There Are Some Who Call Him Tim

InterviewA StubbornThings Interview by The Editor1/22/16
Your trusted Editor interviews StubbornThing‘s unofficial official librarian and statistician. Timothy (some call him “Tim”) has an encyclopedic memory of books. If the Library of Congress ever burns down, he could be another Thomas Jefferson and lend his collection to get a Federal one started.

StubbornThings: One of your main interests is science fiction and fantasy, although you seem to have a wide variety of reading interests. Can you first of all tell us what the general difference is between the genres of science fiction and fantasy?

Timothy Lane: The difference between science fiction and fantasy has been given in many places, but it amounts to “I know it when I see it” (as someone on the Supreme Court once said of pornography).  Thus, time travel would usually be considered science fiction (though Larry Niven did a series of stories about a time-traveler named Svetz that were based on the idea that it’s really fantasy) and werewolves fantasy.  But Anthony Boucher once argued that there was more evidence for werewolves than there is for time travel.  Of course, I have non-fiction works on many of these topics, both science fiction and fantasy (such as The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology), and about numerous authors in various fields.

Besides that, there is “science fantasy”, which looks like science fiction but really isn’t.  Star Wars would probably be grouped here.

ST: And I assume your interest in sci-fi and fantasy are mainly in books, but are you a big movie nut as well for these genres? If so, name your top five favorite movies in each category. (The Editor wonders if “Legend” or “Stardust” will appear on the fantasy movie list.)

TL: My favorite movies in the 2 genres (I will add them together) would probably be Star Wars and The Wrath of Khan.  Of course, many of the James Bond movies could be considered science fiction, and they all could be called fantasy.  I’d probably agree with those who list Goldfinger as the best of those (For Your Eyes Only would be up there as well, though it’s debatable that it really fits in either genre).  The worst movie would probably be Ice Pirates or Plan 9 From Outer Space./

I have seen a number of the old Vincent Price movies on Edgar Allan Poe’s works (I have a complete collection of Poe, not surprisingly), and the best of those that I’ve seen is probably The Raven.  I will also point out that one of them, The Haunted Palace. is actually based primarily on H. P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.  Both are good.

As for books, you might want to check out Baen Books.  They do a lot of good material by writers such as David Weber, John Ringo, Lois McMaster Bujold, and David Drake.  (Eric Flint has a lot of interesting material as well, but he’s a socialist so you might not enjoy them so much.)  Elizabeth Moon used to appear there as well.  They’re also bringing back a lot of good material by deceased writers, such as Christopher Anvil.  In addition to Baen, I read an awful lot of alternate history (some of it from Baen), especially by Harry Turtledove.  (I also read straight historical fiction, but there isn’t as much of that available.)  I’m also a fan of Cincinnati writer Mike Resnick, who does a lot of humor and writes a lot about Africa (or alien worlds thinly disguised from Africa).  In his case, I would especially mention Ivory, about the future history of the largest elephant tusks recorded, and Kirinyaga, about a Kikuyu utopia and its fate.

ST: Either I have already read most of the great sci-fi that was out there when I was in my twenties, thirties, and forties or else they’re just not writing good sci-fi anymore. It’s all so full of boring Leftist shtick like environmental destruction, etc. Tell me what I’m missing. If I wanted to pick up sci-fi again, what are some recent books worth reading for fellows like me who like their hard science fiction (generally of the Arthur C. Clarke variety).

TL: An interesting hard-science fiction writer a few decades ago was Marti Steussy, who did a couple of excellent books oriented toward biology (and in one case actually biochemistry).  Sharon Webb also dealt with that field and wrote a couple of excellent hard-science books.  I would have nominated Pestis-18 for the Hugo Award for Best Novel, but it was debatable if it was actually science fiction rather than techno-thriller, and I figured it would get few nominations anyway.  John Stith did a number of interesting books, including one (Redshift Rendezvous) dealing extensively with advanced physics on a relativistic ship.  (I first heard of him when he looked through the Fandom Directory, and selected some people who listed a particular set of interests to send his author’s copies of Memory Blank to.  A very good move for both of us.)

I will conclude the discussion of SF books with Catherine Asaro, a physicist and dancer whose books often reflect her varied interests (including one in which each chapter reflects something out of quantum physics, The Quantum Rose).

ST: I didn’t know you were a big baseball fan. I find baseball to be nice-background music on a summer’s day but it doesn’t tend to hold my interest as a main event except come playoff time. What do you find is baseball’s main appeal? And do you enjoy reading about the history of the game? If so, what are the best books on the subject?

TL: I tend to multi-task when watching TV or listening to music or the radio (mostly Rush Limbaugh), so to some extent I watch baseball much as you do.  Some things require paying more attention than others.  There’s a reason I like the Web Gems (best fielding plays of the day) on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight.  Of course, it helps when the game involves a team I’m interested in.  I started following the Yankees in 1960 and the Astros in 1964; Elizabeth follows the Indians.  (Incidentally, a sport she used to follow when she was in Japan, and probably still would if she could, is sumo wrestling.  Perhaps she appreciates me because I have the shape of a sumo wrestler, though their big belly is muscle and mine is a reminder of my tendencies toward gluttony and sloth.)

My interest in baseball includes statistics and history.  Trying to list all the historical baseball books I’ve read would be hopeless (the most recent was about the 1957 Milwaukee Braves).  I used to be a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR, from which Bill James came up with sabermetrics as a term for baseball study), but unfortunately I can’t afford it anymore.  SABR supplied a number of interesting books on the subject, and James is one of the most famous baseball students (he also wrote a book on true crime as a popular genre).

One interesting book I read a while back on baseball history was Cait Murphy’s Crazy ’08, about the 1908 season that featured a large array of oddities.  The American League ended with a half-game margin between Detroit and Cleveland, and featured arguably the greatest pitchers’ duel in the history of the game — the October 1 duel between Ed Walsh of the White Sox (who ended up third, just behind Cleveland) and Addie Joss (both Hall of Famers today), probably the two best pitchers in the league last year.  Walsh struck out 15 and only allowed a single unearned run — but Joss pitched a perfect game to win.  Meanwhile, in the National League, the Giants and Cubs ended up tied because of “Merkle’s boner” (arguably the most famous baseball blooper in history).  The game had to be replayed, and the Cubs won — and then won the World Series, their last so far.

ST: My sister-in-law, who has worked as a legal assistant for a prosecuting attorney is way into crime dramas, both in books and TV. This is a much bigger category than I had previously imagined. So tell us what you like about it. What elements make for a good crime drama? And do you do true-crime only or also mix in some fiction?

TL: I read both mysteries and true-crime.  It would be useless to list all the mystery writers I read because there are so many.  Of course, I’ve made a number of Sherlock Holmes references here, but there are plenty of others in several different categories..  One interesting mystery is Lillian Stewart Carl’s Ashes to Ashes (the third book I got with that title; she also wrote one titled Dust to Dust), which is set in a haunted castle outside of Marion, Ohio (where Carl grew up).   She once noted that her Amazon listings include frequent references to me, because few others have reviewed her books.

Similarly, my works on true crime cover several categories.  Some deal with forensic science (probably the first I came across was a Reader’s Digest condensation of Jurgen Thorwald’s The Century of the DetectiveKidnap, about the Lindbergh case, and I have a large number of books on that subject, as well as similar arrays on Jack the Ripper, the Borden murders, and the assassinations of Lincoln and Kennedy, and the thrill-killers Leopold and Loeb (including Meyer Levin’s fictionalized Compulsion).  I also have a complete collection of the works of Ann Rule.  And there are many books on the violent history of the American West, as well as on individual cases such as Bonnie and Clyde or Julia Wallace or Dr, Parkman.

But there are plenty of other books.  One interesting item is Evidence for the Crown by Molly Lefebure, who spent several years as secretary to British forensic pathologist Sir Keith Simpson (whose memoirs I also have).  She pointed out how useful she was in identifying items of women’s clothing for men who didn’t know much about the subject.  She also noticed that when she brought material to a party, the men would be very interested but the women would be too squeamish to pay attention.  This would be reversed when she met people more privately — the woman suddenly weren’t squeamish at all, and the men had other concerns.

After all, as true crime writer Edmund Pearson once observed, 8 of 10 people are interested in murder — and of the two who aren’t, one is only pretending.  (Pearson was especially  noted for his coverage of the Parkman and Borden cases.  The judge in the Parkman case, as I recently learned in a Smithsonian article, was Herman Melville’s father-in-law.)

As for what I like and why, that can be hard to say given the omnivorous nature of my reading tastes.  I think I do like brilliant reasoning, but read plenty of stories that don’t feature that.  One thing I will mention is that mysteries by female writers tend to have very good meals in them (and not just the works of Dianne Mott Davidson, whose heroine is a caterer).  This can make them quite delicious to read.

ST: What do you think is the best sci-fi TV series ever….and the worst. Extra points if you and I agree on the worst. (Voyager.)

TL: The best science fiction TV series I’ve seen is probably original Star Trek.  I’m not about to state a worst, since there are so many I haven’t seen.  I remember we used to watch Lost in Space to see what new alliterative nickname Doctor Zachary Smith would come up with for the robot (my favorite was “tin-plated tintinnabulation”, but I also wouldn’t disagree with the parody of it in MAD Magazine..  Twilight Zone would be considered mostly fantasy, and the best in that category.  I can’t comment on Voyager because I never saw an episode (except for a few individual later episodes, the last Star Trek season I saw was the first season of The Next Generation).

ST: If you were a contestant in the Miss America Pageant, would you be for A) World peace, B) Ending hunger, or C) Free tattoo removal as a human right? This is a silly question, but I know we’re both Monty Python fans. So take this where you will.

TL: Some years ago,my main income source was plasma donations.  Though I always brought something to read, I was inevitably aware of what was on the TV.  In Miss Congeniality, the FBI agent in a beauty contest answers that question initially that she wants harsher punishment for parole violators.  That seems reasonable to me.

ST: Now on the personal side, what have you learned from life that you would most like to pass on to people to thus save them a little time and trouble?

My father once told us of an incident he had witnessed in Greece, in which they were holding some minor ceremony to honor the senior attaché — who happened to be the Russian.  He was all eager to be so named, but they named someone else.  My father could understand that there might be political reasons for the decision, but they still should have notified him first.  In other words, don’t gratuitously injure someone, either physically or (in this case) emotionally.

ST: Finally, answer a question I haven’t asked that you think would most interest people. Maybe Elizabeth could supply some inspiration.

TL: As for a final conclusion, I would cite one of my favorite Bible verses (a natural for an Army brat), “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.”  In the world Obama is creating, this will be very necessary.  And what the heck, currently there’s no campaign for control of plows and pruning hooks — or even swords and spears. • (826 views)

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14 Responses to There Are Some Who Call Him Tim

  1. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    I think the first sci-fi book I ever read was “A Wrinkle in Time”. But that was about 55 years ago and I don’t remember much about it. I liked the very first Star Trek program with Gary Lockhart and Sally Kellerman, but like most of TV I think the series was not that steady.

    Now when you get to Krimis, as the Germans call them, I am right there with you. I think P.D. James is one of the best writers going. I liked Elizabeth George until her books started showing her leftist tendencies. This coincided with the length of her books going from 6-700 pages to even thicker tomes. For light reading I think Dick Francis is excellent. Some years back, there was a new “Nero Wolfe” series starring Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin. I loved it and went out and bought and read every Nero Wolfe book written by Rex Stout. John le Carre’ wrote some great political mysteries until he started writing such rubbish as “The Constant Gardener”.

    If you want to pick up some free books for your Kindle, J.S. Fletcher wrote many good short mystery novels. “The Dr. Thorndyke Mysteries” by R. Austin Freeman are also good.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I’ve read some P. D. James and probably should try more. One of those was a true-crime book, The Maul and the Pear Tree, about a noted murder case from the early 19th Century that was the subject of possibly the first important true-crime study. I’ve read a fair amount of Elizabeth George, but not lately because those large sizes take time to read (particularly as I spend so much time blogging). I’ve also read a lot of Dick Francis in my day. I like that Nero Wolfe series, but already had all the Stout books already (and many of the Robert Goldsborough volumes as well).

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Somehow I missed that last paragraph when I first read your posting. I haven’t read anything by Fletcher, but I’ve read a great deal by Freeman (credited with devising the inverted mystery, a technique made famous on Columbo). My favorite of his is probably Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight, but there are many others worth reading. (“The Singing Bone”, the first story of his I read and the one in which I think he first used the inverted mystery technique, gets its title from a folk poem I read in high school.)

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        I like Dr. Thorndyke and his butler/instrument maker-lab tech Polton and friend Jervis. I have read both collections available on Kindle.

        The Fletcher stories do not have a single protagonist and take place in many different places in different time periods. They are quite varied.

        The “Thinking Machine Mysteries” by Futrelle are also good.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    Well, if the Library of Congress burns down, I hope they accept paperbacks. We do have a lot of hardbacks, but most of those we wouldn’t want to get rid of.

    You will notice I screwed up closing the italics on Crazy ’08. If you could fix that, it would be much appreciated.

  3. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    don’t gratuitously injure someone, either physically or (in this case) emotionally

    Your father must have been a wise and kind man.

    Along the same line of thinking, I did not mention this in my observations about Asia and Asians, but one can laugh with Asians, but never laugh at an Asian to his face, particularly in front of others. You will make a life-long enemy. Forgiveness is not high up on the Asian list of positive traits.

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Incidentally, a sport she used to follow when she was in Japan, and probably still would if she could, is sumo wrestling

    I used to like watching Sumo when I lived in Japan. I was there sometime after Elizabeth so the Yokozuna would have been different. If she followed Sumo in the 1980’s, she will know of my all-time favorite, Chiyonofuji, the Wolf.

  5. Favid Ray says:

    I found this interview highly suspect and have tecommended to NRO that this entire piece be deleted immediately!

    (Their community college lawyers were stupid enough explore the concept.)

  6. David Ray says:

    Lemme know how you liked 13Hours.
    (Hillary gave it two thumbs down.)

    • Timothy Lane says:

      From the reviews I’ve read, I might find it rather intense. And we never get out to the movies these days. Eventually, no doubt it will show up on a cable channel I get, but that could take a while. There are a LOT of movies I’d like to see and haven’t yet, such as most of the Harry Potter movies and the third Night at the Museum movie. (I first became interested in that series seeing a prom for the second one in which Ivan the Terrible complains that his sobriquet has been mistranslated — something I knew from reading a biography of him. Someone who was involved in writing that movie knew his stuff.)

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I don’t know where to put this, so I just put this here because I know that SHCHT is a big fan of Townhall and (I think) a fan of John Hawkins (and rightfully so). He’s written a brilliant piece: Christians, Conservatives, Men, and White People Are Not Responsible For Your Problems.

    Let me just say it’s worth a read and leave it at that.

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