Breaking away from the writing talk…for a rant.


To Lily Eskelsen Garcia and the National Education Association…an explanation.

For those of you reading this who don’t know, Lily Eskelsen Garcia –  President of the National Education Association (NEA) – made a speech recently in which she made a few jokes. In fact, she breathlessly rattled off a list of things teachers do, including “diversify our curriculum and instruction to meet the personal and individual needs of all of our students.” Sounds nice…but then she begins to list some of those needs and she includes the “blind, hearing impaired, physically challenged, gifted and talented, the chronically tarded and medically annoying…”

There are some people charging that that last part was meant to be “chronically retarded and medically annoying.” Evidently Garcia has clarified that she meant to say “chronically tardy” and that she was referring to kids who are very annoying, but lovable. Hmmm…

There has been a Twitter backlash over this and honestly I’m on board with it. I might be able to buy that she meant to say “chronically tardy,” and perhaps she is talking about annoying kids who are just lovable little skamps…but I’m still not amused. In fact, I’m more inclined to see this as a Freudian slip than a simple misunderstanding. I’d like to explain why.

Whatever your intention, your joke is not funny to those of us with medically fragile children. It is not funny when we have had to fight to the point of exhaustion for our child’s rights. I’m sorry to say that I am more than familiar with teachers who find my child’s medical needs to be annoying. I have had school administrators lie to me about what services are available for my child. I have had teachers become irritable and insulting when faced with making accommodations for my child – and we’re not talking about anything disruptive here, we’re talking about providing an alternate location for a speech or sending a test to a separate room – things that are absolutely transparent to the other kids and not in any way disruptive. I have had to listen to a school administrator suggest that perhaps if my very intelligent child is that sick, she doesn’t belong in Honors Math with the other kids.

The sad lesson we’ve learned is that we can’t really trust our schools to do their best for our children. We don’t attend any meeting without an expensive advocate by our side. We’ve actually had to go into debt to make sure the people who are getting paid by our tax dollars are doing the job they are supposed to be doing and not trying to pull a fast one. And while that might make me laugh ironically while shaking my head, your jokes and accidental attitude-reveals do not.

Mad Max vs. Ex Machina


Although I usually restrict this blog to writing about books and writing, I’m going to break away from that for a few minutes to write about a movie….actually, two movies. Sorry for the length on this one, but there’s a lot to cover.

There’s been a lot of talk about Mad Max Fury Road and whether or not it is feminist, false-feminist, or anti-man propaganda. My husband and I loved this flick in part because it’s an awesome romp of a kick-ass movie. But also because it’s what we think of as real feminism — feminism that frees us all. Because, contrary to common misperception, feminism isn’t just about women. It’s about every gender and gender identity. Our society forces it to begin with women, but it’s about everyone.

As it happened, we saw another movie just a day later – Ex Machina. We also liked this one a lot. This movie was not at all like Max, but it got us talking about many of the same concepts. Machina also deals with feminism, but in a world with no perceived allies and that was…interesting.


Before I explain, let me warn you that this post is pretty much made of spoilers. I can’t stress it enough, if you have not seen these movies and do not want the plot spoiled, stop reading right now. Seriously, so many spoilers! You’ve been warned.

Mad Max takes place in a world of concentrated, toxic patriarchy. A small group of diseased men rule this world. They control water, gas, and weirdly, even breast milk. Ragged men and women grovel at the base of warlord Immortan Joe’s mountain, waiting for the stingy allotment of water he bestows upon them by carelessly dumping it on their heads. He then watches as they scramble to catch the precious fluid before the desert swallows it up. Orwellian double-think is rampant in this world where the worshiping rabble are cautioned not to become “addicted” to water lest they resent its absence. Small boys and young men are enslaved as servants or warriors and women (with the exception of war-machine driver Imperator Furiosa) are either diseased and starving or scooped up to serve as breeders in an attempt to produce children without deformities. Yeah, it’s a bad, violent place.

Ex Machina takes place pretty much in the present day United States. In a nutshell, it’s about an IT genius who invents sentient sex toys to play with. Okay…it’s not introduced to us that way. In fact, what we get is Nathan, genius computer entrepreneur rich guy and all-around dick-swinging douchebag who invites quiet, introspective Caleb (his employee) to spend a week with him locked in his fortress of solitude.

Caleb is also a coder and he is honored and thrilled to have won this opportunity with a man he admires. After psychologically batting Caleb around, intentionally keeping him off balance and making him uncomfortable and nervous, Nathan reveals that Caleb is there to assess whether the android Nathan built passes the Turing Test (i.e. is she sentient?).

As the days pass and Caleb interacts with Ava the beautiful female android, he finds that Nathan may not be the man he thought he was. Nathan’s alcoholic rants, bullying, mind games, and paranoia begin to wear on Caleb as he comes closer to believing that Ava is not only sentient, but a prisoner and a victim.

So, the feminism here for the female characters in both movies is obvious. The women in Joe’s unwilling “harem” do not like being enslaved. Ava the android does not like being kept literally under glass. Not exactly hard to understand for anyone who is a member of the human race. They want to be free.

In Max, the women convince Furiosa, to smuggle them out of the city to “The Green Place” — an idealized, oasis in their dry, brutal world. The women in this movie take matters into their own hands. They take control of their situation and fight their way free.

In Machina, Ava is far more helpless. She has literally never been out of the room she inhabits deep within Nathan’s weird forest fortress. She enlists Caleb’s help by subtly letting him know that she is in trouble and that Nathan cannot be trusted. Her escape is a much trickier thing in that she does not know Caleb. If she reveals too much and he betrays her, she knows Nathan will shut her down, essentially killing her, and she will be unable to stop him. Asking Caleb for help is incredibly risky and, although it is Ava who delivers the ultimate death blow to Nathan, initially she is entirely reliant on Caleb for help. As a side note, I’ve enjoyed few movie moments as much as I enjoyed Caleb quietly informing Nathan that he has already hacked his security. He turns the tables on the asshole genius and it is marvelous.

The interesting thing in both movies is that we see that the men are just as enslaved by the patriarchy as the women are. In Max, we meet a young man named Nux. A sickly warrior who relies on the captured Max as his “blood bag” to continually replenish his blood supply to keep him going. It’s beautifully symbolic that the men are chained together in the beginning. The chain hampers both men, making them easier to defeat.

Nux worships Immortan Joe, but Nux is a disposable warrior, waiting only for a chance to sacrifice himself for the warlord. Joe is the stereotypical unpleasable father figure who casts a cool, unfeeling eye on Nux’s attempts to fight for him, calling it a poor effort as Nux clings to a speeding vehicle with his life in peril. Nux is crushed by this rejection, but it breaks some of his indoctrination and leaves him open to the kindness he gets from the escaping women. They refuse to hurt Nux, recognizing that he is just a boy who has bought into the bullshit. They treat him with kindness, go against the established violent ways of their society and his eyes are opened.

Max himself is a great example of another type of patriarchal enslavement. He shambles through life with a terrible case of survivor guilt. He was unable to save his wife and child and thus he is the ultimate failure in his own eyes. He is a lone shell with little emotion and no connections. He begins to come back to life as a character when he joins forces with Furiosa and the escaping women. It is not all up to Max to save everyone. He has help from his equals in Nux, Furiosa, and the other women. The burden is shared and everyone is freed.

In Machina, Caleb is much like Nux. He looked up to Nathan and was thrilled to come to his attention. But the shine doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The more time Caleb spends with Nathan, the more he comes to realize that he is only a tool to his idol. Caleb begins to sympathize with Ava. He grows suspicious of what Nathan has been up to and begins to uncover the horrible truth – that Nathan has created many androids for his own messed up experimentation. He uses them and discards them knowing that they are sentient as he erases them. In fact, he even discovers that Nathan’s servant Kyoko is not a human servant who doesn’t speak English, but an android who has been robbed of speech so that Nathan can enslave her.

This of course, is what makes the ending of Machina so very sad. It’s missing the trust and mutuality we get in Max. Nathan is the only man Ava has ever known. She has only seen his manipulations and abuses. She realizes she can use Caleb to help her, but she can’t trust him. Of course, there is a whole other layer here because Ava isn’t really a “woman,” she’s a sentient machine, which separates her from Caleb on a larger level, but the basic idea is the same. She sees herself as “other” than Caleb and Nathan. Caleb helps her and she is grateful enough to leave him alive, but she can’t allow him to follow her and leaves him trapped instead. They both end up defeated to an extent (though I think Ava has only begun to kick asses once she’s out), because there can be no trust between them.

The men and women in Max band together as equals and learn to trust one another (even the initially mistrustful women of the Green Place) and they triumph. The people in Machina remain mistrustful and see each other as nothing but “other” and everyone loses. So simple…but so true to life. So the essence of feminism. It’s not about men vs. women or taking anyone’s power. It’s not a zero sum game. It’s about coming together to empower us all.

Beta Readers. Hate my book? Thank you!


It sounds sarcastic, but it’s not. For those of you following along on my fiction-writing journey, I’ve made quite a bit of progress since the last update. I did finish the book and even found (or more accurately, was found by) a fabulous beta-reading group, whose members just finished giving me feedback.

Side note, I was tempted to do a big “I finished the book!” blog post, that somehow seemed weird since…what is “finished” anyway? Sold? Edited? Printed? Abandoned?

At the risk of getting gushy, I’ll say that I could not be happier with these beta readers. They are all fellow-writers and they all know how to tell a story. But even better, they all know how to critique. I knew that these people would be helpful, but I had no idea just how helpful. Everyone had good things to say. Everyone had good ideas on what needed work. Except for…one person.

She hated it. She hated it with a passion that burned. In fact, she said that she got angrier and angrier as she read and could not bring herself to finish it. Wow. Shit. Ouch.

Now, this could have gone somewhere negative with hard feelings and harsh words. But luckily, our group is run by a clever lady who encouraged this reader to summarize her feelings on the book and relate them to me constructively. And so she did.

The fact is, this book has some awful people in it. Underneath the story about an assassination and coup attempt, it’s about a broken man who collects broken people. The subtext to the story is about clinging to the devil you know and about putting up with abuse in order to be safe. When my reader demanded to know, “he treats them like that and they’re supposed to thank him for it??” the answer is…well…ummm, yeah. That’s the society that they live in. It’s not a book about a great place we’d all like to live. It’s about a bloodthirsty society where you’ll let someone kick your ass and thank them for it if it means they won’t give you to someone who will eat you (figuratively in general, but for one character, kind of literally).

So my first instinct was to chalk it up to this reader not getting it. But as I spent a few days intermittently pacing around my house, staring off into space while her complaints tumbled around in my head, I realized that the things she had said were the solution to a plot problem I was having. My book has a traitor, and I’ve been having trouble filling out that traitor’s motivations with anything other than simple fear. I knew this character needed development, but my instinct was to give it to the beta group as it was to see what reactions came back to me. And it turned out that this one reader’s complaints were exactly the sort of thing that my traitor would feel. It’s exactly the sort of thing that the traitor has been missing. Ah hah! Eureka! Thanks, book hater!!

Mind you, she’ll still probably hate the book…but that’s okay. It’s still great practice for dealing with all the other people who will hate it. And I’ll thank her for that too.

Book Review: Half Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Older


After seeing what felt like the 1,000th tweet about this book, I finally gave in and said, “Okay, okay, I’ll buy the fricking book!” Reinforcement of the lesson for all aspiring authors – promotion pays.
Anybody who reads this blog regularly (hi, you two!) knows what’s coming since I don’t review books that I think are bad. Yep, it’s a good one. Daniel Jose Older seems to be a fairly new author, and I am ever so excited about his books.

HRB is billed as being the first in the Bone Street Rumba series, which is great news because it means we’ll see more of Carlos Delacruz, an “inbetweener,” straddling the line between being alive and dead. Outwardly, this means he’s a little grey and has a very slow heartbeat, but he can walk down the street without anybody becoming alarmed. As for how he got that way, he doesn’t really know. He has no memory of how he died, he just knows that it was violent and that a ghost, his friend Riley, saved him and helped to bring him half way back.

Now Carlos works for The Council of the Dead, a bureaucratic group of ghosts who keep the supernatural community in line – sending Carlos out to hunt those who need to die the real death (i.e. be obliterated) for causing trouble in the living world. The Council sends Carlos to kill another inbetweener, the first he has ever seen besides himself. The job leads Carlos to discover a wider conspiracy to tear down the barrier between the dead and the living. Along the way, he becomes infatuated with beautiful and mysterious Sasha, but is she an innocent pawn or one of the players?

So obviously, totally cool plot, but that’s not the best thing here. Older’s writing is top notch, leaving me wondering how damned good he’s going to be a few years from now. The dialog between characters is fast and edgy. He has a way of seamlessly telling us what Carlos is thinking followed quickly by what he actually says (not at all the same thing, in many cases) that is just plain cool and enjoyable. His characters are slick and the relationships between them are as complicated and fraught as one might expect for a guy who is only half alive and kills for a living.

The other thing I love about this story is that Carlos isn’t entirely a good guy. Not 100% antihero, but he does some shameful things. He doesn’t do them with malice, he feels bad about them later, but he does screw up in ways that cause damage. He’s a supernatural being who manages to be painfully human and relatable. It was one of those books that, faced with only 100 or so pages left, I wanted to read slower to draw it out.

I saw on Twitter that he’s already working on the next one…can’t wait!

Chuck Wendig Flash Fiction Challenge – It’s X Meets Y


Dear God…Chuck Wendig…I haven’t been doing the flash fiction thing much lately mainly due to time constraints, but I always love Chuck’s random number generator title challenges. So, last week he gave two lists of book/movie titles. We were challenged to write a mashup of one meets the other. I used a random number generator and ended up with a disastrous combination of The Terminator meets 50 Shades of Grey.
The result is easily the most ridiculous story I have ever written. Most definitely NOT SAFE FOR WORK…but don’t get too excited, it’s not really sexy, just very, very ridiculous.

This story is terrible and embarrassing so read it now if you want because I’ll probably take it down soon. All I can say is…sorry. Seriously…just…sorry! *slinks away*

50 Shades of Turing

The lab was bright with artificial light and gleaming surfaces. Every piece of equipment, every table, tablet, and laptop computer was white and shining in antiseptic perfection. The young, ebony-skinned engineer was a dark contrast to her surroundings and the only organic thing in the room. Even the air she breathed was scrubbed clean by machines before she drew it into her lungs. She leaned over the little robot she was working on, reaching in with white-gloved fingers to connect a wire within its metal body.
The sterile calm of the room was interrupted by the whir of rubber-treaded wheels heading through the door, leaving little black smudge marks as they rolled her way. The sound stopped directly behind her and a tinny, synthetic voice spoke.

“God I want you.”

Robin pivoted on her stool, clenching her teeth with a sneer. She beheld the human-sized robot that had rolled up behind her. It lurked just within her personal space, clutching a loop of braided silk in its metal pincers. The weirdly big eyes that Stan had given it blinked at her once. She rolled her own eyes with a groan.

“Stan!” she called.

The bot released its silk lasso with one pincer as it made a grab for her ponytail with the other. Robin ducked out of the way, sliding off her stool to step out of the thing’s reach.

“Holy cow! We’re going to have to work on keeping you still, baby…” the synthetic voice purred.

“God damn it, Stan!” she shouted, raising her voice to an angry shout. She stalked to the door of the lab, sticking her head out to look up and down the hall for her errant colleague. The bot rolled after her, brandishing the braided silk suggestively.

“If I want to buy you a fucking car, I’ll buy you a fucking car!” it recited.

“Yeah, okay, why don’t you go do that, clanky. You can offer to pay for it with blow jobs and spankings.” She leaned in close to the bot, reaching around as it turned its head toward her face with a simulated sigh.

“I want you sore, baby.”

She yanked the battery pack from its back, hearing the satisfying snap of a hard shutdown. She stuck her head back out the door. “Stan! Your freaking kinkbot is on the loose again!” With one more disgusted glance at the bot, Robin strode across the lab to plop back onto her stool as she heard a rush of running footsteps in the hallway. Stan burst into the lab, red-faced with panic in his eyes.

“Willie!” he cried. “God, I’m sorry Robin! Did he…uh…did he do anything…unforgiveable?”

“That dialog is pretty unforgiveable, but he didn’t manage to do anything physical if that’s what you mean.”

“Ah shit. He got away from me. I’m really sorry.”

Robin folded her arms and shook her head. “50 Shades, Stan?”

Stan blushed furiously. “Stop judging me! I told you I just downloaded it out of curiosity!”

“Mmm hmm. But you didn’t delete it, obviously since your stupid bot read it and got perverted for life.”

“It’s not his fault!” Stan protested, taking the battery pack she held out to him. “He was in…well kind of in adolescence at the time. He imprinted on it. Who would have guessed that damned book would be the one to make a lasting impression?”

Robin chuckled. “Be grateful it wasn’t iRobot or he would have tossed your ass out the window.”

Stan lowered his eyebrows and glanced at Willie as if he was trying to decide if the bot could actually throw him.

“You got lucky again this time, professor. But if Herr Wanderlust rolls into the wrong lab one of these days, you’ll be saying hasta la vista to your funding.”

“I know, I know.” Stan slipped the battery pack into the pocket of his lab coat and started pacing, wringing his hands and yanking absently at his unruly mop of brown hair. “Why are they going after my funding? Haven’t I made progress? Doesn’t the fact that he’s obsessed with kinky sex from a book show that he has some form of sentience? I mean, how much more proof do we need?”

“I wouldn’t exactly call that a Turing Test, Stan. He’s just parroting the damned book.” She turned away to drape a plastic tarp over her own little robot. “And anyway, this is a respectable lab. That baby-oil-lubed embarrassment could start writing original poetry and the company isn’t going to show it to the scientific community, let alone the public.”

“I know,” he groaned. “Why? Why THAT book? I’ve got Shakespeare on my fucking e-reader! Descartes! He couldn’t have gone in for The Emperor’s Handbook?”

“That’ll teach you to keep your wanking material at home.”

Stan blushed again, turning scarlet this time. He ducked his head and stalked over to his runaway robot.

“I…I’ll see you later, Robin. Sorry again.” He grabbed a handle on Willie’s back and circled around to wheel him along to his own lab.

Stan spent the next two weeks obsessing over his impending funding review, trying to get Willie ready. He had kept the bot plugged into Netflix for days, trying to get him to imprint on something…anything other than soft porn. But when he got him up in front of the bigwigs, all he wanted to talk about was whips and some kind of vaginal balls? Stan tried to argue that as proof of independent thought. He didn’t remember any vaginal balls in the book. Wasn’t it one or the other? Who had both?

They pulled his funding and gave him a month to find another backer or clear out of his lab space. Determined to find someone to finance his impending breakthrough, he changed Willie’s entire routine. No exposure to anything but classic literature and music. No more Netflix. Willie had seemed close to getting interested in a couple of other movies, but nothing that was going to help their cause. Risky Business was only going to encourage more salacious talk and The Terminator? Oh God…Stan didn’t even want to consider where that might lead. He called up his LinkedIn profile and started searching for someone willing to back him.


There was nobody. Three weeks. Three weeks of begging, pleading, bargaining all for nothing. It seemed that word had spread after the funding meeting fiasco and now he was just a laughingstock. Stan sat at his desk with his head in his hands.

“Hey perk up, professor! I hear congratulations are in order.”
Stan jerked his head up and stared. It was way past time for everyone to be gone for the day. Robin stood leaning into his office in her winter coat and boots.

“Whoa sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”

Stan blinked at her. “Oh…no, it’s okay. I was just thinking. I…uh…did you say congratulations?”

“Yeah, and I meant it too! Don’t worry, you’ll get Willie’s horny ass in line. I’m glad you’re staying. It goes to show, there’s a backer for everything right?” Her phone chimed and she pulled it out to check the display. “Crap, it’s late! Gotta go. It’s after eight, you should go home too! See you tomorrow!”

“I have a backer?” he muttered at Robin’s retreating back. “But everyone said no.” Stan pulled his keyboard close and peered at the monitor as he began to type.

Two hours later, he sat back and let out a long, slow sigh. The money was there. Thousands of dollars, funneled through his own PayPal account. Anywhere from three to five $1,000 payments every night for the last two weeks, with another one made just an hour ago…but he had absolutely no idea where the money was coming from. He gasped for air, casting around his office as if he had left the answer sitting around somewhere. Should he try to find out the source of the money or just use it?

His panic was interrupted by a loud giggle followed by the sound of drunken shushing. He stared out his doorway as a heavyset middle-aged couple staggered past, leaning into one another.

Stan jumped up to follow them. “Hey! Excuse me!” he called. “This is private property. You’re not supposed to be in here.”

The couple pivoted as one, staring at him and breaking into a fresh bout of giggles. The man straightened and stepped forward. “It’s okay man. It’s cool. Willie gave us the code. We paid in advance. Online.” He glanced around and leaned in for a beer-stinking whisper, “Craigslist.”

Stan froze. “Willie? Gave you the code? On Craigslist?” He stared as the couple nodded knowingly and turned to continue down the hall. They turned left as Stan followed them at a distance. The couple stopped at the door to one of the empty office spaces and knocked – one normal knock followed by two fast raps.

The door opened and Willie rolled out. He was draped in red silk with a little leather whip clutched in one of his pincers. Stan glimpsed dim mood lighting in the office instead of the usual fluorescents as the soft lilt of La Traviata floated down the hall.

Willie opened the door all the way and rolled in close to the couple. “Come with me if you want to really live,” he said, the synthetic voice somehow managing to drip with desire and a hint of an Austrian accent.

The couple burst into peals of laughter and staggered into the office. Willie turned his gaze on Stan and rolled forward to meet him.

Stan’s mouth worked soundlessly for a moment before he found his voice. “The money, our funding. It’s from you?”

Willie cocked his head to one side.

“So you’ve…you’re really become self-aware? And…um…and also I guess…an Internet prostitute, uhh, dominant?”
Willie winked one of his big eyes and cracked the little whip in the air, making Stan flinch. “I’ll be back.”

He rolled back into the room, shutting the door behind him with a soft click.

Book Review: Terms of Enlistment by Marko Kloos


I bought this book, sight unseen, after hearing some Twitter buzz that it was being criticized for having too many strong female characters. This, of course, pissed me off enough that I immediately ordered one for myself and one to give my brother for his upcoming birthday (if you’re reading this, dear brother…um, surprise??).

It wasn’t as much of a risk as it sounds since the buzz was generated by John Scalzi and I figured if he liked it, chances are I would too. Nonetheless, I was prepared to feel a bit foolish and chalk it up to a learning experience if the book turned out to suck.

I finished it in a day and a half. Suck it did not. This book was a ride. It was almost exhausting at times, but more like vigorous-round-of-sex-exhausting, not slogging-up-a-mountain-exhausting…and that’s always a good thing.

The near-future story follows Andrew Grayson – a young, intelligent, self-described welfare rat who enlists in the military to escape his hopeless and seriously shitty life in Boston public housing. He says goodbye to his sad mother and cancer-riddled, abusive father hoping to get a ticket off of Earth and a chance for a new life. We follow him through basic training, where the abundant food alone is enough to make him stay through the hardships of the program.

He makes friends, discovers his skills, and even strikes up a romantic relationship with a fellow (yep, strong female) soldier. All great stuff, but fairly relaxed until Andrew graduates and gets his first assignment. I don’t want to inject spoilers here, so I’ll just say he gets an assignment and many, many explodey things happen. It’s running and shooting and battle tactics and grenade launchers and wanton destruction followed by skin-of-the-teeth survival. It’s basically one damned thing after another for this guy and his unit and we are happy to be along for the ride.

Afterward, Kloos lets us up for a breath of air and then plunges us back into the shit for some seriously surprising space-alien adventure. Awesome stuff, full of both male and female bad-ass characters, great dialogue and quality storytelling. I see that it has a sequel, which I’ll be buying ASAP. Maybe I’ll even get two!

Book Review: Weapon – A Visual History of Arms and Armor


A few weeks ago, I saw a piece on about a book on weapons. The book is called Weapon – A Visual History of Arms and Armor and it may have been the best $25 I’ve ever spent. Actually, I ordered it from Amazon, so I think it ended up being a bit less than that, but that’s the price listed on the back of the book.

This book is a fabulous resource for weapons of all kinds, from the very first throwing and stabbing weapons of the ancient world to modern firearms being manufactured and used as you read this. It has high-quality photos of most of the weapons along with detailed descriptions of their uses, years of popularity, materials they’re made of, problems with durability or functioning, particular advantages, etc. There is also some great information about the culture and history behind the weapons and the context for why certain weapons and means of warfare evolved.

While I own a few weapons of my own, those are the only ones I feel qualified to talk about or to use in my writing. I’ve ordered other books on firearms, etc. in the past, but always felt like they fell short in helping me understand the weapons such that I could write about someone else using and owning them.

This book changed all that. Reading through it with my little pack of post-its, I was able to go back through my current book to enrich so many of the fight descriptions in ways I would not have been able to without this book and its detailed descriptions and lovely, glossy pictures. An Indian punching dagger that allows my character to weave his hand and wrist through the handle like an extension of his arm allows ever so much more capability and description than would a glorified kitchen knife gripped in his hand.

I won’t even get started on the guns because I could write all day. Great information on ammo, weapons with jamming problems, how firing mechanisms began and how they work now, gun weight, speed of barrel replacement on sub-machine guns, handguns, rifles, grenade launchers, anti-tank weapons! As I said…I could go on.

Information about armor spans from the ancient world to modern military helmets and their composition.

Extremely cool book. In short, if you need to write about weapons, get it!

Book Review: Downfall by Rob Thurman


God damn, I am a sucker for these books!

I discovered the first of the Cal Leandros series a few years ago while wandering the oh-so-familiar Sci Fi/Fantasy section of a bookstore, just looking around for something new. I don’t know why I picked out Nightlife, the first book in the series. Eye-catching cover, maybe? But then I opened it up, read the first two pages, said a quiet “Oh hell yeah!” and I’ve been buying Rob Thurman books ever since.

The Leandros series is about two half-brothers – Niko, who is human and Cal, who is half-human-half-Auphe (the Auphe being your worst nightmare, bad acid trip version of elves). The series follows the harrowing adventures life brings to them in a world full of monsters, gods, angels, paien, and assholes…oh and a few true friends.

Each book (nine in the series so far) centers around Cal’s struggle not to allow his monster-DNA to take him over and Niko’s struggle to keep his brother alive and intact as they’re hunted, first by the Auphe, and later by creature after creature that the brothers stand against in an effort to do what’s right or at least to make ends meet by taking contract work from the supernatural community.

While the guns, swords, wisecracks, and mega-violent adventuring is a huge draw for me, it’s the relationship between the brothers that really hits the spot. Completely loyal to one another, either would tear apart the world to save the other. Thurman has a great way of capturing the savage toughness of both brothers and dovetailing it beautifully with the painful vulnerability that is their love and devotion for each other.

Downfall, the latest in the series, does not disappoint and may in fact be one of the best. So many, many spoilers…it’s hard to get too specific, but let’s just say that she (Thurman is a woman, in case you didn’t know) had me very worried for a while that this was going to be the last book in the series, or at least the last one in which either brother would be recognizable. I won’t tell you how it ends…but quite a lot changes. If you’re a reader of the series and find that some of the loose ends she left in other books are bugging you…read this one because many things are explained and wrapped up. If you’re not a reader of the series, what are you doing still sitting there?? Go buy the first book, or go to the library, or borrow it from a friend…but do yourself a favor and read it.

Book Review: Jack McDevitt’s Starhawk


For many years, getting a new McDevitt was kind of like getting a pile of gold. “Gasp! For me? Thank you!” His stories were gripping. His characters were brave, intelligent, competent – damned likeable.

A typical McDevitt had characters embarking on some sort of mission or project only to have something go terribly wrong or to discover something world-changingly significant or both at the same time, like finding evidence of intelligent life on a planet that was about to explode…on which the unfortunate characters had somehow become trapped. The characters would have to figure out an ingenious way of getting out of whatever mess they were in that took every ounce of ingenuity and courage they had. These books were can’t-put-it-down, turn-the-page-faster, action sci-fi brilliance.

In recent years, it seems to me that McDevitt’s books have become…tamer. Still a good read, still books I was interested in buying…but they seemed to have lost something. With the switch from main character Captain Priscilla “Hutch” Hutchins to antiquities dealer Alex Benedict and his sidekick Chase Kolpath, there was far more talking and going out to dinner than figuring out how to get five people off a planet that was about to explode. Alex and Chase generally had a mystery on their hands and there was often some kind of peril. But it was never anything as harrowing or edge-of-your-seat gripping like the Hutch books or his early non-Hutch books like Moonfall, Eternity Road, and Ancient Shores.

With Starhawk…Hutch…and McDevitt are back. Not perhaps all the way back…but we’re getting close. Starhawk tells an early Hutch story. Before she got her nickname, before she had any of her adventures, before she was even taken seriously by the people who would later count on her for their most difficult missions.

Hutch is a brand new pilot. In fact, she’s on her final testing run to get certified, when something goes wrong. She and her mentor are called upon to divert from their testing flight to rescue a ship full of young girls on a space school trip. This gives us a delicious taste of the old Hutch books with problems that seem to have no solution. The pain and suffering that ensues give an interesting background for what we know from other books are Hutch’s later refusals to give up or sacrifice anyone, even when the odds seem insurmountable.

Once this first experience is under her belt, the book sadly tames up as Hutch looks for a job and experiences her first professional disappointments. While we do learn a lot about Hutch’s early life, we don’t get a lot of adventure. This is not to say that we don’t want to know these things. In fact, McDevitt does a great job of describing what it can be like for a newbie, particularly a female one, making her way through the old-boys network in the dick-swinging world of space pilots. The fact that she’s pretty gets remarked upon with annoying frequency by those (male and female) who she encounters in her job. When young Hutch sticks her neck out to try to do what’s right, she gets labeled as “emotional” by her superior. All too familiar for professional women everywhere and it’s refreshing to see a male author with the ability to describe these things in a way that feels genuine.

While I initially despaired that the rest of the book would remain tame, it turns out that McDevitt was setting us up for a final adventure and we’re treated to another McDevitt nail-biter before the book ends. This was a well-written surprise, but it left me wanting more. It made me long anew for the old McDevitts, full of Hutch in her prime. Her career as a pilot must have held more adventures that we can enjoy. I doubt McDevitt will ever write a bad book, but we know there is so much more to be had. I can only hope that we get more stories like the old ones. Until then I will, of course, buy anything the man writes…but c’mon Jack! We know you’ve got the goods!  Bring us on another adventure!

More Book Reviews – Coming Soon


I’m going to try something new…ish. I’m still plugging away at writing fiction, but most of my time has been sucked up lately by a big freelance job (read: job that pays the bills and maybe gets us out of debt) so the fiction thing has slowed down considerably. In the meantime, and in an effort to keep this blog from just being me whining, I thought I’d do some book reviews.

Fair warning…if I think a book sucks, I probably won’t review it. If there is one thing I’m learning as I write short stories that other people review, it’s that there will always be people who hate it and there will sometimes be people who love it. And who am I to slam somebody else’s hard work? This isn’t to say that I’ll exclusively gush about every book. In fact, the first review I’m planning to post (Jack McDevitt’s Starhawk) has pluses and minuses, but it’s overall a thumbs up for the book and the author, whose work I happen to love. If I don’t have anything nice to say, I’ll just shut the hell up.

So I hope you’ll find these useful and maybe even entertaining…and maybe you’ll learn about an author you hadn’t heard of before. First one coming soon!