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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Catch Up

Been super busy lately, between changes in my job situation, trying to keep my other blog running, working on various projects, etc. Have been reading, but not updating. This is an attempt to catch up. I may miss a few things in my attempts.

Once and Future King, by T.H. White

One of the definitive re-tellings of the Arthurian myth. Extremely well-written. Extremely engaged. Frequently depressing. Glad I read it, finally.

Education of a Bodybuilder, by Arnold Schwartzanegger

Self-aggrandizing autobiography of the beginning of the Governators career. Interesting insights into the man's psychology and training. Quick, easy, read. More comprehensive review here.

Muscle: Confessions of an Unlikely Bodybuilder, by Sam Fussell

Rich Oxford kid rebels against intellectual parents by pursuing career as bodybuilder. Interesting look into the bodybuilding sub-culture, marred by a sense that the author has never really bought into the culture as much as he claims to have. More comprehensive review here.

A Companion to Wolves, by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette

Faux Nordo-Germanic fantasy novel about super-intelligent wolves and the men who are bonded to them. The initial premise is interesting, and the writing is solid, but the plot ends up relying on a couple of odd deus ex machina, and includes one of the most annoying, non-Nordic cliches of all fantasy literature. There's also way to much sex for my tastes, particularly since it doesn't really add much to the story. Decent, but I have no urge to seek out the rest of the series.

Bloody Crown of Conan (Audio CD), by Robert E. Howard

Reviewed the book here. Audio version is quality is solid, voice acting is good. Have another one that I need to listen too...but so far, Tantor Media seems to do good work.

I think that covers it. Hopefully, I'll be a bit more on top of things moving forward.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Championship Weightlifting, Beyond Muscle Power

Championship Weightlifting, Beyond Muscle Power, The Mental Side of Lifting
by Tommy Kono

I confess that, even after reading this book, I know very little of Tommy Kono. Beforehand, I knew even less, but my father (who bought me this book as a birthday present), tells me that Kono was one of the heroes of his youth, and an inspiration for his forays in weightlifting. While still haven’t learned much more about Kono’s history, I learned a LOT from Championship Weightlifting.

Championship Weightlifting seems to be intended as a companion or follow up piece to Kono’s other book, Weightlifting, Olympic Style (which I have not read). My understanding is that Weightlifting, Olympic Style, covers the mechanics of Olympic Weightlifting in great detail. Championship Weightlifting is not about specific mechanics so much as it is about a proper mindset and attitude.

Fortunately, much of Kono’s advice, while specific to weightlifting, is really applicable to anyone who wants to do spectacularly well at a particular activity. And make no mistake—this book assumes that you want to be, well, a champion. While Kono does not disdain the “hobbyist” weightlifter, he does make it quite clear that there is a difference between being a hobbyist and champion, and that if you want to be the latter, you must think and train accordingly. Kono’s instructions and ideas for maintaining a proper mindset and focus about weightlifting are easily transferable to other activities, and I suspect I’ll be recommending this book for those ideas alone.

But there is a lot of other interesting goodness here too. Kono’s advice on programming and training I found interesting. In a nutshell, Kono vehemently decries the “Eastern European” style of training, arguing that competitive lifters should be training in short, focused sessions, three or four times a week. What should they train? The competitive lifts (snatch, clean & jerk), plus the press (which was a competition lift during Kono’s competitive career) and some squats. That’s it. Do your lifts, do THEM RIGHT, and go home.

I highlighted do them right because that was one of the other things that stood out to me about this book. Despite being a book about a sport that the author describes as being about “putting as much weight as possible over your head” (not an exact quote), Kono is adamant about the need for proper technique over strength. You could take out the weightlifting terminology and replace it with martial arts terminology, and Kono’s writing would read like that of so many martial arts instructors. Focus on technique, form, and precision, not power. Power will come.

The book also includes some excellent discussion of Kono’s coaching philosophies and methods, some technical pointers regarding the lifts, and the “ego section”, which summarizes Kono’s incredible list of accomplishments as a competitor and coach.

There is a wealth of useful information for anyone in this book. Certainly, competitive lifters will get the greatest benefit from it, but even the humble hobbyist can gain something. If you are an athlete, or coach athletes, or just want to improve your mindset…get this book.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Borders Is Going Under

I first heard about this at Locus, but it is probably all over the news at this point.

Part of me feels kinda sad; I used to work for Waldenbooks, a Borders subsidiary back in the day, and liked a lot of the people I worked with, even if I didn't love the retail life.

OTOH, the few people I know who stuck with company long-term got shafted before the end. So...I dunno.

It is a sign of the changing times, at any rate.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Fighting Man of Japan: The Training and Exercises of the Samura

The Fighting Man of Japan: The Training and Exercises of the Samurai by F. J. Norman

My father passed this one along to me. It is a very short work, published in 1905 by an English military officer who was sent to teach the Japanese about modern warfare. Along the way, he was exposed to, and studied, several Japanese martial arts, most notably some form of Kenjutsu (he consistently refers to it as fencing).

If I had a complaint about this book, it is only that its very short. Norman really just gives a cursory overview of what I'm sure was a more in-depth understanding of the Japanese martial culture and tradition at the time. It's clear that he has a great deal of respect for the Japanese warrior traditions, though he avoids succumbing to the modern assumption that they are somehow innately superior to European methods. His discussion on that particular subject generally boils down to "it depends".

One thing that I found interesting was Norman emphasizes on several occasions that the Japanese systems, in contrast to the European methods of the time, place LESS emphasis on form and precision, and a greater emphasis on effectiveness and free play. I'll have to dig out actual quotes when I get home, but its a striking reversal of the stereotypes of both methodologies, from a guy who was actually there.

This is a good, quick, read for anyone interested in Japanese or European military history or martial arts. Check it out.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Bloodlust: On the Roots of Violence from Cain and Abel to the Present

If nothing else, my reading this book is an interesting demonstration of the power of the Internet and the Kindle Dx. I stumbled across an interview with the author back in May, downloaded a sample of the book onto my Kindle, thought it was was interesting, and ended up buying and reading it. I don't think I would have done any of those things without the Kindle. Certainly not as quickly. Chalk one up for the bloodless nerds and their technology.

The book itself is interesting, though it veered into directions I was not quite expecting. The basic thrust of Jacoby's argument is that, contrary to what most modern scholars and pundits would have us believe, the most extreme violence occurs to between people with strong similarities, rather than strong differences. To help demonstrate his point, he draws on examples ranging from historical events, to modern civil conflicts, to mythical tales of fratricidal brothers (including the titualr Cain and Abel), and Freudian psychology.

As I said, it is an enjoyable book, but its focus is a bit more broad ranging than I expected, or honestly, wanted, when I picked it up. That is more my fault than Jacoby's, but still worth noting. While Jacoby mentions the fact that we are in far greater danger from a family member than from the random stranger in the dark, he spends virtually no time taking about the realities of familial crime or violence on a smaller scale. I understand why he moves away from it, because his focus is a larger historical perspective, but I was hoping for more on that particular subject. Again, that may be my fault for not reading the reviews and descriptions more carefully, but I reserve the right to be a little disappointed anyway.

As a broader historical work, Jacoby has some interesting insights. I think his rejection of the entire "Clash of Civilizations" notion is worth thinking about, as are some of his perspectives on antisemitism in Germany leading up to the Second World War. I do wonder if he isn't cherry picking examples just to suit his theories, particularly in regard to the treatment of siblings and twins in mythology, but the book is at least thought provoking.

This book is as much about history and politics as it is about psychology. If that interests you, or if you're interested in a different persepctive on the whole "Clash of Civilization" notion, this is worth the read. If you are looking for some insights into interpersonal violence, there isn't a lot here...the concepts are just too broad to apply to specifics.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

NPR Wants To Know...

Best Sci-fi/fantasy books ever?

I haven't voted yet. Honestly, besides Lord of the Rings, I don't quite know what else I'm going to put on it. This requires thought.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Holy Crap

Um. I'll have more to say about this later.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Facing Violence

A while back, I wrote a short facebook status that said "Finished my first read through of Rory Miller's Facing Violence last night. Will be starting a second read through before reviewing it. Short version: if you teach or train self-defense, read this book."

Upon a second reading, my views have not changed substantively. Facing Violence is an extremely important book, and anyone who has any reason to want to understand how to deal with violence should read it. Martial artists and self-defense instructors will get the most value out of it, but it has ideas that are useful for LEO and Military Combatives trainers as well.

Facing Violence is broken into seven chapters:

1. Legal and ethical implications.
2. Violence dynamics.
3. Avoidance.
4. Counter-ambush.
5. Breaking the freeze.
6. The fight itself.
7. The aftermath.

The astute out there will notice that the book takes three chapters to even get to any kind of physical assault, and another two dealing with what is essentially the first micro second of the fight (the ambush moment). There is only a single chapter about the fight itself, despite the fact that that single chapter is where most martial artists spend the vast majority of their training time. Think about how backwards that is for a minute. Maybe longer.

The chapter on legal and ethical implications of violence is interesting. The legal advice is, by necessity, a bit generic, and Rory advises readers to check up on their local statutes. "A book I read by a guy from the Wet Coast said this was okay" is not a valid legal defense. The ethical ideas are more universally applicable, and approach some similar ground to ideas that Tony Blauer covers in his FEAR Management and Performance Enhancement Psychology material. One thing that Rory highlights nicely is the issue of "glitches": things that, rather than motivating you to fight, might cause you to hesitate when you might need to fight. That's a topic that rarely is addressed by instructors, but it may be just as important as finding the things that do motivate you.

The violence dynamics chapter is solid gold. Rory does a solid overview of different types of violence, how and why they occur, and why solutions for one type of violence may not be appropriate for the other. Rory draws a distinction between social and asocial violence, which I have found very useful in framing discussions about scenarios and training in general. There's some good advice here about how to tell what kind of violence you are dealing with, and what strategies may or may not work. And some good mental exercises as well.

The avoidance chapter drifts into territory that others have covered, but Rory has a lot of solid insights here as well. This is the first book I've read, for example, that actually tells the reader how to scan a room. I'm sure it has been written about in other places, but finally seeing an author say something more concrete than
"be aware of your surroundings" was refreshing beyond belief. Good stuff here.

The counter ambush chapter starts to get into some physical material, which adds two things. Drills, and pictures. Rory demonstrates his two preferred counter-ambush methods, the "Dracula's Cape" and the "Spear-head" entry. Rory covers using these methods for dealing with attacks from the front and behind, and some drills for drilling these entries.

It is solid material; I confess, I'm waxing less poetic about it because it covers a lot of the same ground that is covered in the SPEAR System, and I think that the SPEAR is a more refined teaching/training methodology for dealing with the same problem. That is not to say that Rory's methods don't work (please, please, do not think I am saying that), or that you shouldn't train them. It is a personal preference thing.

The chapter on breaking the freeze covers what happens immediately after the counter ambush. There is a tickle in the back of my brain about this chapter: in short, I worry about memorizing the idea that you WILL freeze, because, hey, maybe you won't? Rory may even mention this...I can't remember off the top of my head, and I don't have the book here in front of me. In any case, the freeze certainly happens, and Rory's advice for dealing with it is excellent. Some of it, interestingly, mirrored advice that I give to the students I tutor for the SAT. Different freeze, similar strategies.

The chapter on the fight itself is about fighting. It is is short, and to the point. It is more conceptual than drill oriented. If all you want is more stuff to add to your physical practice, Rory's Drills: Training for Sudden Violence covers his approach to this better. Of course, if that was all you were looking for, you missed the point of this book.

The chapter on the aftermath likewise covers those things that martial artists and self-defense instructors rarely cover, but need to, desperately. Not just the legal aftermath, but the emotional and psychological aftermath as well. There is advice here not only for survivors of violence, but also for instructors and concerned friends. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but for those who have never investigated this stuff, it's a pretty good start.

So who should read this? Again, just about anyone interested in self-defense, violence prevention, martial arts, or whatever. In some ways, Facing Violence is actually more accessible than Miller's previous book, Meditations on Violence, though both are excellent and well worth reading. It certainly is now on my fictitious required reading list (it's fictitious because there is no one who I actually impose such requirements on). Go read it.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Books Into TV

Leila shared this one: what science fiction or fantasy series would translate well into television? There are a lot of good suggestions there already. Though I'm torn on Earthsea. It's a wonderful series, but I'm not convinced it would translate outside of the pages of the book. Particularly the Farthest Shore, but maybe that's just my memories of it. The suggestion of the Prydain Chronicles is brilliant.

Not really SF/F, but I'd love to see Lawhead's King Raven series done as a weekly show. And frankly, a well-done Conan show, based on REH's actual stories, could be really excellent. A Solomon Kane show would work too.

Oh, and Zahn's Conqueror's Trilogy. It'd be super SFX heavy, but I can dream.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Dealbreakers

Stolen from Lizard.

I had to think about this one a bit. There are whole genres I just don't bother reading (romance, chick lit, most modern political screeds), but those don't seem fair to count, since I won't even try picking them up. In terms of things I will consider...

1. Unsympathetic characters; if I cannot find something about the characters to like, I will not read the book. If I want to read about hateful people doing things I don't care about, I can read a newspaper.

2. Ultra long series. Doubly so if it's unfinished. With the exception of Glenn Cooks Black Company series, I have no interest in reading fifteen books just to get to the damn point. And Cook's series is broken into manageable chunks.

3. Shock gore/violence. I don't mind violence in my reading, even extreme violence. I do mind when I feel like it has no point other than to be shocking. Again, I have a newspaper, and friends in the law enforcement industry. If I want shocking acts of violence, I won't read a book for it.

That's about all I can think of, really. I'm pretty open minded that way.

Periodic Table of Storytelling

Because it is so cool.

Thanks to Bookshelves of Doom for the head's up.

Drills: Training for Sudden Violence

I was traveling all weekend, which meant I wasn't home when my new copy of Facing Violence arrived. So I contented myself with re-reading Drills: Training for Sudden Violence instead.

I'm now getting deep into Facing Violence, but I haven't hit the drill section of that book, so I don't know how much overlap exists between the two. It hardly matters. The Drill Book is worth getting, especially at the stupidly cheap price that Rory charges for it.

The title is actually slightly misleading. Well...perhaps that's unfair. The title is not misleading. But the book contains a bunch of things that people won't expect. There, of course, lots of physical drills; Rory starts with the one-step, which is the foundational drill he tends to build everything off of, and a whole bunch of variations. If you have done one of his seminars,  you will have experienced some or all of these. In point of fact, having seen the drills in action will enhance the value of this book (though that almost goes without saying), but a reasonably intelligent instructor/advanced practitioner should be able to make sense of most of the material here on their own. Brand new students might have trouble, but I'm not sure that those are the people this book is targeted at.

The reason I stay the title might be considered misleading is that there is a whole of stuff in here that,on the surface, has very little to do with violence. It actually has a lot do with it, but it's big picture, "how do you view/understand/value the world" kind of stuff, not "how do you eye-gouge a mugger" kind of stuff. The latter is what most people expect. The former is, in my opinion, infinitely more useful. Rory's version of the bucket list (and the follow up exercises) are gold for any human being, regardless of their interest in self-defense training. Seriously. Every person on the planet should do those exercises. (And do them right. Don't skip ahead. I did not, and I am glad I did it the right way).

More and more, I am becoming convinced that self-defense training has very little to do with martial arts, and a lot to do with just understanding how to live life. Martial arts are fun and dandy, but there's a huge disconnect. Frankly, it's rather liberating, in both directions.

Anyway. I'm rambling now, and this will detour into non-review territory, so let me sum up.

If you are self-defense instructor or student, buy this book. If you are a human being, it may still hold value (especially at less than $10). If you are meat popsicle, it may be lacking.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Locus Award Winners Announced

At Locus, duh.

Amazon tells me...

That my copy of Facing Violence, Rory Miller's new book, is on it's way. Apparently it is somewhere in Pennsylvania right now.

Did a re-read of Meditations on Violence over the last couple of days. It is still a very good book (duh). Lot of useful ideas. And I realized that Rory articulates something in it that I've been trying to think of a way to articulate for months now. Which is kinda cool, but also kinda embarrassing.

Also realized that I keep meaning to review Rory's drill manual, and never got to it. I need to. Whoops.

Lotta thoughts in my head. Maybe I'll have time to get 'em out soon.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

As Long As I'm Lamenting

Is a Conan movie that is remotely faithful to REH's stories too damn much to ask?

(Note: Most recent trailer for the new movie says, "yes, it is"

Booking the Movies

Lizard shares some interesting thoughts on making books into movies, and really failed attempts to do the same. I have to admit that the idea of an American Gods mini-series is pretty awesome, if it were done right (though I would fear it wouldn't be).

She steals two questions from Booking Through Thursday, both of which I realized I had...odd...answers too.

If you could see one book turned into the perfect movie–one that would capture everything you love, the characters, the look, the feel, the story–what book would you choose?

At the risk of calling down the geek wrath of the Interwebs, my answer is

The Lord of the Rings.

Yeah, I know. Peter Jackson made those movies. They were amazing, blah, blah. I will grant that Fellowship of the Ring is a pretty good movie, and as near to perfect as I would require of any LOTR movie. Two Towers, however, was so awful that not only did I hate it, but I nearly skipped Return of the King because of it. Return of the King turned out to be a good movie, but it missed out on what I consider some really key parts of the series. I'm sorry, but when you take out the Scouring of the Shire, you lose a lot. And yes, I know the movie was super long, but the question was about a movie that would capture everything you love, and Jackson's movies do not do that for me. I want MY version of the LOTR on-screen. (It will never happen, but I wants it, precious)

And–the reverse of last week’s question. Name one book that you hope never, ever, ever gets made into a movie (no matter how good that movie might be).

Unfortunately, my first answer to this question already happened. At some point the past A Wizard of Earthsea was transformed into a movie, a travesty so awful that LeGuin publicly denounced the whole project. (Here's a tip movie people: if the author of the work you're adapting tells you you're fucking it up, you probably are fucking it up.)

I have a hard time with this one, because I generally don't want to see books turned into movies. In the spirit of my earlier answers, however, I will say neither Children of Hurin nor Lavinia should ever been made into movies. They'd fuck up Children of Hurin and somehow try to make it cheerful, and I can only imagine how badly Lavinia would be screwed up. Undead Virgil would probably come and give Lavinia superpowers or something.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Happy Star Wars Day!

May the Fourth Be With You!

In honor of Star Wars day, I'm taking a moment to recommend Timothy Zahn's many and varied Star Wars books, but particularly his original Thrawn trilogy. Zahn is one of the few Star Wars authors who really seems to have captured the pacing, tone, and characterization that made the original trilogy so wonderful. Honestly, I wish they had gotten him to take care of the prequel trilogy...the hints we get of his vision of the clone wars is WAY more interesting that the version we got in the films.

Check them out!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Violence, A Biography

An interesting little interview with Russell Jacoby. The book sounds interesting too.

One of the things that we talk about in the PDR program is how violence can often come from people we know. The looming stranger in the dark seems scary in principle, but the reality is sometimes worse.

Anyone out there read this one?

Better Book Titles

Another find thanks to Lizard.

Monday, May 2, 2011

A New World (Age of Discovery, Part III)

I will say this for Michael Stackpole; he is the first author in years who has managed to get me to read two books in a series consecutively. Lately I’ve been in the habit of reading a book, putting the series aside for a while, coming back to it, and so on. Even with Lawhead’s King Raven trilogy, which was also awesome, I felt inclined to take a break between the second and third books (albeit a short one). Granted, Stackpole pulled a dirty trick by ending Cartomancy on a huge cliffhanger, but still…it was a pretty captivating series anyway.

A New World picks up on the action more or less where Cartomancy left off, and follows Cartomancy’s pattern of upping the ante from there. Stackpole slowly ramps up the trilogy over the course of three books, from being a story about essentially human political conflicts and adventures in the first book to a story about nations, gods, and the nature of reality and perception by the third book. The build up happens naturally enough so that it doesn’t feel odd or awkward, but when I stop to reflect on it, it’s actually a pretty dramatic shift.

While the action may be taking place on grander scales by the third book, it is still (mostly) focused around the same group of characters. With the exception of a single minor character, whose sole role in the trilogy seems to have been to kill someone else, the other major characters all have purposes and roles to play in the story. Some of them are a bit predictable, but they’re all pretty fun. There is a “big twist” about a couple of the characters and their influence on the world that I called somewhere in the first book, but some of the other twists and turns actually kind of surprised me.

If I have a complaint about this book, it’s that the ending seems to come up awfully fast, and feels a bit rushed (to the point where a couple of characters have a conversation about how they can end something as quickly as possible). While I wouldn’t have wanted the series to drag out into a fourth book, a few extra pages wouldn’t have hurt it.

But overall, this is a really excellent, fun series. Stackpole does some very interesting stuff with his world and his characters, particularly with his ideas about skill, magic, perception, reality, and how all of those things interact. Fans of the Matrix (or geeks who remember Mage: The Ascension fondly) definitely will enjoy it, but it is really worthwhile for any fantasy fan. Check this one out.

Friday, April 22, 2011

An Open Letter to the Tolkien Estate

Dear Tolkien Estate,

Dude, I really love your father’s work, and understand why you want to be sure that people do not unjustly infringe upon it. It is, after all, one of the more influential works of fiction of the 20th century, and has provided me (and many others) with a great deal of enjoyment, comfort, and introspection.

J.R.R. himself seems to have been a decent fellow. He told the Nazi’s where they could go stick it, which gives him major points in my book. He generally seems to have believed in the power of stories, the importance of courage, that it is good to go out in the woods sometimes, and a number of other things which I also hold to be valuable.

In deference to that legacy, could you consider, perhaps, NOT BEING ASS-HATS?

I mean, seriously dude, it’s a kid’s summer camp in Calgary. I don’t think their using the name “Rivendell” is going to terribly impact your bottom line (if anything, it might help it).

Besides, it’s hard enough to get kids out into the woods these days without you shutting down summer camps.

Just sayin’

Friday, April 15, 2011

On Shelves

I don’t specifically follow Booking Through Thursday, especially since Lizard writes about it, and I can just steal it from her if I like it. This week’s is actually pretty interesting.

My wife will attest to my love of (obsession with) bookshelves. When we first moved in together, she was baffled not only by my concerns about where we would put our shelves, but how it could possibly take so long to unpack books (answer: I organize them.). The second move, she at least understood why it was taking me so long, though she still thought I was ridiculous.

I come by my love of books honestly. Both of my parents are book lovers, though my father is more the “own and shelve” type, while my mother is the “weekly trips to the library” sort. I’ve tended towards owning, though in recent years, borrowing and e-books have also become an attractive option. With some of my recent experiments/readings on minimalism, I’ve been starting to think more selectively about what is on my shelves.

Part of this is the knowledge that what is on my shelves does say something about me. I enjoy having the big honkin’ 50th Anniversary Edition of Lord of the Rings sitting there because Tolkien’s work has been a huge influence on my reading habits and thoughts (among other things). My book shelves are unquestionably a means by which I declare my identity.

At the same time, there are books that I read that I don’t necessarily feel the need to display. The random murder mystery read because some suggested it, yet another random fantasy novel (YARFN?), or the cheap martial arts book that I picked up because I thought it might be interesting, but actually turned out to be crap. Those are books I don’t necessarily need or even want on display.

I want the books on my shelves to be ones that I love; that speak to me, or something about me. They should be books I enjoy returning to, in part or in whole, on a regular basis. Those books deserve my shelf space.

Where I find value in e-books are those books I’m not sure I’d return to, or wouldn’t necessarily want to make shelf space for. At this point, my guideline has become “if I’d buy it in mass market paper back, I’ll buy it on my Kindle.”

Will bookshelves disappear? I don’t know. I sure hope not…I like my shelves. I’ll certainly do my part to keep them around.

Cartomancy: Book Two of The Age of Discovery

Cartomancy: Book Two of The Age of Discovery
Michael A. Stackpole

Damn you Michael Stackpole. Damn you to hell.

I have written before about this, but, for those who missed it; many years ago, I attended a short lecture by Michael Stackpole on writing, and writing speculative fiction (that’s the cool term for sci-fi/fantasy these days, right) in particular. It was valuable, and probably would have been more valuable if I was a little older and a little better focused, but such is life.

One of the most explicit things I remember from that lecture is that Stackpole described one of his recurring nightmares as being “stuck in an airport where the bookstore only stocks the second book in a trilogy.” His advice was that each book in a series should be reasonably self-contained, so that a reader could comfortably pick up a book and start reading without feeling as though something was lacking.

And here I am, reading the second book of his Age of Discovery series, Cartomancy.
Let me say, straight up, that there is a lot to recommend Cartomancy. If you enjoyed a Secret Atlas, Cartomancy takes many of the events from that book and revs them into high gear. Unlike some authors, Stackpole doesn’t introduce too many new characters here (and finally eliminates one that I really found repulsive, and saw little point to), but rather, keeps on with ones he’s already established, building on the plot threads that were present at the end of a Secret Atlas. The pacing of Cartomancy felt like it was much faster, though I think I may be taking that impression more from the latter half of the book. The first half is still some build up, and Stackpole does a fine job of refreshing the reader on critical points and ideas, to the point where, yes, you probably could pick this book up and read it without having read a Secret Atlas.

So why the damnation?

Because while the book is a great read, it’s definitely not self-contained. In fact, it ends on a cliffhanger that, while not quite as bad as “Frodo was alive but taken by the enemy” it’s pretty close. If I was in the airport, I would be mighty pissed to discover that they didn’t have a copy of a New World close on hand.

Which, I guess, is a pretty strong recommendation for this book, and the series thus far. A New World will be going onto my Kindle DX ASAP.

Fantasy fans, give this one a look.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Do Not Want

Long story short; I'm in the process of trying to purge a bunch of stuff from my bookshelves. Yes, I'm aware of things like donation centers and those will eventually be on the list. However, before I start donating things to people I don't know, I figured I would offer them up to people I DO know. Or at least, sort of know. I don't know everyone who reads this thing.

So here's the deal. I don't want this stuff. If you would find some value in it, let me know. If you live locally, we can arrange a hand-off. If you live not locally, I may ask you to help with shipping costs, depending on what it is/how much it costs to ship. All I ask is if you take this is that you take it to read and enjoy, not to sell if off.

Here's the list. Things that are starred/have a link are books I've reviewed . If you have concerns about the relative condition or whatever, ask me.

A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (Trade Paperback)
*A Feast for Crows (Hard Cover)
Breaking Ships (ARC)
Chicken Soup for the Volunteers Soul
Clash of Kings
Crossing the Line (ARC)
Dead Witch Walking (ARC)
Devils Armor
Eagle of the Ninth*
Experience and Education
Eyes of G-D
Gardens of the Moon
Going Ballistic: Circular Strength Training for Boxing*
Growing Up Poor: A Literary Anthology (Trade Paperback)
Guenevere: Queen of the Summer Country (Trade Paperback)
How to Start a Business in Massachusetts (Trade Paperback)
In Northern Twilight
Karate & Judo Exercise (Bruce Tegner)
Lord of Snow and Ashes
My American Journey (Colin Powell)*
Only Yesterday: An Informal History Of The 1920s
Paula: A Memoir (Trade Paperback)
Secret Atlas
Ship of Magic (Somehow, I read this without reviewing it. I'll put one up soon)
Shutter Island
South: The Endurance Expedition
Star Wars: Vector Prime
Storm of Swords
The Glorious Cause: A Novel of the American Revolution (Hard Cover)
Through Violet Eyes (ARC)
Trigger (Arthur C. Clarke/Michael Kube-Mcdowell)
Uprooted (Trade Paperback)
Wayfarer Redemption
Web of the Witch World
Weekly Bookkeeping Ledger (Blank)
Worlds of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Volume I
Writing For an Endangered World

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What Your Favorite Kid's Book Says About You

From Flavorwire, by way of Lizard.

No Hobbit. And I didn't think Ender's Game was a "kid's book".  Of the list there, the Book of Three is actually probably my tops from when I was a child.

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
Sure, your job sucks now, but you’re not about to sweat it. As soon as you pay your dues, you’re going to shoot right to the top of the company.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Forbes on Smaug's Horde

Apparently, Smaug's horde was worth about $8.6 billion.

This is assuming that Smaug conforms to the standards outlined by Dungeons and Dragons. Which is somewhat questionable, but I guess they had to start from somewhere.

Yes, I thought of that. Worse, it took me about ten seconds to think of. Make of that what you will.

Locus Mag Announces 2011 Science Fiction Hall of Fame Inductees

Story here

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

No Prize for John Le Carre?

John Le Carre has apparently asked that his name be withdrawn from the Man Booker International Prize shortlist.

Interestingly, some of the committee members say he can’t withdraw, because it’s not the sort of prize which one enters for. It’s just given.

Crazy times.

Tuck (King Raven, Book Three)

Stephen R. Lawhead

The final book in Stephen Lawhead’s King Raven trilogy, Tuck picks up almost immediately where Scarlet left off. It’s hard to be more specific than that without giving away spoilers, but suffice to say, Rhi Bran and his Grellon are on the run. Again. And the monk known as Friar Tuck is with them.

Unlike Scarlet, which shifted between a first-person narrative by the titular character and a third person narrative focused on other events, Tuck is written entirely in the third person. In fact, while Tuck is the titular character, the book isn’t necessarily heavily focused on him. TO be sure, he is involved in many of the major events of the book, and plays a singularly important role in the final resolution of the story, but the book really isn’t ABOUT Tuck in the same way that Scarlet was about Will Scarlet.
That’s more a complaint about the title than about the book though.

The book itself is consistent with the other two books, which is to say that it’s awesome. Lawhead manages to balance a sense of historical verisimilitude with the swashbuckling adventure that should come in any good Robin Hood story. There are chases, disguises, evil nobles, battles, and all the other things that you expect from Robin Hood. A chunk of the book is devoted to what can only be described as a side quest, where Bran goes off seeking some allies in a distant land, but honestly, it’s so much fun that the distraction is totally worth it.

I can’t think of many people who I wouldn’t recommend this series to. I guess if you don’t like Robin Hood, don’t like Historical action/adventure stories, and don’t want a rousing good time, don’t read these books. If any of that stuff sounds fun, check this out.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Never Let Go: A Philosophy of Lifting, Living and Learning

Never Let Go: A Philosophy of Lifting, Living and Learning
by Dan John

Someone once shared with me the piece advice that you should never trust a man with two first names. Dan John is making me reconsider that particular piece of wisdom. Apparently something of a living legend in certain strength and conditioning circles, I only found him after reading a few posts of his on a random internet forum. I subsequently discovered his website, blog, and articles; I liked what I read, so I bought Never Let Go.

The book is a collection of articles, some of which were previously published online. Of course, having them in print form has a number of advantages, particularly if you haven’t read them before. I had only read one or two of them, so a lot of the material was new to me.

There is a lot of good information in here, from specific programs for developing strength, size, or endurance, to more philosophical thoughts on structuring programming, training for the long term, and evaluating the utility (or lack thereof) of certain programs. John’s background as a religious studies teacher gives him some interesting insights into the way people tend to think in regard to their strength and conditioning programs. He also has been around the block more than a few times (someone apparently made a joke about Dan John having coached Milo while he was lifting the bull), and isn’t afraid to acknowledge his failures along with his successes.

Indeed, one of the things I appreciate most about this book is that Dan John has used himself as a bit of a human guinea pig, and is willing to talk about his experiences doing so, both good and bad. I’m sure that his willingness to point out the flaws in various training programs hasn’t made him a lot of friends, but I appreciate his candor and forthrightness.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Dan John is just fun to read. One of the great difficulties in trying to learn more about strength and conditioning is that sometimes even the good information is presented badly. Dan John’s writing is clear, but it’s also engaging, and at times, insanely humorous. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much reading a strength and conditioning book (or rather, I’ve never laughed so much WITH the author, rather than AT him). Hell, even my wife found some of the parts I read aloud funny.

This book is accessible to anyone, though it’s worth noting that you can’t follow every program in this book at once. Well, you could try, but you’ll probably die. This is the kind of book you read, enjoy, and then go back and cherry-pick ideas from. Right now I’m playing with the “one lift a day” idea, though I’m not doing it exactly as outlined in the book, because of time and strength factors. There’s a lot of other stuff I’d like to play with in here too; I’m sure I’ll get to it sooner or later.

If you must trust a man with two first names, Dan John seems like a good place to start.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Scarlet (King Raven, Book Two)

Stephen Lawhead
A couple of years ago, I stumbled across Hood, the first book in the King Raven series. I grabbed it partly because Stephen Lawhead was one of those prolific and apparently well regarded fantasy authors I had never gotten around to reading, and partly (perhaps largely) because it appeared to be a book about Robin Hood. And I am a huge mark for a Robin Hood story.

Hood presented a re-imagining of Robin Hood, not as a rebel against John Lackland, but as a Welsh rebel fighting the Normans after the Norman Conquest of England. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, stop reading this review and go learn some basic history. I’ll wait.

I enjoyed Hood, which struck a nice balance between a sense of historical verisimilitude that Lawhead was striving for and the sense of adventure required of any good Robin Hood tale. My long delay in reading Scarlet was less a matter of lack of interest, and more a matter of my apparent inability to read any series straight through. Having finally gotten around to it, I’m very glad I did.

Scarlet, as the title suggests focuses primarily on the character of Will Scatlocke (aka, Will Scarlet), who begins the book having been captured as a result of some botched mission. In an odd, but ultimately effective method, the narrative moves between a first person account of Will’s life, as he dictates it to the Norman scribe Odo, and a third person account of various events going on around England, Wales, and France. The transition is a little startling the first time it happens, but once you get used to the flow, it works very well. Scarlet has a nice, unique voice that is notably distinct from the tone of Bran (Robin Hood), but it flows well with the previous book in the series.

Like Hood, this has all of the elements one would expect from a Robin Hood story, and several that you might not. There’s some heavy intrigue involving the church and papal successions, but like any good Robin Hood story, that intrigue is mostly in the background, and serves to drive the action forward.

What is most impressive to me about this work, and the previous book is that Lawhead is successfully constructing a story that makes the reader think “okay, I could see how this would transform into our modern legends of Robin Hood”. I know that was his stated goal, at least in part, but he does it so well that I have to remind myself that this is, in fact, just a work of fiction. But it’s a damn fine one. Totally worth it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Shadow War of the Night Dragon Trilogy

As part of their Best SFF Novels of the Decade event, Tor assembled a statistically probably name for a fantasy trilogy.

  • The Shadow War of the Night Dragon, Book One: The Dead City
  • The Shadow War of the Night Dragon, Book Two: Dark Blood Magic
  • The Shadow War of the Night Dragon, Book Three: Dream World of the Fire Wolf

As the Tor site itself notes, this trilogy sounds frighteningly plausible. John Scalzi commented that he'd write it. And sucker that I am, I bet I'd buy it, for the humor value if nothing else.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Focus: A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction

Focus: A simplicity manifesto in the Age of Distraction by Leo Babauta

This review applies to the free version of Focus; there are larger, more extensive versions available for purchase, both on Kindle and on the Focus Manifesto website (see link above). I cannot comment on either one.

I came across this during my recent reading and thinking on minimalism, and download it because a) focus is something that I can always use practice on and b) the price was right. I realize that the second may not be the noblest reason for getting a book, but hey, it worked for me.

The free version of Focus is (as you might expect from an author writing about Zen and minimalism), short and to the point. Babauta breaks the book up into five sections. The first, “stepping back”, is sort of a manifesto of the manifesto. It explains what the purpose of the book is, who the author is, and why he believes focus is both extremely important, and extremely difficult to come by.

Sections two, three, and four, provide the meat of the book, with a variety of solid ideas, drills, and tools to help the reader clear distractions away from their life. I don’t know that any of them are extremely groundbreaking, but they are all worthwhile.

The fifth section discusses dealing with others in your question for focus, particularly those who aren’t as supportive as you’d like them to be. It also includes a chapter for parents, and a chapter for business managers.

I liked this book. A lot. Babauta writes in a simple, clear, and unpretentious tone, which is extremely refreshing. One of the things that has bothered me about some of the minimalist writers I’ve read is that they come across with this holier-than-thou, “just throw all of your possessions in a dumpster, you worthless human being” sort of way that is not only uninspiring, but downright unhelpful. Babauta, by contrast, acknowledges that some of what he’s suggesting is challenging (if it was easy, everyone would do it), but offers a lot of useful guidelines on how to make his ideas work for you. With each activity, he suggests a few variations if one doesn’t work, but always reiterates the point that the goals is to find something that works for you.

I don’t know if I will buy the full version of this book or not. Probably not yet…frankly, there’s enough stuff in the free version for me to work on without adding things, and it seems silly to purchase more until I feel like I need it. But if you’re one of those folks who feels like there is never enough time, or that you just can’t find your focus, I suggest grabbing some version of this. It’s worth the read.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Kill or Get Killed

Kill or Get Killed
Rex Applegate

This is not a review of the entirety of Kill or Get Killed. Of sixteen chapters, I only read six. There is a perfectly good reason for that, as I will explain shortly.

Kill or Get Killed is the textbook complied by Colonel Rex Applegate, one of the grandfathers of the modern combatives systems developed by the British and Americans during the Second World War. This review focuses on the version published by Paladin Press, which originally was released in 1976.

I had heard of Applegate vaguely for years, mostly in conjunction with my father’s stories about the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife (of which I own at least one replica), and the men who developed it. More recently, there has been a movement to revive and re-popularize some of the World War II Combative methods as viable forms of self-defense training, and it is in that context that I chose to read this book.

The book is broken into sixteen chapters, as follows:
1. Introduction to Unarmed Combat
2. Offensive Unarmed Combat
3. Defensive Unarmed Combat
4. Knife Attack and Defense
5. Combat Use of the Hand Gun
6. Combat Firing With Shoulder Weapons
7. Disarming
8. Prisoner Handling and Control
9. Raid and Room Combat
10. Training Techniques and Combat Ranges
11. Elementary Fieldcraft
12. Police Baton and Miscellaneous Weapons and Techniques
13. Chemical Munitions for Control of Mobs and Individuals
14. Civil Domestic Disturbances and Their Control
15. Communist Tactics and Strategy in Directing Mob Violence
16. The Professional Riot Control Unit

Of those, I only read 1-4, 7, and 12. I suppose that if I owned and carried a firearm, I might have read the chapters that deal with the use of, and training with, firearms. But frankly, I’m totally unqualified to evaluate those chapters, so I didn’t bother. I also skipped the chapters that I deemed completely irrelevant to self-defense for the average person; I have no need to learn how to use chemical munitions, nor am I concerned about how to create a professional riot control unit. Police or military trainers might find those chapters useful. I really don’t know.

For the average person concerned with self-defense, the first three chapters of the book are unquestionably the most valuable. Applegate presents a small curriculum of strikes, gouges, chokes, and throws, along with instruction about how to apply these tools against what he perceives as common types of attacks. The small toolbox appeals to my recent thoughts on minimalism, and while I might make some different choices in my selection, Applegate does give the reader enough material to practice without overwhelming them. Perhaps my only quibble is that he ignores any sort of ground-fighting, except to say that fighting on the ground is a bad idea, which is the sort of useless truth in line with saying “don’t get stabbed”.

Despite the books occasional statement to the contrary, however, this book really is aimed at the military and law enforcement. While there are a number of techniques that are appropriate for civilian self-defense, some of the techniques have no particular application outside of the military or law enforcement (I have not needed to remove a sentry any time in recent memory). Even the defenses against attacks that a civilian might face are extremely vicious; used imprudently they’d likely land the average citizen in court, if not in jail. Of course, that’s a weakness inherent in a lot of military combatives systems when they are transferred over to the civilian environment. Of course, there are scenarios where these kinds of techniques are appropriate, but the book doesn’t address the distinction.

The knife attack and defense material is interesting; the attack material I was curious about mostly academically. I don’t carry a knife either, but I like knives, and find their use interesting. The knife and firearm defense material certainly has some potential application for a civilian…some of it does not line up with the material that I’ve learned from Tony Blauer, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be worth exploring.

The baton stuff was just a lark. Again, I like weapons. I guess you could train this stuff if you carry a stick, or are involved in a stick-based system (like one of the many Filipino Martial Arts), but ultimately, it’s probably not a priority for the average person.

So is this a good book? Actually, yes, I think it is. It does a very nice job of clearly laying out a program for instructing soldiers and police in close quarters combat techniques. The writing is straightforward, and accompanied by reasonably clear diagrams and photographs. Applegate outlines his rationale for each of his choices, and I think many of his choices are sound.

That said, given the size and cost of the book, I don’t think it is a very good purchase for the average person looking to protect themselves. The military emphasis leaves too many holes that require patching, and used injudiciously, this material could land the reader in jail for a very long time. Experienced practitioners or instructors will probably get more out of the book, as they’ll be able to pick and choose the portions that are appropriate to their needs or the needs of their students. Finally, those with an interest in military history, WWII history, or martial history should definitely give this a read. It’s an incredibly influential textbook, and deserves to be examined on those merits alone.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Dance With Dragons Release Date Set

The interwebs says that the next book in GRR Martins Song of Fire and Ice is coming out in July. GRRM says so too.

I wish I could be excited, but I find that I honestly don't care. I mean, I'm glad it's coming out, because that means the series is one step closer to being finished, but I'm still not going to bother picking it up. I can't be bothered to re-read the whole thing, especially since I just gave away my copy of A Game of Thrones the other weekend.

Still, it gives me hope that the series might end someday. I'd love to read the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tor's Top Ten Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novels of the Decade

The folks over at did a poll about the best SFF Novels of the Decade. The results are interesting.

Of the ten, I’ve read four:

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
American Gods by Neil Gaiman - Which I have not reviewed here, but remember fondly.
A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin - I have also not reviewed this one. I refuse to read any of Martin's Song of Fire and Ice until it is done, or he's dead. Whichever comes first.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel by Susanna Clarke

Of the remainders, I’m torn. Anathem has floated on my “I should probably read this” list for a bit, and I feel like someone (or Amazon) keeps suggesting that I should read Name of the Wind and/or Mistborn: The Final Empire (which may be a good book, but the title puts me off). The one human being I know who’s read Perdido Street Station says it’s AWFUL. I remember seeing Kushiel’s Dart while working at Waldenbooks, but I could never decide if it looked worthwhile or not. I may have to check out some of them.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Tolkien Estate Goes Crazy Nuts

Apparently, the Tolkien estate has decided that they want to destroy a novel that uses JRR Tolkien as a character.

Not that rips him off, but actually includes him as a character.

I have to imagine that they have very little legal ground to stand on, but come on guys. Seriously? I don't think JRR would mind being part of a novel. Hell, he might be flattered.

Links here

Living the Martial Way

Living the Martial Way
Forrest E. Morgan

This is my second time reading this book. The first time was probably about ten years ago, and back then, I thought it was awesome. This time around, I have considerably more mixed feelings.

Living the Martial Way is "is a concise manual for training in warrior-ship". The goal, according to the author, is to provide an outline whereby someone seeking to follow the true warrior's path can learn how to do that. Morgan breaks his book into three sections: the first, The Way of Training, discusses the actual physical training, from how to choose a style and school, to how to adjust your training to meet your goals. The second chapter, the Way of Honor, gets into a variety of philosophical discussion about codes of behavior. The last section, the Way of Living, is a sort of catch-all section that includes fitness, the relationship between martial arts training and religion, and the subject of "mastery" in the martial arts.

So what's good about this book? Honestly, a lot of things. The first section is probably the most valuable; Morgan provides a solid outline for a practitioner to decide what kind of martial art they should be studying, or how to adjust their practice if they are already training. Morgan's ideas about strategy and tactics are extremely useful, and anyone who wants to be even vaguely successful in the martial arts would do well to understand them. Some of the "mystical" ideas I found a bit hard to swallow, though Morgan apparently has become a greater skeptic as he's gotten older.

The section on honor is...interesting. How valuable it is will probably depend on how much the reader has thought about these sorts of issues previously, and how much they sync up with Morgan's attitudes. More on that in a minute.

The final section, as I said, is a bit of a hodgepodge. I actually didn't re-read the Fitness section, since Morgan himself admits that the information contained therein is hopelessly out-of-date. The religion and mysticism section didn't have much for me, but it might be a good starting point for a new martial arts student. If nothing else, Morgan warns prospective martial artists about the dangers of martial cults, something that should be repeated loud and often.

So, there's a lot of really useful, interesting ideas here. What's the issue?

The issue, for me, is Morgan's voice, tone, and the way he chooses to phrase, well, everything. I am, at this point in my life, skeptical of the idea that practicing a martial art is in any way concurrent with being a warrior. I am certainly skeptical of the idea that warriors are the sort of magical elite that Morgan holds them up as being. Understand that I have the utmost admiration for those people who actually willingly suit up to go into combat in service of their country, and I even understand the idea that one can be a warrior in a philosophical sense without being an actual serviceman or woman. I am, however, quite skeptical of the idea that spending your time outside of your office job devoted to the study of a combative system that hasn't been relevant to modern warfare for half a century somehow makes you into a warrior.

Morgan's information is good, but it's buried under a constant self-aggrandizing tone that manages to come across not as the humble warrior he exhorts his reader to be, but as a pompous ass who thinks he largely superior to everyone around him. While that tone is not constant, it pops up more frequently than I like, and enough that I found it setting my teeth on edge more than a few times.

Do I still believe this book is worth reading? If you're a practicing martial artist, probably. While the writing sets my teeth on edge at times, it does contain some ideas that are certainly worth considering. The entire first section alone makes the book worthwhile. The rest of it, I would approach with a bit of skepticism.

If you are not a practicing martial artist, but are considering it, I'm not sure this is the place I'd want you to start. While there are ideas I'd want you to consider here about goals and directions, I think that there are better, more reasonably written books out there that might serve you better. Rory Miller's Meditations on Violence will give you a better reference point, without all of the "you must become a samurai warrior!!1!" stuff.

If you aren't a practicing martial artist, and aren't considering, I have no idea why you would even be considering this book.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Old Man's War Movie?

Apparently, Paramount has purchased the rights to John Scalzi's Old Man's War (see my review here).

As with all books-gone-movie, I have mixed feelings about this. Though I think Old Man's War probably will translate to the big screen better than say, Ender's Game, I'm always wary of this sort of thing. Basically, I'm too much of a grump to accept the changes that sometimes come with a book going Hollywood. But you never know.

Story first seen at TOR.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dwayne McDuffie Passes Away

Story here.

Edit; this letter from McDuffie is the awesomest thing the internet has produced in a while. Though it is made sadder/funnier by the fact that both “Rocket Racer” and “Night Thrasher” were real characters—who were black men on skateboards.

Nebula Nominess Announced

As with so many awards lists, I've not read any of these. Where the hell have I been?

Batman: The Black Glove

Batman: The Black Glove
Grant Morrison

"Advantage: Evil. Place your bets with the Black Glove"

The Black Glove is sort of a "bridge book" that connects Batman and Son with Batman: RIP. It's all part of the same story...a Bat-Morrison trilogy if you will.

The book leads off with the "Island of Mr. Mayhew" a Ten Little Indians style murder mystery focused around the "International Club of Heroes", a collection of Batman knock offs that could only have been created in the sixties (Man-of-Bats? Seriously?). Brought back together for a reunion by the mysterious John Mayhew, the heroes face all of the usual suspicions and intrigues that you'd expect from trapping a bunch of Batman knock offs on a island, and then murdering some of them. It's a fun time, actually, if you like this sort of story.

The second story is where things start to get a little less...coherent. There's a whole bunch of wackiness that starts to pop up, including a return of the Bat-impersonates from Batman and Son (and an explanation about where they came from), some reflections on Bruce's experiences in an isolation chamber, and his participation in the Thögal Ritual, and a whole bunch of other insane wackiness. This is basically a huge flashback, and establishes a bunch of things that become more important/relevant once Batman: RIP gets underway.

The story culminates not in a fight (though there is one), but in a revelation, as a dinner date between Bruce Wayne and Jezebel Jet goes horribly awry, and Jezebel learns a surprising truth about her lover...

I really enjoyed this collection, but in fairness, it's not for everyone. If you're not a fan of Morrison's gonzo, weird psychosis kind of writing, this collection will not do it for you. Except for the Island of Mr. Mayhew, it's largely unreadable as a stand-alone it with Batman and Son, and follow it with Batman: RIP to get the full picture.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Truth About Self Protection

The Truth About Self Protection
Mas Ayoob

The Truth About Self Protection is, in some circles, regarded as a seminal work on personal safety. It’s pretty easy to see why; this book has a lot of positives to it. At the same time, I confess to being hesitant to recommend it to the layperson seeking advice on self defense for the first time. While there are a lot of good things in this book, there are a couple of flaws that really hurt its utility for the modern audience.

Let me start with the good. The Truth About Self Protection is an incredibly comprehensive work on the subject of self-defense. With close to fifty chapters and nearly 400 pages, Ayoob touches upon aspects of personal safety that most writers and instructors never even consider. In addition to material about unarmed combat, improvised weapons, legal weapons (like kubotans and defensive sprays) and firearms, Ayoob touches upon far less often considered subjects like locks for your home, electronic alarm systems, and even choosing a dog for protection. At every stage, Ayoob offers relatively comprehensive advice in a clear and easily understand format. He is careful to address not only the realties of each piece of security equipment, but also the legal, moral, and ethical considerations behind them. The book is written in a very conversational style that makes the material very accessible; reading this book feels like sitting down and having a conversation with an old cop (complete with some slightly politically incorrect language, though nothing truly offensive).

If there is so much good here, why would I hesitate to recommend it? Simple. This book was published in 1983, and has not been revised or updated since then. While the concepts in this book are, on a certain level, valuable, the information overall is nearly thirty years out of date, and it shows. Ayoob writing about rotary version push button telephones may have made sense when this book was written, but in the era of the iPhone vs. the Android, it seems about sensible as worrying about whether to compose letters on vellum or parchment. The technology is so different as to make some of Ayoob’s concerns seem completely irrelevant.

I found Ayoob’s section on choosing a martial art particularly problematic; while I actually agree with his recommendation that a good Judo school is one of the best places you can go for training in a martial art with a lot of self-defense value, his suggestion that Aikido is an excellent choice is completely contrary to my own experiences with that art. I have nothing against Aikido, but in my experience, most Aikido schools do not authentically prepare their students for real violence, and the skills that they teach do not transfer well without a huge investment of time and energy. Furthermore, Ayoob offers no comment or opinion on either Brazilian Jujitsu or Mixed Martial Arts, two phenomena that were unknown or non-existent at the time this book was written. He does speak highly of Jim Arvanitis’s re-creation of the Greek Pankration, which is similar to modern MMA, though Arvanitis himself is a controversial figure at best.

Is this book worth reading? If you are a self-defense instructor, I would say so, if for no other reason than it is a particularly seminal work in the field. If you are a dedicated student of personal protection, this can give you some excellent ideas for areas to consider investigating further. I wouldn’t give this to a layperson looking for a first-time guide to self-defense, simply because so much of the information needs updating. There is a lot of good information here, but to really make use of any of it, you’ll want to do enough research to find out if it’s still accurate.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Borders Files For Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection

Yikes. I knew they were having problems, but did not realize the extent of them.

On the one hand, I kinda liked Borders; and a good friend of mine lost her job because of this.

On the other hand, there was a Borders near me that was down to 40% sales on their stuff...

Must remind myself that I'm trying to NOT buy more stuff...

Details at various links below:


Publisher's Weekly

Wall Street Journal

Borders on reorganziation

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself
Joe Abercrombie

“The blade itself incites to deeds of violence.” Homer

I know that I had heard of The Blade Itself from several different sources, but credit must go to Stu for finally getting me to read it. Having both a physical copy and a Kindle version made me feel even less justified about having even cracked a page on it.

I ended up reading the book on my Kindle DX, for the record. This is not a review of the Kindle, but I will say that I found the experience perfectly enjoyable. I like my DX, and will likely not only continue using it, but expand my purchasing of e-books. (Honestly, part of me now wants a second, smaller Kindle. And to check out an iPaD. None of these things are a good idea.)

Like a lot of modern fantasy novels, The Blade Itself uses the convention of following several different characters, chapter by chapter, and then gradually bringing them together. Most of the action focuses around four characters: Logen Ninefingers, a Conan-esque barbarian on the run; Jezal dan Luthar, a noble fop turned duelist; Ferro Maljinn, an escaped slave whose entire life is dominated by her bloodlust and quest for vengeance; and Inquisitor Glotka, a former dueling champion and warrior, now crippled beyond repair, and given over to torturing people in the name of his king. There is also a fair amount of attention given to the rest of Logen’s former companions as well, and their involvement with troubles in the north.

Oh yes, there are troubles in the north. And in the south. And there’s something big and crazy going on with the Bayaz, the first wizard. Or the first student of the first wizard. I don’t quite remember right now. But if I know nothing else from reading this book, I know that this book is set in a world where shit is going wrong all over the place. Which makes it not terribly different from many other fantasy settings, but it’s compelling all the same. Let’s face it…a world where everything is honky-dory would be pretty damn boring.

I can find faults with The Blade Itself, but boring is not a charge I would level at this book. There is always something happening: duels, intrigues, mysteries, wizard battles, interrogations, mass battles, rooftop chases, skulduggery, politics, love, honor, betrayal…all that cool stuff is in here. Everyone has something going on. If there’s a fault to this, it might be that there is TOO much going on. Most of the characters don’t interact with each other in any fashion until almost the last quarter of the book, and are then separated from each other by the end.

Which brings me to my biggest issue with this book; it doesn’t end. Not really. I know that it’s part of a trilogy, but I hold to Stackpole’s Law (a term of my own creation) that says that any book, if part of a trilogy, should be basically self contained. This one is not. The ending resolves nothing, and leaves the reader hanging as to the fate of any of the characters involved.

Now that said, I do want to read the rest of the series, so I’m not too grouchy about this; at the same time I really, really, dislike getting to the end of a book and realizing that nothing has been resolved. It is quite possible to write a series of books in self-contained units (Glen Cook does this marvelously with a lot of his Black Company books), and I wish more authors would actually do it.

Despite the ending, I still enjoyed the Blade Itself; Abercrombie’s writing is crisp and fast, and he populates his world with some very memorable and fun characters. Glotka stands out as a personal favorite of mine (and several others, it seems). I enjoy Logen as the barbarian thrust into circumstances beyond his comprehension, despite some stuff about “the Bloody Nine” that pop up as a weird splinter personality towards the end. It reminds me a lot of “the Hunter” device that RA Salvatore uses in his Dark Elf books, and I was never entirely sold on it there either. Logen stands out as a fine and fun character all on his own, without needing the extra psychosis thrown in.

If you like your fantasy hard-boiled and gritty fashion this is a book worth reading.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House

I don't remember how Andrew Jackson came up at our Channukah party, but somehow, he did. Mostly as being one of those presidents that everyone feels completely justified in disliking, because, let's face it, some pretty horrible things happened on Jackson's watch (Trail of Tears, anyone?). But despite that, I felt as though I really didn't know much about him.

So when I stumbled across a copy of this book at a closing Borders for something like $3, I figured it was worth taking the opportunity to learn a bit more about the man who graces the face of yuppie food stamps across America.

As the subtitle indicates, Meacham's book is not mean to be a complete biography. While there is some brief discussion of Jackson's life prior to his ascension to presidency, most of the book is focused on Jackson’s time as president. While Jackson is ostensibly the focal character of the work, Meacham spends a fair amount of time discussing many of the other players surrounding Jackson, from the loyal but extremely controversial Eatons (who would be splattered all over the tabloids if they were alive today), to the inevitably hostile Henry Clay (who would be delighted to learn that many modern Americans remember Jackson as a jerk). In some respects, I felt like I learned more about the people around Jackson than I learned about Jackson himself, who feels by the end of things like a still enigmatic, if slightly more understandable figure.

Meachem’s focus on Jackson and those around him leads the book in some strange directions. There is an enormous amount of attention given to the “Eaton Affair”, an influential bit of Capitol Hill scandal and gossip-mongering, but almost no attention is given to Jackson’s policies towards the Native Americans. I don’t know if Meachem felt that those things had simply been hammered enough, or if he just had nothing new to say about them, but it seemed like a rather glaring omission.

And it’s an unfortunate one, because Meacham generally presents a nicely balanced view of Jackson that paints him not as a monstrous caricature, but as a human being who was capable of great sensitivity, kindness, and compassion. While he does not completely lay bare Jackson’s soul (not that I would imagine he could), he does provide enough insight to allow the reader to see Jackson in a broader light than the simple eighth-grade summary of “the Trail of Tears guy.”

As a biography of Jackson, this book falls a little short, partially due to its narrow focus (it really is just about his presidency), partially due to Meacham’s apparent unwillingness to get much into some of the harder questions about Jackson’s presidency. Still, it does provide some interesting insight, and those interested in American history, and Jackson in particular, will probably enjoy reading it.