Carr, Patrick W.: A Cast of Stones (The Staff and the Sword I) (2013)

A Cast of Stones, Bethany House Publishers, 2013
I think A Cast of Stones fits the Harry Potter age range. Patrick W. Carr’s writing is technically excellent. The story is well-edited and the text flows from sentence to sentence. As far as plots go, A Cast of Stones is stereotypical epic fantasy and much of it reminds me of other stories. Readers should be able to tell how the trilogy will end after finishing A Cast of Stones. At times Carr fell for the temptation to moralize. In spite of this, I recommend it for readers who need clear HEROs. Errol is definitely that, although he does not start as one.

Cruk grunted and grimaced his imitation of a smile. “The boy’s got the right of it. He is pretty useless.”

Errol nodded with satisfaction. “See?” (p.103)

That uselessness is due, for the most part, to his alcoholism. A few years earlier, when he was 14 years old, Errol experienced something traumatic enough to drive him to drink. Being an orphan made it easier to go down that road. Because he is our HERO, we know he must find his way to a heroic personality. One of his tools for staying away from alcohol is fighting with a staff.

The only person who remains as he was at the beginning is Liam.

“We’re all the same,” Liam said. “I just concentrate and try really hard at everything. Anyone can do it if they just try hard enough.”

Errol stared. Did Liam really believe that?

“Now,” Liam said, “recite the vowels and consonants.”

He really did. (116)

Liam does most things by working hard and by having a heap-load of talent. In spite of being near-perfect, Errol admires him. And so does every other person Liam meets. Especially women. But Liam is not affected by this adoration and seems not to notice it.

Errol and Liam are joined by Martin, Luis and Crux. All three have secrets they hide from the “boys” (19 years old) and pasts they need to pick up again. Martin and Luis are meddlers and Crux a protector. He is also a tough teacher to Errol who lacks most “civilized knowledge”.

‘Cruk’s eyes narrowed. “You’ll have to learn on the way. I’ll teach you. First lesson, don’t ever annoy your teacher.”‘ (p.82)

At times, the methods employed by meddling Martin and Luis are highly questionable. They,  appear to believe that “the ends justify the means”. For churchmen and believers, they do not have much faith. In fact, that could probably be said of most of the church people we meet in this trilogy. Faith in their deity’s power is low.

The religion we learn about in A Cast of Stones is similar to the Roman-Catholic faith. Three-in-one godhead, celibate priesthood, rituals and hierarchies are close to identical to the RC church. Except for the magic bit that its Readers employ. Any magic but Reader-magic is forbidden and magic-users are usually killed. Rulers inherit their power but each ruler is invested with his (yes, his) powers. The old King has no heirs, which is why a new one must be found. Errol and Liam play an important role in picking the new ruler. No wonder people want to stop them.

One of the people who tries to hinder Errol from fulfilling his heroic destiny is Abbot Morin. He also believes that “the end justifies the means”. Some of those means carry a high price for both Errol and himself.


Reviews:


Cast of Stones is currently free at Kindle

Art based on “The Luggage” @Terry Pratchett

My blogs terrypratchettandme and zanegreyandme are what often happens when an Aspie has an interest. We immerse ourselves and want to share. This collage is an example of that immersion. The Luggage is a great writing tool whose antics I have enjoyed immensely.

Terry Pratchett and me

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Brin, David; Kiln People (2002)

Racism is a huge part of the short lives of the dittos in Kiln People. Dittos are clones, made of nano-clay, who live only 24 hours. Nano-clay’s sensory system can be hyper-sensitive or practically non-existent. A ditto may be forced to do anything you ever imagined doing or have done to you. At least if you have enough money. Your consciousness is copied onto their clay-flesh. Any time up until 24 hours after birth, all memories can be copied back into you again. Dittos are programmed for obedience and varying degrees of independent thinking. Some owners, like Albert Morris, are fairly decent. Others are shitty as hell.

“… I figure if you make a creature, you’re responsible for it. That ditto wanted to matter. He fought like hell to continue. And now he’s part of me, like several hundred others that made it home for inloading, ever since the first time I used a kiln, at sixteen.”

“… The copier sifts your organic brain to engrave the Standing Wave onto a fresh template made of special clay, ripening in the kiln. Soon a new ditto departs into the world to perform errands while you have breakfast. No need even to tell it what to do.

It already knows.

It’s you.”

The color the ditto equals its value and abilities. Orange dittos are  cheapest and used for manual labor that does not require much thinking or sensing. Platinum dittos are the most expensive, and only people like Kaolin can afford them. On this case, Albert can afford an ebony one. Ebony dittos have processing abilities that are far ahead of Albert’s. Greys are the ones Albert sends out to represent him. He uses green dittos to do the dirty work a detective sometimes needs to do. Sensory input is lower for greens but processing is probably about the same as for its archie/rig/owner.

Dittos are at the bottom of the social ladder. Instant destruction follows if they harm a “real” human. A flesh and blood human can do anything to a ditto they meet. At most they will be fined. Dittos are made to fight each other to the death, to be sex-slaves, to dig in the mines or to be substitute private detectives. Their clothes are paper. Albert Morris is a private detective with two missions in life. One is to reveal the identity of Beta. Beta and Albert have a long history of killing each other (their dittos), and Albert really wants to know who is behind his arch-nemesis. Albert’s other mission is to be as good a private detective as possible.

In this future world, where we get to lay any ethical pretensions on the shelf, being a private detective seems unnecessary. But there is always a need for diggers into people’s lives. In this future, wealth buys you out of trouble as easily as it does now.

“Ugh. What put me in this mood? Could it be Ritu’s news? A reminder that real death still lurks for us all?

Well, shrug it off! Life’s still the same as it was in the old days.

Sometimes you’re the grasshopper.

Sometimes you are the ant.”

Albert gets hired by stinking rich Aeneas Kaolin, co-inventor of dittos and owner of Universal Kilns, to look into the disappearance of Kaolin’s long-time friend, Yosil Maharal. Maharal turns up dead in what seems to be a car accident. Albert wonders if it might be something more.

One thing I really liked about Brin’s writing style was how he told the stories of Albert’s dittos in Albert’s voice. There were four Alberts at the same time. None of them knew what was going on with any of the others because they had not been able to get in touch with each other. The green one had turned into a Frankie. I liked its independent streak. Its ability to disobey.

Brin’s world-building happened through the eyes and ears of the various Alberts. What they learned, we learned. I would not have wanted to live in such a society. I find ours challenging enough. It was an interesting society, though, and one I think most people would embrace. No room for Aspies though. Genetic tinkering had become common enough that our worst ailments were eradicated. That, I wouldn’t mind if we had. Much of Kiln People‘s society did not make sense. Population control is one. Why so many people? At least the fanatics were pretty the same as always.

Towards the end, I felt preached at. I don’t mind crazy men’s ranting, but this felt more like Brin was trying to get a message across. A lost cause in me.

“Albert? Is that you in there?”Illusion or not, I couldn’t refuse her anything. Though lacking a body – or any other means to make sound – I somehow gathered strength to mouth four words.

“… just … a … fax … ma’am …”

Plenty of action, no romance, social commentary, humor, some preaching. Recommended.


Reviews:


Translations:

  • Audible: Read by Andy Caploe; Brilliance Audio, 2016
  • Bulgarian: Килн хора; Translated by Венцислав Божилов; Бард, 2002; Goodreads
  • English (British): Kil’n People; London, Orbit, 2002; Review
  • French: Le Peuple d’argile; Translated by Thierry Arson; Presses de la Cité, 2004; Review
  • German: Copy; Translated by Andreas Brandhorst; Heyne, 2005
  • Hebrew:  אנשי הכבשן; Translated by Ṿered Ṭokhṭerman; מודן הוצאה לאור, 2004; Review
  • Hungarian: Dettó; Translated by Haklik Norbert; Budapest, Metropolis Media, 2009; Reviews
  • Japanese: キルン・ピープル; Translated by 酒井昭伸 (Sakai Akinobu);  ハヤカワ文庫 (Hayakawa bunko) SF1628, 2007; Cover art: 加藤直之 (Katou Naoyuki); Review
  • Russian: Глина; Translated by С. Самуйлов; АСТ: Люкс, 2005 г; Cover art: SharksDen и Д. Бернса; Reviews
  • Spanish: Gente de Barro; Translated by Rafael Marín Trechera; Nova, 2003; Review

Betty Zane (Ohio River I) (1903)

I have a blog called “Zane Grey and me”. This is my review of the first book he wrote, “Betty Zane”. Betty Zane is one of Grey’s ancestors and also the heroine of this historical novel. It does not pretend to be unbiased or historically correct, but Zane has tried to make it as correct as his white male privilege allows.

Zane Grey and me

Heroism of Miss Elizabeth Zane, 1851 Popular Graphic Arts; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-2355

Charles Francis Press, New York, 1903

Parents’ Magazine Press, 1947

In this busy progressive age there are no heroes of the kind so dear to all lovers of chivalry and romance. There are heroes, perhaps, but they are the patient sad-faced kind, of whom few take cognizance as they hurry onward. But cannot we all remember some one who suffered greatly, who accomplished great deeds, who died on the battlefield–some one around whose name lingers a halo of glory? Few of us are so unfortunate that we cannot look backward on kith or kin and thrill with love and reverence as we dream of an act of heroism or martyrdom which rings down the annals of time like the melody of the huntsman’s horn, as it peals out on a frosty October morn purer and sweeter with each succeeding…

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To diverse or not to diverse your writing

While looking for something completely different, I came upon this wonderful video by the author Francina Simone. It is called “Diversity isn’t about adding POC or LGBT”. If you are sensitive to a “fuck” or two, be warned.

By the way. I ordered Francina Simone book. She lives what she preaches.

Charish, Kristi; Owl and the Japanese Circus (2015)

The world of Owl and the Japanese Circus, by Kristi Charish, is dominated by antique thief extraordinaire, Owl, previously known as Alix Hiboux. Alix’s transformation from archaeology grad student to thief is in part a result of one of the laws we get to know in this urban fantasy. The International Archaeological Association (IAA) operates outside the law of the land in certain cases. Not all archaeological discoveries can be shared with the public. Also, the IAA takes care of their people in the know. Unfortunately for Alix, she fell victim to one such person.

“In exchange for saying, “No, I was wrong, none of the data in that report was falsified, the postdoc and supervisor still remain god apparent, I’m a bad grad student,” I had been verbally promised funding for the next four years and a coveted transfer to the lost city dig site in Ephesus, Turkey. Right after I had signed the paperwork that had legally absolved the university and my supervisor of any wrongdoing, all my funding had been terminated and my transfer had disappeared.”

All of a sudden, Alix was persona non grata in academia. Her reputation was ruined, and she needed to make a living. Turning thief was a matter of getting back at her old university and utilizing her outstanding understanding of the authenticity of antiques and antique languages. She chose her clients carefully (she thought), made sure they never met face-to-face, and paid a courier well to deliver the orders. All went well. Owl made loads of money. And then – poof – vampires. Once the lid is off Pandora’s box, there is no putting the monsters back. When we meet her, Owl is on the run from said vampires.

“I turned around slowly and looked up at the tallest Japanese man I’d ever seen, wearing a pair of designer sunglasses. He wore a tailored suit with diamond cuff links – real diamond cuff links – and matching shoes, but that wasn’t what got the kid. A tattoo of a dragon wound its way around his neck and disappearing underneath his shirt. It was striking, and a stark contrast to the expensive outfit. It was also a signature.”

One does not refuse Mr. Ryuu Kurusawa. Owl has done jobs for him before but never met him or his people.  That is about to change.

“Ryuu Kurosawa, a Vegas mogul known for his Japanese Circus-themed casino, looked up from a white couch and smiled that business smile you come to expect from professional sharks. Not the ones that take your money, the ones that eat you while you’re still screaming.”

In return for retrieving the missing contents of a magical egg, Mr. Kurosawa will hold off the vampires. Or else.

Like most humans I have met, Owl is incredibly inconsistent and willfully blind to her own fears. And, as is the case when we are willfully blind, she does not learn from her mistakes. Even though she now knows that there are supernaturals, she never spots them. For one so focused on the details of archaeology, Owl misses the details of people around her. This leaves her with room for growth.  Quite naturally, she also has huge trust issues. Along with those come a tendency to self-sabotage anything that might lead to friendship. Her tools are language and running away. However, there is some hope.

“You made me nervous the last time I was here. I didn’t know what to make of it, and personal conversations make me uncomfortable, so I did something stupid and decided to avoid you.” I ran my hand through my hair. “I’m a hell of a lot better with inconsequential conversations about vampires and RPGs,” I added, hazarding a look at him. He was still watching me and sizing me up from the doorway. Then he walked back to the outdoor bar and took the seat beside me. “All right,” he said. “We can go back to talking about RPGs and my vampire problems?” I said, maybe a little too hopefully. “No. We can have the conversation you didn’t want to have three months ago, and then I’ll decide whether I still want to be friends with you.”

One relationship Owl would never dream of sabotaging is her relationship with her Egyptian Mau cat, Captain. He goes with her everywhere. At first, I thought that would be a problem because of all of her traveling and her line of work. After a look at the various cat carriers out there, traveling was no longer an issue. When it comes to her line of work, Captain is a potential liability. Traveling with a cat in a carrier makes it easier to be spotted once that detail leaks. However, he is also a vampire alarm. Plus she loves him and he gives her balance.

Owl’s best, and oldest, friend is Nadya. The two met while at grad school. About six months before trouble hit Alix, Nadya suspected something nasty was going on and left for Tokyo. She advised Alix to do the same, but as we know, Alix ended up as Owl. Nadya is extremely smart and business savvy. She lives in the Shiyuba (sp?) district of Tokyo, owns a night club called the Space Station Deluxe and is Alix’s go-to-person when there is need of hacking.

Owl and the Japanese Circus was a fun YA urban fantasy with long-term potential. Definitely recommended.


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Available at Amazon

The Purina Diet

Artist: Dan Collins
Artist: Dan Collins

Yesterday I was buying a large bag of Purina dog chow for Athena the wonder dog at Wal-Mart and was about to check out. A woman behind me asked if I had a dog. What did she think I had, an elephant? So since I’m retired, with little to do, on impulse, I told her that no, I didn’t have a dog, and that I was starting the Purina Diet again.

Although I probably shouldn’t, because I’d ended up in the hospital last time, but that I’d lost 50 pounds before I awakened in an intensive care ward with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IVs in both arms.

I told her that it was essentially a perfect diet and that the way that it works is to load your pants pockets with Purina nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry and that the food is nutritionally complete so I was going to try it again. (I have to mention here that practically everyone in the line was by now enthralled with my story.)

Horrified , she asked if I ended up in intensive care because the dog food poisoned me. I told her no; I stepped off a curb to sniff an Irish Setter’s ass and a car hit us both.

I thought the guy behind her was going to have a heart attack, he was laughing so hard!

WAL-MART won’t let me shop there anymore.

I cannot trace this joke back further than 2008 when it was sent as email to Chris Pietschmann.

Use public libraries

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