Last Man Standing

The title has become trite since it’s been used so many times and so many ways. However, when it happens to you, it’s different.

For example, Ben Nicks is now 103 years old. He was an aircraft commander (on the B-29’s, they didn’t call them pilots) during World War II. About a year ago, his last friend from that time passed away. He is fortunate, however, as he had 8 kids, 7 of which are still living.

You can feel sympathy for someone like Ben. Then again, I had a similar situation happen to me and I only recognized it recently.

In 1975, fresh out of college, I started my first job, as an engineer, at Picker Nuclear and Ultrasond in Northford, CT. Picker no longer has a division in CT. The location has been taken over by another company, but that’s another story.

During that time, I was very interested in chess and eventually started a chess club at Picker. We managed to have some kind of event every lunch time and a number of people were engaged. When it came to finding a name for out club, we decided that we weren’t that sophisticated. We called it the Picker Chess Horde and registered it with the US Chess Federation.

It was there that I met Ken Plesset, a chess master, who took an interest in my development. Years later, Ken was to witness me winning the club championship at the Madison Chess Club, where, rather ironically, he was the only opponent I lost to.

Eventually, there were four of us who were really into chess and it went so far as we would hold chess tournments among the four of us at each other’s homes. Along with Ken and me, were Paul Hornreich, another engineer and a technical artist by the name of Wayne Howard. Yes, the comic illustrator, the Wayne Howard that you could look up on Wikipedia.

Wayne was unique. He loved playing and analyzing chess games. As any chess player, he didn’t like losing, but he didn’t like beating anyone either.

After 5 years, I left Picker and eventually lost track of the other three. Ken was the one I kept in contact with the longest, that is, until he left the state.

Fast forward to 2008. I received an email from Howard Hornreich, the son of Paul. I did the normal mistake of asking how his father was. He’d passed away on Nov 15, 2006, at the age of 62 and his son was just gathering up stories about his father from his friends. He significantly asked about finding Ken Plesset and Wayne Howard. I helped him as far as I could but I’d lost contact with them. Wayne was still either in the state or in his cabin up in Maine. The last thing I’d known about Ken was that he was in Washington state running a chess store/club that a rich woman was funding.

Then I went back to normal life. It was earlier this year, when I was thinking of updating my first book, Raven: The Call from Central, I was considering a new cover. For some reason I remembered Wayne and searched to find him. I didn’t think I’d have any problem convincing him to do a new cover for me.

It was then that I found his Wikipedia page. It surprised me but not as much as finding out that I was much too late. Wayne had passed away on Dec 9, 2007 at the age of 58. Wayne was a heavy smoker. One of those that usually got ashes everywhere.

That was when I went to find out about Ken Plesset. Ken’s given name was Kiven, so he was easy to find. Ken was also the oldest of the four of us, so I had already figured that I’d find his obituary. Ken passed away on Jan 9, 2012 at the age of 85.

So, of the four people who drove the chess club known as the Picker Chess Horde, I’m the only one remaining. The last man standing.

Trivia & Update

If you’ve read through the Raven of Iskandar series, you may have noticed a running joke about the names of female twitteralls.

In short, in the novels, twitteralls are a human-like species that look totally human except for having feathers on their heads instead of hair. Their origin is unknown as they are found on many planets and there doesn’t seem to be a ‘planet Twitt’. As least not in the stories….

Twitteralls are massively efficient, so they are found in large numbers wherever data has to be kept. Since their names are atrociously long, they tend to ‘galactize’ their names. Thus you encounter a lot of female twitteralls named ‘Amanda’.

While this is a cute mild joke (Malinda, a twitterall you will meet in Book 6, remarks that she likes to be called Malinda in Galact as she already has three sisters that go by Amanda), there’s actually a real life situation that this story evolved from.

Back around the turn of the century (I always wanted to say that), was the only time I was laid-off from work without a place to go to immediately. My wife and I had been doing foster care, we had a license with the state, but at that time we did not have any kids. Generally we took younger kids, not older than 6 or 7.

To help out with the finances, my wife decided that we should take a teenager and very quickly a 14 year old named Amanda was deposited at our house. A week later, the state called and asked if we could take another teenage girl. And, you guess it, her name was Amanda also. As if that wasn’t enough, two weeks after that, the state asked us to take a third teenage girl–which we didn’t–and, you guessed it, her name was Amanda also.

About that time, the movie ‘The Fifth Element’ had just come out in theaters, so I joked that if we kept it up, we could have made a movie called ‘The Fifth Amanda’.

Now for the update: Book 6 ‘All-Star’ is now over 65,000 words. I’m making progress, but it is going a bit slow. I probably have another 5,000 words in chapters that haven’t been added yet.

And now another cartoon. This time it’s from Dilbert and I’m dedicating it to Al Fabrizi.

All-Star Update & “How Long Are We…”

Book 6 of the Raven of Iskandar series, “All-Star” is now over 50,000 words. I’d say, from where the story is going, that I’m still short of halfway.

As mentioned in book 5, the team is now experiencing the new match type called ‘Onslaught’. And the team is not happy. The third and final sub for Iskandar Prime is revealed and it’s a marginal surprise. The Iskandar Secundus team gets reformed and then reformed again with a surprise captain.

Raven’s Raiders is expanding at a fast rate and gains new employees. The Tournament Committee releases the format for the All-Star Matches and voting begins.

The Tournament Committee finally decides to do something about the irregularities in Iskandar matches and the conspiracy gets a ‘bloody nose’.

Finally, back when I was a kid, we drove everywhere for vacation and I always heard my father say the statement below, but the cartoon puts a great twist on it.


The tapir is a large, herbivorous mammal, similar in shape to a pig, with a short, prehensile nose trunk. Tapirs inhabit jungle and forest regions of South and Central America, with one species inhabiting Southeast Asia.

And they have very specific musical tastes.

The cartoon is from Wulfmorgenthaler, which, for a particular reason you can readily guess, changed their name to Wumo.