A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


TOF is trying an experiment. Can he load a video from his machine to the intertubes? We shall see. [The answer turned out to be no.]

The great classic movie COUNTERATTACK was made in 1964/65 by a groups of juniors and seniors at Notre Dame High School, Green Pond, PA, and was presented on the occasion of an evaluation by Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools at the request of the principal, Fr. Strassner. Much of what has changed in the last 50 years can be deduced from viewing this film.

From comments by four of the original cast: Gary Armitage, Jim Reilly, Jim Welsh, and yr. obt. svt.:

Earlier scenes (and a different "plot") had been shot in 8mm color film during the Fall. These scenes involved infiltrating German lines to blow up a bridge that the enemy might use to escape the encircling Allied armies. A pond and clever photography angles stood in for the river. The bridge was supposed to be just under the water to foil aerial recon, so we only had to build the approaches on the near side. However, lighting proved a problem and a coherent film could not be built from the good scenes.

Our watercooled machine gun (non-operative, dang it)
We learned the Fall footage was toast around December and told Fr. Strassner, "Sorry - maybe early 1965." He says, "Boys you're playing in the adult world now. You will produce a film." So we shook  him down for:
  • $$ 
  • time off from school, and
  • the football team's 16mm camera, since the football season was over 
Equipment, helmets, etc. consisted of parental souvenirs from WW2 plus various working rifles here and there. We purchased black powder and blank cartridges from a local gun shop. Most of the filming was done on the farm of our producer, Jim Reilly. (It was a Christmas Tree farm, of all things.) Hence, there was dynamite available for the special effects.

Our machine gun in the pillbox
We made the film in the late winter, which was not severe. In several scenes, for continuity, we had to use Ivory soap flakes to replace the snow that had in the meantime melted. We had a range safety officer whenever live ammo was being fired, and everyone double and triple checked to make sure they were using blanks. (Only one person held the live rounds.) In the 8mm color films you can see the muzzle smoke from the blanks, but not in the 16mm b/w.

I suppose there was some luck involved in that no one was hurt, but it wasn't dumb luck.

Round about April Fools Day, Gary and Jim R. pulled an all-nighter to cut the film. Robert Jennings did the title screen. He and Gary used an acid etched glass screen for rear projection which Gary learned about from reading 4SJ's Famous Monsters of Filmland. It seemed to take forever. Jim R. spliced and edited. Editing was easy, he said, since both Gary and he had the same vision for the film, having shot most of it.

Sure am glad they don't have a mortar.
Jim Welsh in back. George Savitske with 'noccs
Jim was a member of the Adventure Club
Once the film was made, we looped a sound track. This is not easy to do with silent film. Sound was recorded on a separate reel-to-reel tape recorder, which in the premier showing was kept in synch with the film by judicious pausing of the tape deck. We whistled, coughed, and spit into the mike to record the sound effects! I did most of that. Going "pooh!" into the mike sounded remarkably like an explosion when played back. The Great Escape provided the theme music. I suppose we could have had trouble over that. We even had a script, in English and German, although during the premier Mrs. Marschall, one of the parents in the gym/auditorium, could be heard clucking, "Ach, nein!" so one supposes the translation was not the greatest.

The tape reel is now lost or, more precisely, has not been found. So the film is now silent by default. In the event the film ever gets uploaded, TOF's Faithful Reader is advised to go "pooh!" at the proper moments while watching.
Let's aim our mortar right about there, where Savitske is.
Home-made mortar in background.
We presented Counterattack at a required student assembly during the Middle States visit scheduled for April 6 - 8. At the end, there was stunned silence from the rest of the student body, then an eruption of cheers and applause.

The present film has a few infelicities in the early part due to the transcribing. What TOF has now is a DVD copy of a VHS tape shot off a movie screen projection of the original 16mm film. So there is a moment of snow, some out-of-focus segments, and some sprocket jerking; but things settle out.

The film involves a US squad led by a lieutenant that digs in on a hillside during a general retreat in the face of a German counterattack. They find a machine gun nest at the bottom of the hill with two gunners who are wondering where the hell everybody went. The LT tells them they have to bottle up this pass so the Germans can't break through. It's probably a suicide mission. Everyone is properly enthusiastic.

The Germans attack. The LT says, good thing they don't have a mortar. Then the mortar starts laying in rounds, so the LT sends two men -- Jim Reilly and Jim Welsh -- to sneak through at night and take out the mortar. They do this, though Reilly is killed. Then there is more attacking and more defending. There seem to be more Germans than there actually were in the cast because we played multiple roles. TOF was killed twice! One of his roles was the German lieutenant, and he can be seen initially directing the mortar to lay in the fire.

 The last scene shows the lieutenant's helmet as a grave marker and American soldiers walking past (George, Jim, Jim, Red, Dan, and the rest having gained them the time for a counter-attack) a voice says, I wonder who that guy was. Freeze frame. End.

Filmic Lessons Learned

Our beloved pill box. At the bottom of a hill, with no easy
escape for the gunners. Hmm.
In the walking-past scenes, there were only a few guys but they circled the camera and walked past again and again.

We had not learned that things always look faster on film and therefore one ought to move more slowly when being filmed. Hence, the sometime herky-jerky looking motions.

It's "lights, action, camera," not "lights, camera, action." A couple times actors start the scene from obvious standing starts.

At about 6:24 into the movie, Red Scannell learns the truth of the old adage about not spitting into the wind.

Our beloved pill box being blown to smithereens along with
gunner Carl Symmons whose immaculate hand will
protrude from the resultant debis.
If you are going to blow up a laboriously-built pill box, you only get one chance to film the scene.

German Wehrmacht greatcoats can be made by taking ordinary greatcoats and dying them in a boiling cauldron with dark green dye, then sewing on Wehrmacht rank badges and such.

Audiotape has "stretch" but film is ratcheted. Therefore the one will get out of synch with the other.

Stuntmen? We don' need no steenkin' stuntmen!
Red, executing forward somersault in media res.

At 12:48 in the film, Red learns that if you are in a fox hole and a grenade lands nearby, standing up is not an optimum strategy. The explosion sends him into a perfect forward somersault down the hill.

(Red was the de facto stuntman. In the original 8mm color film, he dove into the pond fully uniformed in order to swim the satchel charge out to the (faux) bridge.)

Kids in 1964/65 could do things that kids of 2014/15 cannot dream of. Today, a kid can get in deep trouble for biting his lunch sandwich into the form of a handgun. 

The Cast: Where be they now?

TOF is collecting info where he can, and will update this as he is able. If TOF's Faithful Reader knows any of these folks, or knows Kevin Bacon (whose connectivity is legendary), pass the word that their vitae are wanted.
  • Jim Reilly, producer and editor
    Jim Reilly became a City and Regional Planner. Had two boys (both doing well). Served 25 years in the medical corp, Army Reserves, including service during two wars. Published over a dozen articles related to planning in refereed journals. Married, divorced and happily remarried. Retired and now the editor of the International Society of City and Regional Planners publication, cleverly titled, the ISOCARP Review. 

  • George Savitske, later a colonel
    The LT, George Savitske later became, like his father, a colonel in a real army, in Vietnam.

  • Dan Hommer, once of the Adventure Club
    Dan Hommer became a researcher in brain science at the NIH in Bethesda until his recent death. He had done seminal research into the brains of alcoholics.

  • Jim Welsh
    Left: Jim Welsh, leading the infiltration

Red Scannell, surveying his domain
  • Red Scannell taught drama in high school for many years before selling English textbooks for McGraw Hill. When last heard from, he was living in the Seattle area.
  • Gary Armitage was mostly behind the camera, so no shot for him. Married Stephanie Mullen and has 5 children and 1 grandchild. He's run University and College Conference Centers since 1974 and taught in the Hospitality Management Program at the University of New Hampshire for 15 years. He is currently Director of the Leadership Institute in Lincoln, NH, and Executive Producer for the Wonderland Films Horror Film entitled "Chain of Souls." Still making movies! 
    Joe Dobrota, hiding behind cast titles
    • Robert Jennings
    • Thomas Fisher
    • Joe Dobrota

    • TOF, downy-cheeked agent of world domination
      Left: Sterling Carter, of the Adventure Club

      Mike Flynn became a quality engineer and industrial statistician, published a few articles in general topology and applied statistics. Worked as a quality management consultant on several continents and published several science fiction novels and short stories. Married now for forty-odd years, some of them very odd. Two grown children and three grandchildren.
    • Sterling Carter graduated from Univ. of Scranton, became a salesman and lived in California, a beloved husband, father, and grandfather before his untimely death.

    Carl Symmons, under debris. RIP
    • Tony Ingraffea, a Peace Corps veteran, is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell.
    • Carl Symmons
    • Frank "The Wildman" Stephans

    No students were harmed in the making of this movie.

    TOF's efforts to upload the movie have run into a size limit.

    Viz., The video is five times larger than the limit.
    TOF must learn to make the video into five smaller pieces
    or something.

    Monday, September 8, 2014

    Mission: Tomorrow

    Hot off the press!!
    Ladies and Gentlemen, Bryan Thomas Schmidt presents the (tentative) Table of Contents for Mission: Tomorrow, coming from Baen Books in 2015.
    18 stories, 100,938 words of great science fiction! All original except for Silverberg and Gunn.
    Concept: Science Fiction writers imagine the future of space exploration in a world no longer dominated by NASA. What might it look like? Private or public? Stories of space exploration, travel and adventure.
    “Tombaugh Station” by Robin Wayne Bailey
    “Excalibur” by Jack McDevitt
    “The Race For Arcadia” by Alex Shvartsman
    “A Walkabout Among The Stars” by Lezli Robyn
    “Sunrise On Mercury” by Robert Silverberg
    “Tribute” by Jack Skillingstead
    “The Ultimate Space Race” by Jaleta Clegg
    “Orpheus Engines” by Chris McKitterick
    “Around The NEO in 80 Days” by Jay Werkheiser
    “On Edge” by @Sarah A. Hoyt
    “Airtight” by Michael Capobianco
    “Ten Days Up” by Curtis C. Chen
    “Windshear” by Angus McIntyre
    “Malf” by David D. Levine
    “Panic Town” by Michael Flynn
    “The Rabbit Hole” by James Gunn
    “Rare (Off Earth) Elements” by Ben Bova
    “Tartaros” by Mike Resnick

    TOF notices his title has been shortened from "In Panic Town, On the Backward Moon" to simply "Panic Town".  Not complaining.

    Sunday, September 7, 2014

    First Way, Part II: Two Lemmas Make Lemma-aid

    TOF's Dilemma

    We are now ready to prove two lemmas regarding motion,  hence... dilemma. ROFL. Never mind. We interrupt this pun to stay on focus. Besides, there are a couple of initial propositions.

    Those who have been following these maunderings would be well-advised to read
    lest they lose themselves in the woods. First, we have to get a word out of our way.

    Thursday, September 4, 2014

    The Journeyman: the Naming of Names

    There are many peoples and cultures on World, and Teodorq sunna Nagarajan will encounter most of them in his journeys. On the western continent, where he starts out, the peoples run from west to east:
    the hillmen in the western mountains abutting the Mud Ocean with its quicksand and jagged rocks, the plainsmen on the Great Grass, the shortgrassmen on (duh?) the shortgrass prairie, the swampmen in the paiutes along the southern edge of the continent beyond which are the badlands known as the tar formations, the ironmen (who wear armor) from the high thoogu atop the Great Plateau, the forestmen in the Eastern Woods, and the coastalmen who are fisherfolk along the Unquiet Sea. Recent intruders from across the Unquiet Sea are the overseamen, the "greenies," so-called because their ancestors had been genetically engineered with chlorophyll to "drink sunlight." At one point in camp, Teo and his companions are talking about this and Teo says:

    "Swampers like Chum over there, they’s short and wide and real dark and got yellow hair. Us plainsmen, being the best of all men, are a noble bronze. Sammi’s people are all pale, like coastals, but they got fat cheeks and slitty eyes. The ironmen, like Asherkai, are golden-skinned with red hair. So that some folk comes along green doesn’t startle the son of Nagarajan. It is what it is.”

    So it is evident that not only the greens have been genetically engineered by the ancients.

    Now, a marker of different cultures is different naming. Sven Svensson is unlikely to be Igbo and Nkieruke Okoye is unlikely to be a Swede. So let's take a look at the names of some characters in the Journeyman series, primarily in Against the Green and On the Shore of the Unquiet Sea. Has TOF succeeded in distinguishing them reasonably well, always allowing for intermarriage and/or diversity within each group. Not all named characters were completely identified. A few of the derivations have been given.

    The Ships That Sail the Air

    Every writer of fantasy and science fiction is either Irish or ought to be, as there is something SFnal about the Irish imagination. In the Annals of Ulster, Annals of Tigernach, Annals of Clonmacnoise, and the Annals of the Four Masters, as well as in some manuscripts of the Lebar Gábala there is an odd story about ships sailing in the sky in (depending on which annal) the year 743, 744, or 748.  The Annals of Ulster, for example, state laconically that “Ships with their crews were seen in the air.” (The entry is for 749, but the annals were one year ahead at that point.) This is replicated in the Four Masters at 743 as "Ships with their crews, were plainly seen in the sky this year." It's listed right after "Congal, son of Eigneach, lord of the Airtheara, was slain at Rath Esclair, by Donnboo, son of Cubreatan." One of those two notes was more of a stop-the-presses man-bites-dog kind of thing, and TOF does not mean the Fell Deed of Donnboo, which TOF cannot even write without giggling. What a name for a barbarian hero. Donnboo. But we digress.

    Like all good writers, the annalist leaves the reader wanting to know more.  Ships in the air? And their crews? WTF? Early medieval zeppelins? UFOs?

    An account in the Book of Ballymote states regarding Congalach, a tenth-century high king of Ireland:
    Congalach son of Mael Mithig was at the assembly of Tailtiu one day when he saw a ship moving through the air. Then one of them [i.e. the ship's crew] cast a spear at a salmon, so that it came down in front of the assembly. A man from the ship came after it. When he seized one end of it from above, a man seized it from below. "You are drowning me!" said the man aloft. "Let him go," said Congalach. Then he is released, and swims upward away from them.

    There is a marvelous invention here: That the atmosphere is an ocean and the ground is the bottom of a sea, and all earthly things are like reefs and fish. Then aliens come along for the fishing and one of them is almost drowned by a curious earthling holding on to the end of a fishing spear, until the wise ard ri bids him let go to save the alien's life. A brief, but satisfying story of first contact.

    This version was recounted in the poem De mirabilibus Hibernie (On the Wonders of Ireland), by Bishop Patrick of Dublin (1074-84) as the nineteenth marvel De naui que uisa est in aere, “Of a ship glimpsed in the air.” The bishop writes:
    A king of the Irish once attended an assembly
    With quite a crowd, a thousand in beautiful order.
    They see a sudden ship sail the sky,
    And someone who casts a spear after fish:
    It struck the ground, and swimming he retrieved it.
    Who can hear of this without praising the Lord above?
    Later, the story was transferred to Clonmacnoise. Seamus Heaney wrote a poem of this version:

    "The Annals Say" -- Seamus Heaney
    The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
    Were all at prayers inside the oratory
    A ship appeared above them in the air.

    The anchor dragged along behind so deep
    It hooked itself into the altar rails
    And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

    A crewman shimmied and grappled down the rope
    And struggled to release it. But in vain.
    ‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

    The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
    They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
    Out of the marvellous as he had known it.
    Throughout all these versions, from the brief one-liner in the Annals of Ulster through the fuller account in the Book of Ballymote to the transfer of location to Clonmacnoise, TOF is struck by the sheer matter-of-factness of the accounts. Oh, by the way, ships with their crews were plainly seen in the sky this year... There's no gosh-wow who'd-believe-this! as if ships that sail the air were two-a-penny.

    People always make up stories. But why would they make up this particular story? It seems pointless. No great deeds are done, no hair-raising adventures. Ships were seen in the air and... moving right along an abbot died and a king was slain in battle and... so on.  As far as TOF can tell (which is not very far) this was a single event told and retold. It's first telling was not precise as to year, but it's not as if we find it repeated in the 800s or the 900s or earlier in the 600s or 500s. If ships were seen in the air, it's not as if they kept coming back. It's on a par with the strange milky rain that settled on the grass in the 1220s and killed the cows that ate the grass and the people who drank the milk the cows gave.

    Monday, September 1, 2014

    A Placid Day on Old South Side

    Yesterday, as every year since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, the Sicilians of St. Anthony of Padua parish in Easton PA have manned up and hoisted a 200-pound statue on their shoulders and paraded around South Side with an Italian oom-pah band while people run out from their houses and pin money to the banner. Go figure. It's enough to give Baptists conniption fits.

    When TOF was the TOFling, they would stop at a house across the street from his and oom-pah until Mr. or Mrs. Bosco would come out and do the honors. South Side has changed since then. It was once called German Hill, and the Germans were none too happy about Italians moving in. Now, on TOF's block are blacks and Arabs, Irish and left-over Germans. But last year the Lebanese family -- which attends Our Lady of Lebanon -- went out and pinned money, so who knows? Anybody can play!

    The parade starts at the Castel di Lucio club a couple blocks from TOF's stone-built fortress of solitude. It sat on the edge of the Projects for many a year, but the projectors generally left the Sicilians alone.

    St. Placido, a sixth century monk, is the patron of Castel di Lucio, Sicily, "from which many Easton area residents trace their ancestry."

    He ain't heavy. He's my ancestral patron saint.

    San Placido, looking especially placid.

    For those interested, there are additional photos here.

    Saturday, August 30, 2014

    The Lizards of Nagrafki-Uri

    A discussion on the blog of Mr. John Wright mentioned a stunning lack of space lizards in modern SF. Although this contention was quickly rebutted by others, it reminded TOF that back in high school, he had started writing a grand space opera involving Lizards, Spiders, Humans, protoplasmic blobs, and sundry other folk in a great cosmic game of conquest and revenge.

    A brisk search of The Olde Files resurrected a folder containing several hundred carbons and originals of this primitive effort. The prose is somewhat prolix:
    Great throbs of power surged through the vessel and even the mighty structure of the colossal ship shuddered slightly as the titanic engines mounted in the rear spewed shorn atoms into the endless void. 
    Okay, so it's a big ship, right? Well, it was the Sixties and TOF was young. One sign of adolescent thought is the deification of great size, of bigness-as-such.