Ok, I want to make this one official. As the head of the Blind Lemur Conservative Party (motto: Vel Caeci Facere Maius Lemur [Even a Blind Lemur Could Do A Better Job]), here are the party endorsements for 2016. Since I, and thus the Inner Party, are in
Crook Cook County, that’s what you get. While some snark is present, the points are sincere.
U.S. President/U.S. Vice President
Hillary Clinton & Tim Kaine – Democratic Party ; Donald J. Trump & Michael R. Pence – Republican Party; Gary Johnson & Bill Weld – Libertarian Party; Jill Stein & Ajamu Baraka – Green Party
Nope. None of them. Not. A. One. Even the Great Corporate Hope, Evan McMullen is a nope. And he isn’t even on the ballot in IL. Seriously, this is the worst field since…well, any in North Korea. We have a dishonest career politician and lawbreaker running against a small-handed vulgarian. With a side of clown show and hippies. Yeah, this is bad. This is one of those points, I hope, that is described in future history books as ‘the moment the people began taking back their government, and replaced the inept and corrupt system with one that was not only truly answerable to the voters, but required to be so’. BLC Endorses None Of The Above / Sweet Meteor of Death.
U.S. Senator (Illinois)
Tammy Duckworth – Democratic Party; Mark Steven Kirk – Republican Party; Kenton McMillen – Libertarian Party; Scott Summers – Green Party
While I wish I could endorse Cyclops, the Green Party is something I cannot ever support. This is another nightmare, since Kirk has to run as a Democrat to win, Duckworth is one, and that leaves McMillen. Who I, honestly, never heard of. But he is the only sane choice. BLC Endorses McMillen.
U.S. Representative (Illinois’s 1st congressional district)
August (O’Neill) Deuser – Republican Party; Bobby L. Rush – Democratic Party
Another ‘vote against’ race. Rush needs to go. He has been in office far too long, but, like most leftist, can trust the minority voters to know their place, and will be reelected. It doesn’t matter, Cook County is owned and run by the Democrats, as the multitude of failures here shows. Plus, I know someone named August. BLC Endorses Deuser.
State and Local below the fold… (more…)
Oops. I started this, and was instantly slammed in the face with a bunch of unfamiliar terms, and the distinct feeling that this was, in fact, part of a series. The subhead ‘A Starbreaker Novel’ was also a hint. So, wanting to be fair, I hared off and downloaded ‘Without Bloodshed‘, the first Starbreaker book, released in 2013. And moved through it as fast as possible, while noting a lot of missing details that I thought I would find.
Then I downloaded the cover, and saw that this takes place seventeen years before Without Bloodshed. A prequel. Thus, oops.
Silent Clarion introduces the reader to the world of the future – some years after the event know as ‘Nationfall’, which is pretty much what it sounds like – the fall of nations around the world. What Graybosch does with that is a new approach – his post-nation world is not only far reduced in population, but is not controlled by various mega-corps, as the cyberpunk genre tends to be. That is an interesting change. In this world, the Phoenix Society offers some level of order, as a sort of trans-global watchers of the watchmen. With the total focus on the rights of the individual, these watchers, known as Adversaries, have nearly limitless authority within strict boundaries. One such is our protagonist, Naomi Bradleigh. Young, brash, and very good at her job, we open with a look at the divisions in the society when her boyfriend explains to her one morning that he will be marrying the woman his parents chose, but wants to keep her as a mistress. Seems at his social level, being with someone who has congenital pseudofeline morphological disorder (referred to in the rest of the book as CPMD or being CPMD+) is unacceptable. CPMD is a not-uncommon condition that results in the carrier having above-average physical and mental abilities (see a WAY more detailed breakdown from the author here). Being depressed, angry, and overworked, Naomi takes a semi-forced vacation, originally to New York, and from there, based on an overheard conversation and (spoiler), up to Clarion, NY. Strange things are indeed afoot, and here the book hits a snag.
It is, simply, too heavy-handed with the metal references. I know this is the point, I know this is meant to be a form of rock opera type novel. And believe me, I like that idea a lot. I just wish it wasn’t so…
That is why I can’t stand Gotham…just saying.
Same applies, but with the character commenting on it, to the events in town. Like some other books from CQ, this is one that has a lot of spoiler moments fairly quickly. That makes going more in depth a bit of a challenge. Let’s leave it at there is a conspiracy, another conspiracy, and a third, all like Russian nesting dolls, focused on Nationfall, Clarion, CPMD+, and going even further back. This is a great intro to the Starbreaker series, and would make Without Bloodshed make more sense if read first.
Let’s do some background. The novel is set in 2095, and does describe some of the accelerated technology that is common in science fiction – the usual suspects mostly, such as AI, neuroimplants, colonies off Earth (but still in the system), etc. What is interesting is that the tech does not extend much to weapons – AK-47s are still common, and the preferred weapons across the board are swords. Even for the police. That seems a bit anachronistic, to be sure, but it does make for a better story, fits the Adversary concept, and serves the author’s purpose well. Ever since Batman: The Animated Series premiered, I have loved the idea of advanced technology coexisting with older tech and methods, and Silent Clarion does that flawlessly.
Silent Clarion does, albeit belatedly, explain some of the things that are fairly confusing in Without Bloodshed. Such as the nature of the Phoenix Society, asuras, Nationfall, and so forth. That is welcome, especially to someone who, like me, is often more interested in the background than the story itself. That is a compliment, as a compelling (but absent) background keeps me interested, seeking to know more of how things came to be.
Overall, this is a solid book, with a lot going for it. I have had trouble divorcing it from Without Bloodshed, as I read them back-to-back. I do look forward to more in this world, and hope to see the sequels soon.
Below the fold is a hint of the musical connections found in the book. Graybosch uses song titles as chapter subheaders, and the titles relate in some way to the events in the chapter. Lots of good songs, and a nice breadth of artists. Click to check them out.
When is it acceptable to use a crowdfunding platform for personal use? I don’t have a good answer to that – it seems like if there is a medical or other emergency, then it is ok. But is there a line? If so, where? And are these platforms really there to be a ‘get out of my own problem’ card?
In some cases, I see the
use need. Medical issues, sudden deaths (funeral, survivor’s funds, etc.), unpreventable life events that need money (pending evictions as results of job loss, car repairs to prevent same). And I support that without reservation. This is why places like GoFundMe exist after all. And the use of them shouldn’t come with any stigma. I suspect most people would be somewhat emotionally traumatized enough at being in that position that piling on some inappropriate social stigma is not only unneeded, but unkind as well.
I have a bit more hesitancy at these being use for self-caused situations. Quitting without a job lined up, for example. I understand not everyone thinks like I do (mechanism of thought), or holds the same opinions. I just have a hesitancy when it comes to using a platform that in my opinion was intended to help those in need when you caused it yourself. I did apply this to myself, when I was trying to get a new laptop, and couldn’t afford the one that would work best for my job. I created, and never launched, a campaign to pay for the computer. I couldn’t (literally) commit to asking others for help with something I didn’t need, even though it would have made life much easier.
I am, however, outright opposed to using a crowd platform to fund your hobby. Completely. I have seen a lot of this lately, and it just seems to do nothing but annoy me. Look, it is a hobby – of you cannot afford it, either do it at an affordable level, or find another one. Really. I see people committing money I know they don’t have to things that they don’t have to do, and I wonder how that mindset works. I honestly just cannot understand it.
Land Locked is the sequel to Gyre, reviewed previously. In that review, I mentioned some pacing issues, and that things would be slow, then suddenly shift into hyperdrive, causing a bit of confusion.Land Locked starts out with a remedy to that…it is fairly sedate for about a third of the book, then things start happening. Literally. My Kindle listed me at 33% when it picked up some more interesting story aspects.
Not to say the first third isn’t interesting, it just feels like it is looking about, trying to find where it needs to head. As before, we have a lot of branches shown, and seemingly discarded. While that is, I think, somewhat realistic, it is also (for me, at least) a difficult read. I see a branch, it looks good, and then we are off in a different direction. As we all know, the imagined is often better, being our own custom reality, than the written; and that is in evidence here.
We start two years later, with Trevor and Chelsea still working with the Waterstar Map, looking for lost Link Pieces, and an advantage in the Atlantean / Lemurian war. And the missing SeaSat5. And where their potential relationship went. With much moping about, and a bit of exposition, we shamble through the first bits.
But then, things pick way up. It begins with a mission that is forward in time, not backwards. And that’s it. Honestly, the book becomes a long list of spoilers after this. From characters reappearing from Gyre, to new powers (which double as bad things), a psycho or two, hidden messages, new enemies, a different view of the war, and all the stuff I liked from Gyre itself. The second two thirds is totally the payoff for the slow beginning. It took me weeks (and I read like three other books in the process) to get through the first third, and a matter of a few days to finish…it’s that different a pace.
Land Locked is far more focused on relationships than Gyre, which does change the tone of the book. That change can throw some readers, and did throw me. But if you continue, the payoff is there. Be patient, it will appear, and while not losing focus on the relationship piece, there is more happening to drive the book forward. I looked at it like so: if The Empire Strikes Back was book two of the Star Wars novel series – no movies – what kind of reaction would it receive on first read? Action opener, then is just fall off a cliff – scores of pages about fixing a hyperdrive! Chapters of running in the swamps! Snore.
This may be the ESB of this series – don’t stop just because it feels slow to start, it gets really good. Promise.
So the long-delayed Eagle Sports Range is finally open. And, of course, I took a bit of time to check it out. This has been ‘coming soon’ since early last year, and while I fully expected a gun shop and range to have a lot of hoops to jump through, and a nervous town leadership to reassure, I was about ready to consider it another Oak Forest almost-business. For those not living here, Oak Forest has a bad reputation when it comes to businesses, and several businesses have closed before they even opened. I was worried this would be one.
Nope! While much-delayed, Eagle is open, and busy. Occupying a former auto dealership, Eagle has a large showroom area, with tons of firearms, ammo, and accessories for sale. A large staff of friendly associates is on hand to answer your questions, unlock the cases to show the weapons, and talk up the benefits of each. For the casual shooter, there are several pistol options under $500, and for the collector, there are a decent amount of both ‘sci-fi’ and ‘evil black’ rifles and carbines. Several AK-look rifles, some FN-P90s, and the usual collection of AR-15 based rifles. I am not a rifle guy, so I can’t comment on the prices there, but they didn’t seem totally out of line. The pistol and revolver prices seemed in line with other prices I have seen at Cabella’s and BASS Pro. Which is to say, in my opinion, overpriced. Now, some of these are damn nice, including a CZ-owned 1911 build that is way too expensive for me, but just a work of art. The selection is, frankly, massive.
In the back are the pistol and rifle ranges, VIP Member lounge, several bathrooms (like 3 sets I think), a waiting area for the ranges, offices, meeting/class rooms, and vending machines. The pistol range is nice, divided into two sets of lanes, to help keep noise down (unless you are that dude firing the hand cannon when I was there – I literally felt the shockwave). The lanes are staffed by safety officers, and there is always at least one on hand, often two.
Overall, this is a great place for the gun hobbyist / enthusiast, and once the classes get going, they are sure to be popular.
There are two issues I had, and they are why this is not a 5 star review. They are both safety related, and both should be corrected by the ownership. There is too much anti-gun and anti-shooting sports mentality out there to let this go unremarked.
- Showroom Carry: While I didn’t see every holster close up, every employee holster I did see was completely insecure. Nothing holding the weapon in place, no strap, nothing. Not even a bad strap. Nothing at all. Again, I did not interact with every employee, so there may be some doing it right. But the ones I did interact with (and no, I don’t know names) had an insecure holster. One employee went further, and like a stupid TV character had the hammer of his automatic back. That’s right, he had manually pulled the hammer back on his pistol, and holstered it. This is way uncool, and needs correction.
- Pistol Range Carry: Less of an issue, but the ‘range safety officer’ with the shoulder rig should rotate that revolver 90 degrees. Instead, the barrel is pointing at everyone behind him. Shoulder holsters have their own issues, which make them less than ideal, and by pointing his weapon blindly behind him, he is breaking one of those core rules of using a gun. Just point that barrel down, thanks.
So that’s it. Great place, solid pricing, and helpful staff. If you are interested, I cannot suggest enough that you take a look.
Sometimes I mention that a book feels like a collection of short stories, bridged together more or less skillfully by the author. Often, this is because there is a combination of the book feeling like I have been in it forever, and then an end point happens. In this case, that happened enough to get that mental label – The Hand of Raziel feels very much like a couple of shorts compiled into a novel.
Well, not exactly. The common thread of the ‘novel from short story’ sub-subgenre is that the characters are, often, constantly reintroduced, the background reexplained, and the whole thing feels like a money grab from the publisher (see Black Library’s ‘Gotrek & Felix’ ‘novels’ for exactly this). This feels far more like a story composed in fits and starts, without a clear end point, but with a sort of broad mental outline.
In the main, this is the story of Risa Black, an operative for the Martian Liberation Front. She is a cyber-enhanced spy / fighter who receives guidance from an angel, Raziel (an archangel within the teachings of Jewish mysticism who is the “Keeper of Secrets” and the “Angel of Mysteries”). Needless to say, no one else sees / experiences Raziel’s presence. The novel explores the fairly stock ’emotionless killer / highly depressed and broken person who shuts off feelings’ trope for all it is worth. With a lot of the usual stuff you expect from this kind of exploration.
There is a lot of action here – mostly spurred by the revolution. In an interesting take on the idea of ‘freedom from a distant Earth’, this is less about an oppressive government (or a UN-like body) than freedom from dominant mega-corporations. With one being far more obviously evil than the other. There is a limited amount of background there, which is a frustration for me, but it seems that several other novels / series serve as a distant prelude (by maybe 400 years) to this series. Since I haven’t read those, that’s not much help. This lack of background does keep me from being fully ‘into’ the book, as I was often found things a bit murky, especially with the way settings and environments were being described. In many ways, Mars was presented as near-Warhammer 40K levels of oppression and drudgery, but without the social controls keeping people from revolting. Here, the downtrodden masses just accept it. For reasons I can’t claim to understand.
What is even more interesting is that there is a sense that no one knows the MLF is fighting to free Mars, and sometimes no one seems to know who the MLF even is; but they all know Risa. While I have no problem with the idea of a single stand-out figure in a revolution, having that figure be as shadowy an operative as she seems to be intended to be is off, as is the idea that she so vastly overshadows the organization. Again, my take.
The real quandry here, as a reviewer, is that while I think some work was needed before this saw print, it wasn’t bad. Just long, and with a lot of good end-points before it finally ended. Several points I did like were the character development and backstory revelations, the fact that Raziel was not what I first thought, and the final direction everything went. Those make the book worth a read, and worth a look at book two, when it is released.
I know, you hate your candidate almost a much as you hate theirs. I know, your candidate was robbed in the primaries, colluded against, maligned, whatever. I know, you really want to support that third-party candidate, but it feels like a wasted vote, and you worry about the other party winning because your party fractured.
I get it.
But you have to get out there and vote anyway.
Look, it doesn’t matter if you can’t stomach the Presidential candidates, vote down-ballot. Vote for your representative at the state or local level. Vote for a Congressional representative or senator. Vote on ballot measures. Vote on whatever there is on the ballot past the Presidential race.
Just vote. It does matter.
When I started blogging, back in 2003, it was about politics. Mostly about John Kerry being unfit to be President due to his self-confessed war crimes. Yes, really.
But that was a long time ago, and now we are faced with the reality that the next President will be, regardless of who wins, manifestly unfit for the office. I am more fit, by far, than any of those appearing on the ballot. Mostly because I am not actually seeking the office. I think we lost a lot when we moved from the original style – the candidate didn’t campaign, their friends and supporters did. This allowed the winner to claim, even if no one quite bought it, that they served at the behest of the people, and not for any self-aggrandizing motives. Modern campaigns, by way of comparison, are nothing but rampant self-aggrandizement, at the expense of clarity, honesty, integrity, and any other positive traits.
The other reason I am over it is that the rise of social media has turned so many people into raging assholes. People attacking their friends over who they support, mocking people for not being qualified to have X opinion, then continuing to offer their equally unqualified Y opinion. Frankly, this is as good a reason to boycott social media as any I have ever seen. We all have opinions, and I have had long, friendly, productive discussion with people holding political views a full 180 from mine. But I see Facebook…and people just need to stop. Stop virtue signaling, stop lowering yourself to the level of the brain damaged on the far ends of the spectrum, stop intentionally misconstruing metaphors (and similes, and analogy, and simple phrases you know you understand perfectly well), stop encouraging the false dichotomy that says your candidate embodies pure virtue while the opponent is pure vice. Stop encouraging and reinforcing the echo chamber. Just stop.
Stop. Acting. Like. Fucking. Children.
Start remembering that you are supposed to be friends with these people, and insulting their beliefs is a great way to lose them. Start remembering that no one, even you, is perfect, and that we all err. Start remembering that you need to forgive to be forgiven. Start acting like adults.
And so, here we are. With no good choice for the office. Obviously, this is my opinion, but let me lay this out a bit… (more…)
Some years ago, a friend of mine, on reading the then-new Harry Potter book’s line about a ‘wretched American President’ declared he was done. And that Rowling had, in intending to insult Bush, instead insulted Clinton, the whole of the series (excepting Philosopher’s Stone) being set in the Clinton administration. Seems she forgot her own timeline.
Anyway, I then expressed my opinion that a liberal bent in an author is not exactly a shock. Wedging in an attempted insult for no good reason is a sign of being a hack, to be sure, but the political leaning is to be expected.
And it continues. Every election cycle, we get the hoary trope of the current crop of popular actors making the usual impassioned plea to elect whomever the Democratic party is running, lest the world end, movies all become ‘Birth of a Nation’ (the original), and art wither and die. And, like a Pavlovian response, conservatives decry this as spoiled, irrelevant, and likely highly uninformed twits mouthing whatever pabulum they have been instructed to. Which isn’t wrong, but is very, very tiring.
Look, unless you live in a fantasy world, which far too many conservatives seem to, you can safely assume that every single actor, writer, singer, dancer, artist, et-fraking-cetera is a leftist. Seriously. It is like assuming fire is hot. You just do it.
This shouldn’t be a surprise. The political left is usually aligned with the concerns of the arts community, so it makes sense to support those who support you. Duh.
Can we stop pretending this is a surprise, and move past it. Constantly rehashing the same tired nonsense is one of those things that hurt the conservatives more than anything, and we, as a body, need to stop. And to those in the arts, please look critically at the policies and practices of the Democratic party before doing as they ask, and blindly supporting them. You might be surprised at just what it is they are supporting…
Once upon a time, I read a trilogy of books featuring diminutive main characters fighting an ancient, seemingly unstoppable, evil. It was called The Iron Tower, by Dennis L. McKiernan. Published in 1984. Some time later, I read a series with, nearly point-for-point, the same plot. And was disgusted at how obvious a copy it was. This series was The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Published in 1954. And so a lesson was learned – check dates before assuming something is just a rip off.
Which brings us to Nine Candles of Deepest Black by Matthew Cox. I have to admit, I liked this story, I even liked it when it was the movie ‘The Craft’. And while it is tempting to use the same line, changing ‘The Craft’ to ‘Stranger Things’, knowing how long it takes to write, edit, and publish a book, the odds are minuscule that NCoDB was influenced by that excellent Netflix series. There are similarities, but then, those similarities are elements of horror fiction that are not original, dating to (at least) Lovecraft and Dunsany.
Now, the plots of The Craft and NCoDB are not identical, merely…highly similar. In both, the protagonist is a troubled teen in a new town, who connects with fellow outcasts with an interest in using magic to deal with their problems in life and high school. In both, the protagonist is the only one with any real power, and her abilities fuel the ritual for her friends. In both, everything goes pear-shaped. In both, the wishes are strikingly similar (love, revenge, money), although honesty compels me to state that these are pretty universal drivers, so there isn’t much to be made of that. And in both, the really evil character is gone at the end, and the rest are still talking, if less skittish about it in NCoDB than the movie.
There are, to be sure, many differences. And those make the book a good read. But wow, I was starting to picture the cast of The Craft there for a while.
But on to the book. Nine Candles of Deepest Black is the story of Paige Thomas, sophomore, whose family has just relocated to the small town of Shadesboro, PA after her sister, Amber, was killed by a drunk driver. Something Paige had seen coming, but (sis being away at college and all) unable to prevent. Or have anyone believe she saw coming. Paige, on her first day of school, meets the rest of the characters – picked-on eight-grader Sofia (taunted because her parents run a funeral home), Renee (comes from a broken home), Santana (family is struggling financially), and Mackenzie the token spoiled rich girl (dead mom, trophy wife stepmom, crush on football player). After some hang-out time at Mackenzie’s, the girls get out the Ouija board (of course), and things go dark when Paige uses it.
From there, it is a short jump to Mackenzie using the others to cast a spell to get what they want – Paige wants her father to snap out of his depression at losing his daughter, Sofia wants the mean kids to stop teasing her, Mackenzie wants the football player (Cole) to love her, Renee wants her family to be whole, and Santana wants her family’s money issues to end. Of course, this is where the kids mostly good intentions go off the rails, as I expect you can tell from the wishes. No spoilers, but it is a bit obvious who the villain is, and that nothing will be what it seems.
Matthew Cox’s writing is excellent, if a bit bogged down in describing Paige’s clothing. His depiction of a family torn apart by grief, and having to deal in their own ways is excellent, and while some characters are completely two dimensional (Cole), they are also closer to being set pieces than actual characters. The actual characters are well rounded, with good and mean in what feel like accurate amounts. The inevitable ‘but you saw the super-mystical-inexplicable thing!’ scenes are, frankly, solid. Even if the trope is played out, the simple fact is that in a real encounter, this kind of exchange would occur, and would freak people out to no end. The mind is fairly excellent at wiping out things it decides you don’t need to remember, which makes the reactions far more believable. Cox also deals with desires of someone who doesn’t see the whole picture nicely as well. Without ruining it, let’s just say Renee’s father needed to be absent, for good reasons. But also for reasons that a teen might simply not want to see, and thus be able to ignore. All well done.
I do have to say that at times, Renee and Santana blended in my head some, with neither being overly strong, or memorable. Again, understandable – the story focuses on Paige, Mackenzie, and Sofia. I didn’t see any crosses in the writing – which is a bit annoying – so while I had some occasional trouble, your mileage may vary.
This is a good stand-alone novel, being fully self-contained and leaving only the usual bits at the end for the genre, suggesting nothing vis a vis a sequel. I would like to see one, however. I think there can be more to tell here, and while the girls learned not to mess with ancient evil, there are enough references to other things Paige sees/senses in the town to make a satisfying short series of the girls helping out when something bad pops up. Something in the vein of Buffy meets Sleepy Hollow.
Anyway, yes, I can suggest this as a good read – some thrills without being too much for a younger audience. Despite feeling like a revision of The Craft, NCoDB is a solid work that deserves a look. The deductions in stars are for being too close to The Craft for my liking (I know all stories have been told before, at a meta level, but seriously, this was just too close), and for feeling drawn out towards the end. That could have been tighter. If a sequel is released, I will very much be picking it up, and that is as solid an endorsement as you can get.