Three Video Games, Old and New

I am a mediocre kind of guy. Always have been. In certain contexts I am outstanding, and in others I am irretrievably lame. But overall, I think, I’m middle-of-the-pack and holding steady. No complaints.

I try to keep up with things, but I don’t try very hard, and sometimes keeping up with things just means paying attention. My point is, this might be old news for you, but for me it’s all very exciting. I’m talking about Pit Droids and Grand Theft Auto 3 and Microsoft Flight.

I had a copy of Pit Droids for my PC a few years after it came out in 2000, and when I saw

This is a "medium difficulty" level.

it was available in the iPad, I jumped on it with alacrity. I had played all the way through it before, but you know how it is with a good game—reply value is a key element.

But honestly, the reason I snatched it up was for the soundtrack. Back when I first had the game, I used some other program to capture the soundtrack off of my sound card just so I could listen to the songs on my MP3 player. It’s a kind of fun bouncy jazz, with some electronic elements, nods to the Star Wars motion picture soundtracks, all very modern and a bit nostalgic at the same time.

And I am happy report that all of the songs are on the iPad version as well. I am unhappy to report, however, that despite some intensive Googling, I still don’t know for sure who composed the music for the game, or if he/she has done any solo work.

Playing old video games is a kind of tourism.

Also new to me, but old in general, is Grand Theft Auto 3 on the iPad. I admit I was reluctant at first to pick this one up, as I didn’t expect to have much agility with the touch controls in place of a joystick. But once again it was the soundtrack I was mostly interested in. Back in 1992 when I played the game on my Playstation 2, I would sometimes turn it on just to listen to the radios in the cars.

Now, I know one can buy these soundtracks outside of the game. But the game itself is still fun to play—and turns out the controls are not so bad. Every once in a while my steering thumb floats and I turn left instead of right. And the shooting can be a bit frustrating. But despite these challenges, I’m finding the game as immersive as I did ten years ago.

A Boeing PT-17 Stearman biplane. Flew it.

Finally, very new is Microsoft Flight, an update to their age-old Flight Simulator game for the PC. And by “update,” I mean they’re offering this new version for free, with the option to purchase extra downloadable content. Six months ago when I got wind of this one I knew I had to have it—I was so eager, I went to the download page the night before it was supposed to be due, and was rewarded with the opportunity to grab it. Lost some sleep that night.

Who knows? Maybe in 10 years, MS Flight will be in available for the KindlePlayPad or whatever and I’ll write you another middle-of-the-road rave about it.

Internecine- review on Goodreads

InternecineInternecine by David J. Schow

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In his novel Internecine, David J. Schow uses the word “internecine” a few times, and even has his narrator suggest one “look it up.” Personally, I can’t stand it when writers start a piece with a dictionary definition (my brother-in-law says I have a problem with authority, and he’s right– I denounce any authority the dictionary has been given by the sheep-like masses (what Internecine‘s narrator would call “the walking dead”)) and while this novel doesn’t explicitly do that, it might has well have, amiright?

This is, indeed, the story of one man’s struggle against some kind of organization, an innocent caught up in a spy-vs-spy plot more complicated than this analogy is attempting to be. It’s the second book I’ve read in the last few weeks where the main character is dragged along a whirlwind plot that barely gives him time to rest. The kind of thing we too-readily accept and even expect in our action-thriller movies. I’m making assumptions, of course, but I got to believe these guys are writing novels they hope will be easily rewritten for the screen.

Which is a not a bad thing, necessarily, although I am complaining about it. Juxtaposed with this break-neck pacing–couched in terms of man in over his head– are almost countless lectures about how the world works. How Hollywood, Madison Avenue, Politics, Espionage, and Day-to-Day Drudgery all work. You see the contradiction there? It’s almost hypocritical.

Yeah, it’s all explained in the end, via a neat little “Afterword” that seeks to justify the narrator’s voice. I think I would have enjoyed the book more– or cut it more slack, anyway– if I had read that section first.

I’ll say this for Schow, though, his prose style is just fine– slick, tight, compelling. And although I am complaining about the non-stop action, at least he knows how to make it beleivable. He can thank the movies for that, somewhat, in as much as I’ve learned to suspend my disbeleif and allow for a few super-human acts of parkour/marksmanship/strategizing/luck. You know what I mean. Leaping over a table to kick the first bad guy into the second bad guy so he shoots the third bad guy.

Folks who love deep-spy type books won’t like this one too much, as it’s got more gunplay that plot. But folks who love run-n-gun style shoot ’em ups won’t like this book either, as what plot it does have is nearly serpentine. So who will like this book? Folks who like to read movies, I guess.

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Calculation, from Latin, Calx, Meaning Small Stone

fiction by Jason Edwards

The sound of a car driving on wet pavement a few block away, a few hours after it rained for a few minutes. November, probably. Wet leafs on the sidewalk, that’s how she always spelled them in her head, leafs. A cable knit sweater, once white and now washed grey. Forest green corduroy pants. The whisk whisk of thighs rubbing together. Skinny legs, bloated with thermal underwear. Fiery red hair a jumbled mess above, gigantic rubber-soled clogs below. What the Dutch would have worn if their wooden-shoesmiths had heard of Adidas. Thick woolen socks. No desire to go back to that house.

The smell of tobacco. Not cigarettes per se, not smoke, just tobacco. Like what pipes smell like, or cigars for people new to cigars and not so tongue-worn that stronger nasty stuff is required. What her father used to smell like. A sweet smell. Three houses ahead, on the right, a pumpkin, bright orange, fat, leering, grinning, laughing despite the hole kicked in one side. Even the best neighborhoods have hoodlums. Especially the best neighborhoods have hoodlums.

Algebra. Baby’s slept two hours at a time, ten times a day, for three weeks. That makes more sleep than she’s had in the last thirteen months. Father dies, mother stoops, go with her to church, meet a man, date a man, sleep with a man, get pregnant by a man, don’t even bother wondering where the man went. Those two blissful weeks when she knew she was pregnant and didn’t have to tell anyone, and he was there every Wednesday night.

A dog barking in the distance. Waiting for other dogs to join the howl, but it’s only afternoon, not night time, no moon, no prowlers, no ghosts. Not yet. In a few weeks the baby will be old enough to still be too young to eat leftover Halloween candy. Thump goes the feet on the porch, ding dong goes the bell, tense goes the neck not looking at the baby in the crib in the dark. Ding dong ding dong, baby doesn’t wake up, thump go the feet on the porch. She’s lucky, later, the kids threw eggs. Only eggs.

An intersection, one tree-lined street meets another, the asphalt slippery silver in confused lamps turning on too early. That overcast sky, those clouds made of last summer’s sunshine. What do you mean, you’re pregnant. Ma, it was Gideon, the one from church. That’s impossible, he seemed like such a nice man. I know. When are you due? October, probably. Probably? I haven’t been eating well, Ma. Me neither, not since your father passed.

Turn left, go several miles, her mother’s house. Turn right, go several blocks, the church. Go straight, several towns, the ocean. Turn around, the baby. Which direction to Gideon. She looks up. Hi dad. She looks down. What do I do now.

She keeps walking. If it were sunny out, she might have freckles. She’d be nowhere near a cable knit sweater. Her breasts would be small and free inside something strappy and light, freckles on her shoulders, freckles on her arms. Her breasts would not be slung into a couple of rough sacks, heavy with whatever she was supposed to eat last week when the baby kept her up all night. You’re dry, Delilah, you won’t feed, you’re not cold, why can’t you sleep? Do you take after your father? Did he ever sleep?

She walks another few blocks, the wind brushes her cheeks, plays with her hair, makes her warm and cold at the same time. On the phone at three am. Who is this. Ma, it’s me Ma, oh Ma, why won’t she sleep? What? What do I do, she won’t sleep, I’m so tired. Just leave her, you idiot. But she cries all night, what do I do. Make sure she’s safe and go to sleep. Is that? Is that what? Is that what you did with me? Good heavens. Sitting there in the dark letting the baby’s wails pulse the dial tone in and out of her ears.

Algebra. She has neighbors, she must have neighbors, there’s trash cans outside by the curb once a week, and then gone again. There’s yards that are mowed and then not mowed and them mowed again. Not every house gets egged, some of them had porch lights burning on Halloween. If baby cries for an hour and then screams for two, surely someone will hear. Someone will come, thump thump goes the feet on the porch, ding dong goes the bell, wail wail goes the baby, maybe a knock on the door, the door is ajar, the baby is found. And taken away. Yes?

The Necromancer– review on Goodreads

The Necromancer (Johannes Cabal #1)The Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’d seen this book around and shied away from it for no good reason. Don’t know why or how I overcame my initial reluctance but I’m glad I did. The Necromancer is a fun little book and I’m looking forward to reading the sequels.

The story itself, I have to say, was a bit meager. Johannes Cabal’s been given a demonic carnival so he can harvest 100 souls for Satan, all within one year’s time. We get to see him pluck a few at the beginning, but then we jump to the end when there’s only a few days and a few souls left to go. As a writer, I can sympathize with Jonathan Howard’s challenges, since getting through all of that time and all of those characters would be tough, especially in a book as light-hearted as this. But as a reader, I felt a little let-down.

Also, since I’m complaining: the narrative shifts perspective for a few moments in a few places, and I didn’t care for that much. Seems a bit inconsistent. But then, there was a lot about this book that reminded me of Terry Pratchett, and he does that sort of thing all the time. So maybe I should cut Howard some slack. (Please note: that Pratchett comment is meant as high praise.)

Despite these complaints, like I said, I did enjoy the book, and if we’re proclaiming who’s got talent, Howard does in spades. I enjoyed seeing Johannes deal with Hell’s gatekeeper, deal with his brother, deal with the carnival’s infernal denizans. If, towards the end, when he’s dealing with an actual nemesis, and it feels a bit “too little too late,” maybe the sequels will be better.

So three stars for the first book, and I’m going to hold the next one up to a tougher standard. Expectations!

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Puerto Rico, 2012

I’m not sure who’s idea it was originally, but somehow my wife and her best friend and the BFF’s cousin and I planned a trip to Puerto Rico. This was a much needed vacation, if only for the vitamin D we sorely miss during the winter months here in Seattle. What follows is my attempt at chronicling everything we did, based on my notes, journaling, receipts, tweets, photographs and my spotty memory. If these 2200 words are too much for you to read, here’s the short version: we ate, we drank, we gambled, we hiked, we swam, we laughed, we loved every minute of it.

Tuesday January 31st-Wednesday February 1st
Tuesday evening the wife and I hopped on a plane for an overnight flight— went through D.C., and then on the way to San Juan we had to make an emergency landing in Orlando (medical emergency— one of the passengers was having chest pains, poor guy). We finally landed by Wednesday afternoon, and took a shuttle to the car rental place. Turns out we were delayed enough so that our travel companions from Chicago were able to also take a shuttle and meet us there. We crammed our luggage and our tired bodies into a tiny red Hyundai and drove to our hotel. I only made one wrong turn getting us to our destination.

We checked into the Conrad, in the Condado section of San Juan. Puerto Rico is not an expensive place to visit, but we managed to find a very nice hotel nevertheless. And when I say “we” I mean my wife and the others did all the research and hard work. Once we were checked in, we went to our rooms—nice, big, gorgeous views of the ocean and the lagoon—then walked around looking for food. We wound up at the hotel’s Cafe Caribe, where I had paella. At least that’s what they called it. It was delicious, but not made the traditional Spanish way… but no complaints from me. I also had one of the local brews, a Medalla light.

Afterwards the old people (me and the wife) went to our room to crash, while the Chicago chickas did some gambling. I’m told they won big. Pretty girls always win big.

Thursday February 2nd
First whole day in Puerto Rico! Ah, the sunshine. After a Starbucks, (you can take the young urban professionals out of the continental United States, but you can’t take the convenient coffee addiction out of the yuppies!) we took a cab to San Felipe del Morro, an old fortress. This place was awesome. It was built back in the day (“the day” this time refers to the mid 16th century) to defend the waterways leading to the New World from the various enemies of Spain who wanted a chunk of that South American booty. We spent a few hours there, meandering around the walls, gazing out at the ocean, taking about three hundred pictures.

Afterwards we wandered through Old San Juan, a kind of quaint touristy-trap collection of streets. And please note I do not say “tourist trap” in a negative way. Me and the wife love this sort of thing. For lunch we went to El Picoteo, a tapas place located in the Hotel El Convento. This was recommended to us by a friend who had been to Puerto Rico before, and if you know the guy I’m talking about, then you know following his advice is a no-brainer: he has excellent taste. Nor were we in the least disappointed by the food and drinks (the ladies had yummy cocktails. I had multiple beers).

(A side note—I think it was about this time that a burgeoning Foursquare check-in competition began. One of the four of us, and I won’t say who but it wasn’t me, ended this vacation with something like 544 points, thanks to all the check-ins. Personally, I earned seven badges, including The Great Outdoors (2x), Swimmies, and Player Please. Another one of us got her Hot Tamale and Fresh Brew (4x) badges, amongst others. Go ahead and laugh, but we now have a pretty cool archive of where we went and what we did while we were in PR. Very nice).

Once we were done with Old San Juan, we got into a taxi—the driver apologized, first, for the smell of cigarettes in his cab (which I could not really smell). He then asked if we wouldn’t mind his stopping at a gas station to get an air freshener. We said we wouldn’t, and none of us for a second thought this was a ruse to kidnap us and ask for ransom. Not even after he almost got into a wreck, pulling into the gas station. He bought the air freshener and then drove us to our hotel, explaining that his last fare had paid him $100 to let him smoke in the cab. I’m just glad none of us smoke—we would have used up all of the casino winnings from the night before.

Next on the agenda was a planned visit to the bioluminescent bays of Las Croabas, so we piled ourselves into the tiny red Hyundai (from now on, the TRH) for the two hour drive. Stopped at McDonalds on the way. Eventually the highways led to smaller streets and cramped roadways and just when we thought we’d gone the wrong way and got lost in a rainforest, we emerged from the trees and were there.

We waited for our boat to come back from its earlier outing, chatting with a Canadian couple who were staying at a nearby resort. Finally the boat returned, and alas, Captain Jeff informed us that the luminescence  in the bay was too low to really enjoy. He was very gracious about it, refunding our money, and apologizing for our two hour drive. He did recommend to us a nearby place to eat, Ole Lelolai, so we drove there instead. I had paella again. Love me some paella.

We drove home, and I’m not sure what happened before bed. There may have been gambling, or icecream, or both.

Friday February 3rd
I got up early to get a run in, and it was magnificent. Even though it was mostly uphill, the views and just the joy of running in a new place was exhilarating. Got back in time to walk with the wife and one if the Chicagoans to the Ocean Front Hacienda for breakfast. I had a club sandwich. It was enormous.

The other Chicagoan opted to go to the pool, and once we were done eating, (since this was to be a “chillax” day) we went to join her there. Had a very expensive cocktail and got a lot of reading done. Once afternoon was approaching, and with it hunger, we decided to go into old San Juan and eat before visiting the other castillo in the city. We tried to take a bus but the driver wouldn’t take dollar bills, so we got a deal on a taxi who dropped us off the Old San Juan Food Court.

Some of us had empanadas while our vegetarian companion had a tofu wrap in next door Cafe Berlin. Let me say this about travelling with people who have a dietary restriction: they keep you from settling for just any old thing (the visit to McDonald’s yesterday doesn’t count) and you end up getting a better meal than you might have otherwise. Kudos to her for that.

We spent about as much time in  Castillo de San Cristobal, the other fortress in old San Juan, as we had in del Morro. This fortress was built once the Spanish government realized that their enemies would be more than happy to attack by land if they couldn’t by sea. Just so you know, the cost for seeing both fortresses—as many times as we wanted in seven days—was five dollars. My wife felt like this was not enough, and donated some more money to one of the restoration and upkeep boxes.

After that we wandered around Old San Juan again, because wandering around with no agenda is a rare luxury for on-the-go types like us. We stopped by Vaca Brava to get a shirt for my brother (it’s where the Hard Rock Cafe used to be), and had a few beers and cocktails and appetizers at the only craft brewery in PR,. Dinner was at a different-friend-recommended placed called Tantra. This was a place that serves Indo-Latino cuisine, which was pretty darn good, especially thanks to the two dozen martini varieties they also served.

I don’t remember how we got back to our hotel. Blame Tantra’s martinis for that. But I do remember the ladies wanted to walk to Casino del Mar for some hot gambling action. Their game was craps, and I could have written “some hot craps action” but that just doesn’t sound right. While they rolled dice, I sat in a nearby chair, reading a book and pretending to be a hug muscle-bound bodyguard for a collection of wealthy Indian princesses. We all vacation in different ways.

Saturday February 4th
This was set to be a big day out, and didn’t disappoint. Did the Starbucks thing again, and climbed into the TRH for a drive to El Yunque, the only rainforest in the U.S. Just for the sake of consistency, we stopped at the McDonald’s again on the way there. At El Yunque itself, we paid a few dollars to stop at the Portal (visitor center), to get recommendations from the guide.

Thanks to his advice, we started off by driving up to Yokahu Tower, climbing the 96 steps for the view—you could see all the way to Luquillo from up there. After that we hiked the Bano de Oro trail, about 45 minutes, not too difficult, and I wore my Vibram Five Fingers just to make it all hipster and cool.

The most fun was after we hiked to La Mina falls— the water was cold, but the pounding of the falls warmed us up, quick. There’s something nearly indescribable about wading beneath a waterfall. We were, each of us, moved by the experience.

After that we drove to Luquillo beach, and called the bio-bay people to see if the luminescence was any better, since we were in the neighborhood. But it was not to be. Me, I blame the recent solar storm and the full moon.  At Luquillo itself we got some junk food (fried and bad for us and delicious) at the nearby kioskos, then went to the beach to play in the surf for a bit, at least until it rained.

Back in San Juan, we got cleaned up, and as tired as we were, we felt we deserved margaritas. So we walked over to a cute little Mexican place for dinner called Cielito Lindo. We had many many margaritas. How many margaritas? Your mom had margaritas, that’s how many.

Afterwards, some more gambling, at the Marriott, and then back to our rooms to hang out and play cards. Eventually all the hiking and laughing and drinking got the better of us, and we snoozed.

Sunday February 5th
Started off Sunday with the a trip to the Bacardi factory for a tour (drove there in the TRH). Pretty darn cool if you ask me. Bacardi has a lot of history, and it was fun learning about where they came from and the different varieties they cask. The wife and bought a bottle of the Reserva Limitada, which you can only get there at the factory— this is a sipping rum, and almost tastes like a fine whiskey.

Lunch was at a place one of the Chicagoans found in downtown San Juan, Abracadabra. The accordion player on stage was amazing, although a bit loud, so we opted to wait for a table a little less close to the stage. Worth it. The inexpensive meal came with coffee and juice, and my croque monsieur was mucho tasty.

Back at the hotel we chilled at the pool for a bit before the Super Bowl, which we watched in the Eternal lobby lounge. We set up one of those betting pools, where folks win based on the last digit of the scores per quarter. We felt a little bit shady, since one our own won three out of the four pots. Just goes to show ya. I told you pretty girls always win.

Monday February 6th
Last day of vacation. I woke up “early” to run a three miler from our hotel up all the way to Del Morro. So glorious. The view of the water, the buildings, the churches, the castillos themselves. I would gladly go back to Puerto Rico, just to run some more.

We spent most of the morning in the pool, playing on the waterslide like little kids, but having almost more fun than on the entire trip. The wife had brought her innertube floatie, and we kept trying to find new ways to abuse the waterslide—and ourselves—with it. Two of us would hold it at the bottom of the slide, while a third person would shoot through it.

In retrospect, it seems like the most fun we had on the trip were all about water: Mina Falls, Luquillo Beach, and the waterslide. Oh, and the margaritas…

But eventually it was time to go. We got packed up, popped into old San Juan for lunch at a dive called Moreno’s Spot, and then returned the rental car. Took the shuttle to the airport, checked our bags, went to our gates. Our Chicago friends had to board first, so we said goodbye. For the record, I would gladly travel with either or both of them again, anywhere. Puerto Rico was awesome, and they made it awesomer.

Then it was our turn to get on a plane, and 11 hours later, we were home again.

One of my all-time most-favorite vacations.

No Book Review Today

You’ve heard the phrase First World Problems? That there’s no book review for you to read today is what I call a Fantasy World Problem, because only in a fantasy world is there anyone who wants to read my book reviews. They very idea that someone is disappointed today is silly. That’s not me feeling sorry for myself. I recognize that writing is often a selfish act, and so is reading, and for the most part these book reviews are for me.

And they’re not even for me to read later, they’re just denouments, an ironic attempt at maintaining book-reading momentum. I want to read 50 books this year (one per week, with allowances for a few slips). So far so good—in fact, thanks to finishing three books on vacation last week, I’m slightly ahead of schedule. For what it’s worth, right now I’m in the middle of Johannes Cabal the Necromancer and I am enjoying it quite a bit. And it’s the first in a series, which I find exciting to anticipate.

Why write any of this today then? My daily to-do list has “blog” written on it, and Mondays are for book reviews. So this is my substitute. And if, by some very meager stretch, you ARE reading this, why not drop me a line (in the comments or via email) and tell me what you’re reading and whether it’s any good.

Ten “New” Stories for You to “Read”

If you want, here are some short stories. (I stole that sentence, by the way, from Stephen King). I’ve posted them over at Rife With Typos, although a few have appeared on this blog over the past few weeks. All of these come from my daily exercise at, which is why they’re so short. But you’ll notice that I’m not publishing everything from the daily exercises—sometimes I wind up just blither blathering too much. I mean, I do have my arrogance, but I try to be at least somewhat discerning….

Anyway, enjoy.

We Accidentally Found a Trillion Dollars appeared on this blog on January 18th. I’d had the idea for this story for a while now, but when I finally got into it, I couldn’t get away from the one detail that I wound up riding all the way to the end.

But Frederick, You Died Last Week. This one is not very good, and the ending is a throw-away, but I want the darn thing done so I can move on.

The Devil Inside- A Bad Film Review. If you get nothing else from this, at least watch how I try to develop better writing technique in the “coming up with last names” department and fail miserably.

Different Rules, Same Game. Not only are these from daily exercises, a lot of them come to me while I’m at the gym running on the treadmill. This one was posted on the blog on January 26th. I was going to called it “Buzzard Beater,” but then when I got done, I couldn’t remember what I was going to call it.

Icy Drops of Water Running Down the Sides. Slightly experimental, just one paragraph, two sentences. If I may so say, this one has a writing style I use all the time, taken, maybe, way too far.

Just Another Tuesday. Published on the blog yesterday. Supposed to be evocative of Tooth and Nail was written while listening to Nightwish and Blind Guardian.

Lemon Jefferson, Stripper Pole Salesman. Not sure where this one came from. Had the phrase “stripper pole salesman” in my head, and when I sat down to write, “Lemon Jefferson” just popped in there. Then, while I was writing it, I tossed in a few gratuities, for the hell of it.

Messin’ With Texas. I really like this one, not sure why. It’s in the same style as The Most Important Person in the Restaurant, a style I might play around with some more in the future.

Mr. Luigi’s Delicious Pizzas. I do these daily writing exercises, and sometimes I can’t think of what to write about. So I got the idea then when I’m stuck, I’ll write about this pizza place. So far, I’ve only done so twice, and the first one never got finished.

The Witch Nutella. Maybe this one is a bit silly, but oh well. Sometimes you just pick a genre, pick a few tropes, and see what happens.

Just Another Tuesday

fiction by Jason Edwards

The alarm goes off and she says no, goddamnit no, and eight minutes later it goes off again. She doesn’t remember hitting snooze, but she hits it again and eight seconds later the alarm goes off one more time. No goddamnit no, but she’s got her armor and helmet on and is standing next to her bed, groping for her sword. There it is. She’s girded and standing in front of the refrigerator, first light of the day. Yogurt.

In the garage and on her horse, pats him on his haunches as if he needs calming, as if he hasn’t done this before. Rode into battle, mud and blood, sword and rain, lightning striking as many as axe and club, the dead piled up and the crows perched on top looking for eyeballs. This horse, an old hand at battle.

She gets in, cranks the radio, CD player, something someone burned for her once, she doesn’t hear the words, doesn’t hear the melody, only hears the drum, the cadence, the call to war, go to war, fight, fight, kill and if you do not kill maim and if you do not maim rape, rape them all, rip them to pieces and make them curse their mothers. Or something. Fucking Tuesdays.

Takes back roads because the horse doesn’t like dealing with streetlights. Passes castles and huts, shacks and palaces. What’s inside them. Knights and soldiers and damsels, oh my. All of them dreaming of some other places, green fields and blue skies and flowers and rabbits and happy shit. Happiness. It’s shit. She blinks at the horizon, dreading the dawn. Maybe she need some caffeine.

Arrives at the dungeon, parks the horse, bag of oats, can’t take you in there, old man, the walls are too narrow and it would do murder to the carpets. Gargoyle at the front desk stirs, stone skin crackling around a murderous smile. Good morning, it says, you’re going to die in there, they’ll feast on your insides, your soul will be ripped into little pieces. Do you want a towel? Have a great workout!

Puts eldritch runes in her ears, the ancient gearworks of dwarves, music pours in, drowns out the thump thump thump of treadmills, the swish of ellipticals, the cling tang of maces, mornings starts, shields crashing, pates smitten and leg bones breaking. Finds a treadmill of her own. Does a few stretches first. Her armor’s tight on her legs, tight on her chest, already chafing, hungry for sweat, eager for tears. Tears.

On the treadmill, draws her sword, runs into battle. Up the hill and over! The mass of orcs and goblins laying waste to the King’s army, wades into it, sword singing, swinging, chops off a head, sends it flying over the gym floor, spinning in the air and spraying black ichor over fat men in sweat suits and skinny bitches in juicy couture. An ogre strikes at her with his club the size of a tree, she glances the blow with her shield, tucks, rolls, jumps up and skewers him, breaking her sword off at the hilt, steps up his falling body and leaps, snags a flying spear from the air, twirls at she comes down on the neck of a dragon and impales him, nailing it to the ground.

Punches a few more tenths of a mile per hour, sets the incline one percent higher, spins around a sword thrust, blocks a cut with her leather bracers, grabs the brigands head and breaks his neck, uses his body as a shield, a cloud of arrows raining down. Throws the body to the side, leaps, knocks a dark knight from his horse and takes the steed for her own, running through the melee, trampling kobolds and dark elves. The guy on the treadmill next to her says something.


Going long today?

Maybe. But you’re not, wizard. Pulls her dagger from her belt, a flick of her wrist and blood courses down his chest, electricity and oily smoke pouring from his robes as he vibrates into death. Plucks his wizard hat from his head, throws it into the mud, steps on it and flies up from the explosion, above the battle field, grabs a flying Valkyrie, wrestles her in the sky until the both plummet back down. She rips the wings from her back, tosses them aside, and steps forward into the fray.

The rain is coming down harder now, the battle is unrelenting, her cell phones rattles. It’s Carla. Can I get a ride into work today? Doug needs the car. Goddamnit. Checks her watch. 30 minutes. She was hoping for 45. Ah well. It’s just a fucking Tuesday.

Hits the button for stop, hops off the treadmill and walks over to the paper towel dispenser, grabs a few sheets. Wipes off the blood and gore, the mud, bits and pieces of her enemies, green and blue, broken dragon scales and the leathery hides of trolls. Walks to the exit, heartbeat calming, smiles at the gargoyle, finds her steed and drives back home.

Divests herself of her armor, gets into the shower, the steam and the sharp smell of lilac shampoo. Now she’s drowsy again. In danger of falling asleep right there. So luxurious. Manages to get out, towel off, get dressed.

Back in her car, switches from the CD player to the radio. It’s only two miles to Carla’s house, and then 25 minutes on the highway to work. She sits in her car for a few seconds, getting herself ready. They’ve discovered a new system of planets in an otherwise unexplored corner of the galaxy. Time to get out there and see what the universe has in store for her today.

An Absolute Gentleman– review on Goodreads

An Absolute Gentleman: A NovelAn Absolute Gentleman: A Novel by R.M. Kinder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came across this book in the library one day when I was searching for Geocaching for Dummies. I was in one of the situations where I felt like the drive to the library needed more justification than just one book that I was only going to flip through anyway. I found R.M. Kinder’s novel, opened it, read a few pages to get a sense of the prose style, liked it, read the front flap to see what the plot was about, liked that too, and added the book to my “to-read” list. Then, last week, on vacation, having finished two other novels in just a few days, I started in on An Absolute Gentleman, and finished it in about 24 hours.

It was that engaging. R.M. Kinder’s style is as gentle and stoic as her main character, choosing to titillate and horrify with what isn’t written, only pulling out the stops and giving you the gory details in a few choice places. And although Arthur Blume is a serial killer, you can’t help but root for him, a little.

I’m not going to give away the plot, because there isn’t much of one, but what follows are spoilers of a sort, so stop reading if you want. Arthur Blume is a misogynist, less in the sense of hating women than in the sense that he simply has no respect for them. And while I was reading this, I know this was fictional misogyny… but then, only after I was done with the book, did I realize that R.M. Kinder, the author, is a woman. Which changes the tenor of that fictional misogyny. When a man writes about misogyny, he may be expressing his own opinions, or he may be asking you to judge what he feels is a horrible point of view. But when a woman does it, surely she can’t be expressing her own opinion—is she describing her own experiences at the hand of a misogynist? Is she misinterpreting the experience, taking it more personally than it should have been taken?

I wish to cast no aspersion on Kinder, nor her intent, because it’s all mere speculation on my part and truly I detest this kind of analysis. But I bring it up because, for me, the book changed when I found out the sex of the writer. And I find this unsettling, and I am not a little ashamed of myself. But what can I do. I thought this was a man writing about a horrible man, and now I find myself, unfairly I admit, wondering if this a woman writing about horrible men.

Why say as much? This is my plea, to myself and to you, to find a way to ignore who or what the author is at all times, when reading any novel. An impossible task– I will read books just because they’re written by authors I’ve read before. After all, there’s so many books out there, how can we choose which one to read if we don’t, to some degree, judge them by their covers?

Nevertheless, we should try to ignore the author. I need to swallow my shame and recall what I thought of the book when I didn’t know who the writer was at all. Still a bit sexist of me (I thought it was a man) but at least I’m not trying to compliment Kinder by saying “she writes like a man!” She doesn’t. She writes like a writer. And a damned fine one at that.

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Plugged– review on Goodreads

PluggedPlugged by Eoin Colfer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Plugged started off so promising, in my opinion, and I wonder if that’s why I’m a bit more let down than I might otherwise have been. I read the sample of the book offered by Barnes and Noble, and when I got to the end of the free part, going ahead with the purchase was a no brainer. I liked the way the main character talked: sarcastic, bitter, old before his time but not so long before that he hadn’t earned his fatigue. I liked the setting: a dive casino in an otherwise affluent New Jersey bedroom community, gritty and dirty a seamy and all those other things so perfect for a crime novel. I liked where the plot was going: used-up ex-army doorman’s one-time fling gets a hole in her head, and he needs to know why. Clichés, all, but this is why we read genre fiction sometimes

But then it got silly. And maybe if I had known it was going to be silly, I would have been ready for it, and accepted it. I like a good farce. But this doesn’t read like satire at all: it reads like someone who read a satire, didn’t realize it was satire, and decided to write something “just as good.” It’s like all of the cliché’s that were acceptable in the first few chapters gave the writer license to keep adding in more and more nonsense. Yes, I said that’s why we read genre fiction, sometimes. But we really are hoping that the writer takes all of those tired old ideas and does something unique with them.

I almost said “unique or clever,” but I think I’m getting a little tired of clever. To his credit, Eoin Colfer maintains all of the tropes from the first few chapters throughout the novel, so it’s still readable. But I feel like “original” was sacrificed for “clever,” and the result may be readable, but hardly memorable.

I know that sometimes writers write just to find out what happens. They’re as much slaves to the plot as the readers are. Maybe Colfer just kept writing himself into corners, so he took the goofy way out. But he’s allegedly an experienced writer—he wrote the Artemis Fowl novels, after all, and was commissioned to write the 6th Hitchhiker’s book. So I don’t know what his excuse is. Maybe it’s all my fault, going in with high expectations. Maybe genre fiction is just genre fiction sometimes. Oh well.

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