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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Martian Girls in Brave New Girls!

The adventures of Katie and Rachel from Seven Against Mars continue in this fine anthology that I have contributed to. Coming soon!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Kosher, Then and Now

I compared a menu from "Mr. Broadway Kosher" that I picked up yesterday in midtown Manhattan to one from the defunct Phil Gluckstern's kosher restaurant, where my parents had their first date in April 1963 and my mother saved the menu. It was also in midtown Manhattan.This doesn't really give the full picture--Mr. Broadway Kosher has a rather more extensive menu than Gluckstern's, where I have a feeling that if you asked for sushi in 1963 they would have said, "Susie don't work here Sundays."
A bowl of chicken soup with matzah balls cost 60 cents at Gluckstern's 51 years ago, and $6.50 at Mr. Broadway Kosher yesterday--an increase of nearly 11 times over. Roast Vermont Turkey cost $3.80 at Gluckstein's back then, $23.00 at Mr. Broadway Kosher now, roughly a sixfold increase. The general Consumer Price Index has increased by a factor of 7.8 times, so these price rises are more or less in line.
An additional interesting note for cognoscenti is that Gluckstern's menu had typewritten notes, "The Management requests that you refrain from smoking on the Sabath" (sic) and that broiled meats would not be served on Friday afternoon after sundown. These concessions to the Jewish Sabbath would not be accepted by the Kosher Police as of 2014--the certifying authorities would not allow any kosher restaurant to remain open at all on the Sabbath. O tempora, o mores!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Dead People with Problems (Review of Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire)

"The only people who don't have problems are dead people," my mother is fond of saying, but boy, have I got a ghost for you who's dying (har) to take issue with that. Her name is Rose Marshall and she's the protagonist of Seanan McGuire's Sparrow Hill Road. She was killed in a car crash on her way to her high school prom back in 1952, a crash that was deliberately caused by a sorta-undead Bad Guy name of Bobby Cross. As a ghost "hitcher" ever since then, she's been on a mission to save drivers she can sense are about to die in wrecks or, failing that, save their souls from being taken by Bobby Cross. Are their paths going to cross (har) again? What do you think?
Ms. McGuire has postulated an afterlife of baroque complexity, full of beings like "routewitches" and haunted highways who populate a thousand levels of "twilight" and "midnight" underlying the "daylight" America, and brother, every ghost of them has a story to tell and a passel of problems that don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy afterworld.
The underlying plot is sound, the fantasy setting is intriguing, and the atmosphere is sufficiently eerie--reminiscent of one of Neil Gaiman's better books, like a cross between Neverwhere and American Gods. On the down side is Rose's habit of sounding disconcertingly like a twenty-first century American teenager. I grant you that she's been keeping up with the times in her unchanging Sweet Sixteen form, but still, a girl who died in 1952 ought not to express her displeasure with her circumstances by saying that they "suck," nor should she have the habit of dropping such irritating present-dayisms as "I'm good" for "No thanks" and "Oh wait, I just did" to express sarcasm. And is it really necessary for Bobby Cross to intone, "This isn't over" after his first encounter with Rose? A better editor would have spared us these minor literary sins.
Still, I give the novel two-and-a-half Phoboses out of three. More, please, Ms. McGuire.
This review is cross-posted on

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Go Back in Time and Erase This Season!

The new season of Dr. Who is off to a disappointing start. I don't have any beef with Peter Capaldi as a Scottish-accented Doctor, though I do wonder whether another "regeneration" is in store for him if Scotland votes for independence on Thursday.
Episode 1, which aired (I was going to write "erred") August 23, featured a dinosaur stomping around the Thames in Victorian London until some "rubbish robots from the dawn of time" blew it up and made it into liverwurst, whereupon Charles Dickens wrote, "It was the beast of Thames, it was the wurst of Thames." OK, I stole that joke, but they stole the plot of Fantastic Voyage (the 1966 movie and Isaac Asimov novelization) for the second episode (August 30), in which our heroes were miniaturized and injected into the Doctor's nemesis cyborg antagonists, the Daleks, for a "Fantastic Voyage into a Dalek's Brain." Come to think of it, the writers even stole from themselves the concept of the "good Dalek," which David Tennant and Billie Piper already squeezed all the juice out of several years ago. And then in the third episode (September 6, thanks for ruining my birthday, Doctor), Clara tells the Doctor she wants to go to see Robin Hood, only there are these robots and a spaceship disguised as a castle, you see, but not to worry, because the giant Batman Action Figure comes along and helps the Doctor by smashing the Lego castle.
Well that's what it felt like, anyway--as if the first three episodes were written by some not-very-imaginative third graders. Episode 4 (September 13) was a little better, reviving the creepy theme of the Man Who Wasn't There, but they tried to cram too much into it. Like liverwurst, I suppose.
Your plot holes are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside, Doctor.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Novel Excerpt!

From my novel in progress, Heroes of Earth: "As soon as the final bell of the day rang, Arnold shoved his books in his locker, took his empty backpack and ran. So he wasn’t going to do his homework tonight, so what? School wasn’t his job anymore. Being a full-time Resistance fighter was. There’d be plenty of time to catch up, after the Revolution, when the Slugs were all kicked out."

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Review of Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn: A Steampunk Faerie Tale

As a writer of alternate history, I can't recommend Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn highly enough. This marriage of steampunk with an Arabian Nights-inspired tale of intrigue, science and magic, is an irresistible, fabulous treat. The characters are fully drawn human beings, and the meeting and clash of Western (Victorian English) and Arab Middle Eastern cultures shatters stereotypes with an authentic, textured feel for the strengths and weaknesses of both. And all without losing for one line the sense of delight and wonder. Run and get your copy today, and be sure to beg Ms. Ackley-McPhail and Ms. Al-Mohamed to give us more of the adventures of the wonderful Ali!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Come to the Heroes of Earth Book Party!

Host: Martin Berman-Gorvine, tel. 703-477-1824
When: Saturday, May 24 at 11:00 AM (during Balticon)
Where: Hunt Valley Inn, Parlor 1026, 245 Shawan Rd Cockeysville, MD 21031

When Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, he didn't expect to be greeted by seven-armed starfish from the planet Gliese 581d, much less to be offered a lift home by these imperialistic, monarchical, technologically superior "echinodermoids" from another star system. Explore with me the "alternate history" that would have resulted from these aliens' love of stability in government, leading to a present-day America that still has a president whose name rhymes with “Blixen.” Discover what it's like to be strip searched before you can enter middle school, how terrorists think, who launched the asteroid that killed that dinosaurs, and how echinodermoids eat matzah ball soup (messily). Fall in love with Gloria, the key character of Heroes of Earth and my previous novel, Save the Dragons, who is sometimes a redhaired lady, sometimes an orange tabby cat, and always the proprietor of a magic bookstore that offers entry to this and many other parallel worlds. And get a sneak preview of the many other projects percolating in the overactive imagination of Martin Berman-Gorvine.
***Heroes of Earth is due out from Wildside Press later this year.***

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Gematria and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Can gematria (Hebrew numerology) help find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370? You can calculate numerical values for entire Hebrew words by simply adding the values of each letter in them. Using this method, I have come up with the following phrase with a value of 370, the number of the Malaysia Airlines flight:
This means: "They stole [it]. The passengers are alive." Let's hope this is really so! For those who are interested, here's how gematria works. A numerical value is assigned to each Hebrew letter, with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph, corresponding to one, the second letter, beth, corresponding to 2, and so on through yod, the tenth letter, corresponding to ten. The eleventh letter, kaph, corresponds to twenty, the twelfth, lamed, to thirty, and so on up to kuph, the nineteenth letter, which corresponds to one hundred; followed by resh, the twentieth letter, which corresponds to two hundred, shin, the twenty-first letter, three hundred, and taph, the twenty-second and final letter, to four hundred. If you've seen the Hebrew year, currently 5774, written out in Hebrew letters, that is done using this method. But there's no value anywhere near as high as five thousand, so the four letters you've seen, as shown below, only add up to 774. The five thousand is assumed. (And for the Hebrew-reading cognoscenti, the apostrophe marks are put before the final letter to indicate that this grouping of letters is not an actual word. The same method is used for acronyms in modern Hebrew.)