"Fingerprints of the Gods" by Graham Hancock

In the beginning there was Erich von Däniken.
Of course this is not completely true - nobody ever creates things out of the thin air, every single idea has always been influenced by someone else, comparable to keeping the torch of the flame or wave ripples going trough the lake - we hear some informations, we soak some influences and than we create something new out of it.
Naturally, there were other people before Däniken who dared to question the church, religions and generally accepted opinions and surely Däniken himself read some of the books published trough previous generations, which in turn made him curious about the origins of our ancient world. Perhaps it was simply the case of right time and the right place, or he caught the zeitgeist of the times, in any case Däniken created unprecedented publishing phenomenon with his books about ancient astronauts - even though the official scientific world did everything to ridicule and disparage him, millions around the world (me included) were thrilled that somebody finally dares to raise the questions - not to claim, or to provide the answers, like so many of his critics concluded with exasperating self-righteousness, Däniken simply posed the questions "what if?" and his books are full of question marks, where he makes the reader thinking and wondering could the ancient history of this planet perhaps be very different from officially accepted story. Its infuriating to see how many people completely misunderstood him as someone who "claims" and "speculate" - the way I see it now, from the perspective of distinguished middle age, Däniken wondered and posed the questions, he never gave the answers.

But he created something - and maybe this is the sole purpose of his life - he started the spark that caught many readers and made them excited about different possibilities, different, unorthodox theories that might sound completely off the wall but are darn staggering, astonishing and powerful. Millions around the world gulped his books and some of us accepted the idea that perhaps the origins of our human race might be different from what is taught in school. Ask me in the middle of the night, ask me in the front of shooting squad, hanging upside down or standing on one leg, but I am simply more prone to accept the possibility of Alien intervention (read: genetic experimentation) than the idea of one omnipotent creator to whom people light the candles, surrounded by invisible, cherubic winged helpers and so on. 

Graham Hancock is one of those people who came later inspired by Däniken. I still think that Däniken himself was extremely important because he ignited the original flame that caught attention of millions around the world, but other people eventually continued the path he started (once the ice was broken) and Hancock is one of them.
Not only that his book came some two decades after Däniken but the younger man actually writes far more eloquently (English being his native language) and there is a contagious enthusiasm and spirit about him, impossible to ignore. Wide eyed, excitable and very, very likable, Hancock basically continues what Däniken had started but does it in his own Indiana Jones way. Looking closely, they both actually do exactly the same things - both Däniken and Hancock travel around the world, take pictures of ancient temples, ruins in Bolivia or central America and than elaborate on proposed theories - but where Däniken being first, always comes across as defensive and argumentative (because the pressure, attacks and criticism on him were much bigger), Hancock is blessed with some good-natured charm so the readers feel the natural pull of following him, instead of fighting with his reasoning, like in case of Däniken. 

I read Hancock's book "Fingerprints of the Gods" some seventeen years ago and still have the original copy bought in Amsterdam. I vividly remember the moment in my life, where I was, what was I doing and what a great excitement this book gave me. It was Däniken all over again but this time even better, somehow improved. Even though later I continued to faithfully follow Hancock and always loved his subsequent work, it is this particular book that caught my attention initially and I always have a soft spot for it, so I decided to re-visit it again just to re-fresh my memory and to check how do I feel about it now.

Guess what, I still love it. In fact, I'm reading it as for the first time - Hancock has a wonderfully contagious way with words and his excitement is palpable. Wheter he travels in the trains trough remote areas of South America or flies above The Nazca plateau, I am right with him in all these places - Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, ancient pyramids, Tiahuanaco, you name it. I might be somewhat older and perhaps a bit jaded now but years are forgotten when Graham Hancock takes me along on his adventures around the world and he also makes me question, wonder and think. Not that we as readers are expected to blindly accept him but every now and than I get a brain buzz and occasional thought flashes trough my mind, when I say to myself "wait, go back, this might be important, remember this"  and the book is full of this kinds of moments. I could easily imagine being very comfortable on desert island with the whole collection of books by Graham Hancock. 


Richard Matheson

Extremely slow-paced previous book by Peter Straub still didn't cure me from my new passion for horror genre - once I have discovered that it keeps me awake trough the early hours of the night, now I can't get enough of it. So I decided to have "just a peek" at Richard Matheson whom I know as a man behind famous horror classic "I Am Legend"  that was brought to movie screen three times. 

First, out of curiosity, I poked around to find Matheson's famous early short story titled "Born of Man and Woman" that initially made him famous at the age of twenty four. It is strikingly memorable, poignant and unforgettable story told from the point of view of unnamed deformed child kept in chains by his parents - shocked and embarrassed by his unnatural looks (the full extent of his deformity is never completely described, just hinted at - which makes the reader's brain buzzing even more) the parents keep him away from everybody else in some sort of dark basement and the child knows only cold walls, hunger and beatings. He escapes every now and than just to look at the other children from the windows (he don't understand they are children, he sees them as  "little people like the little mother and little fathers" and it shows the heartbreaking isolation and loneliness of his life) after which he is usually brutally beaten. The relatively short story ends with anger rising in abused and badly beaten child who - not knowing anything else - might turn potentially dangerous towards his tormentors. Even at this early stage, Matheson shows such a brilliance and imagination - I actually couldn't sleep after I read that short story, it upset me so much that I wanted to jump into the story and save this child from the real monsters who are his parents. I still think about it, it left a deep impression on me.
You can read the complete story here

Seeing not one, but three film versions of "I Am Legend" kind of spoiled what could have been a wonderful literary discovery - knowing the story beforehand and seeing it all in various interpretations means that I couldn't help but going back to what I remember seeing in the movies. Rewinding the scenes in my mind and finding that, surprisingly, "The Last Man on Earth" with Vincent Price (that initially I didn't really like) is far more faithful to its literary original than Charlton Heston's "The Ωmega Man" (which I thought was super cool) - the way I see it now, latter is simply action vampire movie, while the former has true post-apocalyptic emptiness and loneliness that Matheson was writing about. It is haunting and powerful - but not in a really horror way, more like psychological isolation, loneliness and powerlessness in a world with no love, affections of company. When Robert Neville finally encounters the equally lonely stray dog, just to have him dying in his arms, it breaks your heart. This is the only sane living being that Neville had finally met in a long time and just as he almost tamed the little scared dog, it dies probably from the same germs that killed the rest of the planet.

"It was about eleven that night when Neville slowly undid the blanket folds and exposed the dog’s head.
For a few minutes it cringed away from his hand, snapping a little. But he kept talking to it quietly, and after a while his hand rested on the warm neck and he was moving his fingers gently, scratching and caressing.
He smiled down at the dog, his throat moving.
“You’ll be all better soon,” he whispered. “Real soon.”The dog looked up at him with its dulled, sick eyes and then its tongue faltered out and licked roughly and moistly across the palm of Neville’s hand. Something broke in Neville’s throat. He sat there silently while tears ran slowly down his cheeks.

In a week the dog was dead."

"Hell House" 
Perhaps I read this too soon after brilliant, multi-layered "The Haunting of Hill House" but unfortunately Matheson's "Hell House" did not have nearly same, seismic effect on me as Shirley Jackson's famous predecessor. Where Jackson weaved her story around ambiguous world of hallucination - all trough her novel, we are never told explicitly that there are ghosts in the house - Matheson is firm about it, we are supposed to take supernatural evil for granted and start from that premise. It is just a matter of time before characters start hearing things that go bump in the night and so on, eventually it turns into quite detailed, lurid prose that would probably appeal to my 14 years old self, but as it is, at this stage reading about sex deviations, crosses with penises and church orgies just feels like exaggerated case of vulgarity. It is a far cry from what I expected from Matheson of 1950s. Somewhere towards the end, I was also reminded of something that actually bothers me with the whole genre, the anticlimax that comes after author has been carefully building chilling atmosphere for so long - once we find and discover the origins of things that go bump in the night from than on it just feels pointless. To be honest, obviously nobody comes close to Shirley Jackson (with honorable exception of her follower Stephen King) so now after reading five horror novels in a row, I think it's a time to move on to something else. 


"Bus children" by Garrison Keillor

Out on the prairie so wide
The school buses wending their way
From the towns they travel
For miles on the gravel
An hour before it is day.
And the winter wind blows
Cross the corn stubble rows
Where the dirt has turned the snow gray.

And the children walk down to the road
From the farmhouses' warm kitchen glow,
Stand waiting and yearning
To see the bus turning
And the sweep of the headlights' glow.
And they climb up inside
And away they all ride
Past the farms and the fields full of snow.

And they think about math as they go
And the chemistry of atmosphere
And unequal equations
And French conjugations
And the sonnets of William Shakespeare
And then up the drive
At the school they arrive
On the darkest day of the year.

And in due course they will fly
Away, young women and men
With mixed emotions
Cross mountains and oceans
And become what we could not have been. 
We will tenderly kiss them
Goodbye and miss them
And never will see them again.

"Ghost Story" by Peter Straub

Shirley Jackson was such a discovery that - in the heat of the moment - I thought that perhaps I should invest more time in genre of horror, because frankly my dear, I actually don't know anybody besides Stephen King and Anne Rice anyway. As noted previously, I like to read about authors and their work, but than I find myself busy with something else and it takes forever to actually select the next title - with more than 1 500 books on my Kindle, it is not a joke, it's a commitment. So, knowing King, Rice and now Shirley Jackson, I said to myself let's check this guy Peter Straub who is actually vaguely familiar as he collaborated with Stephen King on "Black House"  that I remember reading long ago. 

A hard nut to crack, "Ghost Story" might initially appear difficult, inaccessible and complicated because Straub takes his sweet time to set the stage. Where S.King grabs you from the very first page and never lets go, Straub apparently delights in describing every single person, animal, tree and a car that ever crossed little town of Milburn, without much concern would this actually appeal to his readers. It is all well planned, conducted and imagined - there is a dazzling display of technical craftsmanship in sense that he shows off with different perspectives and points of view, sometimes in dizzying succession, until you come to expect that perhaps even the fly on the wall might have chapter with a story told from its own perspective. Peter Straub obviously loves his voice, he goes on and on while at several points I started wondering are all this trivial dialogues and mundane dinner conversations really important and will anything ever start happening in this darn book. 

It does - the story actually picks up around third part ("The Coon Hunt") of the novel and at this point you either already gave up in frustration or you were hooked. I have persevered with real difficulties because every now and than the story became so meandering and convoluted (not to mention thousand and one character, whose names I simply couldn't remember anymore) that the novel knocked me off to sleep. Seriously, instead of keeping me awake trough the night, horror novel titled "Ghost story" actually made me yawning. It doesn't matter if your tired eyes skip half of the page, because, you know, good people of Milburn are still talking about feeling very strange and everything is so foreboding but chapter after chapter nothing is happening. Until third part  where now I found myself and it's too late to stop anyway, now everybody seems to start realising that evil has descendent on Milburn and Straub kind of feels obliged to finally unravel all these puzzles. I see where similarities with S.King came from - they are kind of on similar wave length but King is straight shooter who knows how to get your attention, while Straub revel in weaving, plotting and descriptions. Normally I have no problems whatsoever with writers who take their time, as long as they have interesting or original style but Straub really tests my patience and at this point I am not so sure that I like or even appreciate his style at all. Yes, the story finally started cooking but its kind of too late now, I still feel bitterness and frustration that it took me two thirds of the book for something finally starting to happen. 


Happy together - smiling boy embracing a smiling dog

Old pictures of Scotland

                                        Aberdeen, The Castlegate and Union Street around 1900

                                     Glasgow Bridge in the 1890s


The Beautiful Cat

A very old photo (taken some 130 years ago) of absolutely beautiful cat, and you know this is really Mona Lisa of the cat's world. 

The connection we have with our pets, our animal friends is really something special and scientists tried to explain it with a thousands years of breeding but in my opinion we were simply perfect companionship for each other. No matter what kind of pet - I couldn't really care less is it a cat, dog, bird or a fish, I am capable of being very loving, tender and caring for any animal, including probably even some wild, untamed ones. (Which of course makes me feeling guilty about meat eating since I understand it is very hypocritical to eat some animals and pet the other)  There were some really gentle experiences with pets in my life and I hope that I provided them with as much love as I could have mustered at the time, many of them I still remember to this day.

This is such a pretty picture - picture that speaks thousands words - that I just had to include it on my blog. 

Obviously there was somebody who loved (in fact, admired) this cat so much that the owner wanted to preserve the portrait of it for posterity. And what a beauty it is - no matter was it boy or girl, it was such a lovely animal and handsome pet friend that I feel delighted just looking at this intelligent face.