Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Mar 30, 2006

The Brothers Grimm

There does exist such a thing as a good (or at least funny) campy movie. Unfortunately, this is not it. It doesn't even approach the same approximate artistic universe as "good".

I think the main problem was that the timing of comic delivery was completely off. Jokes properly have a sort of rythym to them; introduce an element at the wrong time (or incoherently), and the humor falls flat.

The one thing that I found somewhat interesting about the movie was that I thought Matt Damon was Heath Ledger for approximately the first 20 minutes. No kidding. While Matt Damon's acting was depressingly wooden (wasn't this guy in The Bourne Identity?), I thought Heath Ledger did a fairly good job; good enough, at least, that I didn't recognize him. Of course, that could have just been the makeup and the general disorientation caused by the bizarre Italian-French-German juxtaposition going on.


Mar 29, 2006


I enjoyed this science fiction novel by Ben Bova, but unfortunately it also contains some flaws that prevented it from being truly deep and inspiring.

The novel is, essentially, about the first manned mission to land on Mars and all the things that they accomplish and hope to accomplish. Among the novel's many good points is an extensive dramatization of what happens to the science when the scientists go to politicians for funding. The mission is presented very much in a "future of mankind", "manifest destiny" fashion; the landscape on Mars is detailed as magnificent, awe-inspiring, but also not really frightening. Even a serious problem, a hole in the pressure dome, is handled with dispatch and professionalism.

The problem is that Mr. Bova went too much out of his way to create conflicts and dangers, so much so that they seem hokey and contrived. However, he manages to ignore several very real dangers completely; his astronauts and scientists breathe nitrogen as a component of their air supply, and after an accident they're reduced to breathing pure oxygen for two days.

Now, if I remember my dive medicine correctly, only a masochist or an idiot would breathe nitrogen in space. It's dangerous enough over the comparatively gradual pressure changes of a deep-sea dive; when the pressure difference between outside and inside is as great as it would be on Mars, you'd be in serious trouble if there was any kind of problem.

In addition, no one can breathe pure oxygen for two days. When you breathe pure oxygen, your blood saturates to the point that even the blood returning to your heart through your veins is oxygenated. Although it's commonly known that hemoglobin carries oxygen, it really serves two purposes; one, for oxygen molecules to attach and be carried to your cells for use, and secondly for carbon dioxide molecules to attach and be carried to your lungs, where they are wasted to the outside world.

Carbon dioxide is not attractive enough to hemoglobin to replace oxygen that's already there. If you breathe pure oxygen, you will drown in your own waste products. If I remember correctly, this was discovered during the first military trials of oxygen rebreathers for assault divers, and the result was unfortunately fatal.

A big oops on Ben Bova's part. A lot of science fiction novels contain errors, however since this error is actually a part of the most significant plot conflict, it seriously detracts from the quality of the novel. The characters are also somewhat artificial and cookie-cutter, making the entire book more appropriate for teenagers than adults. Younger persons may be able to enjoy the romance of the story without being disturbed by the superficialities involved.

Rating: 2.5

Mar 28, 2006

The Return of Fangirl

Also this.

Since I self-declared myself to be Jack Wakeland's #1 Fangirl some time ago, I think it behooves me to respond to these posts over at Rule of Reason, although I'm sure Mr. Wakeland is the best person to ask if you are in doubt over your understanding of his words. As a long-time reader of TIA Daily, I think I have a fair understanding of the magazine's views and policy.

TIA has long been arguing that the real enemy at the gates is not Islam (which is composed of Attilas), but the multiculturalists within America that seek to frighten us out of asserting and defending our rights. It is these neo-intellectuals, empty of any idea other than hatred of America, that are the Witch Doctors that permit the Attilas to believe that they may have a chance of cowing the giant. Even a youngster reading comic books understands that it is not the Monster that is the most fearsome evil, it is the Mad Doctor that releases said Monster upon the innocent, even though said Mad Doctor may never raise a hand against them himself. You can kill the Monster, but you still won't have finished the job until the Mad Doctor has joined him.

The ideological battle against the multiculturists must be fought unhesitatingly, unflinchingly, and all the way to the hilt. It is in an ideological battle that any compromise or half-measure is worse than none. It is this battle that Ayn Rand spoke of unceasingly, and this is where her quotation applies.

In a physical battle against Attila, though, especially when you are America, with the military might to crush any Islamic country on the planet like, well, like a bug, a half-battle is not necessarily a disaster. It is not as good as it could be, but it's not a complete disaster. The fact that there IS a war going on at all means that the ideological battle, the truly necessary battle, is actually going fairly well. While we may not have 100% support of the idea that America has rights and should assert them, at least there's enough that the war is still going forward.

Mr. Wakeland's support of Bush's "Forward Strategy of Freedom", in my understanding, is based on the fact that it means Bush has recognized two truths: that the real battle here is an ideological one, and that we have to stick with it until we win. While Bush hasn't been fantastic about finding and applying the correct strategies to realize either of these goals, he HAS been consistent in maintaining that there is an ideological battle and that we have to stick with it. In that respect, his floundering efforts deserve our support.

I can sympathize with Objectivists who want this war carried on as stringently as it really should be, however the political reality is that there is no one in the country able to do this. Dr. Peikoff remarked on his amazement with people praising Bush for his "hard nose", you know, the one that he has not, in fact, got. Well, the reason for this is simple; he DOES have a hard nose when compared with the competition.

During the Presidential elections, Bush was not the "medium war" candidate, he was the war candidate. No one else was even willing to go that far. Electing Kerry would not have been a statement that we were tired of the half-war, it would have been a statement that we were mewling pacifists too frightened to pursue any war.

A smothering dread of self-assertion has become so entrenched in this country that it will be a long, difficult, drawn-out struggle to get out from under it. It is absurd to expect that the first steps of the recovering cripple be the arrogant stride of a healthy young man. This is what TIA (and Mr. Wakeland) accept, albeit unhappily; locking horns over the ideological issues while being cheerful supporters of those tentative first steps in the right direction.

In addition to all this, Mr. Wakeland also keeps tabs on the actual military happenings in Iraq; the battles fought, the cities taken, the police trained, etc. It has been his consistent opinion that, militarily, our troops are doing quite well. So referring to the military's efforts as a half-battle only succeeds in bolstering the liberal media's claims that we are caught in a "quagmire" that is just like Vietnam.

If we pull out before we accomplish the goal we set for ourselves (returning Iraq to self-government), all that will happen is that there will be yet another concrete instance for the multiculturalists and proponents of self-imposed dhimmitude to point at when they declare that any attempt to assert our rights will only lead to defeat of American forces. It doesn't matter, at this stage, if Iraq ends up with a very bad government. If necessary, we can invade them again. (It is not the preferred outcome by any stretch of the imagination, mind you.) What matters is that we don't self-declare a military defeat.

So, Mr. Provenzo, Wakeland didn't accuse you (or anyone else) of treasonously supporting Islamists. Instead, he quite rightly observed that by favoring a pullout because the war isn't being fought strenously enough, you're playing into the hands of those who would see a pullout, for any reason, under any circumstances, as a U.S. military defeat and be emboldened by yet another sign of the crumbling of the giant. Grim as the prospect is, we can afford to fight this war for a long time and lose a lot of money and, grievously, lives. We cannot afford to stop fighting.

But appearances don't matter, right? Attila will understand that we're not really weak, right? Bull. It is not pragmatism to recognize that bullies are not put off by a show of weakness; it is practicality. I think it's frightful and revolting to realize what a vulnerable position America is in due to her ideological collapse. I would love to say, "let's hunker down and wait until we can fight with better tools." It isn't a viable choice. You work with what you have. You have to bail out the boat before you can fix the hole in the bottom.

The solution, as I see it, is to keep fighting the ideological battle here at home by any means at your disposal. Criticize Bush for his many inadequacies. Call for more more thorough, more stringent, more comprehensive military policy. Condemn those who condemn our troops for civillian casualties. And support the military efforts that do exist. Turn this paper tiger into a real one.

Mar 27, 2006

Fiction: Finn

As Told by Dakota Sue

When I straggled into work the following morning Archer was already in the briefing room, tapping his cane against the foot on his good leg, glaring at his watch, and grumbling to himself.  I looked around the room; even with my late arrival, we were one short.  Q and Nat had not put in an appearance yet.

Archer glanced up at me and his expression softened slightly.  He sighed, shrugged, and hauled himself to his feet.  “Let’s get started; I’m not getting any younger, here.  The other two can join up with you when they get here.”

“What’s up, Chief?”  I asked.

“Lonely Point Naval Base was attacked last night.  A round dozen of their guards were killed and the attackers escaped with equipment from the armory before the alarm was even raised.”

“That’s twice since we started here,” I commented.  “They don’t need our help, they need to wake up and start paying some attention.”

“What did they take?” Durance asked, playing idly with a cigarette.

“Millions of dollars worth of weapons, body armor, explosives, and even some experimental equipment.”

“So someone either wants to wage a small war, or get rich on the black market,” the cyborg concluded.  “Or both, no need to be picky.”

“Have you dug up any intel on these intruders?” Finn asked.    

“Not much, they covered their tracks fairly well.  Not perfectly, however,” Archer said, allowing himself a thin-lipped smile.  He clicked his remote and we watched grainy film footage splash across the screen.  A tall, muscular, square-jawed man, Mr. All-American, in other words, was standing directly under an overhead light, talking to some people that were mere dark blurs in the background.

“I’d hurry up if I were you,” he said, voice gritty and distorted.  “I give us ninety seconds before the alarm is raised.  Wrath, don’t forget the explosives.  It’s hard to begin a revolution with only fireworks.”

The video flickered out, replaced with color photographs and dossier information.  “I give you former First Lieutenant David Kessler,” Archer announced.

“He’s one of ours?” Paul asked somewhat skeptically.

“He was,” Finn said.

“Yes, he was,” Archer agreed.  I frowned at Finn.  The name sounded really familiar, but I couldn’t remember why.  In knew I’d seen it in Finn’s file information, but the relation escaped me.

“Anything else?” Durance asked.

“He used to lead a squad of ‘normal’ soldiers trained for fighting meta-humans.  A year ago he led his deam to a chemical plant in China that was supposedly creating meta-humans . . .”

Everything lined up inside my brain.  “Bingo!”  I announced, so pleased at discovering the answer that it didn’t occur to me that someone else was speaking.  I pointed at Finn, still oblivious.  “He led Finn’s old team!”

Archer groaned.  “Oh, how subtle.”  Everyone glared at me.

“How does she know so much?” Paul asked.

Defensively, I grumbled, “If you wanted subtle, you should’ve hired someone else.”

Archer rolled his eyes.  “She knows people that aren’t afraid of the consequences of hacking into federal databases.”

“Do we have any leads on their current location?” Finn asked finally.  He looked at me blandly, which somehow was worse than if he’d been openly angry.

“Can you brief us on what happened at the chemical factory?”

“Why not let Sue tell it? She seems to have all the answers.”

“Hmph.” I responded.

“There’s not much to tell in any case.  The team dropped in southern China to investigate a lab that had broken some international genetic manipulation laws.  Basically, they were making super-humans for a price.  Once we confirmed the illegal activity, we were ordered to disable the factory and take the personnel into custody.

“After tangling with their hired soldiers, we located the chemical process they were using to incite genetic change in its subjects.  Kessler decided it might be fun to give it a test drive.  So, he and the other five members of the team injected themselves with the chemical compounds.

“When I tried to stop them, they decided to take me out.  Three of them paid the price for trying; Kessler and another team member finally managed to subdue me; they injected me with the chemical and left me for dead.  Like I said, not much to tell.”

“Why inject you?”  Paul asked, followed instantly by Durance’s, “You don’t seem to have superpowers.”

“He was probably hoping the sudden change would win me over to his side.  As for the powers, I don’t.  I used my atropine, it was enough to interrupt the reaction.  It almost killed me, but I stayed normal.”

I grimaced.  “Idiots often think that your abilities determine the content of your ideals.”

“This is why, when Kessler reappears with a new squad and steals tons of munitions, we get a little nervous,” Archer concluded.

“How many people were in the unit that ransacked the base?” Durance asked.

“Seven, I’m sure,” Finn muttered.

“Yes, seven.  Kessler’s former unit was codenamed the Seven Deadly Sins; Finn, for example, used to be Wrath,” Archer affirmed.

“It sounded like a lot more than just seven guys worth of gear,” Paul said.

“Kessler doesn’t think that small,” Finn replied.  “They have to be planning some kind of offensive.”

“Exactly, which is why we’re all here now.  I want you to go to Lonely Point and investigate the scene.  Use whatever evidence you can find to locate Kessler and his new SDS unit.”

Nat ran into the room and sat down, wearing dark sunglasses and carrying an enormous cup of coffee.  Archer shot her a disapproving look and she shrugged helplessly.  Finn was speaking, but he glanced at her briefly.  “I can handle this on my own, there’s no need to involve the entire group.”

“I’m going with you,” Nat said instantly, even though she obviously had no idea what she was volunteering to do.

“This is not up for discussion,” Archer said, a sharp edge coming into his voice.  “You work as a team, and the team will tackle the problem.  Forget that, and you will be decommissioned and out on the street within the hour.”

“I suppose that would work for me, too.  Where do I turn in my gear?”

Nat reached out to grab his hand.  “Finn,” she started.

“If you walk out that door and try to deal with Kessler by yourself, he will kill you easily,”  Archer warned.

“We’ve lost one hero this month,” Paul spoke up quietly.  “Let’s stick together and save the dramatics.”

Finn continued to match stares with Archer.  “I’m done with this team after this op.  You can kick me out, put me in jail, or put me down, I don’t care.”

“Is this all you are?  I’m disappointed.  Your father would be disappointed, too.”  He got up and began walking towards his office, cane clicking on the floor.

“Fuck you and fuck my father.  All talk until it comes time to stand up and do something.  Then you walk away and let someone else handle the dirty work.”  Finn whirled and stormed out of the room.  Nat shot to her feet and trotted after him.

Archer turned; it looked almost like he was going to follow as well.  I met his eyes and said, as calmly as I could manage, “I’ll handle this.”

“You’d better, because if that boy doesn’t learn to think before he opens his mouth Kessler won’t be the one killing him.”  He sounded furious, utterly enraged.  I played the conversation back in my head, trying to puzzle out which statement had hit a nerve.  There wasn’t time for it now, I decided, and turned away to collect my few bits of gear.

I climbed into the driver’s seat of our not-much-loved van and waited for the others to join me.  Durance appeared almost immediately and climbed into the shotgun position.  Paul appeared in the backseat.  Then, an interminable period later, Nat and Finn both climbed into the vehicle through the side door.

“Finn, do you really want to go it alone?”  I asked.

“Nah, you guys can stick around to hold my hand.  Obviously anyone that has a mind to it can kill me.”

“We could split up,” I continued doggedly.  “You can always change your mind later.”

“Let’s just find them first,” he snapped, then turned to stare out the window.

It was a long drive, out of the city, through blandly similar suburbs, and out onto the triangle of rock where the Naval base overlooked the Atlantic.  I found myself slipping into a comfortable focus on the Road, alone behind the wheel, regardless of passengers, as I hadn’t been for months.  It felt good, being reminded that there was more out there than missions and orders.  Unfortunately, the gatehouse loomed up in front of me and I had to stop.

A guard, pointing his weapon more in my direction than I really appreciated, approached the van.  Behind him, three workmen were cleaning some kind of really unpleasant mess out of the guard post.  “You with AEGIS?” he asked when I rolled down the window.

I blinked, startled.  “Are you an idiot?” I demanded.  He scowled.  “No, seriously, what a question to ask!  If we weren’t from AEGIS, would we really have said no?  If you’re an example of the guards they have here, I’m not surprised how often you get attacked!”

“Whatever,” he said and waved us through the gate.

“Why is the guard post being cleaned in the middle of the day?” Paul asked.

“Cleaning up blood, maybe?”  Finn speculated cheerfully.

I parked the van and got out.  “All right, you folks know what to do,” I said, and settled in to do my own reconnaissance; smelling the air.  It wasn’t pleasant; most of the smells were offensive.  Blood, the acrid stench of gunpowder, bubble gum, marijuana, perfume, cigarettes . . . at best I could make out that they’d wandered through the area.  I filed them in memory in case I encountered them again.

My communicator buzzed.  “They came in through the fence, used a bladed weapon to make the opening.  One clean slice,” Finn said, dispassionately as always.

“I can make out at least six distinct scents, but they’re muddied by all the traffic,” I responded.  “What’s on the other side of that fence?”

“About two hundred yards of grass, then forest the rest of the way.”

Then I heard Nat’s voice.  “I got something . . .”

I wandered over to have a look; she held up a piece of lacy black fabric.  “Does this look like underwear to you?”

“Underwear?”  I asked, startled.  “Well, at least a few of the people that came in here were female, I said, smelling the fabric a bit tentatively.  Then I sneezed.  “Cigarettes.”

Finn trotted up, coming back through the gap in the fence.  “I found their staging area, but I doubt it’s going to be much help.”

“Did they leave the same way they came in?”  Finn shook his head.

“From what the others found it looks like they stole a truck in the motor pool and went out the front gate.”

“Oh.”  I looked at the MP’s standing around, watching us dubiously.  “Do you have tracers in your vehicles at all?”

“Each vehicle has a GPS emitter on it.”

“Dare I hope they haven’t disabled it?”

“The truck’s parked in the Fens.  We have people on it as we speak.”

“Oh,” I said again.  Clearly they didn’t have any percentage on whether we succeeded or not.  “I’d like to send my people to the site, can you ask them not to disturb it before we can look at it?”

He nodded grudgingly and gave me the map coordinates.

“Did you get that, Paul?” I asked over my comm.  “Will do,” was his response.

“Are we about done here?” I asked.  Nat nodded and Finn shrugged.  “Let’s follow Paul, then.”  I waved to Durance as we went back to the van, he made a noise and climbed into his seat next to me.

“Find anything?” I asked, pulling back out onto the road.

“Well . . . apparently one of them can kill five men before they can react.  Left a bloody mess.”

“Are you sure it was only one?”

“I’m fairly certain.  You don’t kill five people the same way in the same instant.  Too textbook.”

“Not much to report,” Paul informed us when we arrived.  “There’s the truck, some homeless guys took a dump in the trunk, shell casings in the cab, some footprints.”

Everyone exited the van and began looking around.  Finn crouched in the dirt next to the truck, frowning.  “There might be something here . . .looks like a boot print.  From a platform boot?  This set of prints leads north.  As long as they didn’t split up, it might be something to check.”

“All right.”

“I should take the evidence back to AEGIS, I can test it there,” Nat said quietly.  Finn shook his head, catching her hand.  

“Let the lab techs handle that.  I need you here.”  She smiled and squeezed his hand.  

We followed the tracks down the street, the trail rapidly vanishing onto concrete and blacktop.  We continued several blocks, not finding anything.  It seemed pointless to continue, then I began smelling burnt rubber.  I glanced down at the street and saw black tire-marks, pointing them out to the others.

“Do you want me to go after it?” Paul asked.  I shook my head.

“The smell is old, they could be anywhere in the city by now.”

“So we’re back to square one,” Finn said, cursing.

“Let’s go back, then,” Durance said, and we headed back to the truck.  I looked over at Nat.

“Is there any possibility you could get a make and model from those tire marks?”

“Do we have a computer?”  

“I’m sure someone does,” I insisted, just as a large investigative van pulled up onto the grass in front of us, lumbering towards the stranded truck.  Nat’s eyes brightened and she almost bounced.

“I want that van!”

“Let me go talk to them.”  I plodded over and accosted a heavyset man in a blue uniform jacket.

“Um, can I help you?”  Nat wormed past him and me and ensconced herself in the van.  I had to laugh.

“You can give one of my people access to your equipment.  Her, to be precise.”

“I guess it’s too late to ask whether she’s certified or not.”

“BINGO!!” Nat yelled, jumping up and down and causing the van to rock on its suspension.  She thrust a digital camera into my face; I ducked out of the way, startled.  “Tire tracks!  Pictures!”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, still chuckling, and wandered back to take numerous snapshots from different angles and elevations.  By the time I returned she was sitting comfortably next to the investigator, both of them staring intently at computer screens.  I handed the camera up and Nat plugged it in somewhere.

The others gathered around at the foot of the van and we waited impatiently, Durance smoking as always.

“Okay!” Nat declared.  “The tires are standard on any rental van.  The fabric, though . . . expensive silk.  Very rare and exotic.”  She mock-glared at Finn humorously.  “You’re not cheating on me, are you?”

“He can only cheat on you if you do, in fact, have a relationship,” I remarked.

“I knew they were doing it,” Paul whispered.

Finn shook his head at us.  “How the hell did someone leave underwear at the scene?”

“Someone just out of juvvie?”  The technician called out.

“Come again?” Finn said, startled.

The tech turned his computer screen around, revealing a mug shot of an otherwise attractive young lady with short black hair and an extremely angry glare.  “Meet Janet Monroe, former guest of the state for assault, petty larceny, and vehicular manslaughter.  Age 21.”

“Do you have an address on her?  Besides custody?” Finn queried.

“A halfway house in Southside, but that was six months ago.  She left and no one’s seen her since.”

“These van rental agencies are turning up nothing,” Nat inserted, “but the underwear . . .” she laughed.

“Find something you like?” Finn asked.

“Three stores carry it, and the fabric is only for custom-made . . . items.”

“I am embarrassed to be a part of this investigation.  But hey, if it works, it works,” I said.

“Custom-made?” Durance asked rhetorically.  “Great, we’re up against the Fetish Mafia.”

“She’d be Lust, I’m betting.”

“I hope so,” Paul announced.  “The thought of Gluttony in a thong is too horrible to contemplate.”

Mar 26, 2006

Fiction: Interview

As Told by Dakota Sue

“So what, exactly, did we learn from all this?” I asked Archer when the debriefing finally ended, following him into his office and closing the door.  He shrugged eloquently and lowered himself carefully into his chair.

“Not very much, I’m afraid.”  He chuckled without humor.  “That’s usually the way these things work.  You fight the good fight, but you may never get your questions answered.”

“We’re not serving much purpose if all we can do is react when there’s a disaster.”

“I’m open to suggestions.”

“This Wolf guy may know something.”

“And I’m sure he’d love to tell us if we just asked nicely,” Archer replied sarcastically.

I frowned, thinking.  “It’s too late to scare it out of him.  He knows that if we were really going to kill him, we would have already.”  Archer raised an eyebrow, then nodded encouragingly.  “He’s more worried about his superiors now than about us, is my guess.”

“Why would that be, do you think?”

“Well, just look at what happened to the first cyborg we caught,” I replied, drawing my index finger across my throat suggestively.  “It’s pretty clear that our security is not secure enough.”

“So, you think he might talk to us if we put him in the Witness Protection Program?”  He chuckled again.  “I can just see Iron Wolf living in some sleepy little suburb in Indiana.”

“I didn’t mean we should release him!  Do I look crazy?  But, come on, there has to be somewhere so isolated and miserable that he’d be safe without enjoying it.”

“Even Antarctica doesn’t fit that bill any more.  They have McDonald’s there!  Face it, Susan, there’s no foisting this problem off on someone else.”

“The Moon’d be perfect, really,” I said, going on as though he hadn’t spoken.

He laughed, then stopped and frowned abruptly.  “You know, that’s not a half-bad idea.”

“Say what?”

“Not the Moon, of course, the negotiations with Farside are still a little . . . tentative.  There are, however, regular operations on some of the larger asteroids.”


He nodded, and I could tell he was warming to the idea.  “It wouldn’t be too difficult to leak news that Wolf died of his injuries, then change his name and appearance to ship him off-planet.”

“Durance probably wouldn’t like it very much.  But then, Durance does have one major point in his favor.”

“What’s that?”

“He’s not Finn.  I don’t think he’ll be too upset.  All right, well, I’ll get out of here and leave you alone, then.”  I turned around and started to open the door when Archer interrupted me.

“Not so fast.”

“Oh, what now?”

“I want you to be the one to interrogate Wolf.”

“You can’t be serious.  Me?  What am I going to do, glare at him a lot?  I’m not exactly the most diplomatic person around here.”

“Are you going to make me give you an order?”

“Well, no,” I retreated in confusion.  “I just want to know what your reasoning is.”

“You may not be diplomatic, but you aren’t bad at getting information out of people.  Of course, if you don’t want the responsibility, I suppose I can do it myself.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You’d be a lot better at your job if you weren’t so insecure.  It makes you erratic.”

“I am not insecure.”

“Not to mention defensive,” he added.  I gave up and glared.  He held his hands up, palms facing me, in a quelling gesture. “I’m not telling you this because I think you’re doing a bad job, you know.  I just think that there’s room for improvement.”  I grimaced and looked away, my face heating.

“Now there’s a polite way of telling me I’m an idiot,” I muttered.

“Susan, you’re not . . . ah hell.  I give up, I’m sorry I mentioned it.  Just go interrogate Wolf for me and leave me alone.”

“Yes, sir,” I went through the door, happy enough to escape, but ten steps down the hallway I paused, berated myself, and slowly returned, opening the door again and poking my head through without knocking.  Archer looked up from his paperwork.


“Um, thanks.”

He smiled.  “You’re welcome.”  I shut the door so quickly I almost got my hair caught in it, then wandered morosely down to the security block.  It wasn’t especially difficult to get in to see our prisoner, a fact that surprised me somewhat.  I didn’t think that anyone in the building would know me well enough to recognize me.

Iron Wolf was sprawled on his cot when I went in.  He glanced up at me with his remaining non-artificial eye, the other having been removed for security purposes.

“Wonderful!” He greeted me.  “As though it is not enough that I must be incarcerated, they send the great ugly cow of a woman to talk with me.”

I sat down and stared at him with the best bland expression that I could muster.  “If you’d prefer to be shot, I’m sure it could be arranged.”

“Please, you gutless fools would never go to such lengths.”

I grinned.  “Of course not, why would we bother when your superiors will do the job for us?  More convenient all around, and we don’t have to clean up the mess.”

“I already know that they will send someone to dispose of me.  Truly, it is most embarrassing to be caught in this situation.”

“I wouldn’t say embarrassing.”


“I would say, fatal.”

He rolled his eye.  “Do you ‘ave something to tell me or are you just inflicting your stench on me to amuse yourself?”

“Tell me why you wanted the girl.”

“Hmm, let me think about that for a moment . . . no.”

“Why not?  You have nothing to lose.”

“I do not exactly ‘ave anything to gain, either.  I talk to you, they kill me.  I do not talk to you, they still kill me.  What an incentive.”

“If you talk to us, we may be able to arrange for your transport to a safe location.”

“Thank you, but I haven’t been given enough narcotics to believe that story.”

“It’s the truth.”

“Where?  No, no, wait, do not tell me.  I do not want to hear it.”

“Why not?”

“Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that there really does exist somewhere that I could conveniently disappear.  If you tell me, it is quite possible that some hidden electronic implants will ferry such information to my superiors and, poof, I am again rendered into a corpse that has not gotten the point yet.”
I shook my head, grimacing.  “That seems a little paranoid to me.”

“Paranoia is good for you.”

“Well, except that it’s a little hard for you to tell whether I’m feeding you a line without hearing what it is.”

“Not at all.”

“You think so?”

“It is a fact.  ‘ad I encountered Durance before, ‘e no doubt would ‘ave killed me.  Something ‘as changed.  Since you are ‘ere talking to me instead of ‘im, I think it is you.”

“I’m not following.”

“You do not seem like a liar to me.  Stupid of you, I suppose, but useful to me.”

“So are you going to tell me something interesting or not?”

“You will keep me alive if I talk?”

“Much as I dislike the idea, yes.”

“Very well.  I am afraid I do not know much that may be of use to you.  Overthrow is composed of numerous scattered, independent cells, none of them knowing any of the others.  ‘Owever, these cells are a front for a larger and more secret organization.”

“Which is?”

“Shadow.  I do not know much about them. They are led by a cabal that is called The Penumbra.  They commissioned the girl to be engineered on behalf of a member that . . . retired some time ago, but still maintains significant influence within the organization.”

“What are the goals of this organization?”

“I could not say.  Overthrow is anarchist in name at least, but that does not necessarily mean anything.”

“So why do you work for them?”

He shrugged.  “Why does anyone do anything?  They gave me room to exercise my talents in a manner I enjoyed.  What more needs to be said?”

“That’s disgusting.”

“Ahh, but we are not all lost little lambs in need of guidance.  Some of us are wolves.”

“I advise taking some pictures with you, then, in case you need to remember what gender you are.”

“Am I going someplace cold, then?”

“Maybe,” I replied and let the cell door slam shut behind me.

Mar 25, 2006

The Farseer Trilogy

This trilogy by Robin Hobb (containing Assassin's Apprentice, Royal Assassin, and Assassin's quest) has good points and bad points, but I think that the good is far enough outweighed by the bad that, even though I enjoyed the books, I wouldn't recommend them to anyone.

The best point is the style, which is clear, flowing, and very detailed, placing the reader within the story and making it completely real and compelling. Next best is the characterization of the many and varied people contained in the story, all of whom are self-contained individuals and utterly consistent.

The theme of the trilogy is altruism, or as Hobb explains it, sacrifice, and is actually illustrated fairly well, although it's not exactly an enjoyable one as far as I'm concerned. Those characters that give themselves completely over to sacrifice see all their hopes and dreams destroyed, but they continue on at the end in something vaguely approximating victory, while those that are driven by nothing but the immediate whims of the moment are eventually overthrown and cast down. However, the main character, Fitz, doesn't act on either of these premises; he struggles for some kind of self-interest, but like a child he never really concretizes what he wants and so he's pulled hither and yon by the actions of his elders and those with more political clout, constantly ground between the gears.

The general effect of the three novels is very grim, as Fitz is torn between a consuming duty that will devour every scrap of his life (at times so grim that it almost seems a relief to give into it), and his own desire for some unnamed and unobtainable happiness that causes him to break out in fits of childish obstinacy and petulance. His pendulum-like swinging is illustrated by the two types of magic that he possesses; the Wit and the Skill. The Skill (a sort of mind magic) represents the side of demanding duty, and he finds himself unable to use it effectively, while the Wit (a beast magic) represents an escape from the rigidly artificial and arbitrary world of humans. In the end, Fitz doesn't accomplish victory, he spends his efforts to lift those who have given up their personal identities more than he has to victory. His own life dwindles into a kind of exhausted peace of giving up.

The plot is, in my opinion, the worst aspect of these books. Hobb dances around explaining some of the fundamental issues, but never quite goes all the way into them. Some of the events seem sort of random, bursting out of nowhere with no warning whatsoever. Sometimes I wanted to smack the characters for intentionally ignoring the elephant in the room even when it was stomping all over them. I think at least some of this is the result of the fact that there's another trilogy that follows this one: The Tawny Man, that probably contains some of the explanation that would have made this one a complete story in itself.

This is why I dislike novels where one story is drawn out over the course of numerous books.

Rating: 2.5


One of my favorite surprises to encounter at the bookstore is to see a book that I read when I was even younger than I am now return to print so that I'm reminded to get my own copy. When I went yesterday, here was this book by Robin McKinley.

While the story will be a familiar one to most people, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, the simple, forthright prose makes for an enjoyable re-visitation. McKinley's version of the story is one of the best I've read, as well. Instead of the sappily helpless Beauty driven from her home by cruel sisters to stumble unwittingly into a perfect situation deep in the forbidding forest, we have instead a practical, classics-studying, horse-riding Beauty who, knowing full well what awaits her in the forest, chooses to accept the difficulty and surpass it.

Beauty, in fact, is only her nickname, acquired through an amusing incident when she was a child; her given name is Honour.

Also interesting is the fact that she doesn't really awaken the humanity in the Beast: he already possesses it, being a wise old soul by the time she meets him, albeit somewhat lonely. What happens is that, in her time spent in his company, she grows into herself and realizes her own personal beauty.

Now, that's a story worth telling.

One caveat: this book is mostly appropriate for younger readers (12-18), but given that context, it's absolutely worth reading. Or, if you're like me, and you never came to believe that getting older and becoming more mature means disdaining the simpler and more straightforward
pleasures of youth. I personally think it means that you learn how to enjoy difficult and complicated things as well.

Rating: 4.0

Mar 23, 2006

Capital One Customer Service

My dad sent me the following complaint about his Capital One card, and I thought someone might be able to make use of this information if they are considering getting one. In addition, I've been informed by my bank that any balance you keep on a Capital One card shows on your credit report as "over limit", which screws up your credit rating.

Sounds like a good deal all around, hmm?

Dear Sir or Madam,

This is to inform you that I have just cut my Capital One card in half and no longer intend to do business with your company -- ever. I email you because I am NOT calling your organization again -- ever. I am CCing my family and friends, several of whom have Capital One accounts, so that they may be warned of the abysmal customer service you provide to your customers and make decisions accordingly.

Yesterday and today I spent over an hour-and-a-half on the phone with several representatives from your customer service, recoveries, and estate services departments. When the system allowed me to reach a person (about half the time) I was usually put on hold and/or transferred. I was accidentally disconnected twice when I thought I had reached the end of phone-menu purgatory. I was transferred well over a dozen times (I lost track) over the course of several phone calls and I told the same lengthy story to four different individuals in various departments. Twice, the only reason I wasn't transferred and put on hold was because I specifically asked not to be. When I issued this instruction a third time and was transferred anyway, I gave up -- and hung up on you (this felt very good, by the way).

I cut the card right through the middle of "No" and "Hassle". You can call me to verify account closure if you wish: I might allow you to speak to a real person or I might not. Right now, you would definitely get transferred to one of my cats.

Mar 21, 2006


When I was younger, I couldn't stand to eat oatmeal at all, but over the past year or so I've discovered that I really enjoy it. There's something about a steaming hot bowl early in the morning that gets my brain working again.

The one problem, of course, is that oatmeal doesn't really taste of anything. So, I continue to experiment with new things to eat with my oatmeal to dress it up. So far I've tried:
  • Brown Sugar
  • Honey
  • Raisins
  • Raspberry Preserves
  • Cream
  • Orange Juice Concentrate
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Dried Cranberries
  • Pecans
  • Maple Syrup

I'm wondering where to go from here, though.

Mar 20, 2006

Ficiton: Train Yard

As Told by Dakota Sue

It was the only time I’d seen the cyborg evidence any strong emotion.  I turned to look at him.  “So that was Iron Wolf, huh?”

Durance nodded grimly, his eyes still searching the parking lot in vain.  “Lost him again.”

“Frankly, I’m surprised to see him here.”  I patted him on the shoulder, awkwardly, not sure whether he’d even notice my attempts at sympathy.  “Are you going to be okay to deal with this guy?”

He blinked.  “What are you talking about?”

I suddenly remembered that Durance was not the person I’d gotten the information from.  I hesitated at the truth.  “Um, well, I . . .”

“Well what?”

“Well, he was responsible for doing this”—I waved my hand to indicate his cybernetic replacements—“to you, so I thought you might be a little . . . upset.”

He stared blankly for several seconds.  

“So you’re not upset? That seems a little bizarre to me.”

“Who told you about that?”

“No one told me, I asked.  I was curious to understand the people I work with.”

“Last time I checked my previous ops weren’t exactly common knowledge,” he said, shouldering his rifle.  “And I’ll be fine,” he spat angrily.

“I didn’t say who I asked.”

“Who the hell did you ask?”

“I have a friend that’s good at getting information.  He’s a lawyer.  You’d be amazed at what that weaselly bastard can find when he’s motivated or bored.”  Durance twitched his shoulders in an approximation of a shrug.

“Do we have any idea where the real Amanda would be?” Q asked, apparently having decided our conversation was at an end.

“Where’s the nearest train station?”  Finn inserted.  I looked at him, startled.  He was wearing the earpiece of another communicator in his other ear, one he’d taken off a disabled thug, perhaps.  He gave me a sardonic half-smile.  “The bad guys are moving on the train to set up the bird house.  Whatever that means.”

“Train station?  Beats me, but there’s a GPS in our van.”

“Should we go now, or wait for the cops to clean this up?” Q asked.

“Well, that depends,” Finn replied.  “Do we want to find Amanda before or after she’s dead?”

My communicator buzzed with Paul’s voice.  “Boss lady, there’s some evidence up here on the roof of the mall.”

“What kind of evidence?”

“Shell casing, bottle cap, maybe some more.”

“Anything that will help us find Amanda right now?”

“Well, probably not.”

“All right,” I said.  “Let’s get back to the van and have Nat find us the train station.”  By the time we arrived she had climbed out of her seat and was pointing to the location on her computer screen.

Q shook his head.  “The van’s too slow.  Get me directions and I’ll get us there faster.”

“If you fly us in, Iron Wolf will shoot us out of the sky,” I objected.  He just grinned and held up one hand.  The air around his fingertips rippled and a pitch-black circle appeared, slowly widening until it was large enough to step through.

“We don’t need to fly.”

“You are just full of surprises,” I murmured, somewhat taken aback.  Finn stepped through without hesitating or waiting for instructions.  I grimaced and contemplated the door for several seconds, then followed, cringing involuntarily.  I don’t much like being exposed to the effects of other people’s powers.  They tend to be unpredictable and are often unpleasant.

It opened on an endless sea of gray that obliterated shapes, colors, and sensations.  For a timeless time I just hung there in the formless emptiness.  Then I was standing in a wide-open field, trying to remember the use of my senses.  Paul bumped into me from behind and I jumped.

“Whoops, sorry.  Where are we?”

“Effing Twilight Zone,” Durance grumbled.

“The Twilight Zone?  Man, I watched that as a kid when the new episodes came out.  Me, I like to think of it more as Stargate.  It’s the same principle, well, at least I think it is,” Q announced cheerfully.

“My, that’s wonderful, Kevin,” I told him.  Kevin was his ‘real’ name.  “Now where the heck are we?”

Paul looked at the GPS.  “We’re at least 20 miles from the station.”

“Oh, yeah, one sec,” Q said, returning from wherever his mind was wandering.  I thought he hadn’t heard me, but he looked over at me and raised an eyebrow briefly, then repeated his previous performance and opened another black hole.

I groaned and walked through again.  The sensation was no more pleasant a second time.  When I returned to reality again, I looked around at the harsh, impersonal grime of a women’s public restroom.  I turned to give Q a jaundiced look.

“Don’t ask.  It’s not accurate, but it is fast.  Outside is the train station, uh, I hope.”

Several bystanders remarked on our appearance as we trooped out of the bathroom and looked around at the train terminal.  I wondered how to go about finding a girl and a terrorist here when Finn’s new communicator buzzed loudly.  Even standing several feet away, I could hear it.

“Hello, may I ask with whom I am speaking?”

Finn pulled it out of his ear, wincing.  “This is Winnie the Pooh.  Who’s this?  And if you say Christopher Robbin, I’m disconnecting.”

“Well, if you wanted another reply you shouldn’t ‘ave responded so very sarcastically.  Since you ‘ave a sense of ‘umor I’ll assume you’re not Durance, so please let me speak to ‘im.”

Finn handed the communicator to Durance.  “It’s for you.”

“Who is this?” Durance demanded.

“Oh, please, Alex, I wouldn’t think you’d ‘ave forgotten about me so soon.  After all, neither of us can go through a metal detector because of the other.”

“It’s been a while since I’ve played Wolfhound.”

“Yes, yes, I know.  Maybe you’ll get away with all your limbs this time.  Er, such as they are, in any case.  Now, tell me, Alex, who are you working for?”

“Why should I tell you?”

“Well, you obviously came for the girl—I ‘ave ‘er—but she wasn’t much sport.  She could kill a dozen people without trying but she still thinks like a child.  I want a bit more of a challenge.”

“Then you want me, I gather.”

“Yes, when I saw you at the mall earlier I nearly fell over laughing—you know, after I shot the little girl in the wig.”

“I see you managed without your getaway vehicle.  It wasn’t a very good choice.  So you’re just a mercenary now, Loup?”

“Oooo you are perhaps attempting to make me angry?  No, Alex, I’ve always worked for Overthrow.  Or, should I perhaps say that I’ve always worked for the same people Overthrow works for.”

“So what do you want with me, then?  Don’t you have some higher-ups to go off and kowtow to?”

“I want to kill you, of course.  You and I still ‘ave unfinished business.”

“Tell me something I don’t already know.”

“Well, ‘ow about I tell you where the girl is?”

“I’m listening.”

“There’s a train graveyard out back, it’s quite big, thousands of little nooks to ‘ide in.  She’s somewhere out there.  So am I.  So are my friends.”

“Are you inviting me to bring my friends over and we’ll party?”

“Well, I must admit I don’t much care for your friends, but mine will make certain they ‘ave something to do.”

“I see.  And the girl?”

“If you find her, good for you.  If not, well, odds are you will be dead, so you won’t really need to worry so much.”

“Sounds like a fun party.”  He chambered a round into his rifle, loudly.  “Anything else I should know, big bad Wolf?”

“No.”  The line went dead.  Durance looked at me.

“All right then.  Kevin, can you make a door back there?  I want you to take Alex with you.”

“I can gate us in, yes, but I’m not sure exactly how it will appear.”

“Considering his placement last time, I’d rather not teleport there.  It could be more fatal this time than embarrassing.”  Durance protested.

“Just do it.”

“You want me to run out there and find them?” Paul asked.  “That’s what I do; get ambushed, I mean.”

“No, Paul, I want you to find Amanda.”

“I’ll see what I can find.”

“If we use stealth, we may have a chance of eliminating their edge,” Finn said.

“Right, you’re with me, we’ll sneak in.  Nat, I want you to make a distraction.”

“A distraction?”

“It’s a train graveyard, start some fires.  It’s property we can afford to destroy.  Let them choke on the smoke and snipe with watering eyes.”

Finn and I made our way through the terminal and past the tracks, to the section where old derelict boxcars were left to rust.  Left sitting in no apparent pattern, they made a handy maze.  I never did lust after the life of a lab mouse.  

We didn’t get far until I heard footsteps approaching, I glanced to Finn and he nodded; he’d heard them, too.  I smelled the air and detected six men, along with Durance, who was approaching our position from a different direction.  I held up my fingers at Finn and he nodded again, settling himself into a good hiding place the moment they came into view.  I considered, then climbed up the side of a boxcar where I could get a better view.

The six men rounded the corner and I grinned at down at them from my weird perpendicular angle.  “What have we here?  Dinner?”  I clenched my hands in the metal and it gave way, slowly, making an ominous creaking sound.  The men stared at me, horrified, then scrambled backwards.  Durance came up behind them, but before he could act a bullet clanged loudly off his metal arm, leaving a scratch but doing little damage.  The thugs jumped and began leveling their weapons.

“Paul!  Tree, edge of the graveyard!  Get him!”  Finn announced into the comm. I considered berating him for giving orders he had no authority to give, but I decided there were more pressing issues in front of me and put it aside.  Durance pulled out his rifle, turned his back on the thugs, and fired in what I assumed was the direction of the sniper.

It really looked like I was going to get shot today.

“Hello?”  Nat asked in my ear.  “Distraction now or later?”

“Now is good!”

Finn leapt out of his hiding place, firing his shotgun and downing one of our opponents.  They scrambled for cover, giving us a few seconds’ reprieve.  I jumped down to the ground, picked up a boxcar, and dropped it on them.  Durance made an unhappy noise at being blocked off, and one of the thugs managed to scramble free, but other than that it had the desired effect; no one was pointing a gun at me any more.

“Gee, I hope his friends are okay under that thing,” Finn announced, smirking, and opened fire on the remaining gunman, downing him as well.  I could hear Durance continuing to fire not far away, the loud WHOOMPH of a fiery explosion I hoped was under Nat’s control. Finn trotted off into the maze, chambering another shell as he went.  I really couldn’t see anywhere left for me to contribute.  So, I went to look for Amanda.

I found her pretty quickly, too, stashed in a boxcar fifteen feet from my previous position.  She struggled against her bonds and made pathetic mmphing noises when I poked my head through the opening.  Dropping down, I untied her.

“So you’re Amanda?”

“Yeah.  Let me guess, you’re that lady Jennifer talked to?”

“I’m Susan Page.”  I crossed my arms and frowned as forbiddingly as I could manage.  “Do you have any idea how much damage you’ve caused, running around like a crazy person?”

“Well as far as I can tell I killed four men that killed my parents.  I haven’t done anything else but try to get out of town.”

“That, and you got your friend Jennifer shot by involving her in this.  So spare me the injured act.”

“They what?!”  She sprang to her feet and darted past me through the open door, screaming, “WHERE ARE THOSE BASTARDS!”  Her teenage fury was interrupted when I jumped after her, wrapping my arms around her waist and bearing her to the ground.  “Let me go!”

“No.  Stop acting like a child and think for five seconds.”

She scowled, then gradually stopped struggling and began to sob loudly and theatrically.  I rubbed her back, not certain whether to offer comfort or douse her with a bucket of water.

“Okay, I know you’ve been through a lot.  It’s time for you to stop running and trust us to help you out.”

“I don’t know who you are!   How am I supposed to trust you!”

“We’re from AEGIS, and we’re trying to find out who is orchestrating these attacks.”

She sniffled.  “I don’t care any more, just take me away from here!”

“Works for me.  Let’s go meet up with the rest of my team before they do something stupid because I’m not there to supervise.”

Mar 19, 2006

Smoking Ban

I am disheartened to see news like this being trumpeted as some kind of victory; men should be ashamed to speak in such a fashion to other men. Columbus (Ohio) is also smoke-free, and Centerville (Ohio again, I live in Ohio) has made it illegal to have smoking areas in public gathering places like restaurants.

I don't understand it; I don't understand how anyone could want such a thing. Let me be clear: I hate smoking. I hate the smell of it, I hate how it makes me cough and gag when I breathe it, and I dislike the people that think they are entitled to smoking breaks when I'm not allowed to go to the bathroom before lunch. I think it's a filthy habit. But I will defend anyone's right to it, and smokers own public places just as much as nonsmokers do; everyone is taxed to provide for them.

I don't like strong cologne or people that don't bathe often enough, either. There's no law against being filthy or smelly, nor should there be. A law like this one in Calabasas (or Columbus, or Centerville) is an offense against decency and against people's rights that should not be tolerated.

Nonsmokers are not held prisoner by smokers and forced to endure their fumes. If we have some reason not to leave, that is our business and we must take responsibility for it. Why, then, is it just that smokers should be turned into prisoners by nonsmokers?

As Heinlein said, the world divides politically into those who wish people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. Those who fear other men as wild beasts, and those who respect them as rational animals. I will warn you, if you find yourself in the first camp, that your fear of your fellows is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Treat them as beasts, and so they shall become. So will you.

I, as a rational animal, will condemn you first as a coward, and second as evil.

Mar 18, 2006

V for Vendetta

I have to say that I really continue to enjoy watching the Wachowski Brothers in action, and this movie was no exception. All the elements of the movie come together, from the vivid and stylized imagery to the actors performances to the thematic meaning of the piece. All were thoroughly integrated, and so, it was excellent art.

Generally I cry at movies like this, but strangely I felt no urge whatsoever to cry this time. Instead, I feel amazingly joyful and uplifted, seeing all the conclusion where everything necessary happened. There was no sense of winning some temporary and transient victory against an overwhelming evil. There was no sense that so much was lost in the winning that the victory was almost not worth the price; that a long, difficult time of mending the broken pieces lay ahead.

No, this movie was about real, enduring good that can only be temporarily put down, never permanently destroyed. If the good people that fought lost something in the doing, even their lives, it was because they had discovered something that they realized they could not live without.

It is not necessary to grieve for those who know what it is to stand for freedom. By choosing to stand, they have already won.

Mar 17, 2006

Some Nice Attention

NoodleFood, Cox and Forkum, and Benjo Blog have all recently added Literatrix to their blogrolls. NoodleFood and C&F simply because I asked. I have to say that I appreciate all the attention!

Thanks, guys!

A Friendly Invitation

John Baker stopped by Literatrix and directed me to his site. He's another writer-blogger with numerous interesting things to say and quite a few book recommendations to offer.

Well, really, I don't have to explain, you can go see for yourself!

The Order of the Stick

If you've ever stayed up way past your bedtime playing a marathon game of Dungeons and Dragons, then this webcomic by Rich Burlew is for you. In addition to the silly (and very funny) jokes, it has a strong plot and very believable, individual, engaging characters.

My personal favorite is Roy, the Lawful Good fighter that leads the group. He is occasionally at odds with some of his more outlandish and irresponsible party members, but he manages to triumph over difficulties and some flaws in his own character time and again to keep the group together and working towards achieving their goal.

Go check it out! I strongly advise starting with #1; there is an overall plot that will lose you if you try to pick it up in the middle. That, and it really doesn't take that long to read, even though there are almost 250 strips at this point.

Mar 16, 2006

Rating System

I think I've reached the stage where I need some kind of formal rating system for the books (and other things) I review, basically as a shorthand, single-glance way of summing up what I think about them. After some consideration, I've decided on a method.

Instead of trying to come up with a detailed scale containing many variables, I'm basing my system on what I will do with the book after I've read it once.

5--This means the book will have a permanent place on my shelf and I will most certainly read it again this year. If I bought the paperback, I will get a hardback edition. Recommend it to anyone. Examples: Atlas Shrugged, Snow Crash

4--Keeping the book, I will re-read it after enough time has passed that I've forgotten most of the details. Eventually (say a year or two from now), I will probably end up selling this book back to Half-Price Bookstores and buying the paperback to conserve space. Recommend it to anyone that's interested in the genre. Examples: 1632, Men at Arms, Les Miserables, Shogun

3--Keeping the paperback but putting it in the back of my bookshelves where I can't see the title very easily, since it's partially covered by the second stack of books directly in front of it. Will either re-read it within the next 5 years or sell it when I move next, whichever comes first. If it's at the high end (3.5) I will recommend this book to people that like similar authors within the genre. If it's at the low end (2.5) I will make jokes about this book being an example of particularly hacky work within the genre. Examples: Pretty much anything by Terry Goodkind, Stephen King, or David Eddings; Poison Study

2--Selling it promptly! Will complain about the book to my more literate friends who may understand what I'm talking about. Examples: Crystal Rain, Elantris, Lady Slings the Booze

1--Only finished reading it for one of the following reasons: 1.) it was a gift from a VERY pushy friend or family member, 2.) it was a homework assignment, 3.) someone asked me to help them edit it. I probably won't be able to motivate myself to take it back to Half-Price, so I may use it for holding up furniture or ballast. I will complain about the lousiness of this book, regardless of whether I actually finished it, to anyone that will hold still. Examples: Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, The Scarlet Letter

Mar 14, 2006

Mystic Quest

I don't have a lot of energy for writing today, but I thought I'd at least mention that I finished reading the second book in this trilogy by Tracy and Laura Hickman. Frankly, it was even better than the first!

In most trilogies, the second book isn't much of anything; it's a transition between the setup of the first book and the climax/conclusion in the last book. However, while the books in this trilogy are related and further develop the events of the overall story, they are also complete novels on their own; each book has its own exposition, rising action, climax, and conclusion.

This is a tremendous relief, especially in the fantasy genre, which is plagued with "series" novels that never seem to get anywhere but nevertheless generate impressive revenues for their writers.

Mar 13, 2006

Fiction: Enter the Wolf

As Told by Dakota Sue

A strange sight greeted me in the briefing room the next day: Paul, sitting quietly in a chair, staring morosely down at the hands folded in his lap.  Every few seconds he would kick his feet, unable to remain completely still no matter his preoccupation.

“Good to see you again, Paul,” I told him as I found my own chair.  He raised his eyes to me without moving his head, making him appear young and frightened and unhappy.  I opened my mouth to ask him what was wrong when the rest of the team trooped into the room, making it temporarily too noisy for conversation while they rearranged furniture and sat down.  I heard several rhythmic wooden thumps as Archer joined us.

“Before we begin our other business, I expect you’ve heard some rumors regarding the results of Paul’s assignment?”

“Don’t look at me,” he said.  “I didn’t say a thing.”

“Yeah, who would we hear rumors from?” I affirmed.

Archer shook his head.  “It was a conversational gambit, you don’t have to take it literally.”


“In any case, the armored transport was attacked by what we believe was a group of OVERTHROW affiliates.  Despite Paul and Agent Alpha’s best efforts the prisoners escaped.  Agent Alpha was killed resisting the assault, by a grenade.”  I winced at the news and Archer shot me a sympathetic look.  “Alpha was a jerk, but he was a dedicated one.  He’ll be sorely missed.  At the moment, though, I’m glad we still have Paul with us, at least.”

I looked over at the teenaged speedster, who had resumed his morose foot-kicking.  “Yeah,” I said softly.  

In a surprisingly serious voice, Paul said, “I think they knew the route, which makes me wonder who their source is.”

“So what happens now?  Are you sending us back out after them?” I asked Archer.

“I’d love to, but that assignment went to another division.”

“Great,” Durance sneered.  “We scare up the ducks while a one-eyed half-blind hunter takes potshots at them.  You know, I always hated that game.  Stupid dog.”

Duck Hunter?” Q asked.  “I played that when it first came out.”

I blinked at him.  “Oh, come on, wouldn’t that make you almost as old as Archer?  Not to be mean, but he’s practically a corpse, and you don’t look a day over 25.”

Archer snorted ungracefully, trying not to laugh.  “Why, thank you, Susan.  I’ll remember that comment on payday.”  Q just smirked and looked mysterious.

“In any case,” Archer continued, “we have a different mission instead.”  He began passing around the now-familiar manila folders.  “The research staff has looked over the names you brought back from the German Embassy raid.  Most of them were dead ends, regular eighteen-year-old girls going about their lives.”

“And the ones that weren’t?” Durance asked.

“Just one, actually.  She was incredibly difficult to track down; her files were altered at some point in the past.  By the time we did manage to run down a location her adoptive parents had been tied up in their house and shot.  Their daughter, Amanda Croft, had vanished, but not without leaving some . . .interesting . . . tracks behind her.”  

Archer switched on the projection screen and everyone made his or her own noise of disgust.  A photograph of bullet-riddled corpses lying around what had been just an ordinary suburban bedroom will do that.  They were dressed in what I was coming to understand was the uniform for any paramilitary group up to no good: black fatigues, tactical vests, and ski masks.

“We believe these were her handiwork.”

“Whoa, whoa, back up here.  I thought you said she was just an eighteen-year-old kid?” I asked.

“Looks like an eighteen-year-old meta-human to me,” Q interjected.

“Paul’s not that old, remember,” Durance added.  The speedster half-smiled.

“It’s not the years, it’s the miles.”

“Even a meta needs training to shoot a gun,” I insisted.

Archer wavered his hand in the air to indicate uncertainty.  “The evidence thus far indicates some kind of meta-human ability, but you’re correct, Susan, there’s something more here that we don’t know about.”

“All right, let’s go check out the scene,” I said, standing up.  “Has anyone run phone records yet?”

“I can do that,” Nat offered.

“The workup we have so far is preliminary at best.  You’ll need to do most of the footwork yourselves.  It would be nice to have more, but unfortunately there wasn’t time.”

I tugged on my uniform jacket and headed downstairs towards the garage, the others following behind, still making plans.  I only listened with half an ear; I didn’t know much about investigative work, so on this assignment I was pretty much reduced to the position of sheepdog.  Not really my favorite job.  I climbed into the driver’s seat of our all-too-conspicuous black van, put the address into the GPS, and off we went.

Nat sat in the back seat, typing at the keyboard of her laptop, an oracle worshipping at her altar of knowledge.  “The phone records indicate that there was a call this morning to an adoption agency in Boston.”  I pulled to a stop in the street outside the house and looked back at her.

“All right, Finn, why don’t you take Nat to have a look at the scene, see if you can find anything.  Paul, I’d like you to do an overview of the neighborhood, find me anything peculiar.”  A loud rap occurred inches from my head and I jumped, looking up into the face of a frowning uniformed police officer.  Not sure what else to do I rolled the window down.

“You the feds that we’re holding this crime scene for?” He asked without preamble.

“Something like that.  We’re a meta-human support team, there’s some evidence that we may be needed.”

“There is?  Well, damn, the scene is fishy, but I didn’t see anything like that.

“That’s how you know it’s bad,” Durance opined.  He climbed out of the car with Finn, Nat, and Paul. The policeman trailed off after them.

“Where do you want me?” Q asked.

I shrugged.  “I don’t know.  I think I’m going to go around and see whether any neighbors saw or heard anything.  Be creative.  Surprise me.”  I hesitated, remembering just how liberally he might interpret that.  “Search the house, maybe.”

I knocked at the next house and a tall blond man in a polo shirt opened the door almost immediately.  Quite possibly he’d been watching me approach.  Startled, I pulled out my badge and waved it desultorily.  It wasn’t really official, but it looked like it, and that was the important part.  Now, how did they do this in cop shows again?  “Excuse me, sir, do you have time for a few questions?”

“Umm . . . all right.”

“Did you hear the disturbance next door earlier?”

“Yes, gunshots, lots of them.”

“Anything else?”

“Well, a few minutes after that I heard a couple of cars peel out and go speeding down the street.”

I nodded.  “Did you know the people that lived there at all?”

“Sort of.”

“Did anything suspicious happen before the incident?”  The incident.  Even to me that sounded contrived.

“Well, a few weeks ago there was a lot of shouting, kind of unusual.  They were very loud.”

“Did they have a lot of friends?  Frequent visitors?  Anyone I that might have more information?”

“Well, Amanda’s best friend works up at the convenience store on the corner.  Her name’s Jennifer.” [Authors note: the name was not my idea.]

“All right.  Thank you.  Sorry to disturb you.”

“No problem.”

I wandered back to the van, where the group was slowly coming together again.  “What have we got?”  I asked.

“I found a picture of Amanda,” Q announced, handing it to me.  I looked at the young blonde girl for a moment and handed it back.  “That’s good.  What else?”

“The police say she took the family Jetta when she made her getaway,” Finn added.

“She used her cell phone to call another at a convenience store a block away,” Nat continued.

“Probably her friend, I should go down there and . . .”

“I already went,” Paul stopped me.  “I got their security video and took it back to our lab techs, then I got her friend’s cell phone number from the clerk.  The friend left work suddenly after the call.”

I blinked.  “Oh.  Nice work.”

He shrugged.

“She withdrew about $800 in cash at the mall about an hour ago, too,” Nat said.  “So where do we go next?”

“Let me see that number, Paul,” I said, he handed it to me and I punched it into my phone.  The first ring didn’t even complete before a nervous female voice answered.

“Um, hello?”

“Jennifer?” I asked.

“Um, yeah?  Do I know you?”

“I doubt it.  My name’s Susan; I’m trying to find your friend Amanda before the bad guys catch up with her.”  There was a long silence.

“Sorry, lady, I don’t know where Amanda is,” the girl quavered.  I shook my head.

“It’s good of you to try and protect your friend.  I can understand that you don’t trust me; you don’t know who I am.  Can we meet somewhere public so I can prove that I am who I say I am?”

“Um.  We could, I mean, I guess we could meet at the food court at the mall.”

“Good enough.  I’m going to send a young man to meet you first, in case someone else is looking for you, all right.  His name’s Paul,” I added, describing my somewhat geeky young cohort.  “He’ll be there in just a minute.”

Paul bounced forward.  “I’m on it, boss lady,” he said, and flashed off into the distance.

“Be careful!  It may be a trap!”  I yelled after him.

“All right, Jennifer, I’m going to hang up.  You may want to turn off your phone in case someone is tracing it.”

“All . . .all right.”

“I think we go to the mall next,” I told the rest of the team.  Nat looked up from her computer.

“Well, the cell phone you called is at the mall . . . Amanda’s phone is there, too.”

“Do you want me to follow Paul in case there’s trouble?” Q asked.

“Yeah, go keep an eye on him.”  We piled into the van, Durance driving.  

Finn nudged Nat in the back seat gently.  “While we’re waiting, see what you can dig up on Heinrich Stahl.”

“Who’s Heinrich Stahl?”  I asked him, mystified.  He waved another laptop at me.

“Idle curiosity.  Amanda Googled him recently.”

“Idle curiosity?” Nat asked.  “He’s a German geneticist working for, surprise, a German pharmaceuticals company.”

“Aaand, we’re here,” Durance interrupted.  “I can go in if you want, I’d like to test my new camo.”

I blinked at him.  “Sure, go ahead.”  Then I looked back at Finn.  “Do you want to go in as well?”

“Aren’t you in charge?”

“So I can ask you what you want to do whenever I feel like it.”

“I’m just here to follow orders.  So, whatever.”

I shrugged.  “Well, I’m going inside, do whatever you think is best.”  I made my way through the parking lot into the building, assaulted by the overpowering smells of the crowd, cooking food, and merchandise.  As I neared the food court, however, I began to pick up an incongruous scent: gunpowder.  While my crew had weapons, they hadn’t fired them recently.  About thirty feet away, Paul was talking earnestly with a girl.

“We really need to get Amanda somewhere save and THEN work on finding the knuckleheads behind this.”

“I’m only here for one reason.  Amanda’s gone, she just wanted me to stay here and talk with you.”

“You’re just buying her time to get away?”

She nodded.  “That’s why I’m wearing this wig.  Amanda didn’t tell me where she was going, so it’s no use asking me.”

“You may still be in danger . . .” Paul insisted.

“Why would you say tha . . .”

Something coughed faintly overhead and Jennifer went abruptly limp, wig falling off to reveal long brown hair.  I flicked my eyes upwards even as I bent my knees and jumped straight up three stories, grabbing the ceiling supports to change direction and rocketing through the skylight just after a gunman in a long leather coat.  

“Sue, what’s going on?” Durance asked, his voice clear over the communicator.

“Jennifer’s down, I’m taking her to the hospital!” Paul shouted, making my ear hurt.

“I’m chasing the sniper . . .” I glanced over my shoulder.  “Finn and Q are right behind me!”

The gunman leaped off the rooftop, landing on top of a waiting van that took off in a squeal of tires.  Below, Durance burst out of the doors, leveling his rifle.  Then, for a second, he froze.

“Him,” the cyborg whispered into the com.

“What?!” I demanded.

Durance’s leveled his rifle and fired all in one smooth motion; there was a loud thump as the van’s front left tire blew out.  It instantly fishtailed, the driver frantically trying to control it, and flipped over on its side, skidding to a stop just before an intersection.

I jumped down and ran towards the stopped van just in time to be the welcoming committee for a horde of masked men that threw open the doors and spilled out.  I belted one to the ground reflexively as they began leveling assault rifles in my direction.  A couple more went down as Finn, Paul, and Durance arrived, but it was like one of those clown cars you see at the circus: there were still more of them.  I pushed my feet on the pavement, trying to get out of the way of the incoming rain of bullets when the entire crowd was suddenly swept away by an enormous bulk that whizzed by only inches from my face.  Q had his hands out, waves of rippling power wielding the van like an enormous battering ram.

I gasped and staggered backwards.  “WHERE’S THE SNIPER?!”  Durance howled.  Thugs were scattered everywhere, but the man in the leather coat was nowhere to be seen.

“Lupe!”  the cyborg snarled into the empty parking lot.

Mar 12, 2006


I've found that you can pick up a lot of applied philosophy by reading books on business success, and the title of this one showed some promise, so I decided to pick it up.

Dr. Cloud talks a lot about the importance of integrating the various aspects of your character into a working whole, unfortunately the book itself is not very integrated, so it's not always easy to understand what he's trying to explain.

From a literary standpoint I think the worst part of this book is the style; it is awful. Dr. Cloud segues violently between the jargon-laden, obfuscated speech of his profession (he is a psychologist) and cheerfully banal colloquialisms that leave you wondering whether his mind is organized enough to handle this subject. He uses examples to approximate what he means rather than taking the time to come up with an accurate depiction that leaves no room for misunderstanding. The book is also salted with altruistic conventions that contradict the message in the rest of the book.

Like many people, he has failed to draw a distinction between small-minded whim-driven people and those who have actually taken the time to discover what is really in their interests, long-term. He is especially adamant that you can't earn trust or transcend the "little" things in your life until you learn how to focus more on the "other". According to him, you must be more focussed on other people's interests than they are themselves.

This is, of course, ridiculous simply because you can't ever know what's really in someone else's best interest better than they do. All you can do is succeed in convincing them to replace their idea of their interests with your own. Given, if they're unfocussed and disinterested, they may thank you for it. However, I think it's erroneous to confuse passivity of spirit with trust.

When he returns to the issue of building your own character, however, Dr. Cloud makes quite a few interesting and valid points. He is very good at presenting you with ideas that you may never have thought of before.

One of my favorite points is that really successful people are not only good at letting go of things that are bad for them (most people can do this), but they will also let go of things that are good but are not the best things. How difficult is it to realize that 80% of the things that you do, things that are making money for you, are not the best things and need to go so that you can focus on what will really make you successful in the long run?

The cost of taking any given path is not the pain you may incur from taking it, but the other options and opportunities that you forgo. A mature individual doesn't act like a kid in a candy store, unable to pick one candy because they are all so enticing. Doing this scatters your effort uselessly.

If I used a five-star rating system (and I may want to consider some kind of rating system), I'd say this book hovers at around a 2 or a 2.5. Its good points balance out its bad points, making it thoroughly mediocre.

Site Traffic

It's sheer vanity to make noise about your site traffic, but then again you have to have a fair amount of vanity simply to start a blog and write every day. I wouldn't do it if I didn't think that someone thought my ideas were interesting enough to read. So, here's my little bit of vanity, via SiteMeter:

-- Site Summary ---

Total ........................ 3,016
Average per Day ............ 54
Average Visit Length ..... 2:40
This Week ..................... 379

Page Views
Total ........................6,508
Average per Day ...........108
Average Per Visit.......... 2.0
This Week......................753

It's nice to see someone is showing an interest! Thank you all very much!

Mar 11, 2006

Paul Spaeth

An acquaintance of mine from encouraged me to have a look at the work of composer/pianist Paul Spaeth, and I have to say that I'm really impressed. Visit his site and listen to some of the works, they're well worth it. Very sweet, compelling, and uplifting.

I wish I could deliver a more thorough analysis, but there's a huge gap in my understanding where anything about music is concerned. All I can say is, I like Spaeth. His music conjures up images of broad expanses, sunlight and wind; a great space where the world is open to any possibility you might choose to offer it.

Mar 10, 2006

Fiction: The Cape and Cowl

As Told by Dakota Sue

I opened the door to my apartment wearily, walked in, and stood stunned, blinking stupidly.  For a moment I thought I’d walked into someone else’s place by mistake, but then I noticed Natori and Todd sitting at the kitchen table.

“Do you like it?” Natori asked nervously.

I looked around again.  The place was spotless and everything, including the carpet, had been replaced. Even the walls were a different color and imbued with subtle patterns.   Todd turned in his chair to look at me, still trying to ferry food to his mouth.  I seized on the distraction to cover my discomfiture.

“Are those vegetables?

Natori stepped back, confused.  “Um, yes.”

“And he’s eating them?”

“It would appear so.  Now, do you like it?”

“It looks great.  Where did you get all this?”

“I believe that would be my responsibility.”  I jumped and looked over into the living room.  I hadn’t realized we had company.  Then I saw who it was and groaned.

“What are you doing here?”  I demanded, stomping over to glare at him.  Herthagon leaned back in his chair nonchalantly and crossed his outstretched ankles.  He was wearing black leather pants and a loose silk shirt of an excessively pure blue that reminded me of the sky after the sun has set but before the light has fled.  A diamond stud in his left earlobe flashed matching blue fire whenever he moved, that single stone likely costing more than I made in a year.

He laughed.  “City life hasn’t changed you, I see.  Still full of vinegar.”

“More like turpentine.  So what do you want?”

“I want to do you a favor.”

“By redecorating my apartment?”

He rolled his eyes.  “I did that to avoid enduring the assault on my senses while I waited.  Get dressed, I’m taking you out to dinner.”

Natori must have seen my expression, because she hustled me into my bedroom, where I sputtered incoherently for a long moment.

“Taking me out to dinner?!  The . . . the nerve of that man!  I’m going nowhere!”

“Oh,” Natori said, sounding crestfallen.

“What?”  I asked.

“Well . . .” she abruptly stood very straight and scowled at me.  “It wouldn’t hurt you to get out of the house for a while.  And it’s a really lovely dress.”


She pointed over to my closet door.  I bit my lip, having difficulty remaining furious.  Even I am prey to feminine vanity, although I’m loath to admit it.

Natori grinned.  “Are you going to let a little dinner intimidate you?”

“I’m thinking . . .”

“Get in the shower already.”

“Impressive,” Herthagon remarked when Natori shoved me out the door twenty minutes later.  I shook my head, amused.

“She really did a number on me.  I can’t feel my face.”

“You even sound different.”

“I’m trying to live up to these clothes.”

“They suit you.  You know, that girl seems quite taken with you.”

“I suppose.  I’m not really sure why, but I’m not complaining.”

He stood up and took my arm, pulling me outside.  “You’re her role model.  Everyone needs to feel like they’re part of something bigger than their little lives.”

I frowned at him, then stopped, worried that my face might crack.  “That’s exactly opposite.”

“How so?”

“What people need is to be reminded that their lives aren’t little.  So where are you taking me?” I asked as he inserted me deftly into a sedan.

He sat down in the driver’s seat, smiling faintly.  “The Cape and Cowl.”

“Sounds snobby,” I remarked.

“Oh, it is.”

“Good.  I’ve been practicing my sneer.”

He drove us into a dark, narrow alley and parked; I wasn’t even certain I’d be able to get my door open to get out.  I turned to look at him and was just about to frame a question when I felt a hideously familiar sensation, like spiders crawling around on my brain.  I must have made some kind of face because Herthagon touched my shoulder reassuringly.

“Greetings, sir and madam, I am Belarii Nalstrom.  How may I serve you this evening?”  The soundless voice filled my mind.  I winced in preparation for some kind of assault, but there was nothing in it but the most excruciatingly reserved politeness.

“We’ll be dining with you this evening, Nalstrom,” Herthagon explained.

I felt the mentalist’s gently approving recognition in my eyelids and shoulders and twitched angrily.  He was projecting too much.  “Of course, Mr. Barbaropoulos.  Madam has not visited with us before?”

“No,” I said shortly.

“Ah, I fear then I must request that madam permit me a brief examination.  It is a security measure we have installed for all our patrons.”

I swallowed and took a few deep breaths to steady myself.  “All right.”  The crawling-spiders sensation intensified for several seconds and then receded once more.

“Thank you, Miss Page, do enjoy your evening.”  There was a slight bump and the car began slowly descending.

“Are you all right?” Herthagon asked.  Not a question I wanted to answer, so I changed the subject.

“Mr. Barbaropoulos?”

He chuckled.  “My real name.  You can’t hide them from Nalstrom, he keeps everyone honest.”

“Is that what he was looking for in my head?”

“Among other things.  He checked to be certain that you’re a meta-human, that you’re over twenty-one, that you’re in control of your own mind . . . he’s a powerful telepath.”

“I’ve known worse,” I murmured reflectively.  Herthagon glanced at me sideways.

“I see.”

“So is there a first name to go with that?”


“Really? Does that make me . . .”

“Please don’t make the Cleopatra joke.  For one thing, she might actually be here . . .”


“And for another, I don’t like her at all.”

“Sorry.”  A valet appeared and opened my door, so I stepped out and looked around.  Instead of the concrete pit of an underground parking garage, we’d descended into a beautiful reception hall.  The walls, floor, and nouveau block pillars were of gold-flecked black granite, polished to a deep, lustrous shine that was accented here and there by a sheen of glistening movement; water fell endlessly from the ceiling and, dripping down the walls, disappeared somewhere below.

Herthagon stepped around the car and offered me his arm again; so efficient was the service that we were ensconced at a table less than five minutes later.  Our waiter appeared instantly and I was very slightly annoyed to discover that I did not have my own menu.  Then I shrugged and decided to ignore it.

The waiter vanished again and I fidgeted awkwardly, not really certain how to go about starting a conversation.  The waiter came and went, I sipped my drink nervously, knowing the moment was fast approaching when I would have to say something.

Then, at the last moment, I was saved by a cheerful bellow.  “Sue, lass!” I jumped violently and turned to see who was hailing me so loudly in the quiet restaurant.  “It is you!  I wasn’t sure, you look different all dressed up!”

“Oh, Mick,” I half-groaned, recognizing the speaker finally from his Irish accent.

“I thought you might be a super!” he continued, blithely ignoring the stir he was producing.  The woman leaning on his arm looked increasingly mortified as he continued to chatter, oblivious to the traffic jam coalescing around them.  “It’s good to see you here!  I thought, now there’s a young lady that could use some relaxation!”

How do people with actual manners handle these situations? I wondered desperately.

“Um, it’s good to see you too, Mick.  Have you met Antony?  He’s introducing me around.”

Mick thrust one gnarled hand in Herthagon’s direction.  “I’ve seen him around a time or two, but I can’t say as to how we’ve met.”

“I know you by reputation, of course,” Herthagon replied.  “Won’t you and your lady friend join us?”

“Don’t mind if I do.”  Two more chairs were instantly conjured by the accumulated waiters.  “This is Nancy, but around here she’s known as the Irish Setter.”

“They named you after a dog?!” I blurted.  She burst out laughing.

“Yes!  Appropriate, isn’t it!”

“I don’t know, I haven’t seen you scratch and lick yourself yet.”

Herthagon choked on his drink and Mick slapped his back a few times helpfully.  “Have you gotten yourself into an outfit yet?” the Irishman asked me.

“In a sense.  It’s more that they found me.”

His bushy eyebrows contracted tectonically.  “Really? I’m surprised I haven’t seen you on the news more, then.  Ah, it’s always hard getting started.  I could probably throw a few tips your way if you’re interested . . .”

“No, thanks.”

“You sure?  Really, we’ve got more work than we can handle.”

“Oh, Mick, stop badgering her, it’s obvious she can’t accept.  Let me guess”—Nancy winked sagely—“You could tell us, but then you’d have to kill us?”

“Something like that,” I replied weakly, overpowered by the sheer quantity of personality these two exuded.

“Hah!” Mick barked happily. “That’s my Nancy, she can always sniff it out!”

The waiter returned, bearing out plates and stopped dead, clearly unsure how to continue with new people at the table.  Nancy spotted him and nudged Mick, tapping her wrist.

“Well, sorry to cut this short, but we’ve got to be going,” he stood and Nancy followed, collecting her bag.  “Sue, don’t worry, I’m going to tell everyone about you, so you won’t be hanging on the fringes much longer!”  They swept away in much the same fashion as they’d arrived.

“Oh dear,” I murmured.

Herthagon put his head in his hands and began making strangled snorting noises, his shoulders shaking.  “What a . . . a character,” he managed after a minute.

“Who is he?” I demanded.

That set him off again.  “You don’t know?”


“He’s the Pugilist!”

“Oh dear!”

“Um, excuse me, can I set these down now?”  The waiter asked, somewhat offended.  Herthagon sat up so he could deposit our plates, wiping his eyes.

“Oh, I needed that,” he said cheerfully.

I grinned.  “Yes, I could tell that you were brooding over dark and tragic events.  So what have you been doing with yourself?”

He smiled, and I figured that it wasn’t such a bad thing that he was so good-looking, after all.

Mar 9, 2006

Mystic Warrior

I enjoyed almost everything I read by Tracy Hickman when he was working with Margaret Weis (The Death Gate Cycle, The Rose of the Prophet, Starshield), so I decided to pick up the first two books in this new trilogy that he is writing with Laura Hickman to see if the quality continued.

I've only finished Mystic Warrior thus far, and I have to say that it's about on par with other work I've seen from Hickman. It's not up to the level of their masterpiece,
The Death Gate Cycle, but it's easily equivalent to The Rose of the Prophet, which was still a good read. Hickman excells at putting together a story that engages the curiosity and makes you want to know how things are going to turn out in the end. In other words, he writes good suspense.

He's also very good at creating settings with some unusual quirks and tying the setting into the book. Mystic Warrior, for instance, is not one story, it's three parallel stories taking place on three worlds that are somehow related, connected via a mystic realm that grants magic to selected individuals. The idea is that these worlds are, very soon, going to merge into one world, and during this merging process there is increasing leakage between them. The events of the three stories are pulled into alignment by the visions of individuals that enter the mystic realm and interact with mystics from other worlds.

The symbolism is a lot of fun; it is often meaningless to the characters in the book, but it gives the reader the smug satisfaction of being able to guess at what's coming. Guess, that is, without ever actually knowing anything.

The characters also lack a trait that I never liked and I think originated with Margaret Weis' writing style: complete lack of any coping skills whatsoever. Even though I loved the Death Gate Cycle, for instance, occasionally I still wanted to shake some of the characters and yell "GET OVER IT ALREADY!!!" I can't stand anything she's written on her own.

So, I advise giving this series a try.