How to Write a Short Story by John Vorwald and Ethan Wolff

Filed under:Writing — posted by Randolph on October 5, 2016 @ 10:48 am

How to Write a Short Story by John Vorwald and Ethan Wolff

I have mixed feelings about this book. On one hand, it has good information and is presented well. It is easy to read and has good examples from common short stories.

On the other hand, I don’t feel it delivers what it promises, guidance for writing a short story. Almost all of the book discusses material that is generic to fiction writing. Little focuses on the short story, it often felt like an afterthought.

I would have liked, and expected the book to assume a moderate knowledge of writing and to focus on the distinctions unique to writing a short story.

Overall, it is a very good writing reference, but not a good one for short stories.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Filed under:Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on September 15, 2016 @ 8:44 am

The Martian by Andy Weir

This book is riveting from page its first lines, “Log Entry: Sol 6. I’m pretty much fucked.” Mark Watney, a botanist and one of the first humans to walk on Mars, has just discovered he’s stranded on Mars with no hope of survival. Then he addresses each problem one-by-one. There is a lot of action, Mark goes through a variety of emotions as he faces problem after problem, then proceeds to look for a solution.

The book has strong, believable characters. The science and engineering are very solid. You can sense the amount of NASA training he’s experienced and the preparation for this mission.

The book also tells the story of people on Earth and the other five astronauts en route back home. Each thread is well-told and just as gripping.  Many times, I could feel the NASA experience, having worked at JSC early in my career.  It felt very natural.  Toward the end of the book, the tension and sequence of preparations for the Mars liftoff reminded me of the many launches in the 60s.

The story also has a human dimension, where many people go to extraordinary means to help an individual. The world becomes captivated in Mark’s fate, and nations go to action to make things happen.

The book is awesome, I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying it.  I’ve restrained myself from seeing the movie, now it is a high priority for me!

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

Filed under:Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on August 29, 2016 @ 8:08 pm

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

This novel is about an exploration of an alien civilization and its death. The book opens at an archaeological dig on an alien world uncovering evidence of an alien civilization and its demise. The book, sort of, follows this exploration into space and artifacts.

Alastair Reynolds is a scientist, and has stated that the technologies in his stories are conceivable with our current understanding of science. So space travel is sub-light speeds with people in hibernation, who face elapsed-time differences with the people they know. In spite of this, he does introduce a number of odd, strange and even peculiar technologies and associated problems.

From a hard science fiction perspective, this is an interesting story. However, that’s where it ends. The characters are a bit flat with weak dialog, and weak prose. There is no character growth, and the story seemed to drag on in the middle.

The characters themselves are rather odd and include a virtual character. Much of the book involves mistrust between the different characters as they try to guess each others motives. This went on too long without showing much evolution. I felt it had the making of a good political struggle, but it didn’t pan out.

I did find the end somewhat compelling, but it didn’t make up for the weaknesses. It is a good read for those interested in the hard science, but others will be disappointed.

Mastering Composition: Techniques and Principles to Dramatically Improve Your Painting by Ian Roberts

Filed under:Art — posted by Randolph on August 13, 2016 @ 8:00 am

Mastering Composition: Techniques and Principles to Dramatically Improve Your Painting by Ian Roberts

This is a wonderful book for learning composition. I felt that Ian Roberts broke the concepts down and explained them well. He discusses different compositional forms with examples and explains whey they work.

There are a lot of examples from his own work, discussing why it works and what some subtle changes could do to it.

The book includes a dvd. The technical quality of the DVD is poor, I had to turn the sound on my tv almost to maximum to hear it adequately, and the dvd buzzed in the player.

But after that, the content was excellent. He showed most of the pictures in the book, and showed them with alterations while discussing what these alterations do to the eye movement. Then he goes through the same video again without the voice so you can see and feel the effects yourself. The dvd is an excellent addition to the book.

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Filed under:Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on June 6, 2016 @ 8:49 pm

Seveneves  by Neal Stephenson

This is a disaster book, about the destruction and rebirth of the Earth. In this story, the Moon breaks up from an unknown cause, the parts continue to fracture and fall onto the Earth until the Earth is deluged by fragment impacts causing the atmosphere to heat up and much of the surface to become molten.

The book is in three parts. In the first, the disaster is looming and people are trying to prepare for survival of the race or preparing for their own end. The second part sees the destruction of the Earth, the numbers in space are dwindling in their effort to survive both natural disasters and each other. The final part is the re-terraforming and resettlement of Earth, discovery of people who sheltered themselves on the Earth, and new political struggles.

Seeing the impending doom, humanity unites and elects to send select people into space, each country is to select two candidates to send. There is some conflict, and there are extreme reactions to them, but thing generally go too smoothly.

In space there is a lot of struggling to survive. The science is good, and the reader will pick up some basic orbital mechanics and physics on the way. One billionaire manages to ride his own rocket into space. But rather than a burden, he flies out to collect a comet for fuel – and meets his own disaster when the reactor that fuels his ship leaks. One politician resembling Hillary Clinton, uses her influence to get into space, then turns the space colonies into a political battleground. I found her character to be foolish and unlikable, I admit that don’t care for real politics in my fiction. She is one of the last surviving women, the seven Eves, who are to repopulate the human race. Without surviving men, they use parthenogenesis to repopulate and ‘improve’ their progeny. Each Eve is permitted one improvement in her offspring.

The third part of the book involves finding survivors on the Earth’s surface. The world has already been terraformed. We learn that each of the eves have created seven races of humans, with both physical and mental differences. Their differences reflect the personality of the Eve that sired their race.

Conflict comes when they encounter the survivors, who claim the surface of the world as their domain. These people lived deep in caves with massive provisions to get them through the apocalypse. Politics leads to battle and eventually compromise. You see the beginnings of politics as normal in all their relationships.

I had a number of issues with the story. Early in the book, it seemed people were too accepting of their fates. You didn’t see people becoming extremely religious, no survivalists, no people looting to get the most they can for their personal last days. They may have been unimportant to the story, but it seems like it should have been mentioned. There was only one instance of resistance to the policy of getting people into space, even that required an organized nation to mount. This just isn’t my view of a world-wide disaster that has no hope of survival.

Other issues such as, people who have lived in space for 5000 years have no problems adapting to gravity, when our astronauts have trouble after a matter of months. Would they even be interested in going someplace they’ve never been?

People who lived underground had no problems adapting to the sunlight. They had lighting, but it wouldn’t be close to the same. I suspect they would have lowered the lighting levels over time as they continued to adapt.

Generally, the third part of the book felt like a different book from the first two. It had too much content that was nothing more than descriptions of neat new technologies. a little of it was valuable to the story later on, but I glossed over most of it. The book is already too long for its value, taking most of this out would have helped.

I also have to wonder why the seven races didn’t interbreed. With the enlarged gene pool, it would have enhanced humanity and brought the genetic advantages to all humans. But it wouldn’t have made as interesting of a story.

The ‘white sky’ should have been darker, more eclipse-like as small fragments cast massive shadows over the earth similar to the rings of Saturn. I don’t see a couple of years being sufficient to have fragments in polar orbits, so the sky coverage wouldn’t have been complete. This would have made the poles have glowing arcs around them at night.

The books name refers to the fact that there are seven women, or Eves, that plan to repopulate the human race. It is also a palindrome, which made me think about the destruction and rebirth of the Earth and of the human population. The seven Eves being the pivotal point and the low point of the population.

Overall, the books is enjoyable. It is one of the more interesting disaster books that I’ve read, but I can’t recommend it that highly due to the issues I’ve raised.

The Only Rule Is It Has to Work by Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller

Filed under:History,Sports — posted by Randolph on June 1, 2016 @ 7:29 am

The Only Rule Is It Has to Work by Ben Lindbergh

In this book, a couple of baseball podcasters with just a little management experience between them get the opportunity to manage a baseball team by the numbers. They offer to manage the team using statistics, similar to those used in the major leagues. The get the opportunity in a very minor league in Sanoma, California, the Sanoma Stompers.

In the course of their adventures, they learn that statistics aren’t everything. They get resistance from players and other managers who don’t want rules from outsiders. They learn about the politics of baseball, and that some things are more important than the statistics.

At times the books is outright funny, it is insightful, and you can learn a lot about the inside activities of baseball. It is an enjoyable read for anyone interested in the sport.

The Art of Storytelling: From Parents to Professionals by Hannah B. Harvey

Filed under:self-help — posted by Randolph on May 16, 2016 @ 7:38 pm

The Art of Storytelling: From Parents to Professionals by Hannah B. Harvey

This lecture covers all aspects of storytelling, such as forming the story, connecting with the audience, the relationship between narrator-audience-storyteller, using the voice, using gestures, preparation, props, character development, and on and on. It seems almost too much, as few topics are covered in much depth, but it is a great introduction to all the material.

The material has a lot of examples. At times, Hannah references gestures or posture – or something in the video. She does acknowledge that this is the CD version and provides some additional information, there are not too many of these instances.

She is a good storyteller, the voice is clear and easily understood, the audio quality is good. There is a lot of information covering many aspects of storytelling and presentation.

The Long Road Home by G. B. Trudeau

Filed under:Humor,Series — posted by Randolph on April 3, 2016 @ 7:23 am

The Long Road Home by G. B. Trudeau

This is a collection of cartoons relating to B.D.s recovery from an RPG attack near Fallujah. It deals with recovery issues and the loss of a limb. It also tells the story of Fisher House, a recovery house for wounded vets. It not only addresses B.D’s and Boopsie’s recovery, but addresses some of their friends. But Trudeau keeps it light, there is a suggestion we might find out what his initials stand for, and Zonker can keep any subject light.

This collection keeps its distance from politics and the stronger political characters don’t make an appearance. The book really focusses on the recovery issues without any distracting side-stories.

Ochoco Reach by Jim Stewart

Filed under:Mystery,Series — posted by Randolph on March 20, 2016 @ 8:46 am

Ochoco Reach by Jim Stewart

This is Jim Stewart’s first book, and he is establishing himself among the big names in mystery novels. This novel is in the style of John D. MacDonald with a special forces-trained and capable hero, Mike Ironwood, who has a PI office in Portland, Oregon. Mike has a half-brother, Daniel, who is more spiritual and half Nez Pierce. Daniel, who was trained as a Navy Seal, provides some support.

Here, a green-eyed woman, Willimina Hayes, who has a ranch near Prineville. Someone seems to be trying to gain control of her ranch, by hook or by crook. She came to Mike just to get some answers.

In an adventure taking Mike into Mexico to deal with a drug cartel and a rogue DEA agent, there is a good mixture of suspense and action with a few surprises thrown in.

The book has interesting characters and is well-paced. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

Landscape Painting Essentials by Johannes Vloothuis

Filed under:Art — posted by Randolph on March 9, 2016 @ 10:25 am

Landscape Painting Essentials by Johannes Vloothuis

The author has studied many paintings to gather what he believes are the essential rules of composition. He presents these as simple rules and provides examples of their use. He also has several step-by-step painting examples that expand on the compositional instruction he’s providing.

The book is composed of seven chapters which collect different concepts based on the chapter heading. These include (roughly) how we see, abstract shapes, color theory, movement, simplify, shape repetition and depth. The top of each page is further color coded to help finding sections of the book.

Overall, the book is excellent. It is easy to read. The examples really help teach the subject and make the concepts stick, I feel just reading this book will improve my composition in both plein aire and working from reference material. I believe a second reading will help even further.

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace