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.