Blue Gargantua's Journal
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Because it's relevant to the interests of some of my friends:
There's a Kickstarter on to get Vol. 12 of Girl Genius published (and hopefully get some reprints in as well).
Hey, for 10 grand you can get Phil or Katja to show up at your house. For 20 grand you'd get them both!
Yes, there are more reasonable pledge levels...
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
So my reading pace has been atrocious followed up by no time to talk about them. So let's fix that.
First up, The Abolition of Species by Dietmar Dath, translated by Samuel P. Willcocks, a trans-human fable or fairy tale.
The basic premise is that the animals have risen up and taken over. Man has been pushed aside. But when I say "animals", I'm really talking about heavily modified genetic creatures. So one of our protagonists is Dimitri, a Wolf...but he's a wolf with hands (and gills when he wants/needs them). As implied in the title, there is a push towards blurring and bending the divide between species. The technology swirls around the literary philosophizing and sometimes it's hard to pin down.
Anyway, Dimitri works as a freelance diplomat for King Cyrus, a lion who rules from a cybernetic throne. The animals face threats from aquatic creatures as well as Ceramicans -- artificial lifeforms who rule the jungles of South America. How the animal kingdom deals with threats external and internal form the basis of the first 2/3rds of the book and then it skips forward a bit.
This is a dense book and it's tough to come to grips with. The narrative seems straight-forward enough, but it wanders off into various meditations on self and the like. It's hard to say how well the book has survived its translation, but I fell I have to give Mr. Willcocks the benefit of the doubt.
Where it really cranks up is in that last third where the genetic polymorphism loosely discussed in the beginning gains traction and it earns it's trans-human brownie points. There's absolutely nothing but people who aren't people in the way we normally recognize it, some existing as machines or very aggressive memes. It's an interesting book but it takes some patience to get through.
Far less patience is required for The Pot and How to Use It by Roger Ebert. It's short and not terribly satisfying. Mr. Ebert had a blog and wrote a short essay on the joy and romance of his rice cooker. You can do quite a bit with a rice cooker apparently. There was a lot of positive response and so Mr. Ebert decided to make a book out of it with recipes and such. I was pretty underwhelmed. For two reasons:
1.) If you've read the essay then you've essentially read the book. If you read the comments, then you've read even more of the book. There was not a lot of new material.
2.) Mr. Ebert is of the shotgun school of cooking where you throw in what you think you need in the amount that looks right and try again if it didn't work out so well. Me? I'm hungry and I want some clear instructions. I'm perfectly fine with experimenting, but only after I get a basic recipe working and that means give me a solid recipe and I'll go from there.
So, not super impressed with this one.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
I have two songs on repeat in my head today:
and, of course...
Arise, arise, arise!
Monday, April 22, 2013
So a Kickstarter project made me interested in picking up a set of stories by Henry Kuttner, a Golden Age sci-fi writer who, along with his wife C.L. Moore wrote a wide range of pulpy sci-fi goodness. In particular, I was interested in reading his Galloway Gallegher stories which were all collected and recently republished by Planet Stories in Robots Have No Tails.
The Galloway stories follow a pretty simple schtick. Galloway is a technician without a great deal of formal learning. He's also an alcoholic and when he gets blackout drunk, he's a scientific genius who can invent the most amazing machines. The problem is that he's only a genius when he's blackout drunk. Once he sobers up (mostly), he can't remember what he's invented, how it works, what it's for, or who paid him to build it. Since Galloway get more amoral the more intelligent he gets, he often finds large, angry men demanding the solutions they paid a tidy sum for.
The book collects all five stories published during the 40's. The premise seems a little bit better than the actual stories play out. The first tale barely features Galloway at all, but it is a pretty neat mystery. After that, the stories go for a more screwball comedy effect, but it doesn't quite come off. Still, I am curious to read more of his planetary romances. Both he and his wife collaborated on much of their work and there have been some very positive reviews of both.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
So with the WWII Soviets out of the way, I decided to finish up a long-delayed project. Behold:
These are a pair of 15mm Middle Eastern buildings from JR Miniatures
. They're made out of resin. I picked these up at a sale at Hobby Bunker last July and I primed them up thinking this would be a quick job. For some reason, the white spray primer I was using didn't really want to adhere to the resin very well and it started sloughing off almost immediately. I asked around for advice and then forgot about them for a while.
I recently finished up the Soviets and I was tired of looking at those shabby buildings so I decided to knock them out. My buddies recommended automobile primer so I picked up a can of that and it worked like a charm. It put down a nice even coat I was able to paint right over. While you can't see it easily, the roofs are all removable and there are "wooden floors" on the second story of each building. However, I didn't do enough prior test fitting and one they're in, they're really tricky to get out. I think they're pretty much going to stay assembled like that.
With those buildings finished, I don't have anything new to hand. I do have some left-over Soviet figures but not enough to put together any real sort of unit unless I pull from that bin of plastic soldiers I have and I'm loathe to do that. The warlord plastics are just too fiddly. Maybe one of the guys at the shop will take pity on me, but I haven't really hit the table with what I have so I don't know that I want more guys until I can see where the gaps are ("mostly in your generalship", yes, yes).
In a vague order of importance here's what I'm thinking about next:( My big wishlistCollapse )
All of this assumes I shouldn't save my money for more utilitarian needs. Or maybe I should play more with the stuff I've already got...although that argues for the Terrain and the Transport items listed above. Ah well, we'll see.
Monday, April 15, 2013
So I finished up a series of books over the past couple of weeks and now I hold forth:
First up, Thieves of Baghdad by Matthew Bogdanos. Col. Bogdanos was a New York DA and reserve Marine when 9/11 happened. With his specializations in counter-terrorism and Central Asia experience, he was called back and served a tour in Afghanistan and then on to Iraq where he lead a team of military and law enforcement agents in an effort to recover treasures looted from the Iraqi National Museum. The book covers those efforts.
Well...it talks a lot about his background, his life in the military, his life working for the DA, his time in Afghanistan, and then it finally gets around to the whole "going after looted treasures" thing. I was expecting something a little more procedural and instead I got something more biographical. On the basis of that biography, I wouldn't spend too much time drinking with him, but I'd certainly have at least one. He has a real understanding and passion for artistic and archeological treasures and his efforts certainly helped the museum recover a great deal of its missing treasures. It wasn't quite the book I hoped it would be, but it's an interesting look at one of the many tasks facing America after the fall of Saddam.
Next up, another book about the Iraq war, this time from a very young grunt's perspective. Last summer, I helped a guy with his Kickstarter. Stryker: The Siege of Sadr City by Konrad Ludwig. So Mr. Ludwig decided that he really wanted to fight. He believed in what America was doing and also wanted to test himself in the crucible of combat. So at 17 he tests out of high school and right into the Army. A couple years later, he's assigned to a Stryker Combat Team and sent down to help out with the troop surge. He and his team are sent to deal with the insurgents who control Sadr City.
Young Mr. Ludwig gets his wish to see combat.
I always find these first-hand accounts compelling. The author writes plainly and doesn't flinch from his own mistakes. He's very clearly aware of the toll the job takes on you physically and emotionally but he also shows his convictions and his determination to succeed at a thankless task. I think it's always important to listen to people on the sharp end because we put them there in the first place. Anyway, a solid book.
Finally, a book that's not about soldiers, it's about criminals. In Codes of the Underworld, sociologist Diego Gambetta writes about a fascinating problem -- if you're a criminal, how do you communicate with other criminals? How do you find other criminals to help you carry out illegal activities? How do you do all this without the cops intercepting you?
The author lists a variety of ways that criminals find each other and learn to work together. Displays of strength, displays of weakness or incompetence, mutual blackmail, acting like people from The Godfather, a good long stay in prison, there's a range of methods used in different combinations and in different ways (the yakuza has been able to operate much more openly than the mafia for example).
While an interesting read in its own right, there's a lot of information that can apply more broadly to legal endeavors. How do we build trust with other people? At what point do we betray others? How do we identify those like ourselves?
The book is just a tad dry (the author is very fond of the word "appurtenance"), but it's not pedantic or boring and there's a lot of fascinating information in there. A fun read about a thought-provoking topic.
Thursday, April 4, 2013
Monday, April 1, 2013
So I zipped through Blood Orange by Kathleen Tierney and Caitlin R. Kiernan.
Actually, let's stop there for a second. The book is really by Ms. Kiernan. Ms. Tierney is a pseudonym and it pretty much says so on the cover. I don't believe Ms. Kiernan has ever used the Tierney name before. I have no idea why anyone would go through so much effort to not actually conceal their identity. Seems like a huge waste.
Anyway, Ms. Kiernan writes some really nice, Lovecraft-tinged, New England-based horror fiction. I really enjoyed her book Daughter of Hounds. This book is quite deliberately her response to paranormal romance books (Buffy, Twilight, and half a dozen other series on the shelves). Sometimes the book is a little too crotchety about what it wants to set itself against, but when the book kicks, it really gets going.
Our protagonist is Siobahn Quinn, a runaway street kid and heroin junkie who discovers monsters are real and sets out to hunt them. She's doing pretty well right up until she gets bit by a werewolf and drained by a vampire and becomes the monster she hates. But an addiction to smack isn't much different from an addiction to blood and it doesn't take long for the moral justifications to set in. She still has to figure out what's going on and how to get back at the vampire who turned her.
Like I say, it's an engaging read. Quinn is an eminently unreliable narrator and kind of a terrible story teller. However, Ms. Kiernan actually makes that work -- an artful artlessness that still gets the story told with a modicum of back-tracking and mis-steps. As always, there's a wonderful sense of place (in this case Rhode Island and environs) and the characters are all interesting be they human monster or in between.
It bogs a bit when it's snarking on paranormal romance tropes instead of blowing them up through the story, but it was a fun read and certainly worth a look.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Finished up a couple of books.
First up is Empty Space by M. John Harrison. This is the third book in his Light series. I read the first one back in 2004, skipped the second and heard good things about this one so I picked it up.
It was...ok. It's very literary so it hints and alludes to Big Meanings, but I'm not sure how much it says. It splits it's time between the far future near a physics-warping region of space called the Kefahuchi Tract and the near future of London where an old woman is having a little trouble with her garden shed burning down every night...except that it doesn't.
There are various plot lines in both near and far future and they slowly wind themselves together through the Tract and a mysterious alien artifact set to watch it. In the end? Well...the end is pretty much yours to decipher when you get there. It's not a neat ending and it's not a setup for a sequel it just...is. I usually enjoy Harrison's stuff but this didn't quite do it for me.
And neither did Wages: Future Tales of a Hired Gun by Zack Parsons. Mr. Parsons writes for SomethingAwful.com and I've been amused enough in the past that a $3 Kindle title seemed worth. And I pretty much got my money's worth. The book is a collection of short stories set over the next 30-50 years following an ex-Marine's adventures in private contracting. The book is hardly a gritty military thriller (although there's plenty of action). The guy just keeps getting crappy jobs and working his way through them losing a bit of himself each time. There's some fun American Collapse going on as the US breaks up, but there's nothing super stand-out in all of this. Anyway not great, not terrible, disposable reading at comic book prices.
So I've finished up the WWII Soviet project for the Bolt Action games down at the store. And the best is saved for last:
A T34-85 tank to provide some armored support and put those Panzers on the run. Actually, it's going to have to sub in as a T34-76 since that it keeps me just under 1000 points. This was another one of the few good pieces from the Warlords boxed Soviet Set. The model is mostly resin except for the commander and the front hatch and co-axial MG. The turret didn't fit into the body very well, but a friend down at the shop took a dremel to it and got it into shape. It was a fast paint-up and now I'm ready to roll.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
So the other night I finished up No Return by Zachary Jernigan. I had some pretty high hopes for this book and while the book didn't quite meet those hopes, it was a pretty decent piece of writing.
The book falls into a category I call "science-fantasy", where there's magic and stuff, but it's applied like a science or technical discipline. Thus, there are mages who fly into space and they have spells to protect them from the vacuum of space. Magic is scarce so no magic train lines or internet or whatnot, but people investigate magic and apply it intelligently. The other thing to know about magic is that it's alchemical in nature and the base ingredient are dead elves. Really, they're called "Elder" and their well-preserved corpses are deep underground. They get mined up out of the earth and then reduced to pieces parts to power magical activity. Bone dust is a standard of currency by example.
Right, so the other major conceit is that there's a god Adrash and he's got a series of metal spheres orbiting the earth trying to decide if he's going to drop the hammer on humanity. Back on the ground people either believe Adrash is a benevolent god and we all need to try harder or that he's a complete dick who only respects defiance. Sectarian violence is controlled by allowing small, non-lethal combats to take place at specified times and places. Right now, a major contest is coming up drawing combatants from all over the world. On their way to the fight (or the series of fights following after the religious games) we have:
- Vedas -- A Black Suit. That means he thinks Adrash is a dick and he wears a magical suit made from elder skin. A solid fighter who hates to see his soldiers die.
- Churls -- A professional fighter who competes for money not theology. She's also got a drinking problem, huge gambling debts, and a daughter who's a ghost.
- Berun -- A construct made up of brass spheres. He's the creation of the wizard Ortur Omali who created him to assassinate a political leader and now haunts his dreams.
The three of them make their way towards the tournament and in the process learn a lot about each other and themselves. Meanwhile, an team of Elderman (Human/Elder crossbreeds) are attempting to contact Adrash but there are conflicting motives.
Like I say, it's a pretty good book. I think I was hoping for something a little more Vancian, although the setup is intriguing and fairly original. The other minus point is that the book is short and while it finds a good stopping point it's hardly a complete story, it's obvious that sequels are in the works.
Anyhow, if a ghoulish magic system appeals, you might want to check this one out.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
So I painted up some more little dudes:
This is another batch of WWII Soviet infantry (plus a mortar team). I'm just about done with this project. Once I finish up the T-34-85 tank, I'll have a solid 1000 point army to play Bolt Action with the guys down at the store (who will be completely burnt out on Bolt Action as soon as I bring it to play).
With the exception of the Mortar Crew (which comes from Warlord Games), all these figures are by Black Tree Design
. I really liked the figures. A bit of flash to clean off but nothing terrible and they painted up like a charm. They mix well with the Warlord figures I have and there's a good set of poses. I have a batch of figures left over, mostly SMG-equipped troopers and I might paint them up as assault troops to swap in for some games.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
...'cause I'm the God-Damn Pope!
When cardinals are trapped in long, boring meetings, I wonder if they ever doodle their "Pope Name" in the margins of their notebooks?
Friday, March 8, 2013
Sad news, the Higgins Armory Museum is closing. The Armory has a huge collection of arms and armor from all over the world (although it mostly focuses on Europe). The collection is going to the Worcester Art Museum so I'm happy to see it stay in the city, but man...that place was awesome and it'll be sad to see it go.
I was introduced to the museum in high school when I stumbled across some exhibit catalogs at a library sale. How they wound up in the middle of Nebraska is still a mystery but I loved those catalogs. A couple years later I trying to find out more about this "Worcester" place where I'd be going to college and I suddenly made the connection.
So yeah, the museum is closing at the end of the year so go see it now while you can.
Wednesday, March 6, 2013
So I recently clipped through Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. It was a fun little book about books and about what we do with our lives. If you've ever read Foucault's Pendulum, imagine a more cheerful upbeat version and you've got a good handle on it.
Clay Jannon is a recently unemployed graphics designer looking for any kind of job he can get. Walking around San Francisco, he comes across a small, skinny store called Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour bookstore and he winds up landing a job working the graveyard shift. Not many customers from 10pm-6am and when they do come in, they don't buy anything. Instead, they return a book to the store and Clay makes the perilous climb up into the stacks for a book that they request. A book, like the one being returned, that's never sold and doesn't appear in any database that Clay can find.
Eventually, Clay starts to dig into the mystery and with the help of his talented friends and acquaintances, he uncovers a secret society all based around ancient texts (a bit like the Rosicrucians). But while the folks in the long robes laboriously work through the secret messages of their order, Clay is dating a girl at Google and has a slightly different approach.
I liked this book. I liked how it turned the "secret society" genre on its ear and produces a rather upbeat, positive, human story about what and who motivates us. It moved along quickly and kept up a good tempo. It's easy to brush of Clay as having a ludicrous number of connections that help him resolve plot points, but while I'm not dating anyone from Google, there are a lot of fabulous and talented people in my life and that's one of the things the book drives at.
Anyway, a cheerful read and recommended.
Thursday, February 28, 2013
So my recent return to miniature painting was sparked by the Dark Ages/Viking campaign that the club I regularly game with wanted to run. I got a bunch of minis, painted them all up and had a horde of Saxons ready to go.
I believe we played one game.
I knew we had a bunch of guys with figures and I had an interesting set of Viking rules called Strandhogg that I'd been meaning to try out. So I put out the call and a couple Saturdays ago we had a fight.
( An Odin's Eye view of the gameCollapse )
Everyone seemed to have a good time and was keen to try out the game again. I need to come up with some sort of fast movement rule to help folks cover ground or deal with chasing down heavily-laden opponents and such. But once combat was joined things moved at a fair clip and combat was a real roller-coaster. So hopefully we can get in a few more sessions and my little dudes were not painted in vain.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
So I finished up two...well, I finished a short story and a book.
The short story was Last Train to Jubilee Bay by Kali Wallace. In a city abandoned after a plague, a handful of scavengers eke out whatever kind of living they can. To help ease the pain, there's serum, a drug offered by amphibious creatures on the encroaching shoreline of the city. Trade them some memories and they'll give you serum.
Now the traders have gone missing and Lucy has to track them down and find out what happened.
It was...short. Some interesting ideas and it could've been spun out a bit more. As it was, it was a pretty short trip.
I was much happier with The Burn Zone by James K. Decker. The basic plot here is that on a resource-strapped Earth, aliens called the haan have crash landed in China. The haan consume a lot more than a human would, so in exchange for food, the haan offer China a lot of advanced tech. The plan is that if China shelters them now, the advanced tech will eventually prop up the resource decline and save everyone.
Part of the plan is that humans will act as surrogate parents for haan infants. The humans spend a few years raising the haan child and get bonus rations. Sam is one of those surrogate parents. Things are just getting by when her dad Dragan, a member of the security forces comes home with armored troopers hot on his heels. Dragan is captured and hauled away while Sam is chucked out a window. So begins a race against time as Sam tries to piece together what her father found out and then save him before he gets killed.
It's good stuff. I particularly like development of the alien/human agreements than underlie the world of the novel. The haan are aloof but all their technology doesn't allow them to stand on their own against the world -- and their nature's make them more inclined to co-operate. Sam is also a pretty interesting character. She's pretty clever and tends to work out solutions on her own. She also tends to eschew violence unless absolutely necessary.
The only real nit-pik is that Sam makes good use of a distributed personal computing network and yet the authorities (who are pretty draconian) never seem to have their hooks into the system. Perhaps it's haan tech they don't fully comprehend or have access to, but it's never really explained and given how much censorship goes on in China right now a pseudo-future China is not likely to be any less tolerant.
Still, The Burn Zone was a nice sci-fi thriller that clipped along and has a solid ending.
Monday, February 25, 2013
So last night, after a tasty Chinese meal, I was presented with a tiny oracular biscuit. I cracked open the shell of fate and got:
"You can depend on the the trust of the collective."
Uh...wow...this may be the most Red Chinese fortune cookie I've ever gotten.
But apparently the Central Committee really likes me
Sunday, February 24, 2013
...I can probably just make it in time to see the premiere:
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
So I've been puttering away a painting little dudes again. Actually, these are slightly bigger dudes. Normally, I paint in 15mm because it's fast and you can paint up a lot in a hurry and my poor skill is less obvious. However, the guys at the store have finally (finally!) settled on a WWII skirmish rule set. They've opted to go with Bolt Action by Warlord Games. It's a pretty nice little set of rules with some nifty mechanics and it covers a lot of periods without getting too wound up technical advances. The rules are also designed for Warlord Game's 28mm line of figures.
The Warlord stuff looked pretty good and so I picked up a basic infantry set and a medium machine-gun team. Here are the results:
These guys came together and painted up real well. This box set was also put out before Warlord Games developed Bolt Action so they don't form a convenient force to send out into the field. Plus, it's WWII Soviets and that means large groups of Infantry. In fact, one of the Soviet's special rules is that they get an extra squad of troops for free. So I needed more little dudes.
I liked the look of the figures so I went back to Warlord Games. They've got army deals where they'll give you a whole bunch of figures, a few heavy weapons and a vehicle or two. Most of the infantry figures are made of plastic -- because you can get more troops for the dollar and you can kit them out in different ways. So I figured, "I need the guys" and picked it up.
The plastic Warlord figures are made up of torso, head, arms and sometimes separate legs. Weapon sprues hold weapons and gear of every sort. In theory this means you can combine parts and pieces to make anything you want. In practice you get a bunch of troopers suffering from some terrible bone disease that makes their bodies twist unnaturally who also have some localized telekinesis causing their gear to float near, but not at where they would normally keep it.
So...no good. I little searching around led me to Black Tree Designs
who have a very nice line of WWII Soviets in a range of styles and groupings. So now I've got the first batch of those up on the blocks for painting. I'll let you know how it goes in a week or two.
That said, I do like the metal Warlord figures above and they're a good first set for my Red Hordes.
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