Sunday, May 31, 2015

Innocents Aboard (2004)

Innocents Aboard (2004, Tor Books) is a compilation of stories by Gene Wolfe. This compilation demonstrates all that is great and all that is awful about Gene Wolfe's writing.

Before I rip, know that Gene's technical level of writing is excellent throughout these works. The man's command of the language is sometimes poetic, and sometimes unadorned, but always solid in a way that only a good writer can produce. Gene's sentences are never the problem.

For me, this set of stories, almost to a tale, left me cold and empty. Aside from being told completely, I found little sympathy with the characters, their situations, or their misfortunes. I would ache no less for a mannequin as the protagonist. Given that these are, ostensibly, stories of horror or suspense, a lack of connecting with the characters takes away the emotional punch of the tales, if such tales can be said to have an emotional punch, which they don't.

As Wolfe is familiar with the 50's and 60's, many details in these stories come directly from his own experience, giving your a view of machinery and set dressing that lends a verite to these tales. You need that verite, for that experience gives these stories a basis of believability. Horror and suspense does not exist outside of the believable. You need this world and its experiences for the unbelievable to take on that air of possibility.

If you are into Wolfe,  recommend this compilation. I admit that I was thrown by all the horror as I'm just not into that. I won't deduct any stars over my personal tastes. If you happen to like both horror and Wolfe, they you should find yourself pleased.

A few stories stood out from the pack.

The Sailor Who Sailed After the Sun tells the tale of a monkey who goes whaling, only to end up in even more improbable circumstances. I enjoyed this tale for its lightness, its amusement value, and the fact that I liked the monkey. I think that this is the only tale where I felt any emotion connection to the protagonist.

Houston, 1943 tells the story of a boy who has an out-of-body experience. The tale itself is as cold as his other tales, but the support matter and the string of events brings a subtle horror to it. In not being structured like other horror tales, this story somehow achieves a deeper horror while bumping along with Wolfe notorious obscure narration, one that leaves you with an incomplete idea of what's happening.

A Traveler in Desert Lands tells the tale of a man who stopped in the wrong desert town. The horror of this tale again doesn't quite follow standard horror progression. I found the overall situation discovered actually befit horrifying, but I did not suffer over the man's ultimate fate.

The tale winds up with The Lost Pilgrim, the tale of a time traveler who wound up back in Mycenaean Greece, when the gods still walked the earth and heroes still roamed. For any of those who've read his Soldier Of series, the style of narrative is just as engaging. The story itself is structured as a portal fantasy, where a person from elsewhere shows up, makes good, rises in power, catches the heart of the only or most prominent woman, and then defeats his greatest enemy. Only, this person's greatest enemy was time, and when it comes to time, you lose.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Water Was a Great Toy

With the return of summer, I am reminded of that fabulous childhood toy, WATER. As kids in the summer, we just couldn't get enough of that stuff.

Water all starts with bath time. If there is any better childhood enjoyment than the bath, or the supercharged enjoyment that is the bubble-bath, I want to know, because anything great enough to beat out bath time has to be a huge gap in my childhood experience. Bubble meant eating bubbles, putting bubbles on the walls, making bubbles, and watching all the bubbles go flat. No kid ever exited the bath before the bubble went flat if they could possibly help it.

Hoses were entirely filled with water. One of my earliest memories is of my sister chasing me with a hose, traumatizing me for life. I curse you, my sister, and I still vow my revenge. Hoses also meant washing cars, which meant more soap and bubbles, which meant more getting squirted. Washing the car was never a civilized affair in my family. The suds ran deep in the streets, and sometimes the cars got washed.

Sprinklers attach to hoses, giving yet another layer of summer fun. You didn't need parents around to play in the sprinkler. Set it and forget it until the kids came in. You also watered the lawn while you were at it. There were two main types of sprinklers, those that spun around, and those that watered back-and-forth. I'm sure that there are technical names for those. The practical effect was that those sprinklers that spun around were like getting attacked with a hose, while those that went back and forth were far more gentle and begged you to leap through them.

Then there were yard toys, things that attached to the hose on purpose, the most famous of which is the Slip'n'Slide. I remember sliding down them. Strangely, I don't remember that happening too often. As all cheap toys in the 70's, I am sure that we destroyed them post haste. There were also toys that flailed water about in crazy ways, but as sprinklers were already owned, doubled as lawn watering devices, and were honestly more fun to play with, the crazy sprinklers lost their luster pretty quick.

Water guns are to summer as summer is to water guns. They're the same thing! This has been scientifically tested. We didn't have super-soakers in our day. We had clear plastic guns with cheap triggers and lousy seals that delivered thin lines of liquid assault. I'm surprised that any one of them lasted more than a few days. That clear plastic was brittle.

Thunderstorms meant water rushing down the street. Near the bottom of the hill, as we were, the water picked up the heat from the host streets and  rushed down the gutters warm as bathwater. If you got out there right after a thunderstorm, you had a world of warm fun, usually in your clothes.

Summer rains also meant playing in the rain. There's nothing like getting wet and not caring about it. This never happened enough to be a reliable thing, so the moments always had to be seized. Too early in the season, and rains were just cold. Too late, and rains tended to be thunderstorms, and your mother wasn't letting you out in a thunderstorm. Those warm summer rains, where you actually got to enjoy them, happened only a few times a year.

The peak of summer water fun was always a pool. Summer started when pools opened and closed when pools closed. The two were intimately linked.

When I was tiny, we had a pool in the back yard, but for some reason we didn't keep it. (Money surely had something to do with it. My parents had five kids and one income.) My neighbors went for the new fashion of in-ground pools. So the two houses up the hill got pools, along with friends at the top of the hill, and an older family across the street, and one directly behind the house. (This make whiffle ball all that more challenging. Balls into pools were an instant out.) Another family behind us had a large, very nice, above ground pool. Under the deck, there were stones. In the hot summer days, I we would get into the shade and play among those stones.

The neighbors had to clean up their pools at the beginning of every years. After removing the covers, there was a base of green sludge in the basin and lots of mold, and that had to get cleaned. After cleaning, the hose got turned on and the pool filled over many days, each day bringing us to a larger brim of excitement. Traps were emptied and chlorine sticks put in. The water got tested with PH kits. (The use of these kits always counted as entertainment.) Gunk got removed with the skimmer. Eventually, that pool was ready.

The fun thing in pools was the water itself. As all kids, I was restricted to the shallow areas and I didn't like it. We had floating things that would carry us out. I believe that I wore a life vest when I was tiny. I recall being taken to the local private pool for swimming lessons. I only had one set, but that was enough to get me going. (If I recall correctly, I already knew a little swimming, so the lessons weren't entirely necessary, but I have to think that I learned something.) A few years after me, Water Wings hit the market, that horrible idea that would help kids swim, but actually didn't.

Then as today, things that floated in the water made for fun, usually rafts. There were always fights over who got to float on one, tests to see how many people could float on one, and general abuse heaped upon them. They never lasted long. (The only good rafts were those heavy duty ocean rafts for riding the surf.

One neighbor had a diving board. Although we dived off of it, we never achieved any proficiency with diving, although some boys did achieve proficiency in belly flopping. Their pool also had a light, so when you went swimming at night, the whole pool lit up. This was beyond cool.

Our next-door neighbor had a slide. You had to hook a hose to it in order to get water lubricating the slide, but once that happened, you were good. We usually did a good job of not landing on each other, as that bit was drilled into us by our parents, but collisions still happened. One kid broke an arm, but that only happened once. Considering our recklessness, there should have been death and dismemberment.

Underwater and holding your breath consisted of a whole different level of game. Most variations consisted of who could hold their breath the longest. In this contest, I was among the best, and sometimes the best by far. I don't know how that happened. It's a hidden skill that has provided me with no ego boost in my adult life. No sports valued holding your breath.

When we got older,  would would take our pants off in the water, then put them back on. That's as brave as we ever got towards skinny dipping. I'm sure that there are lots of folks out there who did, including my friends who didn't talk about it. You can feel safe. I don't know your secrets at all.

The preeminent underwater game was Marco Polo. In this watery version of Blind Man's Bluff, "It" closed his eyes and said "Marco," and everyone had to respond "Polo." From there, it was a matter of catching somebody. That one was always good for fun, extending well into your adult years. That's a game that nobody outgrew.

As for lakes and streams, we didn't have any nearby. When we did encounter them, they were a treat. Streams got splashed in, but lakes were more intimidating, and we either weren't allowed to swim or didn't dare. Mostly, lakes were for learning how to canoe.

As for the ocean, that's a whole topic on its own.

Of course, being wet brought its own issues. Being wet and sitting on the furniture was verboten. Being wet and entering somebody's sub-arctic air conditioned house could lead to hypothermia. The usual solution to a wet bottom was just to wrap your towel around yourself. Getting changes wasn't worth it as you often went back out to play in the water again. Sometimes you put your shirts back on, and sometimes you didn't. Strangely, I didn't feel exposed when wearing no shirt, but if I put on a tank-top, that was embarrassing because I was so skinny.

I do recall us siblings wanting to go to join the neighborhood pool. That always got nixed. I'm sure it was money. And yet, there was also this feeling among us that the kids who went to the private pool thought themselves "better," even though our houses had their own pools. I don't know why the kids who went to the public pool thought themselves better, but everyone knew that they did.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Wind Before the Storm

The Wind Before the Storm is now live on Amazon Kindle.

Critically wounded, abandoned, and sold into servitude, Targa has lost everything. She struggles as a power rages inside of her, threatening herself and everyone around her. To become a master fencer again, not only must she rebuild her strength, she must rebuild her soul. If she succeeds in mastering her power, her prize is The Wind Before the Storm, the most dangerous sword in the world, but if she fails, its next victim will be her.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Neverending Story (1979)

Michael Ende published The Neverending Story in German in 1979. Three years later, after great success in Europe, the book was published in the English language. By the strictest definition of the word, this book is a masterpiece of prose, the stort of literary fantasy that breaks its way across genres, entering the public consciousness.

The book sold so well that a film, The Neverending Story, premiered in 1984, and a series of films and television series have followed. (I did not bother watching the film, figuring that the Hollywoodization of the tale would make it unpalatable. Judging from YouTube clips, I was right. The entire cast feels whitewashed. The film ends at the halfway point in the book. Each sequel only goes further down the tubes.)

My particular copy of The Neverending Story is a hardback from 1983. When I was a senior in high school, I received this as a Christmas present from my sister Valerie. I recall asking for the most recent Pern novel at the time, but she thought that the quality of that book was low, so she bought me the Neverending Story instead. Even at the time, I already knew that this was a story that I would never have bought on my own. If not for my sister, I would not have read it. This is a book where I went in expecting to hate the story, only to be won over by the tale. In my particular copy, the sections in the real world are printed in red ink, while those in Fantastica are printed in green. I don't know whether this choice continued in further printings. My copy sold for $15 at the time, which made it a pricy book.

Each chapter begins with a letter of the alphabet, from A-Z, and a two color plate that illustrates something about the chapter, by Rosewitha Quadfleig. As the book was originally written in German, I have no idea how they solved the getting the book from one alphabet to the next. I presume that chapters either had to get split or combined.

The story involves the tale of two boys, a luck dragon named Falkor, and the Childlike Empress. One boy is Bastian, an ordinary enough chubby kid in our world who gets teased by his peers. When he swipes a copy of The Neverending Story, he reads the adventures of Atreyu, a boy in fantastica who seeks to restore the Childlike Empress to health. Nothing is slowly overtaking Fantastica, and if the Empress is not restored, then all of Fantastica will cease to be. Little does Bastian know that his destiny will cross with that of Atreyu.

When you sit down at read the tale, you'll understand why Hollywood ended the story in the middle. The first half of the book is all a setup for the second half of the book. The first half of the book is the adventure, but the second half, the harder half, is the lessons learned by Bastian. Some parts of the second half made it into the second film, but not the lessons.

Despite my delight with the book, I did not read it again. This was only the second time that I read the work, and this time, I understood it far better. It may sound like a children's book, but this is no children's book, a trait shared by all the best children's books.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Sticks, Leaves, Rocks, and Dirt

I would be remiss in idolizing my childhood without a few moments of praise to the humble stick. The stick itself is a symbol of not just the stick, but all the sorts of natural things that come with it: twigs, dirt, leaves, rocks, mud, grass, and anything else that can or cannot be bent, folded, or mutilated by children.

Let's face it, modern humans survived for 200,000 years with no other toys than these. And what did that get us? Everything great, as long was we ignore rampant global warming, war, terrorism, and over-played pop songs. So given the results, I have to say, the humble natural toy has stood up pretty damned well.

Consider the stick. Every boy knows that the stick is a gun and a sword, at the same time. I shot more indians, back robbers, enemies, and friends with those stick than I can count. Sticks are free. You find them littering the ground. They are destructible, meaning that no adult will ever yell at you for destroying one. They burn, which means poking them into the fire and burning them down to the nubs. Even better, you can break up all the sticks to make the fire in the first place. Can you get cooler than that? Not only that, but you could swing them around dangerously.

The ultimate form of the stick is the tree. If there's a tree that can be climbed, it will be climbed, even if you have to nail old boards to it. The purpose of trees is to be climbed, and otherwise provide sticks and leaves. There was really no ultimate point in climbing trees, it was just one of those things that had to be done.

As for rocks, these gave us boys our first access to truly hazardous weapons. Forget putting an eye out, you could cause pain at range. Rocks were so hazardous that your ass was grass if you parent caught you throwing rocks at each other. (Never mind that centuries of boys have the bruises to show for this. Parents have to put on the show even while knowing that the boys are assaulting each other. Your job is to keep it from getting out of hand.) Flat rocks could be skipped across ponds. Not-flat rocks could be hurled at whatever other objects were available (preferably glass ones that broke and not wasp-filled ones that caused you to run in terror.)

As for leaves, their uses were just as myriad. Their most famous use is as a leaf pile in autumn. If there's a pile of leaves being made anywhere near children, dollars to donuts, those children will destroy that leaf pile by hurling themselves into it. When my daughter was tiny, her first response on seeing such a pile was to climb it, then bury herself in them. She needed no instruction whatsoever. Leaf piles rock.

Leaves themselves are the ultimately available bendy-material. If you were playing with toys and you needed something flat and bendy, leaves were it. Leaves always part of my stick-buildings so that the top dirt layer would not sift down between the sticks of the roof. My daughter uses leaves and grass to make dresses for her fairies. Where there is fire, there are inevitably leaves to get burned in the fire.

As for dirt, where would we be without dirt in all its forms, from dirt piles to mud pies? I are say that ate certain ages, as boys we would voluntarily spend more time in dirt than in any other condition. It's as if were were all wild boars, needing that coating of dirt to keep the insects off our backs. Meanwhile, our mothers were fighting the good fight to keep us clean. Eventually this escalates, especially for those boys with powered off-road vehicles. It's about that time that mothers give up, and boys think that all that dirt is great until girls start looking a whole more touchable than they did before.

An important part of dirt is trucks. Trucks doesn't just mean trucks, it means any vehicle of bigger size appropriate to playing in dirt (bearing in mind that a boy's definition of appropriate doesn't match anyone else's definition.) Almost always, these sorts of toys are earthmovers of various sorts, but with leeway, a firetruck or ambulance can get slipped in. Work areas always proved suddenly hazardous, especially if dinosaurs showed up. (This has been known to happen.)

I don't think that boys ever get dirt out of their souls. Grown men dominate the construction and mining industries, and if you want the ultimate in dirt-toys, those powered behemoths called earth-movers shame everything else.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Coloring

I come here to praise the humble coloring book. This type of book preceded my birth, continued after my childhood, and still holds market share today. These books have created billions of hours of free time for harried adults, and countless hours of occupation for their children.

Most coloring books are 8.5" x 11" in size, and about 48 pages long. (I made that number up.) All contain basic line drawings with no color, printed on newsprint, making them exceedingly cheap to produce. The only colorful thing about them were their bright colors. Some books were thicker, being labeled jumbo coloring books, and some were legal size, or even larger, also counting as jumbo. (The coloring world is not known for its killer categorization.) Some are small, often being sold with some sort of crayon or pencil as a complete set.

Many coloring books are generic, featuring objects or people. Sometimes they contain special features, such as mazes, puzzles, matching activities, or even stickers. Most coloring books had some sort of theme or character, so you might get a Christmas coloring book, a Muppet Show coloring book, or even a Muppet Show Christmas coloring book. The licensed characters would usually be popular cartoon characters, TV shows characters, or comic book characters.

The preferred medium for coloring was the humble crayon, almost always by Crayola. The most common type of crayon set contained the basic colors, about 10 crayons, although bigger sets were available. Some contained 24, 48, 96, or even 128 different shades. The bigger boxes came with their own crayon sharpeners built into the base. However, the most popular form of the crayon as the assorted bag/box/container of broken crayons. Every school and house had these, because kids are pure murder on anything breakable, and crayons exactly fit that definition. One of my teachers would melt down the remaining crayon bits into multi-colored coloring bars. To use second graders, that was just too cool.

Pencils were sometimes used on coloring books. The main issue with pencils is that they are more expensive than crayons, lighter marking than crayons, need pencil sharpeners, and were not as comically over-available. They also weren't any cooler.

If you wanted cooler, you got markers. As markers wore out quickly, mostly because you left them uncapped to dry out, but sometimes because you actually colored them to death, markers had a far higher status that crayons. Their colors were bold, but at the expense of bleeding through the newsprint, sometimes bleeding onto the next page, and far too often, drying out as you colored with them. They are also expensive enough that they don't get replaced as quickly. And if they did get replaced, you wound up with a zillion of your least favorite colors because you never used them, and your favorite colors just kept wearing out.

If you wanted to ruin your coloring book, you used watercolors. No child knows how to use watercolors. They smash their brushes into the watercolor blocks and then try their best to paint on newsprint. This is a recipe for failure. Watercolor always loses against newsprint unless its particularly heavy.

All kids start out coloring by scribbling. I'm sure that psychologists describe this in detail, but I'm no psychologist. Eventually you get it through your head to not scribble, which took me extra long. I was a scribbler for far longer than is proper.

Most kids get to the "reasonable colorer" stage, where you color in the lines and generally keep yourself busy. Inevitably, there were those kids who went ABOVE AND BEYOND in their coloring, making you look bad. They would add shading, texture, extra details, and other show-off sorts of things. Those kids were EVIL and BAD and HORRIBLE, mostly because they made you feel inadequate and not up to snuff.

At some point, you stopped coloring. There's no real reason why, but you do. My guess is that the pictures just aren't interesting. There a woman recently who produced some adult coloring books by creating absurdly complicated pictures, and what do you know, they sold like gangbusters, giving the hardcore coloring aficionados something to be an aficionado about.

I also have to suppose that at some point, the seriously artsy kids got into painting, drawing, or something like that. They continued their enjoyment of the visual medium that is coloring, while not-so-interested kids drifted away.

The people who get to come back to coloring are parents, because where there are kids, there is coloring, and sometimes, you suggest coloring because that's what you want to do.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Watership Down (1972)

So who sits down as says, "What we really need is an epic story about rabbits"? Beyond all reason, this is what Richard Adams did. Published in 1972, the story follows the exodus of a small group of bucks to Watership Down, who promptly get themselves into all sorts of traveling trouble. Aside from the rabbits talking to each other, or sometimes some other animals, there few other fantasy elements. To call this story a fantasy is just about totally and completely misguided. Any person who adores fantasy would pick this book up and say, "WHAT?!" It would be more accurate to term this an adventure story, as adventure is the focus of the tale.

The only possible fantasy power are the visions of Fiver, who gets the whole exodus started. Here and there his precognitions help the rabbits, although you, as a reader, never get any firm nod towards this being an actual power or not. The magicness of this is left in the air. (You may feel free to disagree.)

There is some good fantasy in the novels in the tales of Al-Ahrairah. Told as trickster tales, Al-Ahrairah and his best buddy Rabscuttle has all sorts of wonderful and engaging adventure stealing carrots and tricking his foes. These stories were so well told that my daughter, who would have thought the rest of the story tragically boring and uninteresting, reveled in the cleverness of those stories. If you want to just crack this old book and read those stories, do so. You'll enjoy yourself.

The books is also a documentary about rabbits disguised as an adventure story. And pay heed, you will learn heaps about rabbits and how they act. They do all sorts of things that I never imagined. And who would? (Rabbit people, I guess.) Richard explains their behaviors in clear detail without ever overburdening you with the explanations themselves.

The story itself is well written. It begins slow, but with the introduction of the Big Bad, achieves a much higher tension and moves itself along more tightly. General Woundwart is exactly the kind of villain who chews the scenery, which is very appropriate for rabbits. He has all the motivation for acting as an unstoppable force, no matter how stupid that might be. To be honest, I really got fed up with that villain being so mind-numbingly single-minded, but at least his minions had enough sense to be less thrilled than he was. Even as a rabbit villain, his minions were still rabbits and acted like rabbits.

It's my understanding that Watership Down is a much loved and respected novel. I understand that and I do not diminish this for anyone. For myself, I will never read this book again. I reach the end with a feeling of relief, much like a man freed from jail. If fate forced me to choose, I would reread the Sword of Shanarra before I reread this book, and that's saying something. However, it's not at the same level of never-again as the film "Dancer in the Dark," which was not only indescribably excellent, but totally impossible to rewatch due to the excruciating level of psychic pain.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Ricochet Racers

There was some pretty wacky stuff created back in the 70's, and I am loud and proud to have owned one small slice of it, although an objective observer would claim that I wallowed in bizzaro as hey, that was the 70's. One of the things that I owned was my first Nintendo, but alas, it wasn't a video game at all. For one Christmas, 1974 or 75, I received a Nintendo Shotracer rebranded as Ricochet Racers.

You can see a video here: https://youtu.be/hJKfkctKrAU. The most noteworthy part of this video is that I had the exact same red and white shirt that the boy is wearing in the video. A second video for a black model is here, https://youtu.be/-k1FZnHTOSY, including innovations such as a three car magazine, no cartridge necessary to load, and glow-in-the-dark styling.

Stylized like a bolt action carbine, this rifle-imitation device fired cars along the floor, presumably to perform stunts, but more likely used to assault my siblings, which inevitably resulted in parental scolding mode. The action was simple enough. You pulled back the bolt to compress a spring, chambered the car in the car holder (what caliber would that be?), then pushed the bolt forward again. After that, you aim and shot, sending your car across the kitchen floor at high speed, or maybe down the basement steps.

Once I saw the barrels, I recognized this as the version that I had. I recognized the barrels.



You'll notice the bold red, white, and blue styling. This color pattern was big in the 1970s. When Star Wars Galaxies introduced paint jobs to their starships, I noted that the Millennium Falcon had that prototypical 70's color pattern for one of its designs. I don't think that most of the kids got the visual reference.

The one firm memory that I have of this toy is playing with it in the back hall of the house. Running along the outside of the house, this short hallway connected the kitchen to the den, and hosted both the basement stairs and the downstairs bathroom. I was down on the floor racing cars along, not only because it had an imitation brick linoleum floor, which was perfect for racing cars, but because my siblings had surely camped in other rooms, making that the only place to play.

I have no recollection of the fate of that particular toy. I just presumed that my mother scurried it out the door while I wasn't looking. She was good at that trick.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Matchbox Cars and Hotwheels

If you were a boy in the 1970s, or the 60's or the 80's, or just about whenever in the later 20th century, Matchbox cars were the toy for you. They were portable enough to take anywhere. They were cheap enough that you always got a few for your birthday, or Easter, or Christmas. Over the years, you accumulated enough dirt-covered cars to fill a shoe box, and in some cases, far larger containers. You had them. Your fiends had them. Every boy had them. They were so ubiquitous that nobody needed to have them explained.

When I say Matchboxes, I also mean Hot Wheels or any other sort of similar scaled car. It's just that we didn't say "Let's play Hot Wheels," we said, "Let's play matchboxes."

You can see what a boy's imagination was like in cars. It was all about the big engines. It wasn't just the engines, it was BIG CHROME ENGINES with HUGE MUFFLES. Talk about crazy-crazy. But it was the 70's, and big engines were a thing in that decade of automotive decadence.

Matchboxes got played with EVERYWHERE. And by everywhere, I do mean everywhere. Inside, outside, in pools, in dirt, on tracks, on streets, down hallways and stairwells, across grass, out second story windows, and just about anywhere else that a boy could park himself and start playing.

Outside, I recall two favorite places. One was under an oak a few yards away, and another was on a flat area up a small hill. These areas were turned into dust with the frequency of our play. The top of the hill was the clear favorite. We would make streets lined with sticks, build garages out of sticks, leaves, and dirt, and also build businesses. I always built a Duggie's Donuts because that was just too cool.

Inside, we preferred playing on any decently flat surface. Roll-ability was king, but carpeting proved no obstacle.

If we could, we hooked up track to a table or some stairs and rolled the cars down, either racing, or just seeing how far we could make a car go. We usually exceeded speed limits, causing our cars to flip off the track at the turns. The tracks themselves began with a plastic clamp that screwed to the table. The things were amazingly sturdy for their poor construction. Essentially, they were as tough as a plastic item could be formulated. The tracks themselves connected via plastic tongues which were often easier to get on than they were to get off.



I had a Matchbox City. This was a suitcase style play set that opened up into a city. I took pretty good care of it for most of its life, although I did lose the tops to the houses. Somewhere around 5th or 6th grade, I was done with it and stomped it, so my father had words with me about breaking my toys. I guess we could have given it away, but my odds were on tossing it out. If I still had it, it would be no collectible.




My brother had an oval race set, where pulled levers to make the cars go. Research tells me that it was the Thundershift 500. I didn't remember the scoreboard at all because it was long gone and we just used the turn. As the turn wasn't banked enough, we often lost cars over the back edge. As you can see, the inside driver had the advantage.



I looked for my favorite car, which was something like an orange Lamborghini. I think that this was the one. I loved it. It was my special car. I chose it above all others. I never lent it out. To protect it one winter, I wrapped it in tape. Predictably, that was a horrible idea and I lost some of the paint. I was very annoyed when my  mother gave my cars away. My beloved orange car went with that. (This sort of thing was pretty typical of my mother.) I'm not sure what exactly it looked like, so here's a few representative cars.



Below are some cars that I remember. In almost all cases, the stickers went missing, and other odd parts were removed. We played with those toys hard. It's a tribute to their construction that they withstood our assaults. The cars themselves have to bee seen to be believed, so do a Google search on Hot Wheels and Matchbox. I do no justice to the sheer variety of cars that were out there.

This one had no sticker left on front and the engine was missing.



I have no idea why I had a hovercraft, but I had one. Mine was in far worse condition. The thing had thin little wheels on the bottom.



One of my friends had this weird car below.