Short Story #89: The First Days of May by Claude Veullot

Title:  The First Days of May

Author:  Claude Veullot

Damon Knight - A Century of Science FictionSummary

It's only a few days after the landing of space crafts and the near obliteration of human life on Earth.  The narrator slowly makes his way through the city ruins in order to return to his home and find his wife, trying to avoid the insect-like aliens who use their supersonic shrills to disarm and destroy buildings, weapons, and people.  He encounters another human on his trek home who provides a little update about the state of affairs and things seem largely hopeless.  The narrator continues on towards home.  In his apartment, he encounters another man, who lived a few floors away before the Shrills showed up.  They discuss what's going on and the man knows nothing of about his wife.  The man explains that his wife like other humans is likely in the camp, where the humans are being held.  The narrator leaves to go find these camps.  He soon encounters a group of men with weapons who are more than happy to bring him to the camps--after they beat him up.  Instead of being taken to the camps, he is taken to a place called, the Winter Circus.  Here, he witnesses caged fights between a human and a Shrill.  He is set up to go next but since the first fight ends in a human winning, the fights are called off for the rest of the day.  His next remembers how his wife, Maria talks about the beauty of early May and the next thing he knows he's at a farmhouse where the Shrills are harvesting their eggs into babies.  They are sent into tunnels and matched with female Shrills to implant their eggs with.  The narrator has accepted all of this but as his time comes he sees a blonde haired woman that reminds him of his wife and wants to be implanted by the Shrill next to her.  His last moments are him reflecting on the female Shrill and how he doesn't believe she is so horrible.

Reflection

One of the more haunting stories that I have read thus far.  It definitely builds upon H. G. Wells' War of the Worlds (as the story's introduction says), but makes it much darker than what Wells imagined (even though it has its share of darkness).  The conversion of the narrator from fearful and loathing of the Shrills to his acceptance of them in the final scene is fascinating as it could suggest he has gone mad or that this was the only true way to reunite with his lost love.  There's also a fascinating juxtaposition in this story wherein the Shrills have not superior technology but just their voice which is used to conquer humankind.  The aliens of War of the Worlds had superior technology but were taken down by bacteria, a common Earth lifeform.  Similarly, humans with all their technology are eliminated by sound.  

Short Story #89 out of 365
Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  3/25/2014
Source:  A Century of Science Fiction, edited by Damon Knight. Simon & Schuster, 1962.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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Short Story #88: Old Papa Johnson by Robert Graves

Title:  Old Papa Johnson

Author:  Robert Graves

Summary

Robert Graves - The Shout and Other StoriesWhile in a hospital, the narrator encounters a gregarious man by the name of Old Papa Johnson who seems to get along well with a nurse that few others seem to endure much.  The narrator befriends the man and he shares all sorts of things about his life with him, including a tale that connects him to the nurse.  He explains that a while back, he was the Crown Agent on an island near Antarctica which served as a drop off station and holding station for ships who were carting off and trading off whale oil and other goods to other parts of the world.  He was the sole inhabitant there and had to regulate the trade and keep things proper for the short-termers that came by.  One way of doing this was to illegalize alcohol on the island due to increasingly dangerous incidents among the crewmembers.  One day, two men arrive, Major Morgan and Professor Durnsford who are not part of the regular shipping activities but there on a mission to explore the life of the island for research.  Johnson is overall agreeable but butts heads with the major.  When the major learns he must live in the same house as Johnson (the only house on the island), the tension grows deeper.  It hits a serious pitch when the Major discovers there is no alcohol (he brought his own, but Johnson kept it onboard rather than bring it ashore) and Johnson must hold him at gunpoint to make his point.  The two continue their back and forth antagonize with Durnsford left in the middle to try to soothe relations.  This continues on and one day, Morgan and Dunrsford are heading out but Johnson insists that they do not.  He points to barometer but before he could explain, Morgan stomps out while Durnsford listens.  A brutal and harsh blizzard comes crashing down on them.  Durnsford insists they go save Morgan but Johnson explains that Morgan died in the first major blast--that's how brutal and nasty the storm is.  He explains that the nurse is Morgan's sister but doesn't know who Johnson is, but because the Morgan siblings are so alike, he's enjoying playing nice with her.  

Reflection

This had all the elements of a yarn-story and was enjoyable to read in that sense.  Stories that are about storytellers telling this story is somehow always enjoyable.  That story within a story is always fun to see how it reflects back to the large world of the storyteller.  The knocking of heads between Morgan and Johnson is curious because as Johnson notes at the end, that he could have probably gotten along quite well with Morgan if the stink about the alcohol hadn't been made.  But instead, one man is dead and it makes me wonder about the nature of male-relationships that cause them to be so violent.  

Short Story #88 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  3/25/2014
Source:  The Shout and Other Stories by Robert Graves. Penguin Books, 1978.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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Short Story #87: You are With It! by Will Stanton

Title:  You Are With It!

Author:  Will Stanton

Damon Knight - A Century of Science FictionSummary

After departing in the morning from his wife with her numerous reminders of things he needs to do, Stanley Dobbs arrives at the office where he encounters the Host, who speaks in grand and overdramatic language.  The Host tells him he's about to embark on an adventure and then the next thing Dobbs knows is that he's at a night club he runs and meeting with the Commissioner.  The Commission discusses a mission he will be sent on across the world to find the "Professor."  The deal is settled and next we see Stanley rushing off to work in the morning.  His wife gives him a list of things to do and he goes off to work, meeting up with associates from the night before.  The story switches back and forth like this until the Dobbs encounters a body with a to-do list in his pocket, quite similar to his.  Just because he can piece it together, the Host reappears and tells him the show has been canceled by the wife of the sponsor.  The story ends with Dobbs and a Lieutenant discussing another mission.  

Reflection

This story threw me for a bit of a loop and I had trouble following it through.  It's unclear if the fantasy world is world at home where Dobbs has the "American dream" (referenced within the story) or if it is his world of excitement.  Maybe that is indeed the point?  

Short Story #87 out of 365
Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  3/22/2014
Source:  A Century of Science Fiction, edited by Damon Knight. Simon & Schuster, 1962.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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Short Story #86: Unhuman Sacrifice by Katherine Maclean

Title:  Unhuman Sacrifice

Author:  Katherine Maclean

Summary

Damon Knight - A Century of Science Fiction
Two engineers take a preacher to a habitable planet with sentient life.  The preacher sets to inspiring the being with long winded lectures on his beliefs but the beings don't understand him.  The two engineers, Charlie and Henderson are still in the process of training the translator box.  Over the course of a few days, as they learn more about the inhabitants, the preacher insists on saving them from themselves and their rituals.  They discover that the beings are broken into two groups--adults and children, with the adults being worn down while the children do all the heavy lifting.  They befriend Spet, a child whom they poorly communicate with.  They realize that maturation process that he is about to enter can possibly kill him or turn him into one of the elders.  For different reasons, they try to conspire to keep Spet from suffering the ritual and try to bring him aboard before the flooding occurs (a part of ritual is the annual flooding).  However, in taking him away from this process, Spet turns into a large bush (an action that happens to many lifeforms on this planet when encountering moving water).  Afterwards, Henderson, who took particular interest is known to be taking a bush with him whereever he goes and occasionally talks to it.  However, the story reveals that Charlie had switched out the actual "Spet" plan for a regular plant.  

Reflection

Though a bit bizarre, the story is a rich example of thinking about how other lifeforms may move through life and like all alien planet stories, smacks of colonial criticism with the science and the religion of a dominant group, trying to force itself onto a supposedly ignorant group.  That the engineers and the preacher are at such odds in much of the story but still aim for the same purpose, I found an interest dynamic that doesn't always get much exploration; that is, despite very different viewpoints, they are ultimately joined in interfering with these indigenous people.    

Short Story #86 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  3/22/2014
Source:  A Century of Science Fiction, edited by Damon Knight. Simon & Schuster, 1962.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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Short Story #85: Day of Succession by Theodore L. Thomas

Title:  Day of Succession

Author:  Theodore L. Thomas

Damon Knight - A Century of Science FictionSummary

When a spaceship crashes down in Pennsylvania, General Tredway is the first to respond, getting scientists and tanks to arrive before the ship opens up after landing.  He responds by completely destroying it.  He does the same for a second spaceship that lands in Pennsylvania.  However, he is called to Washington to a meeting with the President, Vice President, and others leaders who berate him for attacking.  They posit that the aliens may have been coming in peace to which the General asks why did they crash into a house and kill someone.  He insists that this was the only way.  While they debate, another spaceship lands and is allowed to open.  The alien that comes out begins killing everything in sight.  The leaders admit that the general knows what he is doing and ask him for what to do next.  He explains that because they screwed up and let one land, it will be doubly hard because more a landing.  His plan is to have every fission and fusion bomb from around the world to bomb the eastern coast.  The President and Vice President balk at such a response.  However, the Speaker of the House agrees with the general.  So Tredway pulls out his revolver and shoots the President and Vice President and asks the Speaker (now the new President) if he will make the decision.  

Reflection

Any alien invasion story offers its range of insights and I have to admit, this one I had not encountered before.  A pretty brutal and hard story.  That the general proves he is right is of course intentional but the closed and clear logic of his argument is anything but.  The shoot-first approach seems to come with too many risks.  Granted, the alternative, many would argue, is that you're setting yourself up to be taken advantage of.  

Short Story #85 out of 365
Rating: 4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  3/22/2014
Source:  A Century of Science Fiction, edited by Damon Knight. Simon & Schuster, 1962.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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Short Story #84: The Wind People by Marion Zimmer Bradley

Title:  The Wind People

Author:  Marion Zimmer Bradley

Summary

Damon Knight - A Century of Science Fiction
After eight months on a habitable planet, the crew are ready to go home but Helen, a doctor, has given birth one month premature to her baby boy, Robin.  The method of space travel is enough that it would kill the baby and so Helen refuses to go and stays on the planet while the others leave, knowing that there were be no one to return for decades.  The story jumps a few years and there, showing Robin, the child growing up as a solitary child with Helen.  However, slowly it is revealed that Helen was not impregnated by one of the crewmates but by someone on the planet (that they presumed is without intelligent life forms).  Helen refuses to believe that these people actually exist but Robin continues to hear and see them.  The strain of believe and disbelief builds between them and eventually, Eventually, Robin flees into the woods to meet the wind people and Helen pursues and gives in to the idea that they are real.  In the woods, she encounters the man she had met so many years ago and believes that this is actually Robin in some future state of existence.  In her hysterics, she believes she's committed incest and flings herself from the cliff.    

Reflection

I got a bit lost at the end of this as I wasn't sure how we got from wind people to incest.  It can make some reasonable sense but I guess it didn't seem as clear on the initial read.  It's also possible to just claim that the years of solitude had done its number on Helen and this was her slipping into insanity.  There's also the parallel of her suicide with a man on the ship that leaves her behind (the man who believed he was the father of the newborn Robin).  There is some symmetry with having Robin be both child and father on the strange planet but I think more could have been done to establish that if that were the case.

Short Story #84 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  3/21/2004
Source:  A Century of Science Fiction, edited by Damon Knight. Simon & Schuster, 1962.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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10 Ways Running Reminds Me of Learning

Let's set the scene.

Here's me on Sunday, September 16, 2012.  I'm in the midst of running my first 30K Race.  That's right, I decided that what better way to spend the weekend just after my 33rd birthday, chugging over 18 miles on a warm Sunday afternoon.


Keep in mind:

  • There were no zombies chasing me.
  • There was no grand prize for coming in among the last 1/3 of the herd.
  • I had plenty of other things to do that Sunday.
  • I paid to be here.
Now, let's go back 15 months to June, 2011.  There are no pictures of me running.  Because up to that point, that is, the first 31 years and 9 months of my life, I did not run.  Let me rephrase that I ran only when ultimately forced to.  You know, like at gun point.  The fact is for 31 years, 9 months I had a HATE-HATE MORE relationship with running.  It didn't like me and I sure as hell didn't like it.  Like the student in class I repeated to myself and everyone that would listen, "I'm just not meant to be run.  I'll stick with other things."

But that clearly changed.  Indeed, last year, I ran a marathon and this year, I'll run several more.  Along the many miles I've run over the last few years, I learned to love running a whole lot to the point that I've spent thousands of hours running and thousands of words writing about running.  


In this evolution from non-runner to enthusiastic (almost obsessive, I'll admit) runner, I realized that there is a lot that I've drawn from running that helps me think about learning because somewhere along the line, I learned to run in a way that worked for me.  Here are the 10 ways that running reminds me of the challenges of learning.  

1.  I started slow and I am still slow and that's ok.

I have to run at a pace that works for me.  I can't worry about how fast other people are running.  Sure, I can sometimes look at it as motivation to speed up a little but the focus must be on me and what my body and mind are telling me.  This rings true for learning.  We are often disenchanted with our progress because someone else gets a subject matter much better than we do because it's not our forte or we don't have the right background to approach it as skillfully as others.  

2.  I had to figure out what worked for me.

There's lots of different methods to approach running out there.  Prior to my experience, people told me all sorts of ways to do it.  But I had to figure out what worked and what didn't work for me.  This meant a lot of trial and error.  In fact, this is where many people will abandon running because they can't seem to find the right way to approach it that works for them personally.  In this vein, I think learning is quite similar particularly around certain subject matter.  How some people learn a subject matter is going to be dependent on trying and finding different ways to approach the subject.  

3.  I set a range of goals to indicate levels of success.

Run!  Or even "run a marathon" are way to big for me to tackle.  I had to chunk them it all into manageable pieces.  When I started out and just wanted to get to be able to run, I found a place I could run at (Lake Quannapowitt) and set markers for running such as
  • Run for 10 minutes.
  • Run until you make it to this marker.
  • Run as far around the lake as you did yesterday and 100 feet further.
As I made progress, I set new goals and made sure to have a range.  That might include having a range within a race (my low goal is 30 minutes, my high goal is 25 minutes) or a range over a particular season (run at least 6 half-marathons or longer and 1 full marathon).  The goal was to make sure I had different ways to measure success.  This was helpful because it connected with #2 in that, I needed to see what goals were more motivating for me.  Similarly with learning, if you set to task, "I'm going to learn math."  You're setting up a massive goal.  So why do that or at least consider it a large goal with a long-term plan composed of smaller goals and objectives.  What are the smaller goals that can be stacked to get you to the larger goal?

4.  I set time aside to both think about (write) and do it (run).  

It goes without saying that you need to set time aside to achieve the goal.  That was obvious--though not without its challenges.  Eventually, I went the route of buying a treadmill so that in the harder weather I didn't have to rely on going to the gym and such.  It saved time to have easy and unlimited access to it.  Besides setting aside time to do it, I also made sure to think a lot about the running.  Visualizing myself running the race at top speed in perfect form has contributed to some great breakthroughs in my performance.  For learning, this means you have to set time aside and that time can't be the very last minute.  You have to incorporate it in some clear ways into your life's routine and you also need to think about it.  You shouldn't be thinking about "I need to do it" but you should be engaging with the content in your head--even when you don't have to.  This is where learning can take place through reinforcement.  

5.  I kept track of my progress because nobody else would.

I initially kept track of my runs on my Fitbit monitor but then moved into DailyMile, which has been fun and adds a nice social element to it as well.  I also continued to keep track of progress on this blog of course.  Keeping track is important because so often, we are looking forward and seeing the end goal still rather far away, but we need to look back and appreciate how far we have made it.  It's also important because if I'm trying to get somewhere, I have to know where I am within the big picture, right?  With learning, looking back is also important because it can provide you with a means of reflecting and appreciating where you are within the subject matter and how much progress on the subject that you've made.  

6.  I hit walls; I asked for help.

I most definitely hit some walls and places where I needed help.  I asked for help.  I had no shame in asking for help and encouragement from my friends and social-networks.  My friends and family want me to succeed and want to help me if they can.  The same holds for learning.  When you hit walls (and you will hit walls), reach out for help from friends, family, or people more versed in the subject matter.  Largely, people like helping others--especially if it is something they are vested in.  

7.  I was overwhelmed at times by it all; I wrote about it.

There will always be times when I think about running and am overwhelmed by it.  Overwhelmed by what I've done, overwhelmed by what I'm trying to do, overwhelmed by the mere idea that I am doing it.  Hell, I could even brim with tears at times.  That's all good!  That's a reflection of investment.  If you're so vested in learning something that you're emotionally moved; that's not a bad thing.  It shows how important it is to you.  For me, writing about it helped a lot because it allowed me to sort things out and to stay on focus.  Writing may not work for you (especially, if you're trying to learn writing), but find an outlet to channel the emotions and ideas about the subject matter.

8.  I talked about my running (sometimes, quite excessively).

If running was important to me, then I should be talking about it just like other things that are important to me.  This served two purposes.  
  • It had me talking about running--which is something runners do.  Talking about running reinforced the fact that I ran and was continuing to run.  I had never thought of myself as a "runner" but sure enough, I found that I was.
  • By sharing with other people in my life, it became a point of conversation.  We would talk about running or friends would ask me about my most recent race.  The most amazing moment of talking about running came when people started asking me for advice or told me that my actions were inspiring them to run.
When it comes to learning, the more you talk about and engage in the topic, the more likely you are to think about the subject matter and even gain mastery over it.

9.  I owned my accomplishments and gave room for others to acknowledge them too.

I took pride in what I was able to do.  I won no races, but I had victories at all of my races.  Every time I had a personal best or was just damn happy I showed up, I made note of it.  I blogged about it, I posted in FB and Twitter about it.  I celebrated my progress.  In sharing my victories, many others also provided congratulations which added to the positive feelings I had about running.  I also made sure to give thanks to those who helped.  You need to celebrate the victories that you make--regardless of where others are in their learning.

10.  I valued the experience for the internal value; not just the external benefits (though they were nice).  

I came to recognize that running provided me with many internal benefits that were useful.  The mental health benefits of running are many to count.  The better health reports I get from my doctor are also important.  The respect and admiration I get from friends, family, and colleagues--that's nice too.  I run for me--but that respect and admiration has proven a powerful tool to get me to that point.  For learning, this is the big challenge: the crossover.  That is, the moment when learning the subject is internally valued (you want to learn because it helps you understand your life more) more than extrinsically valued (you want to learn because you want an A on the examine).  

Those are my top 10 ways that running reminds me of learning.  What about you?  How else does running remind you of learning?



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Short Story #83: A Man May Not Marry His... by Robert Graves

Title:  A Man May Not Marry His...

Author:  Robert Graves

Summary

Robert Graves - The Shout and Other Stories
The story is an overheard conversation among several religious leaders within the Church of England trying to make sense of the issues surrounding transsexualism and how that would apply to marriage within the church.  The leaders explain the technicalities around whether it would be acceptable for someone to remarry within the church and how it is dependent upon how the the gender performance dynamics between the two.  The conversation covers under what elements it would be acceptable and unacceptable but at the end of all this discussing, the narrator asks a simple question, "off record" about what would an "ex-man" do if he wanted to be married in the church without fanfare to which the reply is for the person to find a parish that is far enough away to not know.   

Reflection

A curious story within this collection; that's for sure.  The language uses around transsexualism is clearly antiquated and it's fascinating to see this topic being addressed in an anthology that was originally published in 1965.  Of course, that's not entirely surprising giving this is the decade following the earlier successful full surgical transitions.  There were also some promising elements within the views in that the church did not excommunicate or refuse marriage (or remarriage) to transsexuals. 

Short Story #83 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  3/21/2014
Source:  The Shout and Other Stories by Robert Graves. Penguin Books, 1978.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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Short Story #82: The Inmate of the Dungeon by W. C. Morrow

Title: The Inmate of the Dungeon

Author: W. C. Morrow

Summary

Inmate of the Dungeon - WC Morrow - Amazon
At a parole hearing, one of the judges calls forward inmate No-14,208, much to the chagrin of the warden of that prison.  The prisoner comes into the course with ball and chain and clearly in rough shape.  The judge asks the man to explain why he has not asked to be paroled given that he is over due for it.  The man hesitates and the judge asks further about his experience.  The judge assures the prisoner that he is ok and further inquires into the man's history.  The man explains that he committed murder which there is no question about.  However, once in the prison, he aimed to do right and work hard, which he did for nearly ten years, doing all the work that was required and regularly doing extra.  As a large and strong man, he took advantage of extra jobs and the extra pay it afforded him.  One day while on a job, he got in line to get his pay and the warden scoff him off saying that he already was paid.  The prisoner was angered by this because he certainly wasn't.  He refuses to get out of line and step down from being called a liar.  In protest, he refuses to work any more.  The warden responds by putting him in the dungeon (essentially solitary confinement) and feeds him only bread and water.  A few other attempts are made for him to redeem himself and then the warden whips the man to break him.  None of this works and the man stays in the dungeon for another ten years.  The prisoner is asked why he didn't just lie and the inmate explains that he refused to become what they wanted him to be.  Upon further inquiry, the prisoner also explains that at this point if he is in with the other prisoners, he will try to kill the warden for the crimes committed against him.The judge sends the man to the hospital.  The Warden shows up to the hospital and shares a note that when the prisoner's story was published, a former inmate contacted the warden to let him know that he was the one who posed as the prisoner for the extra payment.  The warden hands a gun to the prisoner and says that it is his right to kill him.  The inmate cannot and says that it is only now that his spirit is broken and with that, passes away.  

Reflection

I might have only read 1-2 other Murrow stories but now I'm curious to read more.  I found this story well composed and with some rather insightful considerations about prisoners and crime for a story over 120 years old.  The first consideration I found interesting and always useful (though challenging) is that the prisoner gets caught in the dilemma of association. Because he has committed one crime, he is then suspect of all crimes.  While I understand why this happens, I think this is also a damning element of our criminal justice system as a whole.  Many of us jump to the conclusion that someone guilty of one crime must be guilty of others when the question arises.  If someone stole, then they must be capable of other crimes.  Murrow teases this out in a most profound way as he shows us a character who has committed murder but refuses to steal or lie to settle the issue.  Murrow also shows us that the system itself conspires with him to make him a liar.  The warden's punishments all but demand it and even the judge asks him why didn't he lie.  So having once already been criminalized, the system further pushes him into his crimes.  But the finally element of this story that I found fascinating is the enacting of civil disobedience by the inmate.  His attempt to right a wrong, not by violence but by passive resistance   

Short Story #82 out of 365
Rating: 5 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  3/20/2014
Source:  I bought the ebook for free on Amazon Kindle.  The story can also be found on Project Gutenberg.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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Short Story #81: Pythias by Frederick Pohl

Title: Pythias 

Author: Frederick Pohl

Summary

Galaxy Science Fiction - February 1955 Cover
Dick, the narrator from the beginning tells us that he committed the murder to which he is accused but he had to do it.  The man he killed was an old friend named Laurence Connaught, who actually saved his life shortly before Dick killed him.  In fact, Connaught is a successful scientist with many degrees while the Dick's life has led him to be security for a senator.  Dick explains that they happened upon each other during an event with the senator.  Terrorists arrived on the scene and while they are put down, one of them pulls a pin on the grenade and Connaught jumps on it, saving Dick's life.  Afterward, Dick needs to understand exactly how Connaught could have survived such a blast.  When he meets with to discuss it, Connaught explains that his scientific experiments have granted him superpowers such as pyschokinesis.  Dick doubts this but Connaught shows him some examples.  Without warning, Dick knocks out Connaught, ransacks his apartment and then shoots him dead after calling the police. He explains in the conclusion that Connaught couldn't be trusted with such secrets because they could easily get out into the world and be abused.  However, Dick believes that he can use the powers properly.  

Reflection

The story had a hint of Poe with the confessional style, the jealously of a good man, and the death.  The final line of the story, "But I can" is a bit haunting and I think lends to the feel that this story has a Poe influence to it.  Of course, the story has a curious ending about whether the narrator will actually accept the death penalty and take the answers with him to his death or if he plans to escape death.  

Short Story #81 out of 365
Rating: 3  (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  3/20/2014
Source:  I purchased the free ebook on Amazon Kindle.  However, it can also be found on Project Gutenberg.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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Short Story #80: The French Thing by Robert Graves

Title:  The French Thing

Author:  Robert Graves

Summary

Robert Graves - The Shout and Other Stories
A doctor and his wife stumble upon a pornographic magazine or as they call it, a "French thing."  They determine that it is their likely their nephew that brought it in.  The wife, Bella, temporarily stores the magazine in a stack of magazines but in the confusion of a busy hospital, the pile gets taken away by the Reverend's wife who usually takes the magazine stacks.  The doctor and Bella are sent into a fit as they do not want the magazine traced back to them as it would certainly create a negative impression among their social circle.  They soon discover that the Reverend's daughter, Evangeline has found it and has been sharing it with the boys at church.  Bella attempts a plan wherein Evangeline will be doped up and need a doctor, so her husband is called.  In the Reverend's house, the doctor attends to Evangeline while Bella looks for the magazine.  Later, we find out that Evangeline was discovered by her father and punished severely for sharing the magazine.

Reflection

Like yesterday's story, this tale was a bit confusing.  It was unclear with the ending if the punchline was that Evangeline made the connection to the doctor and Bella as the people in possession of the magazine in the first place and thus, their reputation is on the path to ruin or if the story is hinting that the publication was originally the Reverend's.  

Short Story #80 out of 365
Rating: 2 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  3/20/2014
Source:  The Shout and Other Stories by Robert Graves. Penguin Books, 1978.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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Short Story #79: Kill Them! Kill Them! by Robert Graves

Title:  Kill Them! Kill Them!

Author:  Robert Graves

Summary

Robert Graves - The Shout and Other Stories
A man and woman discuss David, a soldier who died in battle (it's unclear of the relationship amongst the three--they seem familial but it's not entirely clear.  The man and woman are father and daughter).  They discuss some of the politics around an award David did not receive.  Their discussion reminds the father of a time when David was a child and saw a bunch of clergymen together and the child's response was to "Kill them!  Kill them!".  Jenny explains David's response was because it seemed impossible for there to be more than one clergyman and so a flock of them felt fundamentally wrong in contrast to other groups such as children or soldiers.  They also mention David's distaste for seedcake.  When they turn a corner with the car, they encounter a group of clergymen who are eating seedcake.  The father jokingly says, "Kill them, kill them!" 

Reflection

This falls pretty short overall and I think it has a lot to do with the points of reference being made.  Between acronyms, cultural terms, and practices, a lot gets lost in translation.  I appreciate the contrast between how we perceive one sort of people as singular (such as priests) and another as groups (soldiers) and the contrast between those groups is further fascinating but it doesn't quite translate as well as it could have.  

Short Story #79 out of 365
Rating: 1 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  3/19/2014
Source:  The Shout and Other Stories by Robert Graves. Penguin Books, 1978.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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Short Story # 78: He Went Out to Buy a Rhine by Robert Graves

Title: He Went Out to Buy a Rhine 

Author: Robert Graves

Summary

Robert Graves - The Shout and Other Stories
Mrs. Tisser is explaining the last time she saw her tenant who later ended up dead.  The Coroner has concluded suicide and is confirming it with Mrs. Tisser.  She admits to being surprised by this as he was overall a decent person but on the morning of his suicide, he did act weirdly.  He spoke some strange lines to her and later, went out to buy a "rhine."  Mrs. Tisser is also asked about his emotional life and she explains that he admitted to being in love with someone he had never met and never saw named Yma.  After her statements, the jury are in discussion about the events and one juror, Mr. Pink presents the case is very clear terms.  Yma is the name of a singer who has the most beautiful voice in the world, the juror explains.  He also explains that he saw the nostril of the victim and it was slightly discolored that he identifies as the use of errhine.  Mr. Pink believes that the man went out for "errhine" not "a rhine."  He identifies the bodily act of sternutation (or sneezing).  The last words of the man come to make sense as the jurors discover the man was sneezing as way to reinvigorate himself and literally, sneezed himself through a set of windows to his death.  

Reflection

A quirky little story that I have not doubt left some people trying to make themselves sneeze to see if they can mimic the man's experience (without the accidental death part, mind you).  The story has all the markings of a mystery but in a much more condense and simple format.  That the narrator's mysterious death is explained by sneezing to death adds that little bit of dark humor that seems present in a good deal of the stories in this anthology. 


Short Story #78 out of 365
Rating:  2 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  3/17/2014
Source:  The Shout and Other Stories by Robert Graves. Penguin Books, 1978.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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Short Story #77: The Crystal Egg by H. G. Wells

Title:  The Crystal Egg

Author: H. G. Wells

Summary

Damon Knight - A Century of Science Fiction
A Mr. Cave owns a curiosity shop filled with odds and ends.  One day, two gentlemen ask him about the price of a crystal egg within his store.  He hesitates and then asks for an exorbitant price.  When the two gentlemen agree to pay it, he delays longer and says that it has actually already been sold.  His wife comes out at this point and accosts him to sell them the egg because they could certainly use the money but he resists her berating.  After the men leave, Cave continues to hear it from his family about his failure.  Shortly after, the crystal egg disappears and Mrs. Cave makes note of this.  She asks Mr. Cave about it but he claims ignorance.  Again, the whole family gets in on the act and demands to know but he plays stupid.  We find out later that he had stored it away with an acquaintance, Mr. Wace.  Cave's reluctance has much to do with what happens when he looks into the crystal egg at the right angle and with the right light, he can see deep into another world that is entirely unlike anything he has ever seen.  As the two explore the world, they find strange buildings and creatures, which makes them wonder where this world is--even theorizing that it could be Mars given the arrangement of stars within the crystal world.  Eventually, they also notice that there is a crystal egg in that world too and appears to be something the alien creatures peer into and Cave and Wace wonder if the creatures can see into this world.  Eventually, Cave does take the crystal egg back to his house and Wace gets busy with his own work for a little bit.  Once his schedule clears up, he visits Cave, only to discover that Cave died the last night Wace had seen him.  When Wace follows up on the crystal egg, the wife admits to selling it right after his death.  Wace attempts to find it but it has entirely disappeared.  

Reflection

The story was published in 1897--the same year as the serialization of Wells' The War of the Worlds and it's clear there are similarities between the two.  However, as a tale, The Crystal Egg lacks the smoother prose and excitement that permeates War of the Worlds.  However, I appreciate the idea that this story could somehow be part of that universe.  It would be curious to see how well this story, War of the Worlds, and Star-Begotten could be woven together.  

Short Story #77 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  3/17/2014
Source:  A Century of Science Fiction, edited by Damon Knight. Simon & Schuster, 1962.The story can also be found on the Gutenberg Project. There's also an interesting television version of this story from the sci-fi anthology series, Tales of Tomorrow.

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.



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Hybrid Fluxed #03: It Sure Is Easy to Bash the MOOCs Part 1

A colleague brought this article to my attention on the concerns about MOOCs as apply to teaching history at the college level (and more than likely extend to many of us who teach in the Liberal Studies/Arts).  This article like so many written by people concerned about MOOCs are poorly constructed and limited in its value to the discussion.  While some of their claims are things we should be concerned about, others illustrate a failure to think flexibly or understand what they are actually discussing but feel more like reacting for the sake of reacting.  Such articles provide great opportunities to malign these new forms of technology and their impact on education, but do little to actually improve the situation.  In short, these articles are masturbatory acts that help no one when actually considering how to respond to the MOOCs.

The initial problem, I see is that the author, Jonathan Rees conflates the profession of history with the profession of teaching ("To me, Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) represent the potential for the Taylorization of the academic workplace and are therefore a threat to the “rule of thumb” judgments upon which the historical profession depends.").  These are two different things.  Yes--many historians teach, but others do not, and still others consider it secondary or even a necessary evil to what their primary work is.  Also, if teaching was considered a serious part of the historical profession, why is there so little official training for it within history programs?  (More on this later.)

His critical assessment of unbundling seems to undermine or ignore what is par for the course for the majority of courses and the practice of history in general.  He asks, "Why should anybody provide content for their classrooms, they ask rhetorically, when the best professors in the world can be piped in via the Internet?"  Isn't the logical extension of this concern making sure all content of the course is solely from the instructor?  That is, are instructors performing an act of unbundling every time they use outside textbooks, articles, documentaries, etc?   Furthermore, then should we not expect historians to use technology to locate and collect the best materials possible when conducting research?  Why should we expect a world-wide scouring of solid evidence and resources when composing a history article but when it comes to students, assume that the instructor knows all and sees all despite having a limited and almost-singular focus on history (that is, a specialization)?  Unbundling is what all of us do every time we select materials that we ourselves did not create such as textbooks, journal articles, or documentaries.  Pretending that using video lectures from others who may have a better capacity to present the material is different is making a false distinction.  

His assumption that "there are very few history MOOCs compared to the number of MOOCs in other disciplines" because "many other history professors with the opportunity to teach MOOCs have been scared off by the pedagogical sacrifices this kind of teaching would require" is an inaccurate claim with no research.  That would be akin to assuming that since the earliest of films were largely documentary and depiction of the world as it is, it must be because storytellers saw nothing to be gained from storytelling in the cinematic form and never would.  He also seems to imply that no one is interested in doing history MOOCs and yet there are currently over 70 history MOOCS being offered (http://www.mooc-list.com/tags/history).  Maybe that is "few...compared to the number of MOOCs in other disciplines"--but his implication that this is a pedagogical choice is poorly researched and understood.  MOOCs started in the sciences which is why he offhandedly notes, "Computer scientists, for example, seem to love them."  In part because that's where MOOCs started in these disciplines in the late 2000s and took time to make the transition into other disciplines.  Yes, there aren't as many but there are clearly more and more coming.  

He describes "flipped classes" as "Loading them [students] down with taped lectures." Again, this appears poorly presented in that if he had researched flipped classrooms or enlisted the aid of an instructional designer, he would discover that when done with pedagogically sound methods, flipped classrooms are not merely "taped lectures."   Believing that a flipped classroom is just "taped lectures" is like believing that watching a recorded theater performance and watching a cinematic adaptation of a play are the same thing.   

He laments that "Unfortunately, any other historian making use of their content will have to adapt to their particular historical content preferences. I can’t help but wonder whether students will understand who their real professor is in this situation."  Well, here's a question: how often are instructors confused for the authors of the textbooks they use in the course?  How often is the instructor confused for narrator or host of a documentary watched in class?  The answer is probably never or so rare that, the question is silly.  

He also grows concerned about the potential use of celebrities in MOOCs.  Well, if using Matt Damon for the lectures (and in truth, this isn't much different from when an instructor uses a documentary with a famous actor narrating it) can show improved student learning and retention, should we not consider using it--just as we have used celebrities to endorse and encourage other beneficial content and behaviors?  Isn't part of what learning is about emotional connection and if an actor can help one emotionally connect, why is that not a legitimate consideration for learning?  How much training of faculty is there before they step into a classroom about emotional connection and engagement?  Unless you have acquired it outside the discipline through out means or training, there's little guarantee that you have this skilset for the classroom.  

I've listened thousands of audiobooks in the last two decades and professionally reviewed well over 800 of them.  Without a doubt, the professional narrator always does better than author who narrates his or her own book.  There are definitely exceptions, but on the whole, the professional narrator is better at communicating in his or her professional endeavor.  Wherein the author usually does exceedingly well is when he or she has a background in broadcasting already.  The fact is, training someone for years in researching, writing, and professionally presenting historical research is poor training for communicating and engaging with a lay audience (i.e. college students who have little to no interest in history).  How often have we been bored to death by a professional presentation or fought our weighted eyelids as we tried--TRIED--to get through some journal article?   

The real thing that scares the author is:  "Yet such sacrifices are only one way that MOOCs could de-­professionalize, or even de-­skill, large segments of the professoriate. Historians who do not select their own content or write their own lectures could easily be replaced by personnel with less training, perhaps graduate students or people with no training in history at all. Or perhaps the schools that license history MOOCs will hire no onsite teaching help whatsoever and simply let students fend for themselves."  

This brings us back to the earlier point about history as a trained discipline.  Rees is largely scapegoating technology for the actual threat: the history discipline.  How many master and doctorate programs are geared towards producing historians (not including those focused on creating middle and high school history teachers) actually spend any programmatic time on exploring pedagogy for teaching at the college level?  And assistantships do not count--given they are working with live specimens, have inconsistent levels of supervision, and largely are thrown into classes without any training about teaching.   The MOOCs are not de-professionalizing anyone; the discipline is doing so if it isn't actively and consciously training historians as educators (if in fact that is part of the purpose of the history discipline).  Yes, history programs often do well at training the historian to study history but studying history and teaching history are about as far apart as being a mechanic and being a race car driver.  Yes, there is bound to be some overlap but the history discipline largely leaves it to chance that the mechanic is interchangeable with the race car driver.  Pretending that one goes hand in hand with the other is a failure to understand that learning is not the same as teaching. 

Here's a great example:  The very university that Rees teaches at has a Master of Arts in History.  
  • How many courses are required by Masters' students on pedagogy to complete the degree?  Zero.  
  • How many courses on pedagogy or instruction are offered even as electives within the history discipline?  Zero.  
Yet, a graduate with an MA in History can often start teaching at the college level.  If Rees is bemoaning the loss of professionalism within the history discipline, he would do better to actually establish professionalism around instruction within the discipline .  With that in hand, maybe MOOCs wouldn't be as big of a threat as he poses them to be.  

However, he is right.  There are many concerns to MOOCs, though most of them are a matter of time and tweaking.  He points to optional readings as a concern or "sacrifice".  That's not a real concern.  One can require readings--they just need to be accessible to students and not externalized costs at the student's behalf.  If he considers this a "sacrifice", then may he should reconsider why he is critical of the idea that using other professionals' resources in his classroom since the books he assigns for courses are just that.  

What I find most damming about the article is that as a leader, he offers poor leadership in this regard.  He bashes the MOOCs (with poor arguments) but offers nothing in contrast.  He agrees with Aaron Bady that MOOCs "could be done well, I think, but it won’t be."  However, rather than identify and paint a pathway towards how it could be done right, he simply condemns the MOOCs and says that MOOCs are something that "no credit-­awarding university should tolerate."  

Whether it's MOOCs or some other use of instructional technology changing the standard way of things are to be questioned, but they are also to be considered for the ways in which they can improve current teaching and learning.  They are an active conversation happening on campuses across the world and Rees (at least in this article) appears to be saying, don't engage in the conversation.  Stick your head in the sand and wait till the threat passes.  I'm sure history abounds with examples of how well this strategy has worked.  

If Rees and others are truly concerned that the MOOC will create a poor product and potentially deprofessionalize instruction in higher education, then it's time to up the game.  If MOOCs are as true a threat as Rees wants us to think, then we better damn well have alternatives in place when administrators come knocking at our colleges looking to implement MOOCs for credit.  It then becomes our imperative to leverage technology, where professionally relevant, to improve and enhance the experiences of our students.  

In the next post, I intend to do just that: identify different ways we can enhance students experience, maintain professionalism, and save money.  In the end, I agree with Rees that we should be skeptical of new methods but that skepticism needs to be more than just disregard.  We have and create a lot of unnecessary roadblocks and tediousness for our students and as other colleges and alternative to colleges remove these roadblocks, we owe it to our students to make things more streamlined, accessible, and engaging.  



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