Friday, June 30, 2017

The Mediterranean Caper by Clive Cussler (spoilers)

Title: The Mediterranean Caper
Series: Dirk Pitt
Author: Clive Cussler
Genre: Adventure
Pages: 208
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Year pub: 1973 (orig), 1990 (reissue)
Rating: ★★★ - 3 Stars

I've got the beginning of a Clive Cussler kick in me ever since I read Pacific Vortex! and quickly picked up The Mediterranean Caper from the local library. The only copy they have on the shelf is an omnibus that pairs it with another Dirk Pitt yarn, Iceberg, but I'll read that separately later on.

So anyway, The Mediterranean Caper is the first Dirk Pitt book published, but chronologically, it's the second in the series. As I noted in a previous post, Pacific Vortex! was the first written. I'm glad I read it first because The Mediterranean Caper throws a few references to the events in the former. Taking place a year after that book, TMC sees Dirk Pitt and his sidekick Al Giordino is the, you guessed it, Mediterranean Sea on a mission from the National Underwater and Marine Agency, or NUMA. The science agency has a research vessel - the First Attempt - offshore of the Greek island of Thasos hunting for what might be a major find for evolutionary science - a fish with limbs. Pitt and Giordino are there to troubleshoot some problems the expedition has been experiencing.

What they don't expect to do is having to dog fight a World War I-era biplane that's attacking a nearby United States Air Force base! Once they drive the plane off, the fun really starts. Pitt's too wired from the air battle to sleep and slips out to a nearby beach for a relaxing swim, where he meets a beautiful (of course she's beautiful, have you ever met a woman in a adventure/thriller that isn't?) woman named Teri.

Then backhands her. Seriously. I'm not kidding. When he finds out that she's been a celibate widow for eight years, Pitt just freaking snaps and delivers a slap to the face and berates her. This right here is why my two prior attempts at reading The Mediterranean Caper failed. This scene is just plain uncomfortable and badly dates the book. And to make it even more uncomfortable, Pitt has sex with her in what today could be considered at least borderline sexual assault. Yikes. I ended up just skipping this scene and continued on my way.

After that cringe worthy scene, Pitt makes some surprising discoveries: Teri is the niece of a shipping magnate named Bruno von Till, who also happens to have known WWI German flying ace Kurt Heibert, called The Hawk of Macedonia. The latter sets off alarm bells because the biplane that attacked the air base matches up with the one flown by Heibert. Pitt gets to meet von Till later that night after Teri invites him to dinner.

From there, the plot picks up. Pitt quickly determines the source of First Attempt's problems: sabotage. Someone is low key trying to prevent NUMA from doing any kind of underwater operations and Pitt thinks it's von Till. The latter pretty well confirms it when he throws our hero into a labyrinth running under his villa and sics his big ass white dog on him. Pitt manages to escape not unscathed and has to hot foot it back to the First Attempt to both warn them of an impending attack by the yellow biplane and to set a trap for it. It's a wild success.

Bruno von Till is really and truly a horrible asshole. He uses his shipping business as cover for his illicit operations and has had his hand in a lot of disreputable things, such as smuggling stolen gold from Spain to India, smuggling Nazis from Germany to Argentina, and sex trafficking school girls to North Africa. All heinous and all pale in comparison for his biggest and foulest operation: smuggling 130 tons of uncut heroin into the United States. The damage, as you can imagine, would be enormous and it's suddenly a race against time as Pitt, Giordino, and new found allies from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and the Greek gendarmerie try to gather enough solid evidence to incriminate von Till.

The conclusion, much like that of Pacific Vortex!'s comes in an underwater cavern. The difference is while the Vortex's climax is drawn out, Caper's isn't. It's a satisfying ending and we even get a final plot twist before it.

All in all, The Mediterranean Caper wasn't a bad book. The way Teri (and women in general) is treated dates this book badly. His sudden violence towards just made no sense whatsoever. Still, I would recommend it for those looking for a good adventure yarn to kill time.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Killing Floor by Lee Child (Jack Reacher #1) or I think I figured out why the movies aren't as successful as the books

Title: Killing Floor
Author: Lee Child
Genre: Thriller
Pages 407
Publisher: Berkley
Year pub: 1997 (orig), 2004 (reissue)
Rating: ★★★★ - 4 Stars

And it's not because the source material is bad. I found Killing Floor, the first Jack Reacher novel, to be very enjoyable. One major take away I got while reading this is that the Jack Reacher in the two movies is not the same Jack Reacher as in the books. In the case of the former, Tom Cruise plays him as more of a typical action hero, a guy who can walk into a room and just Bruce Lee the living shit out of everyone there. Meanwhile, the latter is well, human. He has his foibles and you know, emotions. That right there is probably the biggest difference between the two Jack Reachers. Throughout Killing Floor, we see Reacher express the full range of human emotions from laughing to crying, happy to just plain pissed off.

That's not to say that book-Reacher doesn't have some badass action hero moments like his movie counterpart, but he's more tactical about it. There's one scene where he takes on a group of five guys, but rather than Walker, Texas Rangering them, he takes them down one by one. Yet, there's another scene earlier in the book where he's attacked by three very large prison inmates and he just barely wins that battle. He even admits (the book is told in first person) afterwards that they would have had him if one of the guys had been choking him differently. He also has sort of a panic attack shortly after the fight ends.

The difference between the two Jack Reachers is simply that one is more realistic and relatable, while the other is an archetype suited for the silver screen.

But that's enough about that, let's talk about the book! As I already said, Killing Floor is the first Jack Reacher novel but chronologically the fourth in the series. Reacher is a former army brat has spent his entire life in the U.S. Army, the last thirteen as an MP (military police) before being discharged six months prior to the start of the book due to post-Cold War budget cuts. He spends the next six months traveling around the country, enjoying something that he feels he's never had until now - freedom. His travels and a spur of the moment decision lands him in the tiny Georgia town of Margrave.

Bad luck lands him in jail, accused of viciously murdering a man. Reacher manages to clear his name and spends the rest of the novel unraveling a conspiracy that involves blood and money, with a murder that strikes close to home for Reacher.

I can't actually talk about it without spoiling the plot a bit, so you've been warned!

Still with me? Alright, so the criminal conspiracy involves smuggling one dollar bills out of the country and reprinting them as one hundreds. It's clever because Reacher and his cohorts, Detective Finlay and Officer Roscoe spend much of the book operating on the assumption that the counterfeited money is being smuggled into the country, not out of. Lee Child succeeds in leading you to the same direction and when the ball finally drops, it leaves you stunned.

Another thing Child does well in Killing Floor is making you feel Reacher's sense of paranoia. He has few allies beyond the aforementioned Finlay and Roscoe and even people he thought he could trust turn out to be wolves in sheep's clothing.

What Child didn't do so well is make me believe in Reacher and Roscoe's romantic relationship. It developed way too fast and felt unnatural, as if it was there so Reacher would have to contend with having a loved one in jeopardy. On the other hand, the relationship is one of the sources of emotion for Reacher, so it's not too terrible a thing.

All in all, I liked Killing Floor. It was a fun and genuine page-turner.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

And now, a moment of culture: The Tyger by William Blake

It's like you're back in your high school english class!
Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

In what distant deeps or skies,
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?

What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!

When the stars threw down their spears
And water'd heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?

Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Anyways, here's a photo of WWE's Carmella riding a bus with her newly won (again) Money in the Bank briefcase

Context for the non-wrestling crowd: The briefcase contains a contract for a title match for the Smackdown Women's Championship. The case is won in a special ladder match where the winner has to climb a ladder (duh) and unhook the briefcase hanging over the ring. While the MitB match has been around for like a decade or more (it started out as a series of Wrestlemania matches before getting its own pay-per-view), this was the first year that women got one of their own.

Unfortunately, they had to redo the match last night before the first time around ended with controversary when James Ellsworth, Carmella's valet/manager/hanger-on climbed the ladder himself during the match, unhooked the briefcase and dropped it to her. So the non-really in power authority figure, Daniel Bryan, voided the outcome the following Tuesday and all five women - Carmella, Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair (take a wild guess who her dad is), Natalya, and Tamina - got a do over.

Which Carmella won, but this time she did it on her own. Sure, Ellsworth did a run-in and tried to repeat his performance, but Lynch put a stop to that, but Carmella still did the deed herself.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

So the Han Solo movie is chugging along into disaster territory

And me without any popcorn! So no doubt you've heard the reports of the movie's original directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of Lego Movie and 21 Jump Street fame being fired over "creative differences". Those differences stemmed from the fact that Lucasfilm hired two directors known primarily for making comedies and were shocked that they making the Han Solo movie into a comedy.

Lord and Miller refused to change the direction of the movie and steer it back into what the studio wanted, so they were fired and replaced by Ron Howard, who'll see the movie through its remaining production and reshoots.

But baby, oh baby, this train has only just left the station and we're still chugging away towards disaster. Stories are surfacing today that lead actor Alden Ehrenreich's performance as the beloved scruffy looking nerf herder isn't exactly setting the producers hearts on fire. Even worse is that they supposedly had to hire an acting coach for him. io9's article on this says that hiring a coach in and of itself isn't unusual, but hiring one four months into production is.

Lucasfilm trying to figure out how they managed to hire someone to play lead in their big budget blockbuster without checking to see if he could even act in the first place.
Holy cheese and crackers, guys. Holy cheese and crackers. The Han Solo movie has a release date for May of next year, cats and dolls, that's about as likely to happen as Michael Bay winning a Best Director Oscar. My guess is that Lucasfilm scraps what they have and starts over from square one. I think they’ll probably also take the chance to recast Han. I think the rest of the cast and the script itself will survive.

Grab your popcorn, folks, it's going to be a hell of a train wreck.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The story behind Farrah Fawcett's famous poster is interesting

I honestly want one of my own.
I had planned on just posting the famous wall art and nothing more, but Vanity Fair's article about the poster is too interesting not to share.

Originally, the company behind the poster, Pro Arts, Inc, wanted Farrah Fawcett to wear a bikini, figuring wisely that that rocking body would sell more than a few posters. But there was one problem: Fawcett didn't own a bikini. Instead, she donned the now famous swimsuit, did her own hair and makeup, and after the addition of an old blanket on the back of photographer Bruce McBroom's truck, history was made.

More than that, Farrah Fawcett chose the picture sent to the company herself, first selecting six pictures from the 40 rolls taken, and finally the one you see above. Basically, she did everything but take the picture and print the posters herself, which back in the 70s was probably a remarkable thing.

And of course, as we all know, the poster of Farrah Fawcett in her red bathing suit and killer smile went on to become the best-selling poster in history. It's kind of funny in a way, because I doubt the idea that she was about to make history, to become iconic, probably ever occurred to her. She was just taking a photograph for a poster. The hands of fate took over after that.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


I was tempted to make this a photo post of legendary adult actress Vanessa Del Rio, but not surprisingly finding non-nudes of her is rather difficult. I still want to do it, but I'll have to find and black bar the less explicit ones.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

That 70s aesthetic


I like the living room decor in the third to last picture. I would absolutely buy a couch like that and you'll never how much I want that wristwatch clock. Avocado green seems to have been a very popular color back then

Finished: Pacific Vortex

There's not much I can say about it that I haven't already said, other than it was very good and I can recommend it for anybody looking for a nice short adventure story or wants a point of entry for the Dirk Pitt books. The last part of the book would have made James Bond proud.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Henry Cavill mustache you a question

Wow, just wow. I had no idea that Cavill could pull off wearing a 'stache like that without looking like an 80s gay porn star. Life changing, really.

H/t to Tanner and the most excellent Double O Section.

Currently reading: Pacific Vortex! by Clive Cussler

I've tried to read Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt books before, but could never get into them (and this is despite buying damn near all of them once at a book sale!). A friend at the church I volunteer at suggested them while we were talking about books and I figured "well, if he likes them, then maybe they're worth another shot." I should point out that my friend is 85 years old. At the same time, I didn't want to tackle one of Cussler's thick tomes right off the bat and that's where Pacific Vortex! came in.

Pacific Vortex! is the sixth book published in the Dirk Pitt series, but chronologically it's the first. In a forward at the start of the book, Cussler explains that he originally wasn't going to publish this tale because he didn't think it was up to snuff compared to the rest of the series, but did so after urging from his friends, family, and fans. I like when authors admit that their early works aren't up to the standards set by their later books because they usually aren't and that's fine. That early on, the author is still finding the voice for their series and things are rougher. It's not unlike the first seasons of a popular TV show. Besides, fans are going to read those books anyways, so admitting that they're as good isn't going to hurt sales.

While I haven't read any other Dirk Pitt books yet and thus have nothing to compare Pacific Vortex! to, I think Cussler was wrong. It might not "measure up" to other entries in the series, but PV is hardly a bad book. It's not even sub-par. I'm 163 pages in and I think it's a very good adventure yarn and a good jumping off point for people looking to start the series.

So with all that out of the way, let's talk about Pacific Vortex!. The plot involves the disappearance of the Starbuck while on a shakedown cruise in the, you guessed it, the Pacific Ocean. The Starbuck is a highly advanced nuclear submarine belonging to the United States Navy and when our hero, Dirk Pitt, retrieves a message capsule belonging to the lost sub, he's roped into their top secret efforts to find and salvage the vessel.

A bit of biographical information on our hero is needed before we continue: Pitt is the son of a U.S. Senator and Special Projects Director for the National Underwater and Marine Agency or NUMA for short. NUMA is both a fictional government agency (filling a scientific role similar to NOAA) and not so fictional organization created by Cussler that searches for shipwrecks. He's also a reserve officer in the United States Air Force who, while serving in Vietnam, shot down the airplane carrying James Sandecker, the admiral who runs NUMA. Believe it or not, Pitt did it to save the lives of the plane's passengers: they were flying to a camp in Vietnam that they had no idea had already been overrun by the enemy and Pitt shot them down to save them. He got a medal for it and presumably his job at NUMA.

So yeah, Dirk Pitt is a man of daring-do.

Going back to the story, Pitt is loaned out to Admiral Leigh Hunter, the man in charge of the Navy's 101st Salvage Fleet, which turns out to be a high tech and top secret operation. In fact, the way the 101st operates high tech vessels disguised as dilapidated freighters is very similar to the Oregon Files spin-off. From there, Pitt's life gets dangerous. First there's the mysterious woman named Summer who picks Dirk up at a bar and just when he thinks he's about to lucky, she tries to destroy his nutsack with a well placed knee and stab him with a syringe. She gets decked for her efforts and he's left to carry her unconscious body back to his apartment for questioning. Next, there's a direct attempt on his life while traveling to the Pearl Harbor navy base that ends with Dirk's would be assassin crashing and meeting a telephone pole up close and a little too personal. From there, Dirk is thrown from one intense ordeal to another, but with more than enough meat in between to move the plot along.

I haven't finished Pacific Vortex! yet, but it's been one hell of a ride so far.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Michael B. Jordan is serving looks in Black Panther

He left us all a little weak-kneed.
But in all seriousness, I love the look. You can tell that Chadwick Boseman and the rest of the Black Panther cast had their work cut out for them with Jordan on set. And that's saying something with all the ridiculous talent that's in this movie.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

RIP Adam West

Batman may have been campy and all, but Adam West easily outranks every other actor who has donned the cape and cowl of the Dark Knight.