“El Estocada” by John David Anderson

For week 2 of The 2015 Deal Me In short story reading challenge, I drew the five of diamonds. (An explanation of the challenge may be found here. You can also check out my complete list of stories I’ll be reading in 2015 if you’re interested.) 2015/01/img_39191.jpg

El Estocada

We see it all the time in sports. The relentless questions posed to aging superstars on ’the wrong side of thirty’ – “Have you lost a step?” “Do you still have enough arm strength to make ’all the throws?’”, etc. Having these reporters nipping at one’s heels must be incredibly exasperating, and if sports superstars fall victim to them surely superHEROES would face the same challenge. Such is the case for The Sentinel, a past his prime superhero guardian of the city where this story is set.

2015/01/img_5336.pngWe meet him in a bookstore, where he is enjoying some quiet moments just “perusing” – an activity in stark contrast to his normal, superheroic duties. Though enjoying some down time, he is troubled by a recent encounter with a reporter who suggests that The Sentinel ‘allowed’ an old couple to die during an attack of an arch-villain. When The Sentinel points out that he had saved a school bus full of children instead of the elder victims, and that he had to make a choice, the reporter suggests that, in his younger days, The Sentinel was fast enough to have saved both of them. This earned the reporter a broken and bloody nose, something The Sentinel regrets. Just a little, though.

The action in this story takes place mainly in the bookstore when The Sentinel spots a young woman sitting in the store reading the newspaper. He is immediately attracted to her: “She wore a magenta dress with gold swirls embroidered into the hem, the straps revealing sharp shoulders and toned arms. Her hair reminded him of tree bark, with its layers and undulations, its palpable topography. He wondered what it smelled like.” Not exactly a conventional description – tree bark(!) – but who am I to guess what a superhero’s thoughts would be like. The Sentinel’s encounter – and its aftermath – with the woman completes the story in a way I found quite satisfying.

I was also curious about the meaning of the title so I had to ’research’ it before reading. I’m no expert on bullfighting (what little I know is from Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises” and from following the big annual international chess tournament that used to be held in Linares, Spain) but the term “estocada” refers to the final thrust of the sword of a matador which kills the bull. This title is quite appropriate for the story in multiple ways, including a bit of a surprise ending…

(below: the legendary bullfighter, Manolete)

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I recommend this story and the antholology “Indy Writes Books” that includes it. If you are interested in obtaining a copy, it may be purchased at Indy Reads Books bookstore in downtown Indianapolis or online. Worth noting is that all proceeds from the sale of the anthology go to support adult literacy programs in Central Indiana. (Oh, and “full objectivity disclosure”: Bibliophilopolis is also a “First Edition Sponsor” of this book 🙂 )

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“I’ll Get You Your Asteroid!” Ben Winters’ “Last Policeman” Series.

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Before I started blogging about books and literature, I never used to go to “book events,” but now it seems like I’m going to them “all the time.” 🙂 Almost all the ones I’ve been to have been enjoyable too, and I always think, “I need to write a blog post about this!” but rarely do. So I have a backlog of four or five book events that I’m going to try to catch up with, even if some of them took place quite awhile ago now. So here goes (Part I of) nothing.

If you were following the news in early September, you may have heard about the “near miss” (in astronomical terms, at least) of asteroid “2014 RC.”

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Also, a bit further back (in July), a local bookstore, Indy Reads Books (see link at left under “local interest”), hosted a kind of “launch party” for author Ben Winters on the release of the final volume of his “Last Policeman” series. What’s the connection? Well, for those who don’t already know, Winters’ trilogy is set in a world facing an imminent and catastrophic asteroid impact.

(below: Travis DiNicola, Executive Director of Indy Reads, introduces Winters, who waits in the wings with his family)

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I read the first book of the trilogy (“The Last Policeman”) in preparation for this event and, though not a frequent reader of detective novels, did enjoy this one, mainly because of the premise and setting. Think about it, how would the people of the world react in such a situation? (and – perhaps more importantly – how would you?) I suspect civilization would break down much faster than it does in The Last Policeman, but maybe that comes later as I progress through the next two books. We’ll see.

Winters gave an entertaining talk, including rendering some Bon Dylan tunes on a … ukulele(!). Dylan is a favorite of the series’ lead character, Hank Palace. In fact, we learned from Winters that he wanted to title the book “Slow Train Coming” (or maybe just “Slow Train” – I cant remember) from the Dylan song…

“And there’s a slow,
Slow train comin’
Up around the bend…”

…which does seem appropriate based on the book’s premise, but – as I’ve learned at other author events – publishers usually win the arguments regarding a book’s title.

(Below: a ukulele-wielding Winters entertains us as an adoring daughter looks on…)

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Anyway, Winters also challenged us with a few trivia questions about the series, with some token prizes of false mustaches (in honor of the third book’s cover erroneously picturing Palace WITHOUT a mustache) in addition to a grand prize of all three books in the series (signed by the author) to one lucky winner. With the novel fresh in my mind, I was fortunate enough to win one of the mustaches. 🙂 Thankfully the monetary value of such a prize does not compromise my amateur status in the trivia world.

Below: my “prize” – the bandit mustache – which I later tried on…

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…though it made me look nothing like one of the famous bandits of cinema, from the classic film Treasure of the Sierra Madre

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<ahem> Getting back to the book, the novel starts out with Palace investigating a “suspicious” suicide. Even though suicides have become quite common in the world depicted in this pre-apocalyptic novel (can I coin that term here, by the way, or is it already taken?), there’s something about this one that doesn’t quite smell right, and that’s enough to start another, investigative slow train rolling, which gains momentum throughout the first book. In a nice touch, the start of the different sections of the book are illustrated with a depiction of the asteroid’s progress, with data that, though Greek to me and probably most readers, Winters explained as “basically GPS coordinates for outer space.”

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Winters shared some interesting anecdotes and inside info on the book and series’ progress, and my favorite was the story of his research to see if an asteroid with the timing characteristics as he describes in the book was scientifically feasible. He related a visit with Tim Spahr at Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics  (Winters is a former resident of New England) where Spahr was intrigued by the novel’s premise, and though it appeared a “normal” NEO (near earth object) wouldn’t necessarily fit the specifications, after some puzzling assured the author that “I’ll get you your asteroid!” I love it!

Have you read or heard of The Last Policeman series? (It won a 2013 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original) I have posted about a short story by Winters once before “The Man on the Monon (If You Believe)”  and have also enjoyed another of his short stories, “The Old Slow Man and His Gun From Outer Space” in an anthology of “Weird Western” stories, “Dead Man’s Hand.”

Below: Harvard’s Center for Astrophysics

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(Below: The great 1950’s film “On the Beach,” based on Nevil Shute’s novel of the same name was one inspiration for this series. It also takes place in a world where “the clock is ticking” with time running out as a radioactive cloud slowly approaches a – to this point anyway – unaffected Australia – another “slow train comin'”)

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