Sunday, June 30, 2013

Astro Turf offers and inside look at the culture of the aerospace industry that's highly entertaining, offers unique insight, but is also subjective


Satan worshipers, left-over Nazis, kooky dreamers , communist sympathizers, war mongers and male chauvinist pigs - that's who the Founding Fathers of the U.S. space program were -- or at least that's the impression you might come away with from a read of ASTRO TURF by daughter-of-a-rocket-engineer M.G. LORD.

But is it true? Sure it is - or at least the case can be made, and I can find little to fault Lord's take on the brilliant-but-motley crew who were the first key players in early rocketry (although she gives painfully short shrift to father of American rocketry, Robert H. Goddard).

I also can't disagree that after World War II the U.S. Military gave a free pass to German rocket scientists who almost certainly had committed - or at least knowingly aided and abetted - horrendous war crimes in Nazi Germany.

Add to all of the above: An exclusive, male-dominated, female-scorning, uber-sexist aerospace industry culture. Whether it was a contractor, such as McDonnell Douglas, or government agency, such as NASA or Jet Propulsion Laboratory, men were from Mars and women were from Venus - and the planetary gulf was not to be crossed. If you were a man, you were in a position of power - if you were a woman, you were a secretary, a sex object or a subservient computer-data entry worker.

Through the relentlessly feminist eye of M.G. Lord the penis-shaped rockets which thrust the human race into space were the ultimate phallic symbol of a world ruled by men, hell-bent on conquering new worlds - but mostly the Communist enemy.

Lord comes at her subject not as an objective journalist and social observer but as an insider for whom the development of the aerospace industry was personal - her father was a cog in that testosterone-drenched machine that ground away at conquering cold outer space while turning a frigid, cold shoulder to their wives and children at home.

In a sense, Lord's nuclear family was a fractal iteration of that culture which would build nuclear bombs and load them onto rockets. The development of missile technology was actually more about the macho posturing of war than advancement of knowledge for the good of all mankind.

So this book is as much personal memoir as it is sociological study. For me, this is where Lord opens herself up to some constructive criticism. Lord has clearly never gotten over the pain of what she perceives as her father's emotional abandonment of her and her mother. Her pain is exacerbated by the fact that her mother suffered greatly from a cruel case of cancer which killed her too early.

Lord eventually became deeply estranged from her father, only bridging the gap when he grew old, finally retired and approached his own death. Part of the rift had to do with her father's extreme social and political conservatism. Lord matured into an ardent liberal feminist.

All this is well and good, but it necessarily detracts from her status as an objective analyst of what truly shaped the culture of space exploration in America. Lord makes a good case, but it's highly anecdotal and deeply emotional. Certainly, that the first two-thirds of the twentieth century - across all culture and industries - was a male dominated society is not under dispute. Thus, it's hardly blowing the lid off the nose cone to reveal that the aerospace industry culture was more of the same.

(Special Note: Feminists have long pointed out, rightfully so, that accusing women of being "emotional" or "hysterically emotional" is a favorite "go-to smear" to denigrate women and dismiss them as unreliable. So my comments might seem like a "here we go again moment" -- because here I am -- you know, a male -- describing part of Lord's thesis as "emotional." But no one should give me any of that crapola today - anyone reading Astro Turf will be confronted with its often highly emotional tone; the still moldering resentment Lord holds for her father is more than obvious - she wrote it, she owns it - so don't kick it back on me).

I am also tempted to say, "Hey M.G. -- I'll trade you your dad for mine any day! My dad drank a quart of Windsor Canadian whiskey every single day (and never missed a drinking day), smoked two packs a day, worked in his grocery store from sun up to sun down, never said a single word to me that I can remember, never played with me, never took me fishing, never took us on a vacation; he lived in the same home with me as a total stranger, and croaked when I was 16. My mother also suffered a slow, cruel death from breast cancer to boot."

Your dad was a rocket scientist!

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE MAN IN THE NOTHING CHAMBER

Friday, June 21, 2013

Machines of Easy Virtue is a throwback to 1940s-style detective novels with a science fiction spin that reads fast and satisfies even faster


So here is a writer who trims the fat from his prose; it's all lean. The dialogue is snappy, the sentences crisp, the observations pithy, the action scenes crackle up, explode then dissipate rapidly leaving no aftertaste -- just good clean fun.

Well, maybe not so clean when you consider the robot orgies.

When the author dubbed his yarn MACHINES OF EASY VIRTUE he meant really easy. Believe me, these anatomically correct androids come out of the factory generously equipped. The technicians didn't scrimp on the screwdrivers, if you know what I mean. The robots in the world of JACK PRICE give a whole new meaning to the term "tool" and "package" -- their software may be soft, but these machines are hardwired for maximum pleasure.

It's one thing when a high society millionaire starts getting a little on the side from the maid; but it's quite another when the maid is a robot. And when the robot maid and robot butler get a hankering for each other and start a mechanical shag-a-thon on the kitchen floor -- and then the flesh-and-blood master walks in on it - well, you know, life gets complicated.

Somebody could get killed.

That's where Red Bourbon, gumshoe, private dick, man for hire, comes in.

You see, Bourbon is down on his luck. He's almost out on his ass. His apartment rent is unpaid so he sleeps in his sleazy inner-city office - but he's behind on the rent there, too.

That means when a classy dame with sexy long legs straight up to her business section strolls in with a crazy-dangerous job and a pile of cash, you jump on it - and you try to jump her, too, at the first opportunity.

Yeah, there'll be cash, there'll be some pleasure along the way. But getting' up to your neck in the lusty affairs of the rich and powerful get can you clipped - and fast. You never know who your friends are. Your old buddy on the Chicago P.D.'s got your back - except when he doesn't. The dame who's payin' you might be settin' you up - you just never know.

When you're Red Bourbon, private eye, you're on your own. Sometimes the only thing between you and another meal is how fast you can draw your Glock, or kick some thug in the jewels and then knee-up his ugly face.

That's right. The future has arrived. Cars drive themselves, robots do all the scut work and the Artificial Intelligence ap on your smartphone is your only true friend. Sometimes making a living is more like making a dying -- but, hey, you signed up for it.

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Erotic short story collection, Lazuline, by Elizabeth Woodham manages to stir passions with skillful prose


A while back I reviewed a book of Christian literature and I mentioned in the review that I was not a Christian. This prompted one indignant reader to comment that I had no business reading and reviewing Christian literature without being a Christian.

How ridiculous is that! What if only Jews should read Jews and only blacks read blacks and Native American read Native Americans? I have a friend who is pure European lily-vanilla white and has written a book featuring Native American characters, and he is already taking heat from some Native Americans who are telling him he "has no business writing about Our People."

I mention all this because today I am reviewing a book of erotic fiction, and well, it's just that I never read erotic fiction. I can imagine the writer thinking: "Why is this bloke reading and reviewing a work of erotic fiction if he never reads erotic fiction?" Well, see paragraphs one and two above.

Sure, I've read a lot of erotic scenes as part of other mainstream novels, but I am always a tad cynical about it. That's because when the time comes for the characters to "do it" my jaded editor kicks in and I think, "Okay, here it is; the obligatory sex scene. It's part of the formula and the publisher demands it because they know sex sells." The point is, no matter how skillfully the sex scene is handled, there is an element of gratuitousness about it because the writer thinks it's obligatory. He or she doesn't necessarily need the scene to move the plot forward, or develop the characters but, well ... they just "stick it in" anyway.

Anyway, my status as an outsider to ertotic lit gives me greater objectivity, wouldn't you agree? My objective opinion, then, of LAZULINE by British author ELIZABETH WOODHAM is that this is fairly terrific literature - lovely, effortless prose that flows with grace, marvelous imagery, superb word choice and revealing insight into human character and motivation.

My criticism is that this is a collection of short stories, but these works by and large do not bear out as short stories. They do not have all the four necessary elements of short story form: Plot, character, setting and theme. Most of these tales are more akin to poetic vignettes. For example, the titular offering, Lazuline, is not a story at all, but a dreamy, in-depth musing on the extreme pleasure of sexual revelation.

In other instances the author attempts to tie everything together to make a solid story with a beginning, middle and end, or resolution - especially in the case of "The Decision Tree" - but the effort falls flat.

But I don't think it matters - I have no doubt that fans of erotic literature will get their money's worth and then some from these powerfully erotic tales. The author manages to use the cold utility of words to conjure up and invoke that primal heat of lust nestled in the psyche of every human being.

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE MAN IN THE NOTHING CHAMBER