Sunday, January 22, 2017

Review: Geekhoodies

I recently ordered a hoodie from an ad I saw on Facebook. They looked cool and I needed a hoodie. My classic gray was getting threadbare and I thought something a little more stylish would be okay and the price wasn't bad with the promotional price they offered on their Facebook ad.

I ordered one based on Assassins Creed on November 10th, 2016. Why am I including the year? Well, that becomes important.

It took a while, but on November 24th, two weeks later, I got an e-mail saying it had shipped... from China. Well shit.

Finally! I'd hoped to have it during sweatshirt season in Iowa and that was rapidly coming to an end as real coat weather arrived.

And then I waited.

And waited.

And waited. You've heard the expression something was coming "on a slow boat from China?" Well, that's more than a saying. It's a real thing.

January 20th, 2017 -- 71 days after I ordered it the hoodie arrived. The size was right. Sadly the material was stained/damaged/discolored in several spots, faded like it'd rubbed against something bleachy while folded?

So, if you're wandering around on a site and see an ad from geekhoodies you may have better luck than I did, but I got a badly made product over two months after I ordered it. I can't recommend them. I didn't contact them to see about having them fix this because, quite frankly, by the time a replacement arrived even if I could find someone in China who was willing to address the problem, it would be after sweat shirt season was over and the whole experience has left a bad taste in my mouth. So, it went from mailbox to house to take a picture of it and then to the dumpster. If you're feeling like throwing away twenty bucks do it on something like delicious tacos.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Skyrim: Adoption & Why I can't parent

Skyrim is an amazing game that's six years old and still going strong. It features a civil war between the Empire and some rebels. You aren't really a "hero" in the game as you, if you play it all the way through, wind up being head of the thieve's guild and head of the assassin's guild in addition to being in charge or a bunch of werewolves who only gain levels by eating the bodies of those they have killed. All in all... it's a little morally gray area here. Maybe those people you assassinated needed it? Grelod the Kind was a heinous person to run the orphanage. If anybody was asking for it she was.

The problem with wars, civil and otherwise, is they make orphans. And orphans need adopting. So, with the Hearthfire expansion, Skyrim added the ability to adopt orphans to the game and the orphans actually talk and interact with you, their parent. They talk and interact with each other as well. Sometimes I'll come home from a long day adventuring and find them in the living room arguing. I'll tell them both to stop and send them to their room. Eventually they stopped fighting. They could learn! The AI in the game took into account my behavior and changed THEIR behavior.

Then I lost my game due to carelessness and had to start over. Dangit! My poor orphaned kids! Wait. What else did they program the AI to do? What else will the Skyrim programmers let my kids learn? I wonder.

Enter The Prince and the Frog. Up above you see the Prince. I adopted him. Next is the Frog. I adopted him as well and so began an experiment. Remember, these are new kids. They hadn't learned not to argue yet. So, I started off with them in my home and they would argue and I would discipline only the Frog. The Prince I would give a sweet roll to. Periodically they will come up to me and ask me for money. The Frog gets nothing. And as soon as I'm done with the "I don't have any money" dialog I tell him to do chores. The Prince I give the maximum amount of money allowed in the game, every time.

The game has a functionality where you can play games like tag or hide and seek with the kids. When I play hide and seek with the Frog as soon as he hides I leave and never look for him, leaving him out there in the cold, perhaps being chased by a giant or a dragon! I dunno. Meanwhile I continue to shower the Prince with gifts of sweets, new clothes, toy swords, money, books, all he could possibly want. The Frog gets nothing.

Well, almost nothing. I recently gave him a dagger. An enchanted soul stealing Dragonbone Dagger. Now, if he wants what his brother has he has a way of getting it. All he has to do is use the dagger and it's all his.

Meanwhile, I don't sleep at home any more. It's not safe. He has a dagger.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Review: Grip6's web belt and buckle

I have bought two things through Facebook ads. One, a hoodie, was over a month ago, well over, and it's still not here from China. I may never see it. I couldn't be less happy with that company.

The second item was a web belt from I wore my first web belt in the US Navy and fell in love with them. When I saw the Facebook ad show up, doubtless as a creepy result of Facebook cookies noticing I'd been recently searching for web belts, I liked the look of the buckle on the grip6 belt. It had no moving parts.

The price was right and I was willing to try a Facebook ad again. This product is made in the USA and it arrived in about a week. Christmas was in there messing with mail times and it still arrived quickly.

It's a fantastic belt and the buckle, a curved piece of metal with two slots in it, is nice looking, sturdy, and sits flush against my pants so I don't get that weird belt buckle bump if my shirt isn't tucked in.
It looks great and is an excellent product. I initially thought the webbing too thin because it's thinner than what I was used to in the Navy buy it works fine and it being thinner means the belt isn't bulky looking/feeling at all.

I'm ordering another of these. I can't say enough good things about the quality, speed, and price. They are all outstanding.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Writing in color & S.A. Hunt

I've been rolling this post around in my head for days because I'm not sure how to say it properly. I've decided to just say it because I think it needs saying.

I'm reading Malus Domestica by S.A. Hunt and really enjoying it. According to my kindle I'm exactly halfway through it. It's a horror novel, it says so right on the cover. It's reminiscent of early Stephen King to me... along the lines of say, Pet Semetary. It's not the same kind of scary, yet. But it's building nicely. I'm really enjoying it.

While I'd always assumed that Malus Domestica meant something along the lines of Ordinary Evil or Evil in the Home or something like that I was quite wrong... humorously wrong in fact. In fact it means Orchard Apple. I'm not even kidding. The Mal in Malus isn't bad at all! Apples are about as pure and wholesome as... well... as apple pie! What could be wrong with an apple? Nothing! (Please don't ask Snow White how she feels about apples. Her opinion is biased by the lone interaction with a witch and an apple. How often could that POSSIBLY come up?)

I'm not here to talk about apples though. I'm here to talk about reading. I've been reading for years, over 40 years and I read several different ways. I read for entertainment. I read to learn new things. I read as a writer to see what I like and don't like in a story. That's part of what I'm going to talk about here. First some background about me.

See that? That's me according to my DNA. What do those places have in common? White. I'm incredibly white. If I'm not careful on a sunny day you can see straight through my skin to the muscles underneath.

Why does this matter? Because I read a lot of books. I read a lot of science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, and adventure fiction, a LOT. Those books are primarily written by white guys for white guys and tend to be populated, oddly enough, by more white guys. Even fantasy settings. Elves? Check. Dwarves? Check. Owl headed monsters leaping from closets? Well, sometimes. White people? Oh hell yeah! They're like EVERYWHERE! Just relax gentle reader. As foreign as these fantasy and science fiction worlds may be you may rest assured you will always feel at home as a 99% white guy because everywhere you look will be tons of other people JUST LIKE YOU!

As a white reader I don't even notice. Honestly. I don't. I don't pay any attention. The default for me is "white guy protagonist." I'm not saying it to be proud of it or anything I'm just saying that's my reading world and I am mostly not even aware of it. It just happens.

So, when I pick up a book and it has a person of color in it I notice. I don't object or recoil and throw the book down but I notice. That's a recent thing and it's because I've started writing. Want to read my book? Cool. Go get it and read it. I'll wait here. But about people of color in books. Sometimes they're there to die as in the "black guy dies first" trope. Sometimes they're the "magic negro." Sometimes they're sort of a side character we don't really get to know but the author wanted to be inclusive and diverse so (s)he made sure to have a non-white person in there. A lot of times diversity for the sake of diversity, in books, doesn't work. Either the writer doesn't know what they're doing, or they're trying too hard, or sometimes it's just a weird sort of "I don't know anybody who is from India so I'll make them like Raj from Big Bang Theory" kind of thing going on. It's jarring.

Which is what made me nervous when I saw that S.A. Hunt had included multiple races and was using not just a token person from each race he wanted to include, but actually had a black father & son as main characters. There's a "Juan" whose country of origin I don't know so won't guess, but i'm pretty sure I know. There's women all over the place, well written ones too. That's another thing, sometimes men write women badly.

I'm happy to say S. A. Hunt writes both really well. I was afraid he was going to botch it or get preachy with things or go too far but he didn't. He's hit exactly the right tone. Now, I'm saying this as white guy. You've seen my DNA so you know. But my point is. Here, here's an example. The point of view character here is a young black boy. Something S.A. Hunt is not, according to his author profile on amazon at least. But he handles the casual day-to-day racism that I KNOW really exists because I see it. And he doesn't go into what's going on in the boy's head as a result. He doesn't try to guess is he hurt, resentful, angry, what? He puts it there and moves on. Because that's what life is like on the daily for people of color.

Racism is bad. We can all agree on that. And when someone says "racist" or "racism" I think lynch mobs. I think throwing people out of a diner or off a bus. But that's not all there is to it. There's this here. There's the ignoring them unless forced not to. That's a big deal. It's a daily, constant, "You don't matter" that they deal with and it never goes away. How would that feel to be treated like that day after day after day? What would that do? Here's a thought experiment. Ignore your kid for say, a week. Like unless they demand your attention don't pay them any at all... you're already thinking, "WTF is wrong with you Rich?" Exactly. That's exactly my point and it's exactly what happens and it's insidious.

In another place in the book there's a group of white people discussing the new neighbors and one of them casually drops the N-word. Nobody blinks they just go on as if he'd said "cabbages are green." Why? Because it was just them. Nobody was hurt by it... It happens all the time. It's casual. It's made okay because nobody else heard it. It's there. I see both of these things constantly in real life.

S.A. Hunt has written a really enjoyable book that is a supernatural horror thriller that has characters in it I really enjoy and like. I didn't mention the handicapped man who doesn't define himself by his handicap... mainly because I strongly suspect he'd take his leg off and beat me with it then put it back on and walk off. I didn't mention him because it's not WHO he is. He's not a HANDICAPPED man. The other characters aren't a BLACK family. They are not defined by their adjective as so many authors do. There's a man who has a prosthetic leg. There's a family that is also black.

So, what I'm saying is if you're writing, include some "other" in there. Something besides white men or white folks. And if you're wondering how? Do it like S.A. Hunt does because he does it really well, and does the interactions between them really well. I can't say enough good things about it.

Without being a screed or preachy manifesto it's made me think and that's what good fiction does. This is really good fiction.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Book Review: Earth Alone by Daniel Arenson

Earth Alone by Daniel Arenson was... you know, I don't know HOW I found it. I suspect it was on promo or something in some mailing list of discounted books or something. I'd never heard of Daniel Arenson before which is odd because he's written a LOT of books, and they're the kind I like. But somehow I kept not reading him.

Until now.

Earth Alone is the first in a series, maybe a trilogy. I should have looked before reviewing I guess but I just finished reading it and was excited to come tell you about it. Oops. I just broke the fourth wall. Please excuse me. I'm excited.

Earth Alone is military science-fiction if you had to shelve it that's where you'd put it. You'd be limiting the readership too much though. Listen. I know all about military sci-fi. It often starts with, here's the arc:

1) Meet the protagonist & see him in normal environment/home. Nice guy. Likable. Maybe a bit artistic/sensitive.
3) Bootcamp is hard, a series of examples of how hard it is and how overwhelming and "I just wanna go home, I miss... stuff."
4) Things start coming together, the company/platoon/whatever starts gelling and getting less haggard feeling.
5) Death. Someone dies. Not an important character but one that's been added in there, perhaps after the story was written because all boot camp stories need this person to die. You can literally remove them from the story and it doesn't change in any way. It just serves the purpose Coulton's Death did in The Avengers and brings the team even closer together. "We're doing this for DEAD GUY!!!"
6) Graduation. Everything's golden.
7) Off to war. OMG - it's horrible. I hate this. Thank Glob for all that training! this is what we trained for people! Our protagonist turns out to be a great leader of men but denies it and says he was just doing what had to be done.
8) Much death but remains of the troop go on to bigger things.

That happens in ALL boot camp stories. It's THE story arc and I felt like this book was doing the same thing. Hitting all the same beats as Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card - read the book, ignore the movie) Starship Troopers (Robert A. Heinlein - read the book, ignore the movie), and countless others that've gone before.

You know why it happens this way? Because it works. The death scene that is always there and that I always see coming even if I don't know who it's going to be... it's there and it is the *click*. It's the moment the hero goes from the person he was when we met him to the person he is going to be in the end. It's a transformative death, the chrysalis moment where he changes and the death is a punctuation mark, an exclamation point when done correctly, and a comma when done incorrectly (I'm looking at you Madonna's baseball movie A League of Their Own... nobody even knew who that character WAS! You knew the beat, but you did it wrong.)

This book hit all those beats, and you know it's going to. It's that kind of book. And it did it exceptionally well. To the point where I finished the last of the book (Beats 6-8 above) in Taco Johns eating their super nachos and drinking a giant tea and crying. Literally wiping my eyes with a napkin and sniffling crying as I read it. I cried from happiness and joy and sadness and pride. It was outstanding. I cried unashamedly and kept reading right there in public with a napkin in one hand as I blotted my eyes with it one at a time so I didn't have to stop reading. At one point I thought I was going to choke on my churro as I tried to swallow it and found that being "choked up with emotion" is more than a figure of speech. My throat rebelled against the idea of swallowing at that moment.

The characters are good. I liked them. There's one, a tiny girl, who has a story she tells about two times too often but, it's there to make a point so Arenson beats us over the head with it, the characters too. I get it. I went to boot camp and the mouthiness these characters had... and the punishments they were given... that part was unrealistic to me. They had quite a few more smart-assed remarks than I thought they should have. That bugged me some. But it didn't take away from how much I liked the characters, the story, or the book itself.

Listen, it's not A Tale of Two Cities, or The Stand (seriously, one of the best books ever written) but it's really really good. I read it on my kindle and on the last page when it offered to sell me the next in the series I clicked BUY NOW without a moment's hesitation. I won't read it next though. I'm wrung out. I need something lighter.