Reviews: Suldrun’s Garden and The Demon Princes

Talk about hidden treasures! In the last few months I’ve read two works by the late great Jack Vance. These are the kind of books I kick myself for reading – because I haven’t read them sooner.

Let’s start off with some general discussion about the author. This is a guy who knows how to be spare when he needs to be spare, florid when he needs to be florid. He knows how much characterization someone needs and how the character is serving the story’s purpose. I mean, someone who writes, there are moments when you’re reading Vance and you think – ok, this is how it’s done. This is what I should be striving for. He’s so deft. He can build a world in a page and half and it is as real as anything the fantasy writers take pages and pages to develop. But let’s get to the specifics. Continue reading “Reviews: Suldrun’s Garden and The Demon Princes”

The long walk

The cycle of your life is reflected in walking. When we begin life, walking is impossible. Almost a year passes and we’re ready to give it a go. My sister has a young son at this age now, and though he’s built to fall, she agonizes every time he totters and collapses. But she need not worry. Our learning to walk accelerates quickly, we become proficient so fast, it’s a little mindboggling. Continue reading “The long walk”

Pluses and minuses

I’ve written before about how I’ve become more choosy in my old age when it comes to writing. If something doesn’t grab my attention early, I will quit it. Books I have quit because they don’t grab me include:

  • Wait, that would be mean I need to list them.
  • Mid-post I’m rethinking that strategy.
  • I’d rather be a Positive Paul than a Negative Ned

So, instead of dwelling on the books where I said “I’ve got to quit you,” here are some books that kept my attention recently: Continue reading “Pluses and minuses”

Unplugged

I don’t have a Facebook account. Or rather, I do, because you can never truly cancel one of those things completely out of existence. There’s a Faceborg Chad Olson that still exists somewhere in cyberspace, and maybe the account will achieve consciousness in 2075 and live an alternate life for me. There are many universes, after all. “I dream I am a butterfly, dreaming I am a man, lying under a tree.” That’s my loose translation of the I Ching. Thanks, Chinese Lit! Continue reading “Unplugged”

Micturate

I’ve come to Phoenix to see my dad in the hospital. A tumor in his head was threatening to kill him, and they removed it two days ago. They also put radioactive beads covered in gel in his head to (hopefully) stop the tumor from re-growing in the same spot.

Since I’ve been here, he has been talking about how he has “heavy metal” in his noggin. Meanwhile, the chorus of the Imagine Dragons “Radioactive” song keeps popping up in my mind. Continue reading “Micturate”

Hell House

Who doesn’t like a good haunted house story? Well, I suppose some don’t (who are you people?) but given the enduring popularity of the genre, there must a be a sizeable chunk of readers out there who like reading about things that go bump in the night. In my experience it is more difficult to sustain a haunted house story for a whole novel, especially when you compare that to how effective short stories can be. How well does Richard Matheson do in Hell House? Read further if you’re ok with spoilers (though the book was published in 1971, so it’s not exactly hot off the presses.)

Continue reading “Hell House”

Biography on Madison and the Future of America

My current car book (popping in the CDs, very old school) is a biography of James Madison. It’s good, and I’ll maybe do a review of it later, but I want to talk about a comment I heard this morning that the biographer makes as he is describing how Madison and Jefferson first conceived of the Republican (now Democrat) party.

Continue reading “Biography on Madison and the Future of America”

Riding the train, riding the bus

My new job means that I’m on the train for work and then I transfer to a bus for another 20 minute ride. I’m still getting comfortable with being a public transportation professional. I’ve noticed some things in my month plus of riding.

First, people generally don’t talk to each other on the train, unless they are already acquainted. I haven’t made any bus or train friends yet, but I do think some of the people on these modes of transport are only friends because they’ve ridden together so long. But for the most part, people put their headphones on, watch movies, listen to music, a few read books, and many scroll through facebook. This isn’t a place for deep conversation, it’s a place for decompression. Especially on the way home. I’ve been trying to use my time wisely when I’m on the train, make it productive (in fact, I’m typing this post on the homebound train), but it’s much more difficult in the evening. After a long day in the city working, you just want to do something mindless. I’ve heard that Facebook’s reach is on the wane, but if the people on the train are any indication, Zuckerberg’s company should be pretty safe in the near term.

I love the engineers and bus drivers. Most of them are black, and they’re no nonsense, funny, gruff, sassy, practical and some are jovial. I overheard one, a gentleman probably in his fifties, tell a gaggle of admiring female riders that it was his last week on the job. He was switching to something new so he could spend more time with his family. You could tell the women adored him. He had them laughing the whole time, even with his sad bit of news. “Tickets,” they shout, and you better have them ready. “Up top,” they shout and everyone is ready. Well, not everyone. A few days ago, someone said he’d already shown his pass to the conductor, who hadn’t seen it. “Don’t get rude if I honestly hadn’t seen your pass.” But it was a minor incident without any lingering animosity.

The bus rides can be more challenging. I’m not sure who designed the seats on the Chicago city buses, but they are a slight step up from lying down on a bed of nails. They are too narrow, uncushioned, and want you to conform to them rather than the other way around. Your body rebels against them after only a few minutes of use. People on the buses are even less social, but that’s probably because it’s harder to form relationships with a more random set of people.

One more note on the train conductors. I love that they wear uniforms and caps. Sure, they’re sometimes wrinkled, and some are ill-fitting, but it’s that little bit of effort that makes it work.

I know people get sick of the commute into the city, but I’m not there yet. I wouldn’t call myself Mr. Professional Commuter yet (for example, I don’t know what car to get on to exit the train in the perfect place), but I’m getting there.