who witnesses a murder during a dice game and later gives shelter to the murderer’s woman, the beautiful, haunted Bess. The Catfish Row community is united in its opposition to the union, but Porgy and Bess make each other happy, and their happiness only increases when they take in a child orphaned by a hurricane. Their idyll is brief, however. The murderer, Crown, returns for Bess, and Porgy, defending his family, kills him. The police detain him for questioning but never dream that a cripple could have been the killer, so Porgy returns triumphantly to the Row. The triumph turns to tragedy, however, when he learns that, while he was away, Sporting Life, the dope pusher, beguiled Bess with “happy dus'” and took her away to New York City to resume, it is implied,her career as a prostitute. The book, for all it’s melodrama, is beautifully written.

North & South – Love & War – Heaven & Hell / John Jakes

north and southHistorical fiction as it should be … well written, and well researched and full of forbidden love, illicit sex, double crosses and other intrigue. In North and South, two strangers, young men from Pennsylvania and South Carolina, meet on the way to West Point . . . The Hazards and the Mains are brought together in bonds of friendship and affection that neither man thinks can be shattered. And then the War begins.

Love & War: From the first Union rout in Virginia to the last tragic moments of surrender, here is a gigantic five-year panorama of the Civil War! Hostilities divide the Hazards and the Mains, testing them with loyalties more powerful than family ties. While soldiers from both families clash on the battlefields of Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Antietam, in intrigue-ridden Washington and Richmond, strong-willed men and beautiful women defend their principles with their lives … or satisfy illicit cravings with schemes that could destroy friends and enemies alike!

Heaven & Hell: The war ends, but there is no peace for the Hazards and the Mains in a nation still inflamed with bitterness and hatred. The defeated South teems with schemers and carpetbaggers … and the North has no place for scarred veterans such as Charles Main, who struggles to rebuild his life in the Plains cavalry, only to be stalked by a murderous nemesis seeking revenge against both families. A gripping portrait of Reconstruction America, and a fitting conclusion to the saga of two mighty dynasties!

celia-garthCelia Garth: A Story of Charleston in the Revolution / Gwen Bristow

This young adult tale of Celia Garth, a 20 year old woman trying to make a living as a seamstress in Charleston, South Carolina during the Revolutionary war. Celia and her friends survive the seige of Charleston by the British, living through the constant shelling and lack of food until the final surrender. At first, things seem normal after the surrender and Celia begins to build a new life, but tragedy strikes after the British go back on their promises and Celia must start life afresh. This time, while working as a seamstress she is also a bit of a “spy” for the colonials.

Galilee / Clive Barker

galileeClive Barker has earned a reputation as the thinking person’s horror writer. His novels mix fantasy, psychology, and sheer creepiness in almost equal quantities. In Galilee, Barker soft-pedals the ghoulish in favor of the gothic. His novel (or as the author would have it, “romance”) tells the tale of two warring families caught up in a disastrous web of corruption, illicit sexuality, and star-crossed love, with a soupçon of the supernatural thrown in as well. On one side are the wealthy Gearys–a fictional stand-in for the Kennedys–and on the other are the Barbarossas, a mysterious black clan that has been around since the time (quite literally) of Adam.

Galilee chronicles the twisted course of this centuries-old family feud, which centers around the magical Barbarossa matriarch Cesaria and her son Galilee. Indeed, it’s the latter figure–one part Heathcliff to one part Christ–whose relationship with the Geary women sets a match to the entire powder keg of hostility and resentment. Mixing standard clichés of romance and some deep-fried Southern gothic, Baker created an intelligent and shameless potboiler.

Settling Accounts: In at the Death/ Harry Turtledove

settling accountsThis is the last novel of the Settling Accounts tetralogy that presents an alternative history of WWII. It brings to a conclusion the multi-series compilation that is sometimes referred to as Timeline-191. This alternative history began with the Confederate States of America winning the Civil War in 1862, followed by a war between the United States and Confederate States of America in the 1880s which is also won by the South. In the conclusion, the United State detonates an atomic bomb in Charleston, wiping the city off the map, in retaliation for starting the War Between the States in 1861.

Forbidden / Rebel Sinclair

forbidden coverFull disclosure … this novel was written by my wife.  So … I admit a major amount of bias. Still, it’s a page-turner.

After witnessing a murder plot in Regency London, Lady Madeline Winchester flees to Charleston, South Carolina and the protection of Magistrate Exchange Agent, Nicholas Gales. Afraid and alone but for her starchy lady’s maid, Madeline is drawn to her dark, moody guardian and his plantation home of Myrtle Downs just as she is repelled by his society of prejudice and slavery.

In a world where breeding and birthright mean everything, there is no possibility of a future with a man like him – especially since Madeline is betrothed to a duke in her homeland. Drawn together by passion, yet torn apart by social differences and dreams of the past, Nicholas and Madeline have only each other to shield them from a darkness that has been orchestrating their lives in this perilous 19th century tale of intrigue and betrayal.

The Fallon Saga / Reagan O’Neal (Robert Jordan)

Great historical fiction on the same level with North & South. Written by Charlestonian James Rigney, Jr, more popularly known as Robert Jordan, author of the massively successful fantasy series, The Wheel of Time. Jordan died in Sept. 2007. Sharp-eyed tour guides often got a glimpse offallon him walking Tradd Street.

In The Fallon Blood, escaping brutal English overlords, 1760s Irishman Michael Fallon becomes an indentured servant to Charleston merchant Thomas Carver, where his infatuation with Carver’s sensual daughter Elizabeth causes life-changing complications. In The Fallon Pride, Michael Fallon’s son Robert Fallon survives years at sea fighting Barbary pirates and enduring the siege at Tripoli. He then returns to America with an Irish wife, Moira McConnell, and goes into business in Charleston where he raises a somewhat troublesome family. In The Fallon Legacy, James Fallon, the last scion of the Fallon line, strikes south and west, adventuring in New Orleans, Missouri, and finally Texas (then still part of Mexico). He loves and loses women, ranches and breeds horses, and becomes entangled in the schemes of shady men and women. Enemies made by Michael and Robert during their lifetimes converge upon James, who must find out if he has strength enough to stand against them.

WHAT TO AVOID

South of Broad / Pat Conroy. The worst book Conroy has written (so far!)! Avoid like a syphilitic whore.

Rhett Butler’s People by Donald McCaig. This is AWFUL!! One of the worst novels I’ve ever tried to read. Silly and poorly written. The narration is fuzzy and the story is well … silly. Why can’t they leave Gone With The Wind alone? First there was Scarlett by Alexandria Ripley which was a snore-fest and now this “Authorized Novel”. Rhett Butler should challenge the Margaret Mitchell estate to a duel for this insult!

All of the ‘island” books by Dorothea Benton Frank. You know … those books that have the fill-in-the-blank plot lines; the major change in each book is the characters’ names and the sea island she uses as the setting. Frank is the female James Patterson – books written for the barely literate.

All of Mary Alice Monroe’s Oprah-fied low country-based, let’s-save-the-turtles fiction.

William Gilmore Simms – praised in his time (1800s) by none other than Edgar Allan Poe, Simms is virtually unreadable today.


BEST SERIES of Crime Novels

In no certain order …

1. “Travis McGee” by John D. MacDonald. 21 books all with a color in the title (The Deep Blue Good-bye; Darker Than Amber; The Green Ripper, etc …)darker than amber

Travis McGee, works as a “salvage consultant” in Ft. Lauderdale and has all the best qualities of Magnum, Rockford, Bond, and Robin Hood, with the addition of yen philosophizing and rueful self-awareness. Must be read in consecutive order.

2. “Burke” by Andrew Vachss. 18 books.

floodVachss (rhymes with “tax”) is a lawyer who only represents children and youths and writes the darkest, most unrelenting series of books about crime and revenge. Main character Burke is one of the “children of the secret” – abused children who were victimized without ever experiencing justice, much less love and protection. To say the least, the adult Burke is a deeply conflicted character. Must be read in order.

3. “Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. 4 novels and 5 collections of short stories.

What can you say? The all-time greatest, most famous detective in the world and his constant companion, Dr. Watson. No matter how edgy and steampunkish Hollywood makes the movies, these are still some of the greatest crime stories every written. 

4. “Thorn” by James P. Hall. 14 books.

Thorn lives in the Florida Keys and makes his living tying lures for fly fishing. He also helps people out of sticky situations on occasion.  There’s quite a bit of Travis McGee in UnderCoverOfDaylight.Thorn, and a little bit of Burke also. You don’t have to read these books in order, but I highly recommend reading the first one (Under Cover of Daylight) so you will understand why Thorn is the way he is.

darkattheend5. “Repairman Jack” by F. Paul Wilson. 10 books.

Andrew Vachss calls Repairman Jack “righteous!” An apt description. Jack is a loner who lives off the public grid (no SSN, no official identity) and makes his living “fixing” extreme situations. Some may argue that since Jack’s adventures feature touches of the paranormal and science-fiction, horror and fantasy, this should not be listed in a “Crime Novel” series. I disagree, just for sheer enjoyment and the crime-ridden, violent world that Jack lives in.  Must be read in order.

6. “Joe Kurtz” by Dan Simmons. 3 books  

hardasnailsHard Case, Hard Freeze, Hard As Nails are hard-boiled crime noir at its best. Simmons is one of my all-time favorite writers. In addition to these great novels, he has also written my two favorite horror novels (Carrion Comfort and Children of the Night), a sci-fi classic (Hyperion) and a great Hemingway historical novel (The Crook Factory). It helps to read them in order.

7. “Parker” by Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake). 24 books.

parker-novel-donald-e-westlake-paperback-cover-artParker may be the meanest, nastiest character on this list. Very few redeeming qualities. These books are almost nihilistic. Highly recommend you read these in order – some of the books began the second after the previous book ends.

8. “Justin & Cuddy” by Michael Malone. 3 books 

uncivil seasonsUncivil Seasons, Time’s Witness, First Lady. Great literate mysteries set in small town North Carolina. Uncivil Seasons is one of the best mysteries I’ve ever read. Period.  Read in order.

9. “Lew Archer” by Ross MacDonald. 18 books.

lew archerWilliam Goldman calls these the “the finest series of detective novels ever written by an American.” MacDonald is the primary heir to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler but his writing built on the pithy style of his predecessors by adding psychological depth and insights into the motivations of his characters. Archer often unearthed the family secrets of his clients and of the criminals who victimized them. Lost or wayward sons and daughters were a theme common to many of the novels. Macdonald was one of the first to deftly combine the two sides of the mystery genre, the “whodunit” and the psychological thriller. Jonathon Kellerman is the modern heir of MacDonald’s noir. 

10. “87th Precinct” by Ed McBain. 56 books.

87th precinctABSOLUTELY THE BEST! It is impossible to rate this series too high. It is the most consistently entertaining police procedural novels written about day-to-day cops, the inspiration for “Hill Street Blues” and all the other more realistic, gritty cops show that followed through the 1980s, 90s and beyond. Steve Carella, Meyer Meyer, Bert Kling, Ollie Weeks, Cotton Hawes, and Andy Parker are just  a few of the memorable characters we have  come to know and love who work out of the 8-7. And of course, the Blind Man, one of the greatest, coolest criminals to grace crime pages. McBain died in 2005 so alas, there will be no more 8-7 books.

11. “Harry Bosch” (18 books) and “The Lincoln Lawyer” series (5 books)  by Michael Connelly.

brass-verdict_lConnelly is perhaps the best crime fiction writer of the last decade. Harry Bosch is an LA police detective. The books, dark and often violent, explore Bosch’s psyche as he investigate murders and crime in L.A. Harry’s illegitimate half-brother Michael Haller is called the “Lincoln lawyer,” since he is an unconventional defense lawyer who works out of the back seat of a Lincoln automobile. The “Lincoln” books are endlessly entertaining. 

12. “Inspector Lynley” by Elizabeth George. 19 books


lynleyBrilliant!
 Detective Inspector Thomas “Tommy” Lynley, 8th Earl of Asherton and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers are with New Scotland Yard. The dynamic between the accomplished and aristocratic Lynley and the street smart, foul-mouthed, uncouth Havers is only the first brilliant part of these books. Their cases are psychological compelling, filled with comic characters (Havers in particular) and range across the whole of Great Britain. 

13.  “Crazy Florida” by Carl Hiassen. 13 novels. 

The most fun set of books on this list … by far! While strictly not a series, all of the Hiassen’s ‘crazy Florida” novels can all be lumped together. There are about a dozen skin tightrecurring characters (not in all the books) and enough thematic similarities that connect the novels.Tourist Season, Double Whammy, Skin Tight, Stormy Weather, Skinny Dip, etc .. are all comic caper masterpieces.  Embrace the insanity!   

14.  “Kenzie and Gennaro” by Dennis Lehane. 6 books.

 lehaneTwo private investigators in Boston, Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, who take cases that are gruesome, sad, and plain horrifying. Gritty, dark and confronting challenging moral questions, this is a compelling series, by a writer more famous for his stand alone novels, Mystic River  and Shutter Island.

15. “William Monk” by Anne Perry, 21 books

execution dockQuite possible the best crime fiction of the last 20 years. At the beginning of the series Monk is a London police inspector in the 1850s. The first book in the series opens with Monk injured in a carriage accident with a spotty memory of himself and his life. Over the next several novels, not only does Monk investigate crimes, he is also investigating himself, trying to understand what kind of person he is (was) and learning he does not want to be that person.

After the accident he met Hester Latterly, a Crimean War nurse and they became close. Only Latterly knew about Monk’s memory issues. In the second book, A Dangerous Mourning, Monk was fired from the police force for insubordination and became a private investigator. Lady Callandra Daviott (Hester’s best friend) financed his private investigations. Sir Oliver Rathbone was his love rival (he too wanted to marry Hester) and judicial adviser in his case.

In “Dark Assassin,” Monk joined the Thames River Police to pay a debt to a friend who died on a previous case. Although he finds the shift from street policing to river policing difficult, he earns the respect of his men and continues on in this position.

16. “Spenser” by Robert B. Parker. 35 books.

promised landI almost didn’t include Spenser here, but I had to. This is an infuriating series … the first 14 books are as good as PI fiction gets … and the rest are hit-and-miss. Hawk is one of the great characters in crime fiction. But then you also have Susan Silverman – Spenser’s main squeeze. The more important Susan Silverman becomes to the story the more annoying the book is. I keep hoping Susan gets killed and we get back the old, tougher Spenser, not the Oprah-fied Spenser we currently have. During the latter books Hawk became nothing more than a walk-on one-note character; it’s as if Parker was scared to explore the darker dynamics of Hawk and his world.  


ESSENTIAL TIME TRAVEL NOVELS

Yesterday, over beer and burgers, I got in a discussion with Savannah-based author James Caskey about our favorite time travel stories which prompted me to put together a list of essential novels in the genre.  Any of these would be great beach reading. So, forgo the weekly James Patterson published novel and go with one of these classics instead. Listed in alphabetical order


THE ANUBIS GATES by Tim Powers (1985)

anubis-gates-time-powers-gollanczQuite brilliant. The colonization of Egypt by western European powers is the launch point for power plays and machinations. Steeping together in this time-warp stew are such characters as an unassuming Coleridge scholar, ancient gods, wizards, the Knights Templar, werewolves, and other quasi-mortals, all wrapped in the organizing fabric of Egyptian mythology. The reluctant heroes fight for survival against an evil that lurks beneath the surface of their everyday lives.

BRING THE JUBILEE by Ward Moore (1953) 

jubileeThis is one of the first (and the best) of the alternative history novels that ask: What if the South won the Civil War? Politically complex, astute and endlessly fascinating. The point of divergence occurs when the Confederate States of America wins the Battle of Gettysburg and subsequently declares victory in the “War of Southern Independence” on July 4, 1864 after the surrender of the United States of America. The novel takes place in the impoverished United States in the mid-20th century as war looms between the Confederacy and its rival, the German Union. History takes an unexpected turn when the protagonist Hodge Backmaker, a historian, decides to travel back in time and witness the moment when the South won the war.

A CONNECTICUT YANKEE IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT by Mark Twain (1889)

connecticut yankeeThis story is both a whimsical fantasy and a social satire chock-full of brilliant Twainisms. Hank Morgan, a 19th century American-a Connecticut Yankee-by a stroke of fate is sent back into time to 6th century England and ends up in Camelot and King Arthur’s Court. Although of average intelligence, he finds himself with knowledge beyond any ofthose in the 6th century and uses it to become the king’s right hand man, and to challenge Merlin as the court magician. Astounded at the way of life in Camelot, Hank does the only thing he can think of to do: change them. In his attempt to civilize medieval Camelot he experiences many challenges and misadventures.

THE DANCERS AT THE END OF TIME by Michael Moorcock (1974 onward)

Dancers_at_the_end_of_timeEnter a decaying far, far future society, a time when anything and everything is possible, where words like ‘conscience’ and ‘morality’ are meaningless, and where heartfelt love blossoms mysteriously between Mrs Amelia Underwood, an unwilling time traveller, and Jherek Carnelian, a bemused denizen of the End of Time. The Dancers at the End of Time is a brilliant homage to the 1890s. The series include the following novels: An Alien Heat, The Hollow Lands and The End of All Songs.

GLIMPSES by Lewis Shiner (1993)

glimpsesThe first rock n roll time-travel novel! In the song “American Pie” Don McLean asked the question: “Can music save your mortal soul?” Glimpses answers that question with a resounding “YES!” Ray Chackleford is an unstable, self-employed electronics repairman whose marriage is foundering and whose father has recently died. These unresolved relationships are complicated when Ray travels to the Mexican site of his father’s death and promptly falls in love with a woman even more unstable than he. In the midst of this emotional turmoil, Ray–a rock drummer during his youth in the late Sixties–begins to hear music in his head and manages to transfer to tape legendary unfinished recordings by Jim Morrison, Brian Wilson, and Jimi Hendrix. This music is accompanied by “journeys” into the troubled lives of these rock musicians. Shiner’s appealing main character and his gripping style overcome the less believable aspects of his story. If you love classic rock and roll, this is a must read!

THE GODS THEMSELVES by Issac Asimov (1972)

In the year 2100, mankind on Earth, settlers in a lunar colony and gods themselvesaliens from the para-universe, a strange universe parallel in time to our own, are faced with a race against time to prevent total destruction of the Earth. The invention of the Inter-Universe Electron Pump has threatened the rate of hydrogen fusion in the sun, leading, inevitably, to the possibility of a vast explosion — and the vapourization of the Earth exactly eight minutes later . . . Asimov, is always, accurate and brilliant. The science is plausible.

THE LIGHT OF OTHER DAYS by Arthur C. Clark & Stephen Baxter (2000)

light of other daysTwo titans of hard SF–multiple award-winning British authors Clarke (Rendezvous with Rama) and Baxter (The Time Ships)–team up for a story of grand scientific and philosophical scope. Ruthless Hiram Patterson, the self-styled “Bill Gates of the twenty-first century,” brings about a communication revolution by using quantum wormholes to link distant points around Earth. Not content with his monopoly on the telecommunications industry, Patterson convinces his estranged son, David, a brilliant young physicist, to work for him. While humanity absorbs the depressing news that an enormous asteroid will hit Earth in 500 years, David develops the WormCam, which allows remote viewers to spy on anyone, anytime. The government steps in to direct WormCam use–but before long, privacy becomes a distant memory. Then David and his half-brother, Bobby, discover a way to use the WormCam to view the past, and the search for truth leads to disillusionment as well as knowledge. Only by growing beyond the mores of the present can humanity hope to survive and to deal with the threats of the future, including that asteroid. The exciting extrapolation flows with only a few missteps, and the large-scale implications addressed are impressive indeed.

THE MAN WHO FOLDED HIMSELF by David Gerrold (1973)

folded himselfDaniel Eakins inherits a time machine and soon realizes that he has enormous power to shape the course of history. He can foil terrorists, prevent assassinations, or just make some fast money at the racetrack. And if he doesn’t like the results of the change, he can simply go back in time and talk himself out of making it! But Dan soon finds that there are limits to his powers and forces beyond his control. A wild ride!

PASTWATCH: THE REDEMPTION OF CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS by Orson Scott Card (1996)

pastwatchTagiri and Hassan are members of Pastwatch, an academic organization that uses machines to see into the past and record it. Their project focuses on slavery and its dreadful effects, and gradually evolves into a study of Christopher Columbus. They eventually marry and their daughter Diko joins them in their quest to discover what drove Columbus west. Columbus, with whom readers become acquainted through both images in the Pastwatch machines and personal narrative, is portrayed as a religious man with both strengths and weaknesses, a charismatic leader who sometimes rose above but often fell beneath the mores of his times. An entertaining and thoughtful history lesson.

REPLAY by Ken Grimwood (1986)

replayWhat if you could live your life over and over, and over again? Jeff Winston, a failing 43-year-old radio journalist, dies and wakes up in his 18-year-old body in 1963 with his memories of the next 25 years intact. He views the future from the perspective of naive 1963: “null-eyed punks in leather and chains . . . death-beams in orbit around the polluted, choking earth . . . his world sounded like the most nightmarish of science fiction.” Grimwood transcended genre with this carefully observed, literate and original story. Jeff’s knowledge soon becomes as much a curse as a blessing. After recovering from the shock (is the future a dream, or is it real life?), he plays out missed choices. In one life, for example, he falls in love with Pamela, a housewife who died nine minutes after Jeff; they try to warn the world of the disasters it faces, coming in conflict with the government and history. A third replayer turns out to be a serial killer, murdering the same people over and over. Jeff and Pamela are still searching for some missing part of their lives when they notice they are returning closer and closer to the time of their deaths, and realize that the replays and their times together may be coming to an end. A brilliant book. An all-time classic.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut (1969)


slaughterhouse_five“Listen: Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time.”
After he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore, Pilgrim’s life unfolds in a display of plot-scrambling virtuosity, concentrating on his shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden. Okay, we’ve all read it.  If not … what are you doing reading this blog? ‘Nuff said.

TIME AND AGAIN by Jack Finny (1970)

Time-and-Again-Novel-CoverSimon Morley, an artist with a premium on imagination, is chosen as a possible subject by a group operating on the theory that time is charted by a myriad of details and if surrounded by what appear to be the artifacts and events of an era, they might be able to project themselves into the actual time slot. For weeks Simon is secluded in an apartment in New York’s famous landmark, the Dakota, where he dresses, eats, entertains himself and reads newspapers in tire style of the New York of 1894 and finally he walks out into the Central Park of that January. As Simon wanders and takes photos of the familiar-but-different New York landscape, he becomes involved in the lives of several of his 19th century acquaintances. And there is a mystery that Simon is determined to solve that has to do with a suicide and a cryptic letter that ends “the sending of this should cause the Destruction by Fire of the entire World.” 

TIMESCAPE by Gregory Benford (1980)

timescapeIt’s 1998 and a physicist in Cambridge, England, attempts to send a message backward in time. Earth is falling apart, and a government faction supports the project in hopes of diverting or avoiding the environmental disasters beginning to tear at the edges of civilization. It’s 1962, and a physicist in California struggles with his new life on the West Coast, office politics, and the irregularities of data that plague his experiments. Then he receives an unusual message … 

TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG by Connie Willis (1997)

To_Say_Nothing_of_the_DogIn 2057, Ned Henry, an Oxford expert in the 20th century, jumps back and forth from the 1940s to correct a loose screw in the works of the time continuum. A tongue-in-cheek raspberry to Victorian novels, the story unfolds with such madcap screwball intensity it makes the pages burn your fingers as you read. This a fun ride!

UP THE LINE by Robert Silverberg (1969) up the line

Being a Time Courier was one of the best jobs Judson Daniel Elliott III ever had. It was tricky, though, taking group after group of tourists back to the same historic event without meeting yourself coming or going. Trickier still was avoiding the temptation to become intimately involved with the past and interfere with events to come. The deterrents for any such actions were frighteningly effective. So Judson Daniel Elliott played by the book. Then he met a lusty Greek in Byzantium who showed him how rules were made to be broken…and set him on a family-history-go-round that would change his past and his future forever!