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Barbarians of the Beyond

Barbarians of the BeyondBarbarians of the Beyond by Matthew Hughes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I've heard of Jack Vance but can't remember reading much if anything from him. I'm much more familiar with Matthew Hughes. When I heard he got commissioned to write a science fiction novel set in Vance's Five Demon Princes universe, I decided to broaden my horizons. I'm glad I did.

Again, having not read much Vance, I can't say how closely Hughes has gotten to Vance's style. What I can say is he's taken what sounds like an interesting world and created a fun and quick tour of it. Our protagonist, Morwen Sabine, was abducted and enslaved as a child alongside the entire village of Mount Pleasant by the Five Demon Princes. 20 years later, she's freed herself and returned, for reasons unknown.

In the interim, the village has been taken over by a religious cult and renamed Mount Dispensation. It becomes very clear that the cult has been taken over by a criminal and is a front for a drug running operation. They are not fond of strangers, especially ones who might think they have a claim to the old town.

Hughes uses this very interesting set of problems and tells an interesting tale of intrigue, piracy and a daughter seeking to free her parents. Interestingly enough, nobody in this tale is exactly who they seem at first blush, and there are no morally-pure characters. I found it a quick and entertaining read. It's a new and worthy entrant into the classic space opera genre.



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Two Things Make A Post

Like the title says:

Thing One

My 18-year-old Maytag clothes dryer needs a new motor at $340. I can get a new unit for around $600. My 13-year-old Kenmore (made by Whirlpool) washing machine works, but it's 13 years old, AKA "end of life." I can also get a new one for around $600. A shopping I will go.

Thing Two

In 1981, I started high school. Early in the school year, the teachers went on strike. I attended school and found myself with two study halls, both in the library. I entertained myself with reading books. There was one in which modern Britain (and presumably the rest of the world) is hit with a sudden geological event which causes poisonous gas to roll out of the ground. Oh, and it had witches in it. I remember reading it but could never remember the title. Well, thanks to James Davis Nicoll (or rather the commentor "Anthony") I've found it.

The book (which came out originally in 1980) is Omega by Stewart Farrar. Per his Wikipedia entry, the late Mr. Farrar was very big into witchcraft and other neopaganisms. Well, the book (a modern reprint) is due to arrive at Casa Gerrib shortly. I shall see if the Suck Fairy has visited or not.

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Settlers!

I am not obsessed with Mars - I can stop thinking about it any time I want to! I just don't want to.

Having gotten that out of the way, there's a new movie out set on Mars. It's called Settlers and it's a semi-Western set on Mars. I watched and enjoyed it last night. It's somewhat of an indie picture, so your best opportunity to view it would be pay-per-view via IFC Midnight. (Trigger warning - attempted sexual assault in Act 3.)

The story opens with a family of three living in a house on an un-terraformed Mars. The house is protected from the Martian environment via otherwise-unexplained force fields. (I suspect that was easier on the low budget.) We have husband, wife and 9-year-old daughter. It seems a tranquil and calm place, but by the end of Act 1 we learn things are not as they seem. Act 2 is a pretty standard Western.

Act 3, set nine years after the events of Act 2, is where things get very interesting. There aren't a lot of characters in this movie, and in Act 3 is where those characters really shine. The movie has an ending both conclusive and inconclusive. Were it a big-budget movie, there's a clear jumping-off point for a sequel. Since it's not, I'm not expecting one.

Overall, an interesting entrant in the Mars oeuvre.

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It's Probably Too Late

Yesterday on Facebook I shared this article in which an Alabama doctor finds herself telling dying COVID patients that it's too late to take the vaccine. I've also seen indications that at least some right-wing opinion leaders are starting to advocate for their followers to get vaccinated. Unfortunately, it's probably too late for many, for reasons medical and sociological.

The medical reason is simple - if you get your first shot today, it's 3 to 5 weeks and potentially a second shot before you become fully immunized. Given the rate of spread in the US hotspots and the logistics of life (people aren't going to drop everything and run to a pharmacy today) many people are going to get infected before immunization kicks in.

The sociological reason is less simple but sadder. Many of the Fake News crowd are heavily emotionally invested in their stance. The book 1984 to the contrary notwithstanding, if you've been beating one drum for months, suddenly beating another drum does not cause immediate change. Most of the Fake News crowd will find a different source of information that tells them what they want to hear.

Alas, many of the unvaccinated will get sick and die before this thing is over.

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Billionaires in Spaaaacccee!

The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy called and wants me to post on the recent trend of billionaires in space. After I suggested they might want to fix their payroll issues, I agreed to post the following.

First, I am not at all upset that Bezos and Branson, AKA The B Team, launched themselves into space. I *would* be upset if, after their launches, they announced that they were done with space. They did not. Both individuals are attempting to build businesses of flying people into space safely and at a less astronomical cost then charged by NASA. (Pun intended.) This is overall a good thing for humanity. We will sooner or later want to be able to support large numbers of space travelers.

Second, it is entirely fair to dump on The B Team for not paying their fair share of taxes. A significant increase of taxation on either individual's firms or personal income would not reduce their spaceflight efforts in the slightest. They would still have more money than they knew what to do with.

Finally, yes the Blue Origin vehicle does more-than-vaguely resemble a flying penis. (I do remember when I was an junior high!)

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The Joys of Home Ownership

It seems my appliances have all decided to take retirement. Maybe somebody's offering them a buy-out? This week's retiree is my clothes dryer, which decided to stop spinning last night with the first of two loads of wet clothes in it. Thus I visited a laundromat for the first time in a decade. (More on that anon.)

Doctors YouTube and Google think that the problem with my clothes dryer is something is binding up the motor, most likely lint. They also suggest that removing the casing to get at the motor is fairly easy. Although tempted to try it myself, I've decided to let an expert do it, on the theory that if I'm wrong in my diagnosis, I'd just have to put it back together and get an expert in anyway.

Regarding laundromats: apparently the modern laundromat no longer uses coin-operated machines. One has to buy a card which you load with money (you can use credit cards!) and insert it in the card reader. This confused me at first - I thought it would take a regular credit card. Clearly this system is much easier for the laundromat - no lugging bags of coins, fussing with the feeder slots, change machines, etc. Now I know.

Here's hoping I can get the dryer fixed - I'm not in the mood to buy a new one right now.

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Bastille Day, Redux, or Lying With The Truth

Today is Bastille Day. Many years ago, I approvingly cited a post by a Jerry Pournelle, a conservative commentator. He pointed out that only 5 people were freed when the Bastille was stormed, including two madmen who were sent to the insane asylum, and most of the garrison was killed. The overall impression left was that this attack was a wasted effort.This is somewhat true and all wildly misleading.

The people who stormed the Bastille were not looking to liberate prisoners. They were looking for shot and gunpowder to marry up with the muskets they'd taken from another Parisian location earlier in the day. During the chaotic events of the afternoon, a large group of people had gotten inside an unguarded courtyard where they were killed by the defenders. When the fortress finally surrendered, 98 attackers and 1 defender had died in the actual fighting. 9 of the defenders were killed after the fighting, including the fortress commander.

The attackers got their gunpowder. The King, hearing of the attack the next day, returned to Paris. Many aristocrats, including a later King of France, on hearing of the attack, fled Paris and eventually the country. In short, the storming of the Bastille was at least as consequential as the fighting in Lexington and Concord.

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Review of Firebreak

FirebreakFirebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Firebreak is an interesting and exciting book. Set in a dystopian future where climate change and political failures have resulted in two warring corporations owning what's left of the United States, it stars Mallory "Mal" Parker, a young war orphan / hustler. One of her side gigs is playing a military-style video game and streaming the results for tips.

In short, her life is precarious at best. Then, what should be an opportunity to level up gets her involved in activities that Stellaxis, the corporation which controls where she lives, finds subversive. She quickly goes from playing video games to getting shot at for real.

The action is non-stop and seamlessly integrated with the worldbuilding. The oppressive nature of the society Mal is in is made abundantly clear. It's also clear that Mal is no "chosen one" - she's just somebody who drew the short straw.

Many of the reviews mention that the protagonist is aromatic and asexual. This is true but at least from my perspective not obtrusive. Mal does not have any love interests, but she's got a lot of other problems so I didn't find myself wondering about it. Frankly, if Mal were a male character, I'm not sure anybody would remark on the lack of romance.

In conclusion, I highly recommend this book and hope sequels are following.



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Cheesy Garlic Chicken

I am fond of a recipe I got from the box of Lipton's Recipe Secrets Savory Herb and Garlic Soup. The recipe is for Cheesy Garlic Chicken. Alas, Lipton is no longer making the soup, presumably because not enough people are buying it. (I only use it for one recipe which I make 3-4 times a year.) Herewith, courtesy of this site, is the recipe modified to "make it myself."

Sauce:
combine the following ingredients in a bowl and mix. Set aside.
1/3 cup water
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons each of:
marjoram
oregano
rosemary
basil
1 teaspoon each of:
onion powder
thyme
salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Other ingredients:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 14 oz. can chopped tomatoes
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In 13 x 9 baking dish, arrange chicken. Top with sauce mix and tomatoes. Bake for 20 minutes, then top with cheeses and bake for an additional 5 minutes.

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Review of Velocity Blues

Velocity BluesVelocity Blues by Clifford Royal Johns

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I became aware of this book because the author is a member of my book club. The front cover blurb calls this book a "thrilling amalgam of neo-noir and cyberpunk" which is very accurate. As promised, I found the book "great stuff."

Our first-person protagonist, Zip, lives in a future Chicago. As a child, he was genetically altered to be super-intelligent. It worked - at age eight he was reading Aristotle in the original Ancient Greek. When puberty hit, he and other "E"'s or "Energies" became superfast - like running a mile in two minutes without effort. They also became unable to be still for more than a minute or so and completely unable to focus. As a result, they mostly spend their days running around Chicago.

This running is literal and the consequences of it are thought out. Zip is constantly eating, and frequently has to steal food mid-run. The only job he can hold, and he has a tenuous hold on it, is as a messenger for a "low-level hoodlum with delusions of mediocrity." His boss wants him to deliver something. Zip finds out that whatever he's carrying is valuable enough that people will kill for it.

The book then becomes a story of Zip trying to focus, not get killed by the various hoods after him, and figure out which of his E friends are loyal and which will betray him. It's a fast-paced novel with interesting characters. I found it highly enjoyable and a quick read.



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