Tag Archives: Scott

Mind-Bending Sci-Fi

Clean-cover While perusing the shelves of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy section I happened upon Clean: A Mindspace Investigations Novel by Alex Hughes.  With no previous knowledge, but a powerful need for something new to read, I checked it out.  Sometimes you just get lucky, and you find a book that fits you.  This was one of those times!  Hughes does a great job in this book setting the scene.  It’s the not too distant future, and a dystopian one at that!  After a severe tech crash, and the rise of a generation of folks who possess psionic powers of all types, the world remains a messy place.  Told from a first person perspective, our narrator is a powerful telepath and recovering drug addict.  He works as a consultant to the DeKalb County, GA police department, interviewing suspects and investigating crime scenes.  While the normal CSI crews check for physical clues, our unnamed narrator delves into mindspace to search for the residual psychic traces of violent crime.

Hughes tells her tale through her narrator with a gritty style that brushes the edges of noir without feeling trite.  She weaves in details about this future Earth that conjure images of Blade Runner–outer world colonies exist, and a shadowy organization of people with mental powers has segregated itself and created an almost parallel government. When a powerful member of this Telepath’s Guild appears to be behind a string of grisly murders, the narrator and his beautiful partner, homicide detective Isabelle Cherabino, struggle against red tape, jurisdictional issues, and their own personal demons to find the truth.  When the killer himself turns his awesome power on them, the hunters become the hunted!

Hughes has written another book in his Mindspace setting called Sharpand once I’ve read that, I’ll need to cast my gaze about for more books in this interesting little corner of the sci-fi universe.  I got a little curious what else might be out there and went to Novelist, our best database for generating read-alikes.  I have to admit, I was a little disappointed at the results, but it did produce Patrick Lee’s Runner, which looks promising.  Elsewhere I found a copy of No Hero by Jonathan Wood, which blends police action with horror in a covert war against tentacled horrors from beyond time and space.  Good times.

Finally, leave it to sci-fi stalwart Alan Dean Foster to have something roughly in this area among his long list of books!  The Mocking Program looks to blend a near-future setting with paranormal powers in just the right mix.  I’ll end this post on that note, but I am open to more suggestions!

–Scott

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Orders Militant & Battles For The Soul

Today marks the anniversary of the defeat of the Livonian Brothers of the Sword by Dovmont of Pskov in 1268 at the battle of Rakvere. Sounds like something from Game of Thrones, right?  I’ve written it here before, but it’s worth writing again, truth often trumps fiction.  Sometime after their defeat, the Livonians were absorbed into the Teutonic Knights, a much more well known military order that also fought for the church.  We remember the Teutonic Knights for their successes in battle, but also because of what they built.  This history serves as a reminder that at one time, the Roman Catholic Church existed as a political and military entity.  Its leaders, the popes and bishops of the time, wielded temporal power every bit as potent as the spiritual authority they claim to this day.

So much amazing writing has been done on this topic that someone needs to point a few Hollywood producers in the direction of CLP’s back stacks!  If you have time, and you can make a trip to Main library here in Oakland, do yourself a favor and request our copy of F. C. Woodhouse’s The Military Religious Orders Of The Middle Ages: The Hospitallers, The Templars, The Teutonic Knights, And Others. With An Appendix Of Other Orders Of Knighthood: Legendary, Honorary, And Modern.  If you search the catalog under the Library of Congress subject heading “Military Religious Orders” you will hit the jackpot on this topic. To save the less industrious among you the trouble of a click, I’ll cherry-pick a few titles from that search and post them below!

Decoding_Past_TemplarsDecoding The Past: The Templar Code.  This History Channel DVD provides plenty of juicy details on perhaps the world’s most famous and conspiracy heavy holy military order, the Templars.  While it does not pursue the Sasquatch linkage I might have wanted, it does provide some pretty good thrills thinly disguised as a history lesson.

Knights-Templar Knights Templar Encyclopedia : The Essential Guide To The People, Places, Events, And Symbols Of The Order Of The Temple by Karen Ralls.  This is the last book I will recommend on the Templars, I promise.  They remain tough to avoid when discussing this topic.  How can you not spill a ton of ink on a group of quasi-mystical medieval bankers burned at the stake in a vicious plot to seize their assets?  This is why so many books were written about the 2008 stock market crash, right?

Monks of War  The Monks of War by Desmond Seward.  This one provides an excellent entry into the whole business of Military Religious Orders.  Yes, you know who are covered, but Seward also supplies plenty of info on the Hospitallers, the Spanish and Portuguese orders, and many others.

Holy_Orders  Warriors Of The Lord : The Military Orders Of Christendom by Michael J. Walsh. Much like Monks of War, Mr. Walsh offers excellent research and information on the littler known orders and the big names you might expect. Written in 2003, it benefits from the additional years of research into the topic done since Mr. Seward wrote his book.

Once you read a title or two from this list, you will wonder why Ridley Scott, the Weinstein Brothers, and others have not dipped into this fertile ground.  I understand period pieces cost lots of money, but so do bad sci-fi productions.

Until such time as the Hollywood cognoscenti wake up to this fact, we’ve got the books, and there’s always the History Channel!

–Scott

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When Three Makes A Crowd

The Internet brings many wonderful things, and it seems with each passing day and week more opportunities arise from its bounty. The last couple of years web sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have made it possible for socially conscious entrepreneurs and go-getters to launch businesses and fund projects they otherwise never would have seen to fruition. This crowdfunding phenomenon changes all of the rules, making the entire online community into potential angel investors! Gravity Light marked my most recent foray into crowdfunding support, and I cannot wait to receive my finished product sometime later this year.

Business ventures, books, games, movies, and music rank among the most common project types realized with crowdfunding, but many others exist as well. Today we’ll highlight three resources that will bring you up to speed on what crowdfunding is and how you can get started in it. Even if you’re a wily veteran of previous online campaigns, you might still learn a new trick (or two) from these great sources!

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Intimate Accounts Of Disaster

I enjoy reading accounts of personal disasters.  It’s not like watching a train wreck or the results of an auto accident.  It’s not about the sort of rubber-necking that turns an evening commute home from work into an odyssey of endless brake lights and bad commercial radio (how many times will they play “Wrecking Ball” before you get to your driveway?).  It’s not like that at all.

The best accounts reveal the character of men and women in crisis.  They allow me to marvel at the courage displayed in the face of a cruel universe all too ready to take unconscious advantage of one’s mistakes and hubris.  You will find a perfect example of this when reading the mountaineering classic Into Thin Air: A Personal Account Of The Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer.  Every time I read this book I find myself at once chilled by the utter indifference of nature, and heartened by the force of will that allowed the protagonists of these events to survive.

A number of other titles also explore the thin line between exultation and disaster:

Annapurna-coverAnnapurna: A Woman’s Place  by Arlene Blum.  Never the province of men alone, Blum’s account of her mountaineering exploits will both harrow and inspire readers.  Blum’s experience again lends proof to the idea that difficult circumstances reveal character rather than build it.

K2-lifeK2 : Life And Death On The World’s Most Dangerous Mountain by Ed Viesturs. While Everest has claimed many lives, no mountain owns a body count higher than K2, the tallest peak in the Karakoram Range of northern Pakistan.  A world-class climber, Viesturs ascended K2, and he uses his experience to explore the nature of mountaineering, the inner steel required to practice it, and the bonds of loyalty it forges among fellow climbers.

127-hours127 Hours : Between A Rock And A Hard Place by Aron Ralston.  What would you do to save your life?  What lengths would you go to? Aron Ralston answers this terrible question for himself in 127 Hours, a book every hiker and outdoor enthusiast ought to read.

As we wind through the winter months and spring approaches, a lot of folks will begin planning expeditions of their own.  My own misadventures will remain considerably more humble than those detailed in the above books, but they spring from the same font of wanderlust and restlessness likely felt by Krakauer, Blum, Viesturs, and Ralston.  The same force of will that drove Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay to make the first documented ascent to the peak of  Everest.  While horror and pain define every disaster, the way we react to what comes in tragedy’s wake often lays bare the beauty of the human spirit.

–Scott

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The Last Word For 2013

A group of us got together and decided that the last blog post of 2013 should be a shared effort, with each of us offering a notable quote from something he or she read during the 2013 calendar year.  So we each humbly offer you our last words for the year that was 2013.  Just a note: we’ve preserved any idiosyncratic formatting when it seems important to the meaning and impact of the quote.

Scott

In the midst of a tough year I oddly found myself reading Dante for the first time in my life.   Here’s one of many quotes that stuck with me.

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.
Inferno, Canto I  by Dante Alighieri

Don

The best invitation to a classic novel ever comes in the form of this quote from the book itself: Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse:

Anarchist Evening Entertainment
Magic Theater
Entrance Not For Everybody

For Madmen Only!

Natalie

I am not from West Virginia but I married a true mountain man who grew up in the hollows of the southern part of the state. Reading Dean King’s The Feud over the summer gave me a new perspective of this bloody family history that helped mold the state, its inhabitants and the nation.

Mountains make fighting men. No matter where in the world you go, you’ll find that’s true. – Ralph Stanley

The Feud: The Hatfields & McCoys. The True Story by Dean King; 2013; Forward

Jess

I’m currently reading The Little Women Letters and as to be expected, it’s put me in the mood for Louisa May Alcott‘s original text.  This line has always stuck with me:

I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.

Holly

I can identify with Scott: 2013 was a tough year, so this lady was diving head first into self-help books, while she’d spent most of her life rejecting them.  At the end of the year, I was recommended the best self-help-book-that-isn’t-a-self-help-book: Letters To A Young Poet by Rilke.  Rilke praised solitude so highly, and I’ve found solitude to be a great friend.  So apologies for getting a little emo – but this is the quote hit me the hardest this year. And here’s to 2014, may it bring you all peace, love, healing and good books!

Embrace your solitude and love it. Endure the pain it causes, and try to sing out with it.

Art by Scott M. Fischer, copyright held by Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

Art by Scott M. Fischer, copyright held by Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

Leigh Anne

There’s a gorgeous quotation near the end of Quiet Dell, Jayne Anne Phillips’s astonishing novel based on actual events, that captures what I’ve been feeling about the darkest nights of the year, and the return of the light. The passage is taken from composer David Lang‘s work “again (after ecclesiastes),” which you can listen to here.

these things make me so tired

I can’t speak, I can’t see, I can’t hear

what happened before will happen again

I forgot it all before

I will forget it all again

Suzy

I took one book with me on my epic bike tour and it was The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (somehow in the midst of all those Women’s Studies classes during undergrad I missed reading it). I’m not sorry because I read it exactly when and where I needed to.

There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them. Whenever I’m sad I’m going to die, or so nervous I can’t sleep, or in love with somebody I won’t be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then I say: “I’ll go take a hot bath.”

Richard

I’ve written about Phlip Caputo’s The Longest Road : Overland In Search Of America, From Key West To The Arctic Ocean before, but it merits another mention.  In an age dominated by “social media”, how connected are we as Americans; how tolerant are we as individuals?  Which is greater, the ties or the divisions? What is it about being Americans that we discover as Caputo, his wife Leslie and their 2 dogs traverse almost 12,000 miles from Key West to the Arctic Circle and back?

“Kaktovic had the architectural charm of a New Jersey warehouse district: a dirt airstrip, a hangar, houses like container boxes with doors and windows.” – Philip Caputo

Irene

In 2013 I fell in love with the illustrations of Kay Nielsen.  Fairytales have always been one of my favorite genres, and his illustrations perfectly capture how beautiful and disturbing the stories are.  The stories in East of the Sun and West of the Moon are more adult than you might imagine, full of violence and even (implied) sex.  Unlike many other fairy tales I’ve read, in which the princess waits for the prince to rescue her, several of these stories feature strong heroines who need to go to great lengths to rescue their handsome princes (or themselves).  In one of my favorites, The White Bear, the heroine is constantly reaffirming her bravery and strength.  This repeated refrain perfectly illustrates what I love about this character:

“Are you afraid?,” said the North Wind.
No, she wasn’t.

Melissa F.

David Levithan‘s newest young adult novel, Two Boys Kissing, is groundbreaking on a level rarely seen. It speaks to the very truth about what it means to be human, to be vulnerable, to be your own true self.  As one of my favorite books of 2013, it’s an incredibly affecting (and very important) read for teens and adults alike.

The first sentence of the truth is always the hardest. Each of us had a first sentence, and most of us found the strength to say it out loud to someone who deserved to hear it. What we hoped, and what we found, was that the second sentence of the truth is always easier than the first, and the third sentence is even easier than that. Suddenly you are speaking the truth in paragraphs, in pages. The fear, the nervousness, is still there, but it is joined by a new confidence. All along, you’ve used the first sentence as a lock. But now you find that it’s the key.

May your 2014 be full of confident first sentences.

spotted at Someecards.com

spotted at someecards.com

Tara

I’ve been a bit of a hermit these past few years, so I found inspiration in 2013 from artist and writer Miranda July to go outside on occasion and take a look around. In her book/art project It Chooses You she writes:

Most of life is offline, and I think it always will be; eating and aching and sleeping and loving happen in the body. But it’s not impossible to imagine losing my appetite for those things; they aren’t always easy, and they take so much time. In twenty years I’d be interviewing air and water and heat just to remember they mattered.

Also, when life gets either too heavy or too dull, a little absurdist British humor never hurts:

“What problems? We’re on the pig’s back, charging through a velvet field.” — Bernard Black, from the BBC television show Black Books

Eric

The following  is the first line of Chapter 3 of  Robert Kaplan’s book Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through History. This chapter is about Macedonia. This line encapsulates a lot of how Kaplan looks at the world he navigates in this book. Maybe we can take a tip from him, and not just look at the world around us, but read the world around us. Happy New Year!

The landscape here needs to be read, not just looked at.

Abbey

I read a lot of young adult books and I have loved many of them. However, I find it rare for many other readers to love young adult books. This quote and this book though have stuck with me for a long time, and the book has been enjoyed by many other readers I know, adult fiction and young adult fiction lovers in general.

“That’s the thing about pain,” Augustus said, and then glanced back at me. “It demands to be felt.”

From The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

Maria

My new favorite quote this year relates to all the big changes in my life the last few years, something I instinctively struggle against, preferring the calm waters of routine. As soon as I read it, I instantly felt better.

The only thing constant in life is change. — François de La Rochefoucald, Maxims

Amy

I offer this bit of wisdom from Professor Farnsworth (of Futurama fame) as the perfect antidote for taking-yourself-too-seriously.

There’s no scientific consensus that life is important.

From Into the Wild Green Yonder by, erm, some TV dudes.

Happy New Year!

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Reading In The Wake Of Dragon Fire

I wrote and published this post before staggering into work this morning on 3 – 4 hours 2 hours of sleep.  Why so sleep deprived, you ask? I attended the midnight showing of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Thursday night into Friday morning!  Hey, if Bilbo can free Thorin’s Company from Mirkwood, I can surely handle a work day on just four hours of sleep, right?

I’ve written here in the past about Tolkien resources, so today I thought I might try a different angle, and suggest some  other authors whose work might conjure the same spirit as the esteemed linguist, if not the exact character.

Sword-of-Shannara-cover The Sword Of Shannara by Terry Brooks — When I was a kid spoiling for something more after finishing The Return Of The King, I tried reading Tolkien’s Silmarillion.  After realizing reading this was akin to reading the Bible, I pulled the ripcord and began looking elsewhere.  That’s when I found Mr. Brooks’ work.  Not sure if the Brothers Hildebrandt covers did it for me, or something else drew me in, but I jumped in feet first and never looked back.  This definitely filled the void left by finishing The Lord Of The Rings.

Lord-Fouls-Bane-cover Lord Foul’s Bane (Book I of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever) by Stephen R. Donaldson — If I hear another pundit on NPR refer to George R. R. Martin as the “American Tolkien” I will likely utter something unprintable and shut off the radio until the next pledge drive ends.  Besides sharing twin “R’s” in their initials, the only other thing Martin and Tolkien share in common are rabid fan bases.  Yes, they both build amazing worlds, but the similarities end there.  Donaldson’s incredible Covenant saga begins with Lord Foul’s Bane, and for me hails much more closely to Tolkien’s epic style than Martin’s Westeros tales.  This does not mean I don’t love Martin, but I do not accept the constant and (IMHO) erroneous comparisons to Tolkien.

Tigana-cover Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay — I did not know about Mr. Kay until a good friend and mentor turned me onto his stuff.  Tigana represents a brilliant and accessible introduction to this Canadian author’s work.  In some ways more nuanced than Tolkien, the villains in Tigana possess certain human qualities that make them real and complicated.  In this way Mr. Kay’s work resembles George R. R. Martin.  He can take a character you utterly hate in one chapter and slowly transform him or her into a sympathetic and even likable one.  Perhaps more important to Tolkien fans, Mr. Kay possesses a unique talent for world building.  His fantastic places feel real and grounded.

That ought to be enough to get anyone started on Tolkien read-alikes.  Feel free to offer your own titles in the comments section!

–Scott

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Turkey Bowls Cement Link Between Football & Thanksgiving

Nobody plays baseball on Thanksgiving morning.  Seriously, I really believe that one of the ways American football usurped baseball as America’s pastime sport ties directly into the thousands of “Turkey Bowls” held on Thanksgiving morning around the country.  The phenomenon has taken root in the American consciousness, even creeping into children’s poetry, as seen in Jack Prelutsky’s excellent collection, It’s Thanksgiving.  In this book of twelve poems for my favorite holiday Mr. Prelutsky includes one entitled “Daddy’s Football Game.” Phil Bidner’s Turkey Bowl provides another excellent look at Thanksgiving day football from a nine year old boy’s perspective.

As a teenager, and even in my early 20′s, I played in my share of Turkey Bowl games.  Ours occurred at Transverse Park in the Mt. Oliver section of Pittsburgh. Jay Price conjures these sort of nostalgic images with his book, Thanksgiving 1959 : When One Corner Of New York City Was Still Part Of Small-Town America, And High School Football Was The Last Thing Guys Did For Love.  While the title is really long, Mr. Price’s nifty little book manages to get at the heart of what Turkey Bowl football games really mean.  Sometimes they involve neighborhood friends getting together, but often whole families play in these games, which by the end of November can be cold and muddy affairs, making older Pittsburgh homes and their basement “mill showers” ideal for dealing with a dirty crew of Turkey Bowl veterans.

No one can deny the power of television to change minds and shape public opinion.  That’s why the National Football League’s decision to hold and later broadcast two Thanksgiving day games every year turned into marketing genius.  You can find the history of all of the NFL’s “Turkey Bowl” tilts here.  The Detroit Lions became regular Thanksgiving hosts starting in 1950, and the Dallas Cowboys joined them as regular hosts starting in 1966.  Of course, now the NFL has added a third regular Turkey Day game, this time with a rotating host team.  You can find further insights into NFL history in The NFL Century : The Complete Story Of The National Football League, 1920-2000.

Like soccer, one of the magical things about American football is that you really only need a ball, an expanse of grass, and a few willing participants to hold a game.  No fancy equipment needed.  In my halcyon days we played murderous games of tackle football with no protective equipment.  People are smarter now, and many Turkey Bowls have become strictly touch football affairs–no tackling.  After all, who wants to eat Thanksgiving dinner with a broken drumstick?

–Scott

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