Bob Marriott, six years gone

i was in 8th grade when i first moved to Washington State from New York in January of 1981. everything was different, right down to the clothes people wore, the accents people talked with, the slang they used. the school was a lot smaller, there were less class periods in a day, you walked outside between classes...even the weather was different. College Place Middle School was the 6th school i'd attended in the last 4 years, so i'd gotten accustomed to making changes, but to say i experienced some culture shock this time around was an understatement.

on the other hand, i had a pretty good idea of what was in store for me. it's not easy being the new kid. everywhere i went, i was always a year younger than most and nearly always the smallest guy in my classes. i didn't play sports and i didn't do great in school, and i usually got picked on a lot, so i wasn't surprised to find myself confronted by a group of kids, on my second day at College Place, in Mr. Steiner's class, while he was out of the room.

one of those kids that started in on me was Bob Marriott. whether the kids, or Bob in particular, were serious or not, i was scared, and cornered. there was some shoving, and some desks got overturned, and some punches thrown. i held my own for a bit, but i ended up on my back on the floor. Bob reached down to grab me, and i kicked him in the face, once, hard. it was enough. i don't remember exactly what happened after that, except that Steiner returned, and it was broken up, and i wasn't damaged. i had my share of problems with different kids the rest of that year, but after that day, Bob was really friendly with me. he invited me to his house to hang out, and i went; he became my first friend in Washington.

we spent a pretty fair amount of time together in 8th grade, and the summer afterward. we'd hang out at each others' house (his more than mine) and listen to music, especially Journey and the Scorpions- both of which he turned me on to. he loved to sing. he was smart, and he had a fantastic imagination, and he cracked jokes constantly. his family always made me feel welcome. we'd take off on our bikes around Edmonds. he used to catch lizards, and i remember he had a chameleon. he'd put it on a plaid shirt, and watch it try to match colors.

we didn't have any classes together in 9th grade, so we didn't hang out as much in school, but we shared a locker out by the shop classes. i got in a fight by our locker once, and Bob happened to show up just after the other guy took off. when he saw me on the floor (i got kicked in the balls), he took off running to try to catch the guy. he didn't find him, but hey...he tried.

in 10th grade we ended up with the same chemistry class. we muddled through Mr. Burger's (often very dry) lectures and drew pictures and generally goofed off. one day in chemistry someone came to tell Bob he'd been called to the office- and when he got up to leave, he said, "see ya, man. i'm moving to California." i said, "what?!" he said, "yeah, right now." i was totally shocked, he hadn't said anything about it before. and then he was gone.

maybe a year and a half later my band was playing a battle of the bands at Lynnwood Roll-a-way, and right before we went on, from out of the blue, someone calls my name, loud. i turned around and up walks this long-haired guy in a black leather jacket. i didn't recognize him, and then i did! "BOB! what's UP man?! hey, i gotta go, we're playing, like, right now." he says, "really? cool, i play music too!"

we started catching up after the show, and we were thick as thieves all over again. the next year or so saw uncountable parties, rivers of liquor, endless days at the beach, a lot of girls, lots of new friends, and a lot of music played and recorded and listened to. good times.

when i moved to Florida in '86, Bob was there to see me off, and when i flew up to visit for a week, he was there. when i moved back from Florida, and started playing in a band again, he was there. after a while, i got kicked out of that band, and fell out with everyone involved for about a year. Bob and i only saw each other infrequently after that, but when we did, it was clear we were still friends.

life went on. i had a kid, got married. i was playing in another band, i was pretty busy. i had other friends that met Bob, and they only knew him from "now", and they didn't always mix well. once in a while he'd do something that rubbed someone the wrong way. we occasionally got together, but we'd mostly grown apart. i lost track of him for long periods, and i'm ashamed to admit that i sometimes felt like that was easier than dealing with him. i still considered him my friend, just...one who was hard to deal with sometimes.

sometime during the time we weren't in contact much, drinking became a problem for him. when i did see him, he'd often pass out after a only a couple drinks- not because he couldn't hold his liquor, but because he always had alcohol in him already. often he'd "go down" quickly, sleep for a while, wake up, drink something, go down again, repeat. he could sometimes be really argumentative. one time i thought he was going to punch me over whether or not i'd actually put quarters in a malfunctioning electronic dart board at a bar. sometimes he'd debate something almost incoherently for a long time, without ever opening his eyes, and no one could figure out what he was talking about. sometimes he'd say or do something that was just way out of bounds, but he wouldn't remember it later. when everyone else was waking up the next day with a pounding head, Bob would often get something to drink.

i finally decided drinking with him wasn't doing him any favors, and i told him i wouldn't drink with him anymore. i told him some people shouldn't drink, and he was one of them. he didn't like that, and it might have easily turned bad, but when i told him i was trying to do the right thing by him, he checked his pride and took my word for it. i think that says a lot about what kind of person he was. he didn't stop drinking, and i didn't drink when he did, for a long time.

somewhere along the way he wrecked a really nice truck he'd built; he put it in a ditch i think. he was lucky he didn't get killed, because it knocked him out and it was quite a while before he came to. if he'd been more seriously injured he could have died without anyone finding him. whether it was from this incident or another i don't know, but he got arrested for DUI. i don't think he fought the charge. they mandated alcohol counseling, and though he completely resented the state's intervention in his life, he tried more than once to comply, but he just couldn't bear it. i don't think he ever completed a program, or got his license back.

to get to work, he felt like he had to drive, so he did it anyway (like lots of people), but he was really nervous about it; he REALLY didn't want to go back to jail. i think this perpetual anxiety, which lasted for years and worsened, contributed greatly to his state of mind.

we were out of touch for a long time, but eventually he tracked me down again. i was glad to hear from him. he was living a few miles from here in Clearview. i went to see him and his roommate, someone we both knew, though Bob was much closer to him than i was. in a lot of ways it was like old times, but also not, in the way nothing ever can be. he usually had a beer in his hand, but he never seemed drunk. i actually had a few drinks with him on a couple occasions, but i never felt good about it. there was a little tension between us, but maybe not between us particularly; it seemed more like between Bob and the world. he was different, more serious, more troubled. it made me a little sad, but i didn't know what i could do for him. i invited him over to my place a few times, but he always made some excuse why i should come there. though he never said so, i came to realize it was because he was afraid to get caught driving, and probably over the limit a lot of the time. i stopped asking him to come, and i'd just go over there instead, but this made it less often.

not long after this, he had a falling out with his roommate, and he moved again. he moved in with another mutual friend, in Puyallup. i had some issues with his new roommate, so i didn't try to get in touch with them. while Bob was there, i learned later, some more things went badly for him; he couldn't get a job, and he had money problems (some of them again involving the state), and some more personal problems that i won't divulge. he felt more and more alienated from the world. he got seriously depressed, more so than he let on, and more than anyone noticed.

without telling anyone, Bob quietly put his affairs in order and committed suicide, six years ago today. i was driving when his roommate- devastated- called to tell me he'd found him, in his bedroom at home. i almost drove off the road, i had to pull over.

everyone who knew Bob is familiar with his story of how he'd once died. he repeated it too many times to count, to pretty much anyone who'd listen, even though he knew he'd told it a million times. for those who haven't heard it, i'll summarize: trying to save a friend who was being electrocuted, he got electrocuted himself, and he had an out of body experience. he was absolutely convinced that he died. i argued with him about that many times; i said if he'd actually died, he'd be dead. eventually that debate got skipped altogether, since neither of us could ever convince the other, but he'd still talk about the experience. he described floating up above his body, looking down at it lying on its back on the ground, and then being drawn toward a light. he really wanted to go to the light, he knew it was a good thing, but something snatched him back, as if it wasn't his time. until then he was never religious in any way, and he'd never believed in any life after death, but afterward he was absolutely positive there was something peaceful waiting on the other side. i can't help but think this peace is what he sought when he checked out.

i went to his memorial, a small gathering of family and friends at his father's house. i'd collected every piece of music i could find to which Bob contributed, burned it all to CD, and brought it to give to his father- who immediately put it on the stereo. Bob's voice was filling the house for quite a while before things got underway. the service was completely informal. it was about what you might expect; everyone was sad, people spoke about him.

it wasn't a large gathering, and the few friends that attended were people who'd known Bob for a long time. i was easily the friend who knew him the longest, but almost certainly by this point not the one who knew him best. i felt really, REALLY bad for his father, Bob Sr., who i'd also known for 22 years. he said something to me, when just the two of us were talking that day, that i'll never forget. he looked around at the other few friends who'd come and said, "maybe if Bobby knew he had this many friends he wouldn't have done what he did."

which brings me to why i'm writing this. sometimes people we care about are going to be hard- maybe very hard- to deal with, but not making that effort can be worse. i'm not vain enough to think that i could have made the crucial difference in Bob's life, but maybe, if everyone around him had tried a little harder, things might have been different.

i miss Bob a lot; i think about him often. i know some people who didn't care for him at all, but he was my friend, and this world's worse off without him. i keep his picture up in my house where i'll see it often. not so much to remind me of Bob, because i won't forget him, but to remind me to try to be a good friend.

circa 1985, my folks' place, Edmonds

1986, the day i moved to Florida. that's my Mom and Dad grinning at Bob cracking jokes.

same day. from the left, my Dad and Mom, Scott Bloom, me, Jeff Sawyer and Bob Marriott.

same day. from left, Bob, Jeff, and that's Beth Bailey on the right

same day. Bob gettin' his dork on.

the next two are from Bob's memorial service


Flight of the Nighthawks by Raymond E. Feist

The world of Midkemia was born in the minds of some role-playing gamers. Author Raymond Feist was one of them. Feist has been developing and expanding his Midkemia universe in book form since 1982's outstanding Magician (subsequently reprinted in two volumes titled Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master), predominantly in three-book sagas which share a few perennially-appearing central characters (in roles that vary widely in importance) but are generally complimentary rather than interdependent stories. A minority of these sagas are co-authored (well) by other writers, and accordingly achieve a unique voice. The Darkwar Saga initiated with Flight of the Nighthawks is Feist's alone.

Risking endless digression, I believe some background information regarding this complex universe- developed over more than 20 novels- is necessary for those unfamiliar with this material.

Midkemia is an approximately medieval human world, with different countries, continents, cultures and political entities. In all of these, magic plays at least as important a role as technology. There are many interrelated forms of magic employed by different practitioners in different ways. A hierarchy of lesser and greater gods exists, some of whom appear occasionally as active participants in the stories. Midkemia is one of many planets known to exist, and travel between them is possible through magical means. In addition to multiple worlds there is a spectrum of planes of reality, on one of which Midkemia exists.

Pug, the titular central figure of the original Midkemia novel, once again plays a central role in this saga. One of the most powerful human practitioners of magic in all the known worlds- and extraordinarily long-lived- he heads a secretive, apolitical organization called the Conclave of Shadows, wielding considerable powers and resources both magical and mundane to combat threats posed by the forces of evil.

Another recurring character that figures prominently in this saga is Leso Varen, possibly the most dangerous evil magician in existence, a practitioner of a particularly vile form of magic called necromancy, which has allowed him to escape numerous seemingly certain deaths. Though the Conclave has foiled many of his fiendish plots, an ultimate victory over Varen continues to elude them.

In Flight of the Nighthawks, the Conclave uncovers evidence of resumed activity by the Nighthawks (a fanatical, centuries-old guild of assassins) toward some purpose. Suspecting Varen's hand, they set about discovering this purpose, work toward defeating the Nighthawks once and for all, and ultimately discover an even greater danger.

This danger, the central premise of the Darkwar Saga, is the imminent invasion of Midkemia (and other worlds on Midkemia's plane) by occupants of one of the lower planes of reality. The nature of beings on lower planes is such that simply entering a higher plane causes them to draw life energy from it, wilting the grass where they stand, etc. It's not enough to attempt to defeat them on the battlefield; they can cause the destruction of a world on a higher plane simply being there in numbers. The Conclave must find a way to prevent that from happening- while necromancer Varen does everything in his power to see that it does.

These books are page-turners of the first order. If you don't like them, you probably don't like fantasy novels. They aren't literary masterpieces by any means, but Feist has a knack for quickly establishing characters with which readers can easily identify, and these are no exception. His characters are always memorable, especially those he's fleshed out over the course of many books. Many of these characters feel like old friends to me, having read more than 20 of these books, and when Feist finally puts his pen down (likely not for quite a while) I'll be disappointed.

Though all the Midkemia books are good, some are simply outstanding. Generally the first books of any Midkemia saga are enjoyable, but not the best of the series, and since I've also recently finished the second book in this saga, I know this to be true here. (I actually re-read this book, something I rarely do, to get back up to speed with the plot after a long absence.)

As with all Feist's Midkemia sagas, these books are intended to be read in order. I'd strongly recommend reading Magician (the re-published, expanded single volume, or the two volume reprints) before continuing on with any of the subsequent sagas. (If you never read another Feist novel, read that one; it's outstanding.)

It's also a good idea to read the sagas in the order they were published. It's not strictly necessary, as they stand up reasonably well on their own, but readers would be missing out on a lot of excellent prior character development, and some of the passing references to events would lose a lot of their relevance. The Darkwar Saga immediately follows the events of the Conclave of Shadows saga, so those are especially recommended prior reading. Apart from those reasons, the world of Midkemia is worth reading from the beginning. A comprehensive list of Feist's work, including the recommended reading/publishing order, can be found on his official site.

I read the Eos paperback version of Flight, and I must report noticing some editorial mistakes, which (inevitably) yank the reader out of the fantastic world they're in and drop them right back in the real one, every time.

more information and reviews at amazon.com

Feist's site has a pretty extensive cover art section. Here's some of the best ones for this book:

United States:


This one, from Hungary, is my favorite. It shows (half human/half demigod Dragon Lord) Tomas, a recurring character that plays a very minor role in this particular book, examining one of many dormant Talnoys (mindless soldiers from another plane of reality, comprised of empty suits of armor animated by unknown means):






Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud by Julia Navarro

The Brotherhood of the Holy ShroudThis book's a mystery novel revolving around various factions' struggle for possession of the Shroud of Turin, what many claim to be the actual burial shroud of Jesus Christ, though the facts concerning it are far from conclusive and its authenticity widely disputed. The lack of clear provenance and the ambiguous results of scientific tests conducted on the cloth have fueled countless conspiracy theories- which makes excellent material for mystery novels.

In 2004 the cloth was radiocarbon dated to the 14th century, centuries after the historical Jesus' death. These test results have been disputed ever since, but Navarro's story here extrapolates from them and the resulting disputes, following both contemporary and historical timelines, and she eventually offers up a particularly clever twist to tie everything together.

In the book, as in the real world, the shroud is housed and periodically displayed at Turin Cathedral. Following another in a series of infrequent 'accidents' associated with its display (which seem to be entirely fictional), the head of the Art Crimes department of the Italian police becomes convinced a struggle to damage or steal the cloth has been playing out for decades- maybe longer- and determines to get to the bottom of things. Along the way, they pique the curiosity of an investigative reporter, whom I could only picture as Navarro herself, and who eventually becomes important to the plot development.

The main factions vying for the shroud in contemporary times are the Catholic church, the highly secret and powerful Knights Templar, and the fanatical 'Brotherhood' of the title, a fictional organization (referred to in the book only as 'the Community') descended from an early Christian community in the Turkish city Urfa, supposedly the shroud's original owners. In the historical timelines, Navarro adds various accurate political figures. The historical timelines begin earliest with the fictional brotherhood in Biblical times, eventually branching out into parallel lines with the different factions. I found the fictionalized historical figures and events some of the most interesting storytelling in the book. Some of these are explored 'in the moment', and others are explained by 'experts' in the course of investigations conducted by the Art Crimes team and reporter. Interestingly, the Vatican has recently announced that the Knights Templar hid the shroud for more than a century after the Crusades.

The book invites obvious comparisons to Dan Brown's (far superior) The Da Vinci Code, but it stands up on its own. Everything moves along quickly. Navarro's presupposition that the shroud is real lends an air of religious importance to the story, and she keeps things interesting while she peels the layers of the onion for us. I found myself at least as interested in the some of the historical characters as the contemporary ones- sometimes more so- but overall she managed a balance. It's a solid first effort. Not an incredibly long or particularly challenging book, it's definitely interesting, probably more so for those who, like me, are/were unacquainted with a lot of this history.

I read the Dell paperback version, and I remember no glaring editorial mistakes- always a pleasure.

I'll include some pictures of the shroud itself, in normal color on the left, and in negative, in which the image on the cloth shows up better, on the right. Click on the pictures to view them in full resolution (quite large).

The shroud displayed:

More info and reviews at amazon.com


Opening Atlantis, by Harry Turtledove

Opening AtlantisTurtledove's known for his 'alternate histories', a genre of novels in which the author explores what might happen if some fact was changed, such as a different party winning a particular war, or some technology never having been invented. Opening Atlantis takes this concept one step further, into something that might be called an 'alternate geography'.

This review is of the 2007 Roc hardcover edition, from which I remember no editorial mistakes.

Imagine if the tectonic movement of the earth was different, and what's become the United States was split in two, and that roughly everything east of the Mississippi River, from the Gulf of Mexico through Eastern Canada, became a separate continent, situated roughly in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

The fictitious continent's relative closeness would allow Europeans to stumble on and settle it somewhat earlier, and that's exactly what happens in this book. Relative isolation from the other continents allows evolution to take one of its unique turns, developing unique forms of flora and fauna there, and Turtledove supposes there are no indigenous people.

The first groups to settle the new land are fishermen. The coastal waters offer untouched fishing grounds, there's abundant free land, and easy hunting of creatures with no fear of man. The fishermen have the means to get to the new world, and if necessary back to the European continent, and- maybe most importantly of all- they stand to gain a large degree of independence from their countries of origin.

The book's broken up into three parts, the first circa 15th century, the second jumping ahead 100 years or so, and the third making another similar leap, into the mid 18th century.

The first part is the story of the discovery of the new land, and the establishment of the first settlements, by small groups of Mediterraneans and English, and their initial attempts at exploring their frontier.

The second concerns their descendants, the growing population (including a fair amount of immigrants), the stirring European governmental interest (and interference) in the new land, and (in one of the most fun turns in the book) a sort of "untamed wild west" for largely maritime communities. A large part of the fun of these 'alternate' books is discovering the twists and turns, and I don't want to give too much away.

In part three, colonialism is in full swing, and while the colonies maintain a separation from Europe that's familiar to most Americans, the different settlements on Atlantis- predominantly (and unsurprisingly) English, French and Spanish- find themselves increasingly caught up in the political affairs of their respective homelands, where we see themes that are- typically for this genre- simultaneously familiar to the reader and completely fictional.

It's a fun book. It's not very challenging and it doesn't take long to read, but it's interesting and entertaining. I would think that the latter two were the mission of the author, so he was successful. There's a sequel to this book called The United States of Atlantis, which I haven't read. From the summary of the sequel, it appears to pick up with the main character of the third part of this book, so it doesn't make as large a leap in time as the parts in the first book do, and it also seems the door's been left open for a third book.

My only criticisms of this book- and they're minor- might be that Turtledove seems sometimes to be writing to the lowest common denominator. He tends to repeat himself somewhat, as if trying to make sure certain points don't get lost. Those points are usually pretty well made in the first place, and basically familiar anyway, so the time spent repeating them seems unnecessary. Another criticism is the length of the book. I'd enjoy this type of thing more if the characters were more deeply developed, but the format the author employs, splitting one book into three sections separated by multiple generations, effectively eliminates that possibility in the space provided. If each of these three parts had been a separate book, it would have allowed for more character development in each of the time periods; the peripheral characters included could be more fully realized, and that's always a good thing in my book (pun intended). Sometimes peripheral characters seem only to provide a means to developing the central ones, but I often find myself more interested in them than the authors probably intend. Having said all that, the existence of the second book in the series, picking up the story with the main character from this book's third part, and seeming to focus on that, changes my perspective on this book a bit. Were the two books combined in one volume, it might seem as though the first two parts of (what was) the first book were an involved background for the main character of Opening Atlantis's third act, and for the other main character of the first book: Atlantis itself.

Definitely plan to get my hands on the second book.

Cover of the Roc edition:

Slightly clearer view of the map:

More info and reviews at amazon.com


To The Edge of the World, by Harry Thompson

To the Edge of the WorldGreat book. I could stop there, that's a good review...but not very informative (not that anyone's waiting on MY review to decide for or against reading this.)

I've seen this book published in three volumes (in paperback); this review is of the single, nearly 800-page MacAdam/Cage hardcover edition pictured below, in which I noticed only a single editorial mistake (a single word with transposed letters).

To people in contemporary times, the (original) HMS Beagle conjures up mostly images of 'Darwin the Naturalist', but in terms of her primary missions (surveying the southernmost regions of the South American coastline in the 1830s), Darwin was an afterthought, included at the will of her Captain, Robert Fitzroy. Royal Naval etiquette dictated commanding officers maintain a degree of detachment from their subordinates, and Fitzroy needed an intellectual equal and companion on what he knew from previous experience would be a long and arduous journey. Darwin was suggested, and accepted, and history was made. It's fitting that Fitzroy enjoys the position of predominance in this book (about a 2/3 share, I'd say). Darwin's achievements were sensational in their time, but for my money, Fitzroy is definitely the more compelling of the two men. The book begins with the Beagle prior to Fitzroy assuming command, continues through its original surveying mission under his leadership (his first command), through the much longer subsequent mission with Darwin, and then follows the two men's increasingly divergent paths through Fitzroy's death in 1865.

The author took pains to recreate events in as historically accurate a manner as possible, using fictional dialog to detail the relationship between the subjects and illuminate events. From both the narrative itself- depicting seamanship, politics, sociology, personal relationships, scientific endeavors and philosophical debates, among other things- and the ridiculously extensive bibliography, it's clear the author knew the subject matter cold.

Written in basically plain, unremarkable language, it's probably safe to say that Thompson wasn't trying to dazzle the reader with vocabulary or create something "artful". It was a good choice, as the subject matter didn't need embellishment to hold the reader's interest. I doubt there will be another examination of both Fitzroy and Darwin that does more justice to either of them individually.

Fitzroy and Darwin were both remarkable characters. They and the remainder of the Beagle's crews boast a list of accomplishments that's frankly overwhelming. This book could have been twice as long exploring all of them, but the author wisely focused his efforts on those of the two central figures: their convergence, relationship, and ultimate divergence, parallel stories examining devotion to duty, the advancement of science, and competing philosophies in a world on the brink of (often much needed!) change, by two very different men.

You won't read this book in one sitting, and that's a good thing.

I couldn't resist including some pictures I dug up; click on any of them to view them original size (most of the originals are larger).

Cover of the edition I read:

The same Raymond Massey painting, probably truer to the real painting's colors:

Cutaway of the Beagle. Amazing what men accomplished on vessels this small:

Fitzroy, drawn as a young man:

Darwin, painted as a young man:

The Beagle crew, carrying out a 'crossing the equator' ritual:

HMS Beagle, painted in the Galapagos Islands:

HMS Beagle, painted in Sydney Harbour:

Fitzroy older, photographed:

Darwin older, photographed:

More info & reviews at amazon.com

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