Ty Johnston: life on the written page

Home to fantasy, horror and literary fiction author Ty Johnston

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 17 -- The Swordsman's Companion

by Guy Windsor

Started: April 15
Finished: April 26

Notes: I am by no means an experienced swordsman, though I did have some little longsword and rapier training while in college back in the Stone Age. Back then we did not have HEMA or ARMA, though the SCA and Renaissance festivals were around. Recently while cleaning my collection of swords, I took out a bastard sword and went through a few of my drills for the first time in ever. I decided I was not only out of practice, but that I was also out of shape, and I thought it time I corrected both situations. To that end I purchased a waster, a practice sword, mainly because it is too dangerous to practice with the real thing and because it would be rather foolish and expensive of me if I should damage one of my swords. I also watched tons of YouTube videos on swording to kind of catch me up, and I purchased this book as a refresher and perhaps to learn a few new things. The author here appears to approach longswording from the Italian tradition, and my limited training was from the German point of view, but I don't think that will matter much (especially as it's been so long since I've had any training). Unfortunately, I cannot take part in sparring or drills with another person because of my health, mostly because of my heart implant, which could easily be damaged or even destroyed if it were struck (to the point of potentially being deadly to myself, at least according to my cardiologist). So, solo drills it will have to be. Now I'll get to reading and training, maybe even lose a few pounds.

Mini review: This is a good, solid book for beginners with the longsword. For those who can't attend classes or want to know some of what they'll be getting themselves into by joining a class on the subject, this book should be for you. Only the basics are covered here, but the author has other books which get into advanced longswording. Between the Italian and German schools of swording, I did not see major differences, though there were some; the biggest difference, obviously, was in the terms used, and a few of the guard positions. If you decide to read this book, I suggest getting the one that has the cover I've shown above as an earlier version is apparently out of date as knowledge of the old masters' works have grown over the years. Now if I can only keep up with my practice drills.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 16 -- Dungeon Master's Guide

by Wizards of the Coast

Started: April 10
Finished: April 15

Notes: Early on I didn't care for this new, fifth edition of the Dungeons & Dragons game, but of late I've been doing a lot of online tabletop gaming, and I have to admit I've come to appreciate this version of the game. It does some things of which I'm not fond, but it also does a lot which I've found quite interesting and enjoyable within actual gameplay. Because of this, I've decided to go ahead and read the Dungeon Master's Guide for this edition. Traditionally this book is more than a rules book, but helps guide the Dungeon Master with the flow of the game, making him or her a storyteller of sorts. To this day I consider the original AD&D Dungeon Master's Guide by Gary Gygax to be a landmark piece of literature not only for tabletop RPG gaming, but for the fantasy genre in general. None of the versions of the DMG since then have quite had that impact, in my opinion, because they have been more game oriented, but we'll see how this one does.

Mini review: To be honest, most of the material here isn't necessary for the Dungeon Master as long as he or she is an experienced Dungeon Master. Someone new to the role of DM will find tons of interesting takes on the game here, with lots of potential, so much so that it might be overwhelming at first with all the variant rules, the open-ended-ness of some rules, etc. But you beginners, don't worry. The thing to keep in mind is that you are the DM and what you say goes, even including superseding the actual rules, if needs be. Always remember it's a game and everyone is there to have fun. As a DM, try to make if fun for everyone, all the players, but also yourself.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 15 -- The Book of the Dead

by Sir E.A. Wallis Budge

Started: April 8
Finished: April 10

Notes: Having just finished this author's The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, I thought I would go ahead and check out his text on the Egyptians' The Book of the Dead. The author had a chapter on this book in The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, but here he expands upon that. Basically, The Book of the Dead is a collection of rites and magic spells that are supposed to guide and help the soul in the afterlife. Another interesting thing is that the Egyptians never actually had a Book of the Dead, but what we call The Book of the Dead is really a collection of ancient Egyptian writings from across thousands of years.

Mini review: Roughly the last fourth of this book from 1920 is a repeat of information found in The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians. Still, the earlier chapters offered some insight into these ancient texts. Not necessary reading for those who have read The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians, but it does expand a little on Egyptian beliefs concerning the afterlife, which were quite complex and did change from time to time during the thousands of years ancient Egypt was in power in one form or another.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 14 -- The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians

by Sir E.A. Wallis Budge

Started: March 23
Finished: April 8

Notes: For a long while I've been neglecting my readings of ancient history, so I thought I would try this 1914 publication from noted historian and member of the British Museum, Sir E.A. Wallis Budge, who spent much of his adult life traveling between Egypt, the Sudan, and Europe, all while penning numerous texts concerning Egyptology and other topics pertaining to the Far East. Obviously this text will be dated, but I read it not only for itself, but to see the ideas other generations had about the ancients.

Mini review: There's a little bit of everything here, from heroic stories, fairy tales, mythology, magic spells, poetry, funerary rites, and more. Admittedly not all of this is electrifying reading, but the author does a good job of paraphrasing in some cases, and he points out spots where the text remained in question due to a lack of translation; he also points out when part of a text had been lost or if in some of it the translation remained questionable (during his time, anyway, which means it's interesting to research now, a hundred years later, to find out if we've learned more ... and no, I won't be giving away free spoilers). Beyond any pure historical interests, I think this book and those like it should be important for other fantasy writers (and even Dungeon Masters). If you want some of your characters to have authentic-sounding rites and prayers and the like, this book gives solid examples of this from ancient times. You also can learn plenty of ancient names that could be used or reworked for characters.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 13 -- The Moon is Down

by John Steinbeck

Started: March 19
Finished: March 23

Notes: Probably been decades since I've read any Steinbeck, but that's a shame since I always found his writing quite enjoyable. Apparently this book about war became an underground hit within Nazi-occupied Europe during WWII.

Mini review: Like much of Steinbeck's work, this is a gentle story, but here it is also a polite one. A polite story of war and murder set within a village conquered by outsiders. Steinbeck wrote this to be a piece of propaganda for those trapped behind enemy lines, and I can understand it's popularity. A good tale. I wish I could write like this.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 12 -- On Killing

by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman

Started: March 9
Finished: March 19

Notes: The subtitle of this book is "The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society," so you'll know where it's coming from. The author was an officer in the U.S. Army, and is also a historian and psychologist. The topic is of interest to me not only for intellectual reasons, but also because my fiction's characters sometimes kill, and perhaps this book will help me to add a level of realism to my characters' struggles.

Mini review: Three-fourths of this book focuses upon the psychology and training of soldiers throughout history, but especially during WWI and WWII and Vietnam. Of major importance here is how the individual soldier emotionally and mentally copes with what he faces or faced during combat. The last part of this book takes a look at society, specifically U.S. society, and the influences of technology upon the violence found within the society. This book is 20 years old, so perhaps there have been more studies and potential breakthroughs in this area of psychology since then, but much of what is written here is still relevant. I've looked, but I've not found an updated edition or another, more modern book by the author on this subject, which is a shame considering U.S. history during the last couple of decades. I highly suggest this book for writers who have characters who kill, to better study the effects such has on the average person, even soldiers, especially soldiers.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 11 -- Why Science Does Not Disprove God

by Amir D. Aczel

Started: March 3
Finished: March 9

Notes: One might argue this book's title is a fallacy as science does not have to disprove God. However, the author here is a mathematician and a science writer, so I'm a little less likely to be skeptical that his viewpoint will be completely one sided. I'm always interested in studying or talking about such material, but so few people seem able to do so without becoming heated.

Mini review: After reading this, I find the book's title a little more appropriate, but the main gist here is the author finds New Atheism to often make use of bad or sloppy science, or to misunderstand or misuse science altogether, and I can't say I disagree. I've no problem with atheism, but the New Atheism movement has bothered me on numerous fronts, in no small part because it seems much more of an emotional reaction against religion than the logical one so often claimed. Here the author appears to lean in my direction, though in fairness he never qualifies the why of New Atheism as he does the how of using science to further an agenda. The universe still holds a lot of mysteries, probably more than we've uncovered, and mathematically speaking we are not likely to ever uncover all those mysteries. Whether or not there is a God seems to be one of those mysteries. While not badly written, I did not find this a breezy read, especially as it gets into quantum physics, string theory, etc. Let me make clear that the author here does not attack or come down against science, but quite the contrary. His beef is with New Atheism's use of science. Also, while the author obviously has a belief in God, he does not push on his readers any particular religion or denomination, or any religion at all, for that matter.