July 2, 2021

“Books, young man, books!”

It’s probably not the sort of thing a lifelong science fiction nerd like Yours Truly ought to be admitting publicly. There are fellow nerds out there who will almost certainly demand that I turn in my old Buck Rogers secret decoder ring and surrender myself for interrogation by Darth Vader’s sinister Death Star probe droid once the news gets out.

I’ll just have to take my chances, I suppose. After all, I’m the guy who years ago got chased out of a Star Trek mini-convention, all because I pointed out that the REAL reason for the different look between the Klingons of the original series and those of the movies and sequel TV shows was the improvements in make-up techniques between 1966 and 1979. 

It occurs to me that the scorn I may face as a result of the following comments can’t possibly be worse than the trauma of being chased out of the convention room by a herd of Trekkies calling me “heretic” while throwing their rubber Spock ears at me.

Can it...?

Let’s find out. (Cue the recording of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra...”)

Having given the matter a great deal of thought over the past few years, I have come to the conclusion that - may the ghost of Isaac Asimov have mercy on me - I am NOT a fan of modern technology.

(Take a moment if you must, fellow science fiction fans, to catch your breath and try to recover from the feeling of total shock and disgust you may be feeling as a result of this admission. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Ready? All right, let’s continue...)

In one of my newspaper columns recently I invoked the name of Samuel T. Cogley, the attorney with a preference for books over computers in a first season episode of the original Star Trek. I stated at the time that, as a youngster who was already an unapolegtic bookworm of longstanding by the time I first saw the episode in question, I felt an immediate bond with ol’ Samuel when he gave Captain Kirk a delicious lecture on the importance of the printed page as opposed to the cold, impersonal computer: “Books, young man, books!”

Even at that young age, though, I recognized that there was a certain sense of irony to be found in my embrace of the Cogley Doctrine. After all, the bulk of my reading material at the time consisted of science fiction tales - everything from Edgar Rice Burroughs and H.G. Wells to Flash Gordon and Adam Strange -  much of which seemed to focus on convincing us that the world would be such a better place because of the wonderful new technolgies that the future held in store for us.

And I bought into it - well, to a certain extent, anyway. After all, I was one of those 6-year-olds who sat glued to the television screen as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon while we were drinking our big glasses of Tang and eating our Pillsbury Space Food Sticks. 

Or saw Adam West feed data cards, phone book pages and alphabet soup noodles into his trusty Batcomputer and receive all manner of information in return, and think, “Gee, wouldn’t it be neat if I had something like that!”

Or watched breathlessly as Kirk and Spock beamed down planetside via the starship Enterprise transporter and George Jetson streaked to work in his flying car, and say to ourselves, “Someday, boy, someday...”

But even in the midst of all that youthful “what if” exurberance, there was also just the slightest trace of misgivings about the impact technology might actually have upon the world I was growing up in. That was the downside to having a reading level above that of my classmates, I suppose; I understood that we were deeply enmeshed in a Cold War centered around weapons of mass destruction. I also understood that it was one of those weapons of mass destruction that Charlton Heston detonated during his last stand against that futuristic ape army. 

(You’d think that nightmare scenario might have tempered some of Heston’s political leanings later in life, but I suppose that’s a discussion for another time....)

So I went through my childhood and adolescence ping-ponging back-and-forth between looking forward to tomorrow’s technology, and at the same time fearing it.

As time passed and I grew into adulthood, my ambivalence regarding new technologies did not subside. When pocket calculators first became all the rage, my sixth grade math teacher stopped just short of threatening bodily harm toward anyone who brought their Texas Instruments devices to class. The advent of automobile computerization meant that Dad could no longer tinker around with his car engines as he had in the past. 

And if you think the Forbin Project or HAL 2000 running amok was awful, you should have seen what happened when my wife gave my parents her old Atari game console and Mom got addicted to Pac-Man... 

During my college years, personal computers were still just coming to be seen as vital tools and people were just starting to talk about something called the internet. That talk prompted me at one point to pen what I thought at the time was a science fiction story for my creative writing class, about how society allowed itself to become addicted to something I called “Voyeur Vision.” 

If I’d had even an inkling of the eventual rise of YouTube, I sure as heck would have filed a copyright request...

The man many still consider to be the greatest scientist of all time - Albert Einstein - often shared his concerns about the impact technology would have upon the human race. “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity,” he said on one occasion. 

On another he added, “Our entire much-praised technological progress, and civilization generally, could be compared to an axe in the hand of a pathological criminal.”

And then there was what may have been his most famous prophecy: “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.”

From where I’m sitting, it would appear that Einstein’s prognostications have become today’s awful reality. While we bicker back and forth about unemployment, retailers are replacing workers with self-checkout lanes. Tom Selleck’s dinner table on Blue Bloods appears to be the only place where people actually converse anymore. And people like me who still prefer buying real books to read or albums and CDs to listen to or DVDs and blu-ray discs to watch are constantly made sport of by those who insist that “physical storage media” are going the way of the dodo.

“Thumb drives and streaming services are more efficient,” one friend told me a while back. “Give yourself to the Dark Side.”

No. I won’t do it. I refuse. 

At the end of the 1970 film Colossus: The Forbin Project, the supercomputer of the title proclaims itself as “the Voice of World Control” and informs its inventor that “freedom is an illusion.”

A lot of people in 1970 probably thought such a prediction to be silly. 

These days I look around and think, “Maybe not so much...”

(Column copyright © 2021 by John A. Small)



June 16, 2021

I wish I knew what I thought I knew when I thought I knew everything…

At some point - generally around the time its members hit adolescence - every generation comes to believe that it is smarter, better and/or more “with it” (whatever THAT means) than the generation that preceded it. And all too often, that belief is expressed in a way that leaves members of the previous generation confused, hurt and/or angry.

We’ve all been guilty of it at some time or another, whether or not we want t...

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June 11, 2021

So somebody today on a DC Comics fans page asked fellow members to post their five favorite “DC Events” of all time. And then provided a list of storylines that included Crisis on Infinite Earths and all the post-Crisis usual suspects (Death of Superman, Nightfall, Infinite Crisis, Blackest Night, Final Crisis, et al).

My initial response was to yawn and mutter under my breath, “Not this stuff again.” Then I gave the question some deeper thought and - being the rapidly aging, unapolo...

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June 2, 2021
(My granddaughter, Zoey Romania Small - photo taken by her Uncle Josh, May 8 2021)

All his life he’s heard the stories. 

The stories are all he has, to be honest. They are his only link to those long-ago days. He was there, but he doesn’t remember any of it; he was just a babe, after all. The first of a family’s next generation. A generation which, it was supposed, would have the best of everything this nation - this world - might have to offer.

That was the promise. That was the dream. ...

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May 26, 2021

Next Tuesday, June 1, I will observe my 58th birthday.

All right, all together now: “BIIIIIIIIIIIGGG DEAL!”

Well, yeah, for me it actually kind of is a big deal. On a couple of levels.

For one thing, it further puts the lie to a couple of teachers I had back in high school who, for whatever reason, fully expected me to have joined the Choir Invisible long before now. To this day I’m not really sure just why they had me, of all people, pegged for an early demise. But they did.

Maybe it has s...

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May 24, 2021

I was driving back to work after lunch this afternoon and heard a fellow on the radio say that today is National Brothers Day.

There was a time when I would have happily celebrated my relationship with my siblings but, alas, those days are gone...

I am the oldest of three brothers. We were close growing up, but life happens and things change. The middle brother got himself into some pretty serious legal trouble, but seemed on the way to turning his life around when he died of a sudden illnes...

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May 20, 2021

Some days you just get a goofy idea in your head that you simply can't shake until you do something about it...
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April 14, 2021

I had the opportunity this past weekend to finally catch a trio of movies I‘d been wanting to see for some time.

First up was the current blockbuster Godzilla Vs. Kong, the fourth (and final, according to some reports) entry in the Warner Brothers “Monster Universe” series that began with 2014’s Godzilla. Like its predecessors, it is a no-holds-barred roller coster ride; not so much a remake as a complete reimagining of the 1962 Japanese film King Kong Vs. Godzilla, the new film makes ...

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March 25, 2021
Another entry from our "Comic Book Covers We'd Like To See" Department...
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March 10, 2021

It occurred to me this past weekend, as I closed the cover of a book I had just completed, that the one good thing that came out of this past year - what with all the quarantining and fighting off the virus and shivering in that recent Arctic blast - was that I had ample opportunity to catch up on my reading.

Even when you’re a lifelong bookworm like myself, there are times when you have little choice but to stifle the urge to curl up with that latest acquisition from Barnes and Noble beca...

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About Me

John Allen Small John A. Small is an award-winning newspaper journalist, columnist and broadcaster whose work has been honored by the Oklahoma Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Press, the National Newspaper Association, and the Oklahoma Education Association. He and his wife Melissa were married in 1986; they have two sons, Joshua Orrin (born 1991) and William Ian (born 1996). Mr. Small is the News Editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper headquartered in Tishomingo, OK. He obtained his nickname, "Bard of the Lesser Boulevards," from a journalism colleague - the late Phil Byrum - in recognition of the success of his popular newspaper column, "Small Talk." (In addition to the many awards the column itself has received over the years, a radio version of "Small Talk" earned an award for "Best Small Market Commentary" from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1998.) John was born in Oklahoma City in 1963; lived in the Bradley-Bourbonnais-Kankakee area of Illinois for most of the next 28 years (with brief sojourns in Texas and Athens, Greece, thrown in to break up the monotony); then returned to his native state in 1991, where he currently resides in the Tishomingo/Ravia area. He graduated from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in 1981, and received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in 1991. The years between high school and college were a period frought with numerous exploits and misadventures, some of which have become the stuff of legend; nobody was hurt along the way, however, which should count for something. In addition to his professional career as a journalist he has published two short story collections: "Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West" (2007), a collection of western stories; and "Something In The Air" (2011), a more eclectic collection. He was also a contributor to the 2005 Locus Award-nominated science fiction anthology "Myths For The Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe," edited by Win Scott Eckert. In additon he has written a stage play and a self-published cookbook; served as project editor for a book about the JFK assassination entitled "The Men On The Sixth Floor"; and has either published or posted on the Internet a number of essays, stories and poems. He has also won writing awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Library of Poetry. He is a past president of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce in Tishomingo; was a charter member and past president of the Johnston County Reading Council, the local literacy advocacy and "friends of the library" organization; served as Johnston County's first-ever Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator in 1994-95; served two terms as chairman of the Johnston County (OK) Democratic Party; and has taught journalism classes for local Boy Scout Merit Badge Fairs. He is a member of the New Wold Newton Meteorics Society.


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