Book review: Flight or Fright

Flight or Fright: 17 Turbulent Tales

Flight or Fright: 17 Turbulent Tales by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As with most anthologies, this collection is filled with stories that are mostly fine, a few that are great and some that are merely okay. That Bev Vincent managed to collect enough stories based around a specific theme–terrible things happening on aircraft, makes the overall quality noteworthy.

All but two of the stories have been previously published, but given the narrow focus of the collection, it’s likely you will not have read many of them. Here’s a short summary of each. Overall I can recommend this collection to fans of horror or suspense. And if you read these stories while flying, I salute you.

“Cargo” by E. Michael Lewis is an effectively creepy opener in which a Loadmaster onboard a Lockheed C-141A StarLifter transport must deal oversee dozens of coffins being sent back to the U.S., straight from the Jonestown massacre. Things go bump in the plane.

“The Horror of the Heights” by Arthur Conan Doyle. This story has been scuppered by the inevitable march of progress in air flight (not to mention space travel), but it’s still a nifty epistolary of a pilot who dares to fly his solo aircraft into the unheard of reaches of 40,000 feet, where strange and hostile creatures are rumored to dwell.

“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” by Richard Matheson. This is easily the best-known story of the anthology, and if you’ve seen the classic Twilight zone episode, which Matheson also adapted, you’ll find it is largely faithful to the original story of a man convinced he is seeing a creature on the plane’s wing, trying to tamper with the engine. Chilling, suspenseful and an all-around good time.

“The Flying Machine” by Ambrose Bierce. An odd short short more about procuring investment from gullible types than flying (Bierce died in 1914).

“Lucifer!” by E.C. Tubb. A morgue attendant pries the ring off a dead body before it is claimed. He discovers the ring has certain unique qualities while abroad a flight and from there a devious mix of time travel and terror unfolds.

“The Fifth Category” by Thomas Carlisle Bissell. A man who worked for the U.S. government during the Iraq invasion, writing legal opinions on torture, earns himself a reputation for being a war criminal by some. He agrees to give a speech, with others, in Lithuania, then on the flight home, strange things happen that seem to relate to his defense of torture. This dark tale is wonderfully written, with prose that snaps and sparkles.

“Two Minutes Forty-Five Seconds” by Dan Simmons. A shorter piece in which a man feeling guilty of what he has done with his life, decides to do something about it while in a private jet full of executives. This one didn’t grab me and the rollercoaster analogy fell flat.

“Diablitos” by Cody Goodfellow. Ryan Rayburn III tries to smuggle a mask from a now-extinguished primitive people known as the Xorocua onboard a 727. The mask was worn in harvest ceremonies to summon Diablitos, or little demons. You know how you shouldn’t steal uranium with your bare hands? This story is kind of like that. And it is delightful.

“Air Raid” by John Varley. This is a weird time travel story taking place on a commercial flight in 1979 (the story was written in 1977) and I can’t really say much without spoiling it, but it’s a neat idea, filled with quirks and people just doing their jobs, however strange their jobs may be. Another good one.

“You Are Released” by Joe Hill. This story os one of two originals written for the collection and is my favorite. It’s a simple story–a group of passengers on a 777 are returning to Boston when the pilot announces a report of a flash near Guam. Details emerge that it may be a nuclear strike, and the various characters–an actress, an alcoholic, a MAGA adherent and others–begin to realize that a full-on nuclear exchange is likely taking place as they cruise 30,000 feet above what could be the start of the end of human civilization. Harrowing and authentic.

“Warbirds” by David J. Schow. An old flyer from World War II tells the son of a fellow flyer, now deceased, about the warbirds, strange creatures that he swears flew with them through their battles in the sky. This one has a haunting quality to it I liked.

“The Flying Machine” by Ray Bradbury. A short and dark tale sent in China in AD 400, in which the servant of Emperor Yuan spots a man impossibly flying, using some kind of contraption he has apparently built himself. The emperor, fearing what might happen if flight became more common–and the great defense of The Great Wall was trivialized–orders the flier executed, and swears the servant to the same, hoping to prevent anyone else from inventing another flying machine and using it for dark purposes. Well, we all know how that turned out. :P Bradbury writes well, as always, but the lesson here felt a little too on-point.

“Zombies on a Plane” by Bev Vincent. This is a short, slight tale about a group of survivors amid a zombie apocalypse trying to escape dodge on a small passenger jet. A twist ending of sorts and there are zombies, as promised in the title. A decent take, but nothing revelatory.

“They Shall Not Grow Old” by Roald Dahl. I adored this story, not just for the language, but also for the sheer earnestness of WWII pilot Fin, describing to his baffled comrades how he came back two days after a surveillance mission, long after his plane would have run out of fuel. Published near the end of the war, it brims with authentic detail as Fin depicts his trip into the light.

“Murder in the Air” by Peter Tremayne. A straight-up murder mystery on a commercial flight, with suspects, an investigation, the explanation and everything neatly wrapped up by the end, including, presumably, the body. Despite the gore surrounding the deceased, this is probably the closet the collection gets to high brow. There’s Latin and all that. I enjoyed it, though murder mysteries aren’t really my thing.

“The Turbulence Expert” by Stephen King. The other original story, this story hints at people who can see the future and conscript others to avoid worst case scenarios–in this case, potentially fatal clear air turbulence on commercial airliners. It’s fun and the characters are smart and witty and engaging. My one nit is the Mary Worth character (literally named Mary Worth) seems a little too quick on the uptake, given the oddities she is presented with.

“Falling” by James L. Dickey. Stephen King introduces this with, “Before you groan, shake your head, and say ‘I don’t read poetry,'” which is exactly where I stopped. It may be a dazzling poem and perhaps I will go back and read it one day. But not now.

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The treadmill run run

Off to the treadmill again!

Tonight I wanted to go farther between intervals as my main goal. I focused at the start on two things: my breathing and how I generally felt. And I felt pretty decent.

Once I got to about the 14 minute mark I knew I could push to 20 without slowing to a walk, and probably go right up to the cooldown at the 25-minute mark.

Which I did, though the cooldown mysteriously did not begin at the 25-minute mark. I discovered after that the previous user had set the total time to 32 minutes (signs near the machines ask you to limit workouts to 30 minutes as a courtesy if others are waiting). That meant the cooldown didn’t stop until the 27-minute mark.

It was at that point that I switched to a fast walk and I walked for the last five minutes. I ended the run to keep my average pace up, then switched to an indoor walk for the walky part. Then I forgot to turn it off, allowing me to test the Workout app’s ability to sense when a workout has ended and ask if you wanted to stop. It did do this, albeit about two minutes after I stopped.

In terms of results, I felt a mini version of the runner’s high midway through, which was spiffy, brought my average pace down, and despite running the entire time, also brought my heart rate down. When you compare the distance and calorie counts below, keep in mind that this run was about two minutes shorter than the previous.

If you add the distance of my walk after, I hit exactly 5 km (and burned another 59 calories, for a total of 356. Woo.

And here are the stats (note I am now tracking total distance for treadmill runs and will go back and start numbering the treadmill runs, which I am too lazy to do tonight):

Distance: 4.39 km (4.38)
Time: 27:34 (29:26)
Average pace: 6:16/km (6:43/km)
BPM: 153 (157)
Calories: 297 (327)
Total treadmill distance: 34.53 km

Those wacky internet speeds

Since getting the internet connection upgrade, I occasionally check to see how the connection is running.

Just now, I did two tests on the Mac mini. Here are the results:

  • speedtest.net using a BCNET server (this is the service used by many post-secondary schools): 74.97 Mbps download, 21.01 Mbps upload, 12 ms ping
  • fast.com (provided by Netflix): 53 Mbps download, 20 Mbps upload, 4 ms ping

Now, I’m no internet scientist, but it seems to me even allowing for some variation between different sites, I shouldn’t be seeing a difference of nearly 22 Mbps when conducting tests literally within a minute of each other. And tests earlier in the evening were even lower from fast.com, peaking around 43 Mbps.

Even though this is kind of terrible, I’m not overly concerned right now, because for most of my purposes, the speed is still fast enough that I’m not left squirming in my seat saying, “Faster, faster!” And the speedtest.net result is actually very close to my expected speed.

But eventually I may start squirming, and if I do I’ll run a bunch of tests over multiple days and times and take the results to my ISP and say to them, “What’s going on, you big lovable corporate entity?” And they may just LOL or whatever, concluding the saga on a lighthearted note.

Here is the speedtest.net result in graphic form:

The exercise-bike-turned-into-a-treadmill run

Tonight I tried the exercise bike, to see if it would torture my knees as the elliptical had two night earlier.

The answer is: Yes! Not as badly, but still enough for me to bail out after 45 calories (five minutes) worth of pedaling.

I went back to the treadmill and managed to run longer between walking and walked less overall. It all went fine. The stats, with previous run in brackets:

Distance: 4.38 km (4.22)
Time: 29:26 (29:35)
Average pace: 6:43/km (7:01)
BPM: 157 (156)
Calories: 327 (327)

Yes, even though I ran harder, had a significantly better average pace, I still burned the exact same number of calories. Or so my Apple Watch says. Perhaps it is a big fat liar. BPM remaining virtually identical despite the harder push was nice, though.

March 11, 2019: Zero day

I’m still kind of impressed when the site reports no hits at all, like it did yesterday, March 11, 2019. Sometimes, in a remote and distant way, it bothers me that it can happen, that absolutely no one, not even by accident, will happen upon the site.

But then I remember there’s nothing specific to draw people to the site, there’s no hook, no “omg this site has the best listicles/photos/articles/kitten pics ever” and I’m okay with that, because I never intended for this site to have a big audience. In fact, having virtually no audience is kind of nice in a way. Traffic is low, expectations are similar, it’s more a place for me to exercise my writing discipline (certainly not the quality of my writing) without worry. A journal of miscellany mostly relevant to only me.

Or am I actually crying tears of anguish as I type these words, crushed at being left all alone on the web, which is now 30 years old. Also, how do people put so many links in their posts and articles? That stuff takes serious time.

I am way too lazy to have a good website.

But I’m still posting something every day.

And a random list to complete this post:

  • Apparently bananas are in danger of going extinct again. This makes me sad, as I like bananas.
  • I still think it’s weird no one has gone to the moon in 40+ years. It’s right there!
  • The amount of plastic in the ocean is gross. I had a soda at a restaurant the other day and it came with a paper straw. I could have eaten it, if I’d wanted to, a small step to saving our world.
  • Even weirder than not going to the moon: I’m actually starting to kind of like the horribly flat keyboard on my MacBook Pro. This would be about the point that it starts failing, so that I may hate it again.
  • Speaking of Apple, its March 25th event, presumably to reveal its streaming service, excites me in the same way as putting on my socks. To clarify, I find minimal excitement in donning socks.
  • I hope my efforts to reduce the soreness and discomfort in my knees work, because I can’t afford bionic replacements. Also, I don’t think they exist.

Road Closed: First draft (of the outline) complete!

I’ve actually written two outlines, the first is based on the outline template mentioned in this post, and I quickly sketched in some ideas about where the story would go, providing it with an actual ending and other crazy things a reader might expect.

The next was an outline of what I’d actually written, 20+ chapters (the number is imprecise because some of the chapters are themselves only outlines and not actually written out). This is right now the more interesting of the two (to me) because it reflects the story as it currently is. The process of putting it all down has laid out how lumpy the story is.

By lumpy, I mean how the story sometimes has scenes that don’t really add much, or seem to build toward something, then peter out. It’s not a smooth ride. The classic three act format is classic because it works, and Road Closed currently does not follow this. There are foundations in place and some of it works pretty decently now. There is, I think, a progression of the deterioration of Christian. The harder he tries to pull things together, the more things unravel, with his drinking accelerating and leading to near-collisions while driving, episodes of vomiting, the DTs and an overnight stay at the hospital. But the concurrent idea (spoiler alert!) of him inevitably leading toward a spectacular car crash that wipes out a bunch of innocent bystanders–which the ghost of Simon obliquely warns him about–is only hinted at very late in the story as written, and I wonder if it even works now as a conclusion.

Also left unaddressed is the entire plot point of revealing Russell Stave as Wendy’s killer, allowing Wendy to find peace, which is a plot point specifically referenced by Christian and Kevin multiple times, so this should really be expanded upon, which means Russell needs more than a few brief cameos.

But now that I have the whole story laid out in front of me I can start yoinking scenes that don’t work and figure out what to fill in, then come up with a convincing third act that pulls it all together in a spellbinding package of spellbindery. Or something.

The next update I’ll report on how this has progressed.

The started-as-elliptical-turned-into-treadmill run

Tonight at the pool I got on the elliptical, intending to do a full workout.

Six minutes and twenty seconds later I stopped because my knees were hurting too much I won’t say I suffered a thousand agonies, but it was probably at least 600. I tried adjusting the machine multiple ways, but it made no difference. I have a pretty high tolerance for discomfort, but could not abide this.

I did manage to burn 64 calories before packing it in.

I switched over to the treadmill, which went much better. The workout there was almost a mirror image of Friday night. I say almost because I walked a little longer during the cooldown period at the end, which slowed my overall pace. I also felt a bit tired to start (probably from the elliptical) and this made me want to drop to walking more often, but I checked my BPM, it was good, and I pressed on.

The stats, with Friday’s in brackets:

Distance: 4.22 km (4.24)
Time: 29:35 (29:28)
Average pace: 7:01/km (6:57)
BPM: 156 (157)
Calories: 327 (330)

Bad design: Relying on images for words

A featured deal on the Kobo eBook site looks like this (this is not clickable and the deal may have ended ten years ago by the time you see this, so apologies if this was your most-anticipated book ever and you can’t buy it at the price shown):

Seems fine, right? Now imagine if for some reason the site wasn’t rendering the image of the book properly. Here’s the same ad, with the book cover obscured:

No big deal, right? But let’s say you don’t have time to click the Learn more link when you see it, so you make a note to check later. But later the ad is no longer in rotation. Still no big deal, because you made a note of the title of the book–oh wait, you didn’t, because if the image doesn’t display, the text has no mention of the book title anywhere. Whoops. And this is applied inconsistently as well, as here’s another featured ad from the same page and it does mention the title in the last paragraph:

This isn’t world-ending bad design, of course, it’s really more of a nitpick. Still, an ad for a book should perhaps mention the book, no?

A quick doodle in Zen Brush 2

It’s a tree or something, like they show in the tutorial, but a little wonkier.

Anyway, this is a simple sketch program for iPad that simulates Japanese ink drawings. My next effort will be a fire- breathing koi.

The March “Last of the snow?” treadmill run

I was actually planning on using the elliptical tonight, but they were all in use when we got there and I was too impatient to wait for one to free up. On the other hand, a bunch of treadmills were free, so off I went, planning to do the same interval thing as the last few times (which I duly executed).

Here are the stats, with the previous treadmill run results in brackets:

 Distance: 4.24 km (4.10)
Time: 29:28 (29:05)
Average pace: 6:57/km (7:06/km)
BPM: 157 (159)
Calories: 330 (330)

The calorie burn likely stayed the same because I was up a bit in weight vs. last time. Overall I saw minor improvements in each category, so I am pleased, but not doing cartwheels because the improvements are quite modest. Also, I’d probably seriously injure myself attempting a cartwheel.

Jeff wants to go more often, so we’ll see if that happens. If it does the stats should continue to get better and when my average BPM drops low enough, or it stops being so unseasonably cold, I’ll resume runs outside.

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