I’m currently in the process of updating my design blog. Please read and tell me what you think! 🙂
As part of the Independent Christian Book Black Friday Sale Blog Tour (you can read my previous post here,) I had the chance to interview Grace Bridges, author of RotoVegas, which is the first book of her EarthCore series. Urban fantasy is a bit of an unusual genre, with fantasy elements in an urban setting; it tends to be grittier than classic fantasy, which can be a fun twist. I was also fascinated, as if you look through most “Christian fiction” sections in a bookstore or magazine, most of what you will see is romance or bonnet-and-buggy fiction, and then a few Ted Dekker thrillers, and that’s normally it. Don’t ask me why the “Christian fiction” label is so limited when Christian fiction really has the potential to be so all-encompassing, but it is.
On to the interview!
As part of this year’s Black Friday Christian Book Sale Blog Tour, I had the opportunity to read Implant by J. Grace Pennington to review it. When reading it, I couldn’t put it down–it was a fast read, not too in-depth but engaging all the same.
The book’s concept–a medical miracle implant which can cure cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and practically all other diseases, but which has been turned into a way to control people–is what drew me to the story.
The main strength of this book is certainly its characters. Gordon Harding just wants to be a nice person–he doesn’t want to fight, but he ultimately has to take a stand. Neil Crater, an intelligent man trapped in a nightmare world, unsure of who to trust. Doc, who doesn’t want anyone to know his real name.
However, outside of those main three, there are only a few other characters who are fully fleshed-out. I wish they had all gotten more development.
Secondly, the setting. When I was reading the main action of the book, I saw a bombed-out Wild West town surrounded by tents in my mind’s eye. Post-apocalyptic and similar genres aren’t often setting-rich, focusing on characters instead.
And finally, the main premise. Gordon Harding is someone who wants to live. By the end of the book, he becomes someone willing to sacrifice his life, and someone who is willing to avert the future he’s been a part of.
What bothered me about this book was I didn’t feel very connected to anyone outside of the three main characters. Also, I began to see the main major plot twist coming from about 50 pages in, though maybe that’s because I read so much fiction. When a character’s real name is not revealed, there’s always a reason for it. (Unless you’re watching Doctor Who. Then it’s just artistic choice.)
One thing I was relieved about, reading the book: this book does not involve mind control. I feel that mind control and other forms of zombie-ism are overused in fiction–I much prefer when the characters have the free will to make their own (right or wrong) choices. There’s something powerful in that–perhaps more powerful than the pedantic trope of “oh, he did it against his own will!”
I do feel that the ending may have been a bit of a cop-out. However, as that same cop-out was very much a part of making everything worse before the climax, I can excuse it.
Another thing I would have liked to see more of would be Gordon trying to rejoin society after his big adventure. After all, you’ve just had a life-changing experience. What do you do now?
All in all, I would give this book 3.7 out of five stars.
From November 24th-30th a huge selection of discounted books is available at indiechristianbooks.com. You can also join the Indie Christian Authors for a week-long Facebook party during the same dates, or visit http://www.indiechristianbooks.com/supporters/ for more information. There’s also a giveaway–visit http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/62a405b99/ for that.
Rosalie of Against the Shadows wrote a poem that inspired me to write and just put out my thoughts. It was cathartic. I haven’t had that happen in a while.
I’m sorry I haven’t been around much. Hopefully my poem will do the explaining for me.
Dry coughs and chalk dust and cobwebs and house dust
mark out the space between nightfall and daybreak
Punctuated by study sessions of the night hours
And dreams of missed assignments and tests
Barely bothered to care.
The school is restless.
I haven’t had a moment’s peace in months
Between deadlines and crying children
Who were too old to cry in the first place
And the year is dying and it’s turning cold again
(my geranium is dead. I meant to bring it in)
Carols are here already as they try to ignore
The dead part of the year
October is an attempt to romanticize the brown
It’s that part of the semester again.
What is it about historical weaponry that draws the minds and captures the imaginations of readers and writers alike?
Historical weapons are a stable of urban fantasy and the superhero genre, as well as historical fiction and fantasy, where they find a more predictable home. Over the years, swords, bows, maces, and battleaxes have been–understandably–superseded by firearms. So why the lingering attraction, when firearms have superior rate of fire, force, and accuracy? Is it the elegance of the weapons (now lost in an era of mass manufacture) which were once lovingly handcrafted, delicately inlaid or inscribed, and bound by hand? Or is it the appeal of an era when war held more honor and less horror, when, to kill a man, you first had to look him in the face? Is it the superiority of the skill required?
This series of articles will examine historical weapons of mass destruction, legendary sword-making techniques of both the East and the West, and address common misconceptions about modern weaponry. As the sword is, without rival, the weapon of choice in fantasy, I will publish the article on historical sword-making first.
Katana. Damascus steel blades. Legendary names for weapons created using strikingly similar techniques, creating a similar product–a high-carbon steel edge over a softer iron core.
The techniques used to create Damascus steel were once thought lost to time. Only recently have they been recreated, following the discovery of carbon nanotubes hiding underneath the iridescent sheen and wood-grained appearance of the surface.
The steel in Damascus blades and katana–called “Damascus steel” in the West and “tamahagane” in Japan–is smelted in a remarkably similar way. Broken iron ore (or iron sand, called “satetsu” in Japan) is heated with plant material–wood or bamboo for Damascus steel, charcoal in Japan–which then infuses the metal with carbon. In Damascus steel, this has the added benefit of transferring carbon nanotubes from the plant matter into the steel itself, rendering the steel remarkably hard.
However, high-carbon steel is brittle, easily broken, and this process leaves a steel-iron amalgam that is high in both metallic and organic impurities.
This is where the second major technique involved in making these legendary blades comes in. It’s called pattern welding. Steel is heated, folded on itself, beaten until the layers merge, shedding impurities and excess carbon in the process. This creates a more homogeneous steel, varying layers of harder and more brittle steel with softer layers of less brittle iron, creating a tough final product. The metallic trace impurities merge with the blade, creating a better end product than pure steel alone. However, the process must be carefully monitored, as higher temperatures can cause the iron to separate from the carbon, and, if folded too many times, the steel loses the advantage of strength and flexibility as the layers merge entirely. The folding pattern is dependent on the part of the blade the steel will form.
In Japan, the art of sword-making was historically considered a sacred ritual, and may take weeks to complete. In Japanese sword-making, a low-carbon steel/iron amalgam is used to create the core of the blade, a slightly-harder but still resilient steel to form the skin, and the high-carbon tamahagane for the edge. This results in a hard-edged blade which holds an edge well while still being springy and flexible enough to resist breakage. The steel must also be protected between foldings by a layer of wet clay and straw ash, to prevent the iron from oxidizing and help remove impurities. Due to the loss of impurities, the iron may be reduced to as little as 1/10 of its initial weight.
Finally, katanas and other Japanese swords are heat-treated, rather than quenched like European-made blades are. Before the swords are heated, a thin layer of clay is added around the edge so that it cools more quickly than the thickly-coated back edge. This results in a harder edge and a springier spine, as well as bending the sword into its signature curve.
And a word about the so-called “blood channel” or fuller: the purpose of the fuller is not to allow blood to flow more freely and allow the sword to be more easily withdrawn from the wound, but to make the blade lighter without sacrificing its structural integrity.
The blade is then polished, which takes easily as much skill to complete, since a bad polishing job can damage a sword, while a good one can render it mirror-like and perfectly smooth.
In my next article, I will talk about crossbows–a weapon so deadly that their use was banned in warfare by the Pope.
Reclaimed wood is big business these days. A simple Google search turns up millions of shopping results and billions of pictures, ideas, and Pinterest boards or Instagram photos. Reclaimed wood can go for prices from $7 to $25 per square foot, and it’s being sold by big companies. In comparison, new wood can be sold for prices as low as $3 per square foot.
That’s roughly equivalent trying to collect royalties on an expired copyright and making someone pay for the same service twice. It’s shady, it’s borderline unethical, and it’s really, really annoying.
In short, they are making people pay for a used item, and not even for charity. For profit. Am I the only one who sees something wrong with this?
Kitschy post-consumer culture puts reclaimed wood in demand. But, again, this is reclaimed wood. It’s already been used and paid for once. Sure, I’m all for reusing lumber and saving forests! But selling it for more than new?
Why make people pay more to be environmentally friendly?
I’d much rather go out and get my own. I’ll work for it, thank you very much. It’s my time and I’ll spend it how I like. After all, I’ve got more time than money.
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Somehow, those words sound strangely beautiful to me. They always have, but I haven’t quite been able to put words to why until lately.
Maybe part of the reason why can be found in two shows that I’ve watched recently.
In the season finale of the first season of Agents of Shield, Fitz and Simmons are locked in an airtight steel box at the bottom of the ocean with (almost) no way out, and they talk about dying, as one does in a steel box at the bottom of the ocean. “It’s not so bad,” Jemma says, “that the rough matter in us will one day be part of a star.” (Or something to that effect.
In “The Rings of Akhaten,” the Doctor has taken Clara on an adventure far beyond her place in time or space. They go to a distant planet, where they meet a little girl whose one duty is to sing a song. Time has run out since the Sun-Singers started, however, and the little girl is terrified, so the Doctor tells her a story: that she is the only one like her, that every element in her body was forged in the heart of a supernova, and that nowhere else in all of time and space is to be found that singular identity that forms her.
During our new pastor’s Ash Wednesday homily, he quoted a lesser-known corollary of these same words: “Remember, dust, that you are man,” referring to the Resurrection.
It is such a curious and glorious fate that God can create things that are more than the sum of their matter.
In honor of the first day of winter, I bring you this small offering. Enjoy!
“What are we investigating again, Miss?” Benton asked, stumbling awkwardly on his snowshoes.
“Nothing much, Sergeant,” Jo replied, trying to steady him. “Frankly, I think the Brigadier just wanted us out of headquarters.”
“We can be a bit of a rowdy lot,” Benton admitted, laughing wryly.
“Except the Doctor, of course,” Jo said. “He takes everything too seriously!”
“We’re opposite ends of the spectrum,” Benton agreed thoughtfully. Jo shoved him playfully.
“There, all the science is rubbing off on you!”
“No, it’s just something I heard the Doctor say,” Benton said placidly. Jo giggled.
“Wait a minute, Sergeant—I’ve got an idea!”
“Are you two going to dawdle all day?” the Doctor called from up ahead. Jo squished snow in between her gloves.
“Not really, Doctor!”
The snowball smacked the Doctor squarely in the back of the head. He whirled around, brushing snow out of his hair and looking a little bit annoyed. “Really, Jo!”
Benton’s snowball hit the Doctor in the face. The Doctor spluttered, spitting out dog- and leather-flavored snow. Jo broke into a fit of laughter. The Doctor drew himself up.
“I can see I have no choice,” he said, and hefted a large chunk of snow from the side of the road at them. Jo and Benton dived in different directions and the game was on. They slid and scrambled around in the snow, ducking out of cover to fire off volleys at each other.
There was a brief ceasefire as a UNIT truck pulled up on the road. “You three were supposed to report in a half hour ago!” exclaimed Captain Yates. Four well-aimed snowballs knocked him flat on his backside, the Doctor making good use of both his hands ambidextrously.
Howling bloody murder, Yates dived into the fray.
Another fifteen minutes later, the Brigadier drove up on a motorcycle. Alstair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart had seen quite a few strange things in his time, but never anything quite so strange as UNIT’s scientific adviser holding a sergeant in a headlock, with his assistant clinging to his back shoving snow down the back of his neck, and a captain yelling like a banshee and pelting all three of them with snowballs.
Years later, Lethbridge-Stewart would remember the look on the Doctor’s face as the one and only guilty expression he had ever surprised out of the Time Lord.
This November, ill-advised or not, I am participating in NaNoWriMo. Since I am currently waiting for my next class (6:30 to 9:10 pm, I am gonna die if I don’t get out early), I thought I might as well take the time to introduce you to my project and the two main characters.
The Gentlemen Adventurers’ Society is a historical fantasy (pssst, it’s steampunk) novel set in the later years of the Victorian era and follows the adventures of Maeghan LeClere and James Pennon as they try to avert the annexation of a small German princedom by the growing empire of Kaiser Wilhelm I (I haven’t technically fact-checked it yet, fact-checking can wait until the end of NaNo!), an event which might catapult the world with its growing system of alliances into a vicious war (as in, World War I, if it started early.)
Maeghan is a young American woman, orphaned and out to make her way in the world, even if it’s an ultimately unremarkable one. She’s very good at organization, but balks at the idea of being put in charge of things. (I think we already know how we’re going to force some character development, guys.) She’s never done anything notable in her life, but that’s about to change.
James is English nobility–a youngest son, insignificant by birth, practically penniless, and yet too determined a personality to fade into mediocrity or to take a minor government position. Intelligent (perhaps too intelligent for his own good) and with a startling streak of fire in his character, he’s never failed to get anything he’s ever fought for, but he doesn’t quite live in the real world; he’s been sheltered his entire life. He’s never been burned before, and while he knows on a cognitive level that he could get hurt, he hasn’t quite realized it on an emotional one. He’s also a bit oblivious to when people are hitting on him, and it’s a rather unpleasant shock for him to be reminded that some people consider him a marriage prospect. His worst fear–the secret fear that he himself isn’t even really aware of–is failure.
James is a member of the mysterious, prestigious organization known as “The Gentlemen Adventurers’ Society,” a group for upper-class people (men and with some restrictions, women) who don’t settle down easily. Occasionally, they will provide some services–guides, detectives, scientists, students and so forth–on the condition that whatever payment is made is made to the Society, in the place of dues (and the surplus goes to make up pensions for some members who, like James, are sophisticated enough to belong but who don’t have livings of their own.)
Maeghan is travelling to Europe, by coincidence aboard the same airship as James. Working together, they manage to save the airship, and James invites Maeghan to join the Society as his protege. (Don’t look at me like that. Read it and weep, romance fans–there’s not really going to be any in this book.)
However, that’s really only the beginning for the two of them.
Hopefully you all enjoy my recaps of their misadventures throughout the month.
(Rosalie, did I mention that James is redecorating the mind palace for Christmas? Already? And the Doctor is aiding and abetting. Those two are terrible. It was a bad idea to have the Doctor and Charley stand in for James and Maeghan, since they get up to twice as much trouble after discovering their sympathies.)
Lately, I’ve been watching Daredevil on a free trial of Netflix that I was forced to get in order to complete a different class. I might as well milk it for all it’s worth while I’ve got it.
It’s pretty different, watching Netflix shows. They tend to be written much more tightly and be more hard-hitting than TV shows. Since it’s sort of a “view at your own discretion” situation, they can also deal with things that most channels would shy away from discussing.
I love the way Daredevil is written. The dialogue is tight and loaded. Not a single word is wasted. Each character has a distinct voice, or even multiple voices–Matt has his “lawyer” voice, which is reasoned and comes across as almost stilted but very well put-together; his “informal” voice–his natural way of talking; and his “Daredevil” voice, which is much more terse than either of the others. The very choice of words builds into the characters.
At one point, Matt asks Karen if she believes; she replies that she doesn’t. In return, she asks him if he does. He replies “Catholic.” The reply is so textured, so many-faceted, not least because of his word choice.
It implies so much. Matt sees his faith as part of who he is, fundamentally; to him, it’s the thing that motivates him to take a stand and not back down; to get up again when he gets knocked down. It’s both a motivation and an example. For him, his faith is something concrete.
But it’s not just part of Matt’s identity that his word choice hints at.
It implies that Matt also believes that it doesn’t just matter that you believe; your exact beliefs matter too. That’s rather an unpopular opinion to hold in these days of watered-down Christianity, where hounded Christians greet any fellow Christian of any denomination as a friend in a world that seems to hate their guts. But that’s just a symptom–a welcome one, though–of a bigger problem.
A lot of people seem to think that it doesn’t matter what you believe, just that you do. Still more appear to be of the opinion that you can believe whatever you like, so long as you follow the nebulous call of “the right thing”–but no one seems to quite know what the right thing is.
But you see… people with all their beliefs laid out clearly on the table do.
The modern school of thought on “the right thing” grows out of a set of damaging beliefs from religions that people don’t dare to call out individually. And thus, they water down beliefs that common thought understands to be hurtful. Christianity gets watered down right along with them, even though it shouldn’t.
As a result, we get a series of feel-good philosophies that are, once you’ve lived them out for a while, hollow and dingy, and when they don’t feel fulfilled people just move on and try the next one, or they throw their hopes into exercise or yoga or things that have much more potential for harm.
That is not what religion is meant to be.
Let me repeat myself: that is not what religion is meant to be!
Religion is hard-hitting. It doesn’t pull its punches. As G.K. Chesterton once said, “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”
Either you believe it all, or you put your faith in nothing. It’s as simple as that.
Personally, I believe that there is God and the devil. I believe in Heaven and Hell; I believe in the Bible, and I believe in the Savior. I can’t compromise. This is, as it is for Matt Murdoch, part of who I am.
I won’t apologize (as in, say I’m sorry.) But I will apologize (as in, live out my faith for everyone to see, and defend it if it’s attacked.)
Another thing about the zeitgeist; anything is permissible as long as “it’s just who I am!” Well, this is just who I am. Are you offended?
If you are, I recommend that you look really closely at the reasons why.
(I also recommend that you watch Daredevil. There’s some language, and it’s very violent, graphic and even gory in parts, but it’s also a very good show, both writing and morality-wise.)
Thanks for reading, and God Bless!