Sunday, March 1, 2015

Rain


     For one week only, Rain.
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     Thank you.



Rain



Down, down, down to the World it plummets, space seed, seed pod, capsule spat from the mouth of the dark ship that winks into being above the World, ship that winks at the World’s two suns, winks at the strange stars, and winks to otherwhere with a nod and a wink to the mechanics of quantum flight. Down, down the pod blazes through the burning blue sky, encircling the World with its firetail, searing away speed and weightlessness and sky-longing hopes. Down the space-seed-pod-capsule falls until it ruptures in pod-splitting, seed-shaking, heart-breaking thunder and belches forth a spacesuited man whose drogue pops open and yanks out his orange ‘chute that whooshes to fullness and the man below swings once, then twice, then thuds to the orange-ochre earth as fragments of the space-seed-pod-capsule rain around raising rooster-tail plumes of orange and ochre and yellow dust.
The man grunts when he crashes to earth, forgetting to keep knees flexed, arms relaxed, eyes on the horizon (they only told him these things so he would know he landed wrong). His suit senses the bruising landing and signals the buckles to disconnect from the ‘chute risers. The buckles open in response, collapsing the ‘chute and leaving the man crumpled on the ground.
Wind kicked out of him by the World, the man hugs his ribs, squeezes his knees to his chest, and tucks his chin to his sternum like a fetus cowering from embryonic nightmares of a dilation and cutterage. The spasms in his diaphragm finally cease but still he cannot breathe. Opening an eye, he sees his visor peg his oxygen readout at zero. Panicked, he rips at his helmet, indifferent to whatever hazards may lay beyond the mask and “Ssssss” the seal hisses open and there is air and the man gulps in quick lungfulls.
For some minutes, the man sucks in air, sprawled in his blue spacesuit like a starfish across the orange-ochre ground. He sheds the helmet. As his senses return he feels someone watching him. With a jerk, he turns to spy a berobed black man squatting kneecaps alongside ears, staring at him, and chewing, chewing, chewing on half a sand lizard of jerky. The other half is spiked on the point of a black obsidian knife that is sharper than razor steel and blacker than the blue-black hand that grips the strangely pale leather bound hilt.
The man gulps from fear of his unknown observer but he is nothing if not gregarious (if one overlooks the fact that he is also near asphyxiated, lost, bruised, and banished) and the black man did not kill him while he fought for breath so, with some confidence that his observer is friendly -- well, at least not hostile -- he staggers to his feet under the cool red sun and ambles over to the black man hand outstretched and “Hi, I’m Jack Latham,” smiles Jack Latham. “How do I get off this rock?”
The black man chewing, chewing, chewing the lizard jerky peers up at Jack Latham but keeps one hand on the hilt of his knife and the other in his robe. He stands up and Jack Latham cranes his head back to face his tall companion.
Some call me Maker,” says the black man in a sepuchral voice.
You’re a tall one,” says Jack Latham.
I am Watusi,” says Maker as if that answers all questions of ‘who are you’ and ‘where are you from’ and ‘what’s your problem, mate.’ Says Maker, “Get your ‘chute.”
What?”
Get your ‘chute.” Maker unfolds a long arm from orange robes to point to dust clouds rising on the horizon. “Thieves are coming. They will kill you for your belongings and your water.” He swallows the sand lizard jerky he has been chewing.
Belongings? I got ten rat bars and three liters of water. You telling me they’ll kill me for that?”
You have the suit you wear, your ‘chute, and the pieces of the pod that delivered you to the World as well. Thieves will kill you for the smallest fragment of your pod. Get your ‘chute,” and ssshhhp the other half of the sand lizard is sucked into Maker’s mouth.
Why the ‘chute? Why not a pod fragment?”
So you have something to wear.”
I can wear this suit. Let’s . . .,” Maker’s knife flashes quicker than a heartbeat, “. . . go.” Too late Jack Latham jumps back out of reach. His heart races but he feels no pain. He scans himself to find a neat hole sliced in his sleeve and regards Maker with new respect and greater fear. Maker aims the knife point to the swatch he cut from Jack Latham’s suit, the blue bold against the orange earth, then to the spot where Jack Latham’s orange ‘chute nestles against the ground invisible save for the strings of white risers that lead to it like skeletal fingers.
Jack Latham inspects Maker’s robes again to find that they are fashioned of orange ‘chute cloth. The hattah cuts sharp outlines about his dark face and the orange paints a contrast against the blue sky but even at this close approach his silk clad legs blur indistinctly against the ochre earth.
Oh!” exclaims Jack Latham. “I see.”
Maker nods his chin to the dust clouds rising ever nearer. “So do they.”
Jack Latham picks his way through the creosote, yucca, and cacti to the remains of his ‘chute. He returns to Maker with the orange silk wrapped in the ‘chute risers and not a few cactus spines pricked in his fingers.
Maker conjures a gnarled walking stick from his robes and turns wordlessly to stride over a ridge and out of sight of the approaching thieves. Jack Latham scurries along behind, extricating the painful cactus spines as best he can.
Their shadows race before them as the red sun lowers in the sky. Across the unrelenting orange-ochre earth they walk, and few words pass between them. Jack Latham talks of escape from the World. Maker, when he talks, talks of cacti to avoid and lizards to eat.
When the sky ahead begins to lighten with the coming dawn of the World’s other sun, Maker calls over his shoulder to Jack Latham, “Hurry,” just that, no more, and breaks into a trot.
What? Why?” Jack Latham asks stumbling ahead, his arms wrapped around the bundle of ‘chute silk. As they race to the shadow of a rock overhang, he chases Maker, losing ground with each stride. Maker wins the race and crosses the shadow finish but Jack Latham stumbles onward and the goal is only fifty meters away when World’s bright sun, brutal sun crests the horizon and Jack Latham is blinded by its brilliance. “Aahh!” he cries, wincing. The harsh rays beat against his face and burn and blister his skin in seconds and Maker’s admonition to hurry commands new urgency and Jack Latham races stumbling faster through creosote, yucca, and cacti to gain the finish line of shadow, cracking his head against the red rock and collapsing unconscious beneath the overhang.
He is awakened when Maker tugs his suit to pull him further into the retreating shadow. “Oooh,” moans Jack Latham rubbing his face. He winces when he touches the knot that has risen from his forehead. He winces again when he feels the blisters the bright sun burned into his skin. He peers out of the shadow place at the desert. Creosote, yucca, and cacti have tucked their shadows under their prickly skirts to guard them from the destruction that the bright sun rains down from overhead.
Master cuts a tendril from an aloe plant, splits it in two, and hands the twin halves to Jack Latham. “Spread this over your burns.”
Thanks,” says Jack Latham as he takes the aloe and spreads the sticky, soothing goo across his face and ears and neck and hands. Images swim before his eyes and dizziness floods his head. Pointing to his injured head he asks, “Got something for this bump, too?”
Not here,” Maker replies. “There is a small frog I keep in my cave. Its liver will remove that bump from your worries.”
Jack Latham grimaces. He does not relish the idea of eating frog liver, but he has done many things he did not relish. He leans his back against the rock and the images swim as one and the dizziness passes. He digs into a thigh pocket of his suit to pull out a flask. He pops the seal and sucks in a mouthful of water that he swallows with a sigh. He sucks down another mouthful before he glances at his companion. Maker squats knees alongside ears watching him. Jack Latham offers Maker the flask. Maker takes the flask with both hands, nods his thanks, and wets the tip of a forefinger. With the wetted finger, he traces the outline of his lips, touches the end of his tongue, and flicks the last lingering drop from his finger into the desert. He sips from the flask, once, twice, thrice, each sip larger than the last, and caps the flask to hand it back to Jack Latham.
Jack Latham pockets the flask and asks, “That some kind of religious ritual you just did?”
It is an acknowledgment,” Maker says. “All water belongs to the World. I promise the World that someday I shall repay the water it has loaned me.”
This is more answer than Jack Latham’s practical mind cares to grasp. Yes or no would have satisfied him but Maker’s philosophy bewilders him.
He finds two full-day-ration bars in a suit pocket and asks, “Have a rat bar, Maker?” searching for a question with an answer he can comprehend.
Maker takes the proffered bar and nods his thanks. Jack Latham tears away the wrapper from his bar and bites off a quarter of it. Maker carefully splits the wrapper along its seams, draws the bar out, and secretes the whole wrapper in his robes. He nibbles at his bar as if it were some rare delicacy.
You tried to get off this rock?” asks Jack Latham.
Maker shakes his head.
Well, I won’t be here long, you can bet on that. Done escaped prison twice before. Last time I offed a woman and a cop. That’s why they dropped me here.” Jack Latham bites off more ration bar. “So what are you here for?”
Life.”
No, I mean, you know, like me, I killed that cop during my second escape. That’s what I’m here for. You? Did you escape?”
Never went to prison. Came here straight from trial.”
Jack Latham blinks at the harshness of Maker’s punishment. On his world, only convicts who commit capital crimes warrant banishment to the World. “Must have some tough law on your world,” he says.
Reminiscing about that law catches no lizards.”
Jack Latham nods as if he understands.
You some kinda political prisoner?”
As if in answer, Maker draws a slim, black throwing blade from his sleeve. Jack Latham cowers back exclaiming, “I meant no offense! Forget I asked!” and Maker flings the blade a scant hand’s breadth past Jack Latham’s ear to thunk into the hard, red clay. “Why, you!” spits Jack Latham and he turns to grab the blade to arm himself against this madman but finds it buried in the head of a yellow and red and black striped snake, pinning the snake to the wall of their shadow resting place close by his head. Maker stretches with another knife to sever the snake’s body from its head in one clean swipe. He pulls the throwing blade free of the red clay and flings the severed head out of the shadow. All this he does in the space between two breaths.
Jack Latham blinks at the snake head sizzling beneath the rays of the bright sun and gapes at Maker who deftly opens the body from tail to tip and tosses the entrails into the harsh brightness. Armored ants and scorpions scurry to suck the moistness from the head and intestines before the bright sun bakes them dry. Maker drives the point of the black knife into the red earth and the pale leather bound hilt dances a vibrating jig that gives Jack Latham pause. He wonders what animal on this World has such a white belly to make such pale leather. But he is a practical man with a practical mind and so he asks a practical question.
Was that snake poisonous?”
Maker nods and strips the skin from the snake, smiling when it comes off in one piece.
I guess you saved my life,” Jack Latham says. “Thanks.”
Maker nods again and the meat vanishes into a pouch that he wizards from his robes. The skin he casts into the bright sun to dry.
Jack Latham is not used to being in debt of his life to anyone and it makes him uncomfortable. He changes the subject.
You said I should bring the ‘chute for clothes. When we gonna do something about that?”
Jack Latham sees Maker eye the shadows on the desert floor.
Hand over your ‘chute,” he says. “We have time to make a headpiece.”
Jack Latham passes his ‘chute bundle to Maker. As the shadow creeps along the rock wall and the two men crawl to stay under that shadow, Maker flick flick flick cuts a ‘chute panel and a riser to fashion a hattah for Jack Latham. Clumsy with the new apparel at first, soon Jack Latham learns how to tie the headpiece like a Bedouin. Maker directs him to bundle his ‘chute in its risers and prepare to leave.
We will leave this place when the red sun rises.”
We have far to go?” asks Jack Latham.
Not far. It will be dark soon and the red dawn will come soon after that. If you can keep up we will gain the cave before the next bright dawn.”
Jack Latham nods his comprehension as he ties the last riser around the orange bundle of cloth and starts to work at making arm loops to sling the load on his back. A new shadow falls across his work as the bright sun sinks below a ridge. A movement catches his eye and he turns to see Maker twirl the snakeskin into a roll and slip it into hyperspace somewhere in those orange robes. Darkness falls upon the World like a wake up call and the desert sings with the songs of a thousand adapted animals.
Wow!” Jack Latham exclaims in awe and fear. “Is it always this noisy at night?”
When there is night, yes.”
A chittering is followed by an alto feline yowl. A bassoon booms across the sands.
What’s that?” asks Jack Latham.
Kangaroo rats, sand cat, lung lizard,” answers Maker’s voice from the darkness. An inhuman series of yelps rises from the desert and without prompting Maker adds, “Desert dogs.”
Any camels on this planet? Camels would make travel easier.”
No camels. The jailers chose not to seed the World with camels. There are enough lizards, rats, and desert dogs to eat. And cacti. No large animals survive. If ever there were any.”
Any women?” Jack Latham asks hopefully.
I have seen one or two.”
Oh? When?”
Jack Latham feels more than sees Maker shrug. “It has been many turns of the World,” Maker says, “and I no longer count the turnings.”
Well, hey, maybe you seen a couple buddies of mine from the old cell block, like Dan Whittier or Raj Srinivasan or Carl Fagin.”
New bodies come, new bodies go. All are the same to me.”
You’d remember Dan. Tall black guy, not as tall as you, but stout. Got sent here two, maybe two and a half years ago. Standard years.”
My share of the World is small. I see but a handful of the thousands who come here each year.”
How about Raj? Skinny but tough, like me, and about my height. Beard and long hair. Killed three inmates and a guard in a riot a year and a half back.”
Silence answers Jack Latham.
Carl Fagin? Came here not two months ago. Short but broad. Bullet headed. Had a dragon snake tattooed on his back.”
A tattoo?”
Yeah.”
A green snake with blue wings?”
Yeah, and a red head.”
And a yellow tail.”
Yeah, that’s him.”
Yes, that one I remember.”
Small world, ain’t it? You and me both knowing Carl. So you hooked up with him, huh? How is old Carl these days?”
He is dead.”
Oh?” Jack Latham says, shocked. “Sorry to hear it. How’d it happen?”
The World took him.”
Yeah, I see how that could happen,” says Jack Latham, touching his blisters and wondering if the bright sun caught Carl Fagin too long outside. “Guess I’m lucky to have hooked up with you. It’s like I did the first time they threw me in the can. Found out then it’s good to make a buddy inside to see you through. Learned what’s what and who’s who and who the bad asses were and wasn’t long before I was a bad ass myself.” Maker says nothing and Jack Latham shuffles in the darkness. “Didn’t mean to blow my own horn, I just meant to say it’s good to make a buddy like you who knows the ropes and how to stay alive here and all so soon after I got here, you understand, and I really do appreciate you taking me under your wing and all, and I won’t forget you when I leave this rock, no, sir, I won’t, and I’ll be leaving soon, you mark my words,” and his words trail off to whispers in the night.
Maker says nothing.
Jack Latham grows quiet and counts the stars. Only a few dozen populate the World’s night sky save for the globular star cluster that shines like a distant moon. After the day-broil from the bright sun, the night cools quickly and the stars shimmer in the bubbles of heat that boil from the earth.
The World spins quick and the black desert reddens at the edge of Jack Latham’s vision. Too soon the desert glows pink with the pale dawn light of the World’s red sun. Maker levers himself upright with his walking stick and “Come,” he calls and Jack Latham follows.
For Jack Latham, the going is easier with his ‘chute slung on his back. He cheats swallows of water from his flask. He eats half a ration bar and offers the other half to Maker who grunts his thanks and secretes the bar within the folds of his robe.
They walk and rest and walk and rest and walk and rest and walk again. Jack Latham sweats from the exertion and his feet blister from the unaccustomed exercise but Maker does not slow the pace and Jack Latham dares not fall behind.
The horizon before them lightens with the coming dawn of the bright sun and Jack Latham tenses for the race to safety when Maker calls “Hurry” but twisting his head left and right Jack Latham spies no shadow finish. He wraps the tails of the hattah about his face and neck and digs his gloves from a thigh pocket to cover his flesh when a narrow ravine swallows the tall Watusi. Jack Latham scurries down the slope, grateful for some respite, any respite from the bright sun. Maker drives his walking stick into a crevice in the wall of the ravine and “Uuugghhh!” levers the crevice into an opening wide enough for a man to squeeze through. With a nod, he commands Jack Latham through and, as the bright sun, brutal sun strikes the far lip of the ravine with Hell’s fury, Jack Latham obeys, tumbling amazed and grateful into the cool darkness and Jack Latham feels his pores open and suck at the air blessed by water. A shadow passes over him and he glimpses Maker slipping through the crevice. The walking stick is withdrawn and the cave swallows them like the whale swallowed Jonah and a new night descends upon them. Thwack thwack Jack Latham hears and the cave walls coruscate rainbow lights. Maker steps over him calling “Come” and thwack thwacks the walls with his stick as he walks and the walls answer the beatings with more light.
Following as close as he can, Jack Latham stumbles and braces himself against a cave wall. He feels the rock dance beneath his fingers and looks to see the lights crawl across his glove. In fear, he peels off the glove and casts it to the floor. As the lights dim from violet to blue to green to yellow to orange to red, the colors crawl away from his glove back to the cave wall. Ahead, Maker disappears around a turn and Jack Latham hurries to keep pace.
His hurry almost causes him to fall over Maker who squats beside a pool that mirrors a greenish light to illuminate the small chamber. Maker seines the water with his long fingers and, like a child presenting his kindergarten teacher with his subject for show-and-tell, opens his palm to show Jack Latham a small, bright green frog.
This is the frog,” says Maker.
For the lump?” Jack Latham points.
Maker nods. He flips the frog onto its back, flips the black obsidian knife into his hand, and slits the frog from throat to tail with a speed that no longer surprises Jack Latham. Such speed does surprise the frog that dies before her tiny brain can react and make her legs kick and her belly squirm. A second pass with the pale-hilted, black-bladed knife and Maker offers up the severed liver to Jack Latham.
It’s best eaten quickly.”
Jack Latham takes the tiny black mass and asks, “Chew or swallow whole?”
Maker shrugs. “It works faster if you chew.”
Jack Latham shrugs back, pops the liver in his mouth, and chews. Bitterness fills his mouth before he chews enough to choke the liver down. He starts to wash his mouth with water from the pool but recalls the frog came from this pool and reaches instead for a flask of his own water.
Three swallows later he remarks to Maker, “Nasty medicine that. Oughta be good.”
Jack Latham thinks he sees Maker smile in response or perhaps it is only an illusion created by the dim, green light but Maker grabs him by the collar and pulls him along and Jack Latham follows whether he will or no. He stumbles along behind as Maker beats light from the walls and they descend deeper into the bowels of the World. He glimpses the reflections of dozens of water pools beside the walls, more water than he believed the World held. Maker slides his feet along a well-worn path at a slow, deliberate pace. Jack Latham mimics the sliding pace until he trips. He tries to regain his footing, thankful that Maker’s strong hold prevents his falling, and commands his foot to catch his fall but the foot does not obey so he commands the other foot but neither does it obey.
Hey, buddy,” Jack Latham says as Maker drags him and his useless legs along, “I got a problem here.”
Maker laughs a laugh that chills Jack Latham to the bone, because it tells Jack Latham that Maker is not surprised. He reaches up to break Maker’s lock on his collar but only his right arm responds and the fingers of this right hand refuse to close and the panic seizes him.
That frog . . .” he begins.
A curare alkaloid,” Maker finishes.
They enter a new chamber and Jack Latham spies bundles of orange stacked along the walls, very like the bundle on his back. Then bones and skulls, very like his own. Then hides, very like . . . and suddenly the pale leather on the hilt of Maker’s knife does not seem so strange at all.
Maker drops Jack Latham atop a stone and drives his walking stick into a hole with a force that causes the cave walls to scream with light. The rainbow lights merge to white.
Jack Latham fights to twist his head left and right and sees the flayed remains of his predecessors drip drip dripping their water through ‘chute silk sieves into murky pools. One hide stretched across a wall bears a green dragon snake with blue wings, a red head, and a yellow tail. Jack Latham’s boots and socks arc across his vision to join a pile of others’ boots and socks as Maker flays clothing from him. Maker flops him on his belly and strips off the ‘chute bundle and tosses it to a different pile.
Why?” Jack Latham asks, his tongue the only muscle he still commands.
Maker flops him over to strip his suit away. Jack Latham gazes unwillingly into Maker’s face, his eyes frozen, and the liquid pools reflect the dying light across the smiling black cheeks. “It is what I do,” Maker answers. “It’s funny. They sent me here because I did this,” he gestures around the chamber at the bodies that now pay their water to the World, “back on my planet. Here, I can practice my calling without interference. Takes skill, you know, to get the hide off in one piece.” He begins to whistle.
Soon, too soon, Jack Latham lies undressed on the cold stone. Maker leaves him and Jack Latham hears his footsteps echo as he carries away the suit and the skintight worn beneath it. A distant rustling and Maker returns, his body as naked as his blade.
The light dies, Maker pricks his starting point, and the cave echo echo echoes with Jack Latham’s screams.
Across the World, down, down, down another space seed, seed pod, capsule plummets, spat from the mouth of a different dark ship, as the jailers rain water upon the World one body at a time.

END

Saturday, February 21, 2015

eBook Review: Starship Troopers


St59.jpg

Robert HeinleinStarship Troopers 

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 529 KB
    • Print Length: 292 pages
    • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0441014100
    • Publisher: Ace (May 15, 1987)
    • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B004EYTK2C
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • X-Ray: Not Enabled
    • Word Wise: Not Enabled
    • Lending: Not Enabled (a pisser) 
    • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars (1,378 customer reviews)
    • Price: $6.52 (odd price) 

1. Short review: *:D big grin (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I love it. I have read Starship Troopers at least six times and enjoyed every reading.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: Extraordinary for its readability. The writing pulls the reader along. Even when Heinlein lectures through the voice of Johnny Rico, you want to read more. At least I did.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A walk in the park punctuated with roller coasters.
Worth my money. Worth yours, too. If you are a writer, even if you disagree with Heinlein's opinion of soldiers, you should study this book to improve your craft.
(The cover at top is not the current one. I believe it is the cover for the first printing.)

2.2. What I did not like: There are at least four things wrong with Starship Troopers:
1. The flogging;
2. The Mobile Infantry's march pace;
3. The use of Cadet Byrd as an instructor; and
4. The result of the appeal of the court martial of William Sitgreaves Cox of the USS Chesapeake.
     1. The flogging.
     While leading a platoon in a training exercise, Johnny violates the operating procedures. For this infraction, he is flogged. It is made clear in the book that this is lenient and that he could have been court-martialed and discharged.
     When I read this the first time as a kid, I thought this was harsh. Now I think it is insane.
     If a guy busts a training exercise, you don't flog him. You downcheck him, scream at him, and make him do it again until he gets it right. Maybe you fail him on that part of the syllabus and wash him back to the next class.
     But you do not flog him.

     2. The Mobile Infantry's march pace.
     Heinlein states the MI's march pace is 140 paces to the minute. This is the pace of a show band.
     The US Army marches at a quicktime pace of 120. That means six paces covers five yards.
     Show bands march 140 paces to the minute or faster. Their paces are shorter: eight paces to five yards.
     The French Army marches at a pace of 116. The French Foreign Legion marches at a crawl of 88. That is why they are always the last in parades.
     For the Roman army, I calculated a pace of 132. That is fast but do-able.
     Could a military unit march at 140 paces a minute? In full kit? I doubt it.

     3. The use of Cadet Byrd as an instructor.
     At OCS, Cadet Byrd is used as an instructor in mathematics while he studies the other subjects.
     Really?
     Before Cadet Byrd entered OCS, the school must have had a mathematics instructor. What became of him?
     Plus, how does Cadet Byrd find time to complete his other studies and prepare for and teach classes and grade the homework and tests of other cadets?
     OCS is first and foremost a lesson in time pressure. In my experience, the schedule consumed 28 hours a day. How do you get it done when you are always short of time?
     This is not credible. It guarantees that Byrd would fail.

     4. The result of the appeal of the court martial of William Sitgreaves Cox of the USS Chesapeake.
     In the book, Colonel Nielssen says that a third lieutenant was convicted for deserting his post as commanding officer in the presence of the enemy and that his family tried for a hundred and fifty years to overturn the conviction without success.
     That is false.
     It is true that William Cox was court-martialed and convicted for exactly that charge and that his family sought to overturn the conviction for generations. It is false that they did not succeed. They did succeed.
     William Cox's conviction was overturned by an act of Congress in 1952 and signed into law by President Harry Truman. Cox was posthumously reinstated to the rank of third lieutenant.
     It is possible that Heinlein was unaware that Cox's conviction was overturned, but ignorance of such an extraordinary act of reinstatement is so unlikely that it is beyond the bounds of credibility.
     On this point, Heinlein used authorial license in full.

     I shall not treat with the form of government in Starship Troopers nor with the unified world government. Those are just stage props that serve as background for the story.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Science fiction fans. Heinlein fans.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Yes. Should be required reading for 14-year old boys.
     Once Starship Troopers was in the Marine Corps Commandant's Professional Reading List (Primary Level; that is, E1, E2,E3). It has been replaced by Ender's Game. In my opinion, that is a big mistake.
     I do not know who thought that Ender's Game would build better Marines than Starship Troopers, but he thought wrong. I read every version of Ender's Game published from the original novella to the overpadded novel. None of the instances of Ender's Game measures up to Starship Troopers.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Oh, yeah. Definitely.

2.6. The work in a nutshell:
     Starship Troopers starts in the middle of the story with a prologue that is labeled Chapter One. This prologue/chapter introduces us to Powered Armor by means of a raid by Rasczak's Roughnecks on the Skinnies. It also introduces the main character, Johnny Rico.
     Chapter Two begins at the beginning with Rico's graduation from high school and enlistment in federal service.
     A pause to explain the significance of federal service in Johnny Rico's world.
     In Johnny's world, the Earth is unified under one government. People are born taxpayers and may become citizens through a term of federal service. Citizens may vote and hold public office. Taxpayers may not. Note that during the term of federal service, an individual is not considered a citizen. Thus this is government of the veteran, by the veteran, and for the veteran. 
Johnny completes his training in the Mobile Infantry (MI) at Camp Arthur Currie, one of 187 graduates out of an incoming class of 2,009. (This means MI training has a higher attrition rate than US Navy Seal training.) While he was in training, the Bugs nuked Buenos Aires. In a letter from his aunt, Johnny finds his mother was in BA shopping at the time and was killed. Johnny joins Willie's Wildcats for Operation Bughouse, an assault on the Bugs' home world. This goes badly for the MI, and they evacuate in a rout.
     Johnny soldiers on and gets tagged for Officer Candidate School. When he enters the school, he runs into his father who has also joined the MI. His father ships off to combat while Johnny goes through officer training. The MI require a professional tour (combat) prior to graduation. Johnny makes his in Operation Royalty, a bid to capture a Bug Brain. (This is the third and final combat action in the Starship Troopers.)
     At the end of the penultimate chapter we learn that Johnny is Filipino. This may seem 'meh' now, but when Starship Troopers was published in 1959 the use of a non-white hero was unheard of. (This is also one of the many reasons I hate the movie so much; it used a whiter-than-white lead to play Johnny Rico. "[A]ll the non-Anglo characters from the book have been replaced by characters who look like they stepped out of the Aryan edition of GQ." --Christopher Weuve)
     In the final chapter, we find that Johnny has taken command of his old unit which is now called Rico's Roughnecks. His father is his platoon sergeant. His unit is preparing to drop onto the Bug home world for the final assault. 

2.7. Other:
     Heinlein's story was first published as a serial in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction under the title Starship Soldier. F&SF has probably published more Nebula and Hugo award winners than any other magazine. I could verify that, but I'm not gonna. Not right now anyway. 
     Okay, we all know about the movie and what an abomination that was. In my opinion, the movie got everything -- and I mean everything -- wrong and nothing right. I hate it. I was disappointed but not surprised that Hollywood botched the movie. They also made a clusterfyck of Ender's Game.
     A big surprise was the CGI animated television series Roughnecks: Starship Trooper Chronicles. The time frame for the series is during the Bug War after the Skinnies have switched sides. The series uses the Bugs from the movie but otherwise adheres closely to Heinlein's vision of the MI. I recommend Roughnecks

     Starship Troopers is in fact a polemic disguised as a novel. 

     When Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers, his contract was with Scribner's. He presented them with Starship Troopers as his final juvenile. Scribner's refused it. I do not know what happened with Heinlein's contract, and all those who did know are dead, but Heinlein left Scribner's and published Starship Troopers with Putnam's. 

     You can think what you want about the ideas Heinlein glorifies in Starship Troopers, but this book is fun to read. Years ago, I started to study the book in order to model my writing after Heinlein. I got so caught up in the story that I finished the book without making a single note. I read it again immediately to get the study done. 
     Joe Haldeman disagreed with Heinlein's theme but admitted "it's a very well crafted novel." 
     From the perspective of a reader, Starship Troopers is one of the three best novels in the genre of science fiction. 

     I do not understand the arguments of many that Robert Heinlein was racist. The hero of Starship Troopers is Filipino. The hero of Tunnel in the Sky is black. Only an ignorant idiot would argue that Heinlein was racist. 

(I promised to write a post about grip on a straight razor. Found out my camera will not work. Don't know why. I pray I only need to replace the battery. The post on grip is coming once I can figure out a way to take pictures and video and download them to my computer. Stand by.) 

YMMV.

2.8. Links: Robert A. Heinlein
The Heinlein Society

2.9. Buy the book: Starship Troopers

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Glitch



Glitch

     Went to Costco yesterday. Took my Kindle along (pictured above). This was a mistake. Big. Huge. 
     Somewhere during the journey, my Kindle glitched. When it glitched it --
1. unpacked all my collections; 
2. deleted the now empty collections; 
3. deleted all my bookmarks, notes, and highlights from one ebook (I'm afraid to open any others right now); and 
4. jumbled the list of 400+ ebooks I have stored on it. 

     So I am spending the day rebuilding my Kindle collections and adding 400+ ebooks back to those collections rather than writing a blog post. 
     Sorry. 

     I shall not take the Kindle to Costco anymore. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

eBook Review: Somme Success




Peter Hart Somme Success 

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 5568 KB (large file size due to numerous photos) 
    • Print Length: 224 pages
    • Publisher: Pen & Sword; Reprint edition (November 28, 2012)
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B00AE7DH1S
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • X-Ray: Not Enabled
    • Word Wise: Not Enabled
    • Lending: Not Enabled
    • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars (16 customer reviews)
    • Price: $7.49 

1. Short review: *:) happy (Amazon rating: 4 out of 5 stars -- I like it.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: Lots of first person accounts quoted at length. Numerous photos.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? A roller coaster but not a scary one.
Worth my money. Probably not worth yours.

2.2. What I did not like: Somme Success disappointed me. I expected Peter Hart to make a thesis that the RFC succeeded in its mission over the Somme battlefield. Instead he recounts how the RFC dominated the air over the Somme battlefield in the summer and lost that dominance in the fall with the entry of the Albatros D.II into the war. PH does this with logs and diaries of the airmen involved.
     It is a worthwhile read as it is, but it does not state what the criteria for success were, what factors made the RFC a success over the Somme battlefield, or what the RFC achieved. Personal accounts  are good and add much to the narrative, but the final chapter lacked a summary to tie together all the missions and accomplishments of the RFC.
     It is like PH plopped a Christmas gift on the table, laid the wrapping paper and ribbons beside it, stood back and said, "There. All done," and walked away without wrapping the gift.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: My tribe; that is, WWI aviation historians.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  No profanity, no obscenity, no sex, no lurid photos of the wounded and dead. If reading WWI aviation history does it for the kid, let him read it.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Maybe.

2.6. The work in a nutshell:
Table of Contents Title Page
Copyright Page
Prelude
Preface
Chapter One - In the Beginning . . .
Chapter Two - An Aerial Offensive
Chapter Three - A Perfect Summer Day
Chapter Four - July: Masters of the Air
Chapter Five - August: The Fight Goes On
Chapter Six - September: The Tide Turns
Chapter Seven - October: Clinging On . . .
Chapter Eight - November: Full Circle
Bibliography of Quoted Sources 
     If you are familiar with WWI and the Battle of the Somme and the Royal Flying Corps (as I am), the Table of Contents is a good outline and tells you what to expect. If not, it leaves you clueless.
     Somme Success cannot be your first read in WWI aviation. It cannot even be your hundredth read. You must have read a lot -- my guess is at least two hundred books -- on WWI for Somme Success to make sense to you.

2.7. Other:

     This is a book for my tribe. Even with that limited audience, Somme Success fails to deliver.
     Before I get into the book's failure to deliver on its promise, let's look at the Table of Contents.
     Title Page? Copyright Page? I cannot recall ever before seeing the title page or copyright page listed in a table of contents.
     Prelude and Preface. A belt and suspenders man. Not one but two useless appendages. As best I can tell, PH used these two, uh, chapters (?) to inject original source quotes that he could not bear to leave out but which fit nowhere else in the story.
     Chapter One describes the situation before the Battle of the Somme. By June 1916, the RFC had beaten the Fokker Scourge. The RFC still lacked sensible organization -- single-sear fighters were attached to two-seaters reconnaissance squadrons as an integral part of the squadron, efficient suppliers (curses be upon the Royal Aircraft Factory, the RFC was always short of planes and engines), and unity in Whitehall. What is did have was focus, missions that it could perform, and courageous airmen. That the RFC performed as well as it did is a testament to its airmen.
     Each of chapters two through eight is devoted to one month of the Battle of the Somme. The British offensive kicked off 01 July 1916, took a right, then a left, and finally petered out in November. It set a record for most casualties in a single day: 57,000 or 58,000 depending on whom you ask.
     The British had planned for the Somme offensive during the winter of '15-'16. They spent the spring building up their munitions dumps to support the offensive. The French pressured the British more and more to hurry up and launch their offensive in order to relieve the pressure on the French at Verdun.
     What is commonly overlooked is that directed indirect artillery fire was new to the battlefield. The Japanese had used it against the Russian in the siege of Port Arthur, but they had done it slowly and with spotters on the ground using telephone lines. All nations in WWI used balloon spotters. The Germans, because they held the high ground, had more success with balloon-based spotters than the Allies.
     What is astounding is that the British had developed a workable means of aerial wireless artillery spotting by the spring of 1915. They did this using, of all things, the BE2c -- the Quirk, that flying deathtrap. The best thing that could be said of the Quirk is that it might do the job if there were no Germans in the sky to oppose it. Even without opposition, it frequently failed. Duncan Grinnell-Milne flew a Quirk on a 'deep' reconnaissance. He was taken prisoner when his engine failed and he glided down behind German lines. He never saw a German in the sky that day.
     The first day of the Battle of the Somme was a bloodbath because the idea of the creeping barrage had not occurred to anyone. Later in the battle, the British got the idea for the creeping barrage and casualty rates fell.

     All the above I knew before I read Somme SuccessSomme Success did not add one iota to the sum of my knowledge about WWI aerial strategies, tactics, and techniques.
     What Somme Success did do was present volumes of personal accounts of aerial warfare during the Battle of the Somme, many of which I had already read, but some of which I had not. I counted the book worthwhile for those accounts that were new to me.
     From the title, I expected Somme Success to 1) present RFC criteria for mission success over the battlefield, 2) detail the history of the RFC accomplishing their mission, and 3) summarize the successes of the RFC against their criteria. PH failed to deliver these.

     Somme Success omits giving any credit to the Royal Naval Air Service for the success of British air forces over the Somme. This is a major omission. Without the RNAS, the RFC would have been defeated.
     The RNAS developed the entire Sopwith line of planes -- Pup, One-and-a-half Strutter, Triplane, Camel, and Dolphin -- and transferred numerous planes to the RFC when the RFC were short of planes because the managers of the Royal Aircraft Factory had their collective heads up their asses. During the war, the Royal Aircraft Factory produced one good airplane: the SE5a. All their other 'planes' would have served the King better had they rolled them out of the factory and immediately set them afire.

     One fact that PH alludes to but does not state is that the German Luftstreitkr√§fte always fought against the odds. On their best day, they were outnumbered two to one (2 to 1). For example, during the war the British built more than 5,000 SE5a's and more than 5,700 Sopwith Camels; the French built more than 8,400 SPAD XIII's; but of their most numerous fighter type, the Fokker D.VII, the Germans built only 2,700.
     More than any other reason, this is why the Germans fought a defensive aerial war. And a defensive aerial war is synonymous with defeat.

    I read Somme Success as one of my tribe does, looking for quotes of original material I had not seen before. I found plenty of those. For that reason, I gave the book four stars.

YMMV.

2.8. Links: Peter Hart

2.9. Buy the book: Somme Success

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Certified Street

     Kristine Kathryn Rusch publishes a short story on her blog every Monday and leaves it up for a week. You can read it for free.
     I stole her idea.
     I do not have the backlist she has, so I will do only one short a month, maybe. Anyway, for one week only, here is the first one:



Certified Street


. . . is gone! The week is over, and you missed it. Try again next month: Rain.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Snippets


     My Life and Welcome to It.
Commando
     The wife comes to me while I am at my computer, and she is toting a laundry basket. Without fanfare or preamble, she says to me, "I only found one pair of your underwear. How many days have you been wearing the same underwear? Take 'em off right now, and let me wash 'em."
     I continue typing and say, "I'm not wearing any underwear."
     And that's when she gave me THE LOOK.

You uncivilized bastard.

Friday, January 23, 2015

eBook Review: The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 - 1783




Alfred Thayer MahanThe Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 - 1783 

  • Product Details

    • File Size: 894 KB
    • Print Length: 528 pages
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B004TQHBAI
    • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
    • X-Ray: Not Enabled
    • Word Wise: Enabled
    • Lending: Enabled 
    • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars (48 customer reviews)
    • Price: $0.00 

1. Short review:  *:D big grin    (Amazon rating: 5 out of 5 stars -- I shall read it again.)

2. Long review:
2.1. What I liked: I began reading The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 - 1783 (Sea Power) from the Kindle edition available from Amazon. That version does not include the plates (illustrations) in the original. After reading eighty percent of Sea Power, I switched to the Gutenburg version with the plates. It was tedious to move all my highlights and notes from the Amazon version to the Gutenburg version, but it was worth it.
Roller-coaster or walk-in-the-park? Interesting question. It is a vicarious roller coaster -- someone telling me about someone else's roller coaster ride.
It is free to download. It was worth my time to read it.

2.2. What I did not like: A T Mahan's turgid prose. The writing is far better than that of Admiral Farragut, but Mahan sometimes still gilded the lily. It is as if he were addicted to purple prose. An example:
It may be pointed out, in the first place, that if a nation be so situated that it is neither forced to defend itself by land nor induced to seek extension of its territory by way of the land, it has, by the very unity of its aim directed upon the sea, an advantage as compared with a people one of whose boundaries is continental. 
The first nine words in that paragraph are the literary equivalent of a speaker clearing his throat. The clause is the middle is eleven wasted words.
     Who edited Mahan's writing?
If a nation has neither to defend itself by land nor to seek new territory by land, it has an advantage over those nations that do.
     Is that better? It says in 26 words what Mahan said in 65. Either way it is an assertion unsupported by evidence.

2.3. Who I think is the audience: Naval historians. This is not light reading. You must have an interest in the subject.

2.4. Is the book appropriate for children to read?  Well, no profanity, no obscenity, no sex. The plates illustrate the positions of ships in naval battles. If reading naval history does it for the kid, sure, let him read it.

2.5. On the basis of reading this book, will I buy the author's next book? Maybe.

2.6. The work in a nutshell:
     Sea Power divides into three parts:
     1. Naval actions in the 17th Century; the supremacy of the Dutch at sea and their fall;
     2. The rise of English naval power in the 18th Century to supremacy at sea; and
     3. Naval actions in the War of 1778 (which includes the American War for Independence).

     1. Naval actions in the 17th Century; the supremacy of the Dutch at sea and their fall.
     The Dutch dominated the sea trade in the 17th Century. At one time, the Dutch East India Company owned the largest navy in the world. The Dutch fought the English and French in a series of short wars and inflicted upon the English the worst naval defeat in their history.
     In peacetime, the Dutch navy declined, because the burgomeisters were not willing to pay its upkeep. Their grandchildren would regret their parsimony.

     2. The rise of English naval power in the 18th Century to supremacy at sea.
     The Battle of the Medway impressed on the English the need for a strong navy, and they never forgot that lesson. The English navy began its rise in the War of 1704 (called by various names, such as, Queen Anne's War or the War of the Spanish Succession). It continued through the War of Jenkin's Ear, the War of the Austrian Succession (aka King George's War), and the Seven Years' War (aka the French and Indian War).
     By 1763, the English merchant marine fleet outnumbered all others combined, and English naval power dominated the seas.

     3. Naval actions in the War of 1778 (which includes the American War for Independence).
     The rise of the English navy continued through what Mahan calls the War of 1778 despite setbacks in India and the Battle of the Capes.
     In the Atlantic, the English were usually successful, the only exceptions being the Battle of the Capes and the Battle of Porto Praya. Praya caused delay and inconvenience to the English naval squadron bound for India. The Capes, a tactical draw, was a decisive strategic defeat; the result was the surrender of British forces under Cornwallis at Yorktown. (This was not the intent of the French gov't. The French did not care if the Americans won independence or not. They wanted the Americans to keep the English army occupied to suck money out of the English treasury. After Yorktown, the English went to ground in New York, Narragansett Bay, and Charleston and stayed there until the peace was concluded.)
     After the Capes, in 1782 Admiral Hood outsailed, outsmarted, and outfought the Comte de Grasse at the Battle of Frigate Bay, but that did not matter to the forces ashore: the French took St. Kitts. For all the fighting, neither Hood nor de Grasse captured or sank any enemy ships.  Later that year, Admiral Rodney defeated de Grasse and took him prisoner at the Battle of the Saintes.
     In the seas off India, Commodore Suffren took the offensive against Vice Admiral Hughes, but never managed to capture or destroy a single English warship. He never lost one, either. Suffren threatened the English fleet, gave succor to the French allies in India, and relieved the siege of Cuddalore, but never broke the English hold over India. That he did so much with no logistics support from France is amazing. For his valiant efforts, Suffren was elevated to the post of Vice Admiral of France.

2.7. Other:

     Sea Power is a seminal work on the use of naval power. It influenced naval doctrine in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.
     Four points:
     1. Fleet action after fleet action after fleet action. Dutch against the English and French. Dutch against the English. English against the Spanish. English against the French. English against the French and Spanish.
     And none of them were decisive.
     In the period covered by Sea Power, the most decisive victory was won by English Rear Admiral Kempenfelt over the French at the Second Battle of Ushant.
     From all these indecisive victories, how did Mahan conclude that the way to victory was through a decisive naval battle?
     2. Mahan dismissed 'cruising war' -- that is, destruction of enemy commerce -- as indecisive. Maybe it was in his day, but the invention of the submarine changed that. Historically, the submarine works best as a commerce raider. Winston Churchill said the U-Boot came within a hair's breath of winning the war for Germany in 1917. The American submarine service destroyed Japan's ability to wage offensive war. The Japanese misused their subs as pickets for their fleets, vice commerce raiders.
     Maybe in Mahan's day commerce raiding was indecisive, but the submarine changed that.
     3. Rodney won the Battle of the Saintes and captured Admiral de Grasse, and Mahan still criticized him. Said Rodney did not win enough. That is like saying the Ravens won the Superbowl but did not cover the spread.
     4. Suffren. Among French naval commanders of the 18th Century, Suffren stands head, shoulders, trunk, groin, and kneecaps above the others. He commanded as a Commodore, which was a courtesy title given to the senior captain of a fleet. The fact that he could not swing the tide in his favor does not diminish the brilliance of his efforts.

     Most people know that the Royal Navy commanded the seas for two centuries. What is forgotten is that the French built better ships, faster ships, and in less time than the English. That continues today. Today, the US Navy is by far the most powerful in the world. The US Navy is more powerful than all the other navies of the world combined. What is forgotten is that the French Marine is the second most powerful navy.
     The difference between the Royal Navy and the French Marine then was that the Royal Navy spent most of its time at sea. Like Jerry Pournelle or Jim Dunnigan -- I cannot recall which -- said, moving ships around in peacetime is very much like moving ships around in war. The Royal Navy had the opportunity to develop and maintain its skills. The French Marine did not.

YMMV.

PS Sea Power was a bestseller in England.

2.8. Links: Alfred Thayer Mahan

2.9. Buy the book: The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 - 1783

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Semi-Luddite




     My Life and Welcome to It.
     My wife is a semi-Luddite. She is not opposed to tech. She just does not use it well.
     Besides the iPad I gave her, she also has a smart phone. A Samsung android, I think. I don't pay attention to that stuff.


Yeah, that looks like Bunny's phone. 

     Me? What do I use? My phone ain't 'smart'. Does everything I want and fits in my shirt pocket. Does your iPhone fit in your shirt pocket? I can even surf the web on it if I am willing to endure the eye strain or use a magnifying glass to see everything.
     My wife likes to share things from her phone with others. Keep that in mind.
     My wife uses her iPad to surf the web. She does not use her phone for that. (Keep that in mind, too.) For reasons she never shared with me, she loves to watch Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor. She props the iPad on a bookstand and watches these shows.

     So I find her today, earphones in, watching some dance number on her iPad. She had her phone out but was not speaking into it. I walked over and looked.
     My wife was using her phone to video the dancing on the iPad so that she could share it from her phone!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Pesto




     At Costco, bought a big package of basil, a big wedge of pecorino romano cheese, a wedge of parmigiano reggiano cheese, and pine nuts. 'Cause I had it in my widdle head that I was going to make pesto.
     Did.
     This stuff's good.
     You can make pesto, too. Here's what you need.
The ingredients of pesto:
salt
garlic
nuts
greens
oil
grated hard cheese 
     Now you're thinking, "Recipe?" That's where it gets sticky.
     You see, pesto is a technique, not a recipe. The name literally means 'pounded'. Which is why it shares the same root as pestle, as in mortar and pestle.
     The traditional way of making pesto is to throw course salt and garlic into a mortar and pound the garlic to a pulp. Add the nuts and repeat the pounding. Add the greens and repeat the pounding. Add the oil and the cheese and stir them into the pulp. Rest arm for four days until it's your turn in the pitching rotation again.
     I use a food processor.
     Let's go through the list of ingredients one by one.

Salt

     Tradition says use a course salt like sea salt to help break up the garlic. I use a food processor. If the gal who invented pesto had had a food processor, she would have used one, too. Instead she had to spend half an hour pounding garlic into pulp.
     I toss in kosher salt. How much? About a quarter teaspoon. Actually I saved the sample spoon I got at a H√§agen-Dazs ice cream shop, and I use that little spoon to measure for pesto.

Garlic


     How much garlic? Two to four cloves, pealed.
     Why so imprecise? Good question. This is where it starts to get tricky.
     There are many views on pesto. Probably as many views as there are Italian cooks. Some say that pesto should bring out the taste of the greens. Some say that pesto should be redolent of garlic. Some say that all that pulp is there to infuse the oil with flavor (but if that is true, why not just stuff 'em all in a bottle with the oil and let it rest a month, hmmm?).
     If you don't like garlic, use two cloves. Yeah, even if you don't like garlic, you gotta use it.
     If you like garlic, use four cloves.
     Me? I use three fat cloves and have done with it.

     Next up are the nuts.

Nuts

Pine nuts on the left. Almonds in the center. Walnuts on the right.

     With nuts, you get a choice.
     Pine nuts are traditional. And wonderful. The nuts are oily and pulp up easily. They are also expensive as all get out.
     Almonds work, too, if you use a food processor. I have not tried pulping almonds in a mortar, and I ain't gonna. Their flavor is light, and it becomes submerged under the garlic and greens and oil. I have used them. No problem.
     Walnuts, I am told, work, too. I am not a big fan of walnuts, but I have some, and I will use them in the future.
     To toast or not to toast? That is the question. Some say ya gotta toast. Some say no. I have made pesto with toasted and untoasted nuts. No difference to my palate, but you let your tongue guide you.
     How much of nuts? I use a third of a cup to make one cup of pesto.

Addendum: Used walnuts to make some pesto. I will not use walnuts again. *:-& sick

Greens

Basil on the left. Celery leaves in the middle. Parsley on the right.

     Most 'recipes' for pesto say use two cups of loosely packed, washed and dried greens.
     What does that mean, loosely packed?
     I fill my food processor with leaves once, whiz 'em, and fill it again, and whiz 'em again. That gives me good results. YMMV.
     Basil is sweet and makes delicious pesto. The stems lack the flavor of the leaves, so I pick the leaves and discard the stems.
     Celery leaves have a strong flavor that mutes somewhat when made into pesto. I have made several batches of pesto with celery leaves and been pleased with the results.
     Parsley . . . well, I have seen people make pesto with parsley. Evidently it can be done. I do not like parsley, but I may try parsley pesto.
     I have seen two English women make pesto with sage. I have seen a cook step into his garden, rip off a couple of handfuls of assorted young greens, and make pesto with those. Basil is the original and the standard, but you can make pesto with any green, leafy vegetable. I suppose you can make mustard pesto or turnip green pesto.

Oil

EVOO (Extra Virgin Olive Oil) on the left. Olive oil in the middle. Light Olive oil on the right. 

     Which oil to use depends on the answer to the question 'why?', which is actually two questions.

     Why use oil at all? Why not water?
     The answer is that oil clings better than water. If you want pesto on pasta, oil is demonstrably better to use.

     Okay, but why? That is, what is the purpose of the oil?
     One chef says the purpose of the oil is to become infused with the flavors of garlic and basil (he was Italian; of course he used basil) and spread those flavors to the pasta. Because the oil is there to carry other flavors, you should not use EVOO but regular olive oil.
     I think this is nonsense.
     If the purpose of the oil is only to carry the other flavors, then you should never use fresh pesto. You should make it and let it sit and infuse for a week in a cool, dark place, but not in a refrigerator. And if the purpose of the oil is only to carry the other flavors, then you should use light olive oil, because it has almost no flavor. Or canola oil, which has no flavor.
     I think the purpose is to enhance the flavor of the pesto. The oil acts as a bass note for the other flavors. The flavor of the oil is there, too, but it is not dominant.
     I use EVOO. I do not use my high-end, fruity, salad EVOO. The flavor of that oil would compete with the flavors of the garlic and the greens. I use my cooking EVOO. YMMV.

     The answer to the question 'why?' determines the answer to the question 'how much?' If you agree with the Italian chef that the purpose of the oil is to carry the other flavors, then you want a lot of oil; at least a quarter cup, maybe a third. But then your pesto is fit only for pasta. For any other purpose, it is just a dipping sauce.
     If you use pesto for other purposes -- like I do -- you want it to be thick.
     I use about two tablespoons of oil. I drizzle EVOO into the pulp in my food processor for a six count. That gives me the consistency I like. YMMV.

Cheese 
Parmigiano reggiano on the left. Pecorino romano in the middle. Asiago on the right.

     After all the fuss over salt, garlic, nuts, greens, and oil, it is a relief that the cheese is easy. Choose one, choose all. Really.
     The classic is parmigiano reggiano, but any hard, dry cheese will do. I have been using pecorino romano for weeks, and I love it. And, yes, I have parmigiano reggiano. Look forward to using asiago.
     I have seen chefs mix cheeses, half parmigiano, and half asiago. Again, let your tongue guide you. The only restrictions are that the cheese must be grated fine and added last.
     How much? I grate until I have a happy pile; that is, a pile of grated cheese that makes me happy. Find the size of your happy pile.

     I spread pesto on celery sticks for snacks, on toast for sandwiches, and, of course, toss it in pasta.

     Good eating.

Addendum:
     Pesto is now tied for second as my favorite sauce. First is sausage cream gravy, and it will always be my favorite. The other sauce tied for second is a salad dressing my wife made within the last month. I don't know what was in it, but it was delicious. She has been trying to recreate it since without success. C'est la vie.
     Over the course of several weeks, I have arrived at a few judgments:

1. Basil pesto made with pine nuts and parmigiano reggiano is king. Last time at Costco, I bought three big packages of pesto. 1 pkg of basil = 1 c pesto. Made one cup of pesto each day for three days. The first cup did not survive to see the third cup made. 
2. Celery pesto made with almonds and pecorino romano makes a delicious sauce for raw veggies. Or for sandwiches. Or toast. Or anything. By weight, almonds do not give off as much oil as pine nuts, so I triple the amount of olive oil I add to the pesto. And, when faced with a surfeit of celery leaves, I discovered that celery stalks, too, can be used to make pesto. 
3. Raw walnuts do not make good pesto. At least not to my taste. There is something about raw walnuts that burns my mouth, and that burn carries into pesto made with raw walnuts. Someday, I may try roasted walnuts, but I am in no hurry.