Friday, August 22, 2014

Yesterday and Tomorrow?

Dr. Mallard on NCIS can determine just about anything about a deceased person based on the condition of the body when it's found. Although his abilities are probably exaggerated, forensic pathologists really can gain a lot of information by examining the internal organs of someone who has passed away. That science began in the late 1700s, and Tessa Harris tells the story of Thomas Silkstone, a young Philadelphian who travels to London during colonial days to study with London's top surgeons and "anatomists."

Thomas has been asked to examine the corpse of Sir Edward Crick, whose death gave the impression of having been brought about by poison. He is happy teaching students at the college where he also studies under Dr. Carruthers and does not really wish to enmesh himself in the affairs of Sir Edward, his sister Lady Lydia Farrell and her husband Michael. But Lady Lydia is beautiful, and the death presents a mystery indeed. Thomas agrees, but he finds that those who would rather keep Sir Edward's manner of passing a secret will take steps to be sure it remains so -- even if that means removing a certain colonial-born anatomist.

Harris has much of the Georgian-era mores and cultural features down very well, although she doesn't go so far down that path as to make the characters too remote and unrelatable. She seems to have done her research about the era and about its level of medical knowledge, although a couple of dyspeptic Amazon reviews claim otherwise. Thomas is the best-drawn character, as many of the other leads simply exist to react to him and give him someone to whom he may react. The mystery offers a couple of appropriately plausible red herrings before coming to a not entirely-unexpected conclusion, although it puts one twist or two more than necessary in the road on the way there. The Silkstone books have a promising beginning as a period mystery series that we can hope Harris maintains.
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One of the weaknesses of what's called "end times fiction" in religious publishing circles is how to include enough esoteric details the pre-, post- or a-millennial audience wants to see about the interpretations of Biblical prophecy without drowning the story in so much of that kind of minutiae that a general audience will check out rather than wade through it.

Another is that it's often very poorly written. Former political consultant Joel C. Rosenberg's The Last Jihad series largely overcomes the first problem and makes a decent enough stab at the second to rank it well above the industry standard "Left Behind" series. The Copper Scroll is the fourth book of the series, so this note may spoil some of the earlier books if you decide to read them.

Former presidential advisor Jon Bennett and Erin McCoy, his aide and also a CIA officer, have been able to marry each other without an international crisis wrecking the day. Their honeymoon, on the other hand...

The Bennetts find themselves caught in a murderous web of intrigue surrounding the words of the "Copper Scroll," found in the Qumran caves in the late 1940s along with the other Dead Sea Scrolls. An Israeli archaeologist believes he has keys to deciphering the scrolls mysterious directions to immense hidden treasure. Government leaders in Israel and the United States are interested, and the remaining leadership of areas devastated by space-borne firestorm in the previous book are looking at the treasure for the resources it could give them in their recovery. Who will learn the Copper Scroll's secrets first, and what will the consequences be?

Rosenberg does a much better job than "Left Behind" authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins at creating a real world out of which his eschatological plotline may develop. He keeps the supernatural elements at a minimum and his research is put together better (his description of the Copper Scroll is pretty much accurate, for example). His action scenes are more realistic and have more punch. The characters are still pretty stock and cookie-cutter, but if The Copper Scroll hadn't been published by the religious-book outfit Tyndale House, there's no reason it couldn't sit on an airport bookstand alongside any dozen secularly-published thrillers. Maybe Rosenberg's apocalyptic worldview is off-target and maybe it isn't, but it's certainly no sillier than any idea Dan Brown has ever inflicted on paper and it's a better read anyway.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

What You Heard

The folks at Today I Found Out recently included an examination of the phrase many people believed to have been uttered by then-Governor and Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, "I can see Russia from my house." Which Tina Fey said while portraying the governor in a sketch, but which Palin herself never said.

Of course, anyone who got their news from the news instead of Saturday Night Live would have known that to be true, no matter what they might think of Sarah Palin. To me, the interesting thing is that this item is featured on the site, which is generally dedicated to finding out interesting bits of history and correcting some common misconceptions, even though it happened only six years ago.

The internet, her memory is short.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pay to Play

There are some ruffled artistic feathers and a bit of a buzz because it may be that the National Football League has asked acts which perform at the Super Bowl halftime show to kick a little back -- either from whatever tour they're on after the show or from some other source.

Often, the Super Bowl act isn't compensated although its expenses may be covered. The NFL's position is, apparently, that acts should be grateful for the exposure they get by being on the halftime show and should be willing to share a token of that gratitude. This makes perfect sense. We all remember how Paul McCartney became a huge megastar after his show in 2005, and how a year later an appearance by a band of English senior citizens made the Rolling Stones a household name.

Although our instinct is to dismiss this action as a fumble-fingered grab for money by a group of team owners whose stupidity grows from their cupidity, there may be something to the idea in general. At the Super Bowl earlier this year, the performers were Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. If I'd have watched that, I'd have figured somebody owed me money too.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Everything Old Is New

Like these computers, fit inside antique wooden furniture

Monday, August 18, 2014

Science -- Always Fun

At The Week, a writer has assembled five fun science experiments that are at least 100 years old. I suspect that something like this may one day creep into Mythbusters; co-host Jaime Hyneman already has the proper era mystache -- er, mustache.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Worthwhile Words from Fellow Okies

Charles Hill at Dustbury opines on added costs and the minimum wage and such.

Jennifer at Are You There, God? It's Me, Generation X offers a wonderful testimony.

Amanda at The Lady Okie recounts some of her medical mission trip to Nicaragua, beginning with part 1 here.

And the Blog Oklahoma people probably need to go through their blogroll and link list to clear out a bunch of dead links.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Hauntingly Familiar

Many times props built for or used in movies are one-and-done affairs. But not all the time, and this list at Mental Floss shows 10 fairly famous props that you may have seen more than once, whether or not you noticed it.

The reuse of movie plots, ideas or lack of ideas, of course, has been noticeable for some time.