Tales of the Jedi by Tom Veitch

Filed under:Adventure,Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on March 31, 2017 @ 4:05 pm


Tales of the Jedi by Tom Veitch

This is a small collection of short stories about the Jedi Knights in the age before the movies. These are stories of adventure of young jedi facing their first conflicts. I listened to the audio version of the book.

Unfortunately, the dialog is pretty bad. The characterization of the young Jedi is weak and poorly written. The author explains thing to the reader by using ignorance, often in the jedi, who do know know some of the basics in how the force works. I suspect the reader knows far more than the young jedi.

Art Techniques for Line & Wash by Paul Taggart

Filed under:Art — posted by Randolph on March 17, 2017 @ 9:44 am

Art Techniques for Line & Wash by Paul Taggart

This book looks at the quality of line and different washes, comparing different media and styles to generate lines. Then looking at different media for the washes including watercolor, ink and acrylic.

It includes media that serve both purposes, such as watercolor pencils, non-waterproof inks and washes over pastel.

I didn’t feel the book had a lot to offer, but it is a quick and easy read and has nice art. I think there are better books to learn about line quality from.

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks

Filed under:Humor — posted by Randolph on March 5, 2017 @ 6:06 pm

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks

My initial impression of this book was unfavorable. The book opens in a Wooster-Jeeves role reversal. I had a hard time accepting this, but read on. It took a bit, but the book did pick up.

This doesn’t quite have the same feel of Woodhouse, but it is a respectable homage. Faulks is making his own style apparent, and is adding his own twist, with what I suspect is a promise of more books to come.

Bertie is up to his usual antics, trying to help his friends in their affairs and everything goes south. In this story, Jeeves seemed a bit less than his usual on-top-of-everything-and-in-control self, but in the end, he manages everything for the best.

Any fan of Woodhouse’s Jeeves will recognize and enjoy this story.

So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish by Douglas Adams

Filed under:Humor,Science Fiction — posted by Randolph on February 13, 2017 @ 10:13 am

So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish by Douglas Adams

The fourth book in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series was a bit disappointing. That is not to say it was bad, but it didn’t seem to hold up to the previous books. Arthur is on the Earth 2, about 8 years after the destruction of the original version. The book was disappointing to me because the plot was weaker and many of the characters weren’t as interesting as in the series.

Arthur falls in love with a girl, that seems to be a major plot point, but doesn’t develop. The girl’s reactions didn’t seem reasonable to me at times.

Another plot point is discovering why the dolphins have disappeared. But this point is just dropped in favor of another plot point – discovering god’s final message.

On the positive side, Adams displays his peculiar brand of humor quite well. Each turn of events is pretty much unexpected and often funny.

The Mythology of the Superhero by Andrew R Bahlmann

Filed under:Philosophy — posted by Randolph on January 9, 2017 @ 5:36 pm

The Mythology of the Superhero by Andrew R Bahlmann

This books posits that the superhero story has the same relationship with culture as does mythology. The author breaks the superhero story into unique tropes, then shows how they relate to a variety of superhero stories.

The book has four distinct sections:
In the first section, chapter 1, he defines the different tropes and discusses them in the scope of one or more superhero stories.

In the second section, chapters 2-5, he performs more of an analysis of four series that he considers marginally superhero stories, these are Green Arrow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alphas and Beowolf.

The third section, chapter 6, discusses the core ideas of a superhero story. It is similar to the first chapter in some ways, but approaches the idea from a different direction.

The last section, the appendix, is a list of the relevant tropes. This is inadequate, but is supplemented by a web page with a lot of information on it.

Overall, the book is interesting, he mentions that it is a common topic among some researchers and the boundaries of what constitutes a superhero story are not well defined.

I felt the second section was a bit slow. The book had to provide sufficient details on the storyline for a reader unfamiliar with the story can keep up. A lot of the information on various storylines was provided several times through the book.

He built arguments that stories (myths) correlate to culture. He built on that commenting that the superhero story had supplanted the western in our culture, and would eventually be replaced with something new. I was surprised that he did not discuss the possibility that the marginal superhero stories he did discuss could be part of this new and upcoming story. Theses stories, excluding Beowolf, are newer and have a strong tv influence. This influence was probably intentional by the directors translating a comic to the screen. But this does correspond to a culture change, where the screen is replacing most written forms of communication.

I did find the book interesting. I felt it was too short, it had too little information and too much redundancy to be excellent.

The Man with the Golden Torc by Simon R. Green

Filed under:Adventure,Fantasy — posted by Randolph on December 2, 2016 @ 7:49 pm

The Man with the Golden Torc by Simon R. Green

This is the first book of the Secret Histories novels, in which a family, the Droods, uses ancient secrets of science and magic to protect the human population from a large assembly of evils, demons, monsters, aliens, etc. Except the official story conceals a dark secret.

Eddie Drood does what the family asks of him. Being independent, he isn’t satisfied living under the roof and rules of the family matriarch, so he works among the normal humans, fighting the family’s fight. Until he is sent on a mission, doomed to fail, and is declared rogue by the matriarch with a kill-on-sight order. Most of the book is his story of trying to find out why this happened.

The book is full of odd and fun characters, each is a creative creation with an interesting story. There is also a large array of odd artifacts, each also creative and unusual.

The author almost gets in the way of the story. He enjoys setting up a situation, and then adding a one-liner to build its opposite. This happens in the characters’ stories, in idioms, settings, all too much. Some of them are very good, which keeps them from getting entirely stale, it is just part of his sense of humor.

The book has several allusions to James Bond. Eddie operates under the moniker Edwin Bond, and has an uncle James Drood with a history that sounds like James. This character sets a high-mark for establishing Edwin as a major operative.

The beginning of the book was a bit difficult to get through. As the author set the scene, he set up Edwin Drood as a masterful and powerful agent with a powerful tool. It felt like Deus-ex-Machina as he pulled new skills out to defeat opponents. But this was all stage setting to familiarize the reader with his abilities. The book definitely improves.

Toward the end of the book, it became a page-turner for me. The situations were exciting. However, I was quite disappointed in the ending, in which an entirely misunderstood plot element suddenly just solved all the problems. Oddly, it didn’t feel like it ruined the book. The story was good enough to carry the novel, the humor was good, and it was interesting. I will make time to read the second novel.

The Great Courses: The World of Byzantium by Kenneth W. Harl

Filed under:History — posted by Randolph on November 10, 2016 @ 7:46 pm

The Great Courses: The World of Byzantium by Kenneth W. Harl

This lecture series provides incredible detail into the world of Byzantium and its relationships to other civilizations over the millennium of its existence. This is a time period during the middle ages that I, and many I know, lack much knowledge.

The only complaint I have is that the information comes too fast. It really is designed as a lecture, where you can sit and take notes. Not having that opportunity, I suspect I will not retain much, but the lecture would be worth a second hearing.

Sword Song: The Battle For London by Bernard Cornwell

Filed under:Fiction,History — posted by Randolph on October 13, 2016 @ 6:44 pm

Sword Song: The Battle For London by Bernard Cornwell

The book is set in the late 9th century England and involves several of the primary historical figures of Wessex and Mercia. The characters are well-done, they have depth and are interesting. I can’t speak to their historical accuracy, though.

The book gives a very good feel for the time period. The characters strong, their actions are immediate and often cruel by our standards. The culture really comes out.

The story hinges around the fight for London between Danish Vikings in the north and the Saxons in Wessex. King Alfred gives his daughter’s hand in an attempt to solidify his hold on London.

I found the fight scenes very detailed and convincing. Their descriptions reveal well-thought out tactics and formations. You can almost smell the sweat and gore.

I hadn’t realized it was part of a series. It makes a good stand-alone book, though. It helped to solidify my understanding of that period in English history.

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!


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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace