Archive for July, 2012

Temporarily Boycotting Twitter due to Censorship Issue

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

As a minor form of protest against Twitter suspending Guy Adams’ account (in effect censoring him), I won’t be signing into Twitter until I hear that they’ve reinstated his account. If they don’t reinstate his account, I will be considering deactivating my Twitter account. For now, my blog posts (from Pneumatised!), Tumblr posts, and Plurks will still auto-Tweet via those respective sites. People can also follow me on Google+, where I frequently post publicly.

What Guy Adams had to say about Twitter suspending his account (click the title link after to see his full article)

~~~C

London 2012 Summer Olympics: Waiting for Taekwondo to Start

Monday, July 30th, 2012

It’s Olympic time again. Like the last three Summer Olympics, I’m looking forward to the taekwondo sparring competition at the Olympics, which starts on August 8th (see the taekwondo schedule via the London 2012 site). While I wait to watch taekwondo, I decided to check out a few other Olympic sports that I never got to see much of in the past. Canada’s broadcasting on the Olympics in the past tended to focus on swimming, gymnastics, and athletics (not that I mind those sports; I like watching gymnastics, but I’d rather go swimming and running plus it gets boring watching those two events after a while; I just think they should air some of the other sports as well). However, since Canada won a bronze in women’s taekwondo back in 2000 (Dominique Bosshart was Canada’s only competitor for taekwondo at that Olympics), the Canadian media has in the past given some glimpses of taekwondo. Since Karine Sergerie‘s silver win in 2008, the Canadian media has gotten a bit more excited about taekwondo (though I’m not sure how well they will cover the competition this year).

Olympic broadcasting online in Canada this year will be done by CTV (RDS is the French name). I don’t watch TV anymore so using Sportsnet or TSN isn’t an option. (See London 2012 Broadcasters for how to watch the Olympics in your country.) Besides, maybe I can watch other sports using the online media. Of course, the CTV Olympic website (for the French site, it’s RDS Olympiques; the English and French sites are linked on each others) has proven to be a bit of a pain to use. You can avoid the CTV broadcast completely and use the “World Feed” instead, but you’ll have to go to the specific sport section and look for their “World Feed” video links. There’s always commercials before the video even starts (of course *eye roll*), and you’ll get more commercials if you jump around too much in the video stream. I’m not sure exactly how they determine when to pop up the commercials, but be warned they’re there. You can’t skip them. Just hit your computer’s mute button if they annoy you like they do me. The most annoying thing about the commercials is that after they run and your video resumes, the video defaults to mid-volume level again. You’ll have to adjust the video volume controls again. (I use the video volume so I don’t have to amp up the hardware volume on my computer – it sounds crappy if you do that.) If you miss the event live, CTV has full replay videos for some events. I’ve been taking advantage of this. The best way to find these videos is to go to the “schedule and results” section, click on the sport you want which should then pull up a listed schedule. There might be links to the full replay videos there. Having found my way around CTV site. I managed to get video streams for a few sports that CTV wasn’t airing during its “Watch Now” video broadcast.

Here’s what I watched so far at the 2012 Summer Olympics:

Day 1: Saturday, July 28

Archery – men’s team (bronze and gold matches)
Fencing – women’s foil (bronze and gold matches)
Judo – men’s -60kg and women’s -48kg (a couple of the quarterfinal matches; I couldn’t find the full video replay of the gold matches)
Shooting – men’s 10m air pistol and women’s 10m air rifle (finals)

Day 2: Sunday, July 29

Archery – women’s team (bronze and gold matches)
Fencing – men’s sabre (gold match)
Judo – men’s -66kg and women’s -52kg (gold matches)
Shooting – women’s 10m air pistol and skeet (finals)

Day 3: Monday, July 30

Fencing – women’s épée (bronze and gold matches)
Judo – men’s -73kg and women’s -57kg (gold matches)
Shooting – men’s 10 air rifle (finals)
Gymnastics – men’s team (finals)

You can see the results of Olympic events at the London 2012 site. They have also created some mobile apps. The results app is the most useful. (See the London 2012’s mobile apps page.)

For team sports, I’m mostly interested in basketball and soccer since I played those in high school. Canada has a women’s team for basketball this time (they did not have a men’s or a women’s team at the Olympics in 2008). For soccer, Canada’s women’s team is at the Olympics again. Canada’s men’s teams for both soccer and basketball didn’t qualify for the 2012 Olympics. If I have the time, I’ll watch some basketball and soccer. I also got to see a bit of handball and waterpolo. I’ve never really seen those sports in action before.

As for taekwondo, it’ll be interesting to watch Karine Sergerie again. At the 2008 olympics, Karine Sergerie won a silver medal in taekwondo for Canada. She’s back this time. Will she get the gold? (Sergerie’s silver is Canada’s second olympic medal in taekwondo. Dominique Bosshart won a bronze in 2000.) To find out more about taekwondo at the Olympics, visit olympics.org’s taekwondo section. There are videos of past competitors at the Olympics. Sergerie’s weight division is -67kg. She won the World Taekwondo Championships in 2007 in the -63kg division. The Olympics have only four weight divisions instead of the eight in standard taekwondo competitions.

As with past Olympics, there have been some controversies in competitions. See the following articles:

Controversy, Disappointment for Japanese Judokas (My comments can be found on my Tumblr blog.)

South Korean fencer in protest after controversial Olympic defeat (My comments can be found on my Tumblr blog.)

There’s thirteen more days of the Olympics left. Taekwondo starts in eight days. I think I’ll take a break from the Olympics for now – read a book (I’m reading Sherlock Holmes again; yes, all the novels and stories again) or maybe play a game (I haven’t played much Mass Effect 3 multiplayer in the past few weeks). I also need to get back to my own taekwondo and fitness training. :-)

~~~C

Links:
Olympic News via the London 2012 site (In case you’re tired of the news stream from your country’s Olympics broadcaster, check out the news page from the London 2012 site.)
Olympic Schedule and Results (London 2012 site)
Taekwondo at the 2012 Summer Olympics
CTV’s video snapshot of Karine Sergerie

Articles:

Yi Siling wins first gold medal of Games (China won a gold and a bronze. Nice shooting. ;-))

Republic of Korea claim another gold (Korea not only excels in taekwondo, but in archery as well! :-D)

Canada Olympic Women’s Basketball: Team Loses 58-53 To Russia(Russia makes a comeback against Canada, who failed to hold a 10 point lead. Canada, this is why it’s hard to root for you in team sports (aside from ice hockey, and oh yeah, curling). (Sidenote: “Russia is missing star centre Maria Stepanova. The six-foot-eight star, who has played in the last four Olympics, tore her anterior cruciate ligament at the Euroleague final eight in late March.” The ACL tear is a common injury among female athletes. It can be career-ending if it’s not fixed.))

Canada Makes the Team Final… (About damned time!)

Peng Peng Lee’s Olympic Journey (At least she’s doing the right thing – surgery, recover, and get stronger first.)

Peng Peng Lee – One on One (A short interview with Canadian gymnast, Peng Peng Lee)

Review: Battle Royale

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Battle Royale
Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(Warning: Potential spoilers. No character names are given, but some scenes are summarized – you can easily skip these paragraphs. I also mention whether or not the two main protagonists survive. By the way, my thoughts on spoilers in general – if the book is well-written and interesting I’d read it anyway. Plus, I read this book again after already knowing what happens at the end. LOL. It’s still a good read. :-D)

I first read Battle Royale by Koushun Takami back in 2006 and just loved the story. Battle Royale is a Japanese novel translated into English. The translated English is well-written, with a few typing errors here and there. Occasionally, a word seems to be missing. I don’t consider this to be due to badly written English, but more likely a typing error as there are examples of well-written English throughout the novel. (In my opinion, the translated English in this novel is better than the English in some of the more recently popular fiction. An achievement I’d say, considering the translation is done by a Japanese person while the other novels I’m referring to are written by native English speakers. This shows that just because you speak the language, it doesn’t mean you can write it well.) Battle Royale was originally criticized in Japan as “violent exploitation”, but it eventually became a bestseller. A hit movie soon followed.

The premise of Battle Royale is simple, and is comparable to Lord of the Flies. In a dystopian version of Japan, a class of junior high school students are taken to an evacuated island as part of the “Program” where they are required to kill each other until only one survivor is left. With this premise in mind while reading Battle Royale, you have to expect this story will consist of gore, violence, and yes, people dying. However, if you shallowly dismiss this story as just gore, violence, and meaningless death, you will miss out on the beauty of this story. Ultimately, people will die in this story, but what’s interesting in this novel is how the characters deal with the possibility of an early death. The story explores how the students react to being forced to participate in the program. The novel has two main protagonists and the story is told mainly through those protagonists. Occasionally though, Takami writes a point of view from another character (since the story is about a class of junior high school students, the story has a cast of 43 characters – 42 students, plus the character of Kinpatsu Sakamochi, who is running the “Program”), so that you get a chance to understand some of the other characters in the novel before they take their final bow. Takami also uses a lot of flashbacks to help establish the backgrounds for most of the characters and also to give the reader a sense of what “normal life” is in this dystopian version of Japan.

Battle Royale is an action thriller story with emotional depth. It’s a fast-paced read that has many heart-wrenching scenes, and you’d have to be shallow or cold-hearted to not feel some tears well up. Remember too that the characters are students, all about the ages of 14-16. Reading this story should remind people of how they were at those ages. Some people were insecure while others were more secure. Some were more reserved while others were more outgoing. Some were popular, some were the class clowns, some were just not noticed by their class mates (unless they were being picked on). All of this plays into this story on top of the question “Could you kill your classmates?”

Deaths occur early in this story, the first being one of the more shocking. The first time I read that scene, I thought “Did I just read that?! Really? Please, no…” Of course, this was setting up the motivations for the two main protagonists (one a girl and the other a boy), and I probably saw it coming, but it was still… heart-breaking. (Spoiler warning: To avoid potential spoilers, skip this and the next five paragraphs.) I should note that the first two students that died were not killed by other students. They were killed by Sakamochi as examples to the other students.

Another early heart-wrenching scene involves a couple who decide to kill themselves instead of participating in the killing. The boy and girl reflect on how lucky they are that they got to see each other before they die. After some time talking and embracing, the two jump off a cliff together after hearing someone approaching nearby. Unknown to the couple, the student they heard was not going to kill them, but was wanting to find a way out of the “Program”.

Then there’s the two girls who are best friends. They decide that the other students must be scared too and don’t really want to kill their classmates. Thus, they decide to go up on a mountain peak and call all the students to them announcing that they aren’t playing the game. Unfortunately, the one student who happens to be a psychopath (he lacks emotions due to an accident his mother had while he was still in her womb; as a result of the accident his brain was damaged, and he can not feel emotions) and who decided to participate in the “Program” (by flipping a coin; since he has no emotions, he decided what to do by flipping a coin) finds these two best friends and guns them down. Before they die though, the two girls have a bonding moment when they realize that despite all their differences (differences that made them admire each other), the one thing they had in common was that they had a crush on the same boy.

In another scene, a girl is confronted by the boy she has been dating whom she actually loves. He doesn’t believe she loves him because of her past (she used to engage in prostitution, but gave it up when she started dating him) and he says he will kill her, but she manages to convince him that she does love him. Unfortunately, her past catches up with her as her “friend” kills her love and then her.

A few other heart-breaking moments occur later on in the story as there was some gradual build-up for the characters involved. One of the characters is determined to find the two people who mean the most to him – one is his best friend and the other is the girl he loves. He manages to catch up to his best friend just after she’s been shot and he stays with her until she dies. This is a beautifully written scene. The last thing the girl says to him is “You’ve become quite a stud.” He replies with, “And… you’re the most stylin’ girl in the world.” This character also manages to catch up with the girl he loves. Unfortunately, she is frightened and not sure who to trust so he is shot for his efforts (he has already sustained other wounds by this point). However, he tells her there’s a way to escape and then she realizes her mistake. He tells her to go “now” and says “I’m just glad I got to see you.” Confused, she asks “What do you mean?” and he confesses that he loves her. Realizing this, she breaks down and cries because she was a fool for not realizing sooner that he loved her, but instead spent time focusing on a hopeless crush.

Then, you have the death of one of the students who did participate in the killing. However, you end up feeling some pity for her. After all, she was an innocent girl all those years ago when she was raped. Unfortunately, her ability to manipulate people’s emotions isn’t a match against someone who doesn’t have any. Faced with her death, she recalls telling another student “I just decided to take instead of being taken” and then, she wonders “When did I… become like that?”

Those were just a few of the more memorable, heart-wrenching, yet beautiful scenes in the novel (some other scenes that I remember well are too complicated to summarize here). The contrast between gory violence and raw emotion is the beauty of this story. Some critics of this novel say that the gory violence is needless. I disagree. The violence is integral to this story and the gore is realistic (you can compare the descriptions in this novel to the live video of Neda Agha-Soltan‘s death and to the picture of Khalid Said after he was beaten to death). Faced with a realistic portrayal of violence and the results of that violence (that is, the gore), raw emotions are felt. Violent death is horrifying as is violence against people you care for and love. In describing as realistically as possible the violence in this story, Takami gives the reader a sense of what it could really feel like. If reading it is this emotionally upsetting, then watching someone you love die violently is unquantifiably upsetting; more than likely, it’s traumatizing. Indeed, people can go into severe shock after witnessing a brutal killing. The gory violence is very necessary to this story. It’s what makes the deaths have a real emotional impact.

Battle Royale not only asks the reader “Could you kill…?” but also asks what would you do after witnessing such brutality and violence. Could you overcome what you’ve seen? Could you then try to prevent this from happening again to others? (Spoiler warning: To avoid potential spoilers, skip the rest of this paragraph.)This is what the main protagonists decide they want to do. In order to do this though, the main protagonists must remain calm in order to remain rational. Succumbing to intense grief early on will not help them survive. Knowing this, the main characters engage in light conversation at times while still being fully aware of their dire situation. It is only at the end when the main protagonists can finally allow themselves to fully feel their grief.

Battle Royale is a very human story. It looks at the human behaviour when we are put in the direst of situations. What’s very human about this story is that in the midst of tragedy and death and in the fight for your own survival, a sense of love, compassion, and empathy for others can be found. Years ago, I watched a documentary that touched upon this theme. The documentary, Scared Sacred, described the travels of the director who visited various disaster sites. In visiting these sites, the director wanted to know if some hope remained. In the midst and even aftermath of disaster, is there some sense of hope? In the documentary, a Buddhist concept was referenced – “breathe in suffering, breathe out compassion”. Strangely enough, that seems to fit Battle Royale. (Spoiler warning: To avoid potential spoilers, skip this sentence.)The main protagonists breathed in all the suffering that was going on around them, then managed to breathe out compassion and survive. This is the beauty of the story.

The emotional elements mixed with the fast-paced action is what makes Battle Royale a page-turner. It’s hard to put down. Be prepared to put aside anything else (including sleep!) until you finish reading this novel. Battle Royale is a memorable story with characters worth remembering.

View all my reviews

Review: Fourwar

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

Fourwar
Fourwar by Nathaniel Simpson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Being a close friend of the author, I first read this novel when it was in an early draft. At the time, I was focused on checking it for minor typos; thus, it was kind of hard to let myself get absorbed in the story. I remember some elements of the story that made it highly amusing. I think there is potential for world/universe-building here and for more stories. That being said, I plan on reading this story again since it’s in its finalized version, and then spending some time on a proper review (and maybe come up with some more story ideas to throw the author’s way; I’m working on writing my first novel now and would like to write one with Nathaniel). I gave this novel 3 out of 5 stars for now pending a proper review (the rating might go up; I gave this novel at least a 3 also to avoid accusations of being a biased reviewer because I personally know the author; hence my needing to do a proper review) and also as a way to let people know they just might want to read this story. :-)

View all my reviews

Book Blog

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged and almost a year since I wrote a blog about books that I’ve read – the last blog of this sort was in August of last year. The reason for this is simply because I couldn’t decide if I should keep writing a ‘book blog’ or only keep track of things on GoodReads. I should probably write reviews of books right after I read them, but usually I’m always excited to start reading something new. Plus, I find that I have more to comment about a book when comparing it to other books I’ve read. Thus, I’ve decided to continue doing a ‘book blog’. If I happen to write a review of just one book on GoodReads, I’ll still send that review to this blog. If you’ve been reading my blog over the past year, you will have noticed a blog article titled “Review” along with the book’s name.

The last few graphic novels I read were:

Spike: Shadow Puppets (see my review)
Angel: Auld Lang Syne
Angel: Blood and Trenches
Angel

As for novels, here’s what I’ve read the past seven months.

Downbelow Station by C. J. Cherryh
Moon of 3 Rings by Andre Norton
The Last Command by Timothy Zahn
Unnatural History (first book in the Ulysses Quicksilver Omnibus) by Jonathan Green
Stormqueen! (part of The Ages of Chaos omnibus) by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Hawkmistress! (part of The Ages of Chaos omnibus) by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Two to Conquer (part of Darkover: First Contact omnibus) by Marion Zimmer Bradley
The Bourne Supremacy by Robert Ludlum
Star Gate by Andre Norton
Gate of Ivrel (book one of The Morgaine Saga) by C. J. Cherryh
Hôtel Transylvania (book one in the Saint-Germain series) by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Since I have created an account on Goodreads, I’m maintaining my “To Read” list on there.

I wrote a short review of Downbelow Station after reading it. At the time, I was still mulling the story over in my head trying to determine how much I enjoyed it.

First, I should explain that Downbelow Station is part of Cherryh’s Alliance-Union Universe. This story describes the end of the “Company War” – the war between Earth Company and Union – and for the most part takes place at Pell Station (nicknamed “Downbelow Station”), which is run by the Konstantins. It is during this time when the Alliance is formed. The Alliance consists of merchanter families. Merchanter ships are basically trading and cargo ships; and each ship is run by a different family.

One of the characters in Downbelow Station is pivotal in securing an Alliance among the merchanter families. With the formation of the Alliance, an end to the Company War is quickly brought about.

Downbelow Station is an interesting read, not so much for the characters, but for the universe that it introduces to you. The story itself also poses some serious moral questions. Cherryh’s universe isn’t empty (like, for example, the remade Battlestar Galactica) – there are inhabitants on Pell’s World, which Pell Station orbits. How these inhabitants are treated is an issue presented in the novel. The issue of genetic engineering is also presented in this novel. Union uses genetic engineering, and it is clear in the novel that this is one of the issues between Earth Company and Union. (There is a much longer history of how Union is formed, but I won’t get into that here.) “Adjustment” is used on one of the characters in the novel since the character requests it. Adjustment is a process by which a person’s personality can be modified; and it is only used in extreme cases. In the novel, it is clear that the person who receives the request for adjustment is uncomfortable with using it for a case he doesn’t consider “extreme”.

The pacing of Downbelow Station is slow at first. It picks up towards the end. You also don’t get a feel for most of the major characters until close to the end. One character is interesting in the beginning simply because you are wondering why that person would want to be “adjusted”. You find out at the end. Strangely enough, I empathized more with the aliens, the inhabitants of Pell’s World, more than the human characters. Perhaps this is my penchant for rooting for the underdog, but I think it’s because the alien characters were better written.

Downbelow Station is a must-read if you are interested in the science fiction genre. It’s also an important introduction to the Alliance-Union Universe. I find myself interested in Cherryh’s Alliance-Union Universe, so I will likely read a few more novels in this series. Cyteen is the other book that’s recommended in this series. It’s a much bigger book than Downbelow Station, but an important read as it provides more insight on Union and takes place in Union space.

Moon of 3 Rings is classic Andre Norton. I enjoy Norton’s writing and this novel doesn’t disappoint in that aspect. (I’m starting to think that newer authors don’t know how to do classic story-telling. It’s a pity, some things should never die out. Nothing wrong with new ways of telling stories, mind you, but new doesn’t equate to better, just different.) I decided to read Moon of 3 Rings because Brother to Shadows was recommended to me, and I thought these two novels were part of the same series, but it turns out Brother to Shadows is a standalone novel. In any case, Moon of 3 Rings was another enjoyable read by Norton. It tells the story of Krip and Maelen. Krip works on a Free Trader ship. (You will notice that Cherryh’s Merchanters are very similar to Free Traders. She does in fact list Andre Norton as an influence in her writing.) While looking for things to buy on one planet, Krip unwittingly gets caught up in a plot to seize power over that planet. In order to save him, Maelen gives Krip a new body. 😀 There are, of course, reasons why she does this. First, she feels a small debt to him for he intervened on her behalf during a quarrel with another. Second, in saving Krip she hopes to save another. How Krip reacts to being put in a new body and what he does after is amusing. Norton has excellent pacing in her novels, which is what makes them fairly easy to read. I have yet to read an Andre Norton novel I didn’t enjoy.

With The Last Command, I finally finished “the Thrawn trilogy”. I have to admit that Timothy Zahn wrote a good trilogy worthy of the name “Star Wars”. He even threw in one minor twist I did not see coming. About the trilogy overall, I have to agree with others that Zahn managed to add new and interesting characters to the original Star Wars cast of characters. The next Star Wars novel I plan on reading will be Allegiance, which features Mara Jade, and is also written by Timothy Zahn.

I had posted a short, first impressions review of Unnatural History by Jonathan Green via GoodReads. I’m still not sure if I’ll go back to that series any time soon.

Stormqueen! and Hawkmistress! were reviewed in the blog article just prior to this one. I have been enjoying the Darkover novels and Bradley’s writing. I’m not sure how I’ll feel about the later novels written by other authors. Darkover might not feel the same. I still have four more Darkover novels to read that Bradley wrote herself, and one that was co-written. The rest of the novels published after Rediscovery (1993) were all co-written. Ah, I’ll see what happens after I’ve read Rediscovery. If I miss Darkover that much, I might just read the later novels.

Two to Conquer is a tough story, I think, for some people to swallow. In this story, you have two protagonists who are not very likable. I’m understating. In real life, you’d hate these two men. They both have violent natures, and both men treat women as objects, not persons of worth. However, this is not real life (or more correctly, this is not our world, our universe) – it’s Darkover. Darkover, where laran (telekinetic powers) is common. While reading this novel, I don’t think that Bradley is making excuses for rapists and abusers in our world, but rather she’s exploring an idea, a “what if?” Essentially, this novel is asking “What if the rapist/abuser could actually feel everything his/her victim is feeling regarding the abuse?” Bradley’s take is that a certain amount of empathy is required in order for someone to feel remorse for inflicting pain on another. In the case with laran, the remorse someone could feel would be devastating. If you have been reading Darkover like I have been, you will be familiar with the idea that laran needs to be awakened and trained in the person who’s gifted with it. Persons with untrained laran pose a danger and a risk to Darkovan society. This was the subject of the novel Stormqueen! (reviewed previously; see above for the link), though it was much easier for some people to swallow. In Two to Conquer, it becomes clear later that Bard had untrained laran and a form of laran that hadn’t awaken yet. He has a type of laran that allows him to control another person’s thoughts (this allows him to easily rape women). Only later does another type of laran awakens – telepathy.

In choosing the subject matter of Two to Conquer, Bradley has chosen a difficult story to write. However, she writes this story well. While mostly writing from Bard’s perspective, Bradley also wrote a bit from the rape victim’s perspective. In this case, the rape victim forgives Bard because she feels that had she not been conflicted with other goals (that of saving her virginity so that she could be Keeper; note that at the time period of this story, Darkovans believed that women had to be virgins in order to be Keepers; this was disproved later), she would have wanted to sleep with him anyway because she was attracted to him. Her explanation is simply that with his laran he tapped into her unconscious desire; and had she been more aware of her own desires, she may have made the choice to sleep with him anyway. As it happens, this girl that Bard rapes who later forgives him turns out to be highly gifted with laran anyway. She earns respect and authority through her ability, and consequently gained confidence in herself. Of course, not all rape victims in our world will be or need be so forgiving. Each rape case is different; and each rape victim needs to come to their own decisions and conclusions about how to deal. It’s not up to anyone else to tell a rape victim how s/he should be feeling.

Another plot in this novel is the formation of the “Compact”. In Darkover history, this is the time of “Varzil the Good”. In an attempt to bring peace to the warring Hundred Kingdoms, Varzil has come up with the Compact. Essentially, it’s a law that “bans all distance weapons, making it a matter of honor that one who seeks to kill must himself face equal risk of death.” (See “Darkover series” on Wikipedia.) In this time period, Darkovans were killing each other with what amounts to “weapons of mass destruction” created via laran. Bard, although he has hurt others in his personal life, actually agrees with Varzil about the Compact and hopes to get others to agree to it. Bard had previously fought as a soldier and witnessed others burned to death with laran-based weapons. Having witnessed that, he wishes no one to die in that same manner.

Two to Conquer is book two in the Darkover: First Contact omnibus. I give the omnibus 5 out of 5 stars on my GoodReads. I read Darkover Landfall a while back and really enjoyed it (see “Darkover novels and some reading material”). Both books in the omnibus are well-written (although Darkover Landfall is more fun and less serious in tone) and both provide the reader with some things to think about.

I enjoyed reading The Bourne Identity, so I thought, “why not read the sequel,” The Bourne Supremacy. I’m not one of those people who expect books to be exactly like the movie. It seems rather silly especially if the book was written before the movie was made. I long ago noticed that movies can be “based on” a book or “adapted” from a book. This means that one should not expect the movie to be exactly like the book. That being said, I enjoyed this novel. At times, I got confused as to what Bourne (or rather, Webb; since there was a fake Bourne in this novel) was up to, but the confusion would clear up a few more pages in. I enjoyed reading about Marie and how she would use the skills Bourne taught her. Unlike another reviewer on GoodReads, I’m pretty sure Marie’s trick for disguising herself would work in real life. That trick works because people were looking for a “tall, attractive redhead”. By making herself plain and wearing flat shoes, she no longer fits the description. In real life, I have noticed too that when I’ve been dressed up, people were more likely to remember me whereas when I’ve been dressed down or dressed plainly people were less likely to remember me. People who have seen me in only workout clothes (such as my taekwondo uniform) who then suddenly see me dressed up for dancing or whatnot usually don’t realize it’s me at first. Sure, if you look close enough you’d recognize a person you know, but Marie wasn’t exactly planning on walking right up to the people who were pursuing her. At a distance, her disguise worked.

This novel takes place primarily in China this time. Ludlum has done a wonderful job of capturing Chinese culture (I think he even threw in an “Aiyaaa!” LOL). The story isn’t too difficult to follow, even the little bit of politics involving China. Sure it might help if you know that China’s government at that time had basically exiled another political party to Taiwan, but seriously… how many people don’t know that Hong Kong belonged to the British until 1997? All you really needed to know about China for this novel was basically stuff that was said in the novel. Britain and China are trading partners. Something bad happens in China that makes it seem like the British were at fault and might ruin that trading agreement. End of agreement. War. Enough said.

As for David Webb, he’s basically been manipulated back into action to catch the fake Bourne, thereby preventing a big blow-up between Britain and China.

This story is distinctly different than the movie version, but still enjoyable. And hey, I still like the movie version as well.

The next two novels I read were read for comparison. I already mentioned that C. J. Cherryh is influenced by Andre Norton’s writing. I wanted to read Cherryh’s first published novel, Gate of Ivrel, but recalled that I had found Andre Norton’s Star Gate a while back. Both stories are about travel through a “gate”, although the kind of travelling is slightly different. In Cherryh’s first novel, Gate of Ivrel, you can see Norton’s influence -not just in the idea of gate travel, but also in Cherryh’s writing style, although Cherryh’s writing strikes me as more serious in tone somehow.

In Star Gate by Andre Norton (and if you’re thinking of the Stargate franchise… you had to wonder where they got the idea for the very first Stargate movie; I still like SG-1 and Atlantis all the same), Terrans/Star Lords had already affected and influenced Gorthian society. However, feeling that they adversely affected the Gorthians, the Star Lords leave. Kincar is of mixed Gorthian and Star Lord blood. Due to some power struggle, his Gorthian grandfather hands him some Star Lord objects and tells Kincar to leave before he is killed. Kincar escapes and meets up with some Star Lords who happen to be leaving Gorth through a gate. Having passed through the gate, Kincar and the Star Lords (his new friends) find themselves on a different Gorth, a Gorth that came to be based on different decisions that were made in the past. To the Star Lords’ dismay, they find that the Star Lords on this Gorth were cruel to the Gorthians. The Star Lords that have just arrived decide to rectify matters for this Gorth and Kincar finds himself a key player in achieving this goal.

Unlike in the Stargate franchise, the gate in Star Gate is not part of a system of gates, but rather it is technology that the Terrans have. Terrans are able to create gates wherever they are so long as they have the means to do so. Norton does not explain how gates are made/formed. This is soft science fiction, and in any case, the main plot of the story is what Kincar and the Star Lords do after they get through the gate.

Again, Norton has written a novel that is enjoyable to read. Excellent writing, good pacing, and of course a quandary for the main character. I should also note that Norton does a wonderful job writing the bird-like Mord creatures. I kind of want one, but it’s a fictional creature. Phooey.

With Cherryh’s Gate of Ivrel, we come across the idea of a system of gates. Since I was exploring different science fiction/fantasy authors, I had already decided to read Cherryh’s first novel. Gate of Ivrel is the first book of The Morgaine Saga omnibus edition. The Morgaine Saga is also loosely connected to Cherryh’s Alliance-Union Universe (mentioned above in connection with Downbelow Station). Morgaine is a one of a five-person team sent by Union to close or to destroy the gates. The gates in this novel are able to send a person to a different time as well as place. In Gate of Ivrel, it’s also indicated that they can do more than that as Morgaine steps through a gate and stays locked in it for about a hundred years. The plot of this story is simple. Morgaine is heading to the gate of Ivrel to close it or, if need be, destroy it. One hundred years ago she failed and the people of Andur-Kursh paid for that failure. Of course, there are obstacles in the way; and to get through them, Morgaine needs help. Vanye is an exile from Clan Nhi for killing his half-brother in self-defence. Of course, no one believes it was in self-defence and he is exiled by his father. Vanye is the one who accidentally releases Morgaine from the gate (not the same gate as at Ivrel) and being an exile in need shares food and a fireside with her. Morgaine has “lord right” from years ago and since Vanye accepted her hospitality, she can in turn claim a year of service from him. She does, of course, and Vanye has no choice but to accompany her on her mission.

For a first novel, Gate of Ivrel is pretty good. This novel was better paced than Downbelow Station and it was well-written. One minor issue I had was Cherryh’s habit of starting new paragraphs with “and” when she could easily leave it off. I didn’t notice this in Downbelow Station, so I’m guessing she caught this early on in her career and corrected that habit. Overall, this story was enjoyable. I did notice that I empathized with these characters more than the characters of Downbelow Station. This may be simply that, in this novel, Cherryh was focused on character-building while in Downbelow Station she was focused on world-building. The next story in The Morgaine Saga is Well of Shiuan.

The last novel to review today is Hôtel Transylvania by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. In this novel, Yarbro has taken a historical person, Count of Saint Germain, and written him as a heroic vampire. Hôtel Transylvania is also a real place. As Yarbro writes in her notes at the end of the novel, “Built in the reign of Loius XIII, Hôtel Transylvania stands today at 9 Quai Malaquais in le Faubourg Saint-Germain. Its name was taken from Prinz Franz Leopold Ragoczy, who stayed there from 1713 to 1717, due in part to his role in the War of the Spanish Succession.” Along with her research on the Count of Saint Germain and Hôtel Transylvania, Yarbro also did some research on vampires. (I really wish other authors would have done the same – *cough* Stephenie Meyer *cough* – sorry, I’m not into sparkling vampires.) Hôtel Transylvania is the first book in a series about Le Comte de Saint-Germain.

For a long while, I avoided most vampire fiction because they all seemed overly romantic in nature to the point of being trite (I don’t like standard romance novels to begin with so I’m not going to be interested in vampire romance). One long-standing popular vampire series is Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, which I just didn’t find interesting. I couldn’t even pay attention to Interview with a Vampire because I found it terribly boring. Now, I had read Dracula by Bram Stoker when I was a teenager, and that novel I found interesting. For one thing, that novel didn’t present vampires as romantic in nature. For another, that novel was more action thriller. That being said, I liked the idea for Buffy when that movie came out. It was a shame that the movie was not done half as well as the later TV series. Although romance comes into play in the Buffy TV series, it’s not the main story-line. Romance stories to me seem to be missing the point of life. A young woman’s purpose in life isn’t to sit around waiting for the perfect mate to come woo her and make her swoon. (Sorry, guys, I’m not that easy to impress.) There’s a lot more to life than just finding a mate. This point is driven home with the Buffy series. Sure, Buffy at 16, and even 17, just wants her perfect prom night, but ultimately she decides to deal with more important matters – save the world (again!). If anything, I’d say the Buffy series is great for showing young women why it’s not a good idea to focus on romance all the time. Every time Buffy focused on romance, she was miserable. I think she was rather happier when she was killing the “baddies”. Hey, she had a purpose in life and she was good at something – that gave her confidence.

In any case, no Anne Rice novels for me. Since Buffy, I’ve picked up the Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series, which is pretty good in my opinion. Yarbro’s Saint-Germain series was recommended to me by my boyfriend (of all people), but to be fair, he says he was impressed with the research Yarbro did for the novel(s). I’d have to agree with him. Hôtel Transylvania is a fairly easy read. I found I like Yarbro’s idea of putting letters at the end of each chapter. The style of writing for the letters is similar to classic storytelling, which I like. Hôtel Transylvania is pegged as romance by some, but I found what was interesting about the novel was the contrast between the Count of Saint Germain and the villains of the story. The villains in this story happen to be Satanists, who are basically searching for their next virgin sacrifice. Although Yarbro does not write about it in her notes at the end, I’m pretty sure she must have done some research previously about Satanic cults. Having spent some time studying occult philosophy myself (not all occult is bad, and Satanism just makes it easy for people to go to extremes, though I do not know of any Satanists personally), I know the difference between Satanic practices versus other occult practices. I can say that based on what I’ve researched before, Yarbro got the gist of the Satanic rituals correct. Virgin sacrifice means more power. Yup. Upside-down pentagram. Yup. (Note that not all upside-down pentagrams are bad either. In occult philosophy, an upside-down pentagram represents the elements over spirit. Even in some harmless rituals, you might want to emphasize the elements over spirit.)

Back to Saint-Germain, who happens to be a good vampire (“Faith, don’t stake him! He’s good.”) and the Satanists, who are very, extremely bad. You might note that in writing about this novel, I’m doing my best to write in a light-hearted tone. This is because, honestly, this novel with its description of a fictional Satanic ritual, is going to be hard to take for some readers. This novel comes off as light-hearted in some places (when Madelaine is conversing with Saint-Germain, for example; seriously, Saint-Germain seems so fun to be around – it’s the perfect cover, how can he be a vampire? he’s not emo enough!), but when it comes to the Satanic ritual scene, it’s pretty dark. Basically, a minor character is kidnapped, tied up, molested, humiliated, degraded, then raped repeatedly. If Bradley’s Two to Conquer upset some readers, Hôtel Transylvania will infuriate those same readers. I wouldn’t recommend this novel to them. However, I will say that it’s the mark of a good author to be able to write some tough scenes. I’m not saying it should be done all the time, but if it is done, the writing should be done well. I will also say that if rape is part of the plot of a story it shouldn’t be avoided. Sure, it’s a tough subject, but ignoring the subject isn’t going to make it go away. It’s not as if Yarbro is writing about this young woman being raped and then implying it’s a good thing. It’s obviously a very horrible thing. The Satanists are cruel, sadistic, power-hungry men. Saint-Germain, even though he is a vampire, is a kind, gentle, and caring man. In choosing to pit Saint-Germain against Satanists in the first novel, Yarbro sets up Saint-Germain as not just a good character, but as a model of humanity. Of course, he can only do so much without risking exposure for himself; and that seems to be his one continuing dilemma.

Overall, I did not mind this story. Yarbro does a wonderful job of creating the Saint-Germain character. I like that she did some research for the novel (no sparkling vampires! haha). Although the main plot is that Saint-Germain falls in love and must rescue his love interest from the Satanists, I didn’t find it too trite. For one thing, the story isn’t focused on Madelaine all the time (so the reader doesn’t necessarily have to read about Madelaine pining away for Saint-Germain). Some chapters are concerned with aspects of Saint-Germain’s life.

Aside from novels, I’ve read a few short stories in the horror genre and some stories by Lovecraft. The Dark Descent is an anthology of horror stories. From that collection, I read “Young Goodman Brown” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Dread” by Clive Barker, “The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe, and “The Signal-Man” by Charles Dickens. Of those four, I liked Poe’s and Dickens’ story best. The “Young Goodman Brown” story just makes me laugh because it’s a case of “if you are looking for evil, you’re sure to find it even if it’s not there.” Similarly, I almost laughed at the end of “Dread” because it was the character’s own fears that made him do the things he did, which led to the occurrence of his ultimate “dread”. I’m guessing I liked Poe’s and Dickens’ stories better for horror as they aren’t easily explained away. Both stories seem to be cases of apparitions, and I will confess I don’t ever want to see a ghost. I think I just feel that the characters in Hawthorne’s and Barker’s stories have more control over what could happen to them. If only they did this… If only they didnt’ do this… It makes sense in a way to me because Lovecraft has stated that “the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”. In Poe’s and Dickens’ stories, there is a bigger unknown element than in Hawthorne’s and Barker’s stories. What happens in “Young Goodman Brown” and in “Dread” is in some ways and somewhat predictable. It’s hard to fear what can be predicted. Even if what can be predicted doesn’t happen, in this case, it’s fine because the alternative to the prediction isn’t scary or anything to be feared.

I read Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” a while ago in the anthology above. I’m slowly making my way through The Best of H.P. Lovecraft, and will probably read “The Call of Cthulhu” again since it’s in this collection as well.

I read a bit more of War and Peace. I’m now on book three, halfway through, and only 661 more pages. LOL. The translation I’m reading is the Maude translation, and it’s pretty good. I’m finding it easy enough to read. I’m starting to like the character of Pierre more than I did at the beginning of the novel.

Okay, phew! This was long blog. Enjoy and happy reading. I hope I’ve given my readers something to think about again or at least pointed out something else interesting to read. :-)

~~~C
Your local bookworm