Yes, I Noticed

The fact that I put up a post about how I’m not a book review blog and then immediately posted a book review is not lost on me.

Irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.

In my defense, I did enjoy the book and am preparing a post on knife fighting for writers. Not like a how to be a knife-fighting writer, but more along the lines of what knife fighting is really like.

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Book Review – Seer of Souls by Susan Faw

To save the world, they must be born of the world. The battles between the Kingdom of Cathair and the Primordial forces at Daimon Ford are the stuff of legends. Desperate to save the world, two immortals choose to be reborn as mortals, wiping away all memory of their divine existence. But even as Cayden, and his twin sister Avery make the ultimate sacrifice, other gods are plotting against them. At the point of birth, divine intervention and powerful, ancient magic are called upon to snatch their souls from the dying flesh of a princess’s poisoned womb. The royal family of the Kingdom of Cathair has always been the physical Spirit Shield of the world. With the murder of the entire royal family, who guards the secrets within the castle walls? Can the magic of the gods, old and new, ensure the safe keeping of the immortal treasure within, and if they fail, who will choose for the unborn? Helga, the goddess of the underworld, is not amused and has set into play a diabolical scheme of her own. There is a little place called Sanctuary by the Sea and chaos is about to pay a visit… This is Seer of Souls, Book one of the Spirit Shield Saga, a fantasy read for all ages.

Some reviewers have said that this book started slow and only picked up momentum about half-way through. I respectfully disagree; the pace moves along quite nicely throughout the book, it’s just that the pace (and the tension) amp up at the end and, in comparison, make the beginning seem tame.

That’s not a bad thing.

Take your average fantasy story and you’ll see a handful of commonalities: evil king or queen, outsiders, some magic, maybe a dragon or two. Perhaps, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a damsel in need of saving and a plucky band of ne’er-do-wells out to save the day. Seer Of Souls has some of those things, which is to be expected of a fantasy novel. Other things, such as the dragons and damsels in distress, are lacking. Again, not a bad thing. There’s really only so much you can do with damsels in distress when you don’t have a train handy. Call me a traditionalist, I just prefer my damsels in distress to be tied to railroad tracks by a mustache-twirling baddie.

And don’t get me started on dragons.

What Seer Of Souls does have that a lot of the fantasy genre is lacking is a clever bit of intrigue. Instead of huge armies clashing on forlorn battlefields and wizards cracking reality square in the nose, what Faw gives us is a clever way to infiltrate. She’s taken the fantasy genre and given it a good, solid whack on the keister. Maybe it’s just because I don’t read that much fantasy (see my previous bit about damsels and trains), but the change from huge armies clashing made the story seem fresh. More than that, it made the story seem much more personal. This doesn’t have a huge cast of caricatures, it has some realistic people who aren’t certain they’re always doing the right thing. It’s got people with powers who don’t completely understand those powers. It’s also got a antagonist with questionable fashion tastes. All of that makes for a story you can fall into.

This is only book one of The Spirit Shield Saga, but it’s off to a good start. I hope Faw expands on her world – especially the Primordials – and keeps up with the intrigue in future releases.

seerofsouls

Get your copy here

Clarity

I feel like I should probably clarify something. I periodically get requests to review a book and, while I’m flattered, I usually don’t wind up reviewing that book. This isn’t meant to say I’m not interested in the requests I get, I’m just not primarily a book review blog. I’m not sure if I could say exactly what kind of blog I’m running here, but it’s definitely not intended to be a book review blog. There are people who much better at that than me. Go to the pros; they’ve got a bigger following, anyway.

You see, as soon as I published my first book and found just how damned difficult it is to get reviews, I decided to start reviewing everything I read (even that CISSP book that I’m still stumbling through). Over time I’ve managed to review quite a few things, but it’s usually stuff I find on my own. I know I usually give glowing reviews, but that’s just how I am. If I come across something I don’t like, it doesn’t get reviewed. I’d rather praise something than bring someone down.

At any rate, if you’ve got something you want me to review, you can drop me a line, but be warned I may or may not get back to you. I’m not trying to be a jerk or anything, I just don’t have a huge amount of free time. Even if I agree to review something, it may or may not get posted; like I said, I don’t leave negative reviews.

All that said, reviews don’t have to be intricate. If you’re struggling with writing a review for something on Amazon or wherever, go simple. As an author, all I really need to see is “I liked it.” If there’s a problem or you don’t like something, that’s all good, too.

Here’s some clip ‘n’ save pre-built reviews for your perusing pleasure.

  • I liked it.
  • I stayed up all night pondering the philosophical ramifications.
  • This book was so bad I think it gave me cancer.
  • A most enjoyable read about <insert subject here>.
  • While I cannot rid the world of this piece of effluvia, I am now making it my goal in life to make sure no one else ever suffers the crippling side-effects of reading it.
  • After reading this book I feel like colors are brighter and birds are singing only to me. It was that good!
  • Life is now dull and meaningless, a trite exercise in the mechanics day-to-day existence. It was that good, and that’s a bad thing.

Anyway, keep writing. If you’ve got something you think I might like, drop me a line. I can’t promise I’ll read it or even review it, but you never know. It never hurts to ask. I don’t have much in the way of a review policy, so I can’t point you to that, but I do enjoy lots of different genres.

And now, your moment of Zen.

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For Writers, Some Notes On The Martial Arts

Most people don’t write martial arts into books. The details of how and why things work in martial systems is difficult to distill into simple words. I wrote a post sometime back about how to translate the physical aspects into something that was a bit more entertaining than “A hammer-fist to the back of the head followed by a palm strike to the nose and claw to the face.” Whether or not it helped anyone out, I don’t know, but it was a good exercise for me.

The basic gist of that post was you need to have an understanding of how and why things work and the ability to turn it into fiction without sounding like a pompous ass or ITG. Today I’d like to take a slight turn and look at the macro world of the martial arts instead of the individual movements of the martial arts.

Many years ago I was reading one of Laurell Hamilton’s Anita Blake books when I stumbled across something peculiar. Hamilton was probably my first exposure to the world of urban fantasy and I still generally enjoy her work even if a lot of it has become an excuse to lurch from one kinky sex scene to another. Or maybe because her work lurches from one kinky sex scene to another. Hamilton was doing the vampire human werewolf thing long before Meyer dropped onto the scene and, to be frank, Hamilton did it better.

At any rate, there was a line in one of the books where Anita Blake tells the reader she’s been studying Kenpo. I thought “Aha! I know that one.” At that point I’d been studying Kenpo for a few years and had a fairly good grasp on what the system was really like. Then Anita drops a bomb on us when she says Kenpo is basically like Tae Kwon Do.

That’s probably not the exact quote, but it’s the general gist of the narrative. Now, as someone who has studied both Kenpo and Tae Kwon Do, let me tell you something: they’re nowhere near the same.

So, with that firmly in mind, I decided to put together a little bit about some of the more popular martial systems out there to (hopefully) give authors a decent idea of what each system does. Bear in mind, I’ve only studied a handful of these, so I may be a bit off on some of them, but this should be sufficient to give a decent introduction. At the very least, you won’t be stuck with the old Judo chop meme.

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Since we’ve already brought up Kenpo and Tae Kwon Do, we’ll start with those and then move into some others.

Tae Kwon Do

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Take that board. And your buddies, too.

Tae Kwon Do is a Korean martial art renowned for its kicks. The whole system – from what I’ve seen of it – isn’t exclusively kicking, but there are a lot of different types of kicks in TKD. and they do them all very well. All TKD schools follow the same curriculum, which is pretty convenient. It’s one of the few really well codified systems out there. If you have a character who excels at kicking, TKD is a good art for them to know.

For more information on TKD check out the World Tae Kwon Do Federation

Fun Fact: There are an estimated 70 million people world-wide practicing Tae Kwon Do.

Other common Korean martial systems include Hapkido and Hwa Rang Do

Kenpo

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Everyone’s got a little Elvis foot in ’em.

Kenpo, American Kenpo anyway, is an American system. It was born in Hawaii in the 1940s and moved into the mainland in the 60s and 70s under the guidance of Ed Parker. It has since dispersed across a number of masters and bits of it have been changed or added to over the years. Kenpo is primarily a hand art that focuses on rapid-fire strikes to multiple targets. There are kicks in Kenpo, but they’re not as prevalent as, say, Tae Kwon Do.. Kenpo is not a sport system; as such, strikes to the knees, throat, groin, and eyes are all encouraged.

Kenpo’s fairly fractured, but most of the schools I’ve seen all teach pretty much the same kinds of things. Check out my school’s page here.

Fun Fact: Elvis Presley was a Kenpo black belt. The picture above is Elvis and Ed Parker.

Muay Thai

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One of the more popular striking arts in MMA is Muay Thai. It’s also known as Thai boxing, Thai kickboxing, and the Science of Eight Limbs. Muay Thai is the sportified version of the traditional Thai martial arts and it’s extremely popular in Thailand. It’s known for its use of fists, elbows, knees, and feet, hence the name: The Science of Eight Limbs.

Muay Thai fighters are famous for being able to do things like kick down banana trees with their shins.

Find more information on Muay Thai here

Fun fact: the non-sport versions of Muay Thai are collectively referred to as Muay Boran.

Kung Fu

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Kung Fu isn’t a totally accurate term for the fighting arts of China – Wushu is a bit more accurate. But even then, Wushu is a blanket term for a country that’s probably done more for the martial arts than any other place on the planet. Wushu covers dozens of distinct styles including things like Wing Chun, Mantis, Hun Gar, White Crane, Fighting Crane, Drunken Boxing, and so on. Calling a character a Kung Fu master is a bit misleading since there are so many styles native to China. Wing Chun is a common style that, among other things, makes excellent use of blasting – rapid fire strikes to a target.

Find out more about Wing Chun here

Fun fact: It has been argued that Okinawan Karate (and thus Japanese Karate) was based on Chinese White Crane Wushu.

Jeet Kune Do

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Jeet Kune Do is less a system of fighting than a philosophy of fighting. When Bruce Lee developed Jeet Kune Do, he did so as a response to what he felt were too many strict rules in Wing Chun. Jeet Kune Do fighters make use of a lot of Wing Chun, but the system is more stripped down and has added elements of fencing and Western boxing. The focus in Jeet Kune Do is to be able to fluidly move and react in a fight situation without relying on traditional methods.

Find out more about Jeet Kune Do here

Fun fact: Jeet Kune Do was created by Bruce Lee.

Judo

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Contrary to the Judo Chop meme, Judo is primarily a grappling and throwing system that relies less on striking and more on tossing opponents around. It was originally developed as a less-lethal and easier to learn version of Jiu-Jitsu. While strikes exist in Judo, they are only part of kata and are disallowed in competition. So much for the vaunted Judo chop.

Find out more about Judo here

Fun fact: Vladimir Putin is a world-class Judo practitioner and has even delivered classes at the Kodokan.

Jiu Jitsu

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Jiu Jitsu was developed by Samurai who realized punching or kicking an armored opponent would have little effect, but throwing worked quite nicely. No matter how much armor a person is wearing, a good throw can be devastating. It has since traveled the globe and morphed into many forms including Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Jiu Jitsu primarily focuses on throws and joint locks and relies less on strikes.

Find out more about Jiu Jitsu here

Fun fact: The women’s suffrage movement owes a lot to Jiu Jitsu; suffragettes used it to defend themselves against an aggressive police force. Also, Anthony Bourdain (the famous chef) is a practitioner and recently won his first match.

Aikido

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Another system that I’ve studied, albeit very briefly. Aikido was primarily developed in the 1920s and 1930s by Morihei Ueshiba. While Aikido makes extensive use of throws and joint locks like Judo and Jiu Jitsu, Aikido’s goal was to create a self-defense system that not only protected the practitioner, but also the assailant. It focuses less on grappling than either Judo or Jiu Jitsu and instead relies on quick throws and joint locks.

Find out more about Aikido here

Fun fact: Aikido is the system Steven Segal practices.

Krav Maga

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Krav Maga (literally “contact combat”) is an Israeli system that was originally developed for the Israeli Defense Forces. It’s primarily a striking art, but is unique for the amount of time it spends teaching students how to deal with armed opponents. Krav Maga is a no-frills, all-out system of fighting.

Find out more about Krav Maga here

Fun fact: the IDF still uses Krav Maga and is continually updating and refining the system.

Karate

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Much like Wushu, Karate covers quite a lot of ground in various Japanese and Okinawan systems. It runs the gamut from hard style to soft style and everything in between. I’ve studied Okinawan karate in the distant past. Karate practitioners tend to rely on fists, but kicking is definitely not out of the question. Common Karate schools include Shotokan, Kojosho, and Kyokushin.

Find out more about Karate here

Fun fact: One of the great tests in Kyokushin Karate is the 100-man kumite where one person will fight 100 others.

Western Boxing

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Western Boxing is a hands-only fighting system common in America and Europe. While some martial systems look down on boxing for failing to use kicks, it’s an extremely effective fighting style. Sometime back in the 70s or 80s, Kenpo set up some show-off matches against boxers. The Kenpo fighters won the first set hands-down, but as the boxers learned how to deal with kicks the tables turned pretty quickly.

Find out more about Boxing here

Fun fact: In its early history, boxing was a bare-knuckles affair. Bare knuckle fighting tends to get bloody, so to reduce the blood (and attract more women to matches) gloves were introduced to the sport.

Capoeira

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The final entry on this list is a lesser-known system: Capoeira. Capoeira is South American system developed by slaves. At the time the slaves weren’t allowed to learn to fight or practice fighting, so they hid their movements in techniques that looked like dance.

Find out more about Capoeira here

Fun fact: Capoeira fights often contain music and are referred to as games

These are just a few of the hundreds of martial arts systems out there. They all have their own philosophies and ways of doing things. Just like any other process – driving a car, shooting a gun, hacking a computer – it behooves authors to read up on and learn about what kind of fighting their characters may be doing. It could be codified like Savate, or just a straight-up bar room brawl. If you have someone who’s supposedly an Aikido expert punching and kicking, it’s going to look strange. If you say Tae Kwon Do and Kenpo are basically the same, you’re gonna get some raised eyebrows.

Questions? Comments? Drop me a line! I’m always happy to talk martial arts.

Book Review – The Blind Girl’s Sword by Kimberly Coleman

Minus the fantasy… the tales could be from today’s headlines on the war in the Middle East…

Tazakul is a dystopic, polluted country where dreams are pursued out of habit since no one can even remember how the war began between their two main provinces. Draka and Dikallah citizens remain trapped in what now seems like a ‘forever war’ in which their lives are reduced to trying to survive car bombs, censorship, refugee camps, sex slavery, chemical weapons, vengeful Witches, and a race of cannibals who travels when it rains… Even though each day is filled with fear, every dawn begins with hope that this one will be the beginning of peace. Humans never learn…

Okay, the full title is The Blind Girl’s Sword: Volume Zero, the Blind Girl’s War. This is the prequel to Before the Sun Goes Down, which is Volume One in the Blind Girl’s War saga which contains the meat of the story. However, as Star Wars has taught us, every tale has a beginning and The Blind Girl’s Sword kicks off the saga in a way that the first three Star Wars movies only dreamed of. Rather than sucking like The Phantom Menace and its ilk, the Blind Girl’s Sword is engrossing and entertaining.

Imagine, if you will for a moment, a world of perpetual war. A place where governments lie to the populace and leaders have absolute control to do things like dig a girl’s eyes out of her head for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. No, not America, although the similarities are striking now that I think about it.

The world of The Blind Girl’s Sword is, for lack of a better word, a mess. It’s set in a kind of Middle East where two factions have been fighting for longer than anyone can remember and for reasons no one cares to recall. Coleman fills this world with characters who are basically just trying to survive by whatever means necessary. The sheer insanity of the world at large is undercut by the citizenry of a city that goes about its business mechanically: opening shops, selling banned books, stealing from the leadership, that sort of thing. It’s a richly detailed miasma with hints of the paranormal echoing around the fringes.

Now, as I said earlier, every story has a beginning. This is the lead-in to a much larger (and still in process) work. The Blind Girl’s Sword shows the precipitating events that lead to the events of the rest of the rest of the series. In essence, this shows how intended acts of kindness can lead to monsters and one, random and senseless act can have unintended consequences.

All in all, a masterfully detailed story with rich characters that leaves you wondering where the rest of the series is going to go.

BLindGirlSword

Get Your Copy Here

The Gift That Kept On Giving

Sometime mid last year I got it into my head that I needed to build a cyclocross bike. We were at a friend’s wedding and got a short tour of the bikes Johnny had built over the years, one of which was a cylcocross bike. I’m not sure what it was about it, but I decided I needed to try my hand at building one.

Now, I’m far too old to take up competitive cyclocross (for those who don’t know, think of it as a cross between road biking and mountain biking), but the idea of bombing along fire roads on what amounts to a hopped road bike appealed to me. Besides, I’ve tinkered with bikes for years but never built one up from scratch.

So when my wife asked me what I wanted for Christmas in 2015 I immediately pointed her to a Nashbar aluminum cyclocross frame. Christmas morning I got up to a giant box with a feather-light frame in it and soon set about figuring out how to put it all together. Fortunately, I had some help in the form of a couple avid cycling friends who pointed me in the right direction and answered some of my incredibly stupid questions (Are 29er wheels the same size as 700c? What’s the difference between a regular crankset and compact crankset? On and on and on).

From January til now, I’ve been finding parts all over the Internet and slowly assembling my first ‘cross bike.

biek frame
02/03/16 Basic frame. Found a set of Ellsworth aluminum forks and an FSA stem on ebay. The seatpost in the pic is from my wife’s bike (turns out she still needed it to, you know, hold the seat on the frame).
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2/13/16 FSA Headset installed, headset spacers installed, stem temporarily in place. Oval Concepts seatpost and WTB Laser saddle. The saddle is a leftover from WTB’s Test Ride seats. Dirt cheap and about as close to brand new as you can get. The bottom bracket is also in place.
Bike3
2/20/16 – Drop bars added. This is the first bike I’ve had with drop bars since my old 10 speed in 1985. In an exciting twist of events, this will have double the gears: 2 up front, 10 in the back. By the way, it was 70 in Albuquerque when I took this picture. In February. Strange weather year.
bike wheels
First test mount of the wheels. I didn’t have rim tape or tubes in them yet. 02/25/2016
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03/02/2016 – Rim tape and tubes mean real wheels. You can’t really see it from here, but the rear brake is mounted. Finally fully lubed and assembled the bottom bracket and got the cranks put on and tightened down. Tonight was the first night I got to sit on this beast.
I has breaks. 03/25/2016
I has breaks. 03/25/2016. I wound up having to replace the Shimano brakes. They were for a mountain bike and the road levers have a different pull. I could pull the levers all the way to the bar and the brakes still wouldn’t engage. Protip: Road brakes and Mountain brakes don’t work quite the same way.
And most of a drive train.
And most of a drive train. I’ve actually got a chain, but wanted to get the shifters before I put the chain on. 03/25/2016
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04/09/2016 – Most everything is done. Still adjusting things and haven’t wrapped the bars.
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04/10/2016. Fully assembled. Still need to do a bit of work on the rear derailleur – it won’t let me shift to the highest gear, and the back brake whines a bit. Minor tweaks.

Total costs (minus the frame. It was a gift, but they go for about $150)

  • Stem: FSA OS-140 Carbon. Found on eBay for 15.99
  • Headset: FSA Orbit MX. Found on eBay for 34.99
  • Seatpost: Oval Concepts. Found on eBay for 13.70
  • Headset spacers: 10mm FSA carbon. Found on eBay for 3.24
  • Crankset and Bottom Bracket: FSA Gossamer. Found on eBay for 50.00
  • Bars: FSA Energy Ergo, found on eBay for 19.99
  • Fork: Ellsworth aluminum. Found on eBay for 69.99
  • Bar tape: Deda. Found on eBay for 8.45 shipped
  • Saddle: WTB Laser V, found on PricePoint for 22.98
  • Seatpost Clamp: Azonic. Found on PricePoint for 6.98
  • Tires: Schawlbe CX Comp HS 369. Found on Amazon for 19.98 each.
  • Wheelset: Shimano RM35 Mavic TN317. Found on eBay for 130.96
  • Brake/Shift Levers: SRAM Apex. Found on eBay for 139.00
  • Brake Calipers: Avid BB-5R, found on Amazon for 78.00 for the pair
  • Brake Rotors: Rear, Shimano Deore SM-RT62 (160mm), eBay 12.99. Front, Shimano SM-RT54 (180mm). eBay 16.39
  • Front Derailleur: SRAM X7, eBay 15.00
  • Rear Derailleur: SRAM X7, eBay 35.00
  • Pedals: Shimano (pulled from old bike)
  • Chain: SRAM PC-1031, eBay 17.60
  • Cassette: SRAM PG-1030, eBay 43.94

Miscellaneous costs:

  • Headset installation: 10.00
  • Brake adapters: 9.95 on PricePoint
  • Rim Tape 6.00 on PricePoint
  • Tubes 6.00 PricePoint
  • Extra 20mm M6 bolts 10.00 on eBay
  • Cable kit, bottle, cage, seat pack: 32.00 on PricePoint

Total Cost (minus frame): 829.17

It weighs in at slightly over 25 lbs.