Book Review: Terrors of Pangaea

Terrors of Pangaea (2020) – by John C. Wright

Series: Lost on the Last Continent (1)

Genre: Science Fiction – Time Travel

Publisher: Theogony Books

292 Pages

$4.99 (e-book) – $15.24 (paperback)

Rating: 4/5

Preston Lost is a fighter pilot who one day chases a UFO into a weird portal. There are no explanations beyond this; no biographical backgrounds, no motivations. Just action, constant action, so much action that you will need to take breaks during your reading sessions. Just like Preston you will be bewildered with the weird creatures you encounter, but there is no time to try to understand why the sun is larger in the sky or why there are dinosaurs or talking simians or weird men in this place, because Preston is too busy not trying to be killed by practically every creature or being he encounters. Even the water is deadly.

This is pure, undistilled pulp action, with a main character who does not shrink from danger, cower before more powerful enemies, or despair at his plight. The book is wonderfully written, with laconic yet lyrical prose. The setting is huge, dangerous, and wondrous all at the same time. I would have liked just a bit more insight into this crazy world, but I certainly want to read on.

Buckeye Trail Journal – Gates Mills

Buckeye Trail section: Bedford points 16-17.5

8.3 miles

April 30, 2023

The forecast didn’t look good to fit this BT road section in, but somehow I was able to get it done before I got too soaked. 🌧

This time I traveled through Gates Mills, a tiny tony village on the Chagrin River. Next up: North Chagrin Reservation!

Book Review: The Deep Man

The Deep Man (2022) – by Michael Mersault

Genre: Science Fiction – Space Opera/Military

Publisher: Baen

338 Pages

$6.99 (e-book) – $9.99 (MM paperback) – $16.00 (paperback)

Rating: 5/5

This was an incredible book.

The story takes place in a far-future empire long accustomed to peace. Saef Sinclair-Maru is a newly-minted captain in the Imperial Fleet. He is a prodigy of a famous but now downtrodden Family (think of them as factions) that emphasizes honor and preparation for war in a time in which those qualities are not needed.

The social structure of the empire was rather interesting, in that it divided its population into two categories: the demi-cits, which have no political power or freedom but have their needs completely taken care of, or the vested citizen, which have a say in the government and the freedom to choose their path in life, but no safety net if they fail. And people in the empire may freely choose to change their status from demi-cit to vested and vice versa. It was a twist I hadn’t quite seen before, and while this isn’t a major plot point (at least in this book), it makes an interesting dynamic.

The characters were uniformly compelling. There’s lots of them, which in many stories tends to lead to bland character arcs, but not here. Even the side characters, from Saef’s bumbling fop friend to a newly minted vested citizen on his first cruise, are given time to shine. Mersault did a masterful job making me care for each character. Inga, Saef’s protector (via overt and covert methods), would be a compelling main character in her own right*. And the ship’s AI steals every scene it’s in – to say any more would ruin your enjoyment.

The Deep Man somehow fits all this meaty world-building and character development into a tale of breakneck action. There’s ship battles, space marines, spy skullduggery, military politics, and other shocking events. My only regret about The Deep Man is that there isn’t another book in this series to pick up!

*Inga’s background is explored in a free short story on the Baen website (Free Stories 2022) titled “Flops”. It is also highly recommended.

Book Review: Sword and Planet

Sword and Planet (2021) – edited by Christopher Ruocchio

Genre: Anthologies – Science Fantasy (Sword and Planet)

Publisher: Baen

352 Pages

$6.99 (e-book), $16.00 (paperback), $8.99 (MM paperback)

Rating: 4/5

This enjoyable anthology of new fiction is based on, as you might expect given the title, the “sword and planet” sub-genre of science fiction. Or, to be more specific, adventure fantasy set in space or on other planets. Think Burrough’s John Carter of Mars or Brackett’s Eric John Stark.

The two standouts to me were:

“Queen Amid Ashes” (by editor Christopher Ruocchio) – I think is some of Ruocchio’s best writing in the entire Sun Eater series. The plot is very simple, yet it leaves its mark on you long afterwards. It’s both a great introduction to the main themes of the series to newcomers (plus, as it’s told from Hadrian’s POV, it reads like a main series novel) and also a deepening of them for returning readers, knowing what comes later in the series.

“A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Nakh-Maru” (Jessica Cluess) – I think this story, of all the others in the anthology, best captured the adventurous feel of sword and planet: non-stop action, larger than life characters, and cool set pieces. It was a blast to read.

Other highlights:

“A Murder of Knights” (Tim Akers)
“Power and Prestige” (D.J. Butler)
“Saving the Emperor” (Simon R. Green)
“Chronicler of the Titan’s Heart” (Anthony Martezi)
“A Knight Luminary” (R.R. Virdi)
“The Test” (T.C. McCarthy)

Freshman Rhetoric (1913) – John Rothwell Slater

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During the COVID lockdown, when I was stuck at home, I found myself trawling the Internet Archive for old public domain books to read. I’m still astounded at the fact that there are complete libraries of books available at a moment’s notice on the Internet, so when I have a spare hour or three I’ll sometimes search for obscure books that wouldn’t normally be available.

This particular time I searched for books of rhetoric; my intention was to find books by Ancient Romans, but as these searches tend to do, I ended up looking at something completely different: old college Rhetoric textbooks. Back in 1910s, what we call Communications courses today used to be called Rhetoric courses. And after skimming a few uninteresting books, I happened upon Freshman Rhetoric, written by John Rothwell Slater in 1913. As you can surmise by the title, the textbook was to be used in freshmen rhetoric courses, covering topics such as writing short papers, using the college library, public speaking, debating, and other related topics. What set this book apart from the others I had browsed was the clarity and quality of the prose.

But reading a book on a screen isn’t something I like to do for long period of time, and so I looked to see if there was an e-book version. As it turns out, the Internet Archive has one, but it’s just an optical scan, and there are (to my knowledge) no edited versions out there. And the optical are not pleasant to read, to say the least. Here’s some examples of what the optical scan looks like in comparison with the print version.

It’s somewhat readable in places, but it completely falls apart if there’s any kind of tables and text not in normal paragraphs. And so I decided to try to edit the file in Calibre (a free e-book organizer) so that the e-book version resembled the physical book as much as possible. After all, I had some experience with HTML coding, how hard can it be? As it turned out, very difficult, especially for a textbook that has a lot of different types of formatting. The initial proofread took about a month to complete, and by the time was finished I needed to go through it again to implement at the beginning of the book what I had learned by the time I had finished it.

Here’s what edited e-book looks like in comparison with the physical scan:

I finished the first pass of the transaction in 2021, and put the finishing touches on this year (2022). The book has a couple of rough edges, especially in some formatting areas, but I think it’s good enough to release into the wild. Enjoy!

Trail Journal

Trail: Ohio and Erie Towpath Trail

Trailhead: Canal Fulton, Ohio

Miles: 2

Date: February 20, 2022

Some weather background to these unique scenes: A couple days ago we got 1.5 inches of rain, which melted the 12+ inches of snow that was on the ground. Needless to say, a lot of the local streams overflowed their banks, including the Tuscarawas River. And then yesterday, the temperatures fell precipitately, so all that water froze quickly.

I got about a mile onto the trail before running into impassible water, but not before seeing a number of wondrous sights. Water that had flash-froze while still flowing. Thin sheets of ice seemingly levitated above the riverbank. Miniature icicles dangling from low-hanging tree branches.

I was lucky to show up when I did, because the temperature was rising quickly just as I was leaving. When I pulled into the Olde Muskingum trailhead (the park I normally park at was completely flooded), it was a bitter 25 degrees, but when I left it had already surpassed 40 degrees. No doubt many of those delicate ice formations have already melted away.

These paper-thin ice sheets were seemingly levitating above the riverbank
miniature icicles hanging from tree branches
The normal riverbank was between those trees
where I usually park was under water
I couldn’t go any further

Happy New Year!

Should past horizons be forgot

And never brought to mind?

Nay, such a sight can’t be forgot

When etched upon your mind.

When wand’ring ‘bout the hillsides

With thorns and vines without end,

You ne’er think bout those memories

But what’s next around the bend!

For always will there be some mud

And perhaps a bug or two,

But those recede in memory’s eye

Next to wonders old and new.

On Distractions

I’m working on transcribing/editing an old college rhetoric (communications in today’s parlance) textbook from 1913, and came across this strangely relevant passage on how to study (highlighted):

As mentioned in the next sentence, the admonition was against sitting at a window facing the street, where various people or motorcars or horses would be passing by, which would serve as distractions. But the advice is very relevant to today’s student with nearby screens (dazzling points of light) providing a tempting escape from the work in from of him or her.

I’ll have more from this gem of a book in the coming weeks.

A welcome interruption

On a beautiful fall afternoon, I was outside power-washing my driveway. The power washer is a rather noisy piece of equipment, but somehow I managed to hear a faint scrabbling above me (perhaps it was both the noise itself as well as the odd direction from which it came). I look up and saw this:

Now before you get some notion of me being some magical animal magnet, know that I’ve been feeding blue jays every morning outside my front door for the past few years. However, I won’t usually toss them anything when I’m in the back yard working, especially at that time of the day. And when I do, the blue jays will always remain high in the trees or on the power lines, well away from me. But this particular blue jay not only recognized me as the peanut dispenser, but worked up the courage to get that close. Perhaps he been trying to get my attention, but thanks to the loud power washer wasn’t having any success, so a more drastic measure would need to be attempted.

Given that I was able to snag this picture of him, the blue jay was not skittish at all. In fact, as I turned my attention to him, he became more courageous, dropping down from the top of the backboard to the top of the support pole:

I can’t quite reach up and touch of the top of the pole, but I could get close; that’s how near he was to me. Of course I rewarded this courage, and tossed him a peanut (yes, I always carry some with me).

He flew away to a neighbor’s yard, where after some extension planning, buried the peanut in the lawn and placed a leaf over it to make sure no one else would find. Then, seeing me still there, flew back for more:

I wasn’t able to capture him burying the peanut on video, but here’s a series of pictures that takes you through the process. First, he hops around until he finds a good spot….

Then he shoves the peanut into the ground (this may take a couple of attempts)…

…and then he’ll take a nearby leaf and cover the treasure trove so that nobody else will be able to find it. Given that he knows by now I won’t take back the peanut for myself, he’s gotten comfortable enough to bury it within viewing distance.

The process repeated itself at least five or six times, then he finally ate the peanut. Then, alas, the welcome interruption was over, and I had to get back to power washing.