Thursday, January 3, 2019

Sci-fi book cover: "Gladiator-at-Law"

  • Title: Gladiator-at-Law
  • Co-author #1: Frederik Pohl (1919-2013)
  • Co-author #2: C.M. Kornbluth (1923-1958)
  • Cover artist: Richard Powers (1921-1996)
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • Cover price: 50 cents
  • Publication date: Original date is 1955. This is the second printing from February 1962.
  • Pages: 171
  • Format: Paperback
  • First-page promotional blurb: "In this world, young lawyer Charles Mundin battles a great combine of corporate interests — battles them in board meetings and in dark alleys — in a struggle that lays bare some brutal promises of the future ... promises we are beginning to make right now."
  • First sentence: The accused was a tallow-faced weasel with "Constitutional Psychopathic Inferior" stamped all over him.
    Last sentence: "We've got cleaning up to do."
  • Random sentence from middle: Mundin began to wonder why they had bothered to come, as the pay-raise was lackadaisically approved by a unanimous voice vote.
  • Goodreads rating: 3.50 stars (out of 5.0)
  • Goodreads review excerpt: In 2015, Brandon wrote: "As social commentary in general, it warns about excessive difference between rich and poor, though as a story it is certainly interesting how the ghetto ends up being in the suburbs. The bubble house technology is the primary science fiction aspect, and the description of those reads not unlike some of the articles in today's world about smart houses."
  • Amazon rating: 4.4 stars (out of 5.0)
  • Amazon review excerpt: In 2008, David F. Nolan wrote: "I read this book when I was a teenager, nearly 50 years ago, and just finished re-reading it. It holds up surprisingly well for a half-century-old work of speculative fiction. Sure, the technology is dated, and you have to mentally multiply all dollar figures by a factor of 20, but as social commentary it's still readable and even engrossing. P&K's portrayal of a decaying, corporate-controlled America is well crafted."
  • Notes: Kornbluth's numerous pen names included Cecil Corwin, S.D. Gottesman, Edward J. Bellin, Kenneth Falconer, Walter C. Davies, Simon Eisner, Jordan Park, Arthur Cooke, Paul Dennis Lavond and Scott Mariner. ... In a back-cover blurb, The New York Times praises the novel as "possessed of a bite and savage vigor which makes it one of the outstanding science-fiction novels of the year." ... Other Ballantine books advertised on the last page, all for 35 cents apiece, include The Funhouse, Fahrenheit 451, Strange Relations, Childhood's End, The Climacticon, Turn Left at Thursday, and Not Without Sorcery. ... I kept getting confused and thinking the title was Gladiator-in-Law, which would be a very different book.

Lost Corners of Twitter Creepiness

Christmastime is more about ghosts, spirits and spooky moments than perhaps we'd like to admit, what with Dickens' A Christmas Carol, AS2 Clarence Odbody, the BBC's A Ghost Story for Christmas series (featuring many M.R. James tales) and, most terrifying of all, Michael Keaton's Jack Frost.

So perhaps it was appropriate that a creepy little Twitter thread popped up a couple days after Christmas last week. It was started by Valerie (@ValeeGrrl), who is Deputy News Editor for a nifty website called Scary Mommy. This was her initial offhand observation of a moment in the parenting life...

That post has gotten nearly 26,000 retweets already, so many folks have seen it. But that's still just a drop in the bucket compared to all the humans on Planet Earth. So I think it's worthy of being preserved as a future Lost Corner of the Internet.

What really makes it great, though, is all the replies to Valerie's tweet. They represent a veritable gold mine of paranormal-twinged instances of possible past life regressions and childhood visits with deceased relatives. (Or perhaps just cryptomnesia or playful storytelling in some cases.)

Here are some of my favorites:

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Auburn: "You can't equal it for $1250"

This 1907 advertisement for The Auburn from Cycle And Automobile Trade Journal isn't quite as cool as the advertisement for The Dragon that I wrote about last year, but it's still interesting.

The Auburn, as it was touted 112 years ago (seven years before the birth of Norman Lloyd) was a five-passenger touring (open) car with a 100-inch wheel base, a pressed steel frame, 24 horsepower and the capacity to travel between 3 and 40 miles per hour.

All of this for just $1,250 in 1907, which is the equivalent of — gulp — more than $33,000 today. That amount of cabbage these days would get you, according to Google and certainly not me, an Audi Q3, a Mercedes-Benz CLA, a Lexus NX or an Infiniti Q50. I'm good with my Civic, thanks.

Auburn Automobile Company, which manufactured this namesake car, was in business from 1900 to 1937 before succumbing to bankruptcy. In 1926, Errett Cord, then the owner of Auburn, partnered with Duesenberg Corporation, which was famous for its racing cars, to launch a line of high-priced luxury vehicles — the Duesenberg Model J.1 Ongoing love for that era's vehicles spurred the launch of the Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg Club in the early 1950s. Of Auburn (under Cord) and its Duesenberg subsidiary, the club's history page states: "The cars they produced are today among the best known and visually stunning in the world. It is fair to say that no two car companies — anywhere, anytime — incorporated more new concepts into their products over a period of so few years."

The company went out of business in 1937, but its Art Deco headquarters in Auburn, Indiana, now houses the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum, which opened in 1974. The building is also a National Historic Landmark.

1. Various sources put the total cost of the 1928 Duesenberg Model J between $13,000 and $19,000, which would be between $190,000 and $277,000 today. Unless your grandfather was a crown prince, this was not your grandfather's car.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

1906 Dutch "Gelukkig Nieuwjaar" postcard & odd folk figure

Happy New Year! This old postcard from the Netherlands has "Gelukkig Nieuwjaar" — that's Happy New Year in Dutch — printed on the front. In addition, someone wrote the date January 1906 in the bottom corner, along with a signature that looks like Bartha P. Smit. Could it be this Bartha Smit, who was born in 1877 in Alkmaar, Netherlands, and died at age 41 in 1918. She was married to Hendrik Bruin. But that's just one possible Bartha Smit from the Netherlands. There are surely others who also fit into the correct timeframe for writing on this postcard.

Another question is the illustration on the postcard itself. What is that thing?? Someone wrote "Belsnickle" on the back of the postcard at some point, perhaps guessing at the identity of the folk figure. I guess that possibility can't be ruled out. That German/Pennsylvania Dutch figure was associated with Christmas and sometimes carried around a switch or bundle of sticks to punish naughty children. Belsnickel/Belsnickel/Belschnickel/Belznickle/Belznickel/Pelznikel/Pelznickel also gives gifts to the good children, but I don't see a gift bag in this illustration.

I reckon this is our first mini mystery of 2019. May our year be filled with fun mysteries!

Monday, December 31, 2018

Colorful Soviet-era Happy New Year postcards

1. С новым годом! "Happy New Year!" in Russian. This card, featuring a rocket, a parachuting cosmonaut and a tree, was published and mailed in 1982.

2. С новым годом! "Happy New Year!" in Russian. This card, featuring a boy with a matching outfit, peace doves and a science book, was published and mailed in 1962. The cursive handwriting on the back is lovely and is shown in the second photo below.

3. з новим роком! "Happy New Year!" in Ukrainian. This card, featuring adorable Ded Moroz and bear figures alongside a pastel-colored rocket in a cottonball forest, was published in 1979.

4. С новым годом! "Happy New Year!" in Russian. This card, featuring a letter-delivering young cosmonaut in a rocket ship with a Christmas tree and bunny rabbit, was published in 1981, the year before Samantha Smith's letter to Yuri Andropov.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

"Fröhliches Neujahr!" vintage German postcard

Switching now from Christmas to New Year's, I have some vintage Happy New Year postcards to share over the next few days. I'm trying to post this one while Monkey (aka Moose, aka Monkers Chunkers1, aka Orange) sits on my lap. I think he's jealous because he's the only cat that hasn't been featured yet as a Papergreat model.

Anyway, this is a German postcard — Fröhliches Neujahr! means Happy New Year — that appears to have been sent in late December 1928. The publisher's logo is shown at right. There is no further information about the publisher on the back. The word Ingersoll is written in large letters on the back, but that's not, to my knowledge, the name of a place in Germany. It's more common as a surname, so perhap it's the family this card was sent to.

In Germany, the four-leaf clover is considered a symbol of good luck for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, which explains its prominence on this postcard. Other lucky charms include mushrooms, ladybugs and little chocolate pigs.

German traditions for this holiday also include putting a carp scale in one's wallet for prosperity throughout the year, melting a small piece of lead as a way to predict the future, watching "Dinner for One," having a midnight toast, sharing cheese, and eating a dish of herring served with cabbage, carrots, and potatoes.

1. Google says I shall be the second...

"Crazy Otto's Back in Town"

Although I should perhaps resent the correct implication that I'm crazy, I was thrilled to receive this groovy Christmas gift — sent through the U.S. Postal Service!1 It's the 60-year-old vinyl sleeve to the 1958 album Crazy Otto's Back In Town. On it, Crazy Otto is dangling from a rope ladder, dressed like he's on his way to Passamaquoddy. The Decca Records cover (DL 8627) proclaims, "43 Favorite Songs 43 Honkytonk Piano."

I don't believe I'm any relation to Crazy Otto, though I suspect an ninth-cousin situation2 is always possible. But who was he?

His real name was Fritz Schulz-Reichel, and he was a German musician who lived from 1912 to 1990. Here's an excerpt from his biography by Bruce Eder on
"He became a light jazz performer known for his unusual, often comical improvisations built on popular melodies, and began building a reputation akin to Victor Borge3 ... but anchored in popular, as opposed to classical, music. ... In 1953, Schulz-Reichel took on the performing identity of Crazy Otto and made records for Deutsche Grammophon, either solo or with a small rhythm group backing him up, consisting of originals and improvisations on established popular tunes."
Discogs appears to have the most complete discography for Schulz-Reichel/Crazy Otto that I could find. Here are some notes from the back cover of Crazy Otto's Back in Town:
"This fascinating album displays the extraordinary talent of Crazy Otto in a collection of well known tunes ... some, old beloved standards like 'Cruising Down The River', 'Bill Bailey', and 'Auf Weidersehen' ... others, current favorites such as 'Dungaree Doll'.4 Old or new, however, they are interpreted in the infectious style that has made the name Crazy Otto synonymous with great piano entertainment. ... The 'tipsy wire box', with which he creates the unusual 'beer hall piano' sound, is his own secret invention."
To complicate matters, there was (sort of) more than one Crazy Otto. Wikipedia states that "in 1955, American musician Johnny Maddox played a medley of his songs, entitled 'The Crazy Otto Medley'; this went to #2 on the U.S. charts, and in the U.S. both Reichel and Maddox were subsequently known as 'Crazy Otto', to some confusion."

Here's a fun illustration from the back of the LP...

And here's a closer look at Schulz-Reichel/Crazy Otto, who was clearly in disguise. Most other photos show him clean-shaven.

1. I am told the postal workers were a little grumpy about processing it.
2. Google says: No results found for "ninth-cousin situation".
3. My mother, grandmother and I loved watching Victor Borge performances on TV. Later, Ashar got a kick out of some of his YouTube videos.
4. "Dungaree Doll" was sung by Eddie Fisher, the father of Princess Leia.