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

Colter Wall’s Songs of the Plains – A Country Music Review

Last November I reviewed Colter Wall’s self-titled album.  To say I liked it would be a gross understatement.  It had such stand outs as Kate McCannon, Bald Butte and Fraulein.  But the whole album was worthy.  Colter has a new album and I got my copy yesterday.

This is a theme album that can best be described as a country western celebration of the Great Plains.  Colter is from the Canadian Plains and he concentrates on Canada but he does include a ballad to Wild Bill Hickock.  I’ll list the tracks followed by a short comment or two.

In addition, I’ll summarize that as a whole the album is a good traditional country western collection.  And it suits me.  Hopefully I’ll provide enough information for the reader to make up his mind.

The full track list to Colter Wall’s Songs of the Plains:

  1. “Plain to See Plainsman” (written by Colter Wall)

Straightforward acoustic guitar and harmonica western.  An ode to home on the great plains.

  1. “Saskatchewan In 1881” (written by Colter Wall)

Upbeat Canadian folk song with a touch of humor.  Where else could you find a rhyme like, “Don’t pick no fights with Mennonites?”

  1. “John Beyers (Camaro Song)” (written by Colter Wall)

This is a short little revenge song.  Very catchy and fun.

  1. “Wild Dogs” (written by Billy Don Burns)

This is a song by Billy Don Burns and it’s literally a song narrated by a wild dog about his life.  The music has some good spots but it’s not something I care for.

  1. “Calgary Round-Up” (written by Wilf Carter)

A western about a roundup jamboree.  You could easily imagine the Sons of the Pioneers singing this song.  It even has yodeling.

  1. “Night Herding Song” (Cowboy Traditional)

It sounds like a spiritual mixed with a lullaby for the cows.  Most of it is acapella.  I like it.

  1. “Wild Bill Hickok” (written by Colter Wall)

Western ballad chronicling Wild Bill’s life.  Well done.

  1. “The Trains are Gone” (written by Colter Wall)

A dirge to the changing world of the old west.  Kinda downbeat.

  1. “Thinkin’ on a Woman” (written by Colter Wall)

A song a bout a trucker brooding over a lost love.  Amusing enough.

  1. “Manitoba Man” (written by Colter Wall)

A cokehead bemoaning his fate and thinking about his next score.  Not my thing.

  1. “Tying Knots in the Devil’s Tail” (Cowboy Traditional)

This is an upbeat western about two drunk cowboys tying, branding and knotting the devil’s tail.

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!

Robin and Marian – A Movie Review

I struggled with whether I should classify this as a classic movie.  I decided to be technical.  Since I saw this movie at its premiere in 1976 and since I was born in the late 1950s I assume that categorizes it as post-classical, more or less.  The story takes up twenty years after Robin and Little John have followed King Richard the Lion Hearted to the Crusades.  Disillusioned and tired of war he returns to take up his life in England.

When I saw this movie the first time I was shocked to see that James Bond was old, balding and apparently way out of shape.  I liked the movie but it didn’t make a huge impression at the time.  I re-watched it last week.  This time it clicked.  Sean Connery as the aging hero is very believable.  The action contrasts intentionally against the swashbuckling portrayal of Errol Flynn in “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”  In the 1938 edition when Flynn is attempting to flee the Sheriff’s castle he cuts the rope holding up the portcullis to the castle gate which allows the weight of the gate to propel him effortlessly to the top of the wall from which he then laughingly escapes the Sheriff’s men.  In the Connery version when the gate is closed on Robin, he and Little John begin to slowly and painfully climb the wall.  These are two middle aged men struggling to do what they used to do effortlessly.  By the time they reach the top of the wall soldiers are upon them and the escape is anything but light-hearted.  The comical and yet stirring scene sets the stage for the action in the rest of the movie.  We see Robin and his re-assembled band of arthritic merry men painfully re-acquaint themselves with guerilla warfare against the Sheriff of Nottingham.  And we find Maid Marian is now Mother Superior of the local convent.  She is about to be sent to prison by the Sheriff for some policy against the church by King John.  Robin rescues her, against her will, and carries her off to Sherwood Forest to try and rekindle their interrupted life together.  Audrey Hepburn an actress that I’ve only liked rarely in film is almost as well cast as Connery.  She brings humor and feminine grace to the part and is totally believable in the role.  The screen romance is extremely well done and balances out the adventure sequences in a remarkable way.

And finally, the counterbalance to the merry band is the Sheriff of Nottingham, played by Robert Shaw.  And he is allowed to be a chivalrous foe who seems to be as fond of Robin as he is disdainful of his own oaf-like associates.  Of course, he knows that this collision with Robin will end in their long-delayed duel.  And that duel is the climax of the adventure story.  But the finale is the resolution of Robin and Marian’s star-crossed fate.  Always separated by war and duty that robbed them of their youth and the happiness they hoped for, they see before them more conflict and the certainty that age and weakness will eventually win out over them.

This is an older man’s Robin Hood.  You have to be at the point where running up a few flights of steps has you panting a little to really appreciate this movie.  It is heroic to “rage against the dying of the light.”  And it is especially admirable to do it with a little self-deprecating humor.  For any of you folks out there with more than a few gray hairs, this movie comes highly recommended.  And if you have a long-time sweet heart it’s a good date movie.

Tyler Childers – Live on Red Barn Radio I & II – A Country Music Review

Regular readers know I’m a fan of Tyler Childers.  He’s a country singer-songwriter from Eastern Kentucky and he combines interesting vocals, his acoustic guitar playing, an excellent mix of country instrumental accompanists with his very creative lyrics.  I especially enjoy his ballads, a stand out being “Banded Clovis” on his “Purgatory” album.

The present review is of a live album from 2013.  The eight songs include two that were on other albums, namely “Whitehouse Road” from Purgatory and “Bottles and Bibles” from the album of the same name.  Listening to some of the other songs I would say you can tell that they come from an earlier period of his song-writing career.  They are simpler and less ambitious in terms of imagery and effect.  But they’re good and I take them as an excellent addition to my collection.  Interestingly two of the songs were written by other artists, “Rock Salt and Nails” by Bruce Utah Phillips and “Coming Down” by John R. Miller.  Now I guess I’ll be forced to look up their stuff.  How I suffer for my art.

Anyway, if you like Tyler Childers’ other stuff you’ll almost definitely like this live album.  Highly recommended.

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!

High Top Mountain – Sturgill Simpson – A Country Music Review – Part 2

I ‘ve now had a chance to listen to High Top Mountain a good bit and I can say without a doubt that this is my favorite album by Sturgill Simpson.  And that’s because it’s country music.  He isn’t experimenting here with other genres and sounds.  It’s straight up classic country with plenty of energy, fun lyrics and excellent steel guitar.  For me the best songs are:

  • Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean
  • You Can Have the Crown
  • Sitting Here Without You
  • Time After All

But honestly, I think they’re all good.  Now how rare is that?  Most albums have three or four strong songs and the rest weak.  This album has twelve songs and they range from excellent to good.  They vary from ballads to up tempo rockabilly.  I’m just disappointed that his later albums don’t appeal to me as much.  Maybe these were all the country songs he wanted to make.  Well if that’s so, then I’m glad he made this album and that I found it.  I think it’s a keeper.

Panbowl – Sturgill Simpson – A Short Country Music Review

Yesterday I put up a post about Sturgill Simpson’s album Big Top Mountain.  I related how I had not loved his two other albums, “Metamodern Sounds in Country Music” and “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” but that on the former album I thought that the song Panbowl was extremely good.  This post is to expand on that comment.  One of the things that country music can do is tell a story.  In fact, I think that possibly the best country songs are the ones that do that best.  Panbowl seems to be an autobiographical remembrance of youth and family.  It feels to me like a completely heartfelt expression of anguish at the loss of the simple joys of being a child in a family.  He paints a vivid picture of an extended family that provided love and belonging and what it means to lose this.

Admittedly I am attracted to strong sentiment so that might be the reason I rate this song so highly, but I think many country music fans will think this is an excellent song.  In any case I consider it the best song of his I’ve heard and this is because it seems honest and describes something I think is admirable, love of family.  Check it out and see if you agree.

High Top Mountain – Sturgill Simpson – A Country Music Review – Part 1

There is a lot of bad music out there.  And there is a lot of bad country music.  One of the ways I try to find good music is by association with other good music.  Case in point, a friend of mine at work told me about Colter Wall so I checked out his music and really liked it.  One of his songs is a cover of the old song Fraulein.  On that song is a second singer and looking him up it turned out to be Tyler Childers.  So I checked out his music and really liked it.  Looking over Childer’s album Purgatory I noticed it was produced by Sturgill Simpson.  Now I knew of Simpson.  I had his “Metamodern Sounds In Country Music” album and there was one song on that album called Panbowl that was extremely good but overall I was undecided if I was a fan.  But now I decided to take another look at Sturgill’s catalog.  I listened to his latest album, “A Sailor’s Guide To Earth,” and didn’t really care for it.  Then I went back to his first album, “High Top Mountain,” and really liked it a lot.  I’ll listen to a lot of it for the next few days and then I’ll finish up this review.  But I can say already it’s a solid country album and Simpson is a good singer songwriter.  The fact that I didn’t care for his later stuff as much might mean High Top Mountain is more or less all of his stuff I’ll like.  That’s okay.  Even finding a whole album you like is a feat worth noting.  This album is definitely a win.

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