Friday, July 30, 2010

Flash Fiction Friday: The Captive

The shadows were alive. Thick. Dark. Heavy. A few pillars of light seeped through some of the slabs of the old barn walls, but even they weren’t strong enough to break the sphere of blackness. Dust mites danced wildly in the still air, rising from the hay-strewn floor.

A man, confined to the shadows, twisted and turned violently, trying unsuccessfully to escape the chains that held him tight. His wrists ached and burned, bruised and bloodied from his useless struggle. Still, it did not stop him from trying.

His birth name was long forgotten, like much of his early life. He had vague memories of his mother and sister—all freckled and red haired, filled with life and joy—but he refused to dwell on them. Seamus is what he was called now, the name chosen purely on a whim. It sounded Irish or something, to match his occasional red hair, and he liked the way it felt on his tongue.

He fell back, exhausted from his battle against the chains. The metal was too strong for him to break. Whoever his captor was knew what he was doing. Seamus sat in the swirling darkness of the shadows, watching the light play in the empty barn. The black spoke.

He plans to kill you. Why else would he keep you locked in here like a monster? He will kill you and send your body back to the Masters and you know what they will do to you.

Seamus sneered, spitting out a wad of white phlegm in defiance. Inside a small trickle of fear filled his gut. He did know what the Masters would do if he failed…

The power courses through you. You can escape this holding place. You have the gift. Use it! Break these chains!

The door to the barn creaked open. The floodgates opened and the midday sun poured through the threshold, swamping everything in blinding, white light. The thick shadows vanished instantly, fully revealing him a lanky, redheaded man. Purple bruises dotted his chest like tiny islands on the ocean of his flesh. He turned his head to keep the light from temporarily blinding him.

A woman stepped in, holding a weathered hatchet in her hand. She stopped short of Seamus’ reach. He could see the glowing edged on the blade, but it hurt his eyes. The woman had blurry golden hair in the light.

“Who are you?” Her voice carried an air of confidence, but Seamus could hear the uncertainty on its edges. If she would step a little closer then he could break her. Bones were much weaker than metal.

She stared down at him, unmoving. The sweet smell of the woman melded in with the dusty odor of the hay. He could almost taste her. “I don’t know who or what you are, but if you’re here, at this place, then I’m betting you’re like me. You’re infected, aren’t you?”

Seamus barely registered her words. He watched her lips open and close. Her tongue flash in and out. He could hear the blood flowing through her veins, twisting and turning through the sewers of the body. The elevated bum-bump bum-bump of her heart banged in his ears like a marching drummer.

The woman took a hesitant step forward, bringing up the hatchet to her side. The explosion of her scent from just one step sent shivers down his body. She stepped again. “The cripple’s locked in his basement. We can get answers from him, if you’re willing to help me.” She stopped, still outside of his influence.

His senses were overloaded, like a body bathing in a shower of tickling electricity. The light from the door had tears leaking from his eyes. The overpowering scent of the woman whetted his appetite. The sound of her voice, of her lungs expanding and shrinking, of her shoes on the hay and dirt, all blended together and created a beautiful melody. His body longed to feel her smooth skin. To taste her. He smiled at the thought of her bones breaking under him.

“You’re not listening, are you?” She crouched and looked into his eyes. “I thought you’d wanna help, but I guess you’re too far gone. Don’t worry, though. I’ll find a cure. There are plenty of others like us. Someone can help.” She stood and turned back to the door. Step after step Seamus watched her—heard her, smelled her, tasted her—leave, but still his mind did not fully comprehend.

By the time realization struck, she was closing the door to the barn. The bright sunlight was nearly gone when the door stopped and she stuck her head back into view. “I’ll be back for you. Don’t worry.”

The door slapped shut, the wooden planks cracking out a loud bang. Thick shadows swarmed once more around him, drenching his body in their dark comforts.

The girl could be more trouble than even the captor.

Seamus’ body slowly returned to normal. The tension in his joints relaxed. The surge of senses always left him exhausted and hungry, but there was nothing he could do but struggle against the chains and wait for his rescue.

Word Count: 857

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hellboy: Seed of Destruction, a Review

Back during WWII, the Nazis were experimenting with all sorts of things. One aspect of research dealt with the paranormal. Finally, after years of preparation, a Nazi wizard/researcher/delusional-psycho summoned up a creature from the Deep, a tiny red-skinned, hornless man that would be named Hellboy. Only he showed up on the Allies side...

So begins Hellboy Volume 1: Seed of Destruction, and this intro is covered in a few pages up front. The remainder of the novel fast-forwards several years. Hellboy is a world-famous paranormal investigator, working for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, or the BPRD. When the man Hellboy sees as his father winds up dying from some unknown otherworldly action, the investigator takes his team and begins to unravel the crime. In the process, he starts to learn a bit more about his life and why he's here.

The first thing I noticed about Hellboy was the beautiful artwork. The characters are all drawn very nicely, especially Hellboy, Abe Sapien, and the villains. All of the pages have a very dark coloring motif that makes the tale fit the Lovecraftian tones, mixed in with some pulp noir style to boot. The lettering is simple, nothing fancy, but anything else would detract from the story I think. Yes, Hellboy is beautifully illustrated.

Equally important is the characterization, and Hellboy was more complex than I was expecting. From obscure beginnings, Hellboy wonders why he is here and where he came from. Why is his right hand different? Indeed, Hellboy is not some tough and rowdy hellbeast, but actually a civilized mind that has loves and cares as you and I. Even the minor characters, Abe and Liz, have some depth to them, and this added greatly to the arc.

Finally, the story arc for the Seed of Destruction was compelling and interesting. I never really knew what to expect, and I kept wondering at things up through the climax. And oh what a climax. Several pages of excitement and some resolution to earlier mysteries, but also an impetus for plenty more questions and actions to come.

Overall I really enjoyed this first graphic novel in the Hellboy series. It had everything in it that I look for in a comic: beautiful art, interesting characters, and a great story. There was nothing I disliked about the graphic novel. In the end, if you're looking for a fun-filled, dark horror-tainted comic, Mike Mignola's Hellboy: Seed of Destruction is the perfect place to start.  Easily recommendable.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Becoming a Mentor

Recently, as of this past Sunday, I became a mentor to two younger lads, one birthed in 1996 and the other in 1997.  Myself, I entered this planet in the year 1986, putting me a solid decade older than either of the two.  And now, in the aftermath of my becoming a mentor, I find myself a little hesitant and nervy.

See, I like kids and hanging out with young folk, but I never know how to act or what to do or say.  I feel like people should just be able to read my mind and know what I'm thinking, that way we can get past the introductions and awkwardness and head straight into what this whole relationship's supposed to be about: becoming friends.

Keisha did Big Brothers Big Sisters during high school and college, plus she's got a degree in education, so she has no problems when it comes to this type of thing.  I, on the other hand, don't have any practical experience, so it'll all be learning for me.  Still, despite my fears and nervousness, I am looking forward to befriending the guys and growing together.

The same is somewhat true with the prospect of having children.  I didn't have my "real" dad growing up, and his absence has definitely shaped me in many ways.  My step-father also is responsible for my outlook on many things in this world and for how I view things, but really neither of these set the ideal example of fatherhood.  I admit, I'm more than a little nervous knowing that someday, likely within the next year or two, I'm going to become a father.  I don't want to screw my kids up, and I don't want to let them down.  At the same time I know that I'm only human (for the most part) and thus completely fallible.  I know I'll let them down.  I know I'll let myself down, but I still want to be the best dad I can be.

That coincides with becoming a mentor.  I don't want to let down these guys.  I want to be there for them, someone who is considered a strong friend in their life.  I want to have fun and help them when they have questions or concerns.  I want my love for Christ to shine through me in such a way that they see how important He is to me. 

I'm not sure what the future holds or how these relationships will turn out.  Ideally I'll be able to meet with them for an hour or so each week or two and we'll just hang out and talk or play video games or play some music or tennis or disc golf or whatever.  I have no doubt that I'll learn from them, and I can only hope that maybe I'll be able to show them a thing or two, too.

So wish me luck as I enter into these two new relationships. 

Random Bits & Pieces
  • I've been playing a lot of tennis recently.  My body feels like a blog of goo, but I'm happy with that.  Serve has been very strong and mostly accurate, while forehand has been sucking it up.
  • Keisha's Pampered Chef business is going very well.
  • I'm slowly editing my short story "The Bombing of Morrta," as well as working on a few other things as well, one of which I think may develop into a novel and the other is still in the "this is fun, let's tell this story" phase.
  • A friend let me borrow the entire series of Cowboy Bebop, which so far has been awesome.  Expect a full review whenever I finish.
  • I'll be reviewing Pat Rothfuss' latest not-for-children children's book The Princess and Mr. Whiffle soon-ish.
  • Making headway on The Great Hunt, the second book in The Wheel of Time series, plus I'm also thoroughly enjoying the Hellboy graphic novels and The Warded Man.  Lot's of books in the mix.  I got a Bible to review for Tyndale, too. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Searching For God Knows What, a Review

Searching For God Knows What Searching For God Knows What, by Donald Miller, is a powerful, thought-provoking book.  Miller writes as he did in the wonderful Blue Like Jazz, conversational and easy to understand.  His theology is strong and his convictions are sincere and honest.  Searching For God Knows What is a smooth blend of memoir and theology, and the result is excellent.

The book reads as if Miller is telling you a bunch of stories.  He talks about his friends, sometimes even naming them, and some of the things they've done.  He tells about how the circus terrified him as a kid and only found solace in the elephants.  He tells about some of his struggles and some of his worries, all the while sucking you into his life.  Truly, the book feels almost as if you're sitting down and talking over a cup of coffee, not reading.  After I finished I felt as if I knew Miller, like he was one of my friends and that I could just call him up and talk on the phone, and that easy-to-read style is part of what makes Searching For God Knows What a good read.

But the book is more than just well written.  Miller is looking for something, as the title suggests.  He's actively searching, but what for is anybody's guess.  Not only is Donald Miller looking, but you and I are too.  Miller tells of how we're all just fallen people and that our lives are a result of the events that happened back in the Garden of Eden.  I won't expound on his theology and on his theory of life, but for the most part, I agreed with everything he said.

Overall I really enjoyed Searching For God Knows What.  At times I was laughing because of how funny and witty some of the stories are.  Other times are almost enough to break your heart, realizing how messed up the church (and the rest of the world) is.  And still yet I was learning, or thinking, perhaps, that maybe Miller is onto something here.  If you've never read anything by Donald Miller, and you'd like to read something fresh and eye-opening, I can easily recommend Searching For God Knows What, or his ubiquitous Blue Like Jazz.  The book spoke to me, and I think it would do the same to anyone that were to sit down with it with an open-mind and a hungry-heart.

(This version of Searching For God Knows What is a revised and updated version from his previous release in 2004.  The updated version includes and in-book game, where clues are hidden throughout the text.  I started out following the game, but after a few chapters I got tired of this.  Still, some may find this type of thing fun, it just wasn’t for me.)

This book was provided for free by the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Talking With Salesmen

"Logan, there's a man in our living room cleaning our carpet.  He's here selling a vacuum cleaner.  I've done told him that we weren't interested, but he insisted on cleaning and shampooing our carpet for free.  He wants to talk with you cause he gets paid more if he can talk to both of us.  He said he'd still be here when you get home."

This about sums up the short phone call I got from Keisha yesterday afternoon at around 4pm, a good hour before I got off work.  We had been planning on getting our living room shampooed anyway, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity, especially considering the cost of $0.  Then she ended the conversation like this.  "Anyway, it's your job to get rid of him."

Now I usually try to give salespeople my time.  I figure most people are jerks and rude, and I'm not most people.  I'm a patient guy.  Pretty much I'll always let you do your spiel, figuring hey, it's your job.  So I got home and the guy introduced himself as Arthur.  He said I probably had things to do and would be quick.  I told him that yes, I did in fact have somewhere to be ASAP, thank you for your expediency, let's get this show on the road.

Arthur showed me the great and terrible power of the Kirby vacuum.  Like a terrible vortex of doom, no carpet was safe from the Kirby.  He talked as he cleaned my living room floor, showing me all the dirt and dust that lived beneath my relatively new carpet.  The man was smooth and suave.  And as time ticked by, I found myself growing a bit more impatient.  Me and Alex had planned on disc golfing at 5:30ish and the man already knew we weren't going to buy the machine.  Still, I held my tongue.

Then he called his boss and said she'd be over to talk with me about financing opportunities.  So in she came, dressed nowhere near as professionally as Arthur, which kind of made me skeptical.  Why was Arthur in slacks and a shirt and tie and this lady in a tank-top and jeans?  And why was she here in the first place when Arthur knew we weren't going to buy one?  Granted, the vacuum was quite amazing in its vacuuming abilities, but the $3200 price tag was enough to make me gasp aloud and clutch my heart, feigning cardiac arrest at the mere site of such numbers.  She made a few offers, all of which I shot down.  We have a budget, I said.  We just bought a brand new washer and dryer last week, I said.  We're trying to get out of debt, not rack up more, I said.  She, apparently, found it aggravating that I wasn't jumping on the remarkable deal.

Finally, after a time, I convinced them I wasn't going to buy the amazing sucking machine.  I know I'm a fool for knowingly living in a house that can contain all these allergens and hidden dirt-things, but I'm a fool, what can I say?  And the fact that the Kirby can convert into 15 machines, including a paint sprayer and a bed cleaner?  Bah!  They had all their stuff packed away and my living room carpets looked very nice, saving me a hundred dollars or so in shampooing costs, but were they done yet?  No.

They had to wait on somebody to come and pick them up.  Being the kind and hospitable type that I am, I offered them some lemonade and a seat.  I surely wasn't going to ask them to wait out in the 100 degree heat so I could leave and go play disc golf.  We sat around and idly talked about nothing, with every minute or so the salesfolk trying to get me to change my mind.  This only got more aggravating as time went on.  It seemed to me that they were getting frustrated at my refusals, too.

By the time they left, at a little after 7pm, I was ready to stab myself in the head with a trident.  (Not that I have tridents just laying around.  Those things are dangerous.)  We were horribly late, but still we went and played.  In the dwindling light I wound up losing a disc and we only managed to play 6 holes before we left. 

Turns out the vacuum folks spent almost four hours at Stewartland yesterday, from the initial doorbell ring-a-ling to the same door closing on their way out.  Granted, I did get my living room cleaned quite nicely, saving me money, but on the other hand, I lost a nice disc and didn't get to play very long.  I can't decide whether I made out good or not...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Calculating Discharge, or Hello Rational Method (A Brief Explanation of Simple Hydrology and What It Is Exactly I Do At Work)

My boss came up to me the other day and asked me to help him with a project.  A certain site is having some flooding issues, partially because it was not constructed per recommendations, and now the city is looking to fix it (I think).  Anyway, my boss asks me to calculate the flow at a few different points and how deep the water will be during certain storm situations.  No big deal.

But then, when I start explaining to Keisha about what I'm doing, I realize how complicated things are to someone unfamiliar with hydrology.  It's simple to understand what flow rate, or discharge, or runoff, is: the amount of water (volume, like gallons or feet cubed) flowing over a set point in a given amount of time (seconds, minutes, etc.)  But how does one calculate these flows? 

There are several different methods for calculating discharge, but one of the most commonly used and widely accepted methods is the Rational Method.  The Rational Method is ideal for relatively small drainage areas, under 200 acres.  Stated simply, the flow rate (Q) is equal to the intensity of rainfall (i) times the drainage area (A) times the runoff coefficient (C), or Q=CiA.  And that is the basic formula I use to calculate flows, but coming up with the three variables is sometimes taxing.

The simplest piece of data to calculate is the drainage area.  At the MLC, this is done by using the software MicroStation, a drafting program used for map work.  Land surveyors collect the actual data and give it to a technician that imports it into the program and converts it into maps.  Using the generated contour lines, I then create outlines of the various watersheds, and then it's simply a matter of selecting the watershed to measure the area.  Other methods may require use of aerial photography or USGS quad maps to figure up areas, but more often than not, I can get all I need from the field surveys.

The next piece is the runoff coefficient C.  This value can range from 0 to 1, or from extremely pervious to water-tight.  This number is based on the land types.  For example, if there is a lot of pavement in a drainage area, then the runoff value will be high; conversely, if the site is mostly farmland or fields, the value will be low.  An weighted average C value is chosen for the site based on the total drainage area.

The last thing needed to calculate discharge is the rainfall intensity.  Like there are various methods for calculating runoff, there are many ways to figure up rainfall intensity.  At the MLC, the Intensity Duration Frequency (IDF) curves/equations are used.  Rainfall is not evenly distributed over any area, and this makes getting a reliable i value an odd thing.  For example, it may rain 2" at your house, but where you work there's not a cloud in the sky.  This stochastic characteristic of rain is always fun to deal with.

Time of Concentration The IDF method is simple provided you know the time of concentration (the time it takes for the farthest drop of rain, once it hits the watershed, to drain to the outlet, from point 1 to 2 on the map to the left).  However, calculating Tc requires several pieces of information, all of which primarily deal with how the physical properties of the land.  There are two primary types of flow: overland flow (water that doesn't flow in channels), and channel flow.  The overland flow time is pretty easy to calculate, requiring you to know the length of overland flow, the precipitation value for a certain storm, and the slope of the ground.  Using an ugly formula, you can solve the overland flow time, To, quite easily.  If only channel flow time were so.

Channel flow requires much more of the engineer.  Manning's Equation is used to get a velocity of flow going at bankfull.  This is where things get hazy, as bankfull is typically estimated by looking at channel cross-sections in MicroStation.  And some channels may stretch for thousands of feet, changing scores of times from start to the outlet, thus requiring you to come up with an average value to use for the bankfull data.  Once these numbers are known and Manning's Equation is used, the channel travel time, Tt, can be found using a simple formula.  Finally, adding together the overland flow time and the channel time, the time of concentration is solved by Tc = To + Tt.

As stated above, the IDF equation is easy to use, needing only the time of concentration, which is now available.  The equation is i = A0*Tc^(A1+A2*ln(Tc)), where the A values are obtained depending on which zone of influence you are working in, i.e. look these values up in a table.

Finally, now that the three pieces of data are gathered, the discharge can be calculated for the needed storms.  These flow rates are then used to solve the depth of flow by using either Manning's Equation and solving for depth, or in the MLC's case, another computer program, this one DOS based and lacking a GUI.

So there you have it.  Sometimes things get frustrating because I have to "guess" on certain pieces of data, like the channel characteristics, and my confidence in my "guesses" is not always high.  But other than that, it's really not that difficult.  This is just one of the many exciting things I get to do at my job.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Inception, a Review

Inception_poster Inception, on a basic level of understanding, is a simple heist movie.  You’ve got your suave hero Dom (Leonardo DiCaprio), the best in his field, who assembles a team to perform one last big hoorah, one big enough to put his thieving days to an end and get back home.  And like all heist movies, the team is tight and quirky, each adding their own special perk to the group, each relying on the others to perform their jobs and do them right.  Yet, Inception is more than just a simple heist movie.  It’s a film that’s set predominately in the world of dreams, where things stolen are ideas, and death is only an awakening.

Christopher Nolan’s latest film pulls you in quickly and takes you on a fast-paced ride that demands attention lest you be left in the dust.  Extraction, the technology that allows people to enter other people’s dreams and “extract” things, is a fascinating invention.  Entering into someone’s mind is never predictable, and the dreamscapes are always mesmerizing.  When architect Ariadne (Ellen Page) joins the gang, she’s given a short class on how operation within a dream works, and soon she’s on to designing and creating the worlds within.

The ultimate job, the one that will send Dom home, involves inception, the process of planting an idea in someone’s mind through dreams.  It’s “never been done” before, but Dom says he can do it, and so the story begins.  (And it’s also all I’ll say, so as to remain spoiler-free.)

I was very impressed with Inception.  I thought the acting was excellent all around.  Everyone performed perfectly to character.  I also loved the imaginative set designs for the dreams.  The worlds felt enormous, massive enough to swallow you whole and you not even know it.  I would be remiss to leave out the score.  The music that accompanied the film was powerful, good enough that it was the first thing I thought of when the credits began to roll.  The plot itself I enjoyed, finding it a bit complex, but not unwieldy, spiced with the right amount of emotion and intrigue.  And the climax… wow.

There’s no doubt that if you want to see a movie this summer that will have you on the edge of your seat, Inception is certainly it.  The flaws of the film are few and easily forgettable.  The story is as gripping as the characters, both of which are fun to watch and unravel.  I can easily, quite easily, recommend Inception to you.  It’s definitely one I’d see on the big-screen in case you’re thinking about waiting.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Operation of Daily Busyness

Man oh man oh man, life has been nothing but non-stop busy for the past two weeks or so.  Now, at 10:53pm on a Wednesday night, it's still running headlong into the perpetual motion of busyness.  I'm exhausted and sore and ready to go to sleep, but I haven't posted in a while and I really feel the need to at least get something out there.

A few weeks ago my boss told me that the project I was working on at MLC was coming up for a progress report (similar to the thing I did last year and got very nervous over).  I have got quite a bit done on the project, but I guess I'm still too new on the job to have much confidence.  Plus, a lot of stuff is designed to the discretion of the engineer, using the engineer's best judgment.  I love those sort of vague guidelines.  Anyway, at work I've been very busy trying to wrap up the stuff I've been working on.

Then, on Monday morn, my work computer would not turn on.  It has a few of my files on it, but fortunately most of my project stuff is saved and backed-up on the network drives.  Turns out my computer's power drive has died or something.  I'm not sure.  So, since Monday I've been using Microsoft NT 3.0, which came out around 1993.  The machine can't run all the programs I need, and the programs it will run are earlier versions that I am unfamiliar with.  So it's been hectic.

At home our washing machine broke.  I said I'd take care of it, and I just work rather slowly at doing that.  The clothes continued to pile up and we still had no washer.  Finally we had to go to my mamaw's house and do about ten loads of laundry to get our heads above water.  Today, on my lunch break, I went and found a brand new washer & dryer front-loader stackable and went ahead and purchased it (thank you for 0% 12-months same as cash!).  They should be delivered on Friday.

Reading-wise, I finally got Justin Cronin's highly hyped up book The Passage from the library, but it happened to come when life was going full steam and I didn't get any time to read it.  I couldn't renew the book, as it's on reserve by others, so I had to turn it back in after reading the first chapter.  I'll get back on the waiting list again, I suppose.  I did finish a re-read of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which I listened to as an audio-book.  It was better this time around than the first, I think, and I'm thoroughly looking forward to the movie release later this year.

I also canceled my DirecTV service, partially because I was very dissatisfied, but mostly because I could see no reason to keep paying so much per month when neither Keisha nor I watch it.  After going through several different digital antennas, I finally found one to mount outside that picks up all the local broadcasts.  Now Stewartland has only this to watch, a collection of DVDs, and soon-to-try-Netflix.

Hmmm...  Oh yeah.  Keisha signed up to become a Pampered Chef consultant, and she's already got several parties booked.  She's pretty excited, and so am I.  The products are all top-notch, and I get to eat.  She also signed up for a cake decorating class at Hobby Lobby, and again, I'm getting to sample the food she's making.

To those that are concerned, I'm sorry I haven't been by your blogs, but I hope to remedy this somewhat soon.  One day the life will slow back down again.  Hopefully I'll be able to get something else up here by the weekend, but it might not be until next week.  I think I'm going to go watch Inception if I can this weekend, and if I do, look for a review early next week.  I'm sure I'm forgetting something, but it's late and I'm heading to bed.  Look to the skies!

"We'll meet again.  Don't know where.  Don't know when.  But I know...."

Friday, July 09, 2010

Stories, a Review

Stories_Gaiman I'm not really sure how to review an anthology of short stories, but I want to try. I knew I wanted to read Stories, edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio, and featuring many well-known names in the literary world, when I first heard about it. I enjoy short fiction, and wanted to try this collection out.

I've decided to give a brief review/preview or my personal thoughts on each piece in the book. I read every story but one, and I gave up on one story, putting my total at 25 out of the 27 stories.

Introduction: Neil Gaiman talks about the importance of stories, that it's the story that carries a book, not the way the story is told. The purpose of this anthology is to tell good stories, to inspire the reader to ask The Four Words "...and then what happened?"

"Blood," by Roddy Doyle. A man finds himself craving blood, though he confesses to be nothing but normal. I was eating lunch when I read this story and I almost had to quit. The descriptions of some of the actions were enough to almost make me vomit. The end certainly carried a shock. One of the best stories in the collection.

"Fossil-Figures," by Joyce Carol Oates. A story about twin brothers and their unique relationship. The writing style is somewhat confusing, but the tale is gripping and riveting. I devoured this story and loved the way it was written. The final image is haunting.

"Wildfire in Manhattan," by Joanne Harris, is a story about modern gods living in America and trying to stay alive. This one was not very interesting or entertaining.

"The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains," by Neil Gaiman: This tale is wonderfully written, filled with intrigue and mystery. The reader is sucked into the world of the strange man and his journey for the cave, never let go until the satisfying conclusion. I thoroughly enjoyed this story.

"Unbelief," by Michael Marshall Smith, was short, mostly unsatisfying, and weird.

"The Stars are Falling," by Joe R. Lansdale, is about a man who comes back from the Great War, long thought dead. The writing style was solid, the plot perfectly paced, and the story was thrilling. I enjoyed this one very much.

"Juvenal Nyx," by Walter Mosley, is a semi-vampiric tale that is written with enough intrigue that the reader cannot help but be captivated. A bit adult in some scenes, but an excellent short story.

"The Knife," by Richard Adams, is one of the shortest stories in this collection, totaling less than three full pages. This tale was very dark and the scene wasn't much.

"Weights and Measures," Jodi Picoult, is full of despair and tragedy, with a bit of oddness thrown in. The story is about the death of a child and the effects on the surviving parents. I read it, curious about what was happening and how Picoult described certain things. I can't say I enjoyed this story, but it was powerful and well-written.

"Goblin Lake," by Michael Swanwick, was a delightful read that left me puzzled, scratching my head, and filled with awe and wonder. It's hard to even describe this piece, but it was fun and enjoyable.

"Mallon and Guru," by Peter Straub, left me irate and aggravated. This was the first piece of anything by Straub I've ever read, and the story is good. It introduces a peculiar character with exciting possibilities, but then the story ends, just five pages after it starts. This one definitely fit the bill set in the Introduction by making me wonder "and then what happened?" Good story, just not enough.

"Catch and Release," by Lawrence Block, was disturbing. The story of a catch and release fisherman is about a man who lures women and releases them, enjoying the thrill of what could have been. I read this tale engrossed and disgusted, slightly horrified at the thoughts of the psycho. The ending sealed the deal. Interesting concept, well written, but a creepy story.

"Polka Dots and Moonbeams," by Jeffrey Ford, had an old 1920s style feeling to it, and I thought it was very well written. Still, it was rather confusing, and I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I enjoyed the read nonetheless.

"Loser," by Chuck Palahniuk. This was my first taste of Palahniuk's written word, and I was not impressed. The story is about a popular gameshow that is never named but is obvious what it's about. Told through the perspective of a contestant, at first I thought it would be interesting but it quickly soured for me. The ending was predictable as well.

"Samantha's Diary," by Diane Wynne Jones, was dreadfully boring and repetitive. If this would have stopped after the first entry or two I would have been okay, but it went on for several days, and I felt like the story dragged.

"Land of the Lost," by Stewart O'Nan, tells the story of a "missing persons" hunter. The character becomes obsessed with trying to find the body of a missing child, going to great lengths to do so. This story was okay.

"Leif in the Wind," by Gene Wolfe, was a fascinating delve into a sci-fi setting with some odd peculiarities. Slightly confusing, I think this story was very well written and captivating enough to easily finish. I liked this piece.

"Unwell," by Carolyn Parkhurst, was a tale I read with a sideways smile. From the POV of an elderly sister, the character's thoughts and actions are acerbic and rude, but somewhat funny, too. This story was a quick read.

"A Life in Fictions," by Kat Howard, tells about an unnamed/multinamed protagonist that finds herself in very peculiar situations: her boyfriend's writing. This story was a quick read and I thought the idea was well executed.

"Let the Past Begin," by Jonathan Carroll, offers rich imagery and a haunting story about a former journalist. This tale was wonderfully written, and ended with a lasting image that can stick in your mind if you're not careful. An excellent story.

"The Therapist," by Jeffery Deaver. In some ways this story was very good. It's about a therapist who tracks down nemes, a kind of invisible energy force that makes people depressed/angry/etc. And then it's about a murder. Then there's the trial. All of this is well and good, but it seems like the story gets bogged down with too many words from time to time. Still, I really enjoyed this story, and thought the ideas presented were clever and original. This story was longer than most, but it was very good.

"Parallel Lines," by Tim Powers, is another story about sisters and what happens after one of them dies. Not as good as Unwell, it still was an enjoyable short read.

"The Cult of the Nose," by Al Sarrantonio, left me smiling in wonder and intrigue. How real is the Cult of the Nose he presents? It reads as if it is fact, and it almost makes me want to search it out and see if I can find anything myself. This piece was quite short and very fun to read.

"Human Intelligence," by Kurt Anderson, was very interesting and entertaining. The story is about a woman that has always wanted to be an explorer and an enigmatic man that has been living in Chicago for a very long time. Their paths intersect and nothing will ever be the same. I very much liked this story.

"Stories," by Michael Moorcock, became very boring to me in the first couple of pages and I stopped reading it. It was a lengthier short story and I'm not sure what it was going to wind up being about.

"The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon," by Elizabeth Hand, is the longest story in the book, coming in at almost 50 pages. As such, I decided not to read this piece, as a 50 page short story is a bit too long for my liking.

"The Devil on the Staircase," by Joe Hill. This was my first Joe Hill read, though Heart Shaped Box is sitting on my TBR shelf at home. "The Devil on the Staircase" is written is a peculiar form, where the lines of text actually form stair-steps to tell the story. At first I thought this was strange, but after reading the story I wound up liking the method. The tale is alarming and slightly macabre, but I found it rather enjoyable. After finishing I lay and pondered on this for a bit.

There it is, the short story anthology Stories. Out of the twenty-seven pieces, I really enjoyed many of them, but then there were some that did nothing for me. Did the stories succeed in getting me to wonder "...And then what happened?" Aye, many of them did, and one in particular (I'm looking at you Peter Straub). In the end, if you're looking for some quick reading, Stories has plenty to offer. The several tales easily evoke different emotions and reactions, and I enjoyed this tremendously. The full content list is below, with my recommendations boldfaced and italicized.

Blood - Roddy Doyle
Fossil-Figures - Joyce Carol Oates
Wildfire in Manhattan - Joanne Harris
The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains - Neil Gaiman
Unbelief - Michael Marshall Smith
The Stars are Falling - Joe R. Lansdale
Juvenal Nyx - Walter Mosley

The Knife - Richard Adams
Weights and Measures - Jodi Picoult
Goblin Lake - Michael Swanwick
Mallon and Guru - Peter Straub
Catch and Release - Lawrence Block
Polka Dots and Moonbeams - Jeffrey Ford
Loser - Chuck Palahniuk
Samantha's Diary - Diane Wynne Jones
Land of the Lost - Stewart O'Nan
Leif in the Wind - Gene Wolfe
Unwell - Carolyn Parkhurst

A Life in Fictions - Kat Howard
Let the Past Begin - Jonathan Carroll
The Therapist - Jeffery Deaver

Parallel Lines - Tim Powers
The Cult of the Nose - Al Sarrantonio
Human Intelligence - Kurt Anderson

Stories - Michael Moorcock
The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon - Elizabeth Hand
The Devil on the Staircase - Joe Hill

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Status: Rejected

A little over a month ago I submitted a short-story I wrote to the online speculative fiction magazine Strange Horizons.  This was kind of a spontaneous decision that I fully expected to be shot down.  My expectations really weren't that high, especially after reading through it again I saw several ugly things staring back at me.  But still, deep down, I think I kept a hope candle burning.

Today I received this in my inbox:  "Thank you for submitting "The Bombing of Morrta" to Strange Horizons, but we've decided not to accept it for publication.  We appreciate your interest in our magazine."

Alas, the hope, the small flame that somehow managed to stay alive, was snuffed out this afternoon.  But honestly, I'm not even upset.  I expected this, after all.  And it's not like it's a novel that's been rejected.  I only poured a week or so into my short story, not the months/years it takes for a novel.  Still, it doesn't feel good getting rejected, especially over something you're proud of.

So now I'm undecided what to do.  I could try submitting it again, but I don't particularly like that idea.  Truly, I want to share it and get feedback on it, and one way for that would be to post it here on Rememorandom.  Ideally, I'd be involved in a writing group where I could share this, but sadly, such a group does not exist close enough to my residence. 

I think I'll think on this some more before I do anything else.  Probably do a bit more editing.  And who knows, maybe I'll submit it again, or maybe I'll just put it up here as a long-forgotten Writing Wednesdays serial. 

Many thanks to all of you. 

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Storm Front, A Review

StormFrontButcher The Dresden Files, written by Jim Butcher, has been around since 2000.  The series has been very well received, winning many fans to the currently 12-book run with its humorous blend of fantasy and mystery and the grumpy wizard protagonist Harry Dresden.  The series begins with Storm Front.

Harry Dresden is a practicing wizard in Chicago.  He's a detective, of sorts, that works frequently with the Chicago Police Department as well as freelance work for anyone willing to pay.  He's behind on his rent and down on his luck when he's called in to investigate some gruesome murders that look like they may have been done by someone using supernatural abilities.  His investigation takes him to many odd and interesting characters in Chicago, from gangsters to vampires to demons, and soon his life spirals out of control.

Storm Front was a breath of fresh air to read.  Written conversationally in first-person, Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is a witty, sarcastic protagonist that charms the reader.  Butcher's skill of slowly revealing things about Dresden --his back-story, his education, his powers-- was masterfully done and worked great with the flow of the novel.  By the end I felt like I could relate to Harry and understand why he acts the way he does.

Yes, you say, but what about the plot?  Well folks, characterization is certainly not the only thing that shines in Storm Front.  The story is captivating, the prose is rich, the humor is great, the magic is understandable, the mystery is, well, you get the point.  The plot is exceptional and I loved it.  Dresden tells it like he sees it, not from some omniscient perspective, but from the point of view of a detective who is trying to figure out what's happening.

As for dislikes, the list is quite short.  There was an occasional curse word, but that sort of thing really doesn’t bother me.  There were a few sexual scenes, but nothing explicit or raunchy.  Really that's about it.  To me, the book flowed well and kept me interested and entertained, and that's what's important.

Overall, Jim Butcher's Storm Front was a delightful adventure that is easily recommendable to anyone with an interest in fantasy, mystery/detective, or humorous literature.  There's no doubt that I will be reading more books in The Dresden Files, especially if they are all as good as this one.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The Eye of the World, a Review

eye_of_the_world Blood and ashes, what a book.  The Eye of the World, the seminal volume of Robert Jordan's masterpiece epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time, was released on January 15, 1990.  It has long been on my TBR pile, and after Brandon Sanderson took over the helm of the last book, I finally decided to dive into the series.

In 1990, fantasy was mostly what I think of as clich├ęd.  Dark Lords, prophecies, simple farm boys, and the like stomp through the books of the era, and The Eye of the World contains its fair share of them.  Still, I knew this all going into the book, and I'm a patient reader, willing to give the author many, many pages before I make my decision to abandon a read.  More often than not, I finish a book once I start it, and it's a rare thing indeed if I put one away in disgust.  Still, by the time I finished The Eye of the World, I felt somewhat relieved, somewhat exhilarated, somewhat exhausted, and somewhat interested to find out what happens next.

The dramatis personae is enormous for this book, and I imagine can only grow as the series progresses.  Rand al'Thor, Matrim Cauthon and Perrin Aybara are from the Two Rivers, a simple farming village nestled away in the backwater lands of Andor.  They make their lives as simpletons dreaming of adventure and life outside the country vale.  One night, the town is attacked by Trollocs, devastating the unprepared town, and the three lads learn that they were the reason for the attack.  They flee the Two Rivers, hoping to keep their homelands safe, and thus the epic journey begins.

EyeOfTheWorldUKMany curious and interesting things happen on the road for the travelers.  More people are joined to their party, and the world slowly unfolds.  The group is hounded by followers of the Shadow, and soon it's obvious that the Dark One must be stopped and that this group is more important than once thought.  Jordan painstakingly describes the scenes, like the master of high fantasy Tolkien himself, long worded and lengthy.  I sometimes found myself zoning out at the language, much like I did when I first discovered The Lord of the Rings

All of this is not to say that The Eye of the World is a bad book.  No, on the contrary, it has plenty to keep the reader excited and thrilled.  The imagination is impressive, crafting a world full of legends and many different cultures and creatures.  The use of magic is never far from belief, and the threat of the Shadow is constantly reminding the reader that the world is not safe.  Plus, some scenes are just plain fun, especially the resolution.

Still, the biggest problem with Jordan's opening volume, and the most difficult thing to overcome, is the wordiness.  Jordan has a terrible habit of repeating himself over and over, using the same actions for the same characters.  For one, the characters "curse" all the time; saying "burn me" or "blood and ashes" after every bad thing that happens is just boring and trite.  It's not that I have a problem with the curse words in literature, but I just think they're a bit overused and unrealistic.  In fact, I'd go as far as saying that the dialogue is quite unrealistic more often than not.  Also, not only are the curses re-used over and over, but so are character mannerisms.  Having Tom "blow out his mustaches" when he's flustered is okay on occasion, but not every single time.  And the women pulling at their braids or smoothing their skirts?  Bah. 

EyeOfTheWorldKindleYet, if you can get past the wordiness and the lackluster dialogue, Jordan has a rough gem buried.  The worldbuilding is excellent.  The legends are fascinating.  The tale is truly epic in scope, exploring various themes of what it's like to be chosen as the savior of the world, how the common people react to growing Shadow, and countless others.  Many of the characters in the main party are all interesting for different reasons, and though Rand is the main POV, the insight to other characters is great fun.  (I never really warmed up to Mat, that dork.  Perrin, on the other hand, was cool, and Thom, too.)

Overall, The Eye of the World is a long novel that only scratches the surface of the enormous Wheel of Time series.  I've read that the series drops the ball a bit in the middle, and that could prove problematic.  Still, it is a modern classic that must be read by all fans of fantasy, or at least attempted.  However, I already own The Great Hunt, the next book in the series, so I'll probably be starting it at some point in the quasi-near future.  I feel like I need to pace myself between books to keep it up and not get burned out.  In the end, I recommend The Eye of the World to all fans of fantasy, especially in the epic subgenre, but with a warning: be prepared for a great story, but a little work to get to it.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Wolverine Noir, a Review

Wolverine Noir 1 I’ve pretty much been a Wolverine fan my entire life, mostly because we both share the name Logan.  But the man’s got a wild sense of righteousness and justice, not to mention the three claws of death that spike out his hands.  Yes, Wolverine has always been a favorite Marvel character of mine, and when I saw the Marvel TPB collection of Wolverine Noir, I knew I’d have to read it.

The story, written by Stuart Moore and beautifully illustrated by C.P. Smith, fits the pulpy noir style perfectly.  Jim Logan, a rich kid that took a wrong turn, is Wolverine Noir 2a private detective, along with his partner Dog.  The story opens with a mysterious woman entering the office and soliciting a job, which they take on immediately.  Through detective work and flashbacks, the plot unfolds, leading up to a stunning and shocking conclusion.

I really enjoyed this collection.  The series ran only four issues, but I would easily read future releases.  To me, the best thing about this collection was Smith’s artwork.  It was very gritty and dark, commanding the reader to examine the pages and see what was lurking in the blacks.  Logan’s character easily worked in this styled setting, from the way his “claws” looked to his unkempt and wild facial hair. 

Even though the Marvel noir series got mostly poor reception, I’ve enjoyed the two I’ve read, Spiderman Noir and Wolverine.  There are a few other collections in this series my library has, X-Men and Daredevil, that I plan to read as well.  If you’re interested in trying a familiar Marvel story with an unusual twist, I recommend checking out the Noir series, starting with this one.