In Praise of Brevity

Warning:  What follows is profound.  Extinguish all smiles and assume an air of philosophical introspection.  It will probably help to slightly furrow your brow.

Polonius said that “brevity is the soul of wit.”  And since Polonius was a windbag I feel that I am in good company praising it.  Maybe it’s because of Amazon and the payouts on Kindle reads.  But for whatever the reason we live in the age of the mega-novel.  More than that, we live in the age of the endless book series.  Sometimes that’s a not a terrible thing.  I’ve been enjoying the Galaxy’s Edge series.  They’re a lot of fun.  But hand in hand with this emphasis on long novels, short stories have sort of disappeared.  I freely admit that statement is an exaggeration.  I’m currently reading a collection of short stories taking place in Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter universe.  There are short stories to be found.  But I can only imagine the meager income an author would earn if he limited his efforts to short stories.  I mean, what does Amazon pay an author if someone reads a ten-page short story?  Five cents?  You could see how that would limit grocery purchases.  So, I do not fault the authors who need to eat for gearing their output to the five hundred-page novel.  And the same goes for the series.  Characters that have proven popular are the obvious candidate for more success for an author.

But I want to throw my weight behind short stories.  A good short story is like a good poem.  It is concentrated creativity.  Without a doubt, Dickens or Tolstoy can create an epic creation of many hundreds of pages with a huge cast of characters that are lovingly depicted in amazing detail.  Reading this work is a feast of literary pleasures.  Without a doubt.  But if a master craftsman writes a short story barely two dozen pages long it can be a revelation.  Like some kind of minimalist sketch, he can use a few brush strokes to bring life to a story or a character.  And the effect can actually be more vivid than the grand epic.  Carefully done, the few words can resonate with the soul where the hundreds of thousands merely numb.

I love short stories.  Let me clarify.  I love really well written short stories.  Edgar Allen Poe, James Joyce, Jack London, Kipling.  And in science fiction, Sturgeon, Ellison, Dick, Aldiss.  These authors have produced short stories that stand out as original and memorable.  They leave an impression on the mind that can be indelible.  And of course, not every short story they did is in that category.  But that’s okay.  It’s the exception that proves the rule.  After all it was Sturgeon’s Law that says that “90% of everything is crud.”

 

I’ll list a few of my favorite short stories.  If you feel like playing leave a few of yours in the comments.

To Build a Fire by Jack London

Counterparts by James Joyce

The Dead by James Joyce

And Now the News by Theodore Sturgeon

Galaxy’s Edge (Volume 8) – Message for the Dead – A Science Fiction Book Review

Spoiler Alert!  I discuss some plot details.  If you don’t want to know, then long story, short, it’s another great addition to the Galaxy’s Edge series.  It’s full of daring heroics, brilliant battle scenes and fascinating characters trying to survive the downfall of the Galactic Republic.

Up until “Message for the Dead,” Jason Anspach and Nick Cole had made their series, Galaxy’s Edge about the conflict between the factions fighting for control of the Galactic Republic.  The Legion has attempted to maneuver in the military, moral and political space between the corrupt civilian government of the Republic (The House of Reason) and the active military enemies of the Republic represented by the zhee, the Mid Core Rebellion (MCR) and the Black Fleet Forces of Goth Sullus (now known as the Empire).  But by the conclusion of the previous volume (Turning Point) the Legion had used their constitutional authority to denounce the House of Reason, to force an investigation of their corruption and to call for new elections.  This looked like a step forward to resolving the crisis and allowing the Legion to concentrate on the external military threat.  Hah!

In Message for the Dead FUBAR is the order of the hour and all hell breaks loose.  The main battle scene in the space around the Republic’s capitol planet Utopion is a swirling cauldron of death for all the fighting forces, Republic Navy, Legion, Black Forces and the MCR.  But none of them are prepared for the arrival of the Cybar.  They are the biggest wild card in the battle and their allegiance is misunderstood by most of the combatants.

And in this book, we finally learn the depths of X’s duplicity.  He’s been using the Legion, the House of Reason and the Black Fleet as chess pieces in his own merciless campaign to reshape the Galaxy’s government through violent crisis.  We finally get to hear his specific plan and his self-justification from his own lips.

And in the foreground of the story is the Legion’s best soldiers, Victory Squad.  In various situations, they and their friends fight to save civilization from the predators and the tyrants.  But by the end of the story they are fighting just to stay alive.  At the beginning of the book Captain Keel recruits friends and even enemies to help him rescue his shipmates from the Cybar mother ship.  By the end of the book Keel is called on to repay the favor by rescuing Major Chun and all that is left of Victory Squad from the midst of a planetary extermination operation being perpetrated by the Cybar.

Well, now that Anspach and Cole have destroyed everything in sight I guess they’ll have to write about ten more books to try and put humpty-dumpty back together again.  These boys are really getting it done.  I read these books as fast as I get my hands on them.  They balance the story between the military action, science fiction elements and the human interest in the characters.  The sheer number of characters they create is impressive but the detail is there and that helps keep the reader’s interest from flagging.

Interestingly, the story is now introducing an aspect that seems to be an echo of older mythology.  It’s too early to tell but I think there is an almost Tolkienian plot element being introduced.  Of course, this is a guess on my part.  What has occurred is so far only a suggestion of a plot direction.  We’ll see.

Hail Galaxy’s Edge.  Long may you torture your legionnaires and my bank account.

My Annual Halloween Celebration

Lichen on Monument
The Raven is a Wicked Bird

 

Halloween was always one of my favorite holidays as a kid and in my heart of hearts I haven’t really progressed far from that.  I guess I’m not a progressive.  So here is the advantage to being in business for more than a year.  The calendar allows you to recycle stuff you did last year.  I did movie reviews of the Universal Classic Monster Movies and a few other related films last year and I’ll recycle them around for the Halloween season.  And I’ll add some additional films to avoid the label of laziness.  I’ll also try to find some other Halloween content.  I guess Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes” is sort of the quintessential American story for this time of year.  But there are all kinds of other stuff out there from Poe to (yikes) Lovecraft to even that lefty doofus Stephen King.  So stay tuned and I’ll start cycling those in.

 

 

04OCT2018 – OCF Update

Looking ahead, I will be reviewing a few science fiction and fantasy books.  I’m currently reading the pre-release copy of Hans G. Schantz’s third volume in his “Hidden Truth” series.  It’s called “The Brave and the Bold.” It’s a combination of a techno-thriller and a parallel history story.  I’m only about halfway through but there are all kinds of nice touches.  And the technical stuff is 100% legit.  And there are a couple of other books in the hopper.  Larry Correia edited a collection of short stories by famous (and not so famous) fantasy writers writing in his Monster Hunter universe called “The Monster Hunter Files.”  Then there’s the next volume in the Galaxy’s Edge series called “Message for the Dead.”  So, it’s a busy reading month ahead.  I have some movie reviews coming up and I want to go through some of my older photo collections for fresh content for the photo of the day.  And I’ve got to keep up with my Trump vs … series.  President Trump is sure to get involved in political mayhem sometime soon and he’s sure to bring along his long-suffering buddy Mike Pence and fixer Mad Dog Mattis for clean up.  And of course the daily drum beat of SCOTUS confirmation lunacy and mid-term skullduggery along with the baleful shadow of Mueller will provide me with plenty of fresh fodder for my political blather.

So stay tuned.

 

The Great Revolt – by Salena Zito and Brad Todd – A Book Review – Part 3

In Part 2 of this review I said that the Great Revolt is divided into a number of chapters, each named after a particular group of Trump voters that because of their circumstances either flipped from the Democrats to Trump or stayed with Trump despite an ideological conflict with him.

For each of these categories there are several individuals who exemplify the profile but live in a different location.  These locations are rural, or towns and cities located in the ten counties in question in Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

In each of these categories and in each of these locations we are shown how the Democrats started out as the natural or default political party but ended up becoming the reason to vote for the unlikely personage of Donald J. Trump.  Although the list includes some individuals who are affluent and highly educated they all reside in areas of the country that have been taken for granted and at the same time abandoned by the Democratic Elite.  The people interviewed range from pillars of the community and entrepreneurs to folks who have barely survived hard economic times that coincided with personal tragedy and challenge.  But they all look to Donald Trump to correct problems.  Economic problems, cultural problems, moral problems.  Not all of these people are conservatives or even moderates.  Some are demonstrably old school Democrats.  But what they all are is self-described Americans.  None of them think of themselves as citizens of the world.  None of them have bought into the globalist perspective and many of them are obviously mourning for the death of their homes.  Places like Erie and Freeland Pennsylvania are for all intents and purposes dead.  There aren’t any growing industries and even the few employers left are slowly moving out to the sunbelt.  Young adults leave for opportunities elsewhere.  Parents and grandparents stay because they can’t sell their houses.  Who would buy them?  All they are left with is memories of happier times when they were part of a thriving community with a future and the dignity of earning a living and raising their families.  In these places voting for Donald Trump is almost a reflex.  A final self-defensive movement.

But other examples show communities that are still viable and even thriving but even in these places the inhabitants recognize that the Democrats don’t pretend to share the values that these communities still believe in.  Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio.  These are all places that are seeing themselves ignored because they are the areas where remnant blue collar communities are supposed to disappear and be replaced by the new constituencies that are earmarked for inclusion in the “coalition of the ascendant.”

So, speaking in broad generalities, who are the Trump voters that handed him Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Iowa?  For the most part, they are the union guys who stopped voting for Republicans after Ronald Reagan.  If we start in the worst hit spot in the Rust Belt we’re in Pennsylvania.  Places like Erie and Wilkes Barre have been deconstructed to the point that it’s remarkable anyone at all is left.  After all the industries from yesteryear shut down and off-shored to China Obama finished it off by outlawing coal.  Places like Wisconsin are comparatively healthy.  Many of the largest manufacturers are gone but entrepreneurial types have stepped in and started smaller companies in emerging industries that still employ many people and keep the areas as viable communities for families and young adults to remain in.  In between these extremes is the rest of the gradient.  What they all share was a dependence on large scale union employment in heavy industry.  And because of this history they typically voted Democrat.  And they thought of the Republicans as their class enemies.  What they didn’t see happening was the Democrats moving on from needing them or more specifically pretending to care about their votes.  Once the Democrats had built up the “Coalition of the Ascendant,” these mid-west white union workers were an embarrassment to the rest of the coalition.  They weren’t college educated and they didn’t eat the right foods or care about the right causes and they might even believe in God.  So, the best thing to do was quietly stop talking about them and wait until they dropped dead so they could be replaced with some Central Americans or Middle Easterners.  But somehow, they are still there so they are looking for a new political home.  Donald Trump provided that.  He was the first Republican since Ronald Reagan to acknowledge their plight and actually come up with a plan for helping them.  Finally, let’s sum it up.

Bottom Line

Boiling down all the cases and places it comes down to this.  Donald Trump was elected president by the Rust Belt blue collar working areas because he was willing to promise to save them.

 

In the last part of this review I’ll give my thoughts on where we go from here.

The Great Revolt – by Salena Zito and Brad Todd – A Book Review – Part 2

In Part 1 of this review I said that there were a number of personal accounts by Trump voters in swing states that provided remarkable insight into how Trump was able to topple the Midwestern “Blue Wall.”  After finishing up the book I can confirm that this is the case.  But this only one of several facets that the book reveals about the current state of the American electorate and how it intersects with the political parties, the media, corporate America and the globalist elites in general.

I will divide the review into appropriate topics that correspond to the book’s logical components.  But first I’ll give a general synopsis of the overall conclusion of why Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.

The bottom line is that Donald Trump ended up with a healthy majority of electoral votes (304 to 227) because just ten counties in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa flipped their votes from Democrat to Republican.  Each of these counties had voted for Obama in both 2008 and 2012.  Trump was able to convince Democratic voters to vote for a Republican presidential candidate.  The rest of the book is devoted to figuring out why this happened and what the larger significance is.

The book is divided into a number of chapters, each named after a particular group of Trump voters that because of their circumstances either flipped from the Democrats to Trump or stayed with Trump despite an ideological conflict with him.

The categories are:

  • Red Blooded and Blue Collared
  • Perot-istas
  • Rough Rebounders
  • Girl Gun Power
  • Rotary Reliables
  • King Cyrus Christians
  • Silent Suburban Moms

The category names are probably transparent enough to more or less figure out what each group is defined by.

For each of these categories there are several individuals who exemplify the profile but live in a different location.  These locations are rural, town and cities located in the ten counties in question:

  1. Lee County, Iowa
  2. Howard County, Iowa
  3. Macomb County, Michigan
  4. Lake County, Michigan
  5. Ashtabula County, Ohio
  6. Stark County, Ohio
  7. Erie County, Pennsylvania
  8. Luzerne County, Pennsylvania
  9. Kenosha County, Wisconsin
  • Vernon County, Wisconsin

 

In each of these categories and in each of these locations we are shown how the Democrats went from being the natural or default choice to instead become the reason to believe in the unlikely personage of Donald J. Trump.  Although the list includes some individuals who are affluent and highly educated they all reside in areas of the country that have been either taken for granted or abandoned by the Democrat Elite.  They range from pillars of the community and entrepreneurs to folks who have barely survived hard economic times that coincided with personal tragedy and challenge.  But they all look to Donald Trump to correct problems.  Economic problems, cultural problems, moral problems.  Not all of these people are conservatives or even moderates.  Some are demonstrably old school Democrats.  But what they all are is self-described Americans.  None of them think of themselves as citizens of the world.  None of them have bought into the globalist perspective and many of them are obviously mourning for the death of their homes.  Places like Erie and Freeland Pennsylvania are for all intents and purposes dead.  There aren’t any growing industries and even the few employers left are slowly moving out to the sunbelt.  Young adults leave for opportunities elsewhere.  Parents and grandparents stay because they can’t sell their houses.  Who would buy them?  All they are left with is memories of happier times when they were part of a thriving community with a future and the dignity of earning a living and raising their families.  In these places voting for Donald Trump is almost a reflex.  A final self-defensive movement.  But other examples show communities that are still viable and even thriving but recognizing that the Democrats don’t pretend to care about the values that differentiate these communities from the progressive narrative.  Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio.  These are all places that are seeing themselves ignored because they are the areas where remnant blue collar communities are supposed to disappear and be replaced by the new constituencies that are earmarked for inclusion in the “coalition of the ascendant.”

In the next installment I’ll give my thoughts on some of the stories and what I think they mean to me, in other words, how they square with my own understanding of the American situation.

The Great Revolt – by Salena Zito and Brad Todd – A Book Review – Part 1

The full title of this book is “The Great Revolt, Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics.”  When I was told I needed to read this I was a little resentful.  I don’t enjoy reading about politics for the most part.  This may be because lately political books are typically candidates telling us their inspirational biographies and why they are uniquely qualified to save the United States and by extension the whole free world.  Obama, Hillary, McCain, blah, blah, blah.  But I dutifully bought it two months ago and put it into the stack.

So, I started it.  It’s a combination of election analysis identifying the categories of voters who flipped the election to Donald Trump and then interviews with people in those categories.  The analysis is interesting but the interviews are riveting.  As someone who understands the anger over being categorized as a deplorable or being dismissed as unimportant or openly mocked as a defeated yesterday man with no future I was fascinated.  The stories being told by people from small towns and dying cities in the Rust Belt resonated like a tuning fork with what I felt.  Now here I am, an Italian American from Brooklyn living in New England and an engineer working in a 21st century industry and yet I feel more kinship with these unemployed factory workers and small business people than with any of the people I work with every day who don’t believe in any of the things I do.

They voted for Trump for a variety of reasons depending on the type of person or their specific circumstances but as a whole they were voting for the idea that they still counted and couldn’t be just discounted because they weren’t the coalition of tomorrow.  Their grievances weren’t progressive enough and they were too white.  They were old news.  And the interesting thing so far is that all of them that voted in 2008 and 2012 voted for Obama.  I’ve still got a bunch to read and I have to digest the analytical stuff to see what it means to my understanding of national politics but I can already see that the personal stories are the bigger news.  This proves to me that the Trump rallies were very significant.  A lot of these people voted because it was personal.  Trump reached them with his message.  It spoke to them.  These marginalized people in depressed areas of what used to be the industrial heartland resonated to a message from a billionaire New York City reality show cartoon character.  I think this means both parties have abandoned a very large swathe of Americans and if Trump can address what they want he actually could ignite a Populist Revolt.  If most people figure out that they’ve been used by both parties we could have a real awakening and some big things can get done.

I’ll get into more detail when I finish this, but I’ve already learned more about the 2016 election from reading the personal accounts than by all the political analyses that came out in the last almost two years.  I’ve met the people that made Trump president.  Zito and Todd have written an important book.

Galaxy’s Edge (Volume 7) – Turning Point – A Science Fiction Book Review

Legionnaire (Galaxy’s Edge) (Volume 1) by Jason Anspach & Nick Cole – A Science Fiction Book Review

(Above is the review of the first book of the series)

Followers of my reviews of Jason Anspach’s and Nick Cole’s Galaxy’s Edge series know I am an avid fan.  Each volume has expanded the scope and depth of the imaginary universe that Galaxy’s Edge inhabits.  But “Turning Point” represents a sea change in the story.  It literally represents the turning point of the war.  For whereas each volume has included heroic resistance by the Legion to the enemies of the Republic, the corrupt regime of the House of Reason has always had free rein to sabotage every effort to save the Galaxy from its many enemies.  But in this episode, the mask is off and the Legion is unleashed to fight war as war should be fought, on equal terms.  To fight a treacherous foe without quarter and pay back sadistic evil with a merciless reckoning.  How sweet it is.

The story revolves around the decision by the House of Reason to arm the barbaric zhee with cutting edge weaponry and ships.  These fictional zhee are modelled after Islamic jihadis and they have a propensity for suicide bombings and decapitations that immediately reminds the reader of the Al Qaeda maniacs hiding out in the slums of Baghdad waiting for a chance to ambush any unlucky American soldiers guarding the Green Zone or manning a Forward Operating Base (FOB).  The other bizarre touch is that the zhee have donkey heads.  Now maybe this is the authors’ idea of political humor but it is truly a weird image for me.

The House of Reason is playing some kind of three-dimensional chess where they use the Black Fleet or the zhee to weaken the Legion so that the House can maintain control of the Galaxy even if it risks one of these enemies threatening to destroy the Republic itself.

In several of the earlier volumes there have been memorable battles portrayed, especially in Attack of Shadows and Legionnaire.  But Turning Point brings it to a new level.  Several new characters are very memorable but it’s the action that stays with you.  The set up is dire and just to make sure things don’t get easier there is treachery at the highest levels.  And the zhee are so despicable it’s hard to not enjoy every single gore-flinging kill.  The struggles, reversals, heroic sacrifices and exhausted victories keep your attention right to the end of the book.

And finally, the end of the book is a catharsis that the readers have been waiting for since book one of the series.  I won’t spoil it by giving details but I will say that the writers have given the readers what they needed and deserved, revenge.

Anspach and Cole have justified my loyalty through the whole series and now I’ll continue on to (!) Book Eight?  Sure, why not?  How many modern science fiction series not only provide fantastic mil-sci-fi action but also make fun of Progressives, the Deep State, Democrats and Al Qaeda all at the same time?  Not many that I know of.  So, in the words of the Legion, KTF and Ooah!

Congratulations to Kevin J. Anderson and Sarah A. Hoyt for their Dragon Awards Win

Dragon Award for Best Alternate History Novel went to “Uncharted” by Kevin J. Anderson, KJA and Sarah A. Hoyt.

As one of the Sad Puppies, Sarah sacrificed a great deal of her status and probably a good chunk of her friends in science fiction circles along with some significant measure of her peace of mind by bucking the CHORFs of the science fiction SJWs.  Thanks to the Sad Puppies a goodly number of people were reintroduced to readable science fiction long after they believed it had all been reduced to boring unreadable marxist, intersectionalist, message fiction, drivel.  Thanks to the Puppies and especially Larry Correia the Dragon Awards were founded and have provided a sane alternative to the self-parody that the Hugo Awards have devolved into.  Requiescat in pace.

So good for them and if you are looking for good stuff to read check to see who was nominated for the Dragons   http://awards.dragoncon.org/2018-ballot/  .  But for pity’s sake don’t even glance at the list of Hugo nominees.  No man can hope to look into the gorgon’s face and survive!

Galaxy’s Edge (Volume 6) – Prisoners of Darkness – A Science Fiction Book Review

Galaxy’s Edge (Volume 5) – Sword of the Legion – A Science Fiction Book Review

 

For the readers who are unfamiliar with the Galaxy’s Edge series let me say up front that I am a big fan of the story and if you want to hear about the beginning of the series then go back to my review of Book 1 – Legionnaire.  For the rest of you who have been following my reviews then let me start off by saying that “Prisoners of Darkness” is good stuff.  Several of the story threads are advanced and the plots and characters are interesting and fun.  Several new reveals occur that show additional complexity to one of the newer threads.  And the newer aspects of the plot seem to be leading in a totally unexpected direction.  All really good stuff.  But here we are at Book Six and I’m getting the idea that maybe there will never be an end (at least not within my lifetime).  Of course, I’m being slightly facetious but what I’m getting at is I think authors are building up a fictional universe that they can continue to spin into different story arcs.  And that’s alright.  Jason Anspach and Nick Cole have built a very entertaining universe.  I would say if we were comparing the Star Wars universe to Galaxy’s Edge that the latter is orders of magnitude better in every way.  The characters, plots and atmosphere are far superior.

But back to the story.  Prisoners of Darkness has as one of its threads, the rescue operation of one of the Legion’s officers from a prison planet.  The action is a result of the aftermath of the Battle of Tarrago where the Legion ignored the orders of the House of Reason and destroyed the critical assets of the Tarrago shipyards to deny them to the Empire.  The imprisoned officer learns some important aspects of the Republic’s relation to some criminal enterprises.  These will seemingly have a bearing on how the Legion will interact with the civilian government of the Republic, namely the House of Reason.  And that’s to the good.  For some time, it has seemed unreasonable that the Legion would defer to the corrupt and incompetent leadership of the Republic.  But come to think of it, that seems to be the case in our own conflicted and afflicted republic.

Another aspect of the story is the conflicted allegiance of Captain Ford.  His time as an independent agent has loosened his loyalty to the Legion and the danger to his kidnapped crew members tears him away from the Legion responsibilities that command Chun and his team to risk a desperate rescue mission for the sake of a Legion brother.  This ambivalence will probably rear its head again when the Legion and the Empire come to terms with the common threat they will both face farther down the road.

Okay, so the story is great and I’m loving the series and I can’t wait to see where this goes.  Just be aware this isn’t even close to finished.  So, make sure you’re in it for the long haul.  You have been warned.

Galaxy’s Edge (Volume 7) – Turning Point – A Science Fiction Book Review