Thom on March 27th, 2015

I’ve been feeling somewhat down, a bit anxious, a little restless lately. Part of that is due to pushing forward into unfamiliar territory at work, which has had me uneasy for weeks now, but there’s something more going on. I just can’t put my finger on it.

But it doesn’t matter. I got to wondering if I happened to feel like this around this time last year, and so I went back through the archives and found that…well, no. I didn’t. I was getting bummed out over the negativity in the news and on social media at the time, but it doesn’t sound like the same thing.

But what I did find was a post where I took myself to task for not looking at the good things in my life. I suspect that’s applicable to this particular feeling, too. Life is, after all, quite good. Let me count the ways:

  • I have friends and family who, upon seeing this post’s title, would happily step forward to spare me the effort. Oh wait, is that looking on the positive side?
  • My kids are doing well in school and in their various other hobbies/activities
  • Our fruit trees appear to have survived the strange spring weather and are flowering
  • My dog is still happy to see me when I come home
  • I don’t live in Europe during Napoleon’s time
  • I turn on the faucet and water comes out–I don’t have to take big water barrels to the river several times a week
  • I don’t have to get out of my car to open the garage door–and I have room to park in my garage!
  • I’m not too old to have fun running around outside with my kids

Yeah, life is good. And from what I’ve heard, it beats the alternative.

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Thom on March 26th, 2015

I met C.R. Asay at LTUE this year. She’s an ex-military counter-intelligence science-fiction writer living in the Salt Lake Valley who recently had a book published by a local small publisher, “Heart of Annihilation”. She’s also a nice person and fun to talk to. That’s one of the dangers of LTUE–I usually get to know an author as a person before I get a chance to read their books and know whether or not I like their writing. So it’s usually with trepidation that I approach the book later on, hoping I’ll like the book as much as I like the person.

Fortunately, I enjoyed “Heart of Annihilation.”

Kris Rose is an army counter-intelligence specialist at an army base south of Salt Lake City whose policeman father disappeared under mysterious circumstances. She soon finds herself in over her head when she uncovers a covert conspiracy by fellow soldiers to steal ammunition to use in killing suspected aliens.

Meanwhile, in some alternate dimension, Caz Fisk is tasked with continuing the work of her parents in developing a superweapon in a society that frowns upon such things.

Other than a brief prologue, there is little to tell us how these two women and their respective story lines might be connected, but Asay knits the two stories together well through a series of flashbacks for Caz while remaining grounded in Specialist Rose’ story, which unfolds chronologically.

This book could be alternately titled, “Kris Rose’ and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week.” She gets beaten up, shot, zapped, smacked around–and that’s just by her comrades. Not that Thurmond, her “battle-buddy” fares much better. The two of them are put through so much abuse that Indiana Jones’ experiences in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” might seem like a day at the playground.

Add to that a constantly-changing situation in which it’s difficult to know who Kris can trust, complete with revelations that might even make it hard for her and Thurmond to even trust each other.

I’ll admit it took me a while to get into the book. It was interesting enough, but I had some difficulty investing in it, and when I had to stop reading one night I found it easy to not pick the book up again for a while. But I’m glad I did keep going. It got more interesting soon thereafter and I found it easy to finish from there. Just know that everything makes sense (with a few unexplained–but inconsequential–loose ends) by the finale.

I’ve learned to be cautious about small publishers after reading a few books produced by such that really suffered for editing. While there are a few things they missed, this book seems to have been fairly well edited and of a higher quality than I’ve come to expect.

There is a significant amount of violence in this book, and Asay is not shy with her gore, though not purposely graphic. There’s no sex and, for military folk, mild swearing. Only the level of gore might lift it above YA-level sensibilities. I won’t have any trouble letting my fourteen-year-old read this.

Asay tells a complex, difficult story well. As a writer, I can appreciate the difficulty of what she accomplished here in balancing two stories and revealing information in both without either blowing the surprises to come or blatantly cheating to avoid giving too much away. There may have been a little too little revealed early on, perhaps, which might have been why it took me so long to really invest. But over-all, she pulled off a complex story structure well.

What I did find interesting is how this novel supported a theory I heard once that character description isn’t as important as the writer might think. The reader may pick up on one or two key characteristics, but largely they’ll create their own mental picture of what a character looks like. I certainly found that to be true here. I pictured Kris Rose to look like Asay, frankly, even though she was clearly described as having different features. And Thurmond? I don’t even remember how Asay described him. I pictured him as a black man, though I’m pretty sure there were clues to the contrary.

“Heart of Annihilation” is worth a read, and I’m looking forward to more C.R. Asay books in the future.

Thom on March 25th, 2015

I ran across this video the other day… (though you may want to read on before you invest time in it)

This video is just a little embarrassing, frankly. I consider myself a geek, but these people are a little over the top to the point I can’t decide if this is really made by nerds for nerds or if it’s actually making fun of nerds. In any case, the premise of this video drifts all over the place. (Didn’t any of these people have basic English composition? State your thesis and stick with it as you defend it! This can’t even agree what it’s thesis is!) Of course the premise that any geeky controversy could ever be adequately resolved to everyone’s satisfaction is ludicrous, so this shouldn’t be taken too seriously anyway.

For the record, Will Riker was both awesome and overrated. The writers couldn’t make up their mind, and it showed. When he was given good material he rocked it. But if anything he was the victim of reality. The creators of TNG tried to emulate a more true-to-form military structure, in which the XO is a critical position. But for story-telling purposes the role tends to be a little redundant. And the writers either didn’t understand what an XO does or they didn’t really try to establish it, and so we often have Will Riker looking like a guy with nothing to do.

I think he also suffered a bit from the “We need a Kirk clone in this” syndrome. In many ways he was Kirk light; chasing skirts, swaggering a bit, cracking jokes, etc. His character did grow in time, and there are some really good episodes that allowed him to really shine.

Now as to the offered-and-retracted-and-ignored charge that Riker was the most awesome character on ST:TNG, that’s just plain silly. TNG was an ensemble cast in ways that even TOS didn’t pull off. Every character had its strengths and weaknesses, their good moments and bad. I liked them all–even Troi became easier to like as time went on. There was a rapport among them that I enjoyed. It’s no wonder, really, why DS9 was such a shock to the system after that. And I have to admit that “First Contact” is one of my most favorite of all Trek movies, right up there behind Wrath of Khan, and Voyage Home.

Anyway, I suppose the video accomplished part of its mission. It’s got me thinking about TNG again. It’s been a long time. I ought to watch it again and see if it’s still holding up.

 

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Thom on March 24th, 2015

We hear a lot about the bad apples out there–or at least the supposed bad apples, since more than a few cases have been purposely miscast for political gain these days. The only way to combat that is to highlight all the good men and women in law enforcement and the good things they do. Case in point:

While officers are trained to look for suspicious signs wherever they go, this time Crook’s eye could only see a need.

“She is a single mom and she has the two kids, and she is taking care of the kids, and we noticed she is doing a good job with that, but she just didn’t have some of the things she needed for basic needs,” Crook said.

He could see she was using the bathtub to do laundry and didn’t have a bed to sleep on. So he went to work. He spread the word about the need and within a few days his fellow officers, a local business, residents and Habitat for Humanity helped provide a brand new washer and dryer, and more importantly, for Ashley Simmons, a bed.

“People don’t understand. They don’t get that the little things really do help and get you a long way,” she said. “To be able to lay in a bed and go to sleep tonight is going to be like heaven pretty much.”

In addition to the feel-good story of people helping people, that last paragraph really sticks out. Much of the “national argument” looks pretty silly in the face of things like this. Who cares what this politician called that one? This woman needed a bed. Do we really want to help the poor? May I suggest that one more post on Facebook criticizing this group or that for not doing more isn’t the answer? And next time you feel inclined to criticize the police, first stop and consider if you’ve done as much to help as they have.

 

Thom on March 23rd, 2015

My daughter recently had a performance at a nearby mall, and so my older son and I took her there. She had to be there half an hour before the performance was to start, so we found ourselves with some time to kill. But we were in the mall, so that should be easy, right? El wrongo mucho!  I don’t know if this typical of all malls, or just ours, but with the exception of a few sports paraphenalia stores, cellphone stores, and a toy store, there was nothing there to interest the male half of the species. It was, by and large, wall-to-wall clothing, make-up, accessory, salons, and spas.

Even the bookstore that once was there is no more!

We combed every square inch of that toy store. It was small, and half an hour was more than adequate to the task. We wandered around the rest of the mall for a while, trying to find something to interest us, but since we weren’t there to eat, we were out of options. We went back to where the performance was to take place and we waited.

Once the show started I did find one more option that might have kept us entertained a while longer: Yankee Candle. I do enjoy smelling candles, although the atmosphere within a Yankee Candle store is at least 20% parafin and 60% scent, and I can’t stay there long without getting woozy. But seriously, other than that the most exciting thing to look at was the cookware in JCPenney…!

With the death of record and video stores is there anything to attract boys to malls, except for food courts and girls? Is this typical these days, or is my mall just seriously lame?

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Thom on March 20th, 2015

What do you get when you combine steam punk, Japanese mechs, and Eastern Europe of the 1920’s?

This:

If I were those peasants, I don’t think I’d be still trying to work through all of this.

This is all evidently part of a board game the artist is planning to release. I must admit I’ll be looking for it. And in the mean time, the artwork on his website is imagination fodder extraordinaire. I swear I’ve had dreams like this.

His art has an impressionistic feel to it, and a roughness I find appealing. He seamlessly juxtaposes natural settings with unnatural items and creatures, while conveying a sense of story. Needless to say I like his work, or I wouldn’t be posting it here. I’m especially fond of “Wojtek”, who appears in a lot of his works.

Go check out his site.

Thom on March 19th, 2015

Evidently during World War II at least some german prisoners of war were held in a camp here in Utah. After Germany’s surrender a US soldier at the camp went on a shooting spree, killing nine prisoners and wounding twenty others in what was called the worst massacre at a POW camp in US history.

Many of the soldiers were assigned to help the local farmers with their crops and were described as friendly and cooperative.

But Private Clarence V. Bertucci, guard a the camp, was harboring a deep hatred of Germans and decided one night to open fire on the Germans’ tents with a machine gun mounted in a tower. He got off 250 rounds before he was stopped by an officer on duty. Bertucci was court-martialed, declared insane, and sent to a mental hospital. The German dead were buried in the Fort Douglas Cemetery, and the wounded were returned to Germany as soon as they were able. Today there is a German War Memorial at Fort Douglas in remembrance of the incident.

Read more here.

Thom on March 18th, 2015

It’s probably not hard to guess I’m a big fan of books. So it’s probably also not hard to guess that I would endorse this product/service:

The guy seems a little eccentric–or perhaps sold on the idea of being eccentric, but good for him nonetheless. If he gets more people to read, more firepower to him!

Thom on March 17th, 2015

Want to see what a shockwave looks like? Check out this article in Popular Mechanics! Pegs my “Coolness Meter” for the day.

Thom on March 17th, 2015

My daughter has been pressuring me to read this book ever since she read it a few weeks ago, and I finally got a gap in my schedule. I figured it would be good; Brandon Sanderson continues to improve with age, and this is one of his more recent books. And he’s not one to “dumb down” his YA fiction, so I was not surprised that I enjoyed it.

“Steelheart” runs on the premise that some stellar anomaly(? we really aren’t told much about it) appeared in our sky, and soon thereafter people began developing superpowers. However, the use of these powers turned all these people into supervillains. There are no superheroes, and the world quickly fell under their tyranny.

Set in “Newcago”, the future Chicago run by an “epic” named Steelheart, David is a youth whose father was murdered by Steelheart ten years ago. David himself barely escaped the massacre, but he escaped with a secret–Steelheart can be hurt. Ever since then he has thought of nothing but revenge, and has compiled exhaustive research on epics, their weaknesses, and on Steelheart’s organization. He lacks only one thing to put his plans for revenge into action: support.

That support arrives in the form of The Reckoners, a band of ordinary humans who are able to stand up to the epics, and are determined to exterminate them all. David just has to find a way to join them and convince them his plan will work.

Sanderson has a gift for puzzles, and there are a lot of them in “Steelheart. ” He’s also one of the braver writers who will give you everything you need to figure it out for yourself. And I did figure out quite a few of the puzzles, sometimes several chapters ahead of the reveal. But for every one I got right, there were at least that many I didn’t. Sanderson has a knack for layering puzzles on top of his puzzles, and having the biggest reveals coming in the midst of the action when you don’t have time to stop and think through the ramifications of those reveals.

That only works, of course, if he can keep you suspensefully turning pages, which he does. He knows how to ratchet up the tension and keeping you glued to the book.

Steelheart was a fun read, and a good start to the series. I’ve been told by several people that the next book blows this one out of the water, so I look forward to testing that. I also think I’ll go back some day and read the book again, studying how Sanderson writes. His style is clear, concise (fans of the Stormlight Archive may find this surprising), and evocative. I need to take a close look at how he does it.