Thursday, April 30, 2009

Manifold destiny

Gatsby's green light
From Recess Appointment, chapter 3 of Iridescence:

No reach back into ancient natural history can resist the temptation of the near emotional future. You will believe in that orgiastic future no matter how badly the recent personal past distorts your view of current global reality. It eluded you then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow you will run faster, stretch out your arms further. And if you are lucky enough to have noticed the trompe-l'œil of your own creation, you will realize this truth: No amount of traversing the ancient and the modern, the personal and the global, will separate fear from desire. At any scale the topology of anxiety and longing dictates an invariable outcome. Such is the manifold destiny of the searching soul. Equal and opposite emotions, one and inseparable, comprise a single surface in the Klein bottle of the human heart in conflict with itself.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Memory and redshift

Memory and redshiftNo less than their sensory counterparts, the waves of personal remembrance obey Doppler's law. The mind in motion never quite perceives what passes before the mind at rest. Emotional recall obeys the forces that bend the peal of a passing bell and warp the color of distant stars. Race toward the past if you will; yesterday recedes faster than your memory can recall. As you reel backward, redshift stretches memory beyond your field of perception, till truth dissipates in spasms of invisible heat. Race instead toward the future, and impatient anticipation crashes against the the invariant pace at which tomorrow arrives. Against that blackness you will see no more than purple tendrils not quite taking full form, the fleeting projections of things yet to come.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jared Diamond, author of "Guns, Germs and Steel" and "Collapse"

The Assault of Guam (1944) (Part IV)

A day or two after we landed on Guam, at about 11:30 p.m. on July 25, 1944, those of us at the Command Post that had been established at the base of the steep cliff near the beaches, heard a cacophony of machine-gun fire and explosive bursts coming from the top of the cliff.

Mixed and confused reports, some frantic, reached our radios. In the midst of this turmoil, a forward observer stumbled down the cliff to report that the enemy had attacked, and “all hell” had broken loose on our front lines.

Upon receiving this alarming information, we requested that fragmentation hand grenades be forwarded from our ammunition dump several hundred yards to the rear. In anticipation of such an attack, we should have already had them on hand.

To our consternation, after a painfully long delay, grenades arrived, but they were smoke grenades, useless in our situation, rather than those that broke into steel fragments after being thrown.

As the noise of battle came closer, I received the following order from the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Marlowe Williams: “Van get up there and see what’s going on.”

So I called for my radio operator, who doubled as a bugler, and we started in darkness to ascend the bluff, scarcely knowing where we were but knowing that the way was “up.”

Enemy mortar shells, aimed at rear installations, passed overhead, but more dangerous to us was our own artillery, which was responding to urgent calls from the front lines.

A number of rounds, failing to clear the crest, burst not far from us. Turning around, I saw no sign of my radioman, so alone, I continued slowly on my mission.

The front lines

At the break of dawn, I reached C Company in the front lines. At this location our position was intact, but the enemy had bypassed our positions and elsewhere had penetrated our lines, using ravines as protection.

It was apparent that their objective was to reach the beach in the rear in order to destroy our artillery and the supply dumps. I arrived in time to see the enraged company gunnery sergeant pick up a discarded Samurai sword and kill the remaining enemy soldier.

I then borrowed a company radio and contacted headquarters in the rear to report that the line at that point had held.

As the sun rose, and the fog of battle lifted, the magnitude of this attack became apparent.

It had not been a so-called “Banzai” attack, led by sword-wielding officers, rushing forward to certain death. It was an organized counter-attack, carefully planned and well-executed against hopeless odds.

The enemy’s main blow was against our center, Company B, commanded by my good friend Capt. Don Beck. From his command position that night, he watched as the Japanese, taking advantage of their knowledge of the terrain, came down the ravines, overpowering his command.

Enemy shells, as well as our supporting mortar and artillery shells, were falling near his position. [While wounded at least once, Capt. Beck commanded Company B in all three invasions: Bougainville, Guam and (later) Iwo Jima. I know of no other Marine to remain in command of an infantry company through three such ordeals.]

Editor's note: First Published in the Sentinel-News, Shelbyville, Kentucky, April 8, 2009
© 2009 Ron Van Stockum

Friday, April 17, 2009

Xortal-Times Turn (Chapter 1, part 1)

It was noon.  The sky was a bony cold gray and the air heavy.  An old outdoor thermometer hung on a fence post, its metallic base rusted and bent.

A good day to be in a cave, thought Tony as he stepped out of his vintage Volkswagen Beetle and slipped into his jacket.  He parked next to the fence and noted the long temperature gauge...52º F.  "Warm weather for January, eh bub?"  he said as his friend Vern stepped out of the car on the other side.

"Wait around awhile, it'll change," quipped Vern, tucking his head into his hunting cap, ear flaps still folded up inside.

Both friends turned toward the side of the clapboard frame house and Tony, reaching the outer basement access door, leaned down and swung the heavy, angled wooden door first up and then over to his right.   Vern snapped hold of the door with the metal clip on the ordinarily free hanging chain attached to the side of the house.  Strong winds were common enough to warrant this protection from premature closure.

The basement was part of an 1870's home and hence only undercut a quarter of the house now sitting above it.  Since it was only 14' by 14' wide, Tony was tempted to believe that it was the basement to the original pioneer home carved out from the forest in 1795 when his eastern ancestors traveled down Clear Creek from the point where Harrods Trace crossed on its way from the Kentucky River to the fort at the Falls.

He and Vern pulled the worn cardboard box of caving gear from atop the bare earthen wall of one side.  Vern pulled out the helmets as Tony supported the wet, weak bottom of the box.  The acrid smell of spent carbide permeated the gear and, mixed with the dank air of the basement, created a seemingly alien atmosphere.  Yet to the boys it was a pleasant smell, the smell of life and safety and hope in the power of men to advance into the hostile world below.  They climbed out of the basement with a sense of muted excitement, a sober eagerness that precedes physical exertion.  It would take great effort to dig into the karst window, without the certitude of finding a passable cavity below.  Even if found, it was likely that such a passage would be a belly crawl, pinching out in an unpassable convergence of stone.

At 26 (Vern, born on June 17, and Tony on August 6), both boys were strong with youth.  Tony was thicker in bone and muscle and wore a down-turning mustache across his face.  Vern was taller, but not by much, and sported a light beard.  His features were otherwise aquiline, if a little pudgy.  Tony's features were angular and his eyes were set far back below bony protruding eyebrows.  Vern had blue eyes, Tony hazel.  Vern was already losing his hair in a broad swath atop his head.  In this, he was like his father.

"Here you go, bub," said Tony, dropping the box on the blue table on the clapboard house porch.  "Start pulling out the about a cola?"

"Diet, man," said Vern.  He was a diabetic, although diet cola seemed to be his only conscious accommodation to the disease.  Cola and the shots, that is.  Vern loved to grin at Tony as he dropped his trouser-leg, brought out a needle and syringe, pierced the rubber seal on a vial of insulin, and literally smacked the needle into his thigh.  The thought raised goose bumps on Tony's arms, the sight just paralyzed him.  "Here man, give it a shot!"  taunted Vern, thrusting out the spent cartridge toward Tony.  It was a sliver thin needle and that made it even more frightening.

Out from the box came the caving gear.  The hats were ordered from a caving store and looked something like old Prussian helmets without a spike.  They were held firmly on the head by a four point strap.  Ground mud in numerous cuts and scrapes in the hard cap plastic testified as to the need for helmets and tight straps.  It also testified to the two years of experience both cavers now claimed.  Mounting brackets on the front of the helmets would accept the carbide lamps.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Xortal, a novel

"Xortal" is a work of Science Fiction. It is my third novel in that genre. I have a background and interest in natural history and explore such things in my writings.

"Knowledge" is the first chapter in "Xortal." I look forward to posting portions of additional chapters in the future.....thanks, Reginald Bareham

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Xortal-Knowledge (Introduction)

I write this story out of fear, punishing anxiety which keeps me bottled up in this dark, dank place lest I even more grossly affect the progress of that without. My friend lies dead, yet I know that he lives. Xortal, I fear, is lost but I am condemned to await its return if I am ever to escape my predicament, much less understand it. I wear the chest pack frequently still, going back on regular forays seeking Xortal. But I do not dare interact for fear of more greatly alienating my being, or worse, threatening my current existence.

So here, in this tomb of my time, I write the tale which will record my true passage through life. It will serve, should any attempt to follow, as a warning and it may yet serve as a guide for those with the courage, or foolishness, to seek this passage again. Although knowledge is a hollow substitute for human companionship, it has proven to be my only friend in exile. A friend that I embrace now more than ever in the awful loneliness that I suffer. It is that companion which, as its reward, will take on a new life in these pages.

So I collect data, increase my knowledge and catalogue it in my growing mind. Regardless, the bronze sled is gone and that can only mean that the isle of Avalon has again risen. The Tor is again a beacon. What terrors will come only Xortal knows, and only Xortal can command.

Listen to the rocks!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The rainbow as refracted truth

By arc or by whole, the rainbow reveals refracted truth. Nearby rain and distant mist have equal power to vaporize visible light into bands of color. A single sheet of water, slicing through sunlight, projects the full spectrum against the sky's inverted bowl. If you are lucky enough to be standing far enough from the point where solar brilliance meets suspended water, you will see sunlight scattered into a full ring of color.

MeteorLike metaphorical truth, visible light rarely reveals its constituent parts so regularly and so predictably. Depart ever so modestly from the axis on which truth or light turns, and your eyes will no longer honor one focus. And if you should look instead at an object propelled through the sky, gravity's rainbow will no longer appear to you in closed form. It will rise — and fall — according to a trajectory that will never connect the beginning of truth with its end.

And this is to say nothing of the most treacherous trick of the light, the double deception that awaits time's pilgrim. Race toward the past if you will; yesterday recedes faster than your memory can recall. As you reel backward, redshift stretches memory beyond your field of perception, till truth dissolves in waves filled with heat rather than light. Race instead toward the future, and impatient anticipation crashes against the invariant pace at which tomorrow arrives. Against that blackness you will see no more than purple tendrils not quite taking full form, the fleeting projections of things yet to materialize.

RainbowPivotal events therefore mark the sections of our lives, slicing at particular points of time through the whole of the truth and leaving us no more enlightened than the objects we trace across our field of vision at speeds well below that of light. Catch them, and you will be rewarded momentarily by the mirage of control. Miss them altogether, and you will rue forever the path that both of you, protagonist and projectile, must follow.

Full-circle rainbow