Steven S. Drachman's Blog

December 30, 2017

A few years ago, the Suvudu sf website published this essay of mine in which I allegedly defended my belief in dragons, but actually tried to explain society’s stubborn irrationality. My daughter, who was then 10-years-old, illustrated it! Anyway, it’s been republished by the incredibly popular Unbound Worlds website, and you can see it here.
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Published on December 30, 2017 10:25 • 16 views • Tags: dragons

December 17, 2017

I just heard about the death of Jackie Chan’s manager Willie Chan (he died at the end of October), which is really sad news. The first interview that I ever published was with Jackie Chan for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1989, and it was all because Willie paid some attention to me. I think that the reason Jackie was able to come to America so triumphantly in the 90’s with “Rumble in the Bronx” is because Willie worked so hard during the decades before that to cultivate the geeks who loved Jackie’s films, long before the internet made that kind of thing common. Every Chinese New Year I’d receive a card signed by Jackie that must have been Willie’s handiwork; I’d periodically get a personal letter from Willie letting me know what Jackie was planning next, and I made sure to write about it where I could. When Jackie came to America to host Saturday night live, Willie invited my wife and me to come around and say hello to him and Jackie. All of the writing that I managed to publish back when I was a journalist all started with Willie giving me a chance, and after that, one thing led to another till I was getting a lot of work; obviously a LOT of other people gave me a chance too, but it’s possible that this might not have happened without Willie. He was a really nice guy, but also the kind of strategic thinker that anyone would be lucky to have in his corner.

One other thing – he used to manage all the big stars in Hong Kong. He gave all of them up other than Jackie. The story was that the mob threatened to kill him otherwise. There was a terrible story about him on his knees with a gun on his head. It was reported in some paper a long time ago, maybe in the 1980s. I hope it wasn’t true.
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Published on December 17, 2017 14:35 • 6 views • Tags: jackie-chan, willie-chan

November 12, 2017

On this Veterans’ Day weekend, I am remembering my ancestor Samuel Ward, who is not thought of very often these days. Samuel, with his brothers, was a rigger in the town of Boston in the 18th century, and he chose to enter Washington’s army, while his two brothers remained loyal to the king. One day, his wife was eating breakfast, when Samuel rushed in. “Oh Molly, Molly,” he cried. “The commander has given us 15 minutes to see our families. It has taken five to come, and will take five to return, and five minutes I can spend with you.” He had run all the way from Boston Common to the upper part of Middle Street (now Hanover Street). Think of what those five minutes must have been like for Samuel and Molly, as well as his daughters, and what the memory must have been like for the rest of their lives. He was killed in the very first battle after this meeting.

I would also like to remember his long-forgotten, brave and hot-headed childless son Samuel Ward Jr., who fought on the side of General Washington in the Revolutionary War, as did his father. He went missing in the war, and not until it ended did his mother, a cousin of Governor John Hancock’s wife, learn his fate. He and a friend had “been taken prisoners and had been put on board a[n English] prison ship. There they had been treated so cruelly that Samuel had felt he could not endure it. He gave his friend his mother’s address and begged him, if he should escape, to search Boston until he found her … One morning an officer who invariably insulted the prisoners when he was in charge, knocked over a bucket of tar on the part of the deck already cleaned by young Ward. As he passed, he touched the lad with his foot, and, calling him some vile name, ordered him to clean the tar up. The boy sprang passionately to his feet, caught the officer around the waist and, before anyone had realized what had happened, jumped overboard, still clasping his tormentor. They were seen to rise to the surface once, closely locked together, and that was all.”
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Published on November 12, 2017 06:18 • 2 views

September 24, 2017

I'm not going to blog about politics on this page at all, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Deputy AG in the Trump administration, Rod Rosenstein, is married to a genuine Barsoomian (his wife is former US attorney Lisa Barsoomian)!

His daughters, who live in my hometown of Bethesda, Maryland, are therefore the first identified half-Earthling, half-Barsoomian since Tara and Cathoris, back in the 19th century.

A free copy of my first two "Watt O'Hugh” novels, in either paperback or Kindle (your choice!), to the first 3 of you who can correctly explain what I'm talking about. (And no, I don't pretend that this is the most difficult question in the world.) Email me at Steven@Watt-OHugh.com or here at Goodreads.
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Published on September 24, 2017 09:07 • 22 views • Tags: barsoomian, watt-o-hugh

October 16, 2016

On Friday I got the news – scientists have determined that our universe has around two trillion galaxies. You know, a trillion here, a trillion there, as the fellow said, and pretty soon, you’re talking about a lot of galaxies….

This is really staggering news. Our own galaxy has at least 100 billion planets in it, and possibly as many as 400 billion. Even this seems conservative, as it assumes no more than a single planet per star. But granting some authority to the current estimate, and concluding that there is no particular reason that the Milky Way has fewer planets than, for example, GN-z11, then the number of planets out there is equal to 100 billion times 2 trillion.

I’m not sure what you get when you multiply 100 billion by 2 trillion – apparently, it’s two million quintillion or (in other words) two septillion (which is a 2 followed by 24 zeroes). Even if I got that wrong, it’s still really, you know, a big number. As of Thursday, there were a few billion galaxies. Twenty years ago, our solar system held the only known planets. As of yesterday, even the most famous Earthlings have attained an astonishing insignificance. Earth itself is more insignificant than it was on Thursday. Our planet is really a gnat buzzing around in space.

Clearly, these numbers are not in any way remotely precise, but they drive home a few points – if indeed, as is generally assumed, life has probably arisen on other planets, and the conditions required for life has probably arisen on even more, then right now there are countless oceans lapping up on countless shores, some that were, billions of years ago, observed by sentient creatures from long-extinct, long-forgotten species. And some objectively beautiful oceans – right now, dappled with the light of a spectacular sunrise, multiple moons glittering in their depths – have been observed by no sentient creatures, not ever. Dead planets, whose lifeforms died a billion years ago, populations made up of billions of fellows who were sentient just like you and me – who thought they had souls – and whose entire population now lies beneath miles of dust under a lifeless atmospheric canopy. Have all those lives gone to their Heavenly reward? He let loose the east wind from the heavens and by His power made the south wind blow, or so they say. Yet, right now, the wind blows dust off the tops of a quintillion beautiful mountains, and the dust drifts down into a quintillion valleys, seen and observed by no one. Would a God who created a universe this large truly care about blowing that dust off a quintillion mountains? Would He really care about the blue fringe?

Lawrence Krauss, the physicist and prominent atheist, says, “I think one of the big misunderstandings and abuses of the discussion of science is that science takes away spirituality, which is really awe and wonder and a sense of something bigger than oneself, but the stuff that is bigger than oneself doesn't have to be unreal - it can be real and part of an amazing cosmos, as I like to say - being completely insignificant is uplifting and can be a spiritual experience….”

On Friday, I sat in a conference room, in a meeting, staring into the abyss; I know that on Thursday, I was already quite insignificant. But on Friday, I was more insignificant. So far, I do not find this particularly uplifting and spiritual, but I am working on it.
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Published on October 16, 2016 09:16 • 71 views

August 28, 2016

Recently, during a trip to Vermont, I visited the home of Robert Lincoln, the only one of Abraham Lincoln’s children who survived to adulthood. After some dawdling around, a bit of government service, some brooding (which involved, among other things, committing his not-insane mother to an insane asylum), he moved to Chicago to run the Pullman company, which made fancy train cars, and which played a significant symbolic role in all three Watt O’Hugh books, although of course Robert Lincoln could not have known that. He had two daughters, who lived let’s say interesting lives, and one son, Abraham Lincoln the Second (who was to be known as “Jack” until such time as he could prove himself and “deserve” his given name), who was clearly designated to carry on the family tradition. But in France, the sixteen-year-old Jack scratched his arm, and he died of blood poisoning. Robert had one granddaughter, Peggy Beckwith, who died alone, a crazy old cat lady (and, actually, a crazy old raccoon lady as well), in the home Robert built in Vermont, and Abraham Lincoln’s family line died out. (I knew a guy named Beckwith once, back in junior high school. David Beckwith. Now I wonder if he was related in any way to Abraham Lincoln. He was a Republican, I recall.)

Just imagine how the world might be different today if Abraham Lincoln the Second had not scratched his arm in France and died. Imagine what the world might be like if Abraham Lincoln the Second had run for president. What if Abraham Lincoln the Fourth were around today. Imagine the moral authority he might exert in the name of all kinds of good causes. Alas, not to be.

Poor old Jack.
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Published on August 28, 2016 07:54 • 9 views • Tags: abraham-lincoln
I’m not going to talk about politics here, and if you are a Trump supporter or a Clinton supporter, or a member of the Communist Youth League, or whatever, I hope you read my books and enjoy them and tell your friends.

But presidential language is interesting!

Years ago, when a reporter asked candidate Bill Clinton whether he had ever used marijuana, he replied, “I have never broken the laws of my country,” which seemed to be an ultra-emphatic way of saying no. (Not only have I never used marijuana, he seemed to be saying, I’ve never broken any other laws, just so you know!) When he later admitted that he meant that he had in fact used marijuana in England, he added, “I didn’t inhale.” This gives the impression that he’d tried it, but his heart wasn’t really in it. What it really meant, as his classmate Christopher Hitchens later revealed, was that Clinton preferred his marijuana in brownies, that he was stoned a lot, and really loved it. Clinton’s various answers left a very different impression; they were accurate, but not exactly truthful.

Now that I’ve mused on Clinton’s language, I can muse on Trump’s language, or rather the language his doctor used when describing Trump’s health. (Here is a picture of Trump’s doctor, by the way.)

The doctor said this:

“If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

This is impressive! But how could he ensure that this is accurate, since he has not examined every President going back to George Washington? In a recent interview, he said that in fact that sentence was quite correct because:

“all the rest of them are either sick or dead.”

So what he meant was that Trump, if elected, will be healthier than any other past president is now. So Trump is healthier than Nixon is now, because Nixon is dead. Trump is healthier than the first president Bush is now, because H.W. is 93, frail, broke his neck, and can no longer walk. (Even with this hedge, I still don’t think it’s true – Carter and Bill Clinton both seem frail, but Bush II and Obama remain apparently vigorous.)

I’ve read that sentence over and over again, and I am not sure it means what the doctor is now claiming it means. (He didn’t write, for example, “Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, is healthier than any other past president.”) But the construction of the sentence is confusing enough that I am not really sure what it actually means.

But if his doctor is telling the truth, and he only meant to say that Trump is indeed healthier than a bunch of very sick old men and rotting corpses, it’s not a very impressive diagnosis!

By this calculation, incidentally, I am smarter than Albert Einstein, and so are you. (Because he is dead, and no longer very smart.) I am stronger than Charles Atlas. I am a better tennis player than Arthur Ashe. I am more handsome than Clark Gable. And I am a much much better swimmer than Alfréd Hajós.
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Published on August 28, 2016 07:51 • 87 views

May 22, 2016

One of the reviews of "You, Me and the Apocalypse" noted that for an English coproduction, the creators showed a shocking disregard for the "Oxford comma."

Here in America, adding "You" to the un-comma'ed title "Me and the Apocalypse” requires a comma after “You” but does not result in a second comma being placed after "Me." The proctors at Oxford, however, disagree. So if one were “correctly” using the Oxford comma, the title would be changed to “You, Me, and the Apocalypse.” See the difference? If you use the Oxford comma, it looks wrong, but some people swear by it.

I did go to school at one time, at Columbia, and while I do not recall what Katherine Bucknell taught me about the Oxford comma in Freshman Composition, count me as an Oxford comma skeptic, at least.

To begin with, let’s put aside the idea that the “Queen's English” as determined by the instructors at a ruling class British university should have any particular sway over the American language; after all, at Oxford they write "gaol" and "colour" and they believe that there is such a thing as “aluminium.” And we don’t.

Advocates of the Oxford comma argue that it adds clarity. In a recent “Grammerly” column, Jocelyn Blore, an O.C. enthusiast, proclaims herself “confident in my belief that the Oxford comma is essential in clarifying meaning,” and for evidence, she offers the following sentence from a hypothetical Oscar acceptance speech:

“I’d like to thank my parents, Bill Hudson and Goldie Hawn.”

Written as I have done it, without the OC, you would think that my parents are Bill Hudson and Goldie Hawn. Written with the Oxford comma (“I’d like to thank my parents, Bill Hudson, and Goldie Hawn”), you would not. So, according to Ms. Blore, if the speech were uttered by Kate Hudson, this would be a perfectly good sentence to utter, but anyone else should put a comma after “Bill Hudson.”

My answer to that is that if you really need the Oxford comma to make it clear whether your mother is Goldie Hawn, you really need to take a writing class. If I were winning an Oscar and wished to thank Goldie and Bill, I would try to make the source of my gratitude a little clearer to avoid confusion:

“I would like to thank my parents, for encouraging my dreams. I would also like to thank Bill Hudson, who helped me with my script, and my wonderful co-star, Goldie Hawn.”

You see?

And the flip side of this “clarity” argument is easy to imagine. Take the following sentence, from my hypothetical Oscar acceptance speech, written WITH the Oxford comma, as Ms. Blore would implore:

“I would like to thank my father, Bill Hudson, and Goldie Hawn.”

Now what does this mean? Use of the Oxford comma in this case implies Bill Hudson is my dad, even though he is not, and that Goldie Hawn is some unrelated third party. If Zachary Hudson said this (whose father is Bill Hudson, but whose mother is Cindy Williams) it would make sense, not not if I wrote it. In THIS case, the ambiguity would go away if you were to REMOVE the Oxford comma.

So in some cases the O.C. clarifies, in some cases it confuses. If Oxford comma enthusiasts really think their favorite punctuation mark instantly clarifies any sentence, they need to go back to school.

The Oxford comma may be correct England in England, but here in America it’s bad grammar, and I won’t use it.
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Published on May 22, 2016 08:25 • 49 views • Tags: bill-hudson, goldie-hawn, oxford-comma

May 1, 2016

I turned 51 last week, and I was unfortunately too bogged down with the-worst-cold-known-to-humankind to really enjoy it. Turning 50 was a bit comical – a milestone like that has a strange almost temporary feeling, like some kind of practical joke that fate played on a 40-year-old, and which I could correct once I find the right phone number to call – but 51 is chilling.

This has really happened, and it won’t get better. It is particularly unnerving to feel near death’s door when the fateful day arrives, and doubly unnerving when Prince, the 50-something superstar who is apparently quite a bit healthier than I am, dies the same day. I also quite distinctly remember poor Michael Landon, who the press always acclaimed for looking so darn young, and who died looking terrific at what seemed to me at the time a very-distantly aged 53. (I was in France when he died, and I distinctly recall seeing a headline that read, “Michael Landon ferme les yeux pour la derniere fois” – Michael Landon closes his eyes for the last time.

There is nothing particularly profound about this! But I said I would let you know what I’m thinking about these days, and this is what I am thinking about today, as a 51-year-old man sitting at home drinking chicken soup on an amazingly beautiful day on a dying planet. This is all inspiring me to try to finish the final book of my trilogy before too much more time passes, as well as to get to work on those books by Dickens that I somehow never got around to reading. (My daughter is pressing me to get started on A Tale of Two Cities; I’m sort of inclined to begin with Oliver Twist. I’ve had no luck whatsoever with Lord Jim and Catch-22 – I think great novels are the domain of the young.)

I’ve also been watching the greatest classic movies ever made that I have not yet seen and that I ought to watch before I die, and here are my thoughts:

Stagecoach: John Wayne was really great before he became John Wayne.

Shane: How was it possible that I’ve never seen an Alan Ladd movie before in my life? And where did he find a blow-dryer in the Old West?

Strangers on a Train: The book asked what it would take to corrupt an ordinary man. The movie asks what it takes for an incorruptibly terrific guy, falsely accused, to triumph. Since most of us are not incorruptibly terrific, the book was more interesting.

Dog Day Afternoon: What a great movie. Think what John Cazale might have done, had he lived. Think how happy Meryl Streep would be, had John Cazale lived. 40 years without those puppy dog eyes, those beautiful pouting man-lips. World cinema would truly have been a different thing, had John Cazale lived.

All the President’s Men: Not such a great movie, but, really, why didn’t Hoffman and Redford make 100 bromance movies since then? They could have been the new Abbott & Costello, if Costello had been a Jew. Really, a lost opportunity.

Fanny & Alexander: Can all one’s problems be solved, if one just gets in good with a troupe of magical, transgendered 19th century European Jews? Apparently so. I don’t really understand this movie, but I like it.

Paris, Texas: Harry Dean Stanton marries Nastasja Kinski, giving hope to unattractive and unappealing men everywhere. I am not sure why this 2 and a half hour movie was so hard to stop watching and why in the world I cared so much about these not-interesting people, and why this demonstrably-unbelievable movie seemed so authentic. Quite a remarkable specimen.

La Double Vie de Veronique: Interesting to see a movie in which every single character is downright decent and sympathetic (which the exception of the flasher in the park). Were these two women separated at birth? Are they flip sides of the same coin? What is consciousness? What makes a person who she is?

Next up: All Quiet on the Western Front.
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Published on May 01, 2016 12:34 • 17 views

April 10, 2016

When I am not writing my Book 3, or working my day job, I have taken it upon myself to read only “good” books and to watch only “good” movies. Now that I am very nearly 51 years old, it has occurred to me that I am unlikely to write seven “Watt O’Hugh” books (so I will leave it at three), but also that I am unlikely to read all the great works of literature and to watch the great movies unless I become very focused, and quickly. I love watching “Brisco County Jr.” and “Firefly” over and over again (not to mention Jackie Chan, the Panama scandal notwithstanding), but do I want to find myself on my deathbed shouting, “I never saw Persona or Roshomon! I never read Dickens or Moby Dick!” Well, I imagine that might not be the first thing on my mind when I find myself on my deathbed. But on the other hand, it might. You never know what might haunt me at a moment like that. "I've traveled to Istanbul, Paris and Jerusalem, but I've never read Moby Dick, and now I never will."

So I watched Shane and Stagecoach and Fanny and Alexander, and next up is Raging Bull. I read Updike’s Best Short Stories of the 20th Century and Catch-22, I'm halfway through Lord Jim and next I will turn to American Tragedy.

We will see how long it takes before I am spending all my time watching Roseanne reruns and reading re-reading Astro Boy manga, but for now I am feeling dedicated.
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Published on April 10, 2016 09:13 • 25 views