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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

9:24AM - Freedom's Ring -- Session 4

Hi,

More notes from the game.

here be notesCollapse )

So lots of problems for Scooby and the Gang to hash out. We're trying to get a read on how long it will be until the next GM is ready to run so that will determine how to run the pacing. There's also the holidays coming on so be might not be regular again until after the New Year (yes, yes, there's nothing regular about me at all I hear you cry).

Oh I'VE got something regular...
Tom


p.s. ...IN MY CATCHPHRASE!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

6:21PM - A Sacred October Review

Hey,

Finished up a couple more books.

First up A Sacred Landscape: The Search for Ancient Peru by Hugh Thomson. I've slowly built up an interest in Incan history over the years. This book starts with a search near Machu Picchu and then spreads out over Peru looking at the many civilizations that pre-dated and contributed to the Incas.

Thomson is a good writer, blending the ancient past, the history of archeology and Peru, and his modern-day experiences into an engaging whole. He talks about political turmoil as he drives out to a site where archeologists fought over credit for discovery.

One of the big drivers in the book is that the region of Peru where these civilizations rose and fell is subject to wild swings in climate. Peru is strongly affected by El Nino and good years will be followed by drought or flooding and this seems to be what topples most of the pre-Incan peoples. In a place where fickle Nature can crush you, all the civilizations developed sophisticated centers of ritual to appease the gods and keep their lives going for another year.

Thomson describes many of these complexes and how they might appear to supplicants arriving at them. Some use closed-in, labyrinthian mazes, others towering spaces of white stone and others use ceremonial paths to move you from place to place. Of course, without a recognized system of writing, many times we're forced to guess, but Thomson isn't keen on "ancient astronauts" and puts a very human face on things.

Next up was a book I read a bit too late, A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny. As you might guess from the title, it's a book oriented on Halloween. In fact, each chapter covers a day in October leading up to the climax on the 31st.

The book's protagonist is Snuff. Snuff is a watchdog. He works for his master Jack and keeps watch while Jack gathers ingredients and prepares for the Game. The Game is a gathering of occult-minded individuals who converge on a special spot on Halloween when the moon is full and Elder Gods are attempting to break into the world. Some of the players work to pull the Elder Gods through, some work to keep them out. Almost all of them have animal familiars like Snuff to help them out.

So, Snuff settles in and starts snooping around. He runs into other players (or their familiars) and tries to get a feel for who's playing in the game and where this round's chosen spot will be. Many of the players are quite familiar. There's the Count and the Good Doctor and his experimental man. There's the Mad Russian and the witch and Snuff's master Jack has a very sharp knife. There's also the Great Detective and his assistant who're very interested in what's going on.

It's Zelazny. I tend to like his stuff and this is pretty good. Despite the cast of characters the book is more spooky than horrifying or gory. It's mostly the animal companions hanging around and chatting. The only thing that might possibly be a nit to pick is that the book ends pretty sharply. It doesn't leave any loose ends dangling around, it's not an ongoing series (I mean, it was Zelazny's last book, but clearly nothing else was planned), but once it's done it's over very quickly.

Despite that, a fun read and one that would probably be pretty good for slightly older children looking for some Halloween reading.

later
Tom

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

2:37PM - We Are Not Book Review

Hi,

Last week I finished up We Are Not Good People by Jeff Somers. This appears to have been a series of shorter works mashed together into one big novel. This means there's a bit of repeated exposition here and there which you shouldn't really need if you've been paying attention. Despite that, the book is pretty good.

The book centers on the idea that there is magic and it's fueled with blood. Cut yourself, bleed a bit, say the words of power and magic happens. Kill someone else, speak the words using their blood and you can do a lot of magic. Engineer genocides and wars....you can pretty much do anything you want.

But that level of reality-warping takes ruthless, dedicated players. Quite a few people aren't very adept at the words, or are ill-trained, or just don't have the ambition to go all the way. A large segment of magical society wind up as Tricksters -- con men who use a little blood to pull off scams and thefts.

Lem is just such a Trickster. He's good with the words and his teacher knew a fair amount but Lem refuses to use anyone else's blood. Even if they volunteer, even if they're paid, Lem will only work magic fueled by his own blood...which rather limits his repertoire. He's barely scraping by, paired up with Mags, a giant man-child who only ever knows the last spell you taught him. They're good friends but they're living rough always on the lookout for one big score.

As the story opens, they think they might have found it. An old apartment in New York, abandoned but perhaps full of treasure, like a forgotten Egyptian tomb. Instead, they find a dead girl in a bathtub, covered head to toe in magical runes that mark her as part of a larger ritual, a chain of deaths that will change everything. And so, Lem and Mags get pulled up into the dangerous and rarified air of archmages and they have to pull out every dirty trick in the book to get by.

So it's gritty crime noir with a blood mage angle and it all works pretty well. The magic is defined just well enough without painting themselves into corners and there's any number of neat setting elements that come out of the magic and its history. Things scale up from low-level street magic to world-shattering stuff and back again and it's all pretty good.

If you're a Dresden fan, you might find this book a lot of fun, a bit darker, but there's plenty of humor. I leave you with the my favorite line in the whole book:

"I knew I was in Nebraska, because there was nothing to see."

later
Tom

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

11:19AM - Freedom's Ring -- Session 3

Hi,

More notes for my Apocalypse World game:

Psychics and PiratesCollapse )

And that’s where we called it.

The game continues to be a good time and people seem to be having fun. Looking forward to the next game.

later
Tom

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

9:09PM - The Blood of Eleven Review

Hi,

So the one good thing about endless rehearsals and performances is that you get a fair amount of reading done. So I finished up two books and here’s what I think.

First up Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This is a book about a post-apocalyptic traveling Shakespeare Troupe/classical orchestra and so you can’t expect the least bit of objectivity from me about it. Despite my 45-degree slant, I did think this was a very good book on it’s own merits.

In Toronto, Arthur Leander is playing King Lear when he dies on stage. A young paramedic named Jeevan rushes in to help while a young girl, an actor in the show watches on in horror.

Over the next few weeks humanity is mostly wiped out by a super-virus.

Flash forward and the young woman, Kirsten, has grown up and now roams around the Great Lakes region with the Traveling Symphony. While the story traces her troupe’s encounter with a town fallen under the sway of a cult, it also jumps back and forth between the past and the present. It looks into Arthur and Jeevan’s life and all the various threads that manage to reach out across the crumbling of the world into the present.

In a lot of ways the book is a bit like Oryx and Crake where the apocalypse simply serves to pare down the focus and provide contrast. It does a better job of keeping one foot in both past and present and the story is interesting. The book covers a lot of ground but circles around art and fame and meaning.

Overall, a high-quality piece of dystopian fiction and one of the better things I read this year.

Next up a bit of fantasy. I read Blood of Ambrose by James Enge. You’ve got young King Lathmar who will become Emperor of Ontil...except that his Protector has just purged everyone loyal to him and is intent on making him a figurehead. The only people who can save Lathmar, are Morlock and Ambrosia, nearly immortal ancestors who founded the Empire and show up from time to time to help out.

While Morlock and Ambrosia are powerful, they have limits. It’s a magic indistinguishable from technology and while they can produce powerful effects, it’s sometimes easier to make people believe something that isn’t there. The two are also the children of Merlin and Nimune (apparently that Merlin and Nimune although this isn’t set on Earth at all). There are some favorable comparisons to Zelazny’s Amber books here.

The story pretty much gets told from Lathmar’s point of view and he does manage to make a number of contributions to the overall effort to regain the throne, but it’s mostly the elder’s show. In particular it’s mostly Morlock’s show although Ambrosia is no slouch as a protagonist.

I liked the book. It had a weird obsession with astronomical details. There’s a full appendix dedicated to the progression of the three moons of the planet along with footnotes about chronological terms being used by the characters. It just seemed a little out of place for a book that keeps up a sort of fairy-tale atmosphere. There are other books in the series but there was no particular cliffhanger for this so full marks there and I’m interested in checking them out now.

later
Tom

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

11:50AM - Freedom's Ring -- Session 2

Hi,

Once again, we got together for another session of Apocalypse World and once again, I took some notes. Not quite as narrative as my other campaign notes, these mostly help me remember the broad strokes of what happened.

The Heart of Darkness NowCollapse )

We called the game at this point. I continue to be really happy with the system and I like the way it provides a short, focused prep session for the GM after the first game and then you can just let things roll, but also leaves room to improvise as players come up with stuff. Originally I was going to hold Doc in reserve, but Skel accepted the invitation so he came on a little early.

I'm also super pleased that Ponch opened his mind. It's always fun when characters operate outside their areas of specialization and mind-opening is something that has an enormous risk/reward potential. I'm hoping to get everyone to open their mind at least once, but when the Warden finally does so, I think it'll be something special.

later
Tom

Sunday, October 19, 2014

12:30PM - Palatial Reviews of Justice

Hey,

So the one good thing about the gym is that it's really helped my reading move along. I've cleared two more books and both of them were pretty good.

The first was The City of Palaces by Michael Nava. This is a historical novel, first in planned quartet that covers the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920ish). This first book covers the years prior to the Revolution under the dictatorship of Diaz and ends just after Madero is ousted and killed by Huerta (1897-1913).

The book centers on Miguel Sarmiento and Alicia Gavilan. He's a doctor who's recently returned to Mexico from Spain and she's the youngest daughter of a proud Mexican family who lost her looks to smallpox and now works with the poor in Mexico City...of which there are many. They meet at a prison where Miguel is visiting his radical father and Alicia is helping a young prisoner give birth. Despite their differences, the two fall in love and after weathering the fierce scrutiny of Alicia's family, they are wed and settle down to raise a family and make a difference in Mexico.

The writing is rock solid. Landscapes and characters are all well-rendered and people have complex interactions. While the protagonists may be fictional, a great deal of research has clearly gone into this and both Miguel and Alicia meet up with various historical personages. And those meet-ups are quite plausible and not shoe-horned in (which can be a real pitfall for these types of novels). Just a solid book and a love letter to Mexico and her people.

The book also has me thinking about some larger issues in historical fiction. Miguel is an atheist and Alicia a devout Catholic but both are extremely liberal-minded and progressive. There's a B-plot involving Miguel's gay cousin and Miguel's eventual acceptance of homosexuality (Alicia shows a great deal more compassion from the start). All of this though, seems surprising given the huge amount of casual racism and classism present in the society.

Obvioulsy there were progressive, liberal-leaning people in 1900 -- these ideas about social justice don't just spring fully formed in the 1960s, but that kind of tolerance still strikes me as "wrong" for a period piece somehow. Like an author doesn't want to alienate a modern audience with characters whose sentiments don't mesh with the modern world or that their heroes can't be on the wrong side of history.

But I also think that in this book that isn't the case. That in this book, progressive heroes are meant both to challenge this idea that everyone in the past was a racist asshole and also to show that even when intolerance was the norm, there were people, not isolated visionaries, but groups of people who recognized the injustice going on all around them and worked to fix it as best they could. The heroes of Palaces don't enact any sweeping changes but they try to do what's right and help people where they can.

Anyway, the book jostled my comfortable expectations and gets a bonus point for that.

From the near past to the far future. I just tore through Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie. This is the sequel to her wonderful Ancillary Justice from last year. We pick up the story of Breq. Once she was the AI for Justice of Toren and she was the ship and hundreds of Ancillary troopers. Then she got blowed up and only one Ancillary was left. At the end of the last book, Breq discovers that the ruler of humanity's largest empire is having something of an identity crisis between her multiple selves and a civil war is brewing.

This book, having been made Fleet Captain and assigned a ship, Breq's been sent to Athoeki system to watch over the system there and prevent trouble from showing up. Obviously trouble does show up and it's mostly in the troubled history of Athoeki. Breq has a lot of buried past to dig up and sort out.

This book was a lot more...small scale than it's predecessor. Breq goes to the system and stays there. No world-hopping adventure, just Breq observing what's going on around her and trying to work out what's really going on. I was actually reminded a bit of Nero Wolfe mysteries where Nero simply sits at home and solves the crime. Breq is actually a fair bit more mobile, but there's still a watch-and-wait attitude that's interesting. Putting Breq at the center lets you watch the other characters swirling around her and while they're not the most complex of characters they are fun to watch bounce off one another.

Ms. Leckie continues the custom of having Breq use "she" as the only pronoun for people. In the original book it was explained that as an AI from a matriarchal society, Breq simply didn't have a good grasp on human gender and defaulted to she unless she was absolutely certain. In this book, there's not even that much explanation. As always, it's a delightful change of pace. You know that some of the people Breq speaks with are male, but Breq's descriptions are vague enough that you can't easily work it out and so...everyone is pretty much female.

In general, Breq seems like an artificial intelligence. She's very perceptive and smart, but it also feels like it's an intelligence that comes from long observation of humans and not an emulation of them.

Anyway, a bit slower-paced and closer to home, but the book is an engaging read and I'll be curious to see more.

later
Tom

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

8:46PM - An Fraternal Ephemera of a Review

Hi,

In my last couple of reviews the books have been sort of so-so, but oh man, my luck has turned.

First up The Brothers Cabal by Jonathan L. Howard. This is the fourth book in the Johannes Cabal series and although it loses a letter grade for not cleanly coming to a stop it more than makes up for it with the effort that goes into it.

So Johannes Cabal is a curmudgeonly necromancer who's managed to save the world a couple of times. In his last book, he managed to escape the Dreamlands only to collapse at the front gate to his house. He wakes up to discover he's been rescued by his younger brother Horst. Horst is a vampire (a fact Cabal has some small hand in) and he was killed off in the first book (a fact Cabal definitely had a hand in).

In this book we get Horst's story. Horst was resurrected and taken back to a castle where he was inducted into the Society of Monsters. Their plan is to use magical and mundane means to raise an unstoppable army of monsters and take over...well, a large part of Europe. Horst was brought back to the...uh...unliving to be the general of a vampire army -- which he would personally recruit.

Sadly for them, Horst is really more interested in getting up to speed on the latest fashion trends rather than working for the forces of evil. So he promptly bails on the Society and asks for Johannes help in stopping them. Together, the Brother's Cabal hatch a plan.

As always the writing is just top-notch. All the characters are interesting and well-drawn and they're genuinely funny. The book never strains to be funny it just is and so you merrily roll through the book and boom! you're at the end and waiting for the next installment to come out. It's well worth starting from the beginning because the books are seriously calling back to previous installments and even referring to some of the short stories involving Johannes. Honestly, the whole series has been good so there's no reason not to get stuck in.

I have also been making my way through S. conceived by J. J. Abrams and written by Doug Dorst. This book...it's super good and hard to explain.

OK, so this book is really an extended love letter to books and writing and reading and love. You get this physical book (you'll see why in a minute). The book is a clothbound hardcover and is called The Ship of Theseus (I know, I said it was called S. and it is, bear with me). The book purports to have been published in the late 40's and it looks like it was taken from a library. It's got a catalog sticker on the spine, the back has a loan record so you can see when it's been checked out and it's slightly distressed. A very convincing artifact.

On top of this, the book has wide margins and there are notes in the margins. A young man leaves the book at his college library. A young librarian picks it up and reads the book and then returns it, leaving a few notes in the margin. The guy re-reads the book, makes his own notes and drops the book off. So they go back and forth exchanging the book and leaving notes to one another. And there are distinct phases where they switch pens to write notes in different colored ink. So on the same page you could have notes from several different time periods with later notes building on what came before or discussing something that only becomes obvious later.

On top of *that* there are letters, postcards, newspaper clippings and more jammed into the book. If you're not careful it'll all come spilling out so you have to read it carefully. The ephemera is stuff gathered by the two readers as they try to work out a puzzle -- who, exactly, is the author of the book their reading?

This book is dense. I had to read each chapter twice. Once just plowing through and reading the text and a second time to take in all the marginalia. Even then you had to juggle a lot of stuff because of the way the notes would refer to things you didn't know yet.

Anyway, I loved this book. Is the core story actually any good? Ah...it's interesting. On it's own I probably wouldn't have been super-excited about it. But throw in the margin notes and the extra goodies in the book and as a whole it's wonderful. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea but if you love books as physical things, I think you'll really enjoy this.

later
Tom

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

10:01PM - Freedom's Ring -- Session 1

Hi,

So our gaming group has switched to a new game. This time we’re doing Apocalypse World by Vincent Baker and I’m running it. We just went through our first session and here’s the write-up. Unlike last game, I’m not going to do this in character, I’m just going to give an overview of what’s going on.

let me tell you about my gameCollapse )

And that’s where we called it. The character creation in Apocalypse World is fun and it really helped gel up backstories and flesh out the world as we went along. We probably spent as much or more time on that as we did following folks around and seeing what happens.

Now that the first session has got the pot stirring, I get to turn up the heat. We’ll see just what makes these bad-asses tick.

later
Tom

4:44PM - Yoinks And Review!

Hi,

So I finished up Sherwood Nation by Benjamin Parzybok. It was a lot of fun and while not quite a dystopian book it flirts with the themes and does its own thing with them.

So in the near future, persistent drought has engulfed the West Coast and America has pretty much pulled its borders back to the Rockies. People still live out in the West and the National Guard ferries in water to distribute to people there but it's a tough life. In Portland, Renee is a young woman whose cafe has closed down due to water restrictions. She falls in with a group of activists who want to highlight the unequal distribution of water so they stage an action where they stop a truck bringing water to the rich part of town. Things go a little askew and Renee becomes a media sensation when the camera crews arriving to cover the action see her handing out water rations to the locals.

Dubbed Maid Marion, Renee becomes and overnight sensation. The mayor tries to crack down on this water thief and eventually Renee and her roommate Bea go on the run. They wind up in a run down section of northeastern Portland and there they establish the micro-nation of Sherwood with radical plans to conserve and distribute water and make a better life for people. Obviously, the Powers That Be can't let that stand. But resources are stretched thin and Maid Marion is very popular.

So yeah, it's a good read. The book goes through a number of different viewpoints highlighting how people approach the disaster and how they choose to help or not help their friends and neighbors. There are a small number of nits -- the Federal system of water distribution is insane and there's this Stockholm Syndrome sub-plot that falls flat, but overall, the complications of idealism meeting practicality make the book an engaging one.

later
Tom

Friday, September 19, 2014

5:06PM - Two for Reviewing

Hi,

So this might be a case of too much hype. I've finished up two books I was really excited to get my hands on and they wound up...not bad, but not as good as I wanted.

First up Echopraxia by Peter Watts. This is a follow up to his amazing book Blindsight which left me in existential dread. Echopraxia is a sort of sequel in that it covers events happening back on Earth after the events in Blindsight. No one from the first book is in this one, although there are some links.

In brief, Daniel Bruks, field biologist, gets swept up in a three-way fight between a vampire, a hive mind and regular humans who want them both gone. He and a ragtag crew fly off into space to check out a powersat where the alien from Blindsight might possibly have shown up.

As always, Mr. Watts has a lot of fun ideas and the writing ticks like a Swiss watch. It wasn't quite as original as Blindsight but that's to be expected. My basic gripe comes in two parts. First, the book postulates that humans will create intelligences that aren't necessarily self-conscious but which are much smarter than humans. The problem is that this leads to parts of the book where the super-intelligences demonstrate an unbelievable level of planning (like...Batman levels of planning) where it's not clear they'd have the time or tools to execute on their plan as well as a stupefying awareness and control over mental states (their own and others). This is offset by a few instances of them getting completely blind-sided. Now, it's been established that wheels within wheels doesn't even begin to cover their level of planning so perhaps their failures are part of a master plan. So this leads to the second gripe where the ending is a bit ambiguous. Remember how it starts with a three-way fight? In the end, it quite appears as though someone wins and again, it doesn't seem like the other super-intelligences involved would've let that outcome happen.

I dunno. I'm still glad I read it but I think there might need to be a third book to tie everything together. There's a fun "here's the science I worked from" section in the back that's a lot of fun as well.

Next up is City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. This was build as a sort of fantasy spy thriller and it sort of was, but it also had a few issues.

The world-building is top-notch though. The Continent was home to six gods. They produced a society built on divine miracles and sent their followers out to conquer the world. One of the island kingdoms they conquer is Saypur. They enslave the natives and treat them like dirt until one of them discovers how to kill a god. The Saypur return to the continent, kill all the gods (causing the Continent to implode as the magic supporting a first world lifestyle goes away), and then occupy the place, forbidding any study or mention of the divine.

Now, in Bulikov, former Seat of the World, a Saypur professor of history is murdered. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs sends their best agent, Shara Thivani and her "secretary" Sigurd to look into the matter. The can of worms is duly opened and things quickly get messy.

So, let me start off by saying this book passes the McArthur Genius Bechdel Test in spades. The Saypur are basically presented as Southern Indian and the local military governor is a woman so you regularly have two women of color talking about how to save the world (and when they do talk about men, it's almost never in a romantic context). Everyone pretty much gets treated as a complete person. As I say the world-building is top notch and the plot moves along briskly with a good mix of conversation, detail and action.

The bad part is that while I didn't suss out "whodunnit", I did easily latch onto the major clues and big reveals got telegraphed way too early. I was hoping for a bit more Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy kind of tradecraft and didn't really get that. It was more an action adventure mystery kind of thing. Oddly, I think if you like The Dresden Files you might also really enjoy this.

Again, the book wasn't terrible by any means, but it wasn't quite "fantasy spy games" I was expecting.

later
Tom

4:26PM - Pelican Tracks -- Entry 8

As much as I never want to see Nortrig again, I can't say as it hasn't been very, very good to us. Despite the fact that Nortrig rubles aren't the most stable of currencies, we've got an entire cargo hold full of the them. The conversion fees won't even make a dent. In short -- we're disgustingly rich.

War profiteering for fun and profit...eeringCollapse )

The big question is what to do with all this cash. When Sanna was threatening to leave, she mentioned going off and becoming a farmer. It's not a career I can see her excelling in and the crop she knows best, she's likely to smoke through before she can sell it. It did give me an idea though. With this cash we can set up a station like Second Sunrise and grow all the black weed we want in international airspace. Then we just use the Pelican to make deliveries. Needs a bit more fleshing out but I think it's got a lot of possibilities.

* * *


So this was the closer for our first game. We might come back to the Pelican and her crew in the future, but we've reached a good stopping point so we'll switch over to something else. I will be taking over the GM reins and running a few sessions of Apocalypse World (which I've been dying to do for some time). Hopefully I won't kill everyone first session.

later
Tom

Thursday, September 11, 2014

8:57AM - Ask Dr. LJ -- Smartphone Edition

Hey,

So I purchased my cell phone when Bush Jr. was president. It's old and battered and doesn't hold a charge well and I feel like it's time to get a smartphone.

In unrelated news, Apple just announced it's releasing a super-sized iPhone that will fit quite comfortably in my large, meaty hands.

However, having a smartphone means I need a data plan of some sort if I hope to truly have the internet in my pants. I have no idea what a reasonable data limit should be. I *believe* I'd be fairly light on the bandwidth, but I might find more data intensive uses for my phone. So how much data is on your plan?

Thanks
Tom

Sunday, September 7, 2014

6:04PM - Pelican Tracks -- Entry 7

Well, after our recent adventures in hijacking pirate ships, plural, our trip to a warzone to make a delivery has been positively relaxing.

Nortrig ventured, Nortrig gainedCollapse )

So on the one hand, the Pelican is particularly good at spiriting people away from danger. On the other hand, this guy, if he’s genuine has the worst sense of discretion I have ever seen in someone concerned for the safety of a family member. At any rate, we made a supper date with his brother and we’ll see what comes of it. Hopefully not a long stint in jail.

* * *

A short but sweet session. We might be switching off to another game soon, people are pitching their ideas. Best bit from the evening:

Wrench (from engine room) to Brendan (who’s piloting the ship): Throttle the engine back.
Brendan: Uh...OK…Throttle the engine back
Wrench: Throttling back...wait.

later
Tom

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

1:33PM - One Night on the Run in Sixes

Hi,

So I finished up a couple more books this week.

First up One Night in Sixes by Arianne Thompson. So I really liked this book and I really hated this book. One the one hand, it’s a great book. It’s sort of an Old World fairy tale meets a New World western and for the most part, it works pretty well.

Sil Halfwick is tired of living out in the frontier and hopes to sell some horses and turn enough of a profit to get out from under his boss and head back East to the easy life. His partner is Appaloosa Elim, a half-man, half native “mule” who has a knack for horses. Unable to sell any of his horses, Sil takes off across the border to the river town of Sixes where he hopes to sell his stock to the native Sundowners. Against his better judgement, Elim follows along, hoping to keep his partner out of trouble and get him home intact.

Sixes was a former settlement overrun by the natives and now plays host to a wide range of native peoples from various tribes and clans each with their own talents, abilities, and culture. Sil and Elim very quickly get in over their heads and soon Elim is accused of murder and Sil is bouncing around in a volatile situation he doesn’t fully understand.

So yeah, this sort of “humans visit fairyland and get in trouble” kind of tale with a serious Western slant. I think it handles its racial analogs pretty well. To Sil the natives may seem inscrutable but as they converse with each other, you get a better sense of the complexity. In fact, that’s one of the things the book does really well. There’s a glossary/index in the back that can explain a lot of what’s going on, but it’s a lot more fun to just read through and get the world details spooned out to you a bit at a time and you figure it out. Maybe I’ve read enough of these kinds of tales that I grokked what was going on faster, but I still like books that make you work a bit to understand everything that’s going on.

So a good book and recommended...but. So it’s the first book in a series and that’s fine, but the book finds a clanger of a stopping point to end on. It’s not really a cliffhanger but it’s certainly not a good resting place. It rather looked like everything was going to converge in the streets of Sixes in a spectacular denouement, but instead it just veers off and then “TO BE CONTINUED”. A full letter-grade off for that. Still, if you can deal with that, it’s a pretty good book and a fun read.

Next up, something a little more serious. With Furguson in the news the past couple of weeks, you might be wondering what daily life would be like in such a place. The timely release of On the Run : Fugitive LIfe in an American City by Alice Goffman. Ms. Goffman essentially spent her entire college career (undergad and grad) doing fieldwork in a black suburb of Philadelphia. Originally, she was interested in the lives of women in the neighborhood but she fell in with a group of young men and got interested in how their legal woes shaped their lives.

In particular, she focused on the fact that many young men have outstanding warrants -- some more serious than others and what those men do when they’re trying to avoid the attention of the police and the activity of the police in trying to run them down. Interestingly, although these men are “on the run”, much of their life comes to a stop. They can’t easily get or hold down a job, the people they know and the places they go are the first places the police will check if they’re actively hunting the fugitive. In particular, fugitives are very reluctant to visit hospitals for medical care or to witness the birth of their children because cops will run the names of everyone walking through the door. Obviously, this places a tremendous amount of stress on the young man and his family and loved ones. How they manage to make a normal life for themselves makes for compelling reading.

Additionally, Goffman expands her view to encompass loved ones and family members who are affected, unrelated people who provide much-needed goods and services to fugitives and even people in the neighborhood who stay out of legal trouble and how much or little they interact with the rest of the neighborhood. Finally, at the back, she provides a breakdown of her methodology which describes how a white, Jewish, college girl embedded herself in a predominantly black neighborhood and gained the trust of its inhabitants.

So, an excellent book and highly recommended.

later
Tom

Saturday, August 23, 2014

11:45AM - Pelican Tracks -- Entry 6

It has been a most unusual week. When all is said and done, however, we are a good deal richer and I’m feeling much more confident about our chances of slipping into Nortrig and making the delivery as scheduled. What’s a warzone after a few pirate attacks?

In which we fight piratesCollapse )

So with the crew rested and ready it’s on to Nortrig.

* * *


Just a marathon session of a game and it was definitely Sanna’s star turn. Since she was the resident combat monster it only stands to reason, but Wrench and I are almost useless in a fight and she had some astounding rolls to boot. It’s certainly upended the rest of the crew’s easy understanding of Sanna.

way more funny stuff than this, too much stuff happening for notesCollapse )

later
Tom

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

9:48PM - Reviews tres leche

Hi,

Well...actually no milk of any kind really. I just read three books. So let's get cracking:

First up, Inversions by Iain M. Banks. This is part of his Culture series (which I am sadly running out of installments to read -- man, fuck cancer). Unlike most of his submissions in this series, Inversions doesn't directly tie to the star-spanning sci-fi adventure you would expect. Instead, this is very deliberately a Culture novel that resembles a very low-magic fantasy novel more than anything else.

There are actually two stories woven through this book. The first is set in the Kingdom of Haspidus where Oleph keeps tabs on his master Vosill, a strange woman from over the seas who has risen to become the person physician to the King. The second story takes place in the neighboring Protectorate of Tassasen and follows DeWar, the personal bodyguard to the Prime Protector. Both of them have to deal with various threats and problems facing their respective nations but neither story particularly intertwines. Each, however, gives hints about a shared history out in the wider world of the Culture.

So...no one kills themselves out of ennui which is an ever-present hazard in a Culture book. As a stand-alone book, it's only so-so. There aren't any of the usual "big ideas" that normally drive a Culture book and the individual stories mostly just cruise along without a lot of real dramatic tension. It just wasn't all that compelling.

After that, I picked up Tigerman by Nick Harkaway. Mr. Harkaway's first novel Gone Away World was amazing and his follow-up Angelmaker was also quite good so I was very anxious to give this one a go.

The story takes place on the island of Mancreu. Several years ago a chemical plant accident turned the island's volcano into a cauldron of mutated super-bacteria. Occasionally, the volcano releases a noxious cloud that produces some random effect. Fearing for the safety of the planet, there are plans to scour the island with nuclear fire, but there's the promise of interesting discoveries coming out of the volcano and so the executioner's hand is stayed. The island becomes an extra-national zone and the harbor is full of mysterious ships from all over the world who find the place a legally-convenient place to do things no one would admit to doing.

Sergeant Lester Ferris is a washed up British Marine sent to the island for a rest and serves as the acting brevet-consul to the island. He walks the streets, gets to know the locals, and helps maintain a little bit of law and order as the inhabitants slowly pack up and leave the doomed island. He befriends a local boy and they wind up having tea in a cafe run by a man named Shola.

His quiet existence comes to an abrupt end when men burst into the cafe and gun down Shola in front of him and the boy. Anxious to help the boy through his trauma (and perhaps help the boy leave the island with him), Lester agrees to help track down the men responsible for this murder. The boy wants to help and his big contribution is "Tigerman" -- Lester should become a costumed hero like the ones in the boy's comic books to take out the bad guys and restore order. Lester reluctantly dons the costume to please the boy and bust up some small-time crooks, but in doing so he starts to pull back the cloak of secrets that cover the island.

If you've read Harkaway's other books you know that things eventually all come together and they certainly do in this one. The ending is a little more melancholy than his previous works. I keep wanting to say that this is like Kick-Ass with grown-up sensibilities. A middle-aged man puts on a mask to fight crime and it doesn't make him super-human, it just makes him a guy in a mask. Lester knows it's stupid, but as time goes on, Tigerman takes on a life of its own and Lester's overwhelming desire to save the boy keeps him at it.

I didn't like this one as much as his previous works (maybe the mixed ending?), but the writing is still very strong and evocative, the characters are well-rounded and the dialog has some really great moments. Certainly worth a look especially for comic book lovers.

Finally, I blazed through The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs. You start with a magical, steampunk, western setting. Shoe and Fisk, two Imperial scouts are riding point along the Big Rill river, keeping pace with the deamon-powered steamboat Cornelius. On board is an Imperial governor and his family. Not an easy job out on the fringes of the frontier but made worse when the stretchers show up -- tall, alien, immortal creatures that haunt the mountains and have decided to amuse themselves by hunting down the arrogant humans skirting their lands.

I really liked this book. Normally when you try and blend magic/steampunk/westerns together you just get a hot mess, but it all comes together really well in this case. The plot clips along and the world-building stuff is very smoothly built up as you go. I was always interested in what was going to happen next. Probably the best book out of the three and recommended. If you have a Kindle, it's only $3 and a complete bargain.

later
Tom

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

12:10PM - Ash and Thorn

Hi,

So below are photos of my cats Thorn (the grey and white one) and Ash (the solid grey one). We've had these cats for just over six years now and they've been wonderful cats.



And now I need to re-home them. In the Spring, Annie and I will be selling the house and it'll be easier to show the house if the cats aren't there. Where I'm going after that is still a bit up in the air, but in the most likely circumstances, wherever I wind up, I won't be able to take the cats with me. Annie has allergy issues and can't take them either.

So we're putting the word out now. If you or anyone you know are looking for cats, please get in touch with me. The cats are both up-to-date on their shots and are very healthy (the vet constantly raves about how good their teeth are). Ideally, we'd like to keep them together (they're sisters and they've been together all this time) and they'd probably do better in a suburban/rural area -- both cats like to go outside for short periods. But getting them placed in good homes is the overriding priority. We can also provide their litter boxes/carriers/etc. if needed.

I'm really sad that it's come to this and I want to do everything I can to make sure these sweeties find wonderful new owners.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

9:55PM - Pelican Tracks -- Entry 5

Finally! A paying gig! And we’re finally away from quake-ravaged Greenbough, which is a nice enough place I suppose, but you can only live on appreciation for so long.

Things turned out better than expectedCollapse )

* * *


And now, the comedy bits…

again, we had a lot of laughsCollapse )

Again, the game is fun and now we fly into danger. Should be good.

later
Tom

Saturday, July 26, 2014

3:21PM - Pastoral Reviews Five Fathoms Down

Hey,

So I've read through a couple more books and here's what I thought.

First up is Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone. This is the third book in a series by Mr. Gladstone (Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise being the first two). Technically they all stand on their own, but it would be helpful to read the other two before starting in on this one because characters from those books show up here.

The series is set in a fantasy world that has a modern-day feel because magic is applied that way. It's not a one-for-one analog of magic == technology, it's a lot more subtle and much better done than my description implies. But the key part about it is that it uses this lens to ask big questions about capitalism and globalization along with the very real, human stories it tells. In particular, Full Fathom Five builds on its predecessors to ponder big topics in a very sophisticated way.

The story takes place in Kavekana, an island like Hawaii that lost its gods during the war between gods and wizards. Now, the scared mountain is used by the priests to make a series of custom-built idols for clients to take advantage of. Basically, it's an off-shore bank that takes soulstuff from investors and makes a return in miracles. Kai is one of the top theologians in the organization and when a friend and co-worker's idol falls through and is slated to be destroyed, she jumps into the mystic pool to try and save it.

Meanwhile, a refugee girl, Izza, leads a group of street kids who struggle to keep free of the arms of the law. She keeps the stories of the children's gods alive but she's growing tired and she's growing old. If she's too old when she gets caught, she'll be imprisoned within a Penitent -- a sort of animated iron maiden that helps keep the peace. Izza wants out and the strange woman who washes up on shore might be her ticket out.

I really enjoyed this book, I've enjoyed the series as a whole, but this book really clicked on a lot of different levels and will probably reward careful re-readings. It was so good I'm kind of hoping this book is the final part of this loose trilogy. Gladstone clearly has talent and if he went on to other worlds/situations, I'm sure I'd be happy to read those as well.

In a more practical turn of events, I read though The Homesellers Kit by Edit Lank and Dena Amoruso. Although not ready to sell my house just yet, it's on the horizon and there's a bunch of stuff I don't know, so I'm flipping through a few books to get an idea of how much I don't know. The answer is...a fair-ish amount. The book was written in 2001 so the information is probably well out-of-date, but the fundamentals probably haven't changed and it was available at the local library so that's what I got. Honestly, all I can say is that I read it and it was food for thought. I wasn't blown away by it or deeply disappointed. Maybe I'll tell you my opinion this time next year.

Finally, sparked by a post from debsquared I picked up Pastrix, The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber. Pretty much does what it says on the tin. It's the story of Ms. Bolz-Weber's rediscovery of her Christian faith and her efforts as Pastor of an all-inclusive church in Denver. It's not a strict autobiography, it's not entirely chronological and it focuses on several different events in her life and how those events have reshaped her life. What's particularly refreshing is that it doesn't lead to a holier-than-though place. Bolz-Weeber is quite relatable and her particular private prayer "God, please help me not be an asshole", pretty much beats that one Jesus suggested. I liked it. I don't think it's made any particular impact on my way of thinking, but there's clearly an earnest struggle to discover and live up to one's beliefs and that deserves respect and admiration.

later
Tom

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