Ty Johnston: life on the written page

Home to fantasy, horror and literary fiction author Ty Johnston

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 19 -- Dream of the Sphere: Volume One of The Sphere Saga

by Jay S. Willis

Started: May 2
Finished: July 19

Notes: I don't make a habit of reading books in progress, especially from those not already established as authors, but I do make the occasional exception, especially when the book comes from someone whom I've read in the past and know they're a decent enough writer. That is the case here. Willis started as a gaming friend from back in my newspaper days, but I've read some of his fiction before and know he is a solid beginner who handles characterization quite well. This is the first book in a new trilogy which he's been working on, and I'm glad to get a shot at it.

Mini review: This is quite the unique story with strong characters and a fairly tight plot which revolves around a world where people occasionally vanish, supposedly taken off to join their gods in an afterlife. I don't want to spoil anything, but let's just say things aren't quite what they seem, and the story here goes into those details while setting up potential for other books in the series. There was still a roughness here, not bad writing but inexperienced writing, though Willis is growing stronger with each project he undertakes. It took me a good long while to read this one because I've also been reading other, long works, and because I was editing and offering pretty extensive notes while reading. I think it'll make a good book when it hits the market, though I don't know when that will be.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Cold Steel Hand and a Half training sword

Having recently gotten back into longswording, I decided I needed a practice sword. Not yet sure I wanted to fully commit to this sport, I decided to go cheap in price. What I got for $30 was this hand and a half training sword from Cold Steel.

It's 44 inches long with a 34 inch "blade," in the area of the shorter longswords. The entire thing is made of black polypropylene, basically a hard plastic. It weighs about 2 pounds, which is about right for the lighter longswords. The balance point comes about 4 inches along the blade from the cross guard, which is more or less about right for a longsword.

I've enjoyed using this practice sword for drills. I wish the 10-inch handle was a couple of inches longer, but I've not had any problems with it or the sword, and besides, I've got pretty big hands. To add, I do like the shape of the handle quite a lot.

I've seen a number of negative reviews online concerning this practice weapon, and while I've understood from where the reviewers were coming, I also felt they were being rather harsh. You get what you pay for, after all, and a traditional, steel practice longsword can cost anywhere from $250 to $600 or more (I've got one coming in the mail, by the way).

The complaints usually point to the fact this sword is made of plastic, and that it is hard and has little give in the blade, meaning it is not necessarily the safest choice for sparring. Again, I understand, but personally I don't think of this as a sparring practice weapon, but one specifically for drills and the like, maybe slow practice fighting. Sure, I don't want to be hit by this sword because it would hurt, but I'd never use this sword for actual sparring, and I'd likely not face off against an opponent using one.

But that doesn't mean this is a bad practice sword, just that it shouldn't be used for sparring. For guard positions, movement, drills, etc., I found this Cold Steel training sword a fine tool.

The only reason I'm ordering a steel practice sword with a safety tip is for sparring, fencing. That doesn't mean I'll no longer use my Cold Steel sword. It simply means I'll use the Cold Steel sword for drills and the like at home, but in actual classroom situations or fencing, I'll use my other, steel practice sword.

Anyway, I like the Cold Steel training hand and a half for what it is. It's cheap, meaning it's good for beginners, but beginners who stick with fencing should be prepared to spend more money later on. They're eventually going to have to buy safety equipment, after all, and a sharp sword for cutting exercises, and that stuff's not cheap.

This might appear to be the flat of the blade, but it's actually seen from the side, which shows the width.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Beagle nicknames

As my beagle, Lily, just turned 16 a while back, I was reminded of all the different names and nicknames she has been called over the years. Probably only of interest to me, but I thought I'd list as many as I can recall. A word of warning, however, as not all of these are politically correct, though don't blame me as most of these weren't mine.

Lily Bean
Lily Bean Junebug Johnston
Baby Girl
Good Girl
Pretty Girl
Pretty Girl in a Pretty World
Piggy Wigg
PeePee Pants
Monkeyhead Wilson
Helen Keller
Pain in My Butt
Pain in My Ass
Wobbly Girl
Wobbly Wobbly
Freakie Deakie
Tard Tard
Booful Baby Beagle Princess
Farty McFartfarts
Little Miss Wet Paws
Little Miss Poopsalot

If others come to mind, I'll add them.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Friday, May 01, 2015

Books read in 2015: No. 18 -- The Art of Fencing, or The Use of the Small Sword

by Monsieur L'Abbat

translated by Andrew Mahon

Started: April 26
Finished: May 1

Notes: After recently reading one book on swording, I was in the mood to read another, though this book from 1734 concerns the small sword, a weapon with which I've no particular interest. Still, I figure fencing is fencing in a very broad, general fashion, and I might be able to learn a few things here not only to help my own drills, but perhaps even to help with my writing.

Mini review: This would not be a very productive book for the modern swordsman, but for the historian there can be found some interesting topics, especially in the last few chapters which are more general than mechanical (concerning fencing). An author wanting to study historical fencing masters could also learn a few things here, especially how such characters might have written and possibly spoken.

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.