What about snake swords…?

This one goes out to Georganne.

The other day I finally got around to watching The Road Warrior. It was time, given the maledictions of my peers. Make no mistake – the censures were meet and just. Every SFF buff should watch the second installment of the Mad Max series.

I won’t do a deep dive here, as I’m almost 40 years late to the party, but a few notes:

1. Ah, so that’s where the dog companion (especially in post-apocalyptic wasteland setting) trope comes from!

2. Great mix of low and high tech and interesting flavor choices. Gun ammo seems to be a rare and valuable commodity, so some firearms but not a ton. Flamethrowers, crossbows, gyrocopters? Yessssss.

3. Characterization wasn’t very strong, but it didn’t need to be. The main villain was kinda cool and mysterious. The sidekick was amusing. The townsfolk included a hot Amazonian chick. Mad Max was Mad Max (though his departure directly through the bad guys’ camp was a head-scratchingly dumb-ass move; would a survivor like him really do something so brazen and foolish?). The world building makes up for this.

 

There were a lot of cool fights and much violence, but my favorite element may have been the weaponization of snakes by the gyrocopter pilot dude. When I reflected upon this brilliance, a couple of Twitter friendlies pointed out that it was also done by Thulsa Doom.

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True! I almost forgot about that!

Two things, though. In Mad Max, Gyro uses the snakes as projectiles at one point, tossing them from above onto baddies in punked-out roadsters. This is a bit different from Thusla Doom’s use – shooting them like arrows. If we had to give points here, I’d award them to Doom for style.

So far as precedent, though, it either goes to Mad Max or ends up a wash. Conan the Barbarian was released in May of 1982. The Road Warrior came to the US a few days later in the same year, but was released in Australia in 1982. So really Mad Max did it very slightly earlier.

Either way, snakes as ranged weapons: Yesssssss.

-Bushi

bushi

 

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MUST READ SFF: The Minaverse, by Jill Domschot

  • by Gitabushi

I always have problems with reviews, I think. How do I make the book/movie/TV show sound interesting without giving too much away?  Do I talk about the writing style?  The characters?  What I find unique and/or worthwhile about it?

For me, there is no greater pleasure than having a story unfold for me.

On the other hand, I enjoy enough seeing how something difficult is pulled off that I don’t usually mind spoilers.

In any case, I’m going to try to walk the line here.

Flat-out: I think you should read The Minaverse, by Jill Domschot.

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I know Jill through Twitter, through a loose collection of SF&F fans, readers, and gamers.  I don’t know her well.  She doesn’t owe me money, nor do I owe her money. We aren’t related. We wouldn’t recognize each other if we walked past each other on the street. I get nothing for plugging this book.

She was struggling with a blurb for her book, and I like to help and am usually a pretty good wordsmith, so I helped improve it.  To say thanks, she let me read an advanced copy of the book I just helped write the blurb for.

I’m very glad she did, because I really enjoyed this story.

As I started reading the book, I made little mental notes of the feedback I was going to give her: the character that was unlikeable, the times she told us instead of showing us, etc.

But starting almost immediately in Chapter 4, I forgot all that.  The story figuratively took off, and none of the criticisms mattered. I lost myself in the book and just enjoyed it.

The Minaverse is a semi-framed story.  The protagonist, Stephanie, wants to interview her famous grandfather and turn it into a biography that will provide her some career success.  That is the frame for the story of Oso Benat.  His narrative starts in Chapter 4, and that’s where I became entranced.

I say it is semi-framed, because Ono’s partner also gets a few chapters for his viewpoint.  And by the end, the life story fades away like a desert river moving underground, and Stephanie’s story becomes the main narrative.

And it works.

This book has several strong elements. I like how she really tried to provide a plausible development for human-like androids.  She skewers current society with an acerbic wit by showing where some of the trends we see today are leading. She provides some touching insight into love, (mis)communication, ego, ambition, loyalty, and even faith. Her characters are distinct and memorable, and each has their own voice.

The important thing, however, is it fulfills one of the prime themes and duties of good SF&F: it explores what it means to be human, and does it well.

It’s not a perfect book.  It breaks some rules.  But every time I tried to think about how it could be fixed, I realized that “fixing” it would mean messing with what was actually working.  I urged her to publish it as is (and I think she did).

Look, I’ve made it through some slogs before, but this is an easy read.  The book pulls you along by the force of its magnetic personalities, the challenges Jill sets up for them, and how they resolve them.

I highly recommend this book.  It’s a bargain. I think Jill may be one of the bright new voices of SF&F. Go buy it now.

 

Simplification and Nostalgia/Materialism

  • by Gitabushi

So we had a pipe burst in the basement. Nothing was lost, but they have to replace the floor and repair/repaint the walls.

Moving all my books from the bookcase, I was struck again by how many guitar books/resources I’ve rarely and/or never even opened. If I just went through and played through a new song in the AC/DC book each day, then back through, and again, by the end of the month, I’d have so many new guitar tricks, songs to play, etc.

…but for what?

Same thing with all my fingerstyle books and magazines. I was actually a decent fingerstylist at one point. But then I got into electrics, and it consumed all my time.

I should sell the drums. I should just stick to guitar. It’s not like I’m actually going to join a band.

But I know if I sell them, I’m *really* going to regret it.

Also on the shelves were all my books. I’ve converted over to e-books. It is so much easier to take stuff with me on my kindle. I don’t have to worry about books falling apart on me as I read them, either. So I think I’m going to dump a bunch of books soon.

Just watch: there’ll be a civilization apocalypse right after I get rid of all my books, and I wont’t be able to get power to keep my Kindle charged.

Anyway, also on the shelves were my Avalon Hill games.

I bought a buttload of them back in the early 00s, part of nostalgia for my youth. I planned to teach my son. 15 years later, he’s out of the house and we’ve only played a handful. Hey, at least we played that handful. About 10 of them are solitaire games…I’ve never played one of them. The rest are solitaire-possible. I have the entire Advanced Squad Leader series. If I played every day, it would probably still take me 5 years to play through all of the scenarios, since I have to work.

And to be honest, computer games like Jagged Alliance really do seem to fill that need for turn-based strategy against a smart opponent.

So I’m thinking about selling them all.

But here’s the deal: I’m 6 to 10 years from retirement.  One of my plans was in retirement I’d have time to play all these games.  But the plan is also to be active enough to still enjoy life. When I think about it, I don’t want to spend my retirement indoors, hunched over a gaming table by myself.  Not to mention, we’re planning on spending 4-6 months every year out traveling in an RV.

Can’t take Avalon Hill strategy board games out in an RV. Can’t take an electric drumset out in an RV. Heck, even taking an electric guitar is problematic…although I might be able to do it with the iPad and the BIAS app suite. The current plan is to take only the acoustic guitar along and work through fingerstyle stuff.

I guess I’m at the age where I’m fighting twin urges for simplification and nostalgia.

Any thoughts?

Dilvish, the Damned: more “not Tolkien”

One of the things I enjoy most about old Appendix N work (and similarly classic and formational SFF) is that there’s so much “not Tolkien” fantasy to masticate. Don’t get me wrong – I love me some JRR hobbits and trolls, but I’ve gotten kind of worn out on today’s brand of knock-off Gandalfs and Legolas clones. Even when they’re Dark-Legolas.

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So how about an Elfin hero who’s not so Elfy?

He’s got the green Elf-boots (TM) that assure he always magically lands on his feet, and seem to give him a vague sneaking bonus of some kind, but he doesn’t tote a longbow, thank God. Nor does he dual-wield any kind of fighting implements – no, he seems plenty comfortable with plain, old cold steel.

He doesn’t hear the whispers of the trees, nor does he charm animals, unless you count his companion/mount Black, the metal demon horse. And he doesn’t know any spells of protection or healing, but he does know a few incantations in the tongue of the underworld that can level cities.

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Dilvish, the Damned is an interesting sort of protagonist, consorting with or banishing demons as called for in a given situation. Driven by a deep thirst for revenge against the Saruman-type who banished him to Hell, he still holds to his own strict moral code, which includes assisting the weak and needy when able, and killing only those who deserve it when it can’t be avoided. In the introductory stories, we see him racing, out of a sense of personal obligation, to save a city from conquest. Later on he helps various other unfortunates who just happen to be in his path. He doles out both death and mercy. Dilvish is no saint, but he’s clearly no villain, either.

My favorite parts of Dilvish, the Damned were the stories of gods and fantastical creatures with somewhat less-than-common spin. One story is about a meeting with a werewolf, whom Dilvish pities and would rather not slay. Now there are a lot of popular associations when it comes to werewolves – weakness to silver, the full moon, transformation. But all this story really focuses on is the unrelenting hunger of the beast. It struck me in a positive way.

Another tale includes the recounting of a deicide committed by an ancestor of Dilvish. Excellent dying words here:

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I’ve become a big fan of short stories, and the episodic, yet continuing nature of Dilvish’s adventures scratches an itch. Although I really wish I knew what happened to that sweet invisible sword he picks up in one story and seems to lose sometime before the next. But alas, leaving some things unsaid or unexplained can be an effective storytelling technique.

The most disappointing part of the Dilvish stories has been Zelazny’s uneven writing, which is perhaps unsurprising for story written over the span of decades. Sometimes the writing is quite good and characters use archaic yet unstilted manners of speech (see above).

At other times the writing slips into a more…contemporary flavor.

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This can be all the more jarring when the two writing/speaking styles intermingle in the same story. If you can get past this, however, the writing is pretty solid, even if not every story is a home run.

Dilvish, the Damned was a pleasant surprise for me. I enjoyed Zelazny’s Amber stories, but for whatever reason I was expecting a “hero” somewhere between Cugel and Elric. While Dilvish certainly falls short of the traditional Christian champion of yore, we do instead have a flawed but noble hero to cheer for.

He is named both “Damned” and “Deliverer” by characters in his world, and he indeed presents us with another (though lighter) shade of gray. But Zelazny still delivers us a hero, free of grimdark nihilism, and with enough uniqueness for me to recommend picking this one up if you get the chance. 4.5/5.

-Bushi

bushi

Book and game money

I’ve never really made a lot of money, but I’ve also never had to worry about living on the street or being unable to afford food or medicine. I’m blessed in that regard. Still, with my first kid due to make his entrance soon and my wife poised to quit her job, I worry about spending money now.

Luckily, there are plenty of games and books to be had on the cheap these days. If you’re willing to buy used or you can be content playing some indie titles instead of the latest and greatest AAA stuff, there’s a lot of entertainment to be had on a small budget.

Similarly, if you need to generate some pocket change to support such hobbies, there are ways. Some of you may be familiar with /r/Beermoney, a meeting place for all those netizens looking for ways to make a few spare bucks, mostly in their free time or as passive income.

There are services, such as, Perk, Swagbucks, and EarnHoney, that let you “watch” videos and ads to earn pennies, which add up over time and can be redeemed for cash or various gift cards (Amazon is my favorite). I run these from time to time, but they tend to be spotty and dependent on advertiser demand. They’ve also gotten fussier with their rules.

For example, many Swagbucks videos used to let you just keep a browser up on the side, unattended. Now most offers require you to either keep your mouse cursor over the browser (meaning you can’t be doing anything else with your computer) or else require periodic clicking to bring up new videos, which gets tedious fast if you’re trying to play a game or devote your attention to something else.

Lately, I’ve been leaning heavily on studies and surveys. Now, you’ve got to be careful if you decide to take this approach to Beermoneying. Services like Swagbucks will let you take surveys, but whether or not you actually get any payout is a crap shoot. Often the advertisers will trick you into answering 50 questions and then tell you that you didn’t qualify for the survey. “Sorry you spent 15 minutes answering our questions – why not try again?” F you.

My favorite service, at the moment, is Prolific.ac (if you decide to sign up, feel free to use my referral link, or not!). Prolific lets you sign up and answer screening questions to see which studies you qualify for. There are several neat things about these studies:

1. They’re academic studies, so you’re helping students and researchers out.

2. If you’re a particularly benevolent soul, you can donate your reward money to charity.

3. The dashboard is useful and study descriptions are more adequate than others I’ve seen. You basically get the study name, the total amount of participant slots and how many are left, the max allowed time, the average time to complete, and payout information.

4. Because they’re designed by different people and systems, you’ll get a fair amount of variety between studies. Sometimes they’re kinda interesting, actually.

There aren’t always a lot of studies available, but I’ve found it really depends on the day. Sometimes you’ll hit the jackpot; this morning I banged out 3 surveys, about 10-15 minutes of my time total, for about $2.50. Not too bad!

Once you hit a certain threshold, you can cash out. Those $5 used books and $10 Steam games are within your grasp!

Capture

-Bushi

bushi

Guitar Lust: B-Way Guitars’ Mercury Head

  • by Gitabushi

Back in 2012, on the guitar brand fan forum I used to frequent, one of the members posted an announcement that he was starting a line of guitars.  He designed the guitar himself, contracted a builder to make the bodies and necks and paint the bodies, and then did the finishing work himself.  He showed his prototype, and his first build, and posted some clips.  They looked interesting, and sounded great.

Here’s the story of how he got started.

That was it for two years.  He wasn’t exactly pumping out a huge volume of guitars.

In mid-2014, he posted pictures of his next build, which (IIRC, were his #3 and #4 production guitars). I had saved up some money in my guitar fund and wanted to purchase a premium guitar brand new, and I chose his.

Here is my guitar.

I had a great time discussing the build with Ben. We went through so many iterations talking about the pickups.  I ended up choosing P-Rails, flipped from the recommended configuration to get a little extra twang by moving the rails farther away from each other, one closer to the bridge for brightness, and the other closer to the neck for sweetness.  Then a 3-way switch to select bridge pickup, neck pickup, or both, and a 2nd 3-way switch to select P-90, rail, or both (in series/humbucking) I didn’t feel like I needed parallel wiring, nor was I worried about being able to pair the P-90 in one position with the rail in the other.  It would have made the wiring and switching too complicated. I have 9 distinct, awesome tones.

Well, he’s kept up the furious pace of guitar building he set early, and production guitar #8 or #9 is up for sale (depending on when you read this, it might not be for sale any more). I’m not sure if the fraternal twin is still being prepped or has already been sold.

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My guitar sounds wonderful.  The neck joint is very solid and tight, and I believe that increases tone and sustain. It is wonderfully ergonomic, making it easy to play. The fit and finish is flawless. You look at it, and pick it up, and it just feels like a luxury guitar.  Mine is worth every penny.  It is a guitar I can never sell, for various reasons.

I feel really proud to have one of the few B-Way Mercury Head guitars.  It is truly a prized possession, the jewel of my collection, and a great guitar to play.

Do what you have to to get one.

Here’s a gallery of guitars and guitar builds on the B-Way website.

The red one you see in that gallery?  It was purchased by Walter Becker of Steely Dan, and was one of his backup guitars, on stage with him in live performances.

Not too shabby!

Now Ima Retweet Her! (Parody Lyrics)

  • by Gitabushi

With apologies to the Monkees and Neil Diamond.

To the tune of “I’m a Believer”

I thought #FF love was just a fairy tale
Meant for someone else but not for me.
Fame was out to get me
That’s the way it seemed.
Follower count haunted all my dreams.

Then I saw her meme, now Ima retweet her
Not a trace of shame in my mind.
Gonna troll, mmmmm, I’m a retweeter!
I couldn’t delete her if I tried.

I thought retweets were more or less a givin’ thing,
Seems the more I gave the less I got.
What’s the use in tryin’?
Likes is all you get.
When I needed sharing I got sh*t.

Then I saw her meme, now Ima retweet her
Not a trace of shame in my mind.
Gotta troll, mmmmm, I’m a retweeter!
I couldn’t delete her if I tried.

Previous entries:

“Ebola’s Back”, a Parody Lyrics Post

Berkeley, California

Tax the Rains

Oh, Cthulhu