Book Report: Hard Magic by Larry Correia (2011)

Book coverI got this book as a Christmas gift for my nephew this year along with the mass market paperback of its sequel Spellbound. Only after I received them did I check my Amazon history and discover that I gave my nephew Hard Magic last year, which means this was an inadvertent display of the One for you, one for me gift protocol.

I’ve read Larry Correia’s blog for some time, and although his books sounded interesting, it took an accident like this (or the eventual appearance of them at book fairs) for me to get a hold of one and to read it. And I liked it.

The book is a fantasy alt-history where Magic was discovered in the late 18th or early 19th century. Individuals tend to have an aspect of magic, such as gravity control, personal density control, telekinesis, and so on. Most have only one power, and some are stronger than others.

In this world, a secret society of magicians are working to keep a super weapon out of the hands of the Imperium, the Japanese expansionist government. The action takes place in the 1930s of this other history, and the main character is an ex-con war hero. As part of his release from prison, he’s supposed to help the FBI apprehend wanted magic-users, and his last assignment is to help apprehend a woman he’d known before going inside. That snatch turns bad, but it puts him in touch with the secret society, and he becomes embroiled in their intrigues.

The pacing and tone reflects that of higher pulp, but its length and the number of jump scenes and sub or hidden plots reflect a modern thriller sensibility. It moves along better than some of the ponderous longer works, though, so I finished it in shorter time than some shorter works.

And with greater pleasure.

I read a lot of low pulp, men’s adventure novels, and this book contrasts starkly to them. Where they’re set pieces with set explosions and gunplay amongst stock scenes and characters, there’s real imagination in this book and so much novelty that I’ll remember its plot and schtick better than individual Mack Bolan books, say, where Mack goes somewhere and infiltrates/blows up some Mafia hardmen and the city name in the title is the only differentiating factor.

So I won’t turn down gifts of other Correia books, and if I find them in a book fair, I’ll pounce on them. Or maybe next year, I’ll “accidentally” pick more duplicates for my nephew.

And whereas I used to want to write pulp fiction akin to Robert B. Parker, Mickey Spillane, the MacDonalds, and whatnot, I think I’ll aspire to better things and more memorable books.

Also, if you dreamed of being a writer when you were a kid, check out Correia’s blog or Marko Kloos’s blog to get a glimpse of the life of successful writing you imagined. There’s work involved, and success.

Books mentioned in this review:

Kelly Chase Taught My Children To Talk Like That

In the other room, the boys were playing Lego Batman on the Wii, and the seven-year-old said to the five-year-old, “Stop freelancing!”

Was he offering his younger brother career advice, advising him to take a secure position instead of working as a contractor? No, he was repeating something Kelly Chase used to say (and still might).

When listening to Kelly Chase do color on St. Louis Blues hockey broadcasts, he’d say a defenseman who moved out of position to try to join the play was “freelancing.” Usually he said this when the opposing team took the opportunity to use that newly free space to attack the St. Louis Blues goal.

And sometime in their (continuing) youths, my children’s father took to tell them, usually when they were wandering a bit far from him in a parking lot, to stop freelancing and get back into position. I also tell them they have to have their heads on a swivel, another Chasism, when they’re in a parking lot.

So what the older youngster meant is that his brother, acting as the second player in the game, should follow his on-screen Batman instead of wandering to other parts of the screen.

Which is probably better than other colorful metaphors children could learn from old hockey players.

(Yeah, the blog is going all Linkletter of late. But the kids have been home on break, and they’re saying better things than our self-appointed betters in the capitals are. Also, trivia to connect Art Linkletter to the St. Louis Blues more tidily than I deserve: Art Linkletter was born in Saskatchewan.)

It Passes The Time

The five-year-old got a checkers/chess game board for Christmas, and the older boy wanted to learn chess and got far enough to learn how to set up a chessboard.

So they’re in the parlor playing, and somehow they’re on the same side.

I believe this is the Molotov–Ribbentrop opening.

This is different from other game variants this morning, which have included Lego catapults firing checkers and Catzilla flattening the board.

I think they’re just about old enough to teach the dreaded Noggle Blitz.

Book Report: The Little Book of Whittling by Chris Lubkemann (2005, 2013)

Book coverI live in the Ozark mountains now, and I do own a pair of overalls. So why shouldn’t I start whittling as well? That’s what I thought when I saw this book at the library a while back. So I picked it up.

It’s about whittling, which differs from woodcarving proper. That is, the projects and techniques within this book deal with using a pocket knife mostly to cut shapes out of thick branches. It’s not about chiseling statues out of a block of wood. So the projects are short and, unfortunately, small. That’s where the real trade-off in artistry lies. Of course, this course could be a means to get you interested in it and leading to experiments with chisels and whatnot later.

As most of the things are trimmed from branches the less than an inch in width, you get a lot of long and thin things to carve. Backscrathers, forks, spoons, knives, and canoes. Also, some small figures and heads for walking sticks (or walking sticks themselves).

So I’ll be in the market for a pocket knife with appropriate blades for whittling and a good whetstone to sharpen them. I might give it a try, but I’ve been socialized in a world where just sitting and cutting a branch to pass the time isn’t a good way to waste time (writing blog posts for sometimes tens of readers a day: good way to pass the time). I’ll have to get a mindset adjustment if I’m to try it seriously. Which means I probably won’t.

But it’s an interesting book to browse never the less. Also, in addition to the projects and whittling, the book contains sidebars with camping tips, recipes, and other bits that fill out the rest of time outdoors hiking and camping in between your whittling.

Books mentioned in this review:

A Tweet Like That Gets Your House Searched

I was all going to post a tweet that said:

I just read one of my favorite author’s books. I am so glad I burglarized his house.

But I thought the better of it.

In the 21st century, that sort of joke might get your house searched.

Instead, I’ll post it here with the context of the joke so to lower the chances it will trigger law enforcement automatic social media scrapers to 40%.

All the Pretty Horses

The Springfield News-Leader offers a story about visiting the horse park in winter:

The wreath caught my eye, but the horses made me stop to take a picture. They looked so peaceful on a quiet morning at Valley Water Mill Equestrian Center.

. . . .

If you’re looking for a break from the holiday hustle, I suggest visiting the horses. The Christmas decorations at the facility are handmade by employees and each year they add a few more.

The equestrian center is open through the winter, weather permitting.

You know what I do when I want to see horses in the snow? I walk to my mailbox.

The new neighbors to our south have two new horses and have cleared the brush on the east side of their lot so the horses can graze. Further down the farm road, the neighbor across the street has a number of pintos. The house just south of us (and our new neighbors) had a number of horses, but they’ve been gone a season or two, so their big barn must be empty now. Beyond their house is a little hollow, but cattle often graze on the next hill. And to our west, although the Double Diamond Bar ranch has been broken up, the homeowner on one of its parcels has a couple of cattle and horses just because he can.

Funny how I’ve come to take these things for granted after living out in the country for four (!) years now. Strangely, I’m the old timer on the block all of a sudden. The new neighbors to the south and west. Only the house on the north has owners who predate us, and as they’re getting older, it won’t be long until they move on to something smaller. The next house north has just turned over, too, and I haven’t seen the new owners yet.

Also, given that Springfield is a small city of a touch over 100,000 located smack dab in the middle of not much extended suburbs–you pass through rural areas to get to the nearest bedroom towns–it’s strange to think that there are some people who live their entire daily lives within the confines of that city and rarely take an excursion outside it through the rolling hills and back country roads.

And they vote.

Book Report: Gateway by Frederik Pohl (1977)

Book coverApparently, I am trending science fiction this year, as this book is the second by Pohl I have read this autumn interspersed with some Philip K. Dick and whatnot. I must feel like I need an escape from the real world and crime.

This book revolves around an ancient alien artifact, an outpost on an asteroid off of the solar system elliptical that has about a thousand alien ships with autopilot programmed into them. Man has not yet figured much about these ships; only that they seem programmed to return to the asteroid, called Gateway by man, and they have a lander. So volunteers risk their lives hoping to strike it rich with discoveries at the ships’ destinations, even though many of them do not return from the journeys.

The book focuses on one fellow who won a lottery on earth and bought a ticket to Gateway. Once there, though, he forestalled his eventual trip until he was running out of money.

The narrative is twin-pronged: one timeline is his experience on Gateway, and the second is the future of his trip to Gateway, when he is fabulously wealthy but is seeing an analyst. It turns out something traumatic happened, and he eventually comes to terms with it as it is revealed in the earlier timeline.

I didn’t see where it was going; I thought it would have a more epic resolution, but a lot of these early science fiction stories described big changes to individuals, but not epic wins at the end. So I was pleased that the book did not resolve as I thought, and I think it resolved better than Black Star Rising. The story is also spaced out, filled out, by advertisements, reports, news articles, and other sidebar material that adds to the whole conceit.

As I researched this book report, I learned that this is part of a series that Pohl continued. I’ll keep my eyes open for other titles in the series, as I’m interested in learning what happens to some of the characters after this book ends. So let THAT be my final rating on it.

Books mentioned in this review:

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Writer Displays Ignorance Of Gun Owners, Gun Culture

And who would have guessed it from the accusatory headline, What’s an Olivette man doing running pro-gun website?:

Sitting inside a Starbucks, sipping black coffee, joking with the baristas, Dan Zimmerman doesn’t look like a gun guy.

He looks like a guy who might work in accounts receivable, which is what this Olivette resident did for years. He is 53, balding, wearing tortoise shell glasses, carrying a little extra weight and dressed in the beige tones of business casual. He smiles easily. He is working on a laptop at a back table.

He also might be packing heat. Could be his .38 snubby. Maybe his Kahr 9 mm. He won’t say.

“I really don’t talk about that,” he says.

No word on whether the journalist asked to see it or hold it.

No word on what the journalist thinks a gun guy looks like, but I suspect its informed by the film version of Winter’s Bone.

Book Report: Stories from Branson’s 76 Country Boulevard by Don Paul Pirwitz (2007)

Book coverI picked up this book at the library on Tuesday, the third snow day in a row for my children, when we needed to get out of the house. I wanted something to flip through for a bit while they played on the computers at the library. This book is a good little flip through book.

It is a collection of reminisciences from a Branson-area emcee and radio personality who’s lived in Branson for a couple of decades and has talked with a number of the artists who perform on the strip. So he captures their stories in a bit of history in the area in a book that promotes Branson just a touch as he talks about it.

As you know, I’m not against that sort of thing; I prefer some enthusiasm about the subjects I’m reading about. So when he’s talking about the Presleys and how they opened their theatre or about how some of the acts have moved around from venue to venue, I enjoy it even though I’m not paying that close of attention.

The book runs only 97 pages, so it’s a couple hours long. It’s an AuthorHouse self-published book, so it has a couple of typos, but not enough to distract you from the vignettes. Worth a read if you’re into local history or flavor of the Ozarks.

It’s a nice counterpoint or antidote to Jeanette Cooperman’s piece in the October 2013 issue of St. Louis magazine, “Branson Between the Centuries“, wherein a hip big city woman comes to Branson to diminish it for a slick.

Books mentioned in this review:

Involuntary Checkpoints Good, Voluntary Checkpoints Bad

Truly the logic in this story is dizzying: Local officials decry feds ‘voluntary’ sobriety checkpoints

Some St. Louis-area police and elected officials are questioning the effectiveness and propriety of federal roadside impaired driving checkpoints at which motorists were asked to voluntarily submit blood and saliva samples in exchange for cash.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it conducted the tests as part of a nationwide survey designed to reduce drunken and drugged driving. The tests were conducted over the weekend in St. Charles County and in September in south St. Louis County.

However:

“I don’t think it’s proper use of law enforcement authority to flag people to the side of road for the voluntary testing of anything,” Fitch said.

He said such stops should be confined to regulated sobriety checkpoints.

Please, understand, it’s okay when the local law enforcement stops everyone in an involuntary checkpoint to write a handful of citations, but it’s bad when a Federally funded research outfit conducts research and gathers DNA.

Citizens, is it matter of degree or a matter of kind?

Book Report: Lemons Never Lie by Richard Stark (1971, 2006)

Book coverThis book is set in the Parker universe, but its main character is a sometime associate of Parker, Alan Grofield. Grofield participates in jobs to fund his summer stock theater in the boonies.

So when an associate tells him about a payroll job, he attends the initial meeting; however, the plan involves a lot of killing, which ain’t his bag, baby, so Grofield opts out, as do the other professionals in attendance. The guy organizing the job then robs one of Grofields friends after attacking Grofield, which leads to a bloody revenge and counter-revenge tail that includes an unrelated grocery store heist.

It’s a quick read, good enough that Hard Case Books republished it 35 years after its appearance. Grofield is a warmer character than Parker, so there’s a twist of sorts in the writing and reading of it, but it’s obviously in line with the Parker books.

I liked it, and I’ll continue to pick up Richard Stark books when I can. Yes, I know, it’s really Donald Westlake.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Great Wire Jewelry by Irene Frome Peterson (1998)

Book coverThis book describes how to make wire jewelry. As you might now, in my youth, I dabbled into beadcraft. But wire jewelry isn’t beads.

Instead, it uses a variety of stitches to weave the wire and then requires you to draw the finished knit through a series of smaller holes to tighten it into a rope.

It’s a particularly complex bit of engineering with a lot of points of failure, and it works with silver wire throughout. It looks to be a bit expensive to pick up and wrought with opportunities to fail just a little but just enough to render the whole thing ruined.

One does not simply dabble into the wire jewelry. Insert your own Internet meme here with Sean Bean.

So I don’t think I’ll pursue this particular craft. Nor even try it. But the end results look interesting.

Books mentioned in this review:

Book Report: Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick (1974)

Book coverThere’s nothing like a Philip K. Dick book to pick you up when you’re feeling down. Personally, I picked this book up at a book sale sometime recently, as it’s an ex-library book with Christian County Library stamps on it. I’m always happy to grab a used book from this master, as you don’t see many of them out in the wild. Because they don’t want you to have them.

A popular television personality with a weekly audience of millions finds himself a victim of attempted murder by one of his lovers; the next morning, instead of dead, he finds himself in a seedy residential hotel with his roll of money but no papers, and nobody from his previous life knows who he is. He has to rely on his wits to survive, and it’s fortunate that he’s a Six–the product of a genetic experiment of some sort that makes him smarter and more charismatic than normal man. He hooks up with a document forger since he lacks papers in a totalitarian society, but the forger is an insane police informant. He then hooks up with the sister of a police detective who winds up dead while he’s drugged. Naturally, he falls under suspicion and might be used as a patsy by The Powers to spare political discomfort. And he might or might not have been given a weird drug that dilates time or warps the perceptions of space.

So, yeah, it’s got some plot holes in it. Like, many. But it’s a Philip K. Dick story, which is always fun to read because the rules don’t apply. They’re fantasy stories more than science fiction, you know. So you suspend enough disbelief that only at the end do you think, “That point doesn’t make sense.” And you don’t even mind.

Books mentioned in this review:

A Touch of Classlessness

I don’t mean to go on about things one finds in the Forbes Life holiday gift giving guide (see also), but they’ve got $300 velvet slippers that you can get:

Today’s slippers announce you in a fashion far livelier than a flat-footed monogram. Go heraldic if you must, or sport the logo of dear alma mater, or your outlaw biker gang.

But the ones they choose to picture are crass. Continue reading “A Touch of Classlessness”

A Friendly Message from IBM

Spotted in the Wall Street Journal, a friendly message from IBM:

IBM shoots the bird

Friends, if you don’t think some junior-level creative was snickering in his or her sleeve when he or she came up with this design, you have not worked with junior-level creatives.

I mean, it’s supposed to be a bar chart showing that IBM Cloud hosts 30% more of something. One could have designed an ad where the bars were of differing heights because IBM hosts 30% more than its nearest competitor (not all competitors who are tied). They could have put the IBM bar at the end. They could have made the IBM bar be, you know, 30% taller than the others (the bars extend some distance below the fold, which means the middle finger bar is not actually proportionate to the numbers claimed in the copy).

Which is why, in the olden days when I worked at an interactive agency, I had to keep my mind in the gutter.

Journalist with No IT Experience Commits Unforgiveable Mistake

What, did someone hack the mainframe with a dial-up computer and a barbie doll attached? No, that’s forgiveable.

Not understanding foosball, on the other hand:

THE OPTIONS IN HOME FOOSBALL games typically range from chunky, cartoonish commercial models to lightweight versions so skittish your killer slap shot sends the whole apparatus hopping.

The Jesus and Mary Chain, but slap shot is something you do in hockey (and cannot do in tabletop or “bubble” hockey).

Your basic shots in foosball are push shot, pull shot, and snake shot depending on what you do with the rod, for Pete’s sake.

The kids they get to write marketing fluff in lifestyle sections these days.