Other Voices #17 (Post #100)

~ My Book of the Year ~

OrientalVagabonds

Oriental Vagabonds.  268-page novel by Richard Regan.  I think most of my readers know by now that I love an old-fashioned adventure story, one that is driven by the characters, one in which the sex scenes don’t sprawl over five or six pages, rivaling any hard-core porn out there in their graphic detail, one in which the explosions can’t be seen from a neighboring star.  Very few books fill the bill for me any more, let alone movies, but Oriental Vagabonds, set in the South Pacific on the eve of World War II, had it all.  Nazi agents, British bureaucrats, a femme fatale and her Russian minders, Chinese criminals, smuggled cargoes, and every colorful personality that can be found lurking around the docks in every Asian seaport.  I know because I’ve been there, and perhaps that is why this book spoke to me so deeply, but the realism simply leaps from the page.  These are no highly-trained S.E.A.L.s and secret agents eager to leap into action, but tired seamen trying to make a living, and dealing as best they can with whatever a world gone mad might throw at them.  You can read my five-star review (and several others) here, and purchase this fine piece of literature, nostalgic in both style and period, for $2.99 on Kindle.  If the call of adventure strikes a chord in your soul, don’t miss this!

~ Weekly Picks ~

SkaldsBlackVerse

The Skald’s Black Verse.  330-page novel by Jordan Loyal Short.  When a sinister creature murders one of the conquerors’ soldiers, Brohr’s violent reputation makes him the prime suspect.  Haunted by a rage-filled ghost, Brohr’s disturbing possessions quickly become the reason for all of his troubles, and the only way he can survive.  With a grandfather bent on dragging him into a failed rebellion, and a deadly comet hurtling toward his embattled world, Brohr sets off on a quest to save his people and uncover the truth about a war stretching back into the ancient past.  Can he discover the true power of a Skald’s voice before the world itself ends in ash and flame?  $4.99 on Kindle.

PocketfulOfStars

A Pocketful of Stars.  228-page novel by Magaret Ball.  Thalia Kostis will be the first to tell you it’s not magic, it’s theoretical math when she walks a Möbius strip through walls to her office at the Institute for Applied Topology.  CIA Case Officer Bradislav Lensky doesn’t care what it is, as long as she can help track down a smuggling ring and the terrorists in their safe house in Austin.  The other magicians nearby don’t agree, and don’t care for new rivals either!  Now Thalia and the rest of her misfit crew are in a race against time, terrorists, common sense, grackles, and their graduate advisor to save the day!  $2.99 on Kindle.

Nightmares3AM

Nightmares at 3 AM.  101-page anthology by Jake Wiklacz.  A young boy realizes there is something lurking in his closet.  A museum security guard begins hearing the voice of a 4,000-year-old mummy in his head.  A marine biologist encounters a deep-sea leviathan.  A young woman is tempted by a hidden, illegal fortune.  A bear hunter finds himself tracking Bigfoot.  These are just some of Jake Wiklacz’s “Nightmares at 3 AM”, all of which are compiled into this 12-story horror anthology.  99¢ on Kindle.

JessicasFootprints

Jessica’s Footprints.  154-page novel by J.R. Evangelisti.  Atmospheric ionic transgression, electro kinetic propulsion, exceeding the speed of light, this is Science Fiction with a touch of the paranormal and a true mystery.  In current times, a seventeen year old girl named Jessica involved on an archeological field trip near Lake Mungo, New South Wales, finds the footprints left 20,000 years earlier.  We fast forward twenty years to find the trajectory of Jessica’s life has changed as government scientists and a former colleague fiercely believe extraterrestrials left the footprints.  The now famous Dr. Jessica Bethany who has earned doctorates in Ethno-Archeology and Mythology disagrees with the other scientists assessments.  She faces hostile crowds while on tour across the country explaining her reasoning.  Jessica, while on a lecturing tour during the holiday season in Roswell, New Mexico, forms a friendship with a single woman struggling to raise two adopted children.  Jessica begins to exhibit hallucinations and odd behaviors in Roswell.  It turns out there are powerful forces that want to silence the truth behind Jessica’s discovery.  Lives will change forever as well as humankinds understanding of the Universe.  $1.99 on Kindle.

StoneObsession

Stone Obsession. 266-page novel by Julie Morgan.  Dark magic doesn’t die easily. Luckily, neither does she.  In a world racing toward extinction, the Siren Amaryah fights for survival.  Under the plagued waters of Antarctica, she faces sea creatures mutated into predators by an old, dark magic.  The frozen lands above are riddled with danger, as well, where Pirates, Magicians, and Islanders all vie for power.  A single Legacy Stone could change all that — it could bring back the world Amaryah lost.  And she plans to find it.  After all, if there’s nothing left to live for, she has nothing left to lose.  Or so she thinks.  Dark magics have ways of fighting back, and she’ll face more threats than ever before — not least of all the possibility of a long-forbidden love.  A love she may have to sacrifice in order to save her world.  99¢ on Kindle.

Curiosities4

Curiosities #4.  144-page anthology.  Curiosities is a thrice annual publication of short speculative fiction in the retropunk subgenres.  In this edition, you will find ten stories from the age of jazz and diesel, with hard boiled detectives, fast talking time travelers, bakelite automatons, body hopping cultists, ambitious aviators, a Tesla powered metropolis, and even an urban fantasy set in Weimar Berlin.  Welcome to our fall exhibits of wonders and curiosities.  Paperback only, $7.50.

HonorMustPrevail

Honor Must Prevail.  544-page novel by Ian Spier.  A Paranormal Fantasy epic and alternate history set in Renaissance times, with an ensemble cast led by a young demigoddess who takes too much for granted, and her stern bodyguard, who are on a quest to contain the damages of what will be known as the great sundering.  Many nations will be irrevocably altered and scarred, some even destroyed by year’s end.  Other heroes in other lands, are pitted against the same enemies.  One is a traumatized orphan, bound by fate to take the path he fears most, to save his daughter.  Another is a disgruntled and cynical captain, a man of his word, but increasingly resentful of the people he is sworn to protect, who see only his blood ties to the Baron.  Nothing prepares him for the betrayals that lay in wait for him, and threaten all he holds dear, above all his sister, his niece and and his cousins.  His journey is the most perilous of all, on every possible front.  These four and their allies are flung headfirst by happenstance and conspiracy, into a saga of heartbreak, redemption, discovery and heroism.  Those that survive will be forever changed.  $2.99 on Kindle.

TargetCommittee

The Target Committee.  64-page history by Paul Ham.  How did America choose the targets for the atomic bomb?  What made Hiroshima preferable over Kyoto or Tokyo?  Critical to the mission to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a series of meetings set up in mid-1945 and comprising America’s most powerful military, political and scientific chiefs.  The committeemen would decide where and how the first nuclear weapons would be used in anger.  In this absorbing and provocative narrative, historian Paul Ham shines a torch on their arguments to reveal the thinking behind the atomic destruction of two cities – and how the Target Committee justified it at the time.  99¢ on Kindle.

WestTechTerrorist

The West Tech Terrorist.  220-page novel by Peter Jedick.  The West Tech Terrorist is a mystery romance novel that provides a taste of the home front during World War II America.  It is the fall of 1941 at Cleveland’s West Technical High School, one of the largest and most unique high schools in America.  The United States is on the brink of World War II.  Victor Blazek, the sports editor of the West Tech school newspaper, and his girlfriend, Doris, try to foil a sinister plot by Nazi sympathizers inside the school.  But their attempt as amateur sleuths puts both their lives in danger.  Paperback only.  $16.95 on Amazon.

~ Blogs ~

I have been telling you for the past couple of weeks to visit my other blog, Jack’s Hideout, where the right sidebar contains a list of the blogs I follow that update in real time.  I also understand that some of you, for various reasons, lack the time or inclination to do that, so here for your convenience is a list of some of the latest updates.

Charles Heath, Author:  Not your average to-be-read list.
Cheche Winnie:  Holiday month.
Michael May:  “I was a boy here.” | Graphic Classics, Volume 19: Christmas Classics.
Metapunk:  The sounds of Mars.
Inmate Blogger:  Knowing who you are (Part 1).
C.W. Hawes:  Tony Price: Confidential.
NEW FOLLOWER:  Martial Arts Weapons and Training: Coming home to the martial arts.
SPECIAL MENTION:  The Rebel Fish:  The hope found in a dead mouse.

AND A PERSONAL FOOTNOTE:  I logged on Tuesday morning to find a visit from someone who clicked over from Richard Schulte’s promotional article on Stingaree.  I have been spreading the word to all and sundry for the past few months that I am no longer a writer, even withdrawing my submission to an editor who was enthusiastic about a possible book deal, but Stingaree, set in my home town, has always been a project of great personal interest to me, and without making any promises, I am going to get out the material as part of my daily routine and try to finish it.  Don’t know whether I can, but if its unfinished form is still generating interest, I’ll make the effort to bring it to completion.  Is that a New Year’s resolution?  You call it what you want; I call it trying to do right by readers who are generous enough to give me their time.  We’ll see where it leads.

And that’s 30 for today.  Check in Sunday, when you just may find a post of the sort I used to do, a discussion of a lesson I’ve learned over my writing career that might save you having to learn it through painful trial and error.  And, as always, read well, and write better!

Kung Fu: The Pilot

All life is precious, nor can any be replaced.”

~ MASTER CHEN MING KAN

February 22nd, 1972:  During the preceding week, 60,000,000 Americans had tuned in to watch live as President Richard Nixon visited the People’s Republic of China, opening relations with a country that had been shunned and ignored for a generation.  The VW Beetle eclipsed the Model T Ford as the most popular automobile in history.  Nilsson’s power ballad Without You dominated the charts, and would finish 1972 as the #4 song of the year.  Two future greats in the world of sports were born, Jerome Bettis and Michael Chang, as well as Billie Joe Armstrong, lead singer of Green Day.  Cabaret and Pocket Money were packing them into theaters, and the ABC Television Network, already known for pushing the edges of entertainment with innovative shows from Monday Night Football to Schoolhouse Rock!, opted to take a chance on a Zen western, and aired the 90-minute television movie Kung Fu.  At a time when the western series, a staple of 60s television, was in its death throes, edgy, youth-oriented ABC gave us a western about a man who carried no weapons and tried to bring peace and harmony to everyone he encountered.  Of course, the show took its plot from the fact that some folks are more ready to embrace peace than others.  It would go on to be one of the most popular television series of the early 1970s, receiving widespread critical acclaim and commercial success upon its release.  So, let’s get into the pilot and begin the process of working out what made it such a success.

WARNING:  It is my assumption as I write this 44 years after the series has ended and most of the stars have died that everyone who wants to see this has seen it, so I’m spoiling everything!

KFTitle

The Way of the Tiger, The Sign of the Dragon

The pilot opened, as did every episode, with a long view of a completely barren desert, lifeless except for a man in rough-spun clothing walking out of the blazing sun.  The camera moves in in zooms and steps until we see that it is Kwai Chang Caine, as portrayed by David Carradine.  During the drawn-out scenes of him walking, meant quite effectively to imply a long time spent crossing the desert, we are shown the names of cast and crew.

The major stars who will drive the plot are Barry Sullivan, Albert Salmi, Wayne Maunder, and Benson Fong.  Appearing for the first time, as they will in every episode, are Philip Ahn as Master Kan, Keye Luke as Master Po, and Radames Pera as the child Kwai Chang.  The story is written by Ed Spielman and directed by Jerry Thorpe.  Business concluded and commercials delivered, we open on Scene 1.

During Caine’s walk across the desert, flashback scenes are interwoven depicting young Caine’s wait with a dozen or more other young boys outside the Shaolin Temple, hoping to be admitted as a student.  In twos and threes, the boys who play games or seek shelter from the weather are sent home until four are left.  These four are brought into the temple, seated at a long table before Master Kan, and given cups of tea.  When Kan lifts his cup, all the boys except Caine take theirs and drink.  The master who brought them in tells them, “Please go home.”  Caine rises with the rest of them, but is told that he may stay.

“Why did you not drink?” Kan asks.

“After you, venerable sir.”

Kan asks about Caine’s family, and is told that all are dead.  He points out that no one of other than full Chinese birth has ever been accepted to the Shaolin Temple.  As young Caine looks down, devastated, Kan ads, “But there is a first time for everything.”  He produces a pebble, and tells Caine to snatch it from his hand.  Caine tries, but fails.  Kan tells him that when he can take the pebble from his hand, it will be time for him to leave.

Caine then walks into a ramshackle town made mostly of planks, and enters Bub’s Saloon, a busy, noisy place.  He asks for water, is served without incident, and sprinkles some powdered herbs into it.  As he begins to drink, a loud, bullying type at a card table loudly announces that he doesn’t like Chinamen coming into a white man’s bar, and Caine smells a little yellow to him.  He gets up to manhandle Caine out the door, but Caine makes him look like a fool in front of his friends.  Angered now, he attacks in earnest, first with a chair, then with a knife.  Caine has no problem defending himself, and the guy is smart enough to quit before he is seriously injured.  Caine, having established his badassery credentials, walks slowly to the door.

KFpilot2

Scene 2

Caine steps into the street where he is met by Han Fei (Benson Fong), a worker for the nearby railroad, who invites him to come along and work for them.  Mr. McKay (Wayne Maunder), the railroad’s engineer, joins them, and they board a wagon to ride to the camp.

Raif

In the first of what would become the show’s signature flashbacks, we see young Caine having his head shaved, and he begins sweeping in a series of scenes encompassing fall and winter as Master Kan watches.  Back in the present, Caine and the others arrive at camp.  McKay visits the crew boss, Mr. Dillon (Barry Sullivan) to inform him that the rock formation they are approaching is a “balsa” or “balsan” formation, which is likely to contain pockets of natural gas, and should be avoided.  If the samples he took come back positive, they will have to survey a route around it, a process that will take two to three months.  Dillon isn’t interested in this, as it will cost the railroad a ton of money, and reflect poorly on his own performance.  Han Fei introduces Caine to the line foreman, a nasty piece of work named Raif (Albert Salmi) who verifies that Caine can speak English and warns him to behave himself and they’ll get along fine.

Scene 3

Caine is now a member of a work crew cleaning shale from between the tracks.  Various conversations are in progress, but Caine isn’t joining in.  Hsaing (James Hong) asks why he doesn’t speak.

“A man without words is a man without brains.”

“If one’s words are not better than silence, one should keep silent.”

KFForearmBranding2

A supply wagon arrives and the crew breaks to unload it.  A crate starts to fall, and Caine reaches up to catch it.  As he does, his sleeves fall back, exposing the dragon and tiger brands on his forearms that mark him as a Shaolin priest.  Whispers fly through the crowd, and he turns to find everyone bowing to him.

We flash back to young Caine sweeping in the temple as he is approached by Master Po (Keye Luke).  Surprised to see that he is blind, Caine surmises that to live in darkness must be the worst of all fates.

“Fear is the only darkness,” Po tells him.  He orders Caine to strike him with his broom.  Reluctant at first, young Caine quickly becomes frustrated and begins to attack in earnest.  He is never able to score a hit on the elderly man.

“Never assume that because a man has no eyes, that he cannot see,” Po admonishes.  “Close your eyes.  What do you hear?”

“I hear the water.  I hear the birds.”

“Do you hear your own heartbeat?”

“No.”

“Do you hear the grasshopper that is at your feet?”

Startled, Caine looks to find the insect that Po told him was there.

“Old man, how is it that you hear these things?”

“Young man, how is it that you do not?”

Po will call Caine “Grasshopper” throughout the series, and this is the origin of the nickname.

Scene 4

The Chinese watch Caine work, and speculate on what a Shaolin priest might be doing on an American railroad gang.  In another flashback, young Caine is working at his menial chores around the temple when Master Kan stops to ask him how long he has been there.

“A very long time, Sir.”

“How long?”

After a long pause, Caine replies, “Not very long.”

Kan nods approvingly, and says, “Soon you will learn.”

Scene 5

In another flashback, young Caine watches a shuriken demonstration as Kan’s voice-over explains the difference between inner and outer strength.

“The outer is obvious.  It fades with age, and succumbs to illness.  The inner strength, or chi, is also possessed by everyone, but it is much harder to develop.  Inner strength lasts through every heat and every cold, through old age and beyond.”

In this scene also, he begins learning to walk on rice paper, that his steps may not be heard.

Scene 6

Caine and Han Fei, over their meager fare in the workers’ tent, discuss destiny vs. free will.  They agree that, while they seem opposites, both are true.  Hsiang comes in, sits down between them, and begins to complain about how the railroad is starving and freezing their countrymen.  The wind blows the candle out, triggering another flashback.

Young Caine is being taught that development of the mind can be achieved only when the body has been disciplined, this being the true purpose of kung fu.  Master Kan explains the five sacred animals.

“From the white crane we learn grace and self-control.  The snake teaches suppleness and rhythmic endurance.  The praying mantis teaches us speed and patience.  From the tiger we learn tenacity and power.  And from the dragon we learn to ride the wind.  All creatures, the low and the high, are one with nature.  If we have the wisdom to learn, all may teach us their wisdom.  When we perceive the ways of nature, we remove conflict within ourselves and discover a harmony of body and mind in accord with the flow of the universe.”

Back in the camp, some of the workers have heard of a renegade priest with a price on his head for murder.  They believe that Caine is that priest, and begin to speculate about what it would take to collect the reward.  One of them sneaks off to tell Dillon and Raif . . . something.

Scene 7

McKay witnesses blasting going on, and confronts Dillon, who denies having received McKay’s report.  McKay says that he has more copies, and that one is going to the home office in San Francisco, and another to the adjutant general in Washington before he rides off in a huff.  There is a wordless exchange between Dillon and Raif, who rides off after him.

As Caine drives spikes, we see a flashback to a teenage Caine (an uncredited Keith Carradine) sparring with Master Po with staves.  They are evenly matched, and enjoying themselves.  Caine then asks Master Teh (John Leoning) what is the best way to deal with force.

“As we value peace and quiet above all else, there is a simple and preferred method.  Run Away.”

Scene 8

Raif and a henchman return to camp with McKay’s body in the back of a buckboard.

“Accident,” Raif says.

“Bury him,” Dillon orders.

They do so, and as Caine attends the grave, Raif comes over to tell him that Caine bothers him.  He has the feeling that Caine thinks he’s better than the others.  He threatens to teach Caine that he can bleed like the others, but as he levels his shotgun, the mountain erupts in a series of explosions.

Scene 9

It is night.  The workers are waiting for daylight so they can begin the task of digging out the bodies.  Two factions argue, one led by Han Fei, the other by Hsaing.  Han Fei wants to continue the status quo while Hsaing wants to rebel against the bosses and do them harm.  Caine, of course, counsels them to avoid violence, but Hsaing has been pushed too far.  He’s going to confront them right now.  As he leads some of the more vocal protestors toward Dillon’s office, he is gunned down by one of the henchmen.  Caine sends the others back to their tent, saying, “Let one death be enough.”

Dillon was out with his guards because he was on his way to arrest Caine to hold for the agent of the Chinese Legation who is coming to collect him.

Scene 10

They bring Caine into the supply tent and hog-tie him to the tent post.  Raif leaves orders that no one is to come in here.  We flash back to the temple, where an adult Caine walks the rice paper with ease, leaving not a blemish on its surface.  He then tries to sneak up on Master Po, who calls him by name.  They have a discussion about the harmony of life, and Po admits to harboring one small ambition, to visit the Forbidden City five years hence.

Back in the present day, a henchman looks in to check on Caine only to find a pile of rope at the base of the tent post.  Dillon says if he headed back to town, they’ll pick him up on the road.  If not, then give him four days, then go out and pick up what’s left of him, implying that he has no food or water, and the harsh country will kill him by then.  As they talk, we see Caine finding edible plants out in the wilderness.

In another flashback, Master Kan approaches Caine at his meditation and wordlessly holds out a pebble.  Caine stands and faces him, and with a lightning motion, snatches it away.

“Time for you to leave.  Remember always that a wise man walks with his head bowed, humble like the dust.”

A gate is opened, giving access to a corridor lined with masters, each holding out his bare forearm, branded with a tiger or a dragon.  Caine bows to them, and they pass out on both sides, leaving him to face his last test.

“Goodbye, my master,” he says to Po.

“What do you hear?” Po asks.

“I hear the grasshopper.”

KFexiturn

Po smiles and joins the others.  Caine moves into a room with an exit blocked by a cast iron urn that looks to weigh about 300 pounds.  Filled with burning charcoal, it features raised tiger and dragon carvings on both sides, glowing red hot.  To leave the temple, Caine must lift this between his forearms and move it aside, thereby branding himself as a priest of the Shaolin Order.  He does this, staggers outside, and falls face-down in the snow.

Scene 11

Caine digs a pit to shelter in, presumably during the heat of the day.  In a startling continuity gaffe, he uses a shovel that was nowhere to be seen as he was making his way through the wilderness following his escape, and covers it with a tarpaulin, likewise nowhere in evidence during his escape.  I’m willing to wink at this and enjoy the larger story, but shame on you!

Scene 12

A couple of henchmen arrive in camp with two wagons full of dynamite.  Raif goes to tell Dillon that it’s arrived, and is told that they’ll start blasting again in the morning.  Outside, a triangle is being rung to announce the evening meal, and as the workers are lining up, all the dynamite explodes.  Raif tells Dillon that he’ll take two of his best men and go put a stop to this once and for all.

Scene 13

Raif and his men discover Caine’s hiding pit.  They quietly surround it and empty their guns into it.  Caine then leaps down onto them from an outcropping above.  The next scene is of their riderless horses returning to camp.  Han Fei smiles knowingly.

As neither Raif nor his two accomplices are ever seen again, we have to assume that Caine killed them.  This is a far cry from the peaceful monk we came to know as the series progressed, and it would have been interesting to have been privy to the conversations that must have taken place concerning his willingness to take lives with his skills.

Scene 14

Dillon shouts into the landscape from the edge of camp, having been told that Caine will be able to hear him.  He says that he wants to meet with Caine face-to-face, and he wants it to happen in the daylight while he stands a chance.  If Caine doesn’t come in by nightfall, his henchmen will nail Han Fei to a railroad tie.

Scene 15

Caine is once again bound to the tent pole, this time with chains.  Han Fei is tied on the ground beside him.  Caine tells Dillon that he can let the old man go now that he has come in.  Dillon says that Han Fei is his insurance, and tells his henchmen to kill him if Caine makes a move.  He returns to his office and reads a telegram informing him that a Chinese agent is coming to collect Caine.

We move into another flashback, this time of adult Caine meeting Master Po in the Forbidden City.  Po recognizes his “favorite pupil” by his footsteps, and as the two joyfully embrace in the street and begin catching up on old times, a procession approaches, uniformed guards pushing people off the street while shouting, “Make way for the Royal Nephew!”  Po doesn’t move fast enough, and is pushed, but somehow makes the guard fall.  Po apologizes.  One of the guards strikes him in the face, a punishment he accepts without resistance, but at a nod from the Royal Nephew, the man seizes Po by the lapel of his robe.  Po twists his arm, forcing him to the ground, saying, “Surely it isn’t necessary to punish an old blind man more than once.”  More guards attack, but Po holds his own against three or four of them.

Back in the tent, the guards get careless as they’re playing cards.  Han Fei tries to take advantage of their inattention and roll out under the side of the tent, but they spot him and shoot him, the shot becoming part of the flashback scene in which the Royal Nephew shoots Po.  Caine grimaces in grief as the guards gather around to check Han Fei’s condition.  Freed from the threat to Han Fei’s safety, he uproots the tent post and lays out all three guards, using the stout 4×4 as a weapon before freeing himself and coming to Han Fei’s aid.  He cradles the dying old man as the flashback returns us to the street where he cradles the dying Po.  As the nephew, hiding behind his palanquin, reloads his single-shot pistol, Caine, gripped by grief and rage, seizes one of the guards’ lances and throws it through the palanquin, killing the emperor’s nephew.  Po tells him that there will be a price on his head, nowhere to hide.  He must flee.

“If I had a son,” Po tells him, “all that I could give him is in this pouch.  Please, take it.”

With these words, Po gives Caine the messenger bag-sized duffel that he will carry throughout the series, which is purported to contain everything he owns besides his blanket roll and the clothes he is wearing.  We’ll be paying special attention to what comes out of that bag during the series; it’s more amazing than a Ringling Brothers clown car!

Scene 16

Dillon, feeling that something isn’t right, probably having heard the shot, draws his pistol and opens the door to his office.  Seeing nothing, he steps out.  As he walks out into the open, he is surrounded by armed Chinese workers.  Caine tells him that the other henchmen have fled.  Seeing the hopelessness of his situation, he surrenders to Caine and is confined in his office.

This scene always jarred me a little.  If he’s responding to the shot that killed Han Fei, which is the strong feeling imposed by the scene, there doesn’t seem to have been enough time for the guards to have collectively decided it was time to leave.  They had shot an old man, which was nothing new for them, and the loss of Raif earlier that day isn’t what spooked them, so maybe more time had passed between the last scene and now?  But if, say, an hour had passed, why was Dillon just now acting on his curiosity?  He has been shown to be a man of immediate action up until now, so delaying his reaction to the shot now seems badly out of character.  This is just one of those things we’re going to have to hand-wave our way past if we’re going to enjoy the climax of an otherwise fine story.

And while I’m asking impertinent questions, why were there so many guards around this camp in the first place?  These weren’t convicts sentenced to a labor crew, they were men doing a tough job voluntarily.  A couple, maybe, to keep order I could see, but they were ubiquitous in nearly every scene.  I suppose, to paraphrase Commander Spock, the needs of the plot outweigh the needs of reality or of common sense.  Moving on, then . . .

Scene 17

It is presumably the next day.  Dillon is trying to see out of his office as the workers are gathered around a cooking fire eating their fill of the camp’s supplies.  Caine reclines near the group.  Two Chinese ride up on horses.  One announces that he is the agent sent to bring Caine back to China.  This is David Chow, the show’s kung fu and Chinese culture advisor.  He rolls back his sleeves to display his tiger and dragon brands.  Caine is sorely disappointed that one of his own order would “sell himself for a handful of rice.”

KFAgent

“You are much more than a handful of rice.  I have sought you for many weeks.”

“And now you have found me.”

They don their ceremonial fighting clothes for a knock-down, drag out fight that doesn’t disappoint.  At the end Caine kills the man with a deliberate fatal blow, not the fortuitous accident that became the norm later in the series.

“People will remember what was done here,” a worker tells him.  “They will think of it with respect.”

In what will become one of the show’s main themes, Caine replies, “The taking of a life does no one honor.”

“He will never let you rest,” the man goes on.  “The emperor.  He sent this man after you.  He will send others.  They know you are here in America.  They will search you out.”

“Then let them find me.”

In a move that I still don’t understand and that seems badly out of character, Caine then burns the trestle they had just built, and is last seen walking off into the sunset.  He must understand by now that the railroad is a driving force in this new land, and that his action simply ensures that more of his countrymen will be put to work in appalling conditions to rebuild it.  It also seems an act of pure revenge, as Dillon looks on helplessly; I suppose Caine is subject to the same rages as the rest of us, but this is done in cold blood after having had time to reflect on what he was about to do.  A beautiful story, yet one that leaves a strange aftertaste.

~~~~~

And now for that all-important conclusion:  What did I get out of it, and what do I recommend you look for?  I must first admit that I missed this when it was first-run, and in the time before VHS, DVD, and all the other things we take for granted now, I couldn’t just pop down to the corner Blockbuster and rent a copy; there was no such thing.  This may have been poorly promoted, or I may have simply not been watching when it was, but that seems unlikely.  Television and martial arts were huge parts of my life back then, and it seems like I would have been on this like a wet T-shirt had I had a clue it was coming.

Whatever the reason, I didn’t start watching Kung Fu until the series debuted almost eight months later, and I didn’t see the pilot until it appeared in reruns well after the first season.  It is impossible to go back and unsee those episodes, and so the impressions I gained were colored by the character that Carradine had created by later in the series.  All I can say is that, in light of that knowledge, he seemed to fall far short of the priest he had become by, say, the end of the first season.  It is hardly unexpected for a character to evolve, but movie-Caine, while certainly gentle and priestly in word and most deeds, exhibited a shocking willingness to kill anyone who got under his skin, and also to openly judge the actions of others.  Not that he didn’t do that later, but he became more subtle about it.

I suppose I have to say that, seeing it later when I did, it was more a point of interest to see how the character had developed than any lessons or fascination I might have taken away from it.  The rest of the 63 episodes I saw first-run, and will have much more “raw” or “pure” impressions to share, but how about you?  Did you see this first, and what were your initial thoughts?  I’d love to have a chance to see it through your eyes.  First run or not, what did you think about it?

Other Voices #16

Greetings, my friends, and welcome to Thursday.  ‘Tis the season when the “Christmas Police” come out in force, so I thought I’d better lead with this so there is no misunderstanding about where I stand on the issue:

HHRationale

In other news, most of you know that when I bought an upgraded WordPress site last April I was still laboring under the delusion that I was going to be a big-shot author.  Now I know better, and have been debating whether to renew the upgraded site to support my blogging.  Yesterday morning I received an email from WordPress informing me that beginning December 18th, there would now be an additional charge on top of the upgraded site for the domain name.  Decision made.  I have enough people lined up to harvest the contents of my wallet to be rewarding that sort of behavior, so be advised that next March 30th or April 1st (it falls on a weekend) my address will revert to https://blimprider.wordpress.com.  That sends you here now, but I’m not sure it will work the other way around, so adjust your bookmarks accordingly.

Moving on . . .

We’re getting perilously close to another fabulous weekend, and I know that some of you will be looking for thrilling things to read, and that’s where I come in with my list of interesting reads.  I have named my weekly column “Other Voices,” but my voice counts, too, and so I’ll begin with my own published works.

These are mainly steampunk adventures (and a mystery), and The Stone Seekers is epic fantasy.  I’ve been told that these are pretty good, which I appreciate, but none of us can objectively judge our own work.  You can be your own judge, though, by visiting my Amazon author page.  The prices I control are kept at the bare minimum, and the one that I don’t is quite reasonable, especially given that all proceeds from that collection go the Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

Now, let’s hear some of those promised Other Voices.

WickedSeeds

Wicked Seeds.  209-page novel by Cameron Sword.  Some people who’ve survived an apparent death report experiences of having communicated with departed friends or relatives.  Others describe encountering an indescribable warm bright light accompanied with the overwhelming feeling of unconditional love.  Still others share memories of witnessing their lives flashing before their eyes as they felt themselves slipping away.  None of this was occurring with Dr. Nathan Cribbs.  A molecular biologist by profession, Nathan worked for a food conglomerate where he was responsible for genetically engineering crops but here he was now, dumped in a remote forest along with his younger sister, both left for dead.  Due to a fortunate series of events, he managed to survive, resurfacing three years later, set on exacting revenge against the perpetrator – his former employer.  Olive Beacon, a 17 year-old aspiring actor, becomes Nathan’s reluctant sidekick as she unwittingly joins him in his effort to expose his former employer’s crimes and unethical business practices.  The duo must overcome serious obstacles, which emerge virtually from the beginning, but circumstances become profoundly more grievous after Nathan places his trust in an unfitting ally.  Free on Kindle [reg. $4.99].

AnonymousMan

The Anonymous Man.  267-page novel by Vincent L Scarsella.  What if one day you could become anonymous, free of obligations, free to do what you have always wanted to do?  That’s exactly what Jerry Shaw pulls off after faking his death to collect on a $4 million life insurance policy.  But just when Jerry thinks he has escaped his former life, he is betrayed by his co-conspirators, his wife and best friend, and learns that a tenacious insurance company investigator is hot on his heels.  You won’t be able to put down this twisting and suspenseful novel, wondering if Jerry will ultimately get to do what he has always wanted, to become anonymous, just like the hero of his comic book creation, The Anonymous Man, and then not only draw his further adventures, but live them.  99c on Kindle.

Questioner

The Questioner.  36-page novelette by Andrew Vachss.  For all secrets created, a tiny percentage is kept against any intrusion.  The ultimate extractor of such secrets is The Questioner – a man who has trained himself to become empty, who uses that emptiness to listen fully, to sense what others need to hear, to respond in ways that lead them to reveal their most protected thoughts.  Disdaining torture or coercion, he mines those secrets with nothing more than conversation.  For those who meet his price – governments, multinational corporations, and the most complex criminal organizations – The Questioner obtains information.  The secrets he learns can create or topple empires, win or destroy fortunes, lubricate the gears of the world . . . or grind them to a halt.  But as the Questioner moves from one target to the next, just beyond the outer edge of his probes lurks something dangerous to his own emptiness.  It will force him to turn his powers inward, to ask how he became what he is, and to find a truth he has never sought.  $1.99 on Kindle.

ComingRace

The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.  Written in 1871, the story is fairly simple and straightforward.  The unnamed narrator and a friend decide to explore a chasm that an exploratory mine shaft has uncovered.  During the descent, the rope breaks and the friend is killed.  The narrator finds himself with no way to get back to the surface and decides to continue his exploration of the extensive chambers he’s discovered.  Eventually he enters a vast subterranean world.  The narrator meets a couple of the inhabitants, a man and a boy, who are friendly and welcome him to their world.  The narrator learns that the man is an administrator and the boy is his son.  The narrator also meets the entire family, and Zee, the magistrate’s daughter, begins teaching the narrator about the world of the Vril-ya, as the people call themselves.  The Vril-ya are very much superior to humans on the surface of the earth.  Their mental powers are phenomenal, and they control a substance called vril, which can heal or destroy.  In time, Zee falls in love with the narrator.  Meanwhile, her father, the magistrate, has grown wary of the “primitive” narrator.  When he learns his daughter is in love with the stranger, the magistrate orders his son to kill the narrator.  From there, the story takes a dark turn for all of mankind.  At the time of its publication, The Coming Race, was very convincing and many believe the vril mentioned in the book was real.  It’s also claimed that vril was believed to be real by many pre-Nazi occultists, such as those in the Thule Society.  Such is the power of fiction, even today vril continues to make an appearance among occultists, in movies, and in video games.  Free at Gutenberg.  Special thanks to C.W. Hawes for bringing this influential work to my attention.

Dragon

Dragon.  296-page novel by Valerie Tate.  Burials, bones and bandits – not what Alicia and Chris Mallory are expecting when spring finally arrives in Dunbarton.  In the aftermath of a violent storm, Chris and Alicia come across fossilized dinosaur bones in a lakeside rock fall.  Before long, Chris’s sister, anthropologist Dr. Penny Mallory, arrives to head up an archaeological dig. Despite their best efforts to keep it a secret, news of the discovery gets out and it’s not long before members of the shadowy underworld of antiquities theft and trafficking take notice. Two old foes return to Dunbarton and the race is on to save the momentous find from disappearing into the murky haunts of the illegal antiquities trade. Who can the Mallorys trust? Which of these two villains is the Chameleon and which is a dragon bent on increasing his hoard?  Will Alicia and Chris manage to play the winning hand in a life-and-death game or will they come to rue the truth in Shakespeare’s advice, “Come not between the dragon and his wrath.”?  $2.99 on Kindle.

~ Blogs ~

I know I told you to check out the Jack’s Hideout sidebar, where blogs are updated in real-time, to see what my friends are doing, but a few of them have no RSS feeds, and get lost at the bottom of the list, so I thought I’d mention them here.  Enjoy!

Willow Raven – Graphic artist and designer.  Created my “Blimprider Publications” logo.
Stephanie Kato – Author and very active blogger on steampunk, movies, and games.
The Daily Pioneer – Indian “newspaper” printed in English.
Steampunk’d – A fairly static primer on what goes into the fabulous works called Steampunk.
Penelope Burns – A comprehensive guide on How to Blog.
I’d Rather Television – A pop-culture guide to things on screens.
Life’s Little Mysteries – Answers to things we all wonder about.
Gimme That Star Trek – Podcast discussing all things Trek.
The Home of Lorna Lockheed – Actually the home of C. William Perkins, steampunk author and reviewer.

And that should keep you busy until Monday, when my plans call for the next Kung Fu post to be ready for your approval.  Read well, write better, and I’ll see you all back here then!