The Double Phoenix

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    In progress: Cyador's Heirs by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.

    Listening to: The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon.

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Traffic

Posted by spragujs on March 9, 2012

Traffic cover artI finished with Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt recently.  The book details many different aspects of driving and how our reactions affect us and our driving.  We all tend to think of driving as really, a pretty easy thing to do.  Some (at least in the US) go so far as to think it a right as opposed to a privilege.  However, think of it more like Vanderbilt does.  “[Driving] is actually an incredibly complex and demanding task: We are navigating through a legal system, we are becoming social actors in a spontaneous setting, we are processing a bewildering amount of information, we are constantly making predictions and calculations and on-the-fly judgements of risk and reward, and we’re engaging in a huge amount of sensory and cognitive activity–the full scope of which scientists are just beginning to understand.”  Not really so easy after all.  (Go human brains!)  In spite of all this, we’re not really good at multi-tasking, hence the problems people have when trying to eat, do their make up, adjust their stereos, mess around with their phones, etc. while driving.

This book is about traffic with a heavy side of psychology thrown in.  Many facts you might not believe, and many more you likely will and just haven’t thought about them yet.  I even learned a bit about different cultures after reading about how various places drive.  I found all of it quite fascinating.

I know at the very least Traffic made me think more about the mistakes I make while driving and to pay more attention to what I’m doing.  I have to admit though:  no matter how much I realize I shouldn’t, I’ll still keep listening to my audiobooks.  It’s what keeps me awake (particularly on long trips), so that’s important too!  😉  And, because of the epilogue, now I want to take a driving course.  I’m curious to know if I’m any good at driving, or if I’m like everyone else and just think I’m pretty good at it.  I’m no race driver, don’t get me wrong, I’m just wondering about the daily stuff.

I recommend reading this novel if you’re interested in psychology or traffic at all.  From the reviews I read, some folks didn’t get what they wanted to out of this book, but I’d say, based on the title and subtitle, it was exactly what I expected.  I do have to note, in case anyone follows this recommendation:  the last 1/4 of the book is acknowledgements, notes, and index so don’t be surprised like I was!  I also just realized that the notes are listed by page number, which means that the text of the book is cleaner, but I didn’t even know the notes were there till I got to the epilogue (and wondered what the last 116 pages were for), so I never looked any of those up (nor would I really have known when to look).  Still, I suspect many people won’t be reading the book for the notes, so it’s likely this was the best way to go when publishing.  In any case, enjoy!  And if you’re interested in more info check out the How We Drive blog.

Posted in Life, Off the Shelf, Reading | 2 Comments »

Erfworld Kickstarter Project

Posted by spragujs on March 7, 2012

Erfworld - It's hard out here for a pink.Here’s another comic post, as this one’s also got a Kickstarter project going (only 7 days left, though it’s original goal is already fully funded).  Erfworld, written by Rob Balder, which was originally posted on the same website as OotS, is again to quote the author “…an ongoing webcomic about an obsessive strategy gamer named Parson Gotti, who gets summoned into a fantasy universe that works a lot like a game.”  (Start the comic from here.)

The comic has highly interesting art, not much like anything I’ve seen before.  Also, while it’s based on tabletop wargaming, as far as I know (not that that’s saying much!) it’s not based on any specific game so the author can (and does) take highly entertaining liberties with what’s possible (and there’s a lot that’s possible!).  One of the most interesting things for me is that the characters live inside a constructed world with very set archetypes and they have a hard time working beyond their created boundaries.  That is until Parson Gotti (to us a real person) shows up and turns Erfworld on its head!  The story that unfolds has a lot of depth and background that Balder is currently working to develop, by writing a prequel of sorts while the comic’s artist, Xin, is on a bit of a hiatus.

Besides trying to get you to read the comic (if you don’t already), if you’re interested in supporting webcomics, or if you already like Erfworld and randomly don’t know about this project, I wanted to let everyone know about the Erfworld Kickstarter motion comic project.  In any case, this project, like the OotS project, has far surpassed their original goal (see the update page for details), so if you want to pledge you’ll definitely get charged, but again, if you want to support a webcomic, you might try pledging to the project which ends just after midnight EST on Thursday Mar. 15.

Posted in Comics, Reading | Leave a Comment »

Temeraire Genesis

Posted by spragujs on March 5, 2012

Temeraire ink by Daniel GovarI recently discovered the novella, “Vici”, by Naomi Novik as published in Fantasy Magazine.  As she describes in an interview with the magazine:

“Vici” is my idea of the backstory of how dragons were first domesticated by humans in Europe, and shows the seeds of various aspects of the relationship between dragons and humans that we see initially in Britain and other European nations in His Majesty’s Dragon.

The novella brought me back to the complete enjoyment I first felt reading His Majesty’s Dragon.  After the newness of the first Temeraire novel wore off I haven’t enjoyed the other novels as much, but I’m still fascinated by the idea and still buy the novels as they come out.  I’m particularly thrilled by the series’ idea of a crossover between traditional dragons and friendly dragons (my introduction to dragons was from Anne McCaffrey, so I’m partial to the friendly ones)!  I have unfortunately not yet read Tongues of Serpents (though it is on my shelf), but I think I will very soon as her next Temeraire novel, Crucible of Gold, comes out tomorrow (read an excerpt here).  Maybe they’ll be my next set of novels to read as I’ll be able to tackle a book from my shelf as well as a new one (so as to not get behind for once).

In short, if you haven’t yet read the Temeraire novels and want a short piece to see what it’s all about, try “Vici”!

Also, I always knew Temeraire was supposed to be a handsome dragon, but you can see that in the artwork above, as created by Daniel Govar.  (Found this from a post on Ms. Novik’s website.)

Posted in Off the Shelf, Reading, Short Fiction, Temeraire | 1 Comment »

Dumbledore

Posted by spragujs on February 29, 2012

Random note first:  Stupid wireless gets messed up at home and I miss 4 intended posts.  I hope to make them up (at least for myself) eventually!

And on to our *ahem* regularly scheduled programming…  A couple weekends ago I watched the Harry Potter marathon on USA Family.  I started partway through Goblet of Fire.  I’ve made my opinion abundantly clear with my friends that I don’t care for Michael Gambon’s Dumbledore.  I think while watching this marathon I finally figured out why.  He plays Dumbledore loud.  That’s pretty much it.  (And in Order of the Phoenix there is one point where it seems like he has Dumbledore just give up because he’s powerless, which Dumbledore would never do.  That scene (at the end of when Umbridge sacks Professor Trelawny) ticked me off this time through too.)  Primarily though, it’s the volume.  I always imagined Dumbledore to be one of those people that others have to shut up to listen to because they’re generally quiet, but have very important things to say, and Gambon’s portrayal just misses that mark by a long shot.  Maybe I’m the only one that feels that way, and obviously I didn’t watch Harris’s portrayal beforehand to compare, so there’s my disclaimer.  I just felt the need to get that off my chest.

Thank you and good night!

Posted in General | 1 Comment »

Exalted Novels

Posted by spragujs on February 13, 2012

A Day Dark As Night cover art

In Northern Twilight cover artRelic of the Dawn cover art

Most recently I finished a series of novels based on the White Wolf role playing game, Exalted.  Exalted itself is well described on the page linked previously, but in short:  the gods had previously exalted humans to do their work on earth, but over time this power corrupted the Unconquered Sun’s Solar Exalts and so the lowliest Exalted caste, the Dragon-Blooded, took it upon themselves to bring the Solars down.  A thousand years pass and the Dragon-Bloods have gotten distracted from their mission thus allowing the reincarnating Solar Exalts to begin to return to the land.  The initial intent of the RPG seemed to be to have the players form a circle (one of each of the 5 castes) of Solar Exalted with which to take on the major problems of the world.  But the RPG included details on more than just the Solar Exalted so that players could be one of many different types of Exalt.  The style of the game included Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon style martial arts with Exalted who were so much more powerful than the regular humans in the world.

I had hoped this series of novels would be an introduction to the creation of a circle of Solar Exalts with an overarching storyline, but they were more or less a bunch of unconnected stories of a few Solars’ minor exploits.  That’s not to say they weren’t entertaining and didn’t really make me want to play, however!

Pillar of the Sun cover art

The Carnelian Flame cover artA Shadow Over Heaven's Eye cover art

The first novel, A Day Dark as Night by Carl Bowen, was about Night Caste Harmonious Jade.  She travels to Nexus to get revenge on a former mentor who betrayed her, and in the process meets several other Exalted, including Dawn Caste Dace.  They help to put a stop to a Yozi plot to take over the city.  This one was my least favorite of the set.

Relic of the Dawn, by David Niall Wilson, tells of Dace and his mercenary company’s exploits in a allied city against an Abyssal (the Underworld’s counterpoint to Solars) and his undead army.  Dace’s story also includes him working together with a Lunar Exalt and them both trying to find out about their past.  I like Dace as a character, but for whatever reason, this novel was also not one of my favorites of the series.

In Northern Twilight by Jess Hartley is about Twilight Caste Arianna and Eclipse Caste Swan.  Interestingly, this is the first of the novels to describe each character’s Exaltation.  They travel together almost haphazardly until events bring them together to help save a forest lord from the destruction of his forest caused by a battle instigated by their traveling companions.

Panther, a Zenith Caste Solar, is the focus of the fourth novel, Pillar of the Sun by Carl Bowen.  Formerly a pit fighter, Panther, earned his way to freedom until he was Exalted after realizing he didn’t really have anything to live for.  He treks across half the world to find a mission for himself fighting some Wyld mutated barbarians lead by a Lunar.

Swan returns in A Shadow over Heaven’s Eye by Tim Waggoner.  He travels to a city he had helped before as diplomat.  While there he discovers that the daughter of his royal family friend seems to be ready to Exalt herself.  However, she turns out to be a Sidereal Exalt with powers of predicting and affecting the future.  Together they stop another Sidereal’s plans to take over the world.  As cheesy as my summary sounds, and in spite of the fact that I hate the idea of destiny, which is a thread that runs strongly through the story, this novel was one of my favorites.

And last, but not least, was The Carnelian Flame by Aaron Rosenburg.  This novel was my other favorite.  Arianna returns this time to help Grendis Lam, a newly exalted Zenith, destroy the Abyssal he helped to put on the throne of Ortense.  Their mix of brains and brawn form a true picture of how the complementary aptitudes of the various castes are supposed to work together.

Posted in Exalted, Off the Shelf, Reading | Leave a Comment »

Order of the Stick Kickstarter Project

Posted by spragujs on February 9, 2012

OotS Kickstarter ProjectI like to read a few webcomics, and plan to maybe blog about a few of them here over time.  The one that gets to go first, because of an event they’re having, is OotS, or The Order of the Stick by Rich Burlew.  (Start the comic from here.)

OotS, to quote the author, “… tells the tale of the eponymous band of heroes living in a fantasy roleplaying game world as they struggle to overcome their enemies, their environment, the rules of the game, and their own crippling incompetence (not necessarily in that order of importance).”  It’s a comic made up of stick figures, and it’s hilarious.  As also mentioned in the author’s summary, the comic starts out a bit heavily with the RPG references and gradually loses that focus as time goes on.  The stick figure art even gets a bit more polished.  I’ve played a few RPGs in my time, but never D&D which the story is based on, so take it from one only partially experienced; you can still appreciate the comic, even if you don’t play the game.

Besides trying to get you to read the comic (if you don’t already), if you’re interested in supporting webcomic artists, or if you already like OotS and randomly don’t know about this project, I wanted to let everyone know about the OotS Kickstarter reprint drive.  I’d never heard of Kickstarter before, but it bills itself as the “world’s largest funding platform for creative projects”.  A person with a project/concept can use the site to set up a drive where people pledge money, but they never get charged if the project goal isn’t met.  Pretty neat concept!  In any case, the OotS project has far surpassed their original goal (see the update page for details), so if you want to pledge you’ll definitely get charged, but again, if you like to see webcomics in print or just want to support a webcomic artist, you might try pledging to the project which ends just after noon EST on Tuesday Feb. 21.

Posted in Comics, Reading | 2 Comments »

The Urban Fantasy… Zodiac?!

Posted by spragujs on February 6, 2012

My friend Kiara over at Waiting for Fairies started off February with a fun new meme to try.  Instead of the Chinese Zodiac, she presents the Urban Fantasy Zodiac.  It’s lots of fun, and after thinking about it a bit, at least mostly accurate in my case!  😉  Here’s mine:

Shape-shifter

You love change and get bored easily. You have a hot temper – be sure to watch it so you don’t lose control!  You don’t make friends easily, but when you do there couldn’t be anyone more loyal.

Posted in General, Reading | 1 Comment »

2012 Off the Shelf Challenge

Posted by spragujs on February 2, 2012

Off the Shelf 2012And now for this year’s Off the Shelf Challenge.  I was originally going to go with the same level as I did last year with the “Trying” at reading 15 books off the shelf (which I didn’t even make last year) but I think this year I’ll try the “Making a Dint” option of 30 books off the shelf.  That may be stretching it, but hey, I’ve already read four, so I’m feeling optimistic!

Just as a side note, I’ve got many books on my Kindle (all of them actually) that would technically qualify for this challenge, and even a few audiobooks, but I tend to not keep track of when I bought those.  So, primarily, unless I go on vacation and happen to read something on my Kindle, these will all be physical books that I’ve finally gotten the chance to move from my TBR bookcase to their real spot in my collection.

And to make sure I don’t forget to include them, I have already read the following this year:

Exalted 2: Relic of the Dawn by David Niall Wilson, completed 01-04-12
Exalted 3: In Northern Twilight by Jess Hartley, completed 01-14-12
Exalted 4:  Pillar of the Sun by Carl Bowen, completed 01-25-12
Exalted 5: A Shadow Over Heaven’s Eye by Tim Waggoner, completed 01-31-12

Wish me luck!

Posted in Off the Shelf, Reading | 2 Comments »

Random It Is!

Posted by spragujs on January 30, 2012

The people have voted, and a random, atypical for me book won the next up type of reading poll by a landslide with a whopping 4 votes!  😉  So, the following are the options I’d like for you to choose from this time.  Instead of going for a poll, I’d appreciate it if you’d just leave a comment as to your preference this time.  It’d be especially great if you’d tell me why you chose what you did!  I think I’ll also read a random small book from this set as well, just to give me more time to prep for the next what to read poll, and of course, to help aid in cleaning off my to be read shelves!

A Tale of Two Cities cover artA Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

”Beginning and ending with some of English literature’s most famous lines, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities thrives on tension and conflict, all set against a bloody backdrop of the French Revolution . . . . Through the senses, Dickens transports us deeper and deeper into another era with each turn of the page. Smell the acidity of red wine as it spills on the streets and ominously stains the faces, hands, and feet of peasants who lap it up in desperation; feel the competing emotions of heartache and hope as one of Lucie’s suitors stands trial; hear the cries of the raging mob and the clangs of their weapons as they storm the Bastille; see the glint of the guillotine as it falls swiftly to its victim below. The novel’s sense of urgency and intimacy will draw you in and propel you through one of the most tumultuous times in history.” –Oprah’s Book Club

We’ve all heard of this one, most likely you’ve read it.  I had to read this in high school, I think it was, and I distinctly remember enjoying it at the time, but beyond that?  I’ve basically got nothing.  Hence the desire to reread it!

Rum & Razors cover art Rum & Razors by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain

Learning about the financial troubles of inn owners Laurie and Walter Marschalk, Jessica tries to enjoy her lagoon vacation anyway, until Walter’s untimely death causes the sleuthing author to investigate a rival hotelier.  –Fantastic Fiction

Ok, so this one’s a little cheating, as mysteries have generally made it onto a typical for me reading list.  But as it’s the only one I think I had on my shelf that wasn’t strictly sci fi or fantasy, it ended up here.  It’d be the fun choice of all these, most likely.

 

The Blood Runs Like a River through my Dreams (ARC) by NasdijjThe Blood Runs Like a River Through My Dreams cover art

The son of a Navaho woman and roughneck cowboy, Nasdijj grew up among Native American migrant laborers, far from the call of world literature. His writings crafted over twenty years, have only recently appeared in print: In June of 1999, Esquire ran the signature piece of this memoir. “I decided that I had to use the emotions that have been inside me,” the author explained. Touching and lyrical (Nasdijj’s name is Athabaskan for “to become gain.” Apt.) –Goodreads

This one’s an ARC I randomly picked up at a bookstore back when I was in college.  Besides that and the blurb, I don’t know much about it, but I will read it eventually!

Traffic cover artTraffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do by Tom Vanderbilt

“Based on exhaustive research and interviews with driving experts and traffic officials around the globe, Traffic gets under the hood of the everyday activity of driving to uncover the surprisingly complex web of physical, psychological, and technical factors that explain how traffic works, why we drive the way we do, and what our driving says about us. Vanderbilt examines the perceptual limits and cognitive underpinnings that make us worse drivers than we think we are. He demonstrates why plans to protect pedestrians from cars often lead to more accidents. He shows how roundabouts, which can feel dangerous and chaotic, actually make roads safer—and reduce traffic in the bargain. He uncovers who is more likely to honk at whom, and why. He explains why traffic jams form, outlines the unintended consequences of our quest for safety, and even identifies the most common mistake drivers make in parking lots.”  (From the author’s website.)

This book is one I decided to put on my wishlist after looking for books on traffic in downtowns.  So, while it’s kind of a work-related book, the description of what all is reasearched here actually sounds pretty fascinating to me.

Mapping our Genes by Lois Wingerson

Eye-opening and mind-expanding, “Mapping Our Genes” tells of the experts who are brightly hopeful about using genetic mapping and engineering as weapons in the war against the many incurable genetically inherited maladies.

As you can probably tell from Goodreads’ blurb, this book has been on my shelf for a long time, and is possibly a bit out of date content-wise these days…

Posted in Classics, Off the Shelf, Reading | 4 Comments »

Off the Shelf 2011 Conclusion

Posted by spragujs on January 26, 2012

2011 Off the ShelfSo, how’d I do? I wasn’t too optimistic in my predictions, as mentioned in the start up post, and here’s the conclusion to the story. Did I make it? I’d planned to try and read 15 books that had been on my shelf before 2011 started. Near as I can tell, these are the ones that counted. I cheated a little maybe with the Song of Ice and Fire books as they were on my regular shelf for truth, but I always knew I’d reread them when the next book came out, so they were ghosts over there too… Anyway, I read in no particular order…

1. Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg, review
2. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, review
3. Imager’s Intrigue by L.E. Modesitt, Jr., review
4. 4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie
5. Exalted 1: A Day as Dark As Night by Carl Bowen
6. Eight Skilled Gentlemen by Barry Hughart
7. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
8. A Clash of Kings by George R.R. Martin
9. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin
10. A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

Well, I didn’t quite make it, but 2 out of 3 isn’t bad!  And my reviewing capabilities were even worse, so there’s something.  😉  Here’s to hoping I make it farther this year!

Posted in Off the Shelf, Reading | 1 Comment »