Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 64 -- Writer's Doubt

by Bryan Hutchinson

Started: Dec. 26
Finished: Dec. 31

Notes: Doubt isn't generally one of my problems as a writer, but the holiday blahs have hit me lately and I've not felt much like writing. Plus a writer friend suggested this one a while. Maybe this will kick me back into gear.

Mini review: The beginning writer could get a lot of "rah-rah" from this book, but I'm not as sure a longer-term pro would derive as much, though I suppose it couldn't hurt. Did this one help me any? Hmm, maybe. I definitely gained a story idea or two from reading this, and that always is nice.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My gifts featured at Skallagrim's YouTube channel

I'll let the video speak for itself except to say that if you have interests in historical weapons, I highly suggest regularly checking out the YouTube channel of Skallagrim.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 63 -- Wanted

by Nick Stephenson

Started: Dec. 21
Finished: Dec. 26

Notes: This Brit author has become somewhat well known for his Leopold Blake thriller novels, but also for his marketing expertise. This is the first of the Blake novels, Blake being the last surviving member of a wealthy family who has turned his money and skills into making him a criminology consultant.

Mini review: Not bad. It's what I tend to think of as a light thriller, sort of along the lines of a Lee Child or James Patterson. A fair amount of action, somewhat interesting characters, but not a lot of depth. There's nothing wrong with that if it's what you're looking for. Here Leopold Blake and companions become involved in a mystery in Paris with enough twists and turns to make things interesting.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 62 -- Nocturne

by Ed McBain

Started: Dec. 17
Finished: Dec. 21

Notes: Since the end of the year is almost here, I thought I'd get in another 87th Precinct novel, which are almost always favorites. Besides, it's been a while since I've read some McBain.

Mini review: If there is such a thing as a quintessential 87th Precinct novel, this one must come darn close to being it. You've got Detectives Carella and Hawes working together to solve the shooting death of an old lady who had once been a concert pianist. On the side they pick up the brutal murder of a prostitute, but then Detective Ollie Weeks from the 88th steps in on this case as it's connected to two murders he's picked up. You've got background players scrambling for money. Three or four major plot lines, some related and some not. It's all kind of here. By that I do not mean this is a bland novel. The action and mystery flows throughout, and this might be one of the more complicated of the 87th novels as far as linking evidence to a suspect. In the end there's a touch of humanity, a common last-chapter element for McBain's police procedurals, and as always, it works.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 61 -- The Third Option

by Derek Gunn

Started: Dec. 17
Finished: Dec. 17

Notes: This is an author new to me, which is nice, but he has also worked with Permuted Press, of which I've heard a lot of good things, so I have some high hopes here. This one looks to be a weird western, and those can be lots of fun.

Mini review: This was a pretty darn good tale with some solid writing. However, I felt it ended far too soon. Yes, I wanted more, but this also didn't feel like a complete story to me. It leads right up to what could have been a truly great story with a prime climax, but it gets cut short. Actually, this reads like a prologue or first chapter, which would be great if it really were (it's not, unfortunately ... I've looked). Based upon the strong writing alone, however, I think this writer is worth watching.

Books read in 2014: No. 60 -- Empire of the East

by Fred Saberhagen

Started: Dec. 1
Finished: Dec. 17

Notes: Back in the '80s I read all of Saberhagen's Swords novels and loved them. This book is actually a collection of three novels which provide background material for the Swords series. I should have read this decades ago, but time slips past. At least I'm here now.

Mini review: This one was a bit hit and miss for me. The first two novels of these three were fun in that goofy 70s fantasy kind of way, but the third became bogged down for a long while until the last 50 pages or so, but those 50 pages turned out to be the best part of all. And I had forgotten how wooden Saberghagen's characters could be, especially his protagonists; the villains here had far more life than any of the good guys, but especially the protagonist, Rolf. My complaints aside, this was a nice blast from the past.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 59 -- The Eye of the World

by Robert Jordan

Started: Nov. 11
Finished: Nov. 30

Notes: This book is the first in what is one of the most famous of modern epic fantasy series, probably only Martin's Game of Thrones material having a wider audience. Yes, it's true, I've not read this. To be honest, I've been putting it off for more than a decade because I was turned off by much of the fanboy attitudes I ran into concerning this series. I can't stand fanboy crap. Being a fan is fine, but allowing something to consume one's life is another matter, in my opinion, especially when things turn ugly. But I eventually realized that maybe I was being as silly as the fanboys, but in the opposite way. Why should I allow their silliness to keep me from reading what might very well be a damn good book? So, yeah, I'm here now and reading.

Mini review: If you're the kind of fantasy reader who loves all the traditional tropes of the genre, then this book is for you. Farmboy who turns out to be someone important? Check. He has a special sword? Check. He traipses across the land with a band of fellows while on their way to face a dark lord? Check. His buddies have names that practically scream Tolkien? Check. There's also a brooding guy in a cloak? Check. Yes, I could go on. I won't. As you can likely tell, this one isn't for me. The writing is by no means bad in and of itself, but there was more description than I like, and often not enough description of things that could have really used it. Then there were the dreams. Lots and lots of dreams for the characters. I hate dreams. Loathe them. They bring the story to a halt, usually with some kind of vague foreshadowing that never makes any real sense. I repeat, I hate dreams in literature. And they are in abundance here. So, yeah, I'm not likely to ever continue this series. Still, it's not the worst fantasy I've ever read, and maybe if I had read it when it was first published a couple of decades ago, then maybe I'd like it. Maybe. But after reading this, I don't ever want to hear another person bitching about The Sword of Shannara ripping off Tolkien.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

For what I am thankful

I am thankful Kelly and I had 12 years together.

I am thankful to have Lily, our beagle. She is like having a little piece of Kelly with me still.

I am thankful for my mom. She is my rock.

I am thankful for my father. I hope he has found peace at last.

I am thankful for friends I have and have had, many who probably think I have forgotten them.

I am thankful to have my writing career.

I am thankful for the memories.

I am thankful for God.

And I am thankful for you.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Are you sure Poe done it this way?

(With more than a nod to Waylon Jennings)

It's the same old tale, pencil on paper.
Where do we take it from here?
Melodrama and tear-jerking capers,
We've been the same way for years.
Things need to change.

Somebody told me when I first got printed,
Son, you finally got it made.
Old Poe made it this way, we're all sure that you will,
But I don't think Poe done it this way.
I don't think Poe done it this way.

Ten books down on paper, written with bloody hands,
Typing my whole life away.
Tell me one more time just so I understand,
Are you sure Poe done it this way?
Did Ole Poe really do it this way?

I've seen the world through a cheap flat screen
staring right back at me.
Writing my tales and reading some of his,
But I don't think Poe done 'em this way.
No, I don't think Poe done 'em this way.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

'A Place Called Skull'

A Place Called Skull, the second novel in my Walking Gods Trilogy, is now available in print and it is available in e-book form as a 99-cent pre-order at Amazon, Google PlayBarnes and Noble and Smashwords. The actual release date for the e-book is Dec. 1, the same as for the first novel in the trilogy, Where Gather the Gods. The book is approximately 53,000 words in length.

It is not likely the third novel, Whom the Gods Slay, will be available by Dec. 1. In fact, it would take a miracle at this point. However, I'll try to have it for readers sometime in January, if possible. If I can make it available sooner, I will.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 58 -- Storyteller Tools

by M. Harold Page

Started: Nov. 9
Finished: Nov. 11

Notes: I've been trying to stray from books about writing of late as I've found I've read so many that they often seem to say the same things over and over again, maybe with a tip or two here and there but nothing else really new to say. But then I came upon one of Page's Black Gate posts about writing and NaNoWriMo (no, I'm not specifically taking part though I am writing). To be blunt, I was blown away by some of the things he came up with, and while I recognized everything he had to say, I had never quite thought of it in his terms. So, that post lead me to wanting to read his book about writing. If this book is a tenth as helpful as that post was, then it's well worth my reading time.

Mini review: This one was worth reading for me. I'm not quite sure it's appropriate for the rookie writer, as they need to learn some basics before getting deeper into subjects like plot development and story structure, but for those who have those basics down and are ready to begin building their worlds and stories, this book could be a boon. It could also be appropriate for more experienced writers, giving them a different way to look at structure and the like. Without giving too much away here, the author focuses upon not only story construction, but also that of scenes and individual chapters. He also gives a look into paragraph and sentence building, especially in showing how a character relates to and expresses his or her surrounding environment. For all of this, the text here is not verbose or pendatic; the reader isn't likely to feel overwhelmed by literary terms because the writing is quite down to earth. However, keep in mind this is one author's approach, and he admits that, so take what works for you then come up with your own writing strategies.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 57 -- The Searchers

by Alan LeMay

Started: Nov. 6
Finished: Nov. 9

Notes: Books like this are why I love perusing used book shops. Sometimes you find something you didn't even think still existed. For those who don't know, this novel was the inspiration for a 1954 movie starring John Wayne, and many consider the film one of the best Westerns ever to be screened. I've long been wanting to read the original novel, and here's my chance.

Mini review: The writing strikes as a bit old fashioned at first, but that's to be expected from a novel that's 60 years old, and it doesn't impede the reader once familiarity has grown after about 10 or 15 pages. It's actually a darn good story, in many ways better than the movie, though the movie has its own strengths. One thing that surprised me was that the viewpoint character is Martin Pawley, and in the movie the focus is more upon Edwards, the John Wayne character. For the most part the movie sticks with the novel. There are a few name changes and some minor events that are slightly different, but the major change is in the ending. By the time the reader reaches that end, I believe it's a much more personal story than is the movie, which focuses more upon stoic heroics and similar themes common to Western films of the '50s and early '60s (those same themes can be found in later Westerns, but aren't quite as common with the revisionist films coming into their own). I can highly suggest this for fans of Western fiction. Fans of the movie won't find much new here, but this ending definitely goes off into other territory and might be worth experiencing.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 56 -- The Way of Shadows

by Brent Weeks

Started: Oct. 29
Finished: Nov. 5

Notes: This author has been popular in fantasy circles for a while now, having lead the charge in popularity of assassins and what some have termed "cloak guy" characters, though that might have more to do with cover art than the actual writing. This is my first time to read any of his novels, so I'm looking forward to it. As can be expected, the focus is upon fantasy assassins.

Mini review: Wow. This was simply awesome, some great fantasy writing. If you like darker epic and heroic fantasy, do yourself a favor and read this book. But don't get too attached to many of the characters. Hint, hint. The only downside here for me was I felt the last fourth of the book got a bit muddled as there was so much happening at once with a number of different characters, but still, not a moment was I bored or wanting to turn away. There's some politics here, but nowhere near the level of a George R.R. Martin, and the story isn't as philosophical as those of an author like Steven Erikson; if anything, this novel kind of reminded me of what a modern-day Thieves' World could be. Now, go read this.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

New children's book for Christmas

A couple of years ago my wife wrote and illustrated a Halloween children's book, Hollybelle the Witch and the Broomstick Ball. Before she passed away earlier this year, she had completed the writing of a sequel story and she had started on the artwork. Unfortunately, she had not had time to finish the art before she passed away.

However, I managed to cobble together her finished art plus parts of some pieces she had started, and now her Christmas book is available in e-book for the Kindle, Hollybelle the Witch and the Colorful Christmas Conundrum. The e-book will be available for free from Nov. 28-30 and Dec. 24-25.

The printed book should be available in the next couple of weeks.

Honey, it's out there now. I hope you like what I did with your work.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 55 -- Blood of Requiem (Song of Dragons 1)

by Daniel Arenson

Started: Oct. 24
Finished: Oct. 28

Notes: The year is winding down and I've not read nearly as much fantasy as I'd wanted. However, there's still a little time to correct that to some extent, so here goes. Arenson has been pretty popular on the Amazon fantasy rankings the last year or two, so I thought I'd give his writing a go.

Mini review: In a world where shapeshifters can go from being human to being dragons, an evil rises and nearly stomps them out. Now years later, a few survivors in hiding come forth to set things right. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot good to say here, but I'll try not to belabor the point. The prose was fine, nothing outstanding but it got the job done. Still, I never felt any excitement reading this, though I wasn't completely bored and there were a few moments of decent tension. The characters were mostly one dimensional, in my opinion. After an initial background story of horrors, nothing too traumatic happens to any of the characters for the rest of the book, at least not that lead to any real sense of loss. Then the final battle ... here I had some major problems, too many really to go into. However, I will say this: When you have beaten your enemy and have him under your boot, if he squeaks up at you, "Hey, let me up so we can fight like men," then you kill the bastard. I don't care if he's family or your best pal or whatever, especially after he's murdered thousands and raped and done all kinds of other atrocities, you put the sucker down. This, or something similar, happens more than once here. And honestly, in the end, when it's all over, I didn't feel like much had changed, that the characters had grown nor that their situation had changed much, other than some foreshadowing of a new threat. Arenson seems to sell well and have fans (hell, far more than me, I'm sure), and I don't want to judge a fellow writer or his career based upon my reading of one book, so more power to him. This wasn't for me, though, and I'm not likely to return. It happens. We each have different tastes.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 54 -- The Cage

by Brian Keene

Started: Oct. 23
Finished: Oct. 23

Notes: This author rose to some prominence within the horror community on the wave of zombie popularization about a decade ago, a wave which still continues though Keene has also worked on other material, such as this collection of four short stories. The lead story is "The Cage," and it's about a workplace shooting (and then some, apparently). I've read a little of his work and have been meaning to get back to him, so with Halloween approaching, now seemed a good time.

Mini review: Overall, these are fairly strong stories. The best is the first, "The Cage," in no small part because it shifts gears at one point, switching from more realistic horror to ... something else, though I won't say what. Some might not like that sudden change, but I found it somewhat refreshing though not completely unexpected after an early hint in the tale. On the downside, and this is just me, most of these tales were more realistic in tone than I'm currently wanting to read, but that's not the author's fault and I knew this was a possibility going on. So, no foul there, just my current frame of mind at work.

Books read in 2014: No. 53 -- The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard

by Robert E. Howard

Started: Oct. 10
Finished: Oct. 23

Notes: Halloween is here, so it's time for some horror, and I'm in the mood to read some Howard, thus I get the best of both worlds in this collection. Some of these tales I've read before, even multiple times, such as the famous "Pigeons From Hell," but others are new to me. Sometimes I almost forget Howard penned horror, as I think of him as a fantasy writer first and a historical fiction writer second, then I think of him as a boxing writer; this book should set me upon a straighter path, I think.

Mini review: Much of this material might not be considered horror by today's reading audiences, more of action-adventure tales with horrific elements, though there is a strong Lovecraftian bent to a lot of these stories (obviously so, in a number of cases, which makes sense since Howard and Lovecraft were pen pals and friends of sorts). Also, I made the mistake of reading this collection straight through, and I believe the stories would serve the reader better by being read individually with some time and space between; Howard's themes, and sometimes even his characters and plots, are often similar enough to be downright boring when all engulfed in a relatively short period. That does not mean the writing was not strong. In fact, while much of the writing held Howard's typical flair for words, there were enough lesser-known and partial pieces here which showed Howard knew how to expand beyond the expected. I appreciate that. Is this worth reading? For the Howard fan, yes? Even the Lovecraft fan would be well served to drum through these pages. Fans of pulp fiction in general will find material here to enjoy. But the average modern reader? Probably not, which is a shame but a likely reality.

Friday, October 17, 2014

'Where Gather the Gods'

Where Gather the Gods is my latest novel or novella, whichever term you prefer. Right at 40K words, I've seen some sources which call this a short novel, others which suggest it is a long novella.

It is currently available in print only, though the e-book version is available for pre-order at Amazon. The e-book will be released Dec. 1, and for now the price is only 99 cents. The e-book is also available for pre-order at other venues, such as Smashwords, Kobo, etc.

The story here is part of my Ursian Chronicles, taking place about 10,000 years before the birth of my Kron Darkbow character. For that matter, the events take place before mankind in my world has formed civilization of any note. I could go back even further, and perhaps I will at some point, but for now I wanted to focus upon characters and events which will play a role in the shaping of my world, and will have an effect upon Kron and his time period.

This is the first of a trilogy, the second book to be titled A Place Called Skull. That second novel is almost complete and will likely also be available Dec. 1 in print and e-book formats.

The third book is titled Whom the Gods Slay, and I'm not so sure about a release date for that one. I'd really like to have it available for sale on Dec. 1 with the other two books because I would like to have them all out at the same time. However, as I've not even started that novel, it likely will not be available at that date. Still, I can give it the old college try, and we'll see what happens; either way, the third book should be along at least later in December or maybe some time in January.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 52 -- The Blood That Bonds

by Christopher Buecheler

Started: Oct. 7
Finished: Oct. 10

Notes: With Halloween looming on the horizon, I thought it time I dipped into some darker material. Here there be vampires.

Mini review: This book is a prime example of why I like to read authors with whom I'm unfamiliar. In many ways, the storytelling here was darn near perfect. A lady of the night becomes a creature of the night, putting behind her one tragic life for another. Imagine if Anne Rice's vampire chronicles were less touchy-feely and a little more action oriented, and you've got a good idea of the style of this novel. My only almost-complaint here is that the story after the climax seems to go on for a bit, but in truth it is worth it once one sees where things are headed. Also, I'd like to add, the author here gave me a surprise or two when the climax struck, which is a rare thing for me nowadays. I'll be seeking more works from this writer.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 51 -- Bushido, the Soul of Japan

by Inazo Nitobe

Started: Oct. 4
Finished: Oct. 7

Notes: When I'm in the mood for something truly different, I'll go perusing through the Amazon listings of old and free e-books, many from the 19th Century and earlier, some great works of literature but others often enough long forgotten pieces, sometimes fiction and sometimes not. This particular book originally came out in 1899. The author came to the U.S. and was a professor, agriculturalist, delegate to the League of Nations, eventually a Quaker, and much more. In part, he wrote this little book to help show non-Japanese how ethics were passed from generation to generation, and to explain a little history, often through comparisons (where appropriate) to European history.

Mini review: You're not going to find anything here on swordplay or warfare. In fact, the two are rarely mentioned. What you will find, however, is a treatise on the "knightly virtues" of Bushido, basically the code of chivalry (for lack of a better word) for samurai or bushi, the traditional Japanese warrior class of nobles. Though a code of sorts for nobility, the author also talks about how the notions behind bushido have spread into the non-noble sectors of Japan and Japanese life. Treating bushido as a religion, the author extols the many virtues of this code, though he does not shy from giving his opinion on some of the negatives. Also, though a Christian convert, his love of Japan and to bushido shines through. Of particular interest to me was the last chapter in which the author talks about the future of bushido, which he sees as slowly fading away much as did the code of chivalry; keeping in mind when this book was originally published and the history of Japan during the next century, these are what drew me to that last paragraph.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 50 -- The Indie Author's Guide to the Universe

by Jeff Bennington

Started: Oct. 1
Finished: Oct. 4

Notes: This e-book is a couple of years old, which means it is likely way out of date. Still, I've had it a while and have wanted to get to it. Maybe I'll pick up a few things.

Mini review: Surprisingly, this e-book wasn't as dated as I thought it might have been. More inspirational than anything, the author kept to a lot of broad advice which is still quite relevant, especially to beginning writers looking to self publish. And the few specifics that came up were mostly still relatable, focusing on a few marketing techniques and even some technical points about HTML for Amazon pages. I even discovered a few Web sites for marketing with which I was unfamiliar, and that came as a pleasant surprise.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 49 -- Of Dice and Men

by David M. Ewalt

Started: Sept. 27
Finished: Oct. 1

Notes: I don't think the average person realizes just how much of an influence the game of Dungeons & Dragons has had upon popular culture. For instance, without D&D, many video games would probably not play or even look the way they do. Hit points? That came out of D&D. Halflings? The term came from D&D. Drow? D&D. Armor class? D&D. I could go on. Hell, the very idea of a group of adventurers gathering together to go off on a quest was popularized by D&D even more than the fantasy literature that came before, or at least D&D reached out to a wider and broader audience. For any writers, especially fantasy writers, who disagree with me, how many times have you read submission guidelines that told you not to send in a story if it read like a D&D game? Case closed. Anyway, whether you agree with me or not, this book I'm reading is something of a history of D&D and tabletop roleplaying in general, from those who created such games decades ago (and today) to the modern players. I've been excited about reading this one for a while.

Mini review: Ultimately this is one writer's love letter to a game he has played most of his life and of which he has many fond memories. The experienced RPG player will not find a lot new to him or her here, and the author mentions this early on, but the casual fan or someone with interest will probably learn a few things. I have to say it was nice walking down memory lane with the author, and to experience his meeting with some of the great names in the game's history as well as his visits to some of the places which were hot spots in the game's early days.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 48 -- Inventing the Enemy: Essays

by Umberto Eco
translated by Richard Dixon

Started: Sept. 23
Finished: Sept. 27

Notes: These essays are actually based upon various lectures the author has given during the last decade or thereabouts. I loved reading Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, and I keep meaning to read more of his material; to that end, but also to expand my horizons somewhat, I decided to step into this non-fiction collection. I can't remember from where, but it seems some site highly suggested this book, so there's also that.

Mini review: Having the same title as the book, the first essay/lecture focuses upon the tendency for organizations (of any human type, from governments to nations to religions to cultures, sub-cultures, etc.) to create enemies for themselves, even when there is no enemy present. The author seems to be saying that this notion of creating enemies is a natural one, even among the most peace-loving among us (who create enemies not necessarily of other human groups, but of causes -- such as global warming, saving animals, etc.). For the most part I was familiar with the ideas expressed here, though I'll admit there were a few new to me.

The next essay is Eco's thoughts on the Absolute vs. the Relative within philosophy. For me this was a snoozefest hearkening back to the more boring and, in my opinion, less useful of my undergrad philosophy classes. When particular philosophical notions have little or no practical use and/or are unprovable and thus truly undefendable, I tire quickly of them. Like Aquinas on the question of whether or not the Earth is round or flat, what difference does it make if it's not a question of Salvation (though I don't necessarily mean that in a Christian sense, but Aquinas obviously did)?

The third essay is a lengthy one on the symbolism of fire through the ages, which is about as exciting as you want it to be. For me, not overly exciting.

The fourth essay takes a look at treasures of Europe, with a strong focus upon religious artifacts. All of this I found quite interesting, though I knew some of it, but the article gets bogged down with a long list of artifacts without many details. This would be a good jumping off point for anyone interested in the subject matter, but there's not in depth history here.

Now we come to a lecture on a late author and contemporary to Eco. Here Eco compares the writer's treatment of food, mainly cheese, with the writer's writings dealing with excrement and the like. Short and somewhat entertaining, even slightly funny, to tell the truth.

In the next lecture/essay, Eco takes a look at abortion and related material from a historical point of view, mainly that of antiquity with more than a little talk of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who on the subject matter would be considered quite the heretic today. This piece drew me in because of the historical angle, especially as too often we seem to consider abortion a modern dilemma.

Next the author gives us a fairly extensive study of the writings of Victor Hugo, especially Hugo's treatment of the grotesque vs. the beautiful and how Hugo kind of turns Romanticism upon its head. Quite the interesting read for Hugo fans and for writers drawn to the period.

From here Eco veers over into censorship, mainly from a modern Italian viewpoint, which is understandable considering the author and his audience for the lecture. Some interesting stuff here, especially about different types of censorship, some that are not so easily recognizable.

Eco then takes a look at geography and astronomy from a historical, mostly European angle with a touch of nostalgia on his part, especially for ancient maps which were either outright wrong in their interpretation or were meant to be fantastical, of imaginary places. Eco also paints a picture of the Middle Ages as not being as backward as is generally believed today, especially when it came to travel and general astronomy, that the world wasn't believed to be flat, at least not by those with knowledge.

Then we come to a mildly humorous piece in which the author gives an overview of a fictional nation that tried to live only by the wisdom found in old sayings, proverbs. One can expect things don't turn out very well for the country.

The next essay is a bold diatribe against James Joyce. The language here is so strong as to be comical, my thinking at first being that Eco was surely jesting. But then the author veers over into anti-Semitism and becomes quite ugly. I have to say, I was taken back by the anti-Semitism, but it didn't stop me from finishing the book as I was so near the end.

Veering over to less sensitive material, the author concerns himself with islands, real and fictional. I had never thought of it until reading this essay, but islands have played a lot of important roles in many a story, and real islands have of course had an influence upon the real world, from geography to politics, economy, etc.

Eco winds down his book with a look at the WikiLeaks scandal from a year or two back. His opinion seems to be that the actual information leaked was no big deal, stuff most people "in the know" already knew anyway, but that the important thing here is that Big Brother is no longer in total control but has a watchman of sorts through hackers and the like.

Overall, the historical aspects of this book were intriguing. There is no doubting Umberto Eco is a genius of ancient, Medieval and Renaissance history of Europe. However, in my opinion, his thoughts on the modern world have a major fault, a sense of the over importance of his homeland, Italy. I do not mean to disparage Italy or Italians, but to be frank, I don't think that nation plays as large or as an important a role in current world politics and economics as Eco seems to believe. But I've never been there, so I freely admit I could be talking out of my ass.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

My newest writing tool -- the Alphasmart Neo

Ooo, aaah, it's like the 1980s all over again.

What you see above is my Alphasmart Neo, basically a portable word processor. You can plug it in for use, but there's little need since the three AA batteries in the back will last up to 700 hours. Yes, you read that correctly -- 700 hours. It is about the size of the smallest netbooks though lighter than any laptop I've yet to run across, and it doesn't bother with the clumsy configuration of tablets with connecting keyboards. There is no Internet access, which means no distractions. When I want to transfer my files over to a PC or Mac, all I have to do is connect them with a cord and the story moves over. It offers a simple word count and spell check and calculator, along with a few other things which I can't name right now because I never use them.

Not quite flat.
More importantly, it has doubled my writing speed. I can now tap out about 2,000 words an hour.

There are other versions of the Alphasmart which offer more bells and whistles, including some Internet access, faster transfer of files, teaching tools, etc.

Originally the various versions of the Alphasmart were marketed to the education community, specifically to grade schools through high schools. Unfortunately, the sales must not have been there since the company which made the Alphasmarts ceased doing so about a year ago. Maybe they should have tried marketing to writers, because there is a growing number of writers over at the kboards who are now using one Alphasmart or another (and sometimes more than one) for their daily writing, like me.

For some time I had been looking at word processors, but I had not found one which fit my needs. My Neo does everything I want it to and nothing more, which is perfect. I don't want extra bells and whistles or Internet access. I want to be able to carry this little gadget wherever I want and to be able to write with absolutely no distractions. I have found it perfect for that.

Actually, no, that is not from a story of mine,  though the
character menioned is. I just made up the text to show an
example of the screen and font.
One downside is file transfer is fairly slow, but apparently there is software that allows for faster movement of files. I've simply yet to try it.

Also, the screen might appear small to some, but the font size and the number of lines that can be viewed can be adjusted. Also, though it took some getting used to, I believe being able to see less of the story, and not being able to jump around in the story so easily, is what has increased my word count.

I did have an HP netbook which I quite liked, but I gave it to a family member who's computer went blooey on them.

If you're interested, you can usually find an Alphasmart or ten for sale on eBay or at Amazon. But I suggest studying the different versions first to find out which fits your needs. For me, it's the Neo.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 47 -- I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

by Harlan Ellison

Started: Sept. 23
Finished: Sept. 23

Notes: I'm pretty familiar with Ellison's screen work, but I've never read any of his prose fiction, so a good while back I picked up this piece over at Fictionwise before the site went belly up. This post-apocalyptic tale was originally published in 1967.

Mini review: In a post-apocalyptic world, a group of humans are kept prisoner by an AI computer gone mad. There are certain stories that have to be read either during their time, or during the right time for the reader. This was one such story for me, which is a shame. If I had read this tale during my teen years, I probably would have loved it, but as things stand, I wasn't all that impressed having read probably dozens of stories or novels or seen plenty of TV shows or movies with related material. That is not to say this was a bad story, because it is not, but that I would have been better served reading it far earlier in my life. Which is too bad. Over the years I've run across a number of stories and novels that have struck me this way, and I never blame it on the author but upon myself, since I should've been reading better material back in the day. But what ya gonna do?

Books read in 2014: No. 46 -- Hobo Zombie

by Karen Lofgren

Started: Sept. 22
Finished: Sept. 23

Notes: I have an admission to make. I picked up this e-book because of the title alone. A while back I was uploading an e-book of mine over at Smashwords, and once my e-book was up I noticed Hobo Zombie had also appeared, having been uploaded right before my own title. And with a title like Hobo Zombie, I just knew I had to check this e-book out.

Mini review: An interesting mixing of voodo zombies with undead zombies. In Wyoming. Hey, he's a hobo zombie, so he gets around. The story revolves around two zombie lords vying against one another for power. I won't say anything more, as it would give away too much, but if you are a fan of talking zombies who can think some, then this could be right up your alley.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 45 -- The Legacy Inheritance

by Patrick Donnell

Started: Sept. 20
Finished: Sept. 22

Notes: Every so often I'll receive an e-mail from an indie author asking me to take part in a survey or an experiment of some kind, usually with an offer of a free copy of one of their e-books. This is such a case here, though I can't remember the specifics. The story focuses on a man who loses his job and faces other financial hardships, but suddenly he is called upon to write a eulogy for someone he did not know, with an inheritance possibly in the works. So, let us see where this story takes us.

Mini review: This novel uses an almost journalistic style which is not common, though it worked well here for what is mainly a Christian allegorical tale somewhat reminiscent of John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. I admit to being pleasantly surprised at the subject matter as the main character goes along interviewing people for this eulogy he has to deliver, each person he meets being a reflection of either one of the seven deadly sins or one of the seven saintly virtues. The first half of this book I enjoyed quite a bit, but then I felt it became bogged down with its own weighty goals and ended bordering on becoming preachy. The real flaw here, in my opinion, is that the novel starts off showing examples of the various sins and virtues, but then it slowly gives that up and eventually makes a full shift to telling. That doesn't work. Not only from a storytelling perspective, but as a philosophical and spiritual instructive method. Simply telling people that certain things are good or bad for them will not make a difference to them, nor will someone else trying to explain it to them if that someone remains vague and doesn't focus upon the concrete, which is the fault of the protagonist here, in my opinion. All this being said, I think the novel was a good idea and that it started fairly strong, though it went off the rails at one point.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 44 -- Sidnye (Queen of the Universe)

by Scott Fitzgerald Gray

Started: Sept. 16
Finished: Sept. 19

Notes: A fellow member of the Monumental Works Group, Scott has never let me down as a writer. Since it's been a while since I've read anything of his, I thought it was time to get back on the saddle.

Mini review: Scott does this amazing thing with his writing that makes me jealous. He creates a mixture of characterization with story events and even background that melds together so well it's difficult to tell where one ends and the others begin. Even flashbacks don't feel like flashbacks. I've seen a handful of authors who can pull this off, such as Stephen King (when in top form), Mario Puzo (though he didn't always use such a strategy in his writing), Joe Hill (sometimes), Anne Rice (on occasion), and Chuck Palahniuk (though in his own unique, quirky way ... as he does everything). I really, really, really, really, really, really like this book. But. Isn't there always a "but?" Well, maybe not always, but often enough there is, and there's a "but" here for me. After all of this amazing story, I felt the payoff fell short. It's not a bad ending, and it's not messy, but ... there's that "but" ... for me, I felt like there was too much left unsaid. There were certain details I felt were necessary to end this novel, and they're not there. A young lady living as an orphan in a school has odd things going on around the edges of her life (think sci-fi, not supernatural ... I think), and while much is eventually shown, I felt the explanation was not there, which left me feeling a little cheated as a reader. It's kind of like watching an episode of the TV show "Lost." You're left wanting more, which is a good thing, but you also feel as if a little more should have been given in that particular episode. Bah. I'm whining. This is a damn good book, but be prepared to feel the need to read more to find out the whys and the whats. This is a minimum 4.5 stars book, and in my opinion would have been a full 5 stars if only a paragraph or two had been included to offer a little explanation of a few things. Perfect plotting, fantastic characters. If only every novel was written this well, including my own.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Believe it or not, yes, I'm writing

I've not written much about the work I've been doing of late, and I won't go into a lot of detail here, but I did want to let others know that I am indeed writing. I've finished the first draft of one novel, half of a second novel, and I've done quite a bit of work for my pen name.

Of the novels, I'm hoping to complete and have edited three of them by mid-December, to be released all at once as a trilogy. Why all at once? Why not? It's an experiment. If I can't manage to finish all three, the first one almost definitely should be ready, and perhaps the second, but I might yet hold them off until the third is complete.

As for a hint of the work I'm doing, at the right you will see the cover for the first novel. That cover is not set in stone, but it's the one I like the best of all I've done so far. It might yet change.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 43 -- A Grief Observed

by C.S. Lewis

Started: Sept. 15
Finished: Sept. 15

Notes: As I've already read this author's The Problem of Pain, it is time for A Grief Observed, a more personal look at suffering after Lewis lost his wife.

Mini review: Each individual's grief is different. I cannot with clear conscious say even to another widower, "I know what you're going through," because it's not true. I know what I've gone through, what I continue to go through, but I can't say the same of someone else. Even here. From what I know of this book and other information I've gathered about Lewis, his wife's death and their lives together were similar in a lot of ways to mine with my wife, though we never had children. But my grief experiences have been quite a bit different than those Lewis experienced. Or, at least, mine have been so far, and with my wife having passed away a little more than four months ago, it seems Lewis was writing during about the same period with his own grief. Lewis suffered something of existential turmoil, while for the most part I have not; if anything, I generally feel stronger spiritually instead of questioning the futility of everything. Maybe it was because I was and am generally a more skeptical and cynical person than Lewis happened to be, that I had already faced the darker elements of life while he had not. But that is mere speculation. In all his writings, Lewis seems fairly forthright, so I don't want to speak for him. As I said, each person's grief is different. On the flip side of this, he did eventually come out of his "funk" and came to something of a spiritual awakening, not completely unlike my own, though also not exactly the same. In this book I saw a lot that was familiar, other things not so familiar but which I could relate, and a few smatterings of things which were quite alien to me. That's to be expected with grief. All that being said, I would not necessarily suggest this book for everyone who is going through a grief process, especially those who have lost a spouse or child. I would, however, suggest this book for those who are Christian or have Judeo-Christian inclinations; others might not find comfort here, but actually might find details which could frustrate or even anger them. To each their own, as I'm not here to judge anyone's beliefs or lack of, but I do wish success to anyone dealing with grief and I believe this book could be helpful to some and of interest to even others.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 42 -- The Problem of Pain

by C.S. Lewis

Started: Sept. 11
Finished: Sept. 14

Notes: Continuing my readings on grief and Christian apologetics, this book is a natural, combining both to some extent. Lewis famously (at least within certain literary and Christian circles) wrote two books on this subject matter, the first one being this one, The Problem of Pain, in which he discusses why God would allowing suffering in the universe. The second book, titled A Grief Observed, Lewis wrote after the passing of his wife (which I can relate to), and personalizes his look into suffering. I'm starting here with the first of these books, but I'll get to the second soon enough.

Mini review: There is much here to reflect upon, and not all of it is easy material. I tend to think of Lewis as one of the better theological and philosophical writers when it comes to explaining his points, but even here there were a few places where my eyes glazed over and he kind of lost me; not that I had lost interest, but that his explanations were sometimes a little overly complicated for my preference. But that was not often the case. Most of the time Lewis is fairly straight forward, and in some ways and on some topics he is more succinct here than he is elsewhere, such as in Mere Christianity. The chapters here are broken up into reflections upon human pain, Hell, animal pain and notions of Heaven. I won't go into detail as I feel such material is worthy of the reader experiencing firsthand, but I will say Lewis does not shy away from a number of tough and touchy topics. For the most part I can go along with his thinking, but I found myself shying away from a few of his notions, specifically in his writings about animals and pain (not that I necessarily disagree with his viewpoints, or not all of them, but some I found overly speculative ... and to be honest, he might agree with me about that). For those who have an interest in religion and philosophy, and especially for those who call themselves Christian or those who wish to study Christianity, I can recommend this one.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 41 -- Healing Meditations for Surviving Grief and Loss

by Sibel Hodge

Started: Sept. 11
Finished: Sept. 11

Notes: Since the loss of my wife and my father a few months ago, I've been dealing with my own grief in my own manners. I'm still grieving, and probably always will to some extent, and I've spent plenty of time studying my own grieving process. Now I feel there's been enough time for me to have a bit more of an objective viewpoint, and I've been wanting to study grief from the viewpoint of others, which is one of the reasons I picked up this e-book. Who knows? It might even do me some good myself.

Mini review: Roughly the first third of this e-book is made up of letters from people who have or are suffering from one level of grief or other, sometimes concerning the loss of a loved one, a pet, or a miscarriage. The rest of the e-book are sort of sayings or affirmations for meditation. A little new-agey for my taste, but there was definitely plenty here to think about, even forms of grief which had not occurred to me.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 40 -- Eight Hour Fiction #3

by Travis Hill

Started: Sept. 10
Finished: Sept. 10

Notes: About a year ago, J.A. Konrath threw out a challenge to indie writers to write, edit and publish a story in digital form all within 8 hours. The author also has to come up with the cover. Fortunately, Amazon's (or wherever's) loading time isn't included in that 8 hours. Since then, a number of indies have kept up the practice over at the kboards, and there is even a monthly challenge though there's not really a prize or anything. Obviously the stories won't be very long, probably somewhere between 2,000 and 12,000 words, depending upon the writer's speed, but it can be done. I've tackled it myself a few times under a pen name, and honestly, I've like the results; though not great art by any means, it's still fun and has made me a little money while bringing a few good reviews. So, it seems there are at least some readers who are also interested in this challenge, or at least this type of rushed, short fiction. Studying it more myself, I was intrigued by Travis Hill's third publication for this challenge, in part because it includes two stories, not just one, but also the stories sounded appealing.

Mini review: The first tale is a sad, almost depressing look at one couple's way of dealing with what is basically a zombie apocalypse. The second is more of a fun tale about a quirky inventor who creates technology that allows him to experiences his cat's dreams. Yes, you read that correctly, his cat's dreams. Of the two stories, I think I liked the second better as it worked well as flash fiction. There was nothing really wrong with the first story, but I wanted more, to know more about the couple about their world, etc.

Books read in 2014: No. 39 -- The Awakened

edited by Hal Greenberg and Neil Levin

Started: Sept. 5
Finished: Sept. 10

Notes: This is a shared-world epic fantasy anthology. Based in the world of Grimaton, these tales surround one of the quirks of this world, that a small percentage of the population upon turning 19 years of age suddenly gain magical powers. These powers manifest themselves differently in each individual, and at least in appearance have less to do with traditional wizards and spellcasting but are more akin to something out of a comic book. Sort of an X-men meets Thieves' World in scope. My short story "Assassins of Opportunity" appears here, and I am anxious to read this one because I have yet to peruse all the other tales.

Mini review: For those who love a good sword-swinging tale, there's plenty to be found here. There were so many good ones, it's a difficult matter to choose a favorite. One nice detail about this collection is that it's different from many fantasy worlds in that the magic isn't your traditional spellcasting wizards, so there are a multitude of effects and types of magic, not just your typical fireballs and lightning bolts, though there is a bit of that, too. If I had one complaint about this book, it would be that I felt too many of the tales focused upon one element of the world's dynamics, basically that of King Stewart's constant attempts to kidnap Awakened characters from their own lands, but this wasn't really a bother for me, just an observation, and it didn't hurt the storytelling itself. I can recommend this one for lover's of action-oriented fantasy, and within its pages you will find stories by:

Ed Greenwood
Colin McComb
Erik Scott de Bie
Rosemary Jones
Hal Greenberg
Rai Smith
Jaleigh Johnson
Richard Redman
Doug Herring
Kevin Kulp
Darrin Drader
Torah Cottrill
Steven Creech
Darren W. Pearce
Clinton Boomer
and myself (of course)

Friday, September 05, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 38 -- Pavane

by Keith Roberts

Started: August 31
Finished: Sept. 5

Notes: It is the 20th Century, but not the 20th Century we knew. Long ago, Elizabeth I was slain by an assassin, leading to the Spanish defeating the English Armada and eventually returning to the Catholic Church the entire political domination of Europe. Of course this power also bled over into the New World and continues into the 20th Century. Now there are hints of revolution. This is the backdrop for this classic speculative novel published in the late 1960s. I've had a copy for a while now and had forgotten all about it until recently when John O'Neil over at Black Gate did a post about it, so I have John to thank for the reminder.

Mini review: This book is a great study in characters and world building. The writing is quite good for the most part, though there are short sections in which I felt the author allowed his pen to meander, to become too literary and oblique. Truth to tell, this is more a collection of related short stories than a novel, though it kind of works that way as well. At first there does not seem to be much relationship between the stories, but eventually more becomes clear and those relationships shine through. Besides being alternative history, this book has its fantasy elements, specifically with fairy, and there's almost a steampunk feel to some parts of it as the technology is roughly equal to that of the middle 19th Century. I can recommend this one.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 37 -- Player's Handbook: Dungeons & Dragons

by Wizards of the Coast

Started: August 28
Finished: August 31

Notes: This is the new Player's Handbook for the latest (ie., fifth) version of the Dungeons & Dragons game. I've been a gamer off and on for most of my life, and though I don't currently have any opportunities to break out the dice, I still enjoy reading the material from time to time. This version of the game is of interest because I want to see what the publisher has done with the game after the fourth edition brought about something of a tumult among the game's fans. Personally, I didn't care for the direction taken by fourth edition, but then I never got a chance to actually play, only to read about the rules, so my opinion might have been otherwise if I'd been able to play. This new version looks more like some of the earlier versions, at least from my quick scanning of the pages before actually reading. Also, this version was playtested by nearly 200,000 gamers during the creation process, so that should have an influence.

Mini review: Every player has their own likes and dislikes, their own reasons for playing a game, and with a tabletop RPG like D&D in which a new version comes out about every decade or so (sometimes sooner, sometimes later), there are always going to be changes, things to like and dislike. Here, there are things I like and there are things I dislike. Unfortunately, the dislikes outweigh the likes. That does not mean this is a bad game, only that it is not for me, and I am unlikely to play nor am I likely to purchase any further books for the game, though I might give the Dungeon Master's Guide a try just to see how some particulars are handled.

So, what do I like? I like how a lot of the magical spells have been reworked to be more powerful for higher-level casters. Though I think it's overly simplified, I actually do like the new advantage/disadvantage dice rolls because it clears away a whole bunch of conditional rules concerning combat. I like the fact that combat has ostensibly been sped up. I like the move away from using maps so much. I also quite like the fact that magical items will likely no longer hold as much importance to characters as before, that characters can be more dependent upon themselves than what they've got stuffed in their backpack. I especially like how saving throws have been simplified. And I like that the rules are basic enough that this would be a good version of the game for beginners. As for the book itself, I find the editing superb, the writing mostly solid, the artwork good, and the general layout and design pretty good.

What don't I like? I don't like all the additional abilities and archetypes that have been laid over the various classes; it over complicates practically everything, in my opinion, and might possibly slow down game play so that the gains from the advantage/disadvantage system will be moot. This version of the game itself is not to blame for the mentality behind this, because it is a trend that has been brewing at least since version 3.0, and perhaps before (one could argue maybe even all the way back to First Edition's Unearthed Arcana). I also feel spellcasters have been made exorbitantly powerful, and at a big loss to the non-spellcasting classes; as far as I can tell, because of the now-standard to-hit ratio, Fighters and their like have been neutered down to a bunch of special abilities that, in my opinion, no way make up for the main job these classes are supposed to be doing, fighting. I miss my skills and my Feats, but that's just me; I felt skills and Feats gave each character an individuality which has now been done away with for archetypes and other rules that brand the characters upon certain paths. For some of my complaints, one always hears the argument, "Well, it's an optional rule." My answer: It's an RPG, all the rules are optional, so that doesn't mean I suddenly have to like something because it's only "optional." Why have rules at all in that case? But maybe I've missed something and need to re-read the rules. Also, I realize there are rules for Feats and skills in this version, but those rules have been so watered down that they might as well not be there.

All this being said, this latest edition of D&D was test played by tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of gamers. So, the gamers got what they wanted, I suppose. What this reveals to me is a disconnect between myself and the majority of modern tabletop gamers. I don't want everything to be easy, my characters to never face a real chance of death, my wizards to be ultra powerful at low levels, my fighters to be nothing more than cannon fodder to shield the spellcasters. I want character, which is built by diversity and adversity. What I do not want is the easiest route to making my character a bad ass, the video game route.

From what I've seen, this version of D&D is receiving mostly rave reviews. I wish the game and the company plenty of luck. Truly, I do. But this product is not for me. To be fair, I've not had much of an opportunity to actually play the game, and base most of my opinions upon the reading of this book and a few skirmish sessions. Perhaps I will change my mind with time.

To add, one good thing about D&D is that if one does not enjoy a particular edition of the game, there are always the older editions, and eventually there will be a new edition to test out.

Also, I would like to add that, though I'm not interested in playing this game, that does not mean I hate the game nor that I think it is the worst tabletop RPG of all time. It also does not mean I would absolutely never play it. If I was with a group of gamers who wanted to play this version of D&D, I'd gladly give it a whirl. More than once I've been surprised and enjoyed a game with rules for which I did not initially care.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 36 -- Titus Awakes: The Lost Book of Gormenghast

by Maeve Gilmore and Mervyn Peake

Started: August 25
Finished: August 28

Notes: This book is the fourth in the legendary Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake. Sort of. Actually, Peake had only written a handful of notes for this book when he fell ill and passed away in the 1960s. During the '70s, his widow, Maeve Gilmore, took it upon herself to make use of his notes to complete the book. Unfortunately, though printed, the general Gormenghast fan base never became too aware of Titus Awakes, at least not until a few years ago when Peake's children re-discovered his notes and those of his wife. The novel was published again in 2011. Though it can be tedious reading, I thorougly enjoyed the first Gormenghast book, a little less the second book, and the third book ... well, I didn't care for it. To be honest, I don't have high hopes for this one, but perhaps I will be wrong.

Mini review: This is not for the light fantasy reader. Really, it's not for even hardcore fans of the epic. As with Peake's works, this is more literary than most fantasy literature, more so by far than even the likes of Tolkien or Lord Dunsany. The writing here is not as dense as Peake's, and has a little more of a lyrical turn to it. Gormenghast fans might enjoy this for a sense of completion, and those who like to read heavier literary works might enjoy the sense of being intentionally lost within the world that the Titus character thrives upon. For the most of this book, Titus continues his random wanderings as he has done since leaving Gormenghast, but the ending comes with change, and it comes rather abruptly. Did I like this? Yes and no. It's not exactly fun or exciting reading, but there is some interesting prose and situations, and here and there was a turn of phrase I enjoyed. Those seeking adventure would probably be served better elsewhere, but readers who enjoy language for itself and who like character studies could find this worth their while.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ruger 10/22 rifle with Mannlicher stock

Recently I decided to treat myself, so I purchased this Ruger 10/22 rifle in what today is called a Mannlicher stock, which I'm guessing is named after German weapons designer Ferdinand Mannlicher from the 19th Century. I used to have a 10/22 very similar to this one, but the stock was then known as an "International," and I've kicked myself for getting rid of that rifle because it was always a favorite. My original didn't have the checkered pattern of this one, and I admit I didn't like that pattern at first though it has grown on me.

10/22s are a great rifle to have for a lot of reasons. They are solid firearms, which is especially pleasing for a .22, which often enough have kind of a cheap feel to them, at least in my opinion. The price is great, usually about $300 give or take, depending upon lots of variables, the type of barrel, the stock, other bells and whistles, etc.

Another great thing about a 10/22 is that it is one of the most customizable firearms on the market. If there is something you don't like about the rifle, you can always change it. Or if you simply want to jazz up your 10/22 with a fancy stock or some bright colors or what-have-you, there's probably an option available out there somewhere.

Also, though it barely needs to be said, the .22 ammo is easy to find and usually costs less than other types.

I've put about 200 rounds through my new Mannlicher so far, and I've been pretty happy with it for the most part. I usually don't shoot further than about 50 yards, though I probably could except the longer areas of open land on my property leave questionable what is beyond; I'm mostly surrounded by woods, so I'd likely be safe to shoot out to 100 yards, but there is a road that runs fairly close to my place and I'd rather not risk it. So, at 50 yards and less, my groupings are pretty tight, which is especially nice considering my eyesight ain't what it used to be. This particular Ruger shoots a little high and to the left, but I'm sure I can make some minor adjustments to the sites to compensate.

All that being said, there are a number of things I've not cared for with this firearm.

First, quite a few of the parts are made of polymer instead of metal. My original 10/22 had all metal parts, having been purchased about 15 years ago. I realize manufacturers are turning to more and more polymers to keep costs down and to lessen the weight of firearms, but I personally think this is mistake. As evidence I'll bring up the auto industry. Years ago cars were made of almost all metal parts and those parts lasted seemingly forever. The last few decades, more and more parts have been made of some kind of plastic, and in my opinion that has simply lead to more and more cars breaking down all the damn time. But maybe that's what the auto industry wanted so you'd have to spend more money.

The magazine release is that small black lever hanging
down in front of the trigger assembly at bottom.
Another thing I don't care for is the magazine release on the 10/22. This is somewhat of a contentious situation for 10/22 fans because Ruger has changed the release lever a couple of times over the years, some people liking older style releases, others liking the newer ones. I hate to say it, but I've never been a fan of any of the magazine release switches on the 10/22. In fact, it's probably been my least favorite aspect of this firearm. At least there are some after-market modifications that can be made with purchase of some specialized releases levers, but even those haven't done much to please me. If I had any suggestion to make to Ruger concerning the 10/22, it would be to come up with a completely new and simplified release mechanism.

Related to this, another problem here is that the release lever doesn't "pop out" or any such the actual magazines, simply making it possible for the magazines to be pulled out. This isn't much of a problem for extended magazines, but the originals that come with the gun are small and flush with the stock, making it no easy task to pull those babies free, at least for me. And with my big fingers, it's not a lot of fun to have to try and stick my fingers into the little notch in front of the magazine to try and pull it out. Extended magazines are practically a necessity for me. Now, in all fairness, when an original magazine is loaded down with ammo, it will drop out just fine on its own. But come on. Usually when you're changing magazines, it's because the one is empty. Right? Right.

Okay, I've bitched enough. Despite my grousing, this is an excellent gun, one any collector or enthusiast should have in their arsenal. I've even known shooters who have owned five or six of these Rugers, and I can understand why, especially if you're someone who likes to tinker with their guns. This is a great firearm for the experienced and the beginner alike. Shoots clean, great quality, and ignore my petty gripes, for this is a solid product.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 35 -- The Black God's War

by Moses Siregar III

Started: August 19
Finished: August 24

Notes: A few years back I read the original novella which is part of this longer novel, and I've been meaning to get to the longer piece for some while now. As I'm trying to read more fantasy of late, specifically epic fantasy, I thought it time I got busy reading this one, especially as I recall being impressed with the novella.

Mini review: The first half of this novel was somewhat slow for me, but you have to keep in mind I had already read much of that material before, so perhaps that was why I felt that way. It was also somewhat difficult for a while to keep track of the many characters here, in no small part because a number of the characters share similar backgrounds, sort of. Let me put it this way ... there are two sides to a war, and on each side there are characters who fill somewhat similar roles to those on the other side, making it a little jarring at first to keep track of each figure. But by the halfway point of this novel, everything came together quite well, the characters were more individualized, and the plot sped up nicely. In the end there's a scene almost reminiscent of Hamlet, or The Wild Bunch, or Reservoir Dogs. Catch my drift? Without me giving too much away? Anyway, the second half of the novel I liked quite a lot, and the ending I loved, though it didn't tie everything up in a perfect little ribbon for the reader ... which is actually something I appreciate.

Thoughts of a widower

It's the middle of the night and I can't sleep, so I thought I'd blog a little, something I've not been doing enough of the last year or so.

And I thought I'd write a little here about being a widower, as it's been more than a few months since my wife died and a little more than two months since my dad died. I have tried not to write too much about this because, frankly, I don't want to bore people and I don't necessarily feel the need for an out gushing of sympathy and pity, not that I mind condolences and the like.

I might ramble a little. These are just thoughts of mine that have come up, some that might seem quite weird.

First of all, it still doesn't feel like she's gone. It feels like she is away at the hospital, and I am still waiting for her to come walking through the door, or for her to call me to come and pick her up. This feeling is not as intense as it once was, and it doesn't take up my entire day, but I still sense it every day.

Nights are still the hardest. Once the sun goes down, it still seems like an empty house. Our pet rabbit, Silky, passed away a few weeks ago, and that has been one more presence gone from the house. It's just me and the beagle, Lily, and while this isn't a big place, sometimes it feels far too big.

I still have most of my wife's stuff to go through. I've given away or donated quite a few things, but I'm hanging on to a lot of stuff that is either supposed to be picked up by someone at some point, or I'll be taking it to friends and family who live out of state whenever I get the chance to visit. I was supposed to have a yard sale, with the proceeds going to a local cancer organization, but it has either rained or I have had other plans for the last month.

I don't cry nearly as much as I did a couple of months ago, but sometimes I do. I'll hear a certain song, or I'll see a picture of Kelly, my wife, and often enough that will get me to weeping again.

My emotions with my dad has been different. I've hardly cried for him, though I have missed him tremendously at times, and a couple of times I've caught myself thinking, "I should call dad." Maybe I've not cried as much because he was older, had lived his life, or maybe it's because I've been in shock or numb from Kelly's death. Or it could even be the fact my father and I grew apart in the last five or so years of his life, which is an odd thing because for most of my life he and I were quite close. He had changed during the last decade, definitely the last half decade; maybe that was age catching up to him, or possibly it was his OCD or even the cancer. Either way, it saddens me that we were not as close, and I have not been happy with the fact I was not there with him when he passed ... but such is life.

My feelings about lengths of time have flipped. I used to look forward and think, "Man, I've got 20 or 30, maybe even 40 years left to live, and that doesn't seem like nearly enough." Now I look at all that time and think, "God, 20 years sounds like an awful long time." I guess living my life without Kelly makes me look at things that way.

I have unusual thoughts tied to Kelly all the time.

I'll be emptying a jar of mayonnaise and think, "She was still alive when we bought this."

Or I'll go to the store and remember, "I don't have to buy diet Dr. Pepper any longer."

Or I'll use a kitchen utensil and think, "She was the last person who used this before now."

Or I'll give away her laptop mini-desk she used in bed, my heart nearly breaking at doing so, but all the while realizing I'll have no use for the thing.

I can't watch movies she enjoyed, or movies she wanted to see but hadn't had the chance. I've tried. 20 minutes is about the most I can take. I don't start crying or anything, but there's just this growing feeling of, "What's the point?" Experiencing the movies with her was the point, at least for me, and now that's gone.

Also, I'll think about how things have changed since she was gone.

She had always wanted a smart phone, but we had never gotten around to getting one. Then my dad passed away and left me a smart phone. Figures, doesn't it?

She had wanted our vehicle paid off, and guess what? The Explorer got paid off within weeks of her passing.

She had wanted Lily, our beagle, to have surgery for a tumor. Lily had the surgery a week after Kelly left us.

Things she didn't get to see, little hopes she had, dreams. All gone.

And at times I feel as if I have died myself, that I'm cursed in some purgatory that allows part of me to live on and see what life would be without her, and even without myself to some extent.

I've also found that it's not so easy going back to former modes of life. For instance, because I work from home now, I have no strong ties to where I live. I can move just about anywhere I want. However, I have told myself I will not make any drastic life decisions for at least two years, and I'm sticking with that. But what I'm finding as I've looked back at favorite places I've lived, and as I've considered locations near where friends live, that it simply would no longer be the same. Yes, some of it is because Kelly is not with me, but it's also that things have changed, people have moved, places aren't the same as they used to be, etc. All of this is fine, it's all quite natural, but the notion of change is unsettling to me at the moment, probably because I've faced so much of it during the last few months.

Perhaps I'll feel differently at some point.

One last thing: It's easier for me to remember the good times than the bad, but I tell you, I would take the worst knock-down, drag-out fight Kelly and I ever had just to see her again.

Anyway, I'm sure there are things I've forgotten, but for now, I'll sign off. Hope I didn't depress anyone.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 34 -- The Wind Through the Keyhole

by Stephen King

Started: August 17
Finished: August 18

Notes: There are three reasons I am reading this novel now: 1.) I am woefully behind on my King reading, and at one time I had read practically everything by the man; 2.) I am a fan of King's Dark Tower series and this book is a followup to that; 3.) I've been telling myself all year I will read more fantasy, but I keep getting distracted by other material, and while this isn't exactly straight fantasy, the Dark Tower series is King's own unique form of epic fantasy with elements of horror and even the occasional touch of sci-fi thrown in.

Mini review: It was very nice to venture back into the world of Roland Deschain, like visiting with old friends. One of the things I like about King's fantasy is that, for me, it brings a sense of wonder I see rarely in most fantasy literature nowadays. Some would find this book annoying as it is a story inside a story inside a story, not an unknown tact for King, but I've always felt King does this well, perhaps even better than any other author I've read, and I'm one who usually does not enjoy flashbacks or stories within stories. Is this King's best work? Probably not, but it's still pretty darn good, and it was nice to see fantasy literature with a sense of honor and gentleness about it.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 33 -- Blaze

by Richard Bachman

Started: August 14
Finished: August 16

Notes: Is there anyone who isn't aware Stephen King occasionally writes under the pen name of Richard Bachman? Either way, I'm way behind on my King reading, much of his work from the last decade, so I thought it time I got back on that wagon.

Mini review: Sort of a light crime novel (with shades of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men), this is not King's best work, but that's to be somewhat expected considering this is basically a "trunk" novel of his originally written back in 1973 while King was in his 20s. Still, this is a pretty solid book, and I believe the story's structure is quite strong as are the characters, which is almost always the case with King. The ending is a tad underwhelming, but again, that is often the case with King, and it is by no means the worst ending I've seen him give a tale. If one is a King fan, then this book needs to be read because it will provide some enjoyment, but this is not a book I would suggest to the casual King reader or to one coming fresh to the author for the first time.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Books read in 2014: No. 32 -- Blood Red Rings

by Rick Mofina

Started: August 14
Finished: August 14

Notes: This is another thriller author I've been meaning to look into for some time now. Beyond the writing, I've been wanting to check out this little e-book because it is apparently a short story plus a collection of first chapters from several of Mofina's novels. I'm not interested in putting out such a collection myself, but I'm interested in how it will be handled here.

Mini review: The short story, from which this e-book's title comes, is a damn fine piece of police fiction, bordering on horror. I can't quite say the tale is a favorite because I did figure out where the story was going, but the technique was superb over all. The other writings here show Mofina knows what he's doing, so I'll have to check out more of his material in the future.