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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didn't re-read the Fitness section, since Morgan himself admits that the information contained therein is hopelessly out-of-date.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.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Baltimore Museum in the Poe House

Apparently, the city of Baltimore has decided to cut funding to the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum

While I am not deeply familiar with Poe's work, I admire and respect the man enough to hope that this trun of events can be reversed somehow. As a fan of history and of literature, I'd hate to see this place dissapear.

(I learned of this story through Tor)

Monday, February 7, 2011

Brian Jacques Passes Away

via Locus.

I only ever read the first Redwall book, but I recall liking it. Maybe I'll try to pick it up again.

Macmillian and Amazon Pay Lost Royalties

From Locus. Nice to see the authors getting some payback.

Ender's Game Movie?

Do Not Want.

Mostly because I'm a cynic, and think that movie adaptations of books mostly suck. And yes, I'm including the Lord of the Rings movies, because, while I enjoyed 2/3rd of them (Two Towers is a god-awful piece of crap that I can't even rewatch...and I've tried), ultimately, I think they completely miss out on some very important elements of the books, and keep/add some crap that wasn't necessary.

I've enjoyed the first two Narnia movies though. Go figure (I haven't seen the third one yet).

Anyway, I love Ender's Game, and would love it if the movie didn't suck. But honestly, the book is more cerebral than actiony, and I think a movie will probably miss that and go the other way. But you never know.

(For the record, if you haven't read Ender's Game, go read it. It's amazing. Even Tony Blauer thinks so. So does my friend Lizard, who got me to read it.)

Friday, February 4, 2011


This is clearly a bit old, but I am entertained by it nonetheless.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Locus Magazine Reccomended Reading

Locus has released a recommended reading list for 2010.

I haven't read any of it, I don't think. Oh well. More for later, I guess.