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The public executioner at Rome, who executed persons of the lowest rank; hence, an executioner or hangman.

Category: Books

Review: The Power of Now

Posted on February 6, 2019  in Books

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual EnlightenmentThe Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The good: There is a lot to like in this book. It puts a modern spin on some old ideas. I like the idea of not letting the regret of past actions or worry for future actions take you out of what is important right now. I really do think we spend a lot of time and energy worrying about things we really have no control over and it is a good thing to concentrate of the things we do have control over, which are all in the here and now.

 

I would dearly love to be able to shut down my thinking, at least occasionally and just be happy with where I am and what I am doing. I have never been able to meditate, more because i never understood why I should, but this book gives a good clear answer as to why meditation is good and can help you, although he does not go into meditation directly, I can see where it would be helpful. It also explained very nicely why some processes I use seem to work so well for me. Like when I have a problem I cannot solve, setting it aside and doing something else allows the answer to come from somewhere deeper inside me. I knew this worked for me, but I did not understand why it works for me.

 

I also really liked the idea of listening to yourself talk in your head and separating yourself from it so you can judge if what it is saying the correct thing, or if its just going off into directions that may not be the best option. I have always known there were two voices in my mind, the loud one and the one that is much softer and is often more like feeling than conscience thought. Reading this book, I realized the loud voice is basically a hammer I use to pound on problems with, while the other is more nuanced, that I often ignore.

 

The bad: I kind of felt like he was talking down to me throughout the book. I felt he expected me to “Just Get It” and when I did not, I felt myself resisting what he was trying to teach me. I also felt he was trying to sell me on something, which also caused some resistance in my acceptance of his message.

 

The ugly: The author is really not a very good writer, besides the above mentioned condescension, he also tended to repeat himself and towards the end of the book I found the repetitive nature of his writing style to wear thin. I also did not care for the question and answer format of the book, it made it feel like I should have already been familiar with his work and that I was missing something important, like I had not done my homework so to speak.

 

Overall, it is a pretty good book, it was well worth the read. However, if this is your first book of spirituality, I would suggest going for something a little simpler, perhaps a good book on meditation. This will help you understand some of the concepts he kind of expects you to have already grasped. He does have a book he wrote later Practicing the Power of Now, which I have not read, but is supposed to give you a basic framework and help you integrate his ideas into everyday life. In retrospect, I should have read that book first.

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Category: Books

Review: Station Eleven

Posted on February 3, 2019  in Books

Station ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of those books I knew I was going to love in the first chapter. Most post apocalyptic stories these day tend to be dark and grim, even when the hero wins all they have done is survive another day. This book, in spite of the “End of the World” story line, is pretty up beat, it is not just about people trying to not die, it is about people who are genuinely trying to make the world a better place. Not through defeating some evil villain or by trying to bring back the old world in some grand gesture style quest. But rather these people are doing small things, like going from town to town playing music and performing theater, or building a museum in an airport terminal. Don’t get me wrong, there is some action adventure going on and there is plenty of grittiness, it is just not the overall theme of the book. I am 100% sure I will eventually read this book again.

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Category: Books

Review: Feed

Posted on December 30, 2018  in Books

FeedFeed by M.T. Anderson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Feed was a really tough read for me. It starts out depressing and steadily gets more depressing. I get that it is supposed to be an extension of smartphones and the “People as products” business model of Facebook and Google, but that is really what is depressing about it. I am also not the type of person who needs a happy ending to a book, but when people die, I like there to be a reason for it, I like there to be meaningful in some way. Violets death did not change anything, it did not even change the main character in any way, he ultimately made the same bad choices at the end of the book that he was making at the beginning. While I found the slang language used by the teenagers to be kind of distracting, I do have to say though the descent into the pit of despair was subtle and well written.

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Category: Books

Review: The Tripod Trilogy

Posted on December 23, 2018  in Books

The White MountainsThe White Mountains by John Christopher
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Tripod series is three books; The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire. The books were written decades ago by John Christopher, who is a tier two, possibly tier three science fiction writer, he did the bulk of his work in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, and was a reasonably prolific writer. Reading his Wikipedia entry, I think he was popular primarily in the U.K..

 

To start with, the things I did not like about the books. First off, these books did not age terribly well. They aged better than your average Heinlein book, but they still come off as very dated. The writing itself is pretty good, its just that the books were obviously written with 14 year old boys in mind, with no thought to appealing to any other demographic, which was pretty standard procedure back then. Remember this was at a time when women science fiction writers had to pretend to be men in order to get published. The story reads a bit like Huckleberry Finn, where a couple of kids go off on a grand adventure and do things no 14 year old boy could realistically do, the characters instead rely on luck to survive. By modern writing standards this falls under the category of seriously Mary Sue writing, however at the time of the writing, this was an accepted story telling mechanic.

 

Now the things I did like. Reading these books from the prospective of the 14 year old boy that lives inside my head, these books were a lot of fun to read. I mean who didn’t want to be the young hero who always got the upper hand on the adults and the super advanced alien race in the story. There were quit a few just straight up fun scenes in the books and what the boys lacked in skill, they more than made up for in chutzpah. They were able to do things simply because no one ever told them they couldn’t. The books show the true innocents of the time and the generally optimistic view of the world that many science fiction writers had at the time. The author also wisely skipped much of the potentially boring stuff, like the process of coming up with a plans to defeat the aliens, instead, this was left up to the adults to do off screen, while the boys only had to deal with the fun and cools things.

 

Overall, this series is well worth the read, I wish I had read them when I was in High School, before adulthood ruined my sense of wonder and my need for adventure. All three books are pretty short and easy to read, I had a lot on my mind in November and December, so it took me way longer to read then it normally would have. I am pretty sure an average reader could get through them in a week or two.

 

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Category: Books

National Novel Writing Month

Posted on November 10, 2018  in Books

National Novel Writing Month is an annual event where amateur writers all over the world get together metaphorically and write novels. It is not a competition, but rather more like a support group. The goal is to write 50,000 words during the month of November. This is a tough challenge, assuming one does not write every single day, that is 2,000 words per day or roughly 8 pages per day. I have successfully participated in this several times, but I have only succeeded twice and the outcomes have not been what could be called actual novels, but rather streams of conscience. My biggest problem is when I get stuck or bored, I tend to write sex scenes, just so I keep going. This makes the book rather more steamy than I usually intend, the upside is, I now know how porn books get written.

 

The key to success though is to consider this writing the first draft. Get the key characters down, build a plot and lay down the infrastructure for each act. Don’t worry about writing a perfect or concise book, just get the basics down. Do not go back and edit your work, this can be done later as part of writing the second draft. I usually do not even go back and re-read anything I have written unless I am referring to an earlier scene and I want to make sure I am remembering what I wrote correctly. Don’t limit yourself to 2,000 words a day, 1 hour a day of writing or whatever, if things are flowing, just keep writing. Those days that you write three or four thousand words will make up for those days you could not get 500 words out or could not find the time to write at all. Once it is all done, go ahead and re-read it if you must, but don’t try to edit it. Just put it down for a week or a month, let the experience settle and congratulate yourself on completing the challenge.

 

Now go back and decide if you have something interesting that you can edit, expand on and turn into a real book. At this point start the second draft, I usually start by cutting out the stuff that is not really relevant, like the 15,000 words of sex scenes that do not contribute to the plot. Be vicious when cutting things, just because a scene reads well and you really love it, cut it out if it does not move the plot forward or flesh out a character in some important way, you can always use the scene in a another story. Then I try to fill in the holes, I almost always find problems with the plot, characters who do not act consistently throughout the story and things I forgot to explain, this is also a good time to expand the story if you feel it is necessary. I would hold off on rewriting any scenes at this point, that is probably best left to the third draft. This process will probably get you back up to 50,000 words and it is time to put it down for a week or two again.

 

Now, if you are not thoroughly tired of this shit, it is time for the 3rd draft. It is time to start rewriting all or most of the chapters with an eye towards consistency. It is now also time to clean up all your terrible grammar and spellchecker mistakes. At this point you may also consider moving things around, I have found many scenes that make more sense or have a better dramatic affect if placed later or earlier in the story. This is basically your last chance to make the book readable before sending it off for someone else to read. The temptation here is to make it more exciting, and that is fine, just be aware that you you have now been through this book 3 or 4 times and you are just bored with it, so think carefully about anything you add to the book at this point. If you suddenly find your book is at 100,000 words, you are probably suffering from this problem.

 

Now it time to send it off to an editor. If you are just doing this for fun, a friend is fine, just don’t expect to get a lot of good feedback. If you are thinking about publishing, hire an editor, yes, pay someone to read your book, give you an honest critique and layout a path for the next draft. Yes I said “Next Draft”, you are not done yet. Chances are good, you are not going to like what your editor has to say, tough shit, listen to them anyway. If you disagree with what they have to say, have a discussion about it, but if you find yourself pushing back and refusing to make suggested changes, it is probably time to quit and move on to the next project.Remember, your editor is there to help you smooth things out and improve your writing, so listen to what they have to say and make the changes they suggest unless there is a really compelling reason not too and the editor should agree with you after the discussion. If you can’t come to an agreement on a change, swallow your pride and go with what the editor says.

 

With the completion of the 4th draft that both you and your editor are happy with, it is time to shop your novel around to publishers or take a stab at self publishing. If you go with a publisher, if they accept your book for publication, they will assign you an editor and you will probably be writing a few more drafts before they finally publish. If you are going to self publish, it is probably not a bad idea to do another draft with your editor, just make sure everything is where it needs to be. That is about it, if this is your first book, the process more than likely took a year or more, if you have done this a few times and have a good editor, this process will take a lot less time.

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Category: Books

Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

Posted on October 11, 2018  in Books

The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #6)The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Admittedly, this was a slow read for me, mostly because of how dense it is with information about the world and its inhabitants. The story was written at the height of the Cold War between the United States and Russia, but unfortunately much of it is very relevant today, we have a trade war with China brewing and we have a mad king of our own who wants to build a wall between us and our neighbors.

One of the things Le Guin does best is world building and she does not disappoint here. As I was reading about this cold world locked in an ice age, I was reminded of my own childhood growing up in Montana and shivering.

The dual gendered people of this world was an interesting idea that the author put to good use to build interesting characters and highlight the differences between the two races without making them TOO different. I also think this might have been an nuanced way of talking about homosexuality without offending the readers of the time it was written and published. I admit though I may be mistaken, perhaps someone smarter than me can chime in on this subject.

Of course the most interesting character in the book I thought was Estraven, not just for his fall from grace story, but because at the beginning of the book, he almost seems like a throw away character, someone who was present in the first few pages simply to set the stage and I was pleasantly surprised when later in the book he become central to the story.

Overall, good read, although now I have to go back and read the other books in this series, as I did not realize this was #6 in a series when I started it.

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Category: Books

The original Internet quote

Posted on August 25, 2018  in Books

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. –William Gibson, Neuromancer

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Category: Books

Review: The Fresco by Sheri Tepper

Posted on August 12, 2018  in Books

The FrescoThe Fresco by Sheri S. Tepper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me by a friend, her first comment about it being “I wouldn’t recommend it to most guys – or to anybody conservative”, and of course my first though was, “Oh this is going to be fun!”. About a quarter of the way through I knew why she was not inclined to recommend it to most guys. Let me get this straight right off the bat, this book is not anti men, but the book does depict a certain types of men in a bad light and if you happen to identify with those archetypes, you are not going to like this book much. If you are not of fan of irony and poetic justice, I would not suggest reading this book. In fact, lets just come right out and say it, if you oppose abortion, you will not be amused by this book.

The story is about earths first contact with aliens, instead of landing on the White House lawn or in Central Park, the aliens contact a rather unremarkable person, Benita Alvarez-Shipton. Benita is married to an alcoholic deadbeat husband who beats her, in spite of this she has worked hard all of her life and tried to support her family in spite of the the hardships imposed by her husband. Benita is a unique character among fictional female protagonists. Most female protagonists in science fiction tend to fall into a couple of categories, women who are thinly veiled men, oversexed killing machines and ice queens. Benita has no special ops training, she is described as mildly good looking and does not seem to have much of a sex life. She is literally from the bottom rung of society, no one cares about her and society often places her husbands well being over hers. She is the epitome of unlikely heroes. What Benita brings to the table is a wisdom born out of having lived a rough life, an intelligence that only someone who has been on the edge of the abyss all of their lives could have. She clever and competent, but not unrealistically so. In the beginning of the book she is shown to be out of her depth, but by the end, she grows into her role.

The plot of the book is a bit off the beaten path as well, when the aliens, the Pistach, come to earth, they are not here as an invasion army, but rather to guide earth into the interstellar community and help them become good neighbors. The aliens start solving problems and making earth a better place, some of the things they do are very colorful and the thought process of the aliens is interesting to read. Of course the Pistach are not the only race with interest in the earth, there is also a group of predators who want to make earth their hunting grounds. These predators have no trouble finding human allies who would rather things stayed the way they are, even if it means sacrificing human beings in the process.

Overall, this is a good read, I enjoyed it start to finish. Yes, the book has a liberal bend to it, but it is no worse than the conservative bend you might find in the John Ringo or Larry Correia book. The book has a solid plot, the storyline is tight, it is well written, and the primary characters are interesting. My only complaint about the book is the author does over use some archetypes, and hits us over the head with those characterizations, but this not a show stopper and certainly does not detract from story. I recommend it to anyone who is tired of standard fair science fiction, and are looking for something different, it even has a happy ending.

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