Friday, November 30, 2012

Some Nice Planets You've Missed

By J.S. Holland

It was almost three years ago that I penned, on my Steampunk blog, a travelogue of little-known planets in our solar system that should be household words but probably aren't in yours. Read the article I just linked to there - it's a grabber - but in a nutshell, in bold strokes, the gist is that in the last 20 years our solar system has turned out to be filled with all kinds of crazy planet-like objects.

So many, in fact, that it's totally thrown a monkeywrench into NASA's arbitrary and archaic classification system. Facing potentially having to allow hundreds of thousands of objects to become classified as planets, NASA hastily cobbled together a new system that demoted Pluto's planet status to that of "dwarf planet". Scrambling to deal with newly-discovered objects that didn't quite fit the expectations of a planet, a comet, or an asteroid (a term that, by the way, is essentially meaningless), NASA has had to conjure up an entire new lexicon of silly terms like "centaurs", "SDOs", "trans-Neptunian objects", "Kuiper Belt objects", "cubewanos", etc. until it's all broken down and the point gets lost.

What is the point? It's this: our position here is that all these pieces of outer-space effluvia should simply be called PLANETS and leave it at that, no muss no fuss. Lab-coated wonks in the back can still have their infinitely recapitulative exercises in arranging things in word-boxes, quietly, amongst themselves, behind closed doors in the mighty halls of science.

"But most of these minor planets aren't perfectly spherical like a 'real' planet", you might say. Except it was discovered that Pluto is actually kinda lumpy, and in fact even the Earth is not the perfect sphere we once believed it to be. Pallas (pictured at left above) and Vesta (pictured at right below) are round enough for me. "But some of them aren't really held together solidly and are just loose rubble piles", you might say. So what? Jupiter is just a bubble of freaking gas, okay, so don't even play that card. Even a tiny potato-shaped rock like the planet Eros is more of a planet to me in a classical sense than gassy giants like Jupiter and Saturn.

And even without swallowing that philosophical meatball whole, come on, man, there's a kazillion planets like Object #225088 - it's round, it orbits the sun, it has water ice, and it even has an atmosphere. What the freak more do you want? It's a planet. End of discussion. 'Cept it ain't, because there's more:

Now, in what seems almost like another life since I blogged that original "Don't Panic" rant, I sit here pondering the moons of all these wonderful planets, and thinking to myself that there's really no reason we should not be calling, say, Europa (pictured at top) a planet even though it's also a moon of Saturn. Since we now know that "minor planets" can have moons of their own, and that sometimes the moon can be almost the same size as the planet itself, and that sometimes they're binary objects both orbiting a single center of gravity together, then heck, let's open the floodgates and let 'em in to planet status.

Here's just a smattering:

Enceladus. Did you know Saturn has 62 moons? Things have certainly changed since we were in high school! And one of the most fascinating ones is Enceladus, which actually has volcanoes of ice water spewing so high into the atmosphere you can see it from space. Why, oh why aren't we colonizing this rock - scuse me, planet - right now?

Umbriel. My bucket list of planets to see includes the planet Umbriel (you may still be calling it a "moon of Uranus". There's 27 moons of Uranus known to exist so far, by the way) There's a crater on Umbriel called Wunda that appears in photos to have a mysterious whitish impact deposit of God-knows-what, which is not something you see every day in this here solar system. Road trip!!

Dysnomia. The planet Dysnomia is orbiting the planet Eris (you're getting the hang of this now, aren't you?) and is by some accounts as large as 490 km. That's big enough, I think, to qualify for a Starbucks, don't you?

Io. Jupiter has a whopping 67 moons. (As a kid in the 1970s I was taught that there were only 13 of them. Imagine what we'll know tomorrow.) Forget labels a second, we're talking about 67 unexplored worlds relatively close to us in Jupiter's influence. Let that sink in and then chew on the fact that there's a grand total of at least 174 moons in our solar system. That's a heck of a lot of real estate that we know very little about. What we do know is that the planet Io is a very active hotspot, with over 400 volcanoes. Unlike most satellites - which are mostly made of water/ice - Io is primarily silicate rock surrounding a molten iron or iron sulfide core.

Lately a recurring feature on my Twitter has been my own #JSHSS hashtag, in which I expound on my deconstructionist and reductionist plans to simplify the nomenclature of our heavenly bodies; check it out. In case you're wondering why all the renewed hubbub and foofaraw about this, I'll drop you a hint: it might be my little way of softening you up, dear reader, for the setting of my upcoming as-yet-untitled sci-fi novel of which for now I can say no more.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Roger That

By J.S. Holland

A couple years ago, I spoke of how emulating Don Draper was a good move for any Transylvania Gentleman seeking to better himself. But though I still have utmost respect for ol' Don, my viewpoint has since been modified, in part because of Mr. Draper's erratic behavior on the show in the last couple seasons.

No, these days I've come to realize that I'm more of a Roger Sterling type than a Don Draper, and I'm okay with that.

Why Roger? Why, just look at him. I took an informal and unscientific poll amongst my gal-pals awhile back and the consensus was clear: Roger was way hotter, and in fact, Don can be pretty creepy. This vote was enough to make me think twice about brushing color into my greying temples. To paraphrase Dylan, I just wanna be on the side that's winning.

And while Don is a very decisive man (and his decisions often suck!), that's not the same thing as being calm, cool and collected. Don's always flying off the handle about something or other, always grimacing, frowning, sighing, mugging, brooding, bitching, sweating the small shit.

Not our man Roger. Whatever chaos surrounds him, he stays largely unflappable, with an almost buddhist-beatnik-like grace, smirking through his Smirnoff. Gorgeous women dumping him? Sure, he's hurtin', but he's still smokin' and smilin'. Havin' a heart attack? He's good - in fact, he'll still show up for meetings and still keep drinking vodka. Havin' another heart attack? Yeah, okay, fate, whatever. Roger's mellow.

(But that Pete Campbell, him we don't like.)

Is he a rake? Well, yeah. A drunk? Um, you might say that. A wag? For sure - most of the best lines on the show are his. What's not to love? When you really step back from Mad Men and look at it objectively, Roger is the super-suave cocktail-tippin' swinger that Don's been made out to be from day one of the show. It's like in high school when it gradually sunk in on us all that Mick Jagger was a jerk and Keith Richards was the coolest.

In fact, if only it were Roger and not Cosgrove who was a struggling writer of pulp fiction, my idolization of him would be complete.

Unfortunately, this satori about Sterling comes just as his character is threatening to jump the shark. A recent plotline on the show had him being coerced into dropping LSD, which at first seemed to have no effect on him. He lounged on the coach, lit a cig, and mumbled, "Mr. Leary, I find your product boring." I wish they'd left it at that, with Roger being seemingly impervious to LSD's effects thanks to a lifetime's protective coating of gin. But sadly, he did start tripping, and by season's end, was turning into a full-fledged acidhead.

I do not want to see Roger Sterling turn into an acidhead. For reasons I just elucidated, he already had an elevated consciousness and doesn't need soul-scrambling drugs.

Here's hoping the writers abandon this plotline next season with no further explanation, as they are often wont to do. Raise your glasses.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Rounding Up the Rounder

or, Fries Is As Fries Does

by J.T. Dockery
(all snapshots by Carey Gough)

As previously reported, I shook up the Old Kentucky Home reality principle and relocated to Vermont. Not one to stay gone for long, I've been back in the state for a stretch of four months, and soon to make my way back to the northeast, so now seemed a good a time as any to speak here about some of the movements I've been making.

For one thing, I've already been busy blogging my poor little old heart out over at Covertly and By Snatches. In my State of the Union address, I touch upon a lot of what the Doc has been cooking. Rather than repeat statements from that document, I'll just suggest you click that link in the previous sentence, and let me expand further on that information here.

I've somewhat changed my mind about double-posting contemporary comics reviews. What I will do, as I am now, is link to them in context of running my mouth on other topics in this clubhouse. Oh, for one thing, the Stumptown comics festival award that included work of mine, Lies Grown Ups Told Me, did in fact win that award for best anthology.

Recently I've thrown words at Dunja Jankovic, Josh Bayer, R. Clint Colburn, and Max Clotfelter. What started as an odyssey in Transylvania Gentlemen with Tom Neely & Chris Cilla, Geoff Grogan, the fourth installment of the Studygroup 12 anthology, and then morphed into an interview with Julia Gfrörer in a Victorian Squares way, now takes the form it will take for what's left of the foreseeable future.

My original idea to toss contemporary comics reviews in the mix of JSH and I prattling on about whatever popped into our noggins was to break the chains of presenting comics in a comics-centric only context, a manner by which to fight the future, that part of the future which bends towards each subculture that is sinking more and more into isolated rabbit holes, which begets a kind of head up one's own bunghole reality principle, a tendency of the modern age of which this old syncretic boy does not approve. I am interested in everything, and it was my hope to get at other people interested in a wide variety of topics, to possibly get them interested in the new comics I find interesting and not speak to the choir of people who live and breathe comics (but not exclude them either, and, hell, invite them to the party where we talk about beer, bourbon, boxing other things literary). JSH's apparent response to toss in his own meditations on the Dregs of Comicdom into the mix of me investigating the current cream of the avant-garde crop was pitch perfect.

Speaking of being interested in everything, you'd probably take from my State of the Union and these words up until this moment, that I live and breathe comics. But, oh no, this roving reporter has been on many an adventure that don't have jack to do with the fine tradition of sequential art. You can peep a picture of me standing at the gates to the Rosine Cemetery where the final remains of Bill Monroe are at rest in western Kentucky at the State of the Union page. Besides exploring greater Muhlenberg county where a man can see Merle Travis's Nudie's suit and a few other things, I went on a journey with Kentucky born photographer Carey Gough, who currently resides in the UK (that's the United Kingdom not the University of Kentucky) who was back in the states for a spring time visit.

With the Stooges song "Death Trip" in my head, I woke up early the day we were to be headed out to Knoxville, Tennessee to follow the path that led ol' Hank William's last ride, in which he left this mortal coil in the back seat of a Cadillac in nineteen hundred and fifty three. From his last night in a hotel in Knoxville along the old highways to Oak Hill, WV where he was officially pronounced dead. There's a lot of confusion and contradiction in the story of Hank's death, and, with Carey's collection of documents and articles, we became like detectives as much as tourists finding our way, searching for landmarks and clues. We plan on collaborating on a book to document the trip, so I'll just let these words stand for now, use some of Carey's informal digital snapshots to decorate this particular missive (her "real" film photographs will be coming along later), and point you in the direction of Louisville, Kentucky's own Courier-Journal recent article on our Ms. Gough.

It seems strange to me that it's been over five years since I said to Colonel J.S. Holland that in the modern age the lounge act of Cheeseburger & Fries could trasnmutate into a back and forth blog, with each of us contributing, and the banter that the act always practiced before during and between songs could exist as articles. And it was Jeff that gave context to it all with his Transylvania Gentlemen concept. And then it all fucked back in on itself again into this Victorian Sqaures clubhouse, with the Transylvania Gentlemen notion itself transmutating into something that if I was aware of such particulars, I wouldn't be at liberty to speak of such particulars, sir. Then, just to prove when it seems like our patterns are predictable, JSH and I for different reasons spend the past year blogging for free less than ever, and it seems to hit the right note that in that space, Brine Manley (Eggroll to our Cheeseburger & Fries) suddenly starts up his own machine, which has been running in our absence. And suddenly we're both back here, which goes to show that between Creeps Time and the End Times, you just gotta hang onto our coattails.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cheeseburger in Paradise

by J.S. Holland

Sure, sure, everybody goes to Florida now and again, but can you really say you've done Florida when all you've done is visit Disney or get Spring-Break-silly in Ft. Lauderdale? I do love Jacksonville, Ocala and Miami, but for the most part when I say Florida, I especially mean the Gulf Coast - specifically the outlying islands and keys. On my most recent visit, I spent even less time on the mainland than ever before, choosing to seek my fortune on such exotic isles as Perico Island, Anna Maria Island, Longboat Key, Lido Key, Leffis Key, St. Armand's Key, Siesta Key, etc., etc. That's where the real action is, for those who have eyes to see.

My visits to Florida mix business with pleasure to such a high degree that I can no longer discern one from the other, like trying to determine where indigo becomes violet on the spectrum. We're taking our little hillbilly operation into the Sunshine State big time now, and in the words of that great man with green hair, we're gonna take 'em out a whole new door.

But there's a war on, and it's the good Florida vs. the bad Florida. Whose side are you on?

Something about the idle Bonobo-ish nature of Florida living tends to heighten the allegedly natural human trait to gossip. I can't tell you how many times I sat wearing an Arthur Dent placid expression while someone I respect natters on and on and on about so-and-so's love life, such-and-such's police record, and whatshisname's personal problems. If these weren't people I care about and don't wish to royally piss off, I'd put up the international "talk to the hand" sign and politely say, "please, drama queen, I don't need to hear this, it's none of my business."

And the newspapers are just as negative and gossipy. First thing I always do when I hit Interzone soil is get the papers, get the papers. And I'm always amazed at how almost every story on the front pages are bad news, lurid crime reports, and partisan bickering. Here's a clue, Flo-boys: you're a tourist state. Stop scaring the damn tourists. No one cares who shot who in the Embarcadero - save it for the back pages, or better yet, leave it out. I'm not an Eagles fan by any means, but Don Henley's "Dirty Laundry" tells it like it is, and the time for you to shut up and listen is now.

More ominous of all to me is the growing Floridian propensity for aggressive, obnoxious driving, especially on my beloved Longboat Key. Repeatedly I was subjected to angry Type-A personalities laying on the horn, giving me the finger, and flashing their brights in my eyes because I was going the speed limit. The speed limits on the islands are deliberately set to be what some would call agonizingly slow - 20-35 mph, and with darn good reason. You wanna live in paradise, Jack, you follow the rules. Get calm or go home. (This is, of course, a growing disturbing trend nationwide, and I'll be discussing that in more detail in an upcoming post, along with my typically elegant and proactive solution to the problem.)

Last but not least, I must sadly report that another issue near and dear to my heart, that of customer service, is at an all-time low here. My conviction that we are witnessing the end of one era and the birth of a new one is exemplified by the utter dysfunctionality of numerous restaurants and other businesses I frequented. Now that everybody's drinkin' the same Kool-Aid, it's time for an antidote - and we'll discuss that on the blog in the future as well.

But wait, isn't this a post about paradise? Oh yes.

Despite the aforementioned problems, I had the time of my life on the islands last week, and met some wonderful people who know a thing or two about a thing or two. I met all kinds of folks from other states - including Kentucky - many of whom were making their pilgrimmage to the FL Gulf for the very first time and instantly fell in love with the magic that is Pass-A-Grille, Clearwater Beach, Honeymoon Island, etc. We love Florida, and we're going to make it a better place, with or without Florida's help.

Two places that do rate five stars from me: Star Fish Co. in Cortez, and Columbia's at St. Armand's Key. Together as a set, these two places are a testament how to run a mom-and-pop joint and an upscale bistro. Star Fish Co. bombards you with signs as you come in, waggishly reminding you that you are now on Cortez Time, which moves very slow and very mellow-reenie (as a fervent observer of Creeps Time, I am so with them on this.) The service is friendly but the pace is laidback, and as long as you grok that's the rule as you go in, you'll have a fine time. And Columbia's gives the stellar opposite experience: lavish setting and swiftly fastidious personal attention. Cecelia, our lovely server, brought the salad materials quickly to our table and created our salads at tableside, right before our eyes. And the same happened when my date and I ordered a pitcher of Mojito: Cecilia set up a folding table beside us, and went through the process of conjuring up the elixir, muddling the mint and limes, while we watched. Not only was it the best Cuban food I've ever had (Columbia's originated in the historic Ybor district of Tampa) but the service was top-notch and the price jaw-droppingly reasonable. If I lived here year-round, I'd be a regular fixture at Columbia's.

I had some terrific grouper sandwiches too! Yeah, yeah, I know, the Corexit is bad stuff, but even as I don't cut any slack to BP for the ecological catastrophe they've unleashed, neither am I going to let anyone or anything change my lifestyle. If anything, it only magnifies my focus to live it up, and to achieve my goals before this body dissolves.

My quest for the ideal location to open a Tiki Bar - something that's been a back-burner plan for some time now - grows closer to fruition with each visit to Florida. I've also established connections to eventually set up a permanent JSH Outpost here to promote my peculiar little pulp-fiction books, primitive neo-expressionist paintings, and puzzling avant-garde lounge music.

Finally, I had a deep conversation with a cactus on Perico Island, who told me I was destined for greatness. Who am I to argue with a succulent?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Boone on the Fourth of July

by J.S. Holland

And now it begins.

My novel The Devil and Daniel Boone now has an official release date of July 4, 2012. Pre-ordering details will be made abundantly clear in the weeks to come. It will be available both as a tree-book and an e-book, for those who prefer their deathless literature to be composed of imaginary digital air, wirelessly delivered from the borg-brain Cloud.

Though The Devil and Daniel Boone is a historical novel in a Steampunk sort of sense, hardcore scholars will probably cringe at the utter lack of regard for strict accuracy the story displays - which is to say, about as much resemblance to pioneer days as Inglourious Basterds displayed to World War II days. But, my dears, that's why they call it fiction.

(Not that I believe everything the history books tell me, anyway.)

The story postulates frontiersmen Daniel Boone and Jim Bridger joining forces to make their way through Kentucky to blaze the Wilderness Trail for Richard Henderson's Transylvania Colony in 1775. But the longer they lurk in what they thought was previously unexplored territory, the more they find that others have already gotten here first. And as each of the three men pursue their own idealistic goals, the spectre of the approaching Revolutionary War threatens to throw their plans into disarray.

This is the first volley in a series of pulp-fiction-style JSH novels, as foretold last year. And literary snobs, be ye warned: we're talking here about a book by a guy who holds Harry Stephen Keeler in the highest regard, without a trace of camp or irony.