Friday, June 22, 2018

Doleful Creatures in Poetry

Been working on this for a while now. It's better, but I'm still not satisfied with it.

After the light, after the darkness,
After the deep of the blue.
After the green, before their coming –
Before the storm clouds flew;

Come The Lady, come the dragon –
Come le loup garou.
Come the time of subtle voices,
To the garden say adieu.

Kept the hope remaining
Kept the songs of the heart
Kept the light a-shining
Though for a time we dwell apart.

Watch for the return of the Minder
Watch for the coming to start
Watch for love everlasting
Though for a time we dwell apart.

RFAK No. 11, The Dragon Orb, by Mike Shelton

The Dragon Orb, by Mike Shelton, 326 pages.

Some books are a slow burn – which is why I rarely stop reading a book, even if the beginning is a bit iffy.

That’s the case with Mike Shelton’s The Dragon Orb, a book that starts out with a klunk (with some wonky writing) but ends with a flourish of storytelling that made me glad I didn’t give up.

A few of the characters are a bit too perfect, but that’s okay.

The writing, especially at the beginning, is stilted, but that’s okay.

Why okay? Because the story pulled me through. As I read I began forming visions in my head of what the characters looked like, and began placing them in bits of geography I’ve visited as Shelton told his story. To me, that’s a sign of a good book.

I think part of the klunk came from the king-men and other vocabulary borrowed from the Book of Mormon. Not that it’s terrible the author did that, but the familiarity had my head hollering “B of M” every time it came up. Nevertheless, I got used to seeing such wording in the book, so that passed. To anyone not familiar with the borrowed vocabulary or concepts, there won’t be an issue.

Shelton’s characters are prefab, and we only get to see one of them grow as the story progresses. The rest are driven by the narrative and the (obvious) roles they’ll play in future novels. Shelton suffers the same characterization affliction I do – his characters pretty much sound the same.

The book might win the award for Least Likely Poisoning – I’m not sure anyone could successfully lunge up to someone and force them to drink out of a little glass bottle without the victim vigorously fighting back and succeeding. But I’m not a poisoning expert.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

We are Men of Action

It’s hard to say whether this is what we’ve become, or if this particular beast has been slouching toward Bethlehem for a very, very long time.

We have lenses that magnify it.

Oh, there were lenses with the beast all along. But the Internet, that great social equalizer as long as you have a device and an Internet connection, that’s the lens of all lenses. It puts the theses-writers and pamphleteers to shame. Because now each and every one of us can spout off our nonsense and it doesn’t cost us a thing. Except time.

And boy do we have time. Clay Shirky talks about cognitive surplus. We’re cognitive surplussing left and right, and in all dimensions.

But that brings me to today’s comic strip: Truth to Power vs Lies to Weasels. Both have existed since the beast began lumbering, and to varying degrees, Truth wins and Lies wins.

The lenses we have today don’t increase the chance of either side winning. They just make both sides really, really loud.

And what’s important is to be right. And if you’re wrong what’s important is that somewhere, somehow, the person who is right did something wrong, and is thus wrong as well.

No matter this finger-pointing, virtue-signalling, or social justice warrior-ing doesn’t really fix the problem at hand – what’s important is to score those all-important points through the lenses everyone else builds their perceptions on.

Because perception is what counts these days. I look like I’m doing Something, so that’s enough.

What did you do in the war, daddy?

I was right on the Internet, son.

[Hero worshipping intensifies]

But doing  Something is important these days. Because to do nothing means You. Are. Hitler. Or at least one of his minions.

This is going to get quoted at you. A lot:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

And it is powerful. It calls for action.

Action. Not “Something” that signals virtue or wags fingers or being right on the Internet.


Look for action in those who use it.

Action is hard to find.

Dragons at Crumbling Castle

Dragons at Crumbling Castle, a collection of stores by a teenaged Terry Pratchett, is the kind of book that gives aspiring writers hope.

As Pratchett himself writes in the book’s dedication, young Pratchett is a writer in larval stage. “To my younger self, who thought these stories were pretty good,” Pratchett writes “Oh, I could teach that lad a thing or two.”

In these stories lies Pratchett’s inventiveness with names, his skill at seeing things from just that slightly different angle, and the beginnings of the satirist we love. And yet for the aspiring writer, here’s proof that not everything a writer writes – and gets published – is gold.

Doubtless all writers dream that someday they’ll be so successful historians and other curious creatures will poke through the rubble of their earliest writings to find the gem of the genius. There’s plenty of that to be found in this collection. But there’s also enough cringe in the writing to say, yeah, Ray Bradbury is right in saying a writer has to write a lot to get the bad stuff out before the good can make it to the page. Paraphrasing of course.

I’m not sure I’d recommend Dragons at Crumbling Castle as an introduction to Pratchett, as the stories are so much different than his Discworld novels. A young reader going from Dragons to Discworld might be better served with the Tiffany Aching series as an intermediate buffer.

Also of note: Almost every review I read of this book comments on the illustrations by Quentin Blake. Nope. These drawings are the work of Mark Beech, who is blessed/cursed to draw in a style imitative of Blake’s. But it’s not Blake.

Monday, June 18, 2018

No Disintegrations

So Sunday morning, as water dripped through the kitchen ceiling into the pan I had soaking on the countertop, I decided a little action was called for.

Shut the water feed off to the house. Yanked out the valve in the shower above the kitchen and replaced the valve. I knew it was leaking into the tub and figured it was probably leaking into the wall as well. Hoped that would fix the problem and, if the drier kitchen is any proof, it did.

I just know I need Darth Vader to come to our house and issue his famous line:

Houses are true proof of entropy, and likely evidence why elves lived in forests or in buildings hewn from stone.

Our house has rigorously tried to dissolve itself wince we moved in six years ago, particularly the bathroom above the kitchen. I’m hoping the new shower valve will stave off the disintegration for at least a month or two while I get other jobs done.


MAIN FLOOR TILE. Need to tile bathroom and foyer closet, and grout laundry room. Fix soft spots in the kitchen.

ROOF. Finish ridge cap on the upper portion of the roof and replace shingles on the porch and kitchen window pop-out. Also haul off the discarded shingles. Yesterday’s gullywasher also reminded me I need to clean those gutters out. Maybe if it’s not raining this evening . . .

SIDING. The siding damaged by the April hailstorm still has not been replaced. I may decide to tackle it myself, once the roof it done. In the meantime, we’ll cover the holes with tape.

FENCE. Once the other two projects are done, replace front fence and start on back fence, particularly the portion only being held up by the Turpins’ bushes.

MASTER BATH. Really need to re-tile and get some cement underneath the bathtub. That’s probably another year down the road or until that bathroom starts leaking, whichever comes first.

May have to get the house a disintegration-proof vest.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

RFAK No. 10, Waking Beauty, by Brittlyn Gallacher Doyle

Based on Internet searches -- and the popularity of the Sleeping Beauty tale -- it's clear the question of "What happened to Aurora and her prandsome hince after [insert evil fairy's name here] curse was reversed?

I've not read the others. And I'll admit, this book took a while to grow on me. But I liked its message of finding oneself after the powers -- both good and ill -- fade. I'll leave it there with no spoilers.

Perfection is indeed a character flaw, as Claire nee Aurora discovers in this journey. And -- not really a spoiler here because who couldn't see this coming -- another character flaw is believing the prandsome hince who kissed you awake is the one who's kiss is supposed to break the curse. Though it seems like cheating to have the kiss of some rando waken you when the non-rando's who's supposed to deliver the real curse-breaker is right there.

One annoying aspect of the book: When the prandsome hince isn't needed in the story or would interfere somehow in some interesting way, he's easily shooed away. Maybe too easily. Particularly after suspicions are aroused. But maybe that's just me.

One note for the author and editor: Horses have reins. Not reigns. And it's clear in several passages here that both author and editor have some trouble with homonyms. But that's a small matter.

Friday, June 15, 2018

RFAK No. 9, Billy Blacksmith, The Demonslayer; by Ben Ireland

One of the things I detest the most about your typical high fantasy story is the inevitable training montage. Pupative hero has never wielded a weapon more deadly than a spoon, yet shows natural talent in the arena or ring or whatever when the skeptical trainer puts him or her through the wringer. A little blood is shed and before you know it, WHAMMO, you’ve got the Hero trained up and thumping baddies’ skulls like he or she’s been doing it since they were children.

It’s not often you see such a training montage be mostly baseball, a blood ritual, and a plucky, comic-relief sidekick who’s kinda scary with her fascination with throwing knives.

At least she didn’t end up as bait in the trap to get the hero to go to the spot where the baddies are waiting (that fell to the nebbish book-nerd friend, natch).

And here you have the tale of Billy Blacksmith, Demonslayer.

This is entry-level fantasy, I have to remind myself. Those looking for the kind of tale in which the characters sound like their bums are stuffed with tweed best look elsewhere. Ben Ireland isn’t that kind of writer, clearly. Though it’s also clear he loves a good adventure, and is good at action scenes.

The comic asides are, well, kinda predictable. Humor is much more difficult to write than action. The humor here smacks of the typical in your superhero movie. Battle, smirk, characters say something funny, more battle. It’s fine in its way.

I’m not getting much of a connection with the characters – though sometimes I have to read a book more than once for that to happen. Ireland’s characters are just what you expect them to be – Billy, the tubby baseball player turned hero, amazed at his gnarly powers which came about with the help of a visiting demon who performed one ritual to trigger the “demonseed” blood in Billy’s veins.

There’s Ash-lea (yes, just like that), the throwing-knife champion, who battles right alongside Billy despite NOT having any demonseed blood in her aroused. Then there’s the nerdy Greyson, along for the ride to be the helpless victim. Billy’s a foster kid whose parents (spoiler) died defending him and his slightly older brother as waifs from invading spiders, similar to the one that tries to get Billy at the opening of the novel. So the orphan thing, combined with his terrible foster parents, the Fosters (snigger), are supposed to make him sympathetic.

Eh. It’s been done.

Contrariwise, the rich redneck family going hell-for-leather to rescue their son? Loved every minute of it.

Overall, this is a good, contemporary tale that would probably pull reluctant readers into fantasy novels, and that’s no mean feat.