I was contacted by yet another author hoping to get some eyeballs on his Epic Fantasy fiction, Evan Winter. He described his book, The Rage of Dragons, to me as "Game of Thrones meets Gladiator," so - being an enthusiast for the works of George RR Martin - I naturally agreed to read his new novel.
One thing I can say with certainty about this author (he was unknown to me before he reached out and asked if I would read his book) is that he's a super-nice guy. Very appreciative and seemingly very genuine. So there's that, if it influences your opinion of the book any.
Believe it or not, there have been several authors I've turned down (quite a few). And, sadly, the books I have agreed to read are piling up - there are eleven waiting to be read on my phone/tablet.
I really struggled to get through the early chapters of The Rage of Dragons, finding the unfamiliar verbiage with such little background information to be difficult to follow (Ihagu, Drudge, Indlovu, Isihogo, Umqondisi). It was kind of like reading The Two Towers without first reading The Fellowship of the Ring (which some may see as a benefit - Fellowship is a pretty dry history lesson on Middle Earth, but at least you know what's going on as the story progresses).
I often found myself thinking of Dune's imaginary universe (which also used a largely invented vocabulary) as I read The Rage of Dragons. It's been quite a few years since my first foray into the world of Dune, but I'm sure I struggled just as much to figure out what Frank Herbert was talking about as I read (Kwisatz Haderach, Bene Gesserit, Tleilaxu, Mentat, Gom Jabbar - I could go on and on).
Here are a few short excerpts to explain what I mean. The first excerpt is much less confusing than some of the later passages (I'm surprised at how much of the vocabulary I now recognize and am able to translate in my head).
Lessers scurried back and forth, attending to their betters. Ihagu were either set as guards or found spots to cheer on their Nobles. The Drudge dug out latrines, carted food stuffs, or offered the young fighters gulps of water, cooling wet-cloths, and even boiled them mashed potatoes for quick boosts of energy. And, the Full-blooded Indlovu wandered the fields like they owned the earth beneath them.
"If Enervated, you'll see Isihogo," Jayyed said. "You'll see the demons in its mists. They'll come for you. You'll be released before they have their way."
"Umqondisi?" asked Oyibo.
"Oyibo." Jayyed said, giving the young man leave to say more.
"The Scale's Inkokeli was Itembe. He was Governor Caste from Kigambe, and a strong fighter"
It was one more turn and they emerged in the circle. They had arrived first. Tau looked up to the building rooftops. An Aqondise stood up there with an Umncedi, a Second to one of the Citadel's Isazi. They would make sure the defeated men stayed out of the contest and would call fouls where they saw them.
I have one other tiny "complaint" about the story: a tiny little anachronism. I dislike when authors go through the trouble of creating a fictitious universe and then drag the real universe into it (Chuck Wendig is notorious for doing this in his attempts to play in the Star Wars universe), which pulls me right out of the story. I only spotted one moment that was a little bit out of place in The Rage of Dragons. Everything else is different, so to have actual food from this universe in the scene seemed...off.
He downed it and, when it didn't soften the world's edges, or dull the pain in his cheek where Tau had struck him, he'd taken a second jug to his chambers, along with a bowl of half-ripe avocados from the kitchens.
Despite the confusing language used in the story, I persevered and was rewarded as the story really gained momentum. Tau, the protagonist of the story - who is as flawed a hero as you are likely ever to come across - reminded me a lot of Paul Atreides/Muad'Dib (from Dune, for those of you who are behind on their classic Sci-Fi) and a little of Neo (yup, Keanu's character in The Matrix). And maybe even a little of Drizzt Do'Urden (RA Salvatore's greatest creation). Despite his many flaws, you can't help but hope Tau gets the girl, wins the fight, and finds a little peace.
Here's a brief moment that the Drizzt is strong with Tau:
Tau stepped back, letting Jayyed's hands fall free. "I can't imagine a world where the man holding a sword does not have the last say over the man without one. If you're not prepared to fight, you place yourself and everything you love beneath the blades of others, praying they choose not to cut. I have felt the mercy of armed men, and they will never find me helpless again."
Speaking of getting the girl - there's just a little bit of sex in the book. I'd say this one scene is on the very-graphic side of graphic. Here a brief excerpt that is only a little bit graphic.
She leaned toward him, closing her eyes, and he kissed her, with hunger. Her lips, her body, they brushed against him. And, where the fingers of her hand, rising and falling, had been enough, they became too little. Tau's hands drifted to Zuri's hips and she raised up on her knees, using the hold she had to guide him to her.
I was genuinely disappointed when the story ended. Though I really struggled at times keeping track of the huge cast of bizarrely-named characters (maybe that's where the Game of Thrones comparison comes in) and trying to remember what the many unfamiliar words translated to, I did come to know many of the characters better than I thought I would by the Matrixesque end of the story. And it really left me eager to pick up book two.
The Lincoln Myth, Steve Berry
I picked up a signed copy of a book called The Lincoln Myth from the discount table at Barnes and Noble a few months ago. I'd never heard of Steve Berry (though he has written quite a few books, apparently) and was immediately drawn in because Lincoln is such a polarizing figure (if you spend any time looking at him outside of the public school system). The premise of the story, as presented on the jacket, really piqued my curiosity. At the time, I had several other books waiting to be read on the reading shelf, so it sat for quite a while before I got around to reading it.
Here are the jacket notes that intrigued me enough to buy the book.
All is not as it seems. With these cryptic words, a shocking secret passed down from president to president comes to rest in the hands of Abraham Lincoln. And as the first bloody clashes of the Civil War unfold, Lincoln alone must decide how best to use this volatile knowledge: save thousands of American lives, or keep the young nation from being torn apart forever?
In Utah, the fabled remains of Mormon pioneers whose nineteenth-century expedition across the desert met with a murderous end have been uncovered. In Washington, D.C., the official investigation of an international entrepreneur, an elder in the Mormon church, has sparked a political battle between the White House and a powerful United States senator. In Denmark, a Justice Department agent, missing in action, has fallen into the hands of a dangerous zealot - a man driven by divine visions to make a prophet's words reality. And in a matter of a few short hours, Cotton Malone has gone from quietly selling books at his shop in Denmark to dodging bullets in a high-speed boat chase.
All it takes is a phone call from his former boss in Washington, and suddenly the ex-agent is racing to rescue an informant carrying critical intelligence. It's just the kind of perilous business that Malone has been trying to leave behind, ever since he retired from the Justice Department. But once he draws enemy blood, Malone is plunged into a deadly conflict - a constitutional war secretly set in motion more than two hundred years ago by America's
From the streets of Copenhagen to the catacombs of Salzburg to the rugged mountains of Utah, the grim specter of the Civil War looms as a dangerous conspiracy gathers power. Malone risks life, liberty, and his greatest love in a race for the truth about Abraham Lincoln - while the fate of the United States of America hangs in the balance.
From a high level, I'd describe this story's protagonist as an older, retired, Jason Bourne type entering Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code universe. I've never actually read a Bourne novel, so I'm generalizing based on what I've seen in the movies, but I have read one Brad Thor novel and this story is on par with that one, so go ahead and substitute his protagonist if you'd like. Or probably any other spy/thriller bigger-than-life action hero character. As for The Da Vinci Code comparison, you need to replace the Catholic Church with the LDS/Mormon church.
Speaking of the LDS church, who knew there were so many legends in its brief history (almost 200 years, but a drop in the bucket compared to the Catholicim timeline)? To be honest, I din't know, as I read, how many of the legends of the book were completely fictional, but they sounded pretty legitimate.
After the story ends, the author includes a breakdown of which historical references were fact and which were fiction...or fictionalized. This next excerpt is a long one, so if you're not interested in history or if you're easily bored, or want to read the book and be blissfully ignorant of the fiction shrouded in fact, you might want to skip ahead.
Now it's time to separate the real from the imagined.
The meeting described in the prologue between Abraham Lincoln and Mrs. John Fremont happened. The location (the White House's Red Room) is correct, and most of the dialogue is taken from historical accounts. General Fremont did indeed overstep his bounds, and Lincoln ultimately fired him. What Lincoln tells Jesse Fremont about freeing the slaves or saving the Union is taken verbatim from a reply Lincoln sent to a letter from Horace Greeley, the editor of the New-York Tribune, published in 1862. The note from James Buchanan and the document Lincoln reads from George Washington are my inventions, though Buchanan did say that he thought he might be the last president of the United States.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints figures prominently in this story. It is a quintessential American religion - born, bred, and nurtured here. It is the only religion that includes the Constitution of the United States as part of its philosophy (chapters
37, 57). Without question, Mormons have played a role in American history, rising from a modest beginning to a church that now supports over I4 million members worldwide. They literally created and built the state of Utah.
Apostles of the church are expected to devote themselves full-time to their duties. Thaddeus Rowan, though, remains a U.S. senator. While that arrangement is an extraordinary one, there is precedent. Reed Smoot (chapter 11) served both as an apostle and senator in the early part of the 20th century. Blood atonement, first described in chapter 2, was once a part of
the Mormon community - or at least the idea of such. It grew in response to the violence those early believers were subjected to. Whether it was actually practiced is a matter of debate. One thing is certain - any thought or application of it disappeared long ago, and it is no longer part of Mormon theology. The same is likewise true for Danites (chapter 8), a group that no longer exists. What Sidney Rigdon is quoted as saying in chapter 8 was true then, but no more. Plural marriage was officially abandoned by the church on September 25,1890 (chapters 18,55).
Throughout the novel Josepe Salazar is visited by an angel, a figment of his disturbed mind. Nearly everything the angel says was taken from I9th-century Mormon doctrine, speeches, and sermons and, as with blood atonement and Danites, reflects the hostile world in which those people found themselves. None of that applies today. The angel Moroni, though, remains a centerpiece of Mormon theology (chapter 39).
Zion National Park (chapter 3) is accurately described. The legend of the 22 lost wagons is part of Mormon lore (chapter 11), but no trace of them has ever been found. The 1857 Mormon War happened, and Lincoln did in fact make a deal (as related in chapter 9) with Brigham Young. His words are quoted there exactly. Both sides honored that deal. The anti-polygamy 1862 Morrill Act was never enforced, and the Mormons stayed out of the Civil War. The supposed collateral for that deal (provided by both sides) was my invention.
The record stone (mentioned in chapter I4) was excavated from the Salt Lake temple in I993. Inside were various objects, left there by Brigham Young in 1867. The inventory provided in chapter I4 is accurate, except for the addition of Young's message. History notes that Joseph Smith first glimpsed the golden plates inside a stone box. On October 2, 1841, Smith placed the original manuscript of Book of Mormon inside the Nauvoo Hotel cornerstone. What Brigham Young did - sealing objects, documents, and gold coins inside stone - became a sign of reverence (chapter 70), repeated at temples across the globe. That's why it made sense to seal the collateral Lincoln sent west within the stone plaque Young donated to the Washington Monument (chapter 70). That gift is still there, mounted inside at the 220-foot level.
The murder of Joseph Smith and his brother on June 27, 1844, is fact (chapter I6). Edwin Rushton also existed, as did his journal. The White Horse Prophecy, quoted throughout (chapters I7, 18), was once part of Mormon folklore. No one knows when the prophecy was first memorialized, but most agree that it was long after its first utterance by Joseph Smith in 1843. The text in chapter I7 is quoted from Rushton's journal, dated in the 1890s. The prophecy itself is so accurate, so detailed, that it begs the question of whether it was embellished after the fact. No matter, it was repudiated by the church in the early part of the 20th century (chapter 52.), though mentions of it still exist in various Mormon texts.
What Brigham Young said in chapter 51 - Will the Constitution be destroyed? No. It will he held inviolate by this people and, as Joseph Smith said. "The time will come when the destiny of the nation will hang upon a single thread. At that critical juncture, this people will step forth and save it from the threatened destruction" - is true. As is the prophecy of John Taylor, first announced in 1879 (chapter 51), which is also uncannily on target.
The original 1830 Book of Mormon described in chapters 20 and 30 is rare and valuable. The 1840 edition found in the Library of Congress (chapter 41) is there. Lincoln remains the first (and only) president to read it, and the dates of him having the book in his possession (noted in chapter 41) were taken from the records of the Library of Congress. All of the handwritten notes added to that book are fictional, but the passages quoted in chapter 43 are exact. The visit by Joseph Smith to President Martin Van Buren happened as told (chapter 21).
Mary Todd Lincoln was dealt many tough blows. She lost nearly all of her children and her husband to early deaths. Her letter contained in chapter 28 is false, but its wording is drawn from her actual correspondence. Lincoln's watch (as described in chapter 47) is on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The inscription noted within was found when the Watch was opened in 2009. The addition of a second timepiece was my creation. Salisbury House, in Des Moines, Iowa, is truthfully described - its grounds, geography, and furnishings (chapters 53, 58). Only the addition of the garden cottage is fictional. Likewise, Blair House in Washington, D.C., exists, as does the parlor with the
Lincoln portrait (chapters 55, 60). Richard Nixon did meet privately with the leadership of the
Mormon church in July 1970 (chapter 31). An unprecedented thirty-minute session behind closed doors. No one to this day knows the substance of that conversation, and all of its participants are deceased.
Montpelier, its garden temple, and its ice pit are real (chapters 33, 35, 40, 42). The pit itself is sealed, and I could find no photographs of its interior. So the addition of Roman numerals there was easy to concoct.
The Rhoades gold mine is, to this day, a part of Mormon history. The story of the mine, how it was found and exploited, is faithfully told in chapter 61. Such legend is attached to the mine that it's hard to know What, if anything, is real. The map shown in chapter 18 is-one of countless versions of the "real thing." The story of Brigham Young melting all of the Mormons' gold and transporting it west to California (chapter 61) for safekeeping is fact. Those 22
wagons did disappear. For this novel I merged the Rhoades Mine with the story of the lost Mormon gold and hypothesized that Brigham Young simply confiscated that wealth and recycled it back into the community (chapter 61), using the mine as a cover. It seemed logical, but there is no way to know if it is true. Gold coins, like the one described in chapter 61, were minted and still exist today. The place known as Falta Nada is wholly my creation.
This book deals with secession, an issue upon which the U.S. Constitution is silent. No mention is made anywhere of how a state could leave the Union. The definitive record of the constitutional convention is James Madison's Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787. The speeches quoted in chapter 46 are from those notes. The wording is 90 percent accurate, the only addition being comments of a way out of the Union.
But Madison's notes are indeed suspect. They were not published until 53 years after the convention, once every participant in that gathering had died, and Madison openly admitted that he altered the account (chapter 25). What actually happened at the Constitutional Convention we will never know. So to say that secession is unconstitutional, or that the founders did not contemplate such a possibility, would be wrong. Yet that is exactly what the U.S. Supreme Court said in Texas v. White (1869). The portions of that opinion quoted in chapter I9 are excellent examples of this poorly reasoned opinion. But what else could the
High Court have done? Rule the entire Civil War a waste of effort? That 600,000 people died for nothing?
The justices literally had no choice.
We, though, have a greater luxury.
The American Revolution was clearly a war of secession (chapter 9). The colonists' goal was not to overthrow the British Empire and replace that government with something new. Instead, they simply wanted out. The Declaration of Independence was a statement of their secession (chapter 26). Why would the Founding Fathers fight a long bloody war and shake off the yoke of an autocratic king only to establish another autocracy under their new government?
The answer is clear.
They would not.
What preceded the Constitution was the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, which lasted from I781 to I789 - when they were summarily discarded and replaced by the Constitution of the United States.
What happened to that perpetual union?
Even more telling, the new Constitution mentions nothing about perpetual. Instead, its Preamble states: We the People qf the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union.
Was a more perfect Union meant to be nonperpetual?
An interesting question.
And, as noted in chapter 26. Virginia. Rhode Island, and New York. in their ratification votes for the new Constitution. specifically reserved the right to secede. which was not opposed by the
Secession remains a hot topic. and all of the arguments Thaddeus Rowan considers in chapter 26 make good sense. The language quoted there from a Texas petition, signed by 125.000 supporters. is exact. And 125,000 real Texans signed that document in 2012. All
of the polls noted can be found in news accounts. The actual legal path to secession - how it might be accomplished. as well as its political and economic ramifications (as described in chapter 50). were drawn from authoritative texts that have considered the issue. If a state seceded there would indeed be another court fight, a test of Texas v. White, but a decision this time could be vastly different, especially without a personality as strong and determined as Abraham Lincoln to navigate the outcome.
Lincoln is truly a man more of myth than fact. The quote in the epigraph of the novel is a good example. There. he made clear that any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable - a most sacred right - a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, hat can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit.
Lincoln absolutely believed secession legal.
At least in 1848.
But the myths about him say otherwise.
Every schoolchild is told that Lincoln freed the slaves with his Emancipation Proclamation. But nothing could be Farther from the truth. What is said in chapter 7 about that effort is historical fact. At the time of that proclamation slavery was both recognized and condoned by the Constitution (chapter 7). No president possessed the authority to alter that. Only a constitutional amendment could make that change. And one eventually did, the Thirteenth Amendment, ratified long after Lincoln's death.
Then there is the reason why Lincoln fought the Civil War in the first place. Myth says it was to end slavery. But Lincoln made his position clear in 1862 when he said, My task is to save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it. If I could save it by freeing all slaves, I would do it. If I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union. What I forbear, I forbear because I don't believe it would help to save the Union.
Again, his intent is beyond question.
And directly contrary to myth.
As president, Lincoln totally ignored what he said in 1848 and fought to establish, beyond question, that the South had no right to leave the Union. The peace talks referred to in chapter 60, at Hampton Roads in February 1865, happened. Lincoln himself was there, and when the South insisted on independence as a condition to
peace he ended the discussion.
For Lincoln, the Union Was non-negotiable.
John Kennedy said it best: The greatest enemy of truth is often not the lie - deliberate, contrived and dishonest - but the myth - persistent, persuasive and
The idea of an indivisible, perpetual union of states did not exist prior to 1861. No one believed such nonsense. States' rights ruled that day. The federal government was regarded as small, weak, and inconsequential. If a state could choose to join the Union, then a state could choose to leave.
As noted in the prologue, James Buchanan, Lincoln's predecessor, actually did pave the way for South Carolina to secede, blaming that act on the intemperate interference of the northern people with the question of slavery. Buchanan also voiced what many in the nation regarded as true: that slave states should be left alone to manage their domestic institutions in their own way. Northern states should also repeal all laws that encouraged slaves to become fugitives. If not, then, as Buchanan said, the injured states, after having first used all peaceful and constitutional means to effect redress, would be justified in revolutionary resistance to the government of the Union.
Strong words from our 15th president.
Bur things quickly changed.
Our 16th president believed in a perpetual union. One from which no state was free to leave.
Here's a fact, beyond the myth.
Lincoln did not fight the Civil War to preserve the union.
He Fought that war to create it.
So I guess, for those of you who are big fans of Abraham Lincoln's efforts to end slavery, this could be a disappointing wake up call. Lincoln's primary motivation, as I've read many times before picking up this well-researched book, had nothing to do with slavery (the "myth" of the book's title) and everything to do with protecting the federal government, and by extension, the nascent United States of America.
But this isn't really an anti-government book. The author does seem to be okay with the bloated carcass of the Federal government (most of his recurring good-guy characters appear to be Federal employees), so I wouldn't call this book a Libertarian treatise on state's rights or an attack on the blood-sucking parasite that is the Federal government. It's just an interesting action-spy thriller with some believable historical references....so pretty much a Dan Brown book with a slightly more violent protagonist than Robert Langdon.
"What do you plan to do?"
A stupid question. Kirk was definitely annoying. He'd located him pacing the docks. exactly where Stephanie had said he'd be waiting. anxious to leave. Code words had been arranged so they both would know they'd found the right person. Joseph For him. Moroni for Kirk.
"Do you know who those men are?" he asked.
"They want to kill me."
He kept the boat pointed toward Denmark, its hull breasting the waves with jarring lunges. throwing spray.
"And why do they want to kill you?" he asked over the engine's roar.
"Who are you, exactly?"
He cut a quick glance at Kirk. "The guy who's going to save your sorry ass."
The other boat was less than thirty yards way. He scanned the horizon in every direction and spotted no other craft. Dusk was gathering. the azure sky being replaced by gray.
The second man in the pursuing boat was firing at them.
"Get down." he yelled to Kirk. He ducked. too. keeping their course and speed steady.
Two more shots.
One thudded into the fiberglass to his left.
The other boat was now fifty feet away. He decided to give his pursuers a little pause. He reached back, found his gun. and sent a bullet their way.
The other boat veered to starboard.
They were more than a mile From the Danish shore. nearly at Oresund's center. The second boat looped around and was now approaching from the right on a path that would cut directly in front of them. He saw that the pistol had been replaced with a short-barreled automatic rifle.
Only one thing to do.
He adjusted course straight for them.
Time For a game of chicken.
A burst of gunfire cut across the air. He dove to the deck, keeping one hand on the wheel. Rounds whizzed by overhead and a few penetrated the bow. He risked a look. The other boat had veered to port. swinging around. preparing to attack from the rear. where the open deck offered little cover.
He decided the direct approach was best.
But it would have to be timed just right.
He kept the boat racing ahead at nearly Full throttle. The second craft's bow still headed his way.
"Keep down." he told Kirk again.
No worry existed that his order would be disobeyed. Kirk clung to the deck. below the side panels. Malone still held his Beretta but kept it out of sight. The other boat narrowed the distance between them.
He yanked the throttle back and brought the engine to idle. Speed vanished. The bow sank into the water. They glided for a few yards then came to a stop. The other boat kept coming.
The man with the rifle aimed.
But before he could fire Malone shot him in the chest.
The other boat raced past.
He reengaged the throttle and the engine sprang to life.
Inside the second craft he saw the driver reach down and find the rifle. A big loop brought the boat back on an intercept course.
His feint worked once.
And one last interesting factoid about the book - it's a signed copy, so that's cool. Granted, it's a signed copy of a book I'd never heard of by an author I didn't know anything about signed at a signing I didn't attend...but it's still kinda cool.
The pirate post be coming, matey. I see its sails on the horizon...
I went to see The Molly Ringwalds, an 80s tribute band from the UK, this past weekend at the House of Blues in downtown San Diego. I'd been to the House of Blues once before to see Dia Frampton and Xenia, but the Dia/Xenia performance was held in a small staged area on the upper level. The Molly Ringwalds show was held in the House of Blues' much larger subterranean lair, so this was an all new experience.
I knew the upstairs venue was standing room only - as was the dungeon venue - so we arrived soon after the doors for the show opened in order to be somewhat near the stage (we ended up five or six few feet from the stage). And then we stood waiting patiently for the show to start. And we waited. And we waited. All the while, 80s music blared from giant speakers on the sides of the stage, making me dread not bringing earplugs to the venue. The only thing that made the wait even somewhat bearable was The Breakfast Club playing silently on the monitors mounted to the walls around the venue. When it finished showing the first time (as I waited), I expected to see some Pretty in Pink or Sixteen Candles follow it up, but The Breakfast Club just looped and started over.
Finally, over an hour after the show was scheduled to begin (around 9pm), the band walked onstage. So I was a little grumpy, hot and sweaty, and a little claustrophobic (the place was packed) from the beginning.
They are The World's Greatest 80's Experience. Hailing from Sheffield, England, this legendary quintet has been able to combine their individual and very formidable talents to create the true essence of the most radical decade to ever be called "The 80's." The Molly Ringwalds create an 80's Experience by honing their abilities to apply make-up and tease their hair while showcasing all the musical genres of the decade. From their days of building a following at a pub located in a large portion of a big city near a small village located south of a place you've never heard of, to selling out large venues in the United States, The Molly Ringwalds are an indescribable act. Luck and circumstance brought these young lads together. The rest is the history of the 80's.
Each of the five Molly Ringwalds members assumes a different persona from the 80s. The main front man was Adam Ant, the guitarist was a member of Devo (I don't know any of those Devo guys by name), the bass player was Dee Snyder (Twisted Sister), the pianist was a bearded Pee Wee Herman, and the drummer was wearing a Cobra Kai gi (The Karate Kid). But their positions in the band are fluid - each of the band members got at least a little bit of time as lead singer. Adam And and Pee Wee Herman also played other instruments periodically throughout the show. Pee Wee played both the piano and the drums. Adam And took guitar and piano. Surprisingly, there were no Devo or Adam Ant songs performed, though Dee Snyder did perform We're Not Gonna Take It.
I was fond of, and very familiar with, most of the songs that were performed. Here are a few of the songs they did a decent job performing:
Photograph, Def Leppard
Any Way You Want It, Journey
In A Big Country, Big Country
Enjoy the Silence, Depeche Mode
Rio, Duran Duran
Don't You (Forget About Me), Simple Minds
Patience, Guns N' Roses
Rebel Yell, Billy Idol
Tom Sawyer, Rush
Home Sweet Home, Motley Crue
99 Red Balloons, Nena
Under Pressure, David Bowie & Freddie Mercury
We're Not Gonna Take It, Twisted Sister
Purple Rain, Prince
The drummer also did a few Beastie Boys songs, but I'm not going to put those on the above list because the Beastly Boys "music" is garbage. Even the originals don't deserves the label "decent." Ick.
And I think they also performed the following songs, but I may be remembering the songs that assaulted my eardrums before the show began (granted, the show itself was every bit as loud as the canned music they piped through the speakers, it was just more fun to experience).
How Soon Is Now, The Smiths
You Spin Me Round (Like a Record), Dead or Alive
Welcome to the Jungle, Guns N' Roses
Bizarre Love Triangle, New Order
Shout, Tears For Fears
The show was about two hours long, but by the time it started, my dogs were already barking from standing in one place for two hours (what can I say? I'm old), so I didn't stick around to see the encore. I was there long enough to see The Molly Ringwalds walk off the stage after their last non-encore song. Sadly, I also didn't explore enough to see if they had a merch table. I really wanted to pick up a Molly Ringwalds t-shirt. Alas, 'twas not to be.
Speaking of Dia...
I picked up Dia Frampton's new CD, Bruises, a couple of months ago. I had really planned to mention it here immediately, but just never got around to it. I bought the CD directly from Dia and got a signed CD book insert with a silly Princess Bride quote (every CD she signed had a different silly quote).
Dia has one of those voices that sounds so young and sweet, but is also able to perform vocal gymnastics that are amazing to behold. Thankfully, she reigns it in and doesn't go all out at 110% the whole time. Those singers just make my ears ache. She deftly inserts her impressive vocal backflips and makes it seem effortless...but that does leave you hungry for more while she's performing the less-gymnastic parts of the song.
I was surprised to see the "explicit content" warning label on the CD. There are a few F-bombs in a couple of the songs, which sound all the more surprising when sung by Dia's sweet voice - Die Wild drops a lot of those bombs - which is a shame, because it's a sweet, sad song otherwise. The songs on the CD probably won't see any radio play - none are exactly syrupy pop, but that doesn't mean they're not great songs or well worth a lesson.
I was in such a Dia mood after listening to Bruises (moreso than after listening to Red years ago, which was a little bit more of a pop album), that I went out and searched for Meg & Dia albums, picking up Something Real from a seller on Amazon. I wish I'd been aware of Meg & Dia back when they were still a thing. Dia's sister, Meg, is still around, but as far as I know they're no longer performing together. Meg & Dia have a very Cranberries-esque sound (minus the Irish-ness), which is a major plus for me.
Also, here's something completely unrelated to Dia or anything else already mentioned: a whole bunch of sound clips from Napoleon Dynamite! I ripped the audio from the DVD and clipped out all the best sounds that I could get somewhat cleanly to use for ring tones, notifications, etc. on my phone and tablet. It's totally annoying to hear Kip say "What?" or "What do you want?" every time there's a new message or notification on your phone. Good times.
Treasures from the distant past
While organizing my boxed-up books recently - moving them from larger and less-hearty plastic bins to a slightly smaller and stronger bins - I came across some pages from a Mad Magazine (or maybe Cracked - I'm not sure which it came from) that I had saved in plastic sleeves. I have hundreds of these things from my early-twenties. I'm quite the packrat. The sleeves in question were of a satirical Beauty and the beast spoof called "Walt Dizzey's Beauty and the Feast." It was written by Lou Silverstone and illustrated by Walter Brogan. I'll probably add it to my Beauty and the Beast trading card set/comics auction that I have up on eBay. I've just added superhero/Star Wars related Mad strips to other auction packages as am unexpected bonus.
I know all this stuff sounds like nonsense that I've just spewed out without much effort, but it does take time to weed out all my typos, grammatical errors, find and add pictures, and format it all to be readable. So that said, Coming soon (eventually) - a post filled with all kinds of pirate-y goodness!!
A little ranting, some books, comics, and even a little TV
The IT Sweatshop Revisited!
When I had lunch with Dan a week or two ago (depending on when this rant sees the light of day), I brought up the horrible open-office sweatshop seating that I've been subjected to for the past few years. I've mentioned this abomination to office seating a couple of times here in the past, but I guess Dan wasn't paying attention, so...
The only advantage I have over my other three cellmates is the wall I have to display the emblems of my nerdiness. The guy on the opposite end gets a window, which would also be nice - the two in the middle get the shaft. The current comic book selection on my wall is the Dark Horse Star Wars, Dark Empire series, issues one through six and the preview issue - all with Dave Dorman's amazing covers. Nerdgasm!! The previous comics were a couple of Dark Horse's Indiana Jones titles.
What's most funny about my use of this wall for displaying all this stuff is that not one other person I work with has taken advantage of this big area of space to be personalized. Alex MonkeyDonkey (may he rest in peace at Amazon) did use his space for Evil (a Superman shrine), but he's the only other person who has done anything remotely interesting. I keep expecting to be berated by management for having so much personal stuff cluttering up the office. This place eats away at my soul daily.
And speaking of the horror that is my office...
For about a week and a half, I was subjected to some of the most heinous BO I've ever experienced. It was truly horrific. I was no closer than eight or ten feet from the carrier of this stinkbonic plague so I can't imagine how bad it must be for my co-workers who were subjected to this stench from no more than a couple of feet. The noxious cloud that surrounds the carrier takes several minutes to dissipate after he has moved on. This is yet another reason this open office nonsense blows. If I at least had cubicle wall, it would block some of the stench's progress.
A pox on all pointy-haired managers!!
How to Talk to Girls at Parties
Many years ago, I read a short story in Neil's collection Fragile Things called How to Talk to Girls at Parties*. I had seen mention (online, of course) of an illustrated version of this story which had been published, but the only comic book store near me didn't stock it. I also have never seen it in Barnes and Noble (the only book store that seems to have survived - for now - the war with Amazon) or Mysterious Galaxy (honestly, I haven't been to Mysterious Galaxy since they relocated, so I don't know if they stocked it or not).
A few weeks ago I dropped into a comic book shop in Mission Valley, Rising Sun Comics, to kill some time and came across a shelf of Neil Gaiman comics and books. One of these was...drumroll...How to Talk to Girls at Parties! So I bought the skinny hardcover and read it when I returned home. My wife gave me funny looks when I showed her the book, thinking this was a "how to pick up girls" book (as seen in Better Off Dead) so I had to explain the barely-remembered story's premise to calm her down**.
The illustrations of the book are bright, colorful, and evocative, but the male characters of the story look way older than the mid-teens they are supposed to be. But maybe the differences were intentional and Neil is doing a Lev Grossman (the author of The Magicians) thing with his characters - aging them to make the ensuing activities less offensive to sensitive readers. Or a Douglas Adams thing (wherein every version of Hitchhiker's is slightly different than all the others).
Regardless, it's an interesting story and, despite the aging of the characters, is well illustrated. Thumbs up.
Oh, and one last How to Talk to Girls... thing, they're making a movie out of this short story starring Nicole Kidman and Elle Fanning. Juding from the trailers, it goes well beyond the bounds of the short story and bears little resemblance to the source material, but good for Neil. I'm glad he's making lots of dough off his creations.
Thoughts on the American Gods and The Magicians TV serieses(what's the plural of "series"?)
I finally caught up on The Magicians TV series (just finished the last episode of season two) and I also finished watching season one of the American Gods TV series. I'm not loving either series as much as I'd hoped to, but they're good, quality television programming for anyone not comparing them to their source material.
I could be wrong because I haven't managed to re-read The Magicians again recently, but the TV series is straying further and further from the original story. They've taken the same characters, aged them, made all the characters look the same (specifically the female characters), completely changed some of the characters (Penny should be a white redhead and an even bigger outcast than TV Penny), and stirred up the original story (possibly bringing action from the sequels in small part already) to make it more episodic for TV. If you haven't read the novels and you like the TV show, you really should.
The casting of American Gods continues to surprise me. In addition to the gorgeous Emily Browning, Crispin Glover plays a villain (as usual), Corbin Bernsen a cranky old God, and Kristen Chenoweth is an eternally-young old god.
If you're wondering, neither series is suitable viewing for younger viewers. The Magicians is full of bleeped out F-bombs and all kinds of other profanity, rape-talk, and consensual sex (with no real nudity). American Gods has everything The Magicianshas (minus the rape-talk), plus skin (helloooo Emily Browning). And there's way too much dong.
Speaking of American Gods adaptations, the American Gods comic book is up to issue #5. In many ways it's the same as the TV adaptation, but the TV adaptation is taking the long road, developing characters, and really doing a better job of telling the story (Laura Moon barely gets any time in the comic but is a really big part of the TV adaptation). By the fifth issue of the comic, Shadow and Wednesday are already meeting with the other gods in the House on the Rock - contrasted with the TV series, where only one old god has even made it near the House on the Rock by the eighth episode. Wednesday's fellow Gods are also getting a lot of screen time in the TV series (straying a little from the original source material), but many of them don't even get a brief mention in the comic.
Each issue of the American Gods comic has a variant and a normal cover, but the normal covers are so cool I haven't been getting the variants (other than #2, because I though the representation of Mad Sweeney was all wrong). Here are the covers I've picked up and a few of the interior pages, just to show you the level of effort being put into the comic book art.
Continuing my Star Wars streak, I've just finished reading Rogue One. I've consistently preferred the novelizations of just about every TV series/movie I've read (whether it came before or after the film of the same name) just because - if done well - the novelization will explain the many things that I just didn't catch in the film as events sped by at a breakneck pace.
Rogue One is one of the good ones. The characters are much more developed, as expected, than their film counterparts. We get to know Jyn and Cassian, the sad and quirky little Bodhi, Chirrut and Baze. They are all much more three-dimensional than they are in the film. The differences between a Guardian of the Whills and a Jedi are made much more clear (I don't even know that I ever realized Chirrut wasn't a Jedi in the film). Cassian is never really especially likeable (and much more unlikable than I remember him being in the movie), but is more human by the end of the book.
Interestingly, there are apparently also a bunch of Young Adult books about several of these characters going into even more detail with their backstories. Man, Disney really cashes in when they see blood in the water.
I was looking online for something related to Rogue One (the movie) and ventured into some Rogue One movie reviews. I was surprised to see - judging from these reviews - that people really didn't like this movie. At all. I don't remember disliking it, but I do remember being bummed out that - Spoiler Alert! - all the main characters die. But, since none of the characters exist in the future installments of the series (this was Episode 3.5, if you're struggling with the timeline), there's a quick and easy way to explain why we never heard from any of them again: kill them all. And though I hated for the gorgeous Jyn Erso, played by Felicty Jones, to be reduced to atomic particles, I understand why she had to go. I did see another theory posited online that Jyn Erso is actually the mother of Daisy Ridley's character, Rey. The argument was weak and seemed to center around the fact that they bear a slight resemblance to one another...but you never know. It would be difficult to explain since she was blown up at the end of the story without having ever been pregnant - unless she was pregnant with Rey in one of her prior off-screen adventures...
This was a nice wrap-up at the book's conclusion, from Mon Mothma, who we gets a surprising amount of time in the story and a little more character development than I expected.
SUPPLEMENTAL DATA: IN MEMORIAM
[Document #MS8619 ("Unpublished Reflections on Jyn Erso"), from the personal files of Mon Mothma (via the Hextrophon Collection).]
I regret to say I only met Jyn twice. To claim I knew her well would be an insult to the young woman whose fervor captivated so many. Conversely, to speak only of her effect on our movement - to recount yet again the rallying of the Rebellion and our transformation from a wary coalition into a unified nation - would be both redundant and insulting.
So put no stock in my words. I can tell you of those two meetings and what I saw in her - or what, looking back, I remember seeing in her, which may be far removed from the truth. You may find more of a weary ex-senator than Jyn Erso in all this.
Jyn was in chains when we met before Operation Fracture. I'd seen her file and chosen her for the mission for reasons I wish I could be proud of. I expected to meet a troubled girl who had been failed by the Alliance in a hundred different ways: failed by Saw, failed by those of us who knew Saw, failed when she went out on her own, and failed by our inability to save her father or mother. I expected she could be persuaded (by which I suppose I meant manipulated into helping us, and that in doing so we might help her, too.
But the woman I met at Base One could not be manipulated. There are a very few people whose will and ferocity are so great that they pull other people in their wake. I've known some who cultivated that talent as politicians and generals, for good or ill. Jyn, I think, never knew the effect she had on others - never realized the intensity of her own humanity or the presence she brought to a room. She was, as expected, troubled and quarrelsome; she was also impossible to ignore or forget.
In her short life, she had seen relentless hardship and become hard herself. But her fire shone bright.
If our first meeting was brief, our second was even briefer. We exchanged a handful of private words when she briefed Alliance High Command on the threat of the Death Star, and the woman I met then was far different from the one we'd chained. Was she at peace? I don't believe so. But she held herself with a newfound certainty.
It's become fashionable in some quarters to claim Jyn Erso went to Scarif intending to die a martyr - that she realized she had lost everything and chose her path by its inevitable end. I will dispute this claim until my own dying days. I think Jyn fully recognized who she was and sought a way to channel her best and worst impulses, her darkest moments and her brightest, toward a cause worthy of her true incandescence.
In a kinder universe, she would have walked away from Scarif. I cannot imagine who she would have become, but I think she would have been extraordinary.
I am grateful I knew her, no matter how short the time.
I probably need to watch Rogue One again before I can really compare the movie to the book. It seems like there were a million things in the book that weren't in the movie, but I can't be sure. I was mildly confused throughout most of the movie about who the characters were and why they were doing whatever they were doing. But the movie's events may have just not lodged as securely in my tiny brain. Who knows - maybe it will all make sense now that I've read the book, and I'll love this more than any of the other Star Wars films.
And most importantly, I've been waiting for weeks to share this Mad Magazine spoof of Rogue One. Enjoy
I finished Camino Island a few days ago. I read it in just a couple of days, as I have almost every John Grisham book I've read. Also, as with all the other John Grisham novels I've read, I found it to be very enjoyable and well-written. As I think I've mentioned before, Johnny G and I don't share the same political views, but the guy can tell a story that grabs you and doesn't let you go. Thankfully, there was almost no hint of a political agenda in this one. Several of the characters had clear political affiliations, but their politics didn't drive the story. To be honest, even the politically-driven Grisham novels are well-written and hard to put down, so his politics are probably a moot point, but that's my only complaint with any of the Grisham books. There are a few novels I've never read because his stories were getting excessively liberal and I was wasn't enjoying them as much as I had before...so maybe it's not exactly moot, but it is an argument with holes. Regardless, let's talk about Camino Island...
A lot of Camino Island is a self-congratulatory exploration of writers in general. There's is no character who, in any way that I'm aware of, resembles John Grisham in the story, but the story's real protagonist is a fledgling author, most of the other characters are writers or those whose vocations revolve around books.
There's a lot of talk about writing-related topics. Here's a passage where our pretty, young protagonist is reading a book by one of the island's other writers, and tearing it apart.
Ms. Trane's novel dealt with a young, unmarried woman who woke up pregnant one day and wasn't sure who the father was. She had been drinking too much during the past year, had been rather promiscuous, and her memory was not that sharp. With a calendar, she tried to retrace her steps, and finally made a list of the three likeliest suspects. She vowed to secretly investigate each one with the plan to one day, after her child arrived, spring a paternity suit on the real daddy and collect support. It was a nice setup, but the writing was so convoluted and pretentious that any reader would have difficulty plowing through. No scene was clear, so that the reader was never certain what was going on. Ms. Trane obviously had a pen in one hand and a thesaurus in the other because Mercer saw long Words for the first time. And, just as frustrating, the dialogue was not identified with quotation marks, and often it was not clear who said what.
After twenty minutes of hard work, she was exhausted and fell into a nap.
There is a surprising dearth of lawyers in the book. And the story didn't suffer for it in the least. There are FBI and other above-the-law type scumbags a-plenty, though.
* I was shocked to discover that I've only peripherally mentioned Fragile Things a couple of times in posts on this site. I've never even listed the stories, quoted any part of it or said much of anything about it (the hardcover I have was published, purchased and read over 10 years ago). I should be ashamed.
** I read Fragile Things over ten years ago and my mangled brain barely works - give me a break.