About as Much Substance as You’d Expect

…from a ghost.

Continuing the “time to fit the books into the bookcases” project, I read Arthur C. Clarke’s The Ghost From the Grand Banks.  I believe I picked this up a few years ago at a library book sale where one walked out with a grocery sack of books for a dollar or two.  I own many books by Clarke and he was certainly a favorite when I was young and that is why I bought this.

It turns out that I have read this previously, but it is so forgettable that I forgot.

Briefly, the book covers the race between two enterprises to raise the Titanic in 2012, the 100 year anniversary of the sinking.  Clarke comes up with two completely different concepts on how the ship might be raised.  I’ll refrain from giving away how and whether they work.  There is little character development and the slightest bit of suspense.

A few weeks ago, I caught some parts of an old movie on TCM, the title of which I do not remember.   I do remember a scene where the literary critic renders his verdict on the protagonist’s just published novel.  The critic spent some time on how the book was filled out with wide margins and other tricks to at least look like a real novel even though it was barely more than a short story.

The Ghost From the Grand Banks runs 253 pages with ten pages of title, copyright, contents, etc.; seven plus pages of Sources and Acknowledgments and a twelve page appendix that is adapted from a lecture Clarke gave on Mandelbrot numbers.  Mandelbrot numbers do appear in the book, but not in any way that is necessary to the plot.

So the book runs 284 pages.  There are four parts, each of which is begun with a full page for the title of the part.  There are 44 chapters with each chapter title taking up half a page.  There are 28 completely blank pages found between the chapters, inserted wherever necessary to push the  new chapter to the odd numbered page.  That totals 54 of the 284 pages that are blank.  The margins are wide.  Many chapters end with just a few lines on the last page.

Finally, the paper is thick.  The Complete Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning is a bit less than one eighth of an inch thicker and it runs 566 pages (double). The Plutarch volume of the Great Books of the Western World series is the same thickness and it runs 905 pages (triple).

I would say that it is too bad The Ghost of the Grand Banks did not go to the same length as the publisher went to to hide it’s brevity, but more of this book would not be better.


The recent Academy Awards reminded me of a bit of trivia that I’ve had rolling around in my head for many, many years.

I have been a big fan of the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey since I saw it in the theater in 1968 when I was 13 years old.  I believe I managed to see it in the theater two or three times, an unprecedented event for me (and has rarely, if ever,  happened since).

In 1970 the book The Making of Kubrick’s 2001 came out.  I bought it promptly.  There are a couple of pages devoted to the efforts required to make men look like ape for the opening sequence of the movie.    At the end is a quote from Arthur C. Clarke: “2001 did not win the Academy Award for makeup because judges may not have realized apes were actors.”    For a few decades I remembered that with the small addition that the award for make-up went to Planet of the Apes.    It turns out that the Best Makeup category did not exist until 1981.

But Planet of the Apes “was given a Special Honorary Oscar for John Chambers’ ground-breaking, outstanding makeup.”   Perhaps this is what Clarke was referencing.

For those who may not remember what 2001’s apes looked like (the baby apes are real):

That makeup leaves the apes in Planet of the Apes looking very bad indeed.

Another bit of trivia that I learned from The Making of… is that  “in the middle of Absolutely Nowhere, Africa, the 2001 car ran into an oncoming truck and two of the photographers were injured.”  I have cited this in conversation once or twice in my life when someone observed that a certain driver was safe because there was no traffic where he or she was driving.  The car of photographers was in Africa taking pics to use for the backgrounds of the ape sequence that was filmed in the studio in England.


Some cool videos of what happens when a sphere falls into sand…

…from NPR’s Science Friday.

…from Discover Magazine.

…from the University of Chicago.

Below is my favorite:

This reminds me of when I worked for Domino’s Pizza in Bloomington, Indiana.  I was a Manager Trainee (indentured servent).  One day we were setting up for opening and I was carrying buckets of sauce from the walk-in cooler to the make line.  A bucket of sauce was maybe two gallons of sauce.

I walked out of the cooler and slipped and fell.  Everything happened in slow motion.  As I started to fall my primary concern was to not spill the sauce.  So I held on to the rim of the bucket tight with both hands and tried to “catch” my fall with the upright bucket.  I was surprisingly successful at this and for a millisecond I thought all was going to be well.

But then the sauce moved.  It hollowed at the middle and then gathered together and rose in a column to the ceiling. There was very little left in the still upright and unmoved bucket when all was said and done.  The sauce was on the ceiling, the top of the cooler, the table, the floor, and me.

It was worth it.

The above video’s also bring to mind one of my favorite science fiction reads from the sixties:  A Fall of Moondust by Arthur C. Clarke in which a moon vehicle sinks into the fine dust of the moon’s surface.