100 sf

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Katy Trail Photos

Mrs. Jason and I recently took a biking trip along the Katy Trail. I wish we had had more time. And, of course, Amtrak was late picking us up. 2 hours! How is that possible for a train that just goes back and forth between Kansas City and St. Louis all day? And this was the first train of the day.

It was supposed to rain all week, but somehow we missed it

The scenery changes often along the way: bluffs, forests, farmland, river's edge.

There were a lot of cats that came out to greet us. Go figure. This was a particularly lovable one. He had also clearly been in a fight recently--scratches, missing fur, and a screwed up right ear.

Our favorite rest stop was in Defiance at Katy Bike Rental--lots of candy, ice cream, snacks, sodas, antiques, and bike stuff.

I'd also recommend Apple Gate Inn in Augusta if you need a place to stay while on the Katy or after drinking too much at the wineries. I could barely get on my bike after breakfast I was so full of yummy goodness!

Labels: ,


Labels: ,

Monday, October 29, 2007


Reaching the quarter century mark of my reading project has come late; I’m way behind if I want to read all 100 of David Pringle’s recommendations in a timely fashion. I wish my excuse was that I was savoring the novels. In reality, life has gotten in the way on too many occasions. Mea culpa to anyone listening.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5
The list starts out classy with 1984, and it follows up with four heavy hitters of the genre. I had never read George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides (#2) before, and neither have many others my age--the book was out-of-print for a long time (thankfully that has changed). I highly recommend it.

6, 7, 8, 9, 10
Limbo (#6) is sadly out-of-print. In my estimation, it should be considered alongside literary giants like Brave New World and A Clockwork Orange. The Paradox Men (#10), on the other hand, was the biggest disappointment so far. I was really looking forward to it, and I found it less than thrilling.

11, 12, 13, 14, 15
Bring the Jubilee (#11) was perhaps the inspiration for Dick’s The Man in the High Castle (# 37) and one of only two novels on the list I’ve read in one sitting. Ward Moore is a forgotten master of narration!

16, 17, 18, 19, 20
Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow (#18) shows her depth as a literary writer and that she wasn’t just the narrative brains behind George Lucas’ best film. The Stars My Destination (#20) is Bester’s best work.

21, 22, 23, 24, 25
The Death of Grass (#21) is the other one-sitting read. It’s superior to the similarly themed Greener Than You Think by Ward Moore, which is also worth the time.


#26: A Case of Conscience (1958) by James Blish

“‘Animals have no souls,’ said Descartes, throwing a cat out the window to prove, if not his point, at least his faith in it.”

I’ve tended to think of James Blish (1921-1975) as a Star Trek hack most of my life. I knew he was a smart guy; I knew that his “Okie” series and A Case of Conscience were well respected. Hell, I’m even a Star Trek fan. But, without reading any of his work except a couple of short stories, I had no respect for him. Then David Pringle’s list made me sit down with one of his novels.

ACoC is divided into two parts. Generally, the first is considered the better of the two halves, and I will agree that it is the stronger narrative. But the second half has its merits too. I suppose it is much like the other great sf novel about Catholicism: A Canticle for Leibowitz (# 30 on the list). That book also has mismatching narrative limbs.

The first half of ACoC focuses on Jesuit priest and scientist Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez. RS is one of the more interesting characters I’ve ever read. While Blish is critical of religion, he’s evenhanded with the good Father. RS is part of a four-man team of scientists on a planet called Lithia. They’ve been sent there to determine whether the planet would make a good way station--balancing out the needs and wants of both Earthlings and the Lithians themselves. The native inhabitants are quite interesting. They’re twelve-feet-tall reptiles that resemble a dinosaur with a kangaroo pouch (in the case of the females). They’re intelligent and industrious, and they live in a harmonious society with no crime, war, or religion. And that last point is the real bugger.

When it comes down to the vote on Lithia’s future, the four men couldn’t be further apart. One believes Lithia to be an absolute cultural gem that should be kept open and in active dialogue with Earth. Another feels that it should be turned into an armory and weapons-making factory. A third is indecisive and almost apathetic about the responsibility of his decision. And then there’s Ruiz-Sanchez. RS has had the deepest contact with the culture up to this point. He’s thoroughly studied the environment of Lithia. He’s mastered the language. And he’s made friends with a Lithian named Chtexa. But RS can’t wrap his mind around the idea of a society without god, particularly a rational, well-functioning one. He decides that the planet itself, as well as its inhabitants, must be the creation of the Devil. And while this suggests a Manichean heresy (strict theology purports the Devil has no creative abilities such as God has), he accepts it as the only possibility and votes for the planet to be permanently quarantined. Before he leaves, however, Chtexa gives him a present: a fertilized Lithian egg.

The second half of the novel follows the disastrous earthly development of Egtverchi, Chtexa’s son. Egtverchi is neither fish nor fowl on Earth--a problem most twelve-foot, sentient reptiles face. He’s also quite paranoid about war, which is a theme running throughout the novel. As I mentioned before, Cleaver (one of the scientists on Lithia) has the hawkish idea to develop munitions on Lithia, all for the armament against an enemy that doesn’t exist. Most of society lives in underground, shelter communities because of some sort of nuclear fallout. And there is a growing dissatisfaction on the part of the have-nots of society. Egtverchi does his best to fan the flames of tension. While this section of the novel meanders at times, it’s worth waiting out the anti-Hollywood ending. There are also some small gems of social criticism along the way, such as the concept of “planned obsolescence”: a series of built-in flaws that every product contains, in order to insure that it has an ephemeral existence that propels the public’s consuming habits. Or, a party ride that shuttles passengers through a series of hallucinogenic scenes, ending with a trip through the furnace doors of Belsen, only to be blasted with “mind-cleansing oxygen” on the other side. What fun!

Labels: , ,

Friday, October 19, 2007

Phildickian Prose

A great quote from Robert Guffey's article "White Noise: Don DeLillo's Postmodern Autopsy of the Twentieth Century" in the current issue (September 2007) of The New York Review of Science Fiction...

If one accepts the notion that science fiction is the simulation of a future that hasn't happened yet, then perhaps mainstream fiction could be considered the simulation of a present that will never exist.

Friday, October 12, 2007

St. Louis #1

In something good for once. According to yesterday’s St. Louis Business Journal, St. Louis has had the largest growth in light-rail use over the last year in the entire nation. Ridership was up 38% in the first six months of 2007 over the first six months of 2006. We also rocked out in the number of folks using public transportation to get to work, the number of folks trying public transportation for the first time, and the number of riders who use transit five or more days a week. (I average six days of use per week--aren’t I special? Well, according to these statistics, I guess I’m not.) Okay, now let’s expand this Metrolink!

Labels: ,

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Go North Along the River

One of my favorite bike paths in the area is the Riverfront Trail that runs along the Mississippi from the old Laclede Power Station to the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. For me, it represents all that’s good and bad about St. Louis: its industrial and shipping past, its neglect of most things north of Delmar Boulevard, its beautiful vistas, and its (surprising) optimism about the future. The trail is well designed and should provide plenty of connections to St. Louis and Illinois in the future. And the rest stops along the way have water fountains for dogs!

Heading north, the first five or six miles are industrial, and it’s pretty amazing to see and hear all the scrap heaps, coal cars, payloaders, and railroads at work. It can also be pretty smelly and even a little dangerous if you’re not watching at the points where the trail crosses industrial traffic. Running above part of this section is an old train trestle that connects to the McKinley Bridge. Both the bridge and the trestle will soon be open to bike traffic, and there should be pretty amazing views of the Mississippi River, downtown, and smashed up cars from up there. I can’t wait.

The next leg runs along the top of a grassy embankment. There are good opportunities to see turkeys and deer along this stretch. There’s also a good opportunity to get windburned. Mrs. Jason and I were out there on Sunday, biking to the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge to have a picnic, and it must have taken us twice as long as normal with the headwind that day. She swears that the wind was so strong it stopped her completely at one point, even though she was still pedaling. This section is also completely exposed to the sun. I, of course, forgot to put on sunscreen this go. Ouch.

After a quaint winding pass through North Riverfront Park, which always seems to be populated with the nicest walkers in the City, the trail comes to the jewel of the bike path--the Old Chain of Rocks Bridge. The bridge was an important part of Route 66 because of its unique bend in the middle. Though it closed with the building of the New Chain of Rocks Bridge for I-270 and was unfortunately the site of a gruesome double murder back in 1991, it’s rocking and rolling with bikes, walkers, picnickers, rollerbladers, and the like these days, thanks mostly to the good folks at Trailnet.

Labels: , ,