Monthly Archives: March 2014

A Darkling Sea- book review

A Darkling Sea is a science fiction novel by James L. Cambias. When imagining intelligent life on other worlds, many if not most science fiction writers tend to make the alien species almost identical to humans. This author has chosen the more difficult path of describing a world where the civilization is composed entirely of sea creatures.

Human space explorers discover life on what first appears to be a frozen moon. However, under a thick layer of ice, is a sea which is warmed from the bottom up by volcanic activity. Intelligent life has developed in this sea, and the aliens have learned to tap the energy from the volcanic vents to power towns and farming communities.  The life is all deep below the ice pack where there is liffle or no sunlight. Therefore the aliens (names Ilmaterians)  never developed the sence of sight and communicate entirely by sound.

Humans have established an underwater research station to sturdy the alien civilization undetected. However, there is another space traveling species called the Sholen who have a completely different view of the humans’ activities. They do not trust the humans’ motives and are prepared to expel them by force.

What makes this book so good is the way the author develops all the characters, including those of the various aliens. The greatest problems and threats happen due often to the fact that the different groups simply cannot understand the way the others think or their basic philosophizes.

James L. Cambias is a game designer and has written numerous science fiction stories, but this is his first full Novel. We look forward to reading his next.

Doing Harm – bookreview

It is always great to discover an exciting new writer, and we have found one in Kelly Parsons, the author of Doing Harm.

Doing Harm is a mystery which takes place at at the fictitious  University Hospital in Boston. The hero of the story is the highly skilled surgeon Doctor Steve Mitchell.  He is a brash overly-confident man on his way to becoming a professor in the medical school (which is obviously supposed to be Harvard).

Dr. Mitchell has it all.  Surgical skills, the respect of his fellow doctors and  a wonderful wife and family. Then things start to go wrong. He botches the operation on one patient and even other patients whose surgeries seemed to go well start having severe complications. Is he losing his edge, or is someone in the hospital actually trying to kill people? Is he being set up or just incompetent?

What makes this book excellent is that its author is a doctor himself. Kelly Parsons is a board-certified urologist with degrees from Sanford University, the University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins. His detailed description of operations are riveting.  The  scariest parts of the book are the insights into how many things in a hospital are capable of killing you.  Very slight errors or omissions by surgeons, nurses, orderlies or even medical students can kill you as fast as if you were hit by a bus.

The author has chosen to make the hero somewhat unlikeable at times. When things go wrong, Doctor Mitchell’s immediate concern is much more about how it will impact his career than what will happen to the patients or their families.

In reading this book we are reminded of the late Michael Crichton. There are so many best selling books by Michael Crichton that people tend to forget that he also started his career as a medical doctor.

Doing Harm is highly recommended, and we look forward to Kelly Parsons’ next novel.

Dynamite and Cake- A true account of when the IRA came to visit

The following is a true story as told to the Editor of East Coast Stories by Bill Lean, who as a young man was visited by the Irish Republican Army.

Bill was very proud of his job as construction foreman. He was  young with huge muscles, but even for him the work was exhausting. The construction company was doing the excavation work in preparation for the foundation of the new hospital. There had been a long stretch of good weather with no rain which was very unusual in Ireland. The company was taking advantage of the weather by having the men work 12 hour days 6 days a week.  The work was tough going since there were a lot of gigantic boulders hat had to be blasted to pieces before they could be excavated.  Bill was in charge of the whole excavation crew. It was a big responsibility for such a young man and the money was good.

Bill lived with his parents in a little house outside of town. His mother always made wonderful dinners, followed by tea and dessert. She knew how physically demanding Bill’s day was and wanted to make sure he got enough food.

They had finished dinner and were having tea and cake when the knock came at the door. Mrs. Lean answered, only to find two IRA men standing there. Everyone in town knew who was in the IRA, of course. The British were always trying to find out who was and was not in the IRA. No one would ever tell the British; but everyone knew.

The IRA men were very polite and asked if they could speak to Bill. Mrs. Lean invited them in and everyone sat at the big table having tea and cake. They spoke casually for about ten minutes about how lovely the weather had been and how lucky it was that Bill had found a good steady job.

Then one of the IRA men leaned forward and said, “So Bill, we understand that you are in charge of blasting the rocks at the construction site.  How many sticks of dynamite would you say it usually takes to blast out a rock?”

“It depends,” said Bill. “Some rocks use two sticks. A really big one may need as many as five.”

“Well, here’s what’s going to happen tomorrow Bill. You are going to sign out five sticks of dynamite from the company. You are going to use two sticks to blast the rocks and then slip the other three into your lunch pail. Sean and I will come by again tomorrow”

The IRA men then got up, complimented Mrs. Lean on her excellent cake and then left.

The men never threatened or said what would happen if Bill did not take the dynamite. They did not have to. In Ireland no one has to explain who is who or how things work.

The next night the men showed up again about the same time after dinner. They politely declined tea and quickly took the three sticks of dynamite and went back into the night.

Many years later Bill moved to America and he now works construction in Connecticut. He is getting old now but is still very large and muscular, and still has a thick Irish accent . He lives in a big house with his wife, who is also from Ireland, and his two children.

He will never tell you whether or not he agreed with what the IRA was going to do with the dynamite. If you ask him he laughs at how naive Americans are. We feel safe enough to believe we have a choice.

In Ireland when certain men ask you to do something you don’t say no. It doesn’t matter how soft spoken or polite they are. You just offer them some of your mother’s cake and say “yes”.

Gamal and the Jews – a first hand account of when President Nasser expelled the Jews from Egypt

The following true story was told to the editor of East Coast Stories by Leon Bonan who was a young boy in Egypt when President Gamal Abdel Nasser expelled almost every Jew from Egypt.

NasserEgyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser

Leon was very proud of being Egyptian. Like the other boys in his school he knew that Egypt was far superior to other countries.  After all, the Egyptians had invented a system of  advanced mathematics and geometry thousands of years ago. Leon was very good at math and his teachers were always sending notes home to his parents praising Leon’s academic skills.

In the classroom there was a picture of President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Like the other boys Leon looked up to the President with a mixture of pride, awe and fear. Even little boys knew that Nasser was the driving force behind Egypt’s modernization. One day the whole class got to go on a field trip to see the newly built dam.

Aswan Dam Aswan Dam

The dam was the pride of the nation and supplied water and electricity to hundreds of thousands. The workers at the dam loved showing off to the school kids. There was a two hour tour followed by a huge lunch for all the kids. Leon was one of those skinny kids that somehow loves to eat but never gets fat. Leon stuffed himself at the lunch and went back to the buses with the rest of the kids. The bus moved smoothly along the road back to the school and Leon dozed off feeling completely happy and safe.

Of course, everyone knew that in Egypt there were some things that you just did not do. One day Leon heard his parents and some other adults  talking about a famous night club comedian. Instead of just telling funny stories like the other comedians, this guy started telling political jokes. The adults were amazed that he had dared to tell political jokes, and that he had gotten away with it.

Over the next few months the comedian became more and more famous throughout Egypt. The night club was packed every night. People listened with rapt attention just waiting to see what the comedian would dare say next. He was openly making jokes about things the listeners would never even  dream to mention in public.

At first the comedian started with generic political jokes. Then a few weeks later he actually started making jokes about specific government officials. As the weeks went by he started talking about officials higher and higher in the government. Eventually he got to the point where he was making jokes about people in President Nasser’s inner circle. Nothing happened, and the audiences grew.

Then one night he made jokes about Gamal Abdel Nasser. The crowd was stunned. The next night the comedian continued to tell jokes about President Nasser, devoting almost half his show to the topic.  When the show was finished there were two very large men in black suits waiting for the comedian. They grabbed his arms and hustled him out through the crowd to the side door. They pushed the door open and the night club audience could see a long black car waiting. The door stayed open and the audience saw as the men in suits climbed into the back of the car with the comedian and the car sped off.

No one in the audience interfered. Secret policemen don’t wear uniforms. But every Egyptian knew that when in the men in the dark suits came for someone, the best thing to do for your own safety was to stay out of the way and to stay quiet. The comedian was never heard from again. No one asked what had happened to him.

Leon did not think much about being Jewish. He was an Egyptian. Being Jewish just happened to be his religion. There were other Jews in his class, along with Muslims and Christians. There were never any problems at school. Leon never even consider which religion his friends were.

But outside of school Egypt was changing.  President Nasser was under extreme pressure. Things were not going well in the economy or foreign affairs.  Like many leaders before him in history  Nasser decided to take a course of action to solve his problems. “Blame the Jews!”

Nasser’s expulsion of the Jews from Egypt took place in stages. At first he just got rid of specific “trouble makers”. Those who dared question the regime were deported. After that Nasser decided that any Egyptian Jew who had a relative living in Israel was not to be trusted. That was a huge number of people.

With Israel right next door, the majority of Egyptian Jews had some family connection in Israel. In fact, Leon’s own father had a distant cousin who owned a little store in Israel. That’s why Leon parents, his older brother and little sister were told they had to get of of Egypt. Right away.

Leon doesn’t even remember how his parents were told. They may have gotten an official government notice, or maybe some men in dark suits just showed up at the door and told them. They had to leave and could only take one suitcase each and a small amount of pocket money. The government had decided that the Jews being thrown out of Egypt should “donate” their money and property to the government, in exchange for all the “services and education” they had received while in Egypt. The fact that the Jews had paid taxes for those things like any other Egyptian was not mentioned.

Leon’s parents now had to find a place for them to go.  Ironically they could not get into Israel. There were thousands and thousands of Egyptian Jews in the same position. Israel did not want thousands of Egyptians with no money streaming into the country.

It turned out that Leon’s mother had a relative in France who was willing to take them in .  This scared Leon a lot. His language was Arabic.  He had taken a little French in school, but was not very good at it. He was not even good at Hebrew, even though his mother kept trying to push him to learn it.

Getting to France was exhausting. There was a long bus ride, then a boat trip then a train ride.  What Leon remembers most is that he was always cold, tired and hungry. He missed a lot of things about Egypt but he missed  the food the most. As they waited at one bus station in France Leon and his brother and sister spotted an apple tree full of ripe fruit. Their parents were inside getting the tickets so the kids climbed the tree and got the fruit. They did not realize that these were crab apples until they bit into them. They spit out the sour tasting fruit. The crab apples somehow made them realize their hunger even more.

The family finally made it to their relative, where they all lived in the cramped house for a number of years. Leon never really felt at home but he took refuge in his studies. He learned French and English and of course excelled in mathematics.

Leon now is an American Citizen and  lives in New Jersey with his wife and children. He is an environmental engineer and his mathematical skills and attention to detail impress even the other engineers. He goes out for Egyptian food whenever he can find a restaurant that has it.

President Nasser died long ago, and Egypt and Israel have had full diplomatic relations for many years.  Leon has been to Israel several times as a tourist. With an American passport he could easily cross the border to Egypt and go visit his old neighborhood. Somehow he has just never been able to bring himself to do it.

Sometimes Leon is asked how he describes himself . Does he call himself an American, a Jew, a Frenchman?  Every time his answer is the same. He will look you in the eye and proudly state, “I am an Egyptian.

How The Irish Saved Civilization – book review

With Saint Patrick’s Day coming up soon you may find it interesting to read a book that details what is an overlooked contribution of Irish society to the wold.

The book How The Irish Saved civilization by Thomas Cahill is a fascinating look at what was happening in Ireland while the rest of Europe was in what is known as the Dark Ages.

The books starts with a detailed description of the fall of the Roman empire. The author points out that the fall actually happened over hundreds of years, and was so gradual that most members of the empire just had a vague sense that “things used to be better”.

The way that the Irish “saved civilization” was basically by being out of sync with the rest of the word. When the ancient Roman Empire was at its peak and classical literature was at its best, Ireland was still a savage land filled with unread, unwashed barbarians.

Literacy and classical literature came hundreds of years later to Ireland than to the rest of Europe. This was in large part due to  Saint Patrick himself. He a was well educated boy living in England who had a classical Roman education. He was kidnapped by an Irish raiding party and kept as a slave.  Like other slaves in Ireland he was kept naked all the time.

After several years, he was able to escape. After he made it back home he then made the decision to return to Ireland. However, he did not come back to exact revenge, but to teach the Irish about Christianity and the intellectual wonders of the ancient world.

Against all odds, Patrick’s teaching caught fire and the Irish delved into Christianity and literature with a passion. As the rest of Europe was falling into the Dark Ages the Irish were building universities and libraries and reading and copying the ancient manuscripts.

Remember that there were no printing presses, Xerox machines or word processors. Each book had to be painstakingly copied by hand. In mainland Europe and the Mediterranean millions of  books and scrolls were being lost and the population was becoming more and more illiterate. In Ireland  monks and scholars were copying and preserving the works of Plato Aristotle, Virgil an Homer.  Many of these works would have been lost forever if copies had not been saved in walled monasteries in Ireland.

So on Saint Patrick’s day, instead of drinking green beer and wearing a funny hat, you may want to read this excellent and well documented  book and learn about the real Saint Patrick and find out about the often overlooked intellectual history of Ireland. If you are of Irish heritage it will make you proud. And if you are not of Irish heritage, a simple “thank you” will suffice.

Lyons Train Station Basking Ridge New Jersey by Gregory Farrell

Train Station 006 Lyons Train Station, Basking Ridge N,J.

Seventeen people took the train from here on the morning of September 11, 2001 and died in the World Trade Center. To read their story see. Dusty Cars a 9/11 Story

Winter Snow 007/

Train Station 004Names of the 17 who died on 9/11. The sign reads, “ We shall never forget our friends and neighbors who rode the rails with us that morning but did not return with us that night.”

The names of the people are,

  • David O. Campbell
  • Stephen P. Dimino
  • John W. Farrell
  • Louis V. Fersini Jr.
  • Michael B. Finnegan,
  • Christopher H. Forsythe
  • Stephen G. Genovese
  • Robert J. Halligan
  • Kevin J. Hannaford
  • John Hartz
  • Matthew T. McDermott
  • Stacey McGowan
  • Ludwig J. Picarro
  • Stephen E. Poulos
  • Timothy P. Soulas
  • Craig W. Staub
  • Frank T. Wisniewski

Train Station 002

Train Station 001

Cat Heaven And The Floating Sumo Wrestlers by Gregory Farrell

During the day, Juan was the type of man nobody noticed in New York . He was in the country illegally, so he had to keep his head down and work hard.

At  5 am every morning, he was working with a team of other laborers unloading fruit and vegetables from the Fresh Direct trucks and sorting them for delivery to the various apartments in Tribeca.


Usually he did not get to make any deliveries. Only the guys the boss liked the best got to do that. Deliveries meant tips at the wealthy apartments, and so everyone fought to be the delivery guys.

It was a bad winter, which was good for Juan. After helping to unload the trucks, Juan could pick up some extra cash by shoveling and salting sidewalks for the stores. Sometimes the store owners paid in full, and sometimes they said the snow was not really that deep and they paid less than they had promised. But there was a really nice old woman on Greene Street who had a little cafe. She always found some small job for Juan to do. She would have him sweep the cafe, or clean the windows or empty the trash. She always paid in full in cash and always gave him a little snack when he was done. She reminded him of his abuela back home.

Juan tried not to think about home very much. When the Narcos started moving in to his town he made the mistake of not showing them the respect they demanded.  He would not pay any tribute no matter how small. He had wanted to fight them but it was his abuela who had convinced him to leave and run to the U.S.  She told him that if he fought the Narcos, not only would he die, but that the Narcos would take revenge and kill the whole family including her.

Feeling like a coward Juan had slipped across the border into the U.S. Like most other illegals he took whatever job was offered. He kept moving further and further north, until finally he found himself in one of the richest sections of New York. He was one of the many invisible people in Tribeca who took care of all the menial tasks for the very rich.

He had found small illegal sleeping quarters in the basement of a clothing store on Spring Street. Years before,  the manager of the store had paid a plumber to hook up a shower, sink and toilet in the basement, and had been renting it out for cash ever since. Juan not only paid cash, but also cleaned the store and stocked the shelves for free. Despite this, Juan still thought he had a good deal.

The only drawback was that when the store closed for the night, Juan was locked in his windowless basement apartment. The manager probably could have rented it for a lot more money except for this.  When people wanted apartments in Soho they wanted to be able to go out at night.

Juan did not mind being locked in at night. He was so physically exhausted by the end of each day that he was happy to just sleep on the little army cot tucked in beside overflowing boxes of women’s overpriced shoes.

How the cat got in Juan could never figure out. There must have been some small secret hole to the outside somewhere in the basement, but Juan cold never find it. All he knew was that one night he was scared half to death when the cat  woke him from a deep sleep by jumping on the cot. It was only five degrees outside that night and the cat’s fur was very cold. The cat meowed and meowed and Juan realized it was half starving. Juan rummaged though the mini fridge which also served as his bedside night table. He gave the cat some milk and pieces of a left over roast beef sandwich. The cat wolfed it down and purred loudly. Then the cat jumped back to the cot, curled into a ball and fell promptly to sleep.

Juan did not toss the cat out of the cot, but just squeezed next  to it on the bed. Juan found the cat’s presence oddly soothing, and soon Juan fell back asleep.

In the morning the cat was gone, but it returned each night for dinner and a nap on the cot. Juan sadly realized that the cat’s visits were the best part of his entire day.

That’s when Juan started dreaming about being someone important.  The dream about Cat Heaven seemed so real that when Juan woke up he was sure he had actually been there. It was a beautiful place.

Cat Heaven was in a giant field of green grass where it was sunny and warm during the day and cool and pleasant at night. The field was full of mice and butterflies which the cats would chase.  In the middle of the field was a large Victorian Mansion with the doors open. Inside the mansion there were comfortable couches and easy chairs for the cats to curl up and sleep on.  There were bowls of fresh water and other bowls with crunchy cat food nuggets.

The cats were very happy there but there was one thing missing. There was no human to pet them and brush them and speak soothingly to them. So out of all the people in the world, the cats chose Juan to come to cat heaven and take care of them. He wandered through the mansion, petting and talking to the cats, periodically picking one up to give it a big hug.

When Juan woke up the next morning he felt that he had really been there. It did not seem like a dream at all. Then he started worrying that he was going crazy. He realized that since he left Mexico he had had no friends, and usually went through the entire day without speaking more than a few words to anyone.

The next dream was even stranger. He was the most important man in a small village in Japan. He was still Mexican, but no one seemed to notice since he spoke fluent Japanese There were two Sumo wrestlers who lived in the village and they needed to get to a big tournament in Tokyo to defend the honor of the village. People had cars, but they were all too small to fit even one Sumo wrestler in.

Then Juan had an idea. There was one big flatbed truck in the village. The Sumo wrestlers could ride on it, but if it bounced around on the rutted dirt road they would bounce off the truck, or at the very least  get injured. But Juan came up with the idea of taking a big fiberglass pool and securing it to the back of the truck. The villagers filled it with warm  water and the Sumo wrestlers climbed in and floated comfortably while Juan drove the tuck.

All was going well until Juan came to the last sharp corner on the road out of the village. The combined weight of the water and the Sumo wrestlers caused the truck to tip. Water flooded the village and the Sumo wrestlers rode a wave through the village, finally ending up safely in a muddy rice paddy.

That’s when Juan woke up an realized that he was simultaneously drowning and choking.  The store was on fire. A raging inferno had caused the sprinklers to turn on. But they had not been tested in many years, and the sudden pressure caused a pipe to break in the basement and the windowless room was fast filling with water. It was already higher than the side of the cot, and water had been getting in Juan’s mouth while he slept.

He ran up the stairs, but the steel door to the main floor of the store was bolted shut. A thought flashed though Juan’s mind how unfair it would be for him to have worked so hard to escape the Narcos just to drown in the basement of a women’s shoe store.

That’s when he heard the cat meowing. It was swimming in frantic circles in the cold basement water which was already as high as Juan’s chest. Juan scooped up the cat and held it in his arms. The cat stayed there for a minute and then jumped out of his arms to a little brick ledge near the top of the wall.

Juan watched the cat intently. He knew it was his only hope. Somehow it got into the basement every night. It must know a way out. It would be big enough for a cat, but what about a man?

The cat ran along the ledge and then Juan saw the hole in the bricks in the top corner of the basement. The cat scampered through the hole, but just as Juan had feared, the hole was just barely wide enough for the scrawny cat.

Juan reached down into the freezing cold water and found the mini fridge. He dragged it to the corner and stood on it. He pulled himself up the brick ledge and put his mouth to the hole the cat had gone through.

Then he screamed. He screamed louder than he ever had in his life. He let out all the fear and anger and frustration he had kept pent up his whole life and just screamed over and over and over. He had left Mexico without a fight, but he was damned if he was going to leave this Earth without one.

He was still screaming when the water reached his chin, and the light shined in his eyes almost blinding him. From the other side of the hole he heard the fireman yell, “Chief! There’s someone in there! Jump back buddy! We’re going to use the jackhammer.”

The rest of the night was a blur and he didn’t remember much about it later. He remembers the sound of the firemen breaking in, and the ride in the ambulance. He was only in the hospital overnight for observation since he had not sustained any injuries.

Juan assumed he would be deported back to Mexico, but that was before he understood the power of becoming a celebrity.  He ended up on all the New York news stations, both English and Spanish.  He became the “poster-boy”  for the mistreatment of illegal immigrants, although he was not  really sure what that meant.

People kept wanting him to talk about how he had been locked in a basement and left to die, but he would not. He did not think he had been mistreated, and he knew the fire was an accident. People kept wanting to give him money but he would not take it. For hundreds of years his family had been hard workers and had never taken a handout from anyone.

All he wanted was another place to sleep and to find his cat. After a while the public lost  interest in him and assumed he had moved back to Mexico. He did not. You have probably passed him in Tribeca or Soho many times and never noticed him. He is still one of the anonymous men unloading trucks in the morning. He has found another illegal place to sleep, this time in the attic of a grocery store. He figured it is easier to get out of an attic than a basement if there is ever a problem.

After work Juan wanders near the burnt out building on Spring Street where the shoe store used to be. In his pocket he has a small bag of dry cat food which he shakes periodically while searching for the scrawny friend who saved his life by showing him the hole in the basement.

After a long day of unloading trucks Juan is glad to get back to his attic room and flop down on the bed. He always falls asleep immediately, and always dreams of Cat Heaven.

The Lego Movie

We were very skeptical when we first heard about The Lego Movie. We were afraid that it was just going to be a two hour commercial for Lego toys disguised as a movie.

Boy, were we ever wrong. The Lego Movie is a wonderful adventure tale for kids, with interesting characters and a real plot. It is so clever that the adults watching will enjoy it a as much as the kids.

Not only does it have an interesting story line, it has great character development, with the characters played by top name actors. Will Ferrell, Morgan Feeman and Liam Neeson all play main characters and put the full force of their talents into the roles.

The plot is about a simple construction worker names Emmet who lives a very uncomplicated and predictable life in Lego Land until one day he finds a mystery piece which both the good an evil forces are searching for.

It turns out that Lego Land is ruled by an evil President Business (Will Ferrell). He is so concerned with keeping things in order that he has a plot to glue all the Lego pieces together so that they can never be changed again. His henchman is Bad Cop (Liam Neeson).

It turns out that the mysterious piece that Emmet has found is the top to the glue, and is the key to saving Lego Land. Emmet must go on a quest to put back the top and so save all the Lego characters from being frozen forever. He is guided on his journey by Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), who is very much like Obi-Wan Kenobi, except that he is not nearly as good at his job.

The movie has humor, excitement and a surprise and touching ending that the adults will appreciate. We strongly recommend you take the kids to see The Lego Movie. If you don’t have kids,  go ahead and see it anyway. Who says adults can’t have fun too?