Friday, February 27, 2015

Warbreaker

The novel Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson (author of the Mistborn series) has just given me more data to support my opinion of him as a writer. This is a man with great imagination for building worlds and systems of magic, and for making them a relevant and organic part of his story arcs. I found Warbreaker to be a real treat. The story involves two kingdom, Idris and Hallendren, that split several centuries ago. In Idris, the old royal family of Hallendren, rules and maintains an uneasy truce with the more powerful Hallendren. Hallendren is now ruled by a group of immortal gods who serve a much feared and mysterious God King. Long ago, the Idrian king signed a peace treaty with Hallendren in which his daughter, when she came of age, would be sent to Hallendren to be the bride of the God King. Vivenna had been trained her whole life for this role, and her father loved her with his whole heart. When the time came to send her to his enemies, he couldn't bear to let her go and decided to send his youngest daughter Siri instead. While Vivenna was mature, learned, and stately, Siri was a wild child. Her whole life had been lived in rebellion because she saw herself as unimportant and unnecessary. With her untamed and disrespectful attitude, her father decided that she was expendable in the name of peace.

The story then follows Siri as she is given over to the God King, a being whose reputation in Idris is one of a hideous monster. Yet Siri finds a man who is not what she has understood. Once Siri is chosen to satisfy the treaty, Vivenna's self-image unravels as the role that she has dedicated herself to play for her father and her kingdom is taken away from her. She decides to sneak away to Hallendren to save her sister and restore her image as a hero to her kingdom. Living in the streets, working with Idrian rebels in Hallendren, and being forced to live in and among the people of the slums, Vivenna comes to understand who she really is.

The story is very well laid out with a very intricate plot of forces working to bring Hallendren and Idris toward war. Both Siri and Vivenna are striving within the bounds of a very unfamiliar world to understand the rules and the politics, to adapt to the lifestyles, and to recognize the different factions and how to ally themselves with them, all in the name of preserving their people. Simply a gripping and compelling human drama wrapped in a neat bow of heroism, conflict, determination, love, and well-developed fantasy. Sanderson plans another entry in this series at some point in the future. The present working title is Nightblood.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Weathering the Storm

It is 4:30 a.m. and my cell phone goes off. I left it on vibrate before I went to bed, but the buzz, buzz, buzz still wakes me from sleep. I had kind of been expecting the call anyway given that the overnight weather forecast called for 4 to 8 inches of snow. In an area where even the threat of snow that might not even come leads to cancelled schools and a general air of panic, a "snow-maggedon" event is downright enough to bring the entire area to its knees for an extended period. The phone call was a robo-call from the folks at my lab declaring that due to inclement weather conditions, work would be closed today and that only those folks explicitly called in would be allowed to entire the site. After I got done checking the message and deleting it, I made my way in the dark of the bedroom over to the french doors to look outside at the mayhem. It sure seems that the forecasters got this one right. There is even more snow in the forecast for the next few days that will add even more of a burden to our existing woes.

In anticipation of this storm, I managed to ensure that my cupboards were well stocked and I brought some extra stuff home from work so that at least I wouldn't let work stuff pile too high. However, on Friday I had plans with my daughter that might have to be cancelled because I won't be able to get to where she is. That causes me frustration and worry. It leads me to feel small and powerless. I also have a long driveway that is covered in a good bit of snow, and due to a pinched nerve in my shoulder, I am presently little more than a one-armed man. As my town has not invested significantly in the way of snow-removal equipment, they only manage to plow the main roads during snow storms. They never even attempt to do anything about the secondary/neighborhood roads. They just rely on the temperature rising up out of the 30s at some point to do their work for them. However, sometimes that tenth of a mile from house to plowed highway remains unpassable for days.

Maybe this is all an opportunity for me put into practice some of the things that I have been reading about in my devotional on worry. Maybe because it is now 5:04 a.m., it is just time for me to go back to bed and let my cares melt away for a while longer. Why worry about things now that I can put off worrying about until later?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Classics

When I use the term "classic", as in that song is a classic or that movie is a classic, most folks tend to immediately conjure up images of their own standards of what defines a classic. This notion of "classic" therefore spans an extremely broad range depending on who you ask and which generation they belong to. What one person considers enduring, memorable, or vintage, another likely will label as wholly antithetical and completely inferior. This is especially true of someone from an older generation hearing the opinions of someone from a younger generation. The most often heard response of someone from an older or younger generation to your own definition of "classic" might be, "I have never heard of that." Thus you can imagine that the playlist of the "oldies" station is not fixed and changes from decade to decade.

After a bit of noodling around, I made up the following table of classics defined by generation.

 Age Group    Music     Movie  
Senior
Benny Goodman
Casablanca
Jimmy Dorsey
Gone With the Wind
Glenn Miller
Ben Hur
40s,50s
Fleetwood Mac
Chinatown
Elvis
The Godfather
Elton John
Dr. No
20s,30s
Britney Spears
Raiders of the Lost Ark
*NSYNC
Rainman
Eminem
Jurassic Park
teens
Taylor Swift
Avatar
Iggy Azalea
Hunger Games
Selena Gomez
Spiderman
Perhaps these differences are as they should be. There is no right and wrong, good or bad. Each group should be allowed to hold onto whatever gives them comfort and resonates the strongest with their memories and their times.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

31 Flavors

On the road that passes by my house, they can be found at nearly every intersection. 31 flavors of what might amount to the same thing, or not. Presbyterian, Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, Pentecostal, Unitarian, Protestant, Episcopal, Mormon, and who knows what else. I only went a mile in each direction.

Solid structures, built to last. Campaigns to raise untold millions to erect brick and mortar structures to reflect our desires to be with our own kind, to feel assured about our morality and our salvation. Altars built to celebrate us and our greatness, until we decide to move on to the next thing and start again.

Clawing and scratching to drum up money to keep the lights on and pay the salary of folks whose focus is forced on setting up for the next show. Those stage sets and fancy lighting displays don't come cheaply, so schemes are put into place to fill up those metal plates with envelopes using whatever tactics their advisors push on them. However, most of their draw struggle to put together enough scratch to pay their rent or have gas money to get to their crummy jobs. But you can't punch your ticket to eternity without playing this game apparently.

Most of these places sit with nearly empty parking lots on Sundays. Yet a couple of times per year, another one opens their doors to siphon off customers that the others already can't afford to lose. More altars built to ourselves and to celebrate us.

Will I get a different definition of Jesus and God depending on which door I walk through? Is there one right answer? What if I choose the wrong team because I happened to like the landscaping of one place over another? If there is no difference, then why is everyone so divided? How can any of these myriad possible directions make any sense to the unchurched? If we "insiders" don't present a unified and clear picture, doesn't that prove our disarray and impact our message of the one true God? Can any of this be pleasing in our God's sight?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Quick Hits 34

Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits.

Have your ever heard some purporting to be a Christian state that "they are a Christian but not some kind of freak or fanatic" ? What on Earth does this mean? Does it mean that they believe in God but it has minimal impact on how they live and interact with others?

What do you think?

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Prisoner of Heaven

The third entry in Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Cemetary of Forgotten Books series is entitled The Prisoner of Heaven. This story takes place mainly in Barcelona in two different time periods, in the late 1930s and the early 1950s. The narrative in the 1930s sets the stage for the later story elements. Zafon then seamlessly bounces back and forth between the present and the past in weaving his tale of darkness and of light. As this work is part of his ongoing series, we come to understand further the history and the makeup of several of his previously developed characters. It is interesting to note that Zafon indicates that the different books in this series can be read in any order without issue. This is because the individual novels really do work as stand-alone novels on the one hand, and on the other hand, he has a way of connecting the present to the past across several generations in a way that allows his readers to keep up without losing a single thread.

This story begins in the late 1930s in a dungeon in the depths of Montjuic Castle, where anyone labeled as a revolutionary, a subversive, or a Communist is dumped into a cold, dark, and vermin-infested cage in the bowels of this ancient fortress until they expire. This is a place without mercy, sympathy, compassion, or hope. There we find David Martin, the main character in The Angel's Game, in a cell next to a man named Fermin. David earned his place after he left a trail of death and unanswered questions in his dealings with forces that he never full grasped. His past has left him a broken man. Fermin is a man with a checkered past that eventually caught up with him. However, he has always been a survivor. Fermin and David strike up a friendship through the common iron that links their cells. While Fermin dreams of a future, David slowly succumbs to his regrets and his loss. However, David has his lucid moments, and through them he develops a clever plan to help Fermin escape that pit of hell upon the hill. His only request is that he watch over the matron of the Sempere and Sons bookstore, a woman who through patience, fiestiness, and compassion, connected with David and calmed his spirit.

Zafon deftly brought his characters to life with a skillful touch that developed a Barcelona that was real, from its packed neighborhoods, to its politics, to its smells and sounds. I have thoroughly enjoyed each of the works of Zafon in this series and they have each left a mark on me. At this point, it seems apparent that Zafon has not brought this series to conclusion. I look forward to the next part of the tale.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Observations 81

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • Why would anybody come to work in a professional environment with a severe case of bedhead?
  • A lady of some importance came into my laboratory at work where the regulations state that all visitors must wear a hard hat. She had immaculately styled hair of amazing girth. It was utterly hilarious to watch her perch the hard hat up on top of her coiffed mound.
  • The other day I was rushing in a downpour to get from my car to the building I was heading toward. As I reached the sidewalk, a lady dashed right in front of me with the same intent on her mind. However, for some reason, she stopped in the middle of the path blocking further movement and began apologizing for cutting me off.
  • There was some lady at church the other day who felt moved to shout out a boisterous "amen" after every word my pastor uttered. It reached comical proportions after he gave an allegory about cooking a frog and she belted out her full support. Apparently she was a major frog cooking afficiando.
  • Cooking shows on T.V. like to set up their "money shot" at the end when the host tastes whatever concoction they just whipped up. The trouble is it always results in a closeup of someone eating and talking at the same time. Yuk.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

In the News 9

While I have not touched an actual newspaper in some time, I do skim through the online news headlines each day. There is always something that catches my attention, whether it involves human conflict, a human interest piece, the sports wrap, or just the usual absurdities. In this series, I carve out a space for my opinions, reminiscences, or comments.

John Smoltz - Last year in a post in my In the News series, I celebrated the baseball Hall of Fame inductions of two former Atlanta Braves pitchers, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine. In this entry, I celebrate the recent induction of the third member of that group, John Smoltz. John pitched for the Braves from 1988 to 2008 and in many respects was my favorite player on the team. Not only was he immensely talented and competitive, but in his post-game interviews on television and radio, I always found him to be cerebral, insightful, and well spoken. Even though John had a number of significant problems with his arm that limited him, he always seemed to find a way to reinvent himself to be effective. He was also one of my sport's heroes when I was younger and is strongly associated with my memories of those years. John was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame on January 6, 2015.

Joseph Morrissey - Joseph was serving as a representative in the Virginia House of Delegates when he was arrested for having a sexual relationship with his underage secretary (who is now pregnant). As a result of the scandal he resigned his seat. However, he changed his mind and decided to run for election to the seat that he had resigned. In fact with his work-release program from jail, he campaigned during the day and served his time in jail in the evenings. Joseph won re-election to the Virginia House of Delegates on January 14, 2015.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Angel's Game

About five years ago a friend gave me a copy of the book The Shadow of the Wind by Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon. This was back when I was just starting to enjoy reading fiction. That story was very well developed with its dark mysteries and layers of intrigues. That novel actually became an international best-seller and I definitely could understand why. Recently I came across another of Zafon's novels, The Angel's Game, and was amused to find out that it was the second book in the same series as The Shadow of the Wind, but its narrative took place before the first story, a prequel if you like.

The story follows the life of Daniel Martin, who grew up in Barcelona in the early 1900s, the son of a man whose life had gotten the better of him. He returned from war to find that his wife had left him and he was stuck with a son that he never wanted. His life was marked by alcohol and depression. To escape the dark cloud cast by his father, Daniel loved to read books and eventually grew up to be an author. Even though he was talented, the fates conspired to leave him damaged after his first novel failed to be noticed. In his depths of soulful reflection and hurt, he was vigorously pursued by a mysterious French publisher who offered him a fortune to write a book for him. Eventually David agreed, but the project was not what he had imagined and, in time, it was nearly his undoing.

This story, although part of Zafon's series The Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and connected to his novel, The Shadow of the Wind, really is a stand-alone book with just a few tertiary threads linking the two. The novel was vividly written and the depictions of his Barcelona were vibrant and alive. His dialog and character development allowed for complete immersion into his setting. A very enjoyable book with a bit of a awkward deus ex machina ending. I now move on to read the third part of the tale, The Prisoner of Heaven.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Scars

Hanging around Christian folks and listening to Sunday church sermons, you will likely hear a common theme about how authenticity matters. This message is all about being open and honest about who we are and not hiding behind crafted personas; we should not pretend to be something that we are not. Most of the time folks can see through our smoke screens pretty easily. However, acting one way while actually living another way can undermine the faith in ways both subtle and overt. While most people can appreciate this idea, we still tend to try our level best to hide our scars and the baggage associated with those scars. Scars that can be seen reveal our screw-ups, our failures, and our shortcomings. We worry that if folks truly understood how often we had messed up and the size of our problems, they would treat us in ways that we do not want, that we would be singled out as pitiable, or that we would be ostracized or excluded.

However, every once in a while a scar can also be a sign of a life-saving measure or a great victory in our life. Sometimes the scars of a messy divorce can actually take us away from a dangerous and abusive person. Sometimes being fired from a job can ultimately be a blessing if it gives us peace. Sometimes getting into severe financial straits can finally force us to learn how to manage our money and live within our means.

Today I bear a physical scar that was the result of a lifesaving measure. In September of last year I became convinced that my slowly increasing weight needed some attention. The obvious angle of attack was to cut out my pre-bedtime snack. While having a few cookies or some chips while watching T.V. or reading my book gave me comfort, over time I had put on a few pounds that lead to a mid-section bulge and to elevated blood pressure. In early December I had lost about 15 pounds and my tummy was noticably flatter. However, the weight loss also revealed a tumor that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. A scar remains where the tumor was removed, but that scar is one of victory. In fact, it seems that if we have not learned a lesson that changes our approach, our attitude, or our thinking with each scar that we bear, then those scars are truly something to be hidden as unsightly injuries. However, if we learn from our injuries, then those scars can be ever-present reminders of what we once were or how we once thought.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Sandkings

The collection Sandkings by George R.R. Martin contains seven science fiction pieces that showcase his imagination, his skill at developing character, conflict, and settings in short order, and his mastery at telling an interesting and compelling story. This was a wonderful book to spend time in.

The Way of Cross and Dragon - A priest of the Knights Inquisitor is sent to a distant world to stamp out a heresy related to the growing church of Saint Judas Iscariot, dragon tamer, great friend of Christ, king, and leader of men. The priest finds a man who invents religions for the purpose of giving men hope and peace. "... perhaps someday we will find one great lie that all humanity can use. Until then, a thousand small lies will do."

Bitterblooms - A story about a young girl living a harsh existence in a frozen wasteland who is captured by an eccentric witch. The girl rebels against the witch who constructs a fantasy world around her. After getting back to her own people and her own difficult life, she regrets the fantasy world that she ran away from.

In the House of the Worm - A group of young men set out on a quest to avenge a perceived insult that takes them into the vast underground realm beneath their city. When the last light goes out their false bravado turns into whimpers and terror. Absolutely bone-chilling and the ever-present looming of the enemy will stay with you long after the lights are back on.

Fast-Friend - A tale about a lifetime of dreaming about a trip to the stars only to let the dream escape just when it is within arm's reach because it wouldn't be the right thing to do.

The Stone City - The crew of a human ship traveling to the galactic core are stranded on a dead planet of vagabonds and aliens, they are imprisoned and their ship is confiscated. Most of the crew goes off to seek ways of escape and never return. Two of the crew remain, and their plan is to map an ancient and seemingly infinite set of ruins called "The Stone City" to trade for passage off the planet, yet their plans get sidetracked by despair, hopelessness, and madness.

Starlady - A story about a young lady and a young man who are tricked out of their identity on an alien world and are forced to work for a small-time pimp, a small fish who is constantly threatened by a bigger fish. Gallantry? No. Just folks doing what they must to survive.

Sandkings - A rich man with a taste for ever more exotic pets stumbles across a shop selling small, semi-sentient creatures that would do battle with each other. However, soon the terror levels rise out of control when the creatures escape from their confines. A tale that will affect you for days after you turn the last page.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Quick Hits 33

Sometimes I hear an utterance or catch a quick visual of something that sticks in my mind. As this sensory input rolls about in my head, several different outcomes are possible. It might be the case that after a moment of consideration, the input is deleted as uninteresting, trivial, or too much for me to deal with. However, another possible outcome is that the input keeps demanding my attention. It somehow wants me to wrestle with it and give it more than just a passing notice. In such cases, they can end up here, in my blog series called Quick Hits.

If someone accused you of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to prove it?

What do you think?

(This question came from the book The Fifth Gospel by Bobby Conway.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Observations 80

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • I watched a T.V. chef prepare a soup recipe that required a bazillion ingredients, some quite rare and expensive, that dirtied nearly every pot and pan in the kitchen. When she was done she said with a straight face, "This is so easy, you'd be crazy to waste your time on those cans of soup from the supermarket." Someone needs a reality check.
  • "The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life. It cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart." John Calvin
  • A colleague of mine from Germany sent me a "priority" letter postmarked Dec. 14. I did not get it until Jan. 12. Good thing that he paid extra to use the priority option.
  • It seems that our word "mortgage" comes from the French word for "death contract". That feels about right to me.
  • A straight-laced, conservative male colleague of mine walked past me in the hallway at work as I was waiting to enter a meeting room. He was to attend the meeting as well, but needed to make a quick trip to the men's room. The trouble is he walked into the women's room. After a few audible gasps from those women already present, he hurriedly walked out red in the face and quietly exclaimed, "Oh my."

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Visitors

The final volume in Orson Scott Card's Pathfinder trilogy is entitled Visitors. The story picks up shortly after the end of the second book in the series, Ruins, and involves three teenagers, Rigg, his sister Param, and their friend Umbo, who live on the Earth colony planet Garden. It turns out that when the colony ship made its leap into faster-than-light speed travel, somehow 19 identical versions of the ship were created traveling forward in time that somehow reached Garden some 12,000 years before they actually left Earth. Rigg, Param, and Umbo have known that they had some strange powers that allowed them to manipulate time. Over the course of the first two novels, they have been working to understand their powers and how to control them. In short order they come to understand their purpose. Actually, their purposes. The first is prevent the destruction of Garden by what are assumed to be Earth ships for reasons that are unknown by our timeshapers. Also, the population on Garden is being dominated by the rule of the Queen, who also happens to be Rigg and Param's mother.

I have read pretty much all of Card's novels and in my opinion, this one was by far the worst. This book is an awkward, boring clunker from its first page to its last (which was page 598). Card spends most of the book trying to develop his time-traveling/time-shaping science in excruciating detail instead of telling a story or developing his characters. When he isn't droning on about that, the lead characters are endlessly debating the morality of their powers. The frustrating part for me is that whenever he bothered to focus on story elements, he quickly skipped over major developments to return to his science development or his moral debating. When the characters began making copies of themselves, his choice of which character to focus on was completely arbitrary. He introduced a number of story elements that he ultimately never developed fully or came back to. This book was what we in the book review business call a "hot mess". After I finished my reading and poked about online for the opinions of other reviewers, my feelings were reflected in countless other reviewers. The point is that my opinions on this book are definitely not an outlier.

I have noticed that the one repeating Card trademark is that he starts series quite strongly but then has no idea how to bring things to conclusion. In every series of his that I have read, what starts with such promise, somehow fizzles before he brings it to its terminus. I can point to specific examples of his Ender's series, his Tales of Alvin Maker series, his Homecoming series, and now, his Pathfinders series.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Carpeting

I recently had new carpeting installed in two rooms of my house. Most folks would probably think that having workers come in to lay down a few rolls of Berber or Saxony would not be something that should register on one's personal Richter scale. However, for me the process brought forth more reminiscing and tears than I would have thought possible. Of course, none of this was due to some curious attachment to the old, beat down, and soiled carpeting that was pulled up and hauled away. It was more associated with having to pack up and empty out the rooms before the workers showed up to complete their assigned tasks.
  • From the TV stand I packed up a stack of DVDs and VHS tapes of old Winnie the Pooh cartoons that I watched dozens of times with my daughter. How she used to love to watch those with me.
  • From the living room cabinet I packed up two remote-control helicopters that I gave my daughter for a Christmas present years ago. We had so much fun buzzing those things through the house. I can still hear the echos of her laughter bouncing off the walls.
  • From the dresser in my bedroom I packed up my wedding ring. There are moments when I still reach to my ring finger to feel its reassuring presence, only to be reminded that she is not there.
  • From my nightstand I packed up a clipboard that I often used to work crossword puzzles on when I was a kid. Under the clipboard was a stack of school portraits of my daughter through the years.
  • From my bedroom I dismantled an exercise machine that I purchased when I was in graduate school. Hard to believe but that was more than 25 years ago. I kept wishing that I could go back to that time and redo some parts of my life that I screwed up or rushed through too quickly.
I don't know why I got so worked up, I mean it was only carpeting ... but then again when we take the time to look back it is only natural for tears to be present, whether they be tears of joy, tears of regret, tears of pain, tears of longing, or tears of lingering hurt.

Friday, February 6, 2015

To Kill With Reason

Ted Dekker has published more than three dozen novels over the past 15 years or so and I have pretty much read them all. During this time, he has also released several works strictly as promotional items. One of which was his Blood Book that was borne of his Circle series efforts. Another item was a full novel called To Kill With Reason. The novel was actually a rough first draft of his 2002 book Thunder of Heaven. The story is essentially a Rambo knock off, with Rambo replaced by an American boy whose family operates a coffee plantation in Venezuala. The boy's family is slaughtered by a drug lord who takes over the plantation to set up his operation. The boy escapes and then comes back some 10 years later a fully trained but untamable killing machine.

In Dekker's foreword he tells the story of how he expected his manuscript to be snatched up by some eager publisher. The book would then rocket to the top of the best-sellers list and make him a household name. However, the book was rejected by everyone that he submitted it to. Ultimately, after he licked his wounds, he worked to reshape it and reform it. Reading this manuscript as an outsider, it is certainly paced well and is woven throughout with Dekker's usual styles, but the book is crude, unsophisticated, and raw. Under the hand of a skilled editor, Dekker began to learn how to cut out the good and the O.K. to get to the better.

My experience with Dekker is that for every top-notch book that he writes, he churns out one of decidedly uninspired, mass-market pablum. However, I read To Kill with Reason not so much for the story, but to get a peek at a rough first draft from a young novelist to get some measure as to how he had grown into his craft. I definitely enjoyed my time reading through this one from a more technical, academic aspect.

P.S. Note that the cover art lists the author as Thomas Hunter. For those of you who have not read any of Dekker's books, Thomas Hunter is the protagonist in his Circle series books. It turns out that he mentions To Kill With Reason in his book Black ... ahh circles within circles within circles ...

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Joy, Joy

The holiday season is often one that folks look forward to with unbounded glee. A time of merriment, of peace, of relaxation. At the least an opportunity to get a couple of days off from work and spend the daylight hours doing things that please you. Some folks like to sleep later, some like to catch up on chores at home, some like to go visit friends and family. For me, this past holiday season, I took quite an opposite approach. I decided to spend my time getting to know various doctors and nurses in my hometown.

On Dec. 23 I had surgery at my local hospital to rid myself of unwanted body weight. I am not quite sure of the full medical-ease terminology. It's not liposuction, it's ... oh yeah, tumor removal. Anyway, the surgery really was not so bad. I was actually doing fine planning for my 11:00 a.m. surgery. I went to work and kept myself busy and my mind occupied doing my thing when the hospital called and asked if I could come on in for surgery at 10:00 a.m. because some other person came to their senses and decided to go to Aruba instead. I have had my share of surgeries in the past two decades, but one thing that I have found to be consistently true is that hospital surgery center nurses are very loving, tender, and caring folks. My opinion did not change on this day. After a bit of chit-chat with the doctor, he carved into me. I actually only had a local anethesia, so I could hear their operating room banter and interact with them as they poked about within the pith of my marrow.

On Dec. 30 I went in to see my dentist about pain in my teeth. This pain, that I would describe as an intense tickling, could not be localized to a single location. It covered about a full half of my upper teeth. The dentist proceed to poke at me with an impressive variety of ever menacing-looking instruments. I think that he felt that he had to do something, so he stuck me with several dull and rust-encrusted needles and proceeded to remove a filling in one of my teeth and then to replace it. He told me that he needed to fill his vacation fund and doing pointless work was a great way toward that end.

On Jan. 2 I was back at my dentist's office because I was feeling especially generous with my money and wanted to give more of it away. This man clearly had my sympathy and I really wanted him to be able to afford the deluxe tour. After I told him that I did not feel sufficiently humbled by my previous visit, he began to laugh maniacally and brought out medieval torture instruments powered by diesel engines and malice. He then proceeded to perform a double root canal. He told me he was curious about how loudly I would yell when subjected to his ministrations. Ultimately he found out. He also learned how strong the scent of urine is when a grown man pees himself.

On Jan. 5 I met my oncologist for an in-office visit. I figured that I would be safe from his poking and remarks like "you might feel a slight bit of pressure" or "this probably won't hurt too badly". Anyway, after he humiliated me in front of his nursing staff, I somehow felt compelled to shake his hand and thank him. This might have been because my biopsy showed the tumor should not spawn a sequel.

Anyway, that is my story of adventure and living life on the edge (or living on the edge of life). Hope you had as much fun as I did. I share my tale of woe now (instead of saving it for my memoirs) because several have been asking.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Observations 79

My occasional blog series "Observations" was created to be an outlet to share a variety of topics that pop into my field of view as a result of a condition that many bloggers are afflicted with known as "blogger's eyes". In this state we view the world on the constant look-out for topics on which to write about. Today's blog came about from random odds 'n ends of things that I have noticed over the past few weeks.
  • Odd by true, there is a patron saint (Saint George) for sailors who have syphilis.
  • I have always wanted to like cottage cheese. However, it's texture makes me feel like a zombie eating human brains.
  • Ad campaigns by marketing firms often take amazing liberties with language in their print and media blitzes. An especially grevious one is for Robitussin, whose tag line is "Don't suffer the coughiquences".
  • As I was checking in for my doctor's appointment the other day, I noticed one of the nurses had set up a special shrine to Elvis at her station. Nothing strange about that.
  • "There is no shortcut to spiritual growth." Charles Swindoll

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Paradigm

My online friend Bill who blogs at Cycleguy's Spin recommended the book Paradigm written by Elijah Quinn Carlson, a young man he knows who wrote this book for a high school senior project. Given the interesting plot capsule for this book, I decided to give it a try. I can say without reservation that I was not disappointed. The book was well prepared with multiple story arcs and points of view that shifted from chapter to chapter, but was presented in a well-balanced manner with very even pacing. As the story evolved, it built in intensity right up until its cliff-hanger ending. This was a professionally written novel that easily stands against other contemporary works in the fantasy/science fiction genre in terms of its interesting story line and craftsmanship.

The story involves the inhabitants of a world existing at a medieval level of technology. A kingdom is in conflict that is escalating with time, leading to ever more significant bloodshed, unrest, and instability. The land is occupied by two fully sentient species, humans and the reptilian wynts. For many generations, the two groups lived in peace and interacted without conflict. When the human emperor suddenly called for complete extermination of the wynts, the land was divided into three distinct groups, the humans who supported the emperor's plan of xenocide, the humans who opposed the emperor's plan, and the wynts. Most of the wynts have developed a complete distrust of all humans, and are seeking to avoid them altogether, but the localized skirmishes are ever broadening as the emperor's troops expand their scourging activities. These exterminations are growing to include even those humans who support the wynts.

The novel begins as a human named Roark awakens in the middle of a road with no memory of who is he. He has an intricate tattoo on his forearm that marks him as a wyntish sympathizer. Slowly he comes to understand what the emperor's plan entails, but without any sense of his past, he is forced to come to grips with the conflicts in his land and what side he will take. These choices are far from benign. Life and death hang in the balance. Just as the emperor's troops have targeted Roark for the trouble that he has stirred up, he is plucked from the existence that he knows into a completely alien world orchestrated by a mysterious force called the Overseer, who is attempting to resolve the conflict on the planet by wiping out all sentient life and starting again. Somehow Roark has a part to play in this plan. However, before Roark can make any sense of the new reality that has been thrust upon him, he is fighting for his life against other individuals selected by the Overseer. Roark makes a choice to take a stand and reject the mad plans of the Overseer, but first he has to escape the blood sport that he finds himself a part of.

I have learned through Bill that Elijah Quinn Carlson plans two more books in this series and is presently working on the second. I look forward to see how he brings everything together in this fast paced and intriguing story.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Apparently I'm Not

They say that wisdom often comes with age. As the odometer on our life's biological Yugo advances, it is only natural that we figure out a thing or two along the way. These lessons are not just limited to things in the world around us, but also to things about ourselves. Sometimes, in our youth, we can think that we have the correct answers, but oftentimes age illuminates a wholly different reality. Over time, I have come to realize a few painful and frustrating truths about myself. For example, apparently I'm not
  • someone who can have a snack before bedtime and not gain 10 lbs before the alarm goes off the next morning
  • someone who was meant to have a full, thick head of hair that drives the dames crazy
  • someone who can find his way around the third floor at work without getting hopelessly lost and having to meekly ask for directions to the nearest exit
  • someone who can solve a simple set of coupled differential equations before I have a few sips of a moist java beverage in the morning
  • someone who can avoid blisters by simply pondering physical labor for just a moment.
So, as I lay myself bare before you, I hope that you won't judge me too harshly or think me a frail girly man.