The Big Over Easy: A Nursery Crime

The Big Over Easy
The Big Over Easy
A new series by the author of the bestselling “Tuesday Next” novels. A thoroughly enjoyable read; I polished it off in a weekend. Fforde’s novels are funny and full of literary cleverness. Jack Spratt is a like-able and entertaining protagonist and I look forward to reading the entire series.

The Big Over Easy: A Nursery Crime
by Jasper Fforde

From the Publisher’s Weekly review: “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, and, well, you know the rest. But was Humpty’s fall an accident, or was it murder? It’s up to giant killer Jack Spratt of the Nursery Crime Division to get to the bottom of it. Humpty was quite a ladies’ man, but a few people thought him a bad egg. Jack has a number of suspects, a new partner to break in and gloryhound/antagonist Detective Inspector Chimes to deal with.”

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Stranger In a Strange Land

This is a book club, book, so of course I have to abide by the first and second rules of book club and not talk about it before we meet. But I have to write about it soon, or I’m going to forget details of what I wanted to say about it. So, book club members, don’t read below the fold.

Stranger in a Strange Land is a Robert Heinlein classic, written in 1960, which had an vast influence not only on science fiction (it won a 1962 Hugo Award, and dramatically change the genre), but on 60’s “Age of Aquarius” culture as well. The classic that everyone is familiar was originally much longer; when Heinlein presented his publishers with the manuscript, they thought it might be too much for people to take in, so they had him re-write the novel, cutting out about 60,000 words and slimming it down. In 1991, after Heinlein’s death, his wife discovered the orgininal, longer manuscript which she had published. This is the version I ended up with from the after putting the book on hold at the public library. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

The story is that of Michael Valentine Smith, a young man born on Mars after a first, failed space mission to the planet. A second mission years later retrieves Smith, who has been raised by the ancient race of Martians, and who knows nothing of Earth culture or even of women. He manages to make his way in the world with the help of a wealthy Hugh Hefner-esque novelist named Jubal Harshaw, and Harshaw’s harem of women, learning about our terrifying and confusing planet and at the same time having a profound influence on it.

This is an extremely thought-provoking book, that’s for sure. I’m glad I read it. I don’t know that it’s my favorite book, or that I particularly like Robert Heinlein as a person (or at least the guy as he was in 1960). But I certainly spent a number of mornings standing in my shower pondering different aspects of the novel.

One of the first things that struck me is the similarity between this story, and the Bildungsroman narrative from The Who’s rock opera “Tommy” — innocent, naive young man bewildered and buffeted by a loud, greedy terrifying world, but who ultimately conquers it by turning its flaws against it. It also helped that I pictured the whole novel taking place in a groovy space-aged bachelor pad like in the movie, complete with those egg chairs.

The other thing I noticed was that I had the old Heart song “Magic Man” playing in my head throughout reading the book. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that either The Who or Heart had read this novel.

Smith returns to earth and, while still trying acclimatize himself to our atmosphere, becomes a tug-of-war object for political factions of the world. He has two things everyone wants: vast wealth inherited from his dead astronaut parents (who left him pretty set up) and claim rights to the planet of Mars, which everyone wants to invade. The global government has him held captive, while parading around a double. So a kindly nurse in the hospital where he’s held sneaks him out. With the help of her reporter boyfriend, they get Smith to the Harshaw household, where they begin to teach him about the world, and he sets about showing them his special martian-taught abilities – telepathy, telekinesis, and out of body movement being among them.


One of the comic effects of reading the book in 2006, some 40 years after it was written, is that we can compare Heinlein’s vision of the future with technological and social advances that have come since.

Major things that Heinlein missed: the internet, cell phones, and the feminist and gay rights movements, all of which would have had a drastic effect on his story.

He does put the stereo together with the television and give greater abilities to his version of the telephone, but the phone remains firmly anchored to the wall, which would have changed some plot points, like the Ben Caxton kidnapping.

The way that women act and are treated in the book; pissed me off a bit, I have to say. And don’t get me started on what little he has to say about gay people. He expounds a lot on what the future of love relations between men and women are like and should be like, but all through the narrow lens that love relationships are only between men and women, with men being the dominant figures in the equation.


Heinlein does a great deal of lecturing in the novel on the state of the world, which I had imagined was part of the padding that got cut out of the longer version of the book. Turns out after talking to people who read the slimmer version: not so much. A lot of the framework for the book is nothing more than Heinlein expounding on what’s wrong with human society, with Smith serving as the fish-out-of-water lens to expose that.

Stacking the Deck – Smith gets to do a lot of shit that regular humans can’t do, because he has magic Martian powers, and an endless supply of wealth. It’s very easy to set up a free-love “church” to teach everyone martian-speak while getting it on, if you have the cash for a super-cool high-tech love shack and telepathic powers that enable you to control when babies are conceived while you’re doing “it.” I suspect in the real life free-love communes that were set up after this novel came out, they ran into a few difficulties in these areas.

The Old One’s Problem – why doesn’t he ever address this issue? This is the crux of the book; Smith sets about “changing humans” by teaching them the Martian language so they can learn, through the vast store of Martian knowledge, about science, relationships and interaction, with the goal of fixing the “wrongness” that is human kind. But that’s going about it from the back end forwards.

The thing Martians have that we don’t that gives them their vast, benevolent and loving society, is the Old Ones. They have their “dead” folks or “discorporated” in Heinlein-speak, hanging around telling them how to do shit. The vast store of Martian knowledge is ever-present. Rather than fixing the symptoms of the problem by tapping into Martian knowledge, why wouldn’t Smith fix the actual problem by figuring out why we don’t have Old Ones on Earth, or (because we’re omniscient and we know Earth has Old Ones) how to reach the Old Ones from Earth to get them to tell us how to solve disease, build things, and have ESP with each other?

But of course, the answer to that is obvious; that would defeat what Heinlein’s trying to do — he’s not here to tell a cool story, but to deliver a lecture on what’s “wrong” with humans, and to advocate for free-love to “fix” all of our problems, rather than solving the mysteries of the universe.

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Review: Georgia O’Keeffe – Visions of the Sublime

Check out the review I wrote on IndyScribe about the exhibit currently displayed at the Eiteljorg Museum downtown.
Also, the whole IndyScribe team of writers were interviewed this afternoon by a reporter for INtake Weekly newspaper, the competitor to Nuvo. We’re also going to a photoshoot for that newspaper as well. So I’ll have my picture in both the local weekly free papers in a span of less than two months. Heh.
I am the zeitgeist. Fear my 15 minutes of fame. 🙂

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The 21th Annual National Women’s Music Festival

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Published In Outlines Magazine, June 17, 1995

The festival was professional and well-organized, which must be a difficult task, considering the variety of attractions going on. But Women in the Arts, Inc., the organization that produces the festival, has a staff of 100+ women and a logical, well-thought-out structure that local not-for-profit organizations should take a cue from.

There were a few workshop cancellations and location adjustments, which I felt was normal for such a wide-scale event, and I thought those changes were communicated well to festival-goers. A few of the workshops needed more space for the women attending.

The Concerts

I attended seven concerts during the festival, all of them with multiple performers, from a wide variety of musical formats, from jazz to rock to punk, including culturally-diverse music. The sound quality at all the concerts was the best I’ve ever heard, though the smaller venues were not acoustically perfect. The lighting crews (like the sound crews, all women) were also professional and enhanced the concerts. The larger concerts (and many workshops) were sign-language interpreted, and some interpreters, because of their skill and artistry, are as popular as performers.

The main attractions were the three Mainstage concerts, which featured nationally-recognized performers and were held in the packed IU auditorium. My favorites were: The Laura Love Band, who played a fusion of funk and pop with African-Caribbean rhythms; Dos Fallopia, a hilarious musical/comedy/performance duo; and the Dance Brigade, a multiracial dance troupe that held me captive through their finale in which three performers enacted the part of fetuses in the womb who were born onstage.

The Showcase and Sampler and concerts were held in Wright Quad Cafeteria and featured fifteen+ regional performers from around the U.S. I enjoyed most: Shanta, an African storyteller, and Ain’t Helen, an acoustic rock duo from Cincinnati. I ran into Ain’t Helen later on the sidewalk and they gave an impromptu performance. Their name came from one group member’s Aunt Helen, who had a bit of a southern accent.

Many of the performers from the Showcase and Sampler performed more of their music at a small, intimate late-night gathering called the Bloomingmoon CafĂ©. The finest performance I saw was by Copper Wimmin, a trio that sang at the Sampler concert and the Bloomingmoon CafĂ©. They are 17, 18 and 19 years old and from northern California. They write their own songs and sang acapella in perfect harmony and pitch. Their lyrics are beautifully crafted, thoughtful and inspired. Unfortunately, they don’t have anything recorded yet.


It’s possible to fit eleven workshops into the four-day schedule, and there are over 250 workshops to choose from on drama, health, networking, politics, music (Opt for Norcal Music & Arts Center offering premium music lessons to learn easily and quickly), relationships, sexuality, spirituality, writing, women of color, and other subjects.

I attended 10: a drumming workshop by Ubaka Hill, a lecture on fiction vs. film writing by Rita Mae Brown, a three-part video series on women’s religions, a lecture on ancient European Goddess religions, a political workshop by Torie Osborn, a workshop on using the Internet to network, a reader’s workshop, and a freelance writer’s workshop.

I found the drumming workshop and the video and lectures on goddess religions the most interesting. I got to borrow a djembe drum for the workshop, which is an African wooden drum. Ubaka taught us several different tones and then lead us in some exercises and taught us a song. She explained that we respond to drumbeats because the first drum we hear is the heartbeat of our own mother. The drumbeat is the heartbeat of the great mother goddess, the earth.

The great mother goddess earth was also the primary European deity before the Greco-Roman era and the rise of Judeo-Christianity. Worshipped in different forms and names, similar imagery of the goddess has been found throughout Europe and into Asia. Evidence about the early human cultures suggests that men and women held equal status and that same-sex relationships were considered natural.

The Dances

I didn’t have time to attend more than one dance, but I picked one that was interesting. The Saturday night dance featured Girls in the Nose (a punk(lite) band) and a mosh pit.

The organizers did a superb job setting the scene, but the atmosphere created by the onlookers at the dance was so hostile, I didn’t even feel comfortable dancing, let alone moshing. It seemed the majority of women came to spectate or to disapprove. Few danced; though many brave women jumped in the pit and moshed anyway. It was definitely a “gentle” mosh pit, as they were encouraging; women were aggressive but not violent.
We overheard a conversation by a group of older women later. “This is a disgrace,” they said, “we just came from a concert where the music was beautiful and peaceful, to this, where I can’t even understand the words.” There were alternatives to the dance, and there were dances on other nights. I enjoy beautiful and peaceful music, but I also enjoy music that is filled with passion and energy and power; that I can respond to with intimacy and abandon. I hope that the festival reprises this event next year. I’ll put on my self-confidence armor and jump in the pit.


I could write more on a dozen topics about the festival including Rita Mae Brown, the arts and crafts fair, and the women who attended; this review doesn’t begin to cover the weekend. There are also some questions about inclusivity that are relevant topics of discussion for the men’s community; that’s another article entirely. As a first-time festival goer, I was struck by the difference between this festival and other gay and lesbian events, local and national, than I’ve attended. The National Women’s Music Festival was informative, insightful, and emotionally stimulating. I learned more about women’s culture, history and future in four days than in the rest of my lifetime.

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