Bradbury

Though I haven’t been doing much reading lately, I have been toting The Illustrated Man around on my commutes. I always forget what a good writer Bradbury was. But damn, his stuff can be bleak.

It’s weird, I could have sworn Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles were the only of his books I’d read. But then as I’ve been chipping (back) away at Illustrated Man, I know I’ve read these before. Or maybe the End is near and I have had eerily similar visions.

At any rate, there’s that one story with the astronauts in space. It reminded me of this Perry Bible Fellowship comic. I wonder if that was his inspiration for the strip.

I’ve really got to read that Brackett/Bradbury collaboration, Lorelei of the Red Mist. I’ve already got it and everything.

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I’ve got to update the Grand List.

-Bushi

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Jack Vance’s Waterworld

Remember that movie Waterworld? Of course you do. It gets blasted for being kinda crappy, but it’s got a lot of stuff I like – post-apocalyptic setting, Dennis Hopper getting an eye blown out, Kevin Costner playing Kevin Costner. It’s kinda like Mad Max on water instead of in Australia. Ok, it’s not a great film, but it’s entertaining scifi.

Well, imagine if instead of floating junk platforms and rusty barges, people lived on giant lily pads and harvested sea life for sustenance. And everyone was descended from criminals (kinda like Mad Max, being set in Australia). Oh and there was a giant sea monster named King Kragen that would roll up and eat all your home-grown sponges and if you made a fuss he’d wreck your shit. This is Jack Vance’s Blue World.

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I wasn’t originally quite sure what to expect from this one, but it kept me engaged and wanting to pick it up whenever I could find the time (and often it was a choice between sleeping while the baby let me or else reading and heaping maledictions upon King Kragen – curse his name!).

There’s a lot going on here and it’s got a lot of Vance’s signature moves – a competent protagonist who is intelligent and brave yet no action hero (pay no attention to the cover-Fabio above), witty, dry dialogue, big words, science, and oh so much imagination.

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One thing about the science of Jack Vance’s writing – it always feels “real” to me without getting too crunchy and boring. That is, it seems sufficiently detailed and plausible. Could you really burn off gallons of blood to gather iron for weapons and armor? I don’t know, but it’s a cool idea and sounds like it could be possible! Can you burn off plant matter to gather copper for crafting electrical conduits? Sure, why not? There’s something about stories like this that make me think of survival or colony-building video games and tech trees.

It’s also worth noting that Vance, though a noted proponent of tradition, is the ultimate shitlord, always willing to lampoon if it serves the story. I say this because my esteemed colleague Cirsova once pointed out to me that Vance has skewered tradition before. In the Blue World, Vance lays out a society that pays homage to a predatory monster that’s basically an overgrown octopus-crab (maybe? I kind of had trouble picturing it). The hero is the guy who finally gets sick of having his sponge-trees picked clean by the brute and decides to rouse some rabble.

The rabble itself is satisfying. Like in all of Vance’s other stories, many of the characters sound the same, speaking with honorifics and wield big fancy words and small difficult words. But the world is populated with both fools and those of superior intellect; the courageous and the cowardly; villains and heroes and those in between. In other words, I found the characters interesting sufficiently varied.

Potentially noteworthy – the hero gets the girl in the end, which isn’t always the case with Vance.

In conclusion, I’m a Vance fanboi and reading the Blue World has done nothing to shake my faith in his superior skill and unjust obscurity. 5/5.

-Bushi

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Easter’s Green Blade

Not much new to report! The little poop goblin continues to consume a majority of my time.

At mass yesterday, I heard a certain hymn. This seems to be in rotation recently at my parish, as I remember hearing it a month or so ago for the first time. It’s become one of my favorites.

“Now the Green Blade Rises” has a rather simple but stirring melody. Something about it just grips at me, especially when performed by a full choir. Not to mention the title is just really cool and evocative (it refers to a shoot of wheat, but conjures up the image of a sweet sword or something).

Here are a couple nice renditions:

-Bushi

bushi

Culdcept and more Dune sciency stuff

Life flows onward. Care for the larva takes precedence.

I recently picked up a cheap 3DS game that looked interesting. It’s called Culdcept Revolt. Apparently the Culdcept series has been around for a while, though I’d never heard of it.

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Gameplay-wise, it’s something of an ill-begotten spawn. Think Monopoly meets Yugioh meets Magic: The Gathering. In effect it sometimes feels like Mario Party – skill and strategy matter, but the result of a 30-minute match can ultimately depend upon the favor or curse of the Random Number God. But I guess Magic was always subject to that. “Whoops, you drew 10 lands in a row? Learn to shuffle better, scrub.”

But it’s got card collecting and deck building, so it scratches an itch. Don’t get me started on the writing, though. It’s seriously bad.

Ah well, at least it’s turn-based. When you need to be able to respond to the wail of your progeny at a moment’s notice, turns are required. Or at least pausing. Maybe both.

Meanwhile Dune continues to stimulate as I read in bits and squeaks. Back in college, I took a class in sociology and our professor had us read Dune. Herbert is more often recognized for the ecological hardness of his seminal work, but there’s a lot of soft science going on, too. Man, that was a cool class.

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I’m told Herbert really knew ecology. I think it shows. But honestly, I’m not the kind of guy who’s incredibly difficult to convince with this stuff. Throw in the names of some scientific processes, maybe a plausibly-named theory…hey man, sounds sciency to me. “Hard” and “soft” scifi are relative terms, I guess.

Also, is “chromoplastic” a thing? Maybe…? A related element that’s impressed me is the range of invention Herbert utilizes here. He may not have coined all or even most of these gizmos and scifi doodads, but he seems to have picked some good ones that either never reached wide-scale use or else hit critical mass after he threw them in the mix.

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This kind of thing is important, you know? Sure, you can have a good story with blasters and laser swords and plasteel armor and space marines. But that’s all been done. A lot. Don’t underestimate the power of novelty.

Oh, look – “cone of silence.” This thing was popularized by the old 60’s Get Smart TV show, of course, but it was apparently kicking around for at least a decade before that. Herbert himself used the term in a 1955 short story, so Wiki tells meDune was published in 1965, as a reference point.

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I love this stuff, but dang I’ll be glad when I can muster up the wherewithal to dive into something new. Witch World looms.

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-Bushi

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Plasteel in Scifi

Dune is one of those  books – love it or hate it, you must respect its place in “the canon” and the major role it’s played in influencing succeeding SFF works and popular culture.

As I continue my most recent read-through, I continue to pick up on new threads. Read below and see if you spot any scifi tech that’s become somewhat ubiquitous.

Ah-ha – plasteel! I know I’ve seenthis onebefore.

Much like the hypospray, plasteel is apparently a real thing. Perhaps because of its evocative and cool-sounding name it’s been adopted in all sorts of media ever since appearing in…Dune? (Update: Note, see below).

I’ve been unable to find much information about plasteel online, but it was apparently patented by an auto manufacturer in 1973. Likely the material and name were established or in the works for years prior, but Dune‘s 1965 employ of the word predates the patent. Very cool.

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Update: Thanks to my esteemed readers, who in the comments section point out some earlier spottings of “plasteel.”

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It’s still possible that Dune played a part in the popularization of the word, but doesn’t appear to be the originator.

-Bushi

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A new little bushi

I’ve been leaning heavily on Gita recently for blog content, for a couple of different reasons. First off, I was preparing to sit for the CompTIA Security+ exam, a foundational IT security certification. God is good – I passed. Whether or not I can actually do anything with it…

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Second, I was preparing for the arrival of my firstborn. Again, God is good.

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Little Bushi arrived last week. Aside from a couple of (hopefully minor) concerns, mother and offspring are doing well. I am adapting to life without sleep.

I’ve been rereading Dune lately in little bits, because it’s one of my favorite books and I’ve read it enough times that it doesn’t take much effort on my part anymore. Suddenly thrust into the role of fatherhood, the dynamic between Leto and Paul has felt fuller and even more poingant to me. Not really looking forward to the bit about Paul’s son (though thankfully that part isn’t that well fleshed-out).

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-Bushi

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Dawn

Part 1 (Lair)

Part 2 (Vale)

 

The next morning Simeon rose before the sun and was at the base of Oyama as ruby light began to flood the tree-spotted, carpeted green edge of the vale. Finding easily the hunting trail his visitor had spoken of, he dropped his pack and, stashing the reed in the sash of his kimono, proceeded up the mountainside. It wasn’t long before he spotted a yawning gash in the rock face.

Well that Heaven had sent him help, he thought to himself, for Sogo’s tracks had abruptly tapered off and vanished some time ago. He might never have found the monk here.

He saw no sign that the cavern was inhabited, but this meant little. Drawing forth his longblade, Simeon called out fiercely. “Sogo the Bonze! I am Simeon Ukon Omura, come in the name of the King Peter! Come out and face justice!”

The only reply from within the stone mouth was the menacing echo of his exhortation. Still he remained where he stood, sword ready.

“I will enter presently and collect you if necessary, monk! But it will be said that Sogo died a coward, willing only to face old, unarmed priests!”

Simeon began to pace slowly toward the cave entrance when he heard the scuffling of sandals on gravel within. Then the monk emerged, drawing out of the shadow and into the faint coppery glow of the nascent daylight. He was a tall man, his head cleanly shaven and his face sharp and cruel. He wore the customary black over white robes of a shinto monk. In his right hand he hefted a long polearm. The fearful, crescent dagger-length blade of the naginata shimmered even in the dimness of the morning, and Simeon could tell that it was sharp and deadly.

His other hand clutched a curious white orb, lustrous and brilliant as a pearl, but large as a melon. This puzzled the warrior, but there was no time to ponder its nature.

“Nothing will be said of Sogo’s death,” the monk answered hotly. “For it will be Simeon Ukon Omura who dies here!” Crying out wildly, he charged down the short rocky slope to meet the warrior.

Simeon’s first thought was that this monk was a fool indeed, to wield a naginata with one hand in a reckless charge on an opponent. But rather than stand against the assault and deliver what should be a simple and fatal parry, instep, and counterblow, he heeded an instinctual call for caution, and instead gave ground and attempted to block and sidestep the attack. The strength of the blow from above nearly dropped him to his knees, however.

With astonishing speed, Sogo whipped the polearm back up and brought its blade back and twirling sideways to Simeon’s left. The warrior’s arms cried out in pain as he blocked the assault, and his teeth chattered from the impact of the attack . He scrambled further back down the rocks, barely keeping his footing.

There was something inhuman and vulpine about the monk’s face, and Simeon remembered the words of his helper.

Fending off another attack both strong and quick as lightning, he cried out in fury. “I bid you be gone, spirit, in the name of the White Christ Jesu! Do not interfere!” He quickly pulled at this kimono to reveal the small crucifix at his breast.

Sogo, or whatever had taken on his shape, staggered backwards as if physically struck, his onslaught halted. He scowled, hesitating, but then sneered menacingly. “Curios and words! You lack the power to stop me.” He started forward again to renew his attack.

Before he could bring the powerful bladed hook to bear, however, Simeon had hastily withdrawn the bamboo whistle and put it to his lips. Rather than the shrill piping he had expected, a terrible baying thunder exploded forth from the small reed. The burst of sound was as the rallying cry of some devil hound, calling pack and master to the hunt.

Sogo’s eyes grew impossibly wide in horror and surprise, his face pale and drawn. For a heartbeat his head was that of a great fox. Seven spectral tails flickered behind him as wisps of dim blue smoke and disappeared, and suddenly the shining, milky orb was gone from his left hand. The monk fell to his knees with a whimper, and Simeon knew the spirit had fled.

Simeon circled his stunned opponent slowly, positioning himself now on equally elevated ground. “It’s over. Surrender now and you may die with honor,” he urged.

The monk raised his face, now somehow flatter and less aggressively shaped, and met Simeon’s eyes. The bonze’s gaze burned with a cold intensity and a hate that chilled the samurai’s blood. Leaning on his naginata, he slowly lifted one leg, shifting into a position of genuflexion. “Honor!” he spat. “What know you of honor?”

He continued to pull himself up off the ground, and Simeon allowed him to do so.

“You and your king – you welcome foreigners to rape your lands and write your destiny. You displace the old gods of Nippon for that of the Christians. And you disgrace the memory of your ancestors.”

He stood, brandishing his polearm with both hands. The warrior-monk was tall and perhaps once strong, but now looked only wan and wrung of his vitality. Still, his eyes were bright and dangerous.

“We each write our own destiny,” Simeon replied, raising his blade. “Sometimes in blood, as you did in Tenkawa.”

Sogo answered with a downward, hooking thrust of his blade, aimed at the samurai’s right leg. The attack was easily deflected, the monk’s strength and speed now no match for Simeon’s. Patiently the samurai batted away several more blows, exercising the caution of a seasoned duelist. Although Simeon was obviously the more skilled fighter, he recognized a certain cunning in the way the monk aimed his attacks and controlled the speed and force of his blows, and realized that a premature counterstrike would mean his death.

Several more times the monk buffeted at the unbreakable fortress of steel, leaving false openings that the swordsman recognized as cleverly baited traps.

Then the long, curved pole of the naginata slipped from the grip of Sogo’s right hand, and he loudly sucked air as if in surprise and dismay. Instantly Simeon saw his antagonist’s mind. With savage speed he smacked aside the polearm and stepped into the monk’s inner circle. Sogo had pulled forth a knife from his sash to greet the samurai, but Simeon was quicker and his tanto of greater reach. Before the bonze could sufficiently raise his hidden attack, Simeon’s short blade was sheathed in his chest.

For the second and final time, the monk slumped to the ground, the knife and naginata both falling from his hands and clattering onto the gravel of the mountainside. The samurai swiftly withdrew the blade and grabbed at the dying man’s shoulder to slow his collapse. Lying on the rocky mount, the emptying of his lifeblood draining his face of what little color it still possessed, Sogo stared up at the red brilliance of the fiery dawning sky. His eyes were no longer filled with hate, but with fear.

“We will always remember the old ways,” Simeon whispered, looking down gravely at his vanquished foe. “But their time has passed.”

Neither Simeon nor Sogo the Bonze spoke further. The samurai remained with him until he expired, and then erected a humble mound of stones and said a short prayer. Simeon was content that justice had been served, and yet he felt no gladness. Only pity.

And so he departed Mt. Azami and began his journey back to the capital. There was much to report to the king.

-Bushi

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